Lazy Caturday Reads: Mostly SCOTUS Stuff

Biden New Cat

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)

Good Afternoon!!

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

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

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.”

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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- thinks he's a cat

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 lipsProminent 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.

Cat and rabbit cuddlingIf 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!


Thursday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

It’s another big news day. We lost Madeline Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, paving the way for other women to meet with NATO allies and announce new sanctions on Russia. Afterwards, he will visit Poland and perhaps even go to the border of Ukraine. Today is the final day of the hearings on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Today will be dedicated to testimony from people who support or oppose her nomination. The Ukraine war continues, with reports of Ukrainian victories and numerous analyses of the failure of Putin’s efforts to subdue it’s neighbor. I’ll get to as much of this news as I can.

Madeline Albright

The Washington Post: Madeleine Albright, first female secretary of state, dies at 84.

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Madeline Albright

Madeleine K. Albright, who came to the United States as an 11-year-old political refu­gee from Czechoslovakia and decades later was an ardent and effective advocate against mass atrocities in Eastern Europe while serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the first female secretary of state, died March 23 in Washington. She was 84.

The cause was cancer, her family said in a statement.

Before Dr. Albright, the inner sanctum of U.S. foreign policymaking had been an almost exclusively male domain. In many ways, her politically fraught early life — enduring Nazi and communist repression — impelled her rise to the highest levels of international politics.

Her family, which was Jewish, narrowly avoided extermination at the hands of the Nazis. They fled to England shortly after Hitler’s tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Several of Dr. Albright’s relatives, including three grandparents, died in the concentration camps of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. After the war, Dr. Albright’s father, a Czech diplomat wary of communism, feared he would be arrested following a 1948 coup by hard-line Stalinists in Prague. The family escaped once more, this time to the United States.

Before she died, Albright wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, published Feb 3: Putin Is Making a Historic Mistake.

In early 2000, I became the first senior U.S. official to meet with Vladimir Putin in his new capacity as acting president of Russia. We in the Clinton administration did not know much about him at the time — just that he had started his career in the K.G.B. I hoped the meeting would help me take the measure of the man and assess what his sudden elevation might mean for U.S.-Russia relations, which had deteriorated amid the war in Chechnya. Sitting across a small table from him in the Kremlin, I was immediately struck by the contrast between Mr. Putin and his bombastic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

Obit Albright

FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright smiles as she shakes hands with Russian acting President Vladimir Putin, right, in Moscow’s Kremlin, on Feb. 2, 2000. 

Whereas Mr. Yeltsin had cajoled, blustered and flattered, Mr. Putin spoke unemotionally and without notes about his determination to resurrect Russia’s economy and quash Chechen rebels. Flying home, I recorded my impressions. “Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.”

I have been reminded in recent months of that nearly three-hour session with Mr. Putin as he has massed troops on the border with neighboring Ukraine. After calling Ukrainian statehood a fiction in a bizarre televised address, he issued a decree recognizing the independence of two separatist-held regions in Ukraine and sending troops there.

Mr. Putin’s revisionist and absurd assertion that Ukraine was “entirely created by Russia” and effectively robbed from the Russian empire is fully in keeping with his warped worldview. Most disturbing to me: It was his attempt to establish the pretext for a full-scale invasion.

Should he invade, it will be a historic error.

It sure looks like she was right. For more on Albright and Putin, check out this interview she gave to NPR’s All Things Considered in June, 2021: Madeleine Albright had a lot to say about Putin — and she didn’t mince words.

Biden in Europe

AP News: US to expand Russia sanctions, accept 100K Ukraine refugees.

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States will expand its sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, targeting members of the country’s parliament and the central bank’s gold reserves, the White House announced Thursday.

At the same time, Washington will increase its humanitarian assistance by welcoming 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing an additional $1 billion in food, medicine, water and other supplies.

The White House announced the initiatives as U.S. President Joe Biden and world leaders gathered in Brussels for a trio of summits in response to the Russian invasion, seeking new ways to limit the economic and security fallout from the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the day’s first meeting, an emergency NATO summit, where he called for “military assistance without limitations.” He pleaded for anti-air and anti-ship weapons, asking “is it possible to survive in such a war without this?”

A U.S. official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Western nations are discussing the possibility of providing anti-ship weapons amid concerns that Russia will launch amphibious assaults along the Black Sea coast.

There should be a lot more news about Biden’s trip in the course of the day today.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Republicans boast they have not pulled a Kavanaugh. In fact, they’ve treated Jackson worse.

Throughout her Senate confirmation hearings, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been a model of composure, which is made all the more impressive by the egregious behavior of some on the Republican side.

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Ketanji Brown Jackson

During the hearings, Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) have congratulated themselves for declining to treat Judge Jackson the way Democrats handled the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh. In fact, by the most relevant measures, Mr. Graham and a handful of other Judiciary Committee Republicans have handled themselves worse.

A woman credibly accused Mr. Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Democrats rightly asked the committee to investigate. After a superficial FBI review, Republicans pressed forward his nomination. In the end, it was Mr. Kavanaugh who behaved intemperately, personally attacking Democratic senators and revealing partisan instincts that raised questions about his commitment to impartiality.

