Wednesday, April 26, 2023

26: Ukraine

China's Xi calls Ukraine's Zelenskyy, after weeks of intensifying pressure to do so "China will send the Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs to Ukraine and other countries to have in-depth communication with all parties on political settlement of the Ukraine crisis." ...... Xi's call comes as the Chinese leader has sought to play the role of peacemaker, having brokered a deal to mend fences between Middle Eastern rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, chances of a breakthrough in the Ukraine conflict are slim, given how far apart Moscow and Kyiv's positions remain. ........ Even a cease-fire, Ukraine says, will only allow Moscow time to regroup in its faltering military campaign. Ukraine rejected a 36-hour Russian cease-fire over Orthodox Christmas.

US-China relations have entered a frightening new era Economic co-operation with Beijing will be harder than recent speeches by Janet Yellen and Ursula von der Leyen suggest ........ Yellen sets out a plan for what she calls “constructive engagement”. This has three elements: first, “secure our national security interests and those of our allies and partners, and . . . protect human rights”; second, “seek a healthy economic relationship” based on “fair” competition; and, third, “seek co-operation on the urgent global challenges of our day”. In her discussion of the first element, she makes the point that US “national security actions are not designed for us to gain a competitive economic advantage, or stifle China’s economic and technological modernisation”. Yet the difficulty is that this is not at all how it looks in China, as I learnt during a brief recent stay in Beijing......

the US trades more with China than with any other country, except Canada and Mexico

......... US controls on chip exports may be designed to strengthen US security. But they are also a curb on China’s economy. The two cannot be separated. ......... China is still a poor country: at PPP, China’s GDP per head in 2022 was still less than 30 per cent that of the US. ........ Somehow, we have to co-operate and compete, while also avoiding military conflict. Our starting point must be to achieve the greatest possible transparency over our aims and plans. We learnt the necessity of that after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. But we will need far more than that and probably for longer. Few leaders in history have borne a heavier moral burden than those of today.

Ukraine’s Spring Offensive Comes With Immense Stakes for Future of the War Without a decisive victory, Western support for Ukraine could weaken, and Kyiv could come under increasing pressure to enter serious peace talks to end or freeze the conflict....... 12 Ukrainian combat brigades of about 4,000 soldiers each are expected to be ready at the end of April ....... While Ukrainian officials have said their goal is to break through dug-in Russian defenses and create a widespread collapse in Russia’s army, American officials have assessed that it is unlikely the offensive will result in a dramatic shift in momentum in Ukraine’s favor. ........ There is not going to be a single magic-wand moment when Russia collapses.” ........... Ukraine’s army will use deception and feints to throw the Russians off balance. ......... big gains are not guaranteed, or even necessarily likely. The battlefield is heavily mined by the Russians ........ One soldier in Ukraine who participated in a recent failed attack in southern Ukraine said that coordinating anything above the platoon level — a unit of about 30 soldiers — remains extremely difficult. .......... After the offensive is over, there is little chance that the West can recreate the buildup that it did for Ukraine’s coming assault for the foreseeable future, because Western allies do not have enough supplies in existing inventories to draw from and domestic production will not be able to fill the gap until next year ......... The Ukrainian military has been firing thousands of artillery shells a day as it tries to hold Bakhmut, a pace that American and European officials say is unsustainable and could jeopardize the coming offensive. ....... Given Russia’s bigger reserves of equipment and manpower, the officials say Mr. Putin believes he will ultimately emerge victorious as the West’s appetite to support Ukraine subsides. ........ Wagner, Russia’s biggest military contractor, had restarted recruiting troops from Russia’s prisons. ........ some analysts have raised doubts that Moscow has enough soldiers to fill the trenches they have built across their front lines. ......... Egyptian officials might also supply weaponry to Russia. ..... Some European countries, including France, are pushing for negotiations. For now, Mr. Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, are dug in, and peace talks appear to be nowhere in sight. ............ For the Ukrainians to force a real negotiation, they must make sure “Vladimir Putin’s hubris, his arrogance, is punctured ....... “There is very little evidence and little reason to believe that Putin will give up on his strategic goal of subjugating Ukraine politically, if not fully militarily,” she said in an interview. “It’s been his goal, not just for a year, but it’s been going on for nearly a decade. So there’s no sign he’s giving up on that.” .

