Posted: May 14, 2022 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: abortion rights, cats relaxing, caturday, Clarence Thomas, January 6 Committee, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, Republicans, Roe v. Wade, SCOTUS, Ukraine, women's rights
Liquid Cat, photo by Karen Slagle
My stress level is sky high lately. If only I could relax like a cat, blissfully unaware of the daily shocks we humans have to deal with these days. At least it’s the weekend, so maybe we’ll get a break–or maybe even some good news? Here’s the latest:
The Guardian: Demonstrators across the US protest expected reversal of Roe v Wade.
With the US supreme court apparently poised to overturn the 1973 landmark decision which made abortion legal, hundreds of thousands of people across America are planning to take to the streets to protest the looming decision.
A coalition of groups such as Planned Parenthood, UltraViolet, MoveOn and the Women’s March are organizing Saturday’s demonstrations, whose rallying cry is “Bans Off Our Bodies”. More than 370 protests are planned, including in Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago….
The “Bans Off Our Bodies” gatherings will take place three days after Democrats in the US Senate on Wednesday made a largely symbolic effort to advance legislation that would codify the right to an abortion into federal law. All 50 Republicans and one conservative-aligned Democrat – West Virginia’s Joe Manchin – voted against the measure, leaving it well short of the 60 votes necessary for it to advance.
Also from The Guardian: Protesters rally outside US supreme court justices’ homes ahead of pro-choice marches.
Pro-choice demonstrators continue to turn up outside the homes of supreme court justices, with the latest target being conservative Amy Coney Barrett, who signed on to a majority draft opinion that was leaked to reveal an intention to overturn the constitutional right to seek an abortion in the US.
“The right to your own body – to do what you want with your own body – is the most personal freedom you can have,” one protester said from among a group wearing long red “handmaid” capes and white bonnets earlier this week to symbolize forced childbearing, as members of the Virginia state police watched nearby….
Several organizations, led by Planned Parenthood and the Women’s March, are preparing for a nationwide day of pro-choice marches on Saturday….
Protesters have so far gathered outside the residences in the Washington DC area of Samuel Alito, who wrote the scorching draft opinion, and Brett Kavanaugh, as well as Barrett and the chief justice, John Roberts, who did not sign on to the draft opinion, unlike the other three and Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.
Yesterday, British medical journal The Lancet released a scathing editorial warning the U.S. Supreme Court that if they overturn Roe v. Wade, they will have women’s “blood on their hands.”
The Lancet: Why Roe v. Wade Must Be Defended.
“Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views.” So begins a draft opinion by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, leaked from the US Supreme Court on May 2, 2022. If confirmed, this judgement would overrule the Court’s past decisions to establish the right to access abortion. In Alito’s words, “the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives”. The Court’s opinion rests on a strictly historical interpretation of the US Constitution: “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.” His extraordinary text repeatedly equates abortion with murder.
The Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution has been the main foundation underpinning the right of American women to an abortion. That 1868 Amendment was passed during the period of American Reconstruction, when states’ powers were being subjected to certain limitations. The goal of the Amendment was to prevent states from unduly restricting the freedoms of their citizens. That guarantee of personal liberty, so the Supreme Court had previously held, extended to pregnant women, with qualifications, who decided to seek an abortion. Alito rejected that reasoning. He argued that for any right not mentioned in the Constitution to be protected, it must be shown to have had deep roots in the nation’s history and tradition. Abortion does not fulfil that test. Worse, Roe was an exercise in “raw judicial power”, it “short-circuited the democratic process”, and it was “egregiously wrong” from the very beginning. It was now time, according to Alito, “to set the record straight”.
What is so shocking, inhuman, and irrational about this draft opinion is that the Court is basing its decision on an 18th century document ignorant of 21st century realities for women. History and tradition can be respected, but they must only be partial guides. The law should be able to adapt to new and previously unanticipated challenges and predicaments. Although Alito gives an exhaustive legal history of abortion, he utterly fails to consider the health of women today who seek abortion. Unintended pregnancy and abortion are universal phenomena. Worldwide, around 120 million unintended pregnancies occur annually. Of these, three-fifths end in abortion. And of these, some 55% are estimated to be safe—that is, completed using a medically recommended method and performed by a trained provider. This leaves 33 million women undergoing unsafe abortions, their lives put at risk because laws restrict access to safe abortion services.
Read the rest at the link.
At The Washington Post, Dana Millbank writes: Roe’s impending reversal is a 9/11 attack on America’s social fabric.
Washington’s reaction to the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade has been typically myopic.
Republicans first tried to make people believe that the issue wasn’t the opinion itself but the leak. Now they’re absurdly trying to portray Democrats as supporters of infanticide. Democrats, in turn, squabbled among themselves before a show vote on a doomed abortion rights bill. And the news media have reverted to our usual horse-race speculation about how it will affect the midterms.
This small-bore response misses the radical change to society that Justice Samuel Alito and his co-conspirators are poised to ram down the throats of Americans. Their stunning action might well change the course of the midterms — but more importantly, it is upending who we are as a people.
Assuming little changes from the draft, overturning Roe would be a shock to our way of life, the social equivalent of the 9/11 attacks (which shattered our sense of physical security) or the crash of 2008 (which undid our sense of financial security). As epoch-making decisions go, this is Brown v. Board of Education, but in reverse: taking away an entrenched right Americans have relied upon for half a century. We remember Brown because it changed us forever, not because it altered the 1954 midterms.
Read more at the WaPo.
Clarence Thomas, husband of Ginni Thomas, who supported a coup against the U.S. government, is still whining about the SCOTUS link, which most likely came from a right wing source. Adam Liptak at The New York Times: Justice Thomas Says Leaked Opinion Destroyed Trust at the Supreme Court.
