The News & Guts Digest: a Serving of the Day’s Top News Stories with a Little Side of Commentary

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Russia Fumbles

With its vast advantage in resources and military might, Russia should be steamrolling through Ukraine. But Putin’s “war of choice” isn’t going according to the Kremlin’s plan…

…A senior Pentagon official told The New York Times that Russia’s “momentum in terms of progress to Kyiv has slowed,” adding that “they are not moving on Kyiv as fast as they anticipated it going.”

… “Russia has not taken any population centers, the official said, nor has it yet managed to achieve air superiority over Ukraine,” reports The Times.

…Appearing on CNN, retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman explained, “Russia has under-performed. Ukraine has over-performed.” Vindman said it’s shocking that the Russians haven’t neutralized Ukraine’s small air force or disabled the Ukrainian military’s ability to communicate freely.

… “We do assess that there is greater resistance by the Ukrainians than the Russians expected,” said a Pentagon official to NBC News. “They are fighting for their country.”

… “The Russians have not collapsed the Ukrainian command and control,” Former CIA director David Petraeus said on MSNBC. “They haven’t taken even remotely a major city yet….This has to be unsettling to them.”

…Meanwhile, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod Wolters activated the alliance’s Response Force for the first time ever on Friday. Western leaders have insisted that NATO troops will not enter Ukraine to fight off the Russian invasion, but soldiers are headed to Eastern Europe to deter Putin from expanding his military operations.


During his decades long reign of terror – and in strict accordance with the autocrat’s handbook – Russian President Vladimir Putin has snuffed out dissent. Critics of the Kremlin have been bullied, exiled, ostracized, or worse. Some people campaign against their political rivals; Putin prefers to kill or poison them

…The steady repression is aimed at creating a docile population that is cowed into following Putin’s every wish and whim. But Putin’s iron grip on his people seems to be slipping…

…Since Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine, a number of prominent Russians have spoken out against the conflict. Maksim Galkin, one of Russia’s most popular television anchors, posted on Instagram “There can be no justification for war, I say no to war!”

…Andrey Rublev, a Russian tennis superstar, scribbled “No War Please” on a camera after winning a semifinal match at the Dubai Championships on Friday. Rublev told reporters, “You realize how important (it) is to have peace in the world and to respect each other no matter what, to be united. It’s about that. We should take care of our earth and of each other. This is the most important thing.”

…Valery Meladze, a Russian pop star, uploaded a video to social media saying “History will be the judge of these events. But today, I beg you, please stop the war.”

…Yelena Kovalskaya, director of a state-funded Moscow theater, quit her post via Facebook on Thursday, writing “it’s impossible to work for a killer and get paid by him.”

…And Julia Samoylova, who represented Russia at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, posted on Instagram “I don’t know how it’s possible, but they bombed peaceful people in Ukraine. Please support Ukraine. Stop Russian aggression.”

…Americans are often cynical about political posturing from celebrities, but in Russia these publicly aired criticism are risky. “The government controls vast segments of Russia’s popular culture by filtering access to the main television networks it controls,” explains The New York Times

…Meanwhile, Putin is also facing an uprising in the streets. Thousands of Russians demonstrated in over fifty cities on Thursday. 1,745 people were detained, including 957 in Moscow….

The Associated Press reports, “One petition, started by a prominent human rights advocate, Lev Ponomavyov, garnered over 150,000 signatures within several hours and more than 330,000 by the end of the day. More than 250 journalists put their names on an open letter decrying the aggression. Another one was signed by some 250 scientists, while 194 municipal council members in Moscow and other cities signed a third.”

…By the way, if you were in Russia right now, you probably wouldn’t be able to read this post. Axios reports the country is partly restricting Facebook in an attempt to block the free flow of information…

The Badasses of Ukraine

…Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told European allies last night during a video conference, “This might be the last time you see me alive.”

…Zelensky said intelligence exists indicating that he is Russia’s “target No. 1.” Putin, he believes, wants to wipe out Ukraine’s democratically elected government and install a puppet regime …

…But as Russian troops inch closer to the capital city of Kiev, Zelensky said he’s not leaving. “We are here. We are in Kyiv. We are defending Ukraine,” he said in a dramatic video posted to Twitter.

