Trump’s Classified Damage

The possibility that Donald Trump may have severely damaged U.S. security by revealing U.S. classified information to hostile foreign governments remains a concern among those of us who have served as government employees working with classified material. Because our intelligence and other classified operations depend on secrecy for their success, ordinary citizens may never know what losses we suffered.

Trump’s affection for the Russians and Vladimir Putin started before his election in 2016. The Russians, anxious to exploit his partiality, went out of their way to bolster his election and made no secret of their fondness for him. Trump has continued to favor the Russians and recently described Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as “genius” and “savvy”—citing the invasion, Trump said “Oh, that’s wonderful.”

We know that in May 2017 Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador. U.S. officials said that Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. The data Trump gave the Russians was reported to have been codeword, one of the highest levels of classification. Its source was reported to be another country who had not given us permission to share the secret information with a third nation.

We also know that Trump illegally moved classified documents to his residence in Florida when he left the White House after his defeat in 2020. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration reported to Congress that it had recovered 15 boxes of classified material.

Trump makes no secret of his disdain for the law and his willingness to endanger U.S. security. We’ll never know the extent of harm done because the government depends on secrecy to protect its sources and methods. And Trump goes unpunished. Had I, as an ordinary government employee, given classified information to the Russians or stolen 15 boxes of classified documents, I would have been arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned.

Why does the U.S. government not arrest Trump?

More Words, Words, Words (2)

Back to it again: words and their derivation and meaning. To remind the reader: I am a fulltime and devoted writer. Therefore, words are my bread-and-butter. So that’s where I begin: bread-and-butter: according to Merriam-Webster, it means being as basic as the earning of one’s livelihood.

That brings me to a far more complex term, sycophant. Merriam-Webster has a lot to say about that word: “In ancient Greece, sykophantēs meant ‘slanderer.’ It derives from two other Greek words, sykon (meaning ‘fig’) and phainein (meaning ‘to show or reveal’). How did fig revealers become slanderers? One theory has to do with the taxes Greek farmers were required to pay on the figs they brought to market. Apparently, the farmers would sometimes try to avoid making the payments, but squealers—fig revealers—would fink on them, and they would be forced to pay. Another possible source is a sense of the word fig meaning ‘a gesture or sign of contempt’ (as thrusting a thumb between two fingers). In any case, Latin retained the ‘slanderer’ sense when it borrowed a version of sykophantēs, but by the time English speakers in the 16th century borrowed it as sycophant, the squealers had become flatterers.”

I’ll close with one more word: vanguard, meaning a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas. The term comes from the Middle French, avant-guarde (forward guard). My understanding is that the word specifies those out in front of a movement, blazing new horizons.

More next time.

Voter Suppression Laws

Because Democrats outnumber Republicans, the GOP is working hard to suppress voting in hopes that restricting Democratic power in the voting booth will help Republicans to win elections. That Democrats outnumber Republicans is obvious in the statistics: On December 17, 2020, Gallup polling found that 31 percent of Americans identified as Democrats, 25 percent identified as Republican, and 41 percent as Independent. A more recent Gallup poll (undated) finds that 49 percent of Americans consider themselves Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, while 40 percent consider themselves Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. I suspect that given the atrocious record of the Republicans starting with Donald Trump’s election in 2016, running through the mob attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 that Trump incited (which the Republicans now refer to as “legitimate political discourse,”), and Trump’s great lie that he won the 2020 election despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, more and more Americans will be siding with the Democrats against the Republicans.

So now Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are trying to improve their election prospects by passing 489 voter suppression bills in 49 states. And it’s getting worse: as of January 14 of this year, legislators in at least 27 states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrictive provisions, compared to 75 such bills in 24 states on January 14, 2021. Worst of all, these bills disproportionately impact voters of color. And the Republicans justify the introduction of bills suppressing the vote by claiming widespread voter fraud; all available evidence proves the opposite.

I suspect that these and other measures taken by the Republicans will over time reduce their popularity to the degree that the GOP will cease to be a major player in American politics. In the meantime, current polls favor the Republicans in the 2022 elections. As I have written here before, I suspect that the polls are misleading. We’ll find out in November.

Putin’s Nuclear Sabre Rattling

As terrifying as the nuclear threats coming from Russian President Vladimir Putin are, we Americans need to put them in context. While Russia’s ability to strike with nuclear weapons against the west is considerable, it is nothing compared to that of the U.S. Put differently, Russia could inflict great damage on the west and the U.S. with nuclear strikes, but Russia would be destroyed by the response, bombed back to the stone age. And there’s no doubt that Putin and his oligarchs would be instantly killed.

Putin does, of course, know the threat. So do his fellow despots. So as long as Putin and his associates are acting rationally, we can rest assured that they will not resort to nuclear strikes against the U.S. But evidence that the rulers of Russia are not sound in their thinking is manifest, especially in their decision to invade Ukraine in the first place. The fact that the war has gone against them in so many ways shows how poorly they understood their own military vulnerability. And we can’t rule out the use of small-yield tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield if the war continues to go against Russia.

