Whose House?

It’s not Russian airspace. It’s Ukrainian airspace.

– former NATO commander Wesley Clark
commenting on a no-fly zone over Ukraine

This week’s featured post is “About Those Gas Prices“. Last week’s “How did Christianity become so toxic?” is the most popular Sift post since last October’s “Reading While Texan“.

This week everybody was talking about Ukraine

From the NYT: Russian forces advance slowly in the East and South, but are stalled in the North.

This week, the conventional wisdom began entertaining a question that seemed absurd a few weeks ago: Could Russia actually lose this war?

Early on, everyone took for granted that Russia’s military superiority over Ukraine meant that of course they would eventually overrun the entire country, just as the US had overrun Iraq. The question then would shift (as it did in Iraq) to whether Russian occupation forces could pacify the country well enough to install a friendly government and keep it in power for the long term.

And they still might get to that point; maybe that’s still the most likely scenario. But the resilience of Ukrainian resistance, Russian military incompetence, and the unity NATO’s determination to keep Ukrainian fighters well supplied, have combined to raise the question: What if Russia can’t overrun Ukraine? How long can Russia sustain these kinds of losses before their army’s best option is to turn around and go home? And facing that situation, would Putin lash out in some desperate way with chemical or nuclear weapons?

The WaPo summarizes:

in the absence of substantive progress on the ground and given the scale of the losses being inflicted on its ranks, Russia’s military campaign could soon become unsustainable, with troops unable to advance because they lack sufficient manpower, supplies and munitions, analysts and officials say.

President Zelensky gave a virtual speech to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday. Zelensky had a narrow path to walk: He wanted to express gratitude for the help the US and NATO have given his country, but he also wanted to challenge us: “I call on you to do more.”

He asked for some very specific things:

  • air defense. He’d like NATO to defend Ukrainian airspace directly by declaring a no-fly zone. But he seemed to realize he won’t get that commitment. “If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative. You know what kind of defense systems we need, S-300 and other similar systems.” S-300s are Soviet-era air-defense missiles that three NATO countries (Bulgaria, Greece, and Slovakia) field. Slovakia has offered to provide S-300s to Ukraine if other NATO allies would replace them with some equivalent system. Russia has said it “will not allow” such a transfer, whatever that means. Presumably Zelensky specified S-300s because Ukrainians already know how to operate them.
  • broader sanctions. “We propose that the United States sanctions all politicians in the Russian Federation who remain in their offices and do not cut ties with those who are responsible for the aggression against Ukraine, from State Duma’s members to the last official who has lack of morale to break this state terror. All Americans’ company must leave Russia from their market, leave their market immediately because it is flooded with our blood. All American ports should be closed for Russian goods.”

After Zelensky’s speech, President Biden announced an additional $1 billion of military aid.

800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 100 drones, “over 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds,” 25,000 sets of body armor, 25,000 helmets, 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns, 400 shotguns, as well as “2,000 Javelin, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems.”

The US will specifically provide Switchblade drones to Ukraine, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. The small, portable, so-called kamikaze drones carry warheads and detonate on impact. The smallest model can hit a target up to 6 miles away

Arnold the former Governator has a powerful message for the Russian people and Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Apparently a lot of people are hearing it.

Netflix has brought back Zelensky’s comedy TV series “Servant of the People”. You can also watch it on YouTube.

Varia Bartsova laments the Russia she grew up in, now that Soviet-style repression and Iron-Curtain-like isolation have returned.

Vladimir Putin gave his own speech Wednesday, a quite scary one that seemed to threaten a Stalin-style purge.

The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and simply spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouths. I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to respond to any challenges.

A report from the Institute for the Study of War indicates that a purge may already be going on within the military and intelligence services. Some officials are being fired, while others are being arrested.

Putin reportedly fired several generals and arrested Federal Security Service (FSB) intelligence officers in an internal purge. Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov stated on March 9 that the Kremlin has replaced eight generals due to their failures in Ukraine, though ISW cannot independently verify this information.[21] Putin additionally detained several personnel from the FSB’s 5th Service, which is responsible for informing Putin about the political situation in Ukraine. The Federal Protective Service and 9th Directorate of the FSB (its internal security department) reportedly raided the 5th Service and over 20 other locations on March 11. Several media outlets reported that 5th Service Head Sergey Beseda and his deputy Anatoly Bolyukh are under house arrest on March 11.[22] Independent Russian media outlet Meduza claimed the 5th Service might have provided Putin with false information about the political situation in Ukraine ahead of his invasion out of fear of contradicting Putin‘s desired prognosis that a war in Ukraine would be a smooth undertaking.[23] Putin is likely carrying out an internal purge of general officers and intelligence personnel. He may be doing so either to save face after failing to consider their assessments in his own pre-invasion decision-making or in retaliation for faulty intelligence he may believe they provided him.

Everyone is focused on the war’s effect on the world’s energy production. (See the featured post.) But a more serious problem might be the effect on food production: Not only are Ukraine (where the next crop is not getting planted) and Russia (whose exports are sanctioned) top grain-exporters, but Russia and Belarus are important suppliers of potash, one of the key ingredients in fertilizer. Crop yields far from the battle zone may be affected.

