Sunday, January 30, 2022

Tracy Borman, Crown & Sceptre

At Amazon, Tracy Borman, Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy, from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II.



Now Leftists Want Masks Off Our Children

The political winds have changes, showing --- once again --- just how craven is the progressive left.

See Michelle Goldberg, at the New York Times, "Let Kids Take Their Masks Off After the Omicron Surge":

Elissa Perkins, the director of infectious disease management in the emergency department of the Boston Medical Center, told me she spent most of 2020 “imploring everybody I could in every forum that I could to mask.” In the beginning, she said, this was to flatten the curve, and later to protect the vulnerable. But masking, she said, “was intended to be a short-term intervention,” and she believes we haven’t talked enough about the drawbacks of mandating it for kids long-term.

“If we accept that we don’t want masks to be required in our schools forever, we have to decide when is the right time to remove them,” she said. “And that’s a conversation that we’re not really having.”

At least, people in deep blue areas weren’t having it until recently. But as the Omicron wave begins to ebb, that conversation — sometimes tentatively and sometimes acrimoniously — has begun. This week Perkins co-wrote a Washington Post essay calling for schools to make masking optional. The Atlantic published an article titled, “The Case Against Masks at School.”

“Coming off the Omicron surge, I think there’s going to be a tipping point with more and more people questioning does this need to continue in schools,” said Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Bromage worked with the governor of Rhode Island to reopen schools there, and later helped schools in southern Massachusetts reopen. He believes in the importance of Covid mitigations, but his views on school masking have evolved in recent months. There comes a point, he said, “at which the reduction in risk that comes from the mask is balanced or begins to be outweighed by the detrimental side of things that come with masking.”

The debate about masks in schools can quickly turn vicious because it pits legitimate interests against one another. Many people who are immunocompromised, or live with those who are, understandably fear that getting rid of mandates will make them more vulnerable. But keeping kids in masks month after month also inflicts harm, even if it’s not always easy to measure.

“I think it would be naïve to not acknowledge that there are downsides of masks,” said Perkins. “I know some of that data is harder to come by because those outcomes are not as discrete as Covid or not-Covid. But from speaking with pediatricians, from speaking with learning specialists, and also from speaking with parents of younger children especially, there are significant issues related to language acquisition, pronunciation, things like that. And there are very clear social and emotional side effects in the older kids.”

That’s why I believe that mandatory school masking should end when coronavirus rates return to pre-Omicron levels. I fully accept that, in future surges, masks might have to go back on, but that’s all the more reason to get them off as soon as possible, to give students some reprieve.

Otherwise, I fear that, at least in very liberal areas, a combination of extreme risk aversion and inertia means that school masking will persist indefinitely. The chief executive of the Prince George’s County public schools in Maryland recently downplayed the idea of a future without masks, saying: “The only off-ramp I want is the one where Covid no longer exists. I don’t think that that off-ramp will exist.” I hope this attitude isn’t widespread, but if it is, it will be incumbent for progressive parents desperate for an off-ramp to push back.

There’s some question about how well masks in school really work; many studies are confounded, since communities with school mask mandates tend to adopt other Covid mitigation measures as well. Much of The Atlantic’s “The Case Against Masks at School” is devoted to reviewing studies either conducted or cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it concludes that the “overall takeaway from these studies — that schools with mask mandates have lower Covid-19 transmission rates than schools without mask mandates — is not justified by the data that have been gathered.”

The fact that experts can poke holes in some studies of masking does not mean that masks don’t make a difference...

Keep reading



Doctor, My Eyes ... Tell Me What is Wrong...

Jackson Browne:

Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I've been waiting to awaken from these dreams
People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it's later than it seems

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it's too late for me...

 

Sunday Sweeties

On Twitter.

More here and here.

And Sophia Diamond.




Pressure on Parents to Vaccinate Kids Intensifies

Look, this pandemic is over, as Bari Weiss so accurately stated last week, to the enraged consternation of the left's foaming, raging partisans. 

At the New York Times, "As Covid Shots for Kids Stall, Appeals Are Aimed at Wary Parents":

Getting more young school-age children vaccinated is crucial for ending the pandemic, public health officials say, and many are focusing on that group.

For weeks, the school principal had been imploring Kemika Cosey: Would she please allow her children, 7 and 11, to get Covid shots?

Ms. Cosey remained firm. A hard no.

But Mr. Kip — Brigham Kiplinger, the principal of Garrison Elementary School in Washington, D.C. — swatted away the “no’s.”

Ever since the federal government authorized the coronavirus vaccine for children 5 through 11 nearly three months ago, Mr. Kip has been calling the school’s parents, texting, nagging, cajoling daily. Acting as a vaccine advocate — a job usually handled by medical professionals and public health officials — has become central to his role as an educator. “The vaccine is the most important thing happening this year to keep kids in school,” Mr. Kiplinger said.

Largely through Mr. Kiplinger’s skill as a parent-vax whisperer, Garrison Elementary has turned into a public health anomaly: Eighty percent of the 250 Garrison Wildcats in grades kindergarten through fifth grade now have at least one shot, he said.

But as the Omicron variant has stormed through America’s classrooms, sending students home and, in some cases, to the hospital, the rate of vaccination overall for America’s 28 million children in the 5-to-11 age group remains even lower than health experts had feared. According to a new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation based on federal data, only 18.8 percent are now fully vaccinated and only 28.1 percent have received one dose.

The disparity of rates among states is stark. In Vermont, the share of children who are fully vaccinated is 52 percent; in Mississippi, it is 6 percent.

“It’s going to be a long slog at this point to get the kids vaccinated,” said Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president at Kaiser who specializes in global health policy. She says it will take unwavering persistence like that of Mr. Kiplinger, whom she knows firsthand because her child attends his school. “It’s hard, hard work to reach parents.”

After the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized for younger children in late October, the out-of-the-gate surge in demand lasted a scant few weeks. It peaked just before Thanksgiving, then dropped precipitously and has since stalled. It now hovers at 50,000 to 75,000 new doses a day.

“I was surprised at how quickly the interest in the vaccine for kids petered out,” Dr. Kates said. “Even parents who had been vaccinated themselves were more cautious about getting their kids vaccinated.”

Public health officials say that persuading parents to get their younger children vaccinated is crucial not only to sustaining in-person education but also to containing the pandemic overall. With adult vaccination hitting a ceiling — 74 percent of Americans who are 18 and older are now fully vaccinated, and most of those who aren’t seem increasingly immovable — unvaccinated elementary school children remain a large, turbulent source of spread. Traveling to and from school on buses, traversing school hallways, bathrooms, classrooms and gyms, they can unknowingly act as viral vectors countless times a day.

Parents give numerous reasons for their hesitation. And with their innate protective wariness on behalf of their children, they are susceptible to rampant misinformation. For many working parents, the obstacle is logistical rather than philosophical, as they struggle to find time to get their children to the clinic, doctor’s office or drugstore for a vaccine.

In some communities where adult opposition to vaccines is strong, local health departments and schools do not promote the shots for children vigorously for fear of backlash. Pharmacies may not even bother to stock the child-size doses.

Despite the proliferation of Covid-crowded hospitals, sick children and the highly contagious aspect of Omicron, many parents, still swayed by last year’s surges that were generally not as rough on children as adults, do not believe the virus is dangerous enough to warrant risking their child’s health on a novel vaccine.

Health communication experts additionally blame that view on the early muddled messaging around Omicron, which was initially described as “mild” but also as a variant that could pierce a vaccine’s protection.

Many parents interpreted those messages to mean that the shots served little purpose. In fact, the vaccines have been shown to strongly protect against severe illness and death, although they are not as effective in preventing infections with Omicron as with other variants. And caseloads of children in whom Covid has been diagnosed only keep rising, as a report last week from the American Academy of Pediatrics underscores. Dr. Moira Szilagyi, the academy’s president, pressed for greater rates of vaccination, saying, “After nearly two years of this pandemic, we know that this disease has not always been mild in children, and we’ve seen some kids suffer severe illness, both in the short term and in the long term.”

Recognizing the urgency, proponents of Covid shots are redoubling their efforts to convince parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics has put together talking points for pediatricians and parents. Kaiser has its own parent-friendly vaccine-information site. Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse-practitioner who is the incoming president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, keeps up an exhaustive speaking schedule, answering Covid vaccine questions from parents, teenagers, pediatricians and radio talk show hosts.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has just posted a free, online training course to help give pro-vaccine parents language and ways to approach their resistant friends. It provides vaccine facts, resources and techniques to engage them. One tip is to share personal stories about Covid, to ground the purpose of the vaccine in real-world experience. Another is to normalize Covid vaccination by proudly telling friends and family when children get Covid shots.

Rupali Limaye, an associate scientist at Bloomberg who studies vaccine messaging and developed the course, said that giving parents tools to persuade others about Covid shots could improve uptake rates, particularly now that some hesitant parents are rejecting the advice of pediatricians. Peer “vaccine ambassadors,” as she calls them, have more time and exert less of a power dynamic than harried doctors. “This is a supersensitive topic for a lot of people,” Dr. Limaye added...

Keep reading.

 

L.A. Rams Must Snap Their San Francisco Losing Streak to Make It to the Big Rodeo

San Francisco's beat the Rams the last six times they've played, which is why I consider Los Angeles the underdog in tonight's divisional championship game at SoFi Stadium.

At LAT, "Rams determined to punch Super Bowl ticket and end losing streak vs. rival 49ers":


The Rams have done nearly everything to fulfill their mandate to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

Before the season they traded for star quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Sony Michel. At midseason they traded for star linebacker Von Miller and signed star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who helped the Rams win the NFC West.

Last week, they defeated Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now, here they are, in the NFC championship game.

All that stands in the way of the Rams playing in the Super Bowl is the San Francisco 49ers, a team that has beaten the Rams twice this season and six times in a row dating to 2018.

The Rams aim to end that streak on Sunday at SoFi Stadium — and take the final step to play in the Super Bowl at home.

“At this point it’s just a story,” Beckham said of the Rams’ struggles against the 49ers. “And either you choose to buy into it, or you choose to rewrite it …. What better way to rewrite the story than to win the NFC championship against the team who you’re 0-6 against, or whatever the record is?

“It just doesn’t seem to have a better ending than to make it to the Super Bowl.”

It’s been more than three decades since the Rams had the chance to defeat the 49ers in the NFC championship game. In January 1990, the 49ers routed the Rams 30-3.

Sunday’s game is not expected to be as one-sided for either team.

In November, the 49ers defeated the Rams 31-10 at Levi’s Stadium. Last month, in the regular-season finale at SoFi Stadium, the Rams blew a 17-point lead and lost 27-24 in overtime.

The 49ers have run the ball effectively against the Rams and kept quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of harm’s way with a quick-strike passing attack that features multitalented receiver and running back Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle among others. A pass rush led by ends Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead asserted itself in the finale against the Rams and in playoff victories over the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers.

The star-studded Rams rely on Stafford to trigger an offense that features record-setting receiver Cooper Kupp and Beckham, tight end Tyler Higbee and running backs Cam Akers and Michel. Three-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald anchors a defensive front that includes Miller and edge rusher Leonard Floyd.

“I don’t think there’s many secrets,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “There’s not much things we can surprise them with and same with them with us, which I think is kind of the most fun way.

“It’ll be two really good teams and a really good football game where you can’t really trick each other. You have to go out and beat somebody.”

Stafford agreed.

“Not a bunch of secrets,” he said. “Just who can step up to the plate and make the plays when we need to make them.”

So, what must the Rams do to beat the 49ers?
...

The Totalitarian Left's Joe Rogan Freakout

These people are bloodthirsty.

Indiscriminate too, as Joe Rogan's really not a conservative.

From Glenn Greenwald, "The Pressure Campaign on Spotify to Remove Joe Rogan Reveals the Religion of Liberals: Censorship":


American liberals are obsessed with finding ways to silence and censor their adversaries. Every week, if not every day, they have new targets they want de-platformed, banned, silenced, and otherwise prevented from speaking or being heard (by "liberals,” I mean the term of self-description used by the dominant wing of the Democratic Party).

For years, their preferred censorship tactic was to expand and distort the concept of "hate speech” to mean "views that make us uncomfortable,” and then demand that such “hateful” views be prohibited on that basis. For that reason, it is now common to hear Democrats assert, falsely, that the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech does not protect “hate speech." Their political culture has long inculcated them to believe that they can comfortably silence whatever views they arbitrarily place into this category without being guilty of censorship.

Constitutional illiteracy to the side, the “hate speech” framework for justifying censorship is now insufficient because liberals are eager to silence a much broader range of voices than those they can credibly accuse of being hateful. That is why the newest, and now most popular, censorship framework is to claim that their targets are guilty of spreading “misinformation” or “disinformation.” These terms, by design, have no clear or concise meaning. Like the term “terrorism,” it is their elasticity that makes them so useful.

When liberals’ favorite media outlets, from CNN and NBC to The New York Times and The Atlantic, spend four years disseminating one fabricated Russia story after the next — from the Kremlin hacking into Vermont's heating system and Putin's sexual blackmail over Trump to bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, the Biden email archive being "Russian disinformation,” and a magical mystery weapon that injures American brains with cricket noises — none of that is "disinformation” that requires banishment. Nor are false claims that COVID's origin has proven to be zoonotic rather than a lab leak, the vastly overstated claim that vaccines prevent transmission of COVID, or that Julian Assange stole classified documents and caused people to die. Corporate outlets beloved by liberals are free to spout serious falsehoods without being deemed guilty of disinformation, and, because of that, do so routinely.

This "disinformation" term is reserved for those who question liberal pieties, not for those devoted to affirming them. That is the real functional definition of “disinformation” and of its little cousin, “misinformation.” It is not possible to disagree with liberals or see the world differently than they see it. The only two choices are unthinking submission to their dogma or acting as an agent of "disinformation.” Dissent does not exist to them; any deviation from their worldview is inherently dangerous — to the point that it cannot be heard.

The data proving a deeply radical authoritarian strain in Trump-era Democratic Party politics is ample and have been extensively reported here. Democrats overwhelmingly trust and love the FBI and CIA. Polls show they overwhelmingly favor censorship of the internet not only by Big Tech oligarchs but also by the state. Leading Democratic Party politicians have repeatedly subpoenaed social media executives and explicitly threatened them with legal and regulatory reprisals if they do not censor more aggressively — a likely violation of the First Amendment given decades of case law ruling that state officials are barred from coercing private actors to censor for them, in ways the Constitution prohibits them from doing directly.

Democratic officials have used the pretexts of COVID, “the insurrection," and Russia to justify their censorship demands. Both Joe Biden and his Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, have "urged” Silicon Valley to censor more when asked about Joe Rogan and others who air what they call “disinformation” about COVID. They cheered the use of pro-prosecutor tactics against Michael Flynn and other Russiagate targets; made a hero out of the Capitol Hill Police officer who shot and killed the unarmed Ashli Babbitt; voted for an additional $2 billion to expand the functions of the Capitol Police; have demanded and obtained lengthy prison sentences and solitary confinement even for non-violent 1/6 defendants; and even seek to import the War on Terror onto domestic soil.

Given the climate prevailing in the American liberal faction, this authoritarianism is anything but surprising. For those who convince themselves that they are not battling mere political opponents with a different ideology but a fascist movement led by a Hitler-like figure bent on imposing totalitarianism — a core, defining belief of modern-day Democratic Party politics — it is virtually inevitable that they will embrace authoritarianism. When a political movement is subsumed by fear — the Orange Hitler will put you in camps and end democracy if he wins again — then it is not only expected but even rational to embrace authoritarian tactics including censorship to stave off this existential threat. Fear always breeds authoritarianism, which is why manipulating and stimulating that human instinct is the favorite tactic of political demagogues...

Keep reading.

 

Paige's Playoff Pics

She's very good at this stuff. 



