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Monday, December 09, 2019

@LucianKTruscott

Trump's Four Years Of Baiting NATO Came At Terrible Cost For Ukraine

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You are no doubt familiar with the term, “international incident.” That is what happens when a country, in the person of its ambassador or the leader of its government, insults another country, usually on its soil, usually with an intemperate remark or failure to follow proper protocol.

Donald Trump excelled at causing them. Perhaps his most famous international incident occurred in 2018 during his visit to France to mark the centenary of the end of World War I. Trump canceled a scheduled visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in northern France, about 60 miles from Paris. The Trump White House put out an excuse that rainy weather had grounded his helicopter and he did not want to cause a traffic jam with a motorcade.

It was hogwash. The leaders of Germany, France, and Canada attended the memorial ceremony without difficulty. Rather than attend the memorial for the fallen in a terrible battle during World War I, Trump remained at the American ambassador’s residence in Paris, where he was staying. That was bad enough all by itself.

Two years later, as Trump was running for reelection to the presidency, we learned more about his insult to the memory of those who gave their lives in European wars. Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an article in The Atlantic revealing what had gone on behind the scenes of Trump’s refusal to attend the ceremony at the cemetery. “In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, 'Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers.'” Goldberg went on to report that four members of the Trump traveling team told him the then-president “feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain.”

"In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as 'suckers' for getting killed,” Goldberg added. Trump’s comments in France were in keeping with another remark he had made to his chief of staff, John Kelly, a Marine who had reached the rank of four-star general before retiring. Trump and Kelly were attending a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 2017 and standing at the grave of Kelly’s son, who was killed in Afghanistan. “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Trump said to Kelly, referring to the thousands of veterans buried at Arlington.

The reports of Trump’s remarks in Paris and Arlington reached an audience that had a very different history with wars on the European continent. Tens of millions of European soldiers and civilians were killed in the two world wars fought in Europe in the 20th Century. Those wars led to NATO, the alliance of European countries and the United States that was formed after World War II to prevent aggression by the USSR in Western Europe.

Trump stepped into it with NATO as well, one time threatening to abandon the alliance because other member nations were not paying “their fare share” for the defense of Europe. On several occasions, Trump indicated that belonging to NATO wasn’t in the best interest of the United States, frequently citing his so-called “America first” agenda. Trump’s phrase, “America first,” was borrowed from a pro-Germany movement before World War II that worked to keep the United States out of that war.

In April of this year, speaking at an event held by the right-wing Heritage Foundation in Florida, Trump told his audience that he had threatened leaders of NATO nations in Europe that the United States might not abide by NATO’s Article Five collective defense clause, which commits all member nations to treat an attack on one member nation as an attack on them all. Trump explained that a fellow NATO leader had asked him, “Does that mean that you won’t protect us in case — if we don’t pay, you won’t protect us from Russia’ — was the Soviet Union, but now Russia. I said, ‘That’s exactly what it means.’” Trump went on to express amazement that his conversation with the leader of another NATO country had leaked while he was still president.

Well, leak it did, and Trump’s behavior diplomatically while he was in office for four years goes a long way to explaining why the kerfuffle just occurred among NATO nations over sending tanks to beleaguered Ukraine, fighting for its life against the very nation from which Trump threatened not to defend Europe because he was squabbling over NATO dues and European defense budgets he considered inadequate.

The plain fact is that Europe no longer trusts its American ally to stick to its NATO commitments, and that applies to support by NATO nations for Ukraine, even though that country is not a member nation of the alliance. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland – all of them have been watching the right-wing of the Republican party which just took over the House of Representatives and moved Republicans who have criticized American support for Ukraine into key leadership positions. They question how long American support for Ukraine will stay strong with the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert being rewarded with power by the incredibly weak Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy.

And they remember Trump’s disdain for the price European nations paid in blood and treasure to free the continent from Naziism and keep it free from Soviet – and now Russian – aggression.

Diplomacy counts. Ukraine would not have received a single bullet from NATO nations without the diplomatic skills of President Joe Biden pulling the alliance together and pointing it in the direction of defeating Vladimir Putin. But diplomacy is only as good as the resolve of nations to stick to it. The U.S. position in the NATO alliance was severely damaged by Donald Trump, especially in 2018 in Helsinki when he cozied up to Putin and announced that he would take Putin’s word over that of his own intelligence services on the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The European nations now lending Ukraine billions of dollars of support, both military and humanitarian, are not assured that Donald Trump or someone just like him will not again take the reins of the government and lead the United States back in the direction of Putin and authoritarian leaders like him.

That’s why they wouldn’t get off the dime and agree to supply Ukraine with tanks until the U.S. stepped up and did it first. Ukraine has one person to blame for the dithering that just went on among NATO nations over its defense: America-firster Donald Trump.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

Biden Will Send Sophisticated M1 Abrams Battle Tanks To Ukraine

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Yeah, you read that right. In an abrupt policy about-face, the Biden administration is now saying it will approve shipping the big American main battle tank, the M1 Abrams, to Ukraine. The decision appears to have come about from secret negotiations between the U.S. and Germany over the last few days, as the announcement will be made tomorrow in conjunction with Germany’s formal approval for Poland to send some of its stock of Leopard II tanks to Ukraine in the coming weeks.

In other words, after nearly 11 months of everybody having cold feet about provoking Putin by supplying Ukraine with main battle tanks, everyone’s feet warmed up. The dispute last Friday among NATO defense ministers at the Ukraine Support Contact Group in Ramstein, Germany, seems to have lit the fuse for the American decision. As the New York Times reported today, “German officials privately have insisted that they would only send the tanks, among the most advanced in the world, if the United States agreed to send its own M1 Abrams tanks.”

Previously, according to the Times, the “two issues” were not linked. Well, apparently they were, which is typical for the kind of diplomatic and defense foxtrot that surrounds these kinds of decisions. Nobody wants to be seen as the bad guy holding things up, while at the same time nobody wants to be the first to act, so finally they get together on the diplomatic dance floor and do the two-step and get it over with.

There are questions surrounding the American agreement to send the Abrams to Ukraine. The Times reported today that “It could take years before the U.S. tanks reach Ukraine,” probably reflecting challenges involving logistics in shipping the huge 55-ton beast and training Ukrainian forces to drive and shoot the thing.

The Abrams is technologically the most advanced main battle tank in the world. It shoots multiple kinds of ammunition, including warheads that are tipped with depleted uranium that is much harder and more effective at penetrating armor than hardened steel warheads. A new round for the tank has several different modes of exploding – detonation upon impact, air-burst, and delayed detonation on impact, which means the round explodes mili-seconds after hitting another tank or armored vehicle, increasing its penetration ability.

But it’s the computer-assisted aiming capabilities that really distinguish the Abrams tank from other main battle tanks. Essentially, an onboard computer calculates aiming the main gun based on several kinds of data – what kind of round is being fired, the range to the target, and the lead angle if the target is moving. Other factors are automatically calculated as well, including air temperature, barometric pressure, and the effect of gravity on the barrel of the gun due to the barrel heating from previous rounds fired, or even sunlight.

All of these factors are computed into what the army calls a “ballistic solution” and displayed on both the tank commander’s and gunner’s aiming reticle, similar to looking through a pair of binoculars. Either the tank commander or gunner can fire the main gun. All they have to do is keep the cross-hairs in the reticle on the target, and the computer does the rest, applying lead angle and gun-tube elevation automatically.

If it sounds like something you might see on the screen of a video game, it is. Familiarity with violent video games would seem to make teaching tank crews an easier task, but I can tell you from riding in and shooting the old M-60 tank that the mere fact of being inside the great lumbering beast, with all of the noise and shaking and pitching front-to-back and side-to-side involved in riding in a bucking 50-ton tank, it is nothing like a video game.

By the time I left my assignment to the tank training company, I had a nine-inch-wide swollen purple and blue bruise around my chest from several weeks of pitching around and slamming into the thinly-padded sides of the commander’s cupola with a buck private trainee in the driver’s seat.

It’s scary even when you’re on a training range, much less in combat with an enemy trying to hit you and kill you just as hard as you’re trying to do the same to the enemy. Even with the muffling of a helmet and padded ear-covers, when the main gun goes off, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced in your life: The breach is thrown back violently, the entire tank shakes like it has been kicked in the ass by the foot of God, smoke and chemical residue escape into the tank as the breach is thrown open, and the loader scrambles to insert another round so the breach can slam closed and the big gun can be fired again.

All of this happens in what we might colloquially call a split-second. Even on a firing range, with other tanks around you doing the same thing – firing and shaking the ground with massive explosions emitting flame and smoke – it’s akin to being in combat.

It’s sheer madness, frightening and thrilling all at once. Because it’s a tank and its intent is to be used in combat against a brutal enemy with similar weapons, driving and shooting it must be done with great calm and precision by well-trained crews if you’re going to do anything other than launch great big bullets very long distances into thin air.

So, no matter when the Ukrainians get their M1 Abrams tanks, they’ve got a steep learning curve ahead of them before they can drive them into battle. And speaking of driving, the Abrams tank burns 60 gallons of very expensive JP-8 fuel an hour. JP-8 is a kind of diesel fuel that can be used in standard combustion engines as well as the kinds of turbines that power jet aircraft and the Abrams tank. That means a hell of a lot of tanker trucks must follow a squadron of Abrams tanks into battle, and it means they must be refueled in a tactical position safe enough that neither the tank itself nor its fuel truck are likely to be hit by enemy fire, whether from other tanks or artillery.

It's yet another problem for which an army that fields Abrams tanks must have a tactical solution and be very, very good at making it work. It’s either that, or your 55-ton sophisticated computerized weapons system is going to get shot all to hell, and you may as well not have gone to all the trouble of getting it shipped over from the U.S. and attempted to deploy it at all.

That’s why Ukraine may not be able to field its Abrams tanks for a year. They’re going to have to get so good at driving and shooting that going to war with them will be, yes, like a very shaky, noisy, smokey, scary video game.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

Why Those Leopard II Tanks Are So Vital To Ukraine (And So Menacing  To Russia)

This is the latest report in my months-long coverage of the war in Ukraine. For more reporting like this, and to read my screeds about the reprehensible Republican Party, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.

The Associated Press headlined the big meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Ramstein, Germany, last Friday this way: “Ukraine will have to wait longer to find out if it will get advanced German-made battle tanks.” The problem was Germany, which manufactures and exports the tanks. They had not yet agreed to allow European countries to send the Leopard II tanks to Ukraine.

Yesterday the AP led with this: “The German government will not object if Poland decides to send Leopard II battle tanks to Ukraine, Germany’s top diplomat said Sunday.” That’s newspeak for Germany caving to international pressure that was poured on in buckets last week after Germany initially stuck to its policy of not allowing shipment of its tanks to Ukraine to fight Russians on the front lines. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, on a French television show, said Sunday that Poland had not formally asked for permission to ship the Leopard tanks, but confirmed, “if we were asked, we would not stand in the way.”

Poland announced today that the government would ask permission to send the tanks but added that they had already planned to supply the advanced battlefield weapons even if not given permission.

In a BBC TV interview today, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba put out an appeal to all European countries with Leopard tanks in their arsenals “to immediately, officially request the German government to allow delivery of these tanks to Ukraine."

The way Poland has been talking, it wouldn’t surprise me if Poland was not already secretly training Ukrainian tankers who are qualified to drive and shoot Russian T-72 tanks in their arsenal, which they have captured a good number of from Russians on the battlefield.

The Leopard II is a modern tank with multi-layered armor and a 120 mm smooth-bore main gun. The tank is powered by a 1500 HP 12-cylinder diesel engine, can reach speeds of 40 MPH, and has a 300-mile range, which is fairly extraordinary for a main battle tank. The Leopard has a gyroscopically balanced main gun, which means it can fire on the move. The tank has night-vision aiming sights, laser range-finders, and two co-axial machine guns. The design of the Leopard’s main gun allows it to fire several different kinds of tank ammunition produced by multiple allied countries.

Germany has said that it designed the Leopard II tank so it can be driven and fired by citizen-soldiers, their version of our National Guard. This means that the training to use the Leopard is not as lengthy or complicated as what is necessary for the U.S.-made Abrams tanks.

One fixed truth about the development of tanks is that as they have gotten more complicated and additional requirements have been put on them, they have become more likely to break down, the distance they can travel before needing to be refueled is reduced, the training necessary to be able to deploy them in battle becomes longer, and there are stiffer requirements for soldiers to become tankers.

Older tanks like the American M-60 used in the Vietnam era were nearly self-explanatory. You could get into the gunner seat and with less than an hour of instruction, learn to shoot the thing. Accuracy at first wouldn’t be the best but driving and firing tanks is like anything else: you get better with practice. When I was a cadet at West Point, I was assigned as a so-called “3rd Lieutenant” to spend the better part of one summer as an executive officer of an armor advanced individual training company at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Out of 160 guys in the company, 140 of them had been drafted during Project 100,000, MacNamara’s cannon-fodder experiment which lowered the IQ level necessary for service, removed the requirement for a high school diploma, and gave county and state prisoners with less than two years to serve on their sentences the option to get out early if they “volunteered” for the draft.

