The DOJ Expands Its Investigation

All of a sudden, last night there were news stories about the Justice Department looking more deeply into the January 6 insurrection. From WaPo:

The criminal investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has expanded to examine the preparations for the rally that preceded the riot, as the Justice Department aims to determine the full extent of any conspiracy to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory, according to people familiar with the matter.

In the past two months, a federal grand jury in Washington has issued subpoena requests to some officials in former president Donald Trump’s orbit who assisted in planning, funding and executing the Jan. 6 rally, said the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The development shows the degree to which the Justice Department investigation — which already involves more defendants than any other criminal prosecution in the nation’s history — has moved further beyond the storming of the Capitol to examine events preceding the attack.

Cristina Cabrera at Talking Points Memo writes,

  • The grand jury in the DOJ’s investigation has issued several subpoenas to some people in Trump’s circle who were involved in the rally, the Post and the Times report. One of the subpoenas reportedly focuses on people who were “classified as VIP attendees” at the rally.
  • MAGAland’s fake Trump elector plot is also part of the investigation now, according to the Times.
  • The Justice Department is also now scrutinizing those in the executive and legislative branches who were involved in any pre-insurrection rallies or tried to “obstruct, influence, impede or delay” Congress’ Jan. 6 certification of the election results.

Here’s a story about the DOJ investigating the fake Trump electors, which is dated January 25. This is something we knew.

The Great Mythical Hunter Biden Laptop

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast” wrote Alexander Pope in “An Essay on Man: Epistle I” (1733), which is one of those poems that inspired generations of English lit students to hate poetry. But put that aside. Hope springs eternal among political factions, too. The Left hopes dearly that somehow, someday, Donald Trump’s corruption and crimes will be exposed, and he will answer for them.

And the Right has pinned its hopes on — Hunter Biden’s laptop.

The importance of the laptop has become mostly symbolic at this point, like Hillary Clinton’s emails. if you stopped 20 righties on the street and grilled them why Hillary Clinton’s emails, or Hunter Biden’s laptop, are important, and what they’re supposed to prove — well, probably none of them would be able to answer the question coherently. They just know they’re supposed to think these things are significant proof of the nefarious activities of Clinton or Biden. It’s something like Pavlovian conditioning, I think.

It came back into the news recently when the New York Times reported that Hunter Biden is being investigated because of his “foreign business activity,” and the evidence of this activity comes “from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop.” The article goes on to say that there is no indication that the federal prosecutors would ever build any kind of legal case against Hunter Biden for this activity. They’re just looking at it, possibly to see if he owes any income taxes on it or if he engaged in lobbying activities without being properly registered as a lobbyist.

Oh, but the New York Times said the magic words — Hunter Biden’s laptop — and there was much excitement and rejoicing on the Right.

Andrew Prokop writes at Vox, “Now, conservatives interpreted last week’s Times report as a belated concession that the leaked material was authentic, and they’re taking a victory lap. ‘The Times finally admits: Hunter’s laptop is real,’ the New York Post editorial board crowed.”

Did anyone ever think Hunter Biden’s laptop was not a real laptop? Laptops aren’t all that unusual. I’m keyboarding on one right now.

The Times did say that some material was “authenticated,” but it didn’t say what the emails said. These could be old grocery lists, for all we know.

The Washington Post weighed in today, saying they were able to authenticate that some of the emails allegedly found on Hunter Biden’s laptop were Hunter Biden emails, but there are catches.

Thousands of emails purportedly from the laptop computer of Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son, are authentic communications that can be verified through cryptographic signatures from Google and other technology companies, say two security experts who examined the data at the request of The Washington Post.

The verifiable emails are a small fraction of 217 gigabytes of data provided to The Post on a portable hard drive by Republican activist Jack Maxey. He said the contents of the portable drive originated from Biden’s MacBook Pro, which Biden reportedly dropped off at a computer repair shop in Wilmington, Del., in April 2019 and never reclaimed.

The vast majority of the data — and most of the nearly 129,000 emails it contained — could not be verified by either of the two security experts who reviewed the data for The Post. …

… Among the reasons for the inconclusive findings was sloppy handling of the data, which damaged some records. The experts found the data had been repeatedly accessed and copied by people other than Biden over nearly three years. The MacBook itself is now in the hands of the FBI, which is investigating whether Biden properly reported income from business dealings.

Most of the data obtained by The Post lacks cryptographic features that would help experts make a reliable determination of authenticity, especially in a case where the original computer and its hard drive are not available for forensic examination. Other factors, such as emails that were only partially downloaded, also stymied the security experts’ efforts to verify content.