Saturday, January 29, 2022

Joby Warrick, Red Line

At Amazon, Joby Warrick, Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America's Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World.




Allison Fluke-Ekren, American Battalion Commander for Islamic State in Syria, Charged with Providing Material Support to Terrorist Organization (PHOTO)

The Department of Justice filed charges in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Man this is wild.

A mild-mannered Kansas school teacher? (On right at the photo.)

Pretty mind-boggling. 

At the New York Times, "American Woman Accused of Prominent Role in Islamic State":

The F.B.I. has arrested an American woman who federal prosecutors said had risen through the ranks of the Islamic State in Syria to become a battalion commander, training women and children to use assault rifles and suicide belts, the Justice Department disclosed on Saturday.

The woman, Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, a former teacher from Kansas, was charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization. The circumstances of her capture in Syria were not immediately known, but the F.B.I. flew her to Virginia on Friday to face prosecution.

Prosecutors described Ms. Fluke-Ekren as playing an unusually outsized role in the Islamic State as a woman and an American. Charges against American women involved with the Islamic State have been rare.

Investigators said Ms. Fluke-Ekren was smuggled into Syria in 2012 from Libya. She traveled to the country, according to one witness, because she wanted to wage “violent jihad,” Raj Parekh, a federal prosecutor, wrote in a detention memo that was made public on Saturday.

According to a criminal complaint that was filed in 2019, a witness told the F.B.I. that Ms. Fluke-Ekren and her husband brought $15,000 to Syria to buy weapons. Her husband, the witness said, eventually rose to be the commander of all snipers in Syria in 2014. He later died in an airstrike while conducting a terrorist attack on behalf of the Islamic State, investigators said. Ms. Fluke-Ekren met her husband in the United States, according to court documents.

The same witness also told the F.B.I. that Ms. Fluke-Ekren had a plan in 2014 to attack a college in the United States using backpacks filled with explosives. Prosecutors did not reveal which college she had wanted to target. The criminal complaint said her plan was presented to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State at the time, who approved it for funding. The witness said the attack was put on hold after Ms. Fluke-Ekren learned she was pregnant. Ms. Fluke-Ekren had multiple children, but it is not clear how many.

Prosecutors said Ms. Fluke-Ekren moved to Egypt in 2008, lived there for about three years and then traveled to Libya, where she stayed for about a year before sneaking into Syria. According to one witness, Ms. Fluke-Ekren departed Libya because another terrorist organization, Ansar al-Sharia, was no longer conducting attacks in that country and she wanted to wage violent jihad.

In his memo arguing to keep Ms. Fluke-Ekren behind bars while she awaits trial, Mr. Parekh said she had been a “fervent believer in the radical terrorist ideology of ISIS for many years.” The prosecutor said the government had numerous witnesses who were prepared to testify against her.

According to the detention memo, the mayor of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, approved the opening of a military battalion to train women to help defend the city. Ms. Fluke-Ekren, investigators said, soon became the leader and organizer of it.

Witnesses said that Ms. Fluke-Ekren taught classes for members of the battalion, and on one occasion, a young child of hers was seen holding an assault rifle. One witness said that more than 100 women and girls had received training from Ms. Fluke-Ekren. She had hoped to create a cadre of suicide bombers that could infiltrate enemies’ positions, but the effort never materialized, according to the complaint. Ms. Fluke-Ekren told another witness about her desire to attack a shopping mall using a remote-detonated vehicle full of explosives. The witness said she wanted to kill large numbers of people.

Court documents said that after the death of her husband, Ms. Fluke-Ekren married another Islamic State terrorist, a Bangladeshi man who specialized in drones and was working on a plan to drop chemical bombs from the air. He also died. She then married an Islamic State military leader who was responsible for the defense of Raqqa, a witness said.

A witness also said that Ms. Fluke-Ekren claimed to have tried to send a message to her family with the goal of tricking them into believing she was dead so the U.S. government would stop trying to find her. She told the witness that she never wanted to return to the United States and wanted to die a martyr in Syria.

Federal prosecutors in Virginia have mounted an aggressive effort to prosecute terrorists captured overseas. The cases can be extremely difficult because witnesses and other evidence can often only be found in war zones, as well as because of geopolitical considerations...

And at the DOJ's page, "American Woman Who Led ISIS Battalion Charged with Providing Material Support to a Terrorist Organization" (via Memeorandum).


Two Wunderkind Coaches Get a Second Crack at the Super Bowl

This is very good.

At WSJ, "The Rams’ Sean McVay and the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan have established themselves as two of the NFL’s brightest young coaches. Now they both have a second chance to take their teams to the Super Bowl":

Five years ago, two teams in the same division made the same decision. The Rams and 49ers placed their futures in the hands of young, offensive-minded, first-time head coaches. Both had last names that had been familiar in football for decades.

Los Angeles tapped Sean McVay. San Francisco picked Kyle Shanahan. The hirings jump started a rivalry and years of success for both clubs, but they have never coached against each other with as much on the line as Sunday: a second chance at a Super Bowl for both of them.

One of them is guaranteed to coach in the final game of the NFL postseason because the other won’t. The 49ers and Rams will play in this year’s NFC Championship after both teams secured thrilling upsets, over the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, last weekend. Those victories, which ousted Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, were two more crowning achievements for coaches who have already spawned disciples across the league.

Yet they both still lack the same accomplishment: a Super Bowl win.

What’s uncanny about the similarity in profile between these two coaches is how far back it extends. Both came from football families, got their professional starts under the same coach and even coached together.

McVay’s grandfather, John McVay, was a coach of the New York Giants and longtime executive—coincidentally, for the 49ers. Shanahan’s father, Mike Shanahan, won back-to-back Super Bowls coaching the Denver Broncos. After Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan got their first NFL gigs at different times under Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, they were on Mike Shanahan’s staff together in Washington.

They went on to establish reputations as offensive wizards. When Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, the team had one of the most productive offensive seasons in NFL history. McVay lasted just three seasons as Washington’s offensive coordinator, from 2014 to 2016, before he became a 30-year-old head coach. The Niners and the Rams hired them both within weeks of each other in 2017.

The Rams’ bet on a coach barely old enough to run for the U.S. Senate has paid off spectacularly and quickly. In McVay’s first season, he took an offense that had been the NFL’s worst and transformed it into the best in the league.

The success didn’t stop. The Rams have had a winning record every season under McVay. They have made the playoffs in four of those five seasons. They made it all the way to the Super Bowl in McVay’s second season, before losing to Brady and the Patriots.

McVay’s success sent ripples across football. He has gone from the youngest coach in modern NFL history when he was hired to an archetype. A number of his former assistants have gone on to be head coaches, including another still alive in these playoffs: Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor, who had been Los Angeles’s quarterbacks coach.

There is one coach, though, against whom McVay has struggled. That happens to be the coach who will be on the opposing sideline this weekend...

 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Michael McFaul, From Cold War to Hot Peace

At Amazon, Michael McFaul, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin's Russia.




Biden Sanctions Plan Targets Russian Banks, Companies and Imports If Ukraine Is Attacked

Economic sanctions won't stop Putin. If there's to be war, it will come, and for Putin, it's all a win, even if sanctioned.

At WSJ, "The plan, which is still being finalized, would prohibit a range of activities":

WASHINGTON—The Biden administration is narrowing its targets for a barrage of economic sanctions against Russia if it attacks Ukraine—hitting major Russian banks, state companies and needed imports, though the strategy faces obstacles that have hindered previous pressure campaigns.

Administration officials said the planned actions are being finalized and are unparalleled in recent decades against Russia, putting teeth into President Biden’s threat to apply punishing financial and other sanctions in the event of a Russian assault.

While final decisions haven't been made, the officials said, the potential targets include several of Russia’s largest government-owned banks, such as VTB Bank, the banning of all trade in new issues of Russian sovereign debt and the application of export controls across key sectors such as advanced microelectronics.

Past U.S. efforts to wage economic warcraft have produced mixed results. Iran and North Korea, for example, have adjusted over time to broad economic embargoes over their nuclear weapons programs, though not without ongoing pain for their economies and people. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the Obama administration went after some energy technology, sovereign debt and some government-owned banks and firms, though their narrow scope didn’t exact deep damage.

