Friday, March 11, 2022

Last Call For Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

Kyiv has survived another week, while Vladimir Putin's credibility has not. The bigger problem is that Putin seems bound and determined to commit enough war crimes to force a direct military confrontation with NATO and the US, which would be catastrophic for the globe in any conceivable scenario.

The United Nations human rights office has received “credible reports” that Russian forces are using cluster munitions in Ukraine, including in populated areas which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, the U.N. political chief said Friday.

Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told a U.N. Security Council meeting that residential areas and civilian infrastructure are being shelled in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv and “the utter devastation being visited on these cities is horrific.”

Most of the civilian casualties recorded by the U.N. human rights office — 564 killed and 982 injured as of Thursday — “have been caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” she said.

“Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions, which are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction, are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” DiCarlo said. “Directing attacks against civilian and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages, are also prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.”

As of Thursday the U.N. World Health Organization has verified 26 attacks on health facilities, health workers and ambulances, including the bombing of the Mariupol maternity hospital, which caused 12 deaths and 34 injuries, DiCarlo said.

All alleged violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated and those found responsible must be held accountable, she said.

DiCarlo stressed that “the need for negotiations to stop the war in Ukraine could not be more urgent.”

Footage recorded on the outskirts of Kyiv by Radio Free Europe on Wednesday shows Ukrainian soldiers with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers slung over their shoulders traversing snow-dusted fields and woods and expressing disdain toward the Russians.

One unidentified soldier called their adversaries “orcs,” a reference to the monstrous and malevolent foot soldiers in the “Lord of the Rings” series.

Another soldier said they planned to kill all their enemies over the bombing of Mariupol.

“We’ll multiply them by zero,” the unidentified soldier said.

Gunfire and explosions erupt during the 3-minute, 30-second clip. At one point in the woods, shots split the air near the group, and soldiers drop to their stomachs in an instant and return fire. The assailants are not visible in the clip, but the crack-crack-crack from the gunfire exchange carries on for 15 seconds in one part of the clip.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an online portal to gather evidence of war crimes in Ukraine, as he renewed his call to combatants to abide by the laws of war.
The problem of course is that Putin can tell both the ICC and the UN to go to hell and already basically have done so.  Pulling out Assad's playbook in Syria, the choice is going to be accept Putin's control of Ukraine or direct military conflict with NATO, which President Biden has already said would lead to World War III.

President Biden on Friday stressed that the U.S. and NATO allies would not fight Russia in Ukraine, describing such a scenario as "World War III."

"We’re going to continue to stand together with our allies in Europe and send an unmistakable message. We will defend every single inch of NATO territory with the full might of the united and galvanized NATO," Biden said after announcing additional sanctions on Russia. "We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent."

The president's comments were his starkest warning yet as some experts and journalists have asked what type of Russian escalation might trigger a U.S. military response.

Some lawmakers have pushed for establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, something White House officials have ruled out because it would involve U.S. and allied forces potentially shooting down Russian planes in Ukrainian airspace.

And multiple reporters have asked in recent days whether the use of chemical weapons by Russia would trigger a U.S. military response.

Things are getting worse In Ukraine, and they could go to hell very quickly if this spirals out of control.  On the other hand, nobody is more aware of this than Ukrainian President Zelenskiy himself, and at this point we have to keep in mind that he has now dropped the idea of NATO membership.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he had "cooled down" about Ukraine's bid to join NATO amid Russia's war with the Eastern European country.

"Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question long ago after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine," Zelensky told ABC News in an exclusive interview that aired Monday night.

Zelensky added: "The alliance is afraid of controversial things and confrontation with Russia. I never wanted to be a country which is begging something on its knees. We are not going to be that country, and I don't want to be that president."

Ukraine's pursuit of NATO membership has been cited by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a justification for his decision to invade Ukraine.
We knew from the start that NATO membership for Ukraine now would mean WW III.  It was never happening. What does happen now depends on if there are any realistic military plans to push Russian troops out of Ukraine with materiel and equipment from NATO through Poland.

All bets are off and have been for two weeks.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

The Guardian's Peter Stone assures us that criminal charges against Donald Trump are more likely than ever.

