Russia and Japan are officially at war.
Let that sink in: 76 years after the combat of World War II ended, talks to finally declare peace between Russia and Japan collapsed late last month.
The two nations never reached a treaty because Russia refused to give up four islands the Soviet Union seized off the north coast of Japan in 1945. The Washington Post reported Thursday that thousands of Japanese people who fled the islands after that long-ago invasion are now seeing their dream of returning home dashed by the new tension over the war in Ukraine. Russia said it would withdraw from peace talks over the disputed territory in response to sanctions imposed by Japan after the invasion of Ukraine.
It’s a classic example of the “frozen conflicts” that have persisted in regions around the world long after the fighting stops.
Last week, missile attacks continued to pound Ukraine’s cities, despite a claim by the Russians that they were refocusing their strategy on warfare in the eastern part of the country. No one knows how the war will unfold and either side could win, but the chances may be good that it too will eventually become a frozen conflict.
Ukraine’s military intelligence chief last week suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to cleave western Ukraine from the Russian-separatist portions of the east and create a divide much like the one between North and South Korea.
That’s another frozen conflict, even though hostilities in the Korean War ended on July 27, 1953.
“For a brief moment this week, it seemed vaguely possible that Russia might ease its brutal onslaught in parts of Ukraine,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “After Russian envoys spoke to a Ukrainian delegation in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday, the Russian deputy defense minister announced that Moscow would draw back its forces and ‘drastically reduce military activity’ around the cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv to boost ‘mutual trust.’”
“But those who have been paying close attention to Russia under its leader Vladimir Putin knew better than to take their word for it.” Can Putin’s word be trusted, Ghitis asked. “How do you negotiate with an interlocutor who lies routinely, repeatedly and without compunction? How do you negotiate with a regime that has a decades-long track record of breaking its international commitments?”
In the Financial Times, Edward Luce argued, “At some point, the west will have to talk to the enemy it has rather than the one it would like. That will mean doing some kind of a deal with Putin. The alternative – aiming for Russia’s unconditional surrender and the ejection of Putin – is a bet western leaders cannot afford to indulge.”
Luce noted that “Few believe Putin is ever likely to drop his ultimate ambition of swallowing Ukraine. Any deal, let alone a ceasefire, should thus be treated as a tactical pause.” His bleak outlook: “Ukraine could be forced to suffer months or even years of bloody stalemate.”
Lawrence Freedman, also writing in the FT, argued that “for now neither side has an incentive to commit to a long-term settlement. They are waiting for military breakthroughs and a clearer view on the likely course of the war. Should the prospect be one of a long stalemate, then both might feel obliged to compromise.”
In a conversation with Peter Bergen, retired US Major General Mike Repass said the Russian invasion “culminated” nearly a week ago, meaning that Putin’s forces “no longer have sufficient combat power to continue to advance in the offense.” But he added that the extent of losses on the Ukrainian side is not clear, which makes predicting the future course of the war extremely difficult.
Biden goes off script
President Joe Biden’s pronouncement on Putin could not have been clearer: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Yet as soon as he said it, the cleanup by US officials began – and the President later clarified that he was talking only about his moral outrage over the invasion, not about seeking regime change in the Kremlin.
Dean Obeidallah wrote that Biden had nothing to apologize for. “The world has seen the horrors Putin has rained down upon the people of Ukraine simply because they won’t bend a knee to this brutal dictator and agree to give up their democracy and self-determination,” Obeidallah observed.
But if Americans think that appeals to morality would prompt the strongmen (siloviki) around Putin to oust him or force a change in policy, they’re mistaken, wrote former CIA clandestine service official Douglas London.
“In the multi-level chess game of internal Russian power dynamics,” London wrote, “the last thing those within the Kremlin who might consider moving against Putin need – whether to alter his direction on the war or remove him outright – is public encouragement from an American president … Russians in positions of power today do not necessarily subscribe to Jeffersonian democratic ideals or see America as the world’s shining beacon of light. They are focused on the attainment and preservation of power and privilege.”
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Many Washington Republicans have been wary of criticizing Madison Cawthorn, the 26-year-old representative from North Carolina who has triggered one controversy after another in his short congressional career.