By contrast, Republicans have smeared Judge Jackson based on obvious distortions of her record and the law. Mr. Graham and others painted her as a friend of child pornographers, despite the fact that her sentences in their cases reflect the judicial mainstream. Even conservative outlets had debunked these accusations before the hearings began. The more Judge Jackson argued for rationality in criminal sentencing — or attempted to, as Mr. Graham continually interrupted her — the more Mr. Graham ranted about the evils of child pornography, which Judge Jackson had already condemned repeatedly and her record plainly shows she takes seriously.

graham-berates-jackson-over-kavanaughMr. Graham also attacked Judge Jackson for her work defending Guantánamo Bay detainees, acknowledging that no one should judge her for representing unpopular defendants or advocating zealously for her clients — and then proceeding to do just that.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) used much of her time assailing those concerned about transgender people. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) attacked Judge Jackson for sitting on the board of Georgetown Day School, a D.C. private school, because he disapproves of its anti-racism curriculum, which Judge Jackson has never endorsed, let alone relied upon in a ruling. Similarly, several Republicans complained that outside pressure groups favored her nomination, even though she has no connection to them. These attacks by association underscored that they had little substance on which to criticize her.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: Cory Booker Aside, Democrats Stranded Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The third day of hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court came to a close on Wednesday following another 10-plus hours filled with character smears about child pornography from Republican senators and more phony umbrage about some out of context quotes. At this point, with just one more day of testimony from outside witnesses remaining, it is worth noting that this entire circus is being performed to try to pick off two or three Republican votes—and perhaps one Democratic vote—that will probably not come. One of the reasons Sen. Lindsey Graham is quite literally spitting and screaming about amicus briefs filed on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees two decades ago, is because having voted to confirm Judge Jackson to a federal appeals court less than a year ago, he must manufacture sufficient umbrage to vote against her now. Happily for Sen. Graham, time has gradually reduced him to a pile of free floating umbrage held together by hair.

If we can all agree that the purpose of this charade for Graham is to try to flip Sens. Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski, and that for Sen. Ted Cruz, the purpose of this charade is to goose his own twitter mentions, and for Sen. Josh Hawley the purpose is to take what was a fringe “endangering our children” smear campaign last week and push it to the GOP mainstream today, it’s manifestly clear who the real pornographers are this week. But if we can all agree what the GOP agenda has been, I remain utterly mystified by the Democrats. They have the votes to confirm. They are about to irrevocably alter the course of American history. So what are they afraid of?

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Josh Hawley lectures Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

I wrote earlier this week about the utter failure on the part of Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats to connect this hearing to what is going to be a catastrophic series of progressive losses at the Supreme Court this term, and the almost staggering inability to lay out any kind of theory for progressive jurisprudence, or even a coherent theory for the role of an unelected judiciary in a constitutional democracy. My colleague Mark Joseph Stern wrote today about a broadside attack on the whole idea of unenumerated rights, substantive due process, and the entire line of cases that protect Americans from penalties for using birth control, forced sterilization, indoctrination of their children, and afford them the right to marry who they want. More mysterious than this coordinated GOP project to undermine LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, contraception, and abortion—again, none of this is new or shocking—was the almost complete silence from Senate Democrats on these issues of substantive due process, privacy, and bodily autonomy. On the simplest level the hearing might have been an opportunity to explain why Roe v Wade is in fact the tip of the constitutional iceberg; that the same doctrinal underpinnings at risk in this term’s looming catastrophe of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could lead to existential losses of countless other freedoms. But the hearings were framed as if Republicans stand to lose the court, and the midterms, while the Democrats behaved as if the future of the courts, the Senate, and democracy itself has no bearing on what happened inside the Senate chamber.

Please read the rest at Slate.

More reads to check out on this topic:

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: The Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings Show Marriage Equality Is the Next Target Once Roe Falls.

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: GOP grandstanders aren’t the only reason Jackson’s confirmation hearings were so disgraceful.

Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post: These Trump judges failed Hawley’s sentencing test for Jackson.

The New York Times: QAnon Cheers Republican Attacks on Jackson. Democrats See a Signal.

The Washington Post: American Bar Association says Jackson is ‘A-plus’ on final day of confirmation hearings.

Ukraine War

CNN: Ukrainians claim to have destroyed large Russian warship in Berdyansk.

Lviv, Ukraine (CNN) Ukrainian armed forces said they destroyed a large Russian landing ship at the port of Berdyansk in southern Ukraine on Thursday.

The port, which had recently been occupied by Russian forces with several Russian warships in dock, was rocked by a series of heavy explosions soon after dawn.

Social media videos showed fires raging at the dockside, with a series of secondary explosions reverberating across the city.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine said they had “destroyed a large landing ship,” which they named as the “Orsk”in a post on Facebook.

The Ukrainian armed forces said that besides destroying the Orsk, two more ships were damaged.

“A 3,000-ton fuel tank was also destroyed. The fire spread to the enemy’s ammunition depot. Details of the damage inflicted on the occupier are being clarified,” they said.

It’s not known what weapon was used to attack the port.

More Ukraine/Russia reads

CNN: The bodies of Russian soldiers are piling up in Ukraine, as Kremlin conceals true toll of war.

The Economist: The Stalinisation of Russia. As it sinks in that he cannot win in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is resorting to repression at home.

Douglas London at The Wall Street Journal: Spies Will Doom Putin. After invading Ukraine, he’s tightening the screws the way the Soviets did—and that will help the CIA recruit Russians.

Lawrence Freedman at Comment is Freed: Losing Wars and Saving Face.

I guess that’s enough to keep us busy. I hope Thursday goes well for you and yours.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

So much is happening in the Ukraine story right now. Whatever I post this morning is likely to change rapidly. But before I get to the Ukraine news and analysis, I want to call attention to the State of the Union Address tonight. We can probably use this post as a live thread, but if necessary we’ll put up a new thread for the speech.

Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post: Opinion: Biden’s State of the Union address should build on his record.

“My fellow Americans, the state of the union is … better. Much, much better.”

I doubt President Biden will use those exact words in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night — not with inflation still in the headlines — but they encapsulate the truth. Biden has not solved all the problems of the nation or the world in his first year in the White House. But he has done a heck of a lot.

Recall where we were on the day Joe Biden took the oath of office.

The nation was gripped by the covid-19 pandemic, and there was no workable process or plan to get everyone vaccinated. The economy was in crisis; restaurants and hotels were shuttered, and airports were like ghost towns. Schools were closed. Two weeks earlier, a shocking and unprecedented violent assault on the U.S. Capitol was waged by insurrectionists bent on overturning the presidential election and keeping Biden’s predecessor in power. That defeated incumbent, bitter because the putsch had failed, lacked the respect for tradition and country to attend Biden’s inauguration.

Look where we are now.

