Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

landscape Boulders-with-Meconopsis-On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”

Boulders with Meconopsos and Rhododendrons, Amanda Richardson

For years now, it’s been difficult for me to shake the feeling that I’m living in a dystopian novel. We lived through 4 years under an insane “president” who tried to destroy the post-WWII alliances that have prevented another world war. He also ignored and exacerbated a global pandemic that has now killed close to a million Americans.

I had hoped that when Trump was defeated, he would go away and leave us alone; but instead he is still spreading his poisonous lies– and the Republican Party is still kowtowing to him. Even worse, powerful Republicans like Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are building on Trump’s legacy by enabling fascist policies in their states.

Unfortunately, despite popular opinion, the pandemic is not over, we’re not dealing effectively with climate change, and we are once more living under a threat of nuclear destruction.

Recommended Reads

The Washington Post: U.S. no longer in ‘full-blown’ pandemic phase, Fauci says.

The United States is finally “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” that has led to nearly 1 million deaths from covid-19 and more than two years of suffering and hardship, Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday.

“We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Fauci told The Washington Post.

Fauci’s comments came a day after he told PBS’s “NewsHour” that he believed the country is “out of the pandemic phase,” and he expanded on, and clarified, that view Wednesday, making clear that the pandemic is not over and the United States could still see new waves of infections as the virus continues to mutate and spin off highly transmissible variants. But Fauci and other infectious-disease experts are hoping that the population has built up enough immunity from previous infections and vaccinations to avoid another devastating surge in hospitalizations and deaths.

“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic,” Fauci said.

Huh? We’re out of the “pandemic phase,” but the pandemic is not over? 

Camille Monet and child in the artist's garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet

Camille Monet and child in the artist’s garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet

His comments follow a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that roughly 3 in 5 people in the United States have already been infected by the coronavirus. About 1 in 4 people had a first-time infection during the winter wave caused by the omicron variant.

These startling numbers suggest the country has a much higher level of collective immunity than it did before omicron. What is far less clear is how long that immunity will persist, and to what extent it could be evaded by new coronavirus variants.

The omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 is the latest version to seize the attention of public health experts. It is rapidly gaining traction, and CDC estimated Tuesday that it accounted for about 30 percent of new infections. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said preliminary estimates suggest it is about 25 percent more transmissible than the omicron subvariant BA.2, itself more transmissible than the original omicron strain.

There’s also the problem that we are not testing as much these days; and many people are self-testing at home, so the results are not being reported. Meanwhile, Fauci is concerned enough that he is not going to attend the next possible DC super spreader event:

Fauci, meanwhile, has decided against going to the swank White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, which Biden reportedly plans to attend. Fauci this month attended the Gridiron dinner, at which scores of people became infected. On Wednesday, he declined to discuss his reasoning for skipping what’s often referred to as the “nerd prom,” saying simply, “It’s just my personal choice.

The WH correspondents organization has made a disturbing decision about their event. The Washington Post: A fight over coronavirus safety at journalists’ gala event.

More than 2,000 journalists, celebrities and politicians, including President Biden, are set to descend on the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this weekend in what is shaping up to be a major test of whether large gatherings can be safely held at this stage of the pandemic.

Organizers say they are committed to holding an event that significantly reduces the risk of coronavirus infections, pointing to vaccine and testing requirements that were strengthened after a dinner hosted by Washington’s Gridiron Club this month was linked to at least 85 infections that sickened Cabinet members, reporters and other guests.

the-way-home-peder-monsted, Danish painter

The Way Home, Peder Monsted, Danish painter

Yet some White House officials and experts worry that those measures are insufficient and that this weekend’s events may become another high-profile superspreader event, said three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. Behind the scenes, one prominent coronavirus expert is scrapping with party organizers hesitant to install devices that disinfect the air using ultraviolet light because of concerns the devices might interfere with the program.

Don Milton, a University of Maryland environmental scientist who has advised the White House and others on airborne transmission, said his offer to have a company install the devicesat no charge was rebuffed by both the correspondents’ association and the Washington Hilton, which is hosting the event. “I enlisted a team of scientists and germicidal UV lighting companies to provide, as a demonstration project at no cost, a temporary installation to help protect the White House correspondents’ dinner,” Milton said. “Unfortunately, it has not worked out.”

