The Georgia Runoffs

Here is my latest monthly travel column as it ran recently at 3 Quarks Daily:

In this column I write about international travel, especially travel to less understood parts of the world. This month, with such travel still a wee bit constrained, how about a little political tourism from here in Georgia, where unlikely circumstance handed our state the fate of the Senate, and we are shaky stewards. 

Beware national pundits bearing wisdom. When they bring instant analysis and self-assurance about, say, Flint’s water supply, or that crazy Sturgis biker thing, be careful. Because all punditry has right now is conventional wisdom. Here on the actual battlefield the candidates compete against one another, the Republican party competes against itself, dark money scurries in the shadows, QAnon jeers from the sidelines and the truth is, nobody has any idea what’s going to happen.

Georgia Democrats’ justified pride in turning the state for Joe Biden comes with a fistful of contradictions. Consider that the Democrats’ two national MVPs this year are black southerners from neighboring states who punched way above their weight, US House Majority Whip Representative Jim Clyburn, Democrat from South Carolina, 80, and former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, 46.

When the primary season began national Democrats looked destined for tag-team fratricide, Sanders and Warren and The Squad on the left, Biden and Klobuchar and Buttigieg glued to the middle. No one had any particular expectations for Joe Biden. He finished 4th in Iowa, 5th in New Hampshire and 2nd, barely, in Nevada. No one was taking charge of the Democrats and the alternative was four more years.

Clyburn took charge. He steadied the party with a ringing endorsement of Biden before his South Carolina home crowd and in a well-meant, astonishing nearly unanimous coalition against Donald Trump, Democratic centrism prevailed. While here in Georgia, Stacey Abrams rejected all that, explicitly.

Before Abrams’ day, Georgia Democrats took the gradual approach to changing red to purple and maybe one day to blue. Before Abrams centrist Democrats, like former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, showed the (eventual, theoretical) path to – one day – turning blue.

Nunn’s daughter Michelle ran for her father’s seat in 2014. Republican David Perdue, a plug-in, generic businessman who spent a career at companies selling food, household products, jeans, then shoes, then as the CEO of a textile company and a discount chain, defeated Senator Nunn’s daughter. He is standing for reelection.

Abrams, as Minority Leader of the Georgia House, was narrowly defeated in a 2018 race for Governor marked by accusations of voter suppression. She ran against the then Secretary of State, our current Governor Brian Kemp, who effectively presided over his own election.

Stung when denied the Governorship she was convinced she’d won, Abrams torched the centrist playbook and set about registering Georgia voters with unabashed appeals to the left. With help from her New Georgia Project (under investigation by the current Secretary of State), and other groups like Georgia Stand Up, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 12,670 votes. Georgia turned blue for the first time since ‘92.

Perhaps Clyburn’s centrism is the only way to victory for Democrats in South Carolina. Probably. But next door in Georgia, where Atlanta’s surging growth suddenly accounts for 57% of the state’s population, Abrams found a new way to move the party forward.

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It’s Not Just our Corrupt President

I agree with Sarah Chayes, former NPR foreign correspondent, adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and currently a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, who wrote this morning that our entire influence-peddling, revolving-door system of governance needs a thorough housecleaning. Having visited Ukraine last month, I’ve had a lot of smug fun showing you pictures like the two below and those in this previous post. They show the excess and corruption Ukrainians tried to upend by ousting President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. President Yanukovich lived in this place on a salary of around a thousand dollars a month.

Yanukovych’s fleeing to the protection of Russia was a victory for everyday Ukrainian people who forced him out, no question. But it is not to the honor of the United States that as soon as Yanukovych was safe in Vladimir Putin’s arms the American Vice President’s son came ’round, and as Chayes put it in her article headlined No Excuses for Hunter Biden,

“He had no prior experience in the gas industry, nor with Ukrainian regulatory affairs…. He did have one priceless qualification: his unique position as the son of the vice president of the United States, newborn Ukraine’s most crucial ally. Weeks before Biden came on, Ukraine’s government had collapsed amid a popular revolution, giving its gas a newly strategic importance as an alternative to Russia’s, housed in a potentially democratic country. Hunter’s father was comfortably into his second term as vice president—and was a prospective future president himself.”

Despite any apparent qualifications beyond bloodline, Biden-the-younger was named a director of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer.

Most of us, all but President Trump’s 30-something percent hardcore supporters, can agree that this president has to go. To my fellow Trump opponents who advocate electing Joe Biden to “get back to normal,” I suggest that the status quo ante won’t do, either.

So now for more of the self-satisfied display of corruption and greed, Ukrainian-style:

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s home from the rear. The balcony leading from the President’s bedroom, top right, afforded him a lovely private view of the Dnieper River. The corresponding balcony, on the left, opened from his girlfriend’s bedroom.

The view from the front of the former president’s home.