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1) Biden Gives First State Of The Union
The Topline: Thirteen months after taking office, President Joe Biden addressed the nation on Tuesday night in his first State of the Union Address. He offered new plans of action against Russia, and called for action on inflation, abortion, immigration and more.
President Biden started the speech by praising the Ukrainian people for their “courage and determination that inspires the world.” He then asked members to stand as a show of their support for the Ukrainians, as well as the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. who was sitting with the First Lady.
He drew rousing applause from both sides after addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he was more isolated from the world than he’d ever been.
Much of what the President said on Ukraine was encouragement rather than concrete proposals, but there were some specifics on Russian oligarchs and U.S. airspace.
“We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains. And tonight I am announcing that we will join our allies in closing off American air space to all Russian flights – further isolating Russia – and adding an additional squeeze –on their economy,” Biden said.
He also announced that he’d worked with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil to lessen energy dependence on Russia, which drew strong applause from Democrats, though the U.S. goes through 20 million barrels a day.
Key Domestic Points
The President addressed the economy, which has quickly become the most important issue for many voters as inflation has hit record levels. He said the best way to help fight inflation was by investing in American manufacturing, making homes and cars more energy efficient, and reducing childcare costs.
One social issue that received a lot of attention was a comment he made about transgenderism in response to laws on parental consent in schools in several Republican states.
“The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong. As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your President, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential,” he said.
He also addressed defunding the police, stating, “We should all agree: The answer is not to Defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.”
This year was unique in that there were a slew of responses to the address, not just one from the opposing party.
The traditional GOP response was given by Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa. She responded by criticizing Biden on inflation, saying his speech offered little in terms of solutions to the record rates. She also addressed the immigration crisis and the president’s COVID response.
There were also responses given by Representative Colin Allred (D-TX) of the Congressional Black Caucus, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) gave an “America First” response, and Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) delivered the “Progressive” response.
The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro delivered his own address in response. He refuted the President’s claim that the State of our Union is strong, instead calling it pathetic, and went on to address the President’s response to Afghanistan, inflation, immigration, COVID, and more.
2) The Latest From Ukraine
The Topline: After more than six days of fighting and heavy resistance, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been far less successful than Russian President Vladimir Putin initially predicted, leading to concerns that the violence could escalate in response.
Quote Of The Day: “Mama, I’m in Ukraine. There is a real war raging here. I’m afraid. We are bombing all of the cities…even targeting civilians.”
– Russian soldier to his mother moments before he was killed
Shift In Strategy
The main news out of Ukraine is that there’s been a noticeable shift in the military strategy being employed by the Russians.
A massive 40-mile long convoy of Russian vehicles and equipment is currently bearing down on Kyiv, as Russia is ramping up the aggression of their air-based attacks, with multiple missile strikes being reported across the country. Five people were killed in one strike in Kyiv, with footage showing massive levels of damage, while another attack targeted Freedom Square in Kharkiv, which is home to the regional government’s headquarters. At least 10 people died in this attack, with at least 20 more injured, based on initial reports.
According to Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, the attacks on Ukraine are getting more extreme. For example, Russia has been accused of using “vacuum bombs” during their invasion.
“Vacuum bombs” are also known as thermo-baric bombs, which create a pressure wave and subsequent vacuum which ruptures the victim’s lungs.These sorts of explosives are banned by the Geneva Convention.
Multiple human rights groups have also accused Russian forces of using cluster munitions, with Amnesty International also accusing them of attacking a preschool in northeastern Ukraine, with civilians sheltering inside.
The latest waves of more devastating attacks are adding to what was already a humanitarian crisis, with shortages of food, water and medical aid reported.
The latest string of attacks is now leading to calls for an investigation into Putin for committing war crimes. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court responded by opening an investigation.
Ukraine’s President Zelensky went one step further, accusing Russia of “state terrorism,” calling one Russian attack which hit an administrative building in Kharkiv as well as residential arrears an act of “frank, undisguised terror.”
Ukraine And The EU
Earlier this week, Ukraine pushed for EU membership, and the European Union has accepted their application and will start a “special admission” process to try and quickly integrate the country into the EU.
Here in the U.S., the Biden administration recently announced it would be revoking diplomatic privileges for 12 Russian spies accused of espionage. This process had apparently been going on for months, starting long before Russia invaded Ukraine.
3) Russian Oligarchs Unhappy With Putin
The Topline: Russian President Vladimir Putin has been censured by international leaders over his decision to invade Ukraine, but now it appears as though he could be facing mounting displeasure from powerful figures within his own country, as elite members of Russian society are beginning to speak out against the Russian president.
Quote Of The Day: “The biggest and most successful lie of the Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin.”
– Sofia Abramovich, daughter of Roman Abramovich, known as “Putin’s banker,” on Instagram
Who Are The Oligarchs?
Oligarchs are a class of Russian business moguls who are wealthy and powerful enough to influence national politics. They are men who accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars when Russian industry was privatized after the fall of the Soviet Union. This involved oil companies, but also aluminum production, telecom systems, banking systems, and diamond mines.
Today, these tycoons control massive industries in Russia and Putin needs their support.
The economic sanctions the U.S. and other nations have placed on Russia in the last few days are directly impacting their net worth, prompting the oligarchs to start questioning Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine.
Several European countries have applied other kinds of pressure directly on these oligarchs as well.
The U.K., Canada, and more than 15 other countries have instituted travel bans that are keeping Russian private planes from flying over their airspace. They’ve also promised to block so-called “golden passports” which allow these ultra-wealthy Russians to buy citizenship in Western nations.
Oligarch assets are also being frozen. One unnamed U.S. official said the administration is going to “collectively hunt down…their yachts, jets, fancy cars and luxury homes.”
A number of these oligarchs own extensive property in England and on Monday, the British parliament introduced an economic crime bill directly targeting those assets.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the new law, “There is no place for dirty money in the UK. Those backing Putin have been put on notice: there will be nowhere to hide your ill-gotten gains.”
Is It Working?
While it’s hard to tell the direct impacts, over the weekend, two oligarchs, Mikhail Fridman, chairman of Alpha Bank, and Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, openly broke ranks with the Kremlin.
They didn’t directly ask Putin to end his campaign against Ukraine, but they both called for “peace.”
Additionally, the daughters of these oligarchs have been posting anti-war messages to social media.
Other Stories We’re Tracking
Warner Bros. has halted the release of “The Batman” in Russian theaters. A spokesperson said, “In light of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, WarnerMedia is pausing the release of its feature film ‘The Batman’ in Russia.’”
On Tuesday, a large cargo vessel transporting cars from Germany to the U.S. sank off the coast of Portugal. The ship was being towed to shore after a fire broke out, and 22 crew members were evacuated. While car makers have not disclosed the number of the cars onboard, comparable vessels carry some 4,000 vehicles.
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