Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

early-september-green-mountains-frank-wilson

Early September Green Mountains (Vermont), by Frank Wilson

There’s a lot happening in the news today that isn’t about the British royal family; but you probably won’t see much about it on the cable channels–at least until the nighttime shows come on. Among other things, Ukraine is still winning the battle to get Russia to stop destroying their country; the Department of Justice is running multiple investigations of Trump and the January 6 conspiracies; the House January 6 Committee is getting up to speed for more hearings; and other Congressional investigations are cropping up.

Ukraine War

The Washington Post: ‘The Russians are in trouble,’ U.S. official says of latest war analysis.

A Ukrainian counteroffensive that has sent Russian forces into a hasty retreat could mark a turning point in the war and raise pressure on Moscow to call up additional forces if it hopes to prevent further Ukrainian advances, U.S. and Western officials said Monday.

Whether the gains are permanent depends on Russia’s next moves, especially whether President Vladimir Putin implements a military draft or orders reinforcements from elsewhere to offset heavy losses in Ukraine, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share recent intelligence analyses.

In mere days, Ukrainian military forces have retaken nearly all of the Kharkiv region that Russian forces occupied since the opening of the war. The rapidity of the pullback appears to have stunned Russian military troops and commanders, officials said.

“The Russians are in trouble,” one U.S. official said bluntly. “The question will be how the Russians will react, but their weaknesses have been exposed and they don’t have great manpower reserves or equipment reserves.”

Ukrainian forces appeared to be moving ahead carefully and consolidating their gains, another official said, noting that Russian forces seem to have recognized that they lacked the weapons and manpower to hold newly liberated towns and villages in the northeast of the country. Some Russian forces abandoned tanks, armored vehicles and ammunition as they fled.

Read more at the WaPo.

The New York Times: The Critical Moment Behind Ukraine’s Rapid Advance.

The strategy behind Ukraine’s rapid military gains in recent days began to take shape months ago during a series of intense conversations between Ukrainian and U.S. officials about the way forward in the war against Russia, according to American officials.

the-apple-gatherers-frederick-morgan

The Apple Gatherers, Frederick Morgan

The counteroffensive — revised this summer from its original form after urgent discussions between senior U.S. and Ukrainian officials — has succeeded beyond most predictions. Ukrainian forces have devastated Russian command and control, and appear poised to capitalize on their advances in the northeast of the country and in another campaign in the south.

The work began soon after President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine told his generals he wanted to make a dramatic move to demonstrate that his country could push back on the Russian invasion. Under his orders, the Ukrainian military devised a plan to launch a broad assault across the south to reclaim Kherson and cut off Mariupol from the Russian force in the east.

The Ukrainian generals and American officials believed that such a large-scale attack would incur immense casualties and fail to quickly retake large amounts of territory. The Ukrainians were already suffering hundreds of casualties a day in what had become a grinding conflict. The Russian forces were experiencing similar losses but were still inching forward, laying waste to Ukrainian towns in the eastern region of Donbas.

Long reluctant to share details of their plans, the Ukrainian commanders started opening up more to American and British intelligence officials and seeking advice.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, spoke multiple times about the planning for the counteroffensive, according to a senior administration official. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and senior Ukrainian military leaders regularly discussed intelligence and military support.

The gist is that Americans helped the Ukrainians plan a strategy, and the Ukrainian army succeeded in carrying it out–beyond all expectations. Read more details at the NYT.

David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: What Happens to Russia After It Loses?

With reports of Russian troops fleeing like “Olympic sprinters,” leaving behind weapons, crashing their tanks into trees, and turning over more than 3,000 square kilometers of previously held territory to Ukraine, it is only natural to ask: How bad can it get for Russia?

Experts with whom I spoke all agreed that the war will have long-lasting implications for Russia and, as a consequence, for geopolitics. At the very least it puts to rest for the foreseeable future Putin’s notion that he will oversee the rebirth of Russian greatness, of a new Russian empire. At worst, it means that Russia’s decades-long slide that led to its Cold War collapse (and its struggles ever since) will be accelerated, and the country will be consigned by its floundering dictator to a period of greatly diminished global influence.

at-the-market-1895. Felix Vallotton

At the Market, 1985, by Felix Valloton

Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder described the stakes trenchantly: “Russia ceased being a great power a long time ago. It never really recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union, itself the product of a decaying ideology and system.” Daalder said Putin came to power when “Russia was in a state of deep dysfunction” and that he subsequently “set out to build a deeply kleptocratic system that benefited him and his cronies at the expense of the entire society.” This, according to Daalder, has manifested itself with “a military that is unable to engage in modern warfare of maneuver, which after six months still hasn’t established air superiority.” [….]

Stephen Sestanovich, who served during the Clinton administration as ambassador at large for the newly independent states of the former USSR and is currently a professor at Columbia University, offered a different analogy to a second-tier European state, “Russia’s claim to be a great power has long been tenuous, resting on nukes, land mass, and a UN veto. The revival of economic growth in Putin’s first decade helped restore a little luster to the claim. But he’s been largely on the ropes since 2014, and this absurd campaign to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine has put his entire effort at risk. He wanted to make himself an equal of Catherine and Peter. Now it’s going to take quite a comeback to be more than [former Serbian President Slobodan] Milošević with missiles.”

Angela Stent, a Putin biographer and senior adviser at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service’s Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies, echoed that analysis, “After the war is over, Russia will still be the largest country in the world (assuming it does not disintegrate) and it will still have nukes, oil, and gas. But it is deglobalizing and returning to greater autarky.” Stent says that despite maintaining strong ties with many countries in the global south, “its relations with the collective West, which represents the lion’s share of global GDP, have largely collapsed.” Stent adds: “Putin came to power wanting to restore Russia’s role as a great power and have a seat on the global board of directors. He has now lost that. Russia will emerge from this demodernized and diminished in global stature.”

There’s still more expert opinion reported at the Daily Beast link.

Department of Justice Investigations

The New York Times: Justice Dept. Issues 40 Subpoenas in a Week, Expanding Its Jan. 6 Inquiry.

Justice Department officials have seized the phones of two top advisers to former President Donald J. Trump and blanketed his aides with about 40 subpoenas in a substantial escalation of the investigation into his efforts to subvert the 2020 election, people familiar with the inquiry said on Monday.

The seizure of the phones, coupled with a widening effort to obtain information from those around Mr. Trump after the 2020 election, represent some of the most aggressive steps the department has taken thus far in its criminal investigation into the actions that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The extent of the investigation has come into focus in recent days, even though it has often been overshadowed by the government’s legal clash with Mr. Trump and his lawyers over a separate inquiry into the handling of presidential records, including highly classified materials, the former president kept at his residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago.

Federal agents with court-authorized search warrants took phones last week from at least two people: Boris Epshteyn, an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Mr. Trump’s legal efforts, and Mike Roman, a campaign strategist who was the director of Election Day operations for the Trump campaign in 2020, people familiar with the investigation said.

Mr. Epshteyn and Mr. Roman have been linked to a critical element of Mr. Trump’s bid to hold onto power: the effort to name slates of electors pledged to Mr. Trump from swing states won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020 as part of a plan to block or delay congressional certification of Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory.

On others who got subpoenas:

The names of those receiving the latest round of subpoenas in the investigation related to Jan. 6 have dribbled out gradually, with investigators casting a wide net on a range of issues, including Mr. Trump’s postelection fund-raising and the so-called fake electors scheme.

Indigo Dreams, Adrian Paul Allinson

Indigo Dreams, Adrian Paul Allinson

One of the recipients, people familiar with the case said, was Dan Scavino, Mr. Trump’s former social media director who rose from working at a Trump-owned golf course to become one of his most loyal West Wing aides, and has remained an adviser since Mr. Trump left office. Stanley Woodward, one of Mr. Scavino’s lawyers, declined to comment.

Another was Bernard B. Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner. Mr. Kerik, who promoted claims of voter fraud alongside his friend Rudolph W. Giuliani, was issued a subpoena by prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, his lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, said on Monday. Mr. Parlatore said his client had initially offered to grant an interview voluntarily.

The subpoenas seek information in connection with the fake electors plan.

For months, associates of Mr. Trump have received subpoenas related to other aspects of the investigations into his efforts to cling to power. But in a new line of inquiry, some of the latest subpoenas focus on the activities of the Save America political action committee, the main political fund-raising conduit for Mr. Trump since he left office.

The fact that the Justice Department is now seeking information related to fund-raising comes as the House committee examining the Jan. 6 attack has raised questions about money Mr. Trump solicited under the premise of fighting election fraud.

The January 6 Committee Investigation

CNN: January 6 committee set to meet in person on Tuesday as it debates whether to invite Trump and Pence to appear.

As the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack nears its final chapter, members plan to meet in person on Tuesday and one of the most pressing questions they’ll address is whether the committee should formally request that former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence appear before them.

Such appearances are exceedingly rare in US history. According to multiple sources, the committee does not expect either man to testify, but some members and staff believe the invitations should be extended for the record.

“How do you create a historic record without including formal requests for the two top witnesses,” said one source familiar to the committee’s work.

Members of the committee, including Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, have consistently said they’d like to hear from Pence and would welcome Trump’s testimony should he offer it on their terms but internal discussions about formally reaching out to both men has intensified in recent weeks now that the panel’s investigation will soon come to an end, the sources said….

A source close to Pence’s team told CNN that there have been intermittent conversations between the committee and legal counsel for Pence, but nothing has changed, meaning it’s unlikely he would testify.

Whether the panel decides to call Trump or Pence could prove to be an important data point should the committee ultimately opt to submit a criminal referral for Trump – something members of the panel say they expect to seriously consider, while such a move would be largely symbolic in nature.

Red Sun, Arthur C. Dove

Red Sun, Arthur C. Dove

Insider: Jan. 6 committee believes former Secret Service agent Tony Ornato was responsible for attempts to discredit Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, CNN reported.

Members of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot believe former Secret Service agent Tony Ornato was personally involved in efforts to discredit former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, according to a report from CNN.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republican members of Congress on the committee, told the outlet this week that representatives on the panel think Ornato led the charge in contradicting parts of Hutchinson’s public testimony earlier this year while he was still at the agency and additional, unnamed agents then backed his claims.

The longtime Secret Service agent who ran former President Donald Trump’s security detail left the agency last month, saying in a statement that he retired in order to pursue a career in the private sector.

Ornato emerged as a key figure in Hutchinson’s bombshell testimony before the committee in June.

Hutchinson testified that Ornato told her Trump had tried to grab the steering wheel of the vehicle he was traveling in and lunged at a Secret Service agent while demanding to be taken to the Capitol during the chaos of January 6, 2021, as he said, “I’m the effing president!”

In the aftermath of Hutchinson’s testimony, anonymous sources began to reject her version of events in the press. Several media outlets reported that Secret Service agents were willing to testify that Trump did not try to lunge at them or take control of the vehicle on January 6 — though none have done so publicly.

Now, Kinzinger is accusing Ornato of being one of the anonymous culprits behind the backlash.

Other Congressional Investigations

The New York Times: Archives Is Unsure Whether Trump Surrendered All Records, Panel Says.

The National Archives has informed congressional aides that it is still unsure whether former President Donald J. Trump has surrendered all the presidential records he removed from the White House, even after months of negotiations, a subpoena and a search of his Florida property, according to the House Oversight Committee.

The archives staff “recently informed the committee that the agency is not certain whether all presidential records are in its custody,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the committee, wrote in a letter on Tuesday to Debra Steidel Wall, the acting national archivist.

Ms. Maloney said the archives staff had informed the committee staff during a call in late August of its uncertainty about the status of the material, which Mr. Trump was required by law to return.

autumn-on-the-seine-at-argenteuil.jpg!Large

Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil, by Claude Monet

In her letter, Ms. Maloney requested a formal assessment from the archives of what presidential records, if any, removed from the White House by Mr. Trump remained unaccounted for and whether the archives believed they were potentially still in his possession.

The committee is requesting that the agency “conduct an urgent review of presidential records from the Trump administration to identify any presidential records or categories of presidential records, whether textual or electronic, that NARA has reason to believe may still be outside of the agency’s custody and control,” Ms. Maloney wrote, referring to the National Archives and Records Administration. “Please also assess any other limitations on the completeness, accuracy and accessibility of presidential records provided to NARA by the Trump administration.”

The letter asked the archives to complete an initial assessment and provide its findings to the committee by Sept. 27.

Ms. Maloney also requested that the archives “seek a personal certification from Donald Trump that he has surrendered all presidential records that he illegally removed from the White House after leaving office.”

The New York Times: Senate to Investigate Charge That Trump Meddled in Prosecutor’s Office.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will investigate allegations that the Justice Department under President Donald J. Trump sought to use the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan to support Mr. Trump politically and pursue his critics, the committee’s chairman said on Monday.

The allegations are in a new book by Geoffrey S. Berman, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2018 through June 2020, when he was fired by Mr. Trump.

The chairman, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, made the announcement in a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland, which cited a New York Times report on Thursday detailing the book’s allegations.

Mr. Berman’s book portrays Trump Justice Department officials as motivated by partisan concerns as they tried to initiate criminal investigations or block them, The Times reported.

The book, “Holding the Line,” was obtained by The Times in advance of its scheduled publication on Tuesday.

Mr. Durbin said in his letter, “These reported claims indicate astonishing and unacceptable deviations from the department’s mission to pursue impartial justice, which requires that its prosecutorial decisions be free from political influence.”

He added that the allegations “also compound the already serious concerns” raised by then-Attorney General William P. Barr’s efforts in 2020 “to replace Mr. Berman with a Trump loyalist.”

Wow! This post got really long, so take what you want and leave the rest. I hope you all have a terrific Tuesday!!


Lazy Caturday Reads

cats-on-strike-leah-saulnier-the-painting-maniac

Cats on Strike, by Leah Saulnier the painting maniac

Happy Caturday, Sky Dancers!!

As if we didn’t have enough bad news, we are now dealing with another global health emergency. Monkeypox is spreading rapidly around the world and here in the U.S. Cases have been reported in multiple states, including Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Washington, DC, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and California. As of two days ago, there were already nearly 2,000 reported cases in the U.S.

Apoorva Mandavilli at The New York Times: W.H.O. Declares Monkeypox Spread a Global Health Emergency.

For the second time in two years, the World Health Organization has taken the extraordinary step of declaring a global emergency. This time the cause is monkeypox, which has spread in just a few weeks to dozens of countries and infected tens of thousands of people.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general, on Saturday overruled a panel of advisers, who could not come to a consensus, and declared a “public health emergency of international concern,” a designation the W.H.O. currently uses to describe only two other diseases, Covid-19 and polio.

“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria” for a public health emergency, Dr. Tedros told reporters….

The W.H.O.’s declaration signals a public health risk requiring a coordinated international response. The designation can lead member countries to invest significant resources in controlling an outbreak, draw more funding to the response, and encourage nations to share vaccines, treatments and other key resources for containing the outbreak.

It is the seventh public health emergency since 2007; the Covid pandemic, of course, was the most recent. 

The article discusses the controversy over how W.H.O. decides when to declare a health emergency. Some experts already think the agency waited too long on monkeypox.

Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy: Largest monkeypox study to date highlights new symptoms.

Many of the people infected in an international monkeypox outbreak experienced a single lesion or sore in their mouth or on their genitals, a departure from typical symptoms of the virus that could lead to clinicians to misdiagnose monkeypox as another sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Coffee with Henry 4, by Kazui Whitemoon

Coffee with Henry #4, by Kazui Whitemoon

That’s one of the main takeaways from the New England Journal of Medicine‘s (NEJM‘s) new international study of the current outbreak, which is the largest case-study on the virus.

“This truly global case series has enabled doctors from 16 countries to share their extensive clinical experience and many clinical photographs to help other doctors in places with fewer cases. We have shown that the current international case definitions need to be expanded to add symptoms that are not currently included, such as sores in the mouth, on the anal mucosa and single ulcers,” said Chloe Orkin, PhD, of the Queen Mary University of London, in a university press release.

The study included clinical observations from 528 confirmed infections at 43 sites from Apr 27 to Jun 24 of this year. The median incubation period is 7 days in this outbreak, and the median age of a case-patient was 38. No deaths occurred, but 70 patients (13%) required hospitalization.

In the study, authors share many patients are presenting to clinics and hospitals for pain management or difficulty swallowing. Single anal sores have been recorded in several cases. One in 10 people had only a single skin lesion in the genital area, and 15% had anal and/or rectal pain, a symptom not typically seen in other monkeypox outbreaks.

A total of 98% of the cases documented were in gay or bisexual men, and while monkeypox is not an STI, per se, the authors said 95% of transmissions documented occurred during sexual relations. Seventy-five percent of case patients are white, and 41% are HIV-positive.

CNN: CDC reports the first two monkeypox cases in children in the US.

Two cases of monkeypox have been identified in children in the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The two cases are unrelated and probably the result of household transmission, the CDC said.

One case is a toddler who is a resident of California. The other is an infant who is not a US resident. Public health officials are investigating how the children were infected.

Both have symptoms but are in good health and receiving treatment with an antiviral medication named tecovirimat or TPOXX, which the CDC recommends for children under the age of 8 because they are considered to be at higher risk from infection.

Vicky Mount

Painting by Vicky Mount

Since the monkeypox outbreak began in May, most of the cases have happened among men who have sex with men. However, anyone can catch the virus through close skin-to-skin contact. In the case of children, the agency said this could include “holding, cuddling, feeding, as well as through shared items such as towels, bedding, cups, and utensils.”

The CDC says the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine is being made available for children through special expanded use protocols. The agency has also developed new guidance for health care providers about identifying, treating and preventing monkeypox in children and teens.

Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said Friday that the cases in children were not surprising and that the US should be ready to respond to more.

Politico: Biden administration considering a public health emergency for monkeypox as cases swell.

U.S. health officials are discussing whether to declare a public health emergency for the monkeypox outbreak as they work to make treatments and vaccines available to more people.

The discussions come as the virus — which is endemic in West and Central Africa but unusual in the United States — continues to spread across the country. As of Thursday, there were 2,593 cases reported, up from 1,470 last week. The federal government announced Friday it has shipped over 300,000 doses of the vaccine to states and cities to control the outbreak.

“We’re looking at … what are the ways the response could be enhanced, if any, by declaring a public health emergency,” White House Covid response coordinator Ashish Jha told reporters during a briefing Friday.

Officials at the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also working to make tecovirimat, the only treatment available for monkeypox (though only FDA–approved for smallpox), easier for physicians to prescribe to patients. A more streamlined process to get the antiviral is expected to be announced to providers next week.

The White House will also use a new research agenda, which was announced Thursday and consists of $140 million in ongoing projects, to study stretching limited monkeypox vaccine doses, find new testing methods and expand treatment options, three White House officials told POLITICO.

Lunch with cats, Pierre Bonnard, 1906

Lunch with cats, Pierre Bonnard, 1906

We haven’t talked much about the war in Ukraine lately, but it has caused a global food crisis. Yesterday Russian supposedly agreed to stop blocking shipments of grain, but the Ukraine and U.S. governments are skeptical that Russia will follow through. 

BBC News: Food crisis: Ukraine war: Deal signed to allow grain exports to resume by sea.

Ukraine and Russia have signed “mirror” deals which will allow Kyiv to resume exports of grain through the Black Sea.

The agreement will allow millions of tonnes of grain, currently trapped in Ukraine by the war, to be exported.

The world shortage of Ukrainian grain since Russia’s 24 February invasion has left millions at risk of hunger.

However, Kyiv refused to sign a direct deal with Moscow, and warned “provocations” would be met with “an immediate military response”.

Both sides attended the signing ceremony in Istanbul but did not sit at the same table. Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu signed Moscow’s deal first, followed by Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signing Kyiv’s identical agreement.

The deal – which took two months to reach – is set to last for 120 days, with a co-ordination and monitoring centre to be established in Istanbul, staffed by UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials. It can be renewed if both parties agree.

The blockade of Ukraine’s grain has caused a global food crisis with wheat-based products like bread and pasta becoming more expensive, and cooking oils and fertiliser also increasing in price.

In January 6 news, CNN’s Whitney Wild and Jeremy Herb broke a story yesterday on those missing Secret Service text messages: First on CNN: Secret Service identified potential missing text messages on phones of 10 individuals.

Secret Service investigators were scrutinizing the phones of 10 Secret Service personnel that contained metadata showing text messages were sent and received around January 6, 2021, but were not retained, two sources told CNN.

grandma-and-10-cats-in-the-bedroom, Linda Benton

Grandma and 10 cats in the bedroom, by Linda Benton

The scrutiny came after the Department of Homeland Security inspector general asked for the text records last year of 24 individuals at the Secret Service who were involved in January 6, but only one text had been produced. After the issue spilled into public view this month, the inspector general launched a criminal investigation into the matter, and lawmakers demanded answers from the Secret Service to go back and find out what happened to the texts that may have been deleted.

But the Secret Service’s internal investigation ground to a halt after a July 20 letter from the DHS inspector general informed the agency there was an ongoing criminal investigation, directing the Secret Service to stop its own probe.

Investigators had been working to determine whether the content of the text messages sent by the 10 personnel contained relevant information that should have been preserved, the sources said. Among the 24 Secret Service personnel under scrutiny, 10 other Secret Service personnel had no text messages, and three had only personal records, according to the sources.

The details of scrutiny of messages from 10 Secret Service personnel caps an extraordinary week of turmoil for the agency, which started with the inspector general

demanding answers about potential missing texts and led to a congressional subpoena and a criminal investigation into the matter.

There has to be a way to recover those text messages. I’m sure The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, author of a book on the Secret Service, is working her sources to find out more.

Dakinikat covered the final January 6 Committee hearing yesterday, but here are some more follow-up articles:

NPR: The Jan. 6 committee isn’t done. Expect more hearings, revelations and reports.

The House Select January 6th committee made clear they are going to resume hearings in September.

Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., opened the final summer hearing by noting the progress the committee has made, but she added that there’s now new evidence and more witnesses to consider.

“Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued, and the dam has begun to break,” Cheney said.

Already, in the buildup to Thursday’s presentation, select committee aides had hinted future hearings could be on tap.

Kim Haskins, psychedelic cat

Kim Haskins, psychedelic cat

And Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters recently that the committee could issue an initial report in September, followed by a final report later this year. The findings would be accompanied by hearings, he said.

“We’re just getting a significant amount of information,” Thompson said. And the new evidence “pushes the timetable out.” [….]

Cheney also noted in this week’s hearing that the panel will now return to its investigative mode for the next several weeks.

“Our committee will spend August pursuing emerging information on multiple fronts, before convening further hearings this September,” Cheney said….

With plans to issue their findings in the form of reports and more hearings, the committee is racing to address new evidence along the way.

For example, the panel is now looking into allegations that the Secret Service deleted text messages during a two-day period surrounding the Jan. 6 attack. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari has claimed the messages were erased after a request by his office, while the Secret Service has denied these allegations, saying the deletions were part of a system migration.

The Hill: Jan. 6 panel shows few signs of slowing down despite midterm risks.

The select committee’s prime-time hearing on Thursday was widely expected to mark the end of a crucial phase in the panel’s probe of last year’s riot, capping six weeks of publicly aired testimony — almost all of it from Republicans — aimed at pinning culpability for the rampage squarely onto Trump’s shoulders.

But every new revelation seems to turn up as many questions as answers, and the panel has altered its schedule to accommodate what it calls a wave of new information in need of perusal. The arrival of new witnesses has been accompanied by successful committee efforts to fight stonewalling in the form of executive privilege claims, and the panel has recently issued new subpoenas for even more evidence.

“The dam has begun to break,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the select committee, said Thursday night. “We have far more evidence to share with the American people — and more to gather.”

The Owl and the Pussycat, 2009 by P J Crook

The Owl and the Pussycat, 2009 by P J Crook

With that in mind, the committee said it intends to use Congress’s long August recess to wade through the influx of new information, with designs to hold more hearings on its findings in September when lawmakers return to Washington. How many they’ll stage remains unclear, but the investigators are leaving themselves the flexibility to determine that schedule on the fly.

“We are pursuing many additional witnesses for testimony,” said Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who participated in Thursday’s hearing remotely after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. “We will reconvene in September to continue laying out our findings.” [….]

“We’re not done. The information continues to come in. The evidence is continuing to flow in,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told CNN heading into Thursday’s hearing. “So this is … not the end of the story.”

More interesting January 6 stories to check out, links only:

Vicky Ward on her blog yesterday: What Trump World Really Thinks About Last Night’s Jan. 6 Hearing.

Alan Feuer and Michael Schmidt at The New York Times: The Jan. 6 Panel After 8 Hearings: Where Will the Evidence Lead?

Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post: Now we know the truth on what Trump sought to obscure about Jan. 6.

David Siders at Politico: ‘His life was threatened.’ But Pence isn’t talking about it.

Isaac Stanley Becker and Josh Dawsey at The Washington Post: Hearings test Trump’s clout and GOP’s wish to ‘forget about Jan. 6’

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: The Myth of the Good Trump Official.

That’s it for me today. I hope you’re all having a terrific weekend!


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Yesterday we learned of the tragic death of journalist Eric Boelert in a bicycle accident. He was only 57. This is such a terrible loss.

The Washington Post: Liberal media critic Eric Boehlert dies in bicycle collision.

Eric Boehlert, a liberal critic who offered blistering takedowns and analysis of mainstream and conservative media, died Monday in a bicycle collision in his New Jersey hometown. He was 57.

“Through his journalism, social media, books, and appearances on CNN and MSNBC, Eric was a fierce defender of democracy, social justice and truth in media,” Boehlert’s family said in a statement released Wednesday. “He was fearless and brilliant in his investigation of hypocrisies and double standards in the media, and his contribution was priceless.”

Boehlert’s wife, Tracy Breslin, told the Bergen Record her husband was the cyclist that N.J. Transit said was struck by a train on Monday night. The couple have two adult children.

News of Boehlert’s death provoked an outpouring of grief online from friends and fans of his media criticism, which started appearing in liberal publications such as Media Matters for America, Daily Kos and Salon in the mid 2000s, before he later became prominent on social media and cable news….

Boehlert covered the music industry for Rolling Stone and Billboard early in his career, before he turned his attention to media criticism. He contributed to the liberal media watchdog Media Matters for more than a decade starting in the mid-2000s and also worked as a senior writer for Salon and a media critic at Daily Kos. He took aim at both right-wing media and mainstream outlets for what he saw as their failings, and in early 2020 he started his own liberal newsletter called Press Run because, as he wrote, “we can’t fix America if we don’t fix the press.”

“When a radical White House player is eagerly chipping away at our freedoms and the Constitution, we need the press to stand up to the unprecedented challenge at hand — a press corps that doesn’t wallow in ‘Both Sides’ journalism as a way to escape the wrath from Republicans,” he wrote in February 2020.

There’s much more at the WaPo link.

It’s not clear yet how Boelert could have been hit by a train, but someone from NJ posted this on Twitter:

News from DC

This is a strange story and I suspect it will get even stranger. AP News: US: 2 posed as agents, gave gifts to Secret Service officers.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged two men they say were posing as federal agents, giving free apartments and other gifts to U.S. Secret Service agents, including one who worked on the first lady’s security detail.

The two men — Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 36 — were taken into custody as more than a dozen FBI agents charged into a luxury apartment building in Southeast Washington on Wednesday evening.

Prosecutors allege Taherzadeh and Ali had falsely claimed to work for the Department of Homeland Security and work on a special task force investigating gang and violence connected to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They allege the two posed as law enforcement officers to integrate with actual federal agents.

Taherzadeh is accused of providing Secret Service officers and agents with rent-free apartments — including a penthouse worth over $40,000 a year — along with iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, flat screen television, a generator, gun case and other policing tools, according to court documents.

He also offered to let them use a black GMC SUV that he identified as an “official government vehicle,” prosecutors say. In one instance, Taherzadeh offered to purchase a $2,000 assault rifle for a Secret Service agent who is assigned to protect the first lady.

Prosecutors said four Secret Service employees were placed on leave earlier this week as part of the investigation.

The First Lady?! Is anyone making sure the Biden’s are really being protected? I hope so.

More from The Washington Post: 2 men accused of posing as federal officers to get near Secret Service.

The charges against Ali and Taherzadeh were made public as FBI personnel were seen in the Navy Yard area Wednesday night and were photographed on social media going into an apartment building. In a statement, the FBI said personnel were conducting “court authorized law enforcement activity” in the 900 block of First Street SE.

The investigation into the pair began March 14 when a U.S. Postal Service inspector went to a D.C. apartment complex to respond to a complaint of an assault on a letter carrier at the building, where many people who work for the FBI, Secret Service, Department of Defense and Navy live. Residents told the inspector that Ali and Taherzadeh identified themselves to residents as Department of Homeland Security investigations special agents who may have witnessed the assault, the affidavit said.

They claimed they were “special police” officers involved in undercover gang-related investigations and probes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the affidavit states. Other residents told the inspector the men used several apartments in the building, claiming the Department of Homeland Security paid the rent, and used an SUV equipped with emergency lights they identified as “their official DHS vehicle.”

The inspector learned the men were in contact with several members of the Secret Service and had provided gifts to them or their families and use of the SUV, the affidavit states. The document did not explain how the inspector learned about the gifts.

The affidavit included photos of the men in police tactical gear with “POLICE” emblazoned on their clothing. And in one instance, Taherzadeh sent a stock photo from the Internet to one witness and claimed to be in Homeland Security Investigations training, investigators alleged.

And who were these guys working for? Was it a foreign country? I guess we’ll be learning more in the days to come.

The Washington Post: House votes to hold ex-Trump aides Navarro, Scavino in contempt of Congress.

The House voted Wednesday to hold two former aides to President Donald Trump in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas related to the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The 220-to-203 vote results in criminal referrals to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to charge former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro and former White House communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr. with misdemeanors that can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

During Wednesday’s floor debate, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, said Navarro and Scavino “must be held accountable for their defiance of the law.”

“Even if you do it on your own time, trying to overturn an election is still trying to overturn an election,” Thompson said, adding: “This kind of cynical behavior as we investigate a violent insurrection is just despicable. It can’t stand. Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro must be held accountable for their abuses of the public trust.”

Republicans countered by accusing Democrats of targeting their political opponents — despite the bipartisan nature of the Jan. 6 select committee.

A bit of comic relief:

The Daily Beast: Congresswoman Who Downplayed the Capitol Riot Is Very Concerned About a Slap Joke.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) downplayed the violence at the Capitol, voted against awarding congressional medals to Capitol Police officers injured in the insurrection, and ranted that the agency is like the “gazpacho” (presumably a reference to Nazi Germany’s Gestapo). But now she wants to them to devote resources to investigating comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s joke that Will Smith should slap her. “[T]his threat of violence against me by @jimmykimmel has been filed with the @CapitolPolice,” she tweeted Wednesday. Greene has, among other things, harassed a school shooting survivor, posted a mock-up pic of her holding a machine gun near lawmakers’ heads, and liked a Facebook post about executing Democrats.

Ukraine News and Commentary

The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, has acquired gruesome new insights into the atrocities committed by Russian military forces in the town of Bucha near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. DER SPIEGEL has learned that the BND intercepted Russian military radio traffic in which the murder of civilians in Bucha was discussed. Some of the intercepted radio traffic can apparently be directly linked to dead bodies that have been photographed in Bucha.

Following the withdrawal of the Russian military from the town over the weekend, a mass grave was discovered as well as the bodies of several dozen dead civilians left lying on the streets. The hands of some of the victims had been tied, while other bodies showed signs of torture. Numerous women and children are also reportedly among the victims.

The Russian government has vehemently denied that Russian forces are responsible for these war crimes. Several – completely unsubstantiated – claims have been made that the alleged war crimes have been staged by Ukraine. Those claims, however, are contradicted by the statements of numerous witnesses interviewed by reporters from DER SPIEGEL and other news outlets in the town of Bucha.

The intercepted comments now appear to completely refute Russia’s denials. DER SPIEGEL has learned that the BND briefed parliamentarians on Wednesday about its findings. Some of the intercepted traffic apparently matches the locations of bodies found along the main road through town. In one of them, a soldier apparently told another that they had just shot a person on a bicycle. That corresponds to the photo of the dead body lying next to a bicycle that has been shared around the world. In another intercepted conversation, a man apparently said: First you interrogate soldiers, then you shoot them.

Read more at the link.

The Washington Post: In Bucha, the scope of Russian barbarity is coming into focus.

BUCHA, Ukraine — The name of this city is already synonymous with the month-long carnage that Russian soldiers perpetrated here.

But the scale of the killings and the depravity with which they were committed is only just becoming apparent as police, local officials and regular citizens start the grim task of clearing Bucha of the hundreds of corpses decomposing on streets and in parks, apartment buildings and other locations.

As a team from the district prosecutor’s office moved slowly through Bucha on Wednesday, investigators uncovered evidence of torture before death, beheading and dismemberment, and the intentional burning of corpses.

Some of the cruelest violence took place at a glass factory on the edge of town.

On the gravel near a loading dock lay the body of Dmytro Chaplyhin, 21, whose abdomen was bruised black and blue, his hands marked with what looked like cigarette burns. He ultimately was killed by a gunshot to the chest, concluded team leader Ruslan Kravchenko. His body then was turned into a weapon, tied to a tripwire connected to a mine.

If you can stand to read more, click the link above.

Timothy Snyder at The Washington Post: By denying a Ukrainian culture, Putin flattens his own.

In his 1926 poem “Debt to Ukraine,” Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote: “It’s hard to crush people into one. Don’t raise yourself so high.” After all, the poet continued: “Do we know the Ukrainian night? No, we do not know the Ukrainian night.” But Vladimir Putin wants to crush people into one. He says God told him that Ukrainian souls are Russian. History revealed to him that Ukraine strives to be one with Russia; the very language he speaks entitles him to invade any country where Russian is spoken. An official Russian news service removed any ambiguity a few days ago, publishing a text advocating the complete elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such. And so Ukraine must be crushed, and anyone who thinks or speaks of Ukraine must be eliminated.

By way of these deep misunderstandings, Putin has placed the Ukrainian nation at the center of world history, for everyone to see. A Ukrainian actor, Volodymyr Zelensky, is now one of the most recognizable people on Earth. Putin’s invasion made visible not only that courageous, democratically elected president but also functional institutions, an impressive civil society, and journalists, activists and musicians who appear on our television screens and in our newspapers.

Matters are murkier in Putin’s Russia. A war based upon a big lie is also hard on its culture of origin. Everyone is looking at the Russian nation — or perhaps, rather, for it. What does it do to a society to invade a neighbor, which it claims to love, on the basis of bottomless self-deception? Americans have not yet recovered from the lies they told about Iraq two decades ago, and the Russian deception campaign runs far deeper. How are Russian parents altered when they deny to their children in Ukraine that any war is taking place? What sort of nation makes war and then forbids the use of the very word?

This is Putin’s war, but it is far too simple to say that it is only his war. It is made in the name of Russia, and the killing and maiming and abducting and deporting of Ukrainians are being done by tens of thousands of Russian citizens. As north-central Ukraine is liberated by its own citizens, hundreds of corpses of Ukrainian civilians are found in Bucha and other towns, in positions that suggest atrocities including rape, torture and execution. “This is how the Russian state will now be perceived,” Zelensky said. “Your culture and human appearance perished together with the Ukrainian men and women to whom you came.” Massacres seem to be a normal Russian occupation practice. Even as Russians are committing war crimes that violate Ukraine’s right to exist, Russians are told (and often seem to believe) that they are refighting the Second World War and resisting Nazis. That is a very big lie, and big lies do lasting damage.

I’ll end there. I’m grateful to live in a country that isn’t at war right now. Have a peaceful Thursday, Sky Dancers.

J


Tuesday Reads: Putin’s War and His GOP Fans

Good Afternoon!!

Aliza Nisenbaum

By Aliza Nisenbaum

It’s really difficult reading the news these days, between Putin’s genocidal attack in Ukraine and the Republicans’ attempts to end democracy here at home.

Last night I took a break from the cable news shows and watched the University of Kansas beat North Carolina in the NCAA basketball championship game. It turned out to be really exciting. K.U. was down 16 points at the end of the first half, but came back to win 72-69. It was a battle to the finish and fun to watch, so I’m glad I took a break from politics and war news.

I spent my early childhood years in Lawrence, Kansas, where my Dad was working on his Ph.D. I still have happy memories of those years and of the K.U. campus. When we moved away, I was heartbroken. In those days Wilt Chamberlain played for the Jayhawks before he decided to go pro after his junior year. Anyway, our family always rooted for K.U. in basketball for sentimental reasons.

Now on to today’s Ukraine war news.

This morning, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to the UN about Russian atrocities and Russia’s ludicrous claims that the torture and murders of Ukrainian citizens were committed by Ukrainians themselves: Yahoo News: Zelensky: Russia ‘will try to hide the traces of their crimes.’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the Russian military of plotting to cover up the mass killing of his country’s civilians in a bid to “distort the facts.”

Speaking in an emotional address to the nation in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Zelensky warned that Kremlin-led forces were attempting to hide the atrocities that were committed in the areas still occupied by Moscow. His speech comes days after hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were reportedly found dead in Kyiv suburbs like Bucha in the aftermath of the recent withdrawal of Russian troops in the region.

In his 10-minute speech, Zelensky accused Russia of using the same propaganda tactics it used when a Malaysia Airlines passenger flight was shot down in 2014 over eastern Ukraine. An independent Dutch investigation found that Russian-backed rebels downed the plane with a surface-to-air missile, killing 298 people. Russia blamed the Ukrainian government for the tragedy.

Berthe Morisot, Girl Playing a Mandolin

Berthe Morisot, Girl Playing a Mandolin

“They used the same tactics when the occupiers shot down a Malaysian Boeing over Donbas,” Zelensky said. “They blamed Ukraine. They even came up with various conspiracy theories. They even went so far as to claim that the corpses were ‘thrown’ on board the plane before it crashed.”

Zelensky made his comments undoubtedly aware that the Russian government is already promoting implausible theories to explain the images and video of bodies littering the streets of Bucha. The Russian Defense Ministry suggested that some of the dead civilians were actually actors pretending to be dead, claiming that the video shows the bodies still moving. Independent media fact checkers and satellite images contradict Russia’s claims; the many journalists documenting the aftermath of the killings also undermine Russia’s case.

This is reminiscent of the conspiracy nuts here in the U.S. who claimed that victims of the Boston bombing were “crisis actors,” and the entire event was staged by the government. They made similar claims about the horrific murders of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Did they get their ideas from Russian propaganda?

You can read Zelensky’s response to the Russian lies at his official website: There is ample evidence that it is Russian troops who destroy peaceful cities, torture and kill civilians – address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Yesterday The New York Times published an analysis of satellite images that disprove Russia’s ugly lies: Satellite images show bodies lay in Bucha for weeks, despite Russian claims.

When images emerged over the weekend of the bodies of dead civilians lying on the streets of Bucha — some with their hands bound, some with gunshot wounds to the head — Russia’s Ministry of Defense denied responsibility. In a Telegram post on Sunday, the ministry suggested that the bodies had been recently placed on the streets after “all Russian units withdrew completely from Bucha” around March 30.

Russia claimed that the images were “another hoax” and called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on what it called “provocations of Ukrainian radicals” in Bucha.

Girlfriends-1916-1917, Gustav Klimt

Girlfriends, 1916-1917, Gustav Klimt

But a review of videos and satellite imagery by The Times shows that many of the civilians were killed more than three weeks ago, when Russia’s military was in control of the town.

One video filmed by a local council member on April 1 shows multiple bodies scattered along Yablonska Street in Bucha. Satellite images provided to The Timtes by Maxar Technologies show that at least 11 of those had been on the street since March 11, when Russia, by its own account, occupied the town.

To confirm when the bodies appeared, and when the civilians were likely killed, the Visual Investigations team at The Times conducted a before-and-after analysis of satellite imagery. The images show dark objects of similar size to a human body appearing on Yablonska Street between March 9 and March 11. The objects appear in the precise positions in which the bodies were found after Ukrainian forces reclaimed Bucha, as the footage from April 1 shows. Further analysis shows that the objects remained in those position for over three weeks.

Read more at the NYT link.

Bloomberg on the latest sanctions on Russia: Russia’s Effort to Avoid Default Undermined by New U.S. Sanction.

Russia’s efforts to avoid a sovereign default took another blow after the U.S. Treasury halted dollar debt payments from the country’s accounts at U.S. banks.

The decision further complicates Russia’s attempts to keep meeting debt obligations amid the sanctions imposed after it invaded Ukraine. As the government tries to sidestep its first external default in about a century, those restrictions have hampered and delayed the process of transferring money to bond holders.

Friedrich von Amerling, The Young Eastern Woman

Friedrich von Amerling, The Young Eastern Woman

Other governments are also planning tougher sanctions after allegations that Russian troops massacred civilians in Bucha and other Ukrainian towns. The European Union is proposing to ban coal imports from Russia, which would be a major step-up for a region that’s so far shied away from targeting energy flows crucial to the bloc’s economy.

The U.S. announcement is intended to force Russia into either draining its domestic dollar reserves or spending new revenue to make bond payments, or else go into default, according to a spokesperson for the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, who discussed details on condition of anonymity.

“Clearly this latest announcement by the U.S. Treasury is designed to put additional pressure on the Russians,” said Gary Kirk, a portfolio manager at TwentyFour Asset Management. “The alternative payment methods are significantly more punitive and more challenging for Russia and hence it does increase the chances of a technical default.”

More Ukraine war stories:

The Washington Post: Ukrainian villagers describe cruel and brutal Russian occupation.

Cathy Young at The Bulwark: The Bucha Atrocities and the Kremlin Apologists.

BBC: Ukraine war: Biden calls for Putin to face war crimes trial after Bucha killings.

CNBC: U.S. warns Russia will intensify its military operations in Ukraine after weeks of stalled ground fighting.

Walter Russell Mead at The Wall Street Journal: Biden’s Ugly Options in Ukraine.

Republican authoritarians and Russia sympathizers

Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: This Republican about-face is so much worse than ‘cancel culture.’

The GOP no longer argues that free markets, rather than government, should choose “winners and losers.”

In today’s Republican Party, the primary economic role of the state is not to get out of the way. It is, instead, to reward friends and crush political enemies.

Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham expressed the new ethos in a recent monologue threatening companies that advocated for LGBTQ rights, ballot access, racial justice and sundry other political stances that are anathema in today’s GOP.

“When Republicans, they get back into power, Apple and Disney need to understand one thing: Everything will be on the table,” Ingraham warned. “Your copyright, trademark protection. Your special status within certain states. And even your corporate structure itself. The antitrust division at Justice needs to begin the process of considering which American companies need to be broken up once and for all for competition’s sake, and ultimately for the good of the consumers who pay the bills.”

This might have been an unusually eloquent articulation of Republicans’ punitive new approach to economic policy, but it is hardly unique to Ingraham.

A Romance by Santiago Rusinol

A Romance by Santiago Rusinol

A bit more:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is furious that Disney has publicly criticized his new law prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity (nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” law); beyond using his bully pulpit to rail against Disney’s supposed indecency, he has threatened to cancel Disney’s half-century-old special status under Florida law that enables the company to effectively govern itself on the grounds of its theme parks. Similarly, last year, DeSantis signed a (likely unconstitutional) law to punish tech companies for privately determined content-moderation decisions, and another law that fines private companies that attempt to set vaccination requirements in their workplaces.

In other states, such as Georgia, GOP politicians have punished private companies for taking supposedly “woke” stands on issues such as gun violence. Republicans in Congress have likewise tried to use antitrust enforcement and other government levers to punish companies whose public stances on voting rights or internal policies on content moderation they dislike.

This approach to governance was expertly modeled by Donald Trump, who as president frequently used the power of the state to reward friends and punish perceived political enemies.

He did this through tax law, tariff policy and other proposed subsidies that chose winners and losers according to their political allegiances. He selectively enforced energy policies, such as allowing offshore drilling, to dole out favors to friends.

Another interesting read by Aaron Rupar about how DeSantis is following Trump’s example. In the article, Rupar interviews authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat. An authoritarianism scholar on DeSantis as “the ultimate agent for the normalization of extremism.”

DeSantis rode the Trump cult of personality to the Florida governor’s mansion in 2018, but he’s since forged his own brand of right-wing demagoguery. Last Friday, he was on Fox & Friends, which has celebrated him for the stands he’s taken against public health regulations to combat Covid, against the LGBT community, and against liberalism in general….

Henry Meynell Rheam, 1859-1920

By Henry Meynell Rheam, 1859-1920

More importantly, DeSantis’s Fox & Friends appearance gave him a platform to rail against Disney, Florida’s largest employer, for publicly speaking out against “Don’t Say Gay” legislation he signed into law that allows parents to sue teachers who bring up gender or sexual orientation in K-3 classrooms.

“This wokeness will destroy our country,” DeSantis declared.

Florida has a large LGBT population and Disney is a major economic driver for the state, so from one standpoint DeSantis picking a fight with Mickey Mouse doesn’t seem to make much sense. But he has his reasons. To better understand them, I reached out to Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on authoritarianism and professor of history and Italian studies at NYU.

Ben-Ghiat has written about how DeSantis is following in Trump’s authoritarian footsteps for both CNN and MSNBC. Last month, she wrote on her blog (“Lucid”) about how he’s turning Florida “into his own mini-autocracy.”

“DeSantis is a particularly dangerous individual,” she wrote. “He may be up for re-election as governor in Florida, but he has designs on the White House as soon as two years from now. It’s not hard to see what he is doing in Florida as a rehearsal for illiberalism on a national scale.”

Read the interview at the link.

William Saletan at The Bulwark: Who’s Soft on Russia? Meet the Republican Anti-Ukraine Caucus!

After years of defending a pro-Putin American president and dismissing Russia’s interference in American elections, Republicans have returned to their old shtick: accusing Democrats of being soft on Russia. Their hypocrisy is galling, but the bigger problem is that their depiction of the two parties is backward. In polls, Republicans are more dovish on Russia and Ukraine than Democrats are. And in Congress, the purveyors of isolationism, appeasement, and Russian propaganda are on the right, not the left.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the House of Representatives has voted on three measures specific to the war. The first vote, taken on March 2, was on a resolution that endorsed sanctions against Russia, reaffirmed Ukrainian sovereignty over territory seized by Russia, advocated military aid to Ukraine, and pledged to support the Ukrainian resistance. All six members of the progressive “Squad”—Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib—voted for the resolution. So did Rep. Barbara Lee, the Democrats’ foremost opponent of military spending. Not one Democrat voted against the resolution. But three Republicans did: Reps. Paul Gosar, Thomas Massie, and Matt Rosendale.

La Musique, Henri Matisse

La Musique, Henri Matisse

On March 9, the House passed a bill to suspend oil and gas imports from Russia. Five of the seven Democratic leftists voted for the suspension. The two who voted against it—Bush and Omar—were joined by 15 Republicans who also voted no. In addition to Gosar and Massie, this time the list included Reps. Andy Biggs, Dan Bishop, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, Scott DesJarlais, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Glenn Grothman, Clay Higgins, Bill Posey, Chip Roy, and Tom Tiffany.On March 17, the House passed a bill to end favorable trade relations with Russia and its accomplice in the war, Belarus. Eight Republicans voted against the bill. Every Democrat, including the seven leftists, voted for it.

Several Republicans have gone further. Cawthorn and Gosar are pushing legislation that would prohibit the U.S. military from deploying “by reason of the situation in Ukraine” any more troops than are stationed at the Mexican border. No sensible military planner would want more troops guarding a friendly border than deterring an imminent threat to our most important alliance, but that’s what this bill would do: It would block deployments to NATO countries in Eastern Europe. It’s a gift to Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, 10 Republicans have signed on to a bill that would bar any delivery of military aid to Ukraine until “a border wall system along the United States-Mexico border is completed.” The cosponsors include Reps. Bob Good, Jody Hice, Mary Miller, Ralph Norman, and Randy Weber. (Don’t bother trying to square this demand with Trump’s insistence that he has basically built the wall, except for a couple of tiny spots.)

That’s all I have for you today. Please let me know what you think, and feel free to use the comments to discuss any topics that interest you.


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.