As SE Cupp noted, Cawthorn has “made quite the name for himself in the 14 months he’s been in Congress.”
“There was that time he tried to board a plane with a gun in his carry-on, he claimed by mistake.”
“And the time he posted – and deleted – pictures from his vacation at Hitler’s summer retreat. He called Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who does not drink, an alcoholic. He spoke at the rally that preceded the Capitol insurrection, and later tried to blame the violence there on Democratic agitators. He’s falsely claimed elections are rigged and promised ‘bloodshed’ if they continue to be.”
But what finally prompted widespread condemnation? “He went on a podcast last week and suggested that Washington was full of open drug use and orgies,” Cupp said.
“It really says something that the bridge too far wasn’t his role in the insurrection, spreading lies about elections, slandering his colleagues, racist attacks against his opponents, or any of the other vile parts of his resume. It was what he said about THEM.”
It happened so suddenly that viewers assumed it was all part of the pre-planned Oscars show when Will Smith got up from his seat and slapped Chris Rock last Sunday. Peniel E. Joseph thought it was a “kind of ‘SNL’-inspired skit designed to juice up a show whose lag in cultural relevancy has been much discussed.”
“The slap heard round the world turned out not to be a skit, but an unplanned eruption whose cultural significance is now being refracted through the distorted lens of our disunited nation.”
“Smith ostensibly struck the comedian in defense of his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, after Rock joked about her shaved head (a result of alopecia, a disease that Pinkett Smith has openly discussed),” wrote Joseph. “As a Black man who believes that both racism and patriarchy have had negative effects on the Black community, I don’t believe in resorting to violence in the face of insults. However, none of us are the worst thing we have ever done. Smith’s actions do not negate all the good he has contributed as an actor, artist and humanitarian.”
“Nor does the wrongness of Smith’s behavior make Rock’s joke the right thing to have said at the Oscars.”
Holly Thomas observed that “Smith’s reaction, like his words during his acceptance speech, were more about himself than his wife – and that’s what rankles most. Men shouldn’t use women’s interests as a rationalization for hitting people – and sending the message that this is what women want of men is not only unhelpful, but potentially dangerous.”
“As a superstar with every resource and PR tool under the sun at his disposal, Will Smith could have chosen from countless ways to respond to Rock’s joke …
“Whatever he decided to do, he should have waited to see whether it was what his wife, the subject of the joke, actually wanted, before centering himself and escalating a conflict she may not have been happy to amplify.”
Smith created “a ‘hey-look-at-me’ moment destined to be all anyone would talk about or remember,” wrote Bill Carter in CNN Business Perspectives. “Then he turned his acceptance speech into more ‘look-at-me’ theatrics, seeking to justify an ugly act of violence as some form of noble family values, even saying, ‘Love will make you do crazy things.’”
The move detracted from other winners, including Questlove, who took home the Oscar for best documentary shortly after the incident, Carter observed. “How much did Smith’s actions unjustly overshadow the powerfully moving words from winners like Ariana DeBose (Best Supporting Actress), Jane Campion (Best Director), Sian Heder (Best Adapted Screenplay) and Troy Kotsur (Best Actor in a Supporting Role), all of whom may never experience a night like that again in their lives? What right did Smith have to seize attention away from them?”
White House troubles
The midterm election that will determine which party controls the House and Senate is more than seven months away, and anything can happen. Despite the fast-growing economy, the Democrats’ hold on Congress seems at genuine risk. Biden’s approval rating notched down to 39% in the CNN poll of polls last week. Fairly or not, voters are watching the price signs at gas stations and blaming Biden for surging inflation. And even among Democrats’ own ranks, there’s discontent.
Jill Filipovic faulted the President for increasing spending on defense and policing while setting a modest agenda for social programs in his proposed budget. “Despite progressive hopes that the President might be a secret Franklin Delano Roosevelt capable of ushering in an ambitious domestic agenda, Biden is exactly the timid moderate he always appeared to be.”
“He seems to be hoping that an agenda of the same old tacking-right policies will benefit vulnerable Democrats in the midterms. Instead, he may simply be depressing Democratic enthusiasm and helping to consign the party to a red wave … he seems more concerned with convincing the public that he’s a pro-police, pro-military tough guy and less interested in delivering the things that would materially improve the lives of average folks.”
