Good morning, everyone!

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Can we have an entire week…of Dan Rather and Jen Psaki sparring back and forth in the Daily Press Briefing?…or is that being too greedy?


Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg report that the Biden Administration is now prepared to take action against Russia for a host of things based on the completion of a review of various hostile Russian actions against the United States.

The actions will be the outcome of the review President Joe Biden ordered on his first full day in office into four areas: Interference in the U.S. election, reports of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, the SolarWinds attack and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

The administration announced sanctions against Russian officials over Navalny last month but had so far held off on action in the other three areas.

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Biden’s approach to Russia marks a break with that of his predecessor, Donald Trump. While the U.S. escalated sanctions on Russia and expelled diplomats during Trump’s tenure, the president was loathe to personally criticize Putin and said more focus should be placed on China as a threat to U.S. national security.

Biden and his top aides will now have to weigh how hard to punish Russia while also seeking its help on priorities such as rejoining the Iran nuclear accord, restarting arms control talks and combating climate change.

In addition to sanctioning specific individuals, there could also be expulsions of diplomats as well as private talks with Russia laying out further actions the U.S. would be prepared to take. Those moves would be aimed at establishing effective deterrence against future cyber attacks such as the one that compromised popular software made by the Texas-based firm SolarWinds Corp. and infiltrated government agencies as well as private companies.

Renée Graham of the Boston Globe rightly says that addiction should not be weaponized against anyone.

In making Floyd’s opioid use a fulcrum of his defense, Nelson is excoriating those who struggle with substance use disorder. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, this nation was already deep in the throes of an opioid epidemic that has been exacerbated in this past year of isolation, stress, and loneliness.

During a 12-month period ending last June, overdoses killed 81,003 people nationwide. That’s the highest number of fatal overdoses ever recorded in the United States in a single year. Attacking those who struggle with addiction only foments shame and scorn, pushing some to retreat even further.

That’s what Donald Trump did during last year’s campaign for the White House. In a presidential debate, he said that Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, was “thrown out” and “dishonorably discharged” from the US Navy Reserve for “cocaine use.” It’s not just that Trump’s claim was false; the younger Biden received an administrative discharge in 2014 after he tested positive for cocaine. It’s that Trump also sought to use Hunter Biden’s addiction as a smear against his father.

Hunter Biden has recently been promoting a new memoir, “Beautiful Things,” which details the cycles of recovery and relapse that have threatened and defined his life. In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” he said, “I don’t know of a force more powerful than my family’s love — except addiction.”

Chris Marquette writes for Roll Call about the low morale and long hours currently being worked by the Capitol Police.

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died after suffering injuries when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Just days later, another officer, Howard Liebengood, died by suicide. Eighty officers were seriously injured during the insurrection, according to the police force’s union. Countless other officers are living with severe trauma from the attack but continue to work forced overtime.

The manner of last week’s attack — by a lone assailant driving through the Capitol complex — is also top of mind to those who work in the department.

“That could happen to any single person standing out on a corner at one of our posts at any single time,” a second officer said of Evans’ death. “So I think that’s what hit home for a lot of people.”

“It’s not only hitting home to us, but our families are really suffering now because they’re fearing for our lives,” the officer added.

The officers requested anonymity to speak candidly about the ongoing trauma sustained by many in the force of 1,839 officers.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post says that if it isn’t truly broke, then don’t fix it with respect to voting laws.

Consider the following hypothetical: Congress introduces a bill that simply says that each state’s voting rules in 2020 must stay in place, given that they helped Americans vote in record numbers in the middle of a pandemic — with no discernible fraud. This would include all the rules that Republican state legislatures put in place, including Florida’s, which the disgraced former president praised for being secure. In other words, Congress would be preventing Republicans from fixing what is not broken. Would there be 10 Republicans in the Senate to vote for such a measure?

There is plenty of Republican talk about overreach in H.R. 1 (e.g., public financing of campaigns), but not a single Republican has come forward with a narrower bill designed to make voting easier, or even to protect against the slew of restrictions proposed around the country. They are wedded to the Big Lie narrative, and seem determined to make it harder to vote for certain communities that tend to support Democrats. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who suggested last month that Democrats want “illegal aliens” and “child molesters” to vote, wants to scare people with a false narrative, not protect the right to vote.

Perhaps it is time to call Republicans’ bluff. Democrats should consider putting on the floor a simple two-part bill: 1) no fixing what is not broken (e.g., no rollback of access to the ballot); and 2) reactivating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, as the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder invited Congress to do if it saw fit. (The plethora of voting rights changes aimed at non-White voters is precisely what the pre-clearance provision in Section 5 was designed to prevent.) Let’s see if there are 10 Republicans willing to pass that. Sadly, I fear there is not even a handful.

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Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Carl Zimmer/New York Times

B.1.1.7, the first variant to come to widespread attention, is about 60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates. The C.D.C. has also been tracking the spread of other variants, such as B.1.351, first found in South Africa, and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil.

The percentage of cases caused by variants is clearly increasing. Helix, a lab testing company, has tracked the relentless increase of B.1.1.7 since the beginning of the year. As of April 3, it estimated that the variant made up 58.9 percent of all new tests.

That variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling infection rates over all, leading some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing and other measures.

As cases fell, restive Americans headed back to school and work, against the warnings of some scientists.

Geoffrey Skelley of FiveThirtyEight explains why the Democratic primary calendar probably will not change in 2024.

Yet the mounting opposition to Iowa and New Hampshire voting first might not be enough to actually depose them. Ultimately, state parties and/or governments decide the timing of their caucuses or primaries. And while the national party can encourage these decision-makers to schedule their contests on certain dates, it cannot unilaterally impose its will on the primary calendar. Moreover, because Republicans seem intent on keeping the two states in prime position for the 2024 campaign, it might be even more difficult for Democrats to make any changes.

It’s true, though, that Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the Democratic electorate. Back in 2019, we used data from the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study,1 a survey of more than 50,000 people conducted by YouGov in conjunction with Harvard University, to reorder Democrats’ primary calendar based on the similarity of each state’s Democratic electorate to the party’s nationwide voter base. We found that Iowa and New Hampshire ranked in the bottom half of states in terms of how representative they were of the Democratic Party’s voters, and thus would vote near the end of the primary season. (This analysis uses data from the 2016 presidential election, but considering how highly correlated the 2016 and 2020 presidential contests were, it’s hard to imagine the order would change that much if we had final 2020 data, which we don’t.)

Instead of the current order, a state like Illinois or New Jersey should go first by our calculations. That might be a hard sell, of course, considering a state like New Jersey has often voted at the end of the primary process, and underdog candidates would prefer not to run ads in the expensive media markets of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

Alex Ward of Vox writes that there seems to be a diplomatic opening between the United States and Iran regarding a revitalization of the Iran nuclear deal.

The Vienna meetings involved all the signatories to the nuclear agreement — Iran, Russia, China, France, the UK, and Germany — as well as the European Union. But the US and Iran didn’t speak directly to one another, as Iran refused to do so. Rather, they each met separately with the other parties and communicated with each other through European intermediaries.

Tensions are high, and neither side wants to look like it is caving to the other. The optics matter so much that the US delegation, led by special envoy for Iran Rob Malley, posted up at a hotel across the street from the hotel where the Iranians held their meetings, requiring European diplomats to shuttle back and forth.

Even with those complications, the US and Iran struck a tiny bargain: They set up two working groups, which by diplomatic standards is considered progress.

The first working group will examine how the US can return to compliance with the deal, namely by lifting the sanctions the Trump administration put back on Iran after the US withdrew. The second one will explore how Iran can return to compliance, requiring it to once again restrict its nuclear program.

“As a broad step forward,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday, this modest agreement “is a welcome step, it is a constructive step, it is a potentially useful step.”

While there is a lot in the news about China and Taiwan, Barkha Dutt writes for the Washington Post that all is not well with China’s relations with India.

India’s illusions about China are over. A two-front war against both China and Pakistan in the future is a real danger to India, especially considering that many consider the latter to be a vassal of Beijing. The army staved off the Ladakh crisis with China, but battleground collusion between China and Pakistan could be a nightmare.

