More to ignore, Book 58........

Ten Thousan Marbles

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FSob9glX0AASZTH
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Damage control: Mitch McConnell, GOP senators visit Kyiv, meet Zelenskyy
Charles Jay

........Later in his nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskyy said he believed that the senators’ trip showed “the strong connection between the Ukrainian and American people. We discussed various areas of support for our country, including defense and finance, as well as strengthening sanctions against Russia,” according to The Associated Press.

McConnell was joined on the visit by other senators from the establishment wing of the GOP: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas.

It may be a form of damage control after McConnell’s fellow Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, delayed immediate passage of a $40 billion humanitarian and military aid package to Ukraine

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of House Democrats met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

Last weekend, first lady Jill Biden visited a city in southwestern Ukraine, near the Slovakian border, where she met Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska.

On Thursday, Paul blocked quick passage of a critical $40 billion package needed to keep military and humanitarian aid flowing to Ukraine amid an escalating Russian onslaught in the Donbas region.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell had agreed to fast-track the legislation by requesting unanimous consent in order to bypass procedural hurdles so the Ukraine aid package could be approved that day.

The House had approved the aid package on Tuesday by a 368 to 57 vote. The “No” votes came from Republican House members.

Paul’s move to deny unanimous content has delayed passage of the bill until at least next week. Paul demanded changes to the legislation, asking for creation of a special inspector general to oversee how the aid to Ukraine is used.

At the time, McConnell said: “Ukraine is not asking us to fight this war. They’re only asking for the resources they need to defend themselves against this deranged invasion. And they need this help right now.”

But Paul would not yield and said:

"My oath of office is to the U.S. Constitution not to any foreign nation and no matter how sympathetic the cause, my oath of office is to the national security of the United States of America, We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the U.S. economy."

Paul’s opposition to Ukraine aid is not a fringe opinion among Congressional Republicans. Newsweek has compiled lists of 57 GOP House members and 31 Senators who have voted against aid to Ukraine since the war began.

Those 57 House members include Marjorie Taylor Greene who tweeted some pro-Putin talking points after McConnell’s visit to Kyiv was made public.

She said that Pelosi and McConnell both visited Zelenskyy in Kyiv without feeling the need to wear bullet-proof vests and helmets, while they “eagerly give billions to fund their proxy war w/ Russia.”

“If the conditions in Ukraine were so grave to warrant the U.S. sending $54 billion, then our highest ranking leaders would not be able to go.

“But conditions at our own U.S. border are out of control warranting billions of funding, however there is baby formula there.” .........
......
McConnell realizes that his hopes of becoming Majority Leader may be undermined by Trump-backed MAGA candidates such as J.D. Vance in Ohio who have expressed indifference to Ukraine’s plight. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that all the senators in the GOP delegation to Kyiv voted to acquit Trump ;in his first impeachment trial when he was accused of withholding military aid to Ukrain, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, to extort Zelenskyy into announcing an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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The creator of 'The Handmaid's Tale' reflects on the imminent demise of abortion rights
Dartagnan

Over the past few years the resonance of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale has proved itself, over and over again. The confirmation hearings of Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, for example, both drew protesters wearing the emblematic red robes and white, winged bonnets that “handmaids” in Atwood’s novel are required to wear to identify themselves. In 2017 the novel was expertly serialized by Bruce Miller as an award-winning television drama series, currently filming its fifth season.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s leaked disclosure of its stunningly virulent repudiation of the constitutional right to terminate one’s pregnancy, Ms. Atwood, in an article for the Atlantic titled “I Invented Gilead. The Supreme Court is Making It Real,” reflects on the eerie convergence of her work of speculative fiction and the reality now looming in the United States as a consequence of this court’s action.

...........
The idea that a toxic strain of latent religious fanaticism lurking below the surface of American culture could uncurl its hideous tentacles to seize complete control over basic concepts of bodily autonomy and the right to determine one’s reproductive choices formed the basis for Atwood’s nightmarish novel. She sees the same impulse emanating today from the U.S. Supreme Court as it weaves intricate, sophistic arguments to impose its own religious predispositions by pointing to the Constitution’s silence on the issue of abortion. This comes at a time when women in particular (and unfortunately the right probably doesn’t even recognize the existence of equally impacted transgender or non-binary people who become pregnant) had historically managed to swim on the surface of American life, with millions achieving the social and economic status traditionally enjoyed by men.