Russia is better prepared now, with deeper foreign currency reserves, less reliance on foreign debt, faster economic growth and rising prices for oil—the country’s primary revenue source. Russia’s role as a top exporter of oil and gas and its economic integration with Europe have previously deterred the U.S. from applying broad sanctions out of concern that they would upset global markets and European allies.

Off the table, for now, are sanctions on oil and natural gas exports or disconnecting Russia from SWIFT, the basic infrastructure that facilitates financial transactions between banks across the world, said one of the officials.

Still, this time around, the administration officials said, the U.S. is doing away with the incremental approach that blunted the impact of the 2014 and other efforts—and instead is moving to prohibit a broader range of activities from the start.

“We would start high and stay high, and maximize the pain to the Kremlin,” a second official said.

European allies are also more in sync with the U.S. than in 2014, the officials said, given that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands go beyond Ukraine this time to include a reworking of post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe.

Europe understands “that if we’re going to change Putin’s calculus, we have to be ready together to impose massive consequences,” the second official said. The U.S. and European Union actions won’t be identical, but will “deliver a severe and immediate blow to Russia and over time make its economy even more brittle,” the official said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that the sanctions threats are part of the West’s “militaristic frenzy.” Russia, he said, is “ready for any developments.”

VTB, Gazprombank and Sberbank didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The possible blacklisting technically prohibits U.S. banks and other American entities from doing business with the targeted banks, and the administration may grant exceptions. But the risk of violators being punished by the U.S. usually encourages foreign banks to comply.

“Banks in Paris and London aren’t going to be doing what U.S. banks aren’t doing,” said Brian O’Toole, a former top Treasury sanctions official in the Obama administration and now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

Government-owned companies are also targets of similar sanctions, the U.S. officials said. Though the officials didn’t specify which companies, some financial analysts said blacklisting firms like Russian insurance giant Sogaz, which insures companies tied to the Kremlin, and Sovcomflot, a large energy-shipping company, would hurt the Kremlin and, longer-term, the economy.

Sogaz didn’t respond to a request for comment...

 

Monmouth Poll: Republicans and Republican-Leaning Independents Now Make Up the Majority of the Country

At AoSHQ, "Let's Go Brandon."


The Left's Culture War as Class War (VIDEO)

It's Batya Ungar-Sargon, at the Hill-TV:

And check out her book, at Amazon, Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy.


Wintry Woman

She needs to cuddle-up to stay warm!

On Twitter.

Also, Celeste.

And Lindsey Pelas.




Batya Ungar-Sargon, Bad News

 At Amazon, Batya Ungar-Sargon, Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy.




I'm a Public School Teacher. The Kids Aren't Alright.

 From Stacy Lance, at Bari Weiss's Substack, "My students were taught to think of themselves as vectors of disease. This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves":

I am proud to be a teacher. I’ve worked in the Canadian public school system for the past 15 years, mostly at the high school level, teaching morals and ethics.

I don’t claim to be a doctor or an expert in virology. There is a lot I don’t know. But I spend my days with our youth and they tell me a lot about their lives. And I want to tell you what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, when our school went fully remote, it was evident to me that the loss of human connection would be detrimental to our students’ development. It also became increasingly clear that the response to the pandemic would have immense consequences for students who were already on the path to long-term disengagement, potentially altering their lives permanently.

The data about learning loss and the mental health crisis is devastating. Overlooked has been the deep shame young people feel: Our students were taught to think of their schools as hubs for infection and themselves as vectors of disease. This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves.

When we finally got back into the classroom in September 2020, I was optimistic, even as we would go remote for weeks, sometimes months, whenever case numbers would rise. But things never returned to normal.

When we were physically in school, it felt like there was no longer life in the building. Maybe it was the masks that made it so no one wanted to engage in lessons, or even talk about how they spent their weekend. But it felt cold and soulless. My students weren’t allowed to gather in the halls or chat between classes. They still aren’t. Sporting events, clubs and graduation were all cancelled. These may sound like small things, but these losses were a huge deal to the students. These are rites of passages that can’t be made up.

In my classroom, the learning loss is noticeable. My students can’t concentrate and they aren’t doing the work that I assign to them. They have way less motivation compared to before the pandemic began. Some of my students chose not to come back at all, either because of fear of the virus, or because they are debilitated by social anxiety. And now they have the option to do virtual schooling from home.

One of my favorite projects that I assign each year is to my 10th grade students, who do in-depth research on any culture of their choosing. It culminates in a day of presentations. I encourage them to bring in music, props, food—whatever they need to immerse their classmates in their specific culture. A lot of my students give presentations on their own heritage. A few years back, a student of mine, a Syrian refugee, told her story about how she ended up in Canada. She brought in traditional Syrian foods, delicacies that her dad had stayed up all night cooking. It was one of the best days that I can remember. She was proud to share her story—she had struggled with homesickness—and her classmates got a lesson in empathy. Now, my students simply prepare a slideshow and email it to me individually.

My older students (grades 11 and 12) aren’t even allowed a lunch break, and are expected to come to school, go to class for five and a half hours and then go home. Children in 9th and 10th grades have to face the front of the classroom while they eat lunch during their second period class. My students used to be able to eat in the halls or the cafeteria; now that’s forbidden. Younger children are expected to follow the “mask off, voices off” rule, and are made to wear their masks outside, where they can only play with other kids in their class. Of course, outside of school, kids are going to restaurants with their families and to each other’s houses, making the rules at school feel punitive and nonsensical.

They are anxious and depressed. Previously outgoing students are now terrified at the prospect of being singled out to stand in front of the class and speak. And many of my students seem to have found comfort behind their masks. They feel exposed when their peers can see their whole face.

Around this time of year, we start planning for the prom, which is held in June. Usually, my students would already be chatting constantly about who’s asking who, what they’re planning on wearing, and how excited they are. This year, they’ve barely discussed it at all. When they do, they tell me that they don’t want to get their hopes up, since they’re assuming it will get cancelled like it has for the past couple of years.

It’s the same deal with universities. My students say, “If university is going to be just like this then what’s the point?” I have my own children, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, who have spent almost a third of their lives in lockdown. They’ve become so used to cancellations that they don’t even feel disappointed anymore...

Keep reading.

 

Ukraine and the American Crack-Up

It's Caroline Glick:

From Washington to Berlin to Warsaw to Kyiv, everyone says that only Russian President Vladimir Putin knows what he plans to do with the 120,000 troops he has deployed to the Ukrainian border. But at this point, even if Putin decides not to invade, even if he withdraws all of his forces from the border zone he has already won a strategic victory of historic proportions against the United States.

Without firing a bullet, Putin and his 120,000 soldiers have fomented the unofficial – but very real – break-up of the NATO alliance. NATO is rightly considered one of the most successful military alliances in history. It was founded in 1949 at the outset of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Its purpose was to deter the Soviets from trying to expand their empire from Eastern and Central Europe into Western Europe. NATO’s success derived from two main factors. First, NATO member states were by and large agreed that their common interest in preventing Soviet expansion outweighed their separate national interests, and so required collective action under the U.S. strategic umbrella. Second, the Soviets and America’s NATO allies all believed that the U.S. was strategically credible. The Soviets believed that the U.S. was serious about fulfilling its commitments to its NATO partners. And NATO members believed that the U.S. would make them pay a very severe price if they opted to blow off the alliance and cut a separate deal with the Soviet Union.

Today, NATO cannot act collectively against Putin in a coherent way because Germany no longer views Russia as a strategic threat, and no longer views the U.S. has a leader it needs to follow.

How has this situation come about?

Much of the credit goes to Putin, who has been working towards this point for 15 years. Putin recognized that when used strategically, Russian energy exports could drive a wedge between NATO members. Traditionally, Russian natural gas exports to Europe went overland through Poland and Ukraine. This meant that energy supplies to Germany and Western Europe were dependent on Russian energy exports to former Soviet bloc countries, and Germany needed to protect Poland and Ukraine to protect its own interests.

In 2006, Gazprom, Russia’s oil and gas conglomerate unveiled its plan to lay an underwater pipeline across the Baltic Sea that would transport natural gas directly to Germany, bypassing Poland the Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, then German Chancellor Gerhardt Shroeder left office. And a month after he departed the chancery, Shroeder announced that he had taken a position as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom’s subsidiary responsible for laying the gas pipeline.

The message was clear. Germany had agreed to delink its strategic energy and economic interests from the former Soviet republics and Poland, which had joined NATO in the aftermath of the Cold War, and from Ukraine.

Today we see that Putin’s Baltic Sea gas pipeline – now known as Nord Stream 2 – did precisely what he hoped it would do. Over the past few weeks, the Germans have made little effort to hide that they are siding with Russia against Ukraine and their NATO allies. Germany prohibited NATO member Estonia from transferring weapons to Kyiv. And when Britain sent an arms shipment to Kyiv earlier in the week, the British were careful not to fly over Germany. They didn’t ask the Germans for permission to overfly their airspace, because they assumed the Germans would deny their request. In other words, London recognized that Germany, the linchpin of NATO is pitching for the other team, but didn’t want to didn’t want to make a stink about it.

But with all due respect to Putin and his successful use of energy exports as a strategic weapon, Putin couldn’t have pulled Germany away from NATO without Biden. Indeed, gas exports from Russia are more an excuse than an explanation for Germany’s moves.

The Germans feel free to walk away from their commitments to their NATO allies because they realize that the Biden administration won’t make them pay a price for their behavior. Like German Chancellor Olaf Sholtz, Biden has no intention of lifting a finger to protect Ukraine from Russia.

When Nord Stream 2 was announced, the Bush administration immediately understood the implications for NATO and strongly objected to the project. Barak Obama and his vice president Joe Biden also strongly opposed the pipeline. As the construction of Nord Stream 2 neared conclusion in 2019, then President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on all firms involved in the project. Trump’s intention was clear. Since Nord Stream 2 is geared towards breaking up NATO by driving a wedge between Germany and the Western European members on the one hand and NATO members Poland and the Baltic states on the other, to protect NATO, Trump decided to make every entity that endangers it pay a steep price.

Given Biden’s long record of opposing Nord Stream 2, going back to his days in the Senate, there was good reason to believe that he would maintain Trump’s sanctions. But President Joe Biden rejected the views of Vice President and Senator Biden.

Last May President Biden cancelled Trump’s sanctions on Nord Stream 2 participants. And last August, the Biden administration cut a deal with Germany over Nord Stream 2. The deal was one which no German leader in their right mind could object to, and no U.S. President who sought to prevent the NATO crack up could support. Under the terms of the deal, the U.S. dropped its opposition to the operation of Nord Stream 2 in exchange for a vague German commitment to do something for Ukraine. If Biden’s abandonment of U.S. opposition to Nord Stream 2 wasn’t enough to convince Germany and Russia, (and Ukraine) of his rank unseriousness in everything related to Ukraine and NATO, Biden’s amazing acknowledgment during his news conference last week that “a minor incursion” of Russian forces into Ukraine would not be met with a unified response from NATO ended any residual doubt. Despite the administration’s fervent clean-up efforts, Putin got the message, and so did the rest of the world.

It’s important to note that Biden’s decision not to block Russia from invading Ukraine is eminently defensible. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. And while the U.S. certainly supports Ukrainian independence, America’s interest in Ukraine’s sovereignty does not outweigh its interest in avoiding a war with Russia.

Had they been inclined to do so, Biden and his advisors could have easily made the case for non-intervention in a way that would have secured both NATO and America’s credibility as a superpower to its adversaries and allies alike.

Biden could have expressed support for Ukraine while noting rightly that Russia’s aggressive behavior threatens the nations of Europe more than it threatens the U.S. And while the U.S. would be happy to stand with its European allies to confront Russia, it will not confront Russia for them. That would have put the ball in Germany’s court, and whatever the outcome, the U.S. would have emerged unscathed.

Instead, seemingly on an hourly basis, the administration is ratcheting up its war mongering rhetoric and threats against Russia. Tuesday Pentagon spokesman James Kirby said that Biden had ordered 8,500 troops in Europe on alert.

Apparently, the Russians, Ukrainians and the rest of the world were supposed to take Kirby’s announcement as proof of Biden’s seriousness of purpose. But the opposite is the case. Kirby’s statement was utterly meaningless. He didn’t say which troops were on alert, or on alert for what. He didn’t mention what mission the alerted troops had received. And almost at the same time Kirby made his meaningless announcement, Biden said that no U.S. forces would be deployed to Ukraine.

More than Biden’s surrender on Nord Stream 2, it is the complete disconnect between Biden’s actual policy and his strategic messaging policies that make governments like Germany’s realize that they will pay no price for acting with U.S. adversaries against the U.S. Busy turning America into a joke on the world stage, Biden will have no interest in punishing Berlin for betraying NATO, and America.

Ukraine is far from the only place where there is zero connection between the Biden administration’s policies and its communications strategy. Biden’s Iran policy is equally disingenuous and self-destructive. Biden and his team claim that the purpose of the nuclear talks with Iran in the Vienna is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear armed state. But the agreement the U.S. is negotiating with Iran will guarantee Tehran will become a nuclear armed state in short order.

The implications of Biden’s foreign policy for the United States are clear enough. Not only is the administration enabling the break-up of NATO. The Biden administration is destroying America’s deterrent power and superpower position.

As for Israelis, and other threatened U.S. allies watching from the sidelines, the take-home lesson of Ukraine is clear. No U.S. security guarantee can outweigh independence of action. To survive, a nation requires strategic, economic and energy independence, and the will to wield it.

 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

On Stephen Breyer's Retirement

Lots of hysteria over this, thought it's technically unimportant, as there'll still be a 6-3 conservative majority on the court (5-4 if you place the chief justice on the leftist side, which is the likely scenario, "to preserve the legitimacy and integrity of the court"). 

But politics is everything and some left-wing geniuses think quick confirming Breyer's replacement --- an affirmative action pick in a qualified black woman, which would be racist if a Republican presidents he's ONLY appoint a qualified white woman --- is the thing to get juice Democratic turnout this fall, an Biden accomplishment that is real and tangible. 

News Flash: Unless you're an insane partisan activist, No one cares about the Supreme Court until there's a case that directly, and I mean personally, harms their interests. Just ask anyone, any average person, a classmate, neighbor, or the checkout woman at Ralph's, to name the chief justice, or the only black member of the court, or the first Latina. Bupkes. Nada. Zilch. People don't know these things because they've got more important things to do in life, like making the rent and feeding their children.

But the elite media class is making this out to be a matter of grave existential import. I'm just bored by it, personally. 

In any case, see David Leonhardt, at the New York Times, "After Breyer: The latest on the coming Supreme Court nomination":


Stephen Breyer has just done something that liberal Supreme Court justices in the modern era don’t always do: He has timed his retirement so that an ideologically similar justice is likely to replace him.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not do so, choosing to stay on the court even when her health was fragile, Barack Obama was president and Democrats controlled the Senate. William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall did not do so either, retiring during George H.W. Bush’s presidency instead of trying to wait for the 1992 election. And Earl Warren, the liberal chief justice of the 1950s and ’60s, announced his retirement so late in Lyndon Johnson’s presidency that Richard Nixon was able to fill the slot after Johnson fumbled the nomination process.

These forfeited liberal court seats are a central reason that conservatives now dominate the court. Democrats and Republicans have held the White House for a similar number of years in recent decades, yet Republican appointees hold six of the Supreme Court’s nine seats.

Circumstance has definitely played a role, too — and the sample size of Supreme Court justices is so small that it’s hard to be confident about retirement patterns. (Another factor: Republicans’ refusal to let Obama replace Antonin Scalia in 2016.) Yet a few liberal justices really do seem to have had a more blasé attitude toward retirement than their conservative colleagues.

