Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Something to Know - 2 March

I have to run to a doctor's appointment, so in the interest of getting this out to you, it is going to be short.  HCR has a brief summary of the actions of the few defending Ukrainians, and the apparent difficulties on Putin's end.  Stay tuned to the news as it all unfolds.   If you observed Biden's speech last night, then you can skip the second part, but if your forgot it already, keep reading:

In Ukraine, Russian troops escalated their bombing of cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and Mariupol, in what Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky called a campaign of terror to break the will of the Ukrainians. Tonight (in U.S. time), airborne troops assaulted Kharviv, which is a city of about 1.5 million, and a forty-mile-long convoy of tanks and trucks is within 17 miles of Kyiv, although a shortage of gas means they'll move very slowly.

About 660,000 refugees have fled the country.

But the war is not going well for Putin, either, as international sanctions are devastating the Russian economy and the invasion is going far more slowly than he had apparently hoped. The ruble has plummeted in value, and the Kremlin is trying to stave off a crisis in the stock market by refusing to open it. Both Exxon and the shipping giant Maersk have announced they are joining BP in cutting ties to Russia, Apple has announced it will not sell products in Russia, and the Swiss-based company building Nord Stream 2 today said it was considering filing for insolvency.

Ukraine's military claimed it today destroyed a large Russian military convoy of up to 800 vehicles, and Ukrainian authorities claim to have stopped a plot to assassinate Zelensky and to have executed the assassins. The death toll for Russian troops will further undermine Putin's military push. Russians are leaving dead soldiers where they lie, likely to avoid the spectacle of body bags coming home. It appears at least some of the invaders had no idea they were going to Ukraine, and some have allegedly been knocking holes in their vehicles' gas tanks to enable them to stay out of the fight. Morale is low.

Associated Press correspondent Francesca Ebel reports from Russia: "Life in Russia is deteriorating extremely rapidly. So many of my friends are packing up & leaving the country. Their cards are blocking. Huge lines for ATMs etc. Rumours that borders will close soon. 'What have we done? How did we not stop him earlier?' said a friend to me y[ester]day." The Guardian's Moscow correspondent, Andrew Roth, agreed. "Something has definitely shifted here in the last two days."

According to the BBC, a local government body in Moscow's Gagarinsky District called the war a "disaster" that is impoverishing the country, and demanded the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine. Another, similar, body said the invasion was "insane" and "unjustified" and warned, "Our economy is going to hell."

Putin clearly did not expect the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the U.S. and other allies and partners around the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and others, to work together to stand against his aggression. Even traditionally neutral Switzerland is on board. The insistence of the U.S. on exposing Putin's moves ahead of time, building a united opposition, and warning of false flag operations to justify an invasion meant that the anti-authoritarian world is working together now to stop the Russian advance. Today, Taiwan announced it sent more than 27 tons of medical supplies to Ukraine, claiming its own membership in the "democratic camp" in the international community.

This extraordinary international cooperation is a tribute to President Joe Biden, who has made defense of democracy at home and abroad the centerpiece of his presidency. Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and State Department officials have been calling, meeting, listening, and building alliances with allies since they took office, and by last Thanksgiving they were making a concerted push to bring the world together in anticipation of Putin's aggression.

Their early warnings have rehabilitated the image of U.S. intelligence, badly damaged during the Trump years, when the president and his loyalists attacked U.S. intelligence and accepted the word of autocrats, including Putin.

It has also been a diplomatic triumph, but in his State of the Union address tonight, Biden quite correctly put it second to the "fearlessness,…courage,…and determination" of the Ukrainians who are resisting the Russian troops.

The theme of Biden's speech tonight was unity. He worked to bring Americans from all political persuasions into a vision of the country we could all share, focusing on the measures—lower prescription drug costs, background checks for gun ownership, access to abortion, voting rights, immigration, civil rights, corporate taxation—that polls show enjoy enormous popular support.

"Last year COVID-19 kept us apart," he began, addressing a vaccinated, boosted, and audience that was largely maskless, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently eased mask recommendations according to risk level. "This year we are finally together again."

Tonight, we meet as Democrats, Republicans and Independents. But most importantly as Americans. With a duty to one another, to the American people, to the Constitution. And with an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny." He urged people to "stop seeing each other as enemies, and start seeing each other for who we really are: Fellow Americans."

Biden outlined the ways in which his administration has "helped working people—and left no one behind." The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan helped us to fight Covid-19 and rebuilt the economy after the devastation of the pandemic. It helped the nation gain more than 6.5 million new jobs last year, more jobs created in one year than in any other time in our history.

The economy grew at an astonishing rate in Biden's first year: 5.7%, the strongest growth in 40 years. Forty years of tax cuts, initiated in the belief that freeing up private capital would enable the wealthy to invest efficiently in the economy, have led to "weaker economic growth, lower wages, bigger deficits, and the widest gap between those at the top and everyone else in nearly a century," Biden pointed out.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris believe instead that both the economy and the country do best when the government invests in ordinary people. The administration's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will rebuild America, creating well-paying jobs. The administration has also brought home military contracts, using tax dollars to provide Americans good jobs and to bring manufacturing back home. Biden called on Congress to pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which invests in innovation and will spark additional investment in new technologies like electric vehicles.

Biden not only outlined the ways in which he plans to nurture his vision of government, he took on Republican criticisms.

Biden said he plans to combat the inflation that has plagued the recovery by cutting the cost of prescription drugs and letting Medicare negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs the way the VA already does. He called for cutting energy and child care costs. He called for avoiding supply chain issues by strengthening domestic manufacturing. He spoke up against the price gouging that has characterized the pandemic years, and he called for corporations and the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of taxes through a minimum 15% tax rate for corporations.

Biden also undercut Republican accusations that Democrats want to "defund" the police by countering that we need to fund the police at even higher rates, an idea he talked about on the campaign trail when he urged better funding for social services to relieve law enforcement from the community policing issues for which they are currently ill prepared. At the same time, he noted that his Department of Justice has "required body cameras, banned chokeholds, and restricted no-knock warrants for its officers."

To those complaining about the effect of this spending on the deficit—this has the name of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) all over it—Biden noted that by the end of the year, "the deficit will be down to less than half what it was before I took office." He is, he said, "the only president ever to cut the deficit by more than one trillion dollars in a single year."

Biden offered a "Unity Agenda for the Nation." He outlined "[f]our big things we can do together": beat the opioid epidemic, make the way we address mental health equal to the way we address physical health, support our veterans, and end cancer as we know it.

Biden's speech listed items that are very popular but that are nonetheless highly unlikely to pass the Senate, where Republicans use the filibuster to stop any programs that support Biden's ideology of government. The speech subtly reminded listeners that it is Republican members of Congress who are standing between these popular programs and the American people.

Since the attack on Ukraine made the line between democracies and autocracies crystal clear, Republicans have tried desperately to backpedal their previous coziness with Putin (in 2018, eight Republican lawmakers spent July 4 in Moscow, for example) and to declare their solidarity with Ukraine. Whether that sudden shift toward democracy would affect their approach to U.S. politics has been unclear. Tonight's speech had some clues: Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said they wouldn't attend because they didn't have time to waste getting covid tests, and Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) actually turned their back on Biden's cabinet members when they came in, then heckled the president as he spoke.

"In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security," Biden said. And Americans "will meet the test. To protect freedom and liberty, to expand fairness and opportunity. We will save democracy."

78% of voters polled by CBS said they approved of Biden's speech.


Insurrectionists and the destruction of the principles of Democracy have no place in the United States of America.

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