All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

Vladimir Putin Is Not the Neville Chamberlain the US/NATO is Looking For

NATO countries international expansion. Graphic by Honge. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
NATO countries international expansion. Graphic by Honge. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“I think one lesson in recent history,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on January 7, referring to the entry of Russian troops into Kazakhstan to save that country’s allied regime from an uprising of dissatisfied serfs, “is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”

That’s the pot calling the kettle black. More than 30 years after the Warsaw Pact’s dissolution, 77 years after the end of World War Two, the US still keeps 40,000 troops in Germany.

For 45 years, the justification was to defend Germany from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. As Germany moved toward reunification, US Secretary of State James Baker assured Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization wouldn’t expand so much as “one inch eastward” into the former Soviet sphere of influence it was created to contain.

That assurance, codified in various negotiations and subsequently declassified documents, was far from “informal” as supporters of an expanding NATO pretend. It may well have kept eastern Europe’s transition toward independence from devolving into the third general European war in a century.

But NATO broke its word. In 1999, the alliance began an eastward march into Russia’s  still considerable sphere of influence and toward its borders — the precise outcome Gorbachev feared and was promised wouldn’t happen. Since 1999, NATO has nearly doubled its number of member states instead of dissolving as it should have.

Suppose the Warsaw Pact had admitted Nicaragua in the 1980s, then begun adding states in central America, culminating in a  coup in Mexico (like the one sponsored by the US in Ukraine in 2014) to replace a pro-US regime with a pro-Russian regime, followed by entertaining Mexican membership in the Pact and saber-rattling over the US “massing troops near the Mexican border.”

I suspect the US/NATO response would look rather like the Russian response to current US/NATO follies in eastern Europe and Ukraine: A stern warning to back off or suffer severe consequences.

The US and NATO could have embraced an opportunity for long-term peace and increased general prosperity. Instead, they decided to play the role of perpetually aggrieved sore winner.

Some US hawks liken the situation to Munich in 1938, and they’re not wrong — but they’ve reversed the roles. It’s NATO that’s gobbled up Czechoslovakia after Czechoslovakia, and Vladimir Putin whom they’re trying to cast as Neville Chamberlain. He seems disinclined to accept the role.

We may be closer to large-scale war between “great powers” now than at any time since 1945, this time with nuclear weapons ready at hand. Expecting Putin to bail the US and NATO out of a bad situation of their own making with abject submission isn’t a strategy for peace, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Photo ID to Vote? Well, OK, But …

A bunch of guys without photo ID getting ready to vote.
A bunch of guys without photo ID getting ready to vote.

One perennial proposal in the ongoing “fight” (actually more a set of dueling theatrical productions a la professional wrestling) over “election integrity” is a requirement that voters produce official, government-issued identification documents, complete with photo, at polling places.

Anyone who’s ever worked door security at a nightclub (yes, I have) knows that possession of a card with a photo vaguely resembling the person possessing it is no guarantee of identity.  And polling places have a built-in advantage over nightclubs: EVERYONE has to be on the guest list to get in.

Having individuals pretend to be voters when they aren’t doesn’t seem to be a real problem, if for no other reason than that it’s an incredibly labor-intensive way to fraudulently swing an election outcome.

In reality, the photo ID requirement drives seem to be more about making sure that only the “right” people — those who have the time and money to sit around government offices waiting for those very special cards — get to vote.  There being, probably not coincidentally, a strong correlation between being one of those “right” people and possessing a skin tone that matches one of the lighter shades on the Pantone Matching System Color Chart.

But it seems to me that there’s room for a compromise here — a way to take the supposed concern seriously, and do something about it, in return for something that naturally follows from doing so.

Side A of this grand bargain proposal is simple: Give the “photo ID to vote” advocates what they want. You don’t get to vote without showing government-issued photo ID.

Side B is a little messier: Since photo ID is so important that it’s impossible to trust the results of an election not requiring it, all past elections not requiring it are deemed null, void, and of no effect. Every political official chosen in an election without photo ID requirements is automatically recalled, and every law passed by those officials — or by voters in a non-photo-ID election — is rescinded.

Yes, all of them, all the way back.

I have it on good authority that not a single member of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, or any of the legislators or convention delegates ratifying the Constitution, possessed government-issued photo identification documents.

How can we possibly know that the gentlemen purporting to be James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, et al. weren’t just  a gaggle of randos in borrowed wigs and waistcoats who fraudulently passed themselves off as the genuine personages?

If, as its advocates claim, photo ID is necessary to “election integrity,” we can’t trust that any past election was properly conducted or properly decided, and should therefore not consider ourselves bound by those elections’ results.

Your move, “election integrity” panic-mongers.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Missouri Governor Mike Parson Tries to Stick it Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Photo by EpixRu. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Photo by EpixRu. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

“Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me,” Missouri congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver said in an 1899 speech: “I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

Note to Missouri governor Mike Parson: You’re getting this “Show-Me State” business all wrong.

Parson tried to charge Elad Gross, a  candidate for state attorney general,  $3,618 for documents Gross requested under the state’s Sunshine Law, claiming more than 90 hours of required “research and processing” at $40 per hour. The “processing” involved having attorneys redact information from the requested documents. The state’s Supreme Court ruled against Parson last June.

In the meantime, the state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, claimed that he couldn’t investigate alleged violations of the Sunshine Law by the governor’s office because that office (rather than, say, the people of Missouri) is his “client.”

Now Parson’s asking the state legislature to amend the Sunshine Law so that he can keep more government documents secret and charge more for handing over such information as it might happen to please him to show.

It’s not just Missouri. Politicians and bureaucrats at every level of American government love keeping secrets from the media and from the mere serfs they claim to work for. They “classify” information, try to hide that information behind novel claims of “executive” or “attorney-client” privilege, or just jack up Sunshine Law fees so that the average taxpayer can’t afford to find out what his supposed employees are up to.

Those first two methods of thwarting transparency probably have to be dealt with in court on a case-by-case basis, but there’s an easy solution to the third.

How many billions of dollars has government spent putting a computer in every cubicle and building Internet-connected data centers complete with public-facing web sites?

Missouri’s legislature, and the legislatures of other states, SHOULD amend the Sunshine Laws — and the amendments should require all government documents and recordings of all government meetings to be posted in a timely manner to public-facing web sites with robust search functionality.

If a government employee, office, or department wants an exception for a particular document or recording, that document or recording should be posted to a closed database/site for review, within ten days, by a court. Or, better yet, by a randomly selected panel of registered voters, with a unanimous vote required to approve keeping the document or recording from public view.

Government transparency should be the rule, not the expensive exception.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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