Cup of Joe – 3/10/22

“The House on Wednesday passed a sprawling $1.5 trillion federal spending bill that includes a huge infusion of aid for war-torn Ukraine and money to keep the government funded through September, after jettisoning a package to fund President Biden’s new Covid-19 response effort,” the New York Times reports.

“Bipartisan approval of the first major government spending legislation of Mr. Biden’s presidency marked the first time since he took office that Democrats were able to use their congressional majorities and control of the White House to set funding levels for their priorities, including climate resilience, public education and child care.”

“But the exclusion of the $15.6 billion pandemic aid package, amid disputes about its cost that threatened to derail the broader legislation, infuriated the White House and frustrated Democratic leaders, leaving the fate of the Biden administration’s coronavirus strategy uncertain.”

CNN: Spending fight leaves Democratic emotions raw.

“The Senate on Tuesday approved a $107 billion financial overhaul of the long-beleaguered U.S. Postal Service, providing monetary relief for the agency that leaders say will allow it to modernize and invest in efficient service,” the Washington Post reports. “President Biden has signaled his intent to sign the legislation, which has already cleared the House.”

“You can be sure that tucked in a 2,700-page spending bill (that members will not have time to read before they vote for it) will be some little-noticed policies,” Politico reports. Here’s some of what made it in: Funding for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a new health agency and a big pay boost for congressional staff.

Coca-Cola is suspending operations in Russia in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Axios reports. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports Pepsi is exploring options for its business in Russia, including writing off the value of the unit.

“Starbucks is suspending all business activity in Russia as Putin’s forces continue their attacks on Ukraine,” CNBC reports.

McDonald’s says it is temporarily closing 850 restaurants in Russia in response to the Ukraine invasion, the AP reports. This is a pretty big deal considering the historic resonance of McDonald’s first arriving in Russia in 1990.

“ has suspended shipments of retail products and access to Prime Video to customers in Russia, part of a broader effort by the company and other technology giants to remove ties with the country,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Fitch Ratings cut its credit ratings on Russia further into junk territory and warned that Moscow was likely to default on its debts shortly,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The ratings company slashed its rating on Russia by six notches to a single-C grade, near the bottom of its scale, less than a week after downgrading the country from investment-grade status.”

“As it scrambles to keep the ruble’s value from plummeting further, Russia’s central bank today announced that it is prohibiting citizens from using rubles to buy dollars and other hard currencies for the next six months,” the Washington Post reports.  “The measures are designed to prevent Russians from making a run for dollars as the ruble plummets to fresh lows in the wake of Western economic sanctions, which have limited the central bank’s access to its hard currency reserves.”

Financial Times on Russia tech workers fleeing the country: “The wave of emigration, if permanent, will prove a significant long-term drag on an economy already hit by EU and US sanctions that have crippled its stock market and currency and cut it off from western financing.”

“With almost all European airspace closed to Russian aircraft, flights to Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Yerevan, Baku and Tbilisi have been sold out for days, while other travellers have packed on to buses to the Baltic states.”

“Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to ‘double down’ in Ukraine as his forces remain frustrated nearly two weeks into their invasion, but he will find it ‘especially challenging’ to maintain control of captured territory and install a sustainable pro-Moscow regime in Kyiv, the leaders of the top U.S. intelligence agencies told congressional lawmakers,” Politico reports.

Britain said Ukraine’s air defenses were having success against Russian jets, likely preventing Russia from controlling the airspace, Reuters reports. 

Wall Street Journal: U.S. to send Patriot Missile systems to Poland.

The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged that conscripts were sent into battle in Ukraine, and that some had been taken prisoner — a reversal after President Vladimir Putin’s claim this week that conscripts “are not participating and will not participate” in the war, the New York Times reports.

“If there’s anything we’ve learned about President Vladimir Putin over the 22 years or so that he’s been in power in Russia it’s that he has systematically and repeatedly tried to weaken and undermine the West,” CNBC reports.

