Saturday, April 09, 2022

Finland (and Sweden) Move Towards NATO Membership

Donald Trump - who continues to give every appearance of being a Russian asset - described Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine as "genius" and a number of congressional Republicans (not to mention Fox News) continue to root for Russia against democracy in Ukraine.  Yet, by all appearances, Putin's invasion has achieved none of its goals to date and, in fact has resulted in the opposite of what the would be tsar claims to have wanted: Ukraine has not quickly fallen, the Russia army has been shown to be anything but invincible, and NATO has become more unified than it has been in decades.  Worse yet, Sweden and Findland - once the Grand Duchy of Finland under the last real tsars - may soon cease their nuetrality and join NATO. If this result is an act of of "genis," I'd hate to see an act of stupidity.  The real question becomes one of when will the Russian populace realize that Putin has made an utter mess of things, thrown away the lives of Russian troops and trashed Russia's economy - all things that make Russia's 1905 defeat by Japan pale in comparison.  A piece in The Economist looks at how Putin's moves have backfired with Finland.  Here are excerpts:

EVEN AS RUSSIAN troops were massing on Ukraine’s borders in January, Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, insisted that it was “very unlikely” her country would join NATO during her time in office. Less than three months and one invasion later, Finland is hurtling towards membership. On April 2nd Ms Marin told Finns that the country would have to reach a decision “this spring”. As she explained, “Russia is not the neighbour we thought it was.”

Finland, after two grinding wars with the Soviet Union, and unlike most of eastern Europe, kept its independence and democracy through the cold war. The price of doing so was neutrality. Finland bought arms from both East and West, but stayed out of alliances. That arrangement, and the way in which Soviet pressure distorted Finland’s domestic politics, became known by the pejorative term Finlandisation. When the USSR was dissolved, Finland, along with Sweden, took the leap of joining the European Union, binding it closer to other European countries. And after Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, both countries intensified joint exercises and other forms of co-operation with NATO.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has now tipped the scales. When your correspondent visited Helsinki in February, a week before the invasion, official after official emphasised the conservatism of Finnish policy. “We’re still far from a national consensus,” said one, adding that it was unclear whether support for a NATO bid would gather steam. “Do we just have a national awakening?” he mused. In fact, that is largely what has happened. . . . The latest [poll], on March 30th, revealed 61% in favour, 16% against and 23% undecided.

“April, May and June are important—and in many ways historic—months in Finland,” says Henri Vanhanen, a foreign-policy expert and adviser to the centre-right Kokoomus party. A government report setting out the changes in Finland’s security position since the Russian invasion is due to be published on April 14th.

Parliament will then debate the issue. After that, a second government report could make a formal recommendation on NATO membership. A special parliamentary monitoring group, made up of party leaders and committee chairs, will play a key role in signalling the political consensus.

A decision is widely expected to come before a NATO summit in Madrid on June 29th, and perhaps as soon as early May. The two main governing parties, Ms Marin’s Social Democrats and the Centre party, have previously been split on NATO. But a consensus is forming rapidly . . . “I'm pretty confident that we will be filing the membership agreement…in a few weeks’ time,” adds Ms Valtonen.

For Finland, which shuns dramatic change, that is lightning-fast. One reason for that is concern about the country’s vulnerability during a membership bid. On March 12th Russia’s foreign ministry said that Finnish membership would have “serious military and political consequences”, including “retaliatory measures”. Hints of those may already be appearing. On April 8th a Russian plane reportedly violated Finnish airspace, and the websites of the country’s foreign and defence ministries were hit by crude cyber-attacks

Once a bid goes in, Finland would be especially vulnerable: subject to Russia’s ire, but not yet covered by NATO’s Article Five mutual-defence clause. One answer to that is to move fast. On April 3rd Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, said that Finnish or Swedish accession could be done “in a relatively quick way”. No one, not even Viktor Orban’s pro-Putin government in Hungary, is expected to veto it. Mr Stoltenberg has also hinted at interim security guarantees.

In practice integrating either country would not be hard. Both are as close to NATO as it is possible for a non-member to be. Mr Vanhanen says that NATO officials have told him that Finland is in fact more “NATO interoperable”—capable of conducting joint operations alongside other allies—than some actual members. A special procedure designed in 2014 and activated for the first time after Russia’s invasion means that Finnish and Swedish envoys now sit at the North Atlantic Council . . . .

[I]n Sweden, the debate is moving more slowly. Sweden’s main governing party, the Social Democrats, is opposed to NATO membership. As recently as March 8th Magdalena Andersson, the prime minister, said that a membership bid would “destabilise the current security situation in Europe”. However, the country has had a parliamentary majority in favour of NATO since December 2020. The latest poll, on April 1st, also showed a majority of the public (51%) in favour for the first time, up from 42% in January; opposition fell from 37% to 27%.

In the past, Swedes worried that a solo NATO bid would leave Finland dangerously exposed. Now it is Finns who wonder whether Sweden will keep pace. The two countries’ armed forces have become intertwined in recent years.

