AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The Means Report turns its focus to all things political that are going on in the world right now. Certainly, the Russian threat constantly in the headlines. One year in to Joe Biden’s presidency, how are things going? Also, the upcoming nomination of a Supreme Court nominee, if you will, to replace the retiring Justice Breyer, that breaking just really before we started taping The Means Report pretty much. So, we’ll talk about that and everything else going on in our nation and world with our resident political scientist. He’s an Associate Professor of Political Science at Augusta University, also serves as the Director of the Master of Arts in Intelligence and Security Studies at AU, Craig Albert.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert and I were just talking before the show about how unusual it feels to be back together again. This is not on Zoom, we’re actually in the same room with each other. It is odd, isn’t it?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s odd, I’m nervous, but I’m glad to be back in person.

Brad Means: Well, me too, and I know I’m tryin’ to figure out how to do this again instead of just the side-by-side boxes as it is when we do Skype or Zoom. I have kind of just a random question to start off with. I thought about it yesterday when I woke up and started looking at my phone and all the social media sites and started to, as I do most every morning, get this just overwhelming feeling of gloom and doom when I read the headlines. Dr. Albert, how are things in our world and in our nation right now, if you had to give just sort of a basic assessment of things?

Dr. Craig Albert: I would say things are iffy. You have some security threats internationally, not just from major state actors like Russia and China, but you still have a very sophisticated terrorist element that’s out there with Al-Qaeda, with ISIS, especially with the cyber caliphate of both of those. They’re out there meaning to do people harm. The economy isn’t as good as could be and of course, the fed just announced that they’re gonna raise interest rates, which usually puts a damper on how the economy is in the short term for people and their pockets, anyways. It’ll help in the long-term, but right now it seems that it’s a little bit you know, iffy with how people feel economically, especially in the United States. So you have these types of issues with the economy and with international security. I would say out of a 10 we’re probably at a seven for where we stand.

Brad Means: You know, one thing you’ve always done when we’ve talked about terroristic threats is you’ve sorta reassured the audience that there are people working constantly to protect us from such threats, no matter who the president is.

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s right.

Brad Means: We can still have that reassurance, can’t we?

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely. The Biden administration is every bit as competent as the President Trump administration was, the President Obama administration before that. People have to understand, regardless of the administration, regardless of your party politics, the bureaucracy, the people that run the day-to-day national security of the United States, the national economy of the United States, don’t change that often from presidential administration to presidential administration. So the people that do the work of securing the United States, the soldiers, the personnel for instance, they stay regardless of who the president is.

Brad Means: Right. I sorta walk around Augusta a lotta times and picture those people at cyber command here at Fort Gordon and downtown protecting us.

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely. Fort Gordon does a wonderful job.

Brad Means: Let me ask you about the situation with Russia and Ukraine and I want you to sorta go into your Associate Professor mode and treat this like Poly Si 101, because I don’t totally get it. Why would Russia, I guess the first question is, why would they invade Ukraine?

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s a great question. There’s several causes that root here. The first is that for the Russians, the Russian National Ethnic Group, right, the way they see themselves, they’ve always viewed themselves to be a part of Ukraine, or more so that Ukraine is a part of the historical imagination of Russia. So, if you trace back, this is one of my research, I wrote my dissertation on Russia and Chechnya, a place that Russia invaded in the ’90s and early 2000s. But the first root word for Rush, which is russ, was spotted in a document from Kiev in the 9th or 10th century. And so, the root of who Russians see themselves as comes from Ukraine itself. If you look through the empires of the czars and into the Soviet Union, Ukraine has always been a part of Russia until the collapse of the Cold War, until the end of the Soviet Union. And so, Russia says that it’s always been a part of who they are, even though Ukraine has a different national identity, a different ethnic identity, a different variation of their language. Russia says, we want it back because that’s ours and more importantly to Russia than just the identity, is that it provides a buffer, a kind of a speed bump against any NATO aggression they perceive comin’ against them in the future. So, we have to understand as the United States, we don’t see NATO as a threat. NATO was created though as a block against the Wausau Pact, right, against the Soviet Union. So for Putin, for Russians, they see NATO as an aggressive threat, so every time they seek to extend their borders, their boundaries, they’re thinking that they’re acting defensively, where we in the West and NATO allies say, you’re acting aggressively, we’re not doin’ anything. So, in Political Science it’s called a security dilemma where both moves are thinking that they’re, both actors think they’re acting defensively, but the other perceives it as an aggressive move.

