Monday Reads: Democracy in Flames

Marc CHAGAL (1887-1985) “La Famille ukrainienne” (1941-43)

Good Day Sky Dancers!

We continue to see attacks on democracy internally and externally as the West fights right-wing extremists magnetized to or ruled by despots. These Right Wingers are taking on the post-World War 2 order abroad. We also continue to see Neo-confederates, NAZI-sympathizers, and theocrats taking on our post-Civil War advances in the United States. Most of this seems deeply tribal and extremely racist, sexist, and nationalistic.

Today, we’re focused on the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson now underway. Senator Amy Klobucher is actually bringing tears to my eyes in her opening statement. Too bad it’s followed by the frivolous ball of flesh known as Ted Cruz. Cruz is lecturing everyone on that old Republican lie about the Supreme Court becoming a legislative body instead of a deliberative one. I have no idea how these folks continue to try to hunt with dogs that won’t.

Even the National Review has called out the outrageous lies he’s been spouting about Judge Jackson calling it a “disingenuous attack”. This was penned by former Federal Prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy.

There is a wide variety of federal offenses that are gathered under the label “sex offenses.” In his critique of Jackson last week, Hawley tweeted that he had “noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children” (emphasis added). That is a misleadingly broad claim, and Hawley is too smart not to know that.

After invoking the image of Jackson as indulgent of “sex offenders” who “prey on children,” Hawley narrows his portrayal a bit: “Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker” (emphasis added). This leaves the impression that he is probably homing in on pornography rather than rape, abduction, and the like — although, as he must know, even that is not clear because a good deal of such sexual abuse goes into the production of porn. In any event, after all the throat-clearing, it emerges that Hawley is not talking about offenders who themselves abuse children, or even those who produce pornography. He is referring to porn consumers.

Hawley cites Jackson’s record as a judge and “policymaker.” The latter refers to her service on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which advises Congress on sentencing issues and promulgates the federal sentencing guidelines — advisory standards that heavily influence but do not control sentencing. (Congress ultimately controls sentencing by setting statutory maximum and minimum penalties, and judges consult the guidelines in each case but are not required to follow them.) What has the senator especially exercised is Jackson’s support for eliminating the existing mandatory-minimum sentences for first-time offenders who receive or distribute child pornography.

Judge Jackson’s views on this matter are not only mainstream; they are correct in my view. Undoubtedly, Jackson — a progressive who worked as a criminal-defense lawyer — is more sympathetic to criminals than I am. If I were a judge, I’m sure I’d impose at least marginally more severe sentences than she has. (Contrary to Hawley’s suggestion, however, she appears to have followed the guidelines, at the low end of the sentencing range, as most judges do.) But other than the fact that Congress wanted to look as though it was being tough on porn, there’s no good reason for the mandatory minimum in question — and it’s unjust in many instances.

Banksy

The actual Q&A session will be after lunch. I’m really hoping Senator Foghorn Leghorn doesn’t further embarrass Louisiana but I’m not holding my breath.  As the hearings opened, Senator Dick Durban hailed Judge Jackson’s magnificent qualifications and experience.  This is from NPR: “Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings: Live updates.” Grassley used his time to outline the Republican gripe fest that will be later today.

Grassley used his opening statement on Monday to stress that “we won’t turn this into a spectacle based on alleged process fouls” and pointed out that Democrats on the panel interrupted and delayed his opening statement when he chaired the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee, in 2018. He said Republicans will “ask tough questions” about Jackson’s record and said he wanted to hear about her views on the role of a judge.

Some Republicans have already raised concerns about Jackson’s experience as a public defender and indicated they would ask questions about whether her record makes her “soft on crime.” Grassley touched on this line of questioning and suggested these topics are fair game given Democrats’ questions of Trump nominees.

The entire thing about her being soft on crime is basically ragtime and jazz hands given that the nation’s police chiefs support her nomination.  But today’s Republicans are more about theatrics than doing their jobs.

Meanwhile, The Rolling Stone has another scoop on how involved high-level Trump officials were with getting the insurrectionists to the Capitol on January 6.  This is by Hunter Walker. “Exclusive: Witness Claims Trump’s Chief of Staff Was on Phone Call Planning Jan. 6 March on Capitol. Trump’s team agreed it would encourage supporters to march, but try to “make it look like they went down there on their own,” Scott Johnston tells Rolling Stone”  Let the Frog Marches begin!

Trump and his allies have tried to minimize his role in calling his supporters to the Capitol and argue he was simply participating in a lawful, peaceful demonstration.

