Cup of Joe – March 3, 2023

“Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov chatted briefly on the sidelines of a Group of 20 meeting in India on Thursday, the first meeting between the top diplomats since Russia invaded Ukraine,” NBC News reports.

“Their encounter involved less than 10 minutes of discussion.”

Politico: “The U.S. official said Blinken used the brief conversation on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in New Delhi to make three points to Lavrov: that the U.S. would continue to support Ukraine in its defense against Russia for as long as it takes to end the war; that Russia should rejoin the New START nuclear treaty; and that Russia should release imprisoned American Paul Whelan.”

“The official added that Blinken ‘disabused’ Lavrov of any idea that the United States’ support of Ukraine would waver, and that the secretary of State didn’t get the impression from the Russian foreign minister that Moscow’s behavior would change in any way.”

Billionaire Oleg Deripaska said Russia could find its coffers empty already next year and needs investment from “friendly” countries to break the hold of sanctions on the economy, Bloomberg reports.

Said Deripaska: “There will be no money already next year. We will need foreign investors.”

New York Times: “Polls show public support for arming the Ukrainians softening while the two leading Republican presidential candidates are increasingly speaking out against involvement in the war.”

“While the bipartisan coalition in Congress favoring Ukraine has been strong in the year since Russia’s invasion, supporters of more aid fear the centrifugal forces of the emerging presidential contest and growing taxpayer fatigue with shipping tens of billions of dollars overseas may undercut the war effort before Moscow can be defeated. And some of them are frustrated that Mr. Biden has not done more to shore up support.”

“The US has launched a renewed crackdown on countries and individuals helping the Kremlin evade western sanctions amid growing fears Russia is fueling the war in Ukraine by funneling imports through countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Turkey,” the Financial Times reports.

Republicans have gone to their reliable playbook: turn something into a “partisan” issue in order to undermine consensus, put an issue or constellation of issues off-limits, and exploit the fearfulness of controversy-averse institutions and corporations. The latest target is ESG.

The Senate passed a resolution Wednesday to rollback a Labor Department rule that makes it okay for investment managers to consider ESG (if that rule sounds pretty tepid, it is). Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (MT) and Joe Manchin (WV) crossed the aisle to help pass the anti-ESG resolution.

Biden has threatened a veto and is expected to follow through on the threat.

We talk about this stuff a lot as part of the “culture wars,” but that bestows a legitimizing gloss on it, as if there is some deeper, truer cultural dispute. There’s not. This a GOP tactic, and a highly effective one in part because media coverage still fails to get it. It gets treated like these things just happen, as if Democrats or Fortune 500 companies stumble into previously unseen cultural war ambushes because they lack a feel for flyover country.

Let me offer one example from a NYT story this week. Note the passive voice here:

The deck on the story reads: “The business world has been pulled into partisan politics, with Republicans bringing their battle against socially conscious investing to Congress.”

The story quotes a consultant, again with the passive voice: ““E.S.G. has been caught in the culture war cross hairs in the U.S.,” said Alexandra Mihailescu Cichon, executive vice president at RepRisk, a company that helps corporations track their E.S.G. goals. “It’s become a liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican issue.”

This doesn’t just happen. Republicans and right-wing activists make it happen. They devote a lot of time, energy and resources to it. While I’m picking on media coverage, credit to the WSJ this week for reporting that Federalist Society notable Leonard Leo is behind an effort spending millions of dollars to target ESG. So real money, real resources. It’s not passive.

By almost any measure, Republicans have already won once they’ve “made it a partisan issue.” What seems to get misunderstood is that that’s the actual goal. Corporations and institutions don’t want to pick sides. They want to play it down the middle. So Republicans keep shifting the “middle” farther and farther right. By this point in these controversies, the game is basically over already.

What’s maddening is that everyone keeps getting played.

“House GOP appropriators are gearing up to potentially bar local projects entirely from the largest domestic spending bill for fiscal 2024, along with others deemed “woke” by critics of earmarks funded in the December omnibus package,” Roll Call reports.

“Top Biden administration officials urged Congress to renew an expiring surveillance law they say is vital to addressing a range of national security threats, launching what is expected to be a difficult campaign to persuade lawmakers to not curtail spying powers,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Associated Press: “The party’s future may well depend on broadening its appeal beyond an aging, predominantly white base of support. And while some conservative Latinos support hard-line immigration policies, there’s a risk that the GOP could repel other persuadable Latinos by moving too far to the right on the issue.”

“Will Republicans honor their campaign commitments to secure the border – yes or no? What I am seeing right now from my Republican colleagues does not give me faith that they will stand up in the breach as did those men who stood on the wall at the Alamo. I am tired of words!”— Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), in a fiery speech on the House floor.

Rep. Paul Sherrell (R) wants to bring “hanging by a tree” as a new death penalty option in Tennessee, the Daily Beast reports.

“Tennessee Republican lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation that would prevent transgender people from changing their driver’s licenses and birth certificates, a move that officials warn could cost the state millions in federal funding,” the AP reports.

