Faces of War

When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.

President Volodymyr Zelensky

This week’s featured post is “What Can We Know About Ukraine?“.

This week everybody was talking about the Ukraine invasion

The featured post covers most of what I have to say about that. But I did want to add something about the role of race and heritage in the American and European identification with Ukraine. To be blunt: Ukrainians get more sympathy because they’re White. Even more than just being White, Ukrainians are perhaps the best exemplars of European standards of beauty (other than maybe Icelanders).

I feel that racial tug myself. (A few years ago, I watched a stage performance of The Grapes of Wrath and realized that I’d be having a much weaker and more ambiguous emotional response if the migrants were Hispanic. These characters were like my grandparents.)

But as in so many situations where we notice unfairness, we should be trying to level up, not level down. (Example: The solution to police disproportionately killing Black people isn’t for them to kill more White people.) The problem here isn’t our empathy for Ukrainians, it’s that we aren’t similarly affected by the plight of Yemenis or the victims of the various struggles in Africa.

Some links I should have worked into the featured post: Noah Smith’s primer on how sanctions work, and articles from Global Citizen and The Washington Post on what you can do to help Ukraine.

One more thing: If you find yourself arguing with Putin apologists on social media, you’re bound to run into the claim that NATO promised in the 90s that it wouldn’t expand further. That’s not true. The New Yorker went into detail about this in January, but I’m more impressed by this Brookings Institute article from 2014: Gorbachev says no such promise was made. He should know.

and Biden’s Supreme Court choice

Probably President Biden hoped to make a bigger splash when he announced Appellate Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to replace Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. But even though the Ukraine invasion was soaking up everyone’s attention, I’m sure he wanted to make his choice before his State of the Union address tomorrow night.

So far, coverage has split into two basic stories: introductions to Jackson, and speculation about whether any Republicans will support her. The gist of each is that she’s well qualified, and that most (maybe all) Republicans will find some reason to oppose her.

As for how that opposition will go, there will be cover stories that spin something about her into a danger to the Republic, coupled with dog whistles that appeal to racism. Andrew Koppelman predicts that her record as a public defender will be used against her, because undoubtedly that job required her to defend some bad people from time to time. In the Fox News alternate universe, their crimes will become her crimes.

As for racist dog whistles, Tucker Carlson has already started. He says the Brown nomination “tells you that [Biden] is absolutely happy to defile a system built by other people over hundreds of years.”

Yep, that’s what Black people do in Tucker’s universe: defile things.

and the pandemic

The Omicron collapse continues. In the last two weeks, cases are down 62%, hospitalizations down 44%, and deaths down 24%.

The big question is how far this goes before it levels out. The encouraging spin here is that the counties where Omicron hit first have generally been running ahead of the rest of the country, and their numbers have gone significantly lower. In the US as a whole, we’re seeing 20 new cases per 100K people. But Cook County, Illinois (Chicago) is at 11, New York City at 10, and Ohio’s Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) is down to 6.5.

and Putin’s American sock puppets


Trump and his people are still colluding with Russia. Here’s Trump being interviewed on a right-wing radio show Wednesday:

I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, “This is genius.” Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.

So, Putin is now saying, “It’s independent,” a large section of Ukraine. I said, “How smart is that?” And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well.

As the Lincoln Project points out, siding with Putin against Ukraine isn’t a new position for Trump.

Delaying military aid, and threatening to withhold it entirely unless President Zelensky would do him the personal “favor” of investigating the Biden family, was what got Trump impeached the first time. He fired Colonel Vindman for testifying truthfully about that extortion.

On Wednesday, Tucker Carlson attributed Putin’s unpopularity to Democratic propaganda, and tried to level the playing field:

Since the day that Donald Trump became president, Democrats in Washington have told you it’s your patriotic duty to hate Vladimir Putin. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a mandate. Anything less than hatred for Putin is treason. 

Many Americans have obeyed this directive. They now dutifully hate Vladimir Putin. Maybe you’re one of them. Hating Putin has become the central purpose of America’s foreign policy. It’s the main thing that we talk about. Entire cable channels are now devoted to it. Very soon, that hatred of Vladimir Putin could bring the United States into a conflict in Eastern Europe. 

Before that happens, it might be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious: What is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years? Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs? 

These are fair questions, and the answer to all of them is no. Vladimir Putin didn’t do any of that. So why does permanent Washington hate him so much?

