Happy Friday everyone. A lot happened this week, so I think it’s best to jump right into it. We are going over:
The confirmation hearings for KBJ.
Ginni Thomas’s antics.
Ukraine is Winning
Eliot Cohen has a really incredible piece in the Atlantic, where he chastises Western media for downplaying Ukraine’s success:
The reluctance to admit what is happening on the ground in Ukraine stems perhaps in part from the protectiveness scholars feel for their subject (even if they loathe it on moral grounds), but more from a tendency to emphasize technology (the Russians have some good bits), numbers (which they dominate, though only up to a point), and doctrine. The Russian army remains in some ways very cerebral, and intellectuals can too easily admire elegant tactical and operational thinking without pressing very hard on practice. But the war has forcibly drawn attention to the human dimension. For example, most modern militaries rely on a strong cadre of noncommissioned officers. Sergeants make sure that vehicles are maintained and exercise leadership in squad tactics. The Russian NCO corps is today, as it has always been, both weak and corrupt. And without capable NCOs, even large numbers of technologically sophisticated vehicles deployed according to a compelling doctrine will end up broken or abandoned, and troops will succumb to ambushes or break under fire.
There is significant on-the-ground evidence that proves Cohen is right. Obviously there was an underestimation of Ukrainian resolve, but there was an even greater underestimation of Russian incompetence. For example: A few days ago the Russians were bragging about the arrival of one of their major ships in an undefended Ukrainian port:
So, they floated into a wide open Ukrainian port, were surprised to find it undefended, and settled in without questioning how they got in so easily. Yesterday, the Ukrainians sunk it:
Spoiler: It is really hard to sink a ship. But there are reports like this from all over Ukraine. NATO has estimated that between casualties (between 7,000 and 15,000) and injured/incapacitated troops, the Russian losses are at a staggering 40,000. Ukrainian sources estimate that they have killed around 10,000 Russian soldiers,1 which - if accurate - would be around four times as many troops that the U.S. lost in Afghanistan over 20 years. All in about a month of war.
The New York Times has really incredible (video) coverage of the fighting in Makariv, and it tells largely the same story: Russian troops are having fundamental, logistical problems and are outmatched by the Ukrainians:
Watch the whole video, because the reporting is really incredible.
There have been a lot of stories this week about Russia’s stalled response. Basically, the Russians have been unable to press into parts of Ukraine, so their troops are stagnated, running out of fuel, and running out of food. There are reports on the ground that the Russians are abandoning their dead troops on the battlefield, which experts will tell you is the easiest way to crush morale. But a new, emerging narrative is that the Ukrainians are actually taking territory from the Russians. In other words, this isn’t a stalemate; the Russians are in active retreat.
There has been a lot of talk about giving Putin an “off-ramp,” so that he can get out of the conflict while still saving some face. Originally, that looked like Russia holding onto Crimea or parts of the Donbass, but that scenario is almost impossible to see now. Ukraine probably feels like they have significant leverage over Russia, and will not have to cave to any demands. In the early days of the war, some of the peace “scenarios” between Russia and Ukraine involved them allowing Russian as a second language in Ukraine and some land swaps in Russian-occupied regions. In other words, after it became clear early on that Kyiv wasn’t going to fall in 48 hours, the Russians were ready to concede that they may end the war with only the status quo being preserved.
It’s now clear that this war will probably end with Russia having less than it went in with; they may lose the Donbass, may have to pay reparations to Ukraine, and that’s all before you factor in the fact that their economy has been sent back to 1981.
The GOP Mainstreams QAnon
You have probably seen some clips of SCOTUS nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson being questioned by Republican Senators. Some of them were more comical, like Ted Cruz, who took a break from the hearing to search for his own name on Twitter:
Nolan D. McCaskill @NolanDMcCaskillTed Cruz looks like he’s checking his mentions after his back and forths with KBJ and Durbin. He’s had his head down during all of Coons’ testimony, even as Sasse and Tillis are clearly listening to their Democratic colleague and the nominee before them https://t.co/Rrlud9FHov
But the more “substantive” critique came from the Neo-Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, who alleged that Jackson was “soft” on pedophiles. It is, of course, nonsense, and it was debunked by not only mainstream fact-checkers, but also prominent conservatives. Here is Andy McCarthy, from National Review:
There is a wide variety of federal offenses that are gathered under the label “sex offenses.” In his critique of Jackson last week, Hawley tweeted that he had “noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children” (emphasis added). That is a misleadingly broad claim, and Hawley is too smart not to know that.
Here is McCarthy in a follow-up, after Hawley cited to some of Jackson’s cases:
In reality, the portion of her record that Hawley has highlighted is pedestrian. I am not going to rehash the column. Let’s just look at the cases Hawley cites. There is so little rain here for all the big wind, it’s hard to believe this is an issue. To grasp this, it’s important to know a bit about how federal sentencing works.
I spoke with a former federal prosecutor this week, who was pretty incredulous after seeing the GOP’s antics. His main question: Why is a guy like Hawley embarrassing himself, when he clearly knows better? Even though McCarthy points out that Hawley never did any child pornography cases when he was an attorney in Missouri, he surely knows that in any courtroom, there are more people than just the government and judge making an argument about sentencing.
Senator Ben Sasse had an answer for this at the hearing:
He has done this schtick before, but clearly Sasse was taking shots at Senators Cruz and Hawley (and possibly also Lindsay Graham), who are less interested in being Senators than they are in getting on TV. But I think Hawley’s smear goes a little bit deeper.
He obviously wanted to get attention, but if you look at the difference between Hawley and Cruz’s line of questioning, it shows that Hawley has a better finger on the pulse of the GOP base than Cruz.
The problem with Cruz is that he’s always faking it: He did an entire round of questioning on KBJ and her views on Critical Race Theory (CRT), something that she will have little to no influence on as someone who sits on SCOTUS. Cruz picked CRT because it was the big thing during the election in Virginia. Here’s the problem with that:
CRT isn’t the new hotness anymore, so Hawley dipped into something that is more sustainable: QAnon. Hawley’s line of questioning has made QAnon channels go crazy:
Don Moynihan calls this the “QAnoning of our political discourse:”
Hawley does not claim that [Jackson] herself is engaged in any illegal acts. But he casts her as a bit player in a familiar narrative, upholding a system of mass pedophilia. Since he sits on the Senate Judiciary committee that will hold hearings on Brown’s nomination, he will have ample opportunity to push his claims to an even wider audience.
The point is salient when 50% of Republicans tell pollsters that Democrats are involved with child sex trafficking. Hawley found an issue that matters to the GOP base - both some of the suburban Moms and the extremely online - and painted Jackson with it. Fredo got in on the act:
All in all, I think a lot of the questioning surrounding Jackson can be distilled into a simple fact: The GOP isn’t really a political entity anymore; it’s more like one continuous grievance party mixed in with a media entertainment complex. They have no real policy positions or governing agenda. If you asked someone what the GOP stands for right now, what would they say? They are mostly defined by what they’re against.
Hawley embodies this perfectly: He doesn’t care that his line of questioning is gross and stupid, he only cares that he’s getting attention and making liberals mad. The silver lining: Joe Manchin has already confirmed that he’s going to vote for Jackson, which means all of Hawley and Cruz’s TV antics were basically for nothing.
Ginni Thomas is bonkers.
Late on Thursday night, the Washington Post broke a major story: Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was texting with Mark Meadows after the 2020 election and urged him to overturn the result.
The real issue isn’t that Ginni Thomas is a nutball who thought Sidney Powell was about to release the Kraken. If you read through her texts with Meadows, it really does sound like the ravings of one of your Aunts or Uncles from November 2020 through January 6, 2021. In other words, it’s mostly a Boomer hoping that reality wasn’t, in fact, real.