The leak of a draft opinion has done irreparable damage to the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas said at a conference in Dallas on Friday night, adding that it had destroyed trust among its members.
“What happened at the court is tremendously bad,” Justice Thomas said. “I wonder how long we’re going to have these institutions at the rate we’re undermining them.”
The leak of the opinion, which would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion, was “like kind of an infidelity,” Justice Thomas said.
“Look where we are, where that trust or that belief is gone forever,” he said. “And when you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder.”
Tough shit. My trust in SCOTUS was gone after Thomas was confirmed by lying about his sexual harassment of Anita HIll.
I won’t quote from this one, but if you want to read an argument by a constitutional scholar who is a Democrat who supports abortion rights but opposes Roe, check out this article at The Wall Street Journal by Akhil Reed Amar: The End of Roe v. Wade. I found it interesting but not that helpful for women who are facing a disastrous and traumatic future around pregnancy and childbirth. The article wasn’t behind the paywall when I opened it.
In other news, Republican Senators refused to visit Ukraine with Democrats, but then they organized their own trip. Please note that one of their GOP colleagues, Rand Paul, is currently blocking a bill to provide more aid to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia. The New York Times: McConnell and other Republican senators make a secret visit to Ukraine.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, visited Ukraine on Saturday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, leading the latest delegation of American lawmakers to the country as the United States deepens its commitment to Kyiv’s fight against the Russian invasion.
The surprise visit by Mr. McConnell, who was accompanied by three other Republican senators, comes as the Senate is working to pass a $40 billion emergency military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine. It follows a string of other clandestine visits, including by the first lady, Jill Biden, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi….
“Helping Ukraine is not an instance of mere philanthropy — it bears directly on America’s national security and vital interests that Russia’s naked aggression not succeed and carries significant costs,” Mr. McConnell said this week. “If Ukraine fails to repel Russian aggression, there is no question that the threat to American and European security will grow.”
The trip was disclosed by Mr. Zelensky’s office. Details were not yet available from the lawmakers.
Mr. McConnell was joined by Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of his leadership team and the Foreign Relations Committee; John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Intelligence Committee; and Susan Collins of Maine, who sits on both the Intelligence Committee and the Appropriations Committee, which oversees government funding.
In the photos I’ve seen, Zelensky doesn’t look as happy as he did when Jill Biden and Nancy Pelosi visited him.
The New York Times’s Luke Broadwater and Emily Cochrane on the subpoenas of members of Congress by the January 6th committee: Subpoenas for Republicans Raise New Questions for Jan. 6 Panel.
The decision by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to issue subpoenas to five Republican members of Congress, including Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, has sent a shock wave through Capitol Hill, heightening tensions in an already hostile environment and raising questions about the future of the inquiry and the institution itself.
The move by the Democratic-led panel set up a showdown with Republicans that could result in the threat of jail time against sitting members of Congress — including Mr. McCarthy, who is in line to be speaker if his party wins control of the House in November. It also had major implications for the investigation, and whether the country will ever get full answers about the deadly mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that disrupted the peaceful transfer of power and left more than 150 police officers injured.
Some Democrats immediately began clamoring for Mr. McCarthy and other lawmakers to be held in criminal contempt if they fail to appear at their scheduled depositions in late May, while Republicans warned of retaliation if they take control of the House after the midterm elections.
“I wouldn’t be for it, but turnabout is fair play,” Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, said of retaliatory subpoenas. He called the Jan. 6 committee’s subpoenas a “horrible precedent for the institution,” adding: “It’s a race to the bottom.”
I’d say the refusal of Republicans and Trump associates to honor Congressional subpoenas looks bad for Republicans, especially if they try to investigate Democrats in the future; but for the NYT, it’s always about how everything that happens is bad for Democrats.
Meanwhile at Axios: More bombshells for Jan. 6 committee before June hearings.
The Jan. 6 committee may seek testimony from additional lawmakers as soon as next week, ahead of blockbuster TV hearings that kick off next month, Axios has learned.
Driving the news: Chiefs of staff and other aides to members of the House select committee were told Friday on their weekly call with committee staff to brace for more bombshells ahead of the June 9 start to public hearings, according to two sources on the call….
The big picture: The committee created a major stir with post-election implications when on Thursday it issued subpoenas to five House Republicans, including two of the GOP’s top brass — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
— Members haven’t said how they would enforce those subpoenas.
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, told Axios on Thursday that “the fact-gathering process will continue through the hearings.”
What we’re hearing: A U.S. Capitol Police security briefing for members and their chiefs of staff, to prepare for the June hearings, is scheduled for May 20.
That’s what’s happening so far today, as I see it. What’s on your mind?
Posted: March 26, 2022 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: caturday, Clarence Thomas, Ginni Thomas, Harvard, Joe Biden, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Mark Meadows, Poland, SCOTUS, U.S. troops, Ukraine
Willow, the Biden family’s new pet cat at the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2022. The Washington Monument can be seen in the distance. (Erin Scott/The White House, AP)
Joe Biden wasn’t my first choice for the Democratic nomination in 2020; in fact, I didn’t want him to run at all. But I was wrong. He has been a good president so far, and his deep foreign policy knowledge and experience have been showcased during the Ukraine crisis. This morning Biden was in Poland meeting with U.S. troops at the Ukraine border. It appears he’s a hit as commander-in-chief.
Yesterday the majority of the Supreme Court acknowledged that Biden is in fact commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas disagreed. Ian Millhiser at Vox: The Supreme Court rules that Joe Biden is commander-in-chief. Three justices dissent.
The Supreme Court on Friday evening decided, no, it was not going to needlessly insert itself in the military chain of command above President Joe Biden.
