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Looking Back to Singapore on the Road to Helsinki

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Donald Trump has already invested a lot of personal political capital by agreeing to meet with Vladimir Putin despite the warnings of many of his advisers, associates and allies. Trump will have at least two opportunities to achieve an impressive historically significant victory. First, he could secure a promise from Vladimir Putin that Russia will not interfere in the midterm Congressional elections later this year, set to take place just five short months from now. Second, the sides could draw up some kind of framework document on Syria. This is particularly relevant as Trump is not especially interested in Syria and has been threatening to wrap up the U.S. operation in the country for a while now.

The agreement with North Korea is being spun as a personal achievement of Trump, rather than the fruit of U.S. policy that has been implemented over the course of several years. According to Trump’s version, it was he who managed to “solve” the problem that his predecessors had been unable to deal with for decades. Every possible “deal” with Moscow will be considered separately. If Russia’s friend Donald has the opportunity to press his friend Vladimir on the global arms market, then he will do so to the fullest extent.

The final declaration, if there is one, will inevitably be an extremely general, concise, and at the same time vague document. Trying to get something more concrete from Trump at this stage is a hopeless affair and a waste of time and energy.

The existing balance of power within the administration, and within the U.S. political establishment as a whole, does not yet favour a departure from the course of tough confrontation with Russia. And Trump’s mood, as the experience of North Korea demonstrates, tends to fluctuate wildly.

Nevertheless, the summit in Helsinki presents the most realistic opportunity for Russia to open a meaningful conversation with the United States on issues that are of great importance to both countries. It will likely be a long time before another chance like this presents itself.

Helsinki has little in common with Singapore. And Russia is vastly different from North Korea. On the international stage, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un play in different leagues and by different rules. Nevertheless, the recent U.S.–North Korea summit in Singapore is of some interest in the context of preparations for the meeting between U.S. and Russian leaders on July 16. The impressive political show that took place on the island of Sentosa allows us to make some assumptions about the diplomatic style of Donald Trump in dealing with “difficult” partners who are not inclined to easily succumb to overt pressure and are not prepared to unconditionally accept American superiority.

“What I need is to win. Nothing else! ”

It is well known that Donald Trump has a soft spot for strong leaders, even those who cannot be considered friends or allies of the United States. America’s traditional partners rarely receive the kind of attention from the President that Kim Jong-un was afforded in Singapore on June 12. This is precisely why Trump desperately needs a win, or at least something that looks like one. Getting into yet another squabble with Justin Trudeau or sending Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron home empty-handed – this is all par for the course for the current President of the United States. Failure, however, was simply out of the question during the summit in Singapore. This is why the strictly preliminary and extremely vague agreement on nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula has been declared an unqualified “historical triumph” of U.S. foreign policy.

What could happen in Helsinki that would put the meeting on a par with this win for Trump? It would seem that Trump will have at least two opportunities to achieve an impressive historically significant victory. First, he could secure a promise from Vladimir Putin that Russia will not interfere in the midterm Congressional elections later this year, set to take place just five short months from now. As Moscow refuses to acknowledge that any interference took place in the presidential elections and has no intention of signing up to any unilateral commitments, such an accord will have to come in the form of a bilateral agreement on non-interference. This is not a simple task, but it is possible. Second, the sides could draw up some kind of framework document on Syria. This is particularly relevant as Trump is not especially interested in Syria and has been threatening to wrap up the U.S. operation in the country for a while now. Of course, it would be better to pull out of the reasonably inhospitable Syria in the form of a deal with Moscow, and if necessary, Moscow could be accused of violating the terms of any agreement signed.

“I’m not Obama, I’m different…”

In his diplomacy, Trump tries to distance himself as much as possible from his predecessors, particularly Barack Obama. Never was the desire to do this more evident than during the summit in Singapore. We could spend hours arguing whose approach to cooperation with Pyongyang was closest to that of the man currently residing in the White House – Barack Obama’s? George W. Bush’s? Or even Bill Clinton’s and Madeleine Albright’s? – but Donald Trump has no intention of sharing his successes with anyone. The agreement with North Korea is being spun as a personal achievement of Trump, rather than the fruit of U.S. policy that has been implemented over the course of several years. According to Trump’s version, it was he who managed to “solve” the problem that his predecessors had been unable to deal with for decades.

We can expect the same approach during the meeting in Helsinki. For example, the START III agreement between Russia and the United States is now seen as a bad thing because it was negotiated by the Obama administration, and extending it cannot feasibly be spun as a personal victory for Trump. Similarly, we are unlikely to see a return to some of the elements of the agreement reached between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry on Syria, primarily because it was signed by a Secretary of State from the Democratic Party that Trump hates so much. Consequently, we need to move away from continuity, emphasizing the novelty and revolutionary nature of any possible agreements. Even if, de facto, we are talking about a return to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or to START III, it is very important to integrate this conversation into the context of the search for new foundations of strategic stability in the 21st century world.

“Details? Throw ‘em on the furnace! ”

Many observers believe, incorrectly, that the American side did not properly prepare for the meeting in Singapore, and this is the reason why a more substantive and detailed agreement on the North Korean nuclear issue was not reached. In actual fact, the U.S. experts, whose professionalism we have no reason to doubt, worked conscientiously on the issue. What happened was that the President once again revealed his traditional dislike for detail, and the two leaders confined themselves to a general – and in places ambiguous – final document. As far as we can judge, Trump had no desire whatsoever to trade back and forth endlessly on what the wording of the document would actually be. This tactic is, to some extent, justified, as a joint document creates fewer obligations and is less vulnerable to criticism from political opponents at home.

This is probably what will happen in Helsinki too. The final declaration, if there is one, will inevitably be an extremely general, concise, and at the same time vague document. Trying to get something more concrete from Trump at this stage is a hopeless affair and a waste of time and energy. And it does not even matter whether the attempts come from the Russian side or Trump’s own team. Any kind of concrete agreement will create a pretext for the opposition to accuse the President of pursuing a policy of appeasement, while there will be no shortage of members of Congress willing to somehow block the practical implementation of such an agreement. A very general declaration, however, would be a great achievement in the current climate, opening the way for further elaboration and more concrete and practical agreements.

“The show must go on.”

Any somewhat significant political movement by Trump is in no small part an effective and colourful show designed to attract as much attention as possible, primarily within the United States but also around the world. This public side of Trump’s diplomacy was demonstrated in all its glory in Singapore, starting with the choice of exotic venue for the meeting, the threat that it would not go ahead and the subsequent confirmation, followed by the numerous presidential tweets, showy photo shoots, flashy press conferences, etc. The attention of the whole world was riveted once again on the President of the United States, which, as far as he was concerned, was an important foreign policy achievement in itself.

It is clear that Helsinki promises even greater opportunities than Trump was offered in Singapore. The first meeting between the U.S. and Russian leaders is an ideal opportunity for the Donald Trump brand to be promoted on a global scale. It should be furnished in the correct manner, like the Tilsit meeting between Napoleon and Alexander I on a raft in the middle of the Neman River in June 1807. The excellent stage direction of the show could more than make up for any modest practical results that may come out of the summit. At the end of the day, Donald Trump has already invested a lot of personal political capital by agreeing to meet with Vladimir Putin despite the warnings of many of his advisers, associates and allies. Surely he has the right to count on the appropriate political dividends. It would probably be wise for the Russian side to play up to Trump, especially because the meeting has particular symbolic significance for Russia too, given the current circumstances.

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

The summit in Singapore, as well as the many other high-level meetings held by Donald Trump, allow us to make the following conclusion: “friendly” personal relations with foreign leaders, handshakes, hugs, pats on the shoulder, and mutual compliments – none of this means that the President of the United States is willing to make compromises on issues that he sees as being truly important for himself. Not a word has been said about easing international sanctions against Pyongyang since that romantic meeting on the island of Sentosa. In a similar vein, the demonstrably friendly personal relations Trump enjoys with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping did not prevent him from increasing economic pressure on Tokyo and declaring an economic war on China.

