The Full Belmonte, 5/16/2022
“Despite Russia’s threats, Finland said yesterday it will seek to join NATO and Sweden is on the verge of following suit. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced her party’s support to apply to join the US-backed alliance, saying her country must ‘adapt to reality’ and make decisions based on the current climate. Both countries have previously refrained from joining for historic and geopolitical reasons. There is ‘strong bipartisan support’ for Finnish accession to NATO, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a visit to Finland today. However, Russia has warned the Nordic nations of ‘far-reaching consequences’ if the countries join the alliance. Separately, EU leaders are ratcheting up their economic action against Russia and are preparing a sixth sanctions package that could be done within days.” Read more at CNN
A woman writes a message with chalk at a makeshift memorial outside of a Tops Friendly Markets store yesterday in Buffalo, New York.
“Ten people were killed in a racially motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday afternoon. Details are emerging of a racist manifesto allegedly written by the 18-year-old White man suspected of traveling nearly 200 miles from his home to attack a predominantly Black neighborhood. The gunman opened fire outside a Tops Friendly Markets store, shooting and killing several people in the parking lot before entering the building. He exchanged gunfire with an armed security guard -- who was killed -- and shot more individuals inside, then exited and surrendered to police. The suspect, Payton Gendron, was taken into custody and is currently under suicide watch, Erie County Sheriff John C. Garcia said. He was charged with first-degree murder and pleaded not guilty in court, officials said. President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to Buffalo tomorrow to meet with the families of victims, the White House said.” Read more at CNN
“What we know about the 18-year-old charged with leaving 10 dead and three wounded at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, as people shopped for Sunday gatherings (by the Axios newsdesk):
The suspect threatened to target his high school last spring. But he had no further contact with law enforcement after a mental health evaluation that put him in a hospital for a day and a half.
He livestreamed the shooting on the gaming platform Twitch. A Twitch spokesperson said the video was removed in less than two minutes. But copies and screenshots are circulating online.
The shooter wore tactical gear, including a bulletproof vest, and used a semiautomatic rifle, police said.
The suspect drove 200 miles from Conklin, N.Y., and targeted a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Eleven of the 13 people shot were Black.
He allegedly left a racist screed. Federal authorities are working to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page document that said the assault was intended to terrorize non-white people. (Go deeper ... Context)” Read more at Axios
Hector Gomez, left, and Jordi Poblete, worship leaders at the Mariners Church Irvine, leave flowers outside the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., Sunday, May 15, 2022, after a fatal shooting.Damian Dovarganes, AP
“Gun violence also plagued the Southern California city of Laguna Woods yesterday after a shooting at a church left at least one person dead and five others injured. The shooting occurred at the Geneva Presbyterian Church during an event to honor a former pastor of a Taiwanese congregation that uses the church for its worship services. Police have a suspect in custody, Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said during a news conference yesterday. He is believed to be an Asian man in his 60s who doesn't live in the area. The suspect was detained after a group of churchgoers were able to hogtie his legs with an extension cord and confiscate at least two handguns from him, Hallock said. Investigators are working to determine whether he has any connections to the church or its congregants. Police do not yet have a motive.” Read more at CNN
“ At least 21 people were shot and injured in three separate shootings Friday in Milwaukee's downtown bar district after the Milwaukee Bucks playoff game, which drew thousands of people to the Deer District. The victims ranged in age from 15 to 47, and all are expected to survive, Milwaukee police said.” Read more at USA Today
MSOE Public Safety officers investigate the scene of a shooting near the corner of North Water Street and East Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee, Saturday, May 14, 2022, where multiple were shot and injured late Friday in Milwaukee's downtown bar district after the Milwaukee Bucks playoff game.Mike De Sisti, AP
“Two men were arrested in connection to a shooting at an outdoor Dallas concert last month that left one man dead and 16 people injured, police said.” Read more at USA Today
“A 16-year-old boy was fatally shot near ‘The Bean’ sculpture in downtown Chicago's Millennium Park, authorities said.” Read more at USA Today
“McDonald's said Monday that it has started the process of selling its Russian business, which includes 850 restaurants that employ 62,000 people, making it the latest major Western corporation to exit Russia since it invaded Ukraine in February.
The fast food giant pointed to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, saying holding on to its business in Russia ‘is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values.’
The Chicago-based company announced in early March that it was temporarily closing its stores in Russia but would continue to pay employees. On Monday, it said it would seek to have a Russian buyer hire those workers and pay them until the sale closes. It did not identify a prospective buyer.” Read more at USA Today
“Nebraska’s Republican governor Pete Ricketts says he will call a special session to pass a total ban on abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade this term. When asked if he thought the state should require a young girl who was raped to carry the pregnancy to term, Ricketts told CNN, ‘They're still babies, too. Yes.’ The governor's comments come as the Supreme Court's conservative majority seems likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide. More than a dozen states have so-called trigger laws on their books, meaning that abortion will almost immediately be banned if Roe v. Wade is no longer in effect, and Nebraska nearly passed its own such law last month.” Read more at CNN
“Janet Yellen seeks to win European support for global minimum tax. The Treasury secretary wants to clinch the European Union's approval of a proposed 15% minimum tax on the profits of large corporations, hoping to smooth out Poland’s objections to approving the plan in meetings this week. But the larger threat to the agreement’s future may rest in Congress, which hasn’t yet approved the plan.” Read more at Wall Street Journal
“Twitter's legal team has accused Elon Musk of violating a nondisclosure agreement regarding the social media company’s number of bot accounts, the Tesla CEO said in a tweet Saturday. On Friday, Musk tweeted that his $44-billion deal to take Twitter private was "temporarily on hold" while he awaited data on the proportion of its fake accounts. Twitter accused Musk of breaching an agreement after Musk tweeted that the sample size for the social media platform's checks on automated users was 100, ‘because that is what Twitter uses to calculate <5% fake/spam/duplicate,’ Musk said. He later said that ‘There is some chance it might be over 90% of daily active users.’” Read more at CNN
“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate will approve a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine on Wednesday. He defended the decision to spend billions more on Ukraine aid, saying the money would ‘prevent a ruthless thug from beginning a march through Europe.’” Read more at NPR
“Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, is recovering after being hospitalized over the weekend for a stroke. Doctors say that the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate didn't suffer any cognitive damage, and Fetterman said he wouldn't let it affect his campaign. Pennsylvania's primary election is on Tuesday.” Read more at NPR
“A former nurse whose medication error killed a patient in Tennessee was sentenced to three years of probation on Friday, ending a case that had prompted concern among health care workers fearful that medical mistakes will be criminalized.
The nurse, RaDonda Vaught, apologized to the relatives of the 75-year-old victim, Charlene Murphey, who was injected with a fatal dose of vecuronium, a paralyzing drug, instead of Versed, a sedative, while at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for a brain injury on Dec. 26, 2017, according to court papers.
Ms. Murphey had been scheduled to get a PET scan that day and wanted medication to control her anxiety, a lawyer for Ms. Vaught said.
‘Saying ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t seem like enough,’ Ms. Vaught, 38, who broke down in tears, told Ms. Murphey’s family at the sentencing. ‘But you deserve to hear that. You deserve to know that I am very sorry for what happened.’” Read more at New York Times
“Putin’s new problems
The first phase of the war in Ukraine was largely a failure for Russia. The second phase is not going very well so far either.
After failing to capture Kyiv and oust Ukraine’s government, Vladimir Putin and his advisers turned to a less ambitious goal. They are trying to capture the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Russian troops do control large parts of Donbas and have made some recent progress. But it has been modest, and Ukraine has also retaken some strategically important territory.
‘Russia’s Donbas offensive has certainly not been as dramatic in terms of gains as we thought it might be,’ Michael Schwirtz, a Times correspondent who has been covering the war from the front lines in Ukraine, told me.
Today’s newsletter reviews the evidence of Russia’s recent failures and explains why Russian forces could nonetheless make more progress in coming weeks. Before doing so, I want to spend a moment on basic geography, which I find helpful to making sense of the war.
Putin is trying to dominate a crescent of land that stretches from the easternmost part of Ukraine, on the Russian border, to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Much of the eastern section is known as the Donbas region and includes two provinces (or oblasts), Donetsk and Luhansk. If you can remember the information in this one paragraph, you’ll have an easier time following analysis of the war.
By The New York Times
Here’s a partial rundown of Russia’s struggles:
Russian troops have not taken control of any major cities in the Donbas region that they did not already control in February, at the start of the invasion, my colleague Julian Barnes notes. ‘Russian morale remains bad,’ Julian says. ‘The casualties are bad.’
British officials made a stunning announcement yesterday: Russia appears to have lost about one-third of the troops it has sent to Ukraine. The officials also said Russia’s Donbas push had ‘lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule.’
One recent battle was so deadly for Russia that it has led to criticism from pro-Russia bloggers.
‘The Russian military has not yet achieved Putin’s stated territorial objectives of securing all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and is unlikely to do so,’ Katherine Lawlor and Mason Clark of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington wrote on Friday. Yaroslav Trofimov of The Wall Street Journal has made similar points.