As Atwood observes, in the eyes of the religious right it was long past time to reach up and yank them down beneath that surface, where they “belonged.”

It is now the middle of 2022, and we have just been shown a leaked opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States that would overthrow settled law of 50 years on the grounds that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, and is not “deeply rooted” in our “history and tradition.” True enough. The Constitution has nothing to say about women’s reproductive health. But the original document does not mention women at all.

Atwood notes that if the operative standard is really what the Constitution says or does not say then women would never have had the right to vote, a right secured only by an amendment to the document well over a hundred years later (and one opposed by “originalists” on the same grounds that Alito relies in his opinion). She also points out that if, as Alito states, reliance on our country’s “deeply rooted traditions” were the relevant criteria, then forced sterilizations of men and women, legitimized by the Supreme Court in 1927, would still be the law of the land.

Her point is that the so-called “traditions” upon which Alito places such emphasis are peculiarly arbitrary, particularly when they are ultimately the products of subjective, religious-based moral judgments, such as the notion of when “life” begins.


The hard line of today’s anti-abortion activists is at “conception,” which is now supposed to be the moment at which a cluster of cells becomes “ensouled.” But any such judgment depends on a religious belief—namely, the belief in souls. Not everyone shares such a belief. But all, it appears, now risk being subjected to laws formulated by those who do. That which is a sin within a certain set of religious beliefs is to be made a crime for all.

As she observes, one of the amendments (actually the first one) that did make its way into the original Constitution was the prohibition of any attempt by the state to establish a religion. By grounding its argument on the premise that it can act as a moral arbiter, the Court has crossed that line and invented the foundation for further erosion and elimination of rights based on religious convictions.

It ought to be simple: If you believe in “ensoulment” at conception, you should not get an abortion, because to do so is a sin within your religion. If you do not so believe, you should not—under the Constitution—be bound by the religious beliefs of others. But should the Alito opinion become the newly settled law, the United States looks to be well on the way to establishing a state religion. Massachusetts had an official religion in the 17th century. In adherence to it, the Puritans hanged Quakers.

Along those lines, Atwood ridicules Alito’s reliance on 17th century theological dogma and jurisprudence as precedent for rolling back a right that has existed in this country for half a century. She warns of the implications of using as a point of reference a culture in which women were burned as witches and convicted and charged with crimes through baseless accusations: “[Y]ou should take a close look at that century. Is that when you want to live?”

Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?

The dominant theme of The Handmaid’s Tale is a militant and violent strain of religious supremacy, providing the underpinning for the society Atwood depicts. In the novel, a theocratic government is established in the former United States as a result of a violent attack on the president and most of the Congress. That attack precipitates the seizure of power by an extreme, fundamentalist religious sect in which all dissent from their peculiar interpretation of Christian and Old Testament dogma are forbidden and punishable by death. In the Republic of Gilead, thanks to environmental degradation rendering much of the population infertile, women are valued only for their ability to bear children. To accomplish this end they are subjected to ritualized rape and impregnation by the rulers of Gilead, usually with the consent and assistance of those leaders’ (infertile) “wives.”

But the most jarring aspect of Miller’s much more recent televised adaptation of Atwood’s novel may not be its disturbing portrayal of the dystopian society Atwood originally envisioned, but the way it draws on present-day events to place that society in a modern context, one recognizable to a 21st-century audience.

Atwood has said she wrote her novel in part as a reaction to the political ascendance of the religious right during the Reagan administration, but for the television adaptation more contemporary reference points were used to show how Atwood’s scenario -- one in which women existed solely in subjugation, raised and bred for their reproductive potential — could plausibly come to pass.

The TV series emphasized this by depicting the creation of Atwood’s religious theocracy (the “Republic of Gilead”) through a series of unsettling flashbacks by its chief characters, recalling their life before and after the time Gilead was imposed. In one those flashback scenes, for example, Offred, the story’s main character, recalls participating in a protest march which government forces open fire on the protesters, driving them underground and ending any hope for “public” resistance. Other scenes establish the cultural foreshadowing of Gilead (one character is depicted visiting a so-called “crisis pregnancy center” in futile hopes of obtaining information about abortion options).