For most of its history, NATO shared only 196km of border with Russia, in the uppermost fringes of Norway. When Poland joined NATO in 1999 that rose to 428km, thanks to its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. And after the accession of the three Baltic states in 2004, the shared frontier leapt to 1,233km. If Finland takes the plunge in the coming weeks, as it is likely to, the common border will more than double at a stroke (see map).

That has implications for both sides. A country that has prized stable relations with Russia for 74 years would face a new and sustained level of threat, as Mr Niinisto warned recently. But Russia, too, would have to reconsider the security of the Gulf of Finland and the strategic ports around Murmansk. The irony is that a war launched by Vladimir Putin ostensibly to keep NATO at bay, in Ukraine, looks set to bring the alliance closer than ever before.

More Saturday Male Beauty


Alabama Again Embraces Ignorance and Anti-LGBT Bigotry

As I have noted numerous times over the life of this blog, the Alabama I knew of the late 1970's and early 1980's has disappeared and in its place - thanks, in my view due to the rise of the Christofascists and evangelicals in the Alabama Republican Party.  If he were still living, I doubt George Wallace could get elected since he would not be sufficiently extreme to satisfy the Alabama GOP party base.  Instead the state GOP is lead by Gov. Kay Ivey who, in my view, barely has the brains to come in out of the rain and seems hell bent on making Alabama a pariah state for progressive and inovative business by signing horrific anti-LGBT legislation into law that criminalizes gender-affirming surgeries for trans youth and includes its own "don't say gay" provisions.   Ivey's statements underscore that she rejects medical and scientific knowledge and is a know nothing, knuckle dragging Neanderthal (no insult intended to Neanderthals)bans.   A piece at quotes Ivey's ignorant statements:

Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday signed a pair of controversial anti-LGBT bills into law, a day after the state Legislature passed the legislation along party lines on the last day of the legislative session.

Ivey signed SB184, or the Alabama Vulnerable Child Protection Act, which criminalizes gender-affirming surgeries for trans youth.

“There are very real challenges facing our young people, especially with today’s societal pressures and modern culture. I believe very strongly that if the Good Lord made you a boy, you are a boy, and if he made you a girl, you are a girl,” the governor said in a statement after signing both bills. “We should especially protect our children from these radical, life-altering drugs and surgeries when they are at such a vulnerable stage in life. Instead, let us all focus on helping them to properly develop into the adults God intended them to be.”

The governor also signed HB322, dubbed by opponents as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, because an amendment is modeled after Florida legislation banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools. . . . “Here in Alabama, men use the men’s room, and ladies use the ladies’ room – it’s really a no brainer,” Ivey said.

Given Alabama's history, it is safe to say "divsive concepts" includes any honest discussion of slavery and the Jim Crow laws and civil rights movement.  Sadly, Ivey's simple mind cannot grasp that god - if there is one - made gay and trans people too.   An opinion piece also at expresses my reaction to this gratuitous bigotry by Alabama's whore like Republican legistors:

There are decent people in Alabama. I know this because I’ve grown up around them. I hang out with them. Work with them. I’ve gone to church with them, and before I became a parent, I drank a lot of beer with them. I see them every day.

There are a few, even, in the Alabama Legislature.  But now, I worry. I worry whether the decency I’ve seen can counterbalance the meanness.  The meanness of the majority of our lawmakers.

It was meanness Thursday in Montgomery, cruelty toward folks who don’t deserve it. Cruelty toward children. Bullying from grown men and grown women to score political points, to pacify constituents whipped up into a frenzy by talk radio jerks and cable TV hatemongers.

[O]n the last day of the 2022 session, Republican lawmakers channeled their meanness at trans kids and LGBTQ youth.

Already two anti-trans bills had inched their way through the legislative maze. It was an easy place to put the hate that needed a place to go.

The first bill, from Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, would force trans students to use the bathrooms of their gender at birth — a so-called “bathroom bill.”

The second bill, from Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy (whose dad is the one who killed the Edmund Pettus Bridge renaming) would make it a crime for doctors to treat trans youth with hormones, puberty blockers or surgery.

But that wasn’t enough for Alabama lawmakers. . . . An amendment from Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, expanded the bill to prohibit elementary teachers from talking about sexuality or gender in school.

These lawmakers — and let’s be clear, we’re talking about the Republicans — have little regard for the kids they want to legislate back into the closet. Heck, they don’t give a rip for their queer colleagues in the Legislature.

Allen’s contempt for Rafferty, the only openly gay Alabama lawmaker, was clear.

Rafferty turned his attention to the rest of the chamber and pleaded with them to kill the bill.

“It’s hard enough growing up being different,” Rafferty said. “It’s even harder growing up being different and then have a state legislature — your elected officials, the leaders of this state — put a target on children’s backs.”

