Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Chapter 2

We begin today with Toluse Olorunnipa and Yasmeen Abutaleb of The Washington Post writing about the White House’s plans for the next two years.

The White House blueprint for the next two years, “Chapter 2,” is not unlike President Barack Obama’s reference to his final two years in office as “the fourth quarter.” But while Obama emphasized using “a pen and a phone” and other executive authorities to bypass a Republican-led Congress at the end of his presidency, Biden is promising bipartisanship as he prepares for a reelection bid.

While the Republican takeover of the House likely dooms many of the most ambitious parts of Biden’s agenda, his legislative affairs team sees a pathway for striking deals on a handful of issues where both parties have shown an interest in cooperation. The president and his aides have pointed out that many of the initiatives he signed into law don’t kick in until this year.

“The big laws we passed were consequential, but they’re basically promises,” Biden said this past week.

Administration officials hope to use the implementation of these laws as a springboard into additional bipartisan action. As Republicans see the benefits of laws passed in their districts, the thinking goes, they will be more open to expanding on things like low-price insulin for all or specific infrastructure projects.

The MSM, the DK Front Page, and the rec list is chock-full of stories about the Speaker of the House election that nearly became a barroom brawl. Other than the next story about one of the possible major ramifications of the deal worked out that enabled McCarthy to become a SINO, I’ll link no other story about the Speaker elections. I think that we could all use a breather.

Jim Tankersley of The New York Times says that given the apparent terms of the deal McCarthy made with some far-right holdouts, any possible deal to raise the debt-limit has become exponentially more difficult,

Raising the limit was once routine but has become increasingly difficult over the past few decades, with Republicans using the cap as a cudgel to force spending reductions. Their leverage stems from the potential damage to the economy if the limit is not increased. Lifting the debt limit does not authorize any new spending; it just allows the United States to finance existing obligations. If that cap is not lifted, the government would be unable to pay all of its bills, which include salaries for military members and Social Security payments.

The exception to the debt-limit drama was the four years of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, when Republicans largely abandoned their push to tie increases in the limit to cuts in federal spending. In 2021, Senate Republicans clashed with Mr. Biden as the deadline for raising the limit approached, but those lawmakers ultimately helped Democrats pass a law increasing the cap.

Some Democrats pushed to avoid this scenario last year, when it became clear that their party would likely lose at least one chamber of Congress. They hoped to raise the limit again in the lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections that delivered House control to Republicans, to avoid any chance of a default before the 2024 presidential election. But the effort never gained traction.

Francine Kiefer of the Christian Science Monitor takes a deep dive into bipartisanship as it works in Alaska and wonders if the Alaskan model may work on a national scale.

When Democrat Mary Sattler Peltola went looking to hire a chief of staff, she chose someone with hands-on experience and a deep knowledge of her home state, Alaska. He was also a Republican. Alex Ortiz’s last job was serving in the same role for her predecessor, Don Young, a giant in the state who died in 2022 after setting a record for longest-serving Republican congressman in United States history.

And he wasn’t the only Republican who Representative Peltola put on her payroll after winning a special election in August to replace Mr. Young. The congresswoman’s scheduler, another Young veteran, and communications director also came with experience working in the conservative trenches.

This is all but unheard of in the Capitol, where party loyalty can trump the most impeccable résumé. Indeed, colleagues in Washington asked Ms. Peltola if she were going to make her staff change their party affiliations.

Lydia Polgreen w/ photographer D’Angelo Lovell Williams, working for The New York Times, travel to Alabama in order to get a sense of what queer life is like nowadays.

I traveled to Alabama last month to try to understand the state of queer America today, to try to understand this unsettling whiplash I’ve been feeling lately as a queer person. The world watched a gay congressman lead the vote to codify national recognition of same-sex and interracial marriage, and the grandees of the L.G.B.T.Q. community gathered at the White House to watch President Biden sign that bill into law and to listen to Cyndi Lauper croon “True Colors.”

At the same time, queer people are being hounded by vigilantes and targeted by bigoted laws. On TV I watch queer people as protagonists but also hear them vilified as groomers and child molesters by right-wing news organizations and lawmakers. A web designer would rather go all the way to the Supreme Court than make a wedding website for a theoretical queer couple. Queer spaces, from clinics serving transgender youth to nightclubs, are under attack. These past few years have been a time of head-spinning backlash. […]

How did we get here? Looking back, I cannot help wondering now whether what looked in the 2010s like an unstoppable march toward mainstream acceptance of gay and lesbian people was perhaps more of a wobble. Perhaps the wanton cruelty of the Trump era uncorked something that was there all along. Right-wing, nativist parties espousing what they describe as traditional values have made electoral gains across many continents, and almost all of them have found queer people an easy target to use to whip up support for their agenda.

It may seem strange that a reporter would go to Huntsville, Alabama in order to understand “the state of queer America” unless it is known that more queer people live in the South than in any other region of the country.

Roxanna Asgarian of the Texas Tribune reports on a case where the entire 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider a lawsuit filed by a “citizen journalist” from Laredo, Texas; a case that will pit the First Amendment against qualified immunity for police officers.

Priscilla Villarreal didn’t set out to piss off powerful people around Laredo. It started one day in 2015 when she heard sirens blaring outside her house. She went outside and saw a hostage situation unfolding; she began recording video on her phone as shots were fired and continued as the victims, two dead girls, were carried out of the house. She uploaded clips to Facebook; almost one million people saw them.

Villarreal’s day job was supervising wrecking crews as they cleaned up tractor-trailer crash scenes, but unedited videos chronicling the dark corners of her city became her calling. Her reach exploded with the release of Facebook Live, and along the way she picked up a moniker: La Gordiloca, or “the big crazy lady.” She now has 200,000 followers watching her livestreamed crime scene videos and listening to her stream-of-consciousness soliloquies, mostly in Spanish, about everything from cooking and local restaurants to well-sourced gossip about corrupt cops and politicians.

It’s the latter that began turning heads around Laredo, a South Texas town of a quarter-million people. In 2017, when a local U.S. Border Patrol agent died by suicide, Villarreal learned his name from a police officer and reported it publicly before the police issued a statement. A month later, she posted the name of a family involved in a deadly car crash, again after verifying it with a Laredo police officer.

As long as Ms. Villarreal’s information was sourced and verified, isn’t she practicing journalism even if one might not call her a journalist?

Perry Bacon, Jr. of The Washington Post knows that he should stop watching the NFL. But he knows that he won’t and explains why.

And the sport’s problems go beyond player safety. A few years after the concussion issue emerged, my concerns with football, particularly the NFL, became more pronounced. I was furious that the league shunned quarterback Colin Kaepernick, with no team willing to sign a very talented player, in part because they were worried about backlash from more conservative fans because of his kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. One of my FiveThirtyEight colleagues at the time, Chris Herring, told me that he stopped watching football after watching the NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick.

Herring didn’t intend it that way, but his comments left me with some guilt and shame. Both he and I are Black men, and we talked often about how being Black should and did affect our work and personal lives. If he was quitting the NFL, shouldn’t I? (A few days ago I talked to Herring, who is now at Sports Illustrated, and he said he has not watched an NFL game since the 2016-2017 season, when Kaepernick last played.)

And once I started being open to the idea that football was fundamentally flawed, I couldn’t stop seeing the problems: the huge salaries for coaches in college football while players risk injuries for no pay; the paucity of Black head coaches in the NFL, with White male owners consciously and unconsciously hiring fellow White men they know better and feel more comfortable with; the refusal to offer professional players the guaranteed contracts they receive in other sports.

If the NFL is not a racist institution, it certainly is an institution with lots of racist practices — the kind of institution I usually condemn.

Sure, I’m aware of all the issues with college football.  and the NFL but I still watch college football and, to a lesser extent, the NFL. And for many of the same reasons.  

Cristian Segura reports for El País in English that Ukraine has altered its air defense strategy in order to more effectively counter Russia’s drone attacks.

Kyiv has expended most of its diplomatic energy over the past six months in a lobbying attempt to obtain surface-to-air missile defense systems from the United States and other NATO countries. There are currently German, Spanish and American-made systems operating in Ukraine. In the coming weeks, a Patriot air defense system will be sent to Kyiv by the Biden administration, with more technology to come from France and Italy.

The Ukrainian air defense structure principally relies on radar and anti-aircraft batteries to detect and shoot down Russian missiles. However, intercepting drones can be a challenge for more outdated technology, as they fly at a lower altitude to avoid being detected by radar. Yuri Ihnat – a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force – and Captain Viktor Tregubov both confirmed this to EL PAÍS. They explain that communications experts have begun to use auditory detection to track Shahed drones, due to the unusual noise that they make. Ukrainian forces are also constantly receiving tips from NATO intelligence services, which sometimes alert them when bombers take off from Russian territory.

In recent months, Ukrainian forces have been utilizing mobile units. The soldiers who travel with them carry portable rocket launchers and drive anti-aircraft vehicles, which are equipped with automatic cannons.

Military analysts recommend that Ukraine strengthens these mobile defense units – which don’t rely on surface-to-air missiles – because of the cost of ammunition. In a study by the Ukrainian University of Environmental Sciences – published in September by the Political Science and Security Studies Journal – it was noted that the cheapest surface-to-air missile costs at least 25 times more than a Shahed drone. Meanwhile, a portable rocket launcher only costs about twice as much.

Andrey Pertsev of the Russian independent media outlet Meduza looks at the sidelining of the Russian elite by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Three days before launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin summoned a public meeting of the federal Security Council, broadcast “live” from the Kremlin to the rest of the country. (Later, it turned out that the video had been pre-recorded and edited.) The participants, members of Russia’s political establishment and security apparatus, were invited to share their “opinions” about recognizing the independence of the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” in eastern Ukraine. Within minutes, it became clear that the only welcome and acceptable “opinion” would be to agree with the plan already settled in Putin’s own mind. […]

The February 21 Security Council meeting marked the end of an epoch known as the reign of the “collective Putin.” That ironic phrase had long stood for the “inner circle” of associates installed by Putin in key government positions when he first came to power. (That “inner circle” is typically thought to include Mikhail and Yury Kovalchuk, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, Gennady Timchenko, and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, as well as Nikolay Patrushev and former President Dmitry Medvedev.) What became clear on February 21 was that Putin wasn’t listening to any of these people any longer. He would instead make decisions entirely on his own, without waiting for advice from cabinet technocrats or even from his old chums in the KGB and FSB.

As a result, Russia’s former political “elites” found themselves abruptly demoted to a staff of convenient servants. They could make themselves useful to the president. They could vie for his attention and favor. They could embellish the reality to make it appeal to him. But they would not be contributing to key decisions.

Hamza Karčić writes for AlJazeera that NATO should renew its commitment to Kosovo in light of Serbia’s continued provocations.

With the end of roadblocks and the reopening of border crossings, the crisis appeared to come to an end. But the escalation in December was not the first incident that almost pushed Serbia and Kosovo into open conflict and it is highly unlikely to be the last.

The fragile relationship between the two neighbouring countries has been on the verge of collapse since last summer, when Kosovo’s government started taking steps to exercise sovereignty over the country’s entire territory. […]

Indeed, recent escalations between Serbia and Kosovo have followed a clear pattern. Kosovo attempts to exercise sovereignty over its whole territory; Belgrade responds by stoking unrest using the ethnic Serbs in the north as its proxies. The EU steps in, brokers a deal and stops the unrest from escalating into a cross-border conflict. Then the cycle is repeated.

All this shows that the recurring tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, and between Kosovo and its ethnic Serb citizens in the north of the country, actually have little to do with practicalities of governance such as licence plates, and everything to do with one core issue: Kosovo’s independence.

Finally today, Tom Phillips of the Guardian cites Brazilian reporting that prior to former President Jair Bolsonaro leaving on the midnight train to Florida, he trashed the presidential palace.

A report by the Brazilian broadcaster GloboNews suggests that even the official presidential residence – a 1950s masterpiece by the architect Oscar Niemeyer – was defiled by the far-right politician during his four years in power.

One of the network’s leading political correspondents, Natuza Nery, took a tour of the Palácio da Alvorada (Palace of Dawn) on Thursday with Brazil’s new first lady, Rosângela Lula da Silva, and was unimpressed with what she saw.

“The overall state of the building, which is Brasília’s most iconic … is not good … and will require many repairs,” reported Nery, who was shown torn carpets and sofas, leaky ceilings, broken windows and jacaranda floorboards, and works of art damaged by the sun.

Photographs of the rundown palace more resembled images of dilapidated student accommodation than a listed building designed by one of the world’s most celebrated modernist architects.

 

Have a good day, everyone!