…Ukraine’s most famous government official is also taking a defiant stand. Former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who became mayor of Kyiv in 2014, said he’s ready to defend his homeland…

…So, too, is his brother Wladimir Klitschko, who also won a heavyweight crown. “We will defend ourselves with all our might and fight for freedom and democracy,” he wrote on social media on Thursday.

…The courage from Zelensky and the Klitschkos are emblematic of a Ukrainian people who have shown remarkable pluck and determination. All across the nation, ordinary citizens are picking up arms and risking life and limb to combat Russia’s aggression…

…Perhaps no video captured this resilience quite like the one that emerged from Snake Island. Using a loudspeaker, a Russian Navy vessel instructed 13 Ukrainian border patrol agents stationed there to surrender: “This is a military warship. This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”

…One of the agents shouted back a phrase that would be considered vulgar if it weren’t wartime: “Russian warship, Go F**k Yourself.”

…“All border guards died heroically but did not give up,” Zelensky told the world just after midnight on Friday. He said they’d be issued Hero of Ukraine medals posthumously.

Introducing KBJ

President Joe Biden introduced his historic Supreme Court nominee at the White House on Friday afternoon, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. If confirmed, she’ll be the first Black women to serve on the Supreme Court…

…Jackson has an All-American bio: daughter of public teachers in Miami, part of a family that includes several members of law enforcement, beat the odds to get into Harvard and Harvard Law (where she was editor of the law review) and cobbled together a distinguished legal resume that includes stints as a public defender and a trial judge, two unusual credentials for a SCOTUS pick…

…During her remarks at the White House, Jackson also demonstrated that she’s gracious, charming, and charismatic. She heaped praise on retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she clerked for years ago. “Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat. But please know that I could never fill your shoes,” she said.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

…Jackson has the full-backing on the Democratic Party. Biden whisperer James Clyburn, the South Carolina congressman, pushed hard for a different nominee from his home state, federal District Judge J. Michelle Childs, but ultimately expressed his “full support [for Jackson] during the confirmation process and beyond.” Luckily for Democrats, just a bare Senate majority is needed to confirm a Supreme Court judge, so the GOP can’t filibuster Jackson out of contention…

…But Biden went out of his way to frame her as a “consensus builder” who has already been vetted – and approved – by the Senate last year, when she was given a spot on the DC appellate bench. During that confirmation process, in July, Jackson received the support of three Republicans, Senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.)…

…Yet apparently Graham has done an about face on Jackson. After reports emerged that she was Biden’s pick, he tweeted “the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again.”

Meanwhile, in Florida

Right-wing politicians descended on Orlando, Florida this week for the annual CPAC Convention, an odd-mix of conservative cosplay and jingoistic chest-thumping that has a deranged mega-Church feel…

…In light of world events (see above), it’s hardly worth spending time trying to make sense of the medley of stale grievances and recriminations set forth by the event’s wild-eyed speakers. Suffice to say, while an actual war rages in Eastern Europe, Republicans are prioritizing the culture war…

…GOP darling Ron DeSantis, the Florida Governor, somehow gave a speech that didn’t mention the situation in Ukraine. Sen. Ted Cruz was also mum on the biggest conflict in Europe since WWII. But of course they attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, social media companies, and “the woke mob.”

Also Churning This News Cycle

… “The Biden administration will significantly loosen federal mask-wearing guidelines to protect against COVID-19 transmission on Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter, meaning most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings,” reports The Associated Press.

… “Two years into the pandemic, an estimated 6.7 million children have lost at least one of their parents or caregivers because of COVID-19, according to updated research, marking a grim milestone in what officials have dubbed “the hidden pandemic.” That toll includes more than 180,000 children in the United States,” reports CBS News.

… “Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, a leading conservative Republican and veteran of the Senate, announced on Friday that he will resign in January 2023, sparking a special election this November,” reports CNN.

Oh, One More Thing About KBJ

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson may have risen to the top of the legal profession, but she also dabbled in theater. She even had a (very) brief stint working with Matt Damon. From The Associated Press:

At Harvard she studied government but also was involved in drama and musical theater and part of an improv group called On Thin Ice. At one point she was assigned actor Matt Damon as a drama class partner, she has said, acknowledging he probably wouldn’t remember her. He does not, Damon confirmed through a representative, but added: “That’s so cool!”

Jackson talks above the experience in the Tweet below: