Cup of Joe – 4/30/22

“In the two months since Russia invaded Ukraine, the silence — and even acquiescence — of the Russian elite has started to fray,” the Washington Post reports.

“Even as opinion polls report overwhelming public support for the military campaign, amid pervasive state propaganda and new laws outlawing criticism of the war, cracks are starting to show. The dividing lines among factions of the Russian economic elite are becoming more marked, and some of the tycoons — especially those who made their fortunes before President Vladimir Putin came to power — have begun, tentatively, to speak.”

“For many, the most immediate focus has been their own woes. Sweeping sanctions imposed by the West have brought down a new iron curtain on the Russian economy, freezing tens of billions of dollars of many of the tycoons’ assets along the way.”

Russian forces fired missiles into Kyiv during United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ visit to the Ukrainian capital on Thursday.

The President put out a new set of proposals for Ukraine aid on Thursday that, among other things, proposes that the U.S. government sell the seized yachts and other assets belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarchs to fund the aid.

Here are the fancy megayachts that’ve been seized by the U.S., U.K. and E.U. so far.

“Germany is now ready to stop buying Russian oil, clearing the way for a European Union ban on crude imports from Russia,” the Wall Street Journal  reports.

“The German shift increases the likelihood that EU countries will agree on a phased-in embargo on Russian oil, with a decision possible as soon as next week… However, how quickly the bloc ends its Russian oil purchases, and whether it also uses measures such as price caps or tariffs, is still being negotiated. The U.S. is pressing its European allies to avoid steps that could lead to a protracted increase in oil prices.”

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky “refused to be evacuated from his compound in Kyiv even as Russian assassination squads parachuted into the capital and tried to storm the building to kill him,” the Telegraph reports.

“At the start of the invasion on Feb 24 those inside defended themselves with automatic weapons and erected defenses as the Russians twice tried to storm them at night.”

US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan told CNN that the Russian war on Ukraine has “driven US-Russia relations into the depths” and is “about as bad as it could be.”

He added: “US-Russia relations were bad when I arrived here in January of 2020 and they have just gotten worse, spiraled downward, since then.”

“Defense officials assess that Russia is ‘several days’ behind schedule in achieving its objectives in the Donbas, hobbled by logistical issues and Ukrainian resistance,” Politico reports.

“Russian forces are wary of repeating their mistakes trying to take Kyiv, where ground forces advanced too far ahead of their supply lines and did not have the resources to sustain the fight.”

“As the United States and its allies race to supply weapons to Ukraine, Britain’s military said on Friday it would deploy 8,000 soldiers to Europe to join tens of thousands of troops from NATO countries in exercises meant to deter further Russian aggression,” the New York Times reports.

“More than two months into the largest land war in Europe since the end of World War II, Russia’s slower approach and the deepening commitment of the United States and its allies to Ukraine’s victory have set the stage for a conflict that could grind on for years.”

Ed Luce: “The concept of mutually assured destruction, which took hold after 1962, is that each side has a clear window on the other’s routines and thinking. Most of the information-sharing that was put in place has been abandoned in the past decade. Putin has closed down cold war protocols and even accused Russian nuclear scientists who want to meet their US counterparts of being spies.”

“This means the two adversaries, which account for 90 percent of the world’s warheads, are far more ignorant of each other’s signaling than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. Ignorance, in this situation, is not bliss.”

“The White House is considering forgiving at least $10,000 in student loans per borrower through executive action, with momentum increasing as President Joe Biden seeks ways to bolster voter enthusiasm ahead of the November midterms,” Bloomberg reports. “The administration has not yet settled on the proposal’s contours, but aims for the relief to be targeted to lower- and middle-income individuals.”

President Biden said he’s considering taking action to forgive some student loan debt and plans to make a decision in the coming weeks, NBC News reports. Said Biden: “I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction… but I’m in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there are there will be additional debt forgiveness.”

President Biden is reportedly looking at different options to forgive most, if not all, of the federal student loan debt burden facing young Americans. The move could affect more than 43 million borrowers who hold more than $1.6 trillion in federal student loans.

While it would seem to be a politically popular move — especially among an important segment of the Democratic coalition — it has the potential to backfire badly.