On Friday, the White House announced it would end a Trump-administration policy of turning back migrants at the southern border due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, “1.7 million migrants have been sent back across the southern US border to Mexico, or repatriated to their country of origin,” wrote Raul A. Reyes.
“From the start, Trump’s invocation of Title 42 was driven by politics, not by legitimate health concerns. In fact, when the Trump administration sought to implement the law, the CDC doctor who oversaw the regulation refused to comply.”
The policy reversal could produce a large flow of migrants crossing the border later this spring, Reyes noted.
GOP critics will cite the change to accuse Democrats of favoring “open borders” and “will paint doomsday scenarios of migrants crossing the border. Yet GOP lawmakers have never offered any constructive immigration or asylum solutions of their own …”
“What this country is really confronting is decades of neglect and mishandling of US immigration policy by successive presidential administrations.”
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A call for accountability
John Eastman, a lawyer who attempted to fashion an argument for overturning Joe Biden’s election win in 2020, went to court to try to block the release of some documents to the January 6 select committee. What he didn’t count on getting was one of the most powerful statements by a federal judge against former President Donald Trump’s election lie.
US District Court Judge David Carter wrote, “If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution. If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the court fears January 6 will repeat itself.”
Carter’s ruling “sets out a road map for finally imposing consequences for the big lie,” wrote Norman Eisen and Fred Wertheimer. “It does so by tackling the thorniest legal issues regarding Trump, his enablers and the events in and around January 6, 2021 – and showing how they can be addressed by prosecutors.”
Meanwhile, Trump once again asked Putin for help. In an interview, Michael D’Antonio noted, “The former President pushed an unproven claim about alleged business dealings in Russia by Biden’s son, Hunter. Trump also urged Putin to release any information he might have on the younger Biden’s business transactions – even though it’s far from clear that the Kremlin has access to any.”
“Seeking Russian help to attack a political foe is a familiar maneuver by Trump. He tried and failed to manufacture a scandal involving Biden’s son in 2019. The difference this time, though, is that Putin now is a reviled figure around the world due to his scorched-earth invasion of Ukraine. Trump could not have chosen a worse moment to remind us that, for years, he cozied up to the Kremlin leader while alienating America’s allies and intelligence services.”
CNN reported last week that the investigation of Hunter Biden’s business activities has “gained steam.” Dean Obeidallah wrote that “If there’s credible evidence that Hunter Biden – or anyone for that matter, Democrat or Republican – may have committed a federal crime, there should be a DOJ investigation.”
“Yet the sense many have is that this DOJ has no problem investigating people named Biden and Clinton but we have seen no signs of investigating Trump despite Garland’s promise in January that ‘The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law.’ And the longer that apparent double standard continues, the more Americans will question if in fact ‘partisan considerations’ are driving the DOJ’s decisions when it comes to Trump.”
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In classical music, a coda is the concluding section of a piece or movement. But CODA has another meaning, dramatically portrayed in the film that won Best Picture at the Oscars.
As CNN’s Lilit Marcus wrote, “Yes, my parents are Deaf.
Yes, I am hearing.
CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults.
No, I didn’t invent it.”
As a child, Marcus joked that she wanted to print a stack of note cards with those four lines and hand them out to “everyone who interrogated me about my family and my background.”
“CODA,” the movie, “didn’t change my life. It showed my life.”
“I was the older of two hearing children raised by a Deaf father and a hard-of-hearing mother in the 1980s and 1990s. When I was young, a teacher told me I ‘didn’t count’ as bilingual because ASL ‘isn’t a real language,’ TV captions were optional to provide and often inaccurate, and I never invited people over for dinner because I wanted to eat my food while it was hot instead of spending the whole night translating.”
In Marcus’ eyes, the film is a breakthrough. “To see a multitude of Deaf stories at one time in ‘CODA’ is a reminder that plurality is important. What if Hollywood took a break from rebooting Spider-Man yet again and devoted the budget to films that depict disabled stories and identities?”
In the film’s wake, “a whole new crop of children will never have to explain what ‘CODA’ means. They will never need note cards. And maybe, just maybe, they will never have to apologize for who they are.”