Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: President Zelensky addresses Congress

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post asserts that, in part, because of Zelensky’s speech, the United States cannot simply sit on the sidelines when the fate of a democracy is at stake.

There were several new aspects to Zelensky’s message. First, while he asked for a no-fly zone or, as an alternative, aircraft to “protect our sky,” he sought at least the means of shooting down Russian planes: “You know what kind of defense systems we need — S-300 and other similar systems.”

The administration and many lawmakers have opposed a no-fly zone as a dangerous escalation that would inevitably involve military conflict with Russia. Likewise, the administration has resisted pleas for military aircraft as both escalatory and unnecessary. (Ukraine has more than 50 fighter jets.) But air-defense systems might bridge the gap, meeting Ukraine’s needs without raising the risk of World War III.

Second, Zelensky’s concluding appeal for the United States to end its reluctance to provide international leadership might have more impact than any domestic politician, think tank or pundit could. “You are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace,” he said. With that, he demolished any notion that the United States can remain on the sidelines.

I won’t fault President Zelensky for asking for anything at this time; he needs all the help that he can get. And in principle, I agree with Rubin; when a democracy asks for help under these circumstances, the United States, the so-called greatest democracy in the world, should be willing and ready to do what it can

Brian Klass of The Atlantic writes that Russian President Vladimir Putin fell into “the dictator trap.”

Autocrats such as Putin eventually succumb to what may be called the “dictator trap.” The strategies they use to stay in power tend to trigger their eventual downfall. Rather than being long-term planners, many make catastrophic short-term errors—the kinds of errors that would likely have been avoided in democratic systems. They hear only from sycophants, and get bad advice. They misunderstand their population. They don’t see threats coming until it’s too late. And unlike elected leaders who leave office to riches, book tours, and the glitzy lifestyle of a statesman, many dictators who miscalculate leave office in a casket, a possibility that makes them even more likely to double down.

Despots sow the seeds of their own demise early on, when they first face the trade-off between allowing freedom of expression and maintaining an iron grip on power. After arriving in the palace, crushing dissent and jailing opponents is often rational, from the perspective of a dictator: It creates a culture of fear that is useful for establishing and maintaining control. But that culture of fear comes with a cost.

For those of us living in liberal democracies, criticizing the boss is risky, but we’re not going to be shipped off to a gulag or watch our family get tortured. In authoritarian regimes, those all-too-real risks have a way of focusing the mind. Is it ever worthwhile for authoritarian advisers to speak truth to power?

After playing a significant role in the installation of an American president, I honestly believe that Vladimir Putin believed that he was invulnerable.

Mikhail Viktorovich Zygar, a Russian journalist writing for Der Spiegel, points out that the Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t the first time that middle-class Russians have sought to leave the country as fast as possible.

The departure of the Russian middle class from the country, which began on Sunday, Feb. 27, has become increasingly infused by panic. That was the day most European countries closed their airspace to Russian aircraft. Many Russians thought that the borders would soon be sealed and that there would be no way out.

The result was an almost tenfold increase in ticket prices from Moscow to Istanbul, Dubai, Yerevan, Baku, Bishkek and even Ulaanbaatar. Russia’s intellectuals flew out in all directions, taking the most bizarre detours. Indeed, the fear of closed borders remains one of the most persistent phobias of all former residents of the Soviet Union.

Over the past 20 years of Putin’s presidency, as respect for human rights and freedom of expression has continued to deteriorate, many Russians established a red line for themselves, beyond which they would be willing to emigrate: if the borders were to be closed. Behind this is an historical trauma that Russian society still has not overcome, even though it lies more than one hundred years in the past. In October 1917, the Bolsheviks staged a coup and overthrew the liberal interim government. A few months later, they closed the borders, forbidding travel abroad, much less the export of money and valuables. The Russian nobility, poets of the Silver Age, outstanding avant-garde artists, dancers of the Russian ballet, scientists, writers and journalists were forced to seek ways to escape, abandoning all their possessions.

Andrey Pertsev, writing for the Russian independent news outlet Meduza, interviews a development expert about the effects that sanctions will probably have on ordinary Russians.

According to Zubarevich, it’s city dwellers, not villagers, who will experience the effects of the coming economic downturn most acutely. That’s because they have more to lose.

“Income per capita in Moscow is twice as high as that of Russia as a whole,” Zubarevich told Meduza. “Consumer demand in Moscow will change as the food and beverage industry shrinks. Housing, utility, and transport costs aren’t going anywhere. It’s too early to talk about anything else, because consumption patterns haven’t changed yet, but I will say that Moscow is skewed towards the service sector, and the risks there are quite high.”{…]

Even outside of the cities, where people can grow their own food in a pinch, nobody will be spared completely. “We’re at the beginning of a giant experiment: how will consumption patterns shift? Grocery stores aren’t going away, but everything else is an open question,” said Zubarevich. “But people [in rural areas] have gardens: they’ll plant more potatoes, some will grow cucumbers and tomatoes, some have animals — chickens, pigs. Life in those towns is a lot more closely tied to the land, so their losses will be mainly due to inflation.”

I’ve gotten sick of articles like this and this that seem to be extolling President Zelensky as paving the way for some sort of redefinition of some sort of old school version of manhood. Laszlo Solymar writes for The Article about some important history about the “spoils of war” that Soviet soldiers felt free to take in 1945 in Budapest.

That women can be regarded as spoils of war is not a new thing. When I came across the concept in my early teens I could not understand why, after the victory at Troy, Agamemnon brought Cassandra, quite openly, to his Royal palace in Argos. According to my understanding at the time, men were supposed to keep their wives and mistresses apart. Then it was explained to me that Agamemnon got Priam’s daughter as part of the post-war settlement and Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, should have accepted that. Well, she did not and that led to all kind of deceit and murder and eventually to her own demise.

The above reference to a Greek tragedy intends only to show that the idea of women as spoils of war is not a 20th-century invention. History is full of them, although very few of these women left written testimonies. I know something of the subject because I was in Budapest in January 1945 when the Soviet Army occupied the city. They were supposedly liberating the country. In fact, there was widespread plunder, looting and rape. They did not do it in an organised manner, in contrast to Berlin where rape was institutionalised. In Budapest it was a random, but not infrequent, event, left to the initiative or conscience of the individual soldier.

And there was looting, of course. The Hungarian language was enriched by new words, e.g. zabralni which came from zabirovatj, the Russian word meaning to rob with violence. The combat troops coming first concentrated on watches. The second and third waves were less discriminatory: they took everything: shoes, dresses, coats.

And not to at all diminish what happens when women are treated as “the spoils of war,” some men are treated the same way.

That’s what some people consider to be an “old school version” of manhood in a time of war.

Jon Allsop of the Columbia Journalism Review writes about how foreign policy “experts” shape American foreign policy views.

One age-old criticism has been that US networks, in particular, are overly reliant on “expert” pundits with professional and financial ties to the US national-security establishment and defense industry, and rarely give a platform to longstanding anti-war activists. That’s happening again with the Ukraine war. (Just yesterday, CBS News added H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, as a “foreign policy and national security contributor.”) These pundits are (mostly) not apologists for Putin’s invasion—far from it—and they do have expertise relevant to the current moment. Nor do they always agree. But they are not experts in the sense that media people often understand that word—an authority figure who can help put an issue or debate in its proper context—as much as actors often steeped in a particular foreign-policy worldview.

The experts to whom news consumers are exposed influence what they think about the war, and US policy “options” with regard to it. So does the language that they, and we, use. While it is part of our job to convene debates between insightful people, it is not our job to present asymmetrical policies as two equal sides of a coin or to hide the ramifications of those policies behind euphemistic language. As Putin has escalated his war, we’ve heard demands, from US foreign-policy elites but also from Ukrainian leaders, for a NATO “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, sometimes preceded by the adjectives “limited” or “humanitarian”—language that sounds de-escalatory but would actually entail direct military confrontation with a major nuclear power. Since the Biden administration and politicians and analysts from across the political spectrum oppose a no-fly zone as liable to start World War III, this view has gotten plenty of media airtime, and the policy has been characterized in similar ways by some prominent news reporters. But other journalists have too often bandied about the term without adding much context. This is highly consequential. Polls have already shown that public support for a no-fly zone can recede dramatically when it is characterized as an “act of war” or similar.

Moving into domestic politics, Julio Ricardo Varela of NBC News writes about the prevalence of white supremacist views in Latino communities.

Last week’s news that Enrique Tarrio, the former Afro-Cuban leader of the Proud Boys, was arrested on federal charges surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has sparked some interest in an apparently paradoxical reality: nonwhite Latino men worshiping at the altar of American white supremacy and providing cover to ensure that white nationalists stay mainstream.

As a journalist who’s been covering Latino communities for years, I know that this supposed paradox has never existed and that the country’s estimated 62.1 million Latinos have ideologies from one extreme to the other. American whiteness is a prize; it is where the power lies, and people like Tarrio would rather bask in that whiteness than fight against it and appear too “woke,” even it means tearing down democracy.

Non-Latino media have long been obsessed with proving the claim that more and more Latinos are longing to become white, which ignores the fact that being Latino is not just a sole racial construct but more of a messy combination with ethnicity. Voices from within the U.S. Latino community have responded by diving into the complexities of what it is to be Latino in modern-day America. While it is apparent that the country has become more multiethnic and multiracial, the quest for what Cristina Beltrán calls “multiracial whiteness” will always have an appeal in our community.

Igor Derysh of Salon that most of the states with the highest per-capita murder rates are states won by Donald Trump in 2020.

In all, eight of the 10 states with the highest per-capita murder rates in the country voted for Trump in 2020. None of those eight states have been carried by a Democrat since 1996. Mississippi had by far the highest murder rate at 20.5 murders per 100,000 residents, followed by Louisiana at 15.79. Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri all had murder rates higher than 14 per 100,000 compared to a national average of 6.5. The only states that voted for Biden to appear in the top 10 are Georgia — a longtime Republican stronghold that went blue by a tiny margin in 2020 — and New Mexico.

Large blue states that have attracted criticism from Republicans had murder rates significantly below the national average. New York’s rate was 4.11 murders per 100,000 residents and California’s was 5.59. According to the study, Mississippi’s murder rate was 400% higher than New York’s and 250% higher than California’s.

Republicans and the media have also focused on Democratic-led cities in coastal states, but many Republican-led cities have posted much higher murder rates. Despite intensive media coverage of increasing crime in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district, the murder rate in that city was only half that of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s district in Bakersfield, a Southern California city with a Republican mayor that overwhelmingly voted Trump. Jacksonville, Florida, another Republican-led city, had 120 more murders than San Francisco did in 2020 (with only a slightly larger population) but received a tiny fraction of the national news coverage.

Mariel Padilla and Barbara Rodriguez of The 19th News write that hate crimes against the AAPI community continues to rise in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic waning (for now, anyway).

Hate crimes targeting AAPI people made headlines during the pandemic as officials, from President Donald Trump on down, used xenophobic rhetoric linking the virus with the AAPI community. Then, on March 16, 2021, a White gunman opened fire in three spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent. Those attacks galvanized many officials to speak out against the violence, or accelerate their work to prevent it. Congress passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Atlanta to speak with community leaders and state lawmakers.

In some states, including California, Illinois and New Jersey, policymakers are pushing new legislation, including bills to direct transit agencies to combat street harassment and require Asian-American history in schools. Now, one year later, people are worried that momentum has waned and not enough is being done even as the number of reported incidents of hate, particularly towards women, continues to rise dramatically.

In recent months, two women of Asian descent were fatally shot in spas in Albuquerque. New York City has seen a particularly gruesome stream of violence: a 67-year-old woman of Asian descent was punched 125 times, seven AAPI women were assaulted by the same man, one woman was pushed in front of an oncoming train and another was found stabbed to death in her own apartment after being followed. Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, tallied nearly 11,000 hate incidents from March 2020 to the end of 2021, according to its latest findings.

Lenny Bernstein and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post write that based on the COVID surge presently in Europe, that Americans need to be prepared for another surge here, as well.

Infectious-disease experts are closely watching the subvariant of omicron known as BA.2, which appears to be more transmissible than the original strain, BA.1, and is fueling the outbreak overseas.

Germany, a nation of 83 million people, saw more than 250,000 new cases and 249 deaths Friday, when Health Minister Karl Lauterbach called the nation’s situation “critical.” The country is allowing most coronavirus restrictions to end Sunday, despite the increase. Britain had a seven-day average of 65,894 cases and 79 deaths as of Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center. The Netherlands, home to fewer than 18 million people, was averaging more than 60,000 cases the same day.

In all, about a dozen nations are seeing spikes in coronavirus infections caused by BA.2, a cousin of the BA.1 form of the virus that tore through the United States over the past three months.

In the past two years, a widespread outbreak like the one now being seen in Europe has been followed by a similar surge in the United States some weeks later. Many, but not all, experts interviewed for this story predicted that is likely to happen. China and Hong Kong, on the other hand, are experiencing rapid and severe outbreaks, but the strict “zero covid” policies they have enforced make them less similar to the United States than Western Europe.

Finally today, Jeffrey Barg, The Grammarian writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer on the vagueness of verbs in Florida’s recently passed “Don’t Say Gay” bill and why that vagueness is dangerous.

In the run-up to last week’s passage of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation — an ignorant assault on LGBTQ Floridians and their families — the bill’s proponents accused its detractors of not having actually read the text. They argued that nowhere does the bill say “don’t say gay,” and that the woke mob was twisting its meaning.

They’re right. The bill doesn’t say “don’t say gay.” But it is a grammatical mess that will make its implementation even more abusive than it appears at first glance.

“Does it say that in the bill? Does it say that in the bill?” Gov. Ron DeSantis upbraided a reporter who asked about “Don’t Say Gay.” “I’m asking you to tell me what’s in the bill because you are pushing false narratives,” DeSantis said.

If you say so, guv. Let’s look at the bill, which reads in part: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Everyone have a great day!

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