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TL(PM) DIGEST: Drones over the Kremlin
Plus anxiety about America's banking system, yet more evidence of Clarence Thomas's corruption, and Iran up to its usual shenanigans in the Middle East
1. Apparent drone attack hits the Kremlin
What happened? The Russian government blamed Ukraine and the United States for a drone attack on the Kremlin overnight on Wednesday that caused minor damage (if any) and vowed to retaliate. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied Ukrainian involvement in the attack, while Secretary of State Blinken warned the world to “take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt.”
Why does it matter? It’s still unclear exactly what happened, and it’s entirely possible that the attack was a so-called “false flag” operation mounted by the Russian government itself in order to gin up public support for the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine amid widespread anticipation of a counteroffensive from Kyiv—or even the work of Russians opposed to Putin and his war. Expect more aggressive but empty bluster from Moscow in the days ahead.
TLP’s take: There’s no reason to allow the predictable rhetorical escalation from the Kremlin to affect U.S. support for Ukraine, or to take Russian threats to retaliate against Kyiv for its purported role in a claimed “assassination attempt” against Putin seriously. Better to give Ukraine what it needs to push Russian forces out of its territory—and do so as quickly as possible.
2. Americans justifiably nervous about their money
What happened? Nearly half of all American adults say they are moderately or very worried about the safety of the money they have deposited in banks and other financial institutions, according to Gallup.
Why does it matter? This survey was conducted before news of the collapse of First Republic Bank, which surely did not improve anyone’s feelings. Americans’ concern about their money today is slightly higher than it was just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 (48 percent versus 45 percent).
TLP’s take: Although Americans’ personal deposits are safe and guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the scale of recent bank collapses—now exceeding that of 2008 in dollar terms—understandably makes people nervous. Federal regulators need to offer Americans far more transparency about their actions, and present clearer evidence about what, if any, potential banking threats remain—and closed-door, over-the-weekend seizures and sales of banks like First Republic do not inspire public confidence in the banking system.
3. Evidence mounts for Justice Clarence Thomas’s corruption
What happened? Investigative journalism outlet ProPublica released another report providing undisputed evidence that billionaire conservative donor Harlan Crow paid private school tuition for Supreme Justice Clarence Thomas’ grand-nephew for years—gifts that were never disclosed as required by law.
Why does it matter? It’s now clear that Crow has given Thomas and his family loads of lavish gifts over the years without Thomas bothering to let anyone know about it. No sitting judge anywhere should be taking gifts from billionaires at any point, period—particularly gifts that are not made public as required by federal law. As ProPublica reports:
“The most reasonable interpretation of the statute is that this was a gift to Thomas and thus had to be reported. It’s common sense,” said Kathleen Clark, an ethics law expert at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s all to the financial benefit of Clarence Thomas.”
TLP’s take: The job of Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas is to be an impartial and fair arbiter of the law—not to hoover up sweetheart real estate deals, luxury trips, and other perks from billionaires with potential interests before the Court. At a minimum, Thomas has abused his power and violated the spirit of his judicial oath to serve the U.S. Constitution and the American people without favor:
“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________ under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.”
4. Tehran still up to no good in the Middle East
What happened? For the second time in a week, Iranian naval forces seized an oil tanker in international waters—apparent retaliation for American efforts to enforce sanctions against Tehran. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also traveled to Damascus yesterday to express support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as Arab nations begin to reach out and re-establish ties with the murderous autocrat.
Why does it matter? Tehran clearly feels the geopolitical winds in its sails, once more seizing ships in one of the world’s most strategic waterways and holding what amounts to a victