Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, March 19 through Friday, March 25, 2022 [Vol.3 No.36]
Ukraine and NATO
The Week’s Most Notable
Last week was the fourth of Putin’s war in Ukraine. Putin obviously did not get his desired quick victory, in fact, by most accounts this is already one of the more disastrous campaigns in Russian military history. But Putin is still in charge, the Russian military still has an effective force, especially for artillery and aerial bombardment, and Russians in general are good at hunkering down.
Change in Russian military strategy: The Russian generals announced it themselves, a change in strategy. The focus is no longer in taking Kyiv, and is shifting to consolidating control over Eastern Ukraine, particularly the Donbas region. No longer is Russia trumpeting a takeover of the entire country, at least not in the short term. Two observations: This might be a concession to reality; Russia does not have the resources to take and hold all of Ukraine. Secondly, this might be Russia fiddling with the doorknob on the door to serious negotiations with areas in the eastern Ukraine being part of the bargaining (the roots of an exit strategy). A week or two should show whether this change in policy is real or just a feint. Two other observations indicate a more drawn-out war: The Russians are bringing in soldiers from Georgia and other areas, while at the same time reportedly transferring Ukrainians, particularly from the Mariupol region, to Russian territory. These are long-term moves. It would be the Russian military’s preference to carry out a war of attrition, although the deteriorating economic situation in Russia may limit the amount of time and resources available for this kind of campaign. Somewhere in the coming months, the war may reach what the military calls the “culmination point” where progress is no longer possible. The battle for the city of Mariupol is likely to be pivotal. The Russians need the city to control the coastal access between Crimea and Odessa. If they can’t get it, the situation there becomes a stalemate forcing some big decisions: Seriously negotiate a cease-fire or peace agreement; or double down with conventional weapons; or roll-out the weapons of mass destruction – bio, chemical, nuclear.
The Russian economy is in sharp decline, estimated by as much as 15%, as sanctions and defections by hundreds of international companies are taking a toll. On the other hand, the government is moving the economy to a war footing. Rationing, price controls, and other measures will be rolled out to control availability and inflation. Over the next months Russian propaganda will probably be successful in selling the idea of patriotic sacrifice and not giving in to evil pressures. After all, the Russian public has experience with financial/economic crises, most recently in 1998 and again in 2014. They have been known to achieve a high level of stoicism.
NATO gets it together. The members of NATO, the G7, most of the G20, and nearly a dozen independent countries attended an unprecedented, rapidly assembled meeting in Brussels to consolidate the approach of NATO (and the world, really) to Putin’s war in Ukraine. Uncharacteristically, this was not just a talking club: the U.S. and EU announced a massive LNG trade agreement, NATO announced a large movement of troops to Eastern Europe and a consensus policy on the response to any use by Russia of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons – a per case, proportional response – meaning that any violation will be countered immediately with an action of similar scale. Most of the attendees agreed to increase the number of sanctions, particularly against individuals, by more than 400.
The current count of refugees in Western Europe sits at about 3.5 million. If Russian military strategy really does take some of the pressure off Kyiv and points west, the flood of refugees may slow. That would be a big help, giving Europe in particular time to put in place plans to accommodate the refugees.
Saturday, March 19
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 81,433,291; Deaths: 999,245
[Ukraine] Ukraine Officials Report Forced Relocations to Russia – According to the mayor of the beleaguered city of Mariupol, between 4,000 and 5,000 inhabitants of the city have been transported into Russia.
[Ukraine] Ukraine War Likely to Escalate World Hunger – Ukraine and the neighboring areas of Russia have long been called the “bread basket of Europe”; 20% and 30% increases in prices for wheat, barley, corn, and other food stocks will have a ripple effect around the world, but particularly in southern Europe and much of Africa, where starvation conditions are likely to develop. Prices for foodstuffs are likely to rise worldwide through a combination of supply chain breakdown, actual shortages, and greed on the part of food manufacturers and distributors.
Monday, March 21
[Ukraine] Mariupol Suffers Another Bombing Massacre but Refuses to Surrender – Russian jets bombed an art school where more than 400 Ukrainians were taking shelter. The fighting in the city is now house-to-house with casualties – on both sides – mounting into the thousands.