Normally, this is harmless. And, to be honest, Ginni’s antics may have been harmless on their own; for all we know, Clarance Thomas could think his wife is a nut and ignores a lot of what she says (however, there is some evidence that isn’t true).
The real issue is that Thomas presided over a case where the January 6th Committee was trying to get a hold of Meadows’s texts. There is an open question right now as to whether or not Meadows’s texts with Thomas would have been part of that cache, but Justice Thomas had a reasonable suspicion that his wife’s communications with Meadows could have been roped in.
Instead of recusing himself due to an obvious conflict of interest, Thomas not only presided over the case, but was the sole dissenting vote in an 8-1 decision. 28 U.S.C. § 455 clearly outlines that Thomas should have recused himself. To say this is an ethical issue is a supreme (get it?) understatement:
Some Democrats are calling for Thomas’s impeachment, which is pointless because he will not be removed by the Senate. The larger issue is that Ginni Thomas’s actions have further damaged the (already dwindling) reputation of the Court. Jesse Wegman notes this:
Perhaps Justice Thomas was not aware of his wife’s text-message campaign to Mr. Meadows at the time. But it sure makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
And that’s precisely the problem: We shouldn’t have to wonder. The Supreme Court is the most powerful judicial body in the country, and yet, as Alexander Hamilton reminded us, it has neither the sword nor the purse as a means to enforce its rulings. It depends instead on the American people’s acceptance of its legitimacy, which is why the justices must make every possible effort to appear fair, unbiased and beyond reproach.
I really can’t understate this: In legal circles there is a lot of talk about Thomas resigning. Clearly he has engaged in an ethical violation. And while it is silly to assume he will resign during the Biden Administration, he should absolutely step down from the bench the second a Republican President occupies the White House.
COVID is the turd that won’t flush.
COVID cases in Europe are increasing, and there are some signs that they’re showing up here:
COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group @COVID19actuaryHospital admissions with COVID continue to increase across England. The rate of increase appears to be slowing, but admissions are still up by 22% in the last week. See below for a breakdown by region and age. Also bed occupancy and hospital deaths. 1/6 https://t.co/cUE5Wsbzue
Here’s to hoping that this next wave isn’t too bad, but the way the COVID narrative goes is:
Lots of people decide that COVID is over for political/feelings reasons.
Other people warn that COVID is never going to be over.
COVID ends up not being over.
What we generally have to decide is whether or not we want to treat the disease as the flu that it has become and leave unvaccinated people to learn things the hard way, or continually pivot back and forth between mitigation techniques and living our lives as normal. The problem is: If we do the former, what is the limiting principle? When do we stop? Where does it stop? And, no one can force conservative states to encourage vaccination or impose COVID restrictions. As statistics have now shown us, people in those states want to “enjoy” their freedom, even though being dead from COVID is a pretty big barrier to enjoying freedom.
So, my guess is that we see another wave of cases thanks to this sub-variant; deaths go up disproportionally in places that have low vaccination rates; and then it subsides, with us preparing to do it again in a few months. Easiest prediction ever: The governors of red states will get praise from the GOP base even though their handling of COVID was incredibly poor.
That is all from me. Final note: The cocktail in our opening picture is called a “Why Not?” by Devon Tarby, who is (in my useless opinion) the best bartender in America right now. Recipe is here, and it’s easy:
1 & 3/4 oz bourbon (specifically Evan Williams “black label”)
1/2 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz maple syrup (of the “dark, robust” sort)
Sage leaf and lemon wheel for garnish.
See you next week my babies.
It actually isn’t only Ukrainians floating that number; earlier this week, a Russian media outlet briefly printed that as well, before taking it down from their website and claiming they got hacked. It’s hard to know what is accurate in the fog of war, but take it with a grain of salt that you are going to put in your “Ukraine is kicking Russia’s ass” soup.