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.


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?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Francine van Hove, Plasirs du Matin, French, 1942

Francine van Hove, Plasirs du Matin, “Morning Pleasures,” French, 1942

There may be some movement in the Ukraine crisis. The AP reported this morning that some Russian troops are being pulled back and returned to their bases. Later the story was updated to report that Putin wants to negotiate: Putin: Russia ready to discuss confidence-building measures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow is ready for talks with the U.S. and NATO on limits for missile deployments and military transparency.

Speaking after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin said the U.S. and NATO rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of NATO, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe.

They agreed to discuss a range of security measures that Russia had previously proposed.

Putin said that Russia is ready to engage in talks on limits on the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe, transparency of drills and other confidence-building measures but emphasized the need for the West to heed Russia’s main demands.

The statement followed the Russian Defense Ministry’s announced a partial pullback of troops after military drills, adding to hopes that the Kremlin may not be planning to invade Ukraine imminently. The Russian military gave no details on where the troops were pulling back from, or how many.

From The Washington Post: Russia says some troops withdrawing from Ukraine’s border; NATO chief notes ‘cautious optimism’ but sees no de-escalation yet.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday he sees reason for “cautious optimism” after Moscow signaled willingness to continue talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, and Russia said some of its troops were returning to base. But the NATO chief noted no signs of Russian de-escalation “on the ground.”

“There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels ahead of meetings with NATO defense ministers Wednesday. “There are grounds for cautious optimism. So far, we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground.”

After Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled Monday that he was open to diplomacy to resolve the crisis between Russia and NATO over Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance, Moscow sent a barrage of contradictory signals Tuesday — announcing that some Russian forces were being sent home after completing drills, even as major military exercises continued near Ukraine.

Putin met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Kremlin on Tuesday, the latest in a string of Western leaders urging the Russian president to de-escalate the most serious crisis in Russia’s relations with NATO since the end of the Cold War.

U.S. officials have warned that Putin has the final military pieces in position to launch a major attack within days if he chooses to do so.

“We have not seen any de-escalation on the ground, no signs of reduced Russian military presence on the border with Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday. He said NATO is looking for a “significant and enduring” withdrawal of Russian forces, troops and heavy equipment from areas bordering Ukraine as a sign of real de-escalation.

Coffee, by Edward Hopper

Coffee, by Edward Hopper

The big news yesterday was about the Trump’s accounting firm Mazars dumping him as a client. The New York Times: Accounting Firm Cuts Ties With Trump and Retracts Financial Statements.

Donald J. Trump’s longtime accounting firm cut ties with him and his family business last week, saying it could no longer stand behind a decade of annual financial statements it prepared for the Trump Organization, court documents show.

The decision, which was disclosed to the company in a Feb. 9 letter from the accounting firm, comes amid criminal and civil investigations into whether Mr. Trump illegally inflated the value of his assets. The firm, Mazars USA, compiled the financial statements based on information the former president and his company provided.

The letter instructed the Trump Organization to essentially retract the documents, known as statements of financial condition, from 2011 to 2020. In the letter, Mazars noted that the firm had not “as a whole” found material discrepancies between the information the Trump Organization provided and the actual value of Mr. Trump’s assets. But given what it called “the totality of circumstances” — including Mazars’ own investigation — the letter directed the Trump Organization to notify anyone who received the statements that they should no longer rely on them.

The statements, which Mr. Trump used to secure loans, are at the center of the two law enforcement investigations into whether Mr. Trump exaggerated the value of his properties to defraud his lenders into providing him the best possible loan terms.

Mazars’ acknowledgment that the statements were fundamentally flawed was a potential blow to the Trump Organization as it attempts to fend off the long-running scrutiny of its finances. And for Mr. Trump, whose personal finances are intertwined with those of his family business and who has long faced questions about his taxes, Mazars is the latest in a long line of companies to break with him over the last year, following in the path of several banks, insurers and lawyers.

The disclosures about Mazars’ work for Mr. Trump appeared in new court documents filed by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, who is seeking to question the former president and two of his adult children under oath as part of her civil investigation.

A couple of expert reactions to this story:

I’m sure you’ve heard about the legal filing by John Durham, the special counsel appointed by Bill Barr to investigate the Russia investigation, that implied some kind of sinister activity by the Clinton campaign in 2016. The right wing media has been going nuts over this, but it’s basically meaningless. Charlie Savage explains at The New York Times: Court Filing Started a Furor in Right-Wing Outlets, but Their Narrative Is Off Track.