For Russia, this means that any possible agreement signed in Helsinki concerning strategic stability or the Syrian settlement, for example, will not lead to Trump easing pressure on Moscow in areas where he believes applying pressure is in the interests of the United States. In this sense, Trump, as far as we can tell, is not prepared to follow the tactic of positive alignment of certain aspects of U.S.–Russia relations with others, a tactic pursued by many U.S. presidents before him. Every possible “deal” with Moscow will be considered separately. If Russia’s friend Donald has the opportunity to press his friend Vladimir on the global arms market, then he will do so to the fullest extent. If he gets the chance to twist the arms of the United States’ allies in Europe and force them to buy expensive American gas instead of the cheaper Russian gas, not a single summit will help change his mind. If some kind of agreement on Syria comes from the meeting in Helsinki, this will do little to facilitate a deal on Ukraine. As the saying goes, “It’s just business, nothing personal.”

“A promise means nothing.”

The weeks following the meeting in Singapore demonstrated that Trump is selective when it comes to keeping his promises – especially if they are formulated in general terms and can be interpreted in many ways. In all honesty, we already knew this. Let us recall, for example, the infamous story of the plans discussed by the Russian and American leaders on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Hamburg in July 2017 to set up a U.S.–Russia working group on cybersecurity, plans for which have yet to materialize. In response to his many critics back home who accuse him of making “unilateral concessions” to Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Trump fires back confidently that the United States can easily renege on any of these “concessions” (including the moratorium on joint U.S.–South Korea military exercises) if it is not satisfied with Pyongyang’s actions moving forward. It’s not that the President of the United States deliberately and cynically went against his word, but that unpredictability is an organic part of his diplomatic style.

This means that any agreement reached in Helsinki cannot be regarded as final and irreversible until it has acquired the form of a concrete and detailed treaty, a roadmap detailing the responsible officials, timeframes, enforcement mechanisms, etc. The White House will always find a pretence for going back on preliminary obligations it has agreed upon with Moscow. This is why we should probably not attach any kind of sacred meaning to formulations, terms, and figures of speech that might make their way into any joint U.S.–Russia agreements signed in Helsinki. Nor does it make any sense to cling to anything the President of the United States says during the summit. It is far more important to try and change the general atmosphere in the bilateral relations and instil a positive “spirit of Helsinki” that would allow the two countries to move forward in specific directions at lower levels of interaction.

“Let a hundred flowers bloom.”

As far as we can tell, theUS agreements with North Korea in Singapore did not stop the fierce conflict within the United States regarding possible options for resolving the Korean nuclear problem. The struggle continues as bitterly as ever. This conflict is not only between Trump and his opponents on Capitol Hill; the administration itself does not seem to have a coherent plan in this regard. Rumour has it that there are at least two groups vying for Trump’s ear on the Korean issue. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s doves oppose National Security Advisor John Bolton’s hawks. It is difficult to say whether this bureaucratic tug-of-war is a manifestation of the President’s managerial style or the result of the confusion and uncertainty that have been the hallmarks of the current administration from the very beginning.

In any case, we have to be prepared for the fact that the meeting in the Finnish capital will not be a turning point, but simply the start of a complex process to restore relations between Moscow and Washington. The political and bureaucratic struggle in Washington for the implementation of the Helsinki Accords, whatever they may be, will be complicated and time-consuming. Attempts at bureaucratic sabotage and obstruction of progress on various pretexts cannot be ruled out. Nor can the desire to load the agreements reached in Helsinki with all kinds of additional terms and requirements. The existing balance of power within the administration, and within the U.S. political establishment as a whole, does not yet favour a departure from the course of tough confrontation with Russia. And Trump’s mood, as the experience of North Korea demonstrates, tends to fluctuate wildly.

Nevertheless, the summit in Helsinki presents the most realistic opportunity for Russia to open a meaningful conversation with the United States on issues that are of great importance to both countries. It will likely be a long time before another chance like this presents itself.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Global Warming And COP26: Issues And Politics

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The president’s massive social services and infrastructure package is under consideration by Congress.  The problem is Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.