The Court’s decision in Austin v. U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 largely halted a lower court order that permitted certain sailors to defy a direct order. A group of Navy special operations personnel sought an exemption from the Pentagon’s requirement that all active duty service members get vaccinated against Covid-19, claiming that they should receive a religious exemption.
A majority of the Court effectively ruled that, yes, in fact, troops do have to follow orders, including an order to take a vaccine.
The decision is undeniably a win for the balance of power between the executive branch and the judiciary that has prevailed for many decades. But the fact that the Court had to weigh in on this at all — not to mention that three justices, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, dissented from the majority — is a worrisome sign about America’s judiciary.
Brett Kavanagh explained why he sided with the majority:
…laying out why the lower court erred, this court “in effect inserted itself into the Navy’s chain of command, overriding military commanders’ professional military judgments.” Had the Court ruled the other way in SEALs, it would have effectively placed itself at the apex of the military’s chain of command, displacing Biden as commander-in-chief.
Henry (dog) and traveling companion Baloo, by Cynthia Bennett
But as Kavanaugh correctly notes in his concurring opinion, there is a long line of Supreme Court precedents establishing that courts should be exceedingly reluctant to interfere with military affairs.
In Gilligan v. Morgan (1973), for example, the Court held that “the complex, subtle, and professional decisions as to the composition, training, equipping, and control of a military force are essentially professional military judgments,” and that “it is difficult to conceive of an area of governmental activity in which the courts have less competence.”
Nevertheless, Judge Reed O’Connor, a notoriously partisan judge in Texas who is best known for a failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ruled in favor of the service members who refused to follow a direct order. And the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused the Navy’s request to stay key parts of O’Connor’s order.
That left the responsibility of restoring the military’s proper chain of command to the Supreme Court. Though the Court’s order does not wipe out O’Connor’s decision in its entirety, it temporarily blocks that decision “insofar as it precludes the Navy from considering respondents’ vaccination status in making deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions.”
In other SCOTUS news, the Ginni Thomas story is still snowballing. Daknikat wrote quite a bit about Thomas yesterday; https://skydancingblog.com/2022/03/25/friday-reads-you-shouldnt-go-back-home/if you haven’t read her post, please check it out.
Scott Wong at NBC News: Ginni Thomas pressed for GOP lawmakers to protest 2020 election results.
Shortly after the 2020 election, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, sent an email to an aide to a prominent House conservative saying she would have nothing to do with his group until his members go “out in the streets,” a congressional source familiar with the exchange told NBC News.
Thomas told an aide to incoming Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks, R-Ind., that she was more aligned with the far-right House Freedom Caucus, whose leaders just two months later would lead the fight in Congress to overturn the results of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
Cat who thinks he’s a dog by Jack Shepherd. He was raised with and by the dogs.
The RSC was long representative of the most conservative House members, but in the past several years, it has been replaced by the tea party-driven Freedom Caucus.
Thomas wrote to the aide that Freedom Caucus members were tougher than RSC members, were in the fight and had then-President Donald Trump’s back, according to the source familiar with the email contents. Until she saw RSC members “out in the streets” and in the fight, she said, she would not help the RSC, the largest caucus of conservatives on Capitol Hill.
Her November 2020 email came in response to a request from the RSC to offer policy recommendations as Banks was set to take the helm of the group in early 2021. But when Thomas portrayed the RSC as soft in its support for Trump and told its members to take to the streets, the aide thanked her for her suggestions and moved on….
The email exchange suggests Thomas was pressuring Republicans in Congress to get more aggressive in fighting for Trump at a key moment when the lame-duck president and his inner circle were devising a strategy to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep him in power.
Obviously Thomas has access to powerful politicians only because she is married to Clarence Thomas.
Conservative columnist Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast: If Ginni Thomas’ Big Lie Texts Don’t Shock You, Nothing Will.
“Biden and the Left [are] attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”
“[The] Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators…are being arrested and…will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”
Oh yeah, and “Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states.”
Another photo of the cat who thinks he’s a dog and his friends, by Jack Shepherd.
These aren’t the rantings of some obscure, tinfoil hat-wearing lunatic. These are just a few of the 29 text messages sent by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. These messages were sent in the wake of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory, as Mrs. Thomas sought to push Meadows to try to overturn the 2020 election results—sometimes quoting far-right websites to make her case.
In a world where more tenuous relationships than a spouse have sparked huge controversies (think Barack Obama’s relationships with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the former Weather Underground activist Bill Ayers), the level of this conflict of interest should be condemned by intellectually honest conservatives.
As one smart observer put it, “If you had a problem with Bill Clinton meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac, you should probably have a problem with Ginni Thomas’s barrage of texts to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the days preceding a legitimate self-coup attempt.”
Click the link to read the rest.
Another conservative take from David French at The Atlantic: The Worst Ginni Thomas Text Wasn’t From Ginni Thomas. Mark Meadows and the dangerous religious zeal of “Stop the Steal.”
After giving examples of Thomas’s text messages, French writes:
This is the kind of communication that would make you worry about a family member’s connection to reality. When it comes from the wife of a Supreme Court justice who enjoys direct access to the White House chief of staff, it’s not just disturbing; it’s damaging to the Supreme Court….
It is…understandable if ordinary Americans wonder whether she’s made an impact on her husband, and it’s important for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from any future cases that could potentially involve additional disclosures of his wife’s communications with the White House or her involvement in the effort to overturn the election.
Mako the Cat-Dog: raised by cats, he thinks he is one.
But the Ginni Thomas texts were not the most alarming aspect of Woodward and Costa’s story. There was a text in the chain that disturbed me more than anything Ginni Thomas wrote. It came from Meadows, and here’s what it said: This is a fight of good versus evil . . . Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.
One of the most dangerous aspects of the effort to overturn the election was the extent to which it was an explicitly religious cause. January 6 insurrectionists stampeded into the Senate chamber with prayers on their lips. Prominent religious leaders and leading Christian lawyers threw themselves into the effort to delay election certification or throw out the election results entirely. In the House and Senate, the congressional leaders of the effort to overturn the election included many of Congress’s most public evangelicals.
They didn’t just approach the election fight with religious zeal; they approached it with an absolute conviction that they enjoyed divine sanction. The merger of faith and partisanship was damaging enough, but the merger of faith with lawlessness and even outright delusion represented a profound perversion of the role of the Christian in the public square.
Read the rest at The Atlantic.
More Ginni Thomas stories:
The Washington Post: Ethics experts see Ginni Thomas’s texts as a problem for Supreme Court.
The New York Times: Justice Thomas Ruled on Election Cases. Should His Wife’s Texts Have Stopped Him?
The Washington Post Editorial Board: Justice Thomas’s wife is a political extremist. This is now a problem for the court.
There are quite a few stories today that deal with the disrespectful treatment that Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson received from Republicans in her Senate confirmation hearings.
I really liked this one from Kevin Cullen at The Boston Globe, because he trotted out an old saying that my Dad often used: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.
One of life’s inexplicable wonders is how Harvard can produce someone as grounded and poised and principledas Ketanji Brown Jackson and also someoneas unmoored and annoying and unscrupulous as Ted Cruz.
Providing clear evidence of how pathetic my existence is, I watched Jackson’s confirmation hearing start to finish, a marathon of high drama and low farce.
Am I a loser? Yes, but nothing likethe preening senators who treated Jackson with appalling disrespect, with constant interruptions and cynical questions meant to gin up their base, not ascertain whether Jackson is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.
If you had to boil down the objections of Republicans to Jackson it is this: She’s a soft-on-crime, pedophile-coddling, racist-baby-kissing, terrorist-hugging Critical Race Theory nut job.
Other than that, they acknowledged, she seems nice enough.
It was hard to decide which senator combined rudeness and pandering to produce the greatest mix of condescension. Besides Cruz, Senators Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton – another Harvard man! – all covered themselves in something less than glory.
But when it comes unctuousness, Cruz takes the cake.
That he and Jackson served together on the Harvard Law Review didn’t spare Jackson from his unremitting bile.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin repeatedly told Cruz he was going over his allotted time and violating rules. Proving the old adage that you can always tell a Harvard man but you can’t tell him much, Cruz ignored Durbin.
Cruz was too busy yammering about racist babies and fake women and child pornographers to pay attention to something as inconsequential as rules.
When Cruz said, “Under the modern leftist sensibilities, if I decide right now that I’m a woman, then apparently I’m a woman,” I thought, “This guy went to Harvard Law School?”
Read the rest if you can use a laugh.
More follow up stories on the Jackson hearings:
Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Ivy League Republicans’ phony rebellion against the ‘elites.’
Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post: Forget advise and consent. This is smear and degrade.
The Independent: Hawley attacked Ketanji Brown Jackson’s ‘alarming’ record on sex offenders. He agreed to an abuser getting only probation.
Two articles on Wesley Hawkins, who was sentenced by Jackson as an 18-year-old and was the subject of much of the GOP screaming and yelling about child porn cases:
The New York Times: Who is Wesley Hawkins? Republicans zero in on Jackson’s sentencing of a teen in a child sex abuse case.
The Washington Post: Wesley Hawkins, talk of the Jackson hearings, describes life after pornography sentence.
Sorry this is so late. WordPress deleted my post in progress twice and I had to reconstruct it. Have a great weekend!
Posted: March 19, 2022 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: caturday, daylight saving time, death penalty, Fat Cat Art, firing squad, GOP smears, Josh Hawley, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC, no fly zone, OAN, QAnon, Russia Ukraine war, South Carolina
St.Gertrude herself and cats Zarathustra and David Bowie captured in stained glass
It’s been a long time since I posted Fat Cat Art by Svetlana Petrova & Zarathustra the Cat / FatCatArt.com. Dakinikat posted a comment on Thursday about St. Gertrude, the patron saint of cats, whose feast day is the same as St. Patrick’s day. I was looking for paintings of her when I came across this one at the Fat Cat Art site. The other images in this post are also by Petrova and her late beloved ginger cat Zarathustra.
The Ukraine war rages on, as Putin continues to commit ghastly war crimes by attacking civilians. Reading about what’s happening, let alone watching the images on TV is horrifying. It’s a terribly helpless feeling, and there’s a temptation to want the U.S. to get more actively involved, but that is simply impossible.
Last night on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell gave a powerful explanation of what the U.S. trying to enforce a no fly zone over Ukraine would mean. You can watch it on The Last Word website. It lasts about 7 minutes. Basically, O’Donnell said that the very idea is a fantasy and that a no fly zone has never been enforced against a nuclear power. It would mean U.S. and Russian pilots being shot down and killed and would also involve U.S. planes flying over Russian territory. I recommend watching it if you didn’t see it last night.
For the latest news on Ukraine, I recommend The Guardian’s summary of the latest updates: Russia-Ukraine war: what we know on day 24 of the invasion.
- Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the time has come for peace talks, warning that it will otherwise take generations for Russia to recover from losses suffered during the war. He released a video address saying Ukraine wanted meaningful and honest negotiations with Moscow on peace and security without delay, Reuters reported. “The time has come for a meeting – it is time to talk.” Zelenskiy said Russian forces were deliberately blocking humanitarian supplies to cities under attack.
- Ukraine’s position is unchanged in talks with Russia, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said. Earlier today, a member of Russia’s negotiating team said Moscow and Kyiv were most aligned on Ukraine’s neutrality and giving up on joining Nato. Podolyak accused Russian statements of attempting “to provoke tension in the media”.