Those were the guys I was in charge of teaching to drive and shoot tanks. I can tell you two things about that training company: One, no one was killed in training, and two, every soldier in that company graduated and was qualified at least minimally to drive and shoot the M-60 tank.

But the M-60 was a primitive weapons system compared to today’s tanks. The range-finder was optical, meaning as a tank commander, you looked through a scope and dialed knobs to match two lines to establish the range, and then you transmitted the range to the gunner over the radio, who dialed in the range on his sight, found the target in his sights and fired. Sometimes, those soldiers even hit what they were shooting at. Driving was done with two sticks that ran the left and right tracks, and gas and brake pedals. There was a transmission shifter that put the transmission in “go” and “idle,” and that was pretty much it. If you can drive a zero-turn lawn mower, you could drive an M-60.

The Leopard is much more complicated when it comes to firing its main gun, but driving it is very similar to the old M-60. Given what I can find out about the Leopard II, if Ukraine has soldiers who can handle the Russian T-72 tank, less than a week will be necessary to bring them up to speed on the Leopard II.

Which is great news for Ukraine. If other European nations, as expected, follow Poland’s lead and ship some of their Leopard II tanks, depending on how long it takes to get them there, Ukraine could have new Leopard tank units ready to go by March.

Germany has been reluctant to send its tanks or approve their shipment by other European nations because of “German culture,” according to multiple stories over the last few days. That’s shorthand for Germany being reluctant to get involved militarily in any conflict on the European continent unless their country is threatened, a hangover from German aggression in World War II. But that war ended almost 80 years ago. Everybody gets it that Germany has managed to cobble together what passes for collective shame over Nazism and the deaths they caused on and off the battlefield during that war. It looks like Germany, or more specifically, its politicians, are taking a deep breath and entering the real world. They’ve got these modern and deadly weapons systems. It’s time they used them for something other than decorative purposes in motor pools waiting for someone to attack them.

The Russians, chiefly in the person of State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, have been making their usual threatening noises, warning the rest of the world to leave them alone so they can continue murdering Ukrainian civilians at will. “Supplies of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime would lead to a global catastrophe,” Volodin said. Dimitri Medvedev, a former Russian president, chimed in by threatening to form a military alliance with "the nations that are fed up with the Americans and a pack of their castrated dogs."

Good luck with that, Dimitri. My advice would be to train your unlucky conscripts to duck.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

What To Know -- And What To Remember -- About The Debt Ceiling

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If you’re anything like me, these periodic tussles over the debt ceiling, like the one that officially got underway yesterday, are one of those “whatever the hell that is” things you would rather not get too far into for fear of losing what’s left of your functioning brain cells. But we’re here, so let’s burn off a few more synapses trying to understand what the hell is going on.

It all starts with the budget. That’s the thing that the Congress is supposed to pass and the president is supposed to sign by April 15 of each year. The way it’s supposed to work is, Congress passes tax laws, the Treasury collects the taxes, and Congress appropriates money to spend on the various functions of the government – for defense, homeland security, law enforcement (the Department of Justice), education, health, the State Department, and all the other ways our tax dollars are spent.

In the years – yes, there have been a few – when the amount of taxes collected equals or exceeds expenditures, then the budget is said to be balanced. From 1970 to 1997, the United States ran budget deficits year after year. That means, the government did not collect enough taxes to cover our expenditures. In 1999, 2000, and 2001 under President Bill Clinton, amazingly, there were budget surpluses. Then George Bush was elected, the Republicans went on a spending spree (chiefly on “The War on Terror” after the attacks on September 11), while at the same time going on a tax cutting spree, quickly reducing taxes twice. When Bush, at a meeting of his cabinet, asked an innocent question about the wisdom of cutting taxes while one war was going on in Afghanistan and another, against Iraq, was being contemplated and planned, his vice president Dick Cheney answered, “It’s our due,” and they went ahead and cut taxes.

We’ve run a deficit ever since. What that means is, we have to borrow the money we didn’t take in from taxes in order to fund the expenditures that exceed tax revenue. We do that chiefly by issuing bonds, which are bought by governments (like China), banks, insurance companies and other organizations like labor unions, and individuals seeking a place to invest their money safely. The reason U.S. government bonds are considered safe is because they are backed by what is commonly referred to as “the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.”

It's not talked about much, but this is apparently the case because the Constitution contains a clause, “The validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned,” that guarantees the federal government will pay its debts.

There are a lot of “buts” involved in the entire mishigas of the way taxes are collected and budgets are set and money is spent on government programs in this country. This is a gross simplification, but the biggest “but” involves the essential difference between our two political parties. The Democratic Party wants the government to do stuff that helps keep the country going and people from starving and being homeless and so forth, so the Democrats are generally in favor of larger expenditures in the budget for reasons like those, and that means Democrats are more likely to be in favor of higher taxes (chiefly on the rich). The Republican Party is less disposed to want government to spend on so-called “entitlement programs” and more disposed to want to cut taxes (chiefly on the rich). This means, in short, that we spend more money than we take in.

It's important to note that the budget deficits we run are to cover money that has already been spent from appropriations in the previous year or years. In other words, it’s as if we used a credit card to buy stuff we already have and now it’s time to pay for it.

The debt ceiling is a law passed by Congress that puts a limit on the borrowing the government can do in any fiscal year or portion of a year. The debt ceiling has been modified, or raised, more than 100 times since World War II to cover the borrowing we have done through issuance of our government bonds. The fight that arises periodically over the debt ceiling is usually associated with one party controlling one part of the government and the other party controlling the other part, which is where we are right now. The Democratic president in the White House proposes budgets, including deficit spending, and the now Republican-controlled House is supposed to pass them with negotiations over how much should be spent and how much taxes should be collected to cover those expenditures, including how much money should be borrowed to cover the excesses that arise from spending exceeding tax revenues.

This involves periodically raising the debt ceiling so more money can be borrowed to cover the debts we have already incurred in the previous year, which in this case, was in the previous Congress. Republicans have discovered that they can hold raising the debt ceiling hostage so they can achieve with blackmail what they couldn’t achieve at the ballot box, which would be the last Congress, which they did not get enough votes to control, which passed the continuing resolution which substituted for the budget that didn’t pass, no budget having been passed since 2015.

I’m sure that I’ve probably gotten some things wrong in this down and dirty summation of the situation we find ourselves in, but isn’t it fascinating? Doesn’t it hurt your head?

It hurts mine, too, but the only thing you need to remember as this clusterfuck over the deficit plays itself out is this: it’s both parties’ responsibility, but it’s the Republicans’ fault.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

We've Lost Track Of Covid-19, But It's Still Killing The Unvaccinated

COVID is not one of my more popular subjects, but I’m going to keep reporting on it as long as it’s a major problem in this country. To contribute to my reporting on this and other subjects, you can buy a subscription here:

What we don’t know about COVID cases now exceeds what we do know, and it’s largely because of self-testing with no requirement to report results, positive or negative, to anyone at all. This is true not only for this country, but for China, where new cases of COVID are thought to be skyrocketing, although because the country shut down its strict testing regime, statistics are sketchy at best. China announced on Saturday that 60,000 people have died from the disease since early December, when protests forced the government to scrap its zero-tolerance policy that had led to repeated shutdowns of entire cities over the last two years.

China’s zero-tolerance policy created to situations across the country where people were not allowed to leave their apartments or homes for weeks at a time for any reason other than to get food. The policy resulted to economic growth for 2022 of only three percent. Other than the peak of the COVID pandemic in 2020, when economic growth hit 2.2 percent, 2022 was the worst year for China’s gross domestic product since 1976, when the Cultural Revolution finally ended with Mao’s death.

In the United States, COVID statistics are up, with severe spikes in states like Alabama, where the number of new cases is up 117 percent over a week ago. Other states with high COVID case-counts over the last week are Florida, up 90 percent; Georgia, 34 percent; North Carolina, 36 percent; Arizona, 48 percent; Mississippi, 36 percent; Alaska, 43 percent. COVID cases in some counties have seen triple digit increases. Counties in Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Florida, and Virginia are up over 200 percent. In Madison, Louisiana, the increase is 1,881 percent over one week alone.

Hospital admissions for patients with COVID are also up around the country. According to the CDC, hospitalizations because of COVID are at the fourth-highest they have been since the beginning of the pandemic. In New Hampshire, “Hospitals are at maximum capacity,” Brendan Williams, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, told The Guardian recently. “I’m not sure what the trajectory of this thing’s going to be, but I am worried.”

The majority of hospitalizations in this country are among those 65 and older. China claims that 90 percent of those who have died of COVID are 60 or older, but that number might be skewed upwards because many older patients die in hospitals where the cause of death can be recorded and reported to authorities. The number of Chinese who have the disease and are not reporting it to the government is unknown, and China seems to have completely given up trying to keep accurate statistics.

In this country, the rate of new cases of COVID among those who are unvaccinated is three times as high as those who are fully vaccinated. The rate of deaths for the unvaccinated is six times as high as for those who are fully vaccinated. The COVID death rate is up 44 percent for the past week over the week ending on January 4.

But all of these statistics are questionable at best. Self-testing is up and the number of people who self-test and don’t report having COVID is thought by experts to be high, although no one knows for sure, because there is no way to keep count of people who don’t report cases of COVID. Unless someone goes to a family physician or to an instant-care clinic and gets tested for the disease, they don’t get counted if they have COVID.

Researchers for the Covid States Project from the universities of Harvard, Northwestern, Northeastern, and Rutgers surveyed more than 26,000 adults last year in October and November and found that “the rate of COVID-19 infections is vastly underreported, with about 48% of all positive cases not reflected in official data.” The researchers have done the survey 96 times since March of 2020. Alarmingly, their latest report found that unvaccinated people “were more likely to say they have never taken an at-home test for COVID-19, further suggesting that infections among the unvaccinated may also be going unreported.”

This is the black hole we’re in. Thirty percent of Americans who are still unvaccinated are simply not showing up in any statistic but one – that they are unvaccinated. Everything else about them is unknown.

The big story yesterday was that China’s population shrank last year for the first time in more than 60 years, when there was a terrible famine caused by Mao’s Great Leap Forward economic policy. China reported that its population was down 850,000, but that wasn’t the only bad news. They also reported that the number of births in the country decreased nearly 10 percent last year, from 10.6 million born in 2021 to 9.56 million born in 2022. The U.N. is predicting that China’s population could go down to 800 million by the end of the century. Its population stands today at 1.411 billion, down over a single year from 1.412. COVID is thought to be responsible for at least some of China’s population loss, but China has been stingy since 2020 with its statistics about the disease.

Part of the bad news in the U.S. about COVID is attributable to subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. In the northeast where the new subvariant, XBB.1.5 has been on the loose, hospital admissions are higher than the rest of the country. XBB.1.5 is considered to have very high transmissibility.

That brings up the other bad news about the disease. According to the CDC, around 69 percent of the population in this country is fully vaccinated. In Alabama and Mississippi, only 53 percent are fully vaccinated, with Tennessee at 56 percent and Louisiana at 55 percent. And people from those states travel, and the disease is spread more easily today than even a few months ago, because the Transportation Security Administration lifted the requirement to wear masks when a judge in Florida struck down the mask mandate for public transportation last April. It has been reported that very few people bother with masks on flights these days.

China seems to have given up on controlling the spread of COVID, and so have we. The Covid States Project found that nearly half of the adults they surveyed have contracted COVID once, with 35 percent reporting having it twice. 1.1 million Americans have died from COVID so far. That number has only one direction to go: up.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

No Comparison: The Biden And Trump Classified Documents Cases

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I’m getting a creepy feeling this subject is going to be talked about all year and into the next, making it prime meat as a campaign issue against President Joe Biden if he decides to run for reelection. And there is more: Be forewarned that the fairness doctrine doesn’t apply in politics.

Today, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee wrote to the White House and asked for the visitor logs for Biden’s house in Wilmington, Delaware. "Without a list of individuals who have visited his residence, the American people will never know who had access to these highly sensitive documents," Rep. James Comer (R-KY) wrote to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.

Take a deep breath before you read the next sentence. No, the House Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee didn’t send an equivalent letter to former president Donald Trump, asking for visitor logs for Mar-a-Lago. Can you imagine? They would have to send a box truck for the Mar-a-Lago logs, with all the weddings and fund raisers and Christmas and New Years celebrations held there every year.

As the New York Times proved in an excellent interactive photo piece a couple of months ago, there were not one, but two entrances to the Mar-a-Lago ballroom that had direct access to the stairway above it, at the top of which was Trump’s office, from which many of the most sensitive classified documents were recovered by the FBI during their August search of the property. There would also have to be a list of the many, many employees of caterers and staff of Mar-a-Lago who had access not only to the ballroom, but to the storage room in the basement where the chairs for events in the ballroom were stored. As we know, Trump kept classified documents in the basement storage room where there was no lock until the Department of Justice demanded that one be installed in June of last year.

