Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: SCOTUS hearings, Ukraine, and Madeleine Albright

Charles M. Blow of The New York Times says that the SCOTUS hearings have become a way for the good ol’ boy Republicans to rehabilitate the image of good ol’ boy and beer drinker Brett Kavanaugh.

So what does one do when a nominee’s ascension to the bench is most likely a foregone conclusion? You use that big stage and the bright light to put on a show. In many ways, Judge Jackson is just a prop in that show, the reason all 22 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are gathered for this performance, but nothing more. In many ways, she is being used.

For the Republicans, these hearings present an opportunity to rehabilitate Kavanaugh, to rewrite history to pretend that the reason he had a tough confirmation hearing was because Democrats lacked civility, not because Dr. Ford had leveled a damning accusation against him. The Republicans have invoked Kavanaugh repeatedly over the last few days, and yet Dr. Ford never gets so much as a reference. She is being erased from this history altogether. Republicans are crafting their own judicial “Lost Cause” narrative around Kavanaugh.

In that way, Judge Jackson’s accomplishments are being used against Dr. Ford’s courage. It does a disservice to both women, positioning them as mere pawns in men’s power struggles.

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post writes about the hypocrisies of Senator Ted Cruz.

Georgetown Day School, in the nation’s capital, does indeed take a strong “anti-racism” approach. So does St. John’s School, the private school in Houston where, as the New Republic’s Timothy Noah noted, Cruz sends his daughters.

As the headmaster and chair of the board of trustees at St. John’s put it in 2020: “Black lives matter. … St. John’s, as an institution, must be anti-racist and eliminate racism of any type — including institutional racism. ”

To its credit, the school has vowed to continue to “ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are foundational aspects of our educational program,” and to “incorporate cultural proficiency, diversity, global awareness, and inclusivity into all facets of the K-12 curricula.”[…]

And there in the St. John’s library catalog is — wait for it — Kendi’s “Stamped (for Kids),” the very book Cruz demanded Jackson account for at Georgetown Day School. Cruz’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

George Pyle of The Salt Lake Tribune thinks that an upcoming report by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland would be a perfect opportunity for America to, at the very least, begin to accept responsibility for its past.

Though she may well not be happy with the association (I won’t tell her if you won’t), Interior Secretary Deb Haaland may present all Americans with a chance to accept the responsibility, but not the blame, for something very important indeed on April 1. That’s when she is scheduled to release her report on the sad and sorry history the thousands of Indigenous children who were taken, sometimes at gunpoint, away from their families and culture and placed in any of a series of boarding schools designed to beat, sometimes literally, the Indian out of them. Sometimes fatally.

It’s a tale The Salt Lake Tribune is helping to tell through reporting it has already done and will continue to do, through its search for more memories, as yet unshared, that may tell the full story of this despicable chapter in American history. […]

And it simply cannot be denied that the treatment of these Native children, the displacement and outright murder of so many Indigenous peoples, as well as the whole history of the legally established and constitutionally protected — until it wasn’t — institution of slavery can be summed up in two words.

White supremacy. […]

A lot of really disgusting and disgraceful stuff happened. In our nation, in our name, under our laws, on our dime. Dig it up. All of it. Lay it out.

Ariel Cohen of Roll Call notes that the Biden Administration faces a tough decision about ending the public health emergency in the middle of April.

The emergency is set to expire on April 16, but the Health and Human Services Department said it would give at least 60 days’ notice before ending it. Several public health experts said they anticipated the administration will extend it at least for 90 days, taking it to at least July.

“Health coverage for millions of people has huge policy and political implications. It’s the responsibility of leaders from both parties — governors, Medicaid directors, administration and Congress — to make sure people don’t lose coverage in record numbers,” said Eliot Fishman, the senior director of health policy at Families USA.

The emergency not only deeply changed health care policy but also rippled into federal-state financial relationships that could be painful to end. Lawmakers and administration officials are trying to soften the blow by extending pandemic flexibilities. Complicating the choice is the risk that a new COVID-19 variant could yet emerge.

Andrew Joseph of STATnews writes about the mental health crises that faces nurses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country is approaching 1 million documented Covid-19 deaths, a once unimaginable milestone that invites us to take stock of the manifold harms inflicted by the pandemic. This includes the mental health battering that nurses, in particular, have endured with little attention even as they poured attention on others.

A suicide death can’t be neatly explained. It’s not a simple cause and effect, like how a pathogen infiltrates the lungs and kills. Instead, it’s typically the result of a confluence of factors. Odell, for instance, had been dealing with depression. Experts note that even during periods of immense trauma, it’s a small minority of people who will have thoughts of suicide, and far fewer will act on it.