Some 65 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and nearly 44 percent has also had a booster shot. Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in free fall. During Biden’s first year, the economy added a record 6.6 million jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 4 percent. Schools are open and functioning normally. Mask mandates are being lifted. Our political discourse has returned to Democrats and Republicans shouting at each other across a yawning divide, but they are once again fighting with words, not cudgels and bear spray.

NBC News: Biden’s State of the Union address to focus on Ukraine, U.S. economy.

President Joe Biden will come before Congress on Tuesday seeking to sell his domestic and foreign policy agenda to an American public that has given him persistently low approval ratings as he faces the intensifying conflict in Ukraine.

A key focus of the prime-time address before Congress will be the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Biden planning to highlight the united efforts by the U.S. allies and the impact sanctions have already had on Russia’s economy, administration officials said.

On domestic issues, Biden plans to talk extensively about efforts he has taken to improve the U.S. economy and control the pandemic, while pressing Congress to revive his stalled domestic policy agenda. 

The speech comes at a pivotal moment for Biden, both at home and abroad. Among recent presidents, only his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump, came before Congress with a lower approval rating, with voters giving Biden low marks on everything from his leadership style to his handling of the economy. 

The address may mark Biden’s last opportunity to make the case for his domestic policy agenda before a Congress controlled by his own party, with many Democrats facing a tough fight in the midterms. 

The president’s team has been reworking his remarks in recent days to more heavily emphasize the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in an interview with MSNBC this week, compared the moment to the remarks before Congress by President Barack Obama during the financial crisis or the one President George W. Bush gave after the Sept. 11 attacks. 

Read more at NBC News.

Here’s where things stand In Ukraine right now:

The Russians have unleashed an all-out attack on Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv.

Michael Schwirtz at The New York Times: An explosion rocks Kharkiv a day after shelling in a residential neighborhood.

A large explosion struck central Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, on Tuesday, directly in front of the city’s administrative building, creating a huge fireball that appeared in a video to engulf several cars driving through an area called Freedom Square.

The cause of the blast and number of casualties were not immediately clear, though the city’s mayor said there were dead and wounded. CCTV footage of the attack captured what appeared to be a rocket striking directly in front of the building. Video of the aftermath showed a large crater in the middle of the city’s cobble-stoned central square.

USA Today: ‘Nobody will forget’: Zelenskyy calls attack on Kharkiv ‘a war crime’ as 40-mile convoy rolls toward Kyiv: Live updates.

Residential areas in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, were being pounded by Russian shells while a massive 40-mile convoy of Russian tanks and vehicles rolled toward the capital of Kyiv on Tuesday as the war entered its sixth day.

At least 11 people were killed and 35 wounded in the rocket strikes on Kharkiv, Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said. He said the rubble was still being cleared and the death toll was expected to rise.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the attack on the city’s main square “frank, undisguised terror. Nobody will forgive. Nobody will forget. This attack on Kharkiv is a war crime.”

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said Tuesday that his government remained under control but said the city is surrounded by Russian troops.

The Washington Post: Russian invasion escalates as massive convoy threatens Kyiv, Kharkiv ‘surrounded.’

DNIPRO, Ukraine — Russian forces, frustrated by the tenacious defense of major cities by Ukrainian soldiers and ad hoc civilian militias, gathered menacing strength Tuesday, as a projectile appeared to strike near Kharkiv’s administration building and a convoy of tanks, troop carriers and artillery more than 40 miles long threatened Kyiv.

Kharkiv remains under Ukrainian control but is “surrounded” by Russian troops, Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov told The Washington Post. In Kyiv, residents are bracing for an all-out assault as the Russian force, under the command of a president whose country has quickly become an international political and economic pariah, is apparently preparing to encircle the capital. A senior U.S. defense official said the Kremlin seems ready to adopt the same siege tactics that are beginning to strangle Kharkiv.

There, thousands are without power and heat in freezing temperatures, local officials said, and residents braced for more shelling Tuesday. Suspected cluster munitions struck residential parts of Kharkiv on Monday, raising fears that Russia could use tactics similar to those employed in Chechnya and Syria, where it has been accused of war crimes. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attack on Kharkiv was “terror against the city.”

Five hours of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations Monday near the Belarusian border failed to yield a breakthrough, with the two sides agreeing only to continue discussions in coming days. Top Russian officials hardened their rhetoric Tuesday, denying attacks on civilian areas, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the war would continue until Moscow’s goals are met.

The Washington Post: Dozens wounded in shelling of Kharkiv as Russia strikes buildings with suspected cluster munitions.

MUKACHEVO, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say at least 11 people were killed and more were wounded in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Monday morning after Russia launched rocket strikes, targeting Ukraine’s second-largest city with some of the heaviest shelling since the invasion began Thursday.

Suspected cluster munitions struck buildings in residential parts of the city, raising fears that as Russia escalates attacks in urban areas it could use tactics similar to those it used in Chechnya and Syria, where it has been accused of widespread wartime abuses.

The bombardments came as Russian and Ukrainian delegations held talks Monday for the first time. They met by Ukraine’s border with Belarus, a key Russian ally.

Oleh Synehubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration, said Monday that “dozens are dying” and that at least 11 people were confirmed dead. He called the attacks, in three areas of the predominantly Russian-speaking city that had been considered more friendly to Russia, “a war crime.”

“The Russian enemy is shelling entire residential areas of Kharkiv, where there is no critical infrastructure, where there are no positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine that the Russians could aim at,” he said in a message on Telegram.

The Washington Post: Satellite images show 40-mile convoy of Russian forces bearing down on Kyiv.

A massive convoy of Russian ground forces is wending its way closer to Kyiv, drawing within 20 miles of the center of the Ukrainian capital Monday, satellite images showed.

The line of Russian military vehicles stretched along the road for roughly 40 miles, far longer than initial estimates, according to the U.S. firm Maxar Technologies, which captured the photos Monday morning local time. The convoy includes armored vehicles, tanks and towed artillery, Maxar said, and it appears to be making steady progress along the war-scarred roads leading to Kyiv.

