Nigel Gould-Davies | Russia Cannot Be Allowed to Say It Has Won This War – The New York Times

Mr. Gould-Davies is the senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine 10 weeks ago, Western governments have tirelessly condemned this egregious act and declared their support for Ukraine. But as united as they have been in their outrage, they have been vague about their goals.

This posture has begun to change. Recently, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that America wanted “to see Russia weakened” so that it could not threaten its neighbors again. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss of Britain said that her country would seek “to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, declared that “we want Ukraine to win this war.”

But what the West is unclear about is how it wants the war to end. While it has chosen the means to respond to Russia’s aggression — principally, military aid to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia — it has not defined the ends these methods will serve. Instead, Western policy has largely been focused on outcomes it wants to avoid rather than achieve. The first is a Ukrainian defeat that allows Russia to install a puppet regime in Kyiv. The second is Russia’s resort to weapons of mass destruction or expansion of the war beyond Ukraine.”

David Lindsay: Excellent piece. Here is a comment I hope is true.

Bruce Rozenblit
Kansas City, MO8h ago

The atrocities committed by Russia have united the free world. This will not stand. Russia will be pushed out of Ukraine. The West will no longer trade with Russia so long as Putin or anything like him remains in power. That’s it. Putin thought that the West’s dependence on Russian resources would keep us from ourtracising his country from the global economy. He was wrong. Necessity is the mother of invention. The West will now develop new sources of energy, especially non-fossil sources, as it rapidly weans itself off of Russian oil and gas. Actually, the world is awash in natural gas. The problem is getting it from here to there but that can also be accomplished. Putin greatly underestimated how Western tribalism plays into this conflict. Ukraine is not Syria or Bosnia. These people are White, Slavic and Christian. They are our fellow tribe members. Attacking them is personal, familial. Putin has awakened the sleeping tiger. Putin is girding for a protracted conflict. So can we. The naval blockade in the Black Sea will be broken. Those sea lanes will be opened up. The next phase of escalation will be naval. Russia cannot afford this war. It does not have the financial resources to wage it. A protracted conflict will bankrupt it, literally. Russia has now put itself on a path to its demise. When this is over, Russia will be forced to change, or collapse from within.

6 Replies56 Recommended

Frank Bruni | The Power of Lies in an Age of Political Fiction – The New York Times

“Imelda Marcos’s sandals lived better than I did.

I just discovered that. I was reacquainting myself with that whole sordid history — with the unfathomable extravagance that she and her dictator husband, Ferdinand, indulged in before they were run out of the Philippines in 1986 — and found an article on Medium that said that her hundreds upon hundreds of shoes occupied a closet of 1,500 square feet. That’s larger than the Manhattan apartment that I called home until last July. I should have been an espadrille.

She personified greed. Ferdinand, who ruled the Philippines for more than two decades, epitomized authoritarianism and kleptocracy. The couple pilfered an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion from the country. And now their son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., better known as Bongbong, is poised to become its next president. In the election in the Philippines on Monday, he won in a landslide.

He and his supporters made that happen not by renouncing his parents’ legacy. They instead embraced it — or, rather, reimagined the Marcoses’ reign as some misunderstood and underappreciated Golden Age. They used social media to disseminate and amplify that gaudy lie. And the strategy worked.”

“. . . . .On Sunday morning I had the honor of delivering the commencement speech at my undergraduate alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The previous afternoon, I dropped by the stadium in which the event would take place so I could size up the lectern and the teleprompters. Given my compromised eyesight, I wanted to be sure that I could see the scrolling text and that the lectern’s surface was big enough to hold a printed copy of the speech, just in case.

It was a quick chore, tucked into a chaotic day, and I approached it in a businesslike fashion. But as I stood on the stage, gazing out at the seats and at various insignia evocative of my college years, I had to set my jaw and close my eyes to hold back tears. I was suddenly a dam on the verge of breaking. And I indeed broke, 10 minutes later, back in my car. That’s also when I understood the surge of emotion.

I was something of a mess in college. Not on the outside, and not by the usual yardsticks, which are crude ones: I got excellent grades. I wrote frequently for Carolina’s principal student newspaper and was one of its top editors for a while. I landed good summer internships. I was on a path.

But I was often terrified that it would lead nowhere. Or, rather, that I’d stumble badly before I got much further along. My insides were always roiling, and my brain was frequently on fire with doubts about my ability, worries about my stability and a puerile anger about the lack of any assurances in this life. How was I supposed to stay calm in the face of so much uncertainty? I didn’t stride, lope or sprint into my future. I tiptoed toward it, not trusting it for a second.

All of that came back to me in the empty stadium. I remembered it keenly. And when I put that state of mind next to where I was standing, and why I was standing there, and what that meant about how the years had in fact played out — well, I was overwhelmed. I felt foolish for having been such a pessimist. I felt ashamed about the narcissistic component of my dark self-obsession at the time.

But my tears, I soon realized, reflected something else: a mixture of profound gratitude and enormous relief. My nerve-frazzling future was now, three and a half decades later, my richly satisfying past. While there’d been rough patches in my journey from there to here, they’d proved survivable, and the disappointments had paled beside the delights. While I still wasn’t striding — that’s just not in my nature — I also wasn’t tiptoeing, nor was I trembling.

I didn’t share that, not in so many words, with the students I addressed on Sunday. I had different remarks prepared. (If you’re interested, you can read them here, on my website.) But to all the young people who are just finishing one chapter and beginning the next one, I would say:

The unpredictability of what happens next is no curse or taunt. It’s just life, ever maddening, ever mysterious. If you’re frightened, you’re not alone, and a shortfall of confidence is no harbinger of doom. Shoulders back. Chin forward.

You’ll be tripped up by unforeseen obstacles and setbacks. But you’ll also trip across unanticipated bounty and blessings. You’ll quite possibly find yourself someday in a place and role you never expected. You’ll be moved by that.

And you’ll realize that the journey to that point was all the more interesting for its refusal to be scripted, and for its absence of any firm guarantees.”

Barbara McQuade | Five Key Midterms Races to Pay Attention To – The New York Times

Ms. McQuade, who teaches law at the University of Michigan, oversaw voting rights suits as U.S. attorney for Michigan’s Eastern District.

“The fate of our democracy doesn’t hinge on the battle for the House or the fight for control of the Senate, but on state elections for a once sleepy office: secretaries of state.

No elected officials will be more pivotal to protecting democracy — or subverting it — than secretaries of state. While their responsibilities vary from state to state, most oversee elections, a role in which they wield a tremendous amount of power. Secretaries of state own the bully pulpit on voting, and they control the machinery of elections.

They also have a platform to spread disinformation, such as false claims that voting by mail is not secure. A Republican secretary of state could reduce the number of ballot boxes or polling places in Democratic areas and limit staffing to create long lines that dissuade potential voters. They can also refuse to certify the results in particular counties or even the entire state. In a close presidential race, if even one secretary of state in a swing state were to put his thumb on the scale, we could see an election that really is stolen.

This has happened before. In 2000, Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state, halted the recount process and certified George W. Bush, for whom she served as a campaign chairwoman, as the winner of Florida’s electoral votes. But our current political moment is even more fraught, as Donald Trump casts doubt on the last election, whipping his supporters into frenzy while Republican field generals quietly maneuver conservative hard-liners into positions of power.”

GM’s Mary Barra Has a Plan to Win the Electric Vehicle Race – The New York Times

“WARREN, Mich. — General Motors made a splash last year when it announced a bold plan to ramp up sales of electric vehicles and said it would stop making gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

But more than a year later, some other automakers appear better positioned to lead the industry’s transition to E.V.s. Tesla had global sales of more than 310,000 electric cars in the first quarter of this year, while G.M. is far behind unless it counts E.V.s made by its Chinese joint ventures. It sold fewer than 500 E.V.s in the United States in the quarter. Ford Motor has just started production of an electric F-150 pickup truck and has taken customer reservations for more than 200,000 of them.

Yet, G.M.’s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, is unconcerned. In her view, the G.M. strategy should enable the company to make more affordable E.V.s than most competitors, and eventually to win over many of the tens of millions of mainstream car buyers who are not yet shopping for electric vehicles.

Last year E.V.s accounted for about 3 percent of the 15 million cars and trucks sold in the United States. As that percentage grows, G.M. expects this cost advantage to allow it to overtake most of its rivals within a few years and to challenge Tesla for the lead in E.V. sales before the end of the decade.”

Everything You Thought You Knew, and Why You’re Wrong (says Vaclac Smil) – The New York Times

HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS

The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

By Vaclav Smil

“The title’s pleonastic fourth word is the giveaway. It announces the tone of Vaclav Smil’s 49th book: vinegary scorn for the irresponsible declarations of self-proclaimed experts, particularly those guilty of innumeracy, ahistoricism and other forms of wishful thinking that Vaclav Smil would never, ever fall for. You’ve heard a lot of prognostications about the state of the world. They’re bunk. Here, at last, is how the world really works.

Smil, who has taught at the University of Manitoba for half a century, rests his expertise on the strength of a polymathic pedigree nearly unmatched in North American academic life. Unlike Noam Chomsky — whose own breadth of expertise Smil ridicules in passing — Smil does not suffer polemics. Nor is he a forecaster, as he stresses repeatedly (with mounting exasperation). If anything he is an anti-forecaster, contemptuous of any prediction made about complex systems. Smil is a compiler of data, an indefatigable quantifier (to the 10th decimal), a summarizer, a pragmatist and a utilitarian. Or, as he puts it, “I am a scientist trying to explain how the world really works.”

“. . . . To do so, however, one must sort and prioritize — one must filter the world’s information through subjective criteria. Even utilitarianism lies in the eye of the beholder. Should policies designed to favor the greatest number of people, for instance, account for people not yet born? If so, how many generations of them? When it comes to such questions, critical as they are to climate policy, mathematical calculations yield inexorably to ethical ones.

In short order Smil summarizes the history of global energy, food, material production and trade. (Smil has dedicated books to each subject.) Salient details emerge. Canada, blessed with greater forest acreage than any affluent nation, saves money by importing toothpicks from China. No country possesses sufficient rare earth metals to support its economy. The world throws out a third of its food. Human beings today enjoy, on average, the annual benefit of 34 gigajoules of energy. Expressed in units of human labor, that is “as if 60 adults would be working nonstop, day and night,” for each person. Residents of affluent countries have it better: An American family of four has more hired help than the Sun King at Versailles.

During these expositional chapters, a bell keeps ringing, and its din soon drowns out the litanies of diesel fuel per kilogram units and ratios of edible mass to mass of embedded energy. It brings the grim announcement that every fundamental aspect of modern civilization rests overwhelmingly on fossil fuel combustion. Take our food system. Readers of Michael Pollan or Amanda Little understand that it’s morally indefensible to purchase Chilean blueberries or, God forbid, New Zealand lamb. But even a humble loaf of sourdough requires the equivalent of about 5.5 tablespoons of diesel fuel, and a supermarket tomato, which Smil describes as no more than “an appealingly shaped container of water” (apologies to Marcella Hazan), is the product of about six tablespoons of diesel. “How many vegans enjoying the salad,” he writes, “are aware of its substantial fossil fuel pedigree?”

This Eminent Scientist Says Climate Activists Need to Get Real

“There are these billions of people who want to burn more fossil fuel,” says Vaclav Smil. “There is very little you can do about that.”

It is best to eat local, but we do not have enough arable land to support our population, even in our vast continent, at least not without the application of obscene quantities of natural-gas-derived fertilizer. One must further account for the more than three billion people in the developing world who will need to double or triple their food production to approach a dignified standard of living. Then add the additional two billion who will soon join us. “For the foreseeable future,” writes Smil, “we cannot feed the world without relying on fossil fuels.” He performs similar calculations for the world’s production of energy, cement, ammonia, steel and plastic, always reaching the same result: “A mass-scale, rapid retreat from the current state is impossible.” “

David Lindsay: There is much here to admire, but one must handle with fire mits. Here is the best so far, of many excellent comments:

Brian D
Maryland May 11

I haven’t read the book, but from the review this sounds like just another manifestation of the doomer ethos “Nothing is worth doing because nothing can save us.” Smil says that food requires energy and refuses to believe that energy can be obtained from renewables, or that ammonia can be made from anything but natural gas. This sort of blindness is the same as that which led Malthus to predict mass starvation, he failed to foresee changes in farming practice including the advent of artificial fertilizer. The solution to problems like decarbonizing food or transportation may be multipartite, difficult, expensive, and require systematic change, but that is not a reason to throw up our hands, it is a reason to start sooner and work harder. I read a lot of climate books and talk to climate activists and no one is on either of the extremes Smil so despises, he is defeating strawmen. Everyone involved on any but the most superficial level understands that large painful changes will have to be undergone if we are to avoid even more catastrophic results, but the idea that nothing can be done is and has always been the biggest force pushing us towards what could well be a civilization ending chain reaction. How does the world REALLY work? It works by people deciding to make changes and uniting to do the hard work. Anything else is simply abandoning our grandchildren.

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Here is what I have to add to the comment above:
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you Nathaniel Rich for this fascinating report. I greatly admire Vaclav Smil for his tough talk and numbers driven analysis. I wonder why he doesn’t join hawks like my partner and me, in saying clearly, the people of the world need to reduce their numbers, since their pollution is killing the planet. Humans are going to have to radically change their behavior, as in, reduce their consumption levels, to reduce green house gas emissions. I agree with one commentor, that Smil appears to have given up. If this is true, it would explain why he sounds almost like a shill for the oil and gas companies,
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net

Elon Musk Would Reverse Twitter’s Ban on Trump – The New York Times

“Elon Musk said on Tuesday that he would “reverse the permanent ban” of former President Donald J. Trump on Twitter and let him back on the social network, in one of the first specific comments by Mr. Musk, the world’s richest man, of how he would change the social media service.

Mr. Musk, who struck a deal last month to buy Twitter for $44 billion, said at a Financial Times conference that the company’s decision to bar Mr. Trump last year for tweets about the riots at the U.S. Capitol was “a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.” He added that it was “morally wrong and flat-out stupid” and that “permanent bans just fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter.” “

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Elon Musk does not understand the damage that unregulated social media has on democracy, through the promotion of fake news and fake facts and conspiracy theories. My partner and I have been saving our money to buy a Tesla, probably in the next year or two. If Musk undoes the small progress that Twitter has made to be socially and politically responsible, including the banning of Trump, we will not be buying that Tesla, but one of its competitors, which are now coming out every month. We owe a great debt to Elon Musk for creating or accelerating the electric car market, but that does not mean we can look past his repulsive insensitivity to the threats, including Donald Trump, that endanger democracies here and abroad.
David writes about the climate crises here in comments, and at his blog, InconvenientNews.net

Climate Activists Rally at the White House to Demand Action – Coral Davenport – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — Environmental activists, distraught by the government’s slow pace of action on climate change, amassed in front of the White House Saturday afternoon, calling on President Biden and Congress to swiftly pass a climate bill that has been stalled in the Senate since December.

The White House demonstration was one of dozens of “Fight for Our Future” rallies held across the country to press the government to cut the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet, capping a week of events timed to coincide with Earth Day.

“We’re here because in North Carolina we keep getting hit by hurricanes back to back, and we ain’t got nothing fixed,” said Willett Simpkins, 68, a retired nursing home maintenance director from Wallace, N.C. “And it’s getting worse every year. It’s time for them to stop talking about it and do something about it.”

The event, which drew several hundred people under the pale green trees in Lafayette Park, was emceed by Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonpartisan group that tries to engage young voters.

Many in the crowd work for environmental organizations, but sprinkled among them were voters who wanted Mr. Biden to know that failure to enact climate legislation could cost him their vote.

Mr. Biden, who came into office promising urgent action on what he called the existential threat of climate change, has seen his ambitious plans pass the House but get watered down and stuck in the Senate because of unified opposition from Republicans as well as Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, a powerful swing vote in an evenly divided chamber.”

Thomas L. Friedman | The War Is Getting More Dangerous for America, and Biden Knows It – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“If you just followed news reports on Ukraine, you might think that the war has settled into a long, grinding and somewhat boring slog. You would be wrong.

Things are actually getting more dangerous by the day.