“But in his invasion of Ukraine he seems to have achieved exactly the opposite, managing to unite most of the international community in its condemnation of Russia’s aggression toward its neighbor.”

Axios: “Putin’s plan to seize Ukraine’s capital in the first two days of Russia’s invasion has been a complete failure, thrown off course by a fierce Ukrainian resistance, poor planning and a series of profound miscalculations.”

“Deterrence is no longer enough, and we need more defense. Because otherwise, it will be too late here… Putin will not stop in Ukraine; he will not stop.”  — Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, quoted by the Washington Post.

“At nearly every stop on his whirlwind European tour over the last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an identical message seemingly directed straight at Russian President Vladimir Putin,” the Washington Post reports.

Said Blinken: “We will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of our collective power.”

David Ignatius: “Though it’s largely invisible to the public, the United States has moved an astonishing military presence forward in Europe, from a mere 200 in Hungary and 350 in Bulgaria to 2,500 in the Baltic states, 10,000 in Poland and 38,500 in Germany — forces in 17 countries, bolstered by 11,000 in ships at sea. It’s a forbidding display of force.”

“The Pentagon slammed the door on any plans to provide MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, even through a second country, calling it a ‘high-risk’ venture that would not significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force,” the AP reports.

“Poland had said it was prepared to hand over MiG-29 planes to NATO that could then be delivered to Ukraine, but Kirby said U.S. intelligence concluded that it could be considered escalatory and trigger a ‘significant’ Russian reaction.”

“Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Warsaw to thank Poland for taking in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion took an unexpected turn before she even left Washington. She’ll be parachuting into the middle of unexpected diplomatic turbulence over fighter jets,” the AP reports.

“It was a rare moment of disharmony in what has been a largely united effort by NATO allies to assist Ukraine without getting embroiled in a wider war with Russia.”

“And it meant Harris was flying into fractious terrain Wednesday as she opens a two-day visit to Poland and Romania and tries to patch things up.”

Playbook: “It is rare that a VP steps into the middle of such an important diplomatic negotiation. Ukraine is desperate for air power. The Poles have kicked the decision to the Americans (or tried to). The question of whether a transfer can happen without triggering a dangerous escalation is unanswered. The world will be watching how Harris handles this delicate moment.”

CNN: “The trip is the second time in a month that Harris has been dispatched to Europe as the Biden administration seeks to rally international support behind its efforts to isolate and punish Russia for the war in Ukraine.”

“The National Archives has transmitted another crop of Trump White House documents to the Jan. 6 select committee, officials confirmed Tuesday — suggesting that former President Donald Trump has opted against seeking a renewed court challenge to the committee’s work,” Politico reports.

“The House Jan. 6 committee has waged high-profile legal battles with Donald Trump and his closest allies as it tries to uncover every detail of what happened that day and determine what culpability the former president may have for the violent attack on the Capitol,” the Washington Post reports.

“But it has also been focused on another part of its inquiry that panel members said is of equal importance to the success of the investigation — tracing every dollar that was raised and spent on false claims that the election was stolen.”

“A jury convicted a Texas man of obstruction and other charges for riling up the mob on Jan. 6 last year, confronting police while armed and later threatening his children not to report him, in the first trial of one of the more than 750 people who face charges related to the U.S. Capitol attack by pro-Trump rioters,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“While more than 200 others have pleaded guilty, hundreds more are fighting the charges. The verdict against Guy Reffitt could reverberate through many of the other cases as defendants weigh whether to take plea deals or continue to fight their charges.”

“The outcome of the trial of four men facing federal charges of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 could hinge on whether the prosecution can show they were likely to commit the crime even without the encouragement and logistical support provided by government informants,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Defense attorneys are expected to argue that the government entrapped the four men by orchestrating the plot and goading them to join.”

“Trump White House senior advisor Stephen Miller sued the House Jan. 6 committee to block a subpoena of his parents’ T-Mobile family plan which provides him with a number,” Bloomberg Quint reports.  Miller is 36 years old, married and still on his parents’ family plan?