A California journalist documents the far-right takeover of her town: ‘We’re a test case’ “These big heavy-hitting wealthy people are using Shasta county, I believe, as this little Petri dish … And so far, it’s working. I’m watching it unveil before my very eyes. And it’s terrifying.”

America Fails the Civilization Test The average American my age is roughly six times more likely to die in the coming year than his counterpart in Switzerland......... The true test of a civilization may be the answer to a basic question: Can it keep its children alive? For most of recorded history, the answer everywhere was plainly no. Roughly half of all people—tens of billions of us—died before finishing puberty until about the 1700s, when breakthroughs in medicine and hygiene led to tremendous advances in longevity. In Central Europe, for example, the mortality rate for children fell from roughly 50 percent in 1750 to 0.3 percent in 2020. You will not find more unambiguous evidence of human progress. ......... How’s the U.S. doing on the civilization test? When graded on a curve against its peer nations, it is failing. The U.S. mortality rate is much higher, at almost every age, than that of most of Europe, Japan, and Australia. That is, compared with the citizens of these nations, American infants are less likely to turn 5, American teenagers are less likely to turn 30, and American 30-somethings are less likely to survive to retirement.

Are Text Messages the New Social Media? One Start-Up Thinks So. Community, which was first marketed as a way for celebrities to text their fans, now has big brands on board. ....... Ashton Kutcher, the actor turned venture capitalist, and Guy Oseary, Bono’s and Madonna’s manager turned investor, made when they co-founded a text message company called Community in 2019. In the beginning, it was marketed to celebrities to communicate with their fans about tour dates and new projects. ........ sign up large corporate customers over the past year, bringing the total clients to over 8,000. ......... “I started out with Twitter and built a fairly large following on Twitter,” said Mr. Kutcher, who has 16.8 million followers. “But Twitter today is very different than what Twitter was when I originally started playing around it,” he added. “The click-through rates are massively degraded — the number of people that actually see the post is massively degraded.” ........ At Community, in contrast, “we have like 45 percent click-through rates and 98 percent open rates,” Mr. Kutcher said. “You don’t get that in social environments because most people don’t even see the things you’re posting.”

Late Night Responds to Fox News’s Ouster of Tucker Carlson Seth Meyers joked it would be funny if Fox News “replaced him at 8 p.m. with the new green M&M.” ........ “Now, apparently, Tucker was forced out by Rupert Murdoch, which is pretty ironic. Tucker spent so many years saying that Mexican people were coming to take our jobs away. Turns out, he should have been worrying about Australians.” — DESI LYDIC, guest host of “The Daily Show” ......... “And we still don’t know exactly what led Rupert Murdoch to fire his network’s biggest star, but, reportedly, he was concerned over Carlson’s conspiracy theories about Jan. 6. So let this be a lesson to everybody: If you try to topple America’s democracy, you can stay on TV for two more years and that’s it!” — DESI LYDIC .......... “By the way, Tucker Carlson isn’t the only cable news anchor to get the ax. CNN just fired Don Lemon after 17 New Year’s Eve blackouts — sorry, years of service.” — DESI LYDIC ......... “Don Lemon and Tucker Carlson — for those of you who don’t follow cable news, this is like if Ronald McDonald and the Burger King got fired on the same day.” — JIMMY KIMMEL .............. “Yep, Tucker Carlson is out. When he heard, Vladimir Putin was like, ‘Damn, we need a new P.R. guy.’” — JIMMY FALLON .......... “Tucker Carlson has now worked at and left MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. He’s running out of options now. Like soon he’s just going to be on the Weather Channel, saying that hurricanes are caused by drag queens.” — JAMES CORDEN