For starters, the longer this war goes on, the more opportunity for catastrophic miscalculations — and the raw material for that is piling up fast and furious. Take the two high-profile leaks from American officials this past week about U.S. involvement in the Russia-Ukraine war:

First, The Times disclosed that “the United States has provided intelligence about Russian units that has allowed Ukrainians to target and kill many of the Russian generals who have died in action in the Ukraine war, according to senior American officials.” Second, The Times, following a report by NBC News and citing U.S. officials, reported that America has “provided intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces locate and strike” the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. This targeting assistance “contributed to the eventual sinking” of the Moskva by two Ukrainian cruise missiles.

As a journalist, I love a good leak story, and the reporters who broke those stories did powerful digging. At the same time, from everything I have been able to glean from senior U.S. officials, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, the leaks were not part of any thought-out strategy, and President Biden was livid about them. I’m told that he called the director of national intelligence, the director of the C.I.A. and the secretary of defense to make clear in the strongest and most colorful language that this kind of loose talk is reckless and has got to stop immediately — before we end up in an unintended war with Russia.

The staggering takeaway from these leaks is that they suggest we are no longer in an indirect war with Russia but rather are edging toward a direct war — and no one has prepared the American people or Congress for that.

Vladimir Putin surely has no illusions about how much the U.S. and NATO are arming Ukraine with matériel and intelligence, but when American officials start to brag in public about playing a role in killing Russian generals and sinking the Russian flagship, killing many sailors, we could be creating an opening for Putin to respond in ways that could dangerously widen this conflict — and drag the U.S. in deeper than it wants to be.”

Peter Beinart |  Make the World Safer, but He’s Too Afraid of the Politics – The New York Times

Mr. Beinart is a journalist and commentator who writes frequently about American foreign policy.

President Biden has the chance to avert a nuclear crisis that could push the United States to the brink of war and threaten the coalition he’s built to counter Russia. But he isn’t seizing it for one overriding reason: He fears the political blowback.

Since taking office, Mr. Biden has pledged to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal that Barack Obama signed and Donald Trump junked. That’s vital, since Tehran, freed from the deal’s constraints, has been racing toward the ability to build a nuclear bomb. Now, according to numerous press reports, the United States and Iran have largely agreed on how to revive the agreement.”

David Lindsay:  How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?
6. One to change the light bulb, and 5 to discuss how they miss and preferred the old light bulb better.
On that note, I miss the NYT Picks, even though I was often mift at them. I would go into them, when the crowd was off on a terribly popular tangent or two, like it is here.
Peter Beinart has written an extraordinarily strong piece, but the crowd will not have any of it.
Beinart wrote: “No president can carry out everything in his party’s platform, of course. But Mr. Biden won’t even repeal policies imposed by the president he defeated and reinstate those of the president he served. And in the case of Iran, that unwillingness is both absurd and dangerous.

It’s absurd because there was no good reason to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization in the first place. Until Mr. Trump did so in 2019, the designation had never been applied to a foreign military. The corps was already under multiple sanctions. And supporters of Mr. Trump’s move frankly acknowledged that the designation was intended to make it politically painful for any future president to revive the Iran nuclear deal that the Trump administration killed.”
This is strong, excellent writing, and appears to based on facts and cold logic. Biden is doing a very good job, but there is still room for improvement.
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.

Margaret Renkl | On an Endangered River, Another Toxic Disaster Is Waiting to Happen – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — Almost four years ago, spurred by my decades-long fascination with Homer’s story of the lotus-eaters, my husband and I made a pilgrimage to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in Alabama to see American lotuses in full bloom. Jimbo Meador, our guide, was happy to take us on his boat to see the extravagant flowers.

A certified master naturalist, he was also happy to take birders to see the more than 300 species of birds that have been identified in that magnificent delta and to talk with history buffs about the original peoples who lived in the area or the fort where the last major battle of the Civil War was fought or the spot in the river where a ghost fleet of World War II Liberty ships was once anchored. Mr. Meador has spent his whole life talking about the crucial role the Mobile-Tensaw Delta plays in the human and ecological life of the region.

The biologist E.O. Wilson called this delta “arguably the biologically richest place” Americans have.”