Ed Yong: “The United States reported more deaths from Covid-19 last Friday than deaths from Hurricane Katrina, more on any two recent weekdays than deaths during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more last month than deaths from flu in a bad season, and more in two years than deaths from HIV during the four decades of the AIDS epidemic. At least 953,000 Americans have died from Covid, and the true toll is likely even higher because many deaths went uncounted.”

“Covid is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after only heart disease and cancer, which are both catchall terms for many distinct diseases. The sheer scale of the tragedy strains the moral imagination. On May 24, 2020, as the United States passed 100,000 recorded deaths, The New York Times filled its front page with the names of the dead, describing their loss as ‘incalculable.’ Now the nation hurtles toward a milestone of 1 million. What is 10 times incalculable?”

“Officials in every U.S. state and jurisdiction have now ended, or announced an end, to their indoor universal masking requirements,” ABC News reports.   “Over the last month, states from coast to coast have moved to end mask mandates as coronavirus cases have plummeted. By the end of March, there will be no more statewide or school mask mandates in effect.”

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told The View that Donald Trump admired — but also feared — Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Said Grisham: “I think he was afraid of him. I think that the man intimidated him. Because Putin is a scary man, just frankly, I think he was afraid of him. I also think he admired him, greatly, I think he wanted to be able to kill whoever spoke out against him. So I think it was a lot of that. In my experience with him, he loved the dictators, he loved the people who could kill anyone, including the press.”

She added: “And I will say this, just in watching all of this with Zelensky, Donald Trump would be 57 feet below ground hiding. And Zelenskyy has been out there fighting for his country.”

“In the final years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Republicans portrayed Ukraine as an Eastern European Wild West run by nefarious oligarchs and unlawful politicians, a bad actor that sought to tamper in American elections and channel millions of dollars to Joseph Biden’s son,” the New York Times reports.

“Now such voices are fading, as the bulk of the Republican Party tries to get on the right side of history amid a brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine. Republicans are among the most vociferous champions for the United States to amp up its military response, and are competing to issue the strongest expressions of solidarity with Ukraine’s leaders.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gently broke from former President Donald Trump’s past warm words about the capabilities of Vladimir Putin, Politico reports.  Said McCarthy: “I do not think anything savvy or genius about Putin. I think Putin is evil. I think he’s a dictator. I think he’s murdering people right now.”  Asked if he agreed there’s no room in the Republican Party for those that apologize for Putin, McCarthy replied: “Yeah.”

“Venezuela’s authoritarian government on Tuesday released at least two imprisoned Americans, a potential turning point in the Biden administration’s relationship with Russia’s staunchest ally in the Western Hemisphere,” the New York Times reports.

“The release followed a rare trip by a high-level U.S. delegation to Venezuela over the weekend to meet with President Nicolás Maduro, part of a broader Biden administration agenda in autocratic countries that may be rethinking their ties with President Vladimir Putin in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

“The talks with Venezuela, which has enormous proven oil reserves, assumed new urgency after President Biden announced Tuesday that the United States would ban Russian oil and gas imports because of the invasion.”

“A legal argument lurking in two Supreme Court cases could give Republican legislators in battleground states sweeping control over election procedures, with ramifications that could include power over how states select presidential electors,” Politico reports.

“Republicans from Pennsylvania and North Carolina challenged court-ordered redistricting plans in their states based on the ‘independent legislature’ theory. It’s a reading of the Constitution, stemming from the 2000 election recount in Florida, that argues legislators have ultimate power over elections in their states and that state courts have a limited ability — or even none at all — to check it.”

“President Biden signed an executive order Wednesday for a sweeping review of the government’s approach to cryptocurrencies, aiming to secure the nation’s position as a leader in the rapidly growing industry while containing risks to consumers and the financial system itself,” the Washington Post reports.

“A plane carrying former president Donald Trump suffered engine failure late Saturday evening over the Gulf of Mexico, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in New Orleans shortly after taking off from the city,” the Washington Post reports.

Politico: “The plane was in the air for between 20 and 30 minutes before one of the engines failed and the pilot of the private plane decided to turn around and return to the New Orleans airport.”

Damn it.

New York Times: “It is a deep, seething bitterness for President Vladimir V. Putin, his military and his government. But Ukrainians are not giving a pass to ordinary Russians, either, calling them complicit through years of political passivity. The hatred is vented by mothers in bomb shelters, by volunteers preparing to fight on the front lines, by intellectuals and by artists.”

“The emotion is so powerful it could not be assuaged even by an Orthodox religious holiday on Sunday intended to foster forgiveness before Lent.”

Tom Friedman: “If you’re hoping that the instability that Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has wreaked on global markets and geopolitics has peaked, your hope is in vain. We haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until Putin fully grasps that his only choices left in Ukraine are how to lose — early and small and a little humiliated or late and big and deeply humiliated.”

“I can’t even wrap my mind around what kind of financial and political shocks will radiate from Russia — this country that is the world’s third-largest oil producer and possesses some 6,000 nuclear warheads — when it loses a war of choice that was spearheaded by one man, who can never afford to admit defeat.”

Lawrence Freedman: “We are left contemplating the psychology of the man who launched this catastrophic adventure and must now decide whether to call it off with whatever face-saving claims he can muster. We wonder whether when he claims his war plan is on schedule and is meeting its goals is a continuation of his past delusions, because the sycophants around him don’t know how to tell him the truth, or because he does not know how to admit to the Russian people how badly he has let them down, especially after he has gone to extreme lengths to hide the truth from them.”

“He is now engaging in more conversations with international leaders, the latest being with Israeli prime Minister Naftali Bennett, so perhaps he is starting to look for a diplomatic way out.”

“It is possible to slide away from defeat by claiming victory against more realistic goals. After all Saddam Hussein led Iraq into two disastrous wars – when he invaded Iran in 1980 and seized Kuwait a decade later. At the end of both, with nothing to show for all the consequential death and destruction, he nonetheless claimed victory because somehow, he had personally managed to survive in power. As Putin is forced to move away from his maximum aims will that minimum one also come to be his priority?”

Eurointelligence: “Not buying stuff from someone as an expression of a political protest is the sanctions we know. You cannot force anybody to transact with you. Freezing central bank reserve assets is a sanction of a different category. This is the financial equivalent of a nuclear bomb, which the west triggered immediately, without public discussion, even without the involvement of parliaments.”

“We have been in shock and awe about this decision because it constitutes a default. If the transactional function of money becomes subject to political interference by government decree, money loses the first and most important of its functions: to act as a guaranteed means of transaction. We don’t think that the foreign policy types who imposed those sanctions spent even a second considering this issue.”

“The Russians could argue that this strategic default is not just illegitimate, but that it constitutes an act of war. Think of it as one country stealing money from another country.”

Amy Zegart: “The way in which the U.S. disclosed intelligence ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could drastically change geopolitics in the future.”

“The disclosed intelligence wasn’t just about military movements. It was about secret plans at the core of Russia’s intelligence operations.”

“It is hard to overstate how much of a shift this represents. Intelligence is a closely guarded world, one where officials are loath to publicly air what they know, or how they know it, for fear of putting sources at risk or revealing to their rivals just how much information they have.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) purchased as much as $15,000 worth of stock in military contractor Lockheed Martin two days before Russia invaded Ukraine, Insider reports.

Greene has repeatedly blamed profit-seeking private companies for exacerbating violent conflicts, even tweeting just after the invasion began: “War is big business to our leaders.”

Missouri state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R) has proposed a measure that would deter people from leaving the state, which bans abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy, to have the procedure.

Coleman’s proposal would set up a vigilante system of civil liability similar to what Texas has, enabling private citizens to sue anyone involved in facilitating an out-of-state abortion.

WaPo: “The measure would target anyone even tangentially involved in an abortion performed on a Missouri resident, including the hotline staffers who make the appointments, the marketing representatives who advertise out-of-state clinics, and the Illinois and Kansas-based doctors who handle the procedure.” 

The measure would also criminalize the possession, transportation or distribution of abortion pills.

Some 10,644 Missourians have gotten abortions at the Planned Parenthood clinic on the Missouri-Illinois border that opened in 2019 after the state passed the ban.

Philip Bump: “Biden visited one of his properties in Delaware or went to Nantucket on all or part of 114 days over his first 13 months in office. Trump visited at least one Trump Organization property on 133 days in the same period.”

“Trump’s trips also involved a lot more travel. Considering only the trips to and from each location, Biden’s trips meant about 7,400 miles in travel. Trump’s constituted more than 27,500 miles, nearly four times as many.”

“He was livid and shaking, showed a lot of temper and yelling… He started talking about he won the election, the machines are rigged and he was going to be there another term. This showed a detachment from reality that was stunning to me.” — Former Attorney General William Barr, describing Donald Trump to Fox News.“But I’ll vote for him again if he’s the Republican nominee…”

Charlie Sykes: “Perhaps I was too subtle. In yesterdays’ newsletter, I called Bill Barr a ‘serial lying twat,’ insisted that no one buy his book, and concluded with a clarion call to ‘fuck Bill Barr.’”

“Even so, it seems that some readers (I assume very casual readers) imagined that I was too soft on him.”

“So, lest there be any lingering ambiguity, let me make it clear that I think — and have long thought — that Barr is the very embodiment of the moral and intellectual rot in in the Republican Party.”

Nikkei Asia: “China appears to be shifting its tone on the war in Ukraine, as Beijing counts the costs of defending a Russian ally accused of war crimes and braces for the economic fallout from Western-led sanctions.”

“On Tuesday, President Xi Jinping told his French and German counterparts that Beijing was ready to work with the international community to ‘prevent the tense situation from escalating, or even running out of control,’ in his strongest comments yet on the two-week-old invasion.”

“Hinting at China’s growing alarm over Russia’s invasion, Xi also called for ‘maximum restraint to prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis,’ as the number of civilian casualties mount, including children.”

Meanwhile, CNBC reports CIA Director Burns says Xi and Chinese leadership are “unsettled” by blowback from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The New York Times said that it was temporarily removing its journalists from Russia in the wake of harsh new legislation that effectively outlaws independent reporting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the New York Times reports.

With Russia clamping down on internet access, App Figures notes VPN apps have risen to the top of both the App Store and Google Play.  VPNs provide connections to servers in other countries, which allows those who use them to circumvent local restrictions. 

New York Times: “To spend several days watching news broadcasts on the main state channels, as well as surveying state-controlled newspapers, is to witness the extent of the Kremlin’s efforts to sanitize its war with the Orwellian term ‘special military operation’ — and to make all news coverage align with that message.”

“Words like ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ to describe the actions of the Russian military are forbidden under a new law that President Putin signed on Friday. The law mandates up to 15 years in prison for any coverage the state deems ‘false information’ about the military campaign.”

A growing number of real estate companies are advertising themselves to conservatives, “saying they can take them out of liberal bastions like Seattle and San Francisco and find them homes in places like rural Idaho,” the AP reports.

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) blasted former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) as a “sick, pathetic man” after he spoke publicly for the first time since resigning as governor, The Hill reports.

“Opposition parties in Pakistan’s parliament are set to topple the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, as critics charge his policies are stoking inflation and amount to “selling out Pakistan’s sovereignty” to the International Monetary Fund in exchange for loans,” Nikkei Asia reports.

Tennessee state Rep. Robin Smith (R) “resigned shortly after court documents were unsealed revealing that she faces a federal wire fraud charge involving a disgraced former state House speaker,” the AP reports.

“The charging document alleges that Smith worked closely with former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) and his then-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, through a political consulting firm that they used to funnel money to themselves while concealing their involvement in it.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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