March 2022 News, Views

 

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative news and view in March, 2022

 

 

March 31

Top Headlines

 

Trump Jan. 6 Insurrection Probes

 

U.S. Elections, Politics, Governance

 

More On Ukraine Battlefield, Global Reactions

 

World News, Global Human Rights, Disasters

 

Inside U.S. Washington Politics

 

More On Ukraine, Russia

natalya vorozhbit bad roads

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Elections, Governance, Economy

 

Law, Courts, Crime, Race 

 

Media, Religious, Entertainment News

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine Live Updates: Red Cross heads toward Mariupol, Peace talks have resumed online as 100,000 remain trapped in port city, Adela Suliman, Andrew Jeong, Ellen Francis and Miriam Berger, April 1, 2022. The International Committee of the Red Cross is sending a team toward Mariupol to assist with a “safe passage operation,” a day after the Kremlin declared a humanitarian cease-fire in the besieged city. It was not clear if the ICRC would be able to enter Mariupol.

An adviser to its mayor’s office warned residents that “the city remains closed to entry and very dangerous to leave,” while an ICRC spokesman cautioned that “it’s not yet clear” whether evacuations would “happen today.” Ukrainian officials estimate that more than 100,000 people are still trapped in the devastated port city.

A fuel depot was ablaze early Friday in the southern Russian city of Belgorod, whose governor charged that two Ukrainian helicopters attacked the site. The claim could not be verified, and Ukraine’s foreign minster said he could “neither confirm nor reject” the allegation because he did not “possess all the military information.” Ukraine has not previously attacked targets in Russian territory. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin has been informed and that the event could jeopardize peace talks. The latest round of negotiations took place online Friday, officials from both sides said.

On the battlefield, the Kremlin appeared to be pulling forces out of the Chernobyl nuclear plant site and moving some units away from the Kyiv area. But Western officials remain skeptical of Russia’s pledge to scale down military operations. “We can only judge Russia on its actions,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Voices from the siege of Mariupol

Here’s what to know

  • Zelensky said late Thursday that he has ousted two generals from Ukraine’s top law enforcement and intelligence agency, accusing them of being traitors to their country.
  • European Union leaders called on China to help end Russia’s war in Ukraine during a virtual summit Friday that was meant to focus on E.U-China relations.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian troop movements reflect the success of his country’s military. But conditions in southern Ukraine and in the eastern region of Donbas — which Russia seems determined to control — remain “extremely difficult,” he added.
  • European leaders rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand that “unfriendly countries” pay for natural gas in rubles in Moscow’s apparent bid to help stabilize the Russian currency amid sanctions.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

washington post logoWashington Post, Job creation, openings at near-record levels as jobless claims approach historic lows, Abha Bhattarai, April 1, 2022. The unemployment rate fell to a new pandemic low of 3.6 percent, as strong hiring continues.

The national unemployment rate fell to a pandemic low of 3.6 percent in March, as employers added 431,000 jobs, further bolstering the most rapid labor market rebound on record.

Average hourly wages for private-sector workers, rose by 13 cents to $31.73 in March, the Labor Department said Friday.

The labor market is pretty close to healing from the shock of the covid pandemic two years ago, having recovered 93 percent of the 22 million jobs lost early in the pandemic.

Both the unemployment rate and the number of people without jobs are almost down to pre-pandemic levels, but other parts of the labor market have yet to recover. The percentage of American workers who have a job or actively looking for work is still lower than it was before the crisis. And while wages have risen 5.6 percent in the last year, they have not kept up with inflation of 7.9 percent.

This is the 11th consecutive month that employers have added more than 400,000 jobs, which is considered a particularly strong pace of job growth.

“It’s been a remarkable recovery — we’ve never seen anything like this,” said Jane Oates, president of the employment-focused nonprofit WorkingNation and a former Labor Department official. “Two years ago, every sector was at least disrupted if not completely shut down. But we’ve had such a quick recovery that things are almost back to normal.”

4.4 million in U.S. quit or changed jobs in February as turnover remained high

Industries like hospitality, retail and construction — which were among the most affected early in the pandemic when shutdowns forced millions of layoffs — have been rapidly rehiring in recent months. That trend continued into March, with restaurants, hotels and stores picking up a combined 161,000 jobs.

Employers have added a record 7 million jobs in the past year, as hiring roars back to life. This momentum, however, has been accompanied by a surge in inflation to 40-year highs, near 8 percent, presenting a major headache for Federal Reserve officials and for a White House struggling with war abroad and low ratings at home. Some economists say a combination of higher interest rates, soaring energy costs and conflict in Ukraine are likely to slow job growth in coming months.

 

A Russian tank burning next to an unidentified soldier’s body during a fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday (Photo by Sergey Bobok/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images).

A Russian tank burning next to an unidentified soldier’s body during a fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine (File photo by Sergey Bobok / Agence France-Presse via Getty Images).

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine Live Updates: U.S. leery of Russia’s shift from Kyiv, Adela Suliman, Amy Cheng, Andrew Jeong, Ellen Francis and Jennifer Hassan, March 31, 2022. Temporary Mariupol cease-fire agreed to ahead of Red Cross evacuation, Russian officials say; Kremlin says U.S. officials do not understand Putin or the Kremlin; NATO’s Stoltenberg: Russia is repositioning, not withdrawing; Despite Western sanctions, Russian ruble and banks are recovering.

Officials from Russia and Ukraine said Thursday they have agreed on a temporary cease-fire in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol to allow civilians to evacuate and humanitarian aid to enter. Neither side specified when the cease-fire and humanitarian corridor would end, but Ukraine said its soldiers would “guarantee a full cease-fire regime” and that it was sending 45 buses into Mariupol to evacuate residents.

ukraine flagA spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross called the cease-fire “desperately important” and told The Washington Post that ICRC teams were traveling with relief items and medical supplies “to facilitate the safe passage of civilians out of Mariupol” on Friday. The city, which has so far borne the brunt of Russia’s invasion, was once home to 450,000 people, and 100,000 or so may still be trapped.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon said some Russian forces were being moved again from the capital, Kyiv. It warned that this should not be seen as a de-escalation but more likely points to an intention to refit and resupply troops, and possibly
deploy them elsewhere in Ukraine. In a video address late Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the war was nearing “a turning point,” as his country braces for fresh assaults in the eastern Donbas region.

Here’s what to know

  • President Biden is expected to announce a massive release of the nation’s strategic oil reserves on Thursday — 1 million barrels per day — as the administration tries to combat high prices at the pump, according to two people familiar with the matter.
  • Ukrainian and Russian negotiators are set to resume talks online Friday, head Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said in an overnight Telegram post. He added that he hopes to see Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet if diplomatic efforts progress.
  • U.S. and British intelligence officials said Wednesday that Putin has been misled by his advisers about how Russia is performing on the battlefield and that misinformed expectations and directives from the Russian side could affect peace talks with Ukraine.
  • Zelensky made an impassioned appeal to Australian lawmakers on Thursday, warning that no country — even one as distant from Ukraine as Australia — was safe from the threat of nuclear conflict.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

washington post logoWashington Post, Cities accuse Russia of attacks despite vow Annabelle Timsit, Amy Cheng, Rachel Pannett, Adela Suliman and Ellen Francis, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). Russia had pledged to ‘reduce’ attacks in Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday that attacks continued overnight around Chernihiv and Kyiv, despite Russia’s pledge Tuesday at peace talks in Turkey to “drastically reduce” attacks in both areas. Kyiv officials accused Russia of continued missile attacks and shelling, including on residential areas, while the governor of Chernihiv alleged Wednesday that Russian forces “spent the whole night striking” the city, damaging several buildings.

Ukrainian assertions that it was pushing back Russian forces near Kyiv generally appear to be true, according to a Washington Post reporter on the ground. But new satellite images of the bombed-out southern port city of Mariupol document severe damage to civilian infrastructure. The photos depict long lines outside a grocery store in the city, where local leaders have warned of a severe shortage of basic necessities.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the talks in Istanbul did not yield “any breakthroughs” but that concrete proposals put forward by Kyiv marked a “positive” step. Ukraine’s negotiators in Istanbul said they could exchange military neutrality for security guarantees, and an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv was working with 10 nations — including the United States, Britain, China and Israel — on a security agreement to ensure the “horrors that the Russians have brought to the Ukrainian people” are never repeated.

Ukraine offers neutrality in talks with Russia. What does that mean?

ny times logoNew York Times, Syrian Mercenaries Deploy to Russia en Route to Ukrainian Battlefields, Ben Hubbard, Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar, March 31, 2022. Hundreds of Syrian fighters are en route to join Russian forces in Ukraine, effectively returning the favor to Moscow for helping President Bashar al-Assad crush rebels in an 11-year civil war, according to two people monitoring the flow of mercenaries.

A first contingent of soldiers has already arrived in Russia for military training before heading to Ukraine, according to a Western diplomat and a Damascus-based ally of the Syrian government. It includes at least 300 soldiers from a Syrian army division that has worked closely with Russian officers who went to Syria to support Mr. al-Assad during the war.

And many more could be on the way: Recruiters across Syria have been drawing up lists of thousands of interested candidates to be vetted by the Syrian security services and then passed to the Russians.

Syria has grown in recent years into an exporter of mercenaries, a grim aftereffect of years of war that gave many men combat experience but so damaged the country’s economy that people now struggle to find work. So they have deployed as guns-for-hire to wars in Libya, Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic — and now Ukraine.

“In general, money is the motivation,” said Bassam Alahmad, the head of Syrians for Truth and Justice, an advocacy group that has researched the Syrian mercenary trade. Some Syrians feel loyalty to Russia because of its support for Mr. al-Assad, he said, while others sign up to fight because they simply need the money and believe recruiters’ promises that they will have noncombat jobs, such as guarding bases or oil facilities.
Defused Russian mines in a village near the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria, in 2020.
I“Some people don’t mind fighting, but there are groups that are definitely taking advantage of people’s needs,” Mr. Alahmad said. “The result is the same: People are paying this price. People are participating in wars that aren’t theirs.”

On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that about 1,000 mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian military contractor, were already in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, where Russia has installed two separatist enclaves, and that they included Syrians.

Syria’s long-running war drew in foreign powers such as Iran, Turkey, Russia and the United States, all of which worked with Syrian military groups on the ground to advance their interests.

 

nancy pelosi gavel safe oenwashington post logoWashington Post, Pelosi says Ginni Thomas texts show need for Supreme Court ethics code, Felicia Sonmez and Amy B Wang, March 31, 2022. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday renewed her call for the Supreme Court to institute a code of ethics, citing the recent revelations that Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, pressed the Trump White House to try to overturn President Biden’s 2020 victory.

Following reports about the actions of Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, several Democrats have called on Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from certain Supreme Court cases related to the 2020 election.

Pelosi, shown above in a file photo, on Thursday declined to say whether Thomas should recuse himself or resign from the court, telling reporters, “I don’t think he should have ever been appointed, so, we could take it back to there.”

But she did say that the court’s lack of a code of ethics presents a serious problem.

“They have no code of ethics,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference at the Capitol. “And it’s — really? The Supreme Court of the United States? They’re making judgments about the air we breathe and everything else, and we don’t even know what their ethical standard is? … Why should they have lower standards than members of Congress in terms of reporting and all the rest?”

Pelosi noted that H.R. 1, the For the People Act, includes language calling for the establishment of a judicial code of ethics. The measure passed the House this month in a largely party-line vote, but its chances are dim in the Senate.

The speaker suggested that a House committee may have a hearing on the code of conduct issue soon, although she did not elaborate.

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r). (Safe Image)On Thomas, in particular, Pelosi said little about the Supreme Court justice (shown in a file photo with his wife) but did make a pointed remark about his wife’s text messages urging the Trump White House to work to overturn Biden’s win.

“I’ve heard people say from time to time, ‘Well, it’s a personal decision of a judge as to whether he should recuse himself,’ ” Pelosi said. “Well, if your wife is an admitted and proud contributor to a coup of our country, maybe you should weigh that in your ethical standards.”

Raw Story, Judge blocks all new Florida voter suppression laws — then knocks the Supreme Court for putting voting rights 'under siege,' Sarah K. Burris, March 31, 2022. In a 288-page document, District Court Judge Mark Walker blocked the Florida voter suppression bill and specifically called out judges and the Supreme Court for undercutting the Voting Rights Act. Mark Joseph Stern, Slate's court and law writer, cited several excerpts in the judge's decision that make the decision groundbreaking. Until the case goes to the Supreme Court, Florida's suppression laws will be stopped.

Republicans around the country have been pushing voter suppression laws after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election after a record-setting voter turnout. In Texas, for example, Republicans confessed that the law they passed putting additional barriers on vote by mail wasn't due to an outbreak of voter fraud. Instead, it was to make people feel better.

"This is a preventative measure for us," Republican state Rep. Travis Clardy said. "I think it is our job to make sure that doesn't blossom into a problem that disturbs the underlying and one of the underpinnings of our democracy, and that is confidence in our elections."

Florida SB 90 created their own restrictive legislation that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in 2021. The Florida voter suppression law makes voter registration more difficult, puts additional barriers on vote by mail and changes the rules for election observers.

"Having reviewed all the evidence, this Court finds that, for the most part, Plaintiffs are right" wrote Judge Walker. "Thus, as explained in detail below, this Court enjoins Defendants from enforcing most of SB 90’s challenged provisions. In so ruling, this Court recognizes that the right to vote, and the VRA particularly, are under siege."

martin luther king stampHe went on to cite Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shown at right on a postage stamp, who wrote in a letter to the New York Amsterdam News in June 1965 about the VRA that “to deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer."

Then he dropped the hammer on the Florida law, explaining that Florida "has repeatedly, recently, and persistently acted to deny Black Floridians access to the franchise," meaning the right to vote. He thus placed the state back under preclearance, which mandates that any election laws in the state must be approved by the federal government.

He went on to detail an extensive "horrendous history of racial discrimination in voting," and explained that when the Florida Legislature passes so many laws that disproportionately burden Black voters, "this Court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental."

Judge Walker then attacked the Supreme Court, recalling Chief Justice John Roberts 2013 majority opinion, "Voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the act's extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the states, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements."

"Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, voter turnout and registration rates in covered jurisdictions now approach parity," the majority opinion continued. "Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare and minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg responded with a dissent, writing, "Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

According to Judge Walker, "In short, without explaining itself, the Court has allowed its wholly judge-made prudential rule to trump some of our most precious constitutional rights."

He said that the parts of the Florida law were inspired by racist desires to suppress Black votes. He then put the state back under the VRA's preclearance restrictions and said that the state must get federal approval before passing any new laws limiting voter registration, drop boxes, or "line warming."

So-called "line warming" is when people bring food, water, blankets, jackets, or even chairs while people spend hours standing in line to vote. Georgia passed a law this year banning any efforts to help anyone in line trying to vote. So, if someone has to use the bathroom after several hours, they have to do it on the sidewalk outside the poll place or soil themselves, otherwise, they'll lose their place in line.

 

Trump Jan. 6 Insurrection Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, Justice Dept. expands Jan. 6 probe to look at rally prep, financing, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Jacqueline Alemany and Spencer S. Hsu, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). Grand jury subpoenas show how the criminal probe has expanded beyond the riot itself.

The criminal investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has expanded to examine the preparations for the rally that preceded the riot, as the Justice Department aims to determine the full extent of any conspiracy to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory, according to people familiar with the matter.

Justice Department log circularIn the past two months, a federal grand jury in Washington has issued subpoena requests to some officials in former president Donald Trump’s orbit who assisted in planning, funding and executing the Jan. 6 rally, said the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The development shows the degree to which the Justice Department investigation — which already involves more defendants than any other criminal prosecution in the nation’s history — has moved further beyond the storming of the Capitol to examine events preceding the attack.

The events of Jan. 6, 2021, are a legally fraught puzzle for federal investigators. Prosecutors and FBI agents must distinguish between constitutionally protected First Amendment activity, such as speech and assembly, and the alleged conspiracy to obstruct Congress or other potential crimes connected to fundraising and organizing leading up to Jan. 6.

The task is also complicated by the proximity of those two very different types of activities — speech and violence — that occurred within hours of each other and less than a mile apart.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington declined to comment.

All the ways Trump tried to overturn the election — and how it could happen again

On the morning of Jan. 6, thousands of people from all over the country gathered at the Ellipse, near the White House, to rally behind the false premise that Trump had won the 2020 presidential election. The outgoing president began speaking to the crowd around noon and called on attendees to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. By 12:30, hundreds of people began to gather near Congress. At approximately 1 p.m., the barricaded security perimeter of the Capitol complex was breached, and people flooded toward the building.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: A judge said Trump probably committed a crime. The DOJ can’t ignore that, George T. Conway III, right, March 31, 2022 george conway post(print ed.). “A coup in search of a legal theory.”

That was the sober, and apt, assessment made this week of former president Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election — not by a partisan or pundit, but in an opinion by a federal judge. And although that ruling, by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, did not decide a criminal case, it ought to presage one.

We don’t know whether the Justice Department has been considering criminal charges against Trump, or whether it will. We do know that Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a speech commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, vowed that the Justice Department was “committed to holding all Jan. 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

Carter’s conclusion makes clear that, for the attorney general’s commitment to be met, the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of Jan. 6 must focus closely on Trump.

The court’s ruling came in a lawsuit that one of Trump’s lawyers, John Eastman, brought against the select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Eastman served as the legal architect of Trump’s effort to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count numerous states’ electoral votes on Jan. 6. Eastman asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 146 times at his deposition before the select committee. His lawsuit argued that some of his emails should be kept from the committee because they were shielded by either attorney-client privilege or “work product” privilege, which protects confidential documents prepared for litigation.

The opinion by Carter, a former prosecutor nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton, makes clear Eastman has good reason to worry about criminal consequences. The attorney-client and work-product privileges must give way if they involve communications that further the commission of a fraud or crime. And Carter found that at least one of the emails did just that.

  djt lavrov kysliak

President Trump hosted a top-level delegation at the White House in 2017, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kysliak. No American media were permitted to cover the meeting, with photos (including that above) taken, selected and released by visiting Russian media.

Proof, Investigative Commentary: The Truth About Trump and Ukraine Inside Trump’s vicious, illegal, years-long war on Ukraine—a clandestine effort seth abramson graphicthat has dovetailed with the political, economic, and military aggression against Ukraine authored by Vladimir Putin, Seth Abramson, March 30-31, 2022.

Preface: Bringing "Proof of Corruption" to Substack. Condensing a 576-page national bestseller with 44 chapters and 4,750+ major-media citations into a single Substack article is, of course, impossible.

seth abramson proof logoWhat this Proof essay aims to do, instead, is focus on just one of the narrative threads in Proof of Corruption: Donald Trump’s thirty-year relationship with Ukraine (Macmillan, 2020), which bears no similarity whatsoever to the former president’s anodyne description of it.

Even in focusing on just one narrative, this essay must elide over 75% of the full story, which has twists and turns in it (as well as many suddenly appearing and disappearing characters) to such a degree that it can’t be reduced to a single article. This is why I wrote a book on the subject, and the reason even that nearly 600-page work benefited from the fact that much of its foundation had already been laid in two earlier tomes, Proof of Collusion (Simon & Schuster, 2018) and Proof of Conspiracy (Macmillan, 2019).

I mention this only to underscore that if you have no familiarity with the truth about Donald Trump and Ukraine, what you are about to read will at once be shocking and the barest tip of a towering iceberg. And it matters—because the story of Trump and Ukraine, both the abridged and unabridged versions, are significant now not as dry history but because they may well determine the fate of America. The implications of what you will read below are that dire. Please note that what follows is more akin to a novella-length nonfiction narrative than a mere essay. It may take you several sittings to read and digest the text in full.

Introduction: The True Story of Trump and Ukraine. A little over a week ago, former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton made a startling statement revealing that when Donald Trump was president, the longtime New York City real estate developer could barely locate Ukraine on a map.

As with all else we’ve heard from Bolton over the last two years, the statement was a combination of a minute but accurate observation laced with some very subjective personal venom. Trump may or may not be able to locate Ukraine on a map—neither possibility would be surprising—but if Bolton intended to leave the impression that Trump is broadly unfamiliar with Ukraine, that implication would not only be inaccurate but a deeply troubling cover-up of the true story of Trump and the largest nation wholly in Europe.

As with nearly everything we’ve ever heard from the ex-president, his own narrative isn’t so much a nub of truth packed in layer upon layer of deceit, but an intentional, almost brutalizing mass of prevarication that aims to manipulate voters at every point, in every contour, and without exception.

To hear Donald Trump tell the tale, he has long been a champion of Ukraine, and has admired Vladimir Putin’s handling of Russia’s western neighbor only as an academic might—acknowledging the purported tactical genius of Russia’s strongman without approving of his methods.

In this fantasy world of Trump’s own creation (which is, unfortunately, now relevant to all of us because it reflects the belief of nearly 40% of Americans), in the same way that Russia has never had a more dangerous adversary than Donald Trump, Ukraine has never had a better friend than the former POTUS. I’ve often written on social media, and on occasion here at Proof, that the best way to parse any statement made by Mr. Trump is to start with the assumption that the exact opposite of anything he’s said is true.

While it’s an imperfect method of interlocution—sometimes when you take the opposite of everything Trump says, only 97% of it is true—it serves as a far better starting point then taking seriously or at face value anything declaimed by the former president. In the matter of Trump and Ukraine, however, the conventional reading of Trump long advised by Proof and its attendant Twitter feed is wholly sufficient: Russia has never had a better friend among American politicians than Donald Trump, and Ukraine no greater enemy.

Seth Abramson, shown above and at right, is founder of Proof and is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who teaches digital journalism, seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionlegal advocacy, and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. A regular political and legal analyst on CNN and the BBC during the Trump presidency, he is a best-selling author who has published eight books and edited five anthologies.

Abramson is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Ph.D. program in English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include a Trump trilogy: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020); Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019); and Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018).

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s plea to Russia reminds us why he’s unfit and Congress is delinquent, Jennifer Rubin, right, March 30, 2022). jennifer rubin new headshotContrary to the infamous prediction from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that President Donald Trump “learned” his lesson after she voted to acquit him in his impeachment trial over his efforts to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump has never stopped soliciting help from foreign powers to aid his political prospects.

In an interview published on Tuesday, the disgraced former president issued a new plea to Russia — even as it wages a vicious war against our ally and perpetrates war crimes — to release information concerning Hunter Biden’s laptop. This echoes his request to Russia in 2016 to reveal Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails, and his “perfect” phone call with Zelensky in which he tried to coerce the Ukrainian leader to do him a “favor” by announcing a phony investigation into Joe Biden. So no, Trump has not learned any lessons.

Once more, Republicans remain mute in the face of their party leader’s grossly improper conduct — attempted “collusion,” if you like. Don’t bother waiting for Republicans to repudiate him. If they did not do so when he extorted Zelensky or when he praised war criminal Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine, they are not going to now. Make no mistake: The Republican Party remains in the grip of a man with no appreciation for the danger in soliciting help from dictators.

The latest incident also serves as a reminder that Congress has been utterly delinquent in addressing a raft of reforms that could prevent politicians from soliciting dirt on their opponents from foreign powers. Aside from minor provisions to enhance transparency when the executive branch delays or disrupts funding for other countries (as occurred in Trump’s decision to hold back military aid to Ukraine), Congress has failed to enact any of the many reforms set out in the Protecting Our Democracy Act.

Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Elections, Politics, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden unveils plan to release a million barrels of oil per day, Tyler Pager and Jeff Stein, Updated March 31, 2022. The measure is meant to help -consumers amid a Russia-related shock to prices. President Biden on Thursday will announce a massive release of the nation’s strategic oil reserves as the White House tries to combat high prices at the pump.

The White House said it will release one million additional barrels of oil per day from the national Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the next six months — an measure the administration says will help buffer domestic consumers amid a Russia-related shock to prices. The White House also announced it will encourage oil companies to ramp up domestic production, which will have a more lasting impact on moderating prices.

“The scale of this release is unprecedented: the world has never had a release of oil reserves at this 1 million per day rate for this length of time,” the White House said in a statement. “This record release will provide a historic amount of supply to serve as bridge until the end of the year when domestic production ramps up.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Biden’s budget reflects his party's challenges, E.J. Dionne Jr., right, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). It can’t be said that the $5.8 ej dionne w open necktrillion spending plan that President Biden announced on Monday was ignored, since leaders of both parties issued the mix of praise and censure you’d expect. But it’s receiving less attention than it deserves.

Biden’s budget reflects the intricacy of the coalition he leads, the challenges his party faces, and the radical changes in the national and international landscape over just a few months.

Budgets rarely decide elections, and this one certainly won’t. If Democrats beat the odds and maintain their House and Senate majorities, it will be because of a backlash against the forces of right-wing radicalism in the Republican Party and improvements in the public mood about the economy and the course of the pandemic.

But to have even a shot at pulling off an upset in November, the party needs to solve two very different problems.

It needs to win back moderates who supported Biden in 2020 but have swung away since. A president elected with just over 51 percent of the vote now has approval ratings hovering between 40 and 45 percent.

Henry Olsen: Biden has requested an increase in defense spending. It's not nearly enough.

At the same time, Democrats must turn out their core supporters dispirited by Congress’s failure to pass voting rights bills and Biden’s Build Back Better proposals. An indicator of where enthusiasm lies: An Economist/YouGov poll from recent days found that while 38 percent of Americans strongly disapprove of Biden’s job performance, only 18 percent strongly approve.

Biden knows he needs to shore up support at both ends of the alliance that elected him, and these dual imperatives were obvious in his budget. Many have described it as a move to the center, and in important ways it is. Yet it also includes both spending proposals and tax increases on the wealthy that progressives will welcome.

The shift to the middle includes his commitment to $1 trillion in deficit reduction. Biden asked Congress for more than $30 billion to fight crime, inoculating Democrats against efforts to associate the party with calls to “defund the police." He pushed defense spending up 10 percent, to more than $800 billion, pointing to an urgency created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And he put money behind his “unity agenda,” proposing new investments to combat the opioid crisis, find cures for cancer, and improve care for veterans and for mental health.

But progressives were not left out. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who chairs the House Budget Committee, noted in an interview that the budget also “generously funds Democratic priorities that have been neglected for a long time, including education, child care, health care, including veterans’ health care, and pay increases for military and civilian government employees.”

Biden also made an implicit promise to keep fighting for elements of his Build Back Better proposal by remaining vague about the particulars. If being highly specific last year failed to push his plan through, Biden is now prepared to leave the details to Congress and declare victory on whatever he can get.

His emphasis on reducing the deficit was clearly a form of outreach to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who has signaled that he would support parts of Build Back Better this year, including perhaps $500 billion in spending to combat climate change — as long as some steps are taken to contain future red ink.

The Hill, Poll: Fetterman leads Lamb by double digits in Pennsylvania, Hanna Trudo, March 31, 2022. John Fetterman is leading Pennsylvania’s Senate primary by double digits, according to a new poll released Thursday, a sign that the self-identified populist is sustaining the momentum he’s enjoyed for much of the race.

Fetterman earned 33.4 percent of support from Democratic primary voters in a new poll from The Hill and Emerson College.

His closest competitors, Rep. Conor Lamb (D) and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D), each earned 10 percent and 7.6 percent support respectively.

As lieutenant governor, Fetterman has considerably more statewide recognition than Lamb, who is a veteran representing suburban Pittsburgh, and Kenyatta, a state representative and activist from north Philadelphia.

With less than two months before the May 17 primary, however, there’s still time for voters to pick a candidate to back. Notably, more than one third of respondents — 37 percent — are currently undecided about whom to support against a not-yet-determined Republican nominee, according to the survey.

Pennsylvania is one of a handful of battlegrounds that will help determine which party takes power of the Senate in November.
Halper: Biden gaslighting journalist another example of his contempt for press
Black DoorDash driver tased in traffic stop

Democrats have their sights on the state that both President Biden and former President Trump each narrowly won in 2020 and 2016, respectively. They see it as a chance to secure a critical Democratic win ahead of 2024.

During the unusually tame primary, Fetterman has run slightly to the left of Lamb. He has embraced popular policy positions like legalizing marijuana, which Lamb is against, and has shunned corporate campaign contributions, an important litmus test for many progressives. But he has also declined to back more divisive stances like defunding the police and banning fracking.

The poll was taken between March 26-28 with a sample of 471 Democratic primary voters and a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

 

More On Ukraine Battlefield, Global Reactions

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia Plays Down Talks and Keeps Up Attack in North, Megan Specia, Anton Troianovski and Shashank Bengali, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). Strikes Reported Where Moscow Had Vowed to Ease Combat,

Local officials reported new attacks near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, two areas where Russia had pledged to sharply reduce combat operations. The Kremlin said that negotiations with Ukraine had not produced anything “very promising,” and that reaching a deal would take more work. Here’s the latest.

Optimism that peace talks could ease Russia’s punishing assault on Ukraine was dampened on Wednesday when local officials reported new attacks on the outskirts of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, two areas where Russia had vowed to sharply reduce combat operations.

The continuing attacks added to growing skepticism that the talks had made substantive progress and suggested that Moscow is in no hurry to end its war, now five weeks old, despite claiming that it would de-escalate after peace talks on Tuesday with Ukrainian representatives in Istanbul.

Mindful of the angry and still-unhealed wounds left by NATO’s bombing of Serbia more than 20 years ago, Ukraine’s ambassador appeared on Serbian television after Russia invaded and bombed his country in the hope of rousing sympathy.

Instead of getting time to explain Ukraine’s misery, however, the ambassador, Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, had to sit through rants by pro-Russian Serbian commentators, and long videos of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, denouncing Ukraine as a nest of Nazis. The show, broadcast by the pro-government Happy TV, lasted three hours, more than half of which featured Mr. Putin.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The non-Russians in Russia begin to count their war dead, Wayne Madsen, left, March 31, 2022. In wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallthe predominantly Muslim autonomous Republic of Bashkortostan, the next of kin of Russian soldiers, including conscripts, are beginning to count the losses from Russian leader Vladimir Putin's ill-planned invasion of Ukraine.

The pro-Putin puppet government in Bashkortostan, which lies within the Muslim belt of the Volga basin adjacent to the Ural mountain range and is the largest republic in the Russian Federation, is feeling the heat from ethnic Bashkirs who believe their sons have been used as cannon fodder in Ukraine. There are reports that as many as 1,000 Bashkirs serving in the Russian armed forces have been killed in Ukraine.  Tensions are running so high that some Bashkirs have dumped the flag of their autonomous republic as a symbol of the puppet regime in Ufa, the republic's capital, headed by Radiy Khabirov.

Although Putin has imposed strict censorship on the Russian media, his government has found it impossible to hide the number of war dead from Russian and non-Russian people alike throughout the federation.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.K. spy chief: Russian soldiers in Ukraine sabotaged own equipment, Meryl Kornfield and Amy Cheng, March 31, 2022. Russian soldiers short on morale and weapons have refused orders, sabotaged their own equipment and shot down one of their own aircraft, Britain’s spy chief said Thursday, painting a picture of chaos on Russia’s front lines as the war in Ukraine drags into its second month.
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The efforts are evidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s miscalculation when he decided to invade Ukraine, Jeremy Fleming, head of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, said in a speech Thursday at Australian National University. U.S. and British officials have said Putin, more isolated than ever, was misinformed by his aides, further stoking tensions.

“It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people,” Fleming said. “He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanize. He underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.”

Putin’s “strategic miscalculation” has cost innocent Ukrainian lives — and now is being felt by “ordinary Russians, too,” Fleming said.

Putin has attempted to stop news of the setbacks from reaching Russians, but Fleming said his efforts have failed to quell the growing global support for Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has operated an “extremely effective” information campaign.

In the months leading up to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, U.S. and European officials repeatedly cited intelligence reports to warn of Putin’s plans to launch an assault against Kyiv.

The West’s success in anticipating Russia’s strategy so far has buoyed the credibility of its intelligence, said Australian National University’s John Blaxland, who specializes in international security and intelligence. He added that he finds the “startling” details in Fleming’s speech “reliable.”

washington post logo

Washington Post, Europe reassessing its relationship with China, Emily Rauhala, Lily Kuo, Ellen Nakashima and Cate Cadell, March 31, 2022. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has forced the European Union to rethink how it works with authoritarian regimes. Outraged by the war, the bloc feels deceived by Moscow’s doublespeak and deeply remorseful it did not break ties sooner.
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That skepticism is expected to carry over into an E.U.-China summit on Friday — the first in nearly two years — as the E.U. recalibrates its relationship with one of its top trade partners.

Before the war, the E.U. was slowly and somewhat reluctantly adopting a tougher stance toward China. The events of the past month — and Beijing’s tacit backing of Moscow — have accelerated that shift, aligning the E.U. more closely with the U.S. position on China as a strategic adversary.

China’s attempt to play both sides of the Ukraine crisis is starting to crack

E.U. leaders plan to use the virtual summit to warn Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang against offering material support to Russia, whether with weapons or assistance in evading sanctions.

 

World News, Global Human Rights, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Turkish prosecutor asks to move Khashoggi murder trial to Saudi Arabia, Kareem Fahim, March 31, 2022. The request to move the trial comes as Ankara seeks to mend relations with Saudi Arabia.

In a dramatic about-face, a Turkish prosecutor requested Thursday to move the trial of suspects linked to the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal jamal kahshoggiKhashoggi to Saudi Arabia, right, which sent the operatives who carried out the deadly assault, according to local media and a person who attended the hearing.

The prosecutor said the request to halt the Turkish trial followed a Saudi transfer request earlier in March, according to Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders, who attended the hearing in a criminal court in Istanbul. Flag of TurkeyThe court referred the matter to Turkey’s Ministry of Justice, he said.

Facing economic woes, including a weak currency and soaring cost of living, Turkey has sought to improve relations with Saudi Arabia in recent months.

If the ministry approves, “it will have terrible consequences for the idea of justice,” Onderoglu said. All the defendants are being tried in absentia and are believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Bin Salman Al-SaudThe prosecutor’s action represents a significant turnabout by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the days and months after the murder, Erdogan, who counted Khashoggi as a friend, played a leading role in implicating Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, in the killing.

Turkey released recordings, surveillance footage and other material that revealed a team of Saudi operatives had traveled to Istanbul, waited for Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate and then killed and dismembered him. His remains were never found.

vladimir putin hand up palmer

washington post logoWashington Post, Despite Western sanctions, Russian ruble and banks are recovering, Jeanne Whalen, March 31, 2022. Lucrative oil and gas exports, and strict currency controls, are behind the stabilization.

Russia’s ruble and banking system are showing continued signs of recovery from the initial punch of sanctions, as Moscow relies on energy exports and currency controls to partly protect the nation’s economy.

After initially plummeting, the ruble has rebounded and is edging closer to the value it held before the war began, according to the official exchange rate. And the banking system is gradually stabilizing as panicked customer withdrawals subside, economists say.

Some of the recovery is artificial, made possible by strict limits that the central bank, the Bank of Russia, has placed on currency exchange, withdrawals and hard-currency transfers overseas. But it is also due to a very real factor still working in Russia’s favor: strong oil and gas exports that bring a flood of hard currency into the country.

“I think the key signal is that, for now, it appears the Bank of Russia managed to avoid a deep financial crisis,” said Elina Ribakova, deputy chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, an association of banks and finance companies. “We were concerned that bank runs as a result of sanctions could bring down some of the more systemic [state-owned] banks. It appears that it has not happened.”

The loophole that’s keeping Russia’s economy alive

In the days after Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, the ruble fell from about 80 to the dollar to a low of 120 to the dollar. It has now climbed back to 84, according to the central bank’s official rate.

Russia’s economy is still experiencing a lot of pain that is likely to intensify, economists say. They forecast that inflation could reach at least 20 percent this year, and that gross domestic product will shrink by 15 percent, wiping away years of economic growth.

ny times logoNew York Times, Germany Moves Toward Gas Rationing in Standoff Over Ruble Payments, Melissa Eddy, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). Germany began preparing for eventual shortages of natural gas on Wednesday, as the country’s economy minister pointed to growing concerns that Russia could cut off deliveries unless payments on existing contracts were made in rubles.

german flagThe government activated the first step of a national gas emergency plan that could, eventually, lead to the rationing of natural gas. Wednesday’s action — the first step, or “early warning stage” — involves setting up a crisis team of representatives from the federal and state governments, regulators and private industry, said Robert Habeck, the economy minister and vice chancellor.

The move illustrates the risk facing European countries that rely on Russian oil and gas as the war in Ukraine drags on. On Monday, energy ministers from the Group of 7 nations rejected a demand by Russia that the country be paid for its supplies in rubles. Several European energy companies have said payment in rubles would require a renegotiation of long-term contracts.

“We will not accept any breach of the private contracts,” Mr. Habeck said.

The ongoing standoff is part of attempts from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to push back against a wide-ranging raft of economic sanctions aimed at punishing the Kremlin for invading neighboring Ukraine.

The country’s economy minister pointed to concerns that Russia could cut off deliveries unless payments were made in rubles. Follow economy updates.

Reuters, Russia won't demand immediate switch to rouble gas payments, Kremlin says, Staff Report, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). Russia will not immediately demand that buyers pay for its gas exports in roubles, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, promising a gradual shift and saying Russia should work on an idea to widen the list of its exports requiring rouble payment.

President Vladimir Putin issued an order last week for Russian gas, which accounts for 40% of European needs, to paid for in roubles instead of dollars or euros.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia's top lawmaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the European Union would have to pay in roubles if it wanted Russian gas and said oil, grain, metals, fertiliser, coal and timber exports could be priced the same way. read more

The government, the central bank and Gazprom (GAZP.MM) are due to present proposals for the switch by Thursday.

Asked whether the payments should be in roubles starting from Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Absolutely no."

"As we discussed before, payments and delivery is a time consuming process ... This does not mean that a tomorrow's delivery should be paid (in roubles). From a technological point of view, this is a more prolonged process," he said.

Putin's order to charge "unfriendly" countries in roubles for Russian gas boosted the Russian currency after it plunged to all-time lows when West imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. European gas prices also rocketed up.

The Russian demand has been rejected by European countries, which pay for Russian gas mostly in euros and say Russia is not entitled to redraw contracts, and by the G7 group of nations.

Commenting on the Russian rouble plan, Anatoly Aksakov, head of the financial committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said this week: "I believe we don't have to change the law, it's all stipulated there.""

"The foreign currency will be exchanged at a market rate, which will be set at the Moscow Exchange," he said. "They can buy the roubles wherever."

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Russia’s war is complicating the path India is trying to walk among world powers, Mujib Mashal, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). India has been reluctant to criticize Russia, long an important ally. But China’s rise, and its closeness to Vladimir Putin, is creating new pressure.

 ny times logoNew York Times, In Hungary, Viktor Orban Remakes an Election to His Liking, Matt Apuzzo and Benjamin Novak, March 31, 2022. The populist prime minister, right, a hero to many American conservatives, has changed voting rules and legalized “voter tourism” as he stands for re-election.

viktor orbánDuring the dark winter of the 2020 coronavirus wave, the Hungarian government set up a website so anxious residents could sign up for the news on the pandemic. For months, the system sent out updates about the virus, testing and where to get vaccinated.

But last month, long after the vaccination drive had peaked, the system blasted out a very different type of alert: an email claiming, falsely, that opponents of Prime Minister Viktor Orban were agitating to drag Hungary into the war in Ukraine.

hungary flag“This is cheating,” said Klara Dobrev, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament and one of those accused in the email. “Using public money for obviously party propaganda? This is obviously election fraud.”

In more than a decade in power, Mr. Orban has not hesitated to use the levers of government power to erode democratic norms and cement one-party rule. He has rewritten the Constitution, remade the courts and used state-run and privately owned television stations — even school textbooks — to advance his agenda or push misinformation about his rivals.

He has always justified his brand of what he calls “illiberal democracy” by pointing out that, like other European leaders, he has won free and fair elections. Now, though, as he stands on Sunday for re-election against an unexpectedly organized opposition, Mr. Orban is using the power of his office to shape the contours of the election more to his liking.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel Bolsters Security Amid Deadliest Wave of Terrorist Attacks in Years, Patrick Kingsley, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). The Israeli Army and the police scaled up their ground presence the morning after the latest shooting brought the death toll from attacks this month to 11.

Israel security forces bolstered their presence across the country and the occupied territories early Wednesday, the morning after a Palestinian gunman killed five people in the fifth attack in less than two weeks.

Israel FlagThe recent surge in violence and fears of even more attacks prompted the Army to send reinforcements to the occupied West Bank, where the gunman behind Tuesday night’s attack lived. Forces also deployed along the boundary between Israel and Gaza. The police said they were turning their focus almost exclusively to counterterrorism operations while scaling up their presence on the streets.

The attack came on the eve of Land Day, an annual Palestinian commemoration of Arab protests in 1976 against state efforts to expropriate private Palestinian land in northern Israel. Those protests helped catalyze Palestinian national consciousness.

“After a period of quiet, there is a violent eruption by those who want to destroy us, those who want to hurt us at any price, whose hatred of Jews, of the State of Israel, drives them crazy,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a video he recorded himself because he is currently infected with the coronavirus and isolating. “They are prepared to die — so that we will not live in peace.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Ex-Commander of Canada’s Military Pleads Guilty to Obstruction, Ian Austen, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). The investigation that led to charges against Jonathan Vance, a former chief of Canada’s defense staff, has also ensnared other current and former Canadian military commanders.

canadian flagCanada’s former top military commander pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice on Wednesday in connection with a military police investigation into allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct while leading the country’s military.

Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the defense staff, is one of several current and former Canadian military commanders under investigation for sexual impropriety. The growing scandal has undermined public confidence in Canada’s military.

“This is as low as it gets,” said Michel Drapeau, a former Canadian military officer who now teaches law at the University of Ottawa. “It raised serious apprehension as to how did this guy go so far and stay in position for five years given what we’ve come to know.”

Mr. Vance, 58, became the first former or current top military commander ever to face criminal charges last year when military police made the obstruction charge which, in an unusual move, was referred to the civilian justice system for prosecution. Several military law experts said that it is not possible to prosecute current or former chiefs of the defense staff under the military system.

ny times logoNew York Times, Bangladesh Sentences 4 to Death for Blogger’s Murder, Saif Hasnat, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). The victim, who had promoted secularism, was among several writers fatally attacked in the country in 2015.

A special tribunal in eastern Bangladesh announced on Wednesday that four men had been sentenced to death for the 2015 murder of a blogger and writer who had promoted secularism in the Muslim-majority country.

The victim, Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, a banker by profession who wrote for the platform Free Mind, was among several bloggers and writers fatally attacked that year. He was chased down in the eastern city of Sylhet by four men, who stabbed him to death on a street close to his home and left his body near a pond.

“We are happy with the verdict,” Somor Bijoy Shee Shakhor, Mr. Das’s brother-in-law, told The New York Times. “We cannot get Ananta back. The only thing we want is justice.”

Just 10 weeks before Mr. Das’s death in May 2015, Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American who was the moderator of Free Mind, had also been killed, by machete-wielding assailants as he was leaving a book fair in Dhaka, the capital.

ny times logoNew York Times, Two U.K. Judges Quit Hong Kong Court, Citing Lost Freedoms, Austin Ramzy, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). They had served on the territory’s highest court, part of an arrangement to retain links to the common law world after Hong Kong returned to China.

hong kong flagThe president of Britain’s Supreme Court said Wednesday that he and a colleague were stepping down from their roles on Hong Kong’s highest court because the administration of the Chinese territory had “departed from values of political freedom and freedom of expression.”

Their resignations will heighten scrutiny of Hong Kong’s British-style legal system, which the former British colony kept even after it returned to Chinese control in 1997. While the system has long had a reputation of independence, Beijing’s imposition of a strict national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 has put it under increasing pressure to uphold the government’s crackdown on dissent.

Judges from countries including Britain, Australia and New Zealand have served as nonpermanent judges on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal alongside the city’s chief justice and other local judges. The arrangement was devised to maintain the legal system’s contact with the greater common law world even after control of the territory returned to Beijing.'

 Recent Global Headlines

 

More On Ukraine, Russia

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Koch Industries’ valentine to Vladimir Putin, Dana Milbank, right, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). Give Koch Industries credit for dana milbank newestconsistency: It’s aiding the foes of democracy at home and abroad.

In the two weeks since I wrote about U.S. companies that remained in Russia despite Vladimir Putin’s savage invasion of Ukraine, corporations have, admirably, continued stampeding to the exits.

More than 450 multinational companies have withdrawn from Russia in some form, according to the list maintained by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and his team at the Yale School of Management, sending a clear message to Russians that Putin’s actions are beyond the pale.

Some of the pullbacks from Russia have been little more than a “smokescreen,” Sonnenfeld says, including candy makers Nestlé and Mondelez; sandwich-chain Subway; hoteliers Hilton and Hyatt; agricultural giants Cargill and ADM; and oil servicers Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes. But these firms at least made symbolic gestures.

Then there’s the worst of the worst, in Sonnenfeld’s lowest category — those corporations “Digging In” and refusing to reduce activities in Russia. Only eight U.S. companies have this dubious distinction, Sonnenfeld’s team tells me: medical-device maker Align Technology, Internet company Cloudflare, International Paper, tire manufacturer Titan International, insurer FM Global, crane maker Manitowoc, laser producer IPG Photonics — and that recidivist corporate offender, Koch Industries.

Koch chairman Charles Koch (brother David died in 2019) is a top funder of right-wing candidates and causes, notably efforts to roll back voting rights. Now the maker of Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups and many other household brands is aiding Russia as it rolls back democracy in Ukraine rather less subtly.

Koch, keeping two glass manufacturing plants running in Russia, says it “will not walk away from our employees there or hand over these manufacturing facilities to the Russian government,” arguing that doing so would “do more harm than good.”

Sonnenfeld called those claims “absolutely ludicrous,” “arrogant” and “such a tortured logic it’s beyond absurd.” Koch’s website indicates that its software business Infor, its electronics business Molex and its industrial products business Koch Engineered Solutions also continue to do business in Russia. Their imports, exports and taxes help prop up the Russian economy, and therefore Putin’s war effort.

At the same time, various Koch-funded groups have been arguing against sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States. As Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby of the newsletter Popular Information reported, Dan Caldwell, vice president for foreign policy at Stand Together, an umbrella group for the Koch network, said the “Stand Together community” believes that “broad-based economic sanctions rarely achieve their desired policy outcomes.” Caldwell previously suggested “neutrality” between Russia and Ukraine. Similar criticism of sanctions came from people affiliated with the American Institute for Economic Research, Defense Priorities and Concerned Veterans for America, all groups with Koch ties.

  natalya vorozhbit bad roads

Financial Times, Ukrainian film-maker Natalka Vorozhbit: ‘I tried to warn the world,’ Interview by Izabella Kaminska, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). The playwright and director on how her unblinking movie ‘Bad Roads,' about Donbas (shown above), presaged the current war.

It’s the eve of an expected offensive on Kyiv by Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces and Natalka Vorozhbit, Ukrainian playwright and film-maker, is sheltering with her family in a house on the outskirts of the city. Her lights are turned to their dimmest setting in accordance with local recommendations.

In an evening Zoom call via an interpreter, she tells me that she has been hearing bombings since 5am. Everyone in Kyiv and abroad expects an aerial assault on the city to begin that night. The temperature outside is cold, about three degrees celsius.

If raids begin, Vorozhbit will have to shelter with her family in the cellar. Nobody, she says, knows what the next day will bring. It is a strange moment to be talking about her film Bad Roads, an adaptation of her 2017 play, but since it is about the realities of living through the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in the breakaway regions of Ukraine, it seems tragically timely. She says it is her way of warning people in the west that what has happened to Ukraine could happen to them too.

“We’re dealing with a crazy man who is ready to push the button on nuclear weapons, and we should stop it altogether,” she says. “It’s a threat to everyone.” Vorozhbit, who until recently used the Russian spelling of her first name, Natalya, tells me she considers current events the culmination of everything she feared would happen if the west continued to ignore Ukraine’s troubles with Russia in the past 10 years or so. “None of this would be happening if Ukraine was part of Nato, and of course I am hoping for the support of Nato,” she says. She remains stoic even though clearly shattered by recent events.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, Value systems and wars against fascism, Wayne Madsen, March 30-31, 2022. There is a war against wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallfascism being waged on the streets and farmland of Ukraine by Ukrainian military personnel, civilian home guard forces, and foreign volunteers.

In many respects, the Ukrainian defense against Russia is not much different from that of the Spanish Second Republic, aided by the International Brigades, against the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco and his Nazi German and Italian Fascisti allies.

wayne madesen report logoI know a thing or two about the Spanish Civil War. My father served as a merchant marine volunteer for the International Brigades, assisting in the transfer of weapons from Leningrad and Klaipeda, Lithuania to the anti-fascist Spanish Loyalists still in control of the port of San Sebastian. Of course, the actions of my father and of his pro-Social Democratic Danish Seaman's Union had caught the attention of the Gestapo.

When I see reports of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing their country, I'm reminded of the stories I grew up hearing as a child about World War II in Europe.

When I see reports of Russians forcing Ukrainians, including children and the elderly, into detention "camps" in Russia; Russians laying waste to entire cities; storming libraries to rid the shelves of books considered to be anti-Russian; torturing Ukrainian journalists, and other war crimes, it is my upbringing that shapes my views. And for that I don't apologize to anyone. They include so-called "progressives," who have taken the word of Vladimir Putin, a revanchist fascist in the mold of Hitler.

 Recent Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Study: Pregnant people at much higher risk of breakthrough covid, Amy Goldstein and Dan Keating, March 31, 2022. Pregnant people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus are nearly twice as likely to get covid-19 as those who are not pregnant, according to a new study that offers the broadest evidence to date of the odds of infections among vaccinated patients with different medical circumstances.

The analysis, based on medical records of nearly 14 million U.S. patients since coronavirus immunization became available, found that pregnant people who are vaccinated have the greatest risk of developing covid among a dozen medical states, including being an organ transplant recipient and having cancer.

The findings come on top of research showing that people who are pregnant or gave birth recently and became infected are especially prone to getting seriously ill from covid-19. And covid has been found to increase the risk of pregnancy complications, such as premature births.

washington post logoWashington Post, Truck convoy leaves D.C. area after weeks of traffic-snarling protests, heads to California, Ellie Silverman, March 31, 2022. The trucker group calling itself the “People’s Convoy,” which protested vaccine mandates and aired other right-wing grievances by driving around the D.C. region for more than three weeks, left its temporary base in Western Maryland on Thursday morning to head across the country to challenge proposed coronavirus vaccine and health-related bills in California.

The protest failed to accomplish any of its stated demands and recently saw a dwindling number of participants, fractures among supporters, pushback from local residents and activists and road blockages by D.C. police.

“What do you all think about heading to California?” co-organizer Mike Landis asked the crowd at the Hagerstown Speedway on Sunday. “We’re not done here. But we’ll go to California and raise awareness on this along the way and hopefully gain more people like we did on our way here — and then once we stop this, we will come back to finish this job.” He did not elaborate on what finishing the protest meant.

Although about 100 vehicles with the People’s Convoy departed from the speedway, a racetrack about 80 miles northwest of D.C. where they have been based since arriving from Southern California on March 4, researchers cautioned that some participants may remain in the region while others will return home to their local communities armed with more misinformation.

Landis said the group hopes to inspire more people to join the protest of certain proposed bills in California, and Brian Brase, the convoy’s de facto leader, who is from northwest Ohio, has mused about running for a school board seat.

Although inspired by Canadian demonstrators who occupied downtown Ottawa to protest public health measures including a rule barring unvaccinated truckers from crossing the border, the tactics employed by the People’s Convoy were different: Rather than occupying the city, they embarked on hours-long demonstrations that amounted to sitting in traffic on the Capital Beltway and later driving in the District. The protest kicked off in Adelanto, Calif., on Feb. 23 despite many pandemic-related restrictions at the federal and local levels already being blocked or rescinded.

Landis said the convoy is headed to Los Angeles to attend an April 10 anti-vaccine-mandate protest organized by Defeat the Mandates — the same group that rallied on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in January, attracting thousands of people from across the country including anti-vaccine crusaders such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Robert Malone.

Anti-vaccination leaders have seized on the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic to propel their once-fringe movement into the homes of millions of Americans, dissuading families from receiving the coronavirus vaccines — some of the most effective medicines in human history — during a pandemic that has killed more than 978,000 people in the United States. Brase said in a Facebook Live talk that he will be a guest speaker at the Los Angeles rally.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Will Ask Congress to Pass Key Covid Aid, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden’s remarks come as a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 has become the dominant version of the coronavirus among new U.S. cases, according to C.D.C. estimates. In Asia, Hong Kong is running out of coffins as it faces a surge in deaths.

President Biden will step up the pressure on Congress to approve billions of dollars in emergency coronavirus relief aid, using a speech at the White House on Wednesday to deliver what an official described as an urgent and direct message that will warn that U.S. progress against Covid-19 would be at severe risk if Congress fails to act.

Mr. Biden will also spotlight a new one-stop-shopping coronavirus website, covid.gov, aimed at helping Americans navigate access to testing, treatment, vaccines and masks, and to assess the risk of Covid-19 in their neighborhoods, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the president’s remarks. The site went live Wednesday morning; Mr. Biden’s remarks were scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Eastern time.

The website, and Mr. Biden’s speech, are part of a broader effort to ease the nation out of pandemic crisis mode and usher in what experts are calling the “next normal” — a phase in which Americans will learn to live with the risk of Covid-19 and to adjust behavior like mask wearing based on whether cases and hospitalizations are rising or falling.

That strategy depends on the availability of vaccines and therapeutics, though, and the administration says it is out of money for both. The White House has been pleading with Republicans in Congress to approve $22.5 billion in emergency aid to purchase new vaccines and therapeutics, and to reimburse doctors who care for uninsured Covid-19 patients.

The federal government said recently that a fund established to reimburse doctors was no longer accepting those claims for testing and treatment “due to lack of sufficient funds.”

While new coronavirus case reports have been falling in the United States, a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 has driven a surge in cases in Europe, and many experts expect that the United States may soon see the same. Should that occur, it will be the first major test of the country’s new strategy of living with the virus while limiting its impact.

Around the country, state and local governments have relaxed restrictions like mask and vaccine mandates. White House and federal health officials have been making the case for weeks that Americans now have the tools — testing infrastructure, masks and other mitigation strategies, and drugs and vaccines — to live with the threat of the virus.

On Tuesday, federal health officials cleared second booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for everyone 50 or older and for many people with certain immune deficiencies, at least four months after their first booster. They described the move as an effort to bolster waning immunity against severe disease before another surge can take hold.

The White House said that following remarks on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden would receive a second booster himself.

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Biden announced a new “test to treat” initiative — a network of pharmacies and other sites where people can be tested for the coronavirus and then receive antiviral drugs if they test positive. More than 2,000 sites are participating, the White House said. The covid.gov website features a “test-to-treat” locator tool to help people find participating locations.

Under a banner saying “Find Covid-19 guidance for your community,” the website asks users to enter the name of the county in which they live. It then identifies whether the risk of Covid-19 in that county is low, medium or high, depending on factors including the number of hospitalizations and available hospital beds.

The site also links to other government websites, including vaccines.gov and covidtests.gov, that help users access vaccines and find nearby testing sites.

  • U.S. states are closing their mass testing and vaccination sites.
  • The BA.2 subvariant of Omicron accounts for over half of new U.S. coronavirus cases, the C.D.C. says.
  • Hong Kong is running low on coffins amid its deadliest Covid wave, and other global virus news.
  • In an industrial Chinese province, some workers say they’ve been quarantined in the hospitals they were building.
  • Americans are taking fewer precautions two years into the pandemic, poll says.
  • Pfizer and Moderna boosters help protect Americans who received J.&J. shots, the C.D.C. reports.
  • Twenty-one states file a lawsuit to block the mask mandate on public transportation.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated March 31, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 487,288,203, Deaths: 6,163,685
U.S. Cases:     81,740,722, Deaths: 1,006,445
Indian Cases:   43,024,440, Deaths:    521,159
Brazil Cases:   29,916,334, Deaths:    659,570

Related Recent Headlines:

 

Law, Courts, Crime, Race 

washington post logoWashington Post, Unaccountable: Police strategy abandoned after Breonna Taylor death spreads to other cities, Amy Brittain, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). At least nine jurisdictions either plan to or have adopted the crime-reduction strategy known as ‘place network investigations’ — a model that examines geographic connections that allow crime to flourish.

