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Archive for January, 2022

Another testy Supreme Court battle is the last thing America needs — but it’s probably what lies ahead

The last thing an internally estranged America needs is an alienating Supreme Court confirmation battle. But that’s almost certainly what lies ahead following Justice Stephen Breyer’s decision to retire.

President Joe Biden’s first high court pick will create a moment of promise for a struggling administration, offers Senate Democrats a badly needed shot at unity and could shatter another glass ceiling since Biden plans to nominate a Black woman.
And despite the narrowness of their Senate majority, it should be reasonably simple for Democrats to confirm a new justice swiftly, without any Republican votes, before they risk losing the chamber in the midterm elections.
A drama-free Supreme Court process could enhance the tattered image of Congress, help a President whose approval ratings are tumbling and do some good to the tarnished reputation of a court increasingly tangled in politics. And since replacing Breyer, a liberal, will not shift the court’s 6-3 conservative balance, it might seem that the stakes are lower this time.
Inside Biden's calculated silence on Breyer's retirement
But such hopes ignore the corrosive impact of recent nomination fights — which ended with Democrats accusing the GOP of stealing seats and conservatives claiming nominees endured character assassination. Then there are legacy scars of Supreme Court battles deeper in the past, some involving the President himself, which may have some conservatives plotting revenge.
Political fury that has raged through the fight against Covid-19 has meanwhile brewed a fetid political mood hardly conducive to magnanimous hearings. And the midterm elections in November mean that senators have every incentive to play to the most fervent activist voters in each party before the television cameras.
An ideological docket breeds political discord
Another reason why a smooth confirmation process is unlikely is the growing prominence of the court itself in American political life. The idea that the Supreme Court is above politics has always been something of a myth. But hoka shoes dominating the high court has been a fundamental goal of the conservative movement for several decades.
So it’s not surprising that the successful campaign has hurt justices’ reputations for impartiality. And the new majority is being used in nakedly partisan ways, with Republican attorneys general seeking to fast-track cases to its marbled chamber on the most polarizing issues, including on abortion, the government’s powers to fight the pandemic and gun control. Former President Donald Trump tried to drag the court into his delusional claims of election fraud and the investigation into the January 6 insurrection — both subjects that have left it exposed to bitter winds of partisanship.
Here's how long it's taken to confirm past Supreme Court justices
All of this will inject an even more politicized tone into the next justice’s confirmation hearings. It could lead grandstanding senators from both sides to seek politically motivated assurances that could further the impression that the court is now populated by partisans.
Supreme Court nominees these days are highly prepared — and by their nature are adept at dodging leading questions. But still, Republicans are likely to seek answers on issues like firearms laws that the nominee will be wise to avoid. And progressive senators might ask a nominee in a hearing for their positions on abortion with Roe v. Wade, the landmark case affirming a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, under siege at the Supreme Court. While such exchanges are unlikely to thwart a nomination, they will inevitably drag Biden’s pick onto treacherous ground.
Democrats get a do-over
The coming weeks will test the competence of Democrats to get things done while in control in Washington.
Despite some early wins, a White House that ran on fixing problems and congressional Democrats have developed a propensity for shooting themselves in the foot. There is growing criticism of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s political tactics following the stalling of Biden’s Build Back Better climate and social spending plan and sweeping Democratic voting rights bills. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who were roadblocks on those bills, have never voted against a Biden judicial nominee so it would be a surprise if the Democratic coalition splits. But party leaders have learned the perilous nature of a 50-50 Senate majority. And an ill-timed death or serious illness among the Senate’s aged band of Democrats could seriously delay or even jeopardize the confirmation process.
Joe Biden's 2022 just got a lot better
Biden does have one highly effective weapon in his arsenal as he begins his selection process — his chief of staff Ron Klain, who masterminded Supreme Court nominations in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Klain has faced criticism during Biden’s administration, as the White House has stumbled, including on the pandemic and during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. So the nomination is an opportunity for him to revive his standing in Washington and to deliver the President a much needed win that could reenergize Democrats as tough midterm elections loom in November.
Republicans can still cause headaches
No Supreme Court nomination struggle would be complete without the looming shadow of Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Since he’s in the minority, McConnell seems to lack the power to derail Biden’s first pick. But mangling Democratic Supreme Court hopes is his vocation and he used all kinds of procedural chicanery to seat a generational conservative majority on the top bench — indisputably the top achievement of Trump’s presidency.
The wily Kentuckian and the conservative legal establishment that built the current court do have the power to make seating a new justice a painful olukai shoes ordeal. In the first taste of the partisan combat to come, Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network, had this first reaction to Wednesday’s Washington bombshell: “The Left bullied Justice Breyer into retirement and now it will demand a justice who rubber stamps its liberal political agenda.”
“And that’s what the Democrats will give them, because they’re beholden to the dark money supporters who helped elect them,” Severino added.
Biden’s past could come back to haunt him
The current Supreme Court nomination process is unusual in that the nominee will be chosen by a President who has been embroiled in controversial Supreme Court nomination battles.
Biden, as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was instrumental in the blocking of President Ronald Reagan’s nominee, Judge Robert Bork, to the court in 1987. Democrats faulted the ultra-conservative for what they saw as prejudiced views toward the rights of Black Americans and women. But conservatives have long reviled Biden for his defeat of the nomination and many of them date the hyper-politicized trend in nomination battles to that moment. Conservatives with long memories, therefore, have every motive to give Biden’s first nominee a hard time in confrontations that will draw right-wing media attention and claims of double standards if liberals complain.
Biden said he'd put a Black woman on the Supreme Court. Here's who he may pick to replace Breyer
That’s the case even if Biden was heavily criticized from the left a few years after the Bork showdown over his treatment of Anita Hill, a law professor who alleged sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, who has since gone on to be a conservative hero on the court.
Some Republicans may also seek retribution on a Democratic Supreme Court nominee for the treatment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who endured the most searing confirmation fight in decades. Kavanaugh faced allegations of sexual misconduct dating from the 1980s, which he forcibly denied in emotional, angry hearings before the Trump administration and McConnell secured his confirmation.
The refusal of Trump to leave the political scene is also likely to raise political temperatures around the hearings, since the former President is a master at seizing on events that fuel his culture war narratives.
It is a sad commentary on the bitterness of the current era that the nomination of a Black woman, in what promises to be a moving historic moment, could also spark racist and sexist debate. It would not be surprising to hear accusations of tokenism against Biden from the more radical sectors of the conservative media ecosystem as he seeks to make history with his high court appointment. Former President Barack Obama’s first hey dude court pick, Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic woman to reach the top bench, attracted such prejudice despite her distinguished public and legal career. Any Supreme Court nominee in the modern era must expect extraordinary scrutiny of their personal, financial and professional lives. But the cross-examinations of the first Black woman Supreme Court nominee are likely to underscore some of America’s enduring prejudices.
The justice that the new nominee, whoever she is, will replace, is renowned for temperance, moderation, courtliness and a willingness to seek common ground with his ideological opposites.
Breyer is an anachronism in modern Washington, where such qualities are now all but extinct. That is why it’s questionable whether Biden, Congress, the court and America itself will emerge with reputations enhanced from a process that in the end may only worsen the national funk.

Blinken announces US has delivered written responses to Russia over Ukraine crisis

The United States has given Moscow its written response aimed at deterring a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday.

Blinken said the US response to Russia “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it,” telling reporters Wednesday that he expects to have a follow-up discussion with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days now that the document has been received in Moscow.
The response was delivered in person to the hey dude Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs by US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan. The written document is intended to address concerns Moscow has publicly released and to outline areas where the US has said it sees potential for progress with Russia — arms control, transparency and stability, the top US diplomat told reporters at the State Department.
“The document we’ve delivered includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia’s actions that undermine security, a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised, and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground,” Blinken said.
US and allies discussing deploying more troops to Eastern Europe prior to any Russian invasion of Ukraine
It’s not yet clear whether the latest diplomatic overture, which Moscow had sought, will change the course of talks between Russia and the West that have continued over the past several weeks. US officials have said that Russia has shown no signs of de-escalation and they have warned that an invasion could be imminent as Moscow masses tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border.
The US has repeatedly said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s central demand — that the US and NATO commit to never admitting Ukraine to the alliance — is simply a nonstarter. While Blinken declined to detail specifics presented to Moscow, he said the US response reiterated the West’s public response to uphold NATO’s “open-door policy” rejecting Moscow’s demands that NATO commit to never admitting Ukraine.
“There is no change. There will be no change,” Blinken said of US and NATO support of the alliance’s open-door policy.
“We make clear that there are core red wing boots principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances,” he added.
The ball is now in Russia’s court, Blinken said Wednesday.
“I think there are important things to work with if Russia is serious about working. And that is up to President Putin. We’ll see how they respond,” he said.
‘Not a formal negotiating document’
President Joe Biden was “intimately involved” in the US written response to Moscow, Blinken said.
“We reviewed it with him repeatedly over the last weeks, just as we were getting, as you know, comments, input, ideas from allies and partners,” Blinken said in response to a question from CNN’s Kylie Atwood.
Blinken contended that the document, which was delivered Wednesday, is “not a formal negotiating document.”
“It’s not explicit proposals. It lays out the areas and some ideas of how we can together, if they’re serious, advance collective security,” he said.
Blinken underscored that the US response was “fully coordinated with Ukraine and our European allies and partners,” and a source familiar said Ukraine had received a copy of the US document.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak told CNN Wednesday that the US response was “the right strategy,” adding that Russia should take the opportunity to use diplomacy to “avoid a negative scenario.”
“The comprehensive, well-thought-out, factual, and well-argued response of the United States to Russia’s demands was coordinated with Ukraine and other European partners of America,” Podoliak said.
Blinken said the document had also been shared with Congress and that he was briefing congressional leaders.
He said the US would not release its document publicly, “because we think that diplomacy has the best chance to succeed if we provide space for confidential talks.”
“We hope and expect that Russia will have the same view and will take our proposal seriously,” Blinken said, adding, “there should be no doubt about our seriousness of purpose when it comes to diplomacy.”
However, US officials have acknowledged there is a high possibility that Russia publishes the full document after receiving it.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that it had received the response. “Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Alexander V. Grushko received US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan at his request,” the ministry said in a statement.
NATO also sent a written response to Moscow’s security demands on Wednesday, alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. The NATO proposal was sent in “parallel with the United States,” he said during a news conference in Brussels, Belgium.
Although the positions of Moscow and the alliance are “far apart,” the NATO chief outlined three main areas where NATO sees “room for progress.” He asked that Moscow and NATO reopen their “respective offices in Moscow and in Brussels.”
“We should also make full use of our existing military-to-military channels of communications, hoka shoes for women to promote transparency and reduce risks,” he said. “And look also into setting up a civilian hotline for emergency use.”
Still hopes for fueling diplomacy
US officials said they had decided to provide responses in writing — a demand Russia has made since it put written ideas forward in December — in an effort to fuel the diplomacy that the US hopes will deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We put these ideas forward because they have the potential, if negotiated in good faith, to enhance our security and that of our allies and partners while also addressing Russia’s stated concerns through reciprocal commitments,” Blinken said Wednesday.
“We’re open to dialogue. We prefer diplomacy and we’re prepared to move forward where there is the possibility of communication, cooperation, if Russia de-escalates its aggression toward Ukraine, stops the inflammatory rhetoric and approaches discussions about the future security in Europe in a spirit of reciprocity,” he said.
But some allies and experts are skeptical of how much emphasis should be put on this document from the US, as it is not expected to give room for negotiation on Russia’s key demands, and there is concern that Moscow will use the US response as a pretext to say diplomacy has failed.
The top US diplomat acknowledged that it “may well be right that Russia’s not serious about this at all.”
“But we have an obligation to test that proposition, to pursue the diplomatic path, to leave no diplomatic stone unturned, because for sure it’s far preferable to resolve these differences peacefully consistent with our principles than it would be to have renewed aggression, renewed conflict, and everything that will follow from that,” he said.
“But the point is we’re prepared either way,” Blinken said.

What is SWIFT and why it might be the weapon Russia fears most

As Western governments threaten Russia with a package of unprecedented sanctions aimed at deterring President Vladimir Putin from ordering an invasion of Ukraine, there’s one measure in particular that appears to strike fear at the heart of the Kremlin: cutting the country off from the global banking system.
US lawmakers have suggested in recent weeks that hoka shoes for women Russia could be removed from SWIFT, a high security network that connect thousands of financial institutions around the world.
Senior Russian lawmakers have responded by saying that shipments of oil, gas and metals to Europe would stop if that happened.
“If Russia is disconnected from SWIFT, then we will not receive [foreign] currency, but buyers, European countries in the first place, will not receive our goods — oil, gas, metals and other important components,” Nikolai Zhuravlev, vice speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said Tuesday, according to state media outlet TASS.
What is SWIFT?
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication was founded in 1973 to replace the telex and is now used by over 11,000 financial institutions to send secure messages and payment orders. With no globally accepted alternative, it is essential plumbing for global finance.
US working with allies to shore up energy supplies if Russia invades Ukraine
Removing Russia from SWIFT would make it nearly impossible for financial institutions to send money in or out of the country, delivering a sudden shock to Russian companies and their foreign customers -— especially buyers of oil and gas exports denominated in US dollars.
“The cutoff would terminate all international transactions, trigger currency volatility, and cause massive capital outflows,” Maria Shagina, a visiting fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, wrote in a paper last year for Carnegie Moscow Center. Excluding Russia from SWIFT would cause its economy to shrink by 5%, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin estimated in 2014.
SWIFT is based in Belgium and governed by a board consisting of 25 people, including Eddie Astanin, chairman of the management board at Russia’s Central Counterparty Clearing Centre. SWIFT, which describes itself as a “neutral utility,” is incorporated under Belgian law and must comply with EU regulations.
What happens if Russia is removed?
There is precedent for removing a country from SWIFT.
SWIFT unplugged Iranian banks in 2012 after they were sanctioned by the European Union over the country’s nuclear program. Iran lost almost half of its oil export revenue and 30% of foreign trade following the hoka shoes disconnection, according to Shagina.
“SWIFT is a neutral global cooperative set up and operated for the collective benefit of its community,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday. “Any decision to impose sanctions on countries or individual entities rests solely with the competent government bodies and applicable legislators,” it added.
It’s not clear how much support there is among US allies for taking similar action against Russia. The United States and Germany have the most to lose if Russia is disconnected, because their banks are the most frequent SWIFT users to communicate with Russian banks, according to Shagina.
The European Union is ready to respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine with “comprehensive sanctions never seen before,” Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod said on Monday. EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell said Tuesday that sanctions would be “the most consequential leverage that the West, or at least the European Union, has.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told lawmakers on Tuesday that his government was discussing the possibility of banning Russia from SWIFT with the United States.
NATO chief: Still a 'diplomatic way out' of Ukraine conflict, as military alliance prepares written proposal for Russia
“There is no doubt that that would be a very potent weapon [against Russia]. I’m afraid it can only really be deployed with the assistance of the United States though. We are in discussions about that,” Johnson said.
Russia’s countermeasures
Russia has taken steps in recent years to blunt the trauma should it be removed from SWIFT.
Moscow established its own payment system, SPFS, after it was hit by Western sanctions in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea early that year. SPFS now has around 400 users, according to Russia’s central bank. Twenty percent of domestic transfers are currently done through SPFS, olukai shoes according to Shagina, but the size of messages are limited and operations are limited to weekday hours.
China’s fledgling Cross-Border Interbank Payment System, or CIPS, may provide another alternative to SWIFT. Moscow could also be forced to resort to using cryptocurrencies.
But these are not appealing alternatives.
“SWIFT is an European company, an association of many participating countries. To make a decision on disconnection, a united decision of all participating countries is needed. The decisions of the United States and Great Britain are definitely not enough,” Zhuravlev said, according to TASS.
“I’m not sure that other countries, especially those whose share of trade with Russia is large in balance, will support the shutdown,” he added.

A cruise ship had an arrest warrant waiting in Miami. So it took passengers to the Bahamas

A cruise ship heading to Miami changed course to the Bahamas Saturday after a US judge issued an arrest warrant for the ship due to unpaid fuel bills.

If the Crystal Symphony had continued course to Miami, it would have been seized by authorities. So it headed to Bimini instead, as USA Today first reported. The ship is still docked at the Bahama port, according to a cruise ship tracker.
The saga began Wednesday, when Peninsula Petroleum Far East filed a lawsuit in a South Florida federal court against Crystal Cruises, alleging it owed unpaid fuel bills totaling more than $4.6 million — of which $1.2 million is for Crystal Symphony specifically.
The Crystal Symphony photographed in May 2013.
On Thursday, a US judge issued an arrest warrant ahead of the ship’s scheduled Saturday arrival in Miami, meaning the ship would be seized by a US Marshal and court-appointed custodian.
Crystal Cruises said about 300 passengers were transferred by ferry on Sunday from Bimini, Bahamas, to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In a statement to the Associated Press, a spokesperson said that the ferry ride to hoka shoes Fort Lauderdale was “uncomfortable due to inclement weather.”
“This end to the cruise was not the conclusion to our guests’ vacation we originally planned for,” the cruise line said in a statement.
The cruise ship can hold up to 848 guests, though the total number of passengers on the ship is unknown.
Queen Mary 2 ocean liner won't return to New York after dropping off 10 Covid-positive passengers
Also on Wednesday, the day the lawsuit was filed, Crystal Cruises announced it was suspending operations for its ocean voyages through late April and its river cruises through May.
“Suspending operations will provide Crystal’s management team with an opportunity to evaluate the current state of business and examine various options moving forward,” the cruise line said in a statement.
The company’s two cruises currently in operation — one heading to Aruba and one bound for Argentina — will complete their voyages. Guests who have booked future trips will receive a full refund.
“This was an extremely difficult decision but a prudent one given the current business environment and recent developments with our parent company, Genting Hong Kong,” said Jack Anderson, Crystal’s president.

7 injured after F-35 jet crashes on aircraft carrier in South China Sea

An F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the "Argonauts" of Strike Fighter Squadron 147, prepared to launch off the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and an F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the "Black Knights" Marine Strike Fighter Squadron 314, prepared to launch off the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln January 22, 2022.

US enemies are lining up to test Joe Biden

President Joe Biden is confronting a series of distinct but interlocking global crises and hotspots with US foes lining up to test the mettle of an under-pressure leader and their own sense that the United States is a retreating global power.