But we're far removed from the realm of speculative fiction now. In another piece, written after the release of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion for the Guardian, Atwood draws a grimmer analogy for the idea of forcing birth of children on people who (for whatever reason) do not want their reproductive lives to be decided for them: she calls it a form of slavery:

Women who cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have babies are enslaved because the state claims ownership of their bodies and the right to dictate the use to which their bodies must be put. The only similar circumstance for men is conscription into an army. In both cases there is risk to the individual’s life, but an army conscript is at least provided with food, clothing, and lodging. Even criminals in prisons have a right to those things. If the state is mandating enforced childbirth, why should it not pay for prenatal care, for the birth itself, for postnatal care, and – for babies who are not sold off to richer families – for the cost of bringing up the child?
[***]
No one is forcing women to have abortions. No one either should force them to undergo childbirth. Enforce childbirth if you wish but at least call that enforcing by what it is. It is slavery: the claim to own and control another’s body, and to profit by that claim.

The Supreme Court’s final assault on reproductive freedom was years of Republican efforts in the making. And now, finally, a fundamental right, long taken for granted by many, is about to be erased. As Dana Milbank, writing for the Washington Post, observes, the only question now is what Americans plan to do about it: Will they hold Republicans accountable for what they’ve wrought? Milbank, who characterizes the imminent overturning of Roe as the “social equivalent equivalent of the 9/11 attacks,” thinks they will:

Americans are not stupid. They know Roe, and they’ll know who the extremists are when, post-Roe, they see states considering or enacting legislation to charge women with homicide for abortions, to ban abortion even for life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, to throw doctors in jail, and to forbid women any relief even if they are raped — calling the rape of a 13-year-old girl an “opportunity” for her.

And if they don’t? If Americans simply yawn, check their messages, and march right back into the booth to vote for the Republicans who created this nightmare?

Thanks to Atwood, we can never say we weren’t warned.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Riga will dismantle Moscow’s Finger
Lincoln green

Monument_to_Soviet_soldiers_liberated_Latvia_from_Nazi_invaders.01.jpg

Moscow’s Finger, officially called The Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders, in Riga, Latvia. Built in the early 1980s when Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union, it has a 79-meter obelisk and sculptures of three soldiers and of Mother Russia.

In “Riga City Council Votes To Dismantle Soviet Victory Monument”, RFE/RL reports today that the city council of Riga, Latvia’s capital, voted yesterday to dismantle a controversial Soviet-era monument that most Latvians see as a symbol of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Latvia in 1940 and its reoccupation of Latvia in 1944, rather than its ostensible purpose of commemorating the liberation of Riga and Latvia from Nazi Germany. Locals call it “Moscow’s Finger” (“Maskavats pirksts” in Latvian).

The city council’s move followed the Latvian legislature’s approval the day before of a bill allowing the city council to order the monument demolished. The city council’s vote was 39–13.

The monument was built between 1979 and 1985. In 1997 ultra-nationalists unsuccessfully tried to blow it up; two of them were killed during the explosion, and six others were imprisoned afterwards.

This year on Victory Day, May 9, Russians in Latvia gathered to lay flowers at the monument, and outrage was sparked when a video surfaced online showing city workers removing the flowers the next day. Police are currently restricting access to the monument.


Yesterday, Riga police reportedly arrested four people at an unauthorized protest against the city council’s decision. The protest was staged by members of Latvia's Russian minority.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine Update: American artillery proved decisive in Russia's Bilohorivka bridge-crossing disaster
kos

FSov9lRXEAEh80N.jpeg

Ukrainian soldiers firing American-donated M777 howitzers to unbelievable effect

For all the sturm und drang of today’s fighting, changes on the ground were scant. Ukraine officially picked up a small town here, Russia did the same over there. While much of the front line was on fire (Ukraine claimed 14 separate attacks), the situation on the ground remained essentially unchanged. @War_Mapper’s updates on Twitter are always great, if you want to see today’s changes.

I wrote earlier that pro-Russian Telegram sources claimed Ukraine was assaulting Izyum from across the Donets River (bottom arrow in image below), but several sources claim the assault is actually coming down from Chuhuiv (top arrow).

chuh.png


If Chuhuiv is the the source of the counter-offensive, it would likely travel that main highway southeast toward Izyium, rather than east toward Kupiansk. Russia has moved a great deal of combat power to Shevchenkove, between Chuhuiv and Kupiansk, to protect its critical supply depot from any Ukrainian advance. Getting through those two cities would be expensive to Ukraine in military resources and lives. And there’s no need, as we’ve can now so clearly see with Ukraine’s push toward Izyum itself.