Not only is West Virginia a coal-producing state but Mr. Manchin owns two coal companies.  Although in a blind trust operated by his son, it is clear that coal companies make money when they sell coal.

But coal is a serious polluter, possibly the worst among fossil fuels.  Any serious attempt to reduce the impact of climate change will replace coal with at least natural gas — available in abundance and emitting almost 50 percent less CO2 according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Republicans — many of whom deny global warming following Trump’s lead — adamantly oppose the plan en bloc, so Senator Manchin’s vote is crucial.  For the moment then, the fate of the planet lies in the hands of one man because, quite simply, if the US backs off, China will be relieved of pressure — also Russia which has an abundance of fossil fuels.

Hence the importance of the COP26 climate summit scheduled for October 31 – November 2 in Glasgow.  Originally planned for 2020, the meeting was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.  The town is preparing for an influx of 25,000 people as lobbyists, conference attendees and demonstrators arrive. 

It is an interesting meeting, liked by some to a teacher requiring a class to prepare and bring term papers.  The 200 countries represented will be bringing their plans to meet the goals of the Paris accords.  These require the signatories to commit to enhance ambitions every five years — thus 2020 postponed to 2021 — under the so-called ‘ratchet mechanism’.  The Paris Accords aimed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As often, people leak documents to help their agenda.  This time a huge leak shows how important fossil fuel using and producing countries are attempting to modify a crucial scientific report.  Oil producer Saudi Arabia, coal producer Australia and heavy user Japan are among those questioning a rapid change from fossil fuels.  Saudi Arabia for one also lobbied previously in 2015 with some success.

This time the lobbying effort consists of more than 32,000 submissions (by governments, corporations and other interested parties) to the team of scientists preparing scientific reports designed to coalesce the best science on tackling global warming.  One can imagine the headache for the scientists, who for the most part have a regular job, often as professors.  Produced as “assessment reports” by IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) these represent a consensus of the views of different governments, and are used by them to decide what action will be needed. 

The many bodies involved, the complicated murky politics and the enormous pressure from different parties all point to the crucial fact that billions of dollars are involved now in today’s dollars versus promises of a better and distant future.  We can only hope we have  decision makers with foresight, and leaders without Trumpian climate change ignorance and excess.

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America’s Two-Tiered Justice System

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The Constitution states only one command twice. The Fifth Amendment says to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, uses the same eleven words, called the Due Process Clause, to describe a legal obligation of all states. These words have as their central promise an assurance that all levels of government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures to all its citizens.

In this politically divisive climate, the central promise has been broken with little to no assurance that one can trust the American democratic system where some courts have disavowed their responsibility to uphold the Constitution’s meaning of the laws passed by Congress. For instance, the Bill of Rights was passed because of concepts such as freedom of religion, speech, equal treatment, and due process of law were all deemed so fundamental to protect every legal resident in the nation; yet we are now witnessing politically charged judicial appointments eradicating these principles under which all persons and entities are accountable to equally enforce and independently adjudicate, as well as being consistent with international human rights.

On the heels of the Chinese coronavirus, there is an escalating epidemic of unequal justice and character assault where much of the news media is politically aligned with the rulers in turning a blind eye or complicit in the coverup; and in some cases, ravenously endorses the demise of what has essentially now become political dissidents falsely accused, intimidated, and jailed. While many Americans are attempting to scrape by in difficult times, they remain astute to the moral failure of the elites in power as well as the tacit elected opposition’s assiduous silence in whitewashing the legal duplicity. Historical trends over centuries of betraying the peasants eventually succumbs to a reckoning where the privileged corrupt politician and their corporate fascists will be exposed and held accountable in some fashion.  

Americans are confounded by the coronavirus decrees requiring masks to be worn for thee and not for me double standards. The politicians hammer away at enforcing mask mandates on the common folk, yet they do not adhere to their own edicts while attending fine dining with their elite backers. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Californian Governor Gavin Newsome, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot all violated their own mask mandates in public venues while the masked servants waited on them.