And like the oil price rise, the expected rise in food prices will come at a time when prices are already high. This will be an annoyance to most Americans, and we may fight political battles over whether to offer some special food subsidy to the poor. But the world’s less well off countries could face real shortages.

There have been a lot of dark jokes about the apocalypse these last two years, as the world has faced Pestilence, Death, and now War. But soon the fourth horseman, Famine, may make an appearance.

and the pandemic

I feel like we’re in the eye of a storm. Here in the US, case numbers have been falling almost everywhere since January. We now average fewer than 30K new cases per day, a level not seen since July. Deaths are still over 1100 per day, but that also is lower than we’ve seen since a very brief period around Thanksgiving, and before that you have to go back to August.

So: great news. But there are also ominous signs: A new subvariant is out there (BA.2 where Omicron was BA.1). Europe, which experienced the original Omicron surge before we did, is currently having a BA.2 surge. And wastewater testing, the earliest warning signal of a new outbreak, is finding more Covid in many parts of the US.

It’s also hard to know how much trust to put in the case-number statistics these days. A lot of the less serious cases might never appear in the stats. (People I know personally have tested positive at home and dealt with their symptoms without telling the medical establishment.) It’s tempting to shrug off those easily managed cases. But the virus is the virus; you may or may not do as well as the person who infected you.

Hospitalizations and deaths are more reliable numbers, but they lag in time.

So deciding what risks to take is tricky right now. Maybe you should seize this chance to go to a concert or take a trip. Or maybe the new surge has already started, but we won’t notice it for a week or two.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have asked the FDA to approve a fourth vaccination shot. My advice: Trust your doctor on this. If the FDA approves it and your doctor recommends it, get it.

and the culture wars

Kim Davis is back in the news. She was the county clerk in Kentucky who in 2015 refused to process wedding licenses for same-sex couples who were legally entitled to them. She eventually got voted out, but two couples that she refused to serve are suing her. Friday, a judge ruled that as a matter of law, she did violate their civil rights. Now a jury has to decide what damages to award.

Davis is offering the usual defense: Because her bigotry arises from her “Christian” beliefs, discrimination laws don’t apply to her. I find it impossible to imagine this argument being taken seriously if you substitute a different faith. What if a county health commissioner refused to approve new steakhouses because of his sincerely held Hindu beliefs?

Davis’ lawyers say the case “has a high potential of reaching the Supreme Court”. Given the current Court’s record of inventing special rights for Christians, she may win.

Paul Waldman explains why the Republican plan to double down on unpopular culture war positions can make short-term political sense.

[T]o engineer a political backlash, you don’t actually need to win converts to your cause. Often, all you need is to persuade the people who haven’t changed their minds as the world changes around them to get more upset.

Which is what we’re seeing right now. Particularly at the state level, Republicans have successfully convinced their base that their entire way of life is under dire threat from a trans girl who wants to play on her middle school softball team or from the books that are sitting in school libraries.

Speaking of which: When USA Today included HHS Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine in their Women of the Year list, conservatives couldn’t take that lying down, because she’s trans. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted “Rachel Levine is a man”, and National Review wrote a whole article to protest the choice. NR quoted Levine’s message to people questioning their gender identity:

I think you have to be true to yourself and I think that you have to be who you are. You have tremendous worth just for who you are, no matter who you love, no matter who you are, no matter what your gender identity, sexual orientation or anything else, and to be, be true to that. And then everything else will follow.

and commented “This is terrible advice.” Don’t be who you are; be who we say you are.

In an article focused on trans athletes in women’s sports, The New Yorker commented:

There was something absurd in the spectacle of conservative politicians who have never shown any interest in supporting women’s sports, which are chronically underfunded and underexposed, moralizing about the sanctity of collegiate women’s swimming.

I’m relieved to learn that no NFL team I root for won the bidding war for quarterback Deshaun Watson, who faces 22 civil lawsuits for sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct, but will not be criminally charged. Watson denies everything, which at some point starts to make it even worse: When you’ve got 22 accusers, it’s not a he-said/she-said any more. Denial doesn’t make you sound innocent, just unrepentant.

The Cleveland Browns gave up three first-round draft picks to get Watson from the Texans, and then signed him to a five-year contract for $230 million that sets an NFL record for the most guaranteed money. The contract is structured so that he’ll lose the minimum amount possible when the NFL gets around to suspending him for the start of next season. Given the way the NFL works, Cleveland has mortgaged the franchise for Watson; if he doesn’t work out, they can’t draft his replacement and they’ll have no money available to offer a free agent.

Just about any NFL team occasionally puts somebody on the field who is hard to root for, and like most football fans, I’ve adjusted by not thinking about it too hard. But I wouldn’t be able to stretch this far. Quarterbacks are so central in the NFL that rooting for the Browns next season means rooting for Watson. I couldn’t do it.