Brad Means: Is it like one of our states becoming it’s own nation and then there’s just this constant back and forth between what was one of our former states?

Dr. Craig Albert: It could be like that. That’s a good way of looking at it. I mean, the important, Russia doesn’t think that NATO’s gonna leave it alone, Putin. So, if NATO allows Ukraine to become a member of NATO, which is what Putin is fearing here, he might think that they might wanna go to Belarus next. Where else are they gonna go to? Georgia, the Republic of Georgia, Putin does not want NATO literally boarding the Russian federation. He thinks that’s a threat and would allow NATO to put missiles and missile defense in those countries, which as you know, is much more of a direct threat to Russia.

Brad Means: All right, maybe you just answered this question then. Maybe it comes down to the possibility of military threats. Why does the US care what’s happening way over there?

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s great. So, when you have any type of European possible land mass war, conventional war, that’s gonna be a cataclysmic problem for the world. I mean, think of the untold numbers of dead that would happen in some type of land conventional war, kinetic operations on Europe. The last time we had something like that was the wars in Yugoslavia, the former Republic of Yugoslavia in the early ’90s. That resulted in up to 300,000 to 400,000 dead in two or three years. That causes just refugee flows, migration flows. It kills families. It destroys the economy. And the economy’s interlinked, right? So, we live in a globalized world, so if you have Eastern or Central Europe that gets confronted with a massive conventional war, that’s gonna effect the security and the economy of the entire world including us.

Brad Means: So is it just the US being world police again?

Dr. Craig Albert: No, I don’t think so. I think this is misperception on both sides where they’re, each side is viewing the other as acting aggressively and I think both sides are just trying to sure up their defenses, just trying to make sure that they can handle the current situation. The United States is entering in what’s called a status quo power cycle, where the United States just wants the power of the international arena to stay where it is, ’cause the United States is typically on top, right?

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s the super power. Russia and China, for that matter, but Russia in this conversation, is considered a revisionist power. So they’re seeking to kinda dethrone the United States as much as they can because it wants global power. All states, countries in the international arena want global power, they wanna be on top, because you feel like you’re more secure. You can exert your power and influence the way you want to. This is what Russia’s trying to do and the United States is trying to prevent that.

Brad Means: What kind of sanctions might get President Putin’s attention, and have sanctions ever truly worked against Russia in the past?

Dr. Craig Albert: They do not work that well for discouraging and massive conventional war. We know that there are plans on the table for personally sanctioning President Putin for the top diplomats, for the top politicians, the top business leaders in Russia. So, if you sanction President Putin in Russia and say you no longer have access to any international funds of your $1 billion net worth he might get a little aggravated and he could stop doing something if the United States went that route. However, President Obama considered this in retaliation for some events when he was in office and he decided not to do this because the psychological profile of Putin is that if you come after him personally, he’s gonna attack even worse. And so, I’m not sure that sanctions, at least economic sanctions, against the leadership of Russia is what it’s gonna take to stop this.