“If enacted, the proposal would define male and female in state law and base people’s legal gender identities on their anatomy at birth. A handful of Republican-led states have introduced similar bills — including Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma — as GOP lawmakers have put transgender issues at the forefront of their legislative agenda.”

“A Texas lawmaker who authored a bill that would restrict drag performances appears to have dressed in drag himself while a student,” NBC News reports.

“A video that surfaced on Twitter and TikTok this week appears to show Texas state Rep. Nate Schatzline, a Republican, skipping, running and dancing in a park while donning a black sequined dress and a red eye mask.”

Dylan Byers: “In the testimony made public this week, Murdoch was asked what the consequences should be when Fox News executives knowingly allow lies to be broadcast. ‘They should be reprimanded,’ Murdoch replied. ‘Maybe got rid of.’”

“As of now, there is no indication that anyone is on the chopping block at Fox News. But it’s not hard to see who might be in line for a sacrifice in the event that things get worse: Scott, the chief executive, would of course be the most obvious candidate to play the Rebekah Brooks role this time around. And on the talent side, there are the three hosts in addition to Dobbs who Murdoch identified as endorsers of the voter fraud lie: Hannity, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro.”

CNN: “The Fox Corporation chairman is facing an ever-deepening scandal that threatens to cause considerable financial and reputational damage to the crown jewel of his media empire, Fox News, as well as the parent company he leads. The scandal, exposed by Dominion Voting Systems’ blockbuster $1.6 billion lawsuit, has unearthed damning information, revealing the right-wing talk channel, driven by financial interests, was willing to lie to its viewers.”

“The stunning levels of misconduct exposed in recent weeks raise questions about the future of Suzanne Scott, the embattled chief executive of Fox News. Will she be Murdoch’s sacrificial lamb? No moves are currently on the immediate horizon, CNN is told. But it’s certainly possible — perhaps even likely — that Murdoch might cancel her in an attempt to save himself and his legacy.”

The House Ethics Committee has established an investigative subcommittee to look into issues surrounding Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has admitted to numerous fabrications about his background and faced scrutiny over his campaign and personal finances, The Hill reports.

The subcommittee will determine whether Santos may have “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office.”

The House Office of Congressional Ethics found “substantial reason to believe” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) “may have accepted impermissible gifts associated with her attendance at the Met Gala in 2021,” Forbes reports.

“A bipartisan group of senators is treading carefully into the politically difficult discussion of making changes to Social Security to extend its solvency,” The Hill reports.

“Senators from both parties who have been involved in the talks are tight-lipped when it comes to revealing details, though reports have begun to surface of discussions of potential changes to the age threshold for retirement and raising the taxable wage cap.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who once expressed support for privatizing Social Security, said that “we’re not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans,” CNN reports.

“His remarks came in response to a question about a proposal to raise the retirement age to collect Social Security to 70. As a congressman, DeSantis voted for nonbinding budget resolutions that would have done just that.”

“Joe Biden spent the last two years pursuing and enacting massive domestic programs meant to remake the U.S. economy. But as he prepares a run for reelection, Biden is trying out a new economic persona: deficit hawk,” Politico reports.

“The president has made a fresh effort to sell his administration as a model of fiscal restraint in recent weeks, casting falling deficits as an increasingly central focus of his agenda. Biden now routinely touts a $1.7 trillion drop in the deficit on his watch as a top accomplishment. When the president releases his new proposed budget next week, he is expected to call for another $2 trillion in cuts over a decade.”

“President Joe Biden hasn’t announced whether he’s running for a second term yet, but his address to a gathering of House Democrats here Wednesday sounded a lot like a 2024 stump speech,” NBC News reports.

“Biden dared House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California to reveal Republicans’ budget full of spending cuts, mocked GOP Sen. Rick Scott’s reversal on targeting Social Security and Medicare and knocked ‘MAGA Republicans’ like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. an acolyte of former President Donald Trump who recently called for a ‘national divorce’ between red states and blue states.”

Said Biden: “A little bit more of Marjorie Taylor Greene and a few more and you’re going to have a lot of Republicans running our way. Isn’t she amazing?”

President Biden “took a victory lap with House Democrats at their yearly retreat with one clear message: Let’s tout our legislative wins,” Politico reports.

Said Biden: “It’s been one of the most successful, united caucuses we have ever seen. And you all stick together. Thank god, look what’s already happened.”

The AP notes Biden’s speech came “as energized Republicans are forcing the initial veto of his presidency — on a measure to limit the way private financial advisers promote ‘woke’ investment options.”

Washington Post: “Buttigieg has faced GOP criticism before, notably during supply chain disruptions early in Biden’s presidency and the failure of a federal aviation safety system in January. But people close to the transportation secretary say the attacks on him since the derailment have risen to a new level, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in charge of the response to the derailment, has taken far less heat.”

“White House aides are weighing if or how they can provide economic relief for East Palestine, Ohio, after the town was affected by a train derailment last month involving hazardous materials, although it remains unclear what form it could take,“ the Washington Post reports.

“The planning comes amid intense scrutiny of the Biden administration’s response to the disaster, which has raised the prospect of potential health risks and long-term harm to the drinking water and air in the area.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) have sent a letter to Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch asking him to stop Fox News personalities from “spreading false election narratives,” warning they could lead to “further acts of political violence,” The Hill reports.

“The mysterious ailment known as ‘Havana syndrome’ did not result from the actions of a foreign adversary, according to an intelligence report that shatters a long-disputed theory that hundreds of U.S. personnel were targeted and sickened by a clandestine enemy wielding energy waves as a weapon,” the Washington Post reports.

“The new intelligence assessment caps a years-long effort by the CIA and several other U.S. intelligence agencies to explain why career diplomats, intelligence officers and others serving in U.S. missions around the world experienced what they described as strange and painful acoustic sensations. The effects of this mysterious trauma shortened careers, racked up large medical bills and in some cases caused severe physical and emotional suffering.”

“Many of the afflicted personnel say they were the victims of a deliberate attack — possibly at the hands of Russia or another adversarial government — a claim that the report contradicts in nearly every respect.”

A Republican in Florida’s state Legislature has filed a bill that, if enacted, would eliminate the Florida Democratic Party, NBC News reports.  The legislation would require the state’s Division of Elections to “immediately cancel” the filings of any political party whose platform had “previously advocated for, or been in support of, slavery or involuntary servitude.”

Rep. James Comer (R-KY) criticized a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for not prosecuting President Biden’s late son when he was still alive, a notion the White House slammed as “despicable,” the Washington Post reports.

“Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, suggested Monday on a right-wing podcast that U.S. Attorney David Weiss had sat on his hands when it came to campaign finance investigations of the Bidens.”

“Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged Wednesday that the U.S. Attorney pursuing a criminal probe of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden has broad independence to pursue appropriate charges, including bringing a case outside of the prosecutor’s base in Delaware if that’s necessary,” Politico reports.

“The government’s top Supreme Court lawyer may have saved President Joe Biden’s $400 billion student loan forgiveness plan from what experts considered all but certain defeat,” CNBC reports.

“Experts lobbed praise on Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the lawyer who represented the Biden administration in front of the nine justices Tuesday.”

President Joe Biden told Senate Democrats on Thursday that he would sign a bill overriding the District of Columbia’s effort to overhaul how the city prosecutes and punishes crime, the AP reports.

Politico: “Biden’s disinterest in a veto threat leaves Republicans on track to roll back the new D.C. law with the support of at least one Senate Democrat when the chamber takes up the House-passed measure as soon as next week. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has already said he will support the disapproval measure, and Senate Democrats can’t afford any more defections.”

“Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) remains hospitalized nearly two weeks after he checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to receive treatment for clinical depression,” the Washington Post reports.

Said a spokesman: “We don’t have a lot to update folks with since there’s no real news to report except that John is doing well, working with the wonderful doctors, and remains on a path to recovery. He is visiting with staff and family daily, and his staff are keeping him updated on Senate business and news.”

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made clear on Wednesday that he does not intend to delay crucial elections in Turkey because of last month’s devastating earthquake, saying they would go ahead as previously announced on May 14,” the New York Times reports.

“It was the first time the Turkish leader has publicly mentioned a polling date since the catastrophic quake on Feb. 6, which raised questions over whether he would seek to delay the presidential and parliamentary vote.”

Eric Schmidt: “The ability to innovate faster and better—the foundation on which military, economic, and cultural power now rest—will determine the outcome of the great-power competition between the United States and China.”

“For now, the United States remains in the lead. But China is catching up in many areas and has already surged ahead in others. To emerge victorious from this century-defining contest, business as usual will not do. Instead, the U.S. government will have to overcome its stultified bureaucratic impulses, create favorable conditions for innovation, and invest in the tools and talent needed to kick-start the virtuous cycle of technological advancement.”

“The number of births registered in Japan plummeted to another record low last year – the latest worrying statistic in a decades-long decline that the country’s authorities have failed to reverse despite their extensive efforts,” CNN reports.

“Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman used a recent conservative conference in Tel Aviv to express concern and push back against the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plan,” Axios reports.

“Friedman was one of former President Trump’s close confidants and remains close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His support is incredibly important to the Israeli right.”

Nicholas Eberstadt: “China is in the midst of a quiet but stunning nationwide collapse of birthrates. This is the deeper, still largely overlooked, significance of the country’s 2022 population decline, announced by Chinese authorities last month.”

“As recently as 2019, demographers at the U.S. Census Bureau and the United Nations were not expecting China’s population to start dropping until the early 2030s. But they did not anticipate today’s wholesale plunge in childbearing…”

“China’s nosedive in childbearing is a silent alarm. It signals deep disaffection with the bleak future the regime is engineering for its subjects. In this land without democracy, the birth collapse can be read as a landslide vote of no confidence in President Xi Jinping’s rule.”

South Africa is on the verge of “collapse” amid rolling blackouts and warnings a total power grid failure could lead to mass rioting on the scale of a “civil war,” News Corp. Australia reports.

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

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