Biden made the kind of fateful decision on Monday that might be more at home in the tense 1970s, putting up to 8,500 troops on alert to rush to Eastern Europe to counter the Kremlin’s move to force the US away from its Western flank. But hoka shoes for women his trial of nerves with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is holding Ukraine hostage in a bid to reverse the West’s expansion after the Cold War, is far from his only global headache.
On the other side of the globe, a strategic ballet of military might is playing out as the US and China maneuver armadas and warplanes amid tensions over Taiwan, and other disputed territories, in a long-term duel for dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. While the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine is fixating the world right now, a future Chinese strike against the self-governing democratic island is the more likely trigger for a disastrous superpower conflict.
US places up to 8,500 troops on alert for possible deployment to Eastern Europe amid Russia tensions
Then there is the Middle East, from which America has been trying to extricate itself for years. US forces at a base in Abu Dhabi leapt into action early Monday, using Patriot missiles to shoot down several missiles flung at the Gulf emirate by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The emergency was a reminder that despite some hopes of renewed nuclear talks with Iran, the Islamic Republic’s regional power plays are a grave risk to US personnel. And the vicious war in Yemen, prosecuted by Washington ally Saudi Arabia with terrible civilian consequences, endangers the US by association.
And if Washington was tempted to forget the frightening prospect of a nuclear North Korea, its leader Kim Jong Un has other ideas. One of a string of recent missile tests by Pyongyang triggered extraordinary ground stops at some US West Coast airports, which underscored the nightmare scenario for any US President that the extreme hermit state could have the US mainland in its sights.

Putting American power to the test

Each of these challenges concern foreign states and nationalistic leaders making hard-eyed decisions to advance strategic goals, seeking to increase their power, expand or cement anti-democratic political systems and dominate their spheres of influence outside their own sovereign territory. They also know that with the US under pressure elsewhere, they may have an opening.
Putin, for example, is well aware that Biden wants to pivot to the hoka shoes China threat — so it makes sense to probe to see whether the US is distracted. Beijing, for one, would be happy for the US to get bogged down in Europe. The US probably needs China to help cool North Korea’s provocations. And Russia is a key player in the Iran nuclear talks. It didn’t go unnoticed in Washington that Iran, Russia and China held a third set of naval drills in the Indian Ocean last week.
Since the US is, still, the world’s dominant power, with allies across the globe, and the leader of the democratic bloc of nations, each thrust by one of its adversaries draws it deeper into a confrontation and preventive diplomacy.
The building challenges to US authority come at a moment when there is a widespread perception abroad that Washington is not the power it was for the second half of the 20th century. Despite Biden’s assurances that “America is Back,” the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year raised questions about US competence and commitment. US adversaries know Americans are exhausted by 20 years of war abroad, a factor that may lead some to calculate that Washington could waver on its strategic obligations for political reasons.
Biden caught on hot mic calling Fox reporter 'a stupid son of a bitch'
And foreign leaders understand domestic US politics too. With a significant percentage of the country convinced Biden is illegitimate thanks to former President Donald Trump’s election lies, and Republicans lambasting him as weak under Putin’s challenge, there’s rarely been a better time for foreign nations to test a modern President’s character and stamina. The possibility that Trump, who was a four-year force for global instability, could return to office, meanwhile, has some allies doubting that the US can keep any commitments it does make.
Some foreign leaders might look at events in Washington on Monday and wonder whether the stress is beginning to weigh on the President. After a White House event, Biden was asked about inflation by a Fox reporter and in a stunningly unguarded moment on an open mic, he responded: “What a stupid son of a bitch.” The President later called the reporter to apologize.
Putin’s infuriating maneuvering
Each of the geopolitical factors listed above are on display in Putin’s challenge to the West over Ukraine as he seeks to restore some of the strategic sway once held by the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe around the symbolic 30th anniversary of his beloved empire’s collapse.
After massing more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, the Russian leader made a series of demands for US concessions, including an assurance that the Kyiv government will never join NATO and for the alliance to pull back troops and armaments from ex-Warsaw Pact states that joined the West since they feared the kind of Russian resurgence that Putin is trying to engineer.
Biden has responded by seeking a gradual escalation of pressure designed to convince Putin that the cost of invading Ukraine would be too high, promising sanctions that could cripple the Russian economy and cause knock-on political threats to his rule.
Now, the President is mulling a reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank with possible troop deployments. The alliance on Monday announced some smaller deployments to the Baltic and Eastern European member states. For the first time since the Cold War, a US carrier strike group will be placed under NATO command in the Mediterranean for a high-level maritime exercise this week.
This is all meant to project resolve, deterrence and to show that Putin’s olukai shoes attempt to get the US out of Europe will fail. It is incumbent on Biden to show Washington has the back of its allies. If he doesn’t, NATO will count for nothing. But it’s a high-risk plan since US deployments could prompt the Russian leader to pull the trigger he has to Ukraine’s head and to argue he must invade to protect Russian security.
Putin is an infuriating, unpredictable adversary, and has forced the US to react to his provocations for weeks. It’s impossible to read his intentions. US diplomacy so far, including a Biden-Putin meeting in Geneva last year and more recent online encounters between the presidents, have yielded no breakthroughs. It has, however, handed Putin the prestige of Cold War-style summits that led Republicans to accuse Biden of that dreaded word — appeasement.
In the latest demonstration of Putin’s penchant for mind games, he and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke by phone on Monday and agreed to deeper cooperation. Some Russian military officials have suggested deploying military assets to Cuba and Venezuela during the crisis over Ukraine. The allusions to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 — the US-Soviet standoff in which the world came close to nuclear war — are hard to miss.
More showdowns lie in wait for Biden
Some analysts believe that Putin has put himself in a box and will be unable to exit the showdown without at least a limited penetration into Ukraine that would save face. This is why Biden whipped up so much controversy last week when he suggested that a “minor incursion” by Russia would not draw the full sanctions broadside. But the US President was also telling the truth, apparently referring to divisions among allies in Europe about how to handle Putin.
The Russian leader’s timing is no accident as he tries to probe divisions between European powers internally and with the United States over the crisis. This is a transitional period for the three major European powers. Germany has a new governing coalition that is split on foreign policy, knows it is reliant on Russian gas in the winter and remains wary of offensive military operations owing to its historic scar of militarism. French President Emmanuel Macron faces reelection in April, and is using the crisis to push for a more aggressive European Union role that might weaken US authority. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is mired in boozy scandals and struggling to cling onto power. The government in London is also locked in a bitter estrangement with its near allies over its exit from the EU.
Biden made a public point of addressing divides in Europe on Monday, gathering leaders in a video call and orchestrating a series of statements on both sides of the Atlantic promising unity on the crisis and the costs that Russia could face.
“I had a very, very, very good meeting — total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Biden told reporters afterward.
But there’s reason to doubt his confidence. The European Union, for example, saw no need to follow the US in authorizing the departure of nonessential staff and family members from Kyiv. Officials on the other side of the Atlantic have not used the same kind of alarmist language as the Biden administration about the imminent threat of a Russian invasion.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Monday that though unity and pressure on Russia was vital, the situation was not irretrievable.
“Certainly, I have reason to be concerned but I don’t want to go in a nervous attack,” Borrell told Hala Gorani on CNN International.
Managing different threat perceptions with Europe is just one of the challenges that Biden faces in navigating the Ukraine showdown, one of the most testing moments in the recent history of NATO.
And he knows that even if he can engineer a peaceful resolution, China, North Korea and Iran are up next, posing more intractable challenges for a presidency never free from crises.

Boris Johnson is facing a make-or-break moment with report due into ‘Partygate’ scandal

The British Prime Minister has been under pressure for weeks over alleged summer garden parties and Christmas gatherings held in Downing Street when the rest of the country was under strict Covid-19 lockdowns. A report into the allegations, set to be released this week, could be the final straw for Johnson’s increasingly mutinous party.
Johnson’s approval ratings are plunging and there appears to be a growing sense among some parts of his ruling Conservative Party that he is becoming a liability. Two polls in the last week suggested that as many as two-thirds of voters want him to resign.
Is 'partygate' one scandal too many for Boris Johnson?
The parliamentary rebellion is growing. One Conservative MP defected to the opposition Labour Party last week and newspapers have reported rumors of more lawmakers demanding Johnson’s exit.
The Prime Minister has given unconvincing answers when asked about the numerous parties. First he said there were none. Once undeniable evidence emerged, he denied knowing about the gatherings. When a photo of him at one such event was published, he insisted he didn’t realize the gathering was a party, claiming he “believed implicitly that this was a work event.”
Johnson was even forced to apologize to the Queen after it emerged that a party was held in Downing Street the night before the funeral of Prince Philip. It was noted at the time that due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Queen was forced to mourn her husband at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle while sitting alone.
Adding fuel to the fire, Johnson’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings red wing boots claimed this week he would swear under oath that the Prime Minister was warned about the true nature of one of the drinks parties. Johnson denied that vehemently, saying: “Nobody warned me that it was against the rules… because I would remember that.”
As new “Partygate” allegations emerged, Johnson and his loyalists tried to dismiss them as a “distraction,” steering the conversation away. Johnson has launched an inquiry into the gatherings, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, whose report is due to come out this week, according to media reports.
Downing Street said on Sunday it had no control over when the report would appear. “It’s not for us to set out when it will be published. That is up to the investigation team,” a spokesperson told CNN.
On Thursday, as more Conservative lawmakers openly criticized the PM about the parties, allegations emerged of blackmail and bullying by government officials.
Conservative MP William Wragg said Thursday that “a number of members of parliament have faced pressures and intimidation from members of the government because of their declared or assumed desire for a vote of confidence in the party leadership of the Prime Minister.”
What is the 'pork pie plot' and what does it mean for Boris Johnson?
Wragg told the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that the reports he has been made aware of “would seem to constitute blackmail.”
Johnson dismissed the reports of bullying, saying he has “seen no evidence” to support accusations of intimidation leveled at his government by a Conservative lawmaker.
Under Conservative party rules, if MPs want to get rid of their leader, they submit a confidential letter of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 Committee, a group of backbench MPs who do not hold government posts. The process is murky — the letters are kept secret and the chairman, Graham Brady, doesn’t even reveal how many have been handed in.
When 15% of Conservative lawmakers have submitted letters, it triggers a vote of confidence among all Conservative lawmakers.