Brad Means: How long does this continue? Is this something that hangs around for the remainder of Joe Biden’s presidency and beyond, or is it something that you can see into the future will end soon?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think Russia’s gonna keep trying to get away with what it can get away with. So, if you look at its history over the past you know, 15 years, that attack the Republic of Georgia in 2008, there wasn’t much condemnation on the international arena. Not much was done, nobody came to Georgia’s defense in that. I mean, some countries sent in some arms and things of that nature, but nobody stopped Russia. Russia felt then that they could get away with Ukraine. They took the Crimea, right. They took Eastern Ukraine. So as long as the world keeps allowing Russia to take large spots of land, Russia’s gonna keep tryin’ to get away with it, because why not?

Brad Means: What do you say when you hear or see, I mentioned that I surf my phone and see all the headlines, this is one of them, that President Biden, or the US in general, cares more about Ukraine’s border than our Southern border with Mexico? Are those things you can compare?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s apple and oranges, right. So, you have one, you have a very aggressive neighbor, Russia, actively with a 127,000 troops and armaments and they have about 80% of their active personnel on the border right now and almost all their armaments. Sending their entire Naval fleet into 140 ships, its entire fleet, towards the Black Sea through the Mediterranean right now, the whole Navy. So, that’s a large security threat, versus the serious threat that the United States suffers from folks sneakin’ across the border. There’s drug cartels, there’s terrorism that sneaks in that way. But, it’s not the same type of level of international security threat that Russia has.

Brad Means: Last question on this subject, then we’ll take a quick break and we’ll come back and talk about more domestic issues. But, this Russia/Ukraine situation, is the way that President Biden handles it, reacts, responds to it going to impact how he’s judged, or you know, I think about this first segment of The Means Report, it’s been really educational, which means I didn’t know a whole lot about Russia and Ukraine 10 minutes ago. Do you think a lotta people out there don’t know enough about it to care, or will this impact Joe Biden as he tries to run again?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s definitely gonna impact Joe Biden and the future of his administration. If he looks soft on foreign policy, if Russia does something, the international community, but also the United States will see him as failing to prevent the great power threat that Russia poses against European allies. The United States is a ally to Europe, to NATO. It is in a defense agreement with the United States. And Ukraine is softly associated with NATO. They wanna be a part of NATO. So, if Russia does anything, if Putin does anything and the United States doesn’t react properly Joe Biden’s going to suffer, not just in the polls, but probably in, depending on when everything happens, which I envision something will happen. It could effect the nest mid-term elections or it could effect his presidency as well.

Brad Means: When The Means Report continues we will continue our conversation with Dr. Craig Albert and talk about President Biden, how he’s done in his first year in office. Also, politics back home in Georgia, plenty going on there, when we come back.

Part 2
Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. Dr. Craig Albert, our special guest from Augusta University giving us his assessment of how things are going on in this world. I learned a ton in our first segment. I hope you did as well. And my first question, Dr. Albert, in the first segment was how is our world and our nation doing? You did a great job answering that. What about President Biden here as we mark one year in office? How’s he doing?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think he’s had a problematic year. I think it’s been tough for him. That’s not just an assessment of him, but it’s also the you know, kinda untrying situations he’s come into, the trying situations he’s come into. He took over a rough time in American history and I don’t think he’s been as effective as he at least wanted to be, and the polls show that as well. Now I’m not one that always believes everything in the polls, but it shows that for Independents his numbers are down. For Democrats his numbers are down. That’s a little unexpected. But, of course, for Republicans his numbers are at an all time low, which can be expected as well. But, right now the economy is not where President Biden said he would take it, or candidate Biden said he would take it. For me personally, the big issue for how a candidate Biden would help America would be to try to unify America after what many said was the chaos of the President Trump years. So, I’m not here to proffer my opinion on that. But, President Biden said he would take care of this and we seem to be as just dis-unified now as we were on January 6, 2021. So, I’m not sure that he’s living up to what he said. The one area that seems to be going well is deaths and hospitalizations are down from COVID-19, and he said he was going to work on that. So that’s definitely a plus on him. So we’ll see where the economy goes, where job numbers go, where the fed interest rate goes. But, he’s got a lotta work to do before the mid-terms if the Democrats want to have a successful election.