On Sunday, Maxar released images that showed the same group of Russian forces roughly 40 miles from the capital. The company’s analysts estimated then that the convoy was about three miles long but revised their assessment dramatically upward one day later, noting that cloud cover interfered with initial projections.

The convoy cuts a menacing figure through the countryside near Kyiv, but Ukrainian troops remained defiant Monday after weathering the most intense shelling since the invasion began, in the eastern city of Kharkiv.

The images come amid questions over whether Russian forces will use siege tactics against Kyiv, encircling the city, cutting off supplies and escape routes, and then moving in.

Russia is attempting to surround Kyiv, a senior U.S. defense official told The Washington Post on Monday, adding that Moscow has used siege tactics elsewhere in Ukraine, including in the northern city of Chernihiv and Kharkiv in the northeast. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

The possibility of such an attack on the capital city of nearly 3 million people adds to concerns that the death toll could increase significantly in the coming days. House lawmakers briefed Monday by senior Biden administration officials were told Ukraine has suffered 1,500 civilian and military casualties, according to two people in the briefing. It was unclear whether the count referred only to fatalities or included injuries. “It’s likely going to be very significant loss of life,” said Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), who was born and raised in Ukraine.

So that’s the latest on the war front. 

Ukraine Analysis

From the Politico piece:

[Fiona] Hill spent many years studying history, and in our conversation, she repeatedly traced how long arcs and trends of European history are converging on Ukraine right now. We are already, she said, in the middle of a third World War, whether we’ve fully grasped it or not.

“Sadly, we are treading back through old historical patterns that we said that we would never permit to happen again,” Hill told me.

Those old historical patterns include Western businesses who fail to see how they help build a tyrant’s war chest, admirers enamored of an autocrat’s “strength” and politicians’ tendency to point fingers inward for political gain instead of working together for their nation’s security.

But at the same time, Hill says it’s not too late to turn Putin back, and it’s a job not just for the Ukrainians or for NATO — it’s a job that ordinary Westerners and companies can assist in important ways once they grasp what’s at stake.

“Ukraine has become the front line in a struggle, not just between democracies and autocracies but in a struggle for maintaining a rules-based system in which the things that countries want are not taken by force,” Hill said. “Every country in the world should be paying close attention to this.”

There’s lots of danger ahead, she warned. Putin is increasingly operating emotionally and likely to use all the weapons at his disposal, including nuclear ones. It’s important not to have any illusions — but equally important not to lose hope.

“Every time you think, ’No, he wouldn’t, would he?’ Well, yes, he would,” Hill said. “And he wants us to know that, of course. It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared…. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.”

Read the full interview at Politico. Also check out this piece by Mattathias Schwartz at Insider: ‘Putin might do the unthinkable’: Former intelligence chief warns that the conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of nuclear war.

One more from CNN: US intelligence agencies make understanding Vladimir Putin’s state of mind a top priority.

The US intelligence community has made evaluating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state of mind a top priority in recent days as it seeks to establish how that is affecting his handling of the rapidly escalating Ukraine crisis, according to two sources familiar with the effort.

The efforts come as longtime Putin-watchers have publicly speculated that his behavior has become increasingly erratic and irrational. Since he launched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last Wednesday, senior US officials have asked intelligence agencies to gather any new information they can on how the Russian leader is faring and how his mindset has been impacted by the unexpectedly unified and tough response from European neighbors and allies around the world.

The US intelligence community has spent decades decoding the former KGB officer, who has effectively ruled Russia since 1999. But while the United States has tremendous institutional knowledge of the man, it has a notoriously poor view into his day-to-day decision-making. The Kremlin remains what intelligence officials call a “hard target” — incredibly difficult to penetrate through traditional espionage.

There has not been any new comprehensive assessment that indicates a particular change to Putin’s overall health, said one US official. And officials have been on guard for the possibility that Putin’s strategy may well be to project instability, in an attempt to push the US and allies to give him what he wants for fear that he could do worse.

But the sudden burst of interest reflects a sense among some intelligence officials that Putin’s decision-making in Ukraine has been out of character — perhaps due to what some previous intelligence reports suggest has been protracted isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Everything US has [is] in [the] realm of conjecture because Putin’s decisions and statements don’t seem to be making sense,” said one source familiar with recent intelligence reporting on the topic. “For years, decades Putin has acted according to a pretty specific template.”

In a classified briefing for lawmakers on Monday evening, Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, said the US intelligence community does not have good insight into Putin’s state of mind, according to a lawmaker who was present.

One bit of good news:

Everything is in flux right now. What will today bring? What do you think?


Thursday Reads: And So It Begins…

Tenderness, by Ivan Marchuk

Tenderness, by Ivan Marchuk

Good Morning!!

The images in this post are by famous Ukrainian artists. You can read more about them at this Odessa Journal link.

Well it really happened last night. Russia attacked multiple Ukrainian cities. There is a massive amount of reporting and commentary; I can only offer a sampling.

Politico: Battles flare across Ukraine after Putin declares war.

After his declaration of war just before 6 a.m. Moscow-time, the Ukrainian government reported airstrikes at military facilities in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro, as well as artillery fire on the border. The authorities in Kyiv reported a pincer movement attack on its troops from Belarus to the north, potentially attempting an encirclement of Kyiv, and from Crimea to the south. Russia insisted it was destroying military bases and airfields, not civilian targets.

Ukraine warned that Moscow was turning to propaganda tricks by suggesting that Russian troops were not meeting resistance and by exhorting Ukrainians to lay down their weapons. Kyiv insisted that its troops were locked in heavy fighting, had shot down seven warplanes, destroyed dozens of armored vehicles and killed dozens of enemy soldiers. Fighting has drawn very close to Kyiv and Kharkiv.

Adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office Oleksiy Arestovych vowed that the Russian forces would not reach the capital. “Fierce battles will be waiting for them there, we will stop them,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

In a sign of the desperate straits Ukraine is facing against a stronger adversary, however, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for a general mobilization. The country also put out an appeal for blood donors as news began to filter in of dozens of Ukrainian casualties across the country.

