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Earthling: Ukraine speech code violated--McCarthyism ensues
Plus: Eating insects; flirting with World War III; live-saving drones; etc.
Two weeks ago we posted a piece about “the Ukraine war speech code”—that is, about the blowback you get from the Blob if you try to make certain arguments about the causes of the war. Unacceptable argument #1: that the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO (along with the gradual conversion of Ukraine into a de facto NATO outpost via arms and training) had increased the chances of invasion. Well, this week Sen. Rand Paul, in a Senate hearing exchange with Secretary of State Blinken, violated the speech code, and predictable consequences ensued.
It’s a sign of how effective the code is becoming that Paul’s violation of it warranted a headline in the Washington Post: “Rand Paul says US backing Ukraine in NATO played role in Russia’s invasion.”
More evidence of the power of the code is that the Post reporter, Amy Cheng, felt compelled to assert in the first paragraph of the piece that Paul’s claim had been not only rebutted by Blinken at the hearing but “criticized by Russia experts.”
Since there were no Russia experts at the hearing Cheng was writing about, making this assertion required that she find one to quote. She settled on Alexander Vindman, the retired Army officer and former NSC staffer known for, among other things, full throatedly backing NATO membership for Ukraine ever since anyone can remember. Not shockingly, he had tweeted critically about Rand. Cheng quoted the tweet. The “Russia experts” had spoken.
Then came the predictable McCarthyism lite. Charles Booker, Paul’s likely Democratic challenger in November, accused Paul of “pushing Putin’s propaganda in the Senate.” A headline in Rolling Stone said “Rand Paul Brings Putin’s Core Argument Against Ukraine to Congress.”
The Rolling Stone article’s author, Jack Crosbie, actually conceded that NATO expansion may have played a role in causing the Ukraine crisis, but he still found grounds for calling Paul’s Senate remarks “shocking.” Namely: Paul had said at the hearing that two countries Russia has attacked, Georgia and Ukraine, “were part of Russia.” Actually, the full quote was “were part of Russia—or were part of the Soviet Union, rather.” But Crosbie left out everything after the dash—that is, the part where Paul immediately corrected himself.
In Crosbie’s defense (kind of), he seems to have been relying on progressive Twitter star and former Vox reporter Aaron Rupar’s either dishonest or sloppy rendering of Paul’s quote—a rendering that made it easier for Rupar to tweet that Paul was “parroting Putin’s propaganda” (3.3K retweets, 15K likes— unexceptional results for the cleverly incendiary Rupar).
Maybe, in retrospect, it would have helped if Paul had emphasized at the Senate hearing that explaining the causes of Russia’s invasion isn’t the same as justifying the invasion—you know, something like, “While there is no justification for Putin’s war on Ukraine, it does not follow that there is no explanation for the invasion.” Oh wait—he did say that at the hearing. So never mind.
Drones have a reputation for shedding blood, but in Rwanda they’ve been delivering it. A new Lancet study finds the country’s medical drones, introduced in 2016, have reduced average delivery time in the largely rural country to 41 minutes from around two hours via driving. A British pediatrician who does work in Africa told Wired the technology could be transformative: “If you need a transfusion, you need it now.”
China plans to boost coal production this year by 7 percent—or 300 million tons—over last year’s 4.1 billion tons, which was itself a 6 percent increase over 2020. After a year of rolling blackouts and sluggish economic growth, and with the Ukraine war disrupting energy markets, China aims to shore up its energy supply. Critics charge that China, which accounts for 26 percent of global carbon emissions, is thereby undermining the international effort to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.
This week the chances of the Ukraine war winding down anytime soon dropped, and the chances of its spinning out of control—into a regional or even nuclear war—grew.
For starters, Ukraine’s western backers sounded more and more as if they’re settling in for a long war—and in some ways welcome one. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that one of America’s goals is “to see Russia weakened”—and the longer the war goes on, the more weakened Russia will be.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss declared, “We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.” Pushing Russia out of “the whole of Ukraine”—which would include the part of the Donbas long controlled by Russian-backed separatists and, presumably, Crimea as well—is a monumental task, one that won’t be accomplished without epic bloodshed.
What’s more, Vladimir Putin would consider the loss of these territories an existential threat—not to Russia, but to his regime, since a defeat this ignominious would threaten his hold on power. And autocrats facing possible ouster have been known to take extreme risks to avert that fate. Meanwhile, the “foremost conclusion” of a new report by RUSI, a British think tank, is that “Russia is now preparing, diplomatically, militarily, and economically, for a protracted conflict.”
The chances of a negotiated peace deal happening anytime soon had already been rendered slim—not only by Putin’s territorial aspirations but by Ukrainian politics, which features more and more calls for the complete expulsion of Russian troops. The embrace of this goal by western backers like Truss will help solidify it.
Meanwhile, the West seems bent on giving Ukraine the material means to pursue this goal. President Biden this week asked Congress for another $20 billion in military aid to Ukraine—on top of the $3.7 billion already in the pipeline. And more and more military aid is coming from Europe—even from the initially reluctant Germany.
Since all this aid seems to be coming with no strings attached—no commitment by Ukraine to pause for peace talks at any particular point—there’s no telling where or when the fighting will stop. Ukraine may well wind up threaten the viability of Putin’s regime. If that happens, all bets are off.
If you’re a carnivore and you feel guilty about the environmental impact of your diet, we have good news. You don’t have to go vegan, or even vegetarian, to make your meals more eco-friendly. But it would help if you’d start eating smaller creatures—bugs, to put a finer point on it. Scientists in Finland looked at three measures of environmental impact—carbon emissions, land use, and water use—and found that switching from animal-sourced food to alternatives like insects and lab-grown meat could reduce pressure on the environment by more than 80 percent. Lab-grown meat, alas, isn’t economically viable yet. So bugs it is.
Last year global military spending surpassed $2 trillion for the first time, according to a new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. That was the seventh consecutive year the number grew.
On the other hand: (1) US military spending actually dropped 1.4 per cent from 2020, though at $801 billion, the US defense budget still accounted for 38 percent of the global total. (2) As a share of economic output, global military spending fell, from 2.3 percent to 2.2 percent. But don’t expect either of those trends to continue, what with the massive infusion of arms to Ukraine and an intensifying cold war psychology in the West.
In the Financial Times, Ivan Krastev writes that Europeans are severing economic and cultural ties with Russia because they now blame Russia as a whole, rather than just Putin, for the war in Ukraine. But, Krastev argues, “treating Russia as a collective Putin will be a strategic blunder.” He says this framing benefits Putin, who claims to speak on behalf of the Russian people against a hostile West. And, he adds, isolating Russia is unlikely to work, in part because the non-Western world is ambivalent about joining in its economic punishment. “Whether you call the invasion of Ukraine Putin’s war or Russians’ war is not a matter of taste but a strategic choice,” Krastev concludes. “It signals the west’s expectations about its relations with post-Putin Russia, whenever that arrives.”
In the Guardian, Angus Roxburgh argues that it’s time to get serious about peace talks in Ukraine—since among the alternatives is “a third world war.” In Responsible Statecraft, Anatol Lieven warns against viewing the Ukraine war as a proxy war between the west and Russia, which he calls “completely incompatible with the search for a ceasefire and even a provisional peace settlement.”
--By Robert Wright and Andrew Day
Note: My weekly conversation with frenemy and ideological nemesis Mickey Kaus can be found after midnight US Eastern Time (give or take an hour) tonight on The Wright Show podcast feed or at bloggingheads.tv or the bloggingheads YouTube channel. And our after-podcast podcast—the Parrot Room conversation, which is available to paid newsletter subscribers and Patreon supporters—can be found shortly thereafter by going to the NZN Substack home page—right here—and clicking on this week’s Parrot Room episode. There you’ll also find a way to get the Parrot Room as a feed in your podcast app.
Earthling banner by Clark McGillis. Photos and graphics, unless otherwise credited, are taken from articles linked to in the corresponding text.