Brad Means: And so, you think that the success of Democratic candidates here as we approach the mid-terms later this year, their success is tied to President Biden?

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely. This mid-term election will be a referendum on how he’s doing. You’ve already seen that in some of these special elections for governors, for some of these off year election cycle governors and mayors, where typically they’re owned by Democrats or Progressives and kind of as a referendum for that. And the whole culture now, we’re in what I would call quasi-cultural wars right now where the left is arguing against the right on how America ought to live and the right is fighting back. And the left kinda won in the middle of the Trump era and continued after Trump. You know that’s how they defeated him. But it seems that things are really no better. And so, Republicans are coming back out in charge, and Independent, that critical Independent vote seems to be what they do, you know, flip floppin’ around and it looks like they’re flip floppin’ more to the conservative Republican side right now, which could be an indicator of their distaste for the Biden administration’s policies.

Brad Means: What about our everyday lives, Craig? You and I go to the grocery store. We see what’s happening there, the bare shelves. We go to the gas pumps, we see the prices. Does that impact how people vote? Do they walk out of a grocery store and say, man, that was sad, I’m gonna vote for a different person next time?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think it’s always about how much money you have in the bank and how much money you have in your pocket. I think that’s one of the most critical elements of political science of voting is if the economy is good you can kinda count on whoever’s in office or their party to stay in office. And right now it’s hurting. It’s hurting the lower economic, you know, the less represented folks more than it is the upper class. The middle class is doin’ okay, but it could be doing better, and it’s that middle class that generally both sides try to target to get out, because it’s a large demographic of the population. And so, while the lower class is suffering a lot. It’s much harder if you’re already impoverished so you can’t afford that much, to having 20 cents more on the gallon, that’s gonna hurt you even more. And the middle class feels that same, a little less severe, but they’re the ones that go out and vote and the politicians really try to cater to. So, if they’re hurting, the politicians are gonna hurt.

Brad Means: You mentioned the pandemic of course, a moment ago. Do you think that is going to play a role at all in the next presidential election, or do you think by that point it will be, as it sorta feels like it’s becoming now, just a part of our everyday lives and we don’t really pay as much attention to it as we certainly did when it was Trump versus Biden?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think it’s all on messaging, on how the president and how the Republicans respond. You know there’s been a lotta arguments about you know, the vaccines didn’t work because people are still getting sick after the vaccines. Well, they are working. They’re keeping you outta the hospital and keeping you from dying, but it’s the messaging around that. So, if President Biden said, go get the vaccine, it’s gonna keep you safe, but Republicans are able to message that it didn’t keep people safe. They still got COVID, even though they lived through it. That could determine whether or not people view President Biden’s COVID policy as working or not. I think definitely death and hospitalizations are down for a variety of reasons, and I think vaccines have a high causal factor of why that is. But, sometimes it’s not always about policy and facts. It’s about how you message things, how you, the narrative that you create and right now President Biden is having a hard time creating the narrative that he wants.

Brad Means: Let’s take a look at Georgia politics. They were of national interest the last time voters went to the polls. It looks like that’s going to happen again. You’ve got this incumbent governor, Brian Kemp, and you have a member of his own party, David Perdue, saying, no, I want your job. That can’t be good for the party, is it?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think if you go back to the first interview we ever did I said the Republicans had a civil war going on.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Craig Albert: And it’s still there and it’s even worse today than it was a decade ago. And that’s because you have Trump nationalists populists that are still on the mainstream. About 78 to 80% of Republicans call themselves still supporting President Trump and his policies and I think Perdue would be one of those that fit right there. And they’re challenging more of a moderate. I don’t think Governor Kemp would call himself a moderate, I think he would call himself a severe conservative, the word severe there would be good if you’re a conservative. So, the fact that a fairly conservative governor of the state of Georgia is getting outflanked by an even far righter conservative movement shows the trouble that the Republican Party is still in.