In short, if Ukraine collapses that Izyum pocket, there is no longer a need for Russia to maintain operations in either Kupiansk or Vovchansk—the two logistical hubs feeding the war machine in the Izyum salient. After a week of debating “Kupiansk vs Vovchansk,” it turns out that the best answer is “C: Take away the reason for both.”

To be sure, I doublechecked NASA Firms satellite imagery, and there’s certainly no fires near Shevechenkove. If Ukraine was headed in that direction, it would fire on the town to clear Russian positions, while Russia would fire back to slow or stop the advance. Instead, as I demonstrated earlier with FIRMS satellite imagery, all the action is developing directly west of Izyum:

counter.jpg


Maybe there’s a two-prong assault on Izyum developing, from both the west and northwest. Or maybe people don’t know what’s going on. Or maybe there’s even some disinformation designed to fix Russian positions on a northwest approach that will never materialize. That’s why FIRMS imagery can be so helpful. There are so many sources of information claiming stuff, and few of them are truly incentivized to always tell the truth.

On another topic, it’s nice seeing our defense tax dollars doing something productive.



The claim by Ukrainian servicemen is that American-donated M777 howitzers destroyed the 80+ vehicles at Russia’s unimaginably disastrous Bilohorivka river crossing attempt. I’m looking forward to a translation (this guy will do it soon), but it definitely looks like an “America, **** YEAH” moment we liberals can rally behind.


This whole debacle has been a fun event to track on pro-Russia social media. The Institute for the Study of War claims, in tonight’s update, that they’ve seen pro-Russia telegram shaken by the carnage:

Prominent pro-Russian Telegram channels (with approximately 300 thousand followers) largely criticized Russian General Staff for failing to learn from previous combat mistakes and expressed concern that censorship and self-censorship was depriving them of situational awareness. Other pro-Russian Telegram channels noted the slow pace of Russian offensive operations in northern Kharkiv Oblast, blaming it in part on ineffective aerial reconnaissance and the negative effects of bad morale within the Russian military. Some Telegram channels reported receiving criticism for “misrepresenting” the performance of the Russian military.

They cite all those observations, so they’re true. But I must frequent a different corner of Telegram and pro-Russia Twitter, because what I’ve seen is totally different—the invention of a fantastical alternate reality where most of the destroyed vehicles are Ukrainian.

The theory is as such: most of the destroyed vehicles are BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, and supposedly Russia no longer fields those ancient vehicles. On-the-ground photos shows Russian uniforms in those BMP-1s, but hey, those could be faked, right? That’s what the propagandists say. Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) analyst Henry Schlottman, the authority on the composition of Russian army units, certainly claims that they are in service.



Oryx has tracked 43 BMP-1s lost by Russia, like this, this, this, and this, all with prominent Russian invasion markings. Oh, and here’s one that still in Russia’s hands:



Furthermore, Russia has been forced to dig into its operational reserves to backfill combat losses while reconstituted shredded units. There aren’t a lot of modern infantry vehicles in those reserves. This is the crap they’re pulling out.

Of course, there’s a lot more than just BMP-1s at the Bilohorivka disaster site! There are 14 T-72s, which are standard Russian issue (though Ukraine has captured a bunch), as well as BMP-2s, and engineering and support equipment that only Russia fields. So how do they explain that?


Well, they’ll concede that there was a big battle on the spot. They’ll even admit (sometimes) that Russia no longer holds the bridgehead. But, their losses were just a fraction of the overall total destroyed vehicles. You see, there was a big battle, and, Russia destroyed all those Ukrainians in BMP-1s before tactically retreating back across the bridge, which then Ukraine destroyed after the fact … er … three times.

FSfIg_lWUAAs2GI.jpeg


Then Russia released video saying “nah uh, we destroyed Ukrainian bridge!”



Except … all I see is Russian shooting at a river, then dropping artillery on a river, with no vehicles anywhere around. Who knows, maybe they did compromise a working bridgehead. But it would still mean the tally is as follows:

Destroyed Russian pontoon bridge: 82+ vehicles

Destroyed Ukrainian pontoon bridge: 0 vehicles


But really, that kind of propaganda isn’t designed to convince people, it’s designed to give their partisans crap to spew. Nothing else. There’s a term for that kind of fantasy-making in this war, and it’ll hop over to our own political discourse before long: copium. People will invent what they need to cope with the news they don’t want to see.
 
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