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‘I’ve got terminal cancer. Here’s why I’m prioritizing travel’


Kris Sokolowski has always been active, spending his free time mountain climbing, running and practicing martial arts.
And at every opportunity, he could be found boarding a plane, en route to explore the world. On his first official date with his now wife, Sokolowski booked flights to South Africa for two weeks. The couple have a son, now 11, who also joins them on their adventures.
Sokolowski’s outdoor pursuits have helped keep him healthy. At his last yearly physical checkup in December 2020, his doctor called him “Iron Man.”
But around six months after that appointment, Sokolowski started experiencing what he describes as an “odd feeling” in his stomach.
“It was kind of like a gurgling, like you’re hungry. And it just wasn’t going away for a couple of days,” he tells CNN Travel today.
Sokolowski went to get checked out and was told it was olukai shoes likely acid reflux. He was given some pills and sent home. A couple days later, the gurgling sensation was still there, so he sought further medical advice and a scan, after which he was told to see a gastro specialist right away.
Sokolowski’s doctor told him there was a “big mass” on his colon and liver and he suspected late stage-four cancer. Stage four is the most advanced stage of cancer and usually means it has spread from its origin.
“My first reaction was, ‘How can this happen? I’ve never missed an appointment,'” Sokolowski recalls.
But at 48, Sokolowski hadn’t been old enough for recommended regular colonoscopies in the United States (the age has since lowered to 45). And until the gurgling sensation, he hadn’t experienced any symptoms.
An MRI scan, colonoscopy and tissue sample confirmed the worst: Sokolowski had stage four colon cancer.
“The MRI showed it in six places on my body,” says Sokolowski. “So it was my colon, my liver, my sternum, my spine, my lymph nodes, and the walls of my abdomen.”
Oncologists told him there was no cure for his condition.
“They gave me a lifespan between two and a half and five years to live,” he says.
Love of travel
The Sokolowskis traveled to China in 2015, here they are on the Great Wall.
Atlanta-based Sokolowski is the first-generation American son of two Polish immigrants. He says his love of travel stems from the many childhood summers he spent back in Poland. In his 20s, he started traveling whenever he could, regularly exploring Europe.
When Sokolowski met his wife Elizabeth in his thirties, the two realized they were united in a thirst to see the world. That first date in South Africa sealed the deal, and the couple were married six months later.
“When our son was born a year later in 2010, we made a commitment that every year, we would take him out of the country,” says Sokolowski.
It’s important to the couple to introduce their son to cultures and experiences outside of the US.
Since he was born, the family has been to 19 countries and counting.
“We both work for corporate America, but we save up all year, and usually take about three weeks to travel, whether it’s Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, wherever we can go.”
Solowski says he and his wife always look forward. They rarely return to the same place, and focus on how they can make the best of their current circumstances and plan something exciting for the future.
Here’s the family in Seoul, South Korea.
It’s that attitude that Sokolowski brought to his terminal cancer diagnosis.
He says he’s on the highest dosage of chemotherapy available. He was warned by doctors of side effects of fatigue, vomiting, hair loss and weight loss.
“I said, Look, I’m a young guy, I’m 48 years old, I have a 10-year-old at home. Throw everything you got at me now while I’m young and strong,” recalls Sokolowski.
So far, side effects have been minimal and he’s continued to exercise and run regularly.
“I’ve never been sick a day from it,” Sokolowski says. “Fatigue kicked hey dude in a little bit, but I was able to overcome it. So everything they told me was going to happen, didn’t happen with me.”
Sokolowski and his family canceled a planned trip to Iceland in summer 2021, but as the months rolled on, he was advised that, against the odds, his tumors were shrinking, and he was well enough to afford to skip one of his chemo treatments — which occur every two weeks — to go on vacation abroad.
Even catching Covid-19 in November 2021 didn’t put a stop to plans — fortunately Sokolowski was vaccinated and only mildly ill with the virus.
The Sokolowskis love to get outside on their vacations. Here they are exploring in Slovenia.
When he got the go ahead to travel with his family over the Christmas period, Sokolowski was thrilled.
“Even above my health, travel was still a priority,” Sokolowski says. “Because it was a commitment that we made when we got married, it was a commitment that we made to our son when he was born — that we would take him out of the country every year. So to me, that was always priority number one.”
Sokolowski and his wife Elizabeth and son Braden started planning a trip for Christmas and New Year. They settled on a three-week adventure in French Polynesia, heading to Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti.
Sokolowski traveled with his chemo pills, as well as a precautionary letter from his doctor to ensure he could get back into the United States — “just in case there was some kind of lockdown because of Covid. And that letter basically stipulated that ‘Kris has stage-four cancer that’s terminal, that he’s really dependent on his chemo.'”