The likelihood of a criminal investigation and charges against Donald Trump are rising due to allegations by a House panel of a “criminal conspiracy” involving his aggressive drive to overturn the 2020 election results, coupled with a justice department (DoJ) inquiry of a “false electors” scheme Trump loyalists devised to block Joe Biden’s election.

Former federal prosecutors say evidence is mounting of criminal conduct by Trump that may yield charges against the ex- president for obstructing an official proceeding of Congress on 6 January or defrauding the US government, stemming from his weeks-long drive with top allies to thwart Biden’s election by pushing false claims of fraud.

A 2 March court filing by the House January 6 panel implicated Trump in a “criminal conspiracy” to block Congress from certifying Biden’s win, and Trump faces legal threats from justice department investigations under way into a “false electors” ploy, and seditious conspiracy charges filed against Oath Keepers who attacked the Capitol, say department veterans.

The filing by the House panel investigating the 6 January assault on the Capitol by a mob of pro-Trump supporters stated that it has “a good-faith basis for concluding that the president and members of his campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States”.

The panel’s hard-hitting findings about Trump’s criminal schemes were contained in a federal court filing involving top Trump lawyer John Eastman, who has fought on attorney client privilege grounds turning over a large cache of documents including emails sought by the committee.

Back in January, the deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, also revealed a criminal investigation was being launched into a far reaching scheme in seven states that Biden won which was reportedly overseen by Trump’s ex-lawyer Rudy Giuliani to replace legitimate electors with false ones pledged to Trump.

But the House panel’s blockbuster allegations that Trump broke laws to overturn the election have prompted some ex-prosecutors to call on the justice department to quickly accelerate its investigations to focus on the multiple avenues that Trump used to nullify the election results in tandem with top allies like Giuliani.

“The compelling evidence of criminal activity by Trump revealed by the committee in its recent 61-page court filing should spur DoJ to act expeditiously,” Paul Pelletier, a former acting chief of DoJ’s fraud section, told the Guardian.

“Given the gravity of the revelations, the department should consider a strike force or even a special counsel to coalesce sufficient resources to focus on these criminal attacks that strike at the heart of our democracy,” Pelletier added. “There is no time to waste now that the House committee has provided the clearest view yet into how Trump and his campaign apparently schemed to upend our democracy
And now, some ice cold reality from former federal prosecutor Michael J. Stern.

I get why people are angry; I count myself among them. It’s fair to say that any ordinary citizen who committed similar offenses would have been swiftly indicted by the Justice Department. Want proof? Look at the 750 Capitol rioters who have already been arrested. They are minions compared to the man who instigated the attack and on whose behalf they acted — the man the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot recently referred to as a member of a “criminal conspiracy.”

But, having worked as both a state and federal prosecutor and as a defense attorney, I know that there are Justice Department considerations in play beyond a simple analysis of whether there is sufficient evidence to indict Trump on criminal violations.

Every competent prosecutor knows why Garland and the Department of Justice have not indicted Trump. I’m going to say it out loud.

If Trump were charged, it’s unlikely he would negotiate a plea deal. Instead, he would go to trial and make every step of the process a platform to cast himself as a victim of a vindictive Biden administration. He would use the renewed attention to spew lies about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. And he would raise money, lots of money, to fund his anticipated 2024 presidential campaign.

But most important, despite a mountain of evidence that would convict most people many times over, Trump would not be convicted. Criminal convictions require a unanimous verdict. On a 12-person jury, there are going to be Trump supporters.

The Republican National Committee recently proclaimed that the people responsible for the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol were engaged in “legitimate political discourse.” Members of Congress, right-leaning media, and much of the Republican base consider the Capitol rioters patriots.

And so, it is a near certainty that at least one juror would accept the widely held Republican position that any prosecution of Trump is political persecution. That would all but ensure a hung jury in any case brought against him. Such a circumstance would have ramifications far beyond the prosecution of Trump.

Ninety-eight percent of federal cases are resolved short of a trial — mostly by guilty pleas. The federal court system would be crippled if many more defendants started exercising their right to a jury trial.

Pulling back the curtain to reveal a Justice Department incapable of convicting the former president, despite overwhelming evidence, would be a disaster for DOJ. It could lead to defendants across the country taking their shot, hoping they too could convince at least one juror to hang their case. Garland and DOJ attorneys know this and must be terrified at the prospect.
Trump will never be charged with federal, criminal indictments.  Period.

No jury would convict, and any who would? They'd be targets for life. Jury info would be leaked the second a guilty verdict came down, and it would be open season.

I understand that if Trump doesn't pay, all of us will. But the cost of chaos, murder, and destruction a guilty verdict would raise?

We're not ready for it as a country, and we never will be.

The Yacht Rocked World Tour '22

The internet does love its schadenfreude and it loves seeing the ridiculously wealthy lose their multi-million dollar toys because they've been bad even more, so it's no surprise then that online wealth watchers are getting hooked on the newest net comedy: Sanctioned Russian Oligarchs Get Their Yachts Seized By Cops.

There’s just something satisfying about watching online as a billionaire’s luxury yacht moves around the globe — and then gets snagged by law enforcement as part of sanctions designed to crack down on Russia.

Alex Finley thinks of it as schadenfreude, or getting pleasure from another’s troubles. Finley, an author and former CIA officer, is online tweeting names, locations, ownership and the latest status of various yachts owned by Russian oligarchs.

Seeing the yachts being seized feels like a “little bit of justice,” Finley said.

She’s part of a growing group of online spectators watching and reporting as governments around the world seize Russian oligarchs’ assets as part of sanctions for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While money can often be hidden and moved between offshore bank accounts, it’s trickier to conceal a 511-foot megayacht with an indoor pool, multiple helipads and a tracking system.

Using automated Twitter accounts, online tracking sites and homemade bingo cards, casual fans of financial retribution are following the location of the oligarchs’ ships and jets, often hoping to catch them on the run or docked in a country likely to seize them. Social media accounts have sprung up to follow the movements of these luxurious vehicles and keep track of which ones have been frozen or taken into possession by governments.

They use sites like VesselFinder, MarineTraffic or SuperYachtFan where you can type in a ship’s name or unique identifiers, known as an International Maritime Organization (IMO) number or Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI). Thanks to similar satellite-based tracking technology, oligarchs’ private jet locations can also be tracked online through sites like It’s not just location information. Some of the more expensive and well known yachts have their own Wikipedia pages and online followings, where details about their most over-the-top features are documented.

The Russian billionaires became the new object of fascination after the White House and European Union moved to sanction dozens of individual oligarchs and their associates as part of the larger Western crackdown on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

“The United States and governments all over the world will work to identify and freeze the assets Russian elites and their family members hold in our respective jurisdictions — their yachts, luxury apartments, money, and other ill-gotten gains,” according to the White House in a March 3 statement.

Yacht watchers have already witnessed a number of seizures. Italian financial police seized the superyacht Lena and another named Lady M, belonging respectively to Russian oligarchs Gennady Timchenko and Alexei Mordashov, according to the Associated Press. VesselFinder showed both on its maps recently, docked in Italian ports.

Late last week, the French Finance Ministry announced on Twitter it had seized a 281-foot-long superyacht worth $120 million that belonged to Russian oligarch Igor Sechin, the CEO of oil giant Rosneft. Called the Amore Vero, that ship’s recent locations were not as easy to find on tracking sites.

Yachts are not always required by law to share their location, though they typically do so for safety. However, some may turn off their automated tracking system if they want to sail under the radar.

“Whether a yacht has a duty to keep its AIS device on under international law or the domestic laws of its flag just depends on the size of the yacht, her flag, and where the yacht is located,” R. Isaak Hurst, an attorney at the International Maritime Group, said in an email.

The Russian-owned megayachts have become a clear object that people can focus their anger and attention on, yacht tracking fans say.

“There’s a symbolic power that the yacht holds in the West’s campaign to rein in the power of Vladimir Putin and his global kleptocracy,” said Oliver Houston, a political campaigner and writer from London. Houston has been active on the #YachtWatch trend on Twitter.


Gotta love it.  Now if we would only have the courage to do the same to non-Russian megayachts, things might improve drastically around here.

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