Conservative judges seem to view themselves as members of a legal movement, especially since the rise of the Federalist Society in the 1980s. Not since John F. Kennedy’s presidency has a justice from the right half of the ideological spectrum been replaced by one from the left half.

Liberal justices, on the other hand, have sometimes placed more emphasis on their personal preferences — whether they enjoy being on the court or would rather retire — than the larger consequences for the country.

In 2013 and 2014, Ginsburg — who, like many justices, loved the job — rejected pleas to step down, despite being in her 80s and having cancer. After her death in 2020, Donald Trump replaced her with Amy Coney Barrett, who may provide the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, affirmative action and more...

More at Memeorandum.

 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Vladymir Putin Seeks to Revise Post-Cold War Settlement in Europe

It's Lilia Shevtsova, at the New York Times, "Ukraine Is Only One Small Part of Putin’s Plans":

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin of Russia is playing a game of suspense.

When he kicked over the global chessboard late last year, amassing thousands of troops at the Ukrainian border, he sent the world into panic. An invasion seemed imminent — and beyond it loomed the threat of a new global confrontation, contested by nuclear-armed powers. Things haven’t calmed down since: A call between Mr. Putin and President Biden on Dec. 30, where the leaders traded threats, did little to take the sting out of the situation. Any incident along the Russian-Ukrainian border could bring an inferno.

The Kremlin’s reasoning for the escalation is curious. It is acting in response, it maintains, to the West’s “drawing Ukraine into NATO” and NATO’s encroachment on what the Kremlin views as Russia’s area of influence. But that looks like a bluff, or even trolling. The truth is that NATO, for all its welcoming gestures, is not ready to offer Ukraine membership.

So what is Mr. Putin’s endgame? The immediate aim, to be sure, is to return Ukraine to Russia’s orbit. But that’s only a brush stroke on a much bigger canvas. Mr. Putin’s design is grand: to refashion the post-Cold War settlement, in the process guaranteeing the survival of Russia’s personalized power system. And judging from the West’s awkward, anguished response so far, he might be close to getting what he wants.

In recent years, Mr. Putin has successfully revived Russia’s tradition of one-man rule by amending the Constitution, rewriting history and clamping down on the opposition. Now he seeks to provide the system with a sturdy Great Power spine, returning to Russia its global glamour. In the past decade, Mr. Putin’s Russia not only demonstrated its readiness to resume control over the former Soviet space, testing its ambitions in Georgia and Ukraine, but also left its footprints all over the world, including through meddling in Western democracies. Yet today’s standoff over Ukraine takes things to a new level.

No longer content with upsetting the West, Mr. Putin is now trying to force it to agree to a new global dispensation, with Russia restored to eminence. It doesn’t stop there, though. Crucially, the geopolitical advance would serve to safeguard Mr. Putin’s rule. So the West, by accepting Russia’s geopolitical position, would effectively underwrite its domestic agenda, too. The United States would become, at home and abroad, Russia’s security provider. It’s quite the gambit.

The timing is crucial. With the European Union consumed by its own challenges and the United States’ rivalry with China yet to reach top gear, the Kremlin is seizing the moment to pursue its grand design. To do so, it could put on the war helmet at any moment. But confrontation is not the Kremlin’s goal. The escalation is about peace on Russia’s terms.

No longer content with upsetting the West, Mr. Putin is now trying to force it to agree to a new global dispensation, with Russia restored to eminence. It doesn’t stop there, though. Crucially, the geopolitical advance would serve to safeguard Mr. Putin’s rule. So the West, by accepting Russia’s geopolitical position, would effectively underwrite its domestic agenda, too. The United States would become, at home and abroad, Russia’s security provider. It’s quite the gambit.

The timing is crucial. With the European Union consumed by its own challenges and the United States’ rivalry with China yet to reach top gear, the Kremlin is seizing the moment to pursue its grand design. To do so, it could put on the war helmet at any moment. But confrontation is not the Kremlin’s goal. The escalation is about peace on Russia’s terms.

Right now, it’s hard to know what comes next. Mr. Putin can’t force his Western opponents to surrender; neither is he ready to retreat. But he could use both concessions and refusals to pursue his agenda. Concessions, such as NATO explicitly pledging not to expand any further east, would be presented as victories, and refusals as the pretext for further escalation. One success is already clear: The West has been forced to reward Russia — through outreach, diplomacy and, above all, attention — for the charitable act of not invading Ukraine.

Russia’s rebellion threatens to turn geopolitics into a battle of threats — force on one side, sanctions on the other. Mr. Putin’s method is tried and tested: He ratchets up the tensions and then demands “binding agreements,” which he does not take seriously. The aim, really, is a Hobbesian world order, built on disruption and readiness for surprise breakthroughs.

This order has nothing in common with those fashioned at the Yalta Conference in 1945, say, or the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Their architects followed the rules. The Kremlin is suggesting something very different: the irrelevance of rules. The norms by which the world has been governed for the past three decades would be thrown out, in favor of creative interpretation of the possible. In this free-for-all, Mr. Putin — mercurial master of suspense and the sudden move — can pursue his fusion of geopolitical power and personal rule...

Ms Shevtsova's article is the most intriguing, perceptive, and troubling so far of all I've posted on this.

Continue reading.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Evelyn Farkas on Ukraine (VIDEO)

She's a former deputy assistant secretary for the Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia region, and former senior advisor to NATO's Supreme Allied Commander.

At NBC News:



Bernard-Henri Lévy, the 'Last Liberal Interventionist'

A phenomenal, wondrous interview, at Bari Weiss's Substack, "A Conversation With the Last Liberal Interventionist":

Do you think the U.S. was prudent and principled to invade Afghanistan?

Yes. Doing so was the essence of prudence. It was necessary to prevent another 9/11. To do that, it was necessary to destroy the regime. Afterwards, it will not have escaped your attention that the “invasion” turned gradually into a symbolic, very light, noncombatant presence that nevertheless served as a shield behind which a civil society came together. Let’s not fall for the propaganda of the Trumpists and their de facto allies on the so-called far left. Contrary to what the world says, the United States could have stayed far longer at a cost many times less than what their other deployments cost.

Is it paternalistic to assume that people around the world crave Western democratic norms? According to a Pew study from 2013, 99% of Afghans—men and women—desire to live under Sharia law.

I am aware of that poll. The same words do not necessarily mean the same things. When a woman in Kabul refers to Sharia, she is not advocating for the right to be stoned in the event of adultery. By the way, a real liberal, an interventionist worth his salt, would never deny that broad principles are flexible. We know well that they obviously cannot be applied identically in Afghanistan or Burma, but that they must be adapted.... 

The Covid-19 pandemic has made travel exceedingly difficult and even taboo. Moreover, many environmentalists (Greta Thunberg is one example) discourage air travel in an effort to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint. Travel has been instrumental in your life. And you sort of ignored the lockdowns and traveled around the world during Covid. What is the importance of travel and why should we encourage it?

For the same reason. The world of Greta Thunberg, a world without travel, a world where we closed ourselves off from others, would be an impoverished world. Spiritually, of course. Civilizationally, no doubt. But also, in the most trivial sense of the word, economically. Globalization must be reformed. The ecological battle must be fought. And to correct the damaging effects of technology, we need much, much more technology. But the tragic error would be to try to undo everything...

Read the whole thing. It's worth your time.


Media Got Its NPC Programming Update: Biden Wasn't Snapping at Doocy, He Was Merely 'Deadpanning'

At AoSHQ, "It's amazing how fast the NPCs update once that notification goes out."

NPC = Non-Playable Characters.

Previous posts for Peter Doocy here.




What Putin Really Wants in Ukraine

My previous Russia-Ukraine blogging is here.

And now, see Dmitri Trenin, at Foreign Affairs, "Russia Seeks to Stop NATO’s Expansion, Not to Annex More Territory":

As 2021 came to a close, Russia presented the United States with a list of demands that it said were necessary to stave off the possibility of a large-scale military conflict in Ukraine. In a draft treaty delivered to a U.S. diplomat in Moscow, the Russian government asked for a formal halt to NATO’s eastern enlargement, a permanent freeze on further expansion of the alliance’s military infrastructure (such as bases and weapons systems) in the former Soviet territory, an end to Western military assistance to Ukraine, and a ban on intermediate-range missiles in Europe. The message was unmistakable: if these threats cannot be addressed diplomatically, the Kremlin will have to resort to military action.