- Russia says it has used a hypersonic weapon for the first time, to destroy an underground military depot in western Ukraine. Hypersonic missiles are fast weapons that can evade detection by missile defence systems. The defence ministry said it had destroyed a large underground depot for missiles and aircraft ammunition in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
- Ukraine’s interior minster told Associated Press it would take years to find and defuse all of the unexploded ordnance from the country. Denys Monastyrsky said: “A huge number of shells and mines have been fired at Ukraine and a large part haven’t exploded. They remain under the rubble and pose a real threat. It will take years, not months, to defuse them.”
- Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, praised Fox News for its coverage of the war in Ukraine during an in-studio interview with the Russian state-controlled RT network. “We know the manners and the tricks that are being used by the western countries to manipulate media … If you take the United States, only Fox News is trying to present some alternative point of view,” he said.
Click the link for more updates.
Boris Kustodiev. Merchant’s Wife at Cat’s Tea
In other news, Republicans are of course trying to smear Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and it is sickening.
Posted: March 12, 2022 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: cats, caturday, Russia, Russian oligarchs, Stephen Kotkin, Ukraine, Ukrainian artists, Vladimir Putin
Ivan Kolisnyk, A Drowsy Cat
The war in Ukraine continues, and although the Ukrainian military is fighting valiantly and the Russians are struggling, the bad guys are likely to win in the end. IMHO, the U.S. and NATO need to do more to help Ukraine. I’ll offer some serious reads on the situation, but first a little furry break from the madness.
From March 2 at My Modern Met: Devoted Ukrainian Cat Cafe Is Staying Open to Care For 20 Kitties During the War.
Cat cafes are a purrfect way to enjoy the company of felines while you sip a tasty drink. The beloved Cat Cafe Lviv is no exception. It’s been open for six years and the small team in Lviv, Ukraine, is devoted to its 20 furry residents. So devoted, in fact, that owner Serhii Oliinyk is choosing to stay at the cafe despite the Russian invasion in his country.
“Our cats have been living in [the] cat cafe since the age of 4 months,” Oliinyk explained. “They are like family. We realized that we would never leave our country, that this was the only place where we could see ourselves in the future.”
Cat Cafe Lviv is open (according to its Facebook page) and is dedicated to providing a safe space for people to stop by and see the kitties who reside there. Hopefully, the cats’ presence and purrs offer a momentary reprieve to the stark realities of what’s going on just beyond the walls.
“We currently have fewer regular visitors, but there are people who have come from other cities and need hot food and positive emotions,” Oliinyk said. “There are three large rooms in our cafe, two of which are located in the basement, so in case of an air raid warning, there is a safe shelter for our guests and cats.”
If you would like to support Cat Cafe Lviv during this time, it has detailed how you can donate money, 50% of which goes to the Ukrainian army.
Click the link to view charming photos of the cats.
From March 2 at Slate: Why the Internet Is Obsessed With the Cats and Dogs of Ukraine.
Alongside images of destruction and resistance, the visual story of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has included a fair bit of cats and dogs. The Albanian Times shared a story of Ukrainian soldiers taking in a puppy left in the cold. Facebook posts tout soldiers cuddling cats and show families refusing to leave their pets behind as they flee. Famed Twitter Maine coon Lorenzo the Cat shared the story of Aleksandra Polischuk, a breeder of sphinx cats who was killed when her home was destroyed. And of course, Twitter couldn’t help but go aww at the photos of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his dogs.
Kateryna Zavadska, Cool cat
It would be easy to position cat and dog content in a warzone as contradictory to conflict. But pet and animal content aren’t the opposite of war—they’re a part of it. Every pet image coming out of Ukraine right now shows a human impacted by the war in some way. In the above-listed examples, every story of a rescued dog or a cuddling cat was bookended by the actions of people.
Animals remind us of our own humanity, and they can be stark reminders of the human face of geopolitical strife. These cat and dog images coming out of Ukraine remind us, paradoxically, that there are real, individual people on the frontlines. There are real, individual people whose lives are forever changed by this aggression. These aren’t just images of animals in conflict, but reminders of the humans who take care of them and fight on the ground.
It is no accident that we flock to cat content online. It is also not a coincidence that these stories of pets and animal in war circulate widely on the internet. The internet is an ideal space for this type of sharing, as pet and animal images help keep digital spaces lighthearted and fun. Pet and animal images are often the opposite to “doomscrolling,” or the endless scrolling through negative, serious, and depressing news online. Right now, as we doomscroll through a war, cute pet and animal content provides relief, but in conjunction with the war photos themselves, reminds us of the human cost of conflict.
There’s also another side to this phenomenon. Read about it at Slate.
Now back to the news of the day.
At the New Yorker, an interview with Russia scholar that is getting a lot of attention: The Weakness of the Despot. An expert on Stalin discusses Putin, Russia, and the West, by David Remnick
Stephen Kotkin is one of our most profound and prodigious scholars of Russian history. His masterwork is a biography of Josef Stalin. So far he has published two volumes––“Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and “Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941.” A third volume will take the story through the Second World War; Stalin’s death, in 1953; and the totalitarian legacy that shaped the remainder of the Soviet experience….
Olena Kamenetska-Ostapchuk, Siesta
Kotkin has a distinguished reputation in academic circles. He is a professor of history at Princeton University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford University. He has myriad sources in various realms of contemporary Russia: government, business, culture….
Earlier this week, I spoke with Kotkin about Putin, the invasion of Ukraine, the American and European response, and what comes next, including the possibility of a palace coup in Moscow.
You’ll need to go to The New Yorker to read the whole interview, but here’s an excerpt.