Russians Seem Very Interested in My Book About How Dictatorships End Three years in the making, the book came out at the end of January and quickly became a best seller across Russia. The first print run disappeared almost immediately, and since then, there have been three more. ......... there has been a huge amount of attention on social media and an extensive series of reviews in Russian-language publications abroad. Objectively — though it’s awkward to say — the book has become a bit of a phenomenon. ......... But the book, “The End of the Regime: How Three European Dictatorships Ended,” is not about Russia or Vladimir Putin. ......... How do prolonged right-wing dictatorships end? And can Russia become a democracy? ........ surprisingly, it is also being read by the Russian nomenklatura — those at the apex of the Russian state. It seems that the book has become a pretext for discussion of taboo topics, such as political transition, the health and death of the leader, defeat in a colonial war, the end of isolation and, indeed, the end of the regime. ......... The bulk of its scholars have left the country and are now creating another think tank in Berlin. .......... the extraordinarily high level of interest in the book is evidence that, despite the fiction of consensus that state propaganda has tried to reinforce, Russians have not stopped asking questions about what comes next. ......

For many, the simple act of buying the book is a political statement

.......... This is not a book about Russia disguised as a book about Spain, Portugal and Greece. ......... analogies with the collapse of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union are misleading. It is difficult to imagine a defeat along the lines of that suffered by Germany being experienced by a nuclear power such as Russia. Similarly, the collapse of the Soviet regime came about first and foremost because of its sclerotic economic system, which left the population behind the Iron Curtain without food and consumer goods. ........... Even while waging war, Mr. Putin’s Russia remains a market economy and a consumerist society that has yet to close its borders. That makes it more akin to the dictatorships described in the book. They, too, kept their borders open and retained private ownership while dividing citizens into patriots and enemies, repressing the opposition, branding the West as corrupt and promoting special paths for their countries. ...... How the Greek dictatorship, for example, collapsed after an attempt to annex Cyprus, which it regarded as a historical part of the country. ......... Salazar, plagued by health problems, was removed from power but continued to think that he was ruling the country. (To maintain the illusion, a special newspaper was published just for him.) ........ in Spain, the idea of a transition to democracy slowly took hold and was brought about by the ruling elite itself. ........ there is no legal way for the authorities to ban it ...... In one chapter, I write that political energy, like any other kind of energy, doesn’t simply disappear — it merely takes on different forms. Russians’ interest in “The End of the Regime,” it seems, is a good example of that energy finding an outlet.

Tucker Carlson’s Great Replacement On Monday, news broke that Tucker Carlson, Fox News’s highest-rated and most demagogic prime time host, was out, and wouldn’t even get a final show to say goodbye. ......... Sometimes the terrible elements of our political culture seem so immutable that it’s tempting to give in to despair as a prophylactic against perpetual disappointment. But it turns out that it is in fact sometimes possible to shame the shameless. Once in a while, justice is delivered. .......... Grossberg describes an environment in which women of all political persuasions were constantly discussed in terms of sexual desirability. One of Carlson’s bookers, she alleges, was told that she should sleep with Elon Musk to secure an interview. .......... Contempt for women was part of Carlson’s brand at Fox News; his infamous “The End of Men” special urged men to tan their testicles to ostensibly increase testosterone and thereby rescue society from collapse. It would be fitting if contempt for women is what finally derailed him. ......... Like Trump, he and his producers mined the white nationalist internet for narratives, promiscuously spread wild conspiracy theories, and hinted at the need for violence to take back America. After Trump was indicted last month, Carlson said, “Probably not the best time to give up your AR-15.” ......... “what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful.” ........ The similarity of Carlson’s and Trump’s sensibilities might derive from the similarity of their resentments. Both were children of privilege — Carlson was kicked out of a Swiss boarding school — who sought the respect of the establishment but never got it. It’s worth noting, given his loathing of the putative deep state, that Carlson tried to join the C.I.A. but was rejected. He shifted his ambitions to cable news, but before landing at Fox News, he struggled to fit in. ...... Carlson has achieved the rare cable news trifecta of flaming out at CNN, MSNBC and Fox. ....... He has an intensely loyal following, and could easily start his own venture or join a would-be Fox competitor like Newsmax or OAN. ....... Bill O’Reilly, once the face of Fox, has a podcast and a string of best-selling books, but he’s no longer a particularly important cultural figure.

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