These concerns were familiar to Western policymakers, who for years have responded by arguing that Moscow does not have a veto over NATO’s decisions and that it has no grounds to demand that the West stop sending weapons to Ukraine. Until recently, Moscow grudgingly acceded to those terms. Now, however, it appears determined to follow through with countermeasures if it doesn’t get its way. That determination was reflected in how it presented the proposed treaty with the United States and a separate agreement with NATO. The tone of both missives was sharp. The West was given just a month to respond, which circumvented the possibility of prolonged and inconclusive talks. And both drafts were published almost immediately after their delivery, a move that was intended to prevent Washington from leaking and spinning the proposal.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin is acting as if he has the upper hand in this standoff, that’s because he does. According to U.S. intelligence services, Russia has nearly 100,000 troops and a great deal of heavy weaponry stationed on the Ukrainian border. The United States and other NATO countries have condemned Russia’s moves but simultaneously suggested that they will not defend Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, and have limited their threats of retaliation to sanctions.

But Moscow’s demands are probably an opening bid, not an ultimatum. For all its insistence on a formal treaty with the United States, the Russian government no doubt understands that thanks to polarization and gridlock, ratification of any treaty in the U.S. Senate will be all but impossible. An executive agreement—essentially an accord between two governments which does not have to be ratified and thus does not have the status of a law—may therefore be a more realistic alternative. It is also likely that under such an agreement, Russia would assume reciprocal commitments addressing some U.S. concerns so as to create what it calls a “balance of interest.”

Specifically, the Kremlin could be satisfied if the U.S. government agreed to a formal long-term moratorium on expanding NATO and a commitment not to station intermediate-range missiles in Europe. It might also be assuaged by a separate accord between Russia and NATO that would restrict military forces and activity where their territories meet, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Of course, it is an open question whether the Biden administration is willing to engage seriously with Russia. Opposition to any deal will be high in the United States because of domestic political polarization and the fact that striking a deal with Putin opens the Biden administration to criticism that it is caving to an autocrat. Opposition will also be high in Europe, where leaders will feel that a negotiated settlement between Washington and Moscow leaves them on the sidelines.

These are all serious issues. But it’s crucial to note that Putin has presided over four waves of NATO enlargement and has had to accept Washington’s withdrawal from treaties governing anti-ballistic missiles, intermediate-range nuclear forces, and unarmed observation aircraft. For him, Ukraine is the last stand. The Russian commander-in-chief is supported by his security and military establishments and, despite the Russian public’s fear of a war, faces no domestic opposition to his foreign policy. Most importantly, he cannot afford to be seen bluffing. Biden was right not to reject Russia’s demands out of hand and to favor engagement instead.

These concerns were familiar to Western policymakers, who for years have responded by arguing that Moscow does not have a veto over NATO’s decisions and that it has no grounds to demand that the West stop sending weapons to Ukraine. Until recently, Moscow grudgingly acceded to those terms. Now, however, it appears determined to follow through with countermeasures if it doesn’t get its way. That determination was reflected in how it presented the proposed treaty with the United States and a separate agreement with NATO. The tone of both missives was sharp. The West was given just a month to respond, which circumvented the possibility of prolonged and inconclusive talks. And both drafts were published almost immediately after their delivery, a move that was intended to prevent Washington from leaking and spinning the proposal.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin is acting as if he has the upper hand in this standoff, that’s because he does. According to U.S. intelligence services, Russia has nearly 100,000 troops and a great deal of heavy weaponry stationed on the Ukrainian border. The United States and other NATO countries have condemned Russia’s moves but simultaneously suggested that they will not defend Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, and have limited their threats of retaliation to sanctions.

But Moscow’s demands are probably an opening bid, not an ultimatum. For all its insistence on a formal treaty with the United States, the Russian government no doubt understands that thanks to polarization and gridlock, ratification of any treaty in the U.S. Senate will be all but impossible. An executive agreement—essentially an accord between two governments which does not have to be ratified and thus does not have the status of a law—may therefore be a more realistic alternative. It is also likely that under such an agreement, Russia would assume reciprocal commitments addressing some U.S. concerns so as to create what it calls a “balance of interest.”

Specifically, the Kremlin could be satisfied if the U.S. government agreed to a formal long-term moratorium on expanding NATO and a commitment not to station intermediate-range missiles in Europe. It might also be assuaged by a separate accord between Russia and NATO that would restrict military forces and activity where their territories meet, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Of course, it is an open question whether the Biden administration is willing to engage seriously with Russia. Opposition to any deal will be high in the United States because of domestic political polarization and the fact that striking a deal with Putin opens the Biden administration to criticism that it is caving to an autocrat. Opposition will also be high in Europe, where leaders will feel that a negotiated settlement between Washington and Moscow leaves them on the sidelines.

These are all serious issues. But it’s crucial to note that Putin has presided over four waves of NATO enlargement and has had to accept Washington’s withdrawal from treaties governing anti-ballistic missiles, intermediate-range nuclear forces, and unarmed observation aircraft. For him, Ukraine is the last stand. The Russian commander-in-chief is supported by his security and military establishments and, despite the Russian public’s fear of a war, faces no domestic opposition to his foreign policy. Most importantly, he cannot afford to be seen bluffing. Biden was right not to reject Russia’s demands out of hand and to favor engagement instead...

Keep reading


Peter Doocy Responds (VIDEO)

Following-up from yesterday, "President Biden Call Fox News' Peter Doocy a 'Stupid son of a bitch...' (VIDEO)."

He's a good kid. Classy. Took it like a champ, and even got a call from the president: "Biden phones Fox News' Peter Doocy to 'clear the air' after calling him 'stupid son of a b----'."

Watch:


Bodies Are Stacking Up as Progressive Politicians Blame Everything but Themselves

From Stephen Green, at Instapundit, "100 MILLION BROKEN EGGS AND NOT A SINGLE OMELET."


Country Girl Cop

With tattoos, heh. 

Here.

Also, Celeste Bright.

And a young Cindy Crawford




Monday, January 24, 2022

For Russia's President Putin, It's Not Just About Ukraine

Here's my earlier blogging on Ukraine (and click through there for more). 

Now here's Fiona Hill, at the New York Times, "Putin Has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It":

We knew this was coming.

“George, you have to understand that Ukraine is not even a country. Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe and the greater part was given to us.” These were the ominous words of President Vladimir Putin of Russia to President George W. Bush in Bucharest, Romania, at a NATO summit in April 2008.

Mr. Putin was furious: NATO had just announced that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join the alliance. This was a compromise formula to allay concerns of our European allies — an explicit promise to join the bloc, but no specific timeline for membership.

At the time, I was the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia, part of a team briefing Mr. Bush. We warned him that Mr. Putin would view steps to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO as a provocative move that would likely provoke pre-emptive Russian military action. But ultimately, our warnings weren’t heeded.

Within four months, in August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. Ukraine got Russia’s message loud and clear. It backpedaled on NATO membership for the next several years. But in 2014, Ukraine wanted to sign an association agreement with the European Union, thinking this might be a safer route to the West. Moscow struck again, accusing Ukraine of seeking a back door to NATO, annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and starting an ongoing proxy war in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbas region. The West’s muted reactions to both the 2008 and 2014 invasions emboldened Mr. Putin.

