Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, April 9 through Friday, April 15, 2022 [Vol.3 No.39]
The Moskva Sinks
The Week’s Most Notable
How unusual that the sinking of a ship might well be the most significant event of the week. Of course, it wasn’t just any ship; it was The Moskva (The Moscow), the flagship of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. For years this ship has cruised outside the ports of Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Ukraine, and Georgia – bristling with rocket tubes that were used to attack cities in Georgia and Syria, and recently Ukraine. The Moskva was also a communications and surveillance hub, coordinating ships and planes along the Black Sea coastline. Then the Ukrainians sank it, using a couple of Ukrainian manufactured Neptune missiles. At the symbolic level, it was one of the most striking events of the war and devastating PR for Russia. But it was more than that.
There is a larger frame here. It’s becoming something of a military and political consensus that there are only two outcomes for the Ukrainian war: Either Ukraine loses the war, along with many of its people and sovereignty, or in some significant fashion Russia is defeated. “Significant” is most often defined as the end of Putin’s government. Two months ago, the second outcome would have been inconceivable, but the Russian military botched its first invasion plan, suffered heavy losses, and had to regroup in Eastern Ukraine. Now the Russians are preparing for a second assault, this time narrowing the focus to the Donbas region and the southern coast. While not a consensus, many analysts feel Ukraine has a legitimate chance for success at stopping the attack (however that’s going to be measured). One of the measures will be how effective the Ukrainians are in frustrating Russian plans. That’s where The Moskva sinking comes in; the ship would’ve played a major role in any amphibious attack in southern Ukraine, namely around Odessa. But even more than that, the sinking was a bold move because it signaled that Ukraine was ready and willing to take the fight to the Russians.
Simultaneously, much of the Russian army was having weather problems with unusually heavy rains in Eastern Ukraine. The Russian schedule is off, maybe by as much as two weeks. That puts their attack and any achievable goals all too close to the self-imposed deadline of May 9. For that day, Putin wants a big celebration, not only to commemorate the end of World War II in Europe, but a victory in Ukraine. If ever there was a set up for another startling attack by the Ukrainians. . . .
Meanwhile, it’s a race: For the Russians, to get troops and equipment into position. For NATO and Ukraine, rushing troops, training, and newly arriving military hardware to the Eastern front. It’s hard to overemphasize the significance of this looming confrontation. Russian rhetoric already has a renewed nuclear tone. By Putin’s own writing and statements, this is a clash of civilizations, a pivotal moment in history. (Not pure hyperbole.)
Saturday, April 9
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 82,076,844; Deaths: 1,011,298
[Ukraine] UK PM Meets Zelensky in Kyiv – From the British perspective Boris Johnson might’ve been grandstanding, which is a pejorative; he’s not doing too well back home. But it played well in Ukraine and the media generally gave him kudos for a moment. In times of war, symbolism can be important.
Sunday, April 10
[Pakistan] Pakistan Prime Minister Ousted with No-Confidence Vote – The issue of the no-confidence vote bounced around for a couple of weeks between Parliament and the Supreme Court, but in the end, Imran Khan lost his job. Apparently, the Pakistani military was able to call the shots. This does not mean that Khan is going to disappear, or that the issue he represents is more or less finalized. What is that issue? Whether Pakistan will favor China and Russia, or the U.S. [Update: Pakistani Parliament elects Shahbaz Sharif to replace Imran Khan as prime minister.]
[Jan.6 Investigation] Cheney Denies Rift over Trump Criminal Referral to DOJ – It’s not like the House Jan. 6 select committee hasn’t been talking about it. Bottom line: It’s difficult to pin criminal charges on a president. Even when there is clear evidence, it’s an uphill battle because of precedent and importance. On the other hand, Democrats are becoming allergic to looking weak, there is a matter of momentum to declare Trump’s actions criminal and send the referral on to the DOJ.
[Twitter] Elon Musk in the Game of Twitter Takeover – Musk loves to tweak the media beak, especially with Twitter. Now, it looks like he wants to take over Twitter, having already bought a serious chunk of it. On the other hand, this week he decided not to sit on the board. Besides, it’s well-known that he doesn’t really have the money to buy Twitter. Perhaps the only reason anybody cares is that Musk would probably put Trump back on Twitter.
Monday, April 11
[Ukraine] Troop Movements, Refugees Signal Coming Battle in Eastern Ukraine – Ukrainian and U.S. satellite images show columns of Russian military vehicles heading into the Donbas region. Simultaneously, tens of thousands of Ukrainians are leaving the eastern areas for the relative safety of Kyiv and points further west. Russia is also focusing its attacks on Mariupol in an effort to establish consolidated control of most of the Ukrainian Black Sea coast. Losses in Mariupol have been the worst in the war, reaching many thousands of casualties on both sides, and the city is basically rubble.
[French Elections] Macron and Le Pen Head for Second Round of Elections – French President Macron led the first round by 4%. The first round is traditionally when French voters show their disaffection and spread the vote around. The second round is when voting gets serious and typically moves toward the center – e.g., Macron. The far-right candidate Le Pen did some window dressing to look more moderate, and there is considerable resentment in France about a variety of subjects, but it is, more or less, wartime. It’s a time when voters are not expected to change leaders.
[Gun Control] Biden Announces Restrictions on Ghost Guns – Once more elevating the issue of gun control, Biden announced an Executive Order restricting guns assembled from kits (“ghost guns”). These guns are not serialized and are therefore untraceable, which makes them highly unpopular with law enforcement. However, the NRA continues to defend ghost guns on the basis that government should not prevent people from building their own guns. The Biden order is restricted to gun kits sold commercially, and does not include guns built from scratch.
[U.S. – India] Biden and Modi Confer on Ukraine War – Worldwide, important relationships are being reconfigured because of the Ukraine war. India has long been, relatively, a client of Russia for military support, but the war and Russian alignment with China (India’s second most important enemy) have provided an opportunity for the U.S. to rattle the diplomatic cage.
Tuesday, April 12
[Subway Attack] New York Subway Gunman Wounds 10 – The gunman got away and a massive manhunt began. [Update: Suspect arrested within 30 hours. Not an act of organized terrorism and miraculously there were no fatalities.]
[Coronavirus] Surging COVID in China Affects Oil Prices – On the heels of yet another major city lockdown in China, this time Guangzhou, the Omicron variant continues to throttle Chinese manufacturing, and hence the use of oil and gas. This caused mixed messages and price fluctuations in the petroleum markets. Yet another confluence of Russian petroleum uncertainty because the Ukraine war and the effects of the coronavirus create an unstable market.
[Abortion] Oklahoma Starts Near-Total Abortion Ban – Governor Kevin Stitt signed a law making all abortions illegal except those necessary to save the life of the mother. In essence, it is a total ban. At the moment the law is unconstitutional, but it was passed with the expectation that the Supreme Court will in some fashion nullify Roe v. Wade by the summer. About 17 other states are preparing similar measures. [Update: Kentucky overrides veto and starts its own broad abortion law.]
[Inflation] U.S. Inflation Hits 8.5%, Highest Level since 1981 – Republicans blame Biden. Economists say it’s the surge in oil and gas prices due to the Ukraine war, strong demand from post-pandemic consumers, and supply-chain problems. Politically, inflation is always blamed on the sitting president.
[UK] Boris Johnson Fined for COVID Lockdown Parties – Technically, Johnson is now a convicted criminal, although of course the real sin was boozing and partying while, by his own law, other Britains couldn’t even gather with their relatives for funerals.
[Inflation] Biden Relaxes Ethanol-Blend Rules to Lower Gas Prices – Playing the ethanol card, which has been hidden at the bottom of the deck for a number of years, the hope is to encourage lowering gas prices by about $0.10 per gallon. The benefit is more than likely illusory, and is indicative of a number of concessions to energy production by any means.
Wednesday, April 13
[Ukraine] Biden Promises Zelensky Another $800 Million in Military Aid – This move seems to be in recognition of Zelensky’s argument that confronting Russia’s second attack aimed at Eastern Ukraine would not only be decisive but a rare opportunity to inflict a significant defeat.
[Coronavirus] CDC Extends Mask Mandate for Transportation – The two-week extension, until May 3, is lame, but it signals recognition that the spread of the Omicron BA.2 sub variant is just getting started. The CDC may need to adjust the mandate again, depending on the rise in cases (and probably political pressure).