First, the action would lead to inevitable bitterness because it wouldn’t cover all students and wouldn’t apply to those who have already paid their loans without government assistance. And it will do nothing to help those Americans who chose a less expensive college, went to a trade school or simply entered the work force after high school.

Second, the politics aren’t that clear cut. If Democrats are trying to appeal to working class voters without college degrees, it’s probably not a great move to subsidize the educations of people who likely earn more than they do.

If you’re trying to help young people, it would be much fairer to offer a one-time lump sum payment to all people under a certain age, not linked to whether they went to college or not. Obviously that’s not as easy as Biden taking an executive action. It’s probably not even possible given the thin majorities Democrats have in Congress. But expediency often leads to unexpected outcomes and this move could hurt Democrats politically for decades.

“Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Fox’s Sean Hannity exchanged more than 80 text messages between Election Day 2020 and Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration, communications that show Hannity’s evolution from staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump’s election lies to being ‘fed up’ with the ‘lunatics’ hurting Trump’s cause in the days before January 6,” CNN reports.

“Throughout the logs, Hannity both gives advice and asks for direction, blurring the lines between his Fox show, his radio show and the Trump White House.”

“Mitch McConnell thought the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol would finally vanquish Donald Trump, initially predicting that at least 17 Republican senators would vote to convict him in his impeachment trial, barring the former president from running again,” McClatchy reports.

But he was wrong and didn’t even vote to convict Trump himself.

Said McConnell, as quoted in This Will Not Pass: “I didn’t get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference.” Leaders sometimes don’t follow. They lead. McConnell could have whipped the vote and pressured his caucus. He could have applied financial donor pressure.

Punchbowl News: “McCarthy and Scalise got through the week banged up yet still on track to be speaker and majority leader if Republicans take the House in November.”

“At this moment, though, the GOP leadership is on edge. We’ve gotten numerous queries about what else may come from the JMart-Burns book. There’s serious angst in the leadership about who taped these private phone calls. There’s also lots of finger pointing over who’s to blame for this period of upheaval.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) had a one-on-one meeting with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Wednesday to talk about Scalise calling Gaetz’s actions “potentially illegal” during the now-leaked Jan. 10 House GOP leadership call.

Sounds like Scalise only half-apologized, telling Politico that he told the Florida Republican, “I’m sorry if this caused you problems.”

Gaetz kept his lips sealed after the meeting, telling Politico he wanted to “reflect on it further.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the GOP whip, is still backing McCarthy and so is House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who has challenged McCarthy in the past, is now a close ally. McCarthy got a standing ovation from his caucus when he defended his remarks earlier this week.

Even Trump weighed in and backed McCarthy, despite the audio tapes: “I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly. They realized they were wrong and supported me.”

As Punchbowl News pointed out about leadership races: “You can’t beat someone with no one. As of right now, there’s no one but McCarthy.”

By any measure, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has had a terrible couple of weeks. Not only did a new book claim he made disparaging comments about Donald Trump, but there were audio tapes to contradict his own denials.

You normally wouldn’t be wrong in thinking McCarthy’s odds of becoming Speaker might have faded.

But McCarthy doesn’t really have major opposition in his caucus. In fact, the only Republican lawmaker agitating against McCarthy right now is Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is under federal criminal investigation for sex trafficking. So he’s not exactly someone people want to rally around.

House Select Committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told reporters the panel will hold at least eight public hearings on the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capito. They will be spread out over the month of June with some airing in prime time, starting June 9. He also said that the committee will reach out this week to more House and Senate Republicans that panel members want to speak to.

USA Today: Will the hearings affect the 2022 elections?

“A second member of the extremist group Oath Keepers pleaded guilty Friday to seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and will cooperate with federal prosecutors to avoid a possible multiyear prison term,” the Washington Post reports.

CNN: “The guilty plea is another major step in the criminal case against the Oath Keepers, as prosecutors work to show how they believe the group of men plotted to stash weapons across the Potomac River, go to the Capitol and stop Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) pushed back on President Biden’s proposal to expand the tax credit for electric-vehicles, calling the idea “ludicrous” and adding a new obstacle to White House plans for fighting climate change, Bloomberg reports.

Said Manchin: “There is a waiting list for EVs right now, with the fuel prices, but they still want us to throw a $5,000, or $7,000 or $12,000 credit for us to buy electric vehicles.”