A crime-reduction strategy abandoned by Louisville police after the March 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor has since spread to other major U.S. cities, gaining favor with police chiefs for its potential to reduce violent crime despite its ties to the case that sparked widespread calls for police reform.

In the months preceding the shooting, Louisville officers had studied a model known as “place network investigations.” The then-novel approach pioneered by an academic posited that crime could be curbed if police and other community partners focused on geographic connections in areas plagued by violent crime. It is the latest in a long line of U.S. policing philosophies that have used data to target crime concentrated in small areas known as hot spots.

washington post logoWashington Post, 5 fetuses found in D.C. home after indictment in abortion clinic blockade, Jaclyn Peiser, March 31, 2022. The fetuses were aborted “in accordance with D.C. law," and “there doesn’t seem to be anything criminal in nature...except for how they got into this house,” police said.

Five fetuses were removed from a Southeast Washington home Wednesday, the same day a federal indictment was announced against nine people in the 2020 blockade of an abortion clinic with chain and rope.

The residence was where Lauren Handy, one of the people indicted, was arrested and had lived or stayed, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the case.

Handy and eight others were indicted on federal civil rights counts, with prosecutors alleging that she and others violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

Authorities have not said how the fetuses were obtained and how they came to be in the home.

The discovery came the same day authorities announced the indictment of the nine people who prosecutors say had gathered near the doors of a D.C. reproductive health clinic in October 2020.

They were waiting for the facility to open and charged in after a medical specialist unlocked the doors, an indictment says.

They then began barricading the entrances with chairs from the waiting room, according to prosecutors.

“We have people intervening physically with their bodies to prevent women from entering the clinic to murder their children,” Jonathan Darnel, reportedly one of the intruders, said in a Facebook Live broadcast documenting the event, according to court documents.

The nine have been charged with conspiracy and violating the FACE Act, “which prohibits threats of force, obstruction and property damage intended to interfere with reproductive health care services,” according to the Justice Department. Prosecutors did not provide the name of the clinic in the indictment.

The indictment comes as more states pass legislation restricting abortion access. In the six months after Texas passed a ban on abortions past the six-week mark, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have proposed similar bills. On March 23, Gov. Brad Little (R) of Idaho signed a bill into law modeled after the one in Texas.

 Recent Law-Related Headlines

 
Inside U.S. Washington Politics

 

madison cawthorn resized hunting amazon

ny times logoNew York Times, House Republicans Tire of Madison Cawthorn’s Antics. His District Has, Too, Trip Gabriel, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). For Mr. Cawthorn, above, a pro-Trump North Carolina congressman, the youthful brashness that helped him win his seat now strikes some voters as recklessness.

In the era of Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party — when making falsehoods about an election isn’t disqualifying, when heckling a president at the State of the Union is no big deal, when attending an event tied to white supremacists doesn’t lead to exile — it may still be possible for a hard-right member of Congress to go too far.

That is the object lesson of Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, the House’s youngest member, whose bid for a second term is in jeopardy after a series of incendiary statements and personal foibles have soured many former supporters.

“I voted for Madison, but I think I’ll pass now because of integrity issues,’’ said John Harper, a retired furniture finisher in Franklin, N.C., at a Republican event in Mr. Cawthorn’s district last week. “I was fooled last time. I won’t be fooled again.”

Mr. Cawthorn, 26, called President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine “a thug” and his country “incredibly evil” as Russian tanks rolled in. The congressman has made headlines for bringing a knife to a school board meeting and bringing a gun through airport security. Mr. Cawthorn, who has used a wheelchair since being injured in an automobile accident when he was 18, was charged this month with driving with a revoked license. He has a May court date on the misdemeanor count that carries jail time.

washington post logoWashington Post, McCarthy: Cawthorn ‘did not tell the truth’ about orgy, drug claims, Felicia Sonmez, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday after meeting with Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) that the freshman lawmaker was not telling the truth when he made claims about an “orgy” invitation and alleged drug use among unnamed members of Congress.

Cawthorn’s comments, which he made during a podcast interview last week, had outraged some of his fellow congressional Republicans, leading to Wednesday’s meeting at the Capitol with McCarthy and other House GOP leaders.

kevin mccarthy“This is unacceptable,” McCarthy, right, told reporters Wednesday after meeting with Cawthorn, Axios reported. “There’s no evidence to this.”

madison cawthorn oMcCarthy added that Cawthorn, left, “changes what he tells” and “did not tell the truth,” describing his actions as “not becoming of a congressman.”

Cawthorn was seen leaving McCarthy’s office Wednesday morning after a meeting that lasted about half an hour. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) also attended the meeting, according to Politico.

washington post logoWashington Post, Crypto industry dives into midterms, raising millions to court Democrats, Tory Newmyer, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). The crypto industry is rolling out a multimillion-dollar campaign to elect friendly candidates in the midterm elections as regulators zero in on the sector.

Crypto executives and investors flush with digital wealth are assembling a big-money effort to elect a slate of crypto enthusiasts to Congress in this year’s midterm elections, the industry’s first significant foray into American politics.

Crypto interests are raising money for a super PAC that aims to spend $20 million promoting candidates friendly toward the sector. Coinbase, the largest U.S.-based crypto exchange, hosted a previously unreported fundraiser for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) over a Zoom call last week. Executives are organizing events for insiders to contribute to candidates in cryptocurrency. And they are backing some upstart pols, including elementary school teacher Aarika Rhodes, who has launched a primary challenge to Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), one of the industry’s most outspoken critics.

The push comes at a high-stakes moment. The sector has leaped more than tenfold in total market value since this point in the last election cycle two years ago, topping $2.1 trillion as of Wednesday. That growth has put the industry in the crosshairs of policymakers, now considering rules for digital assets that will determine how the industry evolves both in the United States and abroad. Crypto interests are racing to build influence in Washington in a bid to shape the process as it unfolds.

washington post logoWashington Post, Facing new political reality, Murkowski considers a vote for Jackson, Mike DeBonis, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). The senator from Alaska is among a handful of Republicans thinking of supporting Biden’s Supreme Court nominee.

lisa murkowski oThe last time a Democratic president sent Supreme Court nominees to the Senate, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, right, was a member of the Senate Republican leadership bracing for a tough Alaska primary against a more conservative GOP challenger.

She was accordingly tough on President Barack Obama’s picks: Sonia Sotomayor, she said in 2009, had given “brief and superficial treatment … to important constitutional questions,” and a year later, she said Elena Kagan would be “one of the least experienced Supreme Court justices in our nation’s history.” She voted against both nominees.

More than a decade later, Murkowski has undergone a political transformation — thanks in part to a political near-death experience, where she lost that 2010 primary only to resurrect herself in a subsequent write-in campaign with the help of centrist voters. She is now among a handful of Republicans who are seriously entertaining a vote for President Biden’s pending Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Collins Plans to Back Judge Jackson for Supreme Court, Giving Her a G.O.P. Vote, Carl Hulse, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). Senator Susan Collins of Maine plans to vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, ensuring that President Biden’s nominee and the first Black woman to be put forward for the post will receive at least one Republican backer.

susan collinsAfter a second personal meeting with the judge on Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Collins, right, said Judge Jackson had alleviated some concerns that surfaced after last week’s contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, when Republicans attacked the nominee for her record and grilled her on a host of divisive issues.

“I have decided to support the confirmation of Judge Jackson to be a member of the Supreme Court,” Ms. Collins said in an interview after the meeting.

The centrist senator, often a key vote on Supreme Court clashes, said that she had been reassured that Judge Jackson would not be “bending the law to meet a personal preference” and that the nominee met her personal standard for serving on the court.

 

hunter biden

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Inside Hunter Biden’s multimillion-dollar deals with a Chinese energy company, Matt Viser, Tom Hamburger and Craig Timberg, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). A Washington Post review confirms key details and offers new documentation of Biden family interactions with Chinese executives.

The deal was years in the making, the culmination of forging contacts, hosting dinners, of flights to and from China. But on Aug. 2, 2017, signatures were quickly affixed, one from Hunter Biden, above, the other from a Chinese executive named Gongwen Dong.

Within days, a new Cathay Bank account was created. Within a week, millions of dollars started to change hands.

Within a year, it would all begin to collapse.

cefc logoWhile many aspects of Hunter Biden’s financial arrangement with CEFC China Energy have been previously reported and were included in a Republican-led Senate report from 2020, a Washington Post review confirmed many of the key details and found additional documents showing Biden family interactions with Chinese executives.

Over the course of 14 months, the Chinese energy conglomerate and its executives paid $4.8 million to entities controlled by Hunter Biden and his uncle, according to government records, court documents and newly disclosed bank statements, as well as emails contained on a copy of a laptop hard drive that purportedly once belonged to Hunter Biden.

The Post did not find evidence that Joe Biden personally benefited from or knew details about the transactions with CEFC, which took place after he had left the vice presidency and before he announced his intentions to run for the White House in 2020.

But the new documents — which include a signed copy of a $1 million legal retainer, emails related to the wire transfers, and $3.8 million in consulting fees that are confirmed in new bank records and agreements signed by Hunter Biden — illustrate the ways in which his family profited from relationships built over Joe Biden’s decades in public service.

 

Media, Entertainment, Religion News

washington post logoWashington Post, A Jan. 6 pastor divides his Tennessee community with extremist views, Annie Gowen, March 31, 2022. The pastor promised his followers that this church service would be like no other, and the event on a cold Sunday in March did not disappoint.

“Devil, your foot soldiers are coming out tonight, they’re coming all the way out. We will expel them,” Pastor Greg Locke howled from the stage in a crowded white tent. “You gotta leave, Devil,” he shouted, “you gotta get out!”

Wielding a microphone as he paced the stage, his wife Tai at his side, Locke called out “spirits” of anger, rage, bitterness, lust and envy.

“Spirit of molestation, spirit of abuse, get out right now!” Locke commanded.

“Every spirit of homosexuality, lesbianism, come out, come out,” his wife ordered. “Transgenderism, gender dysphoria, come out.”

“We rebuke it, we rebuke it!” Locke yelled.

The tent slowly took on a spirit of its own. Worshipers began writhing as if in pain, others waved their hands in the air in benediction. “Amens” began to mix with the guttural sound of growling, moaning and praying in tongues.

“If you’ve had the covid-19 shot, I’m telling you you’ve got poison in your veins,” Locke thundered. “We call out the covid-19 vaccine out right now. Keep that demonic spirit out of you right now in the name of Jesus!”

Some fell to the ground, pawing at cedar chips, or wretched into silver vomit buckets that had been set at the end of each row of white folding chairs.

To those unfamiliar with charismatic worship style, the scene might be easily dismissed or mocked. Yet Locke, 45, head of the Global Vision Bible Church, boasts millions of followers, many of them online, gaining national attention during the coronavirus crisis when he kept his church open and defied the mask mandates of the “fake pandemic.”

But to his critics, he is spreading a dangerous message of hate that is taking root in some conservative churches. His rising prominence also comes as many mainstream faith leaders and experts on extremism grow increasingly concerned about the spread of White Christian nationalism, the belief that patriotism and love of America are explicitly intertwined with White evangelical Christianity.

Locke is an “ambassador” of a movement where he and other pastors around the country appear at rallies and tent revivals preaching Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims that the election was stolen as a new holy war, according to Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, an organization dedicated to religious freedom.

“If someone is convinced that God has preordained an election result for a messiah-like candidate and is told over and over that the election was stolen, that erodes trust in elections and democracy,” Tyler said.

Locke, in an interview, was defiant that he is not a Christian nationalist, but he makes no apologies for bringing politics into the pulpit. He was on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection and has continued to preach the falsehood that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Locke and his ministry have divided this quiet town on the outskirts of Nashville with many residents distressed at the thousands who flock here to hear him and the attention he attracts, most recently with a book burning where he and followers threw copies of the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series and Disney villain merchandise into a giant bonfire. He has declared he now wants to “deliver” people from demonic influences and witchcraft.

washington post logoWashington Post, Turmoil at CBS News over Trump aide Mick Mulvaney’s punditry gig, Jeremy Barr, March 31, 2022. Mulvaney’s punditry gig
A network executive said they want to hire more Republicans to gain ‘access’ ahead of a ‘likely’ Democratic midterm wipeout.

CBS News’s decision to hire former Trump administration official Mick Mulvaney as a paid on-air contributor is drawing backlash within the company because of his history of bashing the press and promoting the former president’s fact-free claims.

CBS News logoBut a top network executive seemed to lay the groundwork for the decision in a staff meeting earlier this month, when he said the network needed to hire more Republicans to prepare for a “likely” Democratic midterm wipeout.

“If you look at some of the people that we’ve been hiring on a contributor basis, being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms,” CBS News’s co-president Neeraj Khemlani told the staff of the network’s morning show, according to a recording of his comments obtained by The Washington Post. “A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Facebook paid GOP firm to malign TikTok, Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harwell, March 31, 2022 (print ed.). The firm, Targeted Victory, pushed local operatives across the country to boost messages calling TikTok a threat to American children. “Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger,'" one campaign director said.

facebook logoFacebook parent company Meta is paying one of the biggest Republican consulting firms in the country to orchestrate a nationwide campaign seeking to turn the public against TikTok.

The campaign includes placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping tiktok logo square Customtake down its biggest competitor.

These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users.

Employees with the firm, Targeted Victory, worked to undermine TikTok through a nationwide media and lobbying campaign portraying the fast-growing app, owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, as a danger to American children and society, according to internal emails shared with The Washington Post.

"Targeted Victory needs to “get the message out that while Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat especially as a foreign owned app that is #1 in sharing data that young teens are using,” a director for the firm wrote in a February email.

Campaign operatives were also encouraged to use TikTok’s prominence as a way to deflect from Meta’s own privacy and antitrust concerns.

“Bonus point if we can fit this into a broader message that the current bills/proposals aren’t where [state attorneys general] or members of Congress should be focused,” a Targeted Victory staffer wrote.

The emails, which have not been previously reported, show the extent to which Meta and its partners will use opposition-research tactics on the Chinese-owned, multibillion-dollar rival that has become one of the most downloaded apps in the world, often outranking even Meta’s popular Facebook and Instagram apps. In an internal report last year leaked by the whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook researchers said teens were spending “2-3X more time” on TikTok than Instagram, and that Facebook’s popularity among young people had plummeted.

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Bruce Willis to Step Away From Acting After Aphasia Diagnosis, Maya Salam, March 30, 2022. His ex-wife, Demi Moore, announced online that the actor was recently diagnosed with a disorder that affects the ability to understand or express speech.

On Wednesday, Demi Moore announced on Instagram that her ex-husband Bruce Willis, the prolific action-movie star, had recently been diagnosed with aphasia — a disorder that affects the brain’s language center and a person’s ability to understand or express speech — and that he would be stepping away from acting.

“To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” Moore’s post reads. “As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”

“We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him,” it continued. “As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up,’ and together we plan to do just that.”

The post is signed “Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel & Evelyn” — referring to Emma Heming Willis, Willis’s wife, and his children. Moore is the mother of Rumer, Scout and Tallulah, and Heming Willis is mother to Mabel and Evelyn.

washington post logoWashington Post, Will Smith refused to leave the Oscars after slapping Chris Rock, academy says, Travis M. Andrews, March 30, 2022. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony after he slapped Chris Rock, but Smith refused.

“Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the academy said in a statement. “We also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.”

The revelation came after the academy’s board of governors met to initiate “disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.”

During the ceremony on Sunday, Rock made a joke at the expense of Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife. Smith strode onto the stage, struck Rock across the face and returned to his front-row seat, where he twice yelled, “Keep my wife’s name out your f---ing mouth.”

Later in the ceremony, he accepted the best-actor award for his role in “King Richard” and gave a teary speech in which he apologized to the academy and his fellow nominees, but not Rock. The next day, he posted an Instagram apology that addressed the comedian. Rock has not spoken publicly about the event.

Questions abounded after the incident as to why the academy did not remove Smith from the ceremony.

The academy said it is providing Smith with “at least 15 days’ notice of a vote regarding his violations and sanctions, and the opportunity to be heard beforehand by means of a written response.” The board will meet again on April 18, at which point it “may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions.”

It also called Smith’s actions a “deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television.”

“Mr. Rock, we apologize to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment,” the statement continued. “We also apologize to our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event."

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A Russian tank burning next to an unidentified soldier’s body during a fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday (Photo by Sergey Bobok/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images).

A Russian tank burning next to an unidentified soldier’s body during a fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine (File photo by Sergey Bobok / Agence France-Presse via Getty Images).

 washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Cities accuse Russia of attacks despite vow Annabelle Timsit, Amy Cheng, Rachel Pannett, Adela Suliman and
Ellen Francis, March 30, 2022. Russia had pledged to ‘reduce’ attacks in Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday that attacks continued overnight around Chernihiv and Kyiv, despite Russia’s pledge Tuesday at peace talks in Turkey to “drastically reduce” attacks in both areas. Kyiv officials accused Russia of continued missile attacks and shelling, including on residential areas, while the governor of Chernihiv alleged Wednesday that Russian forces “spent the whole night striking” the city, damaging several buildings.

Ukrainian assertions that it was pushing back Russian forces near Kyiv generally appear to be true, according to a Washington Post reporter on the ground. But new satellite images of the bombed-out southern port city of Mariupol document severe damage to civilian infrastructure. The photos depict long lines outside a grocery store in the city, where local leaders have warned of a severe shortage of basic necessities.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the talks in Istanbul did not yield “any breakthroughs” but that concrete proposals put forward by Kyiv marked a “positive” step. Ukraine’s negotiators in Istanbul said they could exchange military neutrality for security guarantees, and an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv was working with 10 nations — including the United States, Britain, China and Israel — on a security agreement to ensure the “horrors that the Russians have brought to the Ukrainian people” are never repeated.

Ukraine offers neutrality in talks with Russia. What does that mean?

Here’s what to know

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in China in their first face-to-face meeting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The two discussed the situation in Ukraine, and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman later stressed there were “no limits” to Sino-Russian cooperation, state media outlets reported.
  • Ukraine has accused Russia of forcibly relocating thousands of residents from Mariupol. One Ukrainian woman told The Post she and her family were transferred to what the Russians called a “filtration camp” before being sent to Russia.
  • A NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts landed in Kazakhstan Wednesday after undocking from the International Space Station and flying back to Earth in a historic mission that came amid persistent questions about whether the partnership in space between the U.S. and Russia can endure.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Russia Plays Down Talks and Keeps Up Attack in North, Megan Specia, Anton Troianovski and Shashank Bengali, March 30, 2022. Strikes Reported Where Moscow Had Vowed to Ease Combat,

Local officials reported new attacks near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, two areas where Russia had pledged to sharply reduce combat operations. The Kremlin said that negotiations with Ukraine had not produced anything “very promising,” and that reaching a deal would take more work. Here’s the latest.

Optimism that peace talks could ease Russia’s punishing assault on Ukraine was dampened on Wednesday when local officials reported new attacks on the outskirts of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, two areas where Russia had vowed to sharply reduce combat operations.

The continuing attacks added to growing skepticism that the talks had made substantive progress and suggested that Moscow is in no hurry to end its war, now five weeks old, despite claiming that it would de-escalate after peace talks on Tuesday with Ukrainian representatives in Istanbul.

Mindful of the angry and still-unhealed wounds left by NATO’s bombing of Serbia more than 20 years ago, Ukraine’s ambassador appeared on Serbian television after Russia invaded and bombed his country in the hope of rousing sympathy.

Instead of getting time to explain Ukraine’s misery, however, the ambassador, Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, had to sit through rants by pro-Russian Serbian commentators, and long videos of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, denouncing Ukraine as a nest of Nazis. The show, broadcast by the pro-government Happy TV, lasted three hours, more than half of which featured Mr. Putin.

 

 djt lavrov kysliak

President Trump hosted a top-level delegation at the White House in 2017, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kysliak. No American media were permitted to cover the meeting, with photos (including that above) taken, selected and released by visiting Russian media.

Proof, Investigative Commentary: The Truth About Trump and Ukraine Inside Trump’s vicious, illegal, years-long war on Ukraine—a clandestine effort seth abramson graphicthat has dovetailed with the political, economic, and military aggression against Ukraine authored by Vladimir Putin, Seth Abramson, March 30, 2022.

Preface: Bringing "Proof of Corruption" to Substack. Condensing a 576-page national bestseller with 44 chapters and 4,750+ major-media citations into a single Substack article is, of course, impossible.

seth abramson proof logoWhat this Proof essay aims to do, instead, is focus on just one of the narrative threads in Proof of Corruption: Donald Trump’s thirty-year relationship with Ukraine (Macmillan, 2020), which bears no similarity whatsoever to the former president’s anodyne description of it.

Even in focusing on just one narrative, this essay must elide over 75% of the full story, which has twists and turns in it (as well as many suddenly appearing and disappearing characters) to such a degree that it can’t be reduced to a single article. This is why I wrote a book on the subject, and the reason even that nearly 600-page work benefited from the fact that much of its foundation had already been laid in two earlier tomes, Proof of Collusion (Simon & Schuster, 2018) and Proof of Conspiracy (Macmillan, 2019).

I mention this only to underscore that if you have no familiarity with the truth about Donald Trump and Ukraine, what you are about to read will at once be shocking and the barest tip of a towering iceberg. And it matters—because the story of Trump and Ukraine, both the abridged and unabridged versions, are significant now not as dry history but because they may well determine the fate of America. The implications of what you will read below are that dire. Please note that what follows is more akin to a novella-length nonfiction narrative than a mere essay. It may take you several sittings to read and digest the text in full.

Introduction: The True Story of Trump and Ukraine. A little over a week ago, former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton made a startling statement revealing that when Donald Trump was president, the longtime New York City real estate developer could barely locate Ukraine on a map.

As with all else we’ve heard from Bolton over the last two years, the statement was a combination of a minute but accurate observation laced with some very subjective personal venom. Trump may or may not be able to locate Ukraine on a map—neither possibility would be surprising—but if Bolton intended to leave the impression that Trump is broadly unfamiliar with Ukraine, that implication would not only be inaccurate but a deeply troubling cover-up of the true story of Trump and the largest nation wholly in Europe.

As with nearly everything we’ve ever heard from the ex-president, his own narrative isn’t so much a nub of truth packed in layer upon layer of deceit, but an intentional, almost brutalizing mass of prevarication that aims to manipulate voters at every point, in every contour, and without exception.

To hear Donald Trump tell the tale, he has long been a champion of Ukraine, and has admired Vladimir Putin’s handling of Russia’s western neighbor only as an academic might—acknowledging the purported tactical genius of Russia’s strongman without approving of his methods.

In this fantasy world of Trump’s own creation (which is, unfortunately, now relevant to all of us because it reflects the belief of nearly 40% of Americans), in the same way that Russia has never had a more dangerous adversary than Donald Trump, Ukraine has never had a better friend than the former POTUS. I’ve often written on social media, and on occasion here at Proof, that the best way to parse any statement made by Mr. Trump is to start with the assumption that the exact opposite of anything he’s said is true.

While it’s an imperfect method of interlocution—sometimes when you take the opposite of everything Trump says, only 97% of it is true—it serves as a far better starting point then taking seriously or at face value anything declaimed by the former president. In the matter of Trump and Ukraine, however, the conventional reading of Trump long advised by Proof and its attendant Twitter feed is wholly sufficient: Russia has never had a better friend among American politicians than Donald Trump, and Ukraine no greater enemy.

Seth Abramson, shown above and at right, is founder of Proof and is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who teaches digital journalism, seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionlegal advocacy, and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. A regular political and legal analyst on CNN and the BBC during the Trump presidency, he is a best-selling author who has published eight books and edited five anthologies.

Abramson is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Ph.D. program in English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include a Trump trilogy: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020); Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019); and Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018).

washington post logoWashington Post, Why the world is so worried about Russia’s ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons, Adam Taylor and William Neff, March 30, 2022 (print ed). The war in Ukraine has led to a resurgence of fears about the use of nukes.

Russia is armed to teeth with nuclear weapons, which some analysts fear it would consider using to escalate the conflict if it felt it was losing, and Ukraine’s Western backers are also armed with nukes, which means that the conflict — if it were to spiral beyond Ukraine — would pit nuclear powers against each other.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that Russia should stop its “dangerous irresponsible nuclear rhetoric,” and warned that it could “never win a nuclear war.”

Only recently has Russia gone out of its way to tamp down the worries: Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told PBS Monday that “no one is thinking about” using nuclear weapons. But even as peace talks stir optimism, trust in Russian rhetoric remains low, after Moscow’s repeated claims that it would not invade Ukraine.

Despite echoes of the Cold War past, the strategic landscape has shifted. Wartime equations about the risk of using nuclear actions — which are never simple — have been complicated by “tactical” warheads that Russia has stockpiled. These smaller nuclear weapons, far less powerful than the ones the United States dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, are designed to be used on the battlefield.

Their smaller size, some experts fear, could break down the nuclear taboo. Russia is believed to have more than 1,500 of them.

Sarah Bidgood, director of the Eurasia program at James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, said it was hard to estimate the level of risk that Russia would use a tactical nuke in Ukraine, but that it was clear Russia relied on its nuclear weapons, including tactical weapons, to give it flexibility in managing the risk of escalation.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden’s $5.8 Trillion Budget Would Raise Military and Social Spending, Staff Reports, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden unveiled his latest budget proposal amid a war in Ukraine and concerns at home about rising costs. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Biden’s budget calls for additional military spending and higher taxes on the wealthiest.
  • With a center-leaning budget, Biden bows to political reality.
  • Biden calls for increased military spending amid the war in Ukraine and national security concerns.
  • Comparing spending levels is usually simple. Except this year.
  • Biden’s budget focuses on fighting inflation, but that’s mainly a Fed project.
  • The $17.5 billion request for the Interior Department focuses on climate change and tribal nations.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency would get a big increase in funding.
  • Biden requests 5 percent increase in funding for homeland security.

ny times logoNew York Times, Collins Plans to Back Judge Jackson for Supreme Court, Giving Her a G.O.P. Vote, Carl Hulse, March 30, 2022. Senator Susan Collins of Maine plans to vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, ensuring that President Biden’s nominee and the first Black woman to be put forward for the post will receive at least one Republican backer.

susan collinsAfter a second personal meeting with the judge on Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Collins, right, said Judge Jackson had alleviated some concerns that surfaced after last week’s contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, when Republicans attacked the nominee for her record and grilled her on a host of divisive issues.

“I have decided to support the confirmation of Judge Jackson to be a member of the Supreme Court,” Ms. Collins said in an interview after the meeting.

The centrist senator, often a key vote on Supreme Court clashes, said that she had been reassured that Judge Jackson would not be “bending the law to meet a personal preference” and that the nominee met her personal standard for serving on the court.

 

hunter biden

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Inside Hunter Biden’s multimillion-dollar deals with a Chinese energy company, Matt Viser, Tom Hamburger and Craig Timberg, March 30, 2022. A Washington Post review confirms key details and offers new documentation of Biden family interactions with Chinese executives.

The deal was years in the making, the culmination of forging contacts, hosting dinners, of flights to and from China. But on Aug. 2, 2017, signatures were quickly affixed, one from Hunter Biden, above, the other from a Chinese executive named Gongwen Dong.

Within days, a new Cathay Bank account was created. Within a week, millions of dollars started to change hands.

Within a year, it would all begin to collapse.

cefc logoWhile many aspects of Hunter Biden’s financial arrangement with CEFC China Energy have been previously reported and were included in a Republican-led Senate report from 2020, a Washington Post review confirmed many of the key details and found additional documents showing Biden family interactions with Chinese executives.

Over the course of 14 months, the Chinese energy conglomerate and its executives paid $4.8 million to entities controlled by Hunter Biden and his uncle, according to government records, court documents and newly disclosed bank statements, as well as emails contained on a copy of a laptop hard drive that purportedly once belonged to Hunter Biden.

The Post did not find evidence that Joe Biden personally benefited from or knew details about the transactions with CEFC, which took place after he had left the vice presidency and before he announced his intentions to run for the White House in 2020.

But the new documents — which include a signed copy of a $1 million legal retainer, emails related to the wire transfers, and $3.8 million in consulting fees that are confirmed in new bank records and agreements signed by Hunter Biden — illustrate the ways in which his family profited from relationships built over Joe Biden’s decades in public service.

 

World News, Global Human Rights, Disasters

 

vicky ward investigatesVicky Ward Investigates, A Small-Town Polish Mayor and the Head of an Anti-Trafficking NGO on the Horrific Human Trafficking at Ukraine’s Borders, Vicky Ward, March 29, 2022. Yesterday, I was privileged to be on a zoom call with Wojciech Bakun, the mayor of Przemyśl (pronounced “Shemesh”), which is a provincial town of 60,000 people on the border between Poland and Ukraine. In the past four weeks, Przemyśl has become base camp for 1,200 volunteers from all over the world who have received and cared for over 800,000 refugees— many of them arriving on foot and in danger of freezing to death.

Mayor Bakun recently made headlines because he publicly shamed Matteo Salvini, the Italian right-wing leader, as a “friend” of Putin during Salvini’s public visit to Przemyśl to see the thousands of refugees streaming in to the town.

Bakun has scarcely slept these past few weeks. Much of what he had to say about his experiences was both horrifying (at one point, he said he just didn’t have the words to describe the scenes of inhumanity) and yet also uplifting, given the extraordinary efforts Poland has gone to in order to welcome an influx of what is now said to be nearly four million Ukrainian refugees.

I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say about human trafficking at the border because that is one of the more recent horror stories to be reported out of the war—one that is emerging to shockingly enormous in scale. Here’s a short part of what he said on the call. (I have edited his language for clarity.)

BAKUN: Trafficking was one of the biggest problems we saw from the very first day. We saw a lot of people coming here to the train station [and elsewhere]. They had boards offering free transport to Germany or France or somewhere else. So we were worried. And we talked with the police, we talked with the border guards and they checked a lot of these people out. But about two to three thousand cars come here every day with people looking for people—which creates a tough situation.

I saw one woman going off with a man, and I’d heard that they didn’t know each other. So I asked [her], “Do you know this man? Is he or family or something like that?”

She said, “No.”

I said, “But you’ve met him before?”

And she said, “No, we just met on Instagram. I am talking to him about transportation.”

I said , “It's not safe to take transportation with someone unknown.”

But she told me that it was none of my business.

And that's the truth. The people coming through the border are free people. They move [into] Poland, and they are free. They can do whatever they want—they can take a bus, they can take a train or go with someone unknown by car. So that that's a problem for us. We now have a system for hopefully preventing it by having every refugee coming to a center to be registered, as well as every [volunteer and] driver, so that if a car takes two, three, four, five people, we have a record of that. We keep that data for long time in case something bad should happen. And also we try to follow up with people by phone and ask, “Are you safe?” Obviously, we can’t do it for everyone. But I think the system is helpful. It’s very important for us that people reach their destination safely.

This was a visceral insight into a topic I’d been thinking about since last week when the first reports of human trafficking at the border emerged and I happened to meet Deb O’Hara-Rusckowski, the President of the NGO Global Strategic Operatives, who told me about the challenges her organization is facing on the Ukrainian border.

Below is my conversation with O’Hara-Rusckowski, edited and condensed for clarity.

ny times logoNew York Times, Germany Moves Toward Gas Rationing in Standoff Over Ruble Payments, Melissa Eddy, March 30, 2022. Germany began preparing for eventual shortages of natural gas on Wednesday, as the country’s economy minister pointed to growing concerns that Russia could cut off deliveries unless payments on existing contracts were made in rubles.

The government activated the first step of a national gas emergency plan that could, eventually, lead to the rationing of natural gas. Wednesday’s action — the first step, or “early warning stage” — involves setting up a crisis team of representatives from the federal and state governments, regulators and private industry, said Robert Habeck, the economy minister and vice chancellor.

The move illustrates the risk facing European countries that rely on Russian oil and gas as the war in Ukraine drags on. On Monday, energy ministers from the Group of 7 nations rejected a demand by Russia that the country be paid for its supplies in rubles. Several European energy companies have said payment in rubles would require a renegotiation of long-term contracts.

“We will not accept any breach of the private contracts,” Mr. Habeck said.

The ongoing standoff is part of attempts from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to push back against a wide-ranging raft of economic sanctions aimed at punishing the Kremlin for invading neighboring Ukraine.

The country’s economy minister pointed to concerns that Russia could cut off deliveries unless payments were made in rubles. Follow economy updates.

Reuters, Russia won't demand immediate switch to rouble gas payments, Kremlin says, Staff Report, March 30, 2022. Russia will not immediately demand that buyers pay for its gas exports in roubles, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, promising a gradual shift and saying Russia should work on an idea to widen the list of its exports requiring rouble payment.

President Vladimir Putin issued an order last week for Russian gas, which accounts for 40% of European needs, to paid for in roubles instead of dollars or euros.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia's top lawmaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the European Union would have to pay in roubles if it wanted Russian gas and said oil, grain, metals, fertiliser, coal and timber exports could be priced the same way. read more

The government, the central bank and Gazprom (GAZP.MM) are due to present proposals for the switch by Thursday.

Asked whether the payments should be in roubles starting from Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Absolutely no."

"As we discussed before, payments and delivery is a time consuming process ... This does not mean that a tomorrow's delivery should be paid (in roubles). From a technological point of view, this is a more prolonged process," he said.

Putin's order to charge "unfriendly" countries in roubles for Russian gas boosted the Russian currency after it plunged to all-time lows when West imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. European gas prices also rocketed up.

The Russian demand has been rejected by European countries, which pay for Russian gas mostly in euros and say Russia is not entitled to redraw contracts, and by the G7 group of nations.

Commenting on the Russian rouble plan, Anatoly Aksakov, head of the financial committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said this week: "I believe we don't have to change the law, it's all stipulated there.""

"The foreign currency will be exchanged at a market rate, which will be set at the Moscow Exchange," he said. "They can buy the roubles wherever."

 ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Russia’s war is complicating the path India is trying to walk among world powers, Mujib Mashal, March 30, 2022. India has been reluctant to criticize Russia, long an important ally. But China’s rise, and its closeness to Vladimir Putin, is creating new pressure.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel Bolsters Security Amid Deadliest Wave of Terrorist Attacks in Years, Patrick Kingsley, March 30, 2022. The Israeli Army and the police scaled up their ground presence the morning after the latest shooting brought the death toll from attacks this month to 11.

Israel security forces bolstered their presence across the country and the occupied territories early Wednesday, the morning after a Palestinian gunman killed five people in the fifth attack in less than two weeks.

The recent surge in violence and fears of even more attacks prompted the Army to send reinforcements to the occupied West Bank, where the gunman behind Tuesday night’s attack lived. Forces also deployed along the boundary between Israel and Gaza. The police said they were turning their focus almost exclusively to counterterrorism operations while scaling up their presence on the streets.

The attack came on the eve of Land Day, an annual Palestinian commemoration of Arab protests in 1976 against state efforts to expropriate private Palestinian land in northern Israel. Those protests helped catalyze Palestinian national consciousness.

“After a period of quiet, there is a violent eruption by those who want to destroy us, those who want to hurt us at any price, whose hatred of Jews, of the State of Israel, drives them crazy,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a video he recorded himself because he is currently infected with the coronavirus and isolating. “They are prepared to die — so that we will not live in peace.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Ex-Commander of Canada’s Military Pleads Guilty to Obstruction, Ian Austen, March 30, 2022. The investigation that led to charges against Jonathan Vance, a former chief of Canada’s defense staff, has also ensnared other current and former Canadian military commanders.

Canada’s former top military commander pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice on Wednesday in connection with a military police investigation into allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct while leading the country’s military.

Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the defense staff, is one of several current and former Canadian military commanders under investigation for sexual impropriety. The growing scandal has undermined public confidence in Canada’s military.

“This is as low as it gets,” said Michel Drapeau, a former Canadian military officer who now teaches law at the University of Ottawa. “It raised serious apprehension as to how did this guy go so far and stay in position for five years given what we’ve come to know.”

Mr. Vance, 58, became the first former or current top military commander ever to face criminal charges last year when military police made the obstruction charge which, in an unusual move, was referred to the civilian justice system for prosecution. Several military law experts said that it is not possible to prosecute current or former chiefs of the defense staff under the military system.

ny times logoNew York Times, Bangladesh Sentences 4 to Death for Blogger’s Murder, Saif Hasnat, March 30, 2022.  The victim, who had promoted secularism, was among several writers fatally attacked in the country in 2015.

A special tribunal in eastern Bangladesh announced on Wednesday that four men had been sentenced to death for the 2015 murder of a blogger and writer who had promoted secularism in the Muslim-majority country.

The victim, Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, a banker by profession who wrote for the platform Free Mind, was among several bloggers and writers fatally attacked that year. He was chased down in the eastern city of Sylhet by four men, who stabbed him to death on a street close to his home and left his body near a pond.

“We are happy with the verdict,” Somor Bijoy Shee Shakhor, Mr. Das’s brother-in-law, told The New York Times. “We cannot get Ananta back. The only thing we want is justice.”

Just 10 weeks before Mr. Das’s death in May 2015, Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American who was the moderator of Free Mind, had also been killed, by machete-wielding assailants as he was leaving a book fair in Dhaka, the capital.

ny times logoNew York Times, Two U.K. Judges Quit Hong Kong Court, Citing Lost Freedoms, Austin Ramzy, March 30, 2022. They had served on the territory’s highest court, part of an arrangement to retain links to the common law world after Hong Kong returned to China.

The president of Britain’s Supreme Court said Wednesday that he and a colleague were stepping down from their roles on Hong Kong’s highest court because the administration of the Chinese territory had “departed from values of political freedom and freedom of expression.”

 Their resignations will heighten scrutiny of Hong Kong’s British-style legal system, which the former British colony kept even after it returned to Chinese control in 1997. While the system has long had a reputation of independence, Beijing’s imposition of a strict national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 has put it under increasing pressure to uphold the government’s crackdown on dissent.

Judges from countries including Britain, Australia and New Zealand have served as nonpermanent judges on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal alongside the city’s chief justice and other local judges. The arrangement was devised to maintain the legal system’s contact with the greater common law world even after control of the territory returned to Beijing.'

 Recent Global Headlines

 

Pro-Trump Insurrerrection, Riot

washington post logoWashington Post, White House logs from Jan. 6 show 7-hour gap in Trump calls, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, March 30, 2022 (print ed.). The House select committee is now investigating whether it has the full record and whether Trump communicated that day through backchannels, phones of aides or personal disposable phones, according to people familiar with the probe.

Internal White House records from the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that were turned over to the House select committee show a gap in President Donald Trump’s phone logs of seven hours and 37 minutes, including the period when the building was being violently assaulted, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.

The lack of an official White House notation of any calls placed to or by Trump for 457 minutes on Jan. 6, 2021 – from 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m. – means the committee has no record of his phone conversations as his supporters descended on the Capitol, battled overwhelmed police and forcibly entered the building, prompting lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence to flee for safety.

The 11 pages of records, which consist of the president’s official daily diary and the White House switchboard call logs, were turned over by the National Archives earlier this year to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Washington Post, Read the White House Daily Diary from Jan. 6, 2021
Washington Post, Read the Presidential Call Log from Jan. 6, 2021

 

Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). Below is a scene from the insurrection riot (Photo via Shutterstock).

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge says nonviolent Jan. 6 defendants shouldn’t get ‘serious jail time,’ Spencer S. Hsu and Tom Jackman, March 30, 2022 (print ed.). A Trump appointee disputes that Capitol breach cases are unique, stirring a debate over how to hold individuals accountable in mass crime.

A federal judge criticized U.S. prosecutors for seeking jail time for some nonviolent Donald Trump supporters in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, but not for left-wing activists who protested the 2018 Senate confirmation of Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.

“I know that the government believes that the January 6th cases are sui generis” — or one of a kind — “and therefore can’t be compared to other trevor mcFadden Customcases. But I don’t agree,” said U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden, right, a 2017 Trump appointee. He called the riots the latest in Washington’s history of high-profile and politically divisive mass demonstrations.

“It does feel like the government has had two standards here, and I can’t abide by that,” McFadden said. The judge added that before Jan. 6, he could not remember seeing a nonviolent, first-time misdemeanant “sentenced to serious jail time … regardless of their race, gender or political affiliation.”

McFadden spoke out Wednesday in sentencing Capitol riot defendant Jenny Cudd, a 37-year-old florist and one-time Republican mayoral candidate from Midland, Tex., who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing. Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office for Washington asked the judge to sentence Cudd to 75 days in jail and one year probation. Instead, he imposed two month’s probation and a $5,000 fine, contrasting her case with that of Tighe Barry, an activist with the left-wing antiwar Code Pink group.

The judge said that the same prosecutor’s office in 2019 sought 10 days behind bars for Barry, who stood on a chair, held up a poster, and shouted at senators from the back row in one of Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in September 2018, and returned to protest three weeks later in violation of a stay away order.

“The government’s sentencing recommendation here is just so disproportionate to other sentences for people who have engaged in similar conduct,” said McFadden, adding that Barry, a frequent demonstrator with 14 prior arrests, accidentally knocked a chair into a bystander when Capitol Police arrested him. “I don’t believe in some sort of aggregate justice.”

Barry was sentenced to six days.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Three big takeaways from Trump’s missing Jan. 6 phone logs, Greg Sargent, right, March 29, 2022. In another bid for the greg sargent“Worse than Watergate” files, it turns out there is a seven-hour gap in Donald Trump’s phone logs on the day of the insurrection attempt. According to documents obtained by The Post and CBS News, there is no record of then-President Trump’s calls on Jan. 6, 2021, from just after 11 a.m. to shortly before 7 p.m.

That means there’s a big black hole in the record when it comes to Trump’s conversations throughout the period during which the mob assaulted the U.S. Capitol and violence raged over several hours.

The documents, which were turned over to the House select committee examining Jan. 6, do show that Trump had many calls before 11 a.m. and after 6 p.m. that were apparently related to the coup effort. That suggests Trump held many calls related to the insurrection between those two times that are not officially accounted for.

Here are big takeaways:

  • The noncooperation of Trump’s allies makes this story worse. We already know Trump spoke to many key players by phone while the violence unfolded, thanks to dogged reporting and the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation thus far.
  • The Jan. 6 committee may already have records of missing calls. That’s because the committee has already subpoenaed the phone records of some of these key players, as CNN recently reported, and this includes Meadows. The committee has already started receiving some of this information, per CNN.

Recent Headlines

 

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Facebook paid GOP firm to malign TikTok, Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harwell, March 30, 2022. The firm, Targeted Victory, pushed local operatives across the country to boost messages calling TikTok a threat to American children. “Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger,'" one campaign director said.

facebook logoFacebook parent company Meta is paying one of the biggest Republican consulting firms in the country to orchestrate a nationwide campaign seeking to turn the public against TikTok.

The campaign includes placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping tiktok logo square Customtake down its biggest competitor.

These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users.

Employees with the firm, Targeted Victory, worked to undermine TikTok through a nationwide media and lobbying campaign portraying the fast-growing app, owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, as a danger to American children and society, according to internal emails shared with The Washington Post.

"Targeted Victory needs to “get the message out that while Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat especially as a foreign owned app that is #1 in sharing data that young teens are using,” a director for the firm wrote in a February email.

Campaign operatives were also encouraged to use TikTok’s prominence as a way to deflect from Meta’s own privacy and antitrust concerns.

“Bonus point if we can fit this into a broader message that the current bills/proposals aren’t where [state attorneys general] or members of Congress should be focused,” a Targeted Victory staffer wrote.

The emails, which have not been previously reported, show the extent to which Meta and its partners will use opposition-research tactics on the Chinese-owned, multibillion-dollar rival that has become one of the most downloaded apps in the world, often outranking even Meta’s popular Facebook and Instagram apps. In an internal report last year leaked by the whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook researchers said teens were spending “2-3X more time” on TikTok than Instagram, and that Facebook’s popularity among young people had plummeted.

 

More On Ukraine, Russia

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Koch Industries’ valentine to Vladimir Putin, Dana Milbank, March 30, 2022. Give Koch Industries credit for consistency: It’s aiding the foes of democracy at home and abroad.

In the two weeks since I wrote about U.S. companies that remained in Russia despite Vladimir Putin’s savage invasion of Ukraine, corporations have, admirably, continued stampeding to the exits.

More than 450 multinational companies have withdrawn from Russia in some form, according to the list maintained by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and his team at the Yale School of Management, sending a clear message to Russians that Putin’s actions are beyond the pale.

Some of the pullbacks from Russia have been little more than a “smokescreen,” Sonnenfeld says, including candy makers Nestlé and Mondelez; sandwich-chain Subway; hoteliers Hilton and Hyatt; agricultural giants Cargill and ADM; and oil servicers Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes. But these firms at least made symbolic gestures.

Then there’s the worst of the worst, in Sonnenfeld’s lowest category — those corporations “Digging In” and refusing to reduce activities in Russia. Only eight U.S. companies have this dubious distinction, Sonnenfeld’s team tells me: medical-device maker Align Technology, Internet company Cloudflare, International Paper, tire manufacturer Titan International, insurer FM Global, crane maker Manitowoc, laser producer IPG Photonics — and that recidivist corporate offender, Koch Industries.

Koch chairman Charles Koch (brother David died in 2019) is a top funder of right-wing candidates and causes, notably efforts to roll back voting rights. Now the maker of Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups and many other household brands is aiding Russia as it rolls back democracy in Ukraine rather less subtly.

Koch, keeping two glass manufacturing plants running in Russia, says it “will not walk away from our employees there or hand over these manufacturing facilities to the Russian government,” arguing that doing so would “do more harm than good.”

Sonnenfeld called those claims “absolutely ludicrous,” “arrogant” and “such a tortured logic it’s beyond absurd.” Koch’s website indicates that its software business Infor, its electronics business Molex and its industrial products business Koch Engineered Solutions also continue to do business in Russia. Their imports, exports and taxes help prop up the Russian economy, and therefore Putin’s war effort.

At the same time, various Koch-funded groups have been arguing against sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States. As Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby of the newsletter Popular Information reported, Dan Caldwell, vice president for foreign policy at Stand Together, an umbrella group for the Koch network, said the “Stand Together community” believes that “broad-based economic sanctions rarely achieve their desired policy outcomes.” Caldwell previously suggested “neutrality” between Russia and Ukraine. Similar criticism of sanctions came from people affiliated with the American Institute for Economic Research, Defense Priorities and Concerned Veterans for America, all groups with Koch ties.

  natalya vorozhbit bad roads

Financial Times, Ukrainian film-maker Natalka Vorozhbit: ‘I tried to warn the world,’ Interview by Izabella Kaminska, March 30, 2022. The playwright and director on how her unblinking movie ‘Bad Roads,' about Donbas (shown above), presaged the current war.

It’s the eve of an expected offensive on Kyiv by Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces and Natalka Vorozhbit, Ukrainian playwright and film-maker, is sheltering with her family in a house on the outskirts of the city. Her lights are turned to their dimmest setting in accordance with local recommendations.

In an evening Zoom call via an interpreter, she tells me that she has been hearing bombings since 5am. Everyone in Kyiv and abroad expects an aerial assault on the city to begin that night. The temperature outside is cold, about three degrees celsius.

If raids begin, Vorozhbit will have to shelter with her family in the cellar. Nobody, she says, knows what the next day will bring. It is a strange moment to be talking about her film Bad Roads, an adaptation of her 2017 play, but since it is about the realities of living through the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in the breakaway regions of Ukraine, it seems tragically timely. She says it is her way of warning people in the west that what has happened to Ukraine could happen to them too.

“We’re dealing with a crazy man who is ready to push the button on nuclear weapons, and we should stop it altogether,” she says. “It’s a threat to everyone.” Vorozhbit, who until recently used the Russian spelling of her first name, Natalya, tells me she considers current events the culmination of everything she feared would happen if the west continued to ignore Ukraine’s troubles with Russia in the past 10 years or so. “None of this would be happening if Ukraine was part of Nato, and of course I am hoping for the support of Nato,” she says. She remains stoic even though clearly shattered by recent events.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What Putin the hockey player doesn’t understand, Ken Dryden (right, author, former National Hockey League all-star and ken dryden 2011Canadian Member of Parliament), March 30, 2022. Vladimir Putin likes hockey. Every year, he builds an ice rink in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square. For any occasion he can devise, he puts on his hockey equipment and plays.

It’s not a surprise that Putin feels as he does. Russians love hockey for the same reason Canadians do. It comes straight from their landscape, from winter, from cold. It punishes us, but at the same time absorbs us, so we almost don’t feel its pain. To play hockey, you have to be tough, in lots of ways. And Russians are tough. Tough enough to survive their history. To survive Leningrad.

But there are a few things Putin doesn’t understand about hockey. One is that when he dresses in his hockey gear and skates with real players, and those players let him skate by untouched, and goalies flounder to one side, letting him score five, six, seven times — real hockey players, real goalies, don’t do that. Except maybe once in awhile, and not for anyone over the age of 5. A real hockey player would never ask it, expect it or allow it.

Putin also seems not to understand about hockey something that might relate to this moment: The tough are initiators, they deliver hard, devastating hits, but the really tough take those hits … and keep going, to win in the end. Just like in Leningrad. Obliterating the Ukrainian city of Mariupol doesn’t make you tough.

canadian flagThere’s something else that Putin doesn’t understand about hockey, and about sports generally. I’ve been thinking about this because September will mark the 50th anniversary of the eight-game series in which Canada’s best hockey players faced Russia’s best for the first time.

Russia had begun to play hockey only in 1946; Canada had originated the game more than 70 years earlier and its players were regarded as undeniably the best in the world. Yet, because professionals couldn’t compete against amateurs, the Russians (technically, the Soviets) had been winning the hockey “World Championships” year after year and were called world champions.

Finally, in 1972, Canada had its chance. The result would be a smashing, overwhelming victory and celebration for the nation that invented the sport.

Except in Game 1 in Montreal, the Russians won 7-3. The series wasn’t decided until Game 8, when Canada’s Paul Henderson scored with 34 seconds left. I was one of Canada’s goalies. Putin, then a 19-year-old law student in Leningrad, surely watched.

The series, as he would have seen, was the most passionate and hard-fought in both countries’ hockey histories. It had to do with nationalism and the politics of the Cold War. It had to do with the games themselves. The Russian players didn’t like what we did to them, and we didn’t like what they did to us. It was Us vs. Them.

Yet, surprising to players on both sides, those feelings of hatred softened gradually, until another, deeper feeling set in. The same feeling that has been experienced by those in other bitter sports rivalries — Celtics and Lakers, Yankees and Red Sox, and many others. It’s born of the realization that each pushes the other beyond what they think possible, forcing them to be better than they’ve ever been. Hatred and blind partisanship give way to respect and appreciation — a sense of shared humanity is revealed. Us vs. Them becomes US.

Until a few weeks ago, Canadians and Russians were planning to celebrate the 1972 series together, with Canadian players traveling to Russia, and Russian players coming to Canada. Such a shared celebration, we players have come to understand, would only be right.

Now, the reunion likely won’t happen. It’s too bad. Too bad for the players, too bad for Canadians and Russians who lived through that historic competition. And too bad for Putin, who surely would have been there, part of those celebrations, and could have observed firsthand how nationalism can give way to something more enduring.

He will miss seeing his great players, proud Russians, and Canadian players, proud Canadians, feel proud about something that doesn’t entirely have to do with being Russian or Canadian. Taking all this in, Putin might have finally gained a sense of what it’s like to be a real player. He might have come to understand that no matter how geopolitics divides us, humanity lies beneath.

Ken Dryden, a former goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, was a member of Canada’s Parliament from 2004 to 2011. His books include “Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey.”

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, Value systems and wars against fascism, Wayne Madsen, March 30, 2022. There is a war against wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallfascism being waged on the streets and farmland of Ukraine by Ukrainian military personnel, civilian home guard forces, and foreign volunteers.

In many respects, the Ukrainian defense against Russia is not much different from that of the Spanish Second Republic, aided by the International Brigades, against the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco and his Nazi German and Italian Fascisti allies.

wayne madesen report logoI know a thing or two about the Spanish Civil War. My father served as a merchant marine volunteer for the International Brigades, assisting in the transfer of weapons from Leningrad and Klaipeda, Lithuania to the anti-fascist Spanish Loyalists still in control of the port of San Sebastian. Of course, the actions of my father and of his pro-Social Democratic Danish Seaman's Union had caught the attention of the Gestapo.

When I see reports of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing their country, I'm reminded of the stories I grew up hearing as a child about World War II in Europe.

When I see reports of Russians forcing Ukrainians, including children and the elderly, into detention "camps" in Russia; Russians laying waste to entire cities; storming libraries to rid the shelves of books considered to be anti-Russian; torturing Ukrainian journalists, and other war crimes, it is my upbringing that shapes my views. And for that I don't apologize to anyone. They include so-called "progressives," who have taken the word of Vladimir Putin, a revanchist fascist in the mold of Hitler.

 

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia delivering an address Friday, March 25, 2022, on

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, top, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (File photos).

volodymyr zelenski t shirt siege

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine outlines peace proposals in talks with Russia, Annabelle Timsit, Rachel Pannett, Miriam Berger, Adela Suliman and Mary Ilyushina, March 30, 2022 (print ed). Russia says it will ‘drastically reduce’ Kyiv, Chernihiv attacks; On front lines, Ukrainian commander boasts Russians have been repelled; Kazakhstan, a Moscow ally, invites businesses leaving Russia to set up shop; Fact Checker: The truth about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian ‘bio labs.’

After a day of talks, Ukrainian negotiators outlined some proposals that Russia said it would look into — and Moscow said it would “drastically reduce” military activity near Kyiv and Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations.”

Members of the Ukrainian delegation said they proposed that countries such as Israel, Turkey and France would “guarantee” Ukraine’s security in the future, in exchange for Kyiv’s neutrality and pledge not to host foreign military bases or forces. Ukraine, whose parliament voted in 2014 to drop its “neutral” status and seek NATO membership after Russia attacked and annexed Crimea, also suggested holding consultations with Russia about Crimea’s status over the next 15 years.

Vladimir Medinsky, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that the negotiations were constructive and that Russia is taking steps to de-escalate the conflict. He appeared to suggest that Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could meet in person if a peace agreement were signed.

Here’s what to know

  • Ukraine is warning its negotiators not to eat, drink or even touch anything in talks with Russia in Istanbul, following allegations that Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and others may have been poisoned during previous talks.
  • The governor of Mykolaiv, a city in southern Ukraine, said a missile struck the Mykolaiv Regional State Administration building. Ukraine’s emergency services said that seven people died and 22 were injured in the attack, and that a search and rescue operation is ongoing.
  • Ukrainian forces have reclaimed control of a few small fronts in the country’s north, officials said Monday, including Trostianets, a town about 20 miles from its northeastern border with Russia. Ukrainian officials said they have control of Irpin, a suburb of the capital, although its mayor said fighting is still underway.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Talks Progress, Russia Says It Will Reduce Attacks in Northern Ukraine, Anton Troianovski, Megan Specia and Ivan Nechepurenko, March 30, 2022 (print ed). The gains in negotiations came as Ukrainian troops appeared to push back Russian forces around Kyiv. Russia said a meeting between President Vladimir V. Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky could occur once a draft peace agreement was ready.

Meanwhile, across the European Union and Britain, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reshaping state spending priorities and forcing governments to prepare for threats thought to have been long buried — from a flood of European refugees to the possible use of chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons by a Russian leader who may feel backed into a corner.

The result is a sudden reshuffling of budgets as military spending, humanitarian assistance and essentials like agriculture and energy are shoved to the front of the line, with other pressing needs like education and social services likely to be downgraded.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Says Putin Comment Expressed Personal Outrage; Ukraine Claims to Recapture Towns as Mariupol Reels, Dan Bilefsky and joe biden black background resized serious fileShashank Bengali, March 28, 2022. Did Not Imply Policy of Seeking to Oust Putin, President Says; Zelensky Says Ukraine Is ‘Ready’ to Discuss Neutrality. Despite talk of Russia focusing its ambitions in the east, action on several battlefronts suggested a more dynamic and volatile situation. Ukraine and Russia will meet this week for in-person talks.

President Biden refused to retract his comment that Vladimir Putin should be removed as Russia’s president, saying he was “expressing the moral outrage I felt.”

Meanwhile, fighting raged across Ukraine on Monday as the war entered its fifth week, with Ukrainian forces appearing to make gains in the northeast, and Russia continuing its unrelenting assault against the southern port city of Mariupol, which was desperately trying to fend off a takeover.