What emails were readable were mostly routine things. However, some revealed details of some work H.B. did with a Chinese energy company that made him a lot of money. WaPo explain these details in a separate article. What the article doesn’t say is if any of this work was illegal. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. We don’t know. It did say there’s no indication Joe Biden even knew about it. And if doing business with China is in itself indictable, the whole Trump family needs to turn itself in now.

But then, in a move that was stupid and tone deaf even by Trump standards, Trump pulled one of his “Russia, if you’re listening…” stunts and asked Putin to release what he knows about Hunter Biden and his laptop. Trump cited a much-debunked claim that H.B. got a bunch of money from a Russian businesswoman who is the widow of a former mayor of Moscow.

And then there’s this, also from the New York Post —

I’m not linking to it. But this is from information released by the Russian Defense Ministry (surprise). Glenn Kessler at WaPo did the debunking.

The Russian Defense Ministry knows how to stir up the interest of the right-leaning news media in the United States — just mention Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

Russia for years has been seeding the ground to claim that the United States set up biowarfare labs in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics — claims that have been revived as part of the invasion of Ukraine. As part of his media presentation, Igor Kirillov of the Russian armed forces alleged the labs were part of the U.S. plot to study the natural immunity of the population to identify the most dangerous pathogen for people in the region.

The Defense Ministry released a complex-looking flow chart with spaghetti lines depicting not only the involvement of Hunter Biden but financier George Soros in the alleged financing of “bioweapons labs.” But the reference to Hunter Biden was catnip to the right-leaning media. Reporters immediately dug into their copies of Biden’s laptop, supposedly left behind for repair in a Delaware shop in April 2019, and dredged up emails that they suggested validated the Russian report.

Yep, I believe it. Now for the fact check —

First of all, as we have previously documented, these are not bioweapons labs, but biological research facilities focused on better detecting, diagnosing and monitoring infectious-disease outbreaks. Second, random emails can be easily misinterpreted without additional reporting.

We’ve dug into the records and discussed the deals in question with people involved. The reporting from those news outlets is false. Hunter Biden has come under scrutiny for business deals in places such as Ukraine and China that took place while his father was vice president. But he was not “financing” these labs. In fact, he was not part of a decision to invest in a company at the center of the Russian allegations, he did not profit from it as he was kicked out of the investment firm over cocaine allegations, and the company made little money from its tiny bit of business in Ukraine.

I’m getting really tired of this.

Yep, This Is Worse Than Watergate

Forget the the 18 1/2 minute gap in the Nixon tapes; they’ve found a seven-hour gap in Trump’s White House phone logs for January 6, 2021.

The documents, which were turned over to the House select committee examining Jan. 6, do show that Trump had many calls before 11 a.m. and after 6 p.m. that were apparently related to the coup effort. That suggests Trump held many calls related to the insurrection between those two times that are not officially accounted for.

Greg Sargent provides three takeaways. One, “The noncooperation of Trump’s allies makes this story worse.” We know that people did speak on the phone to Trump during those missing hours. We know for a fact that he spoke to Kevin McCarthy and Mark Meadows, for example. Yet those calls are not in the log, and the lack of cooperation from people known to have been on the phone with Trump hikes up the suspicion factor considerably.

Here’s why: What’s at issue is how Trump reacted in real time as the violence unfolded. We know he reportedly watched it on TV with relish and refused multiple entreaties to issue a public statement calming the violence.

But it’s also likely Trump came to see the violence as helpful to intimidating his vice president, Mike Pence, and possibly lawmakers as well, into executing the scheme of delaying the electoral count. Trump reportedly called at least one GOP senator to press him for help delaying the count while the violence raged, another call that isn’t in the logs.

Two, “The Jan. 6 committee may already have records of missing calls.”

That’s because the committee has already subpoenaed the phone records of some of these key players, as CNN recently reported, and this includes Meadows. The committee has already started receiving some of this information, per CNN.

The committee is also getting call records from 35 telecom and social media companies. It’s not impossible that the missing seven hours can be mostly reconstituted from other sources.

See also:

Yeah, I had forgotten that. Last September McCarthy issued a threat to telecom companies that a future GOP majority (presumably with McCarthy as majority leader) would “not forget” any cooperation with the January 6 committee.

“If these companies comply with the Democrat order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” McCarthy said in Tuesday’s statement. “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”

No, what the January 6 committee requested of the telecom and tech companies was not against the law.

And the third takeaway: “The case for subpoenaing lawmakers might have just gotten stronger.” That’s true because of the need for testimony to provide the missing information on phone calls with Trump.

Greg Sargent doesn’t mention pressuring Merrick Garland. If you saw the committee hearing on issuing contempt-of-congress referrals for former Trump advisers Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro, you will have seen several committee members call out the Attorney General and ask him to do his bleeping job. And don’t take all day about it, please.

Biden’s Dangerous Words

I apologize for being off line. I had a health scare, a “TIA,” which is like a stroke only temporary. I’m fine now. But I spent 24 hours in hospitals getting MRI’d and CAT scanned and electrocardiographed and I don’t know what all, and I’m really tired. You’ll know I’m back to normal when I start cranking out long posts again.

So President Biden is being criticized for speaking the truth.

Biden broke his long streak of message discipline during a speech in Poland today, when he added an apparently unscripted ending: “For God’s sake, this man”—meaning Putin—“cannot remain in power.”

Tom Nichols continues,

What Biden was doing, of course, was being Joe Biden. He was speaking for all of us, from the heart. One of the more endearing things about the president—at least for those of us who admire him—is that he has almost no inner monologue and regularly engages in the kind of gaffe where a politician says something that is impolitic but true.

This was not the time for such a moment, and even those who think Biden has exhibited sterling leadership during this crisis should admit that the president’s remarks were an unforced error. Putin has already made himself a pariah in the West, and though Biden has been right to call Putin a thug, a butcher, and a war criminal, it is another thing entirely to use language that could be misconstrued by both the American public and the Kremlin as a suggestion that the United States is interested in changing the Russian regime.

Right now, I’d say a large part of the population of planet Earth is “interested” in changing the Russian regime, but at the moment nobody intends to follow through on it.

An international crisis requires steadiness and prudence, and though Biden has shown those qualities in spades, his ad-libbing in Warsaw is a reminder that even small slips pose major risks during tense times. It is especially challenging to stay on message in a 24/7 media environment in which far too many commentators and pundits have already shown an unseemly interest in courting a new world war. When John F. Kennedy was making his way through the Cuban missile crisis, he had only to contend with more easily controlled newspapers and three short newscasts each evening. Biden, by comparison, is living with a Greek chorus of millions offering their commentary and advice—some of it breathtakingly reckless.

The no longer sensible Glenn Greenwald actually thinks the U.S. is using Ukraine as a “proxy war,” kind of ignoring the actual nature of the war. Greenwald continues,

The central question for Americans from the start of the war in Ukraine was what role, if any, should the U.S. government play in that war? A necessarily related question: if the U.S. is going to involve itself in this war, what objectives should drive that involvement?

It’s like geopolitics is way over his head now. The role of the U.S. government is to stand with NATO; not getting involved with whatever NATO is doing is not an option.  The objectives driving our involvement are, first, preventing escalation; second, helping Ukraine maintain its independence within the limits of preventing escalation; and third, addressing the humanitarian crisis resulting from Putin’s invasion. This is blatantly obvious. I have to assume anyone not seeing this is brain damaged.

The White House immediately issued a “clarification”

“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region,” a Biden administration official said on background. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

I appreciate that the remark was dangerous. It may have put ceasefire negotiations in jeopardy. However, I doubt the ceasefire negotiations were going to bear fruit anytime soon, anyway.

No One Should Have to Put Up With This

Not watching the Jackson confirmation hearings. Not, not, not. I am having enough trouble just dealing with the news stories about it. Someone would have to pay me big bucks to watch it.

For example, I’m reading Ryan Bort at Rolling Stone, Marsha Blackburn Lectures First Black Woman Nominated to Supreme Court on ‘So-Called’ White Privilege.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) went so far as to suggest to Jackson, a Black woman, that white privilege doesn’t exist in America, a country where of the 114 justices to have been confirmed to sit on the highest court in the land, only two have been Black.

“You serve on the board of a school that teaches kindergartners, five-year-old children, that they can choose their gender, and that teaches them about so-called white privilege,” Blackburn said after bashing the “radical left.”

Blackburn continued to drill down on critical race theory, the GOP’s culture-war topic du jour. “You have praised the 1619 Project, which argues the U.S. is a fundamentally racist country, and you have made clear that you believe judges must consider critical race theory when deciding how to sentence criminal defendants,” she said. “Is it your personal hidden agenda to incorporate critical race theory into our legal system?”

You will probably not be surprised to learn that Blackburn was lying when she said “you have made clear that you believe judges must consider critical race theory when deciding how to sentence criminal defendants.” Here’s a fact check from the Associated Press:

Blackburn appeared to be referring to a speech in which Jackson described how she encouraged students to study federal sentencing policy as an academic area implicating many topics.

“Sentencing is just plain interesting on an intellectual level, in part because it melds together myriad types of law — criminal law, of course, but also administrative law, constitutional law, critical race theory, negotiations, and to some extent, even contracts,” Jackson said in her speech. “And if that’s not enough to prove to them that sentencing is a subject … worth studying, I point out that sentencing policy implicates and intersects with various other intellectual disciplines as well, including philosophy, psychology, history, statistics, economics, and politics.”

In other words, she indicates that “critical race theory” might be one of many potential factors at play in sentencing, not a mandatory consideration.

Per the AP, Blackburn also falsely accused Jackson of wanting to mass release all criminal defendants in the custody of the D.C. Department of Corrections because of the covid pandemic, but again, that’s not true, either. Blackburn was misquoting a decision by Jackson in which she refused to release a prisoner because of the covid pandemic.

The lies keep coming, Sen. John Cornyn claimed that Judge Jackson once accused President George W. Bush and his SecDef, Donald Rumsfeld, of war crimes. Alas, she did not.

Back to Ryan Bort:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) spent most of his opening statement whining about Democrats’ treatment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh after they wanted to question the then-nominee after he was credibly accused of sexual assault, but he also echoed widespread GOP concern that Jackson’s skin color had more to do with her nomination than her credentials. “I want the Supreme Court to look more like the country, but I want it to operate within the confines of the Constitution,” he said.

The Washington Postpointed out on Sunday that, if confirmed, Jackson would be the only active Supreme Court justice to have attended an Ivy League law school, clerked for a Supreme Court justice, served as a public defender, served on the sentencing commission, served as a U.S. District Court judge, and served as a U.S. Court of Appeals judge.

She seems to be qualified.

It wouldn’t matter to Republicans how qualified she is. She’s a black woman. Therefore, she’s, um, suspicious.

Miz Lindsey actually “stormed out” of the hearing at one point, although exactly why isn’t clear. Every news story I look at gives a different reason. This may be it, from the New York Daily News:

Wagging his finger, Graham appeared to lose his temper as he derided the “frickin’” Afghanistan government and accused Jackson of being soft on the detainees.

He grilled the trailblazing jurist for filing a brief that raised questions about whether the government had the right to hold accused enemy combatants indefinitely without putting them on trial.

“Advocates to change the system like she was doing would destroy our ability to protect our country,” Graham snapped.

Jackson kept her cool and refused to give an inch to Graham, calmly correcting him about his interpretation of her positions and noting that her legal responsibility was to represent her clients.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Judiciary Committee chair, also sought to correct the record about Guantanamo. He noted that President Trump also released suspected Taliban prisoners, a point that set off Graham. …

… The pugnacious lawmaker even grilled her about progressives who supported her nomination over that of his preferred candidate, Judge J. Michelle Childs of his home state of South Carolina.

“The fact that so many of these radical groups that would destroy the law as we know it supported you is problematic to me,” he said.

Amy Wang, Washington Post:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday tried to make a point that Republicans were angry about how Democrats had questioned a previous GOP-backed Supreme Court nominee about her religion — by questioning Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson at length about her own faith, then trying to reassure her after the fact that interrogations about her religion would not happen.


On the second day of Jackson’s confirmation hearing, Graham opened his allotted time to question President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee by noting how others had praised Jackson’s personal background.

“You have a wonderful family. You should be proud,” Graham said. “And your faith matters to you. What faith are you, by the way?”

Though it would be potentially illegal under federal law for an employer to ask a job candidate about their religious beliefs, Jackson started to respond that she was a nondenominational Protestant — before Graham cut in and asked if she felt she could judge a Catholic person fairly.

“Senator, I have a record of … judging everyone — …” Jackson replied.

Graham interrupted Jackson several more times, as she tried to state that it was important to set aside one’s personal views when considering cases.

“I’m just asking this question because how important is your faith to you?” Graham asked. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are, in terms of religion? You know, I go to church probably three times a year, so that speaks poorly of me. Or do you attend church regularly?”

At one point, Jackson said her faith was “very important” and also pointed out that “there’s no religious test in the Constitution.”

I assume Graham is looking for payback at questions to Catholic candidates about whether their religious beliefs would influence their decisions on abortion cases.

I haven’t even gotten to Ted Cruz yet. There’s another day of this nonsense. The poor woman has to sit there and not display anger, because only right-wing white men are allowed to be angry. Nor can she burst into tears and declare that she likes beer without ruining her career. Only a right-wing white man can get away with that.

If all Democratic senators vote for her, Katanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed without needing a Republican vote. She’d better be confirmed.

When Ideology and Reality Collide

There is a growing consensus among military experts that Russia has already lost the Ukraine War it had planned to have. This is not to say Ukraine is “winning,” but that the original Russian plan — a quick strike to topple and replace the government — is now irretrievably out of reach. So Russia now seems to be determined to bomb, destroy, and besiege Ukraine into oblivion. Once the cities are destroyed and most of the population has either fled or been killed, then the Russian boots on the ground can march and seize control of territory. See How Putin Bungled His Invasion of Ukraine at Foreign Policy.