He added: “When we can’t produce enough product for the people that want it and we’re still going to pay them to take it — it’s absolutely ludicrous in my mind.”

CNN: “With just weeks to go before a deadline, what exactly Democratic swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia wants in a package is still proving hard to pin down. Manchin restarted talks with the White House weeks ago on the contours of a slimmed down package to combat inflation, raise corporate taxes and fund clean energy investments – but those talks haven’t yet produced a deal.”

“Manchin raised eyebrows on Monday by convening a bipartisan group of senators to try to find areas of agreement on energy security and climate change.”

“Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the largest U.S. oil companies, on Friday reported a second consecutive quarter of robust earnings as oil and natural gas prices continued to rise after the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the New York Times reports.

“Top congressional Democrats are exploring new proposals to suspend the gas tax and penalize giant energy corporations, hoping to lower prices as part of a broader effort to blunt the financial and political fallout from soaring inflation,” the Washington Post reports.

“Some in the party even are pushing to adopt the bills before Memorial Day weekend, a travel-heavy holiday that marks the beginning of summer. But they face an uphill battle, particularly in the Senate, where Republicans have exhibited little appetite for teaming up with Democrats and taking aim at the energy industry.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw cold water on the idea of a national gas tax holiday, which some vulnerable House Democrats have embraced, Politico reports.

Said Pelosi: “There has been some interest in the holiday. The pros of it are that it’s good PR — you’re asking about it. The cons are that there’s no guarantee that the reduction in the federal tax would be passed on to the consumer. We have no evidence to think that the oil companies would pass that on to the consumer.”

Roger Stone claimed to have photographic proof that a “satanic portal” has opened over the White House. Said Stone: “We who believe, we can close the portal, but we can only close it through prayer. Massive prayer, millions of Christians praying to close the portal.”

He added: “It’s like a swirling cauldron… It’s very, very clear. It doesn’t move, day or night. It’s harder to see during the day, but you see it at night. And I’m absolutely convinced about the inherent evil of what’s going on in the White House, what’s going on in the country.”

Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk, who was temporarily suspended by Twitter in March for violating its hateful conduct rules, triumphantly announced on Thursday that he was “back” on Twitter “Due to New Management” several days after Tesla CEO/”free speech” messiah Elon Musk made a $44 billion deal to buy the social media giant.

Yeah, there’s no “new management” at Twitter. Musk’s deal with Twitter won’t close for at least another three months, so he doesn’t have the power to unsuspend anyone at the moment.

Kirk was able to come “back” because he complied with Twitter’s requirement that he delete the tweet that got him suspended. The tweet had misgendered and deadnamed U.S. assistant secretary for health Rachel Levine, who is a transgender woman.

Fox News host and testicle-tanning enthusiast Tucker Carlson put on the same show on Monday.

By the way, you’ll be shocked to discover that Musk, who’s worth about $246 billionreally isn’t the free speech warrior he claims to be when it comes to unions and labor rights.

“President Joe Biden has been letting loose in private conversations in recent weeks, railing about the factors bogging down his approval ratings and the people he thinks aren’t helping – including Democrats eyeing his job despite his clear promise to run for reelection,” CNN reports.

“He’s gearing up for intense midterm campaigning built around hammering Republicans, as he tries to save Democrats in the House and Senate, but also to tee up a reelection campaign that for now is expected to be announced by next spring.”

“Biden is frustrated that journalists aren’t calling out Republicans for, as he sees it, giving up their principles in pursuit of power… He’s eager to unleash on the GOP ahead of the midterm elections but worries that doing so could endanger his last remaining hopes for bipartisan legislative wins.”

David Brooks: “The Democrats’ largest problem is this: We are living in an age of fear, insecurity and disorder on an array of fronts. The Republicans have traditionally been known as the party of toughness and order. Democrats are going to have to find a posture that is tough on disorder, and tough on the causes of disorder.”

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), in the crosshairs of the rest of the GOP for alleging that lawmakers privately used coke and had orgies, tweeted on Thursday night that “many of my colleagues would be nowhere near politics if they had grown up with a cell phone in their hands.”

Cawthorn didn’t offer any specifics on that point, but the subtweet came after a video apparently filmed on a phone went viral: The video seemed to show a man putting his hand on Cawthorn’s crotch and the two of them seemingly flirting jokingly.