What is Putinism? It’s not the same as Stalinism. It’s certainly not the same as Xi Jinping’s China or the regime in Iran. What are its special characteristics, and why would those special characteristics lead it to want to invade Ukraine, which seems a singularly stupid, let alone brutal, act?
Yes, well, war usually is a miscalculation. It’s based upon assumptions that don’t pan out, things that you believe to be true or want to be true. Of course, this isn’t the same regime as Stalin’s or the tsar’s, either. There’s been tremendous change: urbanization, higher levels of education. The world outside has been transformed. And that’s the shock. The shock is that so much has changed, and yet we’re still seeing this pattern that they can’t escape from.
You have an autocrat in power—or even now a despot—making decisions completely by himself. Does he get input from others? Perhaps. We don’t know what the inside looks like. Does he pay attention? We don’t know. Do they bring him information that he doesn’t want to hear? That seems unlikely. Does he think he knows better than everybody else? That seems highly likely. Does he believe his own propaganda or his own conspiratorial view of the world? That also seems likely. These are surmises. Very few people talk to Putin, either Russians on the inside or foreigners.
Anastasiia Atamanchuk, Fuji Cats
And so we think, but we don’t know, that he is not getting the full gamut of information. He’s getting what he wants to hear. In any case, he believes that he’s superior and smarter. This is the problem of despotism. It’s why despotism, or even just authoritarianism, is all-powerful and brittle at the same time. Despotism creates the circumstances of its own undermining. The information gets worse. The sycophants get greater in number. The corrective mechanisms become fewer. And the mistakes become much more consequential.
Putin believed, it seems, that Ukraine is not a real country, and that the Ukrainian people are not a real people, that they are one people with the Russians. He believed that the Ukrainian government was a pushover. He believed what he was told or wanted to believe about his own military, that it had been modernized to the point where it could organize not a military invasion but a lightning coup, to take Kyiv in a few days and either install a puppet government or force the current government and President to sign some paperwork.
I haven’t read the whole piece yet, but I plan to read the rest–even though some of it is over my head. There’s also a video of the entire interview at the New Yorker link.
Another deep dive on Putin’s Russia from Anatole Lieven at Financial Times: Inside Putin’s circle — the real Russian elite.
In describing Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, I have often thought of a remark by John Maynard Keynes about Georges Clemenceau, French prime minister during the first world war: that he was an utterly disillusioned individual who “had one illusion — France”.
Something similar could be said of Russia’s governing elite, and helps to explain the appallingly risky collective gamble they have taken by invading Ukraine. Ruthless, greedy and cynical they may be — but they are not cynical about the idea of Russian greatness.
The western media employ the term “oligarch” to describe super-wealthy Russians in general, including those now wholly or largely resident in the west. The term gained traction in the 1990s, and has long been seriously misused. In the time of President Boris Yeltsin, a small group of wealthy businessmen did indeed dominate the state, which they plundered in collaboration with senior officials. This group was, however, broken by Putin during his first years in power.
Ivan Kolisnyk, A Fly
Three of the top seven “oligarchs” tried to defy Putin politically. Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky were driven abroad, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed and then exiled. The others, and their numerous lesser equivalents, were allowed to keep their businesses within Russia in return for unconditional public subservience to Putin. When Putin met (by video link) leading Russian businessmen after launching the invasion of Ukraine, there was no question of who was giving the orders.
The force that broke the oligarchs was the former KGB, reorganised in its various successor services. Putin himself, of course, came from the KGB, and a large majority of the top elite under Putin are from the KGB or associated state backgrounds (though not the armed forces).
This group have remained remarkably stable and homogenous under Putin, and are (or used to be) close to him personally. Under his leadership, they have plundered their country (though unlike the previous oligarchs, they have kept most of their wealth within Russia) and have participated or acquiesced in his crimes, including the greatest of them all, the invasion of Ukraine. They have echoed both Putin’s vicious propaganda against Ukraine and his denunciations of western decadence.
The Washington Post: U.S. explores sending Ukraine more advanced weapons after scuttling Polish jet deal.
The Biden administration, under pressure to expand the arsenal of weapons that Ukraine has in its conflict with Russia, is working with European allies to expedite more sophisticated air-defense systems and other armaments into the war zone, U.S. officials said Friday.
Discussions were ongoing ahead of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s planned trip next week to meet with NATO allies in Brussels and Slovakia, which along with Poland and Romania has indicated a willingness to transfer military aid to its embattled neighbor. Slovakia also possesses the S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which is used to shoot down enemy aircraft and is familiar to the Ukrainians.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the United States is committed to arming the government in Kyiv with “the kinds of capabilities that we know the Ukrainians need and are using very well.” He declined to specify what types of weapons could be included in the next wave of shipments.
“Some of that material we have and are providing. Some of that material we don’t have but we know others have, and we’re helping coordinate that as well,” Kirby said.
The administration is facing backlash over its decision earlier this week to scuttle Poland’s proposal that would have sent a number of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine via a transfer “free of charge” to the United States. Washington, citing concerns that Russia would view the move as a provocation, said the offer from Warsaw was not “tenable.”
Wine Tasting, Roman Filippov
The New York Times: U.S. Officials Say Superyacht Could be Putin’s.
American officials are examining the ownership of a $700 million superyacht currently in a dry dock at an Italian seacoast town, and believe it could be associated with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, according to multiple people briefed on the information.
United States intelligence agencies have made no final conclusions about the ownership of the superyacht — called the Scheherazade — but American officials said they had found initial indications that it was linked to Mr. Putin. The information from the U.S. officials came after The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Italian authorities were looking into the 459-foot long vessel’s ownership and that a former crew member said it was for the use of Mr. Putin….
American officials said Mr. Putin kept little of his wealth in his own name. Instead he uses homes and boats nominally owned by Russian oligarchs. Still, it is possible that through various shell companies, Mr. Putin could have more direct control of the Scheherazade.
