More to ignore, Book 56........

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: At the turn of the tide
Mark Sumner

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A de-mining team searched for unexploded mines near the village of Hryhorivka in the Zaporizhzhia oblast, May 5, 2022.

There’s a line in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that appears in both the books and the films, though with slightly different words and at slightly different times. The wizard Gandalf, having been thought lost in the depths by most of his company, returns unexpectedly, appearing before a group of his friends in his new, bright white robes. “Be merry!,” Gandalf says to them. “We meet again, at the turn of the tide. A great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.” The film makes this even shorter: “I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.”

For Gandalf’s friends, the statement has to be a little puzzling. The human kingdom of Gondor has been under constant attack. Evil seems on the march everywhere. As Gandalf appears, the enormous forces of Mordor under the command of the disembodied necromancer, Sauron, seems ready to deliver a crushing blow. The situation seems utterly dire. Only Gandalf has the foresight to see that this is the low point, the moment when things will start to reverse themselves and what seemed to be Sauron’s inevitable victory becomes a lot more … evitable.

If there was a moment when the tide turned for Ukraine, it was surely back in the first 48 hours of the fight, when Ukrainian forces refused to fold. When Volodomyr Zelenskyy refused to run. When Russian forces demonstrated what was left of the Great Army after decades of kleptocracy and corruption.
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Even so, May 5 felt like a day when something changed. From early in the day there was word that Ukrainian troops near Izyum had gone on the offensive, with Ukrainian artillery lighting up Russian positions all along the extensive salient and Ukrainian troops pressing back on Russian forces at multiple points. Then later in the day, Russia seem to be pressing an attempt to recapture towns that Ukraine had recently liberated both in the area near Kherson and around Kharkiv. As the day ends in Ukraine, it seems that Russia failed at every point.



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In the area north of Kharkiv, NASA’s FIRMS data made it clear that some heavy exchanges of artillery were underway on Thursday along the road between Kharkiv and Staryi Saltiv. However, when Russia tried to follow shelling with a direct assault, it did not go well. This may have been near the village of Fedorivka, where destruction of Russian forces were reported, though it’s not certain.



Near Kherson, there were reports that Russians again attempted an airborne landing, moving troops into the area near Vysokopillya by helicopter. Unverified reports state that at least two helicopters were destroyed and the attempt failed, mirroring earlier failures of such tactics at Hostomel and Kharkiv.

There are also reports that four villages were recaptured by Ukrainian forces, but the villages are not named. One Telegram report indicated that Ukrainian forces had entered Tomyna Balka, a village barely 15 miles west of Kherson … but the location seems unlikely based on the last known status of surrounding towns and villages.


Down in Mariupol, three days of Russia attempting to dig the remaining defenders out of the Azovstal factory resulted in the destruction of a huge number of buildings and some hard fighting. As of midday, Russia was once again dangling the promise of a humanitarian corridor if the resistance would just please leave. Then it promptly violated an offered truce. Fighting rages on.

Russian forces surrounded Mariupol and laid siege to the city starting on March 2, a week after the invasion began. By April 12, Russian troops moved into the city in force, even as Ukrainian resistance fought a desperate holding action in the streets, parks, and factories. On April 22, most of the Ukrainian forces remaining in the city—both Azov Regiment and other Ukrainian units—took refuge in the Azovstal complex; 64 days after Russia surrounded Mariupol, they are still there.

That doesn’t mean they’re not suffering from terrible conditions. When a small number of people were allowed to be removed from the hospital there earlier this week following a visit from U.N. representatives, they didn’t allow any wounded soldiers to be taken out. Those remaining in Azovstal report that some of these men are now dying from simple infections, because there are no antibiotics left.

Elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, Russia damaged an older T-64 tank, forcing the crew to pop out and run for it (they seem to have made it) while Ukraine at least damaged, if not eliminated, an artillery battery.



At the end of the day, there aren’t any big Ukrainian gains to talk about, no new Staryi Saltiv or other bold stroke. But there were absolutely a lot of Russian defeats—including in the latest efforts to capture Popasna.

But there seems to be a new attitude in the Ukrainian military—one that holds it’s no longer time to sit back and let Russia fritter away forces at Putin’s pace. Instead they’re pressing Russian positions, going on the offensive, and bringing the fighting to places that Russia likely felt were safe. That may or may not be a turn of the tide, but it seems like a wave starting to build.

Note: I’ll provided updated maps when I have some confirmations on villages that have changed hands. There are a number of scattered reports today, but little information from familiar and trusted sources. Hopefully that will be corrected soon.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Former defense secretary: Trump wanted to fire missiles into Mexico and pretend someone else did it
Aldous J Pennyfarthing

As bad as Donald Trump’s presidency was, rest assured it could have been way, way worse. And believe me, I get how bad it was. On its best days, it was like a happy-ending massage from Edward Scissorhands. On its worst days, it was like a shiatsu massage from Edward’s younger brother, Larry Shared-Heroin-Needle Thumbs.

And yet some people still think he could—and/or should—be president again. Yeah, him. The scamp who attempted to 86 Western democracy. That guy. So, sure—let’s take another go at ending America, shall we?

Of course, during his first term, Trump was surrounded by various babysitters and other marginally competent advisers who steered him away from some of his more godawful ideas, like nuking hurricanes or shooting protesters in the legs. Those minders won’t be around in his second term, assuming he gets one. His cabinet is more likely to resemble the line of people standing outside hoping to get into The Price Is Right than anything we’ve seen from previous administrations. You thought Betsy DeVos was a horrible cabinet pick? Get ready for Education Secretary “Last Person Trump Saw on Tucker Carlson’s Show Gurgling Lies About Public Schools.”

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So keep all that in mind when you read this.


The New York Times:

Former President Donald J. Trump asked Mark T. Esper, his defense secretary, about the possibility of launching missiles into Mexico to “destroy the drug labs” and wipe out the cartels, maintaining that the United States’ involvement in a strike against its southern neighbor could be kept secret, Mr. Esper recounts in his upcoming memoir.

Kept secret? A U.S. missile launch into Mexico? Sure, I’ll get right on that, boss. And if for some reason Mexico does find out, we can always wire them $130,000 to keep it quiet.

When Mr. Esper raised various objections, Mr. Trump said that “we could just shoot some Patriot missiles and take out the labs, quietly,” adding that “no one would know it was us.” Mr. Trump said he would just say that the United States had not conducted the strike, Mr. Esper recounts, writing that he would have thought it was a joke had he not been staring Mr. Trump in the face.

Okay, I’ve stared Trump in the face numerous times—from a distance, anyway—and not once did I not think it was a joke. Then again, I never joined his administration.

According to Esper’s upcoming book, I Would Have Alerted Y’all to This Sooner, but the White House Commissary Has These Exquisite Linzer Tortes I Can’t Find Anywhere Else, Trump was a walking five-alarm fire draped head-to-toe in oily rags.

Of course, as former Trump advisers who were gobsmacked in real time tend to do, Esper is excusing his failure to speak out when it would have actually mattered by noting that there had to be an adult in the room lest Trump set fire to the family pet—which in this case was Lindsey Graham, but even he deserves some due consideration. According to Esper, the administration was obsessed with the ocher abomination’s reelection, and all Trump’s decisions were made with that goal in mind—to the exclusion of everything else. Esper also claims he thought about resigning several times but “believed the president was surrounded by so many yes-men and people whispering dangerous ideas to him that a loyalist would have been put in Mr. Esper’s place.”

In fact, one of those yes-men, senior adviser Stephen Miller, had an absolutely novel idea for making our country, erm, “safer.”

In October 2019, after members of the national security team assembled in the Situation Room to watch a feed of the raid that killed the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Mr. Miller proposed securing Mr. al-Baghdadi’s head, dipping it in pig’s blood and parading it around to warn other terrorists, Mr. Esper writes. That would be a “war crime,” Mr. Esper shot back.

Seriously, this guy wants to run for another term. This guy.

Then again, war crimes are tres chic again, aren’t they?
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Karine Jean-Pierre makes history and Jen Psaki doesn't disappoint as she chides Doocy one last time
Walter Einenkel

It was officially announced Thursday that White House press secretary Jen Psaki will be stepping down from her position. Starting next week, current principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will step into the position in front of the White House press corps in the briefing room. It means she will now be tasked with, among other things, fielding the right-wing talking points thinly veiled as questions from conservative hacks like Peter Doocy.

Jean-Pierre will become the first Black woman as well as the first openly gay person to fill the role of White House press secretary. Last year, Jean-Pierre appeared in front of the White House press and did a rather superb job answering some truly terrible questions. Jean-PIerre’s appearance last year represented only the second time a Black woman had led a White House press briefing.* When asked about the historic nature of the event, Jean-Pierre told the press, "This is not about me. This is not about any of us. And anytime I’m behind here—and I know you’ve heard Jen [Psaki] say this as well—we are going to be truthful, we’re going to be transparent, and that’s the way I believe the president would want us to communicate to the American people."

In a statement, President Biden said, “Karine not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris Administration on behalf of the American people. Jill and I have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this Administration.” Jean-Pierre tweeted out: “It is a true honor. I look forward to serving this Administration and the American people. I have big shoes to fill. @PressSec has been a great friend, mentor and excellent press secretary.”

Psaki has given the United States a much more competent view of the White House briefing room after four years of whatever clown the Trump administration decided to send out for the day—or not send out at all. She has also provided some good entertainment for non-ultra-right-wing media outlets with her frequent slam dunking of propaganda minions from Fox News and the like. On Thursday, Psaki didn’t disappoint, giving one last jab to suspected masochist Peter Doocy of Fox News.



As for Jen Psaki, while she has not officially announced her next steps and did not do so during today’s briefing, the Hollywood Reporter has said that Psaki is in talks to join MSNBC, possibly hosting her own show.

Here’s Jen Psaki introducing Karine Jean-Pierre

 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: Russia redefines Nazi as anyone who resists their assault
Mark Sumner

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Checking in with Patron, world famous mine-sniffing pup, Hostomel, May 5, 2022.

The entire premise of Russian propaganda behind their illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is that they are there to fight against “Ukrainian Nazis” and the “genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime.” That theme of fighting against the “Nazi junta in Kyiv” has been repeated in every speech by Vladimir Putin, on the floor of the U.N. by Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, and especially in the endless television appearances of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.


This week, Lavrov elaborated on this theme. After it was pointed out that Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is himself Jewish, the foreign minister made a slightly controversial statement. “Zelenskyy is a Jew?” said Lavrov with mock surprise. “Hitler also had Jewish origins. The greatest antisemites are precisely the Jews."

That claim generated immediate outrage around the world, where it was recognized as a not at all subtle variant on the idea that Jews were themselves the agents of their own destruction, both during the Holocaust and today. It stirred an immediate furor in Israel which, for the first time since the invasion began, announced that it would send not just humanitarian, but military assistance to Ukraine. That, in turn, led to Putin getting on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to apologize for Lavrov’s remarks.

At the same time, Russian media continued to claim that the Jewish president of Ukraine was the leader of a Nazi regime intent on committing genocide. Which seemed awkward.

To clear this up, Russia’s top Tucker Carlsons got on the job and went back to something Putin said in the speech he gave to initially justify the invasion. In that speech, Putin tied together a charge of “neo-Nazism and Russophobia." Now Russia has gone one step further and simply redefined Nazi to better fit their needs.



Anyone who opposes Russia is now, by Russia’s definition, a Nazi. So Zelenskyy is a Nazi. Biden is a Nazi. Chances are good you’re also a Nazi. It’s a very handy thing to be able to use the most vile label in at least the last two centuries against anyone who opposes your will. It allows any action to be justified, and for Russian soldiers to feel good about torturing and killing children in dark basements. Because, after all, Nazi children.

Threaten someone, and if they don’t surrender, you can kill them. Because resisting makes them a Nazi. So handy.

Of course, by removing all context from the word “Nazi” and turning it simply into a synonym for anyone who opposes Russia, Putin and company have also destroyed even the pretext for justification in their propaganda. If Nazi is simply a term for someone who refuses to do what you say, it hardly justifies starting a bloody war and engaging in actual genocide, complete with industrial-scale murder, mass burials, and tens of thousands being shipped across borders to labor camps.

Perhaps the word Putin is looking for isn’t Nazi, but untermensch. Because that certainly fits better with how it’s being applied. And now, with that terminology problem under control, Putin can get back to finding someone to make a film about his upcoming parade. Wouldn’t want to miss a goosestep.
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UKRAINIAN COUNTEROFFENSIVE?​

On Friday morning, we’re still getting claims that Ukraine conducted “successful counteroffensive operations” near both Kharkiv and Izyum, but there still doesn’t seem to be any detailed results that can be pinned to a map. This could be because the results were not all that spectacular.



On the other hand, it could easily be that Ukraine isn’t ready for every move they made in the last 24 hours to be diagramed by the army of Telegram and Twitter analysts who constantly search for a long list of place names, hoping to get some confirmation of troop movements so they can change the pins on their map and … yes, I am completely guilty of this.