The video just happened to resurface amid the Republicans’ ongoing oppo campaign against Cawthorn; The homophobic idea of leaking the video to embarrass the lawmaker on the basis of queerness echoed in the similarly salacious photos of Cawthorn wearing lingerie that got leaked to Politico last week.

“President Joe Biden’s upbeat message that the economy is cruising along hit a troublesome speed bump on Thursday when the federal government reported that U.S. gross domestic product shrank during the first three months of 2022,” the AP reports.

“Economic activity declined at annual rate of 1.4%, a sharp reversal from last year when growth was the strongest since 1984. There were technical reasons for the decline that likely obscured the actual health of the economy, yet the drop clearly put the president on the defensive after he has said repeatedly that the booming job market means the U.S. can withstand inflation at a 40-year high.”

“Biden administration officials are debating how — and even whether — to lower some of former President Trump’s tariffs against China to help ease inflation,“ Axios reports.

“The administration has limited options to lower prices for American consumers but knows it will be punished in this fall’s midterms if higher prices persist throughout the year.”

During the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) pointed out that a certain internal memo showed that the Republicans on the committee may not be acting in 100 percent good faith with their questions.

The memo is a 60-page document prepped by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) that outlines specific talking points Republican committee members ought to deploy during the hearing to paint migrants as dangerous and make the Biden administration look soft on immigration.

The memo was marked “CONFIDENTIAL — FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY,” and it was leaked to the New York Times, which reported on the document last week.

Politico: “The written plan to handle a summertime migration surge at the border isn’t satisfying purple-state Democrats who were pointedly asking for one.”

“Instead, even after reviewing a Department of Homeland Security memo laying out how the agency will deal with an influx of migrants at the border, several Democratic lawmakers are still calling for a delay in lifting the pandemic-era border restrictions known as Title 42. And some of them want a vote in Congress to push back against President Joe Biden’s polarizing reversal of his predecessor’s policy.”

“When some two dozen New Yorkers filed into a Manhattan courthouse this week to finish out their grand jury service, the case against a man who would have been the world’s most prominent criminal defendant was no longer before them,” the New York Times reports.

“That man, Donald Trump, was facing potential criminal charges from the grand jury this year over his business practices. But in the weeks since the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, stopped presenting evidence to the jurors about Mr. Trump, new signs have emerged that the former president will not be indicted in Manhattan in the foreseeable future — if at all.”

“The Justice Department is suing Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair, for almost $3 million in penalties related to his alleged failure to file reports disclosing more than 20 bank accounts he controlled in foreign countries, including Cyprus, the United Kingdom and St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Politico reports.

“One of the nation’s leading bond rating agencies warned Thursday that if the state of Florida doesn’t resolve a conflict over its decision to repeal Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District and its obligation to investors, the move could harm the financial standing of other Florida governments,” the Miami Herald reports.

“Fitch Ratings posted the alert late Thursday on its Fitch Wire web site, nearly a week after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the measure dissolving the special taxing district that governs Disney property by June 1, 2023.”

“South Africa may be entering a fifth COVID wave earlier than expected after a sustained rise in infections over the past 14 days that seems to be driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants,” Reuters reports.

Bloomberg: “New omicron sublineages, discovered by South African scientists this month, are likely able to evade vaccines and natural immunity from prior infections.”

“In early 2019, several months after President Donald Trump threatened to upend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during a trip to Brussels for the alliance’s annual summit, House lawmakers passed the NATO Support Act amid overwhelming bipartisan support, with only 22 Republicans voting against the measure,” the Washington Post reports.

“But this month, when a similar bill in support of NATO during the Russian invasion of Ukraine again faced a vote in the House, the support was far more polarized, with 63 Republicans — more than 30 percent of the party’s conference — voting against it.”

“The vote underscores the Republican Party’s remarkable drift away from NATO in recent years, as positions once considered part of a libertarian fringe have become doctrine for a growing portion of the party.”

Democratic lawmakers released a report alleging that top Trump administration officials had awarded a $700 million pandemic relief loan to a struggling trucking company in 2020 over the objections of career officials at the Defense Department, the New York Times reports.

The loan was given out after Defense Secretary Mark Esper certified that the company’s work was essential to national security, something that Defense officials had contested.

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

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