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, April 08, 2022

More Friday Male Beauty


Stop Putin and Fortify the Baltics

To date the Russian military has shown itself to be far less powerful than many in the West believed it to be and Vladimir Putin's main power appears to be using threats of chemical and/or tactical nuclear weapons and the butchery of civilian populations. Putin's delusion of a quick victory in Ukraine has evaporated and NATO, which he thought weak and disunified has proven to be anything but.  Indeed, Putin has made NATO far more unified and has set the stage for permanent bases in the Baltic nations and talk of removing Russia from the United Nations security council even as the Russian economy tanks.  A Russian defeat of Russia by Ukraine would be the ultimate humiliation and might bring back memories of Russia's defeat by Japan in 1905 which triggered the first "soft" revolution in Russia and reforms.  Most of the Russian population may currently believe the  lies and disinformation put out by Putin's regime, but as the number of body bags returning to Russia and/or soldiers who "disappear" increase, Putin's lies will be increasingly difficult to believe.  A column in the Washington Post argues that NATO needs to fortify the Baltic nations - the opposite of what Trump sought to do - and make it clear to Putin that he has caused the very thing he purportedly feared.  Here are excerpts:  

If war is hell then there are no words to describe the horrific images coming out of Bucha, Ukraine. The video Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky showed after his speech to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday is confirmation of the barbarity we feared Russian President Vladimir Putin would unleash on the democratic nation. And it is a warning of what could happen to other neighbors if he isn’t stopped.

In Zelensky’s blistering critique of the United Nation’s inaction on Russia’s war, he said, “The world watched and did not want to see the occupation of Crimea, or even before — the war against Georgia, or even earlier — the alienation from Moldova of the entire Transnistrian region. It also didn’t want to see how Russia was preparing the ground for other conflicts and wars near its borders.”

From the moment Russia pushed into Ukraine six weeks ago, Putin’s potential to harm his neighbors has been top of mind. I’m specifically thinking about the threat to the Baltic states that are members of NATO and protected by the defense guarantee under Article 5. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are individually and collectively tiny compared with Texas-sized Ukraine. But their experience with Soviet occupation gives them a clear-eyed perspective on the looming threat of Putin’s revanchism and the confidence to tell NATO exactly how to handle Putin.

Jonatan Vseviov, secretary general of the Estonian foreign ministry, . . . believes that the West has not only gotten inside Putin’s head, but also on his nerves. He urges NATO not to rest on its laurels even though Ukrainians have frustrated Putin’s plans to quickly take over their country. And Vseviov doesn’t believe the preliminary peace negotiations are real. Most important, he says, the West must not flinch in the face of Putin’s attempts to undermine the alliance.

“We should just chill, keep calm, do what we have been doing for decades and not fall in the trap here,” Vseviov said. The trap is what Vseviov called Putin’s carrot-and-stick approach. With the massacre of Bucha and the bombing of civilian targets throughout Ukraine, the stick is plainly apparent. The carrot is the peace negotiations in Turkey, which he called “a false hope … with the aim of trying to convince us that some kind of a peace deal is around the corner without it necessarily being there.”

Worries that the crimes unleashed on Ukraine will be visited upon the Baltic states is among the driving forces behind their forceful calls for Russia’s defeat. Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told The Post this week: “I support maximum military support and maximum sanctions. Russia must lose and criminals should stand in court.” And Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told Axios that if Putin “is not punished for the crimes committed, then he will just go on. There will be a pause of one year, two years and when he gets his act together, it will all repeat in a much harder or harsher way.”

In a sign that the warnings are being heeded, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the European allies should consider establishing permanent bases on NATO’s Eastern flank. Military bases would be a good physical representation of what the Baltic states want. But Vseviov believes the alliance needs an attitude adjustment, especially with the frightening prospect that Putin might resort to using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to subdue Ukraine.

“Let’s not be afraid of our own power,” Vseviov said. “We need to become more comfortable with … using our power for achieving our political goals,” which are “defending freedom, defending the rules-based world order that we’ve sacrificed so much to build.”

“This war requires strategic patience,” he added. “And it’s very possible the worst is yet to come. So let’s focus on the future.”

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, April 07, 2022

More Thursday Male Beauty


Boycott Companies That Refuse to Boycott Russia

In the face of  Russia's invasion of Ukraine and now obvious commission of war crimes, hundreds of corporations have either exited Russia, suspended operations and/or ceased investion in that rogue nation.  However, at the latest count, 162 corporations - most notably and not surprisingly, Koch Industries and its subsidiaries (Charles Koch is pictured at left) have failed and refused to stop helping fund and support Putin's war machine.  Sadly, a chance at perceived profit is more important to the leadership of these corporations than morality and decency.  They need to be treated as pariahs just like Putin and Americans need to boycott their products and instead support competitors who have rightly sought to help punish Putin's evil regime.  No moral person should be giving their hard earned dollars to corporations that ultimately have innocent blood - including that of hundreds, if not thousands of children on their hands.  These corporations represent corporate greed at its worse and are despicable.  A column in the New York Times looks at companies who have acted morally and those that have not.  Boycott those that have put money ahead of the lives of civilians and children.  Take the time to check out their names and products (you can look up companies here) and spend your money elsewhere.  Here are column highlights:  

In the latter half of the 1980s, roughly 200 American companies withdrew from South Africa, partly in protest against its apartheid system. As businesses fled the country, South Africa’s segregationist president, P.W. Botha, came under increasing economic pressure. The corporate exodus contributed to the end of apartheid, and was a remarkable display of the power that companies have. When they’re courageous enough to use that power for the good, it can help topple repressive governments.