Thursday, April 14
[Texas] Governor Abbott’s Truck Inspection Scheme Backfires – According to Abbott, the redundant inspection was needed to ensure that illegals didn’t enter Texas. He created miles-long lines of trucks backed up at the border, many of them carrying perishable foods. In short, it took about three days for the whole thing to become a major commercial disaster and one of the most stupid ploys in Texas government history. By the end of the week inspection was rescinded.
[Presidential Debates] Republicans Withdraw from Debate Commission – Taking their cue from Trump, the RNC voted to no longer participate in the Commission on Presidential Debates. Rule changes were proposed but no practical framework was on offer. Essentially, debates have to follow Republican rules, or there will be no presidential debates.
[Mortgage Rate] U.S. Mortgage Rate Reaches 5%, First Time in 10 Years – The era of historically low mortgage rates may be ending. Combined with surging house prices, purchasing a home is becoming increasingly difficult.
Friday, April 15
[Ukraine] Ukraine Sinks Russian Black Sea Flagship – It required a couple of days for confirmation, since the Russians initially said the battle cruiser Moskva (Moscow) suffered an unfortunate explosion and fire. Evidence indicates the ship was struck by two Ukrainian made missiles. As Biden would say, “this was a big . . . deal.” Not only was the ship infamous and therefore a big PR coup for the Ukrainians, but it was also the command-and-control ship for the Black Sea fleet.
[NATO] Finland and Sweden Make Joint Presentation of Plans to Join NATO – The Prime Ministers of Sweden and Finland jointly presented their plans to become part of NATO as quickly as possible, quite probably at least for Finland at the June NATO conference. The pathways are being cleared with almost incredible rapidity, given the usual snail’s pace of NATO membership. Of course, the reason is Putin’s war in Ukraine. It convinced both countries’ reluctant politicians and populace that the threat was real. Just what Putin wanted: Russia immediately began fulminating, threatening more nuclear missiles on the Baltic border – perfectly illustrating the reason why both countries want to join NATO.
[Israel] Police Clash with Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque – More than 117 Palestinians were injured while they gathered for Ramadan prayers. Israelis claimed that violence was threatened.
[Ukraine] Zelensky Warns of Potential Russian Nuclear Weapons Use – “Should be a concern for all of the world,” was the core of his message, signaling that in his estimation the odds of using nuclear weapons (most likely meaning tactical weapons) are increasing. This is the first time he has so graphically framed the problem. It’s the nub of all the military and political jockeying. Will Putin use nukes? If so, under what conditions? And of course, what is NATO, and really the rest of the world, going to do about it?
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 82,296,223; Deaths: 1,015,361
Scientists used to think that the Omicron variant was one of the most contagious viruses ever. Then along came Omicron BA.2, the so-called “stealth Omicron” that studies suggest is about 30% to 50% more infectious than BA.1. Fortunately, current vaccines – especially with booster – defang some of BA.2, making it much less likely people will go to the hospital or die. But now there is a new variant called XE, a hybrid of both BA.1 and BA.2; it’s extremely transmissible, about 10% more, but as yet it’s uncertain how lethal. That’s the key point, XE might spread but not be any more dangerous than current variants. The point, as epidemiologists repeat, is that viruses mutate continually as long as conditions for their spread (lack of mitigation, insufficient vaccination) are favorable. Watch this space; we may be done with the pandemic but the pandemic is not necessarily done with us.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Trump endorsement – kiss of death, or whatever? As crucial as the upcoming midterm elections will be for the fate of American democracy (not an exaggeration) one of the related and interesting sideshows will be the fate of numerous Trump endorsements, such as Herschel Walker in Georgia and J. D. Vance in Ohio. Trump’s endorsements are almost uniformly credibility challenged. Mitch McConnell has already made noises about a repeat of the 2018 debacle when many crazy-radical Republican candidates torpedoed perfectly good electoral chances.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
[Fiona Hill’s] descriptions of Russia’s president . . . ‘living in his own bubble’; ‘a germaphobe’; ‘a shoot-the-messenger kind of person’ — were both penetrating and eerily reminiscent of another domineering leader she came to know while serving as the National Security Council’s senior director of Russian and European affairs from April 2017 to July 2019. ‘In the course of his presidency, indeed, Trump would come more to resemble Putin in political practice and predilection than he resembled any of his recent American presidential predecessors.’
Ezra Klein Show, “This Was Trump Pulling a Putin,” The New York Times, 4/8/2022.
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