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Political Wire logo Russia’s Looming Economic Collapse
Ukrainians Are Messing with Highway Signs
Three Scenarios for How This War Ends
Russian Banking System on the Brink of Collapse
GOP Lawmaker Accused of Paying Off ‘ISIS Bride’
Most Liked Biden’s State of the Union Speech

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Russia Stumbles out of the Gate
      •  Tucker Carlson Is in the Minority
      •  About That Good News for Trump...
      •  Feinstein's Husband Passes Away
      •  Unlucky Number Seven
      •  Cawthorn Is Safe for Now...
      •  ...But Maybe Not Gosar and Greene

Russia Stumbles out of the Gate

The Ukraine War is less than a week old, and things are clearly not going the way that Vladmir Putin envisioned. That may just explain why he's channelling his inner Trump, and lashing out repeatedly at people in his inner circle. Normally the Russian is much more reserved.

A rundown of the bad news, of various sorts, for Putin:

  • A Clumsy Invasion: The Russians haven't fought this sort of war in quite a while. And they've never been great at some aspects of modern warfare; grand strategy has generally been lacking, and logistics and supply have never been a strong suit. Even in World War II, the U.S.S.R. relied heavily on its home-field advantage (for much of the war) and its ability to throw wave after wave of troops at the enemy.

    In any event, the invasion thus far has been a pretty big mess. Nobody can quite discern the battle plan, and whatever it is, it's been badly executed. Vehicles are breaking down, soldiers are getting cut off from the main Russian force, and supply issues are already rearing their head. Meanwhile, the Russkies have gotten unexpectedly fierce resistance from the Ukrainians. And the Ukrainians, perhaps with an assist from outsiders (the U.S.? Germany?) have made shrewd choices (targeting, for example, the aforementioned Russian supply lines, knowing full well they would be easily smashed).

  • Economic Pain: Remarkably, the sanctions are already kicking the Russian government in the teeth. The ruble is in freefall, and has lost a third of its value in a week, which has caused runs on banks, and has compelled Putin to raise the prime interest rate to 20%. The Russian president had built up a $600 billion rainy-day fund to soften the blow from the sanctions he knew would come, but he's been cut off from more than half of that money, and will have trouble utilizing the remaining portion with any efficacy. What Putin apparently forgot is that his reserve of $630 billion is not stored as benjamins in a big vault underground somewhere in Moscow. It is in regular bank accounts with commercial banks in New York, London, Zurich, Tokyo, and elsewhere and when the respective governments order the banks to freeze the accounts, they do that immediately.

    Meanwhile, multinational corporations, which do not like bad PR and do not like instability, are heading for the hills. Petroleum giants BP and Shell have already begun pulling out, and shipping conglomerate Maersk is probably the next to leave. Even if Putin backs off Ukraine and promises, cross his heart, hope to die, never to invade his neighbors again, some of these companies will not be back.

    Overall, it's projected that the Russian economy will shrink by 5% this year. By way of comparison, in 2020, which was the worst year of the pandemic, economy-wise, the U.S. economy shrank by 3.5%. And during the Great Depression, the U.S. economy shrunk by 5% or more in only one year (1931).

  • International Response: The news has been bad on this front for the Russians, too. The countries who aren't Russia just seem to be getting friendlier and friendlier. It looks like Ukraine is going to be admitted to the EU, which will once again have a use for all those UK napkin holders at their banquets. Finland is getting serious about joining NATO, which will piss Putin off, but what's he gonna do? He can't even pull off one invasion, much less two. Countries across the world are booting Russian diplomats, and that includes the U.S., which just told a dozen Russian U.N. representatives (who it suspects are spies, not diplomats) to take a hike.

    There were also two particularly unhappy bits of news for Putin. First, Switzerland always stays neutral, right? Not anymore. That nation has agreed to honor EU sanctions, and will also freeze Russian assets held in Swiss banks. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council tried to pass a resolution condemning the invasion and, predictably, Russia vetoed it. However, China abstained. Xi Jinping may take advantages of whatever opportunities present themselves over the next few months and years, but he's clearly not going all-in on Russia. Either the Chinese leader is concerned about backing a potential loser, or he's worried about alienating key trade partners like the U.S., or both.

  • Cultural Pariahs: Every little bit helps, presumably, and so folks in various walks of life have been doing their part to isolate and shame the Russians. Netflix announced that it will defy rules that require it to carry state TV in Russia. Twitter will label all tweets that come from accounts known to be Russian mouthpieces. Good thing for them that @realDonaldTrump is suspended, because that would be a tough call when it comes to the new policy. The Met announced that it will no longer work with artists affiliated with Putin. And FIFA corner kicked Russia out of the World Cup after Poland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic all said they would not take the field against the Russkies.

Many times, a nation has gotten off to a lousy start in a war and has turned things around. Think France in the Crimean War, or France in World War I, or even France in World War II. Hm, maybe it's only the French that works for. Still, Russia has a lot of people and a lot of firepower, so they're certainly not down and out yet. Though if things keep going the way they have been... (Z)

Tucker Carlson Is in the Minority

We now have our first major poll of American public opinion on the Ukraine situation, courtesy of Yahoo/YouGov, and it produced some very... interesting results.

The big news is that very few Americans agree with Fox entertainer Tucker Carlson that Vladimir Putin was justified in invading Ukraine. Only 6% feel that way, while 20% are not sure, and 74% think the Russian was in the wrong. It is not often these days that three-quarters of Americans agree on any political question, which means that if Joe Biden impresses with his leadership here, he could earn some serious brownie points.

On the other hand, there's also a ceiling to exactly how many brownie points are available. In a demonstration of where the Trump wing of the Republican Party is these days, only 3% of Trump voters say Biden is doing a better job of leading his country than Putin is. Meanwhile, 47% think Putin is doing better, and 45% have it as a tie. This would be the same Vladimir Putin who is not only a murderous despot, but who has just led his nation into an unnecessary and thus far disastrous war that will isolate his country from most of the world and may well crash its economy. But hey, Biden promised to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court. Six of one, half a dozen of another, right?

The curious-ness doesn't end there, either. A majority of Americans (57%) favor siding with Ukraine, while only 25% want to stay neutral. And 56% of Americans approve of the sanctions Russia has been hit with, compared to less than 10% who disapprove. The approve/disapprove numbers are also 56%/less than 10% for Biden's decision not to put boots on the ground. So, a majority like Biden's general approach (get involved) and with his implementation of that approach (sanctions, not troops), which means that a majority approve of his handling of the Ukraine situation, right? Not so much. Only 34% approve, while 48% disapprove, and 17% are unsure.

Polling numbers like these must drive the White House into conniptions. The President is doing what most people want, and yet many of those people don't approve of his actions, while many more think he's worse than Vladimir Putin. He's clearly being dragged down by the general malaise, as well as the fact that Trumpers are going to hate him no matter what. There's nothing to be done about the latter phenomenon, but he better figure out a plan for dealing with the former if he wants to lay claim to the aforementioned brownie points. (Z)

About That Good News for Trump...

Last week, we had an item headlined "Trump Finally Gets Some Good News on the Legal Front," about how two key members of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg's team had resigned, and would no longer be a part of (possibly) prosecuting Donald Trump for financial crimes. We had it as a disagreement in strategy, though many outlets interpreted the news as a sign that the case against Trump was much weaker than it appeared from outside.

Yesterday, new details came to light, and it would seem this wasn't quite the win for Trump that it appeared. The two resigners (resignees?) quit because they were aggravated at how slowly Bragg has moved, and how generally careless his management of the case has been. The duo apparently thinks more charges should already have been brought, possibly including charges against the Trump family.