In an interview, Steve Portnoy, a CBS News reporter who serves as the WHCA’s president,said the association had put safety protocols in place and Milton’s offer came too late.

“We’re interested in learning more about this technology,” Portnoy said. “We just aren’t in a position, with less than a week to go, to more fully understand the benefits or potential risks of what appears to be an experimental technology.”

What about the “potential risks” of the president getting Covid?

The New York Times: Climate Change Will Accelerate Viral Spillovers, Study Finds.

Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. The shuffling of viruses among animals may increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, the researchers said.

Scientists have long warned that a warming planet may increase the burden of diseases. Malaria, for example, is expected to spread as the mosquitoes that carry it expand their range into warming regions. But climate change might also usher in entirely new diseases, by allowing pathogens to move into new host species.

“We know that species are moving, and when they do, they’re going to have these chances to share viruses,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University and a co-author of the new study.

To understand what that sharing will look like, Dr. Carlson and his colleagues built a computer model of potential spillovers in a warming world. The researchers started by projecting how thousands of mammals might shift their ranges as the climate changes between now and 2070.

As temperatures increase, many species are expected to spread away from the blazing Equator to find more comfortable habitats. Others may move up the sides of hills and mountains to find cooler altitudes. When different species come into contact for the first time, the viruses may be able to infect new hosts.

Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947

Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947

To understand the odds of a successful new infection, the researchers began by building a database of viruses and their mammalian hosts. Some viruses have been found in more than one species of mammal, which means that they must have jumped the species barrier at some point in the past.

Using a computational technique called machine learning, the researchers developed a model that could predict whether two host species share a virus.

The more that two species overlap geographically, the researchers found, the more likely they were to share a virus. That’s because the hosts were more likely to encounter each other, giving their viruses more opportunities to move between them.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Zach Beauchamp at Vox: Ron DeSantis is Viktor Orbán’s true American disciple.

In June of last year, Hungary’s far-right government passed a law cracking down on LGBTQ rights, including a provision prohibiting instruction on LGBTQ topics in sex education classes.

About nine months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” up through third grade. According to some knowledgeable observers on the right, these two bills were closely connected.

“About the Don’t Say Gay law, it was in fact modeled in part on what Hungary did last summer,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative magazine, said during a panel interview in Budapest. “I was told this by a conservative reporter who … said he talked to the press secretary of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and she said, ‘Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.’” [….]

It’s easy to see the connections between the bills — in both provisions and justifications. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described his country’s anti-LGBTQ law as an effort to prevent gay people from preying on children; Pushaw described Florida’s law as an “anti-grooming bill” on Twitter, adding that “if you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer” — meaning a person preparing children to become targets of sexual abuse, a slur targeting LGBTQ people and their supporters that’s becoming increasingly common on the right.

There’s more:

Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin

Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin

This is not a one-off example. DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.

Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power….

DeSantis’s agenda in Florida is evidence that the Republican shift in this direction is continuing, maybe even accelerating. He has shown little interest in moderation or consensus-building instead centering his governing philosophy on using policy to own the libs. While Trump may have been an ideological catalyst for the GOP’s authoritarian lurch, DeSantis is showing how it could actually be implemented in practice. The consequences for democracy in Florida, and America in general, could be dire.

There’s much more at the Vox link.

Financial Times: The return of the 20th century’s nuclear shadow.

Vladimir Putin’s willingness to threaten nuclear weapons is in one respect a good sign: it means Russia is probably losing in Ukraine. It is also a potentially catastrophic one. If Putin’s aim is to scare the west, he is failing. Nato keeps stepping up its supplies to Ukraine. The question is what he would do if he thought Russian defeat was inescapable. Putin keeps implying he knows exactly what steps he would take. Is he bluffing? It is plausible even he does not know the answer.

Either way, the genie is out of the bottle. Putin has broken a post-Cuba taboo on threatening to go nuclear. That, in itself, puts us in new territory. Without most people being aware of it, the world is entering its most dangerous period since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The majority under the age of 50 have grown up thinking the nuclear spectre is a relic of the last century. In the past few weeks, the prospect of a nuclear exchange has become the most live threat to this century’s peace.

In terms of public awareness, the debate about Putin’s language is a good example of “those who don’t know talk, and those who know don’t talk”. It is easy to think of Putin as a poker addict trying to bluster his way out of a bad bet. Eventually he must fold. US civilian and military officials suffer from no such complacency. Many have taken part in war game exercises where the use of low-yielding tactical nuclear weapons as often as not escalates to strategic nuclear exchange — doomsday, in plain English.

windmills-in-the-ukrainian-steppe-at-sunset-1862, Ivan Aivazovsky

Windmills in the Ukrainian Steppe at Sunset, 1862, Ivan Aivazovsky

If there were a 5 per cent chance of Putin detonating a battlefield nuclear weapon, the world would be at more risk than at any point in most people’s lifetimes. In the past few days, Moscow’s signalling has arguably raised the chances to one in 10. Putin described last week’s test of the Sarmat hypersonic intercontinental ballistic missile as giving the west “food for thought”, which would not sound out of place from Blofeld, the 20th-century Bond villain. On Wednesday, Putin said: “We have all the instruments for this [responding to an existential threat to Russia] — ones nobody else can boast of. And we will use them, if we have to.”

The natural response is that Joe Biden and his European counterparts have made it plain Nato will not fight in Ukraine. The west, in other words, poses no “existential threat” to Russia — its threshold for use of nuclear weapons. But that is only how the west sees it. Putin’s threats, and those of his officials, have been made in the context of claiming Russia is already at war with Nato. Russians are being told every day that they are in a fight for national survival against western-backed Nazis. This level of rhetoric exceeds anything from the cold war.

One more from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Putin Must Be Stopped Once and for All.

Defending Ukraine is not enough. Defeating Russia on the battlefield is not enough. We must ensure—using every means at our disposal—that Vladimir Putin may never again commit the kinds of atrocities that have marked his two decades in power.

Fortunately, this week, it was made absolutely clear that the Biden administration recognizes that necessity and has made it a strategic centerpiece of their foreign and national security policy efforts.

On Monday, after visiting Ukraine with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”

Although one senior U.S. official admitted to me (somewhat uneasily) that “Austin said the quiet part out loud,” it soon became clear that the U.S. was publicly willing to own the new goal of turning Russia’s unprovoked, brutal escalation of its ongoing eight-year war in Ukraine into a lasting and meaningful defeat for the Kremlin.

On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”

That’s all I have for you today. I hope the paintings help just a little bit.


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

Good Afternoon!!

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

Madeline Albright

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

220323154249-01c-albright-gallery-restricted-super-169

Madeline Albright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obit Albright

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

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

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

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

Should he invade, it will be a historic error.

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

Biden in Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ketanji Brown Jackson

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

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

1239443608.0

Ketanji Brown Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1236166050.0

Josh Hawley lectures Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

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

Please read the rest at Slate.

More reads to check out on this topic:

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

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

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

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

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

Ukraine War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Ukraine/Russia reads

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Putin’s genocidal war on Ukraine continues, and the horror of what he’s doing is almost unbearable to see or even think about. Here at home, we are in day two of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. And of course we continue to deal with the aftermath of Trump’s four-year attempt to bring down U.S. democracy.

Ukraine

Just one outstanding article and a relevant work of art; that’s all I can handle today.

The artwork is from the Maiden revolution of 2014, but people are posting it now in response to Putin’s current war on Ukraine. Read more about the artist at Artnet.

This story at the AP is beyond horrifying, but IMHO, it is absolutely essential reading: 20 Days in Mariupol: The team that documented the city’s agony, by Mstyslav Chernov. (Mstyslav Chernov is a video journalist for The Associated Press. This is his account of the siege of Mariupol, as documented with photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and told to correspondent Lori Hinnant.)

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in.

We were the only international journalists left in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, and we had been documenting its siege by Russian troops for more than two weeks. We were reporting inside the hospital when gunmen began stalking the corridors. Surgeons gave us white scrubs to wear as camouflage.

Suddenly at dawn, a dozen soldiers burst in: “Where are the journalists, for fuck’s sake?”

I looked at their armbands, blue for Ukraine, and tried to calculate the odds that they were Russians in disguise. I stepped forward to identify myself. “We’re here to get you out,” they said.

The walls of the surgery shook from artillery and machine gun fire outside, and it seemed safer to stay inside. But the Ukrainian soldiers were under orders to take us with them.

We ran into the street, abandoning the doctors who had sheltered us, the pregnant women who had been shelled and the people who slept in the hallways because they had nowhere else to go. I felt terrible leaving them all behind.

Nine minutes, maybe 10, an eternity through roads and bombed-out apartment buildings. As shells crashed nearby, we dropped to the ground. Time was measured from one shell to the next, our bodies tense and breath held. Shockwave after shockwave jolted my chest, and my hands went cold.

We reached an entryway, and armored cars whisked us to a darkened basement. Only then did we learn from a policeman why the Ukrainians had risked the lives of soldiers to extract us from the hospital.

“If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,” he said. “All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain.”

 The officer, who had once begged us to show the world his dying city, now pleaded with us to go. He nudged us toward the thousands of battered cars preparing to leave Mariupol.

This is the end of the story. These courageous journalists reached safety after their 20 days of documenting events in Mariupol while the city was cut off from the outside world and under constant attack by Putin’s army. I hope you will go read the rest of this brilliant article.

Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation hearings

I was watching the hearings until Lindsay Graham began his questioning of Judge Jackson, and his angry presentation and inappropriate questions got to be too much for me. He spent much of his time whining about the treatment of conservative candidates for SCOTUS :and other courts. One example of his questions when he finally got to them.

At CNN, Clare Foran wrote about today’s hearing as of about 11AM: Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson faces intense questioning on second day of confirmation hearings.

Democrats have so far used the hearings to praise Brown — who would be the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice — as an exceptionally qualified, trail-blazing nominee whose depth and breadth of experience, including as a federal public defender, would add a valuable and unique perspective to the bench.

In contrast, Republicans have attempted to portray her as weak on crime by zeroing in on some of her past defense work as well as by broadly attempting to connect her to criminal justice policies they argue have fueled a rise in crime. Republicans have raised questions over what constitutes Jackson’s judicial philosophy as they warn against activism, and prescribing policy outcomes, from the bench. And they have also criticized support for the nomination from left-wing groups….

On Tuesday, senators may ask questions of the nominee for 30 minutes each, according to the schedule outlined by the committee. There are 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans on the panel and the questioning is likely to stretch late into the evening.

So we’ll all have plenty of time to watch how Jackson handles the Republican Senators. So far they haven’t laid a glove on her.

Jackson said on Tuesday that she approaches her work in such a way so as to ensure impartiality and does not impose personal opinions or policy preferences, an assertion that comes as Republican senators have expressed concerns over judicial activism.

“I have developed a methodology that I use in order to ensure that I am ruling impartially and that I am adhering to the limits on my judicial authority,” Jackson said.

“When I get a case, I ensure that I am proceeding from a position of neutrality,” she said.

“I am not importing my personal views or policy preferences,” she added….

As the Senate vets the nomination, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has raised concerns about Jackson’s record on sentencing in child pornography cases.

Jackson forcefully rebutted the accusations on Tuesday and referred to the issue as a “sickening and egregious crime.”

“As a mother, and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth,” the nominee said when asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, to react to the charges.

Read the rest at CNN. It’s a good summary.

The Trump/MAGA hangover

Tim Dickenson at Rolling Stone: Amid War Crimes in Ukraine, American Right Wingers Are Applauding Russia.

Vladimir Putin is ramping up his brutal assault on Ukraine, shelling civilians from Odessa to Kharkiv, and leveling the port city of Mariupol — leading President Joe Biden to denounce the Russian dictator as a “war criminal.” But if the initial days of the war were marked by some conservatives muting their admiration for the Russian state, a spate of notorious right-wing figures are now dropping the mask to defend Putin, and even claim his fight as their own.

Over the weekend, former Trump adviser Roger Stone, MAGA media maven Cassandra MacDonald (née Fairbanks), and former Staind rocker Aaron Lewis all spoke out to praise Putin, denounce Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky — or both….

In an interview aired on the far-right network Real America’s Voice, former Trump adviser Roger Stone defended Putin’s horrific war against Ukraine. “Putin is acting defensively,” Stone insisted against all evidence. “He’s not acting offensively. But you won’t read that in the mainstream media.”  Stone rattled off a winning BINGO card’s worth of Kremlin-friendly talking points and conspiracies. He denounced Zelensky as undemocratic for having “shut down three television stations that were critical of the government.” (That decision rightfully inspires debate, but context here is also important. Stone failed to mention that those stations had broadcast Russian propaganda, and were run by mogul Viktor Medvedchuk, who is so tight with the Kremlin that Putin is literally his daughter’s godfather. Mevedchuk was hit with U.S. sanctions in 2014, described as Putin’s “long-time proxy and close personal friend.”) Stone then rehearsed the MAGA canard that concern over Ukrainian borders is misplaced as long as America’s are overrun by “millions of illegals … bringing disease.”

Stone kept twisting and twisting the facts until he snapped into Putin’s paranoid worldview — that Ukraine is a dangerous aggressor that must be stopped: “Ukraine is not even remotely [about] what they’re telling us it’s about,” Stone claimed. “The Ukrainians have used their soil to place dual-launch missile pads, missiles that will be aimed at the Soviet Union [sic].” Stone closed out his pro-Putin rant by citing the latest right-wing conspiracy theory about U.S.-funded biolabs. “There are in fact biolabs that are funded by our tax dollars, cooking up who knows what pestilence to dump on the Russian people,” Stone claimed. 

Read about the other MAGA Putin fans at the RS link.

Read about the other MAGA Putin fans at the RS link.

Martin Pengelly at The Guardian: Kid Rock says Donald Trump sought his advice on North Korea and Islamic State.

The rapper Kid Rock said Donald Trump once asked him for advice about US policy on Islamic State and North Korea.

In an interview with the Fox News host Tucker Carlson broadcast on Monday night, the musician also discussed “cancel culture” – claiming to be “uncancelable” – and the coronavirus pandemic….

In a friendly interview timed for the release of a new album – Kid Rock wearing a “We the People” cap, Carlson in V-neck sweater and khakis – the subject turned to the musician’s friendship with Trump.

In a famous picture from 2017, the rapper was shown in the Oval Office, behind the Resolute Desk, with Trump, the rock musician Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and vice-presidential nominee. Palin said she invited the rightwing rockers “because Jesus was booked”.

“I was there with [Trump] one day when he ended the caliphate,” Kid Rock, 51 and born Robert Ritchie, told Carlson in reference to US efforts against the Islamic State.

“He wanted to put out a tweet … I don’t like to speak out of school. I hope I’m not. But … the tweet was, and I’m paraphrasing, but it’s like, you know, ‘If you ever joined the caliphate, you know, trying to do this, you’re going to be dead.’

“He goes, ‘What do you think?’ [I said] ‘Awesome. I can’t add any better.’ But then it comes out and it’s … reworded and more political, to look politically correct. And just, ‘be afraid’.”

He also said he and Trump were once “looking at maps. I’m like, you know, like, ‘Am I supposed to be in on this shit?’ Like I make dirty records sometimes. I do.

“‘What do you think we should do about North Korea?’ I’m like, ‘What? I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this.’” [….]

Some online critics wondered whether Trump really asked Kid Rock what to do about North Korea.

But after Kid Rock’s White House visit with Nugent and Palin in 2017, Nugent told the New York Times the group discussed “‘health, fitness, food, rock’n’roll, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, secure borders, the history of the United States, guns, bullets, bows and arrows, North Korea, Russia and a half-dozen other issues”.

All I can say to that is that I’m very glad that Joe Biden is president right now.

So . . . what are you focusing on today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.