So Russia’s nuclear threat continues. We and other western nations, including Ukraine, must counter Russia’s military threat and make it unmistakably clear that resort to nuclear means will be ruinous for Russia. That might mean assuring that tactical nuclear weapons are available to Ukraine in the event that Russia resorts to them.

SCOTUS Scuttled

The Supreme Court of the U.S. is en route to its own demise, thanks to Donald Trump and his followers, who packed the court with incompetent right-wing justices. Now the court has suffered a leak of its draft judgment of abortion prohibition, in itself an unprecedented lapse.

The end result will be, over time, that the court will lose relevance. Its only power is its influence—it has no means of carrying out its decisions and must depend on the president and Congress. To the degree that the U.S. citizens lose respect for the court, its potency shrivels. And the leaked decision to reduce access to abortion goes against the will of the majority of the U.S. population.

This may be the greatest damage yet inflicted by Donald Trump.

Colonel Lou Schott Honored Again

WMAR Television (Baltimore), who recognized me in its “Voice for Veterans” series a few weeks ago (you can view it at https://www.wmar2news.com/voiceforveterans/army-veteran-former-nsa-spy-writes-to-cope-with-trauma-from-vietnam-war) has now done a segment on Marine Colonel Lou Schott (see it at https://www.wmar2news.com/voiceforveterans/101-year-old-wwii-vet-shares-his-experiences-to-inspire-future-servicemembers).

Colonel Schott and I are both members of American Legion Post 156, and I was privileged to attend his WMAR interview. While my currently declassified combat service on the battlefield was in Vietnam, Colonel Schott was a platoon leader at the Battle of Peleliu (September 15 to November 27, 1944) in the Mariana and Palau Islands of the western North Pacific Ocean. The clash was one of the toughest, bloodiest battles of World War II. After an injury and a promotion, Schott took command of a rifle company in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines before moving on to other commands that led to his promotion to colonel.

I am privileged to be a combat brother to Colonel Schott. I am pleased and gratified to see him honored.

More Words, Words, Words

Because I was born to be a writer and have worked as a linguist in seven languages, words and their origin are forever in the forefront of my mind. I recently devoted a couple of blog posts to words that intrigue me, but I’m nowhere near finished. Turns out I have plenty of material to work with. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, English now has 171,476 words that are in current use and is adding more all the time.

I start today with two words taken from oriental languages. First is tycoon, defined as a wealthy, powerful person in business or industry. It comes from the Japanese taikun, “Great Lord” (大君).

Possibly related is typhoon, a tropical cyclone.  The term presumably come from the Chinese 大風 (tai fung), “big wind”, but some etymologists argue that its origin was Portuguese (perhaps from Greek tuphōn which means “whirlwind”).

Then there’s finicky—overly fussy about one’s needs or requirements. The word came about as an alteration of finicking, itself an alteration of another adjective, finical. It’s believed that finical derives from the adjective fine.

Next is persnickety, alternate form of pernickety, placing too much emphasis on trivial or minor details; fussy. The word is of uncertain origin; the Dictionary of the Scots Language says that it resembles per- (“intensifying prefix”) + nick, but might be derived from particular + finicky with the form influenced by past participles ending in -et, -it, and -ed.

And finally (for today, anyway) is snicker—to give a half-suppressed, typically scornful laugh. The word has many related words in English, among them snigger, sneer, smirk, simper, titter, giggle, whicker, and chortle. The word’s origin is unclear, but it may have been consciously invented in the 1690s. It’s possibly of imitative origin, similar to Dutch snikken “to gasp, sob.”

That’s plenty for today. More next time.

Polls Favor Republicans

All the polling I’ve looked at suggests that the Republicans will take back the Senate and the House of Representatives in November. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight,for example, forecasts Republican victory. And Republicans raised $248,000,000 last year to pay for campaigns. I have no numbers for this year, but I’m sure the amount will be, by November, even greater.

The Republicans are gaining favor despite President Biden’s impressive achievements for which he gets little credit. Part of the reason for that is that Biden fails to capitalize on his successes. Another part is that Democrats are forever wrangling among themselves and fail to come together while the Republicans are quick to unify. And Republicans have the money to plaster advertising everywhere.

Despite all that, I can’t help but believe the Democrats will dominate in November. The main reason is that the Republican record is catastrophically bad. First came the Trump presidency with its endless disasters crowned by Trump’s 30,573 lies during his presidency—averaging about 21 lies a day. Then came the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, incited by Trump and carried out by his supporters, which resulted in at least seven deaths. Bald-faced lies followed. The Republican National Committee officially declared that the attack on the Capitol and events that led to it were “legitimate political discourse” and rebuked two lawmakers in the party who condemned the riot and the role of Trump in spreading the election lies that fueled it.

Meanwhile, it’s public knowledge that Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are trying to pass 489 voter suppression bills in 49 states. And 121 House Republicans and 7 Republican Senators voted against certifying Joe Biden’s unmistakable victory in the 2020 election. Meanwhile, 43 Republican senators voted to acquit Trump of all charges in the Senate Impeachment Trial despite ample evidence of his guilt.

How bad does a political party’s record have to be for voters to turn against it? So polls notwithstanding, I foresee a sizable victory for the Democrats come November.

I welcome readers’ views.