Kateryna Primachenko

By Kateryna Primachenko

U.S. President Joe Biden vowed a united response against the Russian attack by Washington and its allies, while U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said: “President Putin, in the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia. This conflict must stop now.” Later on Thursday, the EU is set to agree a sanctions package intended to weaken Putin’s ability to wage war, though there was no immediate sign that it would touch all-important energy revenues.

Earlier on Thursday, Zelenskiy imposed martial law and said he had contacted Biden to co-ordinate an international response. “Today we need calm from each of you. Stay at home if possible. We are working, the army is working, the whole security apparatus of Ukraine is working.” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for “devastating” sanctions on Russia and for weapons’ deliveries to the Ukrainian military.

Vitaly Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv and former heavyweight boxing champion, told people to have an emergency suitcase ready in case they needed to get to shelNAter.

At Just Security, Maria Popova and Oxana Shevel argue: Russia’s New Assault On Ukraine Is Not Entirely – Maybe Not Even Largely — About NATO.

In his Feb. 15 Just Security article “Ukraine: Unleashing the Rhetorical Dogs of War,” Barry Posen argued that NATO and Ukraine should have cut a deal with Russia because the Ukrainian military would surely be defeated by Russia without direct U.S./Western military participation and U.S. offers of equipment were only encouraging a potential Ukrainian insurgency against Russian occupation that would be as bloody as it would be futile. The prescription depends entirely on Posen’s assumption that to satisfy Russia, all Ukraine would have had to do would be “to swallow the bitter pill of accepting armed neutrality between NATO and Russia, rather than NATO membership.”

This assumption contradicts events of recent months and the historical record. While Vladimir Putin has claimed that his goal is keeping Ukraine out of NATO, he also insisted that he was just conducting military exercises. Instead, he is invading Ukraine again. He likewise insisted in 2014 that he wasn’t capturing Crimea, despite the presence of his unidentified “Little Green Men” and his subsequent annexation of the peninsula, or that he was not fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas area in the east all these years, despite all evidence to the contrary. There is no reason to take Putin at his word. His Feb. 21 diatribe conferring Russian recognition of independence for the two eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and his order for Russian troops to move in as ostensible “peacekeepers” shows clearly his disdain for diplomatic resolutions.

Katerina1842 by Taras Grigorievich Shevchenko

Katerina, by Taras Grigorievich Shevchenko, 1842

Moreover, this is not even primarily about NATO.

NATO’s eastward expansion may have played a role in straining the relationship between Russia and the West, but mainly because, for Russia, seeing former satellites eagerly abandon it for the greener pastures of Euro-Atlantic integration stung. However, Putin’s rhetoric and actions over almost two decades reveal that his goals extend beyond imposing neutrality on Ukraine or even staving off further NATO expansion. The larger objective is to re-establish Russian political and cultural dominance over a nation that Putin sees as one with Russia, and then follow up by undoing the European rules-based order and security architecture established in the aftermath of World War II. Given these goals, Ukrainian neutrality is a woefully insufficient concession for Putin.

Read much more at the link.

AP News: The Latest: UN chief warns Russian actions could devastate.

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says Russia’s attack on Ukraine — as he appealed for President Vladimir Putin to stop his troops — was “the saddest moment” of his five-year tenure.

The U.N. chief opened the emergency Security Council meeting late Wednesday by urgently appealing to Putin: “In the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia.”

But during the meeting, Putin announced that he was launching a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine.

Guterres later urged the Russian president to withdraw his troops and added: “In the name of humanity do not allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of the century, with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation, but with an impact we cannot even foresee in relation to the consequences for the global economy.”

A war would cause deaths and displacement and people will lose hope in the future, Guterres said, adding Russia’s actions would harm the global economy.

“What is clear for me is that this war doesn’t make any sense,” Guterres said, stressing that it violates the U.N. Charter and will cause a level of suffering if it doesn’t stop that Europe hasn’t know since at least the 1990s Balkans crisis.

CNN: Biden to impose additional sanctions on Russia now that Ukraine assault is underway.

President Joe Biden, vowing the world will “hold Russia accountable” for the attack underway in Ukraine, will spell out a set of sanctions on Thursday once meant to deter such an assault.

Set to address the nation Thursday afternoon, Biden is expected to unveil new measures that could cut off Russia from advanced technology, announce new restrictions on large financial institutions and slap sanctions on additional members of the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Victor Sidorenko, Expiration Levitation Series

Victor Sidorenko, Expiration Levitation Series

The planned sanctions, the latest US reprisals against Moscow this week, had been reserved as Biden hoped to maintain some leverage in dissuading Putin from a full-scale invasion. But so far, Western threats of economic punishment, as well as Biden’s strategy of revealing what the US knew about Putin’s buildup of forces to try to make the Russian leader second-guess himself, have proven ineffective.

After months of predictions and warnings, Russian forces began their attack on Ukraine Thursday morning local time, with reports of troops crossing the border to the north and south, explosions in multiple cities including the capital Kyiv, and warnings from Putin of future bloodshed unless Ukrainian forces lay down their arms.

Biden’s sanctions are now meant to punish Putin’s actions, rather than prevent them, by going after Russia’s economy, its military capabilities and those closest to the Russian President. How much they can alter Putin’s decision-making going forward, however, remains an open question.

Before he speaks, Biden is planning to confer with the leaders from the Group of 7 industrialized nations about which sanctions they plan to impose, hoping to coordinate a response that projects unity among Western allies. US and European officials spoke by phone overnight into Thursday to coordinate their responses.

Gideon Rachman at Financial Times: Putin’s war will shake the world.

The phoney war is over. The real war has begun. For several weeks, the US and British governments have believed that Vladimir Putin was intent on a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. That is now happening.

The precise targets of the Russian military are still emerging. But it is already clear that this is not a limited attack, confined to the disputed regions of eastern Ukraine. Explosions have been heard in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. And there are reports of Russian troops crossing the border from Belarus — which is the shortest and most direct route to Kyiv.

