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Archive for January 27th, 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.