And this is all because Vladimir Putin doesn’t dare admit defeat in his vanity war. Russian leaders who are defeated tend to get deposed.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday that the Russian invasion was stalled.

Austin shared his assessment during an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” that aired on Sunday. Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Austin said the situation has “had the effect of him moving his forces into a wood chipper.”

“The Ukrainians have continued to attrit his forces and they’ve been very effective, using the equipment that we provided them, and armor weapons and aircraft weapons. And again, significant resolve on the part of the Ukrainian people,” he added.

The U.S. Defense Department estimates that about 7,000 Russian troops have been killed so far, with tens of thousands injured.

It’s very frustrating to watch a mass atrocity happen and not do more to stop it, even though the reasons for standing back are valid. The Wall Street Journal reports that “The U.S. is sending some of the Soviet-made air defense equipment it secretly acquired decades ago to bolster the Ukrainian military as it seeks to fend off Russian air and missile attacks, U.S. officials said.” Well, that’s something.

The Ukraine War ought to have caused a whole lot of people to re-evaluate a whole lot of assumptions. But I don’t think it has. Instead, it has weirdly brought the pro-Putin MAGA heads and the democratic socialist Left closer together in the same ball park, although they’re sitting in different sections.

On the Right, you’ve got Christian nationalists who see Putin as an ally — he’s a homophobe, after all — and who think the Ukraine War is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (see Those Who Look to Big Daddy Putin). And you’ve got those in love with authoritarianism who want America to be led by a white macho dictator who will restore white male hegemony. And then you’ve got people who just reflexively use whatever is at hand to bash Democrats. War in Ukraine? It must be Joe Biden’s fault, because he’s weak. And even with all the atrocities and inhumanity being displayed in the news day after day, I don’t see them budging from those views.

What’s really terrifying is that Francis “end of history” Fukuyama was on teevee last week saying that no way would Vladimir Putin resort to nuclear weapons. This means it’s a good time to build a bomb shelter and stock up on iodine pills.

But I am also fed up with a lot of Lefties who believe that this war must be America’s fault, somehow. Before the invasion I heard people ask “Why is Joe Biden trying to start a war?” Huh? Apparently warnings from the administration that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent was “war mongering,” while the Russian troop buildup around Ukraine was not. I also saw much speculation that the CIA was somehow behind Russia’s invasion.

Many are still blaming NATO. I learned only recently that the platform of the Democratic Socialists of America for some time had called for the dismantling of NATO.

To me, the DSA official position on the Ukraine War just plain reeks of privileged naïveté.

There is no solution through war or further intervention. This crisis requires an immediate international antiwar response demanding de-escalation, international cooperation, and opposition to unilateral coercive measures, militarization, and other forms of economic and military brinkmanship that will only exacerbate the human toll of this conflict.

DSA reaffirms our call for the US to withdraw from NATO and to end the imperialist expansionism that set the stage for this conflict. We call on antiwar activists in the US and across the world to oppose violent escalations, demand a lasting diplomatic solution, and stress the crucial need to accept any and all refugees resulting from this crisis. Much of the next ten years are coming into view through this attack. While the failures of neoliberal order are clear to everyone, the ruling class is trying to build a new world, through a dystopic transition grounded in militarism, imperialism, and war. Socialists have a duty to build an alternative. 

I want them to go stand in the streets of Kyiv and read that. See how Ukrainians react.

Eric Levitz writes at New York magazine,

Within the small world of self-identified American leftists, however, the DSA’s substantive positions are far from marginal. Indeed, a large contingent of prominent left-wing writers, activists, and organizations have argued in recent days for ending indiscriminate U.S. sanctions against Russia, withholding military aid from Ukraine, and immediately dismantling NATO. This contingent’s perspective deserves to be taken seriously. For one thing, its analysis spotlights many inconvenient truths that few other American political factions wish to acknowledge. As importantly, however, the weakness of some of its arguments reflect genuine pathologies within the U.S. left’s foreign-policy thinking — above all, an ideological rigidity that leaves American socialists ill-equipped to interpret the emerging multipolar world order, and therefore, to change it.

The “many inconvenient truths” appears to refer to the Maidan Revolution of 2014, which was either a U.S. backed far-right coup or the Ukranian people ousting an authoritarian pro-Russian government, depending on whom you choose to believe, I guess. I wasn’t there; I have no idea. It’s fairly clear that the enormous majority of Ukrainians don’t want to be part of Russia now, and that’s what I know.