My colleague Michael Schwirtz noted that, until two weeks ago, he had not seen an aircraft in the sky for more than a month. But he has since seen several fighter planes and attack helicopters, all evidently Ukrainian. Russia’s inability to control the air is hampering its ability to advance.
Avril Haines, the U.S. director of intelligence, told Congress last week that Russia was ‘increasingly unlikely’ to meet its territorial goals in the coming weeks.
In the first phase of the war, Russian troops spread themselves too thinly across Ukraine as they tried to capture much of the country. Russian supply lines often could not keep up with their fighting units, and Ukraine’s military took advantage, surprising much of the world by repelling Russia’s advance.
‘The Russians have since changed strategy,’ Julian said. ‘They are moving much slower.’
Russia is effectively trying to win a war of attrition, gaining a small amount of territory each week and ultimately controlling all of the east. Putin could then try to reach a negotiated settlement that allows him to annex parts of eastern Ukraine. Many Ukrainians, as well as their staunchest allies in the West, fear that the U.S. and E.U. might accept such a settlement.
Putin’s biggest advantage remains his edge in resources: Russia has more soldiers and more military equipment than Ukraine. The West has narrowed this advantage by sending weapons to Ukraine, but Russia has destroyed some of that equipment in the fighting. One example: Some analysts believe Ukraine may be running low on Turkish-made drones that have been effective in attacking Russian troops.
That’s why Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, continues to plead with the West for more weapons. President Biden and leaders of both parties in Congress support a $40 billion package that the House has passed and the Senate seems likely to pass soon. Much of Europe has also aligned itself strongly with Ukraine; Sweden and Finland have moved in recent days to join NATO.
Still, Putin’s new go-slow strategy could succeed, especially if the West ultimately tires of helping Ukraine. In the U.S., many Trump-friendly Republicans are already skeptical of the war: Tucker Carlson makes this case on his Fox News show, and 57 House Republicans voted against the $40 billion aid package.
On the other hand, Russia faces its own domestic challenges: Sanctions are damaging its economy, and the industrial sector — which cannot easily import parts — is struggling to make enough precision weapons, Julian said.
Russia is also running low on troops who are available to fight. Putin could increase these numbers by instituting a draft. But doing so would require him to acknowledge that the war in Ukraine is, in fact, a war rather than the modest operation he has portrayed it as — probably because he knows public support is soft.
‘As it stands, Russian options are shrinking,’ Michael Kofman of CNA, a Washington research group, wrote recently. ‘The more they drag their feet, the further their ability to sustain the war deteriorates, and the worse their subsequent options.’
For now, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, a top U.S. intelligence official, told Congress, ‘the Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning.’” Read more at New York Times
“The Biden administration today plans to notify several Afghans waiting at a U.S. Army base in Kosovo that they'll be denied entry to the U.S, Axios' Hans Nichols and Jonathan Swan report.
The determinations stem from security concerns, or the identification of potential ties to the Taliban or terrorist organizations.
Why it matters: The formal determinations may affect as many as 16 refugees at Camp Bondsteel in eastern Kosovo. They mark the first time the administration has rejected Afghans who've been housed there, where they get extra vetting before being granted entry to the U.S.
The State Department is considering two options for the Afghans being denied entry:
Work with the Taliban to facilitate their return to Afghanistan.
Persuade other countries to take them in.
A National Security Council spokesman told Axios: ‘While the vast majority of Afghan evacuees have been cleared, ... the small number of individuals who have been denied are examples of the system working exactly as it should.’” Read more at Axios
“Belfast bound | Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Belfast today as he threatens to unilaterally amend part of the Brexit agreement relating to Northern Ireland. With the UK set to outline its plans to change the deal struck with the EU amid political deadlock in the province, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned Johnson’s government against ‘saber rattling and grandstanding’ that would only succeed in ‘ratcheting up tension.’” Read more at Bloomberg
Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP
“Don't worry if you missed the deep red blood moon caused by a total lunar eclipse last night. We've got the stunning photos.” Read more at NPR
“As far as breaking and entering goes, this was the best possible scenario: a Tennessee couple woke up to find that A dog had snuck into their home for a cuddle.” Read more at NPR
“A few lucky guests will have the chance of the lifetime in Paris:Airbnb is renting a room at the iconic Moulin Rouge for just three nights.” Read more at NPR
“Lives Lived: Katsumoto Saotome lived through the American firebombing of Tokyo during World War II, and worked to preserve the memories of other survivors. He died at 90.” Read more at New York Times