But it’s also true that nurses — who studies suggest had higher pre-pandemic suicide rates not just than the general public, but doctors as well — have withstood challenges of both greater depth and duration than ever before. They were a sometimes invisible phalanx of frontline workers, counseling families remotely through their grief and taking the brunt of their rage over hospital policies, humanizing patients’ last days tethered to machines, and absorbing a barrage of death in a career that drilled into them that their priority was helping those very patients.

David Ignatius of The Washington Post writes about the life and the passing of the first female U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Her life was an unlikely story of self-discovery. She was raised a Catholic, and she said she had never realized her family was Jewish until Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs uncovered the secret. Her emigre father Josef Korbel taught at the University of Denver, where one of his star graduate students was a young Russia scholar named Condoleezza Rice. Whenever Rice spoke of Korbel, she expressed genuine passion, and it sometimes appeared that the foreign policy elite was really an extended family.

Albright was always a passionate advocate of America’s role abroad, a stance that was severely tested during the Clinton administration. As U.N. ambassador, she pressed for U.S. military intervention in the Balkan war in 1995, and again four years later after Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic attacked the province of Kosovo. Her positions were rooted more in American values than interests; but when talking about foreign policy, she didn’t recognize a distinction.[…]

As the first woman secretary of state, Albright was a trailblazer. But she was a person who took herself and her achievements lightly, even as she took the world seriously. She loved to gather friends for dinner at her home in Georgetown for an evening of good food and drink — leading the discussion with the restless curiosity she had through her life.

Barbara Starr and Jeremy Herb of CNN have an exclusive about a rather tense meeting that U.S. military officials had with a Russian general last week.

The meeting, held at the Russian ministry of defense in Moscow, is a rare instance of Russian and American defense officials sitting down in person since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The readout describes the meeting as tense, with visible signs of stress on the Russian side.

It makes particular note of the behavior of Russian Major General Yevgeny Ilyin, deputy chief of the main directorate of international cooperation who has a long track record of dealing with American officials. In a break from typical practice, Ilyin spoke with no notes or set talking points, according to the readout.

As the meeting was breaking up, one US defense attaché “casually inquired” about Ilyin’s family roots in Ukraine, and the Russian general’s “stoic demeanor suddenly became flushed and agitated,” according to the readout. The Americans reported Ilyin responded “yes,” and said that he was born in Dnipropetrovsk before moving with his family to Donetsk, where he went to school.

But the US officials reported Ilyin then added that the current situation in Ukraine is “tragic and I am very depressed over it” – and then he walked out without shaking hands, according to the readout.

Suzanne Lynch and Jacopo Barigazzi of POLITICO Europe say that European Union countries that are not NATO members are taking a serious look at their positions of military neutrality.

It’s a conversation taking place in national capitals across Europe, as Russian bombs falling on Ukrainian cities thrust concerns about security to heights not seen since the end of the Cold War. For European Union countries that are not members of NATO, the suddenly no-longer-unimaginable possibility of a confrontation between Moscow and the West is raising questions about whether military neutrality is desirable — or even possible.

Even in Ireland, one of the European countries furthest from the fighting, policymakers are starting to revisit a strategic position rooted in the country’s post-colonial history and repeatedly reaffirmed in the century since.

“At last, it feels that you can actually broach the subject,” said Cathal Berry, an independent member of the Irish parliament who advocates for a more robust defense policy. “In the past, if you even mentioned concerns about Ireland’s position on neutrality you were accused of warmongering.”

The overlap between EU and NATO membership is extensive but not complete. Not only is the military alliance far broader — including countries such as the United States, Canada and Turkey — there are six EU countries that, for strategic, geographic or historical reasons, have not joined NATO.

Asami Terajima of the Kyiv Independent reports from the western regional capital of Lviv that while life in Lviv remains calm, for the most part, the city is preparing for war.

While it may seem from the outside like Lviv hasn’t changed much, what’s happening in the city is actually far from ordinary.

Lviv has become a major staging post for refugees fleeing from other parts of Ukraine as they continue farther west. About 500 public institutions from schools to theaters have been turned into refugee centers, as Lviv’s population has increased by almost a third since Feb. 24.

The city heaves with diplomats, government workers, and foreign volunteers delivering aid from abroad or coming to join the Ukrainian military.

There are also several international media outlets that are using Lviv as a base of operations to broadcast news bulletins. A usually quiet city with winding elegant Habsburg architecture, Lviv resembles a kind of 21st-century Casablanca these days.

With the unprecedentedly high demand, apartment prices have skyrocketed and most hotels are fully booked for at least a month.

And although Lviv has been barely targeted directly by Russia’s aggression, the city has started to brace itself for war.

Katy Fallon, Antonia Cundy, and Rosabel Crean of the Guardian report from Medyka, Poland that sex traffickers are targeting women and children fleeing from Ukraine.