Over the past six weeks, we’ve witnessed a similarly extensive response from the private sector to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Hundreds of American companies have announced that they are voluntarily curtailing or halting their business in Russia, according to data compiled by our team of 24 researchers at the Yale School of Management. While it’s impossible to say whether all of these companies are motivated by purely moral concerns, they’ve all gone above and beyond what is legally required by international sanctions.

It’s still too early to tell whether their moves will help to force Russia to end the war. But sanctions from Ukraine’s allies have already shaken Russia’s economy. The country’s stock market is on an IV drip, and the Kremlin has imposed strict controls to prop up the value of the ruble.

Companies have a role to play in keeping the economic pressure on President Vladimir Putin. To that end, our team has placed businesses in one of five categories based on their response to the war. Consumers should know whether the companies that make their food, clothes and goods are fully committed to ending Mr. Putin’s atrocities.

Our goal is absolute, and some might even say extreme: Every corporation with a presence in Russia must publicly commit to a total cessation of business there. Russians who rely on the food or medicine those companies make or jobs they provide may suffer hardship. But if that’s what it takes to stop Mr. Putin from killing innocent Ukrainians, that’s what businesses must do.

Here are some of the biggest brands that are leaving Russia, along with companies that are staying put and supporting Mr. Putin with their imports, exports and taxes.

At least 253 companies are making a clean break from Russia, leaving behind essentially no operational footprint.

BP, Exxon and Shell have said they are divesting billions of dollars in Russian energy assets. Bernard Looney, the chief executive of BP, explained that the invasion had caused BP to fundamentally rethink its position in Russia.

The tool and household product manufacturer Stanley Black & Decker also ended its operations in Russia, potentially forgoing millions of dollars in profit.

At least 248 companies have suspended all or almost all of their corporate operations in Russia without permanently exiting or divesting.

In many cases, these companies have ceased doing business in Russia but are continuing to pay their Russian employees, thereby leaving the door open to returning. Adidas, Disney, IBM and Nike all fall into this category.

At least 75 companies have suspended a significant portion of their business in Russia.

PepsiCo, for example, has halted work across all of its sodas in the country, including Pepsi-Cola, 7Up and Mirinda, but not in its dairy products. JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs also fall into this category. Both have said they are winding down their operations in the region. The companies haven’t totally divested, however: They are still reportedly continuing to snatch up depressed Russian securities for pennies on the dollar.

At least 162 companies have not announced substantial voluntary changes to either their operations or their investments in the country.

Some of these companies have donated to international humanitarian organizations or announced vague re-evaluations of operations in Russia but have not taken any concrete measures to suspend or reduce their business there, beyond the bare minimum legally required by international sanctions. Others haven’t addressed the war at all.

Koch Industries — which makes products including Brawny paper towels, Quilted Northern and Angel Soft toilet paper and Dixie cups . . . has condemned Russia’s invasion and the subsidiary that runs the plants has halted new investments in Russia. But it refuses to close its manufacturing plants, suggesting that if it did, Russia would nationalize the facilities. That may be true. But it’s a risk that hundreds of other companies have taken in deciding to pull out of Russia, and it’s one that a multibillion-dollar company like Koch can afford to take as well.

Hundreds of companies are forfeiting profits in order to hamper Russia’s war machine. Their divestment will slow the country’s growth for years to come. Even if the war ends tomorrow, business leaders will think twice before investing in a country with such a capricious leader.

Yet many Western businesses refuse to quit a country whose soldiers are apparently executing Ukrainian civilians. Fortunately, Americans who are sickened by businesses’ indifference to the bloodshed can make their voices heard: If the companies won’t boycott Russia, boycott the companies. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Biden Is Right: Putin Has to Go

For the last 100+ years Russia has been ruled by brutal tyrants who place their own needs, delusions of grandeur and paranoia - and egos - ahead of the interests and wellbeing of the Russian people.  Vladimair Putin is merely the latest toxic Russian ruler.  When Joe Biden first stated that Putin needs to go, Republicans and some on the left swooned and fell on their fainting couches.  Yet, Biden was and is right that the interests of the western world and moral decency demand that Putin ultimately be removed from power by the Russian people when they belatedly come to grasp that Putin and his circle of oligarchs are harmful to their wellbeing and security.   Putin's downwall would also send a much needed message to other autocrats, including those in China.  A column in the New York Times makes the case as to why a quick truce in Ukraine would not be in the long term best interests of western democracies and other democracies around the globe.  I believe the reasoning is sound and one can only hope the west has the backbone to work for the longer term goal.  Here are excerpts:

Horrific scenes of mass murder on the outskirts of Kyiv should appall everybody and surprise nobody.

The brutalization of civilians has been the Putin regime’s calling card since its inception — from the Moscow apartment bombings of 1999, where the weight of circumstantial evidence points the finger at Vladimir Putin and his security service henchmen, to the murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Magnitsky and Boris Nemtsov to Russia’s atrocities in Grozny, eastern Ukraine, Aleppo and now Bucha.

Mostly, the world has found it easier to make excuses to get along with Putin than to work against him. One example: . . . Berlin is now a major diplomatic obstacle to imposing stiffer sanctions on Russia, and Germany continues to buy Russian gas, oil and coal, to the tune of $2 billion a month.

To put this in simplified but accurate terms, Germany — having fiercely resisted years of international pressure to lessen its dependence on Russian gas — finds itself in the position of funding the Russian state. That is money that helps keep the ruble afloat and the Kremlin’s war machine going. Surely this can’t be the role that Berlin wishes to play.

But this requires a clear articulation of Western aims in this crisis. Do we want peace now — or at least as soon as possible? Do we want Ukraine to achieve an unmistakable victory over Russia? And do we want Putin to go?

The advantage of peace now — a cease-fire followed by a negotiated settlement — is that it would end both the immediate fighting and the risk of a wider war. These are not small things, and the temptation to seize them will be great, especially if Putin hints at an escalation that terrifies the West. An added temptation is to suppose that Russia has already suffered a “strategic defeat,” . . . while giving Putin the “offramp” he supposedly needs.

Problems with this course of action? It would consolidate most of Russia’s territorial gains in the war. It would allow Russian forces to continue terrorizing their captive Ukrainian subjects. It would give Putin the chance to present himself as a victor to his domestic audience. And it would provide him with the option to restart the conflict at a future date — an exact replay of what happened after Russia’s first Ukraine invasion, in 2014.

The second option is to help Ukraine seek a decisive military victory. That would mean more than simply beating back Russian troops in the vicinity of Kyiv. It would also mean clearing them out of every other area they’ve seized since February, if not of what Russia seized in 2014.

This would require months of bloody fighting, a small but real risk of wider war and the long-term economic consequences of trying to wean the West from Russian energy. It would also require the West to supply Ukraine with the kinds of weaponry it needs to win: anti-ship missiles, high-altitude antiaircraft missiles, mine-resistant armored personnel carriers and so on.

Critics will argue that this option would put Ukraine’s long-term interests ahead of the West’s immediate ones. But the West also has a profound interest in seeing Russia lose decisively. It would salvage the principle that sovereign borders cannot be changed by force. It would deter similar forms of adventurism, above all a Chinese attempt to take Taiwan. It would send the illiberal nationalists quietly or not so quietly rooting for Putin, from Tucker Carlson at Fox News to Marine Le Pen in France, back to their fever swamps.

It could also seriously undermine Putin’s political grip. To argue that the West has no compelling interest in wanting to see him fall is to pretend that this time, he’ll slink back into his corner and leave the world alone.

But there is a range of options the West hasn’t yet touched when it comes to Putin. We could turn Russia’s frozen foreign reserves and other assets into an escrow account for Ukrainian reconstruction, rearmament and refugee resettlement. We could counter the Kremlin’s dezinformatsiya campaigns in the West with informational campaigns for Russian citizens, particularly when it comes to highlighting their leaders’ ill-gotten wealth. We could set an ambitious date for placing sanctions on all Russian energy imports. Brussels could invite Kyiv into a formal accession process into the European Union as a sign of moral solidarity.

None of these may be a silver bullet when it comes to toppling Putin’s regime. But regimes that face military defeat, economic impoverishment and global pariahdom — as the Soviet Union did by the mid-1980s and Argentina did after its failure in the Falklands — are the ones likeliest to fall. The task for the Biden administration is to persuade our allies to pursue all three while the horrors of Bucha remain fresh in our minds.

More Wednesday Male Beauty


The Far Right and Fox News Continue to Embrace Putin

With growing shocking evidence of Russian war crimes against civilians in Ukraine and growing calls for prosecution of Vladimir Putin and his henchmen here in America we continue to see elements of the political far right and Fox News, particularly Tucker Carlson, still embracing Putin and Russia.  Apparently in the minds of these morally bankrupt individuals being gay accepting and "woke" are worse crimes than the murder of men, women and children and other war crime atrocities.  It's mind numbing  that anyone could continue to embrace Putin's cause and spin lies and acqusations against Ukraine despite the daily display of Russian brutality.  It is also a testament of who morally depraved elements of the Republican Party have become and spinless the remaing Republicans have become that the likes of Marjorie Taylor Green and Madison Cawthorn have not been expelled from Congress.  Meanwhile Fox News has become and ever foul cesspool.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this frightening moral bankruptcy on the right. Here are excerpts:

Only someone born yesterday would be remotely surprised by the atrocities revealed in Bucha, Ukraine. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has been committing war crimes since the day he took office. That makes it all the more sinister and enraging that he retains an influential rooting section of right-wing voters in the United States.

The Pew Research Center finds that the number of Republicans expressing confidence in the Russian tyrant has, mercifully, declined from 37 percent in 2006 to just 7 percent today. But some of the loudest and most influential voices in the MAGA movement still refuse to support Ukraine or stop pushing Russian propaganda. Many take an anti-anti Putin stance by criticizing the Ukrainians for resisting the invasion, insisting that the United States has no stake in the conflict, and focusing their ire on “neocons” and “globalists” (which, to my ears, sounds a lot like “Jews”) who are supposedly trying to drag the United States into a war with Russia.

Here is what Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) said a few weeks ago: “Remember that Zelensky is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.” Here is the Daily Wire’s Candace Owens on March 17: “President Zelensky is a very bad character who is working with globalists against the interests of his own people.” Here is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on March 15: “NATO has been supplying the neo-Nazis in Ukraine with powerful weapons and extensive training on how to use them.” Here is Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance on Feb. 19: “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.”

The worst offenders are also the most influential: former president Donald Trump and Fox “News” host Tucker Carlson. Hey, Tucker, are you still rooting for Russia over Ukraine — as you said you were in 2019? Do you still think there’s no reason to “hate Putin” because he isn’t shipping “every middle-class job in your town to Russia” or “teaching your kids to embrace racial discrimination” — as you said on Feb. 22? Hey, Trump, do you still regard Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as an act of “genius,” and do you still view Putin as a “very savvy” guy who “loves his country” — as you said on Feb. 22?

More broadly, will the pro-Putin wing of the GOP stay loyal to the Butcher of Bucha as more evidence of his crimes emerges? The early indications are not promising.

In recent weeks, Carlson has been pushing a bogus Kremlin claim that Russia had to invade because Ukraine was building bioweapons labs with help from … Hunter Biden. This odious lie might be designed as a “false flag” operation to justify Russia’s use of chemical weapons. Yet Carlson, the consummate “useful idiot,” continues to peddle this loathsome propaganda under the guise of just asking questions.

Carlson also describes Ukraine as a “growing dictatorship” and suggests that arming its defenders is a bad idea because it will “prolong the fighting in Ukraine at the expense of the vulnerable civilian population.” Maybe he should be a little more concerned about the suffering of civilians at Russian hands? But on his show Monday night, he didn’t mention the Bucha massacre. The Kremlin is, naturally, delighted with Carlson’s support and has made quotations from his dishonest program a mainstay on its television shows and social media feeds.

Utterly disgusting.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


More Tuesday Male Beauty


Are We Witnessing a Turning Point in History?

If one studies history with the benefit of hindsight it is often easy to perceive so-called turning points in history.  One such is August 1914 when WWI commenced, yet at the time did the people living through the onset of that war realize the enormous changes that were being set into motion and that empires would fall, social class distinctions would be greatly changed, and society and the role of women in society would be transformed.  The same can be said for 1939 and Germany's invasion of Poland and the outbreak of WWII which witnessed a new total warefare and horrors and war crimes on a scale never seen before - did those living at the outset of the war grasp the cataclysm that was being launched.   A column in the Washington Post looks at where the world, especially the western democracies find themselves not yet two months into Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes that most of us thought were a thing of the past, certainly in Europe.  Has Putin unwittingly cast himself on a road to ruin akin to Nicholas II when he ordered Russia to war in 1914?  Will the western democracies rallt to defeat dictators and authoritarians not just in Russia but elsewhere as well?  Here are column highlights:

Five weeks ago, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered a fateful speech in reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. His government’s decision to, among other things, inject more than $100 billion into the country’s military and deliver lethal support to Kyiv marked a sweeping policy shift away from decades of constitutional pacifism that had kept Germany often on the sidelines of major conflicts.

It was, in the words of Scholz and his allies, a “Zeitenwende” — a turning point in history, a watershed moment made all the more pronounced by the German language’s knack for sprawling, declarative nouns.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said that Germany “cannot look away or stand apart,” and that this “Zeitenwende cannot be had for free.” After clinging to European visions of perpetual peace, war in the heart of the continent had shaken Germany’s cautious political establishment into action.

For many on both sides of the Atlantic, the battles in Ukraine may even mark something more stark — a “Zeitenbruch,” as coined by former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, which is a rupture in history, the closing of one age and the entry into another marked by even deeper uncertainty and great power rivalry.