Russian FlagIn recent days, the Russian military has signaled that it might be taming its territorial ambitions by focusing on cementing control of eastern Ukraine. But the fighting on Monday across multiple battlefronts suggested a more dynamic and volatile situation. Russian forces were trying to capture key towns east and northwest of Kyiv, Ukrainians claimed advances in the northeast of the country and Russia was edging closer to capturing Mariupol.

With fighting raging, Ukraine appeared to make gains in the northeast, and Russia continued its assault against the southern port city of Mariupol.
Ahead of talks, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was open to discussing a neutral geopolitical status. Here’s the latest.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: The truth about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian ‘bio labs,’ Glenn Kessler, March 30, 2022 (print ed.). The Russian Defense Ministry knows how to stir up the interest of the right-leaning news media in the United States — just mention Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

“Hunter Biden’s Rosemont Seneca investment fund financed the Pentagon’s military biological program in Ukraine, said Igor Kirillov, head of the radiation, chemical and biological defense forces of the Russian Armed Forces.”

— RIA Novosti, Russian state-owned domestic news agency, March 24

“The National Pulse is reporting tonight apparently a private equity firm run by Hunter Biden funded some of the research into pathogens in these bio labs.”

— Tucker Carlson, remarks on his Fox News show, March 24

“Russia’s assertion that President Biden’s son Hunter was ‘financing … biological laboratories in Ukraine’ was based in truth, according to e-mails reviewed by The Post.”

— New York Post article, March 26

Russia for years has been seeding the ground to claim that the United States set up biowarfare labs in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics — claims that have been revived as part of the invasion of Ukraine. As part of his media presentation, Igor Kirillov of the Russian armed forces alleged the labs were part of the U.S. plot to study the natural immunity of the population to identify the most dangerous pathogen for people in the region.

The Defense Ministry released a complex-looking flow chart with spaghetti lines depicting not only the involvement of Hunter Biden but financier George Soros in the alleged financing of “bioweapons labs.” But the reference to Hunter Biden was catnip to the right-leaning media. Reporters immediately dug into their copies of Biden’s laptop, supposedly left behind for repair in a Delaware shop in April 2019, and dredged up emails that they suggested validated the Russian report.

First of all, as we have previously documented, these are not bioweapons labs, but biological research facilities focused on better detecting, diagnosing and monitoring infectious-disease outbreaks. Second, random emails can be easily misinterpreted without additional reporting.

We’ve dug into the records and discussed the deals in question with people involved. The reporting from those news outlets is false. Hunter Biden has come under scrutiny for business deals in places such as Ukraine and China that took place while his father was vice president. But he was not “financing” these labs. In fact, he was not part of a decision to invest in a company at the center of the Russian allegations, he did not profit from it as he was kicked out of the investment firm

Recent Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Will Ask Congress to Pass Key Covid Aid, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, March 30, 2022. President Biden’s remarks, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, come as a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 has become the dominant version of the coronavirus among new U.S. cases, according to C.D.C. estimates. In Asia, Hong Kong is running out of coffins as it faces a surge in deaths.

President Biden will step up the pressure on Congress to approve billions of dollars in emergency coronavirus relief aid, using a speech at the White House on Wednesday to deliver what an official described as an urgent and direct message that will warn that U.S. progress against Covid-19 would be at severe risk if Congress fails to act.

Mr. Biden will also spotlight a new one-stop-shopping coronavirus website, covid.gov, aimed at helping Americans navigate access to testing, treatment, vaccines and masks, and to assess the risk of Covid-19 in their neighborhoods, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the president’s remarks. The site went live Wednesday morning; Mr. Biden’s remarks were scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Eastern time.

The website, and Mr. Biden’s speech, are part of a broader effort to ease the nation out of pandemic crisis mode and usher in what experts are calling the “next normal” — a phase in which Americans will learn to live with the risk of Covid-19 and to adjust behavior like mask wearing based on whether cases and hospitalizations are rising or falling.

That strategy depends on the availability of vaccines and therapeutics, though, and the administration says it is out of money for both. The White House has been pleading with Republicans in Congress to approve $22.5 billion in emergency aid to purchase new vaccines and therapeutics, and to reimburse doctors who care for uninsured Covid-19 patients.

The federal government said recently that a fund established to reimburse doctors was no longer accepting those claims for testing and treatment “due to lack of sufficient funds.”

While new coronavirus case reports have been falling in the United States, a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 has driven a surge in cases in Europe, and many experts expect that the United States may soon see the same. Should that occur, it will be the first major test of the country’s new strategy of living with the virus while limiting its impact.

Around the country, state and local governments have relaxed restrictions like mask and vaccine mandates. White House and federal health officials have been making the case for weeks that Americans now have the tools — testing infrastructure, masks and other mitigation strategies, and drugs and vaccines — to live with the threat of the virus.

On Tuesday, federal health officials cleared second booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for everyone 50 or older and for many people with certain immune deficiencies, at least four months after their first booster. They described the move as an effort to bolster waning immunity against severe disease before another surge can take hold.

The White House said that following remarks on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden would receive a second booster himself.

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Biden announced a new “test to treat” initiative — a network of pharmacies and other sites where people can be tested for the coronavirus and then receive antiviral drugs if they test positive. More than 2,000 sites are participating, the White House said. The covid.gov website features a “test-to-treat” locator tool to help people find participating locations.

Under a banner saying “Find Covid-19 guidance for your community,” the website asks users to enter the name of the county in which they live. It then identifies whether the risk of Covid-19 in that county is low, medium or high, depending on factors including the number of hospitalizations and available hospital beds.

The site also links to other government websites, including vaccines.gov and covidtests.gov, that help users access vaccines and find nearby testing sites.

  • U.S. states are closing their mass testing and vaccination sites.
  • The BA.2 subvariant of Omicron accounts for over half of new U.S. coronavirus cases, the C.D.C. says.
  • Hong Kong is running low on coffins amid its deadliest Covid wave, and other global virus news.
  • In an industrial Chinese province, some workers say they’ve been quarantined in the hospitals they were building.
  • Americans are taking fewer precautions two years into the pandemic, poll says.
  • Pfizer and Moderna boosters help protect Americans who received J.&J. shots, the C.D.C. reports.
  • Twenty-one states file a lawsuit to block the mask mandate on public transportation.

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA authorizes second coronavirus booster shot for people 50 and older, Carolyn Y. Johnson, March 30, 2022 (print ed.). The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized a second booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for people 50 and older, a decision intended to help shore up protection against severe illness.

fda logoThe shots, which can be given at least four months after a first booster dose, are not a permanent solution to the pandemic. But with a still-more-transmissible version of the omicron coronavirus variant becoming dominant in the United States, even a short-term immunity boost among those at risk of severe illness could provide a valuable layer of protection.

The second booster is expected to become available immediately after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reaches a decision on who should get it.

The CDC is expected to say that people in the age group may get a fourth shot, instead of an explicit recommendation that they do so, a reflection of the ongoing debate about the benefits of additional doses and uncertainties about the future of the pandemic. The agency is also expected to highlight vulnerable populations within the age group who may get the shot.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated March 30, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 483,939,070, Deaths: 6,153,178
U.S. Cases:     81,658,973, Deaths: 1,004,244
Indian Cases:   43,021,982, Deaths:    521,098
Brazil Cases:   29,852,341, Deaths:    659,012

Related Recent Headlines:

 

Law, Courts, Crime, Race 

washington post logoWashington Post, Hackers hit popular video game, stealing more than $600 million in cryptocurrency, Steven Zeitchik, March 30, 2022 (print ed.). A blockchain powering the NFT game Axie Infinity was attacked, leading to one of the biggest crypto swipes to date.

In a brazen attack on popular video game Axie Infinity, hackers swiped $625 million in cryptocurrency, the game company’s executives said Tuesday, marking one of the largest crypto-thefts to date amid rising rates of such crime.

The theft occurred last Wednesday, according to the company, when hackers infiltrated part of Ronin, the underlying blockchain that powers the game. Developers at Sky Mavis, which runs both Axie Infinity and Ronin, said they only discovered the breach Tuesday.

“There has been a security breach on the Ronin Network,” the company said in a post in its newsletter. “We are working directly with various government agencies to ensure the criminals get brought to justice.”

Axie Infinity uses a “play-to-earn” system that combines finance and gaming, powered by NFTs, unique tokens that can be traced back to a user. Players buy creature-centric NFTs to gain entry into the game, and then spend more crypto to acquire and breed various beasts they can deploy in battles. The NFTs have both in-universe and real-world value, adding a kind of digital-money buzz to traditional gameplay.

The blockchain is the public record of where cryptocurrency transactions take place, functioning as a financial nerve center.

The Ronin hackers made off with some 174,000 ETH, the currency associated with the Ethereum blockchain, and nearly 26 million in USDC; collectively the two are currently worth abut $625 million. USDC is a stablecoin, which means its value is pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Crypto hacks are becoming more common as the amount of trading activity increases. A hack of the Bitmart platform in December resulted in a theft of nearly $200 million in currency, while last summer a hacker hit Poly Network, which allows blockchains to work together, for a number exceeding $600 million as well, though eventually returned the money.

 Recent Law-Related Headlines

 

U.S. Elections, Politics, Governance, Economy

 

ted cruz beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Cruz’s battle to keep Trump in power has cost him friends, sparks questions, Michael Kranish, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) went to extraordinary lengths to court former president Donald Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

Sen. Ted Cruz (shown above in a file photo) was dining near the Capitol on the evening of Dec. 8, 2020, when he received an urgent call from President Donald Trump. A lawsuit had just been filed at the Supreme Court designed to overturn the election Trump had lost, and the president wanted help from the Texas Republican.

“Would you be willing to argue the case?” Trump asked Cruz, as the senator later recalled it.

“Sure, I’d be happy to” if the court granted a hearing, Cruz said he responded.

The call was just one step in a collaboration that for two months turned the once-bitter political enemies into close allies in the effort to keep Trump in the White House based on the president’s false claims about a stolen election. By Cruz’s own account, he was “leading the charge” to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president.

The Attack: The Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event.

An examination by The Washington Post of Cruz’s actions between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, shows just how deeply he was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power. As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

washington post logoWashington Post, 4.4 million Americans quit or changed jobs in February as turnover remained very high, Abha Bhattarai and Andrew Van Dam, March 29, 2022. Demand for workers remains brisk, with employers reporting 11.3 million job openings last month. Americans continued to switch jobs at near-record rates in February, with 4.4 million workers leaving their positions in a historically tight labor market.

Employers hired 6.7 million people in February, while reporting 11.3 million job openings, according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We continue to have an unusual amount of churn in the job market,” said Erica Groshen, an economist at Cornell University and former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “We were all just holding our breaths during the worst parts of the pandemic, but now that’s changing.”

The latest report builds on months of economic momentum, with U.S. employers adding a record 7 million jobs over the past year. The economy created 678,000 positions in February alone, sending the unemployment rate to a pandemic low of 3.8 percent, Labor Department data show.

U.S. adds 678,000 jobs in February, with labor market nearing full recovery from pandemic

That strong reading — which added to the Federal Reserve’s resolve to begin hiking interest rates this month — has also given new leverage to workers as they look for more favorable working conditions and higher pay.

ny times logoNew York Times, New Supply Chain Risk: 22,000 Dockworkers Who May Soon Strike, Peter S. Goodman, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). With the contract of union workers at West Coast ports nearing expiration, the prospect of a labor impasse threatens another shock to the global economy. In a world contending with no end of economic troubles, a fresh source of concern now looms: the prospect of a confrontation between union dockworkers and their employers at some of the most critical ports on earth.

The potential conflict centers on negotiations over a new contract for more than 22,000 union workers employed at 29 ports along the West Coast of the United States. Nearly three-fourths work at the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the primary gateway for goods shipped to the United States from Asia, and a locus of problems afflicting the global supply chain.

The contract for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expires at the end of June. For those whose livelihoods are tied to ports — truckers, logistics companies, retailers — July 1 marks the beginning of a period of grave uncertainty.

A labor impasse could worsen the floating traffic jams that have kept dozens of ships waiting in the Pacific before they can pull up to the docks. That could aggravate shortages and send already high prices for consumer goods soaring.

St. Louis Today, Democrat vows to stand up to ‘billionaire heiresses’ as new rival enters U.S. Senate race in Missouri, Jack Suntrup, Democrat vows to stand up to ‘billionaire heiresses’ as new rival enters U.S. Senate race in Missouri.

It didn’t take long for a Democrat running for U.S. Senate to try out a line of attack against his newest intraparty rival.

Lucas Kunce’s campaign, in a statement issued Tuesday, called its candidate a “warrior” who would “stand up” to “billionaire heiresses” — a not-so-veiled jab at Trudy Busch Valentine who emerged Monday to challenge Kunce and others in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary.

Valentine is the daughter of Anheuser-Busch beer baron August “Gussie” Busch, who owned the baseball Cardinals and died in 1989.

Her announcement was the most eyebrow-raising development to come out of the last two days of candidate filing, which ends Tuesday.

Valentine’s entrance Monday preceded another Democrat’s exit from the race. Former state Sen. Scott Sifton, who had been considered Kunce’s chief rival, dropped out after Valentine filed paperwork.

Instead of endorsing Kunce, and therefore helping to consolidate the Democratic field, Sifton threw his weight behind Valentine.

It was unclear to what extent Sifton coordinated with Valentine on her announcement. Sifton, through a spokesman, didn’t respond to a question about why he backed Valentine instead of endorsing Kunce.

Sifton had focused most on criticizing former Gov. Eric Greitens during this campaign rather than intraparty rivals. Greitens’ second ex-wife, Sheena Chestnut Greitens, last week accused him in a court filing of abuse.

“As Democrats, we need to be united,” Sifton said in a statement. “Eric Greitens simply cannot be our next senator, and I know that Trudy Busch Valentine gives us the best chance to win in November.”

On Tuesday, an unsigned statement from Kunce’s campaign said: “Missouri deserves a warrior for working people, a proven patriot who’s served his country, who has the courage to stand up to criminal politicians, corrupt elites running massive multinational corporations, and billionaire heiresses who have been stripping our communities for parts. Lucas Kunce is that warrior.”

Asked how Valentine had stripped communities for parts, a spokesman for Kunce’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Valentine’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Post-Dispatch reported in May that Kunce didn’t vote in Missouri in 2018. He said he voted in Washington, D.C., for the November 2020 elections, but the D.C. Election Board had no record of that.

The Republican field, meanwhile, drew six major candidates by the end of candidate filing: Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey and U.S. Reps. Billy Long and Vicky Hartzler.

Mike Tomlin: Mitch Trubisky 'has won more than anybody else' that was available

 

Media, Communications, Entertainment News

 

joe biden oil ban march 8 2022

Press Run, Commentary: Are only Dems guilty of "gaffes?" Eric Boehlert, right, March 30, 2022. Most of President Joe Biden’s historic foreign policy eric.boehlertspeech given over the weekend was washed away by the press.

For days, journalists fixated not on how the Poland address marked a fundamental change in the West’s relationship with Russia, but on a nine-word ad-lib that Biden added to the text, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” in reference to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Journalists rushed in to claim the “gaffe” had produced “shock waves” around the world. (It did not.)

Swinging into theater criticism mode and searching for a conflict narrative, the press obsessed over the semantics story, portraying Biden as “undisciplined” and creating a monster “distraction” — an “unforced error” — as the war in Ukraine drags on.

Biden doubled down, saying that he was expressing his “moral outrage” over the mass killing that Putin had unleashed. He confirmed his comment came from the heart and did not represent a policy change for the U.S., which is not trying to change the regime in Moscow.

Still, journalists refused to drop the weird gotcha coverage. They hit Biden on Monday with 14 separate questions at a press briefing (“It sounded like you were calling for regime change in Russia”), pretending the story was still shrouded in confusion. Meanwhile, the press didn’t ask a single question about the state of the Ukraine war.

The media theatrics were especially galling since the previous president spent four years struggling to string together coherent sentences, garbling his way through a presidency.

Famous for being a habitual liar, as well as boasting often impossible-to-follow syntax that left people scratching their heads trying to make sense of his oddball pronouncements, Trump obliterated the idea that an occasional gaffe ought to define a politician, and the press stopped caring about his nonstop missteps. (To this day, Trump thinks "stealth" fighter planes are invisible to the human eye.)

Biden’s nine-word comment about Putin? That was Katie bar the door for the media — “gaffe” was mentioned on cable news over 100 times with regards to the Biden-Putin story, according to TVeyes.

It certainly appears the breathless pursuit of “gaffes” is a sport the press plays only with Democrats. “You will notice that the use of "gaffe" almost disappeared during Trump's term as president because most of what he said was a gaffe— or would have been under a previous president,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen.

How many news articles and television reports did you see in 2020 about Trump "gaffes" and how they might stand in the way of his re-election bid?

Probably the same number as I did, which was basically zero. Even though Trump was urging people to inject bleach into their veins.

The press for years has been overly interested in Biden “gaffe” coverage. The president famously grew up with a severe stutter, which he overcame but sometimes finds himself at a temporary loss for words. The press likes to lean into that to generate news, and especially during the 2020 campaign. One Hill headline read, “Do Biden's Gaffes Make Him Unelectable?” Mediaite labeled it an "insane gaffe" when Biden at a rally mistakenly referred to Super Tuesday as Super Thursday, before quickly catching his mistake. That doesn't seem "insane."

Biden ended up getting more votes for president than any candidate in U.S. history, confirming that voters don’t care about Democratic “gaffes.”

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

ap logoAssociated Press via HuffPost, Sandy Hook Families Reject Alex Jones Settlement Offer Of $120,000 Per Plaintiff, Staff Report, March 30, 2022. A trial is planned to determine how much he should pay the plaintiffs.

Infowars host Alex Jones offered to pay $120,000 per plaintiff to resolve a lawsuit by relatives of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims who said he defamed them by asserting the massacre never happened, according to court filings Tuesday. The offer was quickly rejected by the families.

A Connecticut judge found Jones liable for damages in November, and a trial is planned to determine how much he should pay the families.

The plaintiffs said they have been subjected to harassment and death threats from Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy promoted on his show.

The court filings posted online said: “Mr. Jones extends his heartfelt apology for any distress his remarks caused.”

Last week Jones defied a court order to attend a deposition near his home in Austin, Texas, to provide testimony ahead of the trial. Jones said he was ill. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday on a request by the plaintiffs to sanction Jones for not cooperating.

Lawyers for the families rejected the settlement offer within a few hours, saying in court filings that it was a “transparent and desperate attempt by Alex Jones to escape a public reckoning under oath with his deceitful, profit-driven campaign against the plaintiffs and the memory of their loved ones lost at Sandy Hook.”

Twenty first graders and six educators were killed in the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school sued Jones, Infowars and others in Connecticut over the hoax conspiracy. Jones has since said he believes the shooting did occur.

Jones also was found liable for damages in similar lawsuits filed in Texas by relatives of Sandy Hook victims, and also faces trial later this year.

 

joan joyce ted williams frank spec shea joan chandler via nyt

ny times logoNew York Times, Joan Joyce, a Sensation in Softball and More, Is Dead at 81, William McDonald, Updated March 30, 2022. Her pitching feats — including striking out Ted Williams — were legend. And her prowess in basketball, volleyball and golf as well spoke to her all-around athletic greatness.

On a warm August night in 1961, Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter” who had finished his Hall of Fame baseball career the year before as the last hitter to bat .400 in a single season, strode to the plate before an overflow crowd at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury, Conn., to face a young softball pitching phenom by the name of Joan Joyce.

The occasion was a charity fund-raising exhibition. Williams was in his Boston Red Sox uniform, No. 9. Joyce stood on the mound 40 feet away (regulation in women’s softball, as opposed to 60 feet 6 inches in major-league baseball), clad in the red-and-white jersey and shorts she wore as the premier pitcher for the Raybestos Brakettes, one of the top teams in the women’s game, with its home field 30 miles to the south in suburban Stratford, Conn.

It was one of several such exhibitions in which Williams and Joyce faced off in the early 1960s, but the one in Waterbury — Joyce’s hometown, where the fans were chanting “Joanie, Joanie Joanie!” — proved to be the most memorable. It would become an oft-told tale in the lore that enveloped Joyce over her long career as, many would say, the most dominant player in the history of women’s fast-pitch softball and — given her prowess in basketball, volleyball and golf as well — as one of the greatest female athletes of her generation.

ny times logoNew York Times, Bruce Willis to Step Away From Acting After Aphasia Diagnosis, Maya Salam, March 30, 2022. His ex-wife, Demi Moore, announced online that the actor was recently diagnosed with a disorder that affects the ability to understand or express speech.

On Wednesday, Demi Moore announced on Instagram that her ex-husband Bruce Willis, the prolific action-movie star, had recently been diagnosed with aphasia — a disorder that affects the brain’s language center and a person’s ability to understand or express speech — and that he would be stepping away from acting.

“To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” Moore’s post reads. “As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”

“We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him,” it continued. “As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up,’ and together we plan to do just that.”

The post is signed “Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel & Evelyn” — referring to Emma Heming Willis, Willis’s wife, and his children. Moore is the mother of Rumer, Scout and Tallulah, and Heming Willis is mother to Mabel and Evelyn.

washington post logoWashington Post, Will Smith refused to leave the Oscars after slapping Chris Rock, academy says, Travis M. Andrews, March 30, 2022. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony after he slapped Chris Rock, but Smith refused.

“Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the academy said in a statement. “We also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.”

The revelation came after the academy’s board of governors met to initiate “disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.”

During the ceremony on Sunday, Rock made a joke at the expense of Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife. Smith strode onto the stage, struck Rock across the face and returned to his front-row seat, where he twice yelled, “Keep my wife’s name out your f---ing mouth.”

Later in the ceremony, he accepted the best-actor award for his role in “King Richard” and gave a teary speech in which he apologized to the academy and his fellow nominees, but not Rock. The next day, he posted an Instagram apology that addressed the comedian. Rock has not spoken publicly about the event.

Questions abounded after the incident as to why the academy did not remove Smith from the ceremony.

The academy said it is providing Smith with “at least 15 days’ notice of a vote regarding his violations and sanctions, and the opportunity to be heard beforehand by means of a written response.” The board will meet again on April 18, at which point it “may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions.”

It also called Smith’s actions a “deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television.”

“Mr. Rock, we apologize to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment,” the statement continued. “We also apologize to our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event."

Rolling Stone, Conspiracy Theorist Lara Logan Thanks God She Was ‘Dumped by Fox,’ Tim Dickinson, March 30, 2022. The former star journalist insisted she’s relieved to have avoided “taint” of network’s pro-Ukraine coverage, while touting vaccine conspiracies and Putin propaganda.

Lara Logan — the former 60 Minutes star reporter, turned Fox Nation host, turned far-right screedster — has spoken out in the most explicit terms yet about her break up with Rupert Murdoch’s company in the wake of her comments comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to a genocidal Nazi psysician.

“I was dumped by Fox,” Logan said in a Monday video interview on a right-wing streaming show, “That’s what happened to me.”

During a Fox News appearance last November, Logan compared Fauci, the top doctor guiding America’s Covid-19 response, to the Nazi physician known as the Angel of Death. “This is what people say to me: that [Fauci] doesn’t represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele,” Logan said, clarifying that she was referring to “Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the Second World War and in the concentration camps.”

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These remarks were roundly condemned, including by the Auschwitz Memorial which called Logan’s comments “shameful,” disrespectful of Mengele’s victims, and “a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decline.”

Logan was, at the time, a frequent Fox News talking head, who also hosted the show “Lara Logan Has No Agenda” on Fox’s streaming platform Fox Nation. (She was only paid for the latter.) Logan has not appeared on Fox News since. Her show is still available on Fox Nation, but no new episodes have been added since her remarks. A spokesperson for Fox would not speak on the record about Logan’s status with the network, but did not push back against her account of a split.

In earlier interviews, Logan had voiced some optimism of a return to Fox’s good graces, hoping for a possible return to Fox Nation. “I don’t know at this point how that’s going to turn out,” she said in January, adding of the controversy she’d stirred, “They might not care!”

But in an appearance Monday on the “The Stand Up America US Show” [sic], Logan described her separation from Fox as a definitive breakup, describing the network’s apparent decision to “dump” her as a gift from the heavens. “God has intervened in my life in very significant ways to spare me from being tainted,” Logan said. “I was taken off the air at Fox just before they went into a whole marathon of war porn in Ukraine.”

While most Americans have sympathized with the victims of Putin’s deadly blitz, Logan has consistently echoed Russian talking points, decrying (as Putin has propagandized) a plague of “Nazis” in Ukraine, while also touting the Russian dictator as a geopolitical hero — “the man standing between us and this New World Order.”

Logan on Monday blasted her erstwhile Fox colleagues for being totally in the tank for Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenzky, with the exception, she noted, of “a few people like Jesse Watters and Tucker Carlson who are doing their best to add some context and to show what this war is really about.”

Offering her own conspiratorial “context,” Logan insisted that “we’re being lied to” about Ukraine. She claimed without evidence that the country’s military is overrun not just by “neo-Nazis” but by “the descendants of Ukraine’s Nazis … the actual Nazis … the Nazis of World War II.”

Logan’s devolution from a star reporter on 60 Minutes to a far-right-wing ranter has been a source of consternation in journalism circles, prompting headlines like “What Happened to Lara Logan?” from the Poynter Institute.

npc journalism institute logo

National Press Club Journalism Institute, Homeless man living in tree attacks New York Post reporter and photographer, according to NYPD, and is released without bail (New York Daily News/New York Post), National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, and Julie Moos, March 29-30, 2022  Lights. Camera. Crime: How a Philly-born brand of TV news harmed Black America. (Inquirer).

CNNCNN takes a $100 million step into streaming today (Washington Post) / Earlier: CNN+ readies for debut: Next news innovation or too late to the streaming wars? (Deadline)

■ Vogue, Bon Appétit and other Condé Nast staffers form union (Washington Post) / BuzzFeed Union votes to authorize newsroom strike amid escalating tensions; CEO Jonah Peretti was a no-show to Tuesday’s negotiations (The Wrap)

■ ‘White House comms director Kate Bedingfield says at the press briefing that the White House has "no official comment on the altercation" between Will Smith and Chris Rock, and says Biden did not watch the Oscars.’ (Max Tani) / White House ASL interpreters bring the president's message to a larger audience (CBS News) / Oscars American Sign Language live stream racks up 300,000 views, 1 million impressions (The Wrap) / Oscars: How 'CODA’ helped spotlight ASL interpretation, deaf community (The Hollywood Reporter) / Oscars audience grew by 555,000 after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (New York Times) / How an Oscars photographer captured the moment Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (CNN) / Will Smith vs. Chris Rock through the eyes of an L.A. Times photographer (Los Angeles Times) / The real reason Will Smith's Oscars outburst was censored on US broadcasts (Washington Post) / Earlier: What was happening in the ABC control room as Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (Variety)

■ Cincinnati broadcast journalist says he's 'taking a break from sports reporting to focus on my mental health' (WVXU)

■ ‘If Alden is a cancer on journalism, Lee is COVID, MRSA and SARS’: Lee quietly slashes jobs following hostile takeover attempt (Axios)

■ CBS News under fire for hiring former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (Mediaite) / Fox News’ ratings surprise: ‘The Five’ keeps outperforming primetime (Variety)

■ ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl talked with Fox about replacing Chris Wallace (Daily Beast)

■ 'Stupid of me:' Nick Lachey says he overreacted after incident with photographer (Cincinnati Enquirer)

■ Photographer captures photos of family hours before they died in Ohio car crash (WTVG/Gray News) / 4 women photographers on the hardest photo they ever took (WIRED)

 Recent headlines

March 29

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia delivering an address Friday, March 25, 2022, on

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, top, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (File photos).

volodymyr zelenski t shirt siege

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Ukraine outlines peace proposals in talks with Russia, Annabelle Timsit, Rachel Pannett, Miriam Berger, Adela Suliman and Mary Ilyushina, March 29, 2022. Russia says it will ‘drastically reduce’ Kyiv, Chernihiv attacks; On front lines, Ukrainian commander boasts Russians have been repelled; Kazakhstan, a Moscow ally, invites businesses leaving Russia to set up shop; Fact Checker: The truth about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian ‘bio labs.’

After a day of talks, Ukrainian negotiators outlined some proposals that Russia said it would look into — and Moscow said it would “drastically reduce” military activity near Kyiv and Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations.”

Members of the Ukrainian delegation said they proposed that countries such as Israel, Turkey and France would “guarantee” Ukraine’s security in the future, in exchange for Kyiv’s neutrality and pledge not to host foreign military bases or forces. Ukraine, whose parliament voted in 2014 to drop its “neutral” status and seek NATO membership after Russia attacked and annexed Crimea, also suggested holding consultations with Russia about Crimea’s status over the next 15 years.

Vladimir Medinsky, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that the negotiations were constructive and that Russia is taking steps to de-escalate the conflict. He appeared to suggest that Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could meet in person if a peace agreement were signed.

Here’s what to know

  • Ukraine is warning its negotiators not to eat, drink or even touch anything in talks with Russia in Istanbul, following allegations that Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and others may have been poisoned during previous talks.
  • The governor of Mykolaiv, a city in southern Ukraine, said a missile struck the Mykolaiv Regional State Administration building. Ukraine’s emergency services said that seven people died and 22 were injured in the attack, and that a search and rescue operation is ongoing.
  • Ukrainian forces have reclaimed control of a few small fronts in the country’s north, officials said Monday, including Trostianets, a town about 20 miles from its northeastern border with Russia. Ukrainian officials said they have control of Irpin, a suburb of the capital, although its mayor said fighting is still underway.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: As Talks Progress, Russia Says It Will Reduce Attacks in Northern Ukraine, Anton Troianovski, Megan Specia and Ivan Nechepurenko, March 29, 2022. The gains in negotiations came as Ukrainian troops appeared to push back Russian forces around Kyiv. Russia said a meeting between President Vladimir V. Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky could occur once a draft peace agreement was ready.

Meanwhile, across the European Union and Britain, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reshaping state spending priorities and forcing governments to prepare for threats thought to have been long buried — from a flood of European refugees to the possible use of chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons by a Russian leader who may feel backed into a corner.

The result is a sudden reshuffling of budgets as military spending, humanitarian assistance and essentials like agriculture and energy are shoved to the front of the line, with other pressing needs like education and social services likely to be downgraded.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Says Putin Comment Expressed Personal Outrage; Ukraine Claims to Recapture Towns as Mariupol Reels,Dan Bilefsky and joe biden black background resized serious fileShashank Bengali, March 28, 2022. Did Not Imply Policy of Seeking to Oust Putin, President Says; Zelensky Says Ukraine Is ‘Ready’ to Discuss Neutrality. Despite talk of Russia focusing its ambitions in the east, action on several battlefronts suggested a more dynamic and volatile situation. Ukraine and Russia will meet this week for in-person talks.

President Biden refused to retract his comment that Vladimir Putin should be removed as Russia’s president, saying he was “expressing the moral outrage I felt.”

Meanwhile, fighting raged across Ukraine on Monday as the war entered its fifth week, with Ukrainian forces appearing to make gains in the northeast, and Russia continuing its unrelenting assault against the southern port city of Mariupol, which was desperately trying to fend off a takeover.

Russian FlagIn recent days, the Russian military has signaled that it might be taming its territorial ambitions by focusing on cementing control of eastern Ukraine. But the fighting on Monday across multiple battlefronts suggested a more dynamic and volatile situation. Russian forces were trying to capture key towns east and northwest of Kyiv, Ukrainians claimed advances in the northeast of the country and Russia was edging closer to capturing Mariupol.

With fighting raging, Ukraine appeared to make gains in the northeast, and Russia continued its assault against the southern port city of Mariupol.
Ahead of talks, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was open to discussing a neutral geopolitical status. Here’s the latest.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden’s $5.8 Trillion Budget Would Raise Military and Social Spending, Staff Reports, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden unveiled his latest budget proposal amid a war in Ukraine and concerns at home about rising costs. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Biden’s budget calls for additional military spending and higher taxes on the wealthiest.
  • With a center-leaning budget, Biden bows to political reality.
  • Biden calls for increased military spending amid the war in Ukraine and national security concerns.
  • Comparing spending levels is usually simple. Except this year.
  • Biden’s budget focuses on fighting inflation, but that’s mainly a Fed project.
  • The $17.5 billion request for the Interior Department focuses on climate change and tribal nations.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency would get a big increase in funding.
  • Biden requests 5 percent increase in funding for homeland security.

washington post logoWashington Post, 4.4 million Americans quit or changed jobs in February as turnover remained very high, Abha Bhattarai and Andrew Van Dam, March 29, 2022. Demand for workers remains brisk, with employers reporting 11.3 million job openings last month. Americans continued to switch jobs at near-record rates in February, with 4.4 million workers leaving their positions in a historically tight labor market.

Employers hired 6.7 million people in February, while reporting 11.3 million job openings, according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We continue to have an unusual amount of churn in the job market,” said Erica Groshen, an economist at Cornell University and former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “We were all just holding our breaths during the worst parts of the pandemic, but now that’s changing.”

The latest report builds on months of economic momentum, with U.S. employers adding a record 7 million jobs over the past year. The economy created 678,000 positions in February alone, sending the unemployment rate to a pandemic low of 3.8 percent, Labor Department data show.

U.S. adds 678,000 jobs in February, with labor market nearing full recovery from pandemic

That strong reading — which added to the Federal Reserve’s resolve to begin hiking interest rates this month — has also given new leverage to workers as they look for more favorable working conditions and higher pay.

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA authorizes second coronavirus booster shot for people 50 and older, Carolyn Y. Johnson, March 29, 2022. The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized a second booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for people 50 and older, a decision intended to help shore up protection against severe illness.

fda logoThe shots, which can be given at least four months after a first booster dose, are not a permanent solution to the pandemic. But with a still-more-transmissible version of the omicron coronavirus variant becoming dominant in the United States, even a short-term immunity boost among those at risk of severe illness could provide a valuable layer of protection.

The second booster is expected to become available immediately after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reaches a decision on who should get it.

The CDC is expected to say that people in the age group may get a fourth shot, instead of an explicit recommendation that they do so, a reflection of the ongoing debate about the benefits of additional doses and uncertainties about the future of the pandemic. The agency is also expected to highlight vulnerable populations within the age group who may get the shot.

 

Pro-Trump Insurrerrection, Riot

washington post logoWashington Post, White House logs from Jan. 6 show 7-hour gap in Trump calls, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, March 29, 2022. The House select committee is now investigating whether it has the full record and whether Trump communicated that day through backchannels, phones of aides or personal disposable phones, according to people familiar with the probe.

Internal White House records from the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that were turned over to the House select committee show a gap in President Donald Trump’s phone logs of seven hours and 37 minutes, including the period when the building was being violently assaulted, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.

The lack of an official White House notation of any calls placed to or by Trump for 457 minutes on Jan. 6, 2021 – from 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m. – means the committee has no record of his phone conversations as his supporters descended on the Capitol, battled overwhelmed police and forcibly entered the building, prompting lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence to flee for safety.

The 11 pages of records, which consist of the president’s official daily diary and the White House switchboard call logs, were turned over by the National Archives earlier this year to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Washington Post, Read the White House Daily Diary from Jan. 6, 2021
Washington Post, Read the Presidential Call Log from Jan. 6, 2021

 

Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). Below is a scene from the insurrection riot (Photo via Shutterstock).

 capitol riot shutterstock capitol

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump ‘more likely than not’ committed crime in trying to block confirmation of Biden’s win, judge says, Matt Zapotosky and
John Wagner, March 28, 2022. A federal judge said in a ruling Monday that then-President Donald Trump “more likely than not” committed a federal crime in trying to obstruct the congressional count of electoral college votes on Jan. 6, 2021.

The determination from U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, right, came in a ruling addressing scores of sensitive emails that Trump ally and david o carterconservative lawyer John Eastman had resisted turning over to the House select committee investigating the insurrection. Eastman wrote key legal memos aimed at denying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

capitol riot nyt jan 7 2021“Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” Carter wrote. A Trump representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 44-page opinion offers a careful analysis of 111 documents the committee wanted, ultimately concluding that lawmakers are entitled to have 101 of them.

But it is less notable for what it might given the committee access to and more for the judge’s analysis of Trump’s conduct leading up to the riot on Jan. 6. Breaking down the law on each point, Carter, who sits on the Central District of California and was nominated by President Bill Clinton, writes it is “more likely than not” that Trump and Eastman conspired to disrupt the counting of the electoral votes on Jan. 6 — which would be a crime under federal statutes.

“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” the judge concludes. “Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower — it was a coup in search of a legal theory. The plan spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the deaths of several law djt march 2020 Customenforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”

The judge’s ruling does not mean Trump will be charged with, or even investigated for, a crime — though it will certainly increase pressure on the Justice Department to intensify its probe of the Jan. 6 riot and potentially examine the conduct of Trump himself. Carter noted that he was only assessing the legal arguments surrounding whether Eastman could be compelled to turn over documents to the Jan. 6 committee.

“More than a year after the attack on our Capitol, the public is still searching for accountability. This case cannot provide it,” Carter wrote. “The Court is tasked only with deciding a dispute over a handful of emails. This is not a criminal prosecution; this is not even a civil liability suit.”

The judge ultimately wrote on whether there was evidence Trump had committed a crime because the committee had alleged as much in a bid to convince a judge it should be allowed to access Eastman’s emails.

The committee cited the “crime-fraud exception,” essentially arguing that because there was evidence Eastman advised Trump in the commission of a crime, he could not legally shield his communications using attorney-client privilege.

Carter zeroed in on 11 documents as he assessed whether the “crime-fraud exception” applied. He determined it did for just one: “a chain forwarding to Dr. Eastman a draft memo written for President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.”

Carter wrote that the memo recommended that Vice President Mike Pence reject electors from contested states on Jan. 6.

“This may have been the first time members of President Trump’s team transformed a legal interpretation of the Electoral Count Act into a day-by-day plan of action,” the judge wrote. “The draft memo pushed a strategy that knowingly violated the Electoral Count Act, and Dr. Eastman’s later memos closely track its analysis and proposal. The memo is both intimately related to and clearly advanced the plan to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”

 

U.S. House Jan. 6 insurrection investigating committee members Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jamie Raskie (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.U.S. House Jan. 6 insurrection investigating committee members Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jamie Raskie (D-MD) are shown, left to right, in a file photo.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jan. 6 committee backs contempt charges for two former Trump aides, Jacqueline Alemany and Amy B Wang, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). The committee voted for charges against former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro and former communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted Monday night to hold two former Trump aides in criminal contempt of peter navarro white house imageCongress for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend the charges against former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro, right, and former communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr. The House will soon vote on whether to refer Navarro and Scavino to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a vice chair of the committee, called Navarro and Scavino key witnesses and rejected their claims of executive privilege as the committee has moved to a “critical stage of this investigation.”

Cheney said during the hearing that the committee has questions about Scavino’s work doing social media for the former president — specifically about “his interactions with an online forum called ‘The Donald,’ and with Qanon, a bizarre and dangerous cult.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats Agree to Pay $113,000 to Settle Campaign Spending Inquiry, Charlie Savage, March 30, 2022. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party described payments to a law firm that commissioned scrutiny of Trump-Russia ties — leading to the Steele dossier — as legal services, not opposition research.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic Party have agreed to pay $113,000 in fines to settle a Federal Election Commission investigation into whether they violated a campaign finance disclosure law when they funded an opposition research effort into Donald J. Trump and Russia that resulted in a discredited document known as the Steele dossier.

During the 2016 race, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee retained a law firm, Perkins Coie, which in turn hired a research group, Fusion GPS, that commissioned what became the dossier. In campaign spending disclosures, the campaign and the party said their payments to Perkins Coie were for legal services, not opposition research.

Dan Backer, a conservative lawyer, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on behalf of a group he leads, the Coolidge Reagan Foundation. It accused the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party of illegally hiding that they had been funding an opposition research effort.

The commission has not yet made public the findings of its investigation. But the agency sent a letter about the inquiry and its resolution to Mr. Backer on Tuesday, which he posted on his group’s website. The letter said the commission agreed that the campaign and the party had probably violated campaign finance law.

ny times logoNew York Times, Why a Ruling Declaring Trump ‘Likely’ Broke Laws May Not Mean He Will Be Prosecuted, Charlie Savage, March 29, 2022. A high-profile ruling about a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack turned on a lower standard of proof than a criminal trial.

A federal judge’s conclusion this week that former President Donald J. Trump likely committed felonies related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election intensified scrutiny on the question of whether the Justice Department can, should or will try to charge him with the same crimes.

But the fact that a judge reached that conclusion does not necessarily mean that a prosecution would arrive at the same outcome. Here is an explanation.
What is the case?

It is a dispute over a subpoena issued by the House committee that is investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters who were seeking to stop Congress and the vice president at the time, Mike Pence, from certifying Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory.

The subpoena instructs Chapman University to turn over emails from a former professor, John Eastman, who supplied legal arguments to Mr. Trump supporting his attempts to overturn the election. Mr. Eastman filed a lawsuit to block the subpoena, arguing that his messages were covered by attorney-client and attorney work-product privilege.

david o carterIn his ruling, Judge David O. Carter, right, of the Federal District Court for the Central District of California said the Jan. 6 committee could get certain emails under an exception to attorney-client privilege for communications that sought to further a crime or fraud because it was “more likely than not” that Mr. Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct a government proceeding.
What is the theory that Mr. Trump committed crimes?

Mr. Trump, in public and in private, pressured Mr. Pence to reject or delay counting the Electoral College votes of states where Mr. Trump baselessly claimed that his loss to Mr. Biden had been fraudulent. The idea is that there was no legitimate basis for Mr. Pence to do so, so Mr. Trump’s pressure on him amounted to an attempt to unlawfully obstruct a government proceeding and defraud the government.

The evidence that Mr. Trump pressured Mr. Pence has been well established. The judge issued his ruling interpreting that evidence as likely amounting to a crime at this moment not because of a breakthrough in the investigation that uncovered new, conclusive evidence, but because of the timing of the subpoena lawsuit: The Jan. 6 committee needed to publicly argue that the crime-fraud exception applied so it could obtain Mr. Eastman’s emails, and the judge agreed.

Is the ruling a road map for an indictment?

Not necessarily, because the context is very different. As Judge Carter noted: “The court is tasked only with deciding a dispute over a handful of emails. This is not a criminal prosecution; this is not even a civil liability suit.”
What is a big challenge to prosecuting Mr. Trump?

Proving Mr. Trump’s state of mind — specifically, that he had the requisite criminal intent.

The obstruction statute, for example, says that for the defendant’s action impeding an official proceeding to be a crime, he had to act “corruptly.” But what that means is not detailed in the statute, and the Supreme Court has not definitively offered an answer, raising risks and complications for prosecutors evaluating a potential case.

One possibility, said Laurie L. Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, is that prosecutors would have to prove that Mr. Trump knew for sure that Mr. Pence had no lawful basis to do what he was asking. Another possibility is that prosecutors would need to prove only that Mr. Trump had at least some reason to believe that his conduct might be unlawful and proceeded anyway, she said.
Why is proving Mr. Trump’s mind-set tricky?

Because even though senior government officials were telling him there was no factual or legal basis for Mr. Pence to unilaterally reject some states’ electoral votes or otherwise slow down the certification, Mr. Eastman told Mr. Trump that he interpreted the law as giving Mr. Pence legitimate authority to take such a step.

Julie O’Sullivan, a Georgetown University criminal law professor, said in any criminal trial, it would ultimately be up to the jury to decide what Mr. Trump truly believed. Unless evidence emerges that he told someone at the time that he knew what he was saying was false, she said, that will be a challenge.

“The problem with Trump is defining his state of mind when it is so changeable,” she said. “He believes whatever he wants to think and it doesn’t necessarily have to be grounded in reality. That’s a tough argument to a jury, to say he knew any particular thing.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge says nonviolent Jan. 6 defendants shouldn’t get ‘serious jail time,’ Spencer S. Hsu and Tom Jackman, March 29, 2022. A Trump appointee disputes that Capitol breach cases are unique, stirring a debate over how to hold individuals accountable in mass crime.

A federal judge criticized U.S. prosecutors for seeking jail time for some nonviolent Donald Trump supporters in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, but not for left-wing activists who protested the 2018 Senate confirmation of Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.

“I know that the government believes that the January 6th cases are sui generis” — or one of a kind — “and therefore can’t be compared to other trevor mcFadden Customcases. But I don’t agree,” said U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden, right, a 2017 Trump appointee. He called the riots the latest in Washington’s history of high-profile and politically divisive mass demonstrations.

“It does feel like the government has had two standards here, and I can’t abide by that,” McFadden said. The judge added that before Jan. 6, he could not remember seeing a nonviolent, first-time misdemeanant “sentenced to serious jail time … regardless of their race, gender or political affiliation.”

McFadden spoke out Wednesday in sentencing Capitol riot defendant Jenny Cudd, a 37-year-old florist and one-time Republican mayoral candidate from Midland, Tex., who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing. Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office for Washington asked the judge to sentence Cudd to 75 days in jail and one year probation. Instead, he imposed two month’s probation and a $5,000 fine, contrasting her case with that of Tighe Barry, an activist with the left-wing antiwar Code Pink group.

The judge said that the same prosecutor’s office in 2019 sought 10 days behind bars for Barry, who stood on a chair, held up a poster, and shouted at senators from the back row in one of Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in September 2018, and returned to protest three weeks later in violation of a stay away order.

“The government’s sentencing recommendation here is just so disproportionate to other sentences for people who have engaged in similar conduct,” said McFadden, adding that Barry, a frequent demonstrator with 14 prior arrests, accidentally knocked a chair into a bystander when Capitol Police arrested him. “I don’t believe in some sort of aggregate justice.”

Barry was sentenced to six days.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Three big takeaways from Trump’s missing Jan. 6 phone logs, Greg Sargent, right, March 29, 2022. In another bid for the greg sargent“Worse than Watergate” files, it turns out there is a seven-hour gap in Donald Trump’s phone logs on the day of the insurrection attempt. According to documents obtained by The Post and CBS News, there is no record of then-President Trump’s calls on Jan. 6, 2021, from just after 11 a.m. to shortly before 7 p.m.

That means there’s a big black hole in the record when it comes to Trump’s conversations throughout the period during which the mob assaulted the U.S. Capitol and violence raged over several hours.

The documents, which were turned over to the House select committee examining Jan. 6, do show that Trump had many calls before 11 a.m. and after 6 p.m. that were apparently related to the coup effort. That suggests Trump held many calls related to the insurrection between those two times that are not officially accounted for.

Here are big takeaways:

  • The noncooperation of Trump’s allies makes this story worse. We already know Trump spoke to many key players by phone while the violence unfolded, thanks to dogged reporting and the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation thus far.
  • The Jan. 6 committee may already have records of missing calls. That’s because the committee has already subpoenaed the phone records of some of these key players, as CNN recently reported, and this includes Meadows. The committee has already started receiving some of this information, per CNN.

Washington Post, Opinion:Justice Thomas should recuse. Here’s why, Ruth Marcus, right, March 29, 2022. Or the chief justice should nudge him to do so.

ruth marcusHow do you solve a problem like Virginia?

Answer: It’s almost impossible, but the chief justice should try.

Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has long been known as a conservative — make that an extremely conservative — activist. What’s new — and what has brought her behavior to the fore — is the degree to which Thomas’s activism is on a collision course with her husband’s official duties.

In the days following the November 2020 election, Ginni Thomas sent then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows a series of histrionic texts asserting that “We are living through what feels like the end of America” and seeking action to overturn “the greatest Heist of our history.” She didn’t only praise the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 that preceded the insurrection at the Capitol, she attended it.

Having a spouse who is, at best, an insurrectionist sympathizer might not be disqualifying for a Supreme Court justice. But it should give the court pause about whether such a jurist can rule on cases related to the attempted coup.

The difficulty is that when it comes to deciding whether to step aside from hearing a case, Thomas, like the rest of the justices, is his own judge. The commonly proposed solution is to make Supreme Court justices subject to ethics rules, like other federal judges.

That would be a good step, if only to improve the atmospherics — but it wouldn’t solve the recusal problem. Federal law already requires that justices recuse themselves from cases in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

It isn’t hard to imagine Clarence Thomas similarly bristling if another Jan. 6 or election 2020 case arises. That is why Roberts ought to step in and suggest that Thomas consider recusal, for the good of the court. Because the Thomases’ continued poor judgment doesn’t reflect only on them. It tarnishes the institution.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What the Ginni Thomas furor warns about an outsize role of faith in politics, Michael Gerson, right, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). Among the michael gerson file photomany disturbing revelations in the post-2020-election text-message correspondence between Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is their tone of religious certainty.

“This is a fight of good versus evil,” wrote Meadows. “Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing.” In another, Thomas threatens: "You guys fold, the evil just moves fast down underneath you all.”

There is an air of absurdity in attributing a win to God only when Donald Trump is victorious. But Thomas and Meadows were deadly earnest. It is not enough to exercise power in their attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election. Their efforts must be covered in a thick goo of spirituality. The conspirators believed they were doing God’s work. But really, they were attempting to make the Creator of the universe into a partisan hack who favored their (half-baked) political ambitions. In the process, they demonstrated the manifold dangers of the religious impulse in the public realm.

Some of the problem is simple hypocrisy. In the aftermath of Jan. 6, Thomas wrote an apology of sorts to her husband’s former clerks. “I have likely imposed on you my lifetime passions,” she explained in an email. This month, she said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon that “a democratic system like ours needs to be able to discuss and debate rationally in the political square. I fear we are losing that ability.”

In her texts with Meadows, however, we see a significantly different attitude toward democratic dissent. Thomas passed along a report that had circulated on right-wing websites that the “Biden crime family” and “ballot fraud co-conspirators” were being arrested and sent to barges floating off Guantánamo Bay for eventual judgment by military tribunals. “I hope this is true,” she added.

It might be difficult to conduct rational debate above the din of waves near Gitmo. But given another sentiment Thomas passed along, it is probably not necessary. “The most important thing you can realize right now,” the text read, “is that there are no rules in war.” This was Thomas’s Christian contribution near the center of a political crisis fraught with threats of violence: “There are no rules.”

 

Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

 Recent headlines

 

More On Ukraine, Russia

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Putin and the Myths of Western Decadence, Paul Krugman, right, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine paul krugmanwas, first and foremost, a crime — indeed, the war crimes continue as you read this. But it was also a blunder. In less than five weeks Putin has destroyed Russia’s military reputation, battered his nation’s economy and strengthened the democratic alliances he hoped to undermine. How could he have made such a catastrophic mistake?

Part of the answer, surely, is strongman syndrome: Putin has surrounded himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear. All indications are that he went into this debacle believing his own propaganda about both his army’s martial prowess and the eagerness of Ukrainians to submit to Russian rule.

But there’s also reason to think Putin, like many of his admirers in the West, thought modern democracies were too decadent to offer effective resistance.

And here’s the thing: When I look at the United States, I worry that the West is, in fact, being made weaker by decadence — but not the kind that obsesses Putin and those who think like him. Our vulnerability comes not from the decline of traditional family values, but from the decline of traditional democratic values, such as a belief in the rule of law and a willingness to accept the results of elections that don’t go your way.

Of course, the idea that loose morals destroy great powers goes back centuries. In the Hollywood version of history, the Roman Empire fell because its elites were too busy with orgies to attend to the business of defeating barbarians. Actually, the timing is all wrong on that story, but I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Today’s right-wingers seem bothered less by weakness from sexual license than by weakness from gender equality: Tucker Carlson warned that China’s military was becoming “more masculine” while ours was becoming “more feminine, whatever feminine means anymore, since men and women no longer exist.” Senator Ted Cruz retweeted a video comparing a U.S. Army recruiting video with footage of a Russian paratrooper with a shaved head and declared that a “woke, emasculated military” might not be a good idea.

It would be interesting to know what has happened to that paratrooper since Putin invaded Ukraine. In any case, the heavy casualties suffered by Russia’s anti-woke military as it failed to overrun vastly inferior Ukrainian forces have confirmed what anyone who has studied history knows: Modern wars aren’t won with swaggering machismo. Courage and endurance, physical and moral, are as essential as ever; but so are more mundane things like logistics, vehicle maintenance and communications systems that actually work.

By the way, I can’t help mentioning that recent events have also confirmed the truism that many, perhaps most men who pose as tough guys … aren’t. Putin’s response to failure in Ukraine has been extremely Trumpian: insisting that his invasion is all going “according to plan,” refusing to admit having made any mistakes and whining about cancel culture. I’m half expecting him to release battle maps crudely modified with a Sharpie.

But back to the kind of decadence that really matters.

As I said, the Hollywood version of Rome’s decline and fall doesn’t stand up under examination. True, the spoils of empire made it possible for a few people to live in great luxury, possibly including the occasional orgy; the closest modern counterpart to that elite would be … Russian oligarchs. But Rome retained its territorial integrity and military effectiveness for centuries after the emergence of that pampered, libertine elite.

washington post logoWashington Post, Overview: Ukraine claws back territory in country’s north ahead of talks in Istanbul, Cate Cadell, Dan Lamothe and Mariana Alfaro, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). Western intelligence officials and others say Moscow seems to be changing tactics to focus most intensely on the eastern Donbas region after attempts to topple Kyiv and other key cities have stalled.

Ukrainian forces have reclaimed control of a few small fronts in the country’s north, officials said Monday, as Russia appears to be directing its fiercest attacks on besieged areas in the country’s east and south, including Mariupol.

As the war grinds into its second month, Ukrainian and Russian delegations are set to meet in Turkey on Tuesday for in-person negotiations. Kremlin officials have delivered icy remarks ahead of the talks, however, dampening prospects of a meaningful outcome. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday said his government should “stop indulging the Ukrainians” in negotiations.

In Washington, President Biden defended unscripted comments he made in Poland over the weekend when he said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” He clarified that he was “expressing moral outrage” and echoed aides who has said his comments didn’t represent a change in U.S. policy or a campaign to remove the Russian leader.

Western intelligence officials and others say Moscow seems to be changing tactics to focus most intensely on the eastern Donbas region where the invasion began, after attempts to topple capital Kyiv and other key cities have stalled.

Ukrainian forces have taken back Trostianets, a town south of Sumy that is about 20 miles from Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said. Ukrainian officials said the government had regained control of Irpin, a suburb of capital Kyiv.

Live updates: Read the latest news from Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Irpin Mayor Alexandar Markushin said in a video posted Monday that the area had been reclaimed and that “mopping up” was underway. Speaking from inside a vehicle and dressed in a green military-style vest, he told residents of the suburb not to return yet, as the fighting was ongoing.

washington post logoWashington Post, Kyiv will investigate video that appears to show Ukrainian forces shooting Russian prisoners of war, Joyce Sohyun Lee, Jon Swaine and Miriam Berger, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). The camera moves over a scene of misery. Men in Russian military uniforms lie bloody on the ground, stunned, with mangled legs.

More men, their hands trussed behind their backs, step from a teal van, kneel to the ground and are shot behind the kneecap at point-blank range, screaming in pain. The muzzle of a gun, in the hand of a man who appears to be a Ukrainian soldier, emits a bright flash.

A voice accuses Russian soldiers of “slamming” Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, where civilians have borne the brunt of relentless Russian bombardments. Translators who examined the video said Kharkiv is pronounced with a “h,” the Ukrainian way. Everyone in the clip speaks in Russian.

The video, the content of which Ukrainian authorities say they cannot confirm but will investigate, began circulating on pro-Russian media channels and on social media Sunday. It was filmed near a dairy plant in the village of Malaya Rohan, in the Kharkiv region, according to geolocation by open source researcher ErichAuerbach and verification by The Washington Post. It first appeared online on Sunday, two days after Ukrainian forces announced on Telegram that they had retaken the village.

washington post logoWashington Post, Germany, urged to ‘stop Putin’s war machine,’ resists Russian energy embargo, Isaac Stanley-Becker, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). A standoff between the chancellor and international economists, including a Notre Dame professor, illuminates the bind facing the government in Berlin.

It was Sunday evening, one month into Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine, and the German chancellor was exasperated.

The target of Olaf Scholz’s ire was unusual: not a foreign adversary or an opposition party, but rather international economists, including a professor thousands of miles away at the University of Notre Dame.
Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for the latest updates on Russia's war in Ukraine.

The professor, Rüdiger Bachmann, is a co-author of a paper published this month that’s galvanizing support for banning Russian energy imports. It’s one of several studies finding that such a move would harm the German economy but ultimately be manageable.

Those findings contrast with warnings from Scholz that an embargo would wreak havoc on the economy and risk social unrest. The chancellor voiced his displeasure with the experts in an interview with the broadcaster ARD, saying it was “irresponsible to add up mathematical models that then don’t work.”

“They get it wrong!” he exclaimed.

The standoff is at the heart of an intensifying debate in Germany over how quickly the country can wean itself off Russian oil and natural gas, and what sort of sacrifices the government should ask of the public.

Here’s where Russian oil flows

Germany relies on Russia for about 55 percent of its natural gas and 35 percent of its oil. Proponents of a boycott say it’s essential to act quickly to deny Moscow financing for its war in Ukraine. Scholz, though, has insisted on a more incremental approach.

He has promised to disentangle his country’s energy system from Kremlin-aligned companies and, in a significant shift, scuttled the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — a move the United States had urged for years. But the chancellor, a Social Democrat who leads a left-liberal coalition government, has ruled out an immediate embargo, claiming it would plunge Europe into recession and threaten “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia has killed civilians in Ukraine. Kyiv’s defense tactics add to the danger, Sudarsan Raghavan, March 29, 2022 (print ed.) (video). By stationing weapons in residential neighborhoods, Ukraine’s military may put civilians in Russia’s crosshairs.

Increasingly, Ukrainians are confronting an uncomfortable truth: The military’s understandable impulse to defend against Russian attacks could be putting civilians in the crosshairs. Virtually every neighborhood in most cities has become militarized, some more than others, making them potential targets for Russian forces trying to take out Ukrainian defenses.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: The truth about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian ‘bio labs,’ Glenn Kessler, March 29, 2022. The Russian Defense Ministry knows how to stir up the interest of the right-leaning news media in the United States — just mention Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

“Hunter Biden’s Rosemont Seneca investment fund financed the Pentagon’s military biological program in Ukraine, said Igor Kirillov, head of the radiation, chemical and biological defense forces of the Russian Armed Forces.”

— RIA Novosti, Russian state-owned domestic news agency, March 24

“The National Pulse is reporting tonight apparently a private equity firm run by Hunter Biden funded some of the research into pathogens in these bio labs.”

— Tucker Carlson, remarks on his Fox News show, March 24

“Russia’s assertion that President Biden’s son Hunter was ‘financing … biological laboratories in Ukraine’ was based in truth, according to e-mails reviewed by The Post.”

— New York Post article, March 26

Russia for years has been seeding the ground to claim that the United States set up biowarfare labs in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics — claims that have been revived as part of the invasion of Ukraine. As part of his media presentation, Igor Kirillov of the Russian armed forces alleged the labs were part of the U.S. plot to study the natural immunity of the population to identify the most dangerous pathogen for people in the region.

The Defense Ministry released a complex-looking flow chart with spaghetti lines depicting not only the involvement of Hunter Biden but financier George Soros in the alleged financing of “bioweapons labs.” But the reference to Hunter Biden was catnip to the right-leaning media. Reporters immediately dug into their copies of Biden’s laptop, supposedly left behind for repair in a Delaware shop in April 2019, and dredged up emails that they suggested validated the Russian report.

First of all, as we have previously documented, these are not bioweapons labs, but biological research facilities focused on better detecting, diagnosing and monitoring infectious-disease outbreaks. Second, random emails can be easily misinterpreted without additional reporting.

We’ve dug into the records and discussed the deals in question with people involved. The reporting from those news outlets is false. Hunter Biden has come under scrutiny for business deals in places such as Ukraine and China that took place while his father was vice president. But he was not “financing” these labs. In fact, he was not part of a decision to invest in a company at the center of the Russian allegations, he did not profit from it as he was kicked out of the investment firm

 

President Biden comforts a Ukrainian refugee in a camp in Poland on Saturday, March 26, 2022 (White House photo by Joe Walsh).

President Biden comforts a Ukrainian refugee in a camp in Poland on Saturday, March 26, 2022 (White House photo by Joe Walsh).

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Putin shouldn’t remain in power. Biden’s advisers blew it, Jennifer Rubin, March 28, 2022. No civilized person thinks it’s a good thing that Russian President Vladimir Putin — widely and correctly regarded as a war criminal and the architect of a unjustifiable war of aggression — leads a nuclear-armed country. President Biden went off script during his address in Warsaw on Saturday to say so. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden exclaimed.

“On Putin, Biden expressed what billions around the world and millions inside Russia also believe. He did not say that the US should remove him from power,” tweeted Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia (and contributing columnist to The Post). “There is a difference.” Precisely. Biden was not calling for assassination, invasion or foreign-directed regime change.

Nevertheless, a panicked White House rushed forth to assure the world what Biden really meant: “The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change.”

There are several things wrong with this.

First, the panicked reaction only drew further attention to the remark — and then made Biden appear weak, confused or rash. At a time when Biden was impressing European allies with his moral strength and diplomatic savvy, his own advisers marred an otherwise successful trip. The explanation they chose — disavowing desire for new leadership in Russia — was the most aggressive and extreme way to contradict the president.

Indeed, there was a much better way to explain the remark, one consistent with Biden’s intent. Just as Ronald Reagan once described the ideal outcome of the Cold War (“We win. They lose.”), Biden’s comment was obviously aspirational. “For God’s sake” — meaning in a decent and sane world — a man such as Putin should not be leading a major power, let alone a nuclear power. That is a perfectly acceptable, morally sound view.

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Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Many experts expect Covid caseloads to rise soon, David Leonhardt, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). Four promising strategies for protecting people in the coming months.

washington post logoWashington Post, Shanghai reverses course with total lockdowns as coronavirus surges in China, Christian Shepherd and Vic Chiang, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). Late on Sunday evening, the Chinese financial hub of Shanghai announced it was going into lockdown, one half at a time, reversing weeks of denying it would impose blanket restrictions on the city’s 25 million residents.

China FlagFor much of the world, arrival of the highly transmissible omicron variant has cemented acceptance that the virus is here to stay and should be mitigated but tolerated. In China, though, rising case numbers appear to be reinforcing policies to smother the virus rather than accelerating plans to gradually ease restrictions.

This month, China has faced its worst outbreak since the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan. From March 1 to 24, the country had reported 56,000 infections — more than the total cases in Wuhan two years ago. On Sunday, 6,215 positive tests were recorded, with 3,500 of those in Shanghai.

China’s ‘zero covid’ policy wavers as infections spread and complaints over lockdowns surge

The resurgence has created a dilemma for Chinese policymakers. They recently announced that a road map was being created to ease the “zero covid” approach and that cities were experimenting with more targeted and short-lived containment protocols. Treatment guidelines were updated to allow asymptomatic patients to be isolated in centralized facilities, instead of hospitals. Antigen test kits were approved.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated March 30, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 485,871,600, Deaths: 6,158,543
U.S. Cases:     81,686,628, Deaths: 1,005,056
Indian Cases:   43,023,215, Deaths:    521,131
Brazil Cases:   29,882,397, Deaths:    659,294

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Law, Courts, Crime, Race 

washington post logoWashington Post, Hackers hit popular video game, stealing more than $600 million in cryptocurrency, Steven Zeitchik,March 29, 2022. A blockchain powering the NFT game Axie Infinity was attacked, leading to one of the biggest crypto swipes to date.

In a brazen attack on popular video game Axie Infinity, hackers swiped $625 million in cryptocurrency, the game company’s executives said Tuesday, marking one of the largest crypto-thefts to date amid rising rates of such crime.

The theft occurred last Wednesday, according to the company, when hackers infiltrated part of Ronin, the underlying blockchain that powers the game. Developers at Sky Mavis, which runs both Axie Infinity and Ronin, said they only discovered the breach Tuesday.

“There has been a security breach on the Ronin Network,” the company said in a post in its newsletter. “We are working directly with various government agencies to ensure the criminals get brought to justice.”

Axie Infinity uses a “play-to-earn” system that combines finance and gaming, powered by NFTs, unique tokens that can be traced back to a user. Players buy creature-centric NFTs to gain entry into the game, and then spend more crypto to acquire and breed various beasts they can deploy in battles. The NFTs have both in-universe and real-world value, adding a kind of digital-money buzz to traditional gameplay.

The blockchain is the public record of where cryptocurrency transactions take place, functioning as a financial nerve center.

The Ronin hackers made off with some 174,000 ETH, the currency associated with the Ethereum blockchain, and nearly 26 million in USDC; collectively the two are currently worth abut $625 million. USDC is a stablecoin, which means its value is pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Crypto hacks are becoming more common as the amount of trading activity increases. A hack of the Bitmart platform in December resulted in a theft of nearly $200 million in currency, while last summer a hacker hit Poly Network, which allows blockchains to work together, for a number exceeding $600 million as well, though eventually returned the money.

 

el shafee elsheikh

washington post logoWashington Post, Trial to begin in ISIS killings of U.S. journalists, aid workers, Rachel Weiner, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). Some hostages were killed on video used by the terrorist group to stoke fear worldwide.

The only trial in U.S. court for a member of an infamous terrorist cell is set to begin Tuesday, as El-Shafee Elsheikh, above, stands accused of taking part in the capture and murder of journalists and aid workers by the Islamic State.

Elsheikh, 33, was one of four ISIS militants who traveled to Syria from London and whose British accents led prisoners of the terrorist group to label them the “Beatles.” Some of those prisoners were released in exchange for ransom money from foreign governments. When countries would not pay, their hostages were slain — some beheaded on videos that were broadcast around the world.

He is in federal court in Alexandria because of the deaths of four Americans who were reporting on or supporting victims of the Syrian civil war — journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Prosecutors say he is also implicated in the deaths of British, Japanese and Norwegian captives.

Mohamed Emwazi, a member of the cell who was known as “Jihadi John” before he was identified, killed many of those prisoners himself, on camera, while taunting Western leaders. He died in a drone strike in 2015. The other three guarded the hostages and handled ransom negotiations. One, Aine Davis, was convicted at trial in Turkey after denying any connection to ISIS. Elsheikh and his friend Alexanda Kotey were captured by Kurdish forces in 2018 and handed over to American authorities. Kotey pleaded guilty last year, in exchange for the chance to serve part of his sentence in the United Kingdom.

“I had no doubt that any failure of those foreign governments to comply with our demands would ultimately result in either the indefinite detention of those foreign captives, or their execution,” Kotey said at his plea hearing in federal court in Alexandria.

A Canadian ISIS member who narrated videos of Syrian prisoners being executed has also pleaded guilty in Alexandria.

 Recent Law-Related Headlines

 

U.S. Elections, Politics, Governance

 

ted cruz beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Cruz’s battle to keep Trump in power has cost him friends, sparks questions, Michael Kranish, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) went to extraordinary lengths to court former president Donald Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

Sen. Ted Cruz (shown above in a file photo) was dining near the Capitol on the evening of Dec. 8, 2020, when he received an urgent call from President Donald Trump. A lawsuit had just been filed at the Supreme Court designed to overturn the election Trump had lost, and the president wanted help from the Texas Republican.

“Would you be willing to argue the case?” Trump asked Cruz, as the senator later recalled it.

“Sure, I’d be happy to” if the court granted a hearing, Cruz said he responded.

The call was just one step in a collaboration that for two months turned the once-bitter political enemies into close allies in the effort to keep Trump in the White House based on the president’s false claims about a stolen election. By Cruz’s own account, he was “leading the charge” to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president.

The Attack: The Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event.

An examination by The Washington Post of Cruz’s actions between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, shows just how deeply he was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power. As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

ny times logoNew York Times, New Supply Chain Risk: 22,000 Dockworkers Who May Soon Strike, Peter S. Goodman, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). With the contract of union workers at West Coast ports nearing expiration, the prospect of a labor impasse threatens another shock to the global economy. In a world contending with no end of economic troubles, a fresh source of concern now looms: the prospect of a confrontation between union dockworkers and their employers at some of the most critical ports on earth.

The potential conflict centers on negotiations over a new contract for more than 22,000 union workers employed at 29 ports along the West Coast of the United States. Nearly three-fourths work at the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the primary gateway for goods shipped to the United States from Asia, and a locus of problems afflicting the global supply chain.

The contract for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expires at the end of June. For those whose livelihoods are tied to ports — truckers, logistics companies, retailers — July 1 marks the beginning of a period of grave uncertainty.

A labor impasse could worsen the floating traffic jams that have kept dozens of ships waiting in the Pacific before they can pull up to the docks. That could aggravate shortages and send already high prices for consumer goods soaring.

St. Louis Today, Democrat vows to stand up to ‘billionaire heiresses’ as new rival enters U.S. Senate race in Missouri, Jack Suntrup, Democrat vows to stand up to ‘billionaire heiresses’ as new rival enters U.S. Senate race in Missouri.

It didn’t take long for a Democrat running for U.S. Senate to try out a line of attack against his newest intraparty rival.

Lucas Kunce’s campaign, in a statement issued Tuesday, called its candidate a “warrior” who would “stand up” to “billionaire heiresses” — a not-so-veiled jab at Trudy Busch Valentine who emerged Monday to challenge Kunce and others in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary.

Valentine is the daughter of Anheuser-Busch beer baron August “Gussie” Busch, who owned the baseball Cardinals and died in 1989.

Her announcement was the most eyebrow-raising development to come out of the last two days of candidate filing, which ends Tuesday.

Valentine’s entrance Monday preceded another Democrat’s exit from the race. Former state Sen. Scott Sifton, who had been considered Kunce’s chief rival, dropped out after Valentine filed paperwork.

Instead of endorsing Kunce, and therefore helping to consolidate the Democratic field, Sifton threw his weight behind Valentine.

It was unclear to what extent Sifton coordinated with Valentine on her announcement. Sifton, through a spokesman, didn’t respond to a question about why he backed Valentine instead of endorsing Kunce.

Sifton had focused most on criticizing former Gov. Eric Greitens during this campaign rather than intraparty rivals. Greitens’ second ex-wife, Sheena Chestnut Greitens, last week accused him in a court filing of abuse.

“As Democrats, we need to be united,” Sifton said in a statement. “Eric Greitens simply cannot be our next senator, and I know that Trudy Busch Valentine gives us the best chance to win in November.”

On Tuesday, an unsigned statement from Kunce’s campaign said: “Missouri deserves a warrior for working people, a proven patriot who’s served his country, who has the courage to stand up to criminal politicians, corrupt elites running massive multinational corporations, and billionaire heiresses who have been stripping our communities for parts. Lucas Kunce is that warrior.”

Asked how Valentine had stripped communities for parts, a spokesman for Kunce’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Valentine’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Post-Dispatch reported in May that Kunce didn’t vote in Missouri in 2018. He said he voted in Washington, D.C., for the November 2020 elections, but the D.C. Election Board had no record of that.

The Republican field, meanwhile, drew six major candidates by the end of candidate filing: Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey and U.S. Reps. Billy Long and Vicky Hartzler.

Mike Tomlin: Mitch Trubisky 'has won more than anybody else' that was available

Buffalo News, Buffalo Bills, New York State, Erie County reach 'ironclad' 30-year deal to build $1.4 billion stadium, Tim O'Shei and Jason Wolf, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). The Buffalo Bills are getting a new $1.4 billion home with New York State and Erie County footing $850 million of the upfront cost to build it.

After months of negotiations, the National Football League team has reached an agreement with New York State and Erie County to build an open-air stadium in Orchard Park. The pact includes a 30-year lease that Gov. Kathy Hochul described as “ironclad” in an exclusive interview with The Buffalo News, shortly before announcing the deal Monday.

Under terms of the deal:

• The public will provide $850 million to fund construction, pending approval by New York and Erie County lawmakers, “which is far less than anyone had anticipated,” Hochul said, referring to frequent speculation that taxpayers could spend $1 billion or more, reflecting a percentage of costs in line with other recent small market stadium projects. Ongoing maintenance and capital costs will add nearly $13 million a year.

New York is slated to contribute $600 million and Erie County $250 million toward construction.

• The NFL will provide a $200 million loan to Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula, following a vote of league owners at their annual meeting Monday at The Breakers resort in South Florida. Up to $150 million of the loan is forgivable, repaid through the visiting teams’ share of Bills ticket revenue over 25 years, according to the terms of the league’s “G-4” loan program, which helps fund stadium construction and renovations.

• The Pegulas are contributing at least $350 million toward stadium construction, plus the $50 million they will have to reimburse the league. A portion of those funds will come from the sale of about 50,000 personal seat licenses to all season ticket holders, beginning around $1,000 apiece. The Pegulas also are “responsible for any escalation in costs” to construct the stadium, Hochul said, a detail the governor called “quite significant.”

On Twitter, the Pegulas called the deal "another step" in the process of building a new stadium in Orchard Park. They also said they were grateful for the commitment Hochul made.

"While there are more hurdles to clear before getting to the finish line, we feel our public-private partnership between New York State, Erie County, led by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and the national Football League will get us there," they said.

kathy hochul 2017Hochul, right, a Buffalo native who was raised in Hamburg, said her “No. 1 focus has been keeping the Buffalo Bills at home” during talks with the Pegulas and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz that began in earnest shortly after she became governor in late August.

“This has been a long process, tough negotiations,” Hochul said.

The highest direct public contribution to the construction of a stadium, prior to the proposed Bills deal, was the $750 million invested in the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium in Nevada. It was built to lure the Raiders franchise from Oakland to Las Vegas.

 

World News, Global Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Israel, U.S. and 4 Arab Nations Focus on Security at Summit, Staff Reports, March 29, 2022 (print ed.).The talks, which signaled a realignment of Middle Eastern powers, centered on shared concerns, particularly over Iran.

At a groundbreaking summit in Israel on Monday, the top diplomats of Israel, the United States and four Arab countries discussed how to coordinate against Iran; the importance of Washington’s remaining engaged in the region; and the need to maintain calm over the next weeks, when a convergence of religious holidays could raise tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Several of the Arab participants also publicly pressed Israel on the need to create a sovereign Palestinian state, signaling that while they had normalized ties with Israel, they had not abandoned the Palestinian cause.

But if that created mild tension between Israel and its guests, they appeared united in their shared fears of Iran and its proxies at a news briefing at the summit’s conclusion.

“What we are doing here is making history — building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation,” said the Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who organized the conference.

“This new architecture and shared capabilities we are building,” Mr. Lapid added, “intimidates and deters our common enemies — first and foremost Iran and its proxies.”

The historic summit was the first Arab-Israeli diplomatic meeting on Israeli soil, and several of the attendees did not hide their enthusiasm.

“This is our first time” in Israel, said Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister, in his closing statement. “If we are curious sometimes, and we want to know things and learn, it’s because although Israel has been part of this region for a very long time, we’ve not known each other. So it’s time to catch up.”

In that spirit, the participants confirmed that they would try to meet in a different country every year — and that they hoped to welcome more countries to the gatherings in the future.

The summit brought together Mr. Lapid with the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, along with the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken. It reflected how Israel has cemented its partnerships with parts of the Arab world. Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates all normalized diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020, while Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979.

A terrorist attack that killed two people on Sunday night in northern Israel, just as the ministers were gathering in the south, was a reminder of how Israel’s acceptance by some Arab states has done little to resolve its primary challenge: the conflict with Palestinians.

ny times logoNew York Times, A video shows Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine being beaten and shot, Haley Willis, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). A video shows Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine being beaten and shot in their legs.

A video shared online Sunday shows soldiers who are likely Ukrainian beating and shooting prisoners from the Russian military. The footage shows five of the prisoners tied up and lying on the ground — some held at gunpoint and some with bags over their heads.

In the footage, which runs for over five minutes, the five tied-up prisoners appear to have serious injuries, but it’s not clear how they were wounded. Later in the video, three other captives are shot in their legs without provocation and fall to the ground. One of them is then struck in his face with the end of a rifle. The Times is not publishing the video because of the graphic imagery it contains.

A number of the captors, who kick and hit the prisoners throughout the video, are wearing blue armbands characteristic of the Ukrainian military. Both parties are mostly speaking Russian, with the captors speaking Russian in a Ukrainian accent. At one point in the video one captor is heard speaking Ukrainian.

The Times has not identified the source who originally posted the video. But based on the video’s perspective and dialogue, it appears to have been filmed by one of the captors.

The location of the video, first suggested by a Twitter user, has been independently verified by The Times. It was filmed on the eastern outskirts of Kharkiv, near the frontline of the conflict, in an area still held by Ukrainian forces. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, is closer to Russia than any other large Ukrainian city and has been targeted by Russia with overwhelming and indiscriminate firepower that has reduced parts of the city to ruins.

Following the circulation of the footage, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the head of Ukraine’s President’s Office, released a video where he said that “all prisoners are to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention, whatever your personal emotional motives” — though he did not refer to the specific incident near Kharkiv.

The abuse of the prisoners could be a possible violation of the Geneva Conventions, a series of treaties, signed in the aftermath of World War II, which are considered the essence of the rules for modern armed conflict, including the humane treatment of prisoners of war. Ukraine’s government has previously faced criticism for distributing videos of Russian prisoners of war in its custody.

In the video, the captors spend most of their time interrogating the five prisoners about the locations of various military units in the area, and ask the prisoners personal details such as their ranks and hometowns. At one point, one of the captives appears to lose consciousness. In the background, a man is heard yelling that they are doing this because “you were [expletive] destroying Kharkiv” — in what appeared to be a reference to Russian forces’ actions demolishing the city.

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ny times logoNew York Times, Chris Wallace Says Life at Fox News Became ‘Unsustainable,’ Michael M. Grynbaum, Updated March 28, 2022. As he starts a new streaming show at CNN, the longtime TV anchor (shown above in a pool photo via Getty Images) reflects on his decision to leave Fox News after 18 years.

CNN“I just no longer felt comfortable with the programming at Fox.”

Chris Wallace uttered those words matter-of-factly, in between bites of a Sweetgreen salad at his new desk inside the Washington bureau of CNN, the network he joined in January after nearly two decades at Fox News.

For those on the left who admired him, and those on the right who doubted him, it’s a statement that was a long time coming.

A down-the-middle outlier at Fox News who often confounded conservatives by contradicting the network’s right-wing stars, Mr. Wallace was also one of the channel’s fiercest defenders, disappointing liberals who hoped he might denounce colleagues like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

But in December, Mr. Wallace, 74, issued a final verdict: He was done. In a surprise move, he declined to renew his contract as host of “Fox News Sunday” and jumped to archrival CNN. His daily interview show — “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace?” — starts Tuesday on the new CNN+ streaming service.

 

 

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National Press Club Journalism Institute, Homeless man living in tree attacks New York Post reporter and photographer, according to NYPD, and is released without bail (New York Daily News/New York Post), National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, and Julie Moos, March 29, 2022  Lights. Camera. Crime: How a Philly-born brand of TV news harmed Black America. (Inquirer).

CNNCNN takes a $100 million step into streaming today (Washington Post) / Earlier: CNN+ readies for debut: Next news innovation or too late to the streaming wars? (Deadline)

■ Vogue, Bon Appétit and other Condé Nast staffers form union (Washington Post) / BuzzFeed Union votes to authorize newsroom strike amid escalating tensions; CEO Jonah Peretti was a no-show to Tuesday’s negotiations (The Wrap)

■ ‘White House comms director Kate Bedingfield says at the press briefing that the White House has "no official comment on the altercation" between Will Smith and Chris Rock, and says Biden did not watch the Oscars.’ (Max Tani) / White House ASL interpreters bring the president's message to a larger audience (CBS News) / Oscars American Sign Language live stream racks up 300,000 views, 1 million impressions (The Wrap) / Oscars: How 'CODA’ helped spotlight ASL interpretation, deaf community (The Hollywood Reporter) / Oscars audience grew by 555,000 after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (New York Times) / How an Oscars photographer captured the moment Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (CNN) / Will Smith vs. Chris Rock through the eyes of an L.A. Times photographer (Los Angeles Times) / The real reason Will Smith's Oscars outburst was censored on US broadcasts (Washington Post) / Earlier: What was happening in the ABC control room as Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (Variety)

■ Cincinnati broadcast journalist says he's 'taking a break from sports reporting to focus on my mental health' (WVXU)

■ ‘If Alden is a cancer on journalism, Lee is COVID, MRSA and SARS’: Lee quietly slashes jobs following hostile takeover attempt (Axios)

■ CBS News under fire for hiring former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (Mediaite) / Fox News’ ratings surprise: ‘The Five’ keeps outperforming primetime (Variety)

■ ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl talked with Fox about replacing Chris Wallace (Daily Beast)

■ 'Stupid of me:' Nick Lachey says he overreacted after incident with photographer (Cincinnati Enquirer)

■ Photographer captures photos of family hours before they died in Ohio car crash (WTVG/Gray News) / 4 women photographers on the hardest photo they ever took (WIRED)

ny times logoNew York Times, The Slap Echoes the Morning After the Oscars, Raising Questions, Julia Jacobs, Matt Stevens and Nicole Sperling, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards for telling a joke about his wife, it divided Hollywood, sparking denunciations, defenses and debates. 

The morning after the Oscars tends to be dominated by lighthearted celebrations of the night’s winners and admiring chatter about the fashion on the red carpet, but on Monday it was given to a more somber discussion of the disturbing spectacle that dominated the night: Will Smith striking Chris Rock onstage after taking issue with one of his jokes.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos described it as “something we have never seen before, something that is very hard to process: Will Smith, walking up onto that stage after Chris Rock told a joke about his wife — simply assaulting Chris Rock.”

The Academy put out a statement saying that they do not condone violence, but Stephanopoulos noted they “have not taken any other action yet.”

“It changed the entire night,” the anchor Robin Roberts said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Will Smith apologizes to Chris Rock for Oscars slap; academy launches ‘formal review,’ Emily Yahr and Sonia Rao, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Monday afternoon that it will conduct a formal review of the shocking incident from Sunday’s Oscars broadcast on ABC in which actor Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock across the face onstage after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Late Monday, Will Smith apologized to Rock on social media.

“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable,” Smith wrote in an Instagram post. “… I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.

“I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress.”

Several hours earlier, the academy said it “condemned” Smith’s actions at the show. “We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law,” the organization said in a statement.

ABC declined to comment. Representatives for Smith — who was later awarded the best-actor Oscar — and Rock did not return a request for comment. Rock declined to press charges, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The incident between two A-list stars overshadowed everything else about the 94th Academy Awards, from the eventual best-picture winner (“CODA”) to the controversially reformatted ceremony, which relegated eight categories to being awarded off-camera. The moment between Smith, 53, and Rock, 57, became a lightning-rod topic, dominating social media chatter Sunday night and through Monday as viewers and celebrities began to take sides in the matter. Some defended Smith after what they perceived to be a tasteless joke, while others called for punishment over his violent outburst.

washington post logoWashington Post, Novaya Gazeta, the last independent newspaper in Russia, falls silent, Robyn Dixon, March 29, 2022 (print ed.). It suspended operations after getting a second warning from Russia’s communications regulator. 

A day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta conveyed its shock in a three-word banner headline against a somber black background: “Russia. Bombs. Ukraine.”

Just over a month later, this last Russian newspaper publishing independent news about the war against Ukraine — edited by Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov — announced Monday it was suspending operations until the end of the war after getting a second warning from Roskomnadzor, Russia’s tech and communications regulator.

“It is the disappearance of the last independent publication that had not yet been blocked,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former editor of the paper, calling it “a huge loss for the giant Internet audience and a catastrophe for those fans of the newspaper who read it on paper.”

The invasion edition — published in Russian and Ukrainian — sold out within hours on Feb. 25. Two weeks later, its cover depicted “Swan Lake’s” “dance of the swans” silhouetted against a fiery mushroom cloud, with the headline, “An issue of ‘Novaya,’ created in accordance with all the rules of Russia’s amended Criminal Code.”

The headline eloquently conveyed the difficulties of reporting on the war under Russia’s harsh new censorship laws; even the words “war,” “invasion” and “attack” are banned, and publishing information that discredits the military is criminalized. Analysts warn there is no guarantee that the restrictions — introduced as tough wartime measures amid what the Kremlin calls “an unprecedented information war” against Russia — will ever be lifted.

Kolesnikov said the only reason the newspaper had managed to continue publishing as long as it had was because of Muratov’s authority.

Rolling Stone, Fox News Host Lara Logan Suggests Theory of Evolution Is a Hoax Funded by Jews, Ryan Bort, March 28-29, 2022. Lara Logan’s latest anti-Semitic dog whistle is a claim that Charles Darwin only came up with the idea of evolution because Jews paid him to.

rolling stone logoIt wasn’t long ago that Lara Logan was a correspondent for CBS News, which is a little hard to believe considering the types of conspiracy theories she’s been pushing since she left the network. The latest came during an appearance on the right-wing podcast “And We Know,” during which Logan suggested that the theory of evolution is the result of a wealthy Jewish family paying Charles Darwin to devise an explanation for what gave rise to humanity.

“Does anyone know who employed Darwin, where Darwinism comes from?” Logan, recently (but perhaps no longer) with Fox News’ streaming service Fox Nation, asked. “Look it up: The Rothschilds. It goes back to 10 Downing Street. The same people who employed Darwin, and his theory of evolution and so on and so on. I’m lara logan screenshotnot saying that none of that is true. I’m just saying Darwin was hired by someone to come up with a theory — based on evidence, OK, fine.”

Logan rambled for a bit longer, but her point was that evolution is a “chicken or the egg” debate and “you can’t answer it scientifically” and, while we’re here, Jews are trying to control the world with their money. Media Matters caught the claim on Monday:

The Rothschilds, who Logan says is responsible for the theory of evolution, are a Jewish family that often shows up in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) famously wrote on Facebook that the Rothschilds funded a space laser that started the California wildfires.

Logan and Greene share more in common than anti-Semitic comments. Both the Fox Nation host and the bigoted, virulent conspiracy theorist lawmaker have pushed Russian propaganda since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last month. Greene has blamed Ukraine for the invasion, while suggesting the nation’s military is rife with Nazis. Greene, however, at least made some sort of superficial effort to insist she’s not a Putin supporter. Logan made no such effort.

“Whether you like Putin or don’t like him, Putin is not willing to be a part of whatever global governing structure is coming our way,” Logan said last week on a right-wing podcast. “Vladimir Putin has been very calculating, he’s been very careful … he’s said for 15 years that he would not tolerate NATO expansion.”

“He’s the man standing between us and this New World Order,” she added after rambling about Ukrainian biolabs funded by Hunter Biden.

The idea of a “New World Order” constructed by Jews is a trope of anti-Semitic rhetoric. We’re starting to notice a pattern in Logan’s conspiracy theorizing.

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Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). Trump-supporting former law school dean John Eastman, left, helps Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani inflame pro-Trump protesters in front the White House before the insurrection riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the presidential election certification of Joe Biden's presidency on Jan. 6, 2021 (Los Angeles Times photo). Below is a scene from the insurrection riot (Photo via Shutterstock).

 capitol riot shutterstock capitol

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump ‘more likely than not’ committed crime in trying to block confirmation of Biden’s win, judge says, Matt Zapotosky and
John Wagner, March 28, 2022. A federal judge said in a ruling Monday that then-President Donald Trump “more likely than not” committed a federal crime in trying to obstruct the congressional count of electoral college votes on Jan. 6, 2021.

The determination from U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, right, came in a ruling addressing scores of sensitive emails that Trump ally and david o carterconservative lawyer John Eastman had resisted turning over to the House select committee investigating the insurrection. Eastman wrote key legal memos aimed at denying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

capitol riot nyt jan 7 2021“Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” Carter wrote. A Trump representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 44-page opinion offers a careful analysis of 111 documents the committee wanted, ultimately concluding that lawmakers are entitled to have 101 of them.

But it is less notable for what it might given the committee access to and more for the judge’s analysis of Trump’s conduct leading up to the riot on Jan. 6. Breaking down the law on each point, Carter, who sits on the Central District of California and was nominated by President Bill Clinton, writes it is “more likely than not” that Trump and Eastman conspired to disrupt the counting of the electoral votes on Jan. 6 — which would be a crime under federal statutes.

“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” the judge concludes. “Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower — it was a coup in search of a legal theory. The plan spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the deaths of several law djt march 2020 Customenforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”

The judge’s ruling does not mean Trump will be charged with, or even investigated for, a crime — though it will certainly increase pressure on the Justice Department to intensify its probe of the Jan. 6 riot and potentially examine the conduct of Trump himself. Carter noted that he was only assessing the legal arguments surrounding whether Eastman could be compelled to turn over documents to the Jan. 6 committee.

“More than a year after the attack on our Capitol, the public is still searching for accountability. This case cannot provide it,” Carter wrote. “The Court is tasked only with deciding a dispute over a handful of emails. This is not a criminal prosecution; this is not even a civil liability suit.”

The judge ultimately wrote on whether there was evidence Trump had committed a crime because the committee had alleged as much in a bid to convince a judge it should be allowed to access Eastman’s emails.

The committee cited the “crime-fraud exception,” essentially arguing that because there was evidence Eastman advised Trump in the commission of a crime, he could not legally shield his communications using attorney-client privilege.

Carter zeroed in on 11 documents as he assessed whether the “crime-fraud exception” applied. He determined it did for just one: “a chain forwarding to Dr. Eastman a draft memo written for President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.”

Carter wrote that the memo recommended that Vice President Mike Pence reject electors from contested states on Jan. 6.

“This may have been the first time members of President Trump’s team transformed a legal interpretation of the Electoral Count Act into a day-by-day plan of action,” the judge wrote. “The draft memo pushed a strategy that knowingly violated the Electoral Count Act, and Dr. Eastman’s later memos closely track its analysis and proposal. The memo is both intimately related to and clearly advanced the plan to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Jan. 6 committee backs contempt charges for two former Trump aides, Jacqueline Alemany and Amy B Wang, March 28, 2022. The committee voted for charges against former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro and former communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted Monday night to hold two former Trump aides in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend the charges against former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro and former communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr. The House will soon vote on whether to refer Navarro and Scavino to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a vice chair of the committee, called Navarro and Scavino key witnesses and rejected their claims of executive privilege as the committee has moved to a “critical stage of this investigation.”

Cheney said during the hearing that the committee has questions about Scavino’s work doing social media for the former president — specifically about “his interactions with an online forum called ‘The Donald,’ and with Qanon, a bizarre and dangerous cult.”

 

Ukrainian soldiers rushed to aid a family hit by Russian mortar fire Sunday, but there was little to be done (Photo by Lynsey Addario of the New York Times).

Ukrainian soldiers rushed to aid a California resident and her children hit by Russian mortar fire on March 6, but there was little to be done (Photo by Lynsey Addario of the New York Times)

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Biden Says Putin Comment Expressed Personal Outrage; Ukraine Claims to Recapture Towns as Mariupol Reels,Dan Bilefsky and Shashank Bengali, March 28, 2022. Did Not Imply Policy of Seeking to Oust Putin, President Says; Zelensky Says Ukraine Is ‘Ready’ to Discuss Neutrality. Despite talk of Russia focusing its ambitions in the east, action on several battlefronts suggested a more dynamic and volatile situation. Ukraine and Russia will meet this week for in-person talks.

President Biden refused to retract his comment that Vladimir Putin should be removed as Russia’s president, saying he was “expressing the moral outrage I felt.”

Meanwhile, fighting raged across Ukraine on Monday as the war entered its fifth week, with Ukrainian forces appearing to make gains in the northeast, and Russia continuing its unrelenting assault against the southern port city of Mariupol, which was desperately trying to fend off a takeover.

Russian FlagIn recent days, the Russian military has signaled that it might be taming its territorial ambitions by focusing on cementing control of eastern Ukraine. But the fighting on Monday across multiple battlefronts suggested a more dynamic and volatile situation. Russian forces were trying to capture key towns east and northwest of Kyiv, Ukrainians claimed advances in the northeast of the country and Russia was edging closer to capturing Mariupol.

With fighting raging, Ukraine appeared to make gains in the northeast, and Russia continued its assault against the southern port city of Mariupol.
Ahead of talks, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was open to discussing a neutral geopolitical status. Here’s the latest.

ny times logoNew York Times, Nine unscripted words are reverberating around the world after President Biden’s fiery speech, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Emily Cochrane, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). Administration officials were forced to walk back the ad-lib that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin “cannot remain in power,” which captured the attention of foreign policy experts, lawmakers and allies.

 

President Biden comforts a Ukrainian refugee in a camp in Poland on Saturday, March 26, 2022 (White House photo by Joe Walsh).

President Biden comforts a Ukrainian refugee in a camp in Poland on Saturday, March 26, 2022 (White House photo by Joe Walsh).

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Caps 3 Days of Diplomacy With Rebuke of Putin, Marc Santora with staff reports, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). The Kremlin condemned President Biden’s comments, and the White House said he was not calling for regime change.

joe biden black background resized serious fileMissiles hit the city of Lviv and thousands were still stranded in Mariupol.As President Biden returned to Washington after three days of rallying allies in Europe, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine stepped up his calls for the West to provide planes and tanks and other weapons to help his army defeat Russian aggression.

Ukrainian forces on Sunday continued to make progress along multiple fronts in pushing back the Russian advance on Kyiv, the capital. Most notably, the Ukrainian military said that a large formation of Russian soldiers had fallen back to an area around the now defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant to regroup after suffering heavy losses.

As President Biden returned to Washington after rallying allies in Europe, President Volodymyr Zelensky stepped up calls for the West to provide military equipment.

Mr. Biden’s remarks in Poland about President Vladimir Putin grabbed the world’s attention. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” he said.

Ukrainian forces on Sunday continued to make progress along multiple fronts in pushing back the Russian advance on Kyiv. Here’s the latest.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Putin shouldn’t remain in power. Biden’s advisers blew it, Jennifer Rubin, March 28, 2022. No civilized person thinks it’s a good thing that Russian President Vladimir Putin — widely and correctly regarded as a war criminal and the architect of a unjustifiable war of aggression — leads a nuclear-armed country. President Biden went off script during his address in Warsaw on Saturday to say so. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden exclaimed.

“On Putin, Biden expressed what billions around the world and millions inside Russia also believe. He did not say that the US should remove him from power,” tweeted Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia (and contributing columnist to The Post). “There is a difference.” Precisely. Biden was not calling for assassination, invasion or foreign-directed regime change.

Nevertheless, a panicked White House rushed forth to assure the world what Biden really meant: “The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change.”

There are several things wrong with this.

First, the panicked reaction only drew further attention to the remark — and then made Biden appear weak, confused or rash. At a time when Biden was impressing European allies with his moral strength and diplomatic savvy, his own advisers marred an otherwise successful trip. The explanation they chose — disavowing desire for new leadership in Russia — was the most aggressive and extreme way to contradict the president.

Indeed, there was a much better way to explain the remark, one consistent with Biden’s intent. Just as Ronald Reagan once described the ideal outcome of the Cold War (“We win. They lose.”), Biden’s comment was obviously aspirational. “For God’s sake” — meaning in a decent and sane world — a man such as Putin should not be leading a major power, let alone a nuclear power. That is a perfectly acceptable, morally sound view.

volodymyr zelenski t shirt siege

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Ukraine Updates: Zelensky offers a diplomatic opening ahead of talks with Russia, Annabelle Timsit, Miriam Berger, Rachel Pannett and Julian Mark, March 28, 2022. Kharkiv mayor says more than 1,100 residential buildings have been shelled in the city since Russian invasion.

Ukrainian and Russian delegations are arriving in Istanbul for another round of in-person talks — putting NATO member Turkey, which has ties to both Kyiv and Moscow, in the spotlight as an intermediary in the deadly conflict grinding into its second month. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed his desire for a cease-fire in a phone call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, state media reported.

Department of Defense SealUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to offer a diplomatic opening Sunday, saying that Kyiv could declare its “neutrality” and effectively end its bid to join NATO in a potential peace agreement with Moscow, but stressed that any deal must be voted on by a national referendum held without Russian troops in Ukraine. Zelensky made these remarks during an interview with a Russian outlet, which the Kremlin’s Internet censor then banned Russian media from publishing. Russia’s foreign minister on Monday, dismissing the chances of Putin and Zelensky meeting, downplayed expectations before the talks were expected to begin Tuesday.

The renewed diplomatic effort comes as Russian military operations northwest of Kyiv appear to have paused after failing to capture the capital. But fighting and shelling continues to terrorize the country, and Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Andriivna Vereshchuk said Monday that humanitarian corridors would not be open due to reports of “provocations." About 160,000 civilians remain stuck in Mariupol, the Ukrainian city blockaded and shelled by Russia for weeks, its mayor said Monday.

Pentagon intelligence suggests Russia is changing focus to controlling the eastern Donbas region, where pro-Kremlin separatists have battled Ukrainian forces since 2014. The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence accused Russia on Sunday of trying to dominate the east and divide his country in two — “to create North and South Korea in Ukraine.”

Here’s what to know

  • Satellite images and videos verified by The Washington Post show that Kremlin-backed forces began building a camp in Russian-controlled territory just east of the besieged city of Mariupol in recent weeks, amid allegations from local officials that residents were being forcibly taken to “filtration camps.”
  • Even as Russia rains missiles onto Ukraine, it is still sending approximately 30 percent of the gas it sells in Europe through the country it invaded. Although Ukraine’s leaders called for the continent to immediately halt imports of Russian gas, they are doing nothing to interfere with Russia’s gas flowing through its pipelines to customers including Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
  • Turkey said it defused a mine detected off its shores Monday, two days after another mine at sea forced a temporary closure of the Bosporus strait. Russia warned last week that hundreds of mines had drifted into the Black Sea after coming loose from cables near Ukrainian ports, though it remains unclear where the diffused mines originated and if there is any connection.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

washington post logoWashington Post, Overview: Zelensky steps up criticism of West, demanding weapons and sanctions, Shane Harris, Adela Suliman and David L. Stern, March 28, 2022. The Ukrainian president’s comments come after Biden completed what was seen as a successful trip to Europe in shoring up allies against Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is demanding that the United States and its allies send more weapons and ratchet up sanctions, portraying some leaders as timid in the face of Russian aggression. His escalation of criticism comes one day after President Biden extemporaneously declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
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“I’ve talked to the defenders of Mariupol today,” Zelensky said in a video address on Sunday, praising the southern port city that has come under horrendous bombardment by Russian forces. “Their determination, heroism and firmness are astonishing,” he said. “If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had one percent of their courage.”

In a separate interview with the Economist, Zelensky asserted that some countries had drawn a red line at sending more offensive weapons to Ukraine “because they are afraid of Russia. And that’s it. And those who say it first are the first to be afraid.”

Zelensky was responding to a question about French President Emmanuel Macron, who had said earlier that Biden’s remarks about Putin during a speech in Poland risked an “escalation of words and actions.” Macron, who is continuing efforts to negotiate as a go-between with Russia and Western allies, also said he wouldn’t “use those kinds of terms” when he communicates with Putin.

Zelensky argued that Western nations, which have already imposed historic sanctions on Russia, hadn’t gone far enough in their efforts to cripple the country’s economy because they “have not completed the sanctions on disconnecting the banking system from SWIFT.” Zelensky was referring to the international consortium used to move money among banks. Although Western allies disconnected some Russian financial institutions from the system, they didn’t block Russia’s access entirely.

He called for a full embargo on Russian oil and gas exports rather than what he called “incomplete” sanctions. “We are not guinea pigs to be experimented on.” The Ukrainian leader has previously taken advantage of his global platform to rally nations to Ukraine’s defense while pressuring them to take more direct action, such as by enforcing a no-fly zone. NATO member countries have steadfastly resisted that call. This weekend, Zelensky repeated his earlier pleas for the West to send him additional planes, tanks, and armored personnel vehicles.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Biden’s $5.8 Trillion Budget Would Raise Military and Social Spending, Staff Reports, March 28, 2022. President Biden unveiled his latest budget proposal amid a war in Ukraine and concerns at home about rising costs. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Biden’s budget calls for additional military spending and higher taxes on the wealthiest.
  • With a center-leaning budget, Biden bows to political reality.
  • Biden calls for increased military spending amid the war in Ukraine and national security concerns.
  • Comparing spending levels is usually simple. Except this year.
  • Biden’s budget focuses on fighting inflation, but that’s mainly a Fed project.
  • The $17.5 billion request for the Interior Department focuses on climate change and tribal nations.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency would get a big increase in funding.
  • Biden requests 5 percent increase in funding for homeland security.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: How Joe Manchin Aided Coal, and Earned Millions, Christopher Flavelle and Julie Tate, Photographs by Erin Schaff, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). An examination by The Times offers a detailed portrait of the degree to which Senator Joe Manchin’s business has been interwoven with his official actions.

On a hilltop overlooking Paw Paw Creek, 15 miles south of the Pennsylvania border, looms a fortresslike structure with a single smokestack, the only viable business in a dying Appalachian town.

The Grant Town power plant is also the link between the coal industry and the personal finances of Joe Manchin III, the Democrat who rose through state politics to reach the United States Senate, where, through the vagaries of electoral politics, he is now the single most important figure shaping the nation’s energy and climate policy.

Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.

Opportunity arrived in the form of two developers who wanted to build a power plant in Grant Town, just outside Mr. Manchin’s district. Mr. Manchin, whose grandfather went to work in the mines at age 9 and whose uncle died in a mining accident, helped the developers clear bureaucratic hurdles.

 

U.S. Supreme Court Scandals

 United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r). (Safe Image)

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r).

washington post logoWashington Post, Democrats urge Clarence Thomas to recuse himself after wife’s texts, Amy B Wang and Brady Dennis, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). Republicans continue to defend the justice’s integrity. Two Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday called on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from certain cases after his wife pressed the Trump White House in text messages to try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The texts by Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni and is a lawyer by training, first reported by The Washington Post and CBS News, revealed she had reached out to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows multiple times in the weeks after the 2020 election pushing the baseless charge that the election had been stolen and urging Trump officials not to accept the results. At the time, President Donald Trump and his allies had vowed to take their efforts to overturn the election results to the Supreme Court.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of federal judicial and Supreme Court nominees, called the situation a “textbook case” in which Thomas should recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election. Klobuchar suggested the integrity of the Supreme Court is on the line.

“The facts are clear here. This is unbelievable,” Klobuchar said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “You have the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice advocating for an insurrection, advocating for overturning a legal election to the sitting president’s chief of staff. And she also knows this election, these cases are going to come before her husband.”

“This is a textbook case for removing him, recusing him from these decisions,” she added.

Thomas was the only justice to dissent in the Supreme Court’s decision in January to reject Trump’s request to block documents from being released to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Judges who serve on other federal courts are required by ethics rules to recuse themselves in cases that would give the appearance of impartiality, but Supreme Court justices are not subject to an ethical code — a double standard that Klobuchar said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. needed to change.

“All I hear is silence from the Supreme Court right now, and that better change in the coming week,” Klobuchar said. “So not only should he recuse himself, but this Supreme Court badly needs ethics rules.”

 

The five most radical right Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this view.

The five most radical right Republican justices on the Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this photo array.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The Supreme Court must protect itself from the Thomas duo, Jennifer Rubin, right (and author of the recent book Resistance, shown below), March 28, 2022. The Ginni Thomas scandal jennifer rubin new headshotsounds like a movie script gone awry. What, a wife of a Supreme Court justice is going full-on conspiracy theorist and rooting on an effort to overthrow an election? Who would buy that?

Yet here we are: In a series of 29 text messages sent after the 2020 election, Thomas communicated with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, regurgitating specious claims of voter fraud and clearly egging on efforts to undo the election of Joe Biden.

The Post’s Bob Woodward and CBS News’s Robert Costa, formerly of The Post, report that the messages “reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.”

jennifer rubin book resistanceSupreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, despite his wife’s deep involvement with a White House scheme to overturn the results of the election, participated in two cases involving the 2020 election — one in which the court denied certiorari in a case to throw out electoral votes and another in which the court turned down a request by Trump to halt disclosure of documents from the Trump administration relating to the coup attempt. In that case, Clarence Thomas indicated he would have granted the request.

Aside from highlighting the degree to which the political rot has permeated the Republican Party, the scandal raises the prospect that a Supreme Court justice may have ruled in cases in which he should have recused himself.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, tells me, “Justice Thomas’s objectivity is in question and the implications of that for the Court are grave. Above all else, Supreme Court justices need to be impartial and far removed from politics.” He adds, “I think what Ginni Thomas was doing around the insurrection was crazy, but ultimately that is a matter of politics.” By contrast, Lieu argues, “Justice Thomas wielding his significant power to attempt to shield his wife and himself from scrutiny is an abuse of his role as a Supreme Court justice.”

Daniel Goldman, who served as counsel to the House managers during Trump’s first impeachment, explains: “Future recusal is necessary but not sufficient because the damage to Thomas’s appearance of impartiality is done. There will be recusal motions in the future — as there should be — but that is a difficult and unusual path because there is no code of ethics that applies to the Supreme Court.” Goldman argues that an “a congressional investigation is necessary here, especially to understand what Thomas knew and whether there was coordination between the two.” He adds: “An impeachment investigation is not at all out of the question, but I would start with a standard oversight investigation.”

The good news is that the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is up and running with Ginni Thomas’s texts in hand. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who serves on the committee, would not speak specifically to the Thomas issue, but he did tell me, “The coordinated attack on our government involved both a violent insurrection from the outside and aggressive moves on the inside to overthrow our constitutional order with a counterfeit process based on mass lies and individual usurpations of power.”

He added that he was “profoundly interested” in investigating any effort to provide “legal and constitutional cover” for the strategies to overthrow the election, including the scheme by former Trump lawyer John Eastman to have Vice President Mike Pence throw out electoral votes and the “Green Bay Sweep,” which former Trump adviser Peter Navarro devised to decertify states that went to Biden.

The Thomas scandal cannot be ignored. As University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman tells me, “The court protects its reputation in large part through good will, and by acting like a respectable institution. Ginni Thomas is burning through that good will at a rapid pace — making the court and its justices appear corrupt, as if they are or could be casting votes in cases based on the interest or possible involvement of their spouse.” Litman rightly calls Thomas’s conduct “appalling.”

We need to find out what precisely the justice knew about his wife’s activities and why he did not recuse himself from election-related cases. No entity has a greater interest in getting to the bottom of this than the Supreme Court itself. Unless it removes any hint of conflict and impropriety, the slow leak of the court’s credibility will become a torrent.

 

Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The GOP magnifies a right-wing court’s legitimacy problem, E.J. Dionne Jr., right, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). By choosing the ej dionne w open necklow road and smearing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson with false charges and vile innuendo, conservative Republicans did more than engage in self-besmirching behavior. They also missed an opportunity to advance what should have been their larger purposes. They will come to regret their choice.

President Biden nominated an exceptionally qualified and engaging jurist who is poised to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. Republicans had an opportunity to address two problems at once — at no cost to their overall objective of turning the U.S. Supreme Court into a rubber stamp for conservative ideology.

By offering Jackson at least a respectful hearing, Republican senators could have taken a step toward easing the legitimacy crisis the Supreme Court confronts because of the GOP’s relentless packing of the nation’s highest judicial body. Rejecting extreme partisanship might have lowered the political temperature around the court, to the benefit of its 6-to-3 conservative majority.

And by avoiding the racial tropes they trotted out — denunciations of critical race theory, which Jackson has never embraced, and talk from Sen. Ted. Cruz (R-Tex.) about books teaching that “babies are racist” — the Republicans could have shown they mean what they say about judging people by “the content of their character.” Momentarily at least, they might have backed the party away from backlash politics.

There would have been no cost to any of this because Jackson’s confirmation, now nearly assured with her endorsement on Friday from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), will not change the balance on the court at all. She is replacing another liberal (and one of her mentors), Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

Alas, as Carl Hulse, the New York Times’s veteran Washington correspondent dryly observed, “Republicans could not help themselves.”

What happened last week was not just politics as usual. The relentless attack on Jackson’s sentencing in child pornography cases was despicable. By sheer force of repetition, amplified by conservative media, an obviously brilliant jurist and devoted mother will forever be branded in the minds of some Americans as “soft on child porn.”

It’s revolting because, as The Post’s Glenn Kessler showed in a meticulous fact check, the claim by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that Jackson “has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook” amounted to “twisting the judge’s record.” It’s contemptible because as Linda Qiu reported in the New York Times, “all of the Republican critics” of Jackson “had previously voted to confirm judges who had given out prison terms below prosecutor recommendations” on child sex abuse crimes. The words “double standard” don’t begin to capture what’s going on here.

And it’s truly astonishing (though, alas, not surprising) that Cruz pressed Jackson on the racial content of children’s books that he said were taught at Georgetown Day School, where she serves on the Board of Trustees. Kudos to Jackson for telling Cruz of the books: “They don’t come up in my work as a judge which I am, respectfully, here to address.” The word “respectfully” did a lot of nice work in that sentence.

To turn the nomination of the first Black woman to the court into an occasion for raising racial themes Republicans plan to use in the 2022 and 2024 election campaigns was to kick away the chance the party had to show that it means what it says in declaring its faithfulness to “colorblindness.”

What conservatives don’t want to acknowledge is how much damage they have already done by taking control of the court through the raw exercise of political power. Beginning with the blockade of Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016 and culminating in the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett just days before the 2020 election, Republicans have sent the message that not the law, not deliberation, but partisan manipulation is at the heart of the court’s decision-making.

A showdown seems inevitable. But Senate Republicans might have bought some time and eased the antagonism had they treated Jackson’s nomination as something other than an opportunity for mean-spirited political messaging.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Judicial confirmation process could get even more toxic, Lindsey Graham says, Paul Kane, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) looked briefly into the future and saw a calamitous confirmation process for Supreme Court justices and other federal judge nominees: a near total blockade.

With Republicans needing a simple one-seat gain in November to retake control of the Senate, Graham pointed to the Supreme Court fight in 2020 when not a single Democrat voted to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett as an ominous precedent for how a GOP majority would behave toward President Biden’s picks.

“Is that the new norm? If that’s going to be the new norm,” Graham asked, “what do you do when one party has the Senate and the other party has the White House? How do you ever get anybody confirmed?”

republican elephant logoGraham is nowhere near as relevant now as in previous years, when he oversaw Barrett’s confirmation as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and played a key role in turning the tide at Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s hearing in 2018 when he passionately defended the nominee and accused Democrats of “the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”

But senior Republicans and Democrats agree with Graham that a judicial confirmation process that is already painfully partisan — as demonstrated by four long days of hearings over Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court — could turn even more toxic.

Race hovered over Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing

Democrats recall the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), then majority leader, set up barricades around the top judiciary posts. Just two nominees to the circuit courts of appeal were confirmed in 2015 and 2016, the lowest two-year tally since the 19th century. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, McConnell refused to even meet with Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee, let alone give him a hearing or a vote.

Democrats are bracing for worse treatment next year if Republicans take charge.

“I can’t remember anything quite like it, with a Democratic president and a Senate in different hands. I don’t know where we’d go,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said after Jackson’s hearings concluded Thursday.

 Recent headlines

 

More On Supreme Court Nominee

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This is not advise and consent. This is smear and degrade, Ruth Marcus, right, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). The pretense is gone — the ruth marcus twitter Custompretense that Supreme Court confirmation hearings are about determining nominees’ fitness for office, gleaning a sense of their legal acumen and approach to judging, and gathering the information necessary to exercise a solemn senatorial power.

No longer. Advise and consent has yielded to smear and degrade. The goal is not to illuminate but to tarnish: If a nominee can’t be stopped, at least the other side can inflict some damage on her and the opposition party.

The confirmation hearings just concluded for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson represented the culmination of a sad trajectory. Nominations and hearings have always had a political component; after all, the Framers assigned the confirmation power to a political branch.

But never has a confirmation hearing been less about law and more about partisan point-scoring and presidential campaign-launching.


 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson tears up briefly and for the only time during her three days of confirmation testimony as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) consoles her for the vicious slurs and innuendoes that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched at her. Shown below are her parents as they observed the highs and lows (Photo via the Associated Press).

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson tears up briefly and for the only time during her three days of confirmation testimony as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) consoles her for the vicious slurs laced with sexual and racial innuendoes that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched at her, most notably by Ted Cruz (TX), Josh Hawley (MO), Marsha Blackburn (TN)  and Tom Cotton (Photo via the Associated Press). Shown below are her parents as they observed the highs and lows.

 Recent Headlines

 

Law, Courts, Crime, Race 

el shafee elsheikh

washington post logoWashington Post, Trial to begin in ISIS killings of U.S. journalists, aid workers, Rachel Weiner, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). Some hostages were killed on video used by the terrorist group to stoke fear worldwide.

The only trial in U.S. court for a member of an infamous terrorist cell is set to begin Tuesday, as El-Shafee Elsheikh, above, stands accused of taking part in the capture and murder of journalists and aid workers by the Islamic State.

Elsheikh, 33, was one of four ISIS militants who traveled to Syria from London and whose British accents led prisoners of the terrorist group to label them the “Beatles.” Some of those prisoners were released in exchange for ransom money from foreign governments. When countries would not pay, their hostages were slain — some beheaded on videos that were broadcast around the world.

He is in federal court in Alexandria because of the deaths of four Americans who were reporting on or supporting victims of the Syrian civil war — journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Prosecutors say he is also implicated in the deaths of British, Japanese and Norwegian captives.

Mohamed Emwazi, a member of the cell who was known as “Jihadi John” before he was identified, killed many of those prisoners himself, on camera, while taunting Western leaders. He died in a drone strike in 2015. The other three guarded the hostages and handled ransom negotiations. One, Aine Davis, was convicted at trial in Turkey after denying any connection to ISIS. Elsheikh and his friend Alexanda Kotey were captured by Kurdish forces in 2018 and handed over to American authorities. Kotey pleaded guilty last year, in exchange for the chance to serve part of his sentence in the United Kingdom.

“I had no doubt that any failure of those foreign governments to comply with our demands would ultimately result in either the indefinite detention of those foreign captives, or their execution,” Kotey said at his plea hearing in federal court in Alexandria.

A Canadian ISIS member who narrated videos of Syrian prisoners being executed has also pleaded guilty in Alexandria.

 

More On Ukraine, Russia

washington post logoWashington Post, Overview: Ukraine claws back territory in country’s north ahead of talks in Istanbul, Cate Cadell, Dan Lamothe and Mariana Alfaro, March 28, 2022. Western intelligence officials and others say Moscow seems to be changing tactics to focus most intensely on the eastern Donbas region after attempts to topple Kyiv and other key cities have stalled.

Ukrainian forces have reclaimed control of a few small fronts in the country’s north, officials said Monday, as Russia appears to be directing its fiercest attacks on besieged areas in the country’s east and south, including Mariupol.

As the war grinds into its second month, Ukrainian and Russian delegations are set to meet in Turkey on Tuesday for in-person negotiations. Kremlin officials have delivered icy remarks ahead of the talks, however, dampening prospects of a meaningful outcome. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday said his government should “stop indulging the Ukrainians” in negotiations.

In Washington, President Biden defended unscripted comments he made in Poland over the weekend when he said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” He clarified that he was “expressing moral outrage” and echoed aides who has said his comments didn’t represent a change in U.S. policy or a campaign to remove the Russian leader.

Western intelligence officials and others say Moscow seems to be changing tactics to focus most intensely on the eastern Donbas region where the invasion began, after attempts to topple capital Kyiv and other key cities have stalled.

Ukrainian forces have taken back Trostianets, a town south of Sumy that is about 20 miles from Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said. Ukrainian officials said the government had regained control of Irpin, a suburb of capital Kyiv.

Live updates: Read the latest news from Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Irpin Mayor Alexandar Markushin said in a video posted Monday that the area had been reclaimed and that “mopping up” was underway. Speaking from inside a vehicle and dressed in a green military-style vest, he told residents of the suburb not to return yet, as the fighting was ongoing.

wsj logoWall Street Journal, Investigation: Lawmakers Launch Probe of Credit Suisse Compliance With Russia Sanctions, Margot Patrick, March 28, 2022.
House Oversight Committee seeks documents related to deal to reduce exposure to yacht, aircraft loans.

U.S. lawmakers asked Credit Suisse CS -3.13% Group AG to hand over information related to the bank’s compliance with sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a letter to Credit Suisse Chief Executive Thomas Gottstein Monday, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D., N.Y.), chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D., Mass.), chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, asked the bank to hand over information on its financing of yachts and aircraft owned by potentially sanctioned individuals.

They are seeking the information following reports that Credit Suisse instructed investors in a recent debt deal to destroy and erase information related to its dealings with rich clients.

The debt deal, first reported by the Financial Times in February, reduced some of the bank’s exposure to $2 billion loans it made to wealthy clients to finance yachts and jets. The FT reported that a presentation for the deal said there were four loan defaults in the 2017-2018 period because of U.S. sanctions against Russian oligarchs. It later reported investors had been asked to destroy deal documents.

“This report raises significant concerns about Credit Suisse’s compliance with the severe sanctions imposed by United States and its allies and partners on the architects and enablers of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and oligarchs in his inner circle,” the committee chairs wrote.

A Credit Suisse spokesman declined to comment on the letter and pointed to the bank’s earlier comments on the deal and sanctions. On March 3 the bank said it had asked investors who hadn’t ended up participating in the deal to destroy documents, citing market practice, and that it had nothing to do with recent sanctions. It said no data was erased within Credit Suisse.

The lawmakers said they were particularly concerned that the instruction to destroy documents coincided with Switzerland saying it would join other countries in applying sanctions. There were also questions about whether investors in the deals had adequate information to comply with sanctions if any of the loans had been made to sanctioned people.

Earlier this month, Mr. Gottstein said Credit Suisse follows all U.S., U.K. and European Union sanctions as binding, and that Switzerland applying them Feb. 28 was “almost irrelevant.”

Credit Suisse has acknowledged freezing $5 billion in client assets in 2018 to comply with earlier sanctions imposed over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It disclosed up to $1.1 billion in exposure to Russia earlier this month and said exposure to sanctioned individuals was minimal.

The committee wants to review a list of the investors in the deal, as well as documents pertaining to Credit Suisse’s due diligence on the deal and its underlying assets in relation to sanctions. The committee requested all communications and documents relating to any instructions to destroy the deal-related information, as reported by the FT. The lawmakers also are seeking any bank communications with the owners of the underlying assets.

In the letter, the committee asked Credit Suisse for documents dating back to Jan. 1, 2017, by April 11.

 

alexander vindman oath hand raised

washington post logoWashington Post Magazine, Interview: ‘These Events That Are Unfolding Now Will Shape the 21st Century’; Alexander Vindman on Vladimir Putin, the invasion of Ukraine and the dangers ahead, Interview by KK Ottesen, March 27, 2022 (print ed.).

Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, 46, served in the U.S. Army and as director of European and Russian affairs for the National Security Council during the Trump administration. He testified (as shown above) in the first impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump. He lives in Virginia with his wife and children. This interview was conducted March 8 and has been edited for clarity and length.

Question: Your perspective on what’s happening in Ukraine is unique, having been born in Ukraine under the Soviet system, coming to the United States with your family as refugees, and then studying the region for years in the Army, with the NSC. What’s it been like for you, personally and professionally?

Vindman: It’s surreal, it’s disturbing. It’s disheartening on multiple levels. There’s the human toll of the suffering that’s unfolding, but also, all of my work and my energies were on avoiding something like this, avoiding a war that potentially drags the U.S. in, and I’ve utterly failed. Complete, total failure in that regard.

Serving in Russia from 2012 to 2015 clarified my suspicions that we were headed towards confrontation with Russia at one point or another, that [President Vladimir] Putin was increasingly emboldened, acting with impunity on the perceptions that there would not be a consequence for his increasingly aggressive behavior. So I knew it was really just a matter of time. And then being part of the Trump administration that took that creeping, looming confrontation and lurched it forward significantly — both on the macro level, with regards to undermining our alliances, perceptions that there were divides for Putin to exploit, the insipid efforts to undermine and weaken the United States domestically. And then, of course, on the micro level, weakening the bonds between the U.S. and Ukraine. And then, post-Trump, the insurrection was a key milestone in that, you know: “The U.S. is weak. This is the time to strike.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden’s Putin remark pushes U.S.-Russia relations closer to collapse, Missy Ryan, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden’s declaration that Russian leader Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” threatens to push deeply strained U.S.-Russia relations closer to collapse, former officials and analysts said, with potentially serious implications for Washington’s ability to help steer the war in Ukraine to an end and avoid a wider conflict.

washington post logoWashington Post, Blinken: Biden not seeking Putin ouster, Miriam Berger, Rick Noack, Adela Suliman and Rachel Pannett, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). The White House is walking back President Biden’s fiery, ad-libbed comments calling Vladimir Putin a “dictator" who “cannot remain in power” — insisting the United States is not looking for regime change in Russia.

“We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia - or anywhere else, for that matter," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday from Jerusalem, stressing that Biden’s point was that the Russian president “cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else."

joe biden black background resized serious fileBiden’s Warsaw speech, capping his European tour, came as two powerful rockets struck around 250 miles away — across the border in Lviv, a western city considered relatively safe in the month-long war, amid conflicting reports that Moscow is shifting the locus of war from capturing Ukraine’s capital to prioritizing securing the east. Russian forces appear to be trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in the country’s separatist-held regions in the east, advancing from the direction of Kharkiv in the northeast and Mariupol in the southeast, a British intelligence report said Sunday. The head of Ukrainian military intelligence accused Russia on Sunday of trying “to create North and South Korea in Ukraine” by dividing it into two parts, one Moscow-controlled.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated demands for Western countries to supply planes and tanks to Ukraine, and he criticized the West for its hesitation. Washington, wary of ensnaring NATO in the war, pledged another $100 million in security aid to Ukraine to shore up its police and border guards. Though diplomatic talks are stalled, Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss signaled late Saturday that sweeping economic sanctions on Russia could be lifted if Moscow ends its “aggression” that’s displaced one in four people in Ukraine — and forced half its children from their homes.

Here’s what to know

  • Russian forces have entered Slavutych, a northern city of about 25,000 people that houses workers from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
  • Ukrainian officials say their forces have killed seven Russian generals on the battlefield. If true, the deaths of so many generals in one month, alongside more senior Russian army and naval commanders, exceeds the attrition rate seen in the worst months of the bloody nine-year war fought by Russia in Chechnya, as well as Russian and Soviet-era campaigns in Afghanistan, Georgia and Syria.

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Inside Washington

 

Cherry Blossoms at peak bloom at National Mall, Washington, DC (2022 Photo by National Parks Service).

Cherry Blossoms at peak bloom at National Mall, Washington, DC (Photo by National Parks Service).

Steady, Commentary: "What Man Has Made Of Man," Dan Rather, right, author and former CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor, March 27, 2022. It might seem odd to begin a consideration of the war in Ukraine, and how it echoes the dangerous divisions we are witnessing here in the United dan rather 2017States (the ultimate subject of this Sunday essay), with a poem about spring from William Wordsworth.

It’s the kind of thing that if you have the gall to include at all, you would try to safely tuck away toward the end of the column, once you have explained it and set it up with all the necessary context. And you would probably just pull a quote rather than printing the full poem. But for better or worse, that’s not the Steady way. We are all among friends here, right? So let’s give it a try, because it builds to one of the most haunting questions in verse, a question that reverberates in the tragedies of our current age.

"Lines Written in Early Spring," by William Wordsworth.

"Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?"

That last line has echoed in my mind recently. Have we not all reason to lament what man has made of man?

Amidst the beauty of our natural world, we see humans wreak death and destruction for no purpose but the misguided pursuit of glory and ego. We see good people attacked by those cynically using vitriol to gather political power. We see wealth hoarded while so many go hungry. And we see the balance of our Earth thrown off-kilter by our short-sighted actions to a degree Wordsworth never could have imagined. It is not only what man has made of man, but what we have made of our precious planet.

As we welcome spring, a season that always builds stirrings of hope in mind and heart, the tension that Wordsworth so deftly expressed is everywhere. Let us think of the symbol of Ukraine, the bright yellow sunflower. It brings such color and beauty to our world — such a stark contrast to the mounds of eviscerated rubble in Mariupol and the death and suffering they represent.

 

madison cawthorn cropped oRaw Story, Madison Cawthorn draws questions after allegations of GOP sex and drugs parties in Washington, Sarah Burris, March 27, 2022. "The sexual perversion that goes in Washington, I mean it being kind of a young guy in Washington with the average age of probably 60 or 70," said U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), above.

raw story logo square"And I look at all these people, a lot of them that I, you know, I've looked up to through my life. I've always paid attention to politics guys that, you know, then all of the sudden you get invited to like, well, hey, we're going to have kind of a sexual get together at one of our homes. You should come there, like... What, what did you just ask me to come to? And then you realize they're asking you to come to an orgy. Or the fact that, you know, there's some of the people that are leading on the movement to try and remove addiction in our country and then you watch them doing, you know, a key bump of cocaine right in front of you and it's like wow this is wild."

As one observer noted, Cawthorn doesn't generally "hang out" with Democrats. He hangs out with other Republicans, so his observations are coming from those he's observed.

Republican strategist and Bulwark columnist Tim Miller revealed that he had contacted Cawthorn's office to ask if Cawthorn intends to reveal the person who invited him to the orgy.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Many experts expect Covid caseloads to rise soon, David Leonhardt, March 28, 2022. Four promising strategies for protecting people in the coming months.

washington post logoWashington Post, Shanghai reverses course with total lockdowns as coronavirus surges in China, Christian Shepherd and Vic Chiang, March 28, 2022. Late on Sunday evening, the Chinese financial hub of Shanghai announced it was going into lockdown, one half at a time, reversing weeks of denying it would impose blanket restrictions on the city’s 25 million residents.

China FlagFor much of the world, arrival of the highly transmissible omicron variant has cemented acceptance that the virus is here to stay and should be mitigated but tolerated. In China, though, rising case numbers appear to be reinforcing policies to smother the virus rather than accelerating plans to gradually ease restrictions.

This month, China has faced its worst outbreak since the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan. From March 1 to 24, the country had reported 56,000 infections — more than the total cases in Wuhan two years ago. On Sunday, 6,215 positive tests were recorded, with 3,500 of those in Shanghai.

China’s ‘zero covid’ policy wavers as infections spread and complaints over lockdowns surge

The resurgence has created a dilemma for Chinese policymakers. They recently announced that a road map was being created to ease the “zero covid” approach and that cities were experimenting with more targeted and short-lived containment protocols. Treatment guidelines were updated to allow asymptomatic patients to be isolated in centralized facilities, instead of hospitals. Antigen test kits were approved.

washington post logoWashington Post, Covid vaccinations — including boosters — fall to lowest levels since 2020, Brittany Shammas, Dan Keating, Salvador Rizzo and Lenny Bernstein, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Vaccination for the coronavirus in the United States has all but ground to a halt, with initial doses and boosters plummeting to the lowest levels since the program began in December 2020.

With another pandemic surge possibly on the way, vaccination for the coronavirus in the United States has all but ground to a halt, with initial doses and boosters plummeting to the lowest levels since the program began in late December 2020.

On Wednesday, the seven-day average of vaccinations fell to fewer than 182,000 per day, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. That is lower than at any time since the first days of the program.

Tracking the coronavirus vaccine

The daily total has been in free fall for the past six weeks. On Feb. 10, the nation was averaging more than 692,000 shots a day. Booster shots have been more common than first or second doses since October, and the low rates have long caused concern among some experts.

Now, with authorities bracing for a possible increase in covid-19 cases caused by the BA.2 subvariant, 65.4 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and just 44 percent have received a booster shot. That is substantially less than the totals in many Western European nations — which nevertheless have seen a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks and months.

What to know about BA.2, a new version of the omicron variant

Federal health officials are now considering authorizing fourth shots for people 65 and older. But the nation’s booster campaign, which was initially plagued by conflicting guidance and disagreement among advisers and scientists, has faltered: People who were willing to roll up their sleeves for first and second doses are seemingly less inclined to go for a third.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated March 28, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 481,372,200, Deaths: 6,146,793
U.S. Cases:     81,616,936, Deaths: 1,003,425
Indian Cases:   43,019,453, Deaths:    521,034
Brazil Cases:   29,832,179, Deaths:    658,812

Related Recent Headlines:

 

U.S. Crime, Race

Recent Law-Related Headlines

 

U.S. Elections, Politics, Governance

 

ted cruz beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Cruz’s battle to keep Trump in power has cost him friends, sparks questions, Michael Kranish, March 28, 2022. As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) went to extraordinary lengths to court former president Donald Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

Sen. Ted Cruz (shown above in a file photo) was dining near the Capitol on the evening of Dec. 8, 2020, when he received an urgent call from President Donald Trump. A lawsuit had just been filed at the Supreme Court designed to overturn the election Trump had lost, and the president wanted help from the Texas Republican.

“Would you be willing to argue the case?” Trump asked Cruz, as the senator later recalled it.

“Sure, I’d be happy to” if the court granted a hearing, Cruz said he responded.

The call was just one step in a collaboration that for two months turned the once-bitter political enemies into close allies in the effort to keep Trump in the White House based on the president’s false claims about a stolen election. By Cruz’s own account, he was “leading the charge” to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president.

The Attack: The Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event.

An examination by The Washington Post of Cruz’s actions between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, shows just how deeply he was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power. As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

ny times logoNew York Times, From ‘Illegal’ Hotel to Housing for the Homeless on Upper West Side, Mihir Zaveri, March 28, 2022. The Manhattan building used to attract tourists. But New York City officials hope its transformation is a road map for the city’s future.

The lobby of the Manhattan building once known as the Royal Park Hotel still beckons to tourists: A sign advertises cheap shuttle rides to nearby airports, and rows of pamphlets promote Broadway musicals and attractions like the Guggenheim Museum.

But nobody has checked in since the pandemic swept into New York and crushed its tourism industry. Instead, the seven-story building on the Upper West Side is being converted into permanent housing for homeless people — part of an urgent push to alleviate the city’s severe housing crisis.

The story of the Royal Park is, in part, a story of how what was once a tenement came to be a flash point in the city’s long-running fight against building owners who illegally rent out rooms to tourists instead of long-term residents.

But it also underscores a significant way that the pandemic could remake the city by turning struggling hotels and vacant office buildings into housing.

ny times logoNew York Times, New Supply Chain Risk: 22,000 Dockworkers Who May Soon Strike, Peter S. Goodman, March 28, 2022. With the contract of union workers at West Coast ports nearing expiration, the prospect of a labor impasse threatens another shock to the global economy. In a world contending with no end of economic troubles, a fresh source of concern now looms: the prospect of a confrontation between union dockworkers and their employers at some of the most critical ports on earth.

The potential conflict centers on negotiations over a new contract for more than 22,000 union workers employed at 29 ports along the West Coast of the United States. Nearly three-fourths work at the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the primary gateway for goods shipped to the United States from Asia, and a locus of problems afflicting the global supply chain.

The contract for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expires at the end of June. For those whose livelihoods are tied to ports — truckers, logistics companies, retailers — July 1 marks the beginning of a period of grave uncertainty.

A labor impasse could worsen the floating traffic jams that have kept dozens of ships waiting in the Pacific before they can pull up to the docks. That could aggravate shortages and send already high prices for consumer goods soaring.

Buffalo News, Buffalo Bills, New York State, Erie County reach 'ironclad' 30-year deal to build $1.4 billion stadium, Tim O'Shei and Jason Wolf, March 28, 2022. The Buffalo Bills are getting a new $1.4 billion home with New York State and Erie County footing $850 million of the upfront cost to build it.

After months of negotiations, the National Football League team has reached an agreement with New York State and Erie County to build an open-air stadium in Orchard Park. The pact includes a 30-year lease that Gov. Kathy Hochul described as “ironclad” in an exclusive interview with The Buffalo News, shortly before announcing the deal Monday.

Under terms of the deal:

• The public will provide $850 million to fund construction, pending approval by New York and Erie County lawmakers, “which is far less than anyone had anticipated,” Hochul said, referring to frequent speculation that taxpayers could spend $1 billion or more, reflecting a percentage of costs in line with other recent small market stadium projects. Ongoing maintenance and capital costs will add nearly $13 million a year.

New York is slated to contribute $600 million and Erie County $250 million toward construction.

• The NFL will provide a $200 million loan to Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula, following a vote of league owners at their annual meeting Monday at The Breakers resort in South Florida. Up to $150 million of the loan is forgivable, repaid through the visiting teams’ share of Bills ticket revenue over 25 years, according to the terms of the league’s “G-4” loan program, which helps fund stadium construction and renovations.

• The Pegulas are contributing at least $350 million toward stadium construction, plus the $50 million they will have to reimburse the league. A portion of those funds will come from the sale of about 50,000 personal seat licenses to all season ticket holders, beginning around $1,000 apiece. The Pegulas also are “responsible for any escalation in costs” to construct the stadium, Hochul said, a detail the governor called “quite significant.”

On Twitter, the Pegulas called the deal "another step" in the process of building a new stadium in Orchard Park. They also said they were grateful for the commitment Hochul made.

"While there are more hurdles to clear before getting to the finish line, we feel our public-private partnership between New York State, Erie County, led by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and the national Football League will get us there," they said.

kathy hochul 2017Hochul, right, a Buffalo native who was raised in Hamburg, said her “No. 1 focus has been keeping the Buffalo Bills at home” during talks with the Pegulas and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz that began in earnest shortly after she became governor in late August.

“This has been a long process, tough negotiations,” Hochul said.

The highest direct public contribution to the construction of a stadium, prior to the proposed Bills deal, was the $750 million invested in the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium in Nevada. It was built to lure the Raiders franchise from Oakland to Las Vegas.

washington post logoWashington Post, Key Youngkin adviser is paid by political firms, Laura Vozzella, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Matthew Moran, a Richmond insider who has helped newcomer Gov. Glenn Youngkin navigate an unfamiliar Capitol, serves as a volunteer while on a paid leave from two political firms.

“At no time did anybody in that administration from the governor on down publicly announce that that guy was on the payroll of a private consulting company,” Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in an interview Friday. “The whole thing just smells.”

Moran declined a request to be interviewed but issued a statement through Youngkin’s press office defending the arrangement.

“I am on leave from all companies and as a result do not have clients with business before the Governor or state government,” Moran said in the statement. “I formalized this arrangement with counsel’s office and I am fully committed to my service to the Governor and the people of Virginia. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to serve the Governor and work on behalf of the Commonwealth.”

The two sides of Youngkin: Virginia’s new governor calls for unity but keeps stoking volatile issues

Moran’s statement did not provide a reason for the unpaid arrangement. Three people with knowledge of his situation said he had agreed to serve the administration for only a few months, just long enough to guide Youngkin through his first General Assembly session.

 

World News, Global Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Israel, U.S. and 4 Arab Nations Focus on Security at Summit, Staff Reports, March 28, 2022. The talks, which signaled a realignment of Middle Eastern powers, centered on shared concerns, particularly over Iran.

At a groundbreaking summit in Israel on Monday, the top diplomats of Israel, the United States and four Arab countries discussed how to coordinate against Iran; the importance of Washington’s remaining engaged in the region; and the need to maintain calm over the next weeks, when a convergence of religious holidays could raise tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Several of the Arab participants also publicly pressed Israel on the need to create a sovereign Palestinian state, signaling that while they had normalized ties with Israel, they had not abandoned the Palestinian cause.

But if that created mild tension between Israel and its guests, they appeared united in their shared fears of Iran and its proxies at a news briefing at the summit’s conclusion.

“What we are doing here is making history — building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation,” said the Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who organized the conference.

“This new architecture and shared capabilities we are building,” Mr. Lapid added, “intimidates and deters our common enemies — first and foremost Iran and its proxies.”

The historic summit was the first Arab-Israeli diplomatic meeting on Israeli soil, and several of the attendees did not hide their enthusiasm.

“This is our first time” in Israel, said Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister, in his closing statement. “If we are curious sometimes, and we want to know things and learn, it’s because although Israel has been part of this region for a very long time, we’ve not known each other. So it’s time to catch up.”

In that spirit, the participants confirmed that they would try to meet in a different country every year — and that they hoped to welcome more countries to the gatherings in the future.

The summit brought together Mr. Lapid with the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, along with the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken. It reflected how Israel has cemented its partnerships with parts of the Arab world. Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates all normalized diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020, while Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979.

A terrorist attack that killed two people on Sunday night in northern Israel, just as the ministers were gathering in the south, was a reminder of how Israel’s acceptance by some Arab states has done little to resolve its primary challenge: the conflict with Palestinians.

ny times logoNew York Times, Two-Day General Strike Throws India Into Confusion, March 28, 2022. The strike, involving both public and private sector workers, was called to protest the government’s economic policies, including a privatization plan.

ny times logoNew York Times, A video shows Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine being beaten and shot, Haley Willis, March 28, 2022. A video shows Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine being beaten and shot in their legs.

A video shared online Sunday shows soldiers who are likely Ukrainian beating and shooting prisoners from the Russian military. The footage shows five of the prisoners tied up and lying on the ground — some held at gunpoint and some with bags over their heads.

In the footage, which runs for over five minutes, the five tied-up prisoners appear to have serious injuries, but it’s not clear how they were wounded. Later in the video, three other captives are shot in their legs without provocation and fall to the ground. One of them is then struck in his face with the end of a rifle. The Times is not publishing the video because of the graphic imagery it contains.

A number of the captors, who kick and hit the prisoners throughout the video, are wearing blue armbands characteristic of the Ukrainian military. Both parties are mostly speaking Russian, with the captors speaking Russian in a Ukrainian accent. At one point in the video one captor is heard speaking Ukrainian.

The Times has not identified the source who originally posted the video. But based on the video’s perspective and dialogue, it appears to have been filmed by one of the captors.

The location of the video, first suggested by a Twitter user, has been independently verified by The Times. It was filmed on the eastern outskirts of Kharkiv, near the frontline of the conflict, in an area still held by Ukrainian forces. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, is closer to Russia than any other large Ukrainian city and has been targeted by Russia with overwhelming and indiscriminate firepower that has reduced parts of the city to ruins.

Following the circulation of the footage, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the head of Ukraine’s President’s Office, released a video where he said that “all prisoners are to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention, whatever your personal emotional motives” — though he did not refer to the specific incident near Kharkiv.

The abuse of the prisoners could be a possible violation of the Geneva Conventions, a series of treaties, signed in the aftermath of World War II, which are considered the essence of the rules for modern armed conflict, including the humane treatment of prisoners of war. Ukraine’s government has previously faced criticism for distributing videos of Russian prisoners of war in its custody.

In the video, the captors spend most of their time interrogating the five prisoners about the locations of various military units in the area, and ask the prisoners personal details such as their ranks and hometowns. At one point, one of the captives appears to lose consciousness. In the background, a man is heard yelling that they are doing this because “you were [expletive] destroying Kharkiv” — in what appeared to be a reference to Russian forces’ actions demolishing the city.

ny times logoNew York Times, Explosion of Gang Violence Grips El Salvador, Setting Record, Maria Abi-Habib and Bryan Avelar, March 27, 2022. El Salvador declared a state of emergency Sunday as gangs went on a killing spree on Saturday, randomly shooting street vendors, bus passengers and market goers, marking the single bloodiest day in the country on record since the end of its civil war 30 years ago.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, El Salvador’s Parliament approved the emergency rule for 30 days, suspending some civil liberties guaranteed in the constitution, loosening conditions for arrest, restricting free assembly and allowing the government to intercept the communications of citizens.

The military also began restricting who could leave and enter neighborhoods under control of the notorious street gang MS-13.

The measures are an effort to stem the violence that killed at least 62 people on Saturday, a record for the country of six million, according to government officials.

The violence threatens to tarnish the record of President Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s charismatic young leader, whose approval ratings are some of the highest in the world, hovering around 85 percent. Mr. Bukele, 40, campaigned on the promise of bringing law and order to El Salvador’s streets, some of the world’s most violent, and since taking office nearly three years ago he had seemed to be making good on that pledge.

However, the reduction in violence may not have been the fruit of Mr. Bukele’s security policies, but of a clandestine deal between the government and the gangs that was apparently cobbled together shortly after he was elected president, as was first revealed by the media outlet El Faro in September 2020.

In December, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on top Salvadoran officials, including the vice minister of justice and public security, for their roles negotiating “a secret truce with gang leadership.”

Mr. Bukele has denied those accusations and has championed his tough approach as the reason homicides have fallen dramatically.

Now, analysts and an American official say, that agreement may be falling apart. Under these secret negotiations, according to the Treasury Department, the government provided financial incentives to the gangs and preferential treatment for gang leaders in prison, such as access to mobile phones and prostitutes. In exchange, the gangs apparently promised to cut down on gang violence and homicides.

Recent Global Headlines

 

Media, Communications, Entertainment News

 

voice of america logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Kremlin tries to stifle Radio Free Europe — and its audience surges, Margaret Sullivan, right, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). As margaret sullivan 2015 photothe U.S.-funded broadcaster is forced to shut most of its Russian operations, its Web traffic indicates that Russian people are eagerly consuming its stories.

Radio Free Europe, the U.S.-funded operation that got its start by piping American-flavored news through the Iron Curtain in 1950 (and has been affiliated with Voice of America), could see big trouble brewing for its Russian operation in recent years.

The Kremlin kept putting the screws to its Russian-language broadcasts, throwing up ever more regulatory hurdles. But it was in late 2020 that the hammer really came down. The “media regulator” demanded that every broadcast, digital story and video carry an intrusive disclaimer at the top stating that what followed was the product of a foreign agent.

“Basically, it was like telling our audience to go away,” said Jamie Fly, the CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as the organization has been known since a 1976 merger.

That labeling would interfere with the private nonprofit’s mission at a core level. So, Fly told me, “we refused to comply.”

ny times logoNew York Times, When Nokia Pulled Out of Russia, a Vast Surveillance System Remained, Adam Satariano, Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik (the reporters, who report on technology, vetted more than 75,000 documents for this article), March 28, 2022. The Finnish company played a key role in enabling Russia’s cyberspying, documents obtained by The Times show, raising questions of corporate responsibility. Nokia said this month that it would stop its sales in Russia and denounced the invasion of Ukraine. But the Finnish company didn’t mention what it was leaving behind: equipment and software connecting the government’s most powerful tool for digital surveillance to the nation’s largest telecommunications network.

The tool was used to track supporters of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. Investigators said it had intercepted the phone calls of a Kremlin foe who was later assassinated. Called the System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM, it is also most likely being employed at this moment as President Vladimir V. Putin culls and silences antiwar voices inside Russia.

For more than five years, Nokia provided equipment and services to link SORM to Russia’s largest telecom service provider, MTS, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times. While Nokia does not make the tech that intercepts communications, the documents lay out how it worked with state-linked Russian companies to plan, streamline and troubleshoot the SORM system’s connection to the MTS network. Russia’s main intelligence service, the F.S.B., uses SORM to listen in on phone conversations, intercept emails and text messages, and track other internet communications.chris wallace pool getty

ny times logoNew York Times, Chris Wallace Says Life at Fox News Became ‘Unsustainable,’ Michael M. Grynbaum, Updated March 28, 2022. As he starts a new streaming show at CNN, the longtime TV anchor (shown above in a pool photo via Getty Images) reflects on his decision to leave Fox News after 18 years.

CNN“I just no longer felt comfortable with the programming at Fox.”

Chris Wallace uttered those words matter-of-factly, in between bites of a Sweetgreen salad at his new desk inside the Washington bureau of CNN, the network he joined in January after nearly two decades at Fox News.

For those on the left who admired him, and those on the right who doubted him, it’s a statement that was a long time coming.

A down-the-middle outlier at Fox News who often confounded conservatives by contradicting the network’s right-wing stars, Mr. Wallace was also one of the channel’s fiercest defenders, disappointing liberals who hoped he might denounce colleagues like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

But in December, Mr. Wallace, 74, issued a final verdict: He was done. In a surprise move, he declined to renew his contract as host of “Fox News Sunday” and jumped to archrival CNN. His daily interview show — “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace?” — starts Tuesday on the new CNN+ streaming service.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Slap Echoes the Morning After the Oscars, Raising Questions, Julia Jacobs, Matt Stevens and Nicole Sperling, March 28, 2022. When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards for telling a joke about his wife, it divided Hollywood, sparking denunciations, defenses and debates. 

The morning after the Oscars tends to be dominated by lighthearted celebrations of the night’s winners and admiring chatter about the fashion on the red carpet, but on Monday it was given to a more somber discussion of the disturbing spectacle that dominated the night: Will Smith striking Chris Rock onstage after taking issue with one of his jokes.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos described it as “something we have never seen before, something that is very hard to process: Will Smith, walking up onto that stage after Chris Rock told a joke about his wife — simply assaulting Chris Rock.”

The Academy put out a statement saying that they do not condone violence, but Stephanopoulos noted they “have not taken any other action yet.”

“It changed the entire night,” the anchor Robin Roberts said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Will Smith apologizes to Chris Rock for Oscars slap; academy launches ‘formal review,’ Emily Yahr and Sonia Rao, March 28, 2022. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Monday afternoon that it will conduct a formal review of the shocking incident from Sunday’s Oscars broadcast on ABC in which actor Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock across the face onstage after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Late Monday, Will Smith apologized to Rock on social media.

“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable,” Smith wrote in an Instagram post. “… I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.

“I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress.”

Several hours earlier, the academy said it “condemned” Smith’s actions at the show. “We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law,” the organization said in a statement.

ABC declined to comment. Representatives for Smith — who was later awarded the best-actor Oscar — and Rock did not return a request for comment. Rock declined to press charges, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The incident between two A-list stars overshadowed everything else about the 94th Academy Awards, from the eventual best-picture winner (“CODA”) to the controversially reformatted ceremony, which relegated eight categories to being awarded off-camera. The moment between Smith, 53, and Rock, 57, became a lightning-rod topic, dominating social media chatter Sunday night and through Monday as viewers and celebrities began to take sides in the matter. Some defended Smith after what they perceived to be a tasteless joke, while others called for punishment over his violent outburst.

washington post logoWashington Post, Novaya Gazeta, the last independent newspaper in Russia, falls silent, Robyn Dixon, March 28, 2022. It suspended operations after getting a second warning from Russia’s communications regulator. 

A day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta conveyed its shock in a three-word banner headline against a somber black background: “Russia. Bombs. Ukraine.”

Just over a month later, this last Russian newspaper publishing independent news about the war against Ukraine — edited by Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov — announced Monday it was suspending operations until the end of the war after getting a second warning from Roskomnadzor, Russia’s tech and communications regulator.

“It is the disappearance of the last independent publication that had not yet been blocked,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former editor of the paper, calling it “a huge loss for the giant Internet audience and a catastrophe for those fans of the newspaper who read it on paper.”

The invasion edition — published in Russian and Ukrainian — sold out within hours on Feb. 25. Two weeks later, its cover depicted “Swan Lake’s” “dance of the swans” silhouetted against a fiery mushroom cloud, with the headline, “An issue of ‘Novaya,’ created in accordance with all the rules of Russia’s amended Criminal Code.”

The headline eloquently conveyed the difficulties of reporting on the war under Russia’s harsh new censorship laws; even the words “war,” “invasion” and “attack” are banned, and publishing information that discredits the military is criminalized. Analysts warn there is no guarantee that the restrictions — introduced as tough wartime measures amid what the Kremlin calls “an unprecedented information war” against Russia — will ever be lifted.

Kolesnikov said the only reason the newspaper had managed to continue publishing as long as it had was because of Muratov’s authority.

Rolling Stone, Fox News Host Lara Logan Suggests Theory of Evolution Is a Hoax Funded by Jews, Ryan Bort, March 28, 2022. Lara Logan’s latest anti-Semitic dog whistle is a claim that Charles Darwin only came up with the idea of evolution because Jews paid him to.

rolling stone logoIt wasn’t long ago that Lara Logan was a correspondent for CBS News, which is a little hard to believe considering the types of conspiracy theories she’s been pushing since she left the network. The latest came during an appearance on the right-wing podcast “And We Know,” during which Logan suggested that the theory of evolution is the result of a wealthy Jewish family paying Charles Darwin to devise an explanation for what gave rise to humanity.

“Does anyone know who employed Darwin, where Darwinism comes from?” Logan, recently (but perhaps no longer) with Fox News’ streaming service Fox Nation, asked. “Look it up: The Rothschilds. It goes back to 10 Downing Street. The same people who employed Darwin, and his theory of evolution and so on and so on. I’m lara logan screenshotnot saying that none of that is true. I’m just saying Darwin was hired by someone to come up with a theory — based on evidence, OK, fine.”

Logan rambled for a bit longer, but her point was that evolution is a “chicken or the egg” debate and “you can’t answer it scientifically” and, while we’re here, Jews are trying to control the world with their money. Media Matters caught the claim on Monday:

The Rothschilds, who Logan says is responsible for the theory of evolution, are a Jewish family that often shows up in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) famously wrote on Facebook that the Rothschilds funded a space laser that started the California wildfires.

Logan and Greene share more in common than anti-Semitic comments. Both the Fox Nation host and the bigoted, virulent conspiracy theorist lawmaker have pushed Russian propaganda since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last month. Greene has blamed Ukraine for the invasion, while suggesting the nation’s military is rife with Nazis. Greene, however, at least made some sort of superficial effort to insist she’s not a Putin supporter. Logan made no such effort.

“Whether you like Putin or don’t like him, Putin is not willing to be a part of whatever global governing structure is coming our way,” Logan said last week on a right-wing podcast. “Vladimir Putin has been very calculating, he’s been very careful … he’s said for 15 years that he would not tolerate NATO expansion.”

“He’s the man standing between us and this New World Order,” she added after rambling about Ukrainian biolabs funded by Hunter Biden.

The idea of a “New World Order” constructed by Jews is a trope of anti-Semitic rhetoric. We’re starting to notice a pattern in Logan’s conspiracy theorizing.

rumble logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Rumble, the Right’s Go-To Video Site, Has Much Bigger Ambitions, Jeremy W. Peters, March 28, 2022. The company, supported by Donald Trump, Peter Thiel and other prominent conservatives, wants to help build an internet free from Silicon Valley titans.

You won’t find Red Pill News or the X22 Report on YouTube anymore. The far-right online shows were taken down in the fall of 2020 after the major social media and tech companies started purging accounts that spread the QAnon conspiracy theory.

But you will find both of them on a video-sharing platform called Rumble, where their content ranks among the most popular on the site.

Over the last week, as Republicans opened a misleading attack on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as too lenient with criminals who sexually abuse children, Red Pill News and the X22 Report posted videos claiming that her nomination to the Supreme Court by President Biden was all the proof anyone needed that a cabal of pedophiles operated at the highest levels of the government, a belief QAnon adherents hold.

“Think about the bigger picture,” the host of the X22 Report, which has more than half a million Rumble subscribers, implored his viewers in an episode posted on Wednesday. “Right now, people are being taught about pedophilia. People are listening to this, and they’re seeing exactly how these people think and how they’re trying to normalize it.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Wartime news reporting is worse now than it was during World War II, Wayne Madsen, left, March 28, 2022. wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallThe news coverage of the current war in eastern Europe has generally been abysmal as compared to reporting during the last major ground conflict in Europe, the Second World War.

From the outset of the rise of fascist regimes in Italy, Japan, Germany, and Spain consumers of news in the United States and the West were much better informed about pre-war and wartime developments than their modern-day counterparts.

wayne madesen report logoThat was because newspapers, radio stations, and networks provided raw wire service reports with little in the way of editorializing, including the taking of their scissors to the teleprinter or radio-teletype feed.

Editors in the 1930s and 40s aired more on the side of inclusion than exclusion. If a wire service reporter was staking his reputation on a wire dispatch being correct, editors gave the green light for the copy to the printing press or over the airwaves. Obviously, in their minds, an informed public was better overall for national security and war preparedness than ignorant masses going about their daily routines.

Today, cable and broadcast news are more interested in ratings and a combination of Rupert Murdoch's infamous mantra of "if it bleeds, it leads" and a Hallmark television rendition of a tear-jerker family separation story from the battle zones. Reporters who may have been covering tornado damage in the South one week are virtually "parachuted" the next week into eastern European towns near the Ukrainian border. Their lack of knowledge about the local and regional situation is more than apparent in the first few days of their reporting, with the mangling of names of geographical locations and government officials more than apparent. Also, viewers back in the States do not need to know about reporters' spartan sleeping accommodations, lack of WiFi access, or the quality of local food. No one cares and it's not news at any rate.

In a long-forgotten 1952 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report on the existing news agencies, World War II, rather than limit news sources, saw them increase in large numbers. With additional agencies came more sources for reporting on the war and other developments.

Press Run, Commentary: Media sleepwalks past Ginni Thomas’ treason, Eric Boehlert, right, March 28, 2022. Burying a blockbuster. The Sunday morning talk eric.boehlertshows sprinted into “gaffe” patrol mode after President Joe Biden made a 9-word, ad-libbed comment in Poland over the weekend about how Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to stay in power in Russia.

On “Meet the Press,” USA Today’s Susan Page emphasized Biden’s comment was “distracting” and “undisciplined.” The assembled pundits spent nearly ten minutes discussion the story, along with a new NBC poll that was bad news for Biden. (Inflation!)

What was mostly ignored by the round table was the blockbuster story about Virginia (Ginni) Thomas, wife of right-wing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She had been texting unhinged QAnon-like messages to Trump’s chief of staff after the 2020 election, strategizing and urging that Biden’s victory be overturned, saving America from “the end of Liberty.” The NBC pundits on Sunday spent 45 seconds discussing that story.

Like when Trump was recently caught smuggling boxes of top-secret documents out of the White House, the Beltway press is treating Ginni Thomas’ seditious assault on democracy as a middling story; one that will likely receive little or no new coverage in coming days.

The revelation that Thomas’ plugged-in wife who enjoyed easy access to the Trump White House hoped that “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators … will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition,” came just after Republican Senators used QAnon signaling during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. She was smeared as a child pornography apologist.

“Meet the Press” was hardly alone in sleepwalking past the Ginni Thomas story, which represents another GOP direct assault on democracy and election integrity. “ABC This Week”s’ round table spent ten minutes dissecting Biden’s Putin “gaffe,” and just three minutes acknowledging the Supreme Court’s stunning setback in terms of its reputation for fairness. (The Court’s already at its lowest standing ever.)

Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal has yet to run a single page-one piece on the Thomas story and how she accused the “Left” of “attempting the greatest Heist of our History,” and complained about being “disgusted” with Vice President Mike Pence for approving the 2020 election results.

CNN announced Biden’s overseas Putin comment had set off “shock waves.” But I can find no CNN coverage that suggest the same thing occurred when we learned about Ginni Thomas’ relentless, high-level push to overturn the election (a “fight of good versus evil”) while Judge Thomas was the only justice who voted against allowing the release of records from the Trump White House related to the Jan. 6 attack. Thomas’ lone, radical dissent on another 2020 election case openly promoted Trump lies about mail-in ballots. Lies that sound a lot like Ginni’s.

Cable news in general has been slow walking the story. Look at how much TV attention the Thomas controversy received compared to how many hours this month were showered on the issue of rising gas prices in the U.S.

News organizations still see themselves primarily as witnesses in the anti-democracy drama, paid to document the beating it’s taking at the hands of radical Republicans who try to dismantle the concept of free and fair elections in America.

“The Thomases are a team. When I was a Heritage intern as a young conservative, Ginni brought in Clarence to visit with the interns. The idea that there’s some wall of separation btw their respective, uh, professional activities is willful naivety,” tweeted Matthew Sitman. He’s a co-host of the “Know Your Enemy” podcast, which spotlights the conservative movement. “One of the most important tasks of our time is to see extremely obvious things and not pretend they’re anything other than they are because our brains’ have been poisoned by the idea that telling the truth and holding corrupt, lawless actors accountable is “partisan.”

The press isn’t all that interested in telling the obvious truth about Ginni and Clarence Thomas.

 

March 27

 

Vladimir Putin

leonid ivashovStudy in Contrasts: It's widely speculated that Russian President Vladimir Putin, above right, is afraid of mingling with his generals from fear of them regarding the cruel and disastrous Ukraine invasion and not from Covid-19. Among the reasons, Putin was recently photographed enjoying himself mingling with a group airline stewardesses and one of Russia's most famed Cold War generals, retired Gen. Leonid Ivashov, right, denounced Putin's invasion and called on him to resign in an open letter in February shortly before the invasion on behalf of the All-Russian Officers Association that Ivashov chairs.

 joe biden pizza poland 3 25 2022

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, below, dined on boxed-in pizza with a group of U.S. soldiers on Friday at a base in Poland. Pro-Repbulican, pro-Putin QAnon political operativs, lunatics and dupes responded with a claim that the pizza came from a pizza parlor in Washington, DC where they claim prominent Democrats have inflicted sexual torture of children in a basement. The eatery has no basement and no record of any such abuse, as widely proven years ago. Yet the slanders persist with dissemination via right-wing social media even now during wartime and during war crimes killing children, among others, in Ukraine.

 

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President Biden comforts a Ukrainian refugee in a camp in Poland on Saturday, March 26, 2022 (White House photo by Joe Walsh).

President Biden comforts a Ukrainian refugee in a camp in Poland on Saturday, March 26, 2022 (White House photo by Joe Walsh).

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Biden Caps 3 Days of Diplomacy With Rebuke of Putin, Marc Santora with staff reports, March 27, 2022. The Kremlin condemned President Biden’s comments, and the White House said he was not calling for regime change.

Missiles hit the city of Lviv and thousands were still stranded in Mariupol.As President Biden returned to Washington after three days of rallying allies in Europe, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine stepped up his calls for the West to provide planes and tanks and other weapons to help his army defeat Russian aggression.

Ukrainian forces on Sunday continued to make progress along multiple fronts in pushing back the Russian advance on Kyiv, the capital. Most notably, the Ukrainian military said that a large formation of Russian soldiers had fallen back to an area around the now defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant to regroup after suffering heavy losses.

As President Biden returned to Washington after rallying allies in Europe, President Volodymyr Zelensky stepped up calls for the West to provide military equipment.

Mr. Biden’s remarks in Poland about President Vladimir Putin grabbed the world’s attention. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” he said.

Ukrainian forces on Sunday continued to make progress along multiple fronts in pushing back the Russian advance on Kyiv. Here’s the latest.

washington post logoWashington Post, Blinken: Biden not seeking Putin ouster, Miriam Berger, Rick Noack, Adela Suliman and Rachel Pannett, March 27, 2022. The White House is walking back President Biden’s fiery, ad-libbed comments calling Vladimir Putin a “dictator" who “cannot remain in power” — insisting the United States is not looking for regime change in Russia.

“We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia - or anywhere else, for that matter," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday from Jerusalem, stressing that Biden’s point was that the Russian president “cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else."

joe biden black background resized serious fileBiden’s Warsaw speech, capping his European tour, came as two powerful rockets struck around 250 miles away — across the border in Lviv, a western city considered relatively safe in the month-long war, amid conflicting reports that Moscow is shifting the locus of war from capturing Ukraine’s capital to prioritizing securing the east. Russian forces appear to be trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in the country’s separatist-held regions in the east, advancing from the direction of Kharkiv in the northeast and Mariupol in the southeast, a British intelligence report said Sunday. The head of Ukrainian military intelligence accused Russia on Sunday of trying “to create North and South Korea in Ukraine” by dividing it into two parts, one Moscow-controlled.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated demands for Western countries to supply planes and tanks to Ukraine, and he criticized the West for its hesitation. Washington, wary of ensnaring NATO in the war, pledged another $100 million in security aid to Ukraine to shore up its police and border guards. Though diplomatic talks are stalled, Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss signaled late Saturday that sweeping economic sanctions on Russia could be lifted if Moscow ends its “aggression” that’s displaced one in four people in Ukraine — and forced half its children from their homes.

Here’s what to know

  • Russian forces have entered Slavutych, a northern city of about 25,000 people that houses workers from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
  • Ukrainian officials say their forces have killed seven Russian generals on the battlefield. If true, the deaths of so many generals in one month, alongside more senior Russian army and naval commanders, exceeds the attrition rate seen in the worst months of the bloody nine-year war fought by Russia in Chechnya, as well as Russian and Soviet-era campaigns in Afghanistan, Georgia and Syria.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden: Putin ‘cannot remain in power'; White House walks back remark, Amy Cheng, Miriam Berger, Jennifer Hassan, Marisa Iati and Kim Bellware, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). In a speech Saturday, President Biden accused Vladimir Putin of lying; From Poland, Biden calls Putin ‘a butcher’; rockets reportedly strike Lviv.

President Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” in a forceful speech Saturday wrapping up a trip to Europe meant to bolster NATO’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

dmitry peskovThe president’s remark initially seemed to suggest support for regime change — something the Biden administration has taken pains to avoid — though the White House later said Biden only meant Putin should not be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.

“That’s not for Biden to decide,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, right, said, according to state media. “The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”

  • Speaking from Warsaw, Biden tells world to prepare for ‘long fight ahead’ in Ukraine
  • Biden warns Putin against attacking ‘one single inch’ of NATO territory, says alliance is stronger

Biden’s words capped a fiery speech in which he called Putin a “dictator,” warning him not to encroach on NATO territory and urging Ukrainians to steel themselves for a long battle. He framed the Kremlin’s invasion as the “test of all time” for democracy.

His trip came as fierce fighting continued in Ukraine. Officials in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv reported several powerful explosions on Saturday, and a large plume of smoke could be seen billowing in the air.

President Biden said Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” as he sought to reassure Poland of Washington’s commitment to NATO and the security of its allies bordering Russia.

Speaking in Warsaw on the last day of his trip to Europe, Biden called Putin a “dictator” and warned him not to encroach on NATO territory while urged Ukrainians to steel themselves for a long battle. In a meeting earlier with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Biden said the United States regards NATO’s Article 5, establishing the alliance’s principle of collective defense, as a “sacred commitment.”

Biden also met with Ukrainian refugees, and afterward he called Putin “a butcher.”

His trip came as fierce fighting continued in Ukraine. Officials in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv reported several powerful explosions on Saturday, and a large plume of smoke could be seen billowing in the air.

How many people have been killed in Ukraine? Here’s what we know.

Here’s what to know

  • Speaking by video to the Doha Forum in Qatar on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the destruction in the port city of Mariupol, comparing it to “what we all saw in Aleppo” — a reference to the northern Syrian city battered by Syrian and Russian forces during the civil war in Syria.
  • The Pentagon said Friday that Russia has halted ground operations aimed at Kyiv and is instead focusing attacks on the eastern Donbas region. The move is seen as a sign that Moscow might be paring back its ambitions for the invasion. A U.S. military think tank, however, expressed skepticism that Russia’s war aims have changed.
  • For weeks, the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv north of the capital has been under near-constant Russian attack, almost entirely cut off from power, water, food and gas amid constant artillery fire. One resident has shared with The Washington Post the daily struggles that he and others face.
  • American teacher Tyler Jacob has been released from Russian custody and reunited with his wife and daughter. He was detained 10 days ago at a checkpoint in Crimea as he was seeking evacuation to Turkey.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

 

President Biden, who met with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw on Saturday, said the children asked for him to pray “for my dad, or my grandfather, and my brother,” who remain in Ukraine (Photo by Doug Mills of The New York Times).

President Biden, who met with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw on Saturday, said the children asked for him to pray “for my dad, or my grandfather, and my brother,” who remain in Ukraine (Photo by Doug Mills of The New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Meets Ukraine Refugees in Poland, Including Ones From Mariupol, Michael D. Shear, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden visited a stadium in Warsaw where the Polish authorities are assisting the waves of people who are fleeing Ukraine.

President Biden called President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “a butcher” on Saturday, in response to a question after meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, including several from Mariupol, the city that has been flattened by days of shelling from Russian forces.

Asked what he thinks of Mr. Putin and of what has happened in Mariupol, Mr. Biden said simply: “He’s a butcher.”

His comment came as he visited a stadium in Warsaw where the Polish authorities are assisting the waves of people who are fleeing Ukraine. He shook hands and exchanged comments with people as they crowded around him. At one point, he picked up a little girl with a pink jacket and brown pigtails and took a selfie with her.

Each one of the children, Mr. Biden said, asked for him to pray “for my dad, or my grandfather, and my brother,” who remain in Ukraine.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden meets Ukrainian ministers in Poland, Amy Cheng, Miriam Berger and Jennifer Hassan, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Biden says the U.S. will take 100,000 Ukrainians. But how many will go? Amid rumors about Russian defense chief’s absence, he reappears.

President Biden met Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers in Poland on Saturday, at talks that also included Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin. Biden, on the last day of a European trip intended to bolster the NATO alliance, will also deliver a speech at Warsaw’s polish flag wavingRoyal Castle focused on defending democratic principles, meet with his Polish counterpart and the mayor of Warsaw, and visit a soccer stadium sheltering Ukrainian refugees.

Much of his visit will focus on the humanitarian crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Poland has taken in about 2 million of the more than 3.5 million Ukrainians who have fled their war-battered country, and the Warsaw mayor has warned that the Polish capital is struggling to cope with the nato logo flags namerefugee influx. The president visited a Polish city some 60 miles from Ukraine on Friday, saying he regretting not being able to cross the border and see the crisis firsthand. Ukraine has repeatedly called on a hamstrung NATO to do more to stop Russia’s onslaught, now in its second month.

Although fierce fighting persists, the Pentagon said Russia has halted ground operations aimed at Kyiv and is instead focusing attacks on the eastern Donbas region. The move is seen as a sign that Moscow might be paring back its ambitions for the invasion, but air attacks on Ukraine continue. Speaking by video to the Doha Forum in Qatar on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on oil and natural gas exporters to help “stabilize the situation in Europe” by increasing production. He also described the destruction in the port city of Mariupol, comparing it to "what we all saw in Aleppo” - a reference to the northern Syrian city battered by Syrian and Russian forces during the country’s civil war.

Here’s what to know

  • For weeks, the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv north of the capital has been under near-constant Russian attack, almost entirely cut off from power, water, food and gas amid constant artillery bombing. One resident has shared the daily struggles he and others face with The Washington Post.
  • Hospitals, ambulances, doctors and patients continue to come under fire in Ukraine, with the World Health Organization documenting more than 70 such attacks since Russia invaded.
  • The United Nations said it has seen evidence of mass graves in the blockaded city of Mariupol. The Washington Post has spoken to terrified residents who survived what Ukrainian officials said was a Russian airstrike on a Mariupol theater that was sheltering civilians.
  • American teacher Tyler Jacob has been released from Russian custody and reunited with his wife and daughter. He was detained 10 days ago at a checkpoint in Crimea as he was seeking evacuation to Turkey.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

 

joe biden strangled democracy

Facebook, Analysis: What to make of Biden's speech in Warsaw? Scott Horton, right, March 26, 2022. This is clearly one of the most consequential speeches scott hortonBiden has ever given. It appears to send several messages, some frank and some rather subtle.

In the first instance, Biden's message is one of reassurance to the people of Poland, the Baltics, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova: the NATO front line states. Biden is a life-long Catholic and he is addressing a Catholic audience—this is very clear not just from the quotations of Pope John Paul II, but also from language used throughout the speech designed to showcase compassion and solidarity.

Just as the NATO summit abandoned the "trip wire" theory it has used on the eastern frontier for two decades and replaced it with strongly ramped up ground forces and a commitment to "defend every centimeter" of NATO territory, this speech delivers reassurance to the frontline countries of US resolve to defend them. That reassurance is needed because of years of statements by Tucker Carlsons, Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Donald J Trumps suggesting strongly that the US would not defend them, and that it felt no binding obligation to NATO as an institution.

Second, Biden addresses the Ukrainians and says "we stand with you," while making it clear that this is not the same kind of commitment that he has made to NATO. He cites weapons systems that will be delivered, but there are no surprises in this part of the speech. Third, Biden addresses Russia. This may be the most important and also the most problem-laced part of the speech. He described his long history of dealing with Russia from the Soviet era forward, and he lists the aspiration of ordinary Russians in terms that deviate starkly from Putin. He places the blame for the current war on Putin directly and denies that the Russian people bear responsibility for it. He expresses a desire that Putin be removed from power.

Is this "regime change" in the sense of the George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld days? I don't see that. He's not threatening an invasion of Russia to remove Putin/ Indeed, quite the opposite, he has made clear that he will not escalate the conflict in Ukraine in any way that would put NATO forces in confrontation with Russia.

But he is suggesting very strongly that US anti-Russian sanctions will remain in place as long as Putin is in power, but may be relaxed or lifted if the Russian people remove him from power. How would that happen? He doesn't go there. Can it be by elections? Not likely. Can it be by an internal coup? Perhaps. Biden appears to say, as he should, that this is up to Russians, not foreign powers.

But if it happens, it can be rewarded. I didn't consider this third part of the speech as something terribly artful or effective as outreach to Russians. On the other hand, it exuded strength coupled with compassion, and those are the right messages to send.

Scott Horton, a longtime attorney with expertise in human rights and media, is a Lecturer at Columbia University in the City of New York, a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and counsel at DLA Piper.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian generals are getting killed at an extraordinary rate, William Booth, Robyn Dixon and David L. Stern, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). The war in Ukraine is proving extraordinarily lethal for Russian generals, the gray men bedecked in service medals, who are being aggressively targeted by Ukrainian forces and killed at a rate not seen since World War II.

Ukrainian officials say their forces have killed seven generals on the battlefield, felled by snipers, close combat and bombings.

If true, the deaths of so many generals, alongside more senior Russian army and naval commanders — in just four weeks of combat — exceeds the attrition rate seen in the worst months of fighting in the bloody nine-year war fought by Russia in Chechnya, as well as Russian and Soviet-era campaigns in Afghanistan, Georgia and Syria.

“It is highly unusual,” said a senior Western official, briefing reporters on the topic, who confirmed the names, ranks and “killed in action” status of the seven.

In all, at least 15 senior Russian commanders have been killed in the field, said Markiyan Lubkivsky, a spokesperson for the Ukraine Ministry of Defense.

NATO officials estimated earlier this week that as many as 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in four weeks of war, a very high number. Russia has offered a far lower figure, reporting Friday that only 1,351 of its fighters had died.

The Russian government has not confirmed the deaths of its generals.

If the numbers of senior commanders killed proves accurate, the Russian generals have been either extremely unlucky or successfully targeted — or both.

Shooting generals is a legitimate tactic of war — and it has been openly embraced by Ukrainian officials, who say their forces have been focused on slowing Russian advances by concentrating fire on Russian command-and-control units near the front lines.

 

A Russian tank burning next to an unidentified soldier’s body during a fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday (Photo by Sergey Bobok/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images).

A Russian tank burning next to an unidentified soldier’s body during a fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine earlier this month (Photo by Sergey Bobok/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images).

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia’s failures in Ukraine imbue Pentagon with newfound confidence, Greg Jaffe and Dan Lamothe, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Russia begins to mobilize reinforcements as casualties mount, Pentagon says For more than a decade, the Pentagon, pinned down in Afghanistan, followed China’s rise as a global power and Russia’s ambitious military modernization program with growing alarm. The consensus in Beijing, Moscow and among some in Washington was that an era of U.S. global dominance was rapidly coming to an end.

But one month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, senior Pentagon officials are brimming with newfound confidence in American power, spurred by the surprising effectiveness of U.S.-backed Ukrainian forces, Russia’s heavy battlefield losses and the cautionary lessons they believe China is taking from the war.

“Let me put it this way,” said one senior Pentagon official of America’s standing in the world. “Who would you switch places with? Seriously, who would you switch places with?”

It’s a stunning shift in tone for a department that in August ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan with a chaotic withdrawal as an ascendant Taliban returned to power. Even though the U.S. military has not played the primary role in the American response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, senior Pentagon officials said.

 

A Russian tank column is shown before and after being destroyed by Ukrainian drones (Photo by New York Times).A Russian tank column is shown before and after being destroyed by Ukrainian drones (Photo by New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian Forces Regroup After Struggling to Take Kyiv, Marc Santora, March 27, 2022. Russia May Aim to Split Ukraine as War Turns Unpredictable. Ukrainian forces have gone on the offensive in areas where Russian lines are stretched thin, and have won back two villages near Kharkiv.

Yet officials warned that President Vladimir Putin of Russia may try to divide Ukraine by consolidating territory in the east and south. As the fighting entered its second month, the war has devolved into a patchwork of contested spaces. Here’s the latest. 

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden to unveil new minimum tax targeting richest 700 Americans, Jeff Stein, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden’s “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” plan would establish a 20 percent minimum tax rate for households worth more than $100 million, an administration document says.

The White House will unveil a new minimum tax targeting billionaires as part of its 2023 budget Monday, proposing a tax on the richest 700 Americans for the first time, according to five people with knowledge of the matter and an administration document obtained by The Washington Post.

The “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” plan under President Biden would establish a 20 percent minimum tax rate on all American households worth more than $100 million, the document says. The majority of new revenue raised by the tax would come from billionaires.

Biden has long favored higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but the White House has not introduced a tax plan specifically designed to hit billionaires until now. The plan comes amid signs that the administration’s negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) over stalled White House economic proposal may be reviving. But all previous efforts to tax billionaires have failed amid major political head winds, and it is unclear if Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) will go along with the plan.

Many billionaires can pay far lower tax rates than average Americans because the federal government does not tax the increase in the value of their stock holdings until those assets are sold. Billionaires are able to borrow against their accumulated gains without triggering taxes on capital gains, enabling huge accumulations of wealth to go virtually untaxed by the federal government.

Lofty tax agenda of Democrats imperiled by resistance from within

The White House Office of Management and Budget and Council of Economic Advisers estimated this fall that 400 billionaire families paid an average federal tax rate of just over 8 percent of their income between 2010 and 2018. That rate is lower than the rate paid by millions of Americans.

 

U.S. Supreme Court Scandal

 United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r). (Safe Image)

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r).

 washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Ginni Thomas’s texts reveal fears, motivation behind efforts to overturn election, Dan Balz, right, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). The dan balz column portraitmessages offer ample evidence that the drive to keep Trump in office went to the highest levels of the government amid fears of a Democratic administration.

“Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.”

What more does anyone need to know about the many text messages sent by Virginia “Ginni” Thomas to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the weeks after the 2020 election? A dozen words (above) sum up everything.

That the spouse of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was imploring the president’s highest-ranking adviser to do all he could to overturn the 2020 election may seem beyond extraordinary. It is, but it is more than that.

The messages once again show how former president Donald Trump’s conspiracies, lies and obsessions infected the Republican Party (and in many quarters still do), from its rank-and-file base to some of its most establishment figures. The more that is known about the events between Election Day 2020 and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the clearer it is just how extensive the efforts to overturn the election were and how high up they went.

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Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This is not advise and consent. This is smear and degrade, Ruth Marcus, right, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). The pretense is gone — the ruth marcus twitter Custompretense that Supreme Court confirmation hearings are about determining nominees’ fitness for office, gleaning a sense of their legal acumen and approach to judging, and gathering the information necessary to exercise a solemn senatorial power.

No longer. Advise and consent has yielded to smear and degrade. The goal is not to illuminate but to tarnish: If a nominee can’t be stopped, at least the other side can inflict some damage on her and the opposition party.

The confirmation hearings just concluded for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson represented the culmination of a sad trajectory. Nominations and hearings have always had a political component; after all, the Framers assigned the confirmation power to a political branch.

But never has a confirmation hearing been less about law and more about partisan point-scoring and presidential campaign-launching.

The 1987 confirmation hearings for Robert H. Bork kicked off the modern judicial wars, and Republicans still seethe over Bork as Democrats’ original sin. “We started down this road of character assassination in the 1980s with Judge Bork’s hearings and senators have been engaged in disgusting theatrics ever since,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).

I was there, and what actually happened was, to borrow Bork’s famous description of why he wanted to be a justice, an “intellectual feast” — especially in comparison with this past week’s food fight. He was defeated by a vote of 58 to 42, including six Republican senators opposed. (Two Democrats voted to confirm him.)

That wasn’t because Democrats dragged him “into the gutter,” as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) complained. Bork defeated Bork all by himself, thanks to his earlier, incendiary writings and then his testimony before the committee. His expressed views were so extreme and so far outside the legal mainstream that his confirmation failed by the largest margin in history.

“His view of the law is at sharp variance with more than a century of Supreme Court decisions which have applied equal protection to women, aliens, illegitimates, indigents and others,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), announcing his vote.

Contrast this with the case, such as it is, against Jackson. There were interludes of substance involving her judicial philosophy and methodology for deciding cases, her understanding of the substantive due process cases that led to rulings supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage, even a case or two on which she had ruled.

But with minds made up, substantive probing mostly gave way to posturing.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are in terms of religion?” asked Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)

“Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?” asked Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) And, “do you believe child predators are misunderstood?” Quoting from Jackson’s college thesis, Blackburn asked, “What personal hidden agendas do you harbor or do you think other judges harbor?”


 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson tears up briefly and for the only time during her three days of confirmation testimony as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) consoles her for the vicious slurs and innuendoes that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched at her. Shown below are her parents as they observed the highs and lows (Photo via the Associated Press).

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson tears up briefly and for the only time during her three days of confirmation testimony as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) consoles her for the vicious slurs laced with sexual and racial innuendoes that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched at her, most notably by Ted Cruz (TX), Josh Hawley (MO), Marsha Blackburn (TN)  and Tom Cotton (Photo via the Associated Press). Shown below are her parents as they observed the highs and lows.

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alexander vindman oath hand raised

washington post logoWashington Post Magazine, Interview: ‘These Events That Are Unfolding Now Will Shape the 21st Century’; Alexander Vindman on Vladimir Putin, the invasion of Ukraine and the dangers ahead, Interview by KK Ottesen, March 27, 2022 (print ed.).

Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, 46, served in the U.S. Army and as director of European and Russian affairs for the National Security Council during the Trump administration. He testified (as shown above) in the first impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump. He lives in Virginia with his wife and children. This interview was conducted March 8 and has been edited for clarity and length.

Question: Your perspective on what’s happening in Ukraine is unique, having been born in Ukraine under the Soviet system, coming to the United States with your family as refugees, and then studying the region for years in the Army, with the NSC. What’s it been like for you, personally and professionally?

Vindman: It’s surreal, it’s disturbing. It’s disheartening on multiple levels. There’s the human toll of the suffering that’s unfolding, but also, all of my work and my energies were on avoiding something like this, avoiding a war that potentially drags the U.S. in, and I’ve utterly failed. Complete, total failure in that regard.

Serving in Russia from 2012 to 2015 clarified my suspicions that we were headed towards confrontation with Russia at one point or another, that [President Vladimir] Putin was increasingly emboldened, acting with impunity on the perceptions that there would not be a consequence for his increasingly aggressive behavior. So I knew it was really just a matter of time. And then being part of the Trump administration that took that creeping, looming confrontation and lurched it forward significantly — both on the macro level, with regards to undermining our alliances, perceptions that there were divides for Putin to exploit, the insipid efforts to undermine and weaken the United States domestically. And then, of course, on the micro level, weakening the bonds between the U.S. and Ukraine. And then, post-Trump, the insurrection was a key milestone in that, you know: “The U.S. is weak. This is the time to strike.”

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, The century is different but the geography, war tactics, and war crimes are the same, Wayne Madsen, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallleft, March 27, 2022. There is very little difference between the war strategy and crimes of Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.

The geographical battlefields are the same, although the spelling of many of the cities and regions has changed over the years. There are reports that Russians are forcibly relocating tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens, including children and the elderly to "camps" inside Russia. We saw that tactic used by the Nazis in World War II with disastrous and unspeakable inhumane consequences. Ukrainian cities are being pummeled to rubble by the Russians. That, too, was a tactic of the Nazis.

We can turn back the clock to wire service and newspaper accounts about the Nazi occupation of eastern and central Europe to understand that Putin is visiting some of the same horrors of war upon Europe in the year 2022.

washington post logoWashington Post, The ‘deglobalization’ of Moscow, Ruby Mellen, Maite Fernández Simon, Júlia Ledur and Yutao Chen, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). A walk down two streets shows how life has changed in Russia’s capital as Western companies have pulled out of the country.

 

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia delivering an address Friday, March 25, 2022, on

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia delivering an address Friday, March 25, 2022 on "cancel culture” that was broadcast nationwide. (Pool photo by Mikhail Klimentyev.)

ny times logoNew York Times, Putin Goes Into Battle on a Second Front: Culture, Anton Troianovski and Javier C. Hernández, March 26, 2022. Beyond Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin is also fighting cultural battles.

In a speech on Friday from the nondescript, beige-walled office in which he has been conducting much of his public business this month, Mr. Putin made no mention of Ukraine. Instead, he expanded upon a personal obsession: “cancel culture.”

Western elites “canceled” the author J.K. Rowling because she “did not please fans of so-called gender freedoms,” Mr. Putin said in his nationally televised remarks, flanked by two Russian flags. Ms. Rowling was widely criticized in 2020 after voicing support for a researcher whose views on transgender people had been condemned by a court.

Japan, he claimed, “cynically decided to ‘cancel’” the fact that it was the United States that dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. And now, he said, the West is busy “canceling” Russia, “an entire thousand-year-old country, our people.”

That the Russian president delivered a disquisition on Western public discourse on Friday may seem odd at a time when Russia is fighting what some analysts believe to be its bloodiest war since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. But it underscores how Mr. Putin tries to channel cultural grievances and common stereotypes for political gain — while using language that also allows him to speak directly to possible allies in the West.

“This is his cultural front,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “He’s also at war there.”

Speaking at the beginning of a videoconference with Russian cultural figures, Mr. Putin said “proverbial ‘cancel culture’ has become the cancellation of culture.”

And, as seems inevitable in Mr. Putin’s speeches these days, the Nazis came up, too.

“The names of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff are being removed from playbills. Russian writers and their books are being banned,” Mr. Putin said. “The last time such a mass campaign to destroy objectionable literature was carried out was by the Nazis in Germany almost 90 years ago.”

For the moment, Mr. Kolesnikov said, Mr. Putin’s main audience when railing against Western “cancel culture” is domestic, with the Kremlin intent on feeding the grievances against the West upon which Mr. Putin draws much of his support. But casting Russia as a protector of traditional values from the thrall of wanton liberalism is also a message that finds sympathy around the world — including among American right-wing commentators like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, whose monologues are often shown on Russian state television.

“We have a constitutional right to a free press but we don’t have it,” Mr. Carlson, dubbed into Russian, said in a clip from his show that was played in a news segment on state-controlled Channel 1 this week. “And that is not Russian propaganda.”

Mr. Putin on Friday defined “cancel culture” as the “public ostracism, boycotting and even complete silencing” of people who “do not fit into modern templates, no matter how absurd they really are.”

It was at least the third time in recent months that he spoke about the subject, one that appears to encapsulate for him the hypocrisy and shallowness of Western elites.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine ‘disappointed’ in NATO, as Biden visits U.S. troops in Poland, Ashley Parker, Karen DeYoung and Alex Horton, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden traveled to this southeastern Polish city Friday to visit U.S. troops deployed along NATO’s eastern fringe as a bulwark against Russian incursion, and to laud Poland’s humanitarian role in welcoming more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees.
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Biden, who met with members of the 82nd Airborne Division and Polish President Andrzej Duda, said he regretted that he could not cross the border into Ukraine, barely 60 miles away, to see the crisis firsthand.

ukraine flagBut inside Ukraine, where Russia’s brutal onslaught continued, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said officials were “very disappointed” in the outcome of the series of summits Wednesday among NATO and European Union leaders in Brussels that brought Biden to Europe.

“We expected more bravery. We expected some bold decisions,” Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, told the Washington-based Atlantic Council via live video Friday.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials believe that the Russian operation has already failed in some respects, given strong Ukrainian resistance and heavy Russian losses, and Russia signaled Friday its aims might be narrowing. But Yermak’s remarks served as a reminder that Ukraine remains outmanned, outgunned and facing more destruction each day. The Pentagon said Friday Russia has begun to mobilize military reinforcements to possibly send into Ukraine.

By issuing a general statement of ongoing military support, while continuing to deny Ukraine’s requests to send it Soviet-era jet fighters, impose a no-fly zone against Russian aircraft over Ukraine, and speed the flow of more heavy weaponry, Yermak said, NATO “is just trying to ensure that it is not provoking Russia to a military conflict” with the West, calling the alliance’s inaction “appeasement.”

“We need very concrete things. But we still have to repeatedly remind you,” he said.

Yermak said Ukraine needs NATO to “close our sky” to Russian air power and provide “intelligence in real time,” as well as more antiaircraft and antitank weaponry — some of which is now in short supply in the West. He also pleaded for more long-range artillery, rocket launchers and small weapons.

“Without it,” Yermak said, “our war will not be able to stand.”

Far from an anticipated rush toward full occupation of a country with a far weaker military, Russia appeared Friday to have at least partially lost control of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, on the Black Sea, according to defense officials, the first of a handful of midsized cities it has struggled to occupy in the five weeks since the invasion began.

Ukrainian forces, bolstered by armed civilians, have pushed back Russian advances in other parts of the country, as well. The Pentagon said Friday that Ukraine has made “incremental” progress against Russia outside the northern city of Chernihiv, and other offensives were underway in the western suburbs in Kyiv, the capital. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said that Russian troops, stalled outside Kyiv for weeks, have begun to establish defensive positions instead of prioritizing an advance.

While Russia’s objective in the invasion initially appeared to be seizing Kyiv, the Kremlin is now emphasizing its intention to control the Donbas region in the east, where Ukrainian troops have been fighting against two breakaway areas since 2014. Moscow has recognized the region as two separate “republics.”

“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” Sergey Rudskoy, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said in a speech Friday.

The renewed focus on Donbas could be a face-saving measure as the Russians fail to achieve their larger aims, such as the capture of Kyiv and decapitation of Ukraine’s government. Russians have made modest gains in the east, and their focus now may be to enlarge territory controlled by separatists and declare victory. It could also be designed as a ruse to allow beleaguered Russian troops to rest.

 

volodymyr zelenski t shirt siege

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Zelensky Wants a No-Fly Zone. NATO Is Right to Say No, Brian Finucane and Olga Oliker (international aid personnel), March 26, 2022. At the NATO summit this week, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine (shown above in a file photo) lamented what he viewed as the failure of the United States and its allies to help establish a “no-fly zone in any way” over his nation.

This follows his earlier pleas for a no-fly zone imposed by NATO or the United States soon after Russia began bombarding Ukraine. The Biden administration and NATO leadership as a whole have continued to reject proposals to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. They are right to do so.

Mr. Zelensky’s disappointment is, however, understandable. In just over a month of war, Ukrainians have suffered tremendously from horrific attacks by Russian missiles, artillery and aircraft. Russia’s onslaught hasn’t spared civilians. Its forces have destroyed hospitals and schools. Millions of Ukrainians have fled in fear.

Despite the egregiousness of such violence, a U.S.- or NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Ukraine is not the way to stop Russia’s aggression. It would have unclear humanitarian benefits while increasing, rather than lowering, the risk of war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers, the United States and Russia.

Mr. Putin, through words and exercises, has repeatedly raised the specter of mutually assured destruction since the start of this crisis. If a U.S.-Russian direct confrontation were to occur and Russia were to use nuclear weapons, even the detonation of a so-called lower-yield nuclear weapon would wreak enormous consequences and most likely provoke a NATO response. The conflict could escalate with terrifying speed. A 2019 simulation created at Princeton University suggests that what is intended as a warning shot from Moscow could, within hours, trigger a full-scale nuclear war with more than 90 million casualties.

Rather than run that risk for potentially little real effect, Western nations have chosen the more prudent path of supporting Ukraine in its fight as effectively as possible without getting directly involved.

The purpose of a no-fly zone would be to keep Russia’s planes from bombing civilians. To accomplish that objective would require threatening to shoot down Russian aircraft if they enter the designated zone and shooting down the planes if they fly in anyway. Enforcing a no-fly zone could also mean destroying Russian aircraft by attacking them on the ground, as well as attacking airfields and other support infrastructure.

In addition, NATO planes would most likely have to suppress Russian air defenses to protect their aircrews. This would involve additional NATO airstrikes on Russian forces on the ground, such as surface-to-air missiles and radar facilities.

Given the range of some of Russia’s surface-to-air missiles, such as the S-400, some of the defenses covering Ukraine could even be located in Russia. Suppressing them could therefore require NATO to attack Russian forces on Russian territory. This is all true even for a so-called “limited” no-fly zone, one that covers only parts of Ukraine, an idea endorsed by a number of former U.S. officials. Mr. Putin has, unsurprisingly, said that he would regard any U.S. attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine as bringing the United States and its NATO allies into the conflict.

A war between Russia and NATO will be difficult to keep limited. Given Western conventional superiority and talk of regime change in Russia from a U.S. senator, war could easily be perceived as an existential threat for Moscow. In that case, and in line with Russian doctrine, it is not impossible that the Kremlin could green-light nuclear weapon use, including against air bases supporting any such no-fly zone. Even if officials deem this nightmare scenario not the likeliest outcome of more direct Western action, it poses cataclysmic dangers that cannot be ignored.

Setting the escalation risks aside, no-fly zones by themselves counter only threats from the air. They do nothing to protect civilians from ground-based threats like missiles and artillery. Bombs dropped from warplanes have accounted for some of the death and destruction Russia is inflicting upon Ukraine (Russia has in recent days ramped up its sortie rate to hundreds a day). But according to data collected by Action on Armed Violence, an advocacy group that focuses on the impact of armed violence, more civilian casualties have been caused by ground-launched artillery, rockets, and missiles than air-launched weapons.

Even the strikes that come from aircraft may come from planes far away, rather than overhead: the cruise missile barrage against the Ukrainian military base at Yavoriv was launched from aircraft that never left Russian airspace. A no-fly zone would not stop such threats. And when it becomes clear that such a zone is not enough, as happened in Bosnia in 1995, the United States may soon feel pressure to expand its military operation to strike additional targets on the ground, further drawing it into the conflict.

Indeed, past experiences reinforce the need for caution. Since the 1990s, the United States and its allies have imposed no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, Bosnia, and Libya. In none of those cases was the United States trying to impose a no-fly zone against a military with Russia’s capabilities, or one with the ability to retaliate with nuclear weapons. Moreover, all had mixed results when it came to protecting civilians.

It is important to recognize the significance of the measures the United States and others have taken to assist in the defense of Ukraine. The overt transfers of weapons to Ukraine — weapons intended to kill Russian forces — are themselves a remarkable and potentially escalatory step. So far, that does not appear to have crossed Moscow’s redlines for military retaliation against the United States.

Seeking to deprive Russia of airpower in the conflict would be an extraordinarily dangerous gamble with uncertain payoff. The Biden administration should remain resolute in rejecting such proposals, which, although presented as half measures to avoid direct war between the United States and Russia, are in fact tantamount to exactly that war.

Mr. Finucane is the senior adviser with the U.S. program at the International Crisis Group, a think tank analyzing global crises, where Dr. Oliker is the program director for the Europe and Central Asia division.

washington post logoWashington Post, American teacher in Ukraine released from Russian custody after 10 days, Amy Cheng, March 26, 2022. Tyler Jacob, a 28-year-old American who was teaching in Ukraine, has been released from Russian custody and reunited with his wife and daughter, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said Friday.

Jacob, a Minnesota native, was detained by Russian troops roughly two weeks ago while he was fleeing the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, his parents told CBS affiliate WCCO-TV. He was on board a bus evacuating people from the city to Turkey when he was taken away by Russian soldiers at a checkpoint in Crimea, his father said. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Jacob was the only U.S. citizen on the bus, according to his father, who said Russian state media had made a “heart-wrenching” propaganda video featuring his son. Jacob was later taken to Russia, where he was held for 10 days, Klobuchar said in a statement, adding that his release was secured with the assistance of the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“While this is good news, my heart remains with all those separated from their loved ones or in danger,” Klobuchar said. “As Vladimir Putin continues his senseless war, our commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine is steadfast.”

Jacob’s mother, Tina Hauser, said on CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” that she spoke with her son on Friday. She said he was in a NATO member state, though she did not specify the country.

“It sounded like angels singing in my ear, hearing his voice,” Hauser said. “It’s going to be astronomical, the feelings that are going to flow through me, when I get to give my son a hug for the first time.”

Jacob said he had been treated very well in Russian custody and had “no complaints,” his father said.

Kherson, home to some 290,000 people before the invasion, is a vital port and Black Sea shipbuilding city. It was one of the first Ukrainian cities to come under

Here’s what to know

  • Biden voiced support for expelling Russia from the Group of 20. Several Western nations have suggested barring Russian President Vladimir Putin from a G-20 summit later this year.
  • Russia and Ukraine agreed two humanitarian corridors will operate on Friday -- including one direct from the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said. It is the first time in recent days an evacuation route has been announced direct from Mariupol, which has seen fierce street fightng.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is negotiating a deal to ensure the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. The U.N. watchdog also said Thursday that Ukraine has informed it that Russian shelling in a city near the Chernobyl plant was preventing personnel from rotating shifts..
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

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Cherry Blossoms at peak bloom at National Mall, Washington, DC (2022 Photo by National Parks Service).

Cherry Blossoms at peak bloom at National Mall, Washington, DC (Photo by National Parks Service).

Steady, Commentary: "What Man Has Made Of Man," Dan Rather, right, author and former CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor, March 27, 2022. It might seem odd to begin a consideration of the war in Ukraine, and how it echoes the dangerous divisions we are witnessing here in the United dan rather 2017States (the ultimate subject of this Sunday essay), with a poem about spring from William Wordsworth.

It’s the kind of thing that if you have the gall to include at all, you would try to safely tuck away toward the end of the column, once you have explained it and set it up with all the necessary context. And you would probably just pull a quote rather than printing the full poem. But for better or worse, that’s not the Steady way. We are all among friends here, right? So let’s give it a try, because it builds to one of the most haunting questions in verse, a question that reverberates in the tragedies of our current age.

"Lines Written in Early Spring," by William Wordsworth.

"Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?"

That last line has echoed in my mind recently. Have we not all reason to lament what man has made of man?

Amidst the beauty of our natural world, we see humans wreak death and destruction for no purpose but the misguided pursuit of glory and ego. We see good people attacked by those cynically using vitriol to gather political power. We see wealth hoarded while so many go hungry. And we see the balance of our Earth thrown off-kilter by our short-sighted actions to a degree Wordsworth never could have imagined. It is not only what man has made of man, but what we have made of our precious planet.

As we welcome spring, a season that always builds stirrings of hope in mind and heart, the tension that Wordsworth so deftly expressed is everywhere. Let us think of the symbol of Ukraine, the bright yellow sunflower. It brings such color and beauty to our world — such a stark contrast to the mounds of eviscerated rubble in Mariupol and the death and suffering they represent.

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Washington, D.C. They bring an ethereal sense of wonder to the city, as families, couples young and old, and solitary strollers gather to admire the lush budding branches:

cherry blossoms 2022 national parks

National Mall NPS @NationalMallNPS
There's really no need for a caption here. We'll let the cherry blossoms take care of the poetry. 🌸🌸🌸🌸 Pics from this morning by National Park Service. #CherryBlossom #BloomWatch

And yet this same city has seen such ugliness on display. That has been depressingly obvious in the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson at the Capitol, the same building that was the stage for a violent insurrection.

We must note, however, that Wordsworth lived before the age of modern science. He didn’t know how intertwined we are in our biological makeup to the rest of life. We sit not apart from nature, but amidst it. And nature itself is not simply unadulterated beauty or tranquility. The coronavirus represents nature. So too do the ravages of natural disasters. From the perspective of a wildebeest running for its life from a lion, nature isn’t very pretty.

And in this reality, we can perhaps also find hope. We can begin by expanding the framing to what humans have made of humans, or even more optimistically, what humans have done for humans. For as much pain and suffering as I have witnessed in my career as a reporter, I have seen many more actions of heroic kindness and decency.

The stories out of Ukraine are heartbreaking, but think of all those putting their own lives at risk to help others. The people going into the rubble to pull out survivors, even as bombs continue to fall. The farmers who continue to plant in the breadbasket of Europe, even as war rages around them. The neighboring countries helping millions of men, women, and so many children who are fleeing for their lives with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Around the world, there has been an outpouring of support for the Ukrainian people. The stirring chords of the Ukrainian national anthem seem to be everywhere, a defiant pushback to forces of darkness and death.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, we can admire the steadfast resolve of Judge Jackson and her unwavering faith in this country and the rule of law. Her testimony about how she got to this moment, of those who helped along the way, is also an inspiring tribute to what humans can do for humans.
I particularly love this picture of her husband and daughter looking on — and from the likes on Twitter, I can tell I wasn’t the only one. That the picture was taken by Sarahbeth Maney, a young Black woman, makes it all the more meaningful:

 

Being the first often means you have to be the best — and the bravest. 📸 @sbmaneyphoto for @nytimes (Photo by sarahbeth Maney for the New York Times.).

Being the first often means you have to be the best — and the bravest. 📸 @sbmaneyphoto for @nytimes (Photo by sarahbeth Maney for the New York Times.).

Ultimately, I like to believe in a conspiracy of decent people. I have lived long enough to know that the past isn’t as glorious as we would like to believe. In many ways, and for many people, it was far less just. On a global scale, our misery index, when measured for such suffering as hunger and infant mortality, has diminished.

Time marches in one direction. We can’t stop it, but we can help shape it. Each human act of support to others is one that helps heal our world. Even now, with so much anxiety and chaos destabilizing our country and beyond, we can grip firmly onto what is good and just and use it to steady ourselves for the work to be done.

Raw Story, Biden said what we're all thinking: Ex-Defense Sec. calls Beltway out of touch on Putin, Sarah K. Burris, March 27, 2022. One improvisational line in President Joe Biden's Saturday speech in Poland brought criticisms from the right on the Sunday morning news shows.

raw story logo squareThe Fox network hosts were disgusted to see Biden refer to Vladimir Putin as a "butcher" for killing at least 2,909 people, including children, according to the United Nations human rights office on Sunday. Meanwhile, Russia has kidnaped and removed over 2,000 children from Mariupol over the past weeks, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Writing for USA Today, Jill Lawrence explained that Biden’s comment might end up being a good thing. "After all, we are all thinking exactly the same," she explained.

"When you call someone a butcher, because his army has turned the sovereign democratic nation of Ukraine into a hellscape of slaughtered civilians and leveled cities for no reason except hunger for power and control, do you want that butcher to remain in power? No," she wrote Sunday. "So President Joe Biden was stating the obvious Saturday when he said of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power."

Writing for the Daily Beast, David Rothkopf called it "another confected controversy."

Speaking to CNN on Sunday, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen agreed that it's the Washington Beltway being out of touch with the rest of the world. After all, Putin made it clear in 2016 he was going to intervene to change the regime in the United States.

"I think they're making it bigger than it is," said Cohen. "What President Biden was saying is, how can a person this evil be leading a people that great? The Russian people are great people. If they had a choice, they would never have voted to go into Ukraine to kill their brothers and their sisters and their cousins and their uncles. So, this is a one-man operation who has gone in here to kill people in a neutral country, not threatening him with 44 million people now, perhaps at least 4 million or less, maybe even 10 million before this is all over. And what Biden was saying basically how can a country this great be led by someone so evil who has — he has bombed innocent people. He has killed thousands of women be and children. He has put them in a position of starving, kidnapped them, taking them back to Russia. And suddenly Republicans are getting concerned about this particular statement?"

He compared Biden to the former president, who, Cohen said, "would need a John Deere front loader to clean up all of the rhetorical mistakes." He explained that most Americans believe that Putin doesn't deserve to be the leader and that the U.S. will never be back on the same terms with Russia again until Putin is gone.

Rothkopf agreed with the sentiment, saying that after a poetic speech about freedom and against extremism and authoritarianism, the right is instead seeking to undermine the message.

"While controversy swirled around the remark, and the White House later sought to walk it back, that moment of clarity from the plain-spoken president elevated his speech," wrote Rothkopf. "It made it clear that Biden’s passion was deeply felt and real. It was the truth at a time when it is essential to be honest about Putin’s barbarism and the threat he poses not just to the world but to the people of his own country who will be denied full access to the community of nations so long as he remains in office."

It begs the question of whether the Republicans, the Fox network and others critical of Biden's remarks are advocating for Putin to remain and believe that he can be controlled if defeated. It's something Cohen doesn't necessarily believe since Putin is already hinting at using nuclear and chemical weapons.

"He has violated every rule of the international law and order," Cohen continued. "As such, this is the great irony. Putin invading another country is saying, 'I decide what the rules of engagement will be. No, you can't bring aircraft into this fight to help save the Ukrainian people. No, you can't have surface-to-air missiles that take my aircraft down. I decide what the rules will be. Not you.' This is where I think the western world has to recognize that what Putin is doing is setting the rules in his favor telling you to stay out."

Raw Story, Madison Cawthorn draws questions after allegations of GOP sex and drugs parties in Washington, Sarah Burris, March 27, 2022. "The sexual perversion that goes in Washington, I mean it being kind of a young guy in Washington with the average age of probably 60 or 70," said Cawthorn.

raw story logo square"And I look at all these people, a lot of them that I, you know, I've looked up to through my life. I've always paid attention to politics guys that, you know, then all of the sudden you get invited to like, well, hey, we're going to have kind of a sexual get together at one of our homes. You should come there, like... What, what did you just ask me to come to? And then you realize they're asking you to come to an orgy. Or the fact that, you know, there's some of the people that are leading on the movement to try and remove addiction in our country and then you watch them doing, you know, a key bump of cocaine right in front of you and it's like wow this is wild."

As one observer noted, Cawthorn doesn't generally "hang out" with Democrats. He hangs out with other Republicans, so his observations are coming from those he's observed.

Republican strategist and Bulwark columnist Tim Miller revealed that he had contacted Cawthorn's office to ask if Cawthorn intends to reveal the person who invited him to the orgy.

 

Bicycler Daniel Adler is shown peddling slowly in front of a convoy of trucker protesters south on 17th St. Northwest in Washington, DC., with the Old Executive Office Building of the White House complex visible in the photo's top right. Bicyclist Daniel Adler is shown peddling slowly in front of a convoy of trucker protesters south on 17th St. Northwest in Washington, DC., with the Old Executive Office Building of the White House complex visible in the photo's top right.

washington post logoWashington Post, Meet the Bike Man who brought the trucker convoy to a crawl, Ellie Silverman, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Lone cyclist slows down trucker convoy in Washington.

The sound reached Daniel Adler first: a chorus of honks that seemed to be moving closer.

“This is quite loud,” thought Adler, an Australia native who has lived in the Dupont Circle neighborhood for a decade. On a bike ride for groceries at the time, he decided to take a detour toward the circle to see the commotion.

The choices that Adler, 49, made in the ensuing minutes led him to the front of a section of the “People’s Convoy,” the coalition of drivers that has espoused far-right beliefs and disrupted Washingtonians’ lives for two weeks. Amid this protest of vaccine mandates — which also encapsulates a range of other grievances — residents have grown tired of drivers treating the District as their playground.

So, as a group of semi-tractors that Saturday afternoon blared their horns on 17th Street and became separated by traffic, Adler slipped in front of a few of them. Then, taking up an entire lane, he started pedaling as slowly as he could.

“I heard the stories of the traffic on the Beltway breaking up the convoy,” he said, “and I thought I, too, could break up the convoy.”

Adler, a father of two school-aged children, brought it to a crawl — and, for his efforts, became known across the Internet by a moniker somehow heroic and commonplace at once: “Bike Man.”

His convoy holdup, captured on video and shared widely on social media, was a powerful visual, and an absurd one. People nationwide observed one man on a 72-pound cargo bike halting trucks that could weigh up to 10 tons.

Many online said he was a hero. A brewery in Northeast offered him free beer. Jimmy Kimmel described it as “poetry in motion.” One Twitter user wrote:

“Gotham has Batman

Metropolis has Superman

New York has Spider-Man

Washington DC has bike man.”

To city residents exhausted and alarmed by the convoy, Adler became a symbol. To some, the cyclist was standing up to fascism, white supremacy, anti-vaccination sentiment and convoy members’ harassment of residents. Others saw his bike as an example of sustainable, clean transportation juxtaposed with massive trucks burning fuel while driving in circles.

In the moment, Adler, who is vaccinated, wasn’t probing what his choice may mean to friends, family and strangers. He just thought that driving commercial trucks and blaring horns through neighborhoods was unsafe.

Sure, they had a right to protest, he thought. But so did he.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Covid vaccinations — including boosters — fall to lowest levels since 2020, Brittany Shammas, Dan Keating, Salvador Rizzo and Lenny Bernstein, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Vaccination for the coronavirus in the United States has all but ground to a halt, with initial doses and boosters plummeting to the lowest levels since the program began in December 2020.

With another pandemic surge possibly on the way, vaccination for the coronavirus in the United States has all but ground to a halt, with initial doses and boosters plummeting to the lowest levels since the program began in late December 2020.

On Wednesday, the seven-day average of vaccinations fell to fewer than 182,000 per day, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. That is lower than at any time since the first days of the program.

Tracking the coronavirus vaccine

The daily total has been in free fall for the past six weeks. On Feb. 10, the nation was averaging more than 692,000 shots a day. Booster shots have been more common than first or second doses since October, and the low rates have long caused concern among some experts.

Now, with authorities bracing for a possible increase in covid-19 cases caused by the BA.2 subvariant, 65.4 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and just 44 percent have received a booster shot. That is substantially less than the totals in many Western European nations — which nevertheless have seen a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks and months.

What to know about BA.2, a new version of the omicron variant

Federal health officials are now considering authorizing fourth shots for people 65 and older. But the nation’s booster campaign, which was initially plagued by conflicting guidance and disagreement among advisers and scientists, has faltered: People who were willing to roll up their sleeves for first and second doses are seemingly less inclined to go for a third.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Administration Plans to Offer 2nd Booster Shots to Those 50 and Up, Sharon LaFraniere, Updated March 26, 2022. Officials decided another shot might save thousands of lives if a new wave hits before the fall. The F.D.A. could authorize the boosters next week.

The Biden administration is planning to give Americans age 50 or older the option of a second booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna coronavirus vaccine without recommending outright that they get one, according to several people familiar with the plan.

Major uncertainties have complicated the decision, including how long the protection from a second booster would last, how to explain the plan to the public and even whether the overall goal is to shield Americans from severe disease or from less serious infections as well, since they could lead to long Covid.

Much depends on when the next wave of Covid infections will hit, and how hard. Should the nation be hit by a virulent surge in the next few months, offering a second booster now for older Americans could arguably save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of hospitalizations.

But if no major wave hits until the fall, extra shots now could turn out to be a questionable intervention that wastes vaccine doses, deepens vaccination fatigue and sows doubt about the government’s strategy. The highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 is helping to drive another surge of coronavirus cases in Europe and is responsible for about a third of new cases in the United States, but health officials have said they do not anticipate a major surge caused by the subvariant.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mayor Eric Adams is facing a backlash over a vaccine exemption for athletes in New York City, Alexandra E. Petri, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Since lifting the private employer vaccine requirement for professional athletes and performers based in New York City on Thursday, Mayor eric adamsEric Adams, right, has drawn the ire of city employees, their unions and others who still must adhere to the mandate or lose their jobs.

The Police Benevolent Association, the largest police union in the city, is one of several unions that have criticized the mayor’s decision. In a statement on Thursday, Patrick J. Lynch, president of the union, said the exemption is a double standard.

“If the mandate isn’t necessary for famous people, then it’s not necessary for the cops who are protecting our city in the middle of a crime crisis,” Mr. Lynch said, adding that officers continued working throughout the pandemic, risking their health and contracting Covid-19, and “don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens now.”

It is estimated that more than 1,500 public employees in New York City have lost their jobs because they did not abide by the vaccine mandate.

The United Federation of Teachers, a powerful teachers’ union in the city, similarly denounced the change in policy, underlining the appearance of granting special treatment for some.

Meanwhile, Federal health officials on Friday restricted use of a Covid monoclonal antibody drug in eight states in the Northeast and two territories, citing evidence that it is unlikely to be effective against the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 that is now dominant in those regions and quickly gaining ground across the country.

The federal government said it would immediately pause shipments of the infused treatment, known as sotrovimab, to the 8 affected states, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Food and Drug Administration said the drug is no longer authorized for use in those places.

washington post logoWashington Post, Small lab that got $187 million for covid testing put patients in ‘jeopardy,’ Shawn Boburg and Kim Bellware, March 26, 2022. O’Hare Clinical Lab Services set up a nationwide network of pop-up sites. A Washington Post examination of its rise provides a portrait of a freewheeling segment of the testing industry that ballooned amid a massive infusion of government funds.

The drive-through coronavirus testing site, a metal shipping container in the parking lot of an Indianapolis shopping mall, gave Bridgette Alexander pause.

The man administering tests at the site, run by a company called O’Hare Clinical Lab Services, was wearing jeans and a leather jacket, not medical scrubs or a gown. He moved among the cars without changing gloves, she said. He asked for her driver’s license but not her insurance card.

But Alexander was feeling ill and desperate to make sure she didn’t pass covid-19 to her husband, a kidney transplant recipient. The rapid test came back negative that day, Dec. 23, providing temporary relief, she said.

Five days later, still sick, she went to a hospital. The test there came back positive. Her husband soon fell ill, too. He was hospitalized with covid-19 in mid-January and has remained on a ventilator since then, Alexander said.

While false negatives occur on antigen tests, Alexander now believes the first test was wholly unreliable. “I felt like the O’Hare results affected me. If I had been given real results, I could have been more cautious,” she said. “I could have done more.”

Once a small lab based out of a suburban strip mall that provided clinical tests for nursing homes and assisted-living centers near Chicago, O’Hare morphed into a testing juggernaut during the pandemic, setting up more than 100 pop-up coronavirus testing sites across the country, some little more than the shipping containers, records show.

In just 15 months, the company collected $187 million in federal money, according to government records, as it shifted its business focus and emerged as one of the nation’s largest test providers through a new program that reimbursed providers for the costs of testing the uninsured.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated March 27, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 481,372,200, Deaths: 6,146,793
U.S. Cases:     81,616,936, Deaths: 1,003,425
Indian Cases:   43,019,453, Deaths:    521,034
Brazil Cases:   29,832,179, Deaths:    658,812

Related Recent Headlines:

 

U.S. Crime, Race

Roll Call, Fortenberry resigns following conviction on charges tied to illegal contribution, Stephanie Akin and Chris Marquette, March 26, 2022. Nebraska Republican already faced challenger in May primary. Bowing to pressure from Republican leaders following his criminal conviction for lying to authorities about illegal campaign contributions, Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, right, said Saturday he will resign next week.

jeff fortenberry"When I first ran for Congress, I said that I would focus on our national security, economic security and family security," Fortenberry said in an email to supporters. "It is my dearest hope that I have made a contribution to the betterment of America, and the well being of our great state of Nebraska.

"Due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer serve you effectively. I will resign from Congress shortly," he said.

Attached to the announcement was a letter to House colleagues saying he would resign effective March 31. It quoted a poem he said was "on the wall of Mother Teresa's children's home in Calcutta."

"When you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight," it said in part. "Build anyway."

The announcement was a crushing end to Fortenberry’s nine-term career in Congress, where he was known as a soft-spoken foreign policy specialist and top appropriator for agriculture, which he said was a linchpin to stability and prosperity both domestically and abroad.

Fortenberry had vowed to appeal his conviction, the first of a sitting House member since Ohio Rep. James Traficant was convicted of accepting bribes in 2002.

But national Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said he should resign following his conviction Thursday on three counts.

“I think he had his day in court,” McCarthy told reporters Friday morning in Florida, where the House GOP was meeting to plan strategy ahead of the midterm elections, when the party needs to flip a net five seats to take the majority. “I think when someone’s convicted, it’s time to resign.”

Prominent Republicans in Nebraska had already lined up behind his challenger in the May primary, state Sen. Mike Flood. Democrats are also hoping Fortenberry’s conviction could make the district, which Fortenberry won by 22 percentage points in 2020, more competitive. State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks is one of two candidates seeking the party’s nomination.

 

Brandon Jackson, left, and Ricky Bobby

Police remove a gun from Brandon Jackson during his arrest, left. 'Ricky Bobby' is show at right. Photo via YouTube livestream.

Vice News, ‘Ricky Bobby’ Causes Ruckus at Trucker Convoy, Watches His Buddy Get Arrested, Mack Lamoureux, March 25, 2022. The controversial return of a protester calling himself "Ricky Bobby" set off a chain of events that led to the arrest of one of his supporters.

One man was arrested Thursday night as infighting continues to plague the trucker convoy protest, which has been annoying drivers in and around Washington, D.C., for weeks.

Maryland State Police told VICE News they arrested Brandon Jackson, 28, “on handgun violations” and he was charged with “illegal possession of a loaded handgun on person.”
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“At about 9 p.m. last night, troopers from the Hagerstown Barrack received a call from a citizen with the report of a vehicle blocking the roadway in front of the Hagerstown Speedway,” an MSP spokesperson said. “A trooper on the scene recognized that one of the individuals, later identified as Jackson, was carrying an object in his front pocket which resembled the shape of a firearm.”

Jackson was arrested without incident. Video of the scene shows an officer removing a firearm from Jackson’s pants while he is handcuffed.

Prior to his arrest, Jackson was in a heated debate with fellow convoy supporters. The argument, which was captured on a livestream, appeared to be between two factions fighting over the direction of the trucker convoy. On one side were those affiliated with the central leadership and on the other was a small group of more radical figures, several of which described themselves as Boogaloo Bois—anti-government groups known for their ironic and violent aesthetic.

The fight was over how the convoy was run, what protest actions should be taken, and accusations of corruption. It arose from an incident earlier in the week when a man who called himself “Ricky Bobby” started a confrontation with trucker leadership, which almost ended in blows at the morning meeting, over who gets to speak on the microphone. “Ricky Bobby,” who was being supported by Jackson, was kicked out of the protest grounds for the incident and returned Thursday night and blocked the road to plead his case to be allowed back in.

The so-called “people’s convoy” has been in Hagerstown since March 4. The movement was loosely organized around protesting vaccine mandates, which have largely been abandoned or eased across the United States. Every day, in protest against something or other, the convoy tuckers drive loops around the Beltway—the highway that encircles Washington D.C. This weekend they’re planning on having several well-known anti-vaccine speakers talk to the convoy participants.

During Thursday night’s argument, Jackson accused the organizer of planting a streamer named Jersey Jay in their camp to spy on them, and the pro-convoy folks accused Jackson and his camp of trying to stage a mutiny.

"You're doing what Nazis did,” said Jackson. “You're here protesting the government but then being the government. You're being an authoritarian."

Recent Law-Related Headlines

 

World News, Global Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Explosion of Gang Violence Grips El Salvador, Setting Record, Maria Abi-Habib and Bryan Avelar, March 27, 2022. El Salvador declared a state of emergency Sunday as gangs went on a killing spree on Saturday, randomly shooting street vendors, bus passengers and market goers, marking the single bloodiest day in the country on record since the end of its civil war 30 years ago.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, El Salvador’s Parliament approved the emergency rule for 30 days, suspending some civil liberties guaranteed in the constitution, loosening conditions for arrest, restricting free assembly and allowing the government to intercept the communications of citizens.

The military also began restricting who could leave and enter neighborhoods under control of the notorious street gang MS-13.

The measures are an effort to stem the violence that killed at least 62 people on Saturday, a record for the country of six million, according to government officials.

The violence threatens to tarnish the record of President Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s charismatic young leader, whose approval ratings are some of the highest in the world, hovering around 85 percent. Mr. Bukele, 40, campaigned on the promise of bringing law and order to El Salvador’s streets, some of the world’s most violent, and since taking office nearly three years ago he had seemed to be making good on that pledge.

However, the reduction in violence may not have been the fruit of Mr. Bukele’s security policies, but of a clandestine deal between the government and the gangs that was apparently cobbled together shortly after he was elected president, as was first revealed by the media outlet El Faro in September 2020.

In December, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on top Salvadoran officials, including the vice minister of justice and public security, for their roles negotiating “a secret truce with gang leadership.”

Mr. Bukele has denied those accusations and has championed his tough approach as the reason homicides have fallen dramatically.

Now, analysts and an American official say, that agreement may be falling apart. Under these secret negotiations, according to the Treasury Department, the government provided financial incentives to the gangs and preferential treatment for gang leaders in prison, such as access to mobile phones and prostitutes. In exchange, the gangs apparently promised to cut down on gang violence and homicides.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mideast Feels the Pinch of Rising Food Prices as Ramadan Nears, Vivian Yee, March 27, 2022 (print ed.). Russia’s war on Ukraine has driven up the prices of staple foods and energy across the Middle East and North Africa ahead of the Muslim holy month of daytime fasting and nighttime feasting. The price of groceries was going up everywhere Souad Amer checked, so it was with nervous hope that she waded into a government-subsidized market in her Cairo neighborhood where a loudspeaker blared a jingle promising cheap essentials for Ramadan.

Browsing boxes of dates — which Egyptians traditionally eat to break their daytime fast during the Muslim holy month — Ms. Amer asked someone to check the price of one box. It was 20 pounds, slightly over a dollar. Much more than last year. Like nearly everything else.

“OK, just leave it where it is,” said Ms. Amer, 43, her shoulders drooping. She had three children to feed at home and already knew her Ramadan table would feature little meat and no duck, their yearly holiday tradition. “We just buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend,” she said.

Ramadan arrives in a week: a festive season when people across the Middle East and North Africa normally look forward to gatherings with friends and family, new clothes and feasts that begin after sundown and stretch late into the night. But this year, prices of staples such as oil, sugar, flour and rice have surged across the region, thanks to global supply chain snarls and the war between Russia and Ukraine, which export many essential commodities and foods, including wheat, fertilizer and gas.

That reality threatens to crush household and government budgets alike in countries that had nothing to spare, raising the possibility of the kind of mass popular unrest not seen since the Arab Spring protests a decade ago, which stemmed in part from soaring food prices.

Drought is already ravaging Morocco’s economy. Tunisia’s deeply indebted government was struggling to pay for wheat imports even before the war broke out. Lebanon is shuddering under an economic collapse. Syria, already raked by war and growing poverty, is now facing prices for tea and dates that have doubled or even tripled since last Ramadan, according to Damascus residents.

And in Egypt, where videos of ordinary people venting about food prices have gone viral on social media under the hashtag “revolution of the hungry,” the government has been forced to move swiftly to blunt the blow.

In a clear sign of the distress, Egypt on Wednesday announced that it had opened talks with the International Monetary Fund over a new financial assistance package, its third in six years, noting in a statement that the shock of the Ukraine war had caused prices to rise to “unprecedented” levels and had sent foreign investors fleeing.

Recent Global Headlines

 

March 26

 

Vladimir Putin

leonid ivashovStudy in Contrasts: It's widely speculated that Russian President Vladimir Putin, above right, is afraid of mingling with his generals from fear of them regarding the cruel and disastrous Ukraine invasion and not from Covid-19. Among the reasons, Putin was recently photographed enjoying himself mingling with a group airline stewardesses and one of Russia's most famed Cold War generals, retired Gen. Leonid Ivashov, right, denounced Putin's invasion and called on him to resign in an open letter in February shortly before the invasion on behalf of the All-Russian Officers Association that Ivashov chairs.

 joe biden pizza poland 3 25 2022

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, below, dined on boxed-in pizza with a group of U.S. soldiers on Friday at a base in Poland. Pro-Repbulican, pro-Putin QAnon political operativs, lunatics and dupes responded with a claim that the pizza came from a pizza parlor in Washington, DC where they claim prominent Democrats have inflicted sexual torture of children in a basement. The eatery has no basement and no record of any such abuse, as widely proven years ago. Yet the slanders persist with dissemination via right-wing social media even now during wartime and during war crimes killing children, among others, in Ukraine.

 

Top Headlines

 

Supreme Court Scandal

 

Supreme Court Nominee

 

Inside DC

 

More On Ukraine, Russia

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

U.S. Politics, Governance, Business

 

Law, Courts, Crime, Race 

djt mike pence igor fruman lev parnas rudy giuliani Custom

 

World News, Global Human Rights, Disasters

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden: Putin ‘cannot remain in power'; White House walks back remark, Amy Cheng, Miriam Berger, Jennifer Hassan, Marisa Iati and Kim Bellware, March 26, 2022. In a speech Saturday, President Biden accused Vladimir Putin of lying; From Poland, Biden calls Putin ‘a butcher’; rockets reportedly strike Lviv.

President Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” in a forceful speech Saturday wrapping up a trip to Europe meant to bolster NATO’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

dmitry peskovThe president’s remark initially seemed to suggest support for regime change — something the Biden administration has taken pains to avoid — though the White House later said Biden only meant Putin should not be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.

“That’s not for Biden to decide,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, right, said, according to state media. “The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”

  • Speaking from Warsaw, Biden tells world to prepare for ‘long fight ahead’ in Ukraine
  • Biden warns Putin against attacking ‘one single inch’ of NATO territory, says alliance is stronger

Biden’s words capped a fiery speech in which he called Putin a “dictator,” warning him not to encroach on NATO territory and urging Ukrainians to steel themselves for a long battle. He framed the Kremlin’s invasion as the “test of all time” for democracy.

His trip came as fierce fighting continued in Ukraine. Officials in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv reported several powerful explosions on Saturday, and a large plume of smoke could be seen billowing in the air.

President Biden said Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” as he sought to reassure Poland of Washington’s commitment to NATO and the security of its allies bordering Russia.

Speaking in Warsaw on the last day of his trip to Europe, Biden called Putin a “dictator” and warned him not to encroach on NATO territory while urged Ukrainians to steel themselves for a long battle. In a meeting earlier with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Biden said the United States regards NATO’s Article 5, establishing the alliance’s principle of collective defense, as a “sacred commitment.”

Biden also met with Ukrainian refugees, and afterward he called Putin “a butcher.”

His trip came as fierce fighting continued in Ukraine. Officials in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv reported several powerful explosions on Saturday, and a large plume of smoke could be seen billowing in the air.

How many people have been killed in Ukraine? Here’s what we know.

Here’s what to know

  • Speaking by video to the Doha Forum in Qatar on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the destruction in the port city of Mariupol, comparing it to “what we all saw in Aleppo” — a reference to the northern Syrian city battered by Syrian and Russian forces during the civil war in Syria.
  • The Pentagon said Friday that Russia has halted ground operations aimed at Kyiv and is instead focusing attacks on the eastern Donbas region. The move is seen as a sign that Moscow might be paring back its ambitions for the invasion. A U.S. military think tank, however, expressed skepticism that Russia’s war aims have changed.
  • For weeks, the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv north of the capital has been under near-constant Russian attack, almost entirely cut off from power, water, food and gas amid constant artillery fire. One resident has shared with The Washington Post the daily struggles that he and others face.
  • American teacher Tyler Jacob has been released from Russian custody and reunited with his wife and daughter. He was detained 10 days ago at a checkpoint in Crimea as he was seeking evacuation to Turkey.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

 

President Biden, who met with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw on Saturday, said the children asked for him to pray “for my dad, or my grandfather, and my brother,” who remain in Ukraine (Photo by Doug Mills of The New York Times).

President Biden, who met with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw on Saturday, said the children asked for him to pray “for my dad, or my grandfather, and my brother,” who remain in Ukraine (Photo by Doug Mills of The New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Meets Ukraine Refugees in Poland, Including Ones From Mariupol, Michael D. Shear, March 26, 2022. President Biden visited a stadium in Warsaw where the Polish authorities are assisting the waves of people who are fleeing Ukraine.

President Biden called President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “a butcher” on Saturday, in response to a question after meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, including several from Mariupol, the city that has been flattened by days of shelling from Russian forces.

Asked what he thinks of Mr. Putin and of what has happened in Mariupol, Mr. Biden said simply: “He’s a butcher.”

His comment came as he visited a stadium in Warsaw where the Polish authorities are assisting the waves of people who are fleeing Ukraine. He shook hands and exchanged comments with people as they crowded around him. At one point, he picked up a little girl with a pink jacket and brown pigtails and took a selfie with her.

Each one of the children, Mr. Biden said, asked for him to pray “for my dad, or my grandfather, and my brother,” who remain in Ukraine.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden meets Ukrainian ministers in Poland, Amy Cheng, Miriam Berger and Jennifer Hassan, March 26, 2022. Biden says the U.S. will take 100,000 Ukrainians. But how many will go? Amid rumors about Russian defense chief’s absence, he reappears.

President Biden met Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers in Poland on Saturday, at talks that also included Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin. Biden, on the last day of a European trip intended to bolster the NATO alliance, will also deliver a speech at Warsaw’s polish flag wavingRoyal Castle focused on defending democratic principles, meet with his Polish counterpart and the mayor of Warsaw, and visit a soccer stadium sheltering Ukrainian refugees.

Much of his visit will focus on the humanitarian crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Poland has taken in about 2 million of the more than 3.5 million Ukrainians who have fled their war-battered country, and the Warsaw mayor has warned that the Polish capital is struggling to cope with the nato logo flags namerefugee influx. The president visited a Polish city some 60 miles from Ukraine on Friday, saying he regretting not being able to cross the border and see the crisis firsthand. Ukraine has repeatedly called on a hamstrung NATO to do more to stop Russia’s onslaught, now in its second month.

Although fierce fighting persists, the Pentagon said Russia has halted ground operations aimed at Kyiv and is instead focusing attacks on the eastern Donbas region. The move is seen as a sign that Moscow might be paring back its ambitions for the invasion, but air attacks on Ukraine continue. Speaking by video to the Doha Forum in Qatar on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on oil and natural gas exporters to help “stabilize the situation in Europe” by increasing production. He also described the destruction in the port city of Mariupol, comparing it to "what we all saw in Aleppo” - a reference to the northern Syrian city battered by Syrian and Russian forces during the country’s civil war.

Here’s what to know

  • For weeks, the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv north of the capital has been under near-constant Russian attack, almost entirely cut off from power, water, food and gas amid constant artillery bombing. One resident has shared the daily struggles he and others face with The Washington Post.
  • Hospitals, ambulances, doctors and patients continue to come under fire in Ukraine, with the World Health Organization documenting more than 70 such attacks since Russia invaded.
  • The United Nations said it has seen evidence of mass graves in the blockaded city of Mariupol. The Washington Post has spoken to terrified residents who survived what Ukrainian officials said was a Russian airstrike on a Mariupol theater that was sheltering civilians.
  • American teacher Tyler Jacob has been released from Russian custody and reunited with his wife and daughter. He was detained 10 days ago at a checkpoint in Crimea as he was seeking evacuation to Turkey.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

Facebook, Analysis: What to make of Biden's speech in Warsaw? Scott Horton, right, March 26, 2022. This is clearly one of the most consequential speeches scott hortonBiden has ever given. It appears to send several messages, some frank and some rather subtle.

In the first instance, Biden's message is one of reassurance to the people of Poland, the Baltics, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova: the NATO front line states. Biden is a life-long Catholic and he is addressing a Catholic audience—this is very clear not just from the quotations of Pope John Paul II, but also from language used throughout the speech designed to showcase compassion and solidarity.

Just as the NATO summit abandoned the "trip wire" theory it has used on the eastern frontier for two decades and replaced it with strongly ramped up ground forces and a commitment to "defend every centimeter" of NATO territory, this speech delivers reassurance to the frontline countries of US resolve to defend them. That reassurance is needed because of years of statements by Tucker Carlsons, Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Donald J Trumps suggesting strongly that the US would not defend them, and that it felt no binding obligation to NATO as an institution.

Second, Biden addresses the Ukrainians and says "we stand with you," while making it clear that this is not the same kind of commitment that he has made to NATO. He cites weapons systems that will be delivered, but there are no surprises in this part of the speech. Third, Biden addresses Russia. This may be the most important and also the most problem-laced part of the speech. He described his long history of dealing with Russia from the Soviet era forward, and he lists the aspiration of ordinary Russians in terms that deviate starkly from Putin. He places the blame for the current war on Putin directly and denies that the Russian people bear responsibility for it. He expresses a desire that Putin be removed from power.

Is this "regime change" in the sense of the George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld days? I don't see that. He's not threatening an invasion of Russia to remove Putin/ Indeed, quite the opposite, he has made clear that he will not escalate the conflict in Ukraine in any way that would put NATO forces in confrontation with Russia.

But he is suggesting very strongly that US anti-Russian sanctions will remain in place as long as Putin is in power, but may be relaxed or lifted if the Russian people remove him from power. How would that happen? He doesn't go there. Can it be by elections? Not likely. Can it be by an internal coup? Perhaps. Biden appears to say, as he should, that this is up to Russians, not foreign powers.

But if it happens, it can be rewarded. I didn't consider this third part of the speech as something terribly artful or effective as outreach to Russians. On the other hand, it exuded strength coupled with compassion, and those are the right messages to send.

Scott Horton, a longtime attorney with expertise in human rights and media, is a Lecturer at Columbia University in the City of New York, a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and counsel at DLA Piper.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian generals are getting killed at an extraordinary rate, William Booth, Robyn Dixon and David L. Stern, March 26, 2022. The war in Ukraine is proving extraordinarily lethal for Russian generals, the gray men bedecked in service medals, who are being aggressively targeted by Ukrainian forces and killed at a rate not seen since World War II.

Ukrainian officials say their forces have killed seven generals on the battlefield, felled by snipers, close combat and bombings.

If true, the deaths of so many generals, alongside more senior Russian army and naval commanders — in just four weeks of combat — exceeds the attrition rate seen in the worst months of fighting in the bloody nine-year war fought by Russia in Chechnya, as well as Russian and Soviet-era campaigns in Afghanistan, Georgia and Syria.

“It is highly unusual,” said a senior Western official, briefing reporters on the topic, who confirmed the names, ranks and “killed in action” status of the seven.

In all, at least 15 senior Russian commanders have been killed in the field, said Markiyan Lubkivsky, a spokesperson for the Ukraine Ministry of Defense.

NATO officials estimated earlier this week that as many as 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in four weeks of war, a very high number. Russia has offered a far lower figure, reporting Friday that only 1,351 of its fighters had died.

The Russian government has not confirmed the deaths of its generals.

If the numbers of senior commanders killed proves accurate, the Russian generals have been either extremely unlucky or successfully targeted — or both.

Shooting generals is a legitimate tactic of war — and it has been openly embraced by Ukrainian officials, who say their forces have been focused on slowing Russian advances by concentrating fire on Russian command-and-control units near the front lines.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia Says Focus Is Shifting Away From Kyiv, Toward Eastern Ukraine, Staff Reports, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden met U.S. troops in Poland, and plans to meet Ukrainian refugees on Saturday, while Russian rockets and missiles struck the battered city of Kharkiv.

As he seeks to embolden global resolve to punish Russia, President Biden arrived at the Polish border with Ukraine on Friday to highlight the human toll of war, meeting with U.S. service members before a planned meeting with refugees from Ukraine to see, firsthand, the humanitarian consequences of what he calls President Vladimir V. Putin’s “war of choice.”

polish flag wavingNot long after Mr. Biden arrived in Poland, the Russian military signaled that it might be reducing its war aims. After a month of a grinding war in which Russian forces have been met by unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance and have failed to capture major cities across the country, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said Russia would now be focused on defeating Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting a war since 2014.

He said the “first stage of the operation” had been “mainly accomplished,” with Ukraine’s combat power “significantly reduced.” But it is far from clear that the larger conflict might wind down: He added that Russia “does not exclude” that its forces will storm major Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv, the capital, though he said that taking them over was not a primary objective.

Russia’s announcement came as the dire effects of the war on civilians have been called into ever sharper relief. On Friday, officials in the besieged city of Mariupol announced that at least 300 people had been killed in last week’s attack on a local theater that was being used as a shelter.

President Biden started his day by promising to help the European Union secure more liquefied natural gas, an important sign of support in the bloc’s race to wean itself from Russian fuel imports, although the follow-through is expected to be challenging.

In other major developments:

  • Ukraine’s defense ministry said that Russian forces had secured a partial land corridor from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, a key strategic aim of Moscow’s since the war began. It was unclear how secure the route would remain and how much of a change it would represent since Russia already controlled much of the area.
  • In just 24 hours, Russian rockets and missiles have struck the battered Ukrainian city of Kharkiv at least 55 times, according to city officials, and Russia continued to pound away at the Ukrainian military infrastructure, striking a military facility in the central city of Dnipro with multiple missiles late Thursday, according to Ukrainian officials.
  • Russia and Ukraine carried out their first prisoner exchanges since the invasion began, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk of Ukraine said.
  • Russia is ratcheting up the number of mercenaries to fight in Ukraine’s east. Russian mercenaries with combat experience in Syria and Libya are gearing up to assume an increasingly active role in a phase of the war in Ukraine that Moscow now says is its top priority: fighting in the country’s east. The number of mercenaries with the Russian Wagner Group are expected to more than triple to at least 1,000 fighters from about 300 a month ago, just before the invasion, a United States official said on Friday, adding they would be focused on defeating Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting a war since 2014.

Dispatching trusted Russian mercenaries to take an increasingly active role in a pivotal part of the Russian invasion highlights efforts by the Kremlin to regroup and refocus its flagging, monthlong military campaign that so far has failed to achieve any of President Vladimir V. Putin’s initial war goals, U.S. and other Western officials said.

Wagner is the best-known of an array of Russian mercenary groups, which over the years have become more formalized, acting more like Western military contractors.

 

A Russian tank burning next to an unidentified soldier’s body during a fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday (Photo by Sergey Bobok/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images).

A Russian tank burning next to an unidentified soldier’s body during a fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine earlier this month (Photo by Sergey Bobok/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images).

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia’s failures in Ukraine imbue Pentagon with newfound confidence, Greg Jaffe and Dan Lamothe, March 26, 2022. Russia begins to mobilize reinforcements as casualties mount, Pentagon says For more than a decade, the Pentagon, pinned down in Afghanistan, followed China’s rise as a global power and Russia’s ambitious military modernization program with growing alarm. The consensus in Beijing, Moscow and among some in Washington was that an era of U.S. global dominance was rapidly coming to an end.

But one month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, senior Pentagon officials are brimming with newfound confidence in American power, spurred by the surprising effectiveness of U.S.-backed Ukrainian forces, Russia’s heavy battlefield losses and the cautionary lessons they believe China is taking from the war.

“Let me put it this way,” said one senior Pentagon official of America’s standing in the world. “Who would you switch places with? Seriously, who would you switch places with?”

It’s a stunning shift in tone for a department that in August ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan with a chaotic withdrawal as an ascendant Taliban returned to power. Even though the U.S. military has not played the primary role in the American response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, senior Pentagon officials are quick to tout the still-unfolding war as proof of America’s economic, diplomatic and military strength.

 

President Biden with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday (Photo by Doug Mills of the New York Times).

President Biden with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday (Photo by Doug Mills of the New York Times).

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden, E.U. announce partnership to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian energy, Emily Rauhala, Tyler Pager and Ashley Parker, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). The United States and the European Commission announced Friday a joint task force to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels, as the West looks to further punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

As part of the partnership, the United States will seek to increase liquefied natural gas exports to Europe by at least 15 billion cubic meters this year with the aim of providing larger shipments in the future.

President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the new agreement Friday in a joint appearance, stressing that the initiative will both reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy while keeping the countries on track to meet their climate goals.

european union logo rectangle“We’re going to have to make sure the families in Europe can get through this winter and the next while we’re building the infrastructure for a diversified, resilient and clean energy future,” Biden said in brief remarks at the U.S. Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels.

Von der Leyen praised the U.S. commitment, saying the exports “will replace the LNG supply we currently receive from Russia.”

“Our partnership aims to sustain us through this war, to work on our independence,” she said. “It also focuses on building a greener future with climate neutrality.”

The task force will be chaired by representatives of the White House and of the president of the European Commission.

Still, the new arrangement requires new LNG infrastructure, including pipelines, although senior U.S. administration officials said efforts are underway to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of all new LNG infrastructure.

The E.U. has long been heavily dependent on Russian energy. It planned to quit — eventually — as part of a broader shift away from fossil fuels. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed that timeline.

About 40 percent of E.U. gas comes from Russia, as well as more than a quarter of its oil. Europe imports over six times more oil from Russia than the United States does, according to the White House.

In the aftermath of the invasion, some E.U. countries argued for a full boycott while others pushed for a more gradual approach, arguing that weaning Europe off cheap and abundant Russian energy required time.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden to unveil new minimum tax targeting richest 700 Americans, Jeff Stein, March 26, 2022. President Biden’s “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” plan would establish a 20 percent minimum tax rate for households worth more than $100 million, an administration document says.

The White House will unveil a new minimum tax targeting billionaires as part of its 2023 budget Monday, proposing a tax on the richest 700 Americans for the first time, according to five people with knowledge of the matter and an administration document obtained by The Washington Post.

The “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” plan under President Biden would establish a 20 percent minimum tax rate on all American households worth more than $100 million, the document says. The majority of new revenue raised by the tax would come from billionaires.

Biden has long favored higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but the White House has not introduced a tax plan specifically designed to hit billionaires until now. The plan comes amid signs that the administration’s negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) over stalled White House economic proposal may be reviving. But all previous efforts to tax billionaires have failed amid major political head winds, and it is unclear if Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) will go along with the plan.

Many billionaires can pay far lower tax rates than average Americans because the federal government does not tax the increase in the value of their stock holdings until those assets are sold. Billionaires are able to borrow against their accumulated gains without triggering taxes on capital gains, enabling huge accumulations of wealth to go virtually untaxed by the federal government.

Lofty tax agenda of Democrats imperiled by resistance from within

The White House Office of Management and Budget and Council of Economic Advisers estimated this fall that 400 billionaire families paid an average federal tax rate of just over 8 percent of their income between 2010 and 2018. That rate is lower than the rate paid by millions of Americans.

 

U.S. Supreme Court Scandal

 United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r). (Safe Image)

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r).

 washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Ginni Thomas’s texts reveal fears, motivation behind efforts to overturn election, Dan Balz, right, March 26, 2022. The dan balz column portraitmessages offer ample evidence that the drive to keep Trump in office went to the highest levels of the government amid fears of a Democratic administration.

“Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.”

What more does anyone need to know about the many text messages sent by Virginia “Ginni” Thomas to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the weeks after the 2020 election? A dozen words (above) sum up everything.

That the spouse of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was imploring the president’s highest-ranking adviser to do all he could to overturn the 2020 election may seem beyond extraordinary. It is, but it is more than that.

The messages once again show how former president Donald Trump’s conspiracies, lies and obsessions infected the Republican Party (and in many quarters still do), from its rank-and-file base to some of its most establishment figures. The more that is known about the events between Election Day 2020 and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the clearer it is just how extensive the efforts to overturn the election were and how high up they went.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ethics experts see Ginni Thomas’s texts as a problem for the Supreme Court, Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). The conservative media stars at the heart of the Ginni Thomas texts.

Justice Clarence Thomas checked out of the hospital Friday after a week-long stay and walked into the latest ethics controversy about the intersection of his Supreme Court duties and his wife’s political activism.

Democratic lawmakers and many legal ethicists said they were shocked by revelations that Virginia Thomas, known as Ginni, repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, at a time when President Donald Trump was saying he would challenge the results at the Supreme Court.

The Washington Post and CBS News jointly reported Thursday that in 29 text messages exchanged between Ginni Thomas and Meadows, she advocated for certain legal strategies, urged him to continue to dispute the election results and asserted that Joe Biden did not win the election.

“Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!” Ginni Thomas texted Meadows in November, days after the election. “… You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

Virginia Thomas urged White House chief to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 election, texts show

Democrats on Capitol Hill said they were outraged by the messages and Justice Thomas’s participation in some of the election-related cases that reached the high court, none of which were decided in Trump’s favor. One of the strongest reactions came from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“Justice Thomas’ conduct on the Supreme Court looks increasingly corrupt,” Wyden said in a news release. “Judges are obligated to recuse themselves when their participation in a case would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest. A person with an ounce of common sense could see that bar is met here.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Thomas’s wife is a political extremist. This is a problem for the court, Editorial Board, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). It is no revelation that conservative activist Virginia Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, is a political extremist. But The Post’s Bob Woodward and CBS News’s Robert Costa showed just how close she was to President Donald Trump’s plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election, which culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol ransacking. The disturbing revelations only deepen the threat her entanglements pose to the court’s legitimacy.
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Mr. Woodward and Mr. Costa revealed Thursday 29 text messages between Ms. Thomas and Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, as Mr. Trump sought the Supreme Court’s help to reverse the election. “We are living through what feels like the end of America,” she wrote four days after Jan. 6 — but not in reference to the rioters who called for then-Vice President Mike Pence’s blood. “Most of us are disgusted with the VP and are in listening mode to see where to fight with our teams,” she said, indicating that she wished Mr. Pence had illegally overturned the election results.

Ms. Thomas flooded Mr. Meadows’s phone with bizarre far-right conspiracy theories about ballot watermarks, secret military operations and the possibility of locking up Democrats and journalists on barges off Guantánamo Bay.

The House committee investigating Jan. 6 obtained the texts from Mr. Meadows before he stopped cooperating with the panel. The 29 messages appear to be just a portion of the communications between the two, meaning there might be more that the panel will seek to force Mr. Meadows to turn over. The texts also suggest Ms. Thomas was in touch with others in the Trump White House, communications the committee will likely want to see.

This raises questions about Justice Thomas’s refusal to recuse himself from cases involving Jan. 6. In one text, Ms. Thomas talked about having a conversation with her “best friend,” apparently about the election fight. Did Ms. Thomas influence her husband’s thinking? Did Justice Thomas decline to recuse because he did not want to reveal the depth of his wife’s involvement? Justice Thomas was the only member of the court who voted against turning over White House communications to the committee.

For years, Justice Thomas’s critics have argued he should recuse himself more often from cases to which his wife has connections. Also that Congress should impose strict ethics rules on Supreme Court justices. This is harder than it sounds. Unlike in lower courts, no one can sit in for justices who have recused themselves. Also, many outstanding potential justices have professionally active spouses; they should not feel as though they must ask their partners to quit in order to serve.

Unfortunately, Ms. Thomas has abused the good faith others have offered her husband, pushing the limits of the ethical gray areas these considerations create. Justice Thomas must recuse himself whenever his wife has a financial stake in a case. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported that Ms. Thomas took more than $200,000 from right-wing activist Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy as Mr. Gaffney asked the court to uphold Mr. Trump’s Muslim ban, which Justice Thomas voted to do. Justice Thomas must also recuse himself from cases that could substantially affect his wife in other ways. That includes litigation regarding the Jan. 6 committee, which is examining Ms. Thomas’s communications.

Americans should expect more. The best way for the court to avoid further erosion of public faith — and congressional intervention — is for the justices to set a higher example.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Virginia Thomas urged White House chief to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 election, texts show, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). In messages to chief of staff Mark Meadows in the weeks after Election Day, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called Joe Biden’s victory “the greatest Heist of our History” and told him that President Donald Trump should not concede.

Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in a series of urgent text exchanges in the critical weeks after the vote, according to copies of the messages obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.

The messages – 29 in all – reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.

On Nov. 10, after news organizations had projected Joe Biden the winner based on state vote totals, Thomas wrote to Meadows: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!...You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

When Meadows wrote to Thomas on Nov. 24, the White House chief of staff invoked God to describe the effort to overturn the election. “This is a fight of good versus evil,” Meadows wrote. “Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.”

Thomas replied: “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!”

washington post logoWashington Post, Justice Thomas released from hospital after week-long stay, Robert Barnes, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was released from the hospital after a nearly week-long stay to treat an infection, the court’s press office said Friday.

Thomas, 73, was admitted to Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington Friday night, complaining of flu-like symptoms. Sunday night, the court said in a new release that he had been diagnosed with an infection and was being treated with intravenous antibiotics.

A court spokeswoman said that Thomas had been vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus, and that his illness was not covid-related.

Thomas is the court’s longest-serving member, chosen in 1991 by Republican President George H.W. Bush. He is also its second oldest after 83-year-old Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who plans to retire at the end of the term.

Justices decide for themselves how much health information they will release to the public, and there had been no additional guidance since then until Friday’s brief notice from Supreme Court Public Information Officer Patricia McCabe. “Justice Thomas was discharged from the hospital earlier today,” she said in a release emailed to reporters.

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More On Supreme Court Nominee

 

Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This is not advise and consent. This is smear and degrade, Ruth Marcus, right, March 26, 2022. The pretense is gone — the ruth marcus twitter Custompretense that Supreme Court confirmation hearings are about determining nominees’ fitness for office, gleaning a sense of their legal acumen and approach to judging, and gathering the information necessary to exercise a solemn senatorial power.

No longer. Advise and consent has yielded to smear and degrade. The goal is not to illuminate but to tarnish: If a nominee can’t be stopped, at least the other side can inflict some damage on her and the opposition party.

The confirmation hearings just concluded for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson represented the culmination of a sad trajectory. Nominations and hearings have always had a political component; after all, the Framers assigned the confirmation power to a political branch.

But never has a confirmation hearing been less about law and more about partisan point-scoring and presidential campaign-launching.

The 1987 confirmation hearings for Robert H. Bork kicked off the modern judicial wars, and Republicans still seethe over Bork as Democrats’ original sin. “We started down this road of character assassination in the 1980s with Judge Bork’s hearings and senators have been engaged in disgusting theatrics ever since,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).

I was there, and what actually happened was, to borrow Bork’s famous description of why he wanted to be a justice, an “intellectual feast” — especially in comparison with this past week’s food fight. He was defeated by a vote of 58 to 42, including six Republican senators opposed. (Two Democrats voted to confirm him.)

That wasn’t because Democrats dragged him “into the gutter,” as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) complained. Bork defeated Bork all by himself, thanks to his earlier, incendiary writings and then his testimony before the committee. His expressed views were so extreme and so far outside the legal mainstream that his confirmation failed by the largest margin in history.

“His view of the law is at sharp variance with more than a century of Supreme Court decisions which have applied equal protection to women, aliens, illegitimates, indigents and others,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), announcing his vote.

Contrast this with the case, such as it is, against Jackson. There were interludes of substance involving her judicial philosophy and methodology for deciding cases, her understanding of the substantive due process cases that led to rulings supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage, even a case or two on which she had ruled.

But with minds made up, substantive probing mostly gave way to posturing.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are in terms of religion?” asked Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)

“Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?” asked Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) And, “do you believe child predators are misunderstood?” Quoting from Jackson’s college thesis, Blackburn asked, “What personal hidden agendas do you harbor or do you think other judges harbor?”

washington post logoWashington Post, Manchin says he supports Jackson for Supreme Court, Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said Friday that he intends to support President Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, in a step toward ensuring Jackson’s confirmation.

joe manchin oManchin, right, who has been a roadblock to some of Biden’s nominees and agenda items, announced his backing of Jackson in a statement one day after the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded its confirmation hearings.

“I am confident Judge Jackson is supremely qualified and has the disposition necessary to serve as our nation’s next Supreme Court Justice,” Manchin said.

Race hovered over Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing

Manchin cited Jackson’s “exemplary” career and record and said that her various roles in the judicial system have provided her with “a unique perspective that will serve her well on our nation’s highest court.”

He also noted that Jackson and her family frequently visit Manchin’s home state of West Virginia.

“During our meeting, she was warm and gracious,” Manchin said. “On top of her impressive resume, she has the temperament to make an exceptional jurist. Notably, Judge Jackson and her family spend a great deal of time in West Virginia and her deep love of our state and commitment to public service were abundantly clear. I am confident Judge Jackson is supremely qualified and has the disposition necessary to serve as our nation’s next Supreme Court Justice.”

After a combined 36 hours of hearings, Jackson appeared to remain on track for confirmation early next month, according to interviews with key senators Thursday.

Jackson’s confirmation will not be overwhelmingly bipartisan, and the top Senate Republican vote-counter, Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), predicted no more than three GOP votes in her favor. But leaders of both parties agreed the long and often tense interrogation did not alter the fundamental dynamics around the nomination.


 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson tears up briefly and for the only time during her three days of confirmation testimony as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) consoles her for the vicious slurs and innuendoes that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched at her. Shown below are her parents as they observed the highs and lows (Photo via the Associated Press).

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson tears up briefly and for the only time during her three days of confirmation testimony as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) consoles her for the vicious slurs laced with sexual and racial innuendoes that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched at her, most notably by Ted Cruz (TX), Josh Hawley (MO), Marsha Blackburn (TN)  and Tom Cotton (Photo via the Associated Press). Shown below are her parents as they observed the highs and lows.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Voters, remember your role in Jackson's deserved nomination, Colbert I. King, right, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). The lesson of colbert king twitterJudge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings is as old as the republic itself, to wit: Elections matter.

Had Democrats Raphael G. Warnock and Jon Ossoff not won both Georgia seats up for election in January 2021, their party would not have recaptured control of the Senate. Without those victories, there’s every reason to believe that President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee would now be languishing in a GOP-dominated Judiciary Committee, much as President Barack Obama’s 2016 nominee, Merrick Garland, was denied a confirmation hearing or vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

That committee Republicans Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) are reduced to ranting, raving and sliming Jackson from the sidelines, as gavel-wielding Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) steers her nomination toward an early-April committee vote, is testament to the cleansing power of the ballot box.

Fair and just elections, however, are no shields against uncouth conduct. Republicans’ promise of a “respectful” confirmation process for Jackson proved worthless, a disappointment to those who might have taken McConnell and his allies at their word. I did not. Graham and Cruz have been true to form. Nasty and disrespectful: yelling, interrupting, maligning — that’s par-for-the-course behavior when those two spotlight-seeking demagogues enter the scene.

Cruz and Graham, joined by Hawley, tried to outdo each other in hectoring Jackson to score points with a right-wing political base that is receptive to any thought, word or deed that denigrates people unlike themselves. Meanwhile, Jackson, armed with integrity, eminent qualifications, respect of her judicial peers and a rock-steady temperament, stood well above those reveling in the disgraceful performance of her second-rate attackers.

Expect more temper tantrums when the committee meets to vote to send her nomination to the full Senate. The Senate floor debate will host more of the same with a new cast of Republicans eager to pummel Jackson’s reputation with false or exaggerated claims of her weakness on crime and sympathies for child molesters and Guantánamo Bay detainees.

She deserves confirmation to a seat on the Supreme Court. Not only will she be the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the land — a historic and long-overdue achievement — but also a sterling choice to succeed retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

And when the next election rolls around, remember how important your vote was in giving her that opportunity.

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Inside DC

 

trump hotel

washington post logoWashington Post, GSA approves sale of Trump’s D.C. hotel lease, Jonathan O'Connell, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). The hotel (shown above), which was a center of controversy during Trump’s presidency, will become a Waldorf Astoria under the nearly completed deal.

The General Services Administration has approved the sale of former president Donald Trump’s D.C. hotel lease to Miami investment fund CGI Merchant Group, the agency said Friday.

The agency said it approved CGI as a buyer after reviewing the company’s agreement with Hilton Worldwide, which will turn the hotel into a Waldorf Astoria, as well as the company’s financial capabilities and ability to secure bank financing.

“The confirmation was based on an extensive and exhaustive due diligence review of the documentation provided in support of the proposed assignment,” the agency said in a statement Friday.

While GSA’s decision was largely perfunctory, it moves Trump’s business one step closer toward unloading a hotel that became a center of controversy during his presidency — and which has recently draw interest from New York prosecutors looking into whether he misled the government in his initial application for the lease.

Leading Congressional Democrats have raised concerns about the lease sale, asking GSA to investigate the Trump Organization’s management of the property or void his lease, particularly after Trump’s longtime accounting firm said last month that his financial statements — including those he provided to the GSA to get the lease — “should no longer be relied upon.”

“The original sin by GSA to allow President Trump to hold this lease and benefit has tainted this whole process. Today’s decision doubles down and abets the Trump family’s continued profiteering off the presidency,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said in a statement on the GSA’s decision on Friday. “This is a stain on federal procurement that will not wash away.”

Trump’s lease only required GSA to perform a limited review, including whether a prospective buyer has the experience and financial assets to manage and operate the property. The deal is expected to close in coming weeks, according to a person familiar with the transaction who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private business dealings.

Although the hotel struggled financially during most of the Trump’s time in office due to his controversial brand, the lease is expected to sell to CGI for $375 million, well beyond most experts’ estimates of what the property is worth. A sale at that price would deliver Trump an estimated profit of more than $100 million, according to analyses by industry analysts.

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) last month subpoenaed the GSA for information about how the agency selected Trump for the lease, according to two people familiar with the request.

But the GSA under three presidents — Obama, Trump and now Biden — has taken no known action to intervene in Trump’s lease.

The building, the federally owned Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue, is one of the most treasured historical buildings in the city. Trump signed a lease for the building in 2013 and spent more than $200 million developing it into a 263-room luxury hotel that opened in late 2016.

Should he complete the sale, Trump would have to repay Deutsche Bank $170 million he borrowed to build the project. On top of the roughly $3 million he has been paying the GSA annually in base rent, the lease also stipulates that Trump pay a small share of the purchase price to GSA

 

More On Ukraine, Russia

washington post logoWashington Post, The ‘deglobalization’ of Moscow, Ruby Mellen, Maite Fernández Simon, Júlia Ledur and Yutao Chen, March 26, 2022. A walk down two streets shows how life has changed in Russia’s capital as Western companies have pulled out of the country.

 

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia delivering an address Friday, March 25, 2022, on

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia delivering an address Friday, March 25, 2022 on "cancel culture” that was broadcast nationwide. (Pool photo by Mikhail Klimentyev.)

ny times logoNew York Times, Putin Goes Into Battle on a Second Front: Culture, Anton Troianovski and Javier C. Hernández, March 26, 2022. Beyond Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin is also fighting cultural battles.

In a speech on Friday from the nondescript, beige-walled office in which he has been conducting much of his public business this month, Mr. Putin made no mention of Ukraine. Instead, he expanded upon a personal obsession: “cancel culture.”

Western elites “canceled” the author J.K. Rowling because she “did not please fans of so-called gender freedoms,” Mr. Putin said in his nationally televised remarks, flanked by two Russian flags. Ms. Rowling was widely criticized in 2020 after voicing support for a researcher whose views on transgender people had been condemned by a court.

Japan, he claimed, “cynically decided to ‘cancel’” the fact that it was the United States that dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. And now, he said, the West is busy “canceling” Russia, “an entire thousand-year-old country, our people.”

That the Russian president delivered a disquisition on Western public discourse on Friday may seem odd at a time when Russia is fighting what some analysts believe to be its bloodiest war since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. But it underscores how Mr. Putin tries to channel cultural grievances and common stereotypes for political gain — while using language that also allows him to speak directly to possible allies in the West.

“This is his cultural front,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “He’s also at war there.”

Speaking at the beginning of a videoconference with Russian cultural figures, Mr. Putin said “proverbial ‘cancel culture’ has become the cancellation of culture.”

And, as seems inevitable in Mr. Putin’s speeches these days, the Nazis came up, too.

“The names of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff are being removed from playbills. Russian writers and their books are being banned,” Mr. Putin said. “The last time such a mass campaign to destroy objectionable literature was carried out was by the Nazis in Germany almost 90 years ago.”

For the moment, Mr. Kolesnikov said, Mr. Putin’s main audience when railing against Western “cancel culture” is domestic, with the Kremlin intent on feeding the grievances against the West upon which Mr. Putin draws much of his support. But casting Russia as a protector of traditional values from the thrall of wanton liberalism is also a message that finds sympathy around the world — including among American right-wing commentators like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, whose monologues are often shown on Russian state television.

“We have a constitutional right to a free press but we don’t have it,” Mr. Carlson, dubbed into Russian, said in a clip from his show that was played in a news segment on state-controlled Channel 1 this week. “And that is not Russian propaganda.”

Mr. Putin on Friday defined “cancel culture” as the “public ostracism, boycotting and even complete silencing” of people who “do not fit into modern templates, no matter how absurd they really are.”

It was at least the third time in recent months that he spoke about the subject, one that appears to encapsulate for him the hypocrisy and shallowness of Western elites.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine ‘disappointed’ in NATO, as Biden visits U.S. troops in Poland, Ashley Parker, Karen DeYoung and Alex Horton, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). President Biden traveled to this southeastern Polish city Friday to visit U.S. troops deployed along NATO’s eastern fringe as a bulwark against Russian incursion, and to laud Poland’s humanitarian role in welcoming more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees.
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Biden, who met with members of the 82nd Airborne Division and Polish President Andrzej Duda, said he regretted that he could not cross the border into Ukraine, barely 60 miles away, to see the crisis firsthand.

ukraine flagBut inside Ukraine, where Russia’s brutal onslaught continued, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said officials were “very disappointed” in the outcome of the series of summits Wednesday among NATO and European Union leaders in Brussels that brought Biden to Europe.

“We expected more bravery. We expected some bold decisions,” Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, told the Washington-based Atlantic Council via live video Friday.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials believe that the Russian operation has already failed in some respects, given strong Ukrainian resistance and heavy Russian losses, and Russia signaled Friday its aims might be narrowing. But Yermak’s remarks served as a reminder that Ukraine remains outmanned, outgunned and facing more destruction each day. The Pentagon said Friday Russia has begun to mobilize military reinforcements to possibly send into Ukraine.

By issuing a general statement of ongoing military support, while continuing to deny Ukraine’s requests to send it Soviet-era jet fighters, impose a no-fly zone against Russian aircraft over Ukraine, and speed the flow of more heavy weaponry, Yermak said, NATO “is just trying to ensure that it is not provoking Russia to a military conflict” with the West, calling the alliance’s inaction “appeasement.”

“We need very concrete things. But we still have to repeatedly remind you,” he said.

Yermak said Ukraine needs NATO to “close our sky” to Russian air power and provide “intelligence in real time,” as well as more antiaircraft and antitank weaponry — some of which is now in short supply in the West. He also pleaded for more long-range artillery, rocket launchers and small weapons.

“Without it,” Yermak said, “our war will not be able to stand.”

Far from an anticipated rush toward full occupation of a country with a far weaker military, Russia appeared Friday to have at least partially lost control of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, on the Black Sea, according to defense officials, the first of a handful of midsized cities it has struggled to occupy in the five weeks since the invasion began.

Ukrainian forces, bolstered by armed civilians, have pushed back Russian advances in other parts of the country, as well. The Pentagon said Friday that Ukraine has made “incremental” progress against Russia outside the northern city of Chernihiv, and other offensives were underway in the western suburbs in Kyiv, the capital. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said that Russian troops, stalled outside Kyiv for weeks, have begun to establish defensive positions instead of prioritizing an advance.

While Russia’s objective in the invasion initially appeared to be seizing Kyiv, the Kremlin is now emphasizing its intention to control the Donbas region in the east, where Ukrainian troops have been fighting against two breakaway areas since 2014. Moscow has recognized the region as two separate “republics.”

“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” Sergey Rudskoy, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said in a speech Friday.

The renewed focus on Donbas could be a face-saving measure as the Russians fail to achieve their larger aims, such as the capture of Kyiv and decapitation of Ukraine’s government. Russians have made modest gains in the east, and their focus now may be to enlarge territory controlled by separatists and declare victory. It could also be designed as a ruse to allow beleaguered Russian troops to rest.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Zelensky Wants a No-Fly Zone. NATO Is Right to Say No, Brian Finucane and Olga Oliker (international aid personnel), March 26, 2022. At the NATO summit this week, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine lamented what he viewed as the failure of the United States and its allies to help establish a “no-fly zone in any way” over his nation. This follows his earlier pleas for a no-fly zone imposed by NATO or the United States soon after Russia began bombarding Ukraine. The Biden administration and NATO leadership as a whole have continued to reject proposals to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. They are right to do so.

Mr. Zelensky’s disappointment is, however, understandable. In just over a month of war, Ukrainians have suffered tremendously from horrific attacks by Russian missiles, artillery and aircraft. Russia’s onslaught hasn’t spared civilians. Its forces have destroyed hospitals and schools. Millions of Ukrainians have fled in fear.

Despite the egregiousness of such violence, a U.S.- or NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Ukraine is not the way to stop Russia’s aggression. It would have unclear humanitarian benefits while increasing, rather than lowering, the risk of war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers, the United States and Russia.

Mr. Putin, through words and exercises, has repeatedly raised the specter of mutually assured destruction since the start of this crisis. If a U.S.-Russian direct confrontation were to occur and Russia were to use nuclear weapons, even the detonation of a so-called lower-yield nuclear weapon would wreak enormous consequences and most likely provoke a NATO response. The conflict could escalate with terrifying speed. A 2019 simulation created at Princeton University suggests that what is intended as a warning shot from Moscow could, within hours, trigger a full-scale nuclear war with more than 90 million casualties.

Rather than run that risk for potentially little real effect, Western nations have chosen the more prudent path of supporting Ukraine in its fight as effectively as possible without getting directly involved.

The purpose of a no-fly zone would be to keep Russia’s planes from bombing civilians. To accomplish that objective would require threatening to shoot down Russian aircraft if they enter the designated zone and shooting down the planes if they fly in anyway. Enforcing a no-fly zone could also mean destroying Russian aircraft by attacking them on the ground, as well as attacking airfields and other support infrastructure.

In addition, NATO planes would most likely have to suppress Russian air defenses to protect their aircrews. This would involve additional NATO airstrikes on Russian forces on the ground, such as surface-to-air missiles and radar facilities.

Given the range of some of Russia’s surface-to-air missiles, such as the S-400, some of the defenses covering Ukraine could even be located in Russia. Suppressing them could therefore require NATO to attack Russian forces on Russian territory. This is all true even for a so-called “limited” no-fly zone, one that covers only parts of Ukraine, an idea endorsed by a number of former U.S. officials. Mr. Putin has, unsurprisingly, said that he would regard any U.S. attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine as bringing the United States and its NATO allies into the conflict.

A war between Russia and NATO will be difficult to keep limited. Given Western conventional superiority and talk of regime change in Russia from a U.S. senator, war could easily be perceived as an existential threat for Moscow. In that case, and in line with Russian doctrine, it is not impossible that the Kremlin could green-light nuclear weapon use, including against air bases supporting any such no-fly zone. Even if officials deem this nightmare scenario not the likeliest outcome of more direct Western action, it poses cataclysmic dangers that cannot be ignored.

Setting the escalation risks aside, no-fly zones by themselves counter only threats from the air. They do nothing to protect civilians from ground-based threats like missiles and artillery. Bombs dropped from warplanes have accounted for some of the death and destruction Russia is inflicting upon Ukraine (Russia has in recent days ramped up its sortie rate to hundreds a day). But according to data collected by Action on Armed Violence, an advocacy group that focuses on the impact of armed violence, more civilian casualties have been caused by ground-launched artillery, rockets, and missiles than air-launched weapons.

Even the strikes that come from aircraft may come from planes far away, rather than overhead: the cruise missile barrage against the Ukrainian military base at Yavoriv was launched from aircraft that never left Russian airspace. A no-fly zone would not stop such threats. And when it becomes clear that such a zone is not enough, as happened in Bosnia in 1995, the United States may soon feel pressure to expand its military operation to strike additional targets on the ground, further drawing it into the conflict.

Indeed, past experiences reinforce the need for caution. Since the 1990s, the United States and its allies have imposed no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, Bosnia, and Libya. In none of those cases was the United States trying to impose a no-fly zone against a military with Russia’s capabilities, or one with the ability to retaliate with nuclear weapons. Moreover, all had mixed results when it came to protecting civilians.

It is important to recognize the significance of the measures the United States and others have taken to assist in the defense of Ukraine. The overt transfers of weapons to Ukraine — weapons intended to kill Russian forces — are themselves a remarkable and potentially escalatory step. So far, that does not appear to have crossed Moscow’s redlines for military retaliation against the United States.

Seeking to deprive Russia of airpower in the conflict would be an extraordinarily dangerous gamble with uncertain payoff. The Biden administration should remain resolute in rejecting such proposals, which, although presented as half measures to avoid direct war between the United States and Russia, are in fact tantamount to exactly that war.

Mr. Finucane is the senior adviser with the U.S. program at the International Crisis Group, a think tank analyzing global crises, where Dr. Oliker is the program director for the Europe and Central Asia division.

washington post logoWashington Post, American teacher in Ukraine released from Russian custody after 10 days, Amy Cheng, March 26, 2022. Tyler Jacob, a 28-year-old American who was teaching in Ukraine, has been released from Russian custody and reunited with his wife and daughter, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said Friday.

Jacob, a Minnesota native, was detained by Russian troops roughly two weeks ago while he was fleeing the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, his parents told CBS affiliate WCCO-TV. He was on board a bus evacuating people from the city to Turkey when he was taken away by Russian soldiers at a checkpoint in Crimea, his father said. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Jacob was the only U.S. citizen on the bus, according to his father, who said Russian state media had made a “heart-wrenching” propaganda video featuring his son. Jacob was later taken to Russia, where he was held for 10 days, Klobuchar said in a statement, adding that his release was secured with the assistance of the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“While this is good news, my heart remains with all those separated from their loved ones or in danger,” Klobuchar said. “As Vladimir Putin continues his senseless war, our commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine is steadfast.”

Jacob’s mother, Tina Hauser, said on CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” that she spoke with her son on Friday. She said he was in a NATO member state, though she did not specify the country.

“It sounded like angels singing in my ear, hearing his voice,” Hauser said. “It’s going to be astronomical, the feelings that are going to flow through me, when I get to give my son a hug for the first time.”

Jacob said he had been treated very well in Russian custody and had “no complaints,” his father said.

Kherson, home to some 290,000 people before the invasion, is a vital port and Black Sea shipbuilding city. It was one of the first Ukrainian cities to come under heavy Russian shelling and, later, occupation, but the Pentagon said Friday that Moscow appeared to have at least partially lost control of Kherson.

Associated Press, Moscow accused of forcibly removing civilians to Russia, Andrea Rosa and Nebi Qena, March 25, 2022. Ukraine accused Moscow of forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered Ukrainian cities to Russia to pressure Kyiv to give up. Also, about 300 people died in a ap logoRussian airstrike last week on a theater being used as a bomb shelter in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city’ s government said Friday, citing eyewitnesses. 

For civilians, the misery has become unrelenting. Kyiv, like other cities, has seen its population dramatically reduced in the vast refugee crisis that has seen more than 10 million displaced and at least 3.5 million fleeing the country entirely. In the capital, over 260 civilians have died and more than 80 buildings been destroyed since the start of the war.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden to meet Polish leader on NATO’s eastern flank, Ashley Parker, Tyler Pager, Jennifer Hassan, Amy Cheng, Julian Mark, Miriam Berger and Adela Suliman, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). Ukrainian forces have reoccupied towns east of Kyiv, U.K. says; Ukrainian military corrects record on which Russian landing ship it destroyed; Biden hails new energy partnership with Europe.

The United States and the European Commission announced Friday a new joint task force to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels, as the West looks to further punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. The United States will work to deliver additional liquefied national gas for the European market in 2022 and beyond, the White House said.

nato logo flags name“I know that eliminating Russian gas will have costs for Europe, but it’s not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it’s going to put us on a much stronger strategic footing,” President Biden said. Later on Friday, Biden will meet with his Polish counterpart in Rzeszow, a city some 60 miles from the Ukrainian border. The visit, yet another show of Washington’s solidarity with its transatlantic allies, follows a U.S. pledge to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and a vow to respond “in kind” if Russia uses chemical weapons in its invasion.

The battle for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, rages on as the war enters its second month, with counterattacks forcing Russian troops into defensive positions, according to U.S.-based military analysts. Ukrainian forces are likely to continue striking logistical assets in territory held by Russia, which would stretch the Kremlin’s supply lines and dampen morale among Russian forces, Britain said in a Thursday intelligence update.

While addressing the European Council and the nations of Europe on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was “grateful” for sanctions against Russia, but that they came “a little too late." He urged them to expedite Ukraine’s application to join the European Union, saying: “Here I ask you - do not be late. Please.”

How many people have been killed in Ukraine? Here’s what we know.

Here’s what to know

  • Biden voiced support for expelling Russia from the Group of 20. Several Western nations have suggested barring Russian President Vladimir Putin from a G-20 summit later this year.
  • Russia and Ukraine agreed two humanitarian corridors will operate on Friday -- including one direct from the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said. It is the first time in recent days an evacuation route has been announced direct from Mariupol, which has seen fierce street fightng.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is negotiating a deal to ensure the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. The U.N. watchdog also said Thursday that Ukraine has informed it that Russian shelling in a city near the Chernobyl plant was preventing personnel from rotating shifts..
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

 

nato photo 3 24 2022

NATO, Statement by NATO Heads of State and Government, Press Release, March 24, 2022. We, the Heads of State and Government of the 30 NATO Allies (shown above in Brussels), have met today to address Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades. Russia’s war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and is causing enormous human suffering and destruction.

We condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the strongest possible terms. We call on President Putin to immediately stop this war and withdraw military forces from Ukraine, and call on Belarus to end its complicity, in line with the Aggression Against Ukraine Resolution adopted at the UN General Assembly of 2 March 2022. Russia should comply with the 16 March ruling by the UN International Court of Justice and immediately suspend military operations. Russia’s attack on Ukraine threatens global security. Its assault on international norms makes the world less safe. President Putin’s escalatory rhetoric is irresponsible and destabilizing.

nato logo flags nameUkrainians have inspired the world with heroic resistance to Russia’s brutal war of conquest. We strongly condemn Russia’s devastating attacks on civilians, including women, children, and persons in vulnerable situations.

We will work with the rest of the international community to hold accountable those responsible for violations of humanitarian and international law, including war crimes. We are deeply concerned about the increased risk of sexual violence and human trafficking. We urge Russia to allow rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access and safe passage for civilians, and to allow for humanitarian aid to be delivered to Mariupol and other besieged cities. We also condemn attacks against civilian infrastructure, including those endangering nuclear power plants. We will continue to counter Russia’s lies about its attack on Ukraine and expose fabricated narratives or manufactured “false flag” operations to prepare the ground for further escalation, including against the civilian population of Ukraine. Any use by Russia of a chemical or biological weapon would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences.

Russia needs to show it is serious about negotiations by immediately implementing a ceasefire.

In response to Russia’s actions, we have activated NATO’s defence plans, deployed elements of the NATO Response Force, and placed 40,000 troops on our eastern flank, along with significant air and naval assets, under direct NATO command supported by Allies’ national deployments. We are also establishing four additional multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.

Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Governance, Politics, Business

Roll Call, Fortenberry resigns following conviction on charges tied to illegal contribution, Stephanie Akin and Chris Marquette, March 26, 2022. Nebraska Republican already faced challenger in May primary. Bowing to pressure from Republican leaders following his criminal conviction for lying to authorities about illegal campaign contributions, Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, right, said Saturday he will resign next week.

jeff fortenberry"When I first ran for Congress, I said that I would focus on our national security, economic security and family security," Fortenberry said in an email to supporters. "It is my dearest hope that I have made a contribution to the betterment of America, and the well being of our great state of Nebraska.

"Due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer serve you effectively. I will resign from Congress shortly," he said.

Attached to the announcement was a letter to House colleagues saying he would resign effective March 31. It quoted a poem he said was "on the wall of Mother Teresa's children's home in Calcutta."

"When you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight," it said in part. "Build anyway."

The announcement was a crushing end to Fortenberry’s nine-term career in Congress, where he was known as a soft-spoken foreign policy specialist and top appropriator for agriculture, which he said was a linchpin to stability and prosperity both domestically and abroad.

Fortenberry had vowed to appeal his conviction, the first of a sitting House member since Ohio Rep. James Traficant was convicted of accepting bribes in 2002.

But national Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said he should resign following his conviction Thursday on three counts.

“I think he had his day in court,” McCarthy told reporters Friday morning in Florida, where the House GOP was meeting to plan strategy ahead of the midterm elections, when the party needs to flip a net five seats to take the majority. “I think when someone’s convicted, it’s time to resign.”

Prominent Republicans in Nebraska had already lined up behind his challenger in the May primary, state Sen. Mike Flood. Democrats are also hoping Fortenberry’s conviction could make the district, which Fortenberry won by 22 percentage points in 2020, more competitive. State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks is one of two candidates seeking the party’s nomination.

Raw Story, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene steal Trump's thunder at low-turnout Georgia rally, Bob Brigham, March 26, 2022. Donald Trump traveled to Commerce, Georgia on Saturday to rally his MAGA base against the top incumbent Republican in the Peach State.

raw story logo square"I've covered more than two dozen Trump rallies around the nation. This is the smallest crowd I've seen at a rally of his in Georgia since he won the 2016 election -- significantly smaller than the crowd in Perry in September," Atlanta Journal-Constitution political reporter Greg Bluestein noted.

Trump is backing former Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) in his campaign against GOP Gov. Brian Kemp and Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) in his campaign against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

"This crowd is hardly applauding. Not the same sort of enthusiasm I’ve seen at other Trump rallies," Bluestein reported.

And Perdue's campaign has been struggling.

"Early polls have steadily shown Mr. Perdue, a former senator, trailing Mr. Kemp by about 10 percentage points. The governor has the backing of many of the state’s big donors and remains far ahead of Mr. Perdue in fund-raising," The New York Times reported Saturday. "Mr. Perdue’s sputtering start may hint at a deeper flaw in Mr. Trump’s plan to punish the governor for refusing to work to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results: Mr. Trump’s grievances may now largely be his alone. While polls show many G.O.P. voters believe lies about fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election, there is little evidence that Republicans remain as fixated on the election as Mr. Trump."

During his speech, Trump regurgitated the list of grievances he airs at all of his rallies, repeating his "big lie" of election fraud and complaining about Joe Biden.

 

Law, Courts, Crime, Race 

washington post logoWashington Post, Citing ‘extreme’ gerrymandering, judge throws out congressional map for Md., Meagan Flynn, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). A Maryland judge has thrown out the state’s congressional map, calling it an “extreme partisan gerrymander” in what is a victory for Republicans who said Democrats in the state General Assembly sought to silence their votes.

The ruling Friday by Anne Arundel County Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia marks the first time in Maryland history a judge has found a congressional map violated the state constitution, deciding that it violated rules laid out in Maryland law traditionally applied to legislative districts requiring them to be compact and to give regard to political subdivisions. She also ruled that the map in turn violated the state constitution’s equal protection, free speech and free elections clauses.

Battaglia enjoined the map from being used in this year’s primary and general elections in Maryland and ordered the General Assembly to redraw the map by March 30 — a furious deadline for what has often been a weeks-long process.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called the ruling “a monumental victory for every Marylander who cares about protecting our democracy, bringing fairness to our elections, and putting the people back in charge.”

The governor encouraged the General Assembly to the adopt the maps drawn by his citizen advisory committee, which the legislature previously rejected.

Recent Headlines

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Covid vaccinations — including boosters — fall to lowest levels since 2020, Brittany Shammas, Dan Keating, Salvador Rizzo and Lenny Bernstein, March 26, 2022. Vaccination for the coronavirus in the United States has all but ground to a halt, with initial doses and boosters plummeting to the lowest levels since the program began in December 2020.

With another pandemic surge possibly on the way, vaccination for the coronavirus in the United States has all but ground to a halt, with initial doses and boosters plummeting to the lowest levels since the program began in late December 2020.

On Wednesday, the seven-day average of vaccinations fell to fewer than 182,000 per day, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. That is lower than at any time since the first days of the program.

Tracking the coronavirus vaccine

The daily total has been in free fall for the past six weeks. On Feb. 10, the nation was averaging more than 692,000 shots a day. Booster shots have been more common than first or second doses since October, and the low rates have long caused concern among some experts.

Now, with authorities bracing for a possible increase in covid-19 cases caused by the BA.2 subvariant, 65.4 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and just 44 percent have received a booster shot. That is substantially less than the totals in many Western European nations — which nevertheless have seen a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks and months.

What to know about BA.2, a new version of the omicron variant

Federal health officials are now considering authorizing fourth shots for people 65 and older. But the nation’s booster campaign, which was initially plagued by conflicting guidance and disagreement among advisers and scientists, has faltered: People who were willing to roll up their sleeves for first and second doses are seemingly less inclined to go for a third.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Administration Plans to Offer 2nd Booster Shots to Those 50 and Up, Sharon LaFraniere, Updated March 26, 2022. Officials decided another shot might save thousands of lives if a new wave hits before the fall. The F.D.A. could authorize the boosters next week.

The Biden administration is planning to give Americans age 50 or older the option of a second booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna coronavirus vaccine without recommending outright that they get one, according to several people familiar with the plan.

Major uncertainties have complicated the decision, including how long the protection from a second booster would last, how to explain the plan to the public and even whether the overall goal is to shield Americans from severe disease or from less serious infections as well, since they could lead to long Covid.

Much depends on when the next wave of Covid infections will hit, and how hard. Should the nation be hit by a virulent surge in the next few months, offering a second booster now for older Americans could arguably save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of hospitalizations.

But if no major wave hits until the fall, extra shots now could turn out to be a questionable intervention that wastes vaccine doses, deepens vaccination fatigue and sows doubt about the government’s strategy. The highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 is helping to drive another surge of coronavirus cases in Europe and is responsible for about a third of new cases in the United States, but health officials have said they do not anticipate a major surge caused by the subvariant.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mayor Eric Adams is facing a backlash over a vaccine exemption for athletes in New York City, Alexandra E. Petri, March 26, 2022. Follow Covid updates. Since lifting the private employer vaccine requirement for professional athletes and performers based in New York City on Thursday, Mayor Eric Adams has drawn the ire of city employees, their unions and others who still must adhere to the mandate or lose their jobs.

The Police Benevolent Association, the largest police union in the city, is one of several unions that have criticized the mayor’s decision. In a statement on Thursday, Patrick J. Lynch, president of the union, said the exemption is a double standard.

“If the mandate isn’t necessary for famous people, then it’s not necessary for the cops who are protecting our city in the middle of a crime crisis,” Mr. Lynch said, adding that officers continued working throughout the pandemic, risking their health and contracting Covid-19, and “don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens now.”

It is estimated that more than 1,500 public employees in New York City have lost their jobs because they did not abide by the vaccine mandate.

The United Federation of Teachers, a powerful teachers’ union in the city, similarly denounced the change in policy, underlining the appearance of granting special treatment for some.

Meanwhile, Federal health officials on Friday restricted use of a Covid monoclonal antibody drug in eight states in the Northeast and two territories, citing evidence that it is unlikely to be effective against the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 that is now dominant in those regions and quickly gaining ground across the country.

The federal government said it would immediately pause shipments of the infused treatment, known as sotrovimab, to the 8 affected states, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Food and Drug Administration said the drug is no longer authorized for use in those places.

washington post logoWashington Post, Navy SEALs lose Supreme Court challenge over vaccine mandate, Robert Barnes, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the Biden administration to take into account whether members of the military, including elite Navy SEALs, are vaccinated against the coronavirus when making deployment decisions.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented from the short, unsigned order.

Writing for himself, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said “the President of the United States, not any federal judge, is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.” He added there was “no basis in this case for employing the judicial power in a manner that military commanders believe would impair the military of the United States as it defends the American people.”

The order put on hold the judgments of a lower court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which had stopped the administration from making such decisions.

Judge grants relief to Navy SEALs who refused coronavirus vaccine, sued Biden administration

Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar had asked the Supreme Court to block at least part of the appeals court decision, calling it an “extraordinary and unprecedented intrusion into core military affairs.”

That ruling “not only prohibits the Navy from applying the COVID-19 vaccination requirement to respondents, but also requires the Navy to assign and deploy them without regard to their lack of vaccinations notwithstanding military leaders’ judgment that doing so poses intolerable risks to safety and mission success,” she wrote.

The challengers to the military’s policy are 35 Navy service members assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Command, including 26 Navy SEALs.

Coronavirus outbreak sidelines ship whose crew is fully immunized, Navy says

The dispute arises from last year’s announcement by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that all members of the military must get vaccinated against the coronavirus. All Navy personnel were to receive their first dose of the vaccine or request an exemption by October, and officials indicated those who were not vaccinated could be reassigned, even if they had received an exemption.

washington post logoWashington Post, Small lab that got $187 million for covid testing put patients in ‘jeopardy,’ Shawn Boburg and Kim Bellware, March 26, 2022. O’Hare Clinical Lab Services set up a nationwide network of pop-up sites. A Washington Post examination of its rise provides a portrait of a freewheeling segment of the testing industry that ballooned amid a massive infusion of government funds.

The drive-through coronavirus testing site, a metal shipping container in the parking lot of an Indianapolis shopping mall, gave Bridgette Alexander pause.

The man administering tests at the site, run by a company called O’Hare Clinical Lab Services, was wearing jeans and a leather jacket, not medical scrubs or a gown. He moved among the cars without changing gloves, she said. He asked for her driver’s license but not her insurance card.

But Alexander was feeling ill and desperate to make sure she didn’t pass covid-19 to her husband, a kidney transplant recipient. The rapid test came back negative that day, Dec. 23, providing temporary relief, she said.

Five days later, still sick, she went to a hospital. The test there came back positive. Her husband soon fell ill, too. He was hospitalized with covid-19 in mid-January and has remained on a ventilator since then, Alexander said.

While false negatives occur on antigen tests, Alexander now believes the first test was wholly unreliable. “I felt like the O’Hare results affected me. If I had been given real results, I could have been more cautious,” she said. “I could have done more.”

Once a small lab based out of a suburban strip mall that provided clinical tests for nursing homes and assisted-living centers near Chicago, O’Hare morphed into a testing juggernaut during the pandemic, setting up more than 100 pop-up coronavirus testing sites across the country, some little more than the shipping containers, records show.

In just 15 months, the company collected $187 million in federal money, according to government records, as it shifted its business focus and emerged as one of the nation’s largest test providers through a new program that reimbursed providers for the costs of testing the uninsured.

Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated March 26, 2022), with some governments reporting lower numbers than the covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2totals here and some experts saying the numbers are far higher:

World Cases: 480,149,136, Deaths: 6,143,996
U.S. Cases:     81,600,890, Deaths: 1,003,198
Indian Cases:   43,018,032, Deaths:    520,885
Brazil Cases:   29,802,257, Deaths:    658,626

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Law, Courts, Crime, Race

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary Trump lawsuit against Democrats, investigators appears to be Made in Moscow, Wayne Madsen, March wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small25-26, 2022. In a clear indication that the Kremlin continues to pull the strings of Donald Trump and his closest advisers and cronies, the former president on March 24 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Florida against his 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, as well as Democratic National Committee officials and officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including former director James Comey. Trump is seeking damages exceeding $24 million in defense costs, legal fees, and related expenses from the defendants.

Trump's suit appears to borrow heavily from the current politicized investigation by Justice Department special counsel John Durham, who was tasked by Attorney General William Barr to seek criminal charges for those who pointed to the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia in the 2016 campaign.

The Trump suit reads more like a piece of highly-opinionated prose than a legal document.

There are indications that the Trump lawsuit has its origins not with Trump's boutique legal team of sycophants or with the politicized special counsel team of Durham, but in the halls of the Kremlin.

 

Igor Fruman, top left, and Lev Parnas, two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney at bottom of a Wall Street Journal graphic above by Laura Kammermann, appear to be deeply involved in the Ukraine scandal.

Trump Counsel Rudolph Giuliani, left, with businessman Lev Parnas last month at the Trump International Hotel shortly before the arrest of Parnas and his colleague Igor Fruman while boarding a flight to Vienna from Dulles International Airport. The three are shown also with then President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.

djt mike pence igor fruman lev parnas rudy giuliani Custom

ap logoAssociated Press via HuffPost, Rudy Giuliani Associate Lev Parnas Pleads Guilty In Fraud Scheme, Larry Neumeister, March 25, 2022. Parnas pleaded guilty to defrauding investors in a company supposedly created to prevent people from being defrauded.

An associate of Rudy Giuliani pleaded guilty Friday to a conspiracy charge alleging that he defrauded investors in a company supposedly created to prevent people from being defrauded.

Lev Parnas, 50, entered the plea to conspiring to commit wire fraud during a remotely held electronic proceeding in Manhattan federal court.
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Parnas told Judge J. Paul Oetken that he conspired between 2012 and 2019 with another person to give investors false information about a Florida-based business, Fraud Guarantee.

He said he was “wrong at the time and I am truly sorry for my actions, your honor.”

Fraud Guarantee was promoted as a company that could protect investors against fraud.

The plea came months after the Soviet-born businessman was convicted of campaign finance crimes at a Manhattan trial. The judge set sentencing for June 29.

In October 2020, codefendant David Correia, a former golf professional, pleaded guilty in connection with the same fraud.

Prior to Correia’s sentencing, prosecutors said Correia and Parnas used false claims to induce at least seven investors between 2012 and 2019 to contribute between $200,000 and $500,000, saying the money would be used only for business interests and nothing personal.

The majority of the money from investors, though, was withdrawn as cash and spent on rent, luxury cars and retail stores by Parnas, prosecutors said.

During the fraud, Correia and Parnas agreed to pay Giuliani, a former New York City mayor who served as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer during part of his presidency, a $500,000 consulting fee to work with Fraud Guarantee. Correia was sentenced last year to a year in prison.

Parnas several years ago also worked with Giuliani to try to get Ukrainian officials to investigate the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Giuliani has said he knew nothing about the crimes of Parnas and others.

Giuliani has not been criminally charged, though federal authorities have acknowledged that he is being investigated to determine whether he violated a federal law that governs lobbying on behalf of foreign countries or entities.

In October, Parnas was convicted of six charges alleging that he made illegal donations in 2018 to jump-start a new energy company and used the wealth of a Russian financier to donate to politicians who might aid the launch of a legal, recreational marijuana business. He awaits sentencing in that case.

 

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

ap logoAssociated Press via Hartford Courant, Sandy Hook families seek Alex Jones arrest after 2nd no-show, Staff Report, March 26, 2022. Lawyers for relatives of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims have asked a Connecticut judge again to order the arrest of Infowars host Alex Jones, shown above in a broadcast screenshot, after he defied a court order to attend a deposition as part of a lawsuit over his calling the massacre a hoax.

Jones missed both days of a scheduled deposition Wednesday and Thursday in Austin, Texas, home to Jones and Infowars. He cited a health problem that included vertigo and revealed Friday that it was a sinus infection. After he didn’t show up Wednesday on the advice of his doctors, Connecticut Judge Barbara Bellis ordered him to appear Thursday, noting he wasn’t hospitalized and had appeared in-person on his show Tuesday.

Bellis did not immediately rule on the new arrest request. She rejected a similar motion by the families’ lawyer seeking an arrest order after Jones failed to appear Wednesday. She has set a hearing by video conference for Wednesday next week.

The families’ lawyers filed a motion late Friday afternoon requesting that Jones be arrested and detained until he sits for a deposition, be fined $25,000 to $50,000 a day until he completes the questioning, be found in contempt of court and to pay their expenses for traveling to Austin this week.

“The plaintiffs subjected themselves to hours and hours of painful questioning by Mr. Jones’s lawyers — and Mr. Jones plays sick when it is his turn to tell the truth under oath,” Alinor Sterling, one of the families’ lawyers, wrote in the motion.

Jones’ lawyer, Norman Pattis, called the request “an unprecedented overreach” and raised concerns about due process, in an email to The Associated Press.

Earlier Friday, Jones said on his website show that it was “absolutely preposterous” the families’ lawyers were trying to have him arrested for missing a deposition because of illness. He said the families’ lawyers had delayed depositions in the case several times and he didn’t complain.

In November, Bellis found Jones liable for damages, and his testimony is now being sought in a deposition ahead of a trial later this year to determine how much he should pay the families.

Twenty first graders and six educators were killed in the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent who responded to school sued Jones, Infowars and others in Connecticut, saying they have been subjected to harassment and death threats from Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy promoted on the show. Jones has since said he believes the shooting did occur.

Jones also was found liable for damages in similar lawsuits filed in Texas by relatives of Sandy Hook victims, and also faces trial later this year.

Jones returned to the Infowars studio on Friday for the first time since Tuesday and disclosed on the show that medical testing showed he had a sinus infection. He said he had experienced vertigo, and his doctors initially thought it was a serious heart problem and advised him to stay home and not go to the deposition.

 

Brandon Jackson, left, and Ricky Bobby

Police remove a gun from Brandon Jackson during his arrest, left. 'Ricky Bobby' is show at right. Photo via YouTube livestream.

Vice News, ‘Ricky Bobby’ Causes Ruckus at Trucker Convoy, Watches His Buddy Get Arrested, Mack Lamoureux, March 25, 2022. The controversial return of a protester calling himself "Ricky Bobby" set off a chain of events that led to the arrest of one of his supporters.

One man was arrested Thursday night as infighting continues to plague the trucker convoy protest, which has been annoying drivers in and around Washington, D.C., for weeks.

Maryland State Police told VICE News they arrested Brandon Jackson, 28, “on handgun violations” and he was charged with “illegal possession of a loaded handgun on person.”
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“At about 9 p.m. last night, troopers from the Hagerstown Barrack received a call from a citizen with the report of a vehicle blocking the roadway in front of the Hagerstown Speedway,” an MSP spokesperson said. “A trooper on the scene recognized that one of the individuals, later identified as Jackson, was carrying an object in his front pocket which resembled the shape of a firearm.”

Jackson was arrested without incident. Video of the scene shows an officer removing a firearm from Jackson’s pants while he is handcuffed.

Prior to his arrest, Jackson was in a heated debate with fellow convoy supporters. The argument, which was captured on a livestream, appeared to be between two factions fighting over the direction of the trucker convoy. On one side were those affiliated with the central leadership and on the other was a small group of more radical figures, several of which described themselves as Boogaloo Bois—anti-government groups known for their ironic and violent aesthetic.

The fight was over how the convoy was run, what protest actions should be taken, and accusations of corruption. It arose from an incident earlier in the week when a man who called himself “Ricky Bobby” started a confrontation with trucker leadership, which almost ended in blows at the morning meeting, over who gets to speak on the microphone. “Ricky Bobby,” who was being supported by Jackson, was kicked out of the protest grounds for the incident and returned Thursday night and blocked the road to plead his case to be allowed back in.

The so-called “people’s convoy” has been in Hagerstown since March 4. The movement was loosely organized around protesting vaccine mandates, which have largely been abandoned or eased across the United States. Every day, in protest against something or other, the convoy tuckers drive loops around the Beltway—the highway that encircles Washington D.C. This weekend they’re planning on having several well-known anti-vaccine speakers talk to the convoy participants.

During Thursday night’s argument, Jackson accused the organizer of planting a streamer named Jersey Jay in their camp to spy on them, and the pro-convoy folks accused Jackson and his camp of trying to stage a mutiny.

"You're doing what Nazis did,” said Jackson. “You're here protesting the government but then being the government. You're being an authoritarian."

Recent Law-Related Headlines

 

World News, Global Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Mideast Feels the Pinch of Rising Food Prices as Ramadan Nears, Vivian Yee, March 26, 2022. Russia’s war on Ukraine has driven up the prices of staple foods and energy across the Middle East and North Africa ahead of the Muslim holy month of daytime fasting and nighttime feasting. The price of groceries was going up everywhere Souad Amer checked, so it was with nervous hope that she waded into a government-subsidized market in her Cairo neighborhood where a loudspeaker blared a jingle promising cheap essentials for Ramadan.

Browsing boxes of dates — which Egyptians traditionally eat to break their daytime fast during the Muslim holy month — Ms. Amer asked someone to check the price of one box. It was 20 pounds, slightly over a dollar. Much more than last year. Like nearly everything else.

“OK, just leave it where it is,” said Ms. Amer, 43, her shoulders drooping. She had three children to feed at home and already knew her Ramadan table would feature little meat and no duck, their yearly holiday tradition. “We just buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend,” she said.

Ramadan arrives in a week: a festive season when people across the Middle East and North Africa normally look forward to gatherings with friends and family, new clothes and feasts that begin after sundown and stretch late into the night. But this year, prices of staples such as oil, sugar, flour and rice have surged across the region, thanks to global supply chain snarls and the war between Russia and Ukraine, which export many essential commodities and foods, including wheat, fertilizer and gas.

That reality threatens to crush household and government budgets alike in countries that had nothing to spare, raising the possibility of the kind of mass popular unrest not seen since the Arab Spring protests a decade ago, which stemmed in part from soaring food prices.

Drought is already ravaging Morocco’s economy. Tunisia’s deeply indebted government was struggling to pay for wheat imports even before the war broke out. Lebanon is shuddering under an economic collapse. Syria, already raked by war and growing poverty, is now facing prices for tea and dates that have doubled or even tripled since last Ramadan, according to Damascus residents.

And in Egypt, where videos of ordinary people venting about food prices have gone viral on social media under the hashtag “revolution of the hungry,” the government has been forced to move swiftly to blunt the blow.

In a clear sign of the distress, Egypt on Wednesday announced that it had opened talks with the International Monetary Fund over a new financial assistance package, its third in six years, noting in a statement that the shock of the Ukraine war had caused prices to rise to “unprecedented” levels and had sent foreign investors fleeing.

ny times logoNew York Times, Sri Lanka Economy Has ‘Hit Rock Bottom,’ Putting Pressure on President, Emily Schmall, March 26, 2022 (print ed.). A debt crisis is making food and fuel either unavailable or exorbitantly priced. Protests are rising against a president with a reputation for brutality.

An economic crisis is disrupting life across Sri Lanka, an island nation off India’s southern coast that only recently had been outperforming its neighbors.

In less than a decade, Sri Lanka recovered from the ravages of a civil war that ended in 2009, soaring to the status of an upper-middle-income nation. It built a tourism-based economy that brought billions of dollars, many jobs and middle class comforts: high-end eateries and cafes, imported Jeeps and Audis, and upscale malls.

Now, Sri Lankans just want the lights to stay on. The country’s enormous debt load, the pandemic and, most recently, the war in Europe have brought it to its knees.

The central bank is printing rupees and hoarding dollars, sending inflation to a record high of 17.5 percent in February. The finance minister is begging neighbors for credit lines to buy diesel fuel and milk powder. In a barter arrangement, the central bank is paying for Iranian oil with tea leaves.

For months, the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has rationed power. Sections of the capital, Colombo, go dark suddenly, city streets becoming as inky black as the Indian Ocean beside them.

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March 25

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Overturning 2020 U.S. Election, Russian Influences Claims

 

Ukraine Battlefields, Civilian Horrors

 

Supreme Court Hearing's Final Day

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Biden, E.U. announce partnership to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian energy, Emily Rauhala, Tyler Pager and Ashley Parker, March 25, 2022. The United States and the European Commission announced Friday a joint task force to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels, as the West looks to further punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

As part of the partnership, the United States will seek to increase liquefied natural gas exports to Europe by at least 15 billion cubic meters this year with the aim of providing larger shipments in the future.

President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the new agreement Friday in a joint appearance, stressing that the initiative will both reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy while keeping the countries on track to meet their climate goals.

european union logo rectangle“We’re going to have to make sure the families in Europe can get through this winter and the next while we’re building the infrastructure for a diversified, resilient and clean energy future,” Biden said in brief remarks at the U.S. Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels.

Von der Leyen praised the U.S. commitment, saying the exports “will replace the LNG supply we currently receive from Russia.”

“Our partnership aims to sustain us through this war, to work on our independence,” she said. “It also focuses on building a greener future with climate neutrality.”

The task force will be chaired by representatives of the White House and of the president of the European Commission.

Still, the new arrangement requires new LNG infrastructure, including pipelines, although senior U.S. administration officials said efforts are underway to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of all new LNG infrastructure.

The E.U. has long been heavily dependent on Russian energy. It planned to quit — eventually — as part of a broader shift away from fossil fuels. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed that timeline.

About 40 percent of E.U. gas comes from Russia, as well as more than a quarter of its oil. Europe imports over six times more oil from Russia than the United States does, according to the White House.

In the aftermath of the invasion, some E.U. countries argued for a full boycott while others pushed for a more gradual approach, arguing that weaning Europe off cheap and abundant Russian energy required time.

 

President Biden with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday (Photo by Doug Mills of the New York Times).

President Biden with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday (Photo by Doug Mills of the New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Russia Says Focus Is Shifting Away From Kyiv, Toward Eastern Ukraine, President Biden met U.S. troops in Poland, and plans to meet Ukrainian refugees on Saturday, while Russian rockets and missiles struck the battered city of Kharkiv.

As he seeks to embolden global resolve to punish Russia, President Biden arrived at the Polish border with Ukraine on Friday to highlight the human toll of war, meeting with U.S. service members before a planned meeting with refugees from Ukraine to see, firsthand, the humanitarian consequences of what he calls President Vladimir V. Putin’s “war of choice.”

polish flag wavingNot long after Mr. Biden arrived in Poland, the Russian military signaled that it might be reducing its war aims. After a month of a grinding war in which Russian forces have been met by unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance and have failed to capture major cities across the country, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said Russia would now be focused on defeating Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting a war since 2014.

He said the “first stage of the operation” had been “mainly accomplished,” with Ukraine’s combat power “significantly reduced.” But it is far from clear that the larger conflict might wind down: He added that Russia “does not exclude” that its forces will storm major Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv, the capital, though he said that taking them over was not a primary objective.

Russia’s announcement came as the dire effects of the war on civilians have been called into ever sharper relief. On Friday, officials in the besieged city of Mariupol announced that at least 300 people had been killed in last week’s attack on a local theater that was being used as a shelter.

President Biden started his day by promising to help the European Union secure more liquefied natural gas, an important sign of support in the bloc’s race to wean itself from Russian fuel imports, although the follow-through is expected to be challenging.

In other major developments:

  • Ukraine’s defense ministry said that Russian forces had secured a partial land corridor from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, a key strategic aim of Moscow’s since the war began. It was unclear how secure the route would remain and how much of a change it would represent since Russia already controlled much of the area.
  • In just 24 hours, Russian rockets and missiles have struck the battered Ukrainian city of Kharkiv at least 55 times, according to city officials, and Russia continued to pound away at the Ukrainian military infrastructure, striking a military facility in the central city of Dnipro with multiple missiles late Thursday, according to Ukrainian officials.
  • Russia and Ukraine carried out their first prisoner exchanges since the invasion began, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk of Ukraine said.
  • Russia is ratcheting up the number of mercenaries to fight in Ukraine’s east. Russian mercenaries with combat experience in Syria and Libya are gearing up to assume an increasingly active role in a phase of the war in Ukraine that Moscow now says is its top priority: fighting in the country’s east. The number of mercenaries with the Russian Wagner Group are expected to more than triple to at least 1,000 fighters from about 300 a month ago, just before the invasion, a United States official said on Friday, adding they would be focused on defeating Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting a war since 2014.

Dispatching trusted Russian mercenaries to take an increasingly active role in a pivotal part of the Russian invasion highlights efforts by the Kremlin to regroup and refocus its flagging, monthlong military campaign that so far has failed to achieve any of President Vladimir V. Putin’s initial war goals, U.S. and other Western officials said.

Wagner is the best-known of an array of Russian mercenary groups, which over the years have become more formalized, acting more like Western military contractors.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: Biden to meet Polish leader on NATO’s eastern flank, Ashley Parker, Tyler Pager, Jennifer Hassan, Amy Cheng, Julian Mark, Miriam Berger and Adela Suliman, March 25, 2022. Ukrainian forces have reoccupied towns east of Kyiv, U.K. says; Ukrainian military corrects record on which Russian landing ship it destroyed; Biden hails new energy partnership with Europe.

The United States and the European Commission announced Friday a new joint task force to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels, as the West looks to further punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. The United States will work to deliver additional liquefied national gas for the European market in 2022 and beyond, the White House said.

nato logo flags name“I know that eliminating Russian gas will have costs for Europe, but it’s not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it’s going to put us on a much stronger strategic footing,” President Biden said. Later on Friday, Biden will meet with his Polish counterpart in Rzeszow, a city some 60 miles from the Ukrainian border. The visit, yet another show of Washington’s solidarity with its transatlantic allies, follows a U.S. pledge to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and a vow to respond “in kind” if Russia uses chemical weapons in its invasion.

The battle for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, rages on as the war enters its second month, with counterattacks forcing Russian troops into defensive positions, according to U.S.-based military analysts. Ukrainian forces are likely to continue striking logistical assets in territory held by Russia, which would stretch the Kremlin’s supply lines and dampen morale among Russian forces, Britain said in a Thursday intelligence update.

While addressing the European Council and the nations of Europe on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was “grateful” for sanctions against Russia, but that they came “a little too late." He urged them to expedite Ukraine’s application to join the European Union, saying: “Here I ask you - do not be late. Please.”

How many people have been killed in Ukraine? Here’s what we know.

Here’s what to know

  • Biden voiced support for expelling Russia from the Group of 20. Several Western nations have suggested barring Russian President Vladimir Putin from a G-20 summit later this year.
  • Russia and Ukraine agreed two humanitarian corridors will operate on Friday - including one direct from the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said. It is the first time in recent days an evacuation route has been announced direct from Mariupol, which has seen fierce street fightng.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is negotiating a deal to ensure the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. The U.N. watchdog also said Thursday that Ukraine has informed it that Russian shelling in a city near the Chernobyl plant was preventing personnel from rotating shifts..
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Live Updates: U.S. to Take In 100,000 Refugees; Biden Meets Allies, expresses support for expelling Russia from G-20; Ukraine Says It Destroyed Russian Landing Ship, Marc Santora and Michael D. Shear, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). The United States also vows to donate $1 billion to help European countries take in people fleeing the war.

As President Biden met on Thursday with world leaders for an extraordinary day of three summits in Brussels focused on the Ukraine war, the United States said it would take in 100,000 refugees fleeing the fighting.

As the West works to solidify its stance against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, the outgunned Ukrainian forces are several days into a counteroffensive that has scored some successes. On Thursday, the Ukrainians claimed to have added to their momentum by destroying a Russian landing ship at a southern Ukrainian port in Russian-occupied territory.

If confirmed, the attack would be a blow to the already beleaguered Russian forces struggling with logistical and resupply issues. The Russians had said the port was important to their efforts to bring supplies to their troops.

The three summits — with NATO, the Group of 7 and the European Union — come as concern is rising among Western leaders that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia may turn to unconventional weapons as its advance falters.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine appeared via video link at the closed-door NATO meeting that started the day and made another urgent plea for help. He described his country as trapped “in the ‘gray zone’ between the West and Russia,” according to a transcript of his remarks released by the Ukrainian government. “I am sure you already understand that Russia does not intend to stop in Ukraine,” he said. “Does not intend and will not. It wants to go further.”

The NATO summit has ended and President Biden has just begun a smaller meeting with leaders of the G7, the world’s wealthiest democracies. The group is expected to deal less with the military questions that were at issue during the morning session. Instead, the G7 is expected to focus more on strengthening the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia over the past month and how to ensure they are observed by other nations around the world.

As President Biden holds urgent meetings with European leaders, Ukraine says it destroyed a Russian landing ship at a strategic southern port.

With President Biden in Brussels for three summits on Ukraine, the administration also pledged to donate $1 billion to help Europe deal with migrants.
Millions of Ukrainian children have been driven from their homes, UNICEF said, one of the largest such displacements since World War II. Here’s the latest.

Biden voiced support for expelling Russia from the Group of 20, remarks he made in Brussels on Thursday as he announced that the United States will take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and will commit more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance for those affected by Russia’s continued invasion in Ukraine.

As the war reached the one-month mark, Biden joined leaders from the Group of Seven nations and the European Union in projecting a unified front against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while announcing additional measures to isolate the Kremlin. New sanctions will target more than 400 Russian individuals and entities, including lawmakers and defense companies. The G-7 leaders also warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against using chemical or nuclear weapons.

A decision to boot Russia from the G-20, an assembly of the world’s largest economies, would be up to its member nations. If they object, Biden suggested inviting Ukraine to observe the group’s October summit. Putin is planning to attend the meeting, a Russian diplomat said.

In other major developments:

  • In addition to accepting 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the country, the United States will donate $1 billion to help European nations deal with the surge of migrants, a person familiar with the decision said. More than three million Ukrainians have poured into Poland and other countries.
  • NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, reiterated that “any use of chemical weapons would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict.” But when pressed, he said he would “not speculate” about how NATO might respond if chemical agents were to drift on the wind from Ukraine into NATO territory.
  • Russia’s assault on Ukraine has driven more than half the country’s children from their homes, the United Nations children’s agency said on Thursday, calling it one of the largest displacements of children since World War II.
  • Mr. Biden is not expected to press his European counterparts to cut off their flow of Russian energy. Instead, European leaders are expected to announce steps they will take, with the help of the United States, to reduce their dependence on it.
  • The Moscow Exchange resumed partial trading on Thursday for the first time in nearly a month. The index rose 4 percent, probably buoyed by government policies aimed at avoiding a sell-off.

 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson tears up briefly and for the only time during her three days of confirmation testimony as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) consoles her for the vicious slurs and innuendoes that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched at her. Shown below are her parents as they observed the highs and lows (Photo via the Associated Press).

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson tears up briefly and for the only time during her three days of confirmation testimony as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) consoles her for the vicious slurs laced with sexual and racial innuendoes that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched at her, most notably by Ted Cruz (TX), Josh Hawley (MO), Marsha Blackburn (TN)  and Tom Cotton (Photo via the Associated Press). Shown below are her parents as they observed the highs and lows.

 ketanji jackson brown parents

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Cory Booker cut through the GOP’s ugliness to celebrate Judge Jackson, Eugene Robinson, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson have been rife with racism, sexism, feigned outrage and general ugliness. eugene robinson headshot CustomBut Wednesday’s proceedings brought one moment of such powerful eloquence that it brought Jackson, and me, to tears.

Thank you, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), for speaking truth and for celebrating this historic moment as it deserves to be marked.

Booker’s turn to question Jackson came toward the end of the session. She had been badgered all day by Republicans who pretended to be outraged by the sentences she imposed in several child pornography cases when she was a U.S. district court judge. Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.) had been particularly obnoxious, interrupting Jackson repeatedly and trying their best not to let her defend herself.

Booker greeted Jackson with a broad smile. “Your family and you speak to service, service, service,” he began. “And I’m telling you right now, I’m not letting anybody in the Senate steal my joy. … I just look at you, and I start getting full of emotion.”

The senator said he had been jogging that morning when an African American woman, a stranger, “practically tackled” him to explain how much it meant to her to see Jackson sitting in the witness chair.

“And you did not get there because of some left-wing agenda,” Booker said. “You didn’t get here because of some ‘dark money’ groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done. By being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, in heels.’ And so I’m just sitting here saying nobody’s stealing my joy. Nobody is going to make me angry.”

Booker noted that he was just the fourth African American to be popularly elected to the Senate, rather than appointed to his post or elected by a state legislature. He said that during his first week at the Capitol, an older Black man who worked on the cleaning crew came up to him and began crying. “And I just hugged him, and he just kept telling me, ‘It’s so good to see you here.’”

He said Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who also is African American, understood what he meant. Booker and Scott are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum — Booker a progressive Democrat, Scott a far-right Republican — but he credited Scott with having given “the best speech on race — I wish I could have given as good of a speech. … Talking of the challenges and indignities that are still faced. And you’re here.”

Axios Sneak Peek, Analysis: SCOTUS circus, Andrew Solender, March 24-25, 2022. With Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court all but a foregone conclusion, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee used their time in the spotlight to play their party's greatest hits and stoke the culture wars.

axios logoWhy it matters: As far as congressional hearings go, Supreme Court confirmations are prime time. They afford committee members a golden opportunity to push pet issues or sharpen their images before the national electorate — often while ignoring the actual nominee.

Three senators who sat on the panel and questioned Supreme Court picks during the Trump administration — now-Vice President Kamala Harris and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — later mounted bids for the presidency.

Driving the news: The first three days of Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings were a medley of message-testing and political jockeying.

Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) harshly scrutinized Jackson’s sentencing record, questioning her about child pornography and casting her as overly sympathetic to sex offenders amid a backlash against criminal justice reformers.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) embraced an issue that's become central to GOP messaging. He hammered on critical race theory, holding up a book called Antiracist Baby and asking Jackson, “Do you agree … that babies are racist?”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Jackson to "provide a definition of the word ‘woman,'" as GOP governors grapple with legislation restricting transgender participation in youth sports.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) used some of his time to continue his years-long crusade against “dark money” in judicial politics.

 

Overturning 2020 U.S. Election, Russian Influences Claims

 United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r). (Safe Image)

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (l) with his wife of thirty-five years, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas (r).

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Virginia Thomas urged White House chief to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 election, texts show, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). In messages to chief of staff Mark Meadows in the weeks after Election Day, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called Joe Biden’s victory “the greatest Heist of our History” and told him that President Donald Trump should not concede.

Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in a series of urgent text exchanges in the critical weeks after the vote, according to copies of the messages obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.

The messages – 29 in all – reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.

On Nov. 10, after news organizations had projected Joe Biden the winner based on state vote totals, Thomas wrote to Meadows: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!...You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

When Meadows wrote to Thomas on Nov. 24, the White House chief of staff invoked God to describe the effort to overturn the election. “This is a fight of good versus evil,” Meadows wrote. “Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.”

Thomas replied: “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!”

It is unclear to whom Thomas was referring.

The messages, which do not directly reference Justice Thomas or the Supreme Court, show for the first time how Ginni Thomas used her access to Trump’s inner circle to promote and seek to guide the president’s strategy to overturn the election results – and how receptive and grateful Meadows said he was to receive her advice. Among Thomas’s stated goals in the messages was for lawyer Sidney Powell, who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, to be “the lead and the face” of Trump’s legal team.

Steady, Commentary: What Does Clarence Thomas Know? And when did he know it? Dan Rather, right, March 25, 2022. “I’ve seen a lot in my life, but I’ve never dan rather 2017seen anything like this.”

Over the last several years, I’ve written some form of this line on countless occasions. And each time it proves to be true. We are in an arms race with absurdity, but this is not a farce. It is a tragedy.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, we were talking about the historic nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, and the shameful display of the Republican senators at her confirmation hearing. Now, another story around the court crowds out the news around Judge Jackson. It concerns Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni.

I suspect most of you are up to some sort of speed on this story, although it changes faster than Superman in a phone booth. Except, sadly, there are Justice Department log circularno superheroes here. Instead the backdrop is the violent insurrection of January 6, in which there are numerous pieces of evidence suggesting Ms. Thomas was deeply involved. Lest there be any doubt, this was an attempt to overthrow a presidential election, culminating (but not ending) with that shameful storming of the Capitol by rioters bent on keeping their dear leader in the White House.

We already knew a lot about this storyline, but today proved that there still is a potential for surprise — or more accurately, horror. This is a smoking gun in the form of text messages between Ms. Thomas and the White House chief of staff at the time, Mark Meadows.

This is how The Washington Post reported it:

The messages — 29 in all — reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.

On Nov. 10, after news organizations had projected Joe Biden the winner based on state vote totals, Thomas wrote to Meadows: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!...You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

When Meadows wrote to Thomas on Nov. 24, the White House chief of staff invoked God to describe the effort to overturn the election. “This is a fight of good versus evil,” Meadows wrote. “Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.”

Thomas replied: “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!” It is unclear to whom Thomas was referring. (Many suspect Ms. Thomas’ reference to “my best friend” refers to her husband.)

Let’s be clear with what we already know. We had arguably the greatest attempt to undermine the workings of American democracy since the Civil War. It was stoked by President Trump and his frenzied cabal of true believers. It was violent, and its one aim was to prevent Joe Biden, the duly elected winner, from assuming the presidency.

It was a coup attempt. It would have sparked a constitutional crisis that would have torn apart this nation. It continues to cast a shadow over the United States at a moment when there is no shortage of external peril. And yet the greatest danger may still be from within.

Here’s a chilling case in point. In the hearing today for Judge Jackson, the Alabama attorney general refused to denounce the Big Lie about President Biden’s election; rather, he embraced it, despite repeated clear and direct questioning:

This isn’t fringe. This is gospel for much of the Republican Party, still beholden to the disgraced but shamelessly unrepentant instigator in chief.
And this brings us back to Justice Thomas, who, by the way, has apparently been in the hospital for several days with a severe infection and very few updates on the status of his health. Was he trying to protect his wife when he was the lone dissent in a case about handing over documents to the congressional committee investigating January 6? What else might he know? Recusal is a bare minimum. The questions go much deeper.

I think Chris Hayes frames it about right:

Chris Hayes @chrislhayes: No one is responsible for the views of family members or spouses, but also it obviously beggars belief that Ginni Thomas was not discussing this all with her husband who was going to be ruling on whether to take cases that would overturn a free and fair election!
March 24th 2022

But here’s the thing that eats at me, or at least whatever is left of the instincts that guided me into a life of reporting. You don’t report hunches. You have to be careful about not seeing ghosts where there are none. The most outrageous explanations are usually the quickest to be debunked. But...but...but….

How many times in this sordid saga of the Trump presidency did the story go in directions that would make a Hollywood scriptwriter blush with shame if they had written something so preposterous? Truth has regularly galloped past the limits of fiction. The half-life of outrage can be measured in nanoseconds.

There are so many questions that remain not only unanswered, but, indeed, unasked. There are likely many questions that we don’t even know enough to think of asking.

We have to be careful not to let our suppositions drift into fantasy. But at the same time, we need to expand the bounds of our imagination.

The people who fomented the lies around the election hate America, or at least the America defined by our Constitution and the arc of our history. That includes the wife of a Supreme Court justice. It includes an ex-president and his army of enablers. It is desperately important that we uncover where else this web of shame extends, and who else it ensnares,

The Constitution of the United States, to which Justice Thomas swore an oath, demands it. And so do the health, safety, and security of the country, the rule of law, and the very continuation of our democracy.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Times Magazine investigation detailed how far Ginni Thomas was willing to go after Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss, Danny Hakim and Jo Becker, Updated Feb. 23, 2022. The Supreme Court justice and his wife battled for years for a more conservative America. New reporting shows how far she was willing to go after Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss.

The call to action was titled “Election Results and Legal Battles: What Now?” Shared in the days after the 2020 presidential election, it urged the members of an influential if secretive right-wing group to contact legislators in three of the swing states that tipped the balance for Joe Biden — Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. The aim was audacious: Keep President Donald J. Trump in power.

The group, the Council for National Policy, brings together old-school Republican luminaries, Christian conservatives, Tea Party activists and MAGA operatives, with more than 400 members who include leaders of organizations like the Federalist Society, the National Rifle Association and the Family Research Council. Founded in 1981 as a counterweight to liberalism, the group was hailed by President Ronald Reagan as seeking the “return of righteousness, justice and truth” to America.

As Trump insisted, without evidence, that fraud had cheated him of victory, conservative groups rushed to rally behind him. The council stood out, however, not only because of its pedigree but also because one of its newest leaders was Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas and a longtime activist in right-wing circles. She had taken on a prominent role at the council during the Trump years and by 2019 had joined the nine-member board of C.N.P. Action, an arm of the council organized as a 501(c)4 under a provision of the tax code that allows for direct political advocacy. It was C.N.P. Action that circulated the November “action steps” document, the existence of which has not been widely known. It instructed members to pressure Republican lawmakers into challenging the election results and appointing alternate slates of electors: “Demand that they not abandon their Constitutional responsibilities during a time such as this.”

Such a plan, if carried out successfully, would have almost certainly landed before the Supreme Court — and Ginni Thomas’s husband. In fact, Trump was already calling for that to happen. In a Dec. 2 speech at the White House, the president falsely claimed that “millions of votes were cast illegally in swing states alone” and said he hoped “the Supreme Court of the United States will see it” and “will do what’s right for our country, because our country cannot live with this kind of an election.”

washington post logoWashington Post, The Archives: Justice often runs into conflicts of interest with wife’s activism, critics say, Michael Kranish, Jan. 31, 2022. Ginni Thomas’s name stood out among the signatories of a December letter from conservative leaders, which blasted the work of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection as “overtly partisan political persecution.”

One month later, her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, took part in a case crucial to the same committee’s work: former president Donald Trump’s request to block the committee from getting White House records that were ordered released by President Biden and two lower courts.

Thomas was the only justice to say he would grant Trump’s request.

That vote has reignited fury among Clarence Thomas’s critics, who say it illustrates a gaping hole in the court’s rules: Justices essentially decide for themselves whether they have a conflict of interest, and Thomas has rarely made such a choice in his three decades on the court.

“I absolutely do believe that Clarence Thomas should have recused from the Jan. 6 case,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan advocacy group, who called the Supreme Court “the most powerful, least accountable, institution in Washington.”

While the Supreme Court is supposed to operate under regulations guiding all federal judges, including a requirement that a justice “shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” there’s no procedure to enforce that rule. Each justice can decide whether to recuse, and there is no way to appeal a Supreme Court member’s failure to do so.

Unlike in lower courts, there is no other judge that can step in, and thus a recusal by one justice would mean considering the case with only eight justices, increasing the chance it could not be resolved.

Thomas, 73, has recused himself 32 times in the last 28 years, mostly on petitions never granted by the court, according to research by Roth’s group. (He recused himself more often in his first two years on the court, due partly to conflicts involving his previous employment.) He has recused himself in a family matter, sitting out a case involving a college that his son attended. But Thomas has never bowed out of a case due to alleged conflicts with his wife’s activism, according to Roth.

Ginni Thomas has long been one of the nation’s most outspoken conservatives. During her husband’s time on the Supreme Court, she has run organizations designed to activate right-wing networks, worked for Republicans in Congress, harshly criticized Democrats who she said were trying to make the country “ungovernable,” and handed out awards to those who agree with her agenda. Ginni Thomas also worked closely with the Trump administration and met with the president, and has come under fire over messages praising Jan. 6 crowds before the attack on the Capitol. In a number of instances, her activism has overlapped with cases that have been decided by Clarence Thomas.

On Jan. 19, the Supreme Court rejected former president Donald Trump’s request to withhold records from the House committee investigating the Capitol attack. (Reuters)

Thomas’s vote in the Jan. 6 case is such a striking conflict of interest, critics say, that some hope it sparks further support for long-sputtering efforts to toughen rules governing the justices — an effort bolstered by a White House commission last month that noted the inherent problem with court’s recusals.

washington post logoWashington Post, Justice Thomas released from hospital after week-long stay, Robert Barnes, March 25, 2022. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was released from the hospital after a nearly week-long stay to treat an infection, the court’s press office said Friday.

Thomas, 73, was admitted to Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington Friday night, complaining of flu-like symptoms. Sunday night, the court said in a new release that he had been diagnosed with an infection and was being treated with intravenous antibiotics.

A court spokeswoman said that Thomas had been vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus, and that his illness was not covid-related.

Thomas is the court’s longest-serving member, chosen in 1991 by Republican President George H.W. Bush. He is also its second oldest after 83-year-old Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who plans to retire at the end of the term.

Justices decide for themselves how much health information they will release to the public, and there had been no additional guidance since then until Friday’s brief notice from Supreme Court Public Information Officer Patricia McCabe. “Justice Thomas was discharged from the hospital earlier today,” she said in a release emailed to reporters.

 

Ukraine Battlefields, Civilian Horrors 

Associated Press, Moscow accused of forcibly removing civilians to Russia, Andrea Rosa and Nebi Qena, March 25, 2022. Ukraine accused Moscow of forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered Ukrainian cities to Russia to pressure Kyiv to give up. Also, about 300 people died in a ap logoRussian airstrike last week on a theater being used as a bomb shelter in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city’ s government said Friday, citing eyewitnesses. 

For civilians, the misery has become unrelenting. Kyiv, like other cities, has seen its population dramatically reduced in the vast refugee crisis that has seen more than 10 million displaced and at least 3.5 million fleeing the country entirely. In the capital, over 260 civilians have died and more than 80 buildings been destroyed since the start of the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged his country to keep up its military defense and not stop “even for a minute.” Zelenskyy used his nightly video address on Thursday to rally Ukrainians to “move toward peace, move forward.”

“With every day of our defense, we are getting closer to the peace that we need so much. … We can’t stop even for a minute, for every minute determines our fate, our future, whether we will live.” He said thousands of people, including 128 children, died in the first month of the war. Across the country, 230 schools and 155 kindergartens have been destroyed. Cities and villages “lie in ashes,” he said.

At an emergency NATO summit in Brussels Thursday, Zelenskyy pleaded with the Western allies via video for planes, tanks, rockets, air defense systems and other weapons, saying his country is “defending our common values.”

In a video address to EU leaders, meanwhile, Zelenskyy thanked them for working together to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, including Germany’s decision to block Russia from delivering natural gas to Europe through the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline. But he lamented that these steps were not taken earlier, saying there was a chance Russia would have thought twice about invading.

While millions of Ukrainians have fled west, Ukraine accused Moscow of forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered cities to Russia to pressure Kyiv to give up. Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had been taken against their will into Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to surrender.

The Kremlin gave nearly identical numbers for those who have been relocated, but said they were from predominantly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and wanted to go to Russia. Pro-Moscow separatists have been fighting for control for nearly eight years in those regions, where many people have supported close ties to Russia.

In other developments:

—In Chernihiv, where an airstrike this week destroyed a crucial bridge, a city official, Olexander Lomako, said a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding as Russian forces target food storage places. He said about 130,000 people are left in the besieged city, about half its prewar population.

—Russia said it will offer safe passage starting Friday to 67 ships from 15 foreign countries that are stranded in Ukrainian ports because of the danger of shelling and mines.

—Russian forces fired two missiles late Thursday at a Ukrainian military unit on the outskirts of Dnipro, the fourth-largest city in the country, the regional emergency services said. The strikes destroyed buildings and set off two fires, it said. The number of dead and wounded was unclear.

—With the U.S. and others expanding sanctions on Russia, Moscow sent a signal that the measures have not brought it to its knees, reopening its stock market but only allowing limited trading to prevent mass sell-offs. Foreigners were barred from selling, and traders were prohibited from short selling, or betting prices would fall.

— The International Atomic Energy Agency said it has been told by Ukrainian authorities that Russian shelling is preventing worker rotations in and out of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. It said Russian forces have shelled Ukrainian checkpoints in the city of Slavutych, home to many Chernobyl nuclear workers, “putting them at risk and preventing further rotation of personnel to and from the site.”

Meanwhile, Kyiv and Moscow gave conflicting accounts about the people being relocated to Russia and whether they were going willingly — as Russia claimed — or were being coerced or lied to.

Russian Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said the roughly 400,000 people evacuated to Russia were being provided with accommodations and payments and had voluntarily left eastern Ukraine.

But Donetsk Region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said that “people are being forcibly moved into the territory of the aggressor state.”

Among those taken, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry charged, were 6,000 residents of Mariupol, the devastated port city in the country’s east.

Kyrylenko said that Mariupol’s residents have been long deprived of information and that the Russians feed them false claims about Ukraine’s defeats to persuade them to move to Russia.

About 300 people died in a Russian airstrike last week on a theater being used as a bomb shelter in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city’s government said Friday, citing eyewitnesses.

 

nato photo 3 24 2022

NATO, Statement by NATO Heads of State and Government, Press Release, March 24, 2022. We, the Heads of State and Government of the 30 NATO Allies (shown above in Brussels), have met today to address Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades. Russia’s war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and is causing enormous human suffering and destruction.

We condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the strongest possible terms. We call on President Putin to immediately stop this war and withdraw military forces from Ukraine, and call on Belarus to end its complicity, in line with the Aggression Against Ukraine Resolution adopted at the UN General Assembly of 2 March 2022. Russia should comply with the 16 March ruling by the UN International Court of Justice and immediately suspend military operations. Russia’s attack on Ukraine threatens global security. Its assault on international norms makes the world less safe. President Putin’s escalatory rhetoric is irresponsible and destabilizing.

nato logo flags nameUkrainians have inspired the world with heroic resistance to Russia’s brutal war of conquest. We strongly condemn Russia’s devastating attacks on civilians, including women, children, and persons in vulnerable situations.

We will work with the rest of the international community to hold accountable those responsible for violations of humanitarian and international law, including war crimes. We are deeply concerned about the increased risk of sexual violence and human trafficking. We urge Russia to allow rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access and safe passage for civilians, and to allow for humanitarian aid to be delivered to Mariupol and other besieged cities. We also condemn attacks against civilian infrastructure, including those endangering nuclear power plants. We will continue to counter Russia’s lies about its attack on Ukraine and expose fabricated narratives or manufactured “false flag” operations to prepare the ground for further escalation, including against the civilian population of Ukraine. Any use by Russia of a chemical or biological weapon would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences.

Russia needs to show it is serious about negotiations by immediately implementing a ceasefire.

In response to Russia’s actions, we have activated NATO’s defence plans, deployed elements of the NATO Response Force, and placed 40,000 troops on our eastern flank, along with significant air and naval assets, under direct NATO command supported by Allies’ national deployments. We are also establishing four additional multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.

ny times logoNew York Times, Commentary: Why the U.S. Was Wrong About Ukraine and the Afghan War, Julian E. Barnes, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). 
U.S. intelligence agencies thought the Afghan military would last longer and predicted Kyiv would fall faster, showing the difficulty of assessing fighting spirit.

Ukrainian citizens learned to make Molotov cocktails from government public service announcements, then recorded themselves setting Russian armored vehicles on fire. Ukraine’s soldiers waited in ambush and fired Western-provided missiles at Russian tanks. The country’s president recorded messages from the streets of his capital, urging his country to fight back against the invaders.

It was a stark contrast from a different set of images, just seven months ago, when the Taliban rolled into Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, unopposed. Most Afghan troops abandoned their uniforms and weapons. The president fled to the United Arab Emirates, leaving his country to the Taliban militants it had fought for some two decades.

The intelligence community and American military appear to have misjudged both countries’ will to fight, according to lawmakers. In Afghanistan, intelligence agencies had predicted the government and its forces could hold on for at least six months after the U.S. withdrawal. In Ukraine, intelligence officials thought the Russian army would take Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in two days. Both estimates proved wrong.

Assessing how well and how fiercely a military, and a nation, will defend itself is extraordinarily difficult. There are many factors to consider, including its leadership, the supplies at its disposal, the strength of the enemy and whether an opposing force is seen as an invader.

 ny times logoNew York Times, See where NATO is ramping up its military forces, Staff Reports, March 25, 2022. The situation now: Russian forces are shelling Ukrainian checkpoints close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, near the homes of staff maintaining the facility, jeopardizing the safety of the site, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

NATO sharply increases its forces in Eastern Europe (Scott Reinhard and Azi Paybarah). NATO announced it is doubling, to eight, the number of countries in Eastern Europe where the alliance is deploying battlegroups. The decision to bolster its presence in the region signals growing concerns for how Russia may respond to the increasing diplomatic and economic penalties it is facing over its monthlong invasion of Ukraine.

The new NATO battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia join similar forces in Baltic countries and Poland — which are also growing in size.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that the war does not escalate beyond Ukraine, and become a conflict between NATO and Russia,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general.

A little more than a quarter of all troops under direct NATO command are now in Poland, which shares a large border with the western part of Ukraine. An additional 120,000 troops from Poland’s military are at the ready — the most of any host country in the alliance.

Mr. Stoltenberg, speaking to reporters a day before a major summit of European allies in Brussels, said: “We face a new reality for our security. So we must reset our deterrence and defense for the longer-term.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Poland is suddenly the pivot around which many of the West’s hopes and Russia’s fury turn, Andrew Higgins, March 25, 2022. Poland’s right-wing populist government has been embraced by both Brussels and Washington as a linchpin of Western solidarity and security.

After the White House announced this week that President Biden would visit Poland, the Kremlin let rip with a belligerent tirade: Polish leaders were a “vassal” of the United States, gripped by “pathological Russophobia,” and their country a “community of political imbeciles.”

Instead of fearful jitters, however, the broadside by Dmitri A. Medvedev, deputy head of the Kremlin’s security council, stirred a burst of pride in Warsaw.

“This is further proof that the Russians treat Poland seriously and see its growing importance in the West,” said Stanislaw Zaryn, director of the Department of National Security and spokesman for the coordinating minister for security.

Russia’s rage and President Biden’s decision to make Poland his only European stop on Friday and Saturday after summit meetings in Belgium reflect a new reality created by the war in Ukraine: Poland is suddenly the pivot around which many of the West’s hopes and Russia’s fury turn.

 

President Biden speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron, center, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of a summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, March 24, 2022 (Photo by Brendan Smialowski of AFP).President Biden speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron, center, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of a summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, March 24, 2022 (Photo by Brendan Smialowski of AFP).

washington post logoWashington Post, Leaders add sanctions on Russia, warn against chemical weapons, Ashley Parker, Tyler Pager and Emily Rauhala, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). In emergency meetings in Brussels, Biden and European leaders imposed new sanctions and tightened existing ones, while the U.S. promised to accept Ukrainian refugees.

The United States and its European allies reinforced their tough stand against Russia on Thursday, sharply warning Moscow against using chemical weapons in Ukraine and announcing new sanctions on Russians. The White House also announced the United States would accept 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine.
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european union logo rectangleThe Group of Seven nations also issued a statement later in the day warning Russian President Vladimir Putin against using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The statement reflects growing concern among the world’s democracies that Putin, facing setbacks on the battlefield and abroad, would resort to more extreme actions.

The Biden administration, along with the G-7 and the European Union, also unveiled Thursday a new set of sanctions targeting more than 400 individuals and entities, including the Duma, or legislature, and its members; additional members of the Russian power elite; and state-owned defense companies. The economic measures, some of which the E.U. had already taken, are the latest in a far-reaching sanctions package the West has unleashed on Moscow as punishment for the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

And in addition to welcoming about 100,000 new refugees, the Biden administration announced Thursday that the United States would provide more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance for those affected by Russia’s war with Ukraine, as well as more than $11 billion over the next five years to mitigate food security threats stemming from the crisis.

The announcements by the United States and its allies were intended to showcase the unity of the world’s democracies as they press Moscow to curtail its war against Ukraine. Many leaders framed the crisis as a test of whether the norms of the post-Cold War world would survive.

President Biden’s trip to Europe — he heads to Poland Friday — comes as NATO is grappling with internal fissures on how to best prevent further Kremlin escalation amid growing concerns that Putin may be preparing to deploy chemical weapons in Ukraine. Economic sanctions and military aid to Ukraine have failed to stop Putin’s offensive, but the Russian incursion has bogged down, leaving an unpredictable and potentially volatile situation.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden holds emergency NATO talks in Europe, Tyler Pager, Nick Miroff, Ellen Francis, Rachel Pannett, Amy Cheng, Adela Suliman and Jennifer Hassan, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). President set to announce new Russia sanctions; Biden to announce U.S. to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees; Exploding ‘kamikaze’ drones are ushering in a new era of warfare in Ukraine.

President Biden, who is holding emergency talks with NATO leaders in Brussels, is expected to announce plans for the United States to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and others fleeing Russia’s invasion, according to two senior administrations official briefed on the plan, who spoke anonymously to share candid details and said exact numbers could change.

Separately, a U.S. official said G-7 leaders, after meeting Thursday, are expected to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against using chemical or nuclear weapons. In a flurry of meetings, Biden and major allies are also set to announce plans to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, new sanctions and more military deployments to Eastern Europe, even as divisions emerge about how to pressure Moscow.

The conflict has now displaced half of Ukraine’s children, a United Nations agency says. While pouring new energy into an offensive in eastern Ukraine, Russian forces appear to have switched to the defensive near Kyiv, according to U.S. and U.K. assessments — though Ukrainian officials have painted an overly rosy view of their success in some counterattacks.

In Ukrainian town, reality doesn’t match government boasts of victory over Russian forces

Here’s what to know

  • The U.S. government has accused members of Russia’s military of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Here’s what you should know about war crimes and how perpetrators are prosecuted.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged people around the world to protest on the one-month mark of Russia’s invasion.
  • Biden will host European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for a bilateral meeting at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday, a White House official said.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine, providing unlimited digital access to our coverage. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

 

gru logo Custom 2

 Above, the logo of the Russian intelligence service GRU 

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian military behind hack of satellite communication devices in Ukraine at war’s outset, U.S. officials say, Ellen Nakashima, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that Russian military spy hackers were behind a cyberattack on a satellite broadband service that disrupted Ukraine’s military communications at the start of the war last month, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The U.S. government, however, has not announced its conclusion publicly.

Russian Flag“We do not have an attribution to share at this time and are looking at this closely,” said Saloni Sharma, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “As we have already said, we are concerned about the apparent use of cyber operations to disrupt communications systems in Ukraine and across Europe and affect businesses and individuals’ access to the Internet.”

Russian government hackers have likely penetrated critical Ukrainian computer systems, U.S. says

President Biden on Monday warned U.S. businesses that they needed to maintain vigilance in light of “evolving intelligence” that the Russians are “exploring options” for potential cyberattacks. Several federal government agencies have highlighted protective security measures that companies can put in place to protect against such attacks.

The Russian military spy service, the GRU, was behind the compromise, officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

The GRU has a history of malicious cyber operations against Ukraine, which borders Russia and which President Vladimir Putin views as within Russia’s sphere of influence. The GRU hacked Ukraine’s Central Election Commission in 2014 and its energy grid in 2015 and 2016, knocking out power in portions of the country in both instances.

Last month, before the invasion, a senior Biden administration official said Russian government hackers had probably broadly penetrated Ukrainian military, energy and other critical computer networks to collect intelligence and position themselves to potentially disrupt the systems.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine says it destroyed Russian warship in fiery video, Brittany Shammas, Joyce Sohyun Lee and Meryl Kornfield, March 25, 2022. Ukraine’s navy claimed Thursday it destroyed a Russian landing ship at Russian-occupied Berdyansk, as videos showed fires and columns of smoke rising from a ship docked at the city’s port.

ukraine flagThe port, on the Sea of Azov southwest of besieged Mariupol, has been used by Russia to deliver military supplies in support of its month-long assault on Ukraine. With heavy casualties and equipment losses taking a toll on Russia’s advance, Moscow has described the port as a crucial entry point for reinforcements.

The damage to the ship was captured in social media videos verified by The Washington Post and satellite images. The flames were visible at long distances in clear skies, and the smoke was so dense that it appeared in images taken from space.

Ukraine claimed the triumph as Russia’s advance toward Kyiv remained stalled amid logistical difficulties, flagging morale and insufficient manpower. But the setback at Berdyansk is probably minimal for Russian logistical efforts, said H.I. Sutton, an independent defense analyst. “It’s a highlight for Ukrainians, particularly in the naval sphere, but it’s probably not significant for Russia,” he said. “It’s a setback, but it doesn’t change the strategic picture at all.”

Given the smaller explosions coming from the ship in the videos, Sutton said it was probably carrying ammunition and fewer soldiers due to limited space.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Anna Malyar, declined to disclose the ship’s contents but said it could carry up to 20 tanks, 45 armored personnel carriers and 400 paratroopers. She described it as “a huge target that was hit by the strength and means of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

 

Supreme Court Hearing's Final Day

washington post logoWashington Post, Manchin says he supports Jackson for Supreme Court, Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis, March 25, 2022. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said Friday that he intends to support President Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, in a step toward ensuring Jackson’s confirmation.

joe manchin oManchin, right, who has been a roadblock to some of Biden’s nominees and agenda items, announced his backing of Jackson in a statement one day after the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded its confirmation hearings.

“I am confident Judge Jackson is supremely qualified and has the disposition necessary to serve as our nation’s next Supreme Court Justice,” Manchin said.

Race hovered over Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing

Manchin cited Jackson’s “exemplary” career and record and said that her various roles in the judicial system have provided her with “a unique perspective that will serve her well on our nation’s highest court.”

He also noted that Jackson and her family frequently visit Manchin’s home state of West Virginia.

“During our meeting, she was warm and gracious,” Manchin said. “On top of her impressive resume, she has the temperament to make an exceptional jurist. Notably, Judge Jackson and her family spend a great deal of time in West Virginia and her deep love of our state and commitment to public service were abundantly clear. I am confident Judge Jackson is supremely qualified and has the disposition necessary to serve as our nation’s next Supreme Court Justice.”

After a combined 36 hours of hearings, Jackson appeared to remain on track for confirmation early next month, according to interviews with key senators Thursday.

Jackson’s confirmation will not be overwhelmingly bipartisan, and the top Senate Republican vote-counter, Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), predicted no more than three GOP votes in her favor. But leaders of both parties agreed the long and often tense interrogation did not alter the fundamental dynamics around the nomination.

 

  President Biden's Supreme Court Nominee, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, center, is shown in file photos with Republican Senate Judiciary Committee members Ted Cruz (TX), left, and Josh Hawley (MO).hawley

President Biden's Supreme Court Nominee, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, center, is shown in file photos with Republican Senate Judiciary Committee members Ted Cruz (TX), left, and Josh Hawley (MO).

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: Republicans boast they have not pulled a Kavanaugh. In fact, they’ve treated Jackson worse, Editorial Board, March 24, 2022 (print ed.). 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.

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.

Mr. 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.

ny times logoNew York Times, QAnon Cheers Republican Attacks on Jackson. Democrats See a Signal, David D. Kirkpatrick and Stuart A. Thompson, March 25, 2022 (print ed.). Criticism of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s sentencing decisions emerged as a theme for Republicans — and renewed debate over the party’s stance toward QAnon.

The online world of adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory sprang into action almost as soon as Senator Josh Hawley tweeted his alarm: that Judge ketanji brown jackson robeKetanji Brown Jackson, right, the Biden administration’s Supreme Court nominee, had handed down sentences below the minimum recommended in federal guidelines for possessing images of child sexual abuse.

“An apologist for child molesters,” the QAnon supporter Zak Paine declared in a video the next day, on March 17, asserting without evidence that Democrats were repeatedly “elevating pedophiles and people who can change the laws surrounding punishment” for pedophiles.

By Wednesday, as Judge Jackson appeared for the third day before the Senate Judiciary Committee, claims that she was lenient toward people charged with possessing the illegal imagery had emerged as a recurring theme in her questioning by Republicans.

“Every judge who does what you are doing is making it easier for the children to be exploited,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, picking up the line of attack.

Never mind that those sentences did not come up at Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing last year to a federal appeals court, that other judicial nominees have faced no questions about similar sentencing decisions, or that a former federal prosecutor called the allegations “meritless to the point of demagoguery” in the conservative National Review.

The line of attack has set off a new debate over the Republican Party’s stance toward QAnon. A White House spokesman this week accused Mr. Hawley of pandering to the conspiracy theory’s believers among his party’s rank and file, calling his comments an “embarrassing QAnon-signaling smear.” Conservatives, in return, blasted the Bide