And then there is NATO. NATO expansion is to blame, we are told. Poor Vladimir Putin didn’t have a choice but to invade Ukraine because someday it might join NATO. And it’s true that a lot of foreign policy experts way back in the 1990s warned that former Soviet nations joining NATO was unnecessarily provocative to Russia. Even the likes of Thomas Friedman and Henry Kissinger (and when did the Left listen to Friedman and Kissinger?) warned us about this. Eric Levitz continues,

It is perfectly natural for foreign-policy “realists” like Kissinger to disdain heedless affronts to Russia’s “sphere of influence,” or to insist that Ukraine must give Putin’s kleptocratic regime veto power over its foreign policy. But socialists do not generally recognize the legitimacy of imperial orbits, nor counsel acquiescence to relations of domination for the sake of conflict avoidance.

In particular:

Meanwhile, the notion that Russia’s opposition to NATO expansion was rooted in its “legitimate security interests” — as a segment of leftists routinely avow — is hard to credit. Surely, a nation’s only legitimate security interests are defensive ones. And Russia’s nuclear arsenal was always sufficient to deter the threat of an invasion (as we are now seeing, that arsenal is menacing enough to stop Western leaders from entertaining so much as a no-fly zone for Ukraine, never mind an offensive invasion of Russian territory).

In brief,

But if the Putin of 2022 believed that invading and occupying Europe’s second-largest country was a good idea, then there was no basis for believing that Western imperialism was the chief obstacle to a diplomatic resolution of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Well, yeah.

America could not cajole the Zelenskyy government into suicide. If Putin wanted to install a puppet regime atop Kyiv’s ruins, then decrying “U.S. brinkmanship” and NATO’s “imperialist expansionism” would not qualify as a remotely serious response to the crisis. Thus, when the DSA IC condemned those forces in a late January statement — which included not a single criticism of the Kremlin — the committee also lambasted the “sensationalist Western media blitz” that was “drumming up conflict” through its histrionic predictions of an impending Russian invasion.

When Putin actually invaded, then, how did the DSA respond? It hasn’t changed its position blaming the U.S. and NATO at all. Eric Levtiz points out that many eastern European leftists “consider NATO a vital bulwark against their republics’ subjugation to a reactionary autocracy, a conviction that became difficult to dismiss once Putin launched a war of imperial conquest.” And by now it should be plain that Putin is the one with imperialist ambitions.

“Instead of grappling with these complexities, however, many leftists have simply pretended that they do not exist,” says Levitz. Further, “In the actually existing Russia-Ukraine conflict, however, it is a Russian military victory that threatens to plunge a nation into ungovernability and civil strife, irrespective of U.S. policy.”

To me, the “Russia had to invade because Ukraine might join NATO” argument never held water, for the simple fact that Ukraine has been trying to join NATO for a very long time, since at least 2008, and I don’t see that anything had changed that made a NATO membership for Ukraine any more imminent in 2022 than it was in 2009. What is different now from 2009 is that Donald Trump spent four years in the White House working to undermine NATO and kiss Putin’s behind, and according to much data Joe Biden is weak and unpopular. And Trump might very well be re-elected in 2024. To Putin, it probably seemed just the right time to do something he’d been wanting to do for years, which is take back Ukraine. It was now or never.

There probably is a legitimate discussion to be had about whether U.S. and E.U. attempts at using “soft power” to exert influence in Ukraine was a good idea. However, I can’t imagine Putin would have respected neutrality. He wants a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, or he wants Ukraine, period.

See also A Note from Finland at Talking Points Memo. The link should get you through the subscription firewall even if you aren’t a subscriber. The writer, from Finland, explains how Russia set us up to not get in the way of his plans.

I understand you would like to see your heroic country as the navel of the world and as the main focus of any operation, but I am sorry to inform that, in this case, you are only cheap tools. You had to be weakened (and Britain manipulated to Brexit etc) in order to facilitate invasions to Ukraine, Belarussia and a list of other neighboring pieces of land in Putin’s future Menu.

So, as a KGB officer would plan, they came exactly from the opposite direction than where they were expected. They professionally built an operation web among the rural redneck cowboys, evangelical christians, the NRA, the most republican of all republicans, your law enforcement, some military people, big business etc etc. They popped up to the surface from within the “core americans”, but their long dive before that was planned and had started from the Kremlin’s operation board.

They nearly succeeded with Trump/GOP in January 6th, by focusing and coordinating the heat of seemingly “spontaneus”, “random” protest movements and legal tricks and corrupt politicians like a welding flame to the same point and to the same moment. They just barely failed – for the time being!

Had Trump succeeded to keep in power, the march of Putin to various targets in the Eastern Europe would have been more like an easy summer parade. Nato would be partally paralyzed by his loyal friends in the White House (who likely would have got their personal share of the profits).

That’s not nearly as crazy as believing the invasion of Ukraine is part of biblical prophecy.

Hawley Smears Ketanji Brown Jackson

Sen. Hee-Hawley has outdone himself this time. He’s attacking Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson with the entirely fabricated lie that she is “soft” on sex offenders, child pornographers in particular. See Glenn Kessler, Josh Hawley’s misleading attack on Judge Jackson’s sentencing of child-porn offenders and Ruth Marcus, How low will the GOP go in taking on Ketanji Brown Jackson? Josh Hawley lets us know.

And here’s Ian Millhiser, Josh Hawley’s latest attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson is genuinely nauseating, at Vox.

The senator’s misleadingaccusations can be broken down into three parts. First, he claims that a scholarly article that Jackson wrote while she was still a law student “questioned making convicts register as sex offenders.” In reality, the article examines a constitutional question that was unresolved in 1996, when Jackson published it: under what circumstances are laws that apply retroactively to convicted sex offenders permissible under the Constitution.

In other words, she wasn’t opposed to people having to register as sex offenders, she was asking a constitutional question. Jackson’s paper has been cited in real-world court cases. This includes a unanimous opinion by the Wyoming state supreme court.

The second prong of Hawley’s attack on Jackson is less of a factual allegation and more of an expression of incredulity. He criticized Jackson because, as a member of the Sentencing Commission, she once probed whether some child pornography offenses should be considered “less-serious” than others.

For example, one perpetrator in Jackson’s court was a teenager who shared some child porn with an undercover detective, but the psychologist who evaluated him decided the kid was just curious and not a pedophile. Jackson sentenced him to three months in prison and several months’ probation. But she sentenced an adult who was a sure-enough child pornographer to six years in prison.

The third prong of Hawley’s attack on Jackson appears to be literally true, but only because Hawley uses very precise wording — he claims that Jackson “deviated from the federal sentencing guidelines in favor of child porn offenders” in seven cases where she sentenced child pornographic offenders.

While Jackson did, indeed, sentence these seven offenders to less time in prison than these sentencing guidelines recommend, Hawley’s allegation leaves out some important context. The guidelines’ approach to most child pornography offenders is widely viewed as too draconian by a bipartisan array of judges, policymakers, and even some prosecutors.

According to a 2021 report by the US Sentencing Commission, “the majority (59.0%) of nonproduction child pornography offenders received a variance below the guideline range” when they were sentenced (“nonproduction” refers to offenders who view or distribute child pornography, but do not produce new images or videos). And, when judges do depart downward from the guidelines, they typically impose sentences that are more than 50 months lower than the minimum sentence recommended by the guidelines.

Indeed, guidelines sentences are so harsh that even many prosecutors advise judges not to follow them. As Berman, the sentencing law professor, notes in his own examination of nine child pornography cases heard by Judge Jackson, “in a majority of these cases (5 of 9) the prosecution advocated for a below-guideline sentence and in three others the prosecution advocated for only the guideline minimum.”

Hawley sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, so he’s going to be asking question during Jackson’s confirmation hearing. In the next few days we’ll see the entire right-wing media infrastructure label Jackson a friend to child pornographers.

Zelensky Turns Up the Pressure

I agree with what Greg Sargent says here regarding President Zelensky’s address to Congress today:

Zelensky reiterated his call for the United States and its allies to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, and again demanded new shipments of fighter jets, which the administration has been reluctant to deliver.

This is already being portrayed as an effort to shame Biden into plunging deeper into the conflict. But in a way, both men are right.

Zelensky is unquestionably right that the United States and its allies could do more. Yet Biden is also right to be proceeding with extreme caution, and media coverage that obscures the complexities of that calculus is not exactly enhancing the long term prospects for humanity.

Regarding the fighter jets, as I understand it, the hang up seems to be how to get the jets into Ukraine and into the hands of Ukrainians without involving NATO pilots. This doesn’t seem to me to be an unsurmountable obstacle, but maybe there’s something I’m not seeing. U.S. military people have been arguing that Ukraine doesn’t really need the fighter jets, but Ukrainians insist they do, and I wish they could have them.

Greg Sargent quotes Sen. Chris Murphy saying “A no-fly zone is the United States declaring war against Russia.” Right; the no-fly zone can’t be enforced by the U.S. or a European country without risking escalation of war. But if the no-fly zone is being enforced by Ukrainians, why would that be true? Why would providing jets for Ukrainian pilots to fly be a different magnitude of help than providing anti-tank weapons for Ukrainians to fire? Help me out with this one, please.

Sargent continues,

Here’s the larger context. At a time when the United States and its allies are attempting a fiendishly difficult balance — between aiding Ukraine and inflicting sanctions on Russia without provoking World War III — the pressure on Biden to overreach is intense from the media, from Republicans and from certain foreign policy voices.

From the media, President Biden is being peppered with questions about the no-fly zone, even though the answer is always the same, that we don’t want World War III. Sargent continues,

In some cases, questions echo GOP talking points: One reporter asked whether Biden is “showing enough strength against Putin.” Similarly, a New York Times piece intoned that if Biden doesn’t honor Zelensky’s demands, it could open him up to GOP charges that he’s “soft on Russia” and treated that argument respectfully.

This sort of thing lets Republicans get away with calling for more “toughness” without accounting for the obvious world-historical downside risks of too much “toughness.” This effectively launders bad-faith posturing and confuses the debate with simplistic framing rather than illuminating its complexities and trade-offs.

It’s cheap and easy to thump your chest and declare you’d be tougher on Putin when you’re not the one making the decisions, and you’re not the one who’d be blamed if Europe and then the world is dragged into a world war. And, of course, cheap and easy is what Republicans do.

Waldman goes on to quote a historian who notes that younger people don’t remember the Cold War. Putin is “a madman,” the historian says, and no one should assume he wouldn’t resort to nukes if backed into a corner. So let’s not assume that.

There is also talk that Putin has asked China for more weapons. China has denied this, but of course nobody believes China. I’d be a tad surprised if Xi Jinping agrees to giving Russia military aid, because Xi Jinping seems mostly concerned about making China the world’s biggest economic power. And how much does China need Russia? Well, okay, it needs Russian oil. China would be much less vulnerable than Russia to the effects of sanctions, but I doubt Xi Jinping wants to risk losing business from Europe and the U.S. just the same. But anything could happen.

Peace talks between Russians and Ukrainians are centering on a 15-point plan. As I understand it, the plan thus far calls for Ukraine to promise not to join NATO and be officially neutral between Russia and the West. The deal calls for Kyiv renouncing its ambitions to join NATO or host foreign military bases or weapons. In exchange, Moscow would declare a ceasefire and withdraw. Ukraine would also have to accept limitations on its own defense forces but could seek protection from allies such as the US, UK and Turkey.

Ukraine has experience with how much such guarantees are worth. Per the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, Russia was supposed to leave Ukraine alone. I wouldn’t accept this if I were Ukraine, but then I’m not the one being bombarded right now.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says sanctions will not be lifted until there is an irreversable Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. A cease fire alone won’t do it.

He insisted that U.S. sanctions against Russia are “not designed to be permanent,” and that they could “go away” if Russia should change its behavior. But he said any Russian pullback would have to be, “in effect, irreversible,” so that “this can’t happen again, that Russia won’t pick up and do exactly what it’s doing in a year or two years or three years.”

Probably the war in Ukraine won’t end anytime soon.

Volodymyr Zelensky

Tucker Carlson Is Worse Than Tokyo Rose

If you missed Chris Hayes last night, please do watch this first segment.

In brief, a bonkers QAnon theory about bioweapons labs in Ukraine is being mutually affirmed and amplified by Russia and Tucker Carlson, along with other right-wing U.S. media. Yesterday the Russian ambassador to the UN called a Security Council meeting and presented the biolab theory as a justification for Russia’s invasion, claiming that the presence of these labs had been corroborated by the U.S. State Department. But it was not. If you want to see how this alleged corroboration was fabricated by Tucker Carlson, it’s in the Chris Hayes video. See also Steve M.

Tucker really isn’t another Tokyo Rose. He’s worse.

In other news — The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel has been attempting to mediate a cease fire between Russia and Ukraine. But this is not going well.

According to the report, the Ukrainian president and his people did not like the advice.

“Bennett told us to surrender,” said the official. “We have no intention of doing so. We know Putin’s offer is only the beginning.”

In the past two weeks, and especially since Bennett’s visit to Moscow, the prime minister’s office and the Foreign Ministry have been claiming that Israel’s mediation efforts force them to keep an even more cautious and balanced approach. This message was also passed quietly to Zelensky’s office. The official also said that Israel asked Ukraine not to request more military and defense aid because such a request could harm the mediation efforts.

Remind us not to ever ask Israel to mediate anything.

Ukrainian officials believe that Bennett’s involvement in diplomatic efforts comes from his not wanting to take a clear stance regarding the Russian invasion for fear that it will harm Israel’s ties with Russia.

Just stop. Go home, and keep your damn ties with Russia.