Brad Means: And does that trouble make it a lot easier for the Democrats?

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely. Any time a party has fracturing in it, any time it has severe wings within its party and they fight each other, they’re gonna beat each other down. So whoever wins for the Republican Primary for the Governorship, they’re gonna be deflated, defeated, their banks are gonna be low. Whereas, whoever wins for the Democratic side and we’ll presume for this conversation that’s gonna be Stacey Abrams, she’s gonna come into this with 250, 300 million, $400 million that is unspent, that she hasn’t used for the general election yet. So that already puts the democrats, if she’s gonna be the potential runner here, ahead of whoever wins for the Republicans.

Brad Means: Well, no matter who wins, can we trust, in your opinion, that our vote matters, that it is going to be properly and legally counted?

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely.

Brad Means: You do, you have confidence.

Dr. Craig Albert: I have confidence.

Brad Means: What gives you that confidence? Do you just like the way maybe Brad Raffensperger, our Secretary of State, sounds, or you just have read something that resonated with you? Why do you feel good?

Dr. Craig Albert: Election integrity is something that’s critical for the maintenance of American institutions in democracy. The machines that Georgia use, although some can say that they have security problems, potential, theoretical, the Elections Board understands that, there are people that are working on that. There are people making sure that nothing happened in 2018, nothing happened in 2020 concerning these. There were claims that stuff happened, but they did not happen. There was no interference in the vote tally or anything like that in the last elections. And so, while there might be some electronic vulnerabilities some argue that the machines might have that, those are fixing, they’re getting fixed, they’re getting updated. Nobody cares more about this than those that are in the office to protect the election integrity. That’s one of the most, you’re not a democracy if you can’t protect election integrity. That’s one of the most important things. It’s more importantly than me being a political scientist, I’m gonna get mad about this as a citizen ’cause I wanna make sure every vote counts. That’s our duty, that’s our obligation. And so, I have high confidence as, not just a political scientist, but as a person, as a citizen, who votes in every election that our vote matters, that they’re not gonna be changed, that the machines work properly. And if there is anything that somebody can find out with them, they’re gonna get fixed in time before the next election.

Brad Means: Is there a form of voting that you prefer? Would you like it if everybody had to go in person and vote? What do you do to get people to overcome their fears about mail-in ballots and absentee ballots, where you don’t really see what happens to that paper, you don’t really know that it makes it to the machine?

Dr. Craig Albert: This is why I love democracy here. I mean, we can talk about whatever issue, but liberty comes up against security. Freedom and access to having your voice heard comes up against security threats all the time, and this is one of those instances. How do you balance total access to people who can’t usually vote, maybe they don’t have cars? Maybe they don’t have rides to polling stations to cast their vote. So, in order to help democracy thrive you allow mail-in votes for those situations and allow a large portion of the population that might not have the same access as you and I to vote, to vote. Yes, with opening it up for all levels or types of voting to happen, you come with less guarantees that somebody won’t vote twice, that some votes won’t cancel each other out and things of that nature. With allowing full access or making it easier to vote, you do increase the security threat for voting. Minuscule, it’s still minuscule. We’re talkin’ about one in 100,000 that can probably vote twice or a dead person voting or somebody mailed in after they died or something. You’re talking about minuscule. Is it still a threat? Is it still a harm? Yes. Does it de-legitimizes the election process? No. With every, go back 100 years ago there were election inaccuracies with those types of things. You go back to the founding era, there were election inaccuracies like that. Nothing that we have right now that is practical is a threat to the outcome of an election.

Brad Means: Dr. Craig Albert, thank you for your insight and your expertise today. I always say when we get finished talking, this would easily be an hour long Means Report instead of just 30 minutes, but you filled it with some great information. I appreciate it.

Dr. Craig Albert: Thank you.

Brad Means: Dr. Craig Albert, Augusta University.