In Washington, let alone the capitals of Western Europe, there’s a palpable change in atmosphere. The heroism of Ukraine’s defenders and the reported atrocities carried out by Russian forces have fired the imaginations of the Beltway class, which after years of quagmire and stalemate in the Middle East now has a far more morally clear and potentially winnable conflict to get behind.

American flags seldom fly in my left-leaning Washington neighborhood, but a brief Sunday stroll turned up myriad iterations of Ukraine’s blue-yellow bars hanging from fences and doorways. European diplomats in the city speak of an unprecedented solidarity among NATO allies and hail the Biden administration’s leadership in rallying support for Ukraine and sweeping sanctions on Russia. The West as a geopolitical entity has rarely been more united as a bloc and more coherent as a political project.

For some U.S. commentators, Ukraine is not just ground zero in a confrontation with the Kremlin, but the battlefield for the future of liberalism. “If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is successful in undermining Ukrainian independence and democracy, the world will return to an era of aggressive and intolerant nationalism reminiscent of the early twentieth century,” warned political theorist Francis Fukuyama. “The United States will not be immune from this trend, as populists such as [Donald] Trump aspire to replicate Putin’s authoritarian ways.”

The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum located in Ukraine the launchpad for an ever-expanding ideological war against illiberal autocracy. “Many American politicians would understandably prefer to focus on the long-term competition with China,” she wrote. “But as long as Russia is ruled by Putin, then Russia is at war with us too. So are Belarus, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua, Hungary, and potentially many others.”

Yet, for many outside the West, the moment is less a turning point than a reminder of the past. Critics point to a long tradition of Western double standards on the world stage. The Russian invasion elicited a Western response that was swift and all-encompassing — Ukrainian refugees were welcomed, while governments imposed crippling sanctions on Russia for its violation of international law. Where was such action in other contexts, they argue, including those where the United States and allies were complicit in ruinous wars and occupations?

“We have seen every means we were told could not be activated for over 70 years deployed in less than seven days,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said at a security conference in Turkey in March. “Amazing hypocrisy.”

A delivery driver in Baghdad recently told the Associated Press that Iraqi insurgency against U.S. troops was as justified as Ukrainian resistance to Russian forces.

In the West, the fight over Ukraine is seen with almost Churchillian clarity. Elsewhere — particularly in countries that have reasons to doubt Winston Churchill and Western moralism — suspicion and distrust endures. “You never know when the U.S. will spring a nasty surprise on you and start to look at you negatively, which is something the world’s only Hindu-majority country has to worry about,” right-wing Indian journalist Raghavan Jagannathan told my colleague Gerry Shih. “You have an Abrahamic past. There’s a strong binary of, ‘You’re right or wrong, you’re with us or against us.’ ”

Scholz may have initiated a sea-change in German defense policy but has so far resisted calls for wholesale bans on imports of Russian natural gas and oil, which fill the Kremlin’s coffers yet also buttress much of the German economy.

“The Zeitenwende speech broke some taboos in German foreign policy, but so far these are only enough to soothe the German conscience,” wrote Berlin-based analyst Oxana Schmies. “Economic opportunism has not yet been overcome either. Strategic thinking has yet to establish itself in the body politic.”

“The problem is that no one knows how long the Zeitenwende will actually last because now comes the hard part,” said Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “If the war starts to ramp down, I worry that there will be a real desire for things to go back to how they were, and that’s just not possible.”

Monday, April 04, 2022

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Evidence of Russian Atrocities Grows

As Ukraine forces have retaken areas around Kyiv from Russian occupation there is growing evidence of Russian atrocities  against civilians - a Russian trademark stretching back decades - which while aimed at terrifying populations into surrendering are having the exact opposite impact in Ukraine.  Rather than surrender, the Ukrainians are redoubling their opposition to Russian forces.  Meanwhile, proof is piling up to support war crime charges against Putin, his generals and others within his regime and the Russian military.  A column in the Washington Post looks at booth the growing evidence of atrocites and why Putin must suffer defeat. Only defeat may force the Russian population to realize that they have been lied to, Russian lives thrown away, and that Russia's economy has been ravaged all for nothing other than Putin's delusions of grandeur.  One can only hopethat eventually Putin falls from power and faces a tribunal that will deal with him most severely.  Here are column highlights:

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin got one thing right: His invasion did lead to Ukrainian civilians greeting troops as liberators. Only they weren’t greeting Russian troops. They were greeting the Ukrainian troops who in recent days have entered villages around Kyiv that had been occupied by the Russians for more than a month.

The Ukrainian government proclaimed on Saturday that all of the Kyiv administrative region had been freed of Russian control. It was as if the Free French forces were entering Paris in 1944.

The reason civilians were so jubilant to be liberated has become grimly apparent. Sickening pictures from Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, show the corpses of residents who had been bound, shot and left by the side of the road. The mayor of Bucha said that some 270 people had been found in two mass graves and another 40 were lying dead in the streets.

The atrocities in Bucha were no aberration. There is ample evidence of other war crimes by Russian troops across Ukraine. Human Rights Watch has documented Russian troops committing rape, summary execution and looting.

