Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

Black cat sleeping by Harry Boardman

Black cat sleeping by Harry Boardman

The news today is mostly focused on the situation in Ukraine. Here are the latest developments:

The Washington Post: U.S. orders most embassy staffers in Kyiv to leave Ukraine amid fears Russia will invade soon.

KYIV, Ukraine —The U.S. State Department began evacuating staffers from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv Saturday, amid mounting warnings that Moscow could imminently launch an invasion of Ukraine, according to a security update emailed to U.S. citizens in the country.

“U. S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine, and those in Ukraine should depart immediately using commercial or other privately available transportation options,” the advisory said.

Russia has pushed back fiercely against the stark warnings by the Biden administration that Moscow is on the verge of attack, accusing the West of hysteria and spreading disinformation even as Russian forces continue to hold major exercises near Kyiv’s borders.

However,Russia confirmed media reports Saturday that it was pulling its own diplomatic staff from Ukraine, citing “possible provocations by the Kyiv regime and third countries.” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova said the move was in response to the growing list of other governments deciding to draw down their diplomatic corps and urging their citizens to leave.

“We conclude that our American and British colleagues apparently know about some military actions being prepared in Ukraine,” she said, according to a statement by the ministry.

Russia is apparently trying to put the blame on the U.S. for any escalation of the situation.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan cautioned Friday that there is a “very distinct possibility” that Russia will invade Ukraine in a “reasonably swift time frame” and urged all U.S. citizens there to leave immediately. Sullivan could not confirm that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a final decision to attack, but he said that military action could begin “any day.”

Diplomats raced to steer the situation back from the brink Saturday, but with little sign of progress. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, warned Russia that invading Ukraine “would result in a resolute, massive, and united Transatlantic response,” according to the State Department.

Lavrov, for his part, accused Washington of engaging in a propaganda campaign against Russia, pursuing “provocative goals” and pushing its allies in Kyiv to resolve its crisis in the contested Donbass territory with force, according to Russia’s foreign ministry.

Norbertine Bressslern-Rother, Two Cats, linocut print, 1920s

Norbertine Bressslern-Rother, Two Cats, linocut print, 1920s

President Biden will speak with Vladimir Putin today. AP: Putin, Biden plan high-stakes phone call in Ukraine crisis.

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden are to hold a high-stakes telephone call on Saturday as tensions over a possibly imminent invasion of Ukraine escalated sharply and the U.S. announced plans to evacuate its embassy in the Ukrainian capital.

Before talking to Biden, Putin is to have a call with French President Emmanuel Macron, who met with him in Moscow earlier in the week to try to resolve the crisis.

Russia has massed well over 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border and has sent troops to exercises in neighboring Belarus, but insistently denies that it intends to launch an offensive against Ukraine….

Biden has said the U.S. military will not enter a war in Ukraine, but he has promised severe economic sanctions against Moscow, in concert with international allies.

The timing of any possible Russian military action remains a key question.

The U.S. picked up intelligence that Russia is looking at Wednesday as a target date, according to a U.S. official familiar with the findings. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and did so only on condition of anonymity, would not say how definitive the intelligence was. The White House publicly underscored that the U.S. does not know with certainty whether Putin is committed to invasion.

However, U.S. officials said anew that Russia’s buildup of offensive air, land and sea firepower near Ukraine has reached the point where it could invade on short notice.

More from The Washington Post on Russian plans to blame Ukraine and U.S. if Putin decides to send in troops: New intelligence suggests Russia plans a ‘false flag’ operation to trigger an invasion of Ukraine.

The United States has obtained new intelligence that suggests Russia is planning to stage an attack that it would falsely blame on Ukraine to justify invading the country, possibly as early as next week, according to multiple U.S. and European officials who have reviewed the intelligence or been briefed on it.

Cat with butterfly, woodcut by Joyce Gibson

Cat with butterfly, woodcut by Joyce Gibson

The intelligence about a “false flag” operation was discussed in a quickly convened meeting in the White House Situation Room on Thursday evening and helped prompt renewed calls from the Biden administration for all Americans to leave Ukraine immediately, according to officials familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

The precise timing and nature of the Russian operation was unclear. The United States had already accused Russia of planning to film a fake attack against Russian territory or Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine. The new intelligence is distinct from that alleged operation, the officials said.

Officials in multiple capitals concurred that the intelligence appeared to show that Russia is in the final stages of preparing to mount an invasion, which analysts have said could leave up to 50,000 civilians dead or wounded and lead to the fall of the government in Kyiv within a few days.

“Moscow is actively trying to create a casus belli,” or a justification for war, a Western official said.

A couple more interesting Ukraine links to check out:

The Washington Post: The TikTok buildup: Videos reveal Russian forces closing in on Ukraine.

Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul at Foreign Affairs: How to Make a Deal With Putin. Only a Comprehensive Pact Can Avoid War.

Another big story in the news is the Truck convoy in Ottowa. The New York Times is posting live updates on the story. Here’s the latest: Police confront protesters, and some begin to leave Ontario bridge.

Canadian police moved in Saturday morning to clear protesters at a vital bridge in Windsor, Ontario, connecting Canada and the United States.

The Windsor Police wrote on Twitter Saturday morning that “The Windsor Police & its policing partners have commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge.” It added: “We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully & peacefully.”

Police officers wearing heavy jackets but not wielding shields or other riot gear, were standing in a line on Saturday morning, and were cautiously and progressively edging closer to the protesters. Vehicles began to leave the site just before 10 a.m., their horns blaring as they departed.

Natalia Leonova - Breakfast in Bed. 2017. Pastel on paper

Natalia Leonova – Breakfast in Bed. 2017. Pastel on paper

At the intersection closest to the bridge, some protesters remained in the street, facing off with police officers.

Some of the protesters were yelling at police, while others chanted “freedom, freedom!” and sang “O Canada,” the national anthem. A group of protesters dismantled a tent where they had kept food and supplies, then swept the area around it.

Automakers have been particularly affected by the partial shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which normally carries $300 million worth of goods a day, about a third of which are related to the auto industry. The blockades have left carmakers short of crucial parts, forcing companies to shut down some plants from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.

A court order calling for protesters to disband or face stiff fines or prison went into effect on Friday at 7 p.m., and the numbers of protesters has since thinned. But on Saturday morning, dozens of protesters, some dressed in fluorescent construction garb, had still refused to leave, and were milling around at an intersection before the bridge, drinking coffee and holding up Canadian flags. Other protesters remained in their pickup trucks, their engines idling, to stay warm.

Read more and check for future updates at the link.

Ben Collins, who covers right wing extremism at NBC News has a piece on the trucker protests: As U.S. ‘trucker convoy’ picks up momentum, foreign meddling adds to fray.

There is growing momentum in the U.S. anti-vaccination community to conduct rallies similar to Canada’s “Freedom Convoy” that has paralyzed Ottawa, Ontario, and the effort is receiving a boost from a familiar source: overseas content mills.

Some Facebook groups that have promoted American “trucker convoys” similar to demonstrations that have clogged roads in Ottawa are being run by fake accounts tied to content mills in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Romania and several other countries, Facebook officials told NBC News on Friday.

The groups have popped up as extremism researchers have begun to warn that many anti-vaccine and conspiracy-driven communities in the U.S. are quickly pivoting to embrace and promote the idea of disruptive convoys.

Researchers at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy first noted that large pro-Trump groups had been changing their names to go with convoy-related themes earlier this week. Grid News reported on Friday that one major trucker convoy Facebook group was being run by a Bangladesh content farm.

Tomoo Inagaki, Chatting Cats

Tomoo Inagaki, Chatting Cats

Many of the groups have changed names multiple times, going from those that tap hot-button political issues such as support for former President Donald Trump or opposition to vaccine mandates, to names with keywords like “trucker,” “freedom” and “convoy.”  Facebook allows groups on its platforms to change names but tracks the changes in each page’s “about” section.

The motivations of the people behind the content mills are not clear, but Joan Donovan, director of the Shorenstein Center, said the pattern fits existing efforts to make money off U.S. political divisions.

“In some ways, it’s normal political activity,” Donovan said. “In other ways, we have to look at how some of the engagement online is fake but can be a way to mobilize more people.”

“When we see really effective disinformation campaigns, it’s when the financial and political motives align,” she added.

Of course Fox News is cheering for the “protesters” causing chaos up north. Matthew Gertz at Media Matters: Fox News goes all-in promoting anti-vaccine-mandate Canadian truckers.

Fox News’ effort to discourage its viewers from vaccinating themselves against COVID-19 has gone international. The network’s stars have in recent weeks fixated on our neighbor to the north, regaling their audiences with fawning coverage of Canadian truckers protesting their country’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements – and encouraging the development of similar activism in the U.S.

Since January 29, a group of truckers and their allies has effectively crippled downtown Ottawa by using vehicles to block traffic, leading the city’s mayor to declare a state of emergency. Similar protests have occurred in cities across the country, and on Monday truckers blocked a major international crossing. This so-called “Freedom Convoy” originally assembled to oppose a newly implemented rule requiring them to either be vaccinated or quarantine after returning from trips across the U.S. border, but organizers now say they will continue their demonstrations until the national and provincial governments “end all mandates.”

The demonstrators are not representative of Canadian truckers or the populace at large. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the industry, has disavowed them, arguing that “a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry” and pointing out that nearly 90% of the nation’s truckers are vaccinated. Their actions are also unpopular with their fellow Canadians – a recent poll found nearly two-thirds of respondents there oppose the Ottawa protest.

But on the other side of the border, Fox hosts are extremely excited about the protests, even as they quietly labor under the network’s own stringent vaccine requirements. The network devoted 10 hours and 8 minutes to the story from the first mention of the convoy we found on January 18 through February 10. Prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are among the convoy’s biggest fans at the network, giving it 1 hour and 13 minutes and 1 hour and 5 minutes, respectively.

I’ll end with this story at CNN that provides details on the ongoing efforts of the National Archives to retrieve government documents that Trump took with him when he left the White House:  Archives threatened to go to Congress and Justice Department to get Trump to turn over records.

Worried that a trove of White House records that had been brought to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate contained classified material, a top official in the former President’s orbit warned his aides last fall: Do not touch those boxes.

Spotted Cat, woodcut by Seiho Takeuchi

Spotted Cat, woodcut by Seiho Takeuchi

The senior official in Trump’s inner circle did not want to risk exposing sensitive materials to aides who may have lacked the appropriate security clearances, according to a person familiar with the matter. The boxes, which were being stored at the time in Trump’s personal suite at his Florida club, had landed on the National Archives and Records Administration’s radar after officials there noticed that several items were missing from their catalog of Trump White House records.

In May 2021, the realization that important items from Trump’s time in office — including some of his correspondence with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and infamous Sharpie-altered map of Hurricane Dorian — were not transferred to the Archives at the end of his presidency prompted NARA officials to contact Trump’s team.

Longtime Archives lawyer Gary Stern first reached out to a person from the White House counsel’s office who had been designated as the President Records Act point of contact about the record-keeping issue, hoping to locate the missing items and initiate their swift transfer back to NARA, said multiple sources familiar with the matter. The person had served as one of Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys months earlier and, as deputy counsel, was among the White House officials typically involved in ensuring records were properly preserved during the transfer of power and Trump’s departure from office.

Trump claimed that he returned the materials “easily and without conflict and on a very friendly basis,” but of course that was a lie. The Archives have been battling with Trump over the documents since last spring and he likely still has more materials that he hasn’t turned over.

One source familiar with the situation says the document turnover has “not been fully resolved” and says Trump is still in possession of documents the Archives wants. The Archives hinted at this in a statement earlier this week.

“Former President Trump’s representatives have informed NARA that they are continuing to search for additional Presidential records that belong to the National Archives,” the Archives said in a statement.

Mother cat wiht her two kittens,, Lucy Dawson print, 1946

Mother cat sleeping with her two kittens, Lucy Dawson drawing, 1946

In a series of interviews with CNN, a half-dozen people familiar with the matter described a tense situation that took nearly eight months to resolve — beginning with NARA’s outreach in May and ending with its retrieval of the boxes from Mar-a-Lago last month.

In the end, it may have been a threat that ended the impasse. At one point, the Archives notified a member of Trump’s team that it planned to alert Congress and the Department of Justice of the matter if it wasn’t quickly resolved, according to a person familiar with the warning. According to a person familiar with the matter, the Archives have since asked the Justice Department to investigate. It is unclear whether the Justice Department has started an investigation.

The House Oversight Committee chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, has also vowed to initiate a probe of the records’ removal from Trump’s Palm Beach resort, which she called “deeply troubling” in a statement on Monday.

What are your thoughts on all this? What other stories are you following?