Scott Johnston — who worked on the team that helped plan the Ellipse rally — says that’s just not so. He claims that leading figures in the Trump administration and campaign deliberately planned to have crowds converge on the Capitol, where the 2020 election was being certified — and “make it look like they went down there on their own.”

Johnston, who says he described the phone call to House select committee investigators, detailed his allegations in a series of conversations with Rolling Stone. Johnston says he overheard Mark Meadows, then-former President Trump’s chief of staff, and Katrina Pierson, Trump’s national campaign spokeswoman, talking with Kylie Kremer, the executive director of Women for America First, about plans for a march to the Capitol. Johnston said the conversation was clearly audible to him since it took place on speakerphone as he drove Kremer between the group’s rallies in the final three days of 2020.

Russia continues to pound Ukraine with artillery and missiles. The governor of the Sumy region said there has been an ammonia leak at a chemicals plant on Monday as a result of a Russian airstrike.  Russian demands the surrender of Mariupol.  The city council of the besieged city reports that the elderly are crying out for food and water from their bombed apartment buildings.

President Biden will travel to Poland after he meets with European leaders on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.  (via the AP)  He will discuss humanitarian efforts and express support to the People and government of Poland.

President Joe Biden has added a stop in Poland to his trip this week to Europe for urgent talks with NATO and European allies, as Russian forces concentrate their fire upon cities and trapped civilians in a nearly month-old invasion of Ukraine.

Biden will first travel to Brussels and then to Poland to meet with leaders there, press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Sunday night.

Poland is a crucial ally in the Ukraine crisis. It is hosting thousands of American troops and is taking in more people fleeing the war in Ukraine — more than 2 million — than any other nation in the midst of the largest European refugee crisis in decades.

Biden will head to Warsaw for a bilateral meeting with President Andrzej Duda scheduled for Saturday. Biden will discuss how the U.S., along with its allies and partners, is responding to “the humanitarian and human rights crisis that Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war on Ukraine has created,” Psaki said.

Ukrainian Tree of Life, 2020, Olga Olga Kovtun

This is from the link to the Telegraph above.

Vladimir Putin has been accused of “abducting and deporting” thousands of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and transporting them deep inside Russia.

Ukrainian authorities alleged Russian forces had rounded up several thousand residents from the shattered port before sending them to remote cities hundreds of miles from the border.

On Sunday night, Moscow gave Ukraine a deadline to surrender Mariupol as gun battles raged in the city centre. In a statement, the Russian defence ministry said Ukrainian and foreign armed units must drop their weapons “without exception” and leave between 7am and 9am (UK time) on Monday.

But on Sunday night Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereschuk said there was no question of surrendering Mariupol, the online newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda reported.

Russian state media broadcast clips of hundreds of Ukrainians whom it said had been rescued from Mariupol and evacuated eastward to safety in Russian cities.

But Ukrainian officials said they had instead been forced to travel and had been told they had to live and work in their new homes for at least two years.

This was a rumor for a few days but has now been confirmed.

So, there are the three big stories of the day.  I’m going to continue to watch Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing but I’m not sure how long I can take the Republican screeds.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads

By Ukranian artist Eugenia Gapchinska

By Ukranian artist Eugenia Gapchinska

Good Morning!!

I’ve been in emotional protection mode for the past few days. Following the Ukraine coverage is so exhausting. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for the people who are living through the nightmare of Putin’s deliberate horrific attacks on civilians in Ukrainian cities.

Here are two stories about the horrors happening in Mariupol. After that I’ll try to focus on more positive news.

The city of Mariupol has been particularly devastated, as shown in this shocking AP article that I forced myself to read yesterday: Why? Why? Why? Ukraine’s Mariupol Descends into Despair.

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — The bodies of the children all lie here, dumped into this narrow trench hastily dug into the frozen earth of Mariupol to the constant drumbeat of shelling.

There’s 18-month-old Kirill, whose shrapnel wound to the head proved too much for his little toddler’s body. There’s 16-year-old Iliya, whose legs were blown up in an explosion during a soccer game at a school field. There’s the girl no older than 6 who wore the pajamas with cartoon unicorns, among the first of Mariupol’s children to die from a Russian shell.

They are stacked together with dozens of others in this mass grave on the outskirts of the city. A man covered in a bright blue tarp, weighed down by stones at the crumbling curb. A woman wrapped in a red and gold bedsheet, her legs neatly bound at the ankles with a scrap of white fabric. Workers toss the bodies in as fast as they can, because the less time they spend in the open, the better their own chances of survival.

“The only thing (I want) is for this to be finished,” raged worker Volodymyr Bykovskyi, pulling crinkling black body bags from a truck. “Damn them all, those people who started this!”