Of course, the two former prosecutors are lawyers, and lawyers tend to be pretty shrewd operators. And so, they wrote detailed breakdowns of the case against Trump in their resignation letters, knowing full well that someone (The Daily Beast, as it turns out) would file a FOIA request for the letters. Bragg has refused to share, thus far, explaining that the letters contain too much sensitive information to be made public.

This news would seem to lead to the following conclusions:

  • The Trump prosecution is still very much a going concern.

  • If the Trump prosecution ever ceases to be a going concern, the argument for keeping the two resignation letters secret will vanish, and the information will become public. That might inspire, say, a U.S. Attorney to pick up the ball (assuming New York AG Letitia James dos not do so).

  • The pressure on Bragg is going to grow even more intense. Note also that New York voters cannot recall him, but the New York State Supreme Court can, for "misconduct, maladministration, malfeasance or malversation in office." Basically, if it's bad and it starts with an "m," it could be trouble for Bragg.

The good news for Trump, such as it is, is that there's some tension in the Manhattan DA's office. But overall, it's not good at all. (Z)

Feinstein's Husband Passes Away

Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), battled cancer for several years. Yesterday, the Senator announced that he had succumbed to the disease at the age of 86. "My heart is broken today," Feinstein said in a statement issued by her office. "My husband was my partner and best friend for more than 40 years. He was by my side for the good times and for the challenges. I am going to miss him terribly."

Blum traveled in the highest Democratic circles for more than half a century, and was lauded by nearly every prominent Democrat you can think of, including President Joe Biden and former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, all of whom benefited from his advice on occasion. Politicians based in Blum's home state of California were particularly effusive. Vice President Kamala Harris said that he dedicated his life to the belief that "we could build a world that respected the rights and essential dignity of all people." Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) added that Blum "left this world better than he found it." And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called him "a powerful force for good."

Feinstein has been regularly absent from Washington in recent months so that she might attend to her husband in his final months and days. It is possible that she will now throw herself into her work; that would not be the first time a person coped with tragedy in that way. It is also possible that, without her partner of 42 years beside her, she'll decide to throw in the towel. That's what happened with (Z)'s maternal grandmother; the day his grandfather passed after 44 years of marriage, she left for her lunch hour at a job she'd held for 38 years and simply never returned. Whatever the next step is for Feinstein, she's certainly earned the right to take her time in deciding.

Many Democrats believe that Feinstein is way past her use-by date. At one point, Biden was even considering appointing Blum to be ambassador to Japan (which would be "normal" because big Democratic donors like Blum are often offered plum posts as ambassadors) in the hope that Feinstein would then have cover to follow him and resign from the Senate. Now she has cover to resign saying she is too distraught to function. Her call and no one else's. (Z)

Unlucky Number Seven

Jim Inhofe (R-OK) wants to leave the Senate on Jan. 3, 2023, although it is complicated because state law does not allow a special election for a foreseeable vacancy, only an actual vacancy. Dianne Feinstein (see above) might join him. And 6 of their colleagues announced their retirements prior to this week (Roy Blunt, R-MO; Richard Burr, R-NC; Rob Portman, R-OH; Richard Shelby, R-AL; Pat Toomey, R-PA; and Pat Leahy, D-VT). However, that is nothing compared to the exodus going on at the other end of the building. Yesterday, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) announced that, after 7 terms, he's done. That's Democrat #31 to call it a career this cycle. Or, rounded to the nearest whole number, one in seven Democrats (31 of 222) has headed for the exit.

Under the current maps. Deutch's D+6 district—covering an area north of Miami, and including Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton—is pretty safe, as long as he's the one running to represent it. However, with a new map and a non-incumbent? It's a potential pickup opportunity for the Republicans, pending the new district boundaries. The Republican-controlled state legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) are currently squabbling over the currently majority-Black FL-05, so it could be a little while until we know for sure. (Z)

Cawthorn Is Safe for Now...

As regular readers know, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) has been the subject of a lawsuit meant to kick him off the North Carolina ballot. It's based on a state law that prohibits fomenters of rebellion—like, say, the Civil War, or perhaps the 1/6 insurrection—from running for office in the Tar Heel State. The suit has some teeth, though at the moment, it's dead in the water.

Cawthorn's (temporary?) salvation is gerrymandering, although not in the usual way. His current district, NC-11, is R+9 under the current maps, but was set to become a bit less red under the new maps. So, the Representative decided to do some district shopping, and to jump over to the ruby red NC-13, which is being vacated by Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), so he can mount a U.S. Senate campaign. Last week, however, the new maps were—on court order—replaced by even newer maps. And, as we noted, the new NC-13 is a toss-up district, and no longer ruby red.

In the short term, it is the new map that is protecting Cawthorn from the lawsuit. None of the plaintiffs in the suit happens to live in the new NC-13, and so none of them has standing to sue under North Carolina law. Consequently, the case has been removed from the docket of the North Carolina Board of Elections, at least for now.

There are more than 700,000 people living in the new NC-13, and it shouldn't be too hard to find one or two people there who don't like Cawthorn. Heck, it shouldn't be too hard to find one or two hundred thousand people there who don't like Cawthorn. That said, the plaintiffs could let it be known that they won't refile if he stays in NC-13. We doubt it, since part of the goal here may be to set a precedent that would keep Donald Trump off the 2024 ballot. And we doubt that Cawthorn would take that sort of deal, since someone as Trumpy (and scandal-ridden) as he is will have trouble winning in a purple district. Still, until everyone makes their next moves, it adds some intrigue to the chess game. (Z)

...But Maybe Not Gosar and Greene

Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) must be absolutely terrified of a challenge from the right, because they just keep moving further and further in that direction. And this weekend, while many notable Republicans were fighting the culture wars at CPAC in Orlando, FL, the duo spent their weekend just down the road. No, they weren't at Disney World, even if they surely enjoyed Song of the South, along with certain scenes in Dumbo and Peter Pan. They were at the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), which is for folks who find CPAC to be too mamby-pamby and liberal. AFPAC is run by Nick Fuentes, who traffics in every form of bigotry you can think of—anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, etc. At last year's conference, Fuentes urged attendees to do whatever possible to protect America's "white demographic core." And at this year's conference, he shared some oh-so-insightful thoughts about Jewish people, while also leading a pro-Russia and pro-Putin cheer.

All of this is terribly impolitic, of course. Being pro-Russia is not exactly a majority position at the moment (see above). Antisemitism and white supremacy are socially unacceptable to most Americans, a problem that many conservative politicians have gotten around, since the 1960s or so, through the use of dog whistles. Donald Trump didn't put much effort into hiding his bigotries, however, and the politicians who are following his lead are putting even less effort in, if that's possible.

Anyhow, any politician with any decency wouldn't touch Fuentes and his organization with a 10-foot pole. The same is true of any politician with any common sense. But those are commodities in which Gosar and Greene seem to be lacking, and so they showed up with bells on. Or hoods. Gosar also spoke at AFPAC last year, so he can hardly claim he was caught by surprise.

And now, heading into a midterm election where this sort of thing is going to be big-time ammo in Democratic hands, Republican pooh-bahs are hopping mad. Not the pooh-bah at Mar-a-Lago, of course, but the other biggies. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued a statement chastising the pair, and declaring that "there's no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or anti-Semitism." And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), in something of a departure for him, joined in, at least a little bit. He described Fuentes as "appalling" and said he would "have a discussion" with Greene and Gosar. That's strong stuff from someone as spinally challenged as McCarthy.

Given that Greene and Gosar both represent ruby red districts (Greene's is R+27, Gosar's is R+21), their basic tactical thinking is correct—the likeliest place a threat would come from is their right flank. That said, they are clearly at the point that they are indulging their personal predilections, and aren't just playing politics. Further, they may be overlooking the possibility that someone who's about as right-wing as they are, but without the overt bigotry, and with the support (behind the scenes, or overtly) of the Republican establishment, just might knock them off their perches. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb28 Why Aren't the Sanctions Tougher?
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