This time, Mr. Putin’s aim is bigger than closing NATO’s “open door” to Ukraine and taking more territory — he wants to evict the United States from Europe. As he might put it: “Goodbye, America. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

As I have seen over two decades of observing Mr. Putin, and analyzing his moves, his actions are purposeful and his choice of this moment to throw down the gauntlet in Ukraine and Europe is very intentional. He has a personal obsession with history and anniversaries. December 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when Russia lost its dominant position in Europe. Mr. Putin wants to give the United States a taste of the same bitter medicine Russia had to swallow in the 1990s. He believes that the United States is currently in the same predicament as Russia was after the Soviet collapse: grievously weakened at home and in retreat abroad. He also thinks NATO is nothing more than an extension of the United States. Russian officials and commentators routinely deny any agency or independent strategic thought to other NATO members. So, when it comes to the alliance, all of Moscow’s moves are directed against Washington.

In the 1990s, the United States and NATO forced Russia to withdraw the remnants of the Soviet military from their bases in Eastern Europe, Germany and the Baltic States. Mr. Putin wants the United States to suffer in a similar way. From Russia’s perspective, America’s domestic travails after four years of Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, as well as the rifts he created with U.S. allies and then America’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, signal weakness. If Russia presses hard enough, Mr. Putin hopes he can strike a new security deal with NATO and Europe to avoid an open-ended conflict, and then it will be America’s turn to leave, taking its troops and missiles with it.

Ukraine is both Russia’s target and a source of leverage against the United States. Over the last several months Mr. Putin has bogged the Biden administration down in endless tactical games that put the United States on the defensive. Russia moves forces to Ukraine’s borders, launches war games and ramps up the visceral commentary. In recent official documents, it demanded ironclad guarantees that Ukraine (and other former republics of the U.S.S.R.) will never become a member of NATO, that NATO pull back from positions taken after 1997, and also that America withdraw its own forces and weapons, including its nuclear missiles. Russian representatives assert that Moscow doesn’t “need peace at any cost” in Europe. Some Russian politicians even suggest the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against NATO targets to make sure that we know they are serious, and that we should meet Moscow’s demands.

For weeks, American officials have huddled to make sense of the official documents with Russia’s demands and the contradictory commentary, pondered how to deter Mr. Putin in Ukraine and scrambled to talk on his timeline.

All the while, Mr. Putin and his proxies have ratcheted up their statements. Kremlin officials have not just challenged the legitimacy of America’s position in Europe, they have raised questions about America’s bases in Japan and its role in the Asia-Pacific region. They have also intimated that they may ship hypersonic missiles to America’s back door in Cuba and Venezuela to revive what the Russians call the Caribbean Crisis of the 1960s.

Mr. Putin is a master of coercive inducement...

Keep reading.

 

The Case Against Ukraine

Following-up on Francis Fukuyama, "The Case for Ukraine."

Here's Patrick Buchanan, at the American Conservative, "Biden Should Close the Door to NATO":

In 2014, when Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to a U.S.-backed coup that ousted a pro-Russian regime in Kyiv by occupying Crimea, President Barack Obama did nothing. When Putin aided secessionists in the Donbas in seizing Luhansk and Donetsk, once again, Obama did nothing.

Why did we not come to the military assistance of Ukraine? Because Ukraine is not a member of NATO. We had no obligation to come to its aid. And to have intervened militarily on the side of Ukraine would have risked a war with Russia we had no desire to fight.

Last year, when Putin marshaled 100,000 Russian troops on the borders of Ukraine, President Joe Biden declared that any U.S. response to a Russian invasion would be restricted to severe sanctions. The U.S. would take no military action in support of Ukraine.

Why not? Because, again, Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

Clearly, by its inaction, America is revealing its refusal to risk its own security in a war with Russia over a Ukraine whose sovereignty and territorial integrity are not vital U.S. interests sufficient to justify war with the largest country on earth with its huge arsenal of nuclear weapons.

This is the real world.

And as Ukraine is not a NATO ally, and we are not going to invite it to become a NATO ally, Biden should declare so publicly, urbi et orbi, to remove Putin’s pretext for any invasion.

Biden has already declared that we will not put offensive weapons in Ukraine. If, by declaring that we have no intention of expanding NATO further east by admitting Ukraine or Georgia, we can provide Putin with an off-ramp from this crisis that he created, why not do it?

Speaking last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “They must understand that the key to everything is the guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward.”

If what Lavrov said is true—that the “key” for Moscow, the crucial demand, is that the eastward expansion of NATO halt, and Ukraine and Georgia never join the U.S.-led alliance created to contain Moscow—we ought to accede to the demand.

If this causes Putin to keep his army out of Ukraine, admitting the truth will have avoided an unnecessary war. If Putin invades anyway, the world will know whom to hold accountable.

The purposes of the Biden declaration would be simple: to tell the truth about what we will and will not do. To remove Putin’s pretext for war. To give Putin an off-ramp from any contemplated invasion, if he is looking for one.

A Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war that would inevitably follow would be a disaster for Ukraine and Russia, but also for Europe and the United States. It would ignite a second Cold War, the winner of which would be China, to whom Russia would be forced to turn economically and strategically.

Thus, to avert a war, Biden should declare what is the truth: “Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and neither we nor our allies have any intention or plans to bring Ukraine into NATO or to give Kyiv an Article 5 war guarantee.”...

Still more

Fukuyama's an idealist. He's famous for his seminal essay for the post-Cold War era, "The End of History."

Actually, as splashy as he was in 1989, history (the perennial pattern of conflict and war) did not end.  

Buchanan's a realist. The hardest of the hardest kind of realist isolationist. The only threats that matter are those challenging the "vital interests" of the nation, that is, threats to the very survival of the U.S. as a nation-state in the international system. 

And Buchanan's long been consistent on this: See, for example, "What Is America’s Goal in the World?"

And at NPR, "Pat Buchanan on Why He Shares Trump's Ideas on Foreign Policy." 


The Case for Ukraine

I mentioned earlier that I'd yet to see anyone make the case for Ukraine's vital interest to the United States.

Well, now we have Francis Fukuyama making a stab, at American Purpose, "Why Ukraine Matters":

There is one fundamental reason why the United States and the rest of the democratic world should support Ukraine in its current fight with Putin’s Russia: Ukraine is a real, but struggling, liberal democracy. People are free in Ukraine in a way they are not in Russia: they can protest, criticize, mobilize, and vote. In 2017 they voted for a complete outsider to be president, and turned over a majority of their parliament. On two occasions, during the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, Ukrainian civil society came into the streets in massive numbers to protest corrupt and unrepresentative governments.

This is the real reason that Vladimir Putin is preparing to further invade Ukraine. He sees Ukraine as an integral part of a greater Russia, as he indicated in a long article last summer. But the deeper problem for him is Ukrainian democracy. He is heavily invested in the idea that Slavic peoples are culturally attuned to authoritarian government, and the idea that another Slavic state could successfully transition to democracy undermines his own claims for ruling Russia. Ukraine presents zero military threat to Moscow; it does, however, pose an alternative ideological model that erodes Putin’s own legitimacy...

Okay, democracy promotion. After initial regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq, that was the justification for our long, bloody, and unsuccessful military deployments to those countries, especially in the case of Afghanistan. 

In this day and age of new isolationism, will Americans "pay any price, bear any burden ... to assure the survival and the success of liberty" in all corners of the world? 

I don't think so, and I don't hear anyone making a compelling case to the contrary, certainly not Fukuyama. 

In any case, RTWT above. 


President Biden Call Fox News' Peter Doocy a 'Stupid son of a bitch...' (VIDEO)

 Biden's so respectful and unifying, pfft. 

The story's at Town Hall, "Joe Biden Snaps, Calls Reporter 'Stupid Son of a Bitch'":

n a major hot mic gaffe for President Biden on Monday, the leader of the free world got caught calling Fox News' Peter Doocy a "stupid son of a bitch."

The comment from Biden came after the official White House video feed on YouTube had been cut, but not before C-SPAN's feed ended. Following Biden's opening remarks, White House handlers were trying to shoo members of the press corps out of the room when Doocy shouted his questions: "Will you take questions on inflation? Do you think inflation is a political liability in the midterms?"

Biden, seemingly not aware that his mic was still on and being fed out to broadcast networks including C-SPAN, responded with "What a stupid son of a bitch."...

Story continues here.

And at Hot Air, "Snarky Biden refers to Fox News reporter as 'stupid son of a bitch'."