President Biden was caught on video walking maskless through a swanky Washington restaurant in violation of the District’s laws on facial coverings, yet regular citizens are subject to civil penalties which result in fines of $1000.00 or revocation of licenses during the COVID-19 emergency. In defending the emperor, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said we should ‘not overly focus on moments in time that don’t reflect overarching policy.’ These double standard by the progressives are a far cry from Americans being punished and ostracized all over the country for not wearing a mask.

Identity politics has resulted in two systems of justice – one where BLM rioting and looting is described by the media as peaceful demonstrations and where assaulting police has no criminal consequences; yet the January 6th actions at the Capital has resulted in the largest round up of protesters ever seen in America. It is estimated that the Federal Government has upwards to 70 rioters/trespassers in solitary confinement and they are only let out in a larger area for one hour at 2 am due to COVID. Some of those being held in detention have been charged with trespassing on restricted grounds, others with assault and obstruction, and some haven’t been charged with anything. There are no bail hearings for these political activists yet BLM and Antifa rioters typically spend one night in the brig and let out the next day to rejoin the frontlines of carnage.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vocally pushed for the January 6th ‘insurrectionists’ to be added to the TSA no-fly list. Civil liberties are being trampled by exploiting insurrection fears with people in attendance no longer permitted to take a flight in their own country and they have not been convicted of a crime. This action by the government had previously only happened to suspect foreign terrorists, and now it is happening to Americans under suspicion. We see no similar actions taken against the militant Antifa anarchists who attacked and torched federal buildings in Portland.

Washington DC has essentially been abusing these inmates in captivity. There have been complaints on the nourishment of their fellow Americans where they are served white bread and a packet of tartar sauce. This is ultimately a violation of the 8th Amendment that prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, nor cruel and unusual punishments, and from inflicting unduly harsh penalties. Some judges are expressing concern at the length of these pretrial incarcerations, however they’ve largely deferred to the Justice Department. Meanwhile anarchists who burn down buildings and shoot projectiles at police officers and federal buildings have charges dismissed. Justice is not equal.   

One female trespasser was shot dead by police during the Capital unrest and there was no outcry or charges against the officer. She was white and a Trump supporter. Federal prosecutors are not seeking criminal charges against the police lieutenant whose single shot killed Ashli Babbit, the 14-year veteran who served four tours with the US Airforce. If the unarmed Babbit committed any crime, it would have been for trespassing, a misdemeanor that should have seen her arrested and not slain. The lieutenant’s life was not at risk nor was he saving the lives of others as he stood with numerous police officers in riot gear and strapped with submachine guns. If a member of BLM was shot dead by police during an unlawful riot, there would have been an immediate racial outcry from political elites and from across the news media for justice followed by looting local retailers and ransacking a police precinct. The action by BLM is considered righteous violence whereas the slain Babbit had it coming to her.  

On a very disturbing and new level of injustice is the threatening actions being taken against parents of schoolchildren by the Department of Justice. Most Americans are familiar with the Patriot Act following 9-11 where the National Security Division conducts counterterrorism operations against foreign adversaries planning suicide bombings and stealing nuclear secrets. Now the Biden Administration, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, has turned the NSD’s crosshairs against everyday Americans conducting their civil duties and free speech as school board meetings.

Garland’s actions followed the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) claim that American public schools and its education leaders are under immediate threats and intimidation as parents grow frustrated over the divisive neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory being injected into their children’s curricula. This is clearly an injustice to weaponize the DOJ and FBI investigators to intimidate and arrest parents under the same counterespionage to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Parents may be angry, but they are certainly not domestic terrorists in taking on the powerfully partisan school unions who somehow believe they are justified to influence civilization by indoctrinating their children.        