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KHERSON​

There do seem to be indicators that in another area, down near Kherson, Ukrainian forces captured a series of villages. From the indications given so far, those villages seem likely to be at the southwest edge of the line, and could include some of those known to be in dispute (yellow markers) before Thursday.

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Russia is busy in Kherson putting up Russian-language signs, blocking the entry or exit of anyone from the city, and making declarations like this:



Meanwhile Ukrainian soldiers in the area are trying to get messages to those in the city that they are working to drive Russia out of the area.



The shout at the end of that message is “Kherson is Ukraine!” But right now, the nearest Ukrainian forces are at least 15 kilometers outside the city, and it’s genuinely unclear whether Russia is on the offense or defense in this region.

One Ukrainian account has a more explicit response to the idea of Russia being in Kherson forever.



Oh, and a translation of her profile clears up something for Putin. “I’m not a Russophobe,” it says. “I don't fear them. I hate them.”

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POPASNA​

Using NASA’s FIRMS data requires a little caution, because sometimes a fire is just a fire. Someone burning off a field for spring, a smoldering trash pile, or a plain old house fire can look no different than conflagrations raised by artillery strikes. With that in mind, there does seem to be something worth noting in these images from Popasna.

Looking back across the last month, Russia has genuinely pounded the town over and over.


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FIRMS data, Popasna, April 7 through May 5, 2022.

When reducing the data to show only the last week, there is an expected drop in the overall number of strikes, but there is also a change in the locations that Russia is targeting.

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FIRMS data, Popasna, April 28 through May 5, 2022.

Russia no longer seems to be firing into the southeast section of the town. Instead the fire is restricted to the western edge and northern parts of Popasna.

Over the last month, there have been numerous reports that Russian forces have “reached Popasna” and even videos of fighting within residential streets of the town. This data would seem to indicate that Russia feels it has either cleared, or more likely simply reduced, the southern and eastern half of Popasna, and is now fighting against Ukrainian positions that are in a more reduced area of the town.

Popasna, home of a deadly cycle where Russian forces are drawn in, then put under artillery fire, seems to be getting gradually reduced. But it also doesn’t look as if Russia is likely to be announcing any victory there in the next few days.
 
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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Friday, May 6, 2022 · 12:44:24 PM EDT · Mark Sumner
Starting to get some information about the situation near Kharkiv, consider this still unconfirmed for now, but Ukraine seems to have focused the counterattack on those towns between Kharkiv and the recently established position in Staryi Saltiv. It appears that Ukrainian forces have not just recaptured the towns along the major highway, but some other nearby locations, which should help protect traffic along that highway from artillery strikes.

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The checkmarked locations are those reported to have been taken by Ukraine in the last day. Ukrainian forces are in Cherkasskiye Tishki, but there is reportedly a downed bridge on the main road connecting that town with the still in dispute Ruski Tyshky.

Ukraine’s progress in pushing Russian-occupied territory back from Kharkiv seems to be continuing at a good pace. Where Ukraine goes next doesn’t seem as clear as taking Shestakove and Fedorivka, which was the clear target after taking Staryi Saltive.

Russian forces near Petrivka just above the highway are likely an upcoming target, as are those near Nove on the southwest end of the Russian-occupied zone. Taking Nove would open a crossroads west of Velyki Prokhody, allowing that town to be pushed from two directions and possibly opening a route to come at Ruski Tyshky from another angle.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ryazan (Russian: Рязань, IPA: [rʲɪˈzanʲ] ( listen)) is the largest city and administrative center of Ryazan Oblast, Russia. The city is located on the banks of the Oka River in Central Russia, 196 kilometers (122 mi) southeast of Moscow. Ryazan is among the oldest cities of Russia.

As of the 2010 Census, Ryazan had a population of 524,927, an increase from 521,560 in 2002, making it the 33rd most populated city in Russia, and the 4th most populated in Central Russia after Moscow, Voronezh, and Yaroslavl.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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An administrative law judge in Georgia on Friday ruled that GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene can stay on the ballot for the state's 14th Congressional District following a challenge to her reelection candidacy.

A group of Georgia voters had argued that Greene was not eligible to run for reelection under the "disqualification clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment due to her alleged support for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In his 19-page opinion, Judge Charles Beaudrot said that the burden of proof is on the challengers and that they "failed to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence."

Beaudrot also said that the evidence in the case was insufficient to establish that Greene "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or [gave] aid or comfort to the enemies thereof under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution."

The judge's ruling is a recommendation; the final decision on whether Greene stays on the ballot for the May 24 primary will be made by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.......
 

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