Western security services, which have accurately predicted the course of events up until now, believe that Putin intends to overthrow the Ukrainian government and install a puppet regime in its place. This “decapitation” strategy will take in not only the central government, but also regional and local governments. Lists have been drawn up of Ukrainian officials who will be arrested or killed.

Kateryna Bilokur

By Kateryna Bilokur

The military tactics that Russia uses are likely to be extremely brutal — “the kind of thing we saw in Syria and Chechnya”, according to one US official. The deployment of Russian artillery and its air force would mean heavy military and civilian casualties on the Ukrainian side. Some western sources have spoken of 50,000 deaths within a week.

The Ukrainian military is determined to fight back. But it is likely to find itself heavily outgunned. The Russian goal may be to surround Kyiv and force the collapse or resignation of the Ukrainian government, led by Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Russians will not want to get involved in urban warfare, if they can avoid it. They are also determined to keep the west out of this conflict. In his speech, announcing the invasion, Putin warned outsiders tempted to interfere that there would be “consequences you have never encountered in your history” — a thinly veiled reference to nuclear war.

This is a terrifying article that concludes by asking whether Western states could end up getting involved.

Western governments are also actively debating how to help a Ukrainian insurgency — if and when it emerges — to fight a Russian occupation. Supporters of this plan of action believe that it will be both a moral duty and a strategic imperative to allow Ukrainians to continue the fight. Others worry that supporting an insurgency could turn Ukraine into a new Syria on the borders of Europe.

This is interesting from Anton Troianovski at The New York Times: Many Russians Feel a Deep Unease Over Going to War.

MOSCOW — Waiting for her friends on Moscow’s primly landscaped Boulevard Ring earlier this week, Svetlana Kozakova admitted that she’d had a sleepless night. She kept checking the news on her phone after President Vladimir V. Putin’s aggrieved speech to the nation on Monday that all but threatened Ukraine with war.

“Things are going to be very, very uncertain,” she said, “and, most likely, very sad.”

For months, Russians of all political stripes tuned out American warnings that their country could soon invade Ukraine, dismissing them as an outlandish concoction in the West’s disinformation war with the Kremlin. But this week, after several television appearances by Mr. Putin stunned and scared some longtime observers, that sense of casual disregard turned to a deep unease.

You're My Space, by Evgeniya Gapchinskaya, 2019

You’re My Space, by Evgeniya Gapchinskaya, 2019

Early Thursday morning, any remaining skepticism that their country would invade was put to rest, when Mr. Putin declared a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Pollsters said that most Russians probably supported Mr. Putin’s formal recognition of the Russian-backed territories in eastern Ukraine this week, especially because they had no choice in the matter and because no significant political force inside the country has advocated against it.

War is a different matter altogether, though; in recent days, Russia has not seen any of the jubilation that accompanied the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Going to war is one of Russians’ greatest fears, according to the Levada Center, an independent pollster. And after Mr. Putin’s angry speech and his cryptic televised meeting with his Security Council on Monday, Russians realized that possibility was lurching closer toward becoming reality.

Read the rest at the NYT.

At Mother Jones, David Corn asks why Republicans are rooting for Putin: Is It Amnesia or Hypocrisy That Fuels the GOP’s Crazy Response to Putin?

In the midst of an international crisis created by Russia that could potentially trigger a war in Europe, Republicans and right-wingers on and off Fox News have pledged allegiance to…Vladimir Putin. At the least, they are siding with the Russian autocrat and trash-talking President Joe Biden’s effort to block his aggression. But there’s nothing surprising about the ongoing romance between conservatives and the democracy-crushing thug-leader of Russia, who has invaded Ukraine and violated international law. Anyone shocked by this has forgotten one of the key facts of the 21st century: Putin waged war on the United States, and Donald Trump and his party aided, abetted, and benefitted from that attack.

In recent days, as Putin has threatened a conflagration, top conservatives and GOP officials have practically pinned “I’m-with-Vlad buttons” onto their lapels. One example: Mike Pompeo, Trump’s final secretary of state and before that his CIA director, had only praise for the corrupt Russian autocrat, describing him as “talented” and “savvy.” Donald Trump, speaking to a conservative podcaster on Tuesday, hailed Putin’s moves in Ukraine as “genius.” Referring to Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine, Trump said, “Putin declares a big portion of…of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful…I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper…Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.” Later in the interview, Trump continued to gush: “I knew Putin very well. I got along with him great. He liked me. I liked him. I mean, you know, he’s a tough cookie, got a lot of the great charm and a lot of pride. But the way he—and he loves his country, you know? He loves his country.”

No condemnation. No call for opposing Putin’s illegal and provocative maneuvers. Just one big bear hug from Trump for the tyrant. Putin may spread repression by force but he sure “loves his country.” (Remember, Trump’s crush on Putin stretches back to 2013 when he tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow—if so, will he become my new best friend?”)

Eve, by Ivan Marchuk

Eve, by Ivan Marchuk

Conservatives have also boosted Putin by pooh-poohing the invasion of Ukraine as no big deal. In his usual too-clever-by-half way, Tucker Carlson on Tuesday night dismissed outrage over Putin’s aggression:

What is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years? Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs?

It seemed as if Carlson was quasi-defending Putin because the Russian leader does not advocate critical race theory and is not the leader of China. He ridiculed concerns over Putin’s threat to world peace and stability and asserted Americans are being “trained to hate” the Russian leader. In other words, there’s no reason to fret about Putin’s militarism—and if you do worry, you’re just a brainwashed sheep.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

So here we are. I have no idea what’s coming, but I’m very worried. After four years of Trump, and two years of a deadly pandemic, we don’t need any more calamities.

I’ll try to post updates in the comment thread today. I have difficulty looking at the computer screen for very long these days, but I’ll do my best. I hope you all will post comments and links too. Take care everyone!


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin finally ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine, while trying to put the blame on the U.S., NATO, and the Ukraine government. Putin claimed the troops were for “peacekeeping” purposes, to protect ethnic Russians in two parts of Eastern Ukraine.