[Supreme Court] Hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson Begin – Three days of questioning and testimony, marked by more political posturing than any concern for Judge Jackson, began with her opening statement pledging to be “very serious” and “fulfilling her duty to be independent.” She was well schooled in how to be bland and civil in the face of consistent disrespect and personal attack. Republicans on the Justice Committee spent more time rehashing grievances over previous hearings, especially Kavanaugh’s, and a bogus discussion of Judge Jackson’s sentencing of child pornographers.
Tuesday, March 22
[Russia] Chief Putin Critic Alexei Navalny Sentenced to Nine More Years in Prison – Charged with fraud and contempt of court, no one expected a lesser sentence. Interestingly, he continues to communicate about the Ukrainian war from prison.
[Canada] Trudeau Closes Deal to Keep Him in Power – Despite all the turmoil in the world, where Canada has no exemption from COVID, inflation, or the Ukrainian war – and Trudeau’s personal didoes over the “trucker convoy” – he struck an agreement with the New Democrats that will keep him as prime minister until 2025.
[Charity] McKenzie Scott Donates $436 Million to Habitat for Humanity – Perhaps as a sign of the pandemic times, when Scott made this donation, she held 4% of Amazon shares after her divorce from Jeff Bezos. That amounted to $36 billion in value. Since then, she’s given away more than $8.8 billion. Nevertheless, her portfolio is now worth $50 billion.
Wednesday, March 23
[NATO] Biden Departs for Europe and Unprecedented NATO Meeting – The meeting involves not only NATO members, but G7 and G 20 members and a raft of representatives from independent countries, all considering their stake in the drastic turn of world events following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While no dramatic decisions are expected, the meeting will seal the deal on such important matters as a massive natural gas trade between the EU and the U.S., agreements for further sanctions on the Russians, and probably some more secretive agreements on military actions, particularly the possible use by the Russians of weapons of mass destruction.
[Ukraine] Department of State Formally Accuses Russia of War Crimes – Having collected evidence and testimony over the past month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally accused members of Russia’s military of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Blinken cited atrocities such as attacks on hospitals and schools. None of the accusations are currently actionable, because the U.S. does not even recognize the International Criminal Court where such cases are routinely tried.
[Russia] U.S. Granted Consular Access to WNBA Star Brittney Griner – As a sign of the political fallout from the U.S. opposition to the Ukraine invasion, Griner was arrested about a month ago in Moscow for having vape cartridges in her luggage. She was denied legal and consular services. [Update: Russian court rules Griner cannot be released until May.]
[SCOTUS] Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin Legislative Map – In what is likely to become a long series of political mapping cases before the court, this one originated by Republicans in Wisconsin contested the creation of a new black voting district. The court agreed; however, it declined to reject new Wisconsin congressional district maps, which had also been challenged.
Madeleine Albright [1937 – 2022 (84)] First female U.S. Secretary of State, born in Czechoslovakia, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, PhD – philosophy, Columbia.
Thursday, March 24
[Ukraine] Biden Commits to U.S. Taking 100,000 Ukrainian Refugees – Poland currently has almost 2 million refugees, but still the U.S. number is 70% of its annual intake of refugees. Biden also pledged $1 billion in humanitarian assistance. The potential U.S. refugee program has two uncertainties: How many Ukrainians will want to come to the U.S., and how much resistance will be raised by right-wing political elements in this country.
[Coronavirus] WHO Confirms That Omicron Sub-Variant BA.2 Is Now Dominant Worldwide – This was anticipated, given the extreme infectiousness of this sub-variant. It is now spreading to almost every corner of the globe, generally causing a rise in the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths – but not, thankfully, as bad as it could be.
Friday, March 25
[Ukraine] Russian Generals Say “Liberation of Donbas” Was “Main Goal” of Invasion – In an unexpected presentation by several Russian generals, they did the now-classic “Mission Accomplished” dog and pony show, declaring that their goals in “Phase One” had all been met and now they would turn to consolidating freedom for the breakaway eastern provinces. In reality, they were essentially saying that the original goal of taking Kyiv, and in fact conquering the entirety of Ukraine, had so far failed. If, and it’s a big if, the true focus of troops and attacks shifts to the eastern provinces, then this might enable negotiation of a true cease-fire and peace settlement. Even so, while this might be a tiny crack in the wall of denial, it’s a long way to hammering out the details, especially while the no small matters of Putin’s ego and political stability are at stake.
[Petroleum] EU and U.S. Signal a Tectonic Shift in Petroleum Related Distribution – When all is said and done, months or even years now, the most influential effect of Putin’s Ukraine war could be that it forced a massive shift in the alignment and relationships of the world’s petroleum producers and users. In this case, as announced by Biden and EU President Ursula von der Leyen, a cornerstone of change will be in an agreement for the U.S.to provide substantial quantities of liquid natural gas (LNG) to Europe, helping to make up for gas formerly provided by Russia. The objective overall is to wean Europe away from its dependency on Russian petroleum. New sources are a key part of this and will cause massive ripple effects worldwide among the petroleum producing countries. Fossil fuels are still key to the world’s economy, and even with changes following the move to green energy, will still drive much of the economic and political future.
[Corruption] The Thomases’ Affair Comes to Light – He is a sitting justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, she is his wife, a prominent lawyer, and a political operative for the Republican Party. She has issues – and clients – considered by her husband in cases before the high court. This is a classic conflict of interest of very high importance. So far, Clarence Thomas has refused to recuse himself. Virginia Thomas, thanks to a revelation in 29 emails between Thomas and Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows uncovered by the Washington Post and CBS, lobbied incessantly and vociferously to have the 2020 election rescinded – along with other ultra-radical and QAnon oriented beliefs, which she expressed openly and frequently. Much of this will soon be folded into the investigations by the Jan. 6 select committee.
[Economy] Jobless Claims Dropped to Lowest Level in More Than 50 Years – The Labor Department reported that initial jobless claims fell to 187,000 last week, the lowest since 1969. The labor shortage in the U.S. continues.
[Congress] Rep. Jeff Fortenberry [R-NE] Resigns His Seat – Convicted on Thursday of lying to the FBI about contributions to his campaign from a foreign billionaire, he faces fines and possible prison.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 81,601,426; Deaths: 1,003,204 (Worldometer)
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
The Jackson confirmation hearings: a melodrama in three parts. The hearings, widely ignored by most Americans, provided three days of superb juxtaposition for the vast contradictions in current American politics. There was, of course, the questioning of candidate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. That was part one. Mostly, the Democrats on the Senate Justice Committee were utterly pusillanimous – neither praising nor questioning to any effect. They did very little to challenge or deflect the egregiously misleading narratives voiced by the largest faction of Republicans. Fortunately, Judge Jackson more than handled the situation, with a little timely help from a great speech by Democrat Cori Booker.
The second part consisted of the “traditional” Republicans, more or less represented by Mitch McConnell, who allowed that Judge Jackson was an exemplary candidate, but that he personally wouldn’t vote for her.
Finally, the melodramatic part – delivered from a rickety grandstand – provided by such luminaries as Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Lindsay Graham, who ginned up their own reasons for the hearing, most of which had nothing substantial to do with Judge Jackson or her record, but gave them a soapbox for right-wing talking points, their own personal political agendas (mainly for the ’22 and ’24 elections) or, like Sen. Marsha Blackburn, something off-the-wall, “Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?” Judge Jackson replied in confusion, “I’m not a biologist.” The question momentarily led to a diatribe about education, and like most of the Republicans’ questions had virtually nothing to do with Judge Jackson’s qualifications, judicial background, or actual judicial opinions. Some said the Republicans gave the impression of being sex obsessed (child porn), or puckering their mouths into many forms of racist dog whistles. This part of the show was not representative of America’s finest, but shortly Judge Jackson will be voted the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, the first black woman on the court. (Reportedly she will have the blessing of Joe Manchin.)
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Ginni Thomas text to Mark Meadows: ‘Release the Kraken [a mythological multi-armed sea monster] and save us from the left taking America down.’ [Such] text messages have put Justice Thomas in an uncomfortable ethical position. Once again, partisan politics has splashed onto the high court. He was the lone dissenter in the court’s ruling that Trump had to turn over documents to the House committee. His reasons for the dissent were never publicly explained.
Dan Balz, “Ginni Thomas Texts Reveal Fears, Motivations to Overturn 2020 Election,” The Washington Post, 3/25/2022.
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