Garland’s poster boy for his hideous partisan support of the NSBA is a Virginia father who was arrested at a school board meeting when he attempted to raise the alarm over his young daughter being raped in the school washroom. The father became the symbol of angry parents confronting school officials when he was taken down by several police officers and apprehended for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He became vocally upset when school officials denied the attack on his daughter, but he was not physically confrontational.

The father said it is scary that our government will weaponize themselves against parents and they’re using my video across the nation to spread fear; while the school officials did not seem to want to listen to him regarding his daughter being assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt who took advantage of transgender rules to access the girl’s washroom. The boy has now been charged with two counts of forcible sodomy, one count of anal sodomy, and one count of forcible fellatio related to the incident at that school. At a later date, the same boy was charged for a similar attack at neighboring school where he allegedly forced a victim into an empty classroom where he held her against her will and inappropriately touched her.  Regardless of the raped daughter, Garland and the NSBA still have their video of the father being wrestled down to support the use of the FBI against parents and send a chilling effect on harmless dissent.  

The Russian collusion narrative against then President Donald Trump may seem dated, however it can never be swept aside or forgotten in what may well have been the biggest political scandal and injustice to a man in American history. The country endured four years investigating Russian collusion into the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 presidential win with senate and congressional impeachment hearings over a Clinton-paid-for fake dossier, the biased Obama hatchet men overseeing the FBI and CIA shirking the law, a frenzied media that never let up on Trump’s guilt, and a special counsel comprised of Clinton partisans that turned over every leaf that eventually found the nearly crucified Trump to be innocent of the false charges. The former president had to withstand an incessant blitzkrieg of injustice through his entire presidency while leading the most powerful country in the world.   

On the hand, there is compelling evidence that President Joe Biden spent years while in government enriching himself through family ties, specifically his son Hunter, to the tune of millions of dollars in foreign money from China, Russia, and Ukraine. The foreign players simply used the unqualified son to leverage access to Biden while satisfying Hunter’s greed and questionable lifestyle. Biden has little to no ability to stand up to China or Russia knowing they are holding damaging transactions over his head. There have been no investigations into Biden’s quid-pro-quo against Ukraine or the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Biden family members, no impeachments, and the news media buried these stories; including damaging information found on Hunter’s laptop during the 2020 presidential election. Had Trump and his sons engaged in these activities, there would have been a very different level of justice.   

What of this injustice that is making its mark on history? If we take a moment to think through the confusion of the moment and see the morale issue involved, then one may refuse to have this sense of justice distorted to grip power rather than for the good of the country. Those who have sown this unjust wind may eventually reap a whirlwind that provokes reform by convulsion of the people instead of a natural order of business. We must all remember that democracy lies with the people of this land and whether the nation will be stirred to stand for justice and freedom in this hour of distress and go on to finish in a way worthy of its beginning.  

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Biden’s Department of Justice: parents as domestic terrorists

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In recent developments in the United States, US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, and the FBI have put under the FBI radar parents as potential domestic terrorists. You heard it right. This is now a new formal legal policy contained in memos of the Department of Justice trying to reign in parents discussions on Biden’s new school curricula. They are not going after potential outbursts but outright terrorism. 

This is an attack on freedom of speech in the sense that parents have the right to discuss and disagree with the new Biden school curricula. This is where the issue originated: parts of Biden’s new school curricula are not accepted by many parents and if they disagree, the FBI treats them now as potential domestic terrorists as a matter of policy. Apart from a First Amendment case, this is also a case for international human rights law and I reported the development to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech this week hoping to get a statement.

The Department of Justice is referring to some constitutional provision on “intimidation of views” to override and take down one of the most firmly established rights, the right to freedom of speech, in quite frankly a ridiculous interpretation. Those parents that dare to speak up against controversial parts in the new text books could be investigated for domestic terrorism. This is the most incompetent interpretation on limitations of freedom of speech I have seen in awhile. 

Garland and the FBI have totally lost their marbles. The woke discussion is not funny to me anymore. It increasingly looks like a woke tyranny that has nothing to do with rights and equality anymore but simply serves as a vehicle to empower the FBI to run wild against regular people. This lunacy needs to be stopped.

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