In Mariupol, the Russians bombarded a theater where civilians were sheltering. The word “CHILDREN” was printed in Russian in huge white letters outside. An effort to discourage aerial attack may have actually invited it. Some 300 people in the building were reported killed by Russian bombs on March 16.

But it is one thing to kill civilians with bombs and missiles. It is another to kill them with bullets to the back of the head. This is a different level of evil — the kind of organized atrocity that Europe has not seen since the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995. Russia’s “anti-Nazi” operation has led Russian troops to act precisely as the Nazis once did. If there is any justice in the world, Russian war criminals, from Putin on down, will someday face the kind of justice that the Nazis received at Nuremberg.

This, sadly, is the Russian way of war. It is how Putin’s forces fought in Chechnya and Syria — and before that, how Soviet forces fought in Afghanistan and in central Europe during World War II. They commit war crimes to terrorize the population into surrender. But it hasn’t worked in Ukraine. Russia’s savagery has simply caused the Ukrainians to resist all the harder because they know they are fighting not just for their freedom but for their very survival.

In the past week, the invaders have been driven out of the Kyiv area, with crippling losses. The Russians have lost, according to open-source reporting, at least 400 tanks and, according to the State Department, at least 10,000 troops; by a standard military metric, that means another 30,000 Russian soldiers may have been wounded. So roughly a fourth of the initial Russian assault force — which included Putin’s best troops — is probably out of action.

Having failed in their initial objective of regime change, the Russians are trying to reorganize their battered and depleted forces to capture the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. This would have been much easier to do at the outset of the war, without those heavy losses. Now the Russians will be hard-put to encircle the Ukrainian forces in the east, which have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014.

How will this war end? No one can yet say. The Ukrainians are rightly enraged by Russian atrocities and will be less likely to make territorial compromises with the invaders, knowing that to do so would be to consign their fellow citizens to a Stalinist hell. But as a former Putin adviser says, “Russia cannot afford to ‘lose,’ so we need a kind of a victory.”

The 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia, should remind us that it is possible to make peace even with war criminals — but only after they have been defeated. There is no indication yet that Putin feels he has lost this war. That is why it is so essential that Russia suffer a decisive defeat in the Donbas.

The West must continue to ramp up aid to Ukraine, providing it with the kind of heavy combat systems needed to drive back the Russians in the south and east as they have already done in the north. It is good to see the Biden administration getting ready to transfer tanks to Ukraine.

Other weapons, including artillery, fighter aircraft and long-range air defense systems, must follow. The only way to achieve peace at this point is not by negotiating with the Russians but by defeating them.

As for the Europeans: It is time, finally, to stop all oil and gas purchases from Russia. Germany, in particular, cannot continue paying blood money that subsidizes today’s version of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads. Enough is enough.

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Sunday, April 03, 2022

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Ex-U.N. Prosecutor: Issue Global Arrest Warrant for Putin

With Russian forces withdrawing in some areas of Ukraine, horrors are being revealed including murdered civilians and entire towns leveled. Add to that the deliberate shelling of hospitals, schools, and residential buildings and it's clear that Putin's scorched earth approach has crossed the line into war crimes,  For this a former United Nations prosecutor is urging that an international arrest warrant be issued for Putin.  As the BBC reports, the deliberate murder of civilians occurred in the town of Bucha:

At least 20 dead men were lying in the street as Ukrainian troops entered the town. Some of them had their hands tied behind their backs. The mayor said they had buried 280 people in mass graves.

While such a warrant would be ineffective within Russia so long as Putin remains dictator, this would (i) bar him from leaving Russia and (ii) set the stage for eventual prosecution in the manner of Slobodan Milosevic, the one time president of Serbia, who likewise had ordered war crimes to be committed.  A piece in Politico looks at the issue:

GENEVA — The former chief prosecutor of United Nations war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin is a war criminal,” Carla Del Ponte told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in an interview published Saturday.

the Swiss lawyer who oversaw U.N. investigations in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia said there were clear war crimes being committed in Ukraine.

She said she was particularly shocked by the use of mass graves in Russia’s war on Ukraine, which recalls the worst of the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

“I hoped never to see mass graves again,” she told the newspaper Blick. “These dead people have loved ones who don’t even know what’s become of them. That is unacceptable.”

Other war crimes she identified in Ukraine included attacks on civilians, the destruction of civilian buildings and even the demolishing of entire villages.

She said the investigation in Ukraine would be easier than that in Yugoslavia because the country itself had requested an international probe. The current ICC chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, visited Ukraine last month.

If the ICC finds proof of war crimes, she said, “you must go up the chain of command until you reach those who took the decisions.”

She said it would be possible to bring even Putin to account.

“You mustn’t let go, continue to investigation. When the investigation into Slobodan Milosevic began, he was still president of Serbia. Who would have thought then that he would one day be judged? Nobody,” she told Blick.

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