Both the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence are investigating the ownership of superyachts associated with Russian oligarchs. A spokesman for the Navy and a spokeswoman for the Treasury both declined to comment.
The Justice Department has set up a task force to go after the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs. In a discussion with reporters on Friday, a Justice Department official said the task force would be investigating individuals who help sanctioned Russian officials or oligarchs hide their assets. Those individuals could face charges related to sanctions violations or international money laundering charges.
Head over to the NYT to read details about the yacht and how it and other Russian oligarch-owned super yachts could be seized.
There are lots of serious articles on the Ukraine crisis today. Here are a few more to check out:
Holger Roonemaa and Michael Weiss at New Lines Magazine: soldiers: Analysts say the invasion is grinding to a stalemate.
Shannon Vavra at The Daily Beast: Putin’s Desperate Bid for More Troops in Ukraine Is Failing Miserably.
Grid: Is a Russian disinformation campaign a prelude to a Russian bioweapons attack?
I’m getting exhausted emotionally by the war news. I want to read more today, but I guess I need to pace myself. I hope you all are taking good care of yourselves amid all the scary news.
Posted: March 5, 2022 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: brainwashing, caturday, propaganda, Russian media, Ukraine crisis, Vladimir Putin
Cat in traditional Ukrainian costume
We all know that Fox “News” has seemingly brainwashed many Americans into believing things that simply aren’t true, like Trump’s claims that he actually won the presidential election in 2020. But Russian media is even worse than Fox, and most Russians don’t have alternate news sources readily available. The Russian government is lying to it’s people about what is happening in Ukraine, and many Russians completely buy into the false narratives.
Here’s an example of what some people in Ukraine are going through in trying to get their loved ones in Russia to understand what’s really going on. BBC News: Ukraine war: ‘My city’s being shelled, but mum won’t believe me.’
Oleksandra and her four rescue dogs have been sheltering in the bathroom of her flat in Kharkiv since the shelling began.
“When I heard the first explosions, I ran out of the house to get my dogs from their enclosures outside. People were panicking, abandoning their cars. I was so scared,” she says.
The 25-year-old has been speaking regularly to her mother, who lives in Moscow. But in these conversations, and even after sending videos from her heavily bombarded hometown, Oleksandra is unable to convince her mother about the danger she is in.
“I didn’t want to scare my parents, but I started telling them directly that civilians and children are dying,” she says.
Painting by Francine Van Hove
“But even though they worry about me, they still say it probably happens only by accident, that the Russian army would never target civilians. That it’s Ukrainians who’re killing their own people.”
It’s common for Ukrainians to have family across the border in Russia. But for some, like Oleksandra, their Russian relatives have a contrasting understanding of the conflict. She believes it’s down to the stories they are told by the tightly-controlled Russian media.
Oleksandra says her mother just repeats the narratives of what she hears on Russian state TV channels.
“It really scared me when my mum exactly quoted Russian TV. They are just brainwashing people. And people trust them,” says Oleksandra.
“My parents understand that some military action is happening here. But they say: ‘Russians came to liberate you. They won’t ruin anything, they won’t touch you. They’re only targeting military bases’.”
Masha Gessen wrote about Russian media disinformation at The New Yorker: The War That Russians Do Not See.
A majority of Russians get their news from broadcast television, which is fully controlled by the state. “This is largely a country of older people and poor people,” Lev Gudkov told me. Gudkov is the director of the Levada Center, which was once Russia’s leading public-opinion-research organization and which the state has now branded a “foreign agent.” There are more Russians over the age of forty-five than there are between the ages of fifteen and forty-four. Even those who get their news online are still unlikely to encounter a narrative that differs from what broadcast television offers. The state continues to ratchet up
pressure on the few surviving independent media outlets, blocking access to their Web sites, requiring them to preface their content with a disclaimer that it was created by a “foreign agent,” and, ultimately, forcing them to close. On Thursday, the radio station Echo of Moscow and the Web-based television channel TV Rain, both of which had had their sites blocked earlier in the week, decided to stop operations. What the vast majority of Russians see, Gudkov said, are “lies and hatred on a fantastical scale.”
Woman and Cat by Lucian Bernhard
State television varies little, aesthetically and narratively, from channel to channel. Aside from President Vladimir Putin interrupting regular programming in the early hours of February 24th to announce a “special military operation” in Ukraine, the picture has changed little since before the war. There is no ongoing live coverage, no acknowledgment that what’s happening is extraordinary, even as Russian bombs fall on Ukraine’s residential areas and the Russian economy enters a tailspin. The news lineup, too, changes little day to day. On Thursday, the 7 a.m. newscast on Channel One lasted six minutes and contained six stories: a new round of Russian-Ukrainian peace talks in which Russia was eager to seek “common ground”; the “shelling of the Donetsk People’s Republic by the Ukrainian armed forces,” from which “twenty-five civilians have died.” A segue: “And now let’s look at footage from the Chernigov region, an area that is now controlled by the Russian armed forces. . . . Civilians continue driving around on their regular business.” (There were no civilians in the footage shown, only an endless sequence of armored vehicles.) Then: “Russia has prepared more than ten and a half thousand tons of humanitarian aid for the people of Ukraine”; “The West is pumping Ukraine full of offensive weapons”; “Aeroflot is organizing charter flights to return Russian citizens stranded in Europe.” Then the young male host announced, “The next scheduled program is ‘Good Morning.’ ” There was no mention of Kharkiv or Kyiv, which had been bombed the day before. Most remarkably, there was no mention of Russian military casualties, even though on Wednesday the defense ministry had acknowledged four hundred and ninety-eight deaths. (Ukraine has put Russian military losses at more than ten times that number.) The government has banned the use of the words “war,” “aggression,” and “invasion” to describe its “special military operation” in Ukraine. Media outlets that violate these bans face fines and closure. On Friday, the upper chamber of parliament passed a bill making the dissemination of “false information” about the conflict punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. The bill was responsible for TV Rain deciding to stop broadcasting on YouTube: the risks of calling things what they are have become too high—and the cost of trying to walk a fine line, as TV Rain had been doing, was morally unsustainable. Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper edited by Dmitry Muratov, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, took a vote among people it calls its “co-conspirators”—those who support the paper through private donations. Sixty-four hundred and twenty people have voted; about ninety-four per cent of them asked the paper to submit to the censorship requirements and continue publishing.
There’s also a good piece on Russian media by Aaron Rupar at Substack: Putin fights the propaganda war at home.
Because of the new law banning what Putin calls “fake news,” but is actually the truth, some western news organizations will no longer broadcast in Russia. The New York Times: Several Western news organizations suspend operations in Russia.
Several Western media organizations moved on Friday to suspend their journalistic operations in Russia in the wake of a harsh new crackdown on news and free speech by President Vladimir V. Putin’s government.
Bloomberg News and the BBC said their correspondents in Russia could no longer freely report because of the new censorship law signed by Mr. Putin on Friday, which effectively criminalized independent journalism on the invasion of Ukraine. Under the legislation, which could take effect as early as Saturday, journalists who simply describe the war as a “war” could be sentenced to prison.
Cat Nap, by Donna Hillman-Walsh
“The change to the criminal code, which seems designed to turn any independent reporter into a criminal purely by association, makes it impossible to continue any semblance of normal journalism inside the country,” Bloomberg’s editor in chief, John Micklethwait, wrote in a note to staff.
CNN International, the global arm of CNN, said it had stopped airing in Russia, and ABC News said that it would not broadcast from the country on Friday. “We will continue to assess the situation and determine what this means for the safety of our teams on the ground,” ABC News, which is based in New York, said in a statement.
News organizations are not necessarily asking their correspondents to leave Russia, at least not yet.
“We are not pulling out BBC News journalists from Moscow,” Jonathan Munro, the interim director of BBC News, wrote on Twitter. “We cannot use their reporting for the time being but they remain valued members of our teams and we hope to get them back on our output as soon as possible.”
The Washington Post: Russia’s independent media, long under siege, teeters under new Putin crackdown.
Ivan Kolpakov, editor in chief of Meduza, one of Russia’s most popular independent media outlets, had been expecting the government to block the public’s access to his website every day since the war with Ukraine began.
On Friday morning it finally happened. But then Russia’s parliament went further, passing a law banning what it considers “fake” news about the military, including any rhetoric that calls the invasion of Ukraine an “invasion” — the preferred language is “special military operation” — with a potential 15-year prison sentence. Putin signed it into law hours later.
By Francine Van Hove
“Our sources say they are likely to use this against journalists,” said Kolpakov, speaking from a location he would not disclose. “They can use it against journalists, and why wouldn’t they? They decided to destroy the industry entirely.”
Kolpakov, whose website is based in Latvia, began what he called “an urgent evacuation” of his Russian staff.
Similar scenarios are playing out at countless independent media outlets across Russia, a nation that has never had a fully welcoming attitude toward a free press.
While several Western news organizations say they have temporarily curtailed their activities in Russia while they assess the impact of Putin’s new policy, it is Russia’s homegrown media that is bearing the brunt. Many outlets are closing their doors, and journalists are fleeing the country.
The result is a silencing of the media voices that provided the Russian public with information that differed from the government’s official spin on domestic and world affairs, as presented by state-owned media.
Russia was most recently ranked 150th out of 180 nations on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by the nonprofit Reporters Without Borders, and the government has often pushed restrictions on independent media during times of military conflict, according to Gulnoza Said, coordinator for Europe and Central Asia programs for the Committee to Protect Journalists. But the latest crackdown is unprecedented.
More on Putin’s crackdown on the press from Anton Troianoveski at The New York Times: Last Vestiges of Russia’s Free Press Fall Under Kremlin Pressure.
As President Vladimir V. Putin wages war against Ukraine, he is fighting a parallel battle on the home front, dismantling the last vestiges of a Russian free press.
On Thursday, the pillars of Russia’s independent broadcast media collapsed under pressure from the state. Echo of Moscow, the freewheeling radio station founded by Soviet dissidents in 1990 and that symbolized Russia’s new freedoms, was “liquidated” by its board. TV Rain, the youthful independent television station that calls itself “the optimistic channel” said it would suspend operations indefinitely.
By Belinda Del Pesco
And Dmitri A. Muratov, the journalist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said that his newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which survived the murders of six of its journalists, could be on the verge of shutting down as well.
“Everything that’s not propaganda is being eliminated,” Mr. Muratov said.
Precipitating the outlets’ demise were plans by the Russian Parliament to take up legislation on Friday that would make news considered “fakes” about Russia’s war in Ukraine punishable by yearslong prison terms. The Russian authorities have already made it clear that the very act of calling it a “war” — the Kremlin prefers the term “special military operation” — is considered disinformation.
“We’re going to punish those who spread panic using fakes by up to 15 years,” a senior lawmaker, Sholban Kara-ool, said on Thursday. During World War II, he said, such people “were shot on the spot.”
The crackdown on independent journalists — many of whom fled the country this week, fearing that even worse repressions were to come — added to the sense of crisis in Russia. The economy continued to reel from Western sanctions as airlines canceled more international flights and more companies suspended operations — including Ikea, the Swedish furniture retailer, a totem for Russia’s middle class and the employer of some 15,000 Russians.
And we thought Fox News propaganda was bad. I’ll post more news links in the comment thread. Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!