At first the Biden administration debated whether to call this an “invasion,” but as of this morning that has changed. Newsweek: Biden Administration Backtracks, Is Now Calling Russia’s Attack on Ukraine an Invasion.

President Joe Biden‘s administration has called Russian troops entering Ukraine an “invasion” for the first time on Tuesday morning after members of Congress from both parties used the term and called for tough sanctions.

The Biden administration had not previously referred to the Russian military action in eastern Ukraine as an “invasion” but White House officials have said a further response will be forthcoming and is likely to include more sanctions.

Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer called Russian military action in eastern Ukraine an “invasion” in remarks to CNN on Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Monday recognizing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) in Ukraine’s east as independent states and ordered Russian troops into those regions.

“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” Finer said.

“I think ‘latest’ is important here,” Finer said.

“An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway, but Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014,” he said.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. There has also been a Russian presence in Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014.

Follow the latest developments at CNN: Live Updates: The latest on the Ukraine-Russia crisis. or at The New York Times Ukraine live updates.

 

Western nations have begun sanctioning Russia for it’s illegal aggression:

The New York Times: Germany puts a stop to Nord Stream 2, a key Russian natural gas pipeline.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday that Germany would halt certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that would link his country with Russia, one of the strongest moves yet by the West to punish the Kremlin for recognizing two separatist regions in Ukraine.

The German leader’s announcement came hours after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered armed forces to the separatist regions, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.

Germany’s allies in Europe and the United States had been pressing Mr. Scholz for weeks to state publicly that the $11 billion pipeline, which was completed late last year and runs from Russia’s coast to northern Germany under the Baltic Sea, would be at risk of being blocked in the event of a Russian move against Ukraine.

“The situation today is fundamentally different,” Mr. Scholz told reporters in Berlin. “That is why we must re-evaluate this situation, in view of the latest developments. By the way, that includes Nord Stream 2.”

CBS News: U.S. imposes sanctions after Putin recognizes breakaway Ukraine regions.

President Biden signed an executive order Monday imposing sanctions that target two Russia-backed breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine in a swift response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize the regions as independent.

The order bars “new investment, trade and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in” the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, located in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The order also provides authority to impose sanctions on “any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine,” Psaki said, adding the administration will later “announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments.” 

CNBC: UK announces first tranche of Russia sanctions, targets banks and wealthy individuals.

The U.K. has slapped targeted economic sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals following President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send troops into eastern Ukraine.

Addressing lawmakers on Tuesday in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the first tranche of sanctions would target Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

The measures would also sanction three “very high net worth” individuals: Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg.

The individuals concerned will see their U.K. assets frozen and be banned from traveling to the country, Johnson said. All U.K. individuals and entities will also be barred from having dealings with them, he added.

Johnson said the move to sanction Russia had arisen despite himself and several other world leaders giving Putin “every opportunity” to pursue his aims via diplomacy….

He added, “This the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do and we hold further sanctions at readiness to be deployed alongside the United States and the European Union if the situation escalates still further.”

Russian stocks plunged and the ruble slid closer to a record low on Tuesday as investors reacted to President Vladimir Putin’s decision to order troops into eastern Ukraine.

Moscow’s MOEX stock index dropped 1.5% after shedding more than 10% on Monday, bringing losses so far this year to about 20%. Shares in Russian oil company Rosneft were hardest hit Tuesday, dropping 7.5%. In total, more than $30 billion has been wiped off the value of Russian stocks this week alone.

The ruble fell toward 81 versus the US dollar on Tuesday, its weakest level in more than a year and close to its record low. The moves prompted Russia’s central bank to announce measures to support banks, including a provision that will allow them to use last Friday’s prices for stocks and bonds when reporting their financial positions.

More pain could be on the way.

“We expect further declines near-term in the Russian stock market,” analysts at JPMorgan Chase wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday. The Wall Street bank downgraded Russian equities to “neutral” from “overweight.”

Damage to Russia’s markets and economy would be limited if its troops do not advance beyond the parts of eastern Ukraine that Putin recognized as independent on Monday, according to analysts. But Russia would pay a higher price if further aggression causes the West to respond with punishing sanctions that could cut the country’s banks off from the global financial system and make it difficult to export oil and natural gas.

Analyses of the Ukraine situation:

 

At The Atlantic, Tom Nichols reacted to the insane speech Putin gave yesterday: Putin Chooses a Forever War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a long speech full of heavy sighs and dark grievances, made clear today that he has chosen war. He went to war against Ukraine in 2014; now he has declared war against the international order of the past 30 years.

Putin’s slumped posture and deadened affect led me to suspect that he is not as stable as we would hope. He had the presence not of a confident president, but of a surly adolescent caught in a misadventure, rolling his eyes at the stupid adults who do not understand how cruel the world has been to him. Teenagers, of course, do not have hundreds of thousands of troops and nuclear weapons.

Even discounting Putin’s delivery, the speech was, in many places, simply unhinged. Putin began with a history lesson about how and why Ukraine even exists. For all his Soviet nostalgia, the Russian president is right that his Soviet predecessors intentionally created a demographic nightmare when drawing the internal borders of the U.S.S.R., a subject I’ve explained at length here.

But Putin’s point wasn’t that the former subjects of the Soviet Union needed to iron out their differences. Rather, he was suggesting that none of the new states that emerged from the Soviet collapse—except for Russiawere real countries. “As a result of Bolshevik policy,” Putin intoned, “Soviet Ukraine arose, which even today can with good reason be called ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Ukraine’. He is its author and architect.”

It is true that Soviet leaders created the 1991 borders. That is also true of what we now call the Russian Federation. Putin, however, went even further back in history: “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.”

By that kind of historical reasoning, few nations in Europe, or anywhere else, are safe. Putin’s foray into history was nothing less than a demand that only Moscow—and only the Kremlin’s supreme leader—has the right to judge what is or is not a sovereign state (as I recently discussed here). Putin’s claims are hardly different from Saddam Hussein’s rewriting of Middle East history when Iraq tried to erase Kuwait from the map.

Read the rest at the Atlantic link. Nichols is genuine expert on Russia.

