Cup of Joe – February 22, 2023

“President Biden vowed on Tuesday that the United States would be steadfast in its support of Ukraine, describing the American commitment to NATO and Ukraine as a battle for freedom against autocracy in a speech delivered hours after a brief but dramatic visit to wartime Kyiv,” the New York Times reports.

Speaking in Warsaw, Mr. Biden hailed Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion over the last year, which he called a test of the United States, Europe and democracies everywhere.”

Said Biden: “Our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire. President Putin’s craven lust for land and power will fail.”

“Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Western countries Tuesday of igniting and sustaining the war in Ukraine, dismissing any blame for Moscow almost a year after the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor that has killed tens of thousands of people,” the AP reports.

“In his long-delayed state-of-the-nation address, Putin cast Russia — and Ukraine — as victims of Western double-dealing and said Russia, not Ukraine, was the one fighting for its very existence.”

CNN: Biden set for latest symbolic clash with Putin after surprise Ukraine trip.

“A leaked internal strategy document from Vladimir Putin’s executive office and obtained by Yahoo News lays out a detailed plan on how Russia plans to take full control over neighboring Belarus in the next decade under the pretext of a merger between the two countries.”

“The document outlines in granular detail a creeping annexation by political, economic and military means of an independent but illiberal European nation by Russia, which is an active state of war in its bid to conquer Ukraine through overwhelming force.”

“Russian officials and state media downplayed President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday, painting Kyiv as a U.S. puppet and maintaining Moscow’s forces will prevail despite Washington’s pledges to send more weapons to Ukraine,” the AP reports.

“The visit also came on the eve of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s scheduled state-of-the-nation address, which some in Russia expect to set the tone for the year ahead — including for Putin’s bogged-down campaign in Ukraine.”

Financial Times: “Russia’s battlefield losses are so huge that western officials doubt it has the capacity to mount an offensive on the same scale again. Sanctions, meanwhile, have hurt Russia’s economy and have cut it off from supply chains crucial to sustaining Putin’s war machine.”

“But despite the dire state of Russia’s forces and the years-long quagmire its economy faces, Putin has shown no indication he intends to scale back his goals or seek a way out of the war, insisting Russia’s victory is ‘inevitable’ and its ‘goals will be met in full.’”

Vladimir Putin said Russia is suspending its participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, CNN reports.  “Moscow is not withdrawing from the agreement, but is suspending its participation, Putin said in his state of the nation address.”

“Under the key nuclear arms control treaty, both the United States and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites, but inspections have been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Eliot Cohen: “The Russians received word of the trip, we are informed—and presumably the threat, stated or implied, that they would get a violent and overwhelming response if they attempted to interfere with it.”

“President Joe Biden’s surprise trip to Ukraine on Monday drew a variety of attacks from congressional Republicans who criticized his support for the war-torn country and accused him of neglecting issues back at home,” NBC News reports.

“Jimmy Carter was ensconced Monday at his home as family and friends journeyed to pay what could be their last respects. Down the road, the town he grew up in marked a somber Presidents Day reflecting on their native son’s legacy,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

“Tourists visited the rustic boyhood farm where the former president grew up, wandering through his boyhood bedroom and a general store as chickens clucked and mules brayed from nearby pens.”

“The shops of Plains flung their doors open for visitors who wished to celebrate the former president in his final days, even as longtime residents wondered what will become of a town whose best-known export is a former president.”

Washington Post: Jimmy Carter, the president who tried to save the planet.

Right-wing activist James O’Keefe resigned Monday morning from his position leading Project Veritas, the conservative group he founded, without striking a severance deal with his board, the Daily Beast reports.

A letter sent by 16 Project Veritas employee’s to the nonprofit’s board said founder James O’Keefe was a “power drunk tyrant” and a “diva,” who abused, bullied, demeaned, and over-worked his employees, and who caused concerns among donors, National Review reports.

One employee even accused O’Keefe of once taking a pregnant woman’s sandwich in court.

Said another: “We have all been on the receiving end of unnecessary, seemingly intentionally humiliating, and outright cruel behavior. James knows he’s in over his head, he’s scared, he’s overworked, manic on stress and drunk on the success of the last few weeks.”

Politico: “At both global conclaves, the powerful who gathered behind closed doors had no illusions about the important association that makes this Democratic lawmaker highly sought out and listened to. He’s one of President Joe Biden’s most influential global emissaries, someone who’s mentioned in the same breath as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan or Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Though he may not hold executive power, he’s the closest thing to a direct presidential representative one can find from the ranks of Capitol Hill.”

“Chris Coons has been Biden’s ‘other guy’ abroad throughout this presidency. To watch the jovial Delawarean operate outside the U.S. is to see him embrace the role of proxy.”

Rep. George Santos (R-NY) admitted in an interview with Piers Morgan that he’d been “a terrible liar.”