Military battles aside, India has gone on the offensive in other arenas. China sulked as India reached out to Taiwan — a de facto recognition of its nationhood. India has banned 200 Chinese apps and restricted foreign direct investment by Chinese companies. In turn, Chinese hackers assaulted India’s power grid in Mumbai; now they are reportedly eyeing oil and gas assets.

India’s reset with China offers an opening to the United States. President Biden jumped on it last month as he led the meeting of the Quad, an alliance between Japan, Australia, India and the United States. Though unspoken, the message was clear: Counter China.

In the meantime, possible mainland Chinese military provocation against Taiwan will surely be at the top of the agenda when Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide visits Washington next week…and The Diplomat’s Scott Harold reports that Japan’s frigid relations with South Korea might also be a topic of discussion at the Yoshihide-Biden summit.

The United States may have to play a leading role if it wants to see relations between Seoul and Tokyo improve. If the U.S. stands back or lets others take the lead, actors that don’t necessarily support Washington’s agenda could pursue their goals, with negative consequences not only for Japan-South Korea relations but also for the United States. The 2017-2019 period was particularly troubled in part because the U.S. adopted a relatively hands-off approach, failing to push back when the Moon administration sought to involve the U.S. in its disputes with Japan by serving then-President Donald Trump “Dokdo shrimp” and having him hug a surviving comfort woman during his 2017 visit. The United States only spoke up in late 2019 when South Korea was about to pull out of a key bilateral intelligence-sharing arrangement with Japan, long after tensions had boiled over. Some observers attribute this to the Trump administration placing a premium on negotiating with North Korea in ways that empowered South Korea and may have suggested Japan was of reduced importance to U.S. security. The United States could seek to ensure that no such mistaken impression is conveyed in the future.

At the same time, the U.S. might consider being more consistent in signaling its expectations that South Korea and Japan focus on a future-oriented, values-based relationship aimed at countering threats such as those posed by China and North Korea. Japan-South Korea cooperation carries direct implications for U.S. national security and Washington would like its allies to work together and would likely speak up if it sees them falling short. Indeed, when ties grew strained in 2014, the Obama administration brokered a three-party summit meeting in The Hague, where it negotiated a Trilateral Information Sharing Agreement designed to improve monitoring of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

In the course of preparing this round-up, I even read some speculation (that I can’t link at the moment because I lost it!) that a mainland Chinese invasion of Taiwan might incentivize Japan to build a nuclear arsenal of their own…which would certainly not please China, South Korea, or Russia.

That area of the world has become a serious hot spot.

In the meantime, Haroon Janjua reports for Deutsche Welle from Islamabad, Pakistan that even with the erratic Pakistani economy, some Pakstani politicians may still not be ready to open up trade with India.

“Anti-India sentiments have always been there in Pakistan, and those in power have successfully exploited them for their benefits,” Amit Ranjan, a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, told DW.

He pointed out that New Delhi’s moves affecting Kashmir over the past two years have further strengthened anti-India forces in Pakistan, resulting in a total breakdown in trade and diplomatic ties.

“Cutting off such relations has been far from being practical as it puts a tremendous burden on the economically struggling Pakistan. Goods from India are always cheaper than from anywhere else,” he said.

Khurram Husain, a Pakistani business journalist, told DW that anti-India sentiment is rooted in geopolitics, nothing else. “It grows and diminishes with the requirements of Pakistan’s foreign policy,” Husain said.

Observers say the deep-seated animosity between the nuclear-armed neighbors is clouding rational policymaking on the part of some political leaders.

“It’s also being exploited by the opportunistic Pakistani opposition to try to make Imran Khan look soft on India. Throw in the mix Kashmir, and the government’s options to try to open up a dialogue with India become very limited,” Claude Rakisits, honorary associate professor in the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University, told DW.

Everyone have a good morning!

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1 COMMENT

  1. In reference to George Floyd: using excessive force in arresting him was way out of line. He probably wasn’t aware of the counterfeit 20. For that he was killed! That force is what killed him!

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