Yahoo sports columnist Shalise Manza Young makes the comparison to Colin Kaepernick: Kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism got him (unofficially) banned for life. Watson will probably be suspended for a few games, and then will be the public face of the NFL in Cleveland.

and you also might be interested in …

When Texas was passing its latest voter-suppression law, critics said its main effect would be to screw up people trying to vote legally. And guess what? That’s exactly what has happened.

As Texans’ ballots were cast and tallied across the Lone Star State last week, Monica Emery received multiple letters from county election officials saying that her attempt to vote by mail had failed.

The problem, she learned, stemmed from SB1, Texas Republicans’ restrictive new voting law that not only requires an ID number on voters’ absentee ballots and applications, but also that the type of ID number match the number that a voter originally used to register. 

That law, signed by Governor Greg Abbott (R) last year, has now caused a massive spike in rejected applications to vote by mail. And for absentee voters in last week’s primary election, many of whom are elderly or disabled, it added an extra hurdle to what was once a simple process. 

Apparently, the number Emery wrote on her ballot — she thinks it was her driver’s license number — was not the one she used when she registered to vote. Other options include various state ID numbers and the last four digits of her Social Security number. Any of those numbers could be a voter’s ID number, it’s a question of which one a voter provided when they first registered.

“I did that 40 years ago,” Emery told TPM of her voter registration. “I just put a number down.”

When law-makers are warned that a law has unfortunate consequences, and they pass it anyway, you have to assume those consequences are intended.

Haven’t you suspected all along that Stacey Abrams was from the future?

The Webb space telescope is starting to produce sharp images.

Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson begin today.

Josh Hawley, the Senator who gave a raised-fist salute to the seditionists on January 6, and then put the image on a coffee mug for his supporters (without permission from the news organization that took the photo), has come up with a particularly slimy charge to throw at Jackson: She “has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes”.

One characteristic of an effective smear is that the charge is easier to grasp than an explanation of what really happened. For those who really want to understand, Ian Millhiser goes through the details. Other writers simply observe that Judge Jackson’s sentencing practices are in line with most other judges. Sentencing guidelines in child porn cases are widely believed to be out of whack, particularly in their inability to distinguish more serious cases (i.e., professional producers of child porn) from less serious ones.

Senator Hawley has already voted to approve judges whose sentencing practices are similar to Jackson’s.

Other Republicans looking for ammunition against Judge Jackson are joining this attack.

I’m not grasping the reasoning behind the push to make daylight saving time permanent. I can see not wanting to change clocks twice a year, but why not standardize on the original time system, rather than move it by an hour?

and let’s close with something soothing

If life has been too hectic lately, take a few minutes to watch an otter getting a good combing.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Dan Breslau  On March 21, 2022 at 12:19 pm


    I also find it impossible to imagine this argument being taken seriously if she’d refused to marry a mixed-race couple. We (as a society) finally agreed decades ago that discrimination based on race is unacceptable to the point where no exception based on religious beliefs is valid (see Bob Jones University v. United States.) Protections for LGBT people are still provisional in far too many cases.

  • Dan Breslau  On March 21, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    The above comment was supposed to include this quote for context (thanks, WordPress :-}
    Davis is offering the usual defense: Because her bigotry arises from her “Christian” beliefs, discrimination laws don’t apply to her. I find it impossible to imagine this argument being taken seriously if you substitute a different faith. What if a county health commissioner refused to approve new steakhouses because of his sincerely held Hindu beliefs?

  • Corey Fisher  On March 21, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    Another thing on DST – I’ve seen it pointed out that permanent DST drastically worsens the problem of vertical time zone shifts. Brazil, for example, has gone to permanent standard time. So you can head due south of Boston, to west Brazil, and end up changing time despite only changing latitude. While that’s not a unique problem – it already happens with some places on DST and some on standard for part of the year – enshrining it forever when we could… not, seems like an enormous hassle.

    Also: I personally strongly suspect this will worsen the existing problem of high school students having to go to school as early as possible, while their pubescent circadian rhythms are pushing them to go to sleep, and wake up, later and later.

  • Josh  On March 21, 2022 at 12:46 pm


  • Anonymous  On March 22, 2022 at 12:28 am

    3:30 on why DST or Standard doesn’t really matter, but we should definitely pick just one and DST is what’s on the table https://youtu.be/39wAtJwFrVY

  • janinmi  On March 22, 2022 at 11:07 am

    The Cleveland Browns owners deserve to see their team drop right back to the bottom of the barrel for the Watson trade. The team’s fans, however, do not. Shame on the owners for abandoning Baker Mayfield.

  • Eric L  On March 22, 2022 at 11:16 am

    My theory is that we all like the longer days of summer better than the shorter days of winter and that makes daylight savings time seem like the better schedule.

  • DL  On March 22, 2022 at 4:32 pm

    Re: timezones: I feel like those who live on the eastern edge of a tz prefer daylight savings, whereas those who live on the western edge prefer standard time.

    I feel like the right answer is for the Eastern seaboard to move to Atlantic time, but people hate change, so progress on that front has been slow.

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