However, he then shifted blame to Republicans, claiming his fabrications weren’t about “tricking the people,” but were aimed toward getting “accepted by the party here locally.”

Wall Street Journal: “There is no clear escape hatch to avoid default if Congress doesn’t pass legislation raising the debt ceiling. Potential alternatives to addressing the borrowing limit—from simply ignoring it, to minting a trillion-dollar coin, to prioritizing certain payments—all face hurdles, underlining doubts about any fallback plan if Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a deal by this summer.”

While the country celebrated Presidents Day, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) suggested breaking up the country.

Here’s her statement on Twitter: “We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrat’s [sic] traitorous America Last policies, we are done.”

She followed up with a demand: “Impeach Biden or give us a national divorce.”

On one level, none of this is shocking. It’s impossible to be shocked by someone who has appeared at white nationalist events and called for political violence.

But Greene is no longer on the fringes of the Republican party. Democrats removed her committee assignments when they were in power. But Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) rewarded Greene’s loyalty in his leadership race with new committee assignments, including a coveted seat on the Homeland Security Committee.

That means a member of the Homeland Security Committee is now openly endorsing the dissolution of the United States. Don’t look to McCarthy to condemn Greene’s comments. As he reportedly told a friend: “I will never leave that woman. I will always take care of her.”

The extremism expressed by Greene and other Republican lawmakers — which at one time would have guaranteed a censure by the House — is now seemingly shrugged off as background noise. But make no mistake, as Charlie Sykes predicted two years ago: Secession is on the Republican agenda.

“Let’s review some of the governing principles of America. Our country is governed by the Constitution. You swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Secession is unconstitutional. No member of Congress should advocate secession, Marjorie.”— Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), responding to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) call for a “national divorce.”

“The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up former Maryland gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox’s (R) challenge to the timing of officials’ tabulation of mail-in ballots in his election,” The Hill reports.

The AP tracked down Emily Kohrs, the foreperson for the special grand jury looking into Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

“During a lengthy recent interview, Kohrs complied with the judge’s instructions not to discuss details related to the jury’s deliberations. She also declined to talk about unpublished portions of the panel’s final report. But her general characterizations provided unusual insight into a process that is typically cloaked in secrecy.”

“Kohrs was fascinated by an explainer on Georgia’s voting machines offered by a former Dominion Voting Systems executive. She also enjoyed learning about the inner workings of the White House from Cassidy Hutchinson, who Kohrs said was much more forthcoming than her old boss, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.”

Former Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who broke with his party two years ago after the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, has a book deal, the AP reports, the AP reports.

Renegade: My Life in Faith, the Military, and Defending America from Trump’s Attack on Democracy is scheduled for release on Oct. 17.

Said Kinzinger: “Ever since my final falling-out with the GOP, on the day of the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol by Donald Trump’s followers, I have wanted to tell the inside story of how my party and also my faith have been hijacked by extremists who represent a real danger to our democracy.”

Financial Times: “Tens of thousands of American parents are mourning the deaths of their children amid an unprecedented drugs crisis, which has claimed 107,000 lives in the year to August 2022. About two-thirds of those deaths were caused by fentanyl — a drug prescribed to treat severe cancer pain — which is increasingly being cut into illegal street drugs via a well-honed supply chain built by Chinese and Mexican crime syndicates.”

“The consequences are sobering. Illicit fentanyl has displaced legally prescribed painkillers as the main cause of overdoses in the US. The skyrocketing death rate — equivalent to one American overdosing every five minutes — and the $1.5 trillion annual cost to the economy is forcing a national debate about how to solve a public health emergency that, alongside Covid-19, has helped drive US life expectancy down to a 25-year low of 76.4 years.”

Kentucky has seen its first infant anonymously dropped off at one of its “baby box” safe surrender locations, the AP reports.

The Associated Press reports 6,542 guns were intercepted last year at airport checkpoints across the country.  The number — roughly 18 per day — was an all-time high for guns intercepted at U.S. airports, and is sparking concern at a time when more Americans are armed.

Donald Trump is widely disliked abroad, both in comparison to President Joe Biden and the Republican Party, illustrating a potential foreign relations pitfall should he win back the White House in 2024, according to Morning Consult survey data from 17 countries.

Politico: “Tech companies are bracing for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear one of the most consequential cases facing the trillion-dollar industry to date — a ruling that could potentially make them liable for the recommendation of harmful content on their platforms.”

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) — who just two months ago vowed to not claim a blanket public records exemption as governor — is now refusing to release her call logs and e-mails, the Boston Globe reports.

Wall Street Journal: “The U.S., which recently topped 1.1 million Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic began, continues to record several hundred more each day, death-certificate data show. The people who are dying remain old, often with underlying health issues such as heart and lung ailments, the data indicate.”

“Two top Spanish transport officials have resigned over a botched order for new commuter trains that cost nearly $275 million,” the BBC reports. “The trains could not fit into non-standard tunnels in the northern regions of Asturias and Cantabria.”

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