While Sokolowski had avoided many side effects of his treatment, when departure day rolled around he was suffering from a condition called hand-foot syndrome, which can cause the bottom of your feet to become really tender and prone to blistering and swelling.
The Sokolowskis rarely go to the same place twice. Here’s the family on a past trip to Malta.
“When I was running before our trip, it caused me to have blisters on both of my feet, I think I had four on each foot and it was extremely difficult to walk — it was almost like walking on razor blades,” he says.
“So the day we were leaving for French Polynesia, we went through three different airports. We went through Atlanta airport, LAX and then in Tahiti, and in all three airports, I had to be in a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk, and that was kind of difficult.”
But Sokolowski says arriving in Bora Bora and red wing boots diving into the turquoise waters was almost instantly healing.
That was likely the salt water at work, he says. But Sokolowski also thinks the happiness and delight he felt at being on vacation in a beautiful place with his loved ones lifted his spirits, providing invaluable palliative care.
Under warm blue skies, the family enjoyed swimming with black tip sharks, jet skiing, exploring volcanic landscapes and relaxing.
“We spent an enormous time out on the water. I mean, how can you not? It’s crystal clear. It’s a turquoise color that you’ve never seen before. You know, you could see right down to the bottom where the fish are swimming. And it’s just very peaceful and relaxful.”
Kris, Elizabeth and Braden Sokolowski, pictured here on the island of Moorea, fell in love with French Polynesia during their trip at the end of 2021.
For Sokolowski and his wife, it was important to be candid with Braden about his father’s cancer, while also easing him into this new reality and supporting him through it.
Sokolowski says the family’s focus is on making memories, and continuing to encourage their child to embrace new opportunities and adventures.
One of Sokolowski’s favorite moments from the 2021 French Polynesia trip was watching Braden diving with sharks for the first time.
“He was a little apprehensive about getting into water with sharks. But then he saw us doing it. So he jumped in,” says Sokolowski. “And the first time a shark came up to his face and then turned around and just left — I was underwater with him and the look on his face, it was just — it was pure excitement, adrenaline and joy. And I saw how much he enjoyed it and he couldn’t get out of the water, I mean, it was fantastic.”
Diving with sharks in French Polynesia in 2021 was a highlight for the family.
Sokolowski has yet to take his son to Poland, but he says that’s on the agenda for future travels. He’d wanted to wait until Braden was old enough to understand and fully appreciate the trip.
While the family are currently based in Atlanta, the Sokolowskis are also seriously considering moving to French Polynesia, if they can make it doable with remote working and healthcare.
“For 15 days, I had a smile on my face, ear to ear,” Sokolowski says of the family’s time there. “I honestly believe if there’s anything that’s going to cure my cancer, it’s going to be living a life of positivity and happiness.”
Wherever they’re based, travel will remain a priority. In 2022, the family hope to travel to Pamplona, Spain to watch the annual running of the bulls festival — a longtime dream of Sokolowski’s.
Sokolowski hopes to defy expectations and statistics to recover from his illness. However much time he has left, he’s vowed to spend as much of it as he can exploring the world with his loved ones.
“I don’t know how long I have left on this earth, but I want to leave behind fond memories of travel and a legacy where my son can make our planet just a bit better,” he says.
Sokolowski has a blog where he recaps his own experiences with cancer. He’s become passionate about encouraging people with illness to travel if they can, and he’s similarly committed to encouraging people in their 40s to get a colonoscopy.
When he got his diagnosis, Sokolowski asked his gastroenterologist what the outlook would have been if he’d had a colonoscopy three years earlier.
“Before I even finished my sentence, he goes, ‘I would have pulled out a couple of polyps, and you wouldn’t even be sitting here, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.’ And that really struck me hard.”
Sokolowski says dwelling on this “what if” isn’t helpful for him.
“I do not look in the rearview mirror,” he says. “That doesn’t help me at all. It is what it is. And I only look forward, the only time that I look back is to tell people my story and say, ‘This is what happened to me. Don’t let it happen to you.'”
Instead, Sokolowski’s focus is on staying as healthy as possible, and looking forward to future adventures with his family.
His wife Elizabeth tells CNN Travel she has the same outlook.
“You need to live your life, you only get one life,” she says. “The memories is really what is going to make you happy in the end.”
Sokolowski adds: “The one thing I’ve always told people is get out of your bubble, get out of your city and go see the world.”
“It amazes me how many people are not interested in traveling — or interested and they tell me ‘Well, we can’t do this’ and they make excuses. Stop with the excuses and do it.”