Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The exception to the rule

We start today with Maureen Dowd of The New York Times (yes, I did!) writing about Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky”;s invocation of William Shakespeare”;s “;to be or not to be”; soliloquy from Hamlet during Zelensky”;s speech to the British House of Commons this past Thursday.

What made the president”;s delivery so powerful was that the world is caught up in the existential questions raised by the moody prince of Denmark.

Will Zelensky live or die when Russian forces bear down? Will Ukraine exist as a sovereign nation? What does this crisis mean for the identity of America and the West –; who will we be when this is over? Will the planet even survive?

Zelensky and the Ukrainians chose to stand for something, and to be. They are united as a democracy in a way America has not been for a long time, as we have become more and more riven over politics, with burning questions of reality and artifice; with the destructive partisanship of masks and Covid; and with the corrosive effect of our culture of greed, selfishness and billionaires.

Ukraine is showing a collective will, an inspiring community of people working together. Their heroic efforts against a gobbling tyrant set on empire recall America”;s own beginning. They have also shown military experts that in a conventional war, the U.S. would smoke Russia. Its military has been shockingly slow and stumbling, even as it has inflamed people around the world by killing children and fleeing civilians.

That”;s a really good essay by Ms. Dowd.

Having said that, few columnists of Ms. Dowd”;s stature have injected more corrosive cynicism and just plain ol”; meanness into the political realm than Dowd has over the course of the past 30 years. She”;s one of the many reasons that the U.S. is now “;riven over politics.”;

Has Dowd ever written anything even resembling these accolades about any American politician?

(And don”;t even get me started on the second sentence of that last paragraph and that “;recall.”;)

And do read the title of this APR. The ban is still in effect.

So what impact will the Russian elite have on Putin”;s war in Ukraine? Tap here to read Anatol Lieven”;s analysis

–; Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) March 11, 2022

Two of the many interesting things that I learned from that Financial Times article about the Russian elite: The siloviki seem to consist primarily of former KGB agents rather than oligarchs, although some of those former KGB agents are now oligarchs.

The second thing: When Vladimir Putin was “;between jobs,”; in the early 1990″;s, he drove a taxi to make ends meet.

Bill Scher of Washington Monthly writes that the America”;s two major political parties are both vying to earn the title of “;the national security party.”;

The Great War left the two parties intact. Still, World War I transformed the Democrats from inward-looking agrarian populists to internationalists eager to establish global treaties and willing to send soldiers overseas. At the same time, Republicans moved away from Teddy Roosevelt”;s unabashed imperialism toward an isolationism skeptical of grand global visions. World War II brought Republicans back to internationalism, with Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg working with the Truman administration to establish the United Nations and shape the policy of Soviet containment. The next Republican president was top World War II General Dwight Eisenhower, an internationalist who muscled out the isolationist Robert Taft for the party”;s nomination in 1952.

We have been accustomed to the partisan foreign policy divide that followed the Vietnam War. From about 1972 to 2006, the foreign policy reputations of America”;s two major parties could be summed up succinctly: Republicans were the hawks, Democrats were the doves. If America seemed under threat from abroad, voters turned to Republicans to keep them safe. When such threats waned, voters were more inclined to support Democrats.

But the alignment of the two parties has not been so simple since 2006. The Cold War, which had so long shaped American politics, was in the rearview mirror by the aughts. The disastrous invasion of Iraq, beginning in 2003 by the George W. Bush administration, stripped the Republican Party of its reputation for foreign policy competence. Since then, neither party has had a firm hold on the national security mantle.

Can one party seize the mantle now?

The Republican Party forfeited that mantle the moment they sold out to the Kremlin.

Amy J. Nelson and Alexander J. Montgomery of The Brookings Institution write about “;escalation aversion.”;

The West has managed to do some things in the current crisis (now conflict) without escalating or losing the initiative. Prior to the (further) invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the West attempted to deter Russia through threatening severe sanctions. Once even more punitive sanctions than originally anticipated were imposed, Putin argued that these measures were equivalent to war. Due to making the deterrent threat prior to the invasion, the West made Putin”;s attempt to reframe ineffective. […]

Other Western moves were probably necessary, but could have been handled better. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy”;s request for the announcement and implementation of an NFZ was met with far too much media enthusiasm, which could have been better tempered by incorporating expert understanding of the combat required to make an NFZ useful to the Ukrainians. Ukraine is being brutally attacked and can ask for whatever it likes. But the response to this proposal unnecessarily required the West to respond due to support among pundits and politicians who entirely overlooked the fact that a no-fly zone directed against Russia is a euphemism for war.

However, the West has unnecessarily ceded the initiative in other ways. Prior to Russian forces launching their latest invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden ruled out sending U.S. troops to fight Russian forces –; even to evacuate U.S. citizens. While this played well to a domestic audience, it also demonstrated an apparent escalation aversion. As NATO countries offered lethal military assistance, great pains were made to avoid the transfer of any hardware that could give the impression that NATO had joined the fight. Once early-stage transfers of weapons to Ukraine were announced and sanctions began to be implemented, the West gave the impression that it had no moves left other than additional sanctions.

I guess that “;escalation aversion”; looks something like a tweet I wrote a few days ago.

I hate to put it like this but: War crimes and genocide were the pretexts for NATO going to war in the Balkans…of course, Milosevic didn’t have nuclear weapons. This is a tough one.

–; Chitown Kev (@ChitownKev) March 11, 2022

Nor did Slobodan Milošević have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to veto the sending of U.N. peacekeepers.

Casey Michael of Open Democracy thinks that it may be time for the U.S. to rein in “;Londongrad.”;

Over the past few months, Washington has taken a clear global lead in the broader fight against transnational money laundering. While the US stands as a money-laundering haven of its own, the White House has taken significant moves in the past year to finally clean up the American mess -; not least elevating corruption to a core national security threat and releasing a seminal counter-kleptocracy strategy document late last year that specifically called out a number of American industries and loopholes. Just this month, president Joe Biden used the State of the Union address to specifically let oligarchs know that the US was “;coming for [their] ill-begotten gains”;.

Washington knows it can”;t beat back modern kleptocracy itself -; and it knows which jurisdiction it has to tackle first: London. While the alliance between the US and the UK remains tight, we”;re already seeing early indications that American officials are leaning on British partners to clean up the UK”;s kleptocratic mess.[…]

Washington well knows that the UK has long been the preferred destination for illicit Russian capital, tied directly to the oligarchs who propped up and profited from Russia”;s bloody regime. And American officials are fully aware that British law, accounting and property firms may use loopholes to help sanctioned Russian oligarchs skirt Western sanctions -; undercutting not only the recent sanctions regime, but threatening American national security in the process.

Which is why, in recent weeks, chatter about a novel solution has begun bouncing around Washington: sanctioning British firms willingly working with Russian oligarchs.

Here”;s some fresh reporting from Mark Landler and Stephen Castle of The New York Times that the British are serious about going after the “;London laundromat.”;

Even some of Britain”;s harshest critics said its latest moves showed a new commitment. In addition to Mr. Abramovich, the government blacklisted Igor Sechin, a confidant of Mr. Putin”;s who runs the oil giant Rosneft; Andrey Kostin, a banker known for renting a lavish ski chalet during the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland; and Oleg Deripaska, a well-connected industrialist.

Mr. Deripaska had employed a Conservative member of the House of Lords, Greg Barker, as chairman of a metals company he partly owns. Last week, under intense political pressure, Mr. Barker stepped down from the company”;s board.

“;The gloves are now off in the U.K.,”; said William F. Browder, an American-born British financier who has campaigned against corruption and human-rights abuses in Russia. “;They hit Deripaska, who has his own representative in the House of Lords. I don”;t think they”;re specifically avoiding anyone.”;

Still, on some level, Britain is simply catching up. Most of the Russians blacklisted by Britain had already been penalized by the United States or the European Union. While Britain has imposed sanctions on 18 oligarchs since the start of the Russian assault on Ukraine, on Feb. 24, its list includes fewer than half of the 35 people identified by the jailed Russian opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny, as candidates for blacklisting because of their role in propping up a corrupt system.

Zahera Harb of AlJazeera says that Western media needs to utilize appropriate terminology to describe all armed conflicts and not simply to describe Russia”;s invasion of Ukraine.

For the first few days of the invasion, screens and papers were dominated by stories underlining the bravery and steadfastness everyday Ukrainians demonstrated in the face of an all-out invasion. Gradually the term “;resistance”; started to be routinely used to describe Ukrainian troops and volunteers who took up arms to defend their homeland. Western channels and websites broadcast President Volodymyr Zelenskyy”;s calls for all Ukrainians -; at home and abroad -; to come and join the fight, and pleas for military assistance from friendly nations, without censor or critical commentary. In news reports, Russia”;s so-called “;special operation”; has repeatedly -; and accurately -; been described as an “;invasion”;, “;assault”; and “;unprovoked aggression”;. The Russian military has been condemned for “;deliberately targeting civilians”; and “;shelling residential areas”;. No weight at all was given to Russia”;s baseless claims that “;civilians were being used as shields”;.

As a journalist who covered conflict, I support the use of these terms and terminologies in the coverage of the war in Ukraine. I have long argued for journalists using language that accurately conveys the truth of a situation evolving before their eyes -; language that is not restricted by a desire to be “;objective”;, “;balanced”; and “;unbiased”; even in the face of imperial aggression, unprovoked military assault, invasion or war crimes.

But while I fully support the use of such accurate language and terminology in the coverage of Russia”;s invasion, I”;m still shocked and frustrated. For when I was covering Israel”;s “;assaults”; on Lebanon in the 1990s for Western media, I was never allowed to describe what was happening in the country this accurately. When I was reporting for BBC Arabic during Israel”;s occupation of southern Lebanon, for example, I was told never to refer to the Israeli military as the “;occupying force”; for the sake of impartiality. I was asked never to talk of “;resistance”; in what was then occupied South Lebanon, and to always describe any such action in occupied territories as “;military operations against Israeli forces”; -; again to remain impartial and loyal to the BBC”;s sacred editorial guidelines.

Renée Graham of the Boston Globe asserts that, for the time being, higher gas prices may, in part, be the price of democracy.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, gas prices are 38 percent higher now than in February 2021. For me, those prices are an annoyance. They don”;t bring the kind of hardships that force others to choose between filling their tank and making sure there”;s enough food on the table. With today”;s near-historic levels of inflation, Americans are hurting.

Yet the surge in gas prices is not mass displacement from home, community, and country. That extra cost is not tantamount to millions of Ukrainian families now separated at border crossings and left with nothing but their faith that they will be reunited. It is not the agony inflicted on a nation whose familiar hum of daily life has been replaced by the scream of Putin”;s missiles aimed at schools, apartment buildings, even a maternity and children”;s hospital.

Not long after America entered World War II, the government began a rationing system. Tires, gas, coffee, sugar, and metal were among the goods that became scarce for citizens so that they could be used to bolster the war effort. Of course, some took advantage by hoarding highly desired items or selling them on the black market. Yet there remained a prevailing sense of people united and willing to make sacrifices to preserve democracy in the face of tyranny.

Michael Scherer of the Washington Post reports that Democrats have moved one step closer to altering Iowa”;s “;first-in-the-nation”; status for the next presidential election.

The meeting of the Democratic National Committee”;s Rules and Bylaws Committee came to no final decisions, but for the second time this year, a majority of speakers made clear their openness to shaking up the presidential primary calendar to better reflect what speakers described as the party”;s values.

“;Now is not a time for us as a party to stand on tradition,”; said Mo Elleithee, a member of the committee, who has been skeptical of Iowa”;s continued place. “;Now is not a time for us as a party to stand on status quo.”;

He proposed a framework that would prioritize states that commit to hold primaries, demonstrate general election competitiveness and are demographically diverse –; three qualifications that do not apply to Iowa, where about 90 percent of the population is White, the state has trended Republican and state law requires a party-run caucus process.

James Hamblin, writing for The New York Times, wonders if the lost sense of trust in American public health institutions can ever be rebuilt.

Under Mr. Trump, the silencing of health officials was overt. The administration blocked some C.D.C. officials from television interviews and reportedly reviewed C.D.C. reports and in some cases, requested word changes. Dr. Robert Redfield, the agency”;s director at the time, and the coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, seemed to struggle to avoid contradicting Mr. Trump. The image of Dr. Fauci chuckling and cupping his head with his hand as the president spoke of the “;Deep State Department”; during a coronavirus briefing became indelible.

By contrast, Dr. Fauci has told me, President Biden is far more interested to hear from him and the other experts on the team. And the administration”;s messaging is confident, concise and unified. There is very little daylight between what Dr. Fauci says and what Mr. Biden and Dr. Walensky say and what Jeff Zients (Dr. Birx”;s successor) and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy say. This is, theoretically, ideal.

And yet the system is struggling. Public distrust, uncertainty and skepticism are at a low ebb. The generous read on the situation is: When leaders attempt to follow science earnestly –; and wait for consensus among people who think in nuances –; they risk being slow to respond and vague in advice and conclusions. The less generous read is that politics and science have melded so completely that the result has been neither scientifically nor politically effective.

Finally, today, Marc Ribot writes for The Nation about the financial struggles of gig-playing musicians in lieu of the absence of COVID relief monies for many.

We are migratory birds, and our migration routes have been disrupted. Touring musicians–;triply impacted by global venue closures, obstacles to travel and Covid-19 itself–;have borne an outsized share of pandemic losses. Our tours demand six to eight months of advance planning and investment, and are unsustainable in a world where new variants go from unknown to global in a few months and restrictions on work and travel are announced with two weeks”; notice.

Yet, other than Pandemic Unemployment Insurance, which ended last September, most of the financial relief during Covid has been directed at local venues and tourism. According to the MOME report, New York City”;s pre-Covid “;tourism spending that can be attributed solely to attending music-related events…;amount[ed] to $400 to $500 million.”; Why, then, has Governor Kathy Hochul”;s $450 million “;Bring Back Tourism, Bring Back Jobs”; initiative yet to announce any allocation for musicians? The New York State Council on the Arts”; $100 million budget increase may help. But many tourists come to New York to hear jazz, hip-hop, punk rock, salsa and downtown music in clubs in the places of their birth. Only a small portion of these gigs are in the NYSCA-funded nonprofit sector.

Little of the funding to New York venues, public or private, has “;trickled down.”; Of the $16 billion in federal grants to “;shuttered venue operators,”; which includes booking agents, none was allocated to the musicians who actually perform in those venues. “;Needs-based”; funding–;such as Creatives Rebuild New York–;has targeted the poorest artists. But its selection process, open to aspiring artists lacking any proof of artistic merit, prior work, or work lost to Covid criteria, marginalizes working musicians.

Everyone have a great day!

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