“We’ve registered the first cases of [suspected] pimps preying on Ukrainian women near refugee shelter points in Lublin; accosting them, sometimes aggressively, under the guise of offering transport, work or accommodation,” said Karolina Wierzbińska, a coordinator at Homo Faber, a human rights organisation based in the Polish city of Lublin.

“These are not only men,” she said. “There are also women attempting to procure female refugees at bus stations.”

Wierzbińska said there had also been teams of people working together to try to lure women into unidentified cars.[…]

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the Polish army – along with firefighters and police – have been on the border at Medyka, Poland’s busiest crossing with Ukraine, to organise and assist the thousands of refugees arriving every day.

Patrick Gathara of AlJazeera writes that many African countries are wary of making explicitly political statements about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for a variety of reasons.

Many Africans have also failed to see the commonalities between their struggles against imperialism and that of the Ukrainians, preferring to instead conflate the Ukrainians with their benefactors in Western Europe. Indeed, many, including myself, are almost entirely ignorant of the history of Russian colonialism in Eastern Europe and the fear it still inspires in the region. Worse, even today’s conflict, in which Ukrainians are trapped and dying in what increasingly looks like a proxy conflict between the West and Russia, of the sort Africans should be intimately familiar with, struggles to be recognised given that the victims are of a lighter hue than has been the case previously.

However, it is also true that many who rightfully criticise African responses themselves fail to recognise that African governments are making many of the same calculations that Western ones are. Just as the West is unwilling to sever its energy ties to Moscow for fear of what it means for their own economies and citizens, Africa will hedge its bets, especially countries in the eastern part of the continent like Kenya which gets up to 90 percent of its wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine.

Further, they seem unable to recognise that what the world looks like to a large extent depends on where one is standing. And that many here are responding not so much to the invasion itself, but rather to Western reactions to it, which have rekindled long-running grievances that much of Africa has had with the West. The minimising of the Ukrainian state’s racism against African students trying to flee the conflict (with the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK even suggesting that Black people in Ukraine should be “less visible”), has rankled as has the hypocrisy in welcoming Ukrainian refugees while shutting out African and Middle Eastern ones. Ditto the gnashing of teeth over Ukrainian suffering and lionising their resistance…

Ashutosh Pandey writes for Deutsche Welle that India really needs the cheap oil from Russia.

As it turns out, India has more pressing concerns than worrying about its place in Western history books. Indian state-owned oil companies have ordered 5 million barrels of heavily discounted oil from Russia and don’t seem averse to buying more.

Buying oil on the cheap is not a luxury but a necessity for India, which imports 85% of its oil needs. The heavy reliance on imported fuel means that when crude oil prices go up — as they have now —  India’s finances come under extreme stress and budget estimates go for a toss.

The Indian economy could be in for a major shock if crude oil remains above $80 (€72.50) a barrel for months, stoking inflation and hurting recovery at a time when pandemic scars remain wide open.

With benchmark Brent crude oil hovering at over $110 a barrel, these are already difficult times for the Indian economy. New Delhi is only being prudent by looking for cheaper alternatives and one of them happens to be Russian oil, which is selling at a $20-$25 discount.

Finally today, while I was studying some of my online courses in foreign policy last year, I had several occasions to study a few of the many essays written by Secretary Madeleine Albright, including this October 29, 2009 essay in Foreign Policy that addressed some truths, myths, and flat-out “balderdash” about the United Nations. In the excerpt below, Secretary Albright discusses the enlargement of the United Nations Security Council.

“The U.N. Security Council Should Be Enlarged

Indubitably, but don’t hold your breath. Probably no U.N. issue has been studied more with less to show for the effort than Security Council enlargement.

To ensure the council’s strength as a guardian of international security and peace, the United Nations’ founders assigned permanent membership and veto authority to the five leading nations on the winning side of World War II: the United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China. (Other countries compete for election to fill the 10 remaining council seats, with the winners serving a two-year term.) Obviously, the world has changed a bit since 1945: U.N. membership has more than tripled, and three of the eight most populous nations in the world can now be found in South Asia. Despite an apparent consensus to enlarge the council, its members have been tied up in knots trying to decide how. Major debates include fair regional representation (if India deserves a permanent seat, what about Pakistan?) and reluctance to extend veto power to additional countries.

During my years at the United Nations in the mid-1990s, the United States supported expanding the council to no more than 21 members and granting permanent seats to Japan and Germany. This position outraged Italian Ambassador F. Paolo Fulci, whose country opposed the addition of more permanent members. By that logic, he argued, if Japan and Germany joined the Security Council, Italy should be included as a permanent member, too. “After all,” he argued, “Italians also lost World War II.”

Everyone have a great day!

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