Asked on a CNN Sunday morning show why he hadn’t requested visitor logs from Trump for his club/hotel/residence, Mar-a-Lago, Comer replied, "I don't feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time because the Democrats have done that for the past six years.”

So, there you have it: This is the way what must now be referred to as the Trump/Biden classified documents cases will play out between now and November of 2024. Remember all the excuses the Trump people and Republicans made for the presence of hundreds of classified documents recovered by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago? Oh, the documents ended up there because of the chaotic packing-up of Trump’s White House in the final days before January 20, 2021. It’s just a simple disagreement with the National Archives. Trump wasn’t aware of what was down there in some musty storage room in Mar-a-Lago! That was handled by underlings.

And of course, they argued that everybody did it, meaning that every president accidentally took classified documents from the White House when they left office.

That one stings a little, given the recent drip-drip-drip of stories about classified documents turning up in Biden’s garage (locked, he pointed out the other day) stored alongside his vintage Corvette.

James Sauber, one of the White House counsels, announced last week that “a small number” of classified documents had been found among Biden’s papers at the Penn Biden Center think tank in Washington. Then more classified documents were found at Biden’s home in Delaware. On Saturday, the White House said that five more pages of classified documents were found at Biden’s Delaware residence. In each case, the documents were reported to the National Archives (NARA), which sent people to retrieve them.

I hardly have to remind you what happened in the case of the Trump documents, but here it goes: NARA began to seek documents it thought had been taken by Trump from the White House back in mid-2021. Trump stiff-armed them until the NARA officials informed his lawyers that the agency was turning the case over to the Department of Justice. Suddenly, in January of 2022, Trump turned over 13 boxes of documents to the NARA, which found classified documents among them.

The DOJ stayed involved and sent a subpoena for classified documents to Trump in May. Trump’s lawyers responded in June, turning over an envelope containing several classified documents to representatives of the DOJ at that time. They also had one of Trump’s lawyers – who worked for his Super PAC – sign a statement saying the documents were recovered during a diligent search of Mar-a-Lago. It didn’t amount to a sworn statement that they had turned over all the classified documents Trump had, but it was close.

The DOJ developed information, apparently from employees in Mar-a-Lago, that there were more documents stored there, and in August executed a search warrant. They recovered 13,000 more documents from the basement storage room. Among those and other documents from Trump’s office were 113 more classified documents. The DOJ started calling Trump employees before a Washington D.C. grand jury. It turned out that several of those employees had lawyers paid for by organizations run by Trump, such as his Super PAC. Several of the Trump employees took the Fifth Amendment during their grand jury testimony.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith, who was serving as a war crimes prosecutor at the Court of International Justice at the Hague, as special prosecutor. He took over the documents investigation and has issued new subpoenas for more testimony about the documents case, as well as the investigation of Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Now a second special prosecutor, Robert Hur, has been appointed to investigate the Biden classified documents. Biden’s lawyers have announced that they are fully cooperating with the investigation. In contrast, Trump filed suit in a Florida federal court last year to stop the use of the classified documents in the DOJ investigation, delaying the investigation for several months while the case wound its way not once, but twice, through the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Finally, the 11th Circuit threw out Trump’s lawsuit. The “special master” process that had been ordered to go through all 13,000 of the seized documents was ended and the documents – all of them, classified and unclassified – were returned to the DOJ for their investigation.

So, you get the picture: Trump took thousands of documents from the White House on purpose and fought tooth and nail for two years to keep them and to stymie both the NARA and the DOJ. Biden took a small number of classified documents with him when he left the vice presidency – we don’t know the number, but it’s more than ten – and immediately turned them over to the National Archives and is cooperating with the DOJ and the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the case.

You can depend on House Republicans to continue to make a big deal about the Biden classified documents while pooh-poohing what Trump did. What else is new? It’s who they are, and it’s who Trump is, but it’s going to be a pain in the collective ass of the Democratic Party. House Republicans are writing letters and making requests now, but they will follow up with subpoenas – the same kind of subpoenas that multiple Trump witnesses either avoided or completely refused to comply with – Hi, Steve Bannon! – and we’ll hear about every single one of them, no matter what they end up proving – Hi! Benghazi Committee!

I hate to say this but watch this space. We’re only halfway through January. It’s promising to be a very, very long year.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

Ukraine Or Vietnam: This Is What Losing A War Looks Like

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Writing about the madness of war reminded me of my first months as a second lieutenant in the Army. I was stationed at Fort Benning, the “Home of the Infantry,” to attend the Infantry School, a beginner course for lieutenants destined for platoon commands.

If you drove onto the post, located on the edge of Columbus, Georgia, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong. The first thing you saw was a gigantic wooden thermometer with its red indicator almost to the top, indicating 99 percent participation in the United Way fund drive on the post. Then came immaculately groomed grass along the sides of the road and sidewalks lined with white painted rocks and headquarters buildings with American flags flapping atop white flagpoles and platoons of trainees in fatigues and spit-shined combat boots marching in formation along the roadsides.

Looking at Fort Benning’s obsessive neatness and the discipline of the troops and the neatly lined-up vehicles in the motor pools, you would be forgiven if you forgot that the war in Vietnam was raging thousands of miles away across half a continent and the Pacific Ocean.

Beneath the placid surface of things at Fort Benning and outside its gates, however, things were coming apart. In June, Life magazine had published its ground-breaking cover story, “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” Inside were 10 pages of the photographs and names of 242 American soldiers who had been killed in a single week in Vietnam. Local papers around the country had been publishing photos of the boys from the small towns who had been killed as the deaths were announced, but this was the first time photographs of the war dead had been collected in a single place, and it was stunning.

It was as if the editors at Time-Life in New York City had finally decided to take a stand against the war. The dead were 19 years old, or 25, a few were in their 30’s, but their faces looked impossibly young. In the coming months and years, the Life cover with the faces of the dead would mark a turning point in support for the war. Richard Nixon, who had run for president saying he had a “secret plan” to end the war, had been in office only a few months, but even by then it was obvious there was no plan. We were losing the war in Vietnam, and more people were realizing that nearly every day.

On the post at Fort Benning, life went on as normal. At the Infantry School, we marched to and from classrooms and training areas with student platoon leaders marching alongside their platoons calling out the defiant cadence of the young and the doomed:

If I die in a combat zone

Box me up and ship me home

Tell my girl I done my best!

Lay my medals across my chest

Lay my body six foot down

Until you hear it touch the ground!

We rode in deuce-and-a-half trucks to the firing range; we spent rainy nights soaked to the skin on training maneuvers; we studied how to formulate mission statements and ops orders in classrooms in old World War II-era wooden buildings; we ate C-rations in the field and cold sandwiches and Cokes from food trucks on the post. Nobody talked about Vietnam. Nobody had orders yet; soldiers would be sent to brief stateside assignments, and then they’d get orders. It was far away in the future, the war, months away at least.

We read in the papers that in May, a great victory had been won at Hamburger Hill in Vietnam. A battalion from the 101st Airborne Division had driven a large unit of the North Vietnamese Army from a hilltop in the A Sau Valley near the border with Laos. The battle was part of the famed, or infamous, “search and destroy” tactics in the war, where U.S. army units basically went out into the boonies until they encountered the enemy and fought them. The battle of Hamburger Hill was supposed to interdict North Vietnamese supply routes into Vietnam from the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Back home, there were hints, rumblings that all was not well. Just before we graduated West Point in June, the Academy administration did something it had never done before. They brought a group of young officers back from the war, straight to West Point, and put on a panel in an auditorium to talk to my entire class about what it was like to be a young officer in combat.

During questions after their presentation, which could charitably be described as dispirited, someone I was sitting near asked about stories in the paper about drug use among soldiers over there. One of the older officers, I think he was a captain or a major, said the stories were false, liberal propaganda against the war. When the panel was over, one of the second lieutenants came down the steps from the stage straight over to where the questioner was sitting. A bunch of us gathered around as he said they had been ordered to deny stories of drug use, but it was a lie. Drug use was rampant in Vietnam he told us, sotto voce. Believe the papers, not the army.

One day at Fort Benning, I ran into a classmate at the PX and we stopped to talk. He told me something strange had happened recently. He was sharing an apartment off-post with another lieutenant he had found advertising for a roommate on a bulletin board somewhere. A few days before as he and his roommate were getting ready to drive onto the post, his roommate had been arrested by the MP’s and taken away. He didn’t know what for, and he hadn’t seen his roommate since. I asked him what the guy's name was. “Rusty Calley,” he answered. I forgot about it, writing it off as some goof who was probably picked up for coming on to a colonel’s wife at a bar and run out of the army.

It wouldn’t be until November that Seymour Hersh’s stories about the massacre at My Lai hit the press. We were gone from Fort Benning by then.

There were rumblings in my student company at the Infantry School as well. A few weeks into the course, they started putting pressure on us to contribute to the United Fund drive. The battalion commander was demanding 100 percent participation. Just for the hell of it, a friend and I drove down to the United Fund offices after getting off that afternoon. We asked to see something that told us how the United Fund money was being used in the Columbus community. They gave us a list of organizations – Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, a small community theater group, that sort of thing.

We checked the United Fund documents we were given and saw that four Boy Scout troops were getting funds, a thousand dollars or something like that. We found the number for the local Boy Scouts office and learned that there were eight scout troops in the town. We went back to the United Fund and asked why four Boy Scout troops were getting United Fund money, but four weren’t. Unabashed, they told us those were the Black scout troops. We looked a little further into what the United Fund supported and what it didn’t and found that no Black organizations in Columbus received United Fund support.

The next day, we got our student company commander, who was Black, to announce to the whole company at morning formation that no money from the United Fund was going to Black organizations in Columbus. The United Fund was nakedly racist. He said he wasn’t contributing to the United Fund. We spread the word that we weren’t either. A few days later, the battalion commander came down and said only one guy in the company had contributed to the United Fund. Our lunch hour was canceled and we were marched over to an old World War II-era movie theater.

We were all seated when a major walked out on the stage and announced that Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt, the hero of Hamburger Hill, would be addressing us on why we should contribute to the United Fund. He was on some kind of tour giving speeches around the country to counter the bad reviews the battle of Hamburger Hill was getting in the press. With that, Honeycutt, a rather squat figure with a crewcut and thick neck in starched fatigues, strode across the stage into the spotlight. He made some short remarks about the big win at Hamburger Hill and then launched into a speech about discipline and morale and good order and how an army wasn’t an army unless everyone was on the same page, and on he went with boilerplate we had all heard a dozen times at West Point. And then he ended by banging on the podium and telling us that we wouldn’t be able to be good combat commanders unless we followed orders and gave to the United Fund!

The place erupted in applause. Honeycutt took it as applause for him and his speech, but the major who had introduced him got it that we were applauding for another reason. He signaled to Honeycutt from the wings to cut it short, but Honeycutt ignored the major and growled, “Questions, gentlemen?” There was a long silence, and then the guy sitting next to me, Strosher, got to his feet.

Strosher was a former sergeant who had been given a battlefield commission to first lieutenant two months previously in Vietnam because he had been the only guy in the 25th Infantry Division to blow an ambush in a year. Yes, that means exactly what you think it does. Soldiers had basically stopped fighting the war by the summer of 1969, and when they were sent out on night ambush patrols, they would just sit there. They wanted to stay alive more than they wanted to fight the VC.

Strosher said the ambush he commanded had been blown when one of his soldiers fell asleep and his head accidentally fell onto the trigger for a Claymore mine and set it off. A VC patrol happened to be walking past their position, and the rest of the patrol started firing and blowing their claymores and they killed a dozen enemy, and Strosher was a hero. He didn’t want to be promoted. He was happy as a sergeant, he told me, but the division commander insisted he take the commission, and he was sent back to the states to attend the Infantry School.

Strosher, who despite the silver bar on his collar, still looked and sounded like a sergeant and had the cocky attitude of a guy with 10 years in the service and two tours in Vietnam under his belt, knew the answer to the question he would ask Honeycutt before he asked it. He paused a moment and then introduced himself. “Sir, First Lieutenant Strosher. Can I ask where you were during the battle of Hamburger Hill?” He remained standing.

Honeycutt looked confused, as if he hadn’t been asked that question before. “Uh, I was in my C&C ship at my assigned altitude.” Honeycutt was referring to his command and control helicopter. Thinking to himself, doing a mental calculation, Honeycutt continued: “Uh, 2,500 feet as I recall.”

Strosher lifted a hand in a little wave and said, “Thank you, sir. That’s all I needed to know.” The place erupted in laughter. Honeycutt had done what we would today call saying the quiet part out loud. While 72 of his men were killed 2,500 feet below him, and 372 were wounded, he was circling the battlefield in a helicopter wearing a headset and microphone giving orders.

Wars aren’t lost on the battlefield alone. They’re lost in the countries that wage them with politics and posturing and lies and sending out puffed-up buffoons like Honeycutt to transform tragedy into heroism, loss into victory. Wars are lost by exercising racist policies and permitting, even rewarding, racist behavior and expecting no one to notice. Wars are lost by mistaking technology for genius, tactics for strategy, means for ends. If we take this hill and that town and kill that number of enemy soldiers and blow-up apartments and destroy hospitals and explode power stations and burn villages and kill civilians and damage and poison crops and call it a victory, then it will be, or so they think.

One year after I was at Fort Benning, I went back there to cover the trial of Lieutenant William Laws “Rusty” Calley for The Village Voice. He was charged with the premeditated murder of 109 civilians in the hamlet of My Lai in 1968. Calley put up the classic defense that he was just following orders. I was in the courtroom on the day that he testified. As I sat there, I heard whole paragraphs of the Infantry Manual come out of his mouth as he described the “standing assault” he and his platoon conducted that day.

Lieutenant Calley was a product of his times. He had been drafted into the army during Project 100,000, a program instituted by Robert McNamara to induct substandard men into the service at a time when they weren’t getting enough recruits and too many young men were dodging the draft. They lowered the IQ level necessary to serve, did away with the requirement for a high school diploma, and gave anyone serving less than two years in jail for minor offenses the opportunity to get out early if they would sign up for the army. Calley, who had dropped out of junior college, was one of the more stellar recruits and was sent to Officer Training School and became a second lieutenant in the Infantry.

This is what Calley told the jury in answer to a question from his own attorney on the day I was in the courtroom: “Well, I was ordered to go in there and destroy the enemy. That was my job on that day. That was the mission I was given. I did not sit down and think in terms of men, women, and children. They were all classified the same, and that was the classification that we dealt with, just as enemy soldiers. I felt then and I still do that I acted as I was directed, and I carried out the orders that I was given, and I do not feel wrong in doing so, sir.”

This is what losing looks like. This is Hamburger Hill. This is My Lai. This is Bucha. This is Mariupol. This is Kyiv. This is Odessa. This is Lviv.

This is the United States of America. This is the Russian Federation. This is war. There are no winners. Only the dead, and memory, if you can keep it.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

'What Madness Looks Like': How Ukraine Is Becoming Putin's Vietnam

Here are some names for you: Svatore; Kreminna; Soledar. That’s where some of the most intense fighting is going on right now in Ukraine. All are towns in the Luhansk region near Bakmhut, the front-line town held by Ukraine where the heaviest fighting is. We’ll get to some of the rest of the fighting that’s taking place in Ukraine in a moment, especially the battles that have followed Ukraine’s victory in November which took the port city of Kherson in the south. But for right now, Russian forces are concentrating their heaviest, most brutal efforts around Bakhmut, south and east of the cities of Lyman and Izyum, which Ukraine took back from Russian forces in its September offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Why certain cities, or rivers, or even hilltops become strategic centers of military effort and end up as famous battles is one of the great mysteries of wars. In our own military history, the names of important battles roll easily off the tongue: Gettysburg; Hamburger Hill; the battle for Hue; the siege of Bastogne; the landing at Anzio; crossing the Rhine at Remagen; operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

The reason some of the battles were strategically important is easy to understand. The landing at Anzio set up the assault that ended up with Allied forces taking Rome and led to the eventual defeat of the German army in Italy in April of 1945. The Union army defeated Confederate forces at Gettysburg in their only major offensive north of the Mason-Dixon line. Holding Bastogne was essential to victory in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest in Belgium near the end of World War II.

Other battles made practically no strategic sense at all. The battle in Vietnam for Hamburger Hill lasted 10 days and cost 72 American lives, with 372 wounded. The hill was abandoned by the 101st Airborne Division days after it was taken from the North Vietnamese army. Like so much combat in Vietnam, the battle seemed pointless to begin with, pointless when it was over, and Hamburger Hill came to symbolize the futility of the entire war.

The Russian effort to take Bakhmut makes little strategic sense unless it’s looked at in the context of Russia’s entire war effort. The war in Ukraine is effectively a two-front war at this point: the combat front lines stretching from the Russian border east of Kharkiv to the Black Sea near Kherson in the south; and what might be called the rear lines in major population centers in the country’s central, southern, and western areas.

Much of the reporting nearly a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine explains what’s going on in terms of Vladimir Putin’s pique. His army lost a huge swath of territory in Eastern Ukraine, thousands of square miles, so he got very, very mad and sent hundreds of guided cruise missiles and drones into Ukraine’s population centers like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Odessa, taking out apartment buildings, churches, museums, shopping areas, schools, and other civilian targets. He ordered an equal number of missiles and drones to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in an attempt to deny most of the country’s population electricity, heat and water over the winter.

Putin’s major problem after nearly 11 months of war is that he cannot just order his army to win its battles on the front lines in Ukraine’s east and south and take more territory. He set out last February wanting to take over the entire country. That was what the offensive against Kyiv was about. His generals and intelligence agencies told him that he could quickly take Ukraine’s capital and force the collapse of the government. President Zelensky would flee, Putin could install a puppet government, and Ukraine would be his.

Look at Putin now. The news is filled with reports of the brutal fighting around Bakhmut and Donetsk and the Russian army’s defense of its positions in Zaporizhia east of Kherson, trying to prevent Ukraine from cutting off Russia’s land-bridge to Crimea. Putin is sitting there in Moscow reduced to fighting for little towns in the middle of agriculture fields in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is resembling more and more the United States invasion of Vietnam with regular army and Marine forces in the mid-1960’s. Putin had no good reason to invade Ukraine. He made a couple of stabs at strategic excuses before the war, giving unhinged speeches about the threat of NATO and how Ukraine was “historically” part of Russia. Nobody believed him. He just wanted to do it.

Similarly, Lyndon Johnson ordered hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to go to war in Vietnam with no reason any sane person accepted. There was the “domino theory,” of course. Johnson didn’t want to be blamed for “losing” Southeast Asia in the way that American leftists and “commies” were blamed for “losing” China after World War II. It was bunkum, all of it, from the very beginning right through to the Vietnam war’s ignominious end.

This week’s battle for Bakhmut seems to fall squarely into the Hamburger Hill analogy. Taking Hill 937, our army’s map designation for that piece of Vietnam real estate, had no strategic importance other than it was there, and it was occupied by an army we didn’t like, the army of North Vietnam – a false construct if there ever was one, like the DMZ dividing North and South Korea. Major General Melvin Zais, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, admitted as much after the battle was over and the dead were being packaged up to be shipped back home. “This is not a war of hills. That hill had no military value whatsoever,” said Zais. “We found the enemy on Hill 937 and that's where we fought him.” And then they left.

The American “victory” at Hamburger Hill caused a great debate in Congress over the war, and it led to a major change in tactics by the overall American military commander in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams. The American effort in Vietnam went from something called “maximum engagement” with the enemy to “protective reaction,” which was essentially to defend American troops who came under attack by NVA or Vietcong forces. On June 10, 1969, five days after the 101st abandoned its positions on Hamburger Hill, President Richard Nixon announced the first troop withdrawals from Vietnam.

Putin hasn’t announced any troop withdrawals yet. Instead, he just did it, permitting his forces which failed to take Kyiv in the early weeks of the war to withdraw into Belarus and across the border into Russia. There, they were reconstituted and redeployed into other areas that Russia had taken but which already needed defending, like Kharkiv and Kherson. They proceeded to lose most of the Kharkiv region in northeastern Ukraine and Kherson in the south, and now Putin’s forces are hanging onto Donetsk by their fingernails and fighting one bloody engagement after another trying to take back Bakhmut and other small towns along the frontlines in Ukraine’s northeast that they lost in September. Sounds like our “protective reaction” in Vietnam, doesn’t it?

The other way Putin’s invasion of Ukraine compares with our invasion of Vietnam is that his soldiers are fighting on foreign ground against an army comprised of the people who live there. It’s their land, and that’s why Ukraine isn’t having any problems with discipline and the will to fight with its army. They want to be there. They are volunteers fighting for their country. Putin’s army, on the other hand, is today filled with ill-trained conscripts, at least some of whom had to be rounded up and forced to serve. Our army in Vietnam was full of draftees who didn’t want to be there who were fighting in a foreign land against people who knew the territory and fought fiercely to take it back from the American aggressors.

Russia is reported to be desperate for victories, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the British Defense Ministry, which have been very good at deciphering Russian intentions in the war. The ISW reported on Saturday that a White House source claimed last week that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian billionaire who owns the mercenary operation The Wagner Group which is fighting in Ukraine for Russia, appears to be intent on exploiting part of eastern Ukraine for profit. Prigozhin is said to be planning to extract salt and gypsum from deep mines in the Bakhmut region. According to the ISW, in the south, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is apparently trying to exploit industrial parts of Mariupol for his own business purposes.

Russian military bloggers, who have become hugely important in the war because they reflect Russian right-wing attitudes about the war, have been critical of Prigozhin and Russian commanders on the front lines because the battles to take Soledar and Bakhmut are causing such heavy Russian losses. And today Putin showed he’s listening to the military bloggers by announcing that he is replacing his top ground commander, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who was one of the key architects of the war. Good luck with your new fall-guy, Vladdy.

But beyond these hints about Russian intentions from bloggers and rumors from inside Russia, it's hard to know on a day-to-day basis how the battles being fought in Bakhmut and Soledar are going to go, or why Russia is fighting so hard to take these specific small towns, especially when so much damage has been done over the last 10 months of the war. “Everything is completely destroyed. There is almost no life left,” President Zelensky said of the fighting around Bakhmut yesterday. “The whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes. This is what madness looks like.”

And yet the madness continues.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

Welcome To The Dead On Arrival Congress, Where Rhetoric Is All That Matters

I’m going to be reporting on everything these Republican goofs do for the next two years. To help me cover their lying, scheming asses, you can buy a subscription right here.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has successfully navigated its way into its performative normative future by winning its first two votes. They passed the Kevin McCarthy Defenestration Act, otherwise known as the House rules, and they passed “The Family and Small Business Protection Act," otherwise known as the We Hate Taxes Act.

Big whoop. The new House rules allow Kevin to wield his gavel unless and until five of the Freedom Caucus decide to take that freedom away from him by invoking their new powers to vacate the chair – aka, fire the Speaker – on a motion that can now be made by a single member. Our boy Kev isn’t merely walking on eggshells, he’s dog-paddling through raging rapids trying to keep himself from going down the 100-foot falls that he can see lying straight ahead.

Then they made good on their promise to cut the money for the 80,000 or so new IRS employees scheduled to be hired over the next decade, funding for which was built into the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden late last year. Republicans brought back the so-called “Holman rule,” a provision dating to the 19th Century which allows the House to amend spending bills at will, cutting out stuff they don’t like (new money for the IRS), also allowing them to terminate federal employee positions they oppose, such as the 80,000 or so new IRS employees funded by the passage of last year’s spending bill.

That little legislative jewel is dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate, not to mention if it were ever to reach the president’s desk.

But who cares! They’re out there in the halls of Congress this morning giving interviews before any microphone they can find bragging about firing the 87,000 new IRS “agents” they claim will be hired over the next decade. A bald-faced lie, naturally: The Treasury Department has said that the money in the Inflation Reduction Act will be used mainly to hire customer service representatives, computer scientists, and to replace the 52,000 IRS employees who are scheduled to retire over the next six or seven years.

Only a small percentage of the new employees will be serving as IRS agents, but you won’t be hearing that from Marjorie Taylor Greene or any of her MAGA compatriots. They’re out there claiming they’re saving middle class Americans from being audited, when the truth is, none of the money appropriated for the IRS will be spent on enforcement of IRS rules on families making less than $400,000 a year. According to The Hill, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, an appointee of Donald Trump, sent a letter to the Senate last August stating “that the funds from the legislation would be used to up examination of large corporations and high-net-worth individuals.”

But try finding that bothersome little detail escaping the lips of a Republican member of Congress.

The White House announced that President Biden woul veto the bill passed yesterday by the House if it somehow accidentally ends up on his desk: “With their first economic legislation of the new Congress, House Republicans are making clear that their top economic priority is to allow the rich and multi-billion dollar corporations to skip out on their taxes, while making life harder for ordinary, middle-class families that pay the taxes they owe.”

Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which analyzes any spending legislation with respect to its possible effect on the deficit, announced yesterday that, if it were to become law, the Republican bill would lead to increases in the deficit over the next decade of $114 billion by reducing tax revenue by an estimated $186 billion.

So, every time a Republican member of the House opens his or her mouth and starts yapping about the deficit, a reporter on Capitol Hill should ask them about the more than $100 billion they just advocated adding to the deficit.

If I were a Capitol Hill reporter, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for an answer, however. With a Democratic Senate and a Democrat in the Oval Office, exactly nothing the House passes on a party-line vote over the next two years will become law. Everything the Republican House says and does will be performative, from Jim Jordan’s Judiciary subcommittee that is supposed to investigate “the weaponization of the federal government” to any sort of tax cuts they might be contemplating. The 118th Congress won’t be about legislating and laws but rather about rhetoric, pure and simple.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

In McCarthy's Pyrrhic Triumph, The Real Winner Is The 'Eff 'Em Caucus'

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I had a last line about the election of Kevin McCarthy that didn’t survive the final edit: “The word pyrrhic comes to mind.” McCarthy’s take-every-humiliating-hit-and-wear-them-down climb (or is it descent?) to the speakership is the very definition of the word: His “victory” was achieved at too great a cost to be worth anything to the victor.

We’re already getting a hint of just how fleeting his victory might be. Politico headlined, “The clock starts ticking on McCarthy’s speakership,” calling him “speaker in name only” because of the concessions he made to the right wing of his party in the House. For the first time in history, the Speaker won’t control the all-powerful Rules Committee, on which will sit three of the shut-down caucus members who caused his 15-ballot humiliation last week. They could get together with Democrats on the committee and kill any bill they don’t like. The power to control the floor of the House of Representatives lies in what doesn’t reach the floor for a vote, rather than what does.

The most interesting take I’ve seen on last week’s clusterfuck in the House arrived in the unlikely pages of the Wall Street Journal, which pointed out in an otherwise standard wrap up on the deals McCarthy made with his right-wing that “The full list of concessions hasn’t been released publicly and may never be.” That seems to me to be the hidden key to the whole thing. We know that he yielded to Freedom Caucus demands that a single representative will be able to make a motion to “vacate the chair,” essentially firing the Speaker if the motion carries.

And we know McCarthy promised to make any increase in the debt ceiling dependent on equivalent spending cuts, which puts a stake through the whole reason you have to raise the debt ceiling in the first place. Remember, the rise in the debt ceiling isn’t on new debt, it’s to pay off debts already incurred by previous spending.

There were some noises made by the Loon Caucus that McCarthy had committed to attacking in some unmentioned fashion so-called “wokeness” in the military. OMG! They’re teaching diversity training at West Point! That the U.S. military contends on a daily basis with a workforce that is probably the most diverse of any major organization in the country was not mentioned, of course. McCarthy apparently just gave the go-ahead to scream about wokeness at top volume, because they’re never going to be able to do anything about it, whatever the hell wokeness is.

There was a brief mention on MSNBC that McCarthy had made some kind of deal to go after food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Then that particular concession disappeared from the radar screen as the punditocracy put their focus on the thing they all agreed represented just how low McCarthy was willing to go to make himself Speaker – his life-long dream, they kept reminding us – because the “vacate” deal made him “weak.”

Going after food for poor people is one of the unwritten deals mentioned by the Wall Street Journal that we’ll never see, and it gives us a glimpse of what was really behind the drive for power by the right-wing in the House. In 2017, about 40 million Americans were recipients in some fashion of food assistance. Of that number, 49 percent had children under the age of 17, and 55 percent of those were single parents (read: mothers). Fifteen percent of households receiving food benefits had elderly residents; 20 percent were disabled; the average gross income for households receiving assistance was $731; the average net income was $336, indicating that those needing food assistance appeared to be paying one hell of a lot more in federal, state, and local taxes than He Who Will Not Be Named.

For some reason unknown to me, Republicans – and not just conservative Republicans -- are bothered by the fact that the federal government is giving stuff away to people they don’t like. That it is in the form of food that goes into their stomachs matters not. They think all those people earning $731 a month just need to work harder. Get out of that wheelchair or nursing home bed and go to work! That’s what right-wing Republicans want. If they can’t work, fuck ’em. They don’t eat.

Some political pundit famously wrote about Trump that for him, “cruelty is the point.” He or she was correct about the man, but cruelty was baked into the conservative model of politics in this country long before the Man With a Tequila Sunrise On His Head came on the scene. These assholes have been after welfare and food stamps and housing assistance and any other program that benefits poor people since Goldwater ran for president, and arguably, long before that. The Republican Party of the 1940’s and 1950’s had a goal of shutting down Social Security, you will recall.

And as soon as Medicare raised its head, it, too, was targeted for closure – and not just by the far right. The Republican Party has put this shit in their platform. How many votes did the Republican-led House of Representatives take to shut down Obamacare? In 2017, Newsweek reported that they had found “at least 70 Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act since its inception as law on March 23, 2010.” Newsweek went on to note that nearly every attempt to defund or otherwise get rid of Obamacare included provisions to defund Planned Parenthood, too.

So, you get the picture. Poor people need to eat? Fuck them. Poor women need reproductive heath care that might include pap smears, early-pregnancy check-ups, and other non-abortion care? Fuck them, too. That the people making use of Planned Parenthood health care are our mothers and sisters and girlfriends and wives and grandmothers, well, they’re not us, so fuck ’em.

Everyone seemed to agree last week that the fight in the House over the Speakership was about power, and they really got into the power dynamics of the procedural shit McCarthy caved on and how weak it made him. But nobody was asking what they’re going to do with the power they were fighting over now that they’ve got it. This is what these people are really up to. They want power, and what they want to use it for is to hurt people.

It hurts people when they scream about Critical Race Theory and ban teaching the truth about slavery and the Civil War and ban books that talk about sexuality that isn’t like theirs. It hurts people when you cut taxes on wealthy people so they can pay $750 for one year’s taxes, or zero dollars, while poor or middle-class people pay considerable percentages of their income. It hurts people when you deny them health care by disallowing the increases in Medicaid enrollment made possible by the Affordable Care Act. It hurts people, and kills people, when you sit around in the well of the House on your cellphones sneaking drinks in the “cloakroom” while freezing temperatures and violent storms rage across the country with poor people in their path.

Kevin McCarthy’s victory in the early hours of Saturday morning may have been pyrrhic, but the losses that he and his Fuck ’em Caucus will render against the American people will be all too real.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.


House Republicans Learn The Steep Cost Of Having No Shame

Stay tuned — there’s more schadenfreude to come.

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If anyone is having less fun as a congressional Rep.-elect than Kevin McCarthy, I don’t know who that might be.

Oh, wait a minute…found one. I just caught a glimpse of George Santos, or Anthony Devolder, or whatever he’s calling himself today. We should call him Congressman Alone With His Phone if they ever get around to swearing in the 118th Congress. It’s hard to stand out as a pathetic figure among the Republicans in this House, who include Lauren “I’ve Got More Guns Than You Do” Boebert, Matt “Keep Your Teenage Daughters Away From Me Please” Gaetz, and the Two Goofs from Arizona, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar --- but somehow George-Anthony “Yeah! That’s The Ticket!” Devolder-Santos manages it with a level of self-pity that rises to new heights with every breath that escapes his lungs.

But it’s not like McCarthy and his party aren’t getting what’s coming to them, because they didn’t just stand by while a pack of crazies ran for office and took over their party, they actively encouraged them. Donald Trump weaponized shamelessness, and Republican after Republican did exactly what he did: They lied every time they opened their mouths. Devolder-Santos isn’t an exception to the Republican rule. He is the rule. Trump taught him you could lie about anything and get away with it, so he took his example and ran with it.

So did countless others, beginning with the 147 Republican members of the House who voted not to accept the electoral certificates of Arizona and Pennsylvania. With broken glass still scattered on the floor of the Capitol building and repairmen working on the damage done to the Senate chamber and the Speaker’s offices, a large majority of the Republicans who were only hours before cowering in basement rooms and behind the protections afforded them from being bused to Ft. McNair, showed with their votes to overturn the election that they had no shame.

They’re still in the House, most of them, and they’re participating in this disaster for the country – not to mention for their party – like kids who brought the football to the playground and are threatening to take it home unless the others agree to play by their rules.

As the House went into the sixth ballot, the D.C. Punditry Establishment were in agreement that McCarthy doesn’t have a plan to break the gridlock brought on by the Insurrection Caucus in his party, but I think they’re not giving him credit for the steel in his butt as he sits there taking one hit after another in full view of his wife and kids and friends and the very, very few others who matter to him at this point in his miserable life.

This is a man whose politics since he came into office way back in 2007 have been me-me-me-me-me right from the get-go. He is showing us on an hour-by-hour basis how badly he has wanted to be Speaker of the House as he sits there stony-faced taking hit after hit from the likes of Boebert and Gaetz and the rest of them. Not even his groveling before the Hermit of Mar a Lago has helped. Trump announced publicly yesterday that the Republicans in the House should back McCarthy and vote him in as Speaker. Didn’t have much effect, as the pundits on MSNBC have somehow found a way to describe the 20 votes against McCarthy today as worse than the 20 votes against him yesterday.

It's hard to find the words to describe the level of humiliation McCarthy and the Republican Party are subjecting themselves to for a second day. It didn’t humiliate them to look around the House chamber and see the fruits of their shamelessness – Marjorie Taylor Greene proudly standing by her anti-Semitic idiocy about Jewish space lasers; and Paul Gosar, who gave the keynote address to the America First Political Action Conference hosted by neo-Nazi and white supremacist Nick Fuentes; and Andy Biggs, who was one of 14 Republicans who voted against making Juneteenth a national holiday. I could go on, but the gridlocked House chamber is packed with these half-wits. The fact that the only one they shun is their lying sack of shit representative from Long Island speaks volumes. You can cozy up to Holocaust deniers and racists, but woe be unto you if you lie about working for Goldman Sachs!

The operative emotion on the Democratic side is outright joy. They’re looking across the aisle at the 15 Republicans who flipped Democratic districts, including the six from New York who won their races in districts carried by Biden in 2020, and the Democrats are rubbing their hands together with glee. This Republican clusterfuck is writing 2024 TV ads for them. They know they’re going to be taking back the House in two years, probably with a more comfortable margin than they had for the last two years.

In fact, this Republican melt-down is starting to look like a blinking sign that the Democrats will take back the House in 2024 and hold it for a while. If Republicans do even half the shit they’re promising, like shutting down the government by refusing to raise the debt limit or negotiate a budget that can get through both houses, their party won’t see a majority in the lower chamber until their base of voters finally gets tired enough of the bullshit to expel some of these loons and put people who will govern in their place.

In the meantime, McCarthy is paying the price for his party’s embrace of shamelessness. His career is probably over, and there will be more Republican careers that will perish with him over this display of childish pique. Member after member, in nominating McCarthy again and again, has proudly said it's “the people’s house.” They’re right, insofar as the people they’re talking about are the childish brats who voted them into office. The thing they’re going to relearn if they ever knew it in the first place as this plays out is that brats don’t always get their way, and that time is coming.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.


For Kevin McCarthy, It's Back To The Worst Days Of Ninth Grade

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It’s in the early weeks of your last year in junior high. You’ve probably run for a seat on the student council in seventh and eighth grades and won, but now you’re in a contest for president of the student council. You’ve put in your grunt time as a mere vote for two years, which didn’t mean much anyway, because the Big Kids told you how to vote on stuff like a request to fix the sticking hot water faucet in the A Hallway boy’s restroom, or whether to give some kind of greeting card to the 8th grade English teacher everyone hates who’s retiring.

This is the big one. This is the office that will set you up to run for the positions that count when you get to high school – class president or one of the offices on the student council there, the stuff you’ll be able to put on your applications for college. As a kid-politician, you’re still in training, so to speak, but this is your first chance to attain a position where they will come to you.

I’m talking about the kids in your class, and the rest of the kids in school. They’ll walk up to you in the hallways and ask you stuff, like, are we going to get an extra day of spring break this year, because last year the student council voted to ask for Wednesday to Monday, rather than Thursday to Monday, but the administration shot them down. Is this the year the student council will get it for us?

We’re talking here, in large measure, of the other kids in school. You’ll be in a position you’ve never been in before. You’ll be able to pick and choose who you listen to. Soon enough, you’ll gain a skill you will make use of for the rest of your life. You’ll learn to look like you’re listening to someone who is talking to you while you look over their shoulder at someone else.

You’re going to learn that’s what it’s all about – you haven’t got enough time for all of them, but you’ve got to look like you do. They all think they’re important enough to deserve your attention, and you’d better act like they are if you want their vote when you get to high school and you’re running for class president sophomore year.

In short, you’ve got to get good at pretending people matter to you when they don’t. Some of it is glad-handing, learning to look like you remember who someone is when you have idea whatsoever. Another part is faking sincerity, faking energy and enthusiasm for someone or something when you when you couldn’t give a shit if you tried.

If you’re one of those kids who thinks becoming class or student council president will someday lead to higher office, like becoming president or, say, speaker of the house, you’re going to have to massage those talents and keep them in shape for decades. It’s not fun, and you’ll get so tired of the game you’ll want to stand in the middle of a crowd of constituents or fellow politicians and scream, but if you want it bad enough, you’ll get so good, it will never look like you’re trying.

But for Kevin McCarthy, it looked like his talents were fraying today. Did you see him after the first ballot when he lost? At first, he was wandering around the floor of the House greeting other Republican members like this was just another day of politicking. But after the second ballot, you could see the sincerity leak from him like a dripping faucet. By the third vote, he was sitting there on the aisle in one of the Power Seats on the Republican side as if somebody had cuffed him to the seat. If another one of these fuckers came up to him after the vote was called, he was going to strangle them. Apparently, one of the Republicans who supported him on the first and second ballots had had enough of McCarthy looking over his shoulder while he talked to him, because the third time, he lost another vote, going from 19 against him to 20.

It's never a good sign in politics when the direction you’re headed is downhill. Even the likes of George Santos, or whatever his name is, knew that much as he sat alone on one of the back benches with his head down looking at his phone, talking to no one at all.

He was one of McCarthy’s votes. Did you catch McCarthy glad-handing the lying sack of shit, making certain he would have him on votes two and three? Nope. I didn’t even see McCarthy doing anything more than shake Jim Jordan’s hand to thank him for his fake obsequious nomination speech the second time around. He knew he was going to lose again.

McCarthy’s finished, folks. When you’ve lost the handle talents you’ve exercised since the ninth grade, you should just sit down and let some other poor sucker take the reins. Anyway, Kev, do you really want the likes of Boebert and Greene and Gosar and the other droolers coming up and pecking at you like ducks for the next two years?

Take off the cuffs and start making plans to pull down the megabucks after you retire in ’24. On the plus side, you’ll never have to grovel at the feet of the Thief of Mar-a-Lago ever again.

This is kind of fun should be illegal. For more of my screeds on politics, plus forays into the 60’s and 70’s and war coverage, you can subscribe to my Substack right here.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.


How Russian Agents Have Perverted Our Politics: A View From 1000 Feet

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We forgot to hold a funeral for the dead drop. “Dead drop,” you say? What the hell is a dead drop? It’s the now long-abandoned practice in spy craft whereby a spy – just for the hell of it, let’s make it a Russian spy – collects a package of secret information from the agent-in-place he (or she) is running in a foreign country. The way it works is this: the agent providing the secrets goes to a pre-arranged location – let’s say it’s a bench at an overlook of the Potomac River on the Virginia side along the George Washington Parkway – and he (or she) leaves the package in a pre-arranged place – let’s say it’s in a lidded paper coffee cup left casually at the side of the overlook’s restrooms.

Then the spy – the Russian agent ­working for the SVR, the Foreign Intelligence Service, which replaced the KGB after the Berlin wall fell – anyway, the spy walks casually – it’s all done casually -- past the overlook restroom and retrieves the empty coffee cup and takes it back to his office at the Russian embassy or his home, where he proceeds to examine its contents. The package used to be microfilm, or a microdot placed on, say, a receipt from the coffee shop, or it might, in more modern times, be a memory chip or even a thumb drive.

The “dead” in dead drop refers to the fact that the agent-in-place and his spy handler never see each other because the whole thing is done according to a plan set up previously. Dead drops have been portrayed in countless spy novels and movies – the classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré comes to mind. It’s exciting. You get to see them passing the signal establishing the dead drop. One form it might take is a chalk mark on the back of a park bench, which signals that the dead drop is on at the pre-arranged location. Then you see the drop and the pickup. All of this to conceal the fact that Russia has an agent-in-place within some agency in our government, like in recent cases the Navy and even the FBI -- the law enforcement agency tasked with catching spies.

Well, as we should all know by now, the days of intelligence agents passing secrets in the night are long gone. Now the spies are right out in the open. And that’s the other thing we haven’t done. We haven’t stood back and looked at recent political events from an overall perspective. We’ve gotten lost in the rapidly and endlessly unfolding scandals of you-know-who, buried in the details of this secret meeting or that illegal campaign contribution or that questionable character being invited into the Oval Office, no less, for meetings that have gone all the way from trying to get the FBI Director to look the other way and go easy on one of what would become several White House felons, to out-and-out plots to use the military to seize election machinery and re-run an election, which was not in effect a coup, but a coup in progress.

Almost all the unusual events in our recent political life have involved Russians, and as we will see, they go back much further than we usually recall. Trump met with an outright Russian spy in the person of Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a private room after a big foreign policy speech he gave in April 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel. And then there was December 2016, when the same Russian spy, Kislyak, held a secret meeting with the son-in-law of the president-elect, Jared Kushner, and the man to be appointed national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in the transition office of Donald Trump in Trump Tower.

We should stop here to note that the word “spy” used in relation to the Russian Federation has a different meaning from its common use in this country. You don’t have to be a trained KGB or SVR agent that went to spy school to gather intelligence for your superiors in the Russian government. You can be the ambassador to a foreign country, or the owner of a Russian conglomerate doing business overseas, or even a Russian politician on a trip to visit a country considered a foreign adversary like, say, the U.S.A.

Five months after the secret meeting in Trump Tower, and the day after Trump fired his FBI director -- who had just announced that the FBI had been investigating Trump and his campaign for ties to Russia since July of 2016 -- President Trump would waltz Kislyak and his boss the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, past all the White House handlers and the Russian media – but not the American press pool covering the White House, who were banned from the event – right into the Oval Office where, it would later be reported, he passed some kind of top secret information to them about Israel and assured the two that he wasn’t bothered at all about Russian involvement in his election campaign because the United States does the same thing to other counties around the world.

Contacts between Russian spies and their targets in the U.S. would happen at places like an NRA convention, as when Maria Butina – remember her? – and her SVR handler, Aleksandr Torshin, a Russian senator who would soon become the Speaker of the Senate of the Russian Federation, a position you don’t get without the personal approval of Vladimir Putin, were given all-access passes to the NRA convention in St. Louis in 2012 and the next one in Houston in 2013, not to mention being welcomed at NRA headquarters in Virginia both years.

These two obvious Russian spies stayed involved with the National Rifle Association, the largest contributor to the campaign of Donald Trump. Torshin and Butina arranged for officials of the NRA to travel to Russia in 2015 for the convention of a completely fictional organization established by Butina called “Right to Bear Arms.” There is no right to bear arms in Russia as there is here. The organization, a mirror image of the NRA, was apparently established with Putin’s blessing simply to give open cover to the two spies, Butina and Torshin, to lure important Americans to Moscow.

Among those in Russia for the gun convention were outgoing NRA president David Keene and incoming NRA president Pete Brownell, Outdoor Channel CEO Jim Liberatore, and major Republican donors Hillary and Arnold Goldschlager. Who did they meet with while in Moscow? Well, how about Deputy Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and our friend Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov – both destined to be sanctioned multiple times for stuff like annexing Crimea, interfering with the U.S. election of 2016, and of course invading Ukraine in 2022.

Torshin and Butina also held meetings that year with no less a figure than Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer and Hank Greenberg, the chairman of American International Group. They would also attend fundraisers for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, be VIPs at the NRA convention in Nashville, and attend something called “Freedom Fest” in Las Vegas where now-presidential candidate Donald Trump was the featured speaker.

So, why bother with dead drops when you can just dispatch folks like Russian Senate Speaker Torshin and honeypot babe Maria Butina, who formed an intimate relationship with the chairman and CEO of Overstock.com, Patrick M. Byrne, who would go on to become a major Trump Stop the Steal conspiracy theorist and attend an Oval Office meeting with Michael Flynn and others when overturning the election results of 2020 was discussed with Trump. I mean, Butina and Torshin attended the National Prayer Breakfast at which Trump spoke, inaugural balls in 2017 that Trump attended, and parties at the Swiss Ambassador’s residence where they made contact with J.D. Gordon, a retired Naval officer who served as director of national security for the 2016 Trump campaign.

On and on and on I could go, but this should give you a flavor of what the Russians have been up to for the past decade or so in this country. Much more can be found in the final report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller who, while unable to indict then-President Trump on multiple counts of obstruction of justice, was nevertheless able to lay out in excruciating detail how, under the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, SVR agents and hackers working for the Russian government infiltrated the American political system, exerted influence over the Trump campaign in 2016, helped to distribute hacked Democratic Party emails to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton – I could go on, but why bother?

Trump himself hired a man with ties to Russian intelligence, Paul Manafort, to chair his campaign. Manafort would share secret polling data on battleground states with Konstantin Kilimnik, a trained Russian spy who worked for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Putin who would be involved in Trump’s attempts to blackmail the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, into helping him defeat Biden in the election of 2020.

Remember a character by the name of Lev Parnas? How about Igor Fruman? What the hell were those two doing dining with Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump at his hotel in Washington in 2018, discussing how to get rid of the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch? They were both involved with Deripaska, to whom Manafort owed something like $12 million. They were eventually arrested at Dulles Airport by the FBI with one-way tickets to Austria through Germany and indicted and convicted of funneling foreign money to a Texas Republican Congressman, Rep. Pete Sessions, who helped them get Yovanovitch fired by writing a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who promptly did just that, recalling the ambassador to Ukraine without notice or giving a reason and allowing her only two days to leave her post in Kyiv.

Just to give you a flavor of how this stuff worked, a lawyer for Parnas, Joseph Bondy, wrote a letter to a federal judge attempting to get the U.S. Attorney in New York, Geoffrey Berman, to recuse himself from the Parnas case because of conflicts of interest. Bondy told the judge he had seen proof laying out how the U.S. attorney had gathered evidence on Parnas and from whom: “ The evidence seized likely includes e-mail, text, and encrypted communications that are either non-privileged or subject to an exception to any potentially applicable privilege, between, inter alia, Rudolph Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, the former President, former Attorney General William P. Barr, high-level members of the Justice Department, Presidential impeachment attorneys Jay Sekulow, Jane Raskin and others, Senator Lindsey Graham, Congressman Devin Nunes and others, relating to the timing of the arrest and indictment of the defendants as to prevent potential disclosures to Congress in the first impeachment inquiry of then-President Donald. J. Trump.”

All those high-ranking figures with close connections to Trump were implicated in trying to prevent the disclosure of secret connections to little old Lev Parnas. And why? How about because all of them were so neck deep in Trump’s Ukraine scandal that if Parnas’ connections were made public, they would lead directly to Russian intelligence assets like Deripaska and Kilimnik and oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and others, right up to and including the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

All of this was intended to destabilize the country of Ukraine, which under the leadership of Zelensky, was making noises about becoming closer to the European Union and maybe even joining NATO. And who was really, really pissed off about Ukraine? Pissed off enough that a few years later he would invade Zelensky’s country and try to depose him? Vladimir Putin.

Here is where our view from 1,000 feet comes in. Putin had been up to his games with the U.S. since Trump, who had announced he would run for president someday, took his Miss Universe pageant to Russia in 2013. Putin had backed right-wing candidates for office in countries like France and Germany and Poland and Hungary. He had his grubby power-grabbing fingers in the political life of countries on several continents, including Africa, South America, North America, and in the Near and Far East – remember Afghanistan before we decided to ignore the whole “graveyard of empires” thing and fuck things up over there. He had announced again and again that the fall of the Soviet Union was the most terrible thing that ever happened to his homeland, and although he had not yet announced it out loud, he was driven to do something about reconstituting Russia as the great power he considered it had always been and should be again.

So, he meddled. He meddled with businesses owned by his oligarchs. He meddled by making political deals to supply country after country with his oil and especially his gas reserves. He meddled by securing the Winter Olympics for Russia in Sochi and then engaging in a government-funded and government-driven plot to use performance enhancing drugs to have his people win and show Russia was a great power in sports once again.

But his biggest, most heavily-funded and closest-watched meddling was against Russia’s eternal big power rival, the United States. The whole “Ukraine scandal” that got Trump impeached was actually a power play by Putin to destabilize that country. Remember, as far back as 2014, he had seized Crimea and had his military, in uniforms without identifying insignia, fighting full time in Eastern Ukraine alongside Russian-speaking rebel Ukrainians. Remember that his boy Manafort was the one who had the Ukraine plank removed from the Republican platform in 2016. Who do you think was behind that? Manafort had already been working with Konstantin Kilimnik for years by then, and Kilimnik was Deripaska’s man in Ukraine. (Of course, this was before the Republican Party in 2020 just threw up its hands and said their platform was anything that Trump and his Russian handlers wanted to do.)

And now here we are about to enter the second year of Russia’s war to take over Ukraine, and what do we see when we take a look at Putin and his meddling and his “military might” presently being exercised in Ukraine? We see a man and an army that couldn’t even drive its tanks to within shooting distance of the capital of Ukraine, before they were driven back by Ukrainian soldiers on foot expertly executing ambushes and other forms of guerrilla warfare against the far more heavily armed Russian army. We see a man who couldn’t manipulate American politics for a second time and keep his man in the White House.

What we see is a paper-mache tiger with an intelligence service and a military so hollowed-out and corrupt that they were able to feed him a fiction that he, and Russia, and its army were still great when they weren’t. They could move Maria Butina around and place her in rooms with important American political and business figures – and in bed with one of them – but they couldn’t move even one tank onto a broad boulevard in the much smaller and weaker country of Ukraine.

We have seen all of Putin’s efforts at exerting his influence abroad in our own country. Hell, the man who would become Trump’s national security adviser sat next to him at the dinner Putin ginned-up for him to give a speech at way back in 2015. Republicans were able to make the whole Ukraine scandal go away with votes in the Senate at the first impeachment trial, and they were able to discredit the Mueller report with Barr as Attorney General back in 2019, but the whole story of Putin’s influence campaign in 2015 and 2016 is in there for all to read.