I don’t know, Tucker. Maybe it’s because he keeps invading his neighbors (Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, Donbas, and now the rest of Ukraine), assassinating both journalists and his political rivals, interfering in the elections of NATO countries (not just conspiring to elect Trump, but possibly also to pass Brexit) and even poisoning his enemies on the soil of NATO countries. Other than that, I guess there’s no reason.

I guess it’s no wonder that Tucker’s clips are showing up on Russian state TV.

Steve Bannon on Thursday repeated one of Putin’s main talking points:

Ukraine’s not even a country. It’s kind of a concept. It’s not even a country .. It’s just a corrupt area that the Clinton’s turned into a colony where they can steal money out of.

Ron DeSantis at CPAC didn’t support Putin, but his use of words like “freedom” and “authoritarian rule” make a mockery of any serious discussion of the issues involved:

There are people that look to Florida as the citadel of freedom who are chafing under authoritarian rule all across the world. I recently got a letter from Samuel from Australia.

Yep, that’s where authoritarianism is rampant: Australia, because (unlike Florida) they have public health rules. He also pointed to Canada as a bad example. (Total Covid deaths per million people so far: Australia 197, Canada 953, Florida 3238.) Russia and Ukraine did not come up in his speech.

and you also might be interested in …

Saturday marked 10 years since the death of Trayvon Martin. On the one hand, that shooting kicked off the Black Lives Matter movement, which continues. On the other, the stand-your-ground law that Martin’s killer invoked has spawned even more laws that invite murder.

Last week I told you about some right-wing concern trolling from the Koch-funded Mercatus Institute, full of supposedly good advice for how Democrats can “save the Republic” by abandoning their entire agenda.

This week brought Part Two of that series, which advises Democrats to embrace “pro-work welfare reform”, fracking and nuclear power, free trade, and a military build-up.

My summary: Now that the Republican Party has abandoned Reaganism, Democrats should adopt it. And my response: If Reaganism is so popular, how did it get pushed out of the Republican Party to begin with?

and let’s close with something of planetary significance

Just when you get the solar system down pat, they change it on you. Now we don’t talk about Pluto.

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  • gstillhungry  On February 28, 2022 at 12:42 pm

    As a Black man who generally enjoys your writing, I am dealing with some disappointment right now. The racism being faced by Black and Brown faces who are trying to flee Ukraine as much as the rest of the country was not something you directly addressed, linked an article to, or touched on in any demonstrative way. I hope to see a different result in the future.

  • Alan  On February 28, 2022 at 1:15 pm

    The entire idea that NATO somehow scared Russia into invading Ukraine is so obviously preposterous. Putin is not a fool, he knows damn well that getting NATO to invade Russia is impossible. The idea that Ukraine should not be allowed into NATO makes no sense unless the thing Putin is afraid of is being denied the ability to invade Ukraine. “Russia is invading Ukraine because they’re worried they won’t be able to invade the Ukraine” is a hell of a take.

    Of course, it doesn’t matter. Trying to argue that is like arguing against the war on Christmas, Qanon, or any other right-wing nonsense. A lot of people saying it know it’s bullshit but don’t care; it’s a weapon to be wielded nothing more. Those who truly believe will reject counter arguments out of hand, even arguing that the evidence against is somehow evidence of the power of the boogeymen.

    • Thomas Paine  On February 28, 2022 at 4:22 pm

      The only thing Putin has accomplished is demonstrating to Ukrainians the necessity of joining NATO as its only guarantee of independence and democracy.

      • Schnark  On February 28, 2022 at 5:41 pm

        Or has he proven the weakness of the unity of nato?

  • whistlinggirl2910  On March 1, 2022 at 1:35 am

    Reagan (and Nancy) got one thing right. Early on while RR first met Donald Trump, he and Nancy disliked him as déclassé and crude. Afterwards, RR said to NR, ‘let’s not have anything to do with him’ and they never did.

  • Abby  On March 1, 2022 at 11:58 pm

    “My summary: Now that the Republican Party has abandoned Reaganism, Democrats should adopt it. And my response: If Reaganism is so popular, how did it get pushed out of the Republican Party to begin with?”

    When right-wing Concern Trolls offer up a suggestion like that, my usual response is “I’m sorry that you lost control of your party, but that doesn’t mean that you can have mine.”


  • By Notes on the War in Ukraine | The Weekly Sift on March 7, 2022 at 9:07 am

    […] prejudice involved in the different responses to Ukrainians and Palestinians, as I discussed last week. But the analogy only works up to a point: I see Ukraine/Russia as a much less morally ambiguous […]

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