Another Russia expert, Julia Davis, wrote about the reaction of Ukrainian citizens yesterday at The Daily Beast: Kremlin TV Asks ‘Where’s the Champagne?’ as Ukraine’s Kids Are Prepped for War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stunned the world on Monday when he unilaterally recognized two Kremlin-backed separatist regions in Ukraine, Luhansk and Donetsk, as independent states and ordered Russian troops to conduct so-called “peacekeeping operations” there. The move has sparked widespread condemnation from global leaders who have accused Putin of violating international law and expressed concerns that the latest escalation may soon morph into a full-scale Russian invasion of its neighbor.

In Ukraine, Putin’s decision has only exacerbated the pain and anguish caused by years of bloody conflict, fueled and funded by the Kremlin. Parents across the country have been doing whatever they can to prepare their families for a potential Russian onslaught. “If you want to know how Ukrainians react to Putin’s speech, here’s a glimpse: moms on Facebook discuss putting stickers on their children’s clothes, when they go to school, indicating their blood type,” journalist Olga Tokariuk tweeted on Monday. “Make no mistake: this speech was perceived as a declaration of war on Ukraine.”

For some, the new developments have only deepened their resolve to fight back. “With his speech alone Putin consolidated Ukrainians like no-one else here could. My friends are talking about joining the territorial defense,” Ukrainian reporter Iryna Matviyishyn wrote. “And currently the Kremlin’s madman is the most hated person in Ukraine.”

In contrast, there was joy and laughter on Russia’s state television.

On Monday, RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan appeared on The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev ready for a major celebration. “First of all, I don’t understand why there isn’t champagne in the studio,” she said. Beaming ear-to-ear, Simonyan described feeling “an overwhelming sense of euphoria” and added: “I’ve been waiting for 8 years for this… It finally happened. This is true happiness.” Claiming to speak on behalf of the “Donbas’ people,” Simonyan exclaimed: “Thank you, Mother Russia!”

David Ignatius at The Washington Post: Opinion: Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin presented a theatrical justification for war with Ukraine on Monday, but initial Russian military actions along the border were limited — and there seemed to be a few small cracks in Kremlin support for Putin’s obsession with regaining Russian dominion in Kyiv.

Putin appeared to be setting the stage on Monday for an all-out invasion. Under the dome of a grand state chamber in the Kremlin, he signed documents recognizing two Russian-backed enclaves in eastern Ukraine as independent “republics.” He then ordered some of the 150,000 Russian combat troops surrounding Ukraine to enter the breakaway regions in a “peacekeeping” operation.

Putin may hope to provoke an armed response from Ukraine that would provide a pretext for a larger assault. But the initial “peacekeeping” move into Donetsk and Luhansk was limited, and a senior Biden administration official was careful to avoid describing it as an invasion, noting that Russian forces have been operating covertly in the two enclaves for nearly eight years….

The day’s events began with a televised command performance of Putin’s security council in the ornate Kremlin chamber. Putin asked each of his ministers for their recommendation about recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk. Many responses were dutifully on script, but there were several surprises.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia’s demands for security guarantees were “not an ultimatum,” and he seemed ready to meet Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for more talks. Lavrov also conceded NATO’s unity, advising Putin that at this past weekend’s Munich Security Conference, “every Western representative declared their absolute commitment to a unified approach,” which “confirmed that we need to negotiate with Washington.” [….]

But the big surprise came when Putin quizzed Sergei Naryshkin, head of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service. Naryshkin advised that threatening to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk would be useful leverage for implementing the 2015 Minsk agreements to settle the conflict in the eastern region. Russia has claimed to support Minsk, but Monday’s recognition of the two breakaway enclaves as independent will probably derail any chance for the agreement. In response to Naryshkin’s answers, Putin got antsy.

 

Read more at the WaPo.

The New York Times on Biden’s strategy: Wooing Allies, Publicizing Putin’s Plans: Inside Biden’s Race to Prevent War.

In a series of top-secret meetings last October, President Biden’s national security team presented grim intelligence that would soon trigger a fierce effort to prevent what could become the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, was preparing to invade Ukraine, top intelligence and military officials told Mr. Biden. Gathering each morning in the Oval Office for the global threat assessment known as the President’s Daily Brief, they described satellite images of Russian forces methodically advancing toward Ukraine’s border.

Not only did the United States have images of troops moving into position, it also had the Russian military’s plans for a campaign against Ukraine — elements of which had already begun. At one of the morning meetings, Mr. Biden dispatched William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, to Moscow with a message for Mr. Putin:

We know what you’re planning to do.

Stopping him would be a challenge. Many of America’s closest allies were skeptical that Mr. Putin — a master of disinformation — would actually invade. The use of U.S. military force against Russia was off the table, so the allies would have to threaten Mr. Putin with economic pain so severe it would also have consequences in Europe and the United States. And it was far from certain that Republicans in Congress would back whatever the administration did….

The White House acknowledged from the start that its campaign to stop Mr. Putin might not actually prevent Russia from invading Ukraine. But at the very least, White House officials say, Mr. Biden exposed Mr. Putin and his true intentions, which helped unite, at least for now, the at-times fractious NATO alliance.

Over the course of three and a half months, Mr. Biden made three critical decisions about how to handle Russia’s provocations, according to interviews with more than a dozen senior administration officials and others who requested anonymity to discuss confidential meetings. Early on, the president approved a recommendation to share intelligence far more broadly with allies than was typical, officials said. The idea was to avoid disagreements about tough economic sanctions by ensuring that everyone knew what the United States knew about Mr. Putin’s actions.

Mr. Biden also gave the green light for an unprecedented public information campaign against Mr. Putin. With the support of his top intelligence officials — and with a promise to protect the intelligence agencies’ “sources and methods” — the president allowed a wave of public releases aimed at preventing Mr. Putin from employing his usual denials to divide his adversaries.

Read more details at the NYT link.

So that’s where things stand this morning. I’m sure there will be more developments throughout the day today. What are your thoughts on this? What other stories are you following?