If you want evidence they’re still at it, you need look no further than the campaign of that lying sack of shit, George Santos, or Anthony Devolder, or whatever he’s calling himself this week. They sank $50,000 in the campaign of a single congressional candidate on Long Island using coffers controlled by one of Putin’s best friends, Viktor Vekselberg. Why would they do this? Why would they give illegal money to the reelection campaign of another single congressman from Texas, Pete Sessions, using that buffoon, Lev Parnas?

Ever heard of Mark Meadows? He was once a little ‘ole congressman from North CarolinaRep, and what do you know? He got himself an office in the West Wing right down the hall from the President of the United States as his Chief of Staff. You don’t think Vladimir Putin plays the long game? I give you George Santos, a pro-Russia Republican in the exact mold of Donald Trump. They’ll do it again, and then they’ll do it again and one day while we haven’t got our eyes on the ball and we’re being distracted by some new shiny thing over there, they might do it again with a figure slightly less felonious than Santos – but only slightly. Because we’re talking about the Republican Party here, folks – the party that is in the process of elevating Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene into the upper reaches of its leadership ranks.

Have you heard Marjorie on Ukraine and Russia lately? If she has her way, we won’t send another cent to Zelensky, and Putin will be presiding over a victory parade in Kyiv — that is, if there are enough of his troops left to goose-step down the boulevard for him.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

Santos Saga Features Russian Oligarch, His Bagman, And Paul Manafort

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Folks, it’s never a good sign when two county prosecutors and the federal government are looking into your undies drawer. The Queens County District Attorney's office announced today that they are looking into any potential crimes committed by serial liar and erstwhile representative-elect from New York’s Third Congressional district, covering northern Nassau County and parts of the Borough of Queens. The offices of the Nassau County District Attorney and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York have also announced investigations into whether Santos has committed any crimes.

It also became known yesterday that Santos lied about his mother’s death. He had already lied about his mother’s birth and possibly her name, but this time he claimed that his mother was working in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and survived the terrorist attack that day but died a few days later. No one has been able to find any records of his mother’s passing in 2001, but Santos himself helpfully tweeted on December 23rd of last year that the date marked the five year anniversary of his mother’s death, which would put her passing in 2016, a year there were no terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center or anywhere else in the United States for that matter, unless you include November 8, when Donald Trump won an election he claimed was “rigged” for the presidency.

And it emerged this week that Santos was the recipient of some $56,100 in various campaign contributions from Andrew Intrater and his wife. Intrater is or has been an investment adviser to his cousin, Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Vekselberg was sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2018 for his ties to Putin and the Russian computer hacking group indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the 2016 election. Vekselberg was stopped by FBI agents at Teterboro Airport in 2018 and questioned about his ties to the Russian government. His cell phone was also seized.

Vekselberg also attended Trump’s 2016 inauguration and was present at the infamous dinner in Moscow in 2015 when Michael Flynn sat next to Putin and was the featured speaker. Flynn was then employed by the Trump campaign as its chief foreign affairs advisor and would go on to become Trump’s first national security adviser. His term in office lasted just over two weeks before he was fired for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about lifting sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration on Russian officials and certain oligarchs for their involvement in trying to influence the 2016 election.

Vekselberg was the single largest shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus, a bank which was involved in funneling money to Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, when he was working for the right-wing government of Ukraine. Manafort was indicted, tried, and convicted of financial crimes involving his time as a political adviser to pro-Russian candidate for the Ukrainian presidency, Viktor Yanukovych, who won the office but was later ousted by Ukrainian demonstrators in a “soft” revolution seeking closer ties to NATO and the European Union. Yanukovych fled Ukraine, leaving behind a gaudy palace he had built for himself, along with a private zoo of exotic animals.

Here is where it gets more and more interesting. In February of this year, in the weeks before Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, Santos was busy tweeting pro-Russian garbage and attacking President Biden: “Joe Biden is willing to start a war in Eastern Europe and send American soldiers to a deadly combat zone to protect Ukraine’s border, but fails miserably to protect the American southern border,” was one tweet on February 2, just three weeks before the Russian invasion. Ten days later, on February 12, Santos tweeted: “We are going to enter a war in the middle of the Eastern Europe winter against Russia, to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine. Meanwhile this is the sight at the US southern border, where our sovereignty is no longer a priority.” Both tweets were accompanied with photos of immigrants crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

At the time Santos made these tweets, his campaign had already received $32,800 from Intrater, the cousin and money manager for Vekselberg, friend of Putin and owner of most of Russia’s aluminum industry. Later this year, in the midst of his campaign for Congress, Santos told the Washington Post that Ukrainians had “welcomed the Russians into their provinces.” He went on to tell the paper, “It’s not like Ukraine is a great democracy. It’s a totalitarian regime. They’re not a great bastion of freedom.”

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Santos went on Fox News and claimed that his grandfather was Ukrainian. On the date of the invasion, Santos tweeted, “Pray for Ukraine!”

As I reported yesterday, The Forward located genealogy records proving that Santos’ grandparents were born in Brazil before World War II, shooting down his claims that they were Holocaust survivors who escaped Europe through Brussels.

The Daily Beast reported this week that the lying sack of shit only began using the name Santos after his association with a Ponzi scheme in Florida that collapsed, costing investors in the scheme more than $17 million. Before that, “Santos” was calling himself George Devolder. When he first ran for Congress in 2020, he began calling himself George Devolder-Santos, and then this year ran as plain old George Santos. It is unclear what names his purported Ukrainian grandparents used.

It is clear, however, that Santos received one hell of a lot of money from Andrew Intrater and his wife. The Daily Beast reported that Intrater poured $20,000 into something called GADS PAC, “a leadership political action committee bearing the candidates initials, plus $12,100 to Devolder Santos Nassau Victory, a joint fundraising committee formed with the Nassau County Republican Party.” The Nassau County Republican Party announced this week that it would not back Santos if he runs for reelection in 2024.

Everyone has been wondering where this character Santos, who only recently was being evicted from rundown apartments in Queens and stiffing friends who loaned him money, got the cash to run for Congress this year. He “loaned” $700,000 to his own campaign using money no one can find the source of, other than the company he set up and dissolved within a single year called the Devolder Organization.

Santos, who used the name Devolder when he was fleecing Floridians out of their hard-earned savings, is now claiming that’s his middle name. But who knows? He also claimed that his company “lost four employees” at the Pulse nightclub massacre in Florida. That was before he claimed in a radio interview that they weren’t exactly employees but were potential employees “in the process of being hired.”

But that was before he was taking money from friends of Putin and accusing Ukraine of being a “totalitarian regime,” which was before he was taking the side of Ukraine in its war with Russia…but who knows? Maybe tomorrow he’ll claim his Brazilian heritage and jump on a jet and move into his non-existent apartment in Rio worth “between $500,001 and $1 million.” That is, if he hasn’t faced yet another eviction by then.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

What Those Diligent Reporters Dug Up About Shapeshifting George Santos

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Looked at one way, representative-elect George Santos is a lying sack of shit who never opened his mouth that a fantastic fib didn’t emerge unscathed by doubt or shame from his heretofore pristine vocal chords. Multiple news sources – the aforementioned reporters more patient than I – have spent the Christmas holidays unraveling the tangled web of tall tales that Santos uttered about himself as he ran, and won, his race for congress in western Long Island and parts of Queens.

We’ll get to those in a moment, but I think I have another way of looking at this lie-spewing wunderkind: he is the most perfect manifestation of today’s Republican Party yet.

His lies represent a certain kind of modern Republican genius. A nobody from nowhere without a single accomplishment that would qualify him even for a position as junior-assistant legislative aide to a state rep, Santos saw his political nullity as an asset: as no one at all, he could be all things to all people.

You want a good Christian boy who was happily married to the woman of his dreams? You got him. Santos was married for five years -- in fact, he stayed married until just 12 days before he announced his campaign for Congress. “I did marry young, and I married a young woman at the time, and we pretty much were in love. And then we weren’t,” he told the Daily Beast.

Think a gay Republican might do better than a boring divorced straight guy? Presto! Santos is your man! He told the Beast he is currently married to a man whom he “previously referenced as a fiancé in campaign materials,” as the Beast reporters discovered. After assiduous digging through records of marriages in several locations, the Beast says it “could not find a record of that marriage.”

In case he saw a need mid-campaign to switch back to straight because the whole gay Republican thing wasn’t working, perhaps? Only Santos knows for sure, but it looks a lot like this guy covered every base he could find.

With a fairly large Jewish vote in his district, Santos also claimed to be not only Jewish, but the grandchild of grandparents who escaped the Holocaust by fleeing from Ukraine first to Belgium and then to Brazil. Reporters more patient than I at the Jewish publication The Forward, found genealogy records proving his grandparents were born in Brazil before World War II, making their escape from the Holocaust just a tad difficult.

Ever the shapeshifter, Santos has now told reporters more patient than yours truly at the New York Post that he is a practicing Catholic who only claimed during the campaign to be “Jew-ish.” Got that? Jew-ish like Jesus, apparently, ticking off the “Jews for Jesus” box, just in case there are a few of them still around.

You see what I mean about trying to figure out this guy? Somebody had to dig out genealogy records to track down his claims about being descended from Holocaust survivors. Just between you and me, I wouldn’t even know where to find genealogy records, much less how to interpret them, especially when they involve other countries – Brazil – and other languages – Portuguese.

Having covered all the bases he could identify with his sexuality and descendancy, Santos proceeded to the more mundane parts of his presumed resume. Degrees from NYU and Baruch, claimed Mr. All Things to All People. The New York Times took on that claim and found no one at either university had ever seen or heard of anyone called George Santos from Long Island, Florida, Brazil, or any other place Santos has claimed he once called home.

How about that old stand-by: what have you been doing for a living since you didn’t graduate from the colleges who never heard of you, George? He had that one covered, too: Goldman Sachs and Citigroup – couple of nice, big well-known, prestigious-sounding places to have drawn a paycheck. Very patient reporters from the Times called both places: Let’s see…how are you spelling that last name? S-a-n-t-o-s. Is that right? Lemme check…nope. Nobody by that name ever worked here.

Not to worry. Santos, who ran as a former employee of the two mega-banks, now says he didn’t actually work there, but rather made deals with both places through his association with several companies he either worked for or started (and ended and re-started) himself. He was an employee of a Florida operation called Harbor City Capital…at least he was until that firm was accused by the SEC of being a ponzi-scheme that ripped some $17 million from unsuspecting investor pockets.

Shapeshifting yet again, Santos claims he then went to work for something called Linkbridge Investors, reporting on a financial disclosure form in 2020 that his pay was $55,000 a year. According to some incredibly patient reporters at The Hill, Santos listed no other income or liabilities on that financial statement.

Which is interesting, because just over a year later, Santos reported taking in a salary of $750,000 a year from yet another operation, a Florida company, the Devolder Organization, which he claimed was managing more than $80 million in assets. Whose assets? Huh? Of what kind? Double huh. But Santos in the aforementioned financial disclosure form reported having between $1 million and $5 million in a savings account – I know, I know, I have the same problem you do keeping track of those millions in my savings account at a bank – as well as having between $100,001 and $250,000 in a checking account – pesky things, those bank statements…I’ll bet you have the same trouble I do understanding those complicated checking account balances.

All of that, and an apartment in – get this – Brazil worth between $500,001 and $1 million. Because, you know, while you’re living with your parents on Long Island and associating yourself with ponzi-schemes in Miami and starting companies in Florida to handle more than $80 million in assets, and showing up for your no-show jobs at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, jetting off to Brazil just kind of comes with the territory, especially when you can afford the private jets and Brazilian apartments on a corporate income of $43,688, as the Washington Post discovered the Devolder Organization made in 2022 when they patiently checked in with Dun & Bradstreet.

Are you beginning to see a trend here? The Devolder Organization that made so much money in 2021 and 2022 that Santos could loan his own campaign $700,000 this year…well, it was shut down less than a year after it was incorporated in Florida for failing to file a proper corporation report with the state.

But not to worry. Santos got on the phone today with the exceedingly patient Washington-based web magazine Semafor and explained the whole thing: Devolder, he said, was in the very complicated and quite opaque business of “capital introduction business, including deal building and specialty consulting for high net worth individuals.”

Don’t you just wish you could get a gig doing some “deal building” and “specialty consulting” that would bring in so much money – in less than a year – that you could loan your own campaign $700,000?

How did Devolder work, Semafor patiently asked. Our gay-straight-married-divorced-claimed-to-be-married-again-Christian-Jew-ish-practicing-Catholic shapeshifter was ready with an answer. As he told Semafor, one of his “high net-worth” clients “might want to sell a plane or a boat. I'm not going to go list it and broker it. What I will do is I will go look out there within my Rolodex and be like: ‘Hey, are you looking for a plane?’ ‘Are you looking for a boat?’ I just put that feeler out there.”