More bodies will come, from streets where they are everywhere and from the hospital basement where adults and children are laid out awaiting someone to pick them up. The youngest still has an umbilical stump attached.

Each airstrike and shell that relentlessly pounds Mariupol — about one a minute at times — drives home the curse of a geography that has put the city squarely in the path of Russia’s domination of Ukraine. This southern seaport of 430,000 has become a symbol of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s drive to crush democratic Ukraine — but also of a fierce resistance on the ground.

Yesterday, Russia deliberately bombed a theater where hundreds of civilians, including many women and children, were sheltering. The location was clearly marked as such.

The Guardian: Search for survivors after airstrike hits Mariupol theatre sheltering civilians.

Authorities in the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol are clearing the rubble of a theatre hit by a Russian airstrike to search for people who had been sheltering in the basement.

According to local officials, hundreds of people were hiding beneath the theatre, which was designated as a shelter for displaced civilians, including children and elderly people, when it was struck on Wednesday.

The shelter withstood the strike and some people managed to escape, said the former governor of the Donetsk region, Sergiy Taruta, who did not provide details.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional administration, said on Telegram that the number of casualties was unclear.

A satellite photograph from Monday, released on Wednesday by Maxar Technologies, showed the word “children” in large Russian script painted on the ground outside the red-roofed theatre building.

A photo released by Mariupol’s city council showed a section of the three-storey theatre had collapsed, with rubble burying the entrance to the shelter inside.

There’s more:

Kyrylenko said Russian airstrikes also hit a municipal swimming pool complex in Mariupol, where civilians had been sheltering. “Now there are pregnant women and women with children under the rubble there,” he wrote. The number of casualties was not immediately known.

A witness who posted a video of the aftermath of the attack said the pool had been destroyed and efforts were under way to rescue a pregnant woman trapped in the rubble.

Moscow denies targeting civilians, and Russia’s defence ministry denied bombing the theatre or anywhere else in Mariupol on Wednesday.

The Russians have prevented humanitarian aid from reaching the city and people are running out of food and melting snow for water.

Slightly more upbeat news from Ukraine

Today the Wall Street Journal has a report from a town that successfully fought off the Russian forces: A Ukrainian Town Deals Russia One of the War’s Most Decisive Routs.

VOZNESENSK, Ukraine—A Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder, Voznesensk’s funeral director, Mykhailo Sokurenko, spent this Tuesday driving through fields and forests, picking up dead Russian soldiers and taking them to a freezer railway car piled with Russian bodies—the casualties of one of the most comprehensive routs President Vladimir Putin’s forces have suffered since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

A rapid Russian advance into the strategic southern town of 35,000 people, a gateway to a Ukrainian nuclear power station and pathway to attack Odessa from the back, would have showcased the Russian military’s abilities and severed Ukraine’s key communications lines.

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By Eugenia Capchinska

Instead, the two-day battle of Voznesensk, details of which are only now emerging, turned decisively against the Russians. Judging from the destroyed and abandoned armor, Ukrainian forces, which comprised local volunteers and the professional military, eliminated most of a Russian battalion tactical group on March 2 and 3.

The Ukrainian defenders’ performance against a much-better-armed enemy in an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking region was successful in part because of widespread popular support for the Ukrainian cause—one reason the Russian invasion across the country has failed to achieve its principal goals so far. Ukraine on Wednesday said it was launching a counteroffensive on several fronts.

“Everyone is united against the common enemy,” said Voznesensk’s 32-year-old mayor, Yevheni Velichko, a former real-estate developer turned wartime commander, who, like other local officials, moves around with a gun. “We are defending our own land. We are at home.” [….]

Russian survivors of the Voznesensk battle left behind nearly 30 of their 43 vehicles—tanks, armored personnel carriers, multiple-rocket launchers, trucks—as well as a downed Mi-24 attack helicopter, according to Ukrainian officials in the city. The helicopter’s remnants and some pieces of burned-out Russian armor were still scattered around Voznesensk on Tuesday.

Russian forces retreated more than 40 miles to the southeast, where other Ukrainian units have continued pounding them. Some dispersed in nearby forests, where local officials said 10 soldiers have been captured.

Here’s a story with a happy ending from The Daily Mail: Incredible moment: boy, 11, who journeyed 600 miles ALONE across Ukraine to Slovakia with just a phone number written on his hand is reunited with his mother.

An 11-year-old boy who braved the 600-mile journey from southeastern Ukraine to the Slovakian border by himself has been reunited with his mother.

Hassan Pisecká crossed the country with only a plastic bag, passport, and telephone number scribbled on his hand, in a story that won the hearts of people from around the world.

His mother Júlia Pisecká, a widow, remained in their hometown of Zaporizhzhia, where Russian troops struck a nuclear power plant in early March, to continue caring for her elderly and immobile mother who was unable to flee.

On reaching the border, Hassan’s ‘smile, fearlessness and determination’ won over officials who helped him cross into Slovakia. They contacted his relatives in the country using the phone number and a note that was tied to his waist.

He was reunited with his mother, grandmother and dog in Slovakia this week as the family wanted ‘to thank everyone from my heart’ for their help getting the family, who fled the war in Syria several years ago, back together.

Júlia said the train ride out of Ukraine ‘was very difficult’ but ‘we had to escape so our family could be back together’ as she admitted ‘we have to start from scratch. We lost everything we’ve had but we’re healthy.’

The New York Times on Russia’s reluctant troops: As Russian Troop Deaths Climb, Morale Becomes an Issue, Officials Say.

In 36 days of fighting on Iwo Jima during World War II, nearly 7,000 Marines were killed. Now, 20 days after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia invaded Ukraine, his military has already lost more soldiers, according to American intelligence estimates.

The conservative side of the estimate, at more than 7,000 Russian troop deaths, is greater than the number of American troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

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By Eugenia Gapchinska

It is a staggering number amassed in just three weeks of fighting, American officials say, with implications for the combat effectiveness of Russian units, including soldiers in tank formations. Pentagon officials say a 10 percent casualty rate, including dead and wounded, for a single unit renders it unable to carry out combat-related tasks.

With more than 150,000 Russian troops now involved in the war in Ukraine, Russian casualties, when including the estimated 14,000 to 21,000 injured, are near that level. And the Russian military has also lost at least three generals in the fight, according to Ukrainian, NATO and Russian officials.

Pentagon officials say that a high, and rising, number of war dead can destroy the will to continue fighting. The result, they say, has shown up in intelligence reports that senior officials in the Biden administration read every day: One recent report focused on low morale among Russian troops and described soldiers just parking their vehicles and walking off into the woods.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Yesterday, President Biden announced that the U.S. will send more military aid to Ukraine. The New York Times: U.S. Adds ‘Kamikaze Drones’ as More Weapons Flow to Ukraine.

The Biden administration will provide Ukraine with additional high-tech defensive weapons that are easily portable and require little training to use against Russian tanks, armored vehicles and aircraft, according to U.S. and European officials.

In remarks on Wednesday, President Biden announced $800 million in new military aid for Ukraine, including 800 additional Stinger antiaircraft missiles, 9,000 antitank weapons, 100 tactical drones and a range of small arms including machine guns and grenade launchers.

The Ukrainians have already proved their prowess at using British-provided and American-made antitank weaponry against Russia’s much larger military. But in an impassioned speech to Congress on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine asked for additional help as Russian troops pushed to encircle major cities.

U.S. and European officials want to send more equipment that is easy to use by small teams, and that has technology that can overcome Russian defenses or exploit weaknesses — rather than offensive weapons like tanks and warplanes that require significant logistical support….

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By Eugenia Gapchinska

As part of the package, the Biden administration will provide Switchblade drones, according to people briefed on the plans. Military officials call the weapon, which is carried in a backpack, the “kamikaze drone” because it can be flown directly at a tank or a group of troops, and is destroyed when it hits the target and explodes.

“These were designed for U.S. Special Operations Command and are exactly the type of weapons systems that can have an immediate impact on the battlefield,” said Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Bigger, armed drones, like U.S.-made Predators or Reapers, would be difficult for Ukrainians to fly and would be easily destroyed by Russian fighter planes. But former officials said small, portable kamikaze drones could prove to be a cost-effective way to destroy Russian armored convoys.

Read more at the link.

More stories to check out today

Anne Applebaum at The Atlantic: America Needs a Better Plan to Fight Autocracy.

Gillian Tett at Financial Times: Why I should have listened to Garry Kasparov about Putin.

CNN Business: 4 ways China is quietly making life harder for Russia.

CNN Business: Russia says it made a payment to avoid default.

BBC News: Russia’s state TV hit by stream of resignations.

The Guardian: Trump White House aide was secret author of report used to push ‘big lie’

Thom Hartmann at Raw Story: 40 years of the Reagan revolution’s libertarian experiment have brought us crisis and chaos.

NBC News: Brittney Griner’s detention extended until May, Russian news agency says.

Have a peaceful Thursday everyone. I’m going to focus on self-care today as much as I can. I won’t be able to tear myself away from the Ukraine news entirely, but I’m going to take breaks.