Weekend Open Thread
[guest post by Dana]
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Let’s get started!
First news item
Unsurprising, if official policy:
One of Russia’s senior generals has said the country aims to capture not just the eastern Donbas region but all of southern Ukraine in its new stage of the conflict, a surprisingly broad public outline of the Kremlin’s aims for the war since refocusing away from Kyiv.
Major Gen. Rustam Minnekayev said the goal was to create a land bridge from Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula and another exit to the unrecognized pro-Moscow breakaway republic of Transnistria in Moldova, to Ukraine’s southwest.
A city official in besieged Mariupol says Russian forces are continuing to bomb a massive steel mill where Ukrainian fighters are holed up.
Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, told The Associated Press on Friday that “every day they drop several bombs on Azovstal, despite false promises not to touch the defenders.” Andryushchenko added that “fighting, shelling, bombing do not stop.”
The Azovstal plant is the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, which the Russians has blocked for nearly two weeks and declared victory over this week. Ukrainian authorities have estimated that 1,000 civilians are inside the plant along with the fighters.
I’ll leave you with this bit of mystery:
Questions look set to be asked after two Russian oligarchs, both linked to gas giants, apparently murdered their wives and daughters before killing themselves—within two days of each other.
Second news item
Facing a growing rebellion from within the Democratic Party, the White House is standing behind its decision to end on May 23 a Trump-era deportation policy for migrants encountered at the southern border.
That decision to end the use of the public health order known as Title 42 has placed President Joe Biden in a political bind. The president is attempting to balance his long-standing promise to revoke the policy — which, under the banner of fighting the Covid pandemic, justified the immediate expulsion of migrants without due process — right as Republicans weaponize immigration before the midterms and as a growing number of Democratic senators want restrictions to remain in place for fear that the administration is not prepared for a summer surge of migrants to the border.
So, who in the administration is very concerned about the lifting of Title 42? Why none other than the Secty. of the Dept. of Homeland Security:
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has privately told members of Congress he’s concerned with the Biden administration’s handling of its plans to lift Title 42 on May 23, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios…Mayorkas has also indicated a level of frustration and unease with the repeal rollout, the sources said.
Third news item
Florida’s Surgeon General, Joseph Ladapo…issues a state guidance with a dramatically different perspective [than the Biden administration]. From, “Treatment of Gender Dysphoria for Children and Adolescents” (emphasis within the text):
Due to the lack of conclusive evidence, and the potential for long-term, irreversible effects, the Department’s guidelines are as follows:
• Social gender transition should not be a treatment option for children or adolescents.
• Anyone under 18 should not be prescribed puberty blockers or hormone therapy.
• Gender reassignment surgery should not be a treatment option for children or adolescents.
Based on the currently available evidence, “encouraging mastectomy, ovariectomy, uterine extirpation, penile disablement, tracheal shave, the prescription of hormones which are out of line with the genetic make-up of the child, or puberty blockers, are all clinical practices which run an unacceptably high risk of doing harm.”
• Children and adolescents should be provided social support by peers and family and seek counseling from a licensed provider.
Much more at the link.
Fourth news item
How is this whole attempt by DeSantis *not* an impending disaster for Florida?:
There’s a lot of misinformation and confusion about what the end of Disney’s Reedy Creek district means for the company and for taxpayers. Here’s what I know, after talking to lobbyists, lawyers and tax officials:
For those of you who haven’t heard, Reedy Creek is the special tax district of Walt Disney World. It’s essentially its own city. Disney pays taxes to Reedy Creek, which operates a fire department, planning department, sewer treatment plant and public works department. On the other hand, Disney controls Reedy Creek, which means if they want to build a new hotel or highway, they just have to ask themselves for permission. The biggest loss for Disney is the end of that control. It’s a lot easier to ask yourself for permission than to go to the county. While they already follow all laws and building codes and they’ll still get everything they want, it’s going to slow the process down. Potholes might develop on roads that they no longer pave themselves. They can’t just call a meeting or alter their comprehensive plan on a random Friday. They also can’t quickly finance new public projects like a fire station. The bigger issue for everyone else is the tax revenue. Disney already pays the same local property taxes as every other landowner. Reedy Creek added its own tax on top of that to pay for its projects. That tax – $163 million per year – is illegal outside of the district. When Reedy Creek goes away, that tax goes away, and Orange and Osceola Counties can’t do anything to get it back.
However, the counties will now be responsible for all of the services Reedy Creek provides and all of the debt it has accumulated. They can’t raise sales taxes or impact fees. So, the counties will have to raise property taxes. They must tax every property equally – not just Disney – and therefore it’s expected that property taxes in Orange County will rise as much as 25% next June…The residents, by the way, had no say in this vote, no say in their property taxes going through the roof, and no desire to have their communities staring at financial ruin
Fifth news item
Convincing Sweden, Finland, and maybe others to join NATO:
Russian Senator Andrei Klimov called NATO a “suicide club” and warned that Sweden and Finland could meet the fate of the Azovstal steel fighters in Mariupol if they join NATO. Klimov says Finland’s prosperity was caused by good relations with the Soviet Union. Klimov claims “good neighborly relations” persisted even under Stalin. No mention of the 1939 Soviet invasion of Finland and the Winter War. Klimov warns that Ukraine destroyed its potential through pursuing NATO and anti-Russian militarism, and cautions Sweden and Finland against following its path.
Sixth news item
Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, has been particularly vocal about the issue, backing legislation to crack down on tech companies.
“Diversity of opinion is the lifeblood of our democracy. And yet that fundamental American value is under assault by Big Tech — entities that have amassed more power and more control over more speech than any other institution in history,” the House minority leader lamented in a statement after Twitter “permanently suspended” [Marjorie Taylor] Greene this year.
“Their recent decisions to silence Americans — including a sitting member of Congress and renowned physicians — who share views different from the political and media elite have real world costs,” he added.
But McCarthy seemed to hold the opposite view a year earlier, in the days following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
According to an upcoming book by two New York Times reporters, McCarthy privately told fellow GOP lawmakers that he wanted social media companies to strip more Republicans of their accounts, as Twitter and Facebook had done with Trump.
“Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?” McCarthy is quoted as saying.
Seventh news item
Where did all the moderate Republicans go? Long time passing…:
GOP Rep. Fred Upton’s announcement last week that he was retiring from his western Michigan district after 35 years means that moderate Republicans are now almost entirely extinct from the U.S. Congress. Twenty to thirty years ago, Republicans like Upton were more plentiful. There were northeastern Republicans like Nancy Johnson, Chris Shays and Rob Simms from Connecticut, Amo Houghton and Sherwood Boehlert from New York, and midwesterners like Upton, Steve Gunderson in Wisconsin, and Mark Kirk from suburban Chicago. They often broke with their party on social issues like abortion, guns and the environment but were fiscally conservative and pro-business.
Like conservative Blue Dogs who were once plentiful in southern and rural America, these so-called Rockefeller-Republicans have disappeared, as Democrats now represent their once solidly red suburban districts.
With these members gone, goes the narrative, so has the civility and functionality of Congress. Without their counterweight, the leadership in both parties is now captive to the wishes and wants of the extremes like those in the GOP Freedom Caucus or the Democratic Progressive Caucus.
Upton, in an interview with Meet The Press’ Chuck Todd last weekend, argued that unless Republicans pick up more than 15 seats this fall (for a total of at least 230 GOP-held seats), “it will be very hard to govern for Republicans… knowing that we’ve got the MTG [Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene] element that’s really not a part of a governing majority.”
Eighth news item
To mask or not to mask is still the question:
Philadelphia is ending its indoor mask mandate, city health officials said Thursday night, abruptly reversing course just days after city residents had to start wearing masks again amid a sharp increase in infections.
The Board of Health voted Thursday to rescind the mandate, according to the Philadelphia health department, which released a statement that cited “decreasing hospitalizations and a leveling of case counts.”
LA County’s public health department reinstated part of its COVID mask mandate Friday, meaning a patchwork of rules for masks on public transit and at airports in Southern California. The decision announced Thursday came just days after a federal judge overturned the Centers for Disease Control’s mask mandate on public transportation.
Initially, local transit agencies went along with that Florida judge’s ruling, allowing the federal rule enforcing masks on planes, trains, buses and other ways of getting around to lapse. Masks became optional.
But that changed with Thursday’s announcement from the county health department. LA County’s own public health director apologized in making the announcement, saying the change will likely create confusion among residents feeling a sense of mask “whiplash” due to the back-and-forth.
Ninth news item
Gov. Newsom not so golden in California:
Six weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a far-reaching effort to push more people into court-ordered treatment for severe mental illness and addiction, homeless advocates are calling it legally misguided and immoral as the proposal’s first public hearing at the state Capitol has been delayed.
More than three dozen organizations and individuals, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Disability Rights California and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, signed an April 12 opposition letter raising serious concerns with Assembly Bill 2830, one of two nearly identical measures moving through the Legislature to implement Newsom’s Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court. The groups often have significant sway among liberal legislative Democrats, the kind of influence that could hinder Newsom’s hopes for a new law to be in place by July 1.
Newsom touted the CARE Court framework last month as an innovative strategy to guide an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 people into housing and much-needed treatment. Under the proposal, family members, behavioral health care providers and first responders, among others, could petition a civil judge to initiate a CARE plan for eligible individuals who lack medical decision-making capacity.
Camille Pissarro, ‘Rue Saint-Honoré, dans l’après-midi 1897
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday to revive a years-long lawsuit over the rightful ownership of a painting by French impressionist Camille Pissarro surrendered to the Nazis in 1939. The court’s ruling opens an opportunity for the heirs of Lilly Cassirer, the painting’s original owner, to reclaim it from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, where it has been on display for decades.
The Spanish museum has argued that Pissarro’s 1897 Rue Saint-Honoré, Après-midi, Effet de Pluie, was acquired in good faith. The Cassirer family maintains that it was sold under duress to a Nazi art appraiser. The painting is believed to be worth today tens of millions of dollars.
Details about how the lawsuit came to be:
The Pissarro painting, a depiction of a rainy Parisian street, was exchanged by Lilly Cassirer in exchange for $360 and her family’s safe passage out of Germany. She never received the money and, though she and her husband escaped persecution, her sister was killed at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In 1948, the Cassirer family filed an appeal with a tribunal organized by Allied forces to recover the painting, but it had already been sold at a Gestapo auction in Berlin. Believing the painting was lost forever, the family accepted a $13,000 settlement from the German government.
In 1976, Swiss collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza purchased the Pissarro from the Hahn Gallery in New York for $275,000. Seventeen years later the baron’s art collection was acquired by Spain for $338 million. The 775 works comprising the acquisition formed the foundation of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation in Madrid.
Litigation began after Claude Cassirer, Lilly’s grandson, found the painting at the Thyssen in 2000. His requests for its return rejected, he sued the foundation in California court in 2005. After his death in 2010, his on David Cassirer carried on the court battle.
Have a great weekend!