Me too. I want a job where all you have to do is “put that feeler out there” to take down several mil a year. “If you’re looking at a $20 million yacht, my referral fee there can be anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000,” Santos told Semafor. Exactly how did doing “referrals” work? Well, Santos claimed he had “a network of wealthy investors, family offices, institutions and endowments that included about 15,000 people.” Six months after starting up Devolder, the company he shut down a couple of months later, Santos claimed to have “landed a couple of million-dollar contracts,” according to Semafor.

This from referral fees on single transactions that could bring in “between $200,000 and $500,000” because, you know, when you’re working with “high net-worth individuals” that’s how the beans are counted.

With $700,000 in what is clearly funny-money from funny-somewhere that is not George Santos and his funny-corporations like Devolder that exist for less than a year and yet yield “savings accounts” with $1 million to $5 million in them, as well as Brazilian apartments nobody can find worth between $500,000 and $1 million, it’s beginning to look like Mr. gay-straight-married-divorced-married-again-Jew-ish-Catholic-lie-a-minute Santos just might find his feet getting a little hot pretty soon.

Let’s see him shapeshift out of that.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

West Point Wakes Up At Last -- And Decides To Stop Honoring Traitors

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Yes, folks, that’s a portrait of slave owner and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Oh, wait a minute, it’s not just a portrait of Lee. It’s a portrait of General Lee in his confederate uniform hat also shows one of his slaves holding his horse, Traveler, just behind him. It should be noted that we know the name of Lee’s celebrated horse but not the name of his slave.

Take a deep breath and try not to fall out of the chair you’re sitting in, because I’m here to tell you that this portrait, of one of the biggest traitors ever to the United States Army and our Constitution, has been hanging in the Cadet Library at West Point, the United States Military Academy, for 70 years.

This week, it was announced that West Point is removing the portrait of Lee and several other confederate symbols and imagery, including a stone bust of Lee and a bronze triptych depicting figures of note in America’s history that includes a depiction of a Klu Klux Klan member in full Klan regalia wearing hood and carrying a rifle with “KKK” emblazoned under it. Over a period of the next few months, other buildings and roads and one of the Academy’s main gates named after Lee will be renamed after Academy graduates who were not traitors.

Why has it taken so long for West Point to remove these symbols of figures who were a disgrace to our nation? That’s a good question, and the Academy should set up a commission to study why graduates who disgraced the West Point and the nation have been given places of honor for so many years.

I’ve got a place for them to start: West Point hewed for many years after the Civil War to a strict policy that neither the Confederacy nor any of its leaders who were graduates were to be honored on the grounds of the Academy. Then in 1898, when a monument to all West Pointers killed in American wars was erected on Trophy Point, former officers who served the Confederacy were invited to the ceremony. Around the country, the Daughters of the Confederacy had been erecting statues to Confederate heroes, and in the 1930’s, West Point succumbed to their entreaties along with other parts of the nation and began allowing graduates like Lee to be commemorated. Lee was a graduate of West Point and as a general in the United States Army served as the Academy’s superintendent before resigning his commission and agreeing to command the Army of the Confederacy, which fought four years of battles with Union forces during which many of Lee’s West Point classmates and other graduates were killed, along with hundreds of thousands other soldiers.

Lee’s portrait and its depiction of one of his slaves will be put in storage somewhere. The bronze triptych portraying figures of American history – including a “carpetbagger,” a derogatory term used by southerners after the war to describe northerners who had gone to the south to help enforce the new laws that banned slavery and discrimination against Black Americans – will be taken down from a prominent location on the wall of one of West Point’s main class buildings and placed “in a more suitable location,” according to a statement put out by the Academy.

Also to be removed is a quote from Lee displayed on West Point’s “honor plaza.” Somehow, the West Point class that commissioned and paid for the “honor plaza” saw fit to include a statement on honor by one of West Point’s most dishonorable graduates.

There is a reason West Point has been so slow to wake up to the discriminatory and dishonorable imagery of the Confederacy that has graced its grounds. It’s because during the years that the lies about the “lost cause” were spread throughout the nation, southerners were coming to the fore as leaders in the army of the United States once more. Even though West Point’s classes include, by law, cadets from every state in the Union according to the states’ representation in Congress, the South crept into dominance in its officer corps.

When I was in the army, about 30 percent of officers were from states in the Deep South, far above what their populations as a whole would have indicated. Self-selection for service in the military is one reason for this, but conservative politics also played a role. A 1985 poll of the officer corps in the army found that more than 80 percent of officers described themselves as Republicans, with most of that number claiming to be “very conservative” Republicans.

When conservatism became synonymous with racism is for others to study and document, but at West Point, Black cadets were “silenced” by fellow cadets for decades, at least into the 1950’s. Being “silenced” meant that a Black cadet was assigned to a single room and lived by himself, ate at a table in the mess hall by himself, and was not spoken to by any white cadets at the Academy.

Finally, in 2015, West Point named a new barracks after General Benjamin O. Davis, who graduated in 1936 after being silenced for four years. He was the first Black graduate of West Point since 1889.

None of the changes at the Academy regarding figures of the Confederacy like Lee came from within the Academy itself. All have been imposed by the congressionally-mandated Naming Commission, which was formed after the Black Lives Matter summer when George Floyd was killed. The Naming Commission has designated new names for all the army posts named after Confederate generals. The posts will have their names changed this year.

It's a definite mark of progress for the nation’s oldest military academy to finally get woke about its history and ours. Now we can sit back and wait for the howls of protest from all the Usual Suspects, including no doubt, General Bone Spurs.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

Final Report On January 6 Coup Is The Chronicle Of A Spoiled Brat

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It’s there in one long regurgitation of the last six years this country has endured: All the bile, glistening with half-chewed chunks of Big Macs bathed in the chemical-y brown residue of Diet Cokes. It’s as if someone sat down to write a Robert Caro-ish history of the Trump Era and discovered it wasn’t necessary to go back to the beginning, to the descent down the escalator cheered on by screaming “fans” hired from an extras agency and the hint of what was to come with the denunciation of Mexican immigrants as “drug dealers and rapists” and the Muslim ban and the “great big beautiful wall” which would never be completed.

This is the chronicle of the petulant ravings of the Man-child Denied – Donald Trump being told “no” for perhaps the first time in his life on November 3, 2020, and the most painful thing of all was that “no” came in the form of seven million votes he didn’t get, each one of them from those nasty people he had looked down on from his gold-plated mansion in the sky in Trump Tower for all those years – the ill-dressed and the well-dressed; the ill-coiffed and the expensively-coiffed; the un-tanned and the tanned; the ones who never got “on the list” and the ones who did get past the velvet ropes at the door of Studio 54. The worst thing of all was that he could get himself into all the nouveau-riche glitter palaces, but it was never enough because it wasn’t a mark that he truly belonged. That was the source of all his resentment.

Worst of all was the rejection for decades by the exclusive clubs in Manhattan that he tap-tap-tapped on the doors of – the Union League, the Metropolitan, the Century Association, The Harmonie Club – the stuffy, WASPy, wood-paneled inner sanctums of Those Who Mattered. They wouldn’t accept him, so he started clubs of his own – golf clubs and Mar-a-Lago – with rules that he set and he understood: You were accepted when your check cleared.

And then he did what none of those rankling WASPs could – he got himself elected president and moved into the White House, the one place in America where -- he thought -- no one would ever say no to him again. From his chair in the Oval Office, he could have it all – the meetings with powerful leaders of countries he admired like Russia and Saudi Arabia and Turkey and even little Belarus. He wanted a tax cut; he got a tax cut. He wanted a tough border policy; he got a tough border policy that ripped children from parents’ arms and locked them in cages and made the point he always made at the Trump Organization but could now make on a global stage: I’m in charge here, and if I say I want it, you goddamn make it happen. Let’s see the Union League Club get Sergey Lavrov to come for lunch, huh? Let’s see the Metropolitan hang a “beautiful” letter from Kim Jong Un on their cherrywood wall!

It was glorious for nearly four years, and then on November 3, 2020, it was over. They said “no” and he wouldn’t take it anymore than he would take the “no” from the Union League Club. They say I lost the election? Fuck that. I’ll hold my own election, and I’ll fix this one so I can’t lose.

That’s where the final report of the House Select Committee takes up the story. What happened when Donald Trump was told “no?” Where were the edges of his tantrum? Who answered his calls and his text messages and his tweets and enabled his stomping and shouting and fit-throwing attempts to re-do the election and win it this time?

The final report reads like a metaphorical replay of the last six years. He did all the stuff he had been doing for years: he told lie after lie after lie until he compiled so many they became The Big Lie, a gargantuan pile of lies so deep and so wide nobody could see over or around them. Just as he had called President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and asked him “for a favor” that was bald-faced extortion, he made call after call after call to Republican elected officials around the country and asked them “to find 11,780 votes,” or they would face legal consequences, and if that wouldn’t work, he would turn his MAGA mob on them and they would be defeated the next time they ran for office.

He called them and asked for the “favor” of holding a special session of their legislatures so they could appoint new slates of electors, Trump electors, and overturn the results of the election in their states. And when that didn’t work, he asked them to cobble together fake slates of electors and send them to the National Archives so he could use them to fuck up the certification of electoral ballots on January 6. And when that didn’t work, he tweeted to his MAGA base and asked them to come to Washington, D.C. on that date and “be wild” and fuck up the Capitol so the certification would stop and the whole thing would be thrown into such a panic, they’d just give up and ask him to come back from his political death and be president for them again.

He had spent a lifetime before he came down that escalator in July of 2015 violating one law after another: only fools and little people paid their taxes. Not Donald “I’m Being Audited” Trump. Only fools and little people paid their bills on time. Not Donald “Sue Me” Trump. Only fools and little people paid back the money people loaned them. Not Donald “I Make the Bankruptcy Laws Work For Me” Trump. Only fools and little people told the truth about how many stories were in the buildings they put up and the number of condos they sold. Not Donald “The Number is Whatever I Say It Is” Trump.

Only fools and little people accepted the will of the people, the fools and little people who voted against Donald “I’m Not a Loser” Trump. Only fools and little people took “no” for an answer. Not Donald “Frankly, We Won This Election” Trump.

In going through all the ways that Trump conspired to overturn the election of 2020, it’s as if the House Select Committee was retelling the Trump story as it had already happened before, with all the law-breaking and exaggeration and lying and bragging and scowling and faking everything from the top of his wispy coif to the corset holding in his expansive belly to the business-black-lace-ups he put on every morning as if to prove to his daddy that he was actually a man. Nothing he said about himself – and all he talked about was himself – was true. He wasn’t worth 10 billion dollars. He wasn’t a successful businessman. He didn’t pay his taxes. His apartment in Trump Towers wasn’t the biggest, most expensive apartment in New York City. Trump University didn’t teach you all the tricks of the trade he had learned over the years, except perhaps one: it was a complete scam.

Nothing he said before and especially after November 3, 2020, was true. There weren’t any voting machines that “flipped votes from Trump to Biden.” Hugo Chavez didn’t come back from the dead to fix the election for Biden. There weren’t any “Chinese ballots” flown in to serve as votes for Biden. There weren’t any “suitcases full of votes for Biden” in the counting center in Atlanta on election eve. There weren’t any immigrants bussed in to vote for Biden and the Democrats – not “thousands of them,” as he contended.

Everyone today, from the most powerful front page in the world at the New York Times to lowly Substack columns, is mining the final report for nuggets of new information. There is some, of course – the stuff about Cassidy Hutchinson being encouraged by her lawyer to perjure herself is new. There are some new details about Trump, Giuliani, and Meadows being involved early-on in the fake elector plot, and there are some fairly strong hints, but so far only hints, that Homburg-wearing swinger Roger Stone was the contact man between Trump and the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, and that all of them knew from the get-go that the “march” on the Capitol was going to be violent because it had been planned that way from the day Trump issued his “be wild!” tweet.

Rather than reacting to the news that there would be violence associated with his January 6 rally and trying to prevent it, Trump wallowed in it, enabling the militia groups and right-wing bloggers and the likes of Steve Bannon and Alex Jones and the rest of his cast of professional troublemakers, each of whom was one of the “go get’ em boys…I’ll be right behind you” variety of tough guy.

But the truly astounding thing about the report is how familiar it all is. Much of the information it contains has seen the light of day before, in newspaper reports, on cable news shows, and of course from Trump himself, who wasn’t exactly shy about what he was doing throughout the time between his loss of the election and his MAGA minions storming the Capitol. Especially familiar is how soaked the committee narrative is with Trump’s grudges and resentments and bitterness and jealousy and incompetence and cruelty and everlasting instinct for revenge.

By compiling its report on Trump and the insurrection in narrative form, the House Select Committee has done the favor of reminding us that this is who he was from the very beginning. He didn’t just commit insurrection on January 6, 2021. He committed insurrection the day he descended the escalator and hasn’t stopped yet. They should have illustrated the front page of the report with a big piece of yellow crime scene tape across the title. It’s going to take everything the Department of Justice can bring to bear to stop him long enough to indict him and put him on trial.

That’s the big take-away from the committee’s final report. Donald Trump is a crime in progress.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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