When John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel investigating the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference, filed a pretrial motion on Friday night, he slipped in a few extra sentences that set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying on former President Donald J. Trump.

But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news — the latest example of the challenge created by a barrage of similar conspiracy theories from Mr. Trump and his allies.

Upon close inspection, these narratives are often based on a misleading presentation of the facts or outright misinformation. They also tend to involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims. Yet Trump allies portray the news media as engaged in a cover-up if they don’t.

The latest example began with the motion Mr. Durham filed in a case he has brought against Michael A. Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with links to the Democratic Party. The prosecutor has accused Mr. Sussmann of lying during a September 2016 meeting with an F.B.I. official about Mr. Trump’s possible links to Russia.

The filing was ostensibly about potential conflicts of interest. But it also recounted a meeting at which Mr. Sussmann had presented other suspicions to the government. In February 2017, Mr. Sussmann told the C.I.A. about odd internet data suggesting that someone using a Russian-made smartphone may have been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.

Mr. Sussmann had obtained that information from a client, a technology executive named Rodney Joffe. Another paragraph in the court filing said that Mr. Joffe’s company, Neustar, had helped maintain internet-related servers for the White House, and that he and his associates “exploited this arrangement” by mining certain records to gather derogatory information about Mr. Trump.

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897

The right wingers are thrilled by this story, but it’s complete bullshit.

The conservative media also skewed what the filing said. For example, Mr. Durham’s filing never used the word “infiltrate.” And it never claimed that Mr. Joffe’s company was being paid by the Clinton campaign.

Most important, contrary to the reporting, the filing never said the White House data that came under scrutiny was from the Trump era. According to lawyers for David Dagon, a Georgia Institute of Technology data scientist who helped develop the Yota analysis, the data — so-called DNS logs, which are records of when computers or smartphones have prepared to communicate with servers over the internet — came from Barack Obama’s presidency.

“What Trump and some news outlets are saying is wrong,” said Jody Westby and Mark Rasch, both lawyers for Mr. Dagon. “The cybersecurity researchers were investigating malware in the White House, not spying on the Trump campaign, and to our knowledge all of the data they used was nonprivate DNS data from before Trump took office.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr. Joffe said that “contrary to the allegations in this recent filing,” he was apolitical, did not work for any political party, and had lawful access under a contract to work with others to analyze DNS data — including from the White House — for the purpose of hunting for security breaches or threats.

Marcy Wheeler has been covering this story since the beginning. You can read what she has to say in these posts at her Emptywheel blog:

John Durham, Ask Not For Whom The Statute of Limitation Tolls…

John Durham Chose To Meet With John Ratcliffe Rather Than Witnesses Necessary To His Investigation.

Donald Trump Suggested Michael Sussmann Should Be Killed Because Rodney Joffee “Spied” On Barack Obama.

This is a horrific story about a possible hate crime from The New York Times: Screams That ‘Went Quiet’: Prosecutors’ Account of Chinatown Killing.

Police officers who responded to a 911 call about a disturbance in a Lower Manhattan building on Sunday heard a woman screaming when they reached the sixth floor, but the door to the apartment where the screams had come from was locked.

Morning Coffee, by Harry Roseland

Morning Coffee, by Harry Roseland

As police struggled with the door, at first they still heard her calls for help, but “then she went quiet,” a prosecutor, Dafna Yoran, said in a Manhattan Criminal Court hearing on Monday night. Another voice emerged, sounding like a woman and telling them, “‘We don’t need the police here — go away.’”

When a specialized police unit arrived and broke down the door, they found Christina Yuna Lee, 35, dead in her bathtub with more than 40 stab wounds. The second voice, Ms. Yoran said, was actually that of Assamad Nash, who had followed the victim into the building on Chrystie Street in Chinatown, forced his way into her home and stabbed her.

When officers broke into the apartment, the police found Mr. Nash hiding under a bed and the knife believed to be the murder weapon hidden behind a dresser, prosecutors said.

It’s not yet clear why Ms. Lee was targeted, but the Asian community in New York is terrified.

Mr. Nash, 25, whose last known address was a men’s homeless shelter in the Bowery, was arraigned on first-degree charges of murder, burglary and sexually motivated burglary. A judge ordered him held without bail, and prosecutors said he was facing a sentence of up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Though the authorities have not determined that Ms. Lee was targeted because of her ethnicity, her killing stoked fears in the city’s Asian community, which was already on edge after a rise in attacks during the pandemic.

Her killing also fit a pattern that has become an unsettlingly common feature of the pandemic in New York City: a seemingly unprovoked attack in which the person charged is a homeless man. In many neighborhoods in Manhattan, residents have expressed growing concern about homeless people, some of whom seem to be struggling with mental illness, menacing and harassing passers-by.

Ms. Lee, who graduated from Rutgers University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in art history, worked as a creative producer for Splice, an online music platform based in New York City. The company said in a statement that it was heartbroken over her “senseless” death.

Read the rest at the NYT.

One more story on the trucker blockade story from The Washington Post: ‘Freedom Convoy,’ police face off near U.S.-Canada border crossings as Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act.

Canadian police tried to clear protesters near crossings at the U.S.-Canada border, making arrests as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the country’s Emergencies Act on Monday.

The-Morning-Coffee, by Charles Hawthorne

The Morning Coffee, by Charles Hawthorne

Standoffs between police and protesters in Coutts, Alberta, and Surrey, B.C., persisted overnight after authorities had earlier reopened the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land border crossing and a key trade artery connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit.

Trudeau on Monday became the first Canadian leader to invoke the act, under pressure to quell the chaos that has spiraled from the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations against vaccine mandates and coronavirus restrictions.

The law, passed in 1988, will give police “more tools” to bring order to areas where public assemblies “constitute illegal and dangerous activities,” he said. Financial institutions, meanwhile, will get sweeping powers to halt the flow of funding to the Freedom Convoy protests.

Critics of Trudeau’s move quickly spoke out against the Liberal government. The nonprofit Canadian Civil Liberties Association said using the law, which gives the federal government broad powers, such as the authority to freeze financial accounts without court orders, was unjustified. “Emergency legislation should not be normalized. It threatens our democracy and our civil liberties,” it said in a statement.

The protests that began with truckers in Ottawa in late January have rippled across the country, choking off several U.S.-Canada border crossings, and inspiring protests against pandemic restrictions across the world. The Ambassador Bridge blockade lasted nearly a week, disrupting U.S. supply chains and millions of dollars in trade.

There’s a lot happening in the news today. What stories have you been following?


Tuesday Reads

House by the Railroad, Edward Hopper

House by the Railroad, Edward Hopper.

Good Morning!!

Revelations just keep on coming about Trump’s crazy efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The New York Times and CNN have obtained emails that show how the White House tried to get the Justice Department to investigate insane claims about election conspiracy theories, including a baseless theory about Italian satellites changing votes.

Katie Benner at The New York Times: Trump Pressed Official to Wield Justice Dept. to Back Election Claims.

An hour before President Donald J. Trump announced in December that William P. Barr would step down as attorney general, the president began pressuring Mr. Barr’s eventual replacement to have the Justice Department take up his false claims of election fraud.

Mr. Trump sent an email via his assistant to Jeffrey A. Rosen, the incoming acting attorney general, that contained documents purporting to show evidence of election fraud in northern Michigan — the same claims that a federal judge had thrown out a week earlier in a lawsuit filed by one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers.

Another email from Mr. Trump to Mr. Rosen followed two weeks later, again via the president’s assistant, that included a draft of a brief that Mr. Trump wanted the Justice Department to file to the Supreme Court. It argued, among other things, that state officials had used the pandemic to weaken election security and pave the way for widespread election fraud.

The draft echoed claims in a lawsuit in Texas by the Trump-allied state attorney general that the justices had thrown out, and a lawyer who had helped on that effort later tried with increasing urgency to track down Mr. Rosen at the Justice Department, saying he had been dispatched by Mr. Trump to speak with him.

The emails, turned over by the Justice Department to investigators on the House Oversight Committee and obtained by The New York Times, show how Mr. Trump pressured Mr. Rosen to put the power of the Justice Department behind lawsuits that had already failed to try to prove his false claims that extensive voter fraud had affected the election results….

The documents dovetail with emails around the same time from Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, asking Mr. Rosen to examine unfounded conspiracy theories about the election, including one that claimed people associated with an Italian defense contractor were able to use satellite technology to tamper with U.S. voting equipment from Europe.

Yellow House in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh

Yellow House in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh

Benner reports much more insanity in this article. Here’s just a bit more:

Much of the correspondence also occurred during a tense week within the Justice Department, when Mr. Rosen and his top deputies realized that one of their peers had plotted with Mr. Trump to first oust Mr. Rosen and then to try to use federal law enforcement to force Georgia to overturn its election results. Mr. Trump nearly replaced Mr. Rosen with that colleague, Jeffrey Clark, then the acting head of the civil division.

Mr. Rosen made clear to his top deputy in one message that he would have nothing to do with the Italy conspiracy theory, arrange a meeting between the F.B.I. and one of the proponents of the conspiracy, Brad Johnson, or speak about it with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer.

“I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani, who regarded my comments as an ‘insult,’” Mr. Rosen wrote in the email. “Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses’, and reaffirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this.”

More details from CNN: New emails show how Trump and his allies pressured Justice Department to try to challenge 2020 election results.

The emails also provide new detail into how Mark Meadows, then-White House chief of staff, directed Rosen to have then-Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark — who reportedly urged Trump to make him acting attorney general instead of Rosen — investigate voter fraud issues in Georgia before the US attorney there resigned in January.

Amid the pressure, Rosen said he refused to speak to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani about his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

When Meadows sought to have Rosen arrange an FBI meeting with a Giuliani ally pushing a conspiracy theory that Italy was using military technology and satellites to somehow change votes to Joe Biden, Rosen said he would not help Giuliani.

Weatherside, 1965, by Andrew Wyeth

Weatherside, 1965, by Andrew Wyeth

“I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses,’ and re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this,” Rosen wrote to Donoghue.\The new emails provide additional detail to reports earlier this month from CNN, The New York Times and others on Meadows’ emails to Rosen after the election, which revealed how the top White House aide had urged the Justice Department to take action for Trump’s benefit. The emails included a list of complaints about voting procedures in New Mexico, alleged “anomalies” in a Georgia county and the claims about Italian satellites.

The emails also show how Trump directed allies toward Rosen, who had been named acting attorney general following Barr’s December 2020 resignation after Barr had publicly said there had not been widespread fraud in the election.

Kurt Olsen, a private attorney, reached out to John Moran at the Justice Department on December 29 requesting a meeting with Rosen, promising he could meet at the Justice Department with an hour’s notice. He attached a draft complaint modeled after the Texas Supreme Court lawsuit unsuccessfully challenging the election results in four states, and wrote in a follow-up email that Trump directed him to meet with Rosen to discuss the US bringing a similar action.

“The President of the United States has seen this complaint, and he directed me last night to brief AG Rosen in person today to discuss bringing this action,” Olsen wrote. “I have been instructed to report back to the President this afternoon after the meeting.”

The same day, Trump’s White House assistant also forwarded the draft complaint to Rosen and Donoghue to review, saying it had also been shared with Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

By the end of the year, it was clear Rosen and Donoghue had tired of the pressure campaign from the White House.

At least it’s good to know there was pushback from some Trump appointees.

The insanity continues in Arizona and elsewhere. Will Sommer at The Daily Beast: Republicans Now Want to ‘Audit’ Election Results in States That Trump Won.

In the wake of the Arizona audit’s success at grabbing publicity across right-wing media, Republican lawmakers in states that Trump won are demanding Arizona-style audits or other election inspections of their own.

The Republican hunt for voter-fraud evidence even in states that voted for Trump reveals how far inside the party the idea has spread that the election was stolen.

Houses at Falaise in the Fog, Claude Monet

Houses at Falaise in the Fog, Claude Monet

Focusing on fraud claims allows Republican officials to raise money and attention from devoted Trump supporters, according to former Republican National Committee communications director Doug Heye. It also helps lawmakers align themselves with Trump’s claims of widespread fraud, ingratiating themselves with the energized Trump grassroots as they try to claim more power in the party.“

This is about two things, and these are symbiotic,” Heye said. “The continued fealty for all things Trump, and placating the base or the portion of the base that still can’t accept a clear loss.” [….]

The prospect of audits that could somehow dispute Biden’s electoral college win have become articles of faith for Trump supporters unable to get over the former president’s defeat, as Republican-held legislatures across the country use a sense that the election was stolen to push voting restrictions across the country. Some Republican voters have also become fixated on a “domino theory” about the election, which holds that if Arizona’s audit finds fraud in their election, other states that voted for Biden will fall like dominos.

In other news, today the Biden administration released a “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.” You can read the White House statement at that link.

The New York Times: Biden Administration Forms Blueprint to Combat Domestic Extremism.

The Biden administration is aiming to bolster information sharing with technology companies, potentially expand hiring of intelligence analysts and improve screening of government employees for ties to domestic terrorism as part of a much-anticipated plan expected to be released on Tuesday detailing how the federal government should combat extremism.

President Biden ordered the review of how federal agencies addressed domestic extremism soon after coming into office, part of an effort to more aggressively acknowledge a national security threat that has grown since the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

Changing a Flat, Norman Rockwell

Changing a Flat, Norman Rockwell

The 32-page plan synthesizes steps that have been recommended by national security officials — including bolstering relationships with social media companies and improving information sharing among law enforcement agencies — into one blueprint on how to more effectively identify extremists in the country after years of heightened focus on foreign terrorists.

“We cannot ignore this threat or wish it away,” Mr. Biden wrote in the strategy document. “Preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it demand a multifaceted response across the federal government and beyond.”

The new strategy was widely expected to detail a position on whether the government should establish a domestic terrorism law that prosecutors could use to investigate and charge homegrown extremists instead of relying on assault, murder and hate crime charges. The strategy instead indicates that the administration is focused for now on bolstering methods of combating extremism already used by the government, despite Mr. Biden calling for such a law during the presidential campaign.

The Guardian: White House unveils first national strategy to fight domestic terrorism.

The White House has published its first ever national strategy for countering domestic terrorism five months after a violent mob stormed the US Capitol in Washington.

The framework released on Tuesday by the national security council describes the threat as now more serious than potential attacks from overseas but emphasises the need to protect civil liberties.

Anticipating Republican objections that Joe Biden could use counterterrorism tools to persecute supporters of Donald Trump, the strategy is also careful to state that domestic terrorism must be tackled in an “ideologically neutral” manner.

Houses in Munich, 1908, Wassily Kandinsky

Houses in Munich, 1908, Wassily Kandinsky

It cites examples such as “an anti-authority extremist” ambushing, shooting and killing five police officers in Dallas In 2016; a lone gunman (and leftwing activist) wounding four people at a congressional baseball practice in 2017; and an “unprecedented attack” on Congress on 6 January.

“They come across the political spectrum,” a senior administration said on a media conference call. “We acknowledge the shooting at the congressional baseball, the attack on police officers in Dallas, just as we acknowledge the attack in Charlottesville and the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

“So it’s not motivating politics or ideology that matters for us or, more importantly for the strategy and its implementation. It’s when political grievances become acts of violence and we remain laser focused on that.”

Of course Biden is in Europe right now, and he will meet with Vladimir Putin soon. David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Here’s What Biden’s Team Expects From His Meeting With Putin.

The political world and the media have zeroed in on President Joe Biden’s meeting this week with Vladimir Putin as the most important diplomatic event in which this young administration has participated. But the truth is that the heaviest diplomatic lifting with regard to the US-Russia relationship, and American national security, will have already taken place before the meeting in Geneva begins—or it will come in its wake.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that Biden would be arriving at the Geneva meeting “with the wind at his back.” What he meant by that, according to a senior official traveling with the president, is that “in many respects, the most important part of the president’s message to Putin will have been made in the days before the meeting.” The official cited the achievements associated with Biden’s meetings with the U.K. leadership, G7 leaders, his NATO counterparts and top officials from the EU.

House in Provence, 1867, Paul Cezanne

House in Provence, 1867, Paul Cezanne

Trump not only distinguished himself from all previous American presidents by publicly bending the knee before his political sponsor Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, on Twitter and whenever he had the chance, the only coherent part of Trump foreign policy was that he effectively rejected three-quarters of a century of U.S. history by seeking to dismantle the international order America had tried to build since World War II. He attacked our allies. He condemned NATO. He disparaged the EU. And whenever he was given a chance, he rewarded Putin despite his invasion of Ukraine, his murder of his opponents (including on foreign soil), his freelancing in Syria, his efforts to erode the west’s relationship with Turkey and more.

Biden has been one of those who helped build the international system Trump attacked. He has been committed to undoing the damage Trump did. Just in the last week, Biden announced an effort to revitalize the Atlantic Charter, mended ties within the G7, made an unprecedented pledge of 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine as part of the G7’s commitment to provide 1 billion doses to needy nations worldwide, and re-engaged with our allies on terms more consistent with the pro-democracy, anti-autocracy message of our past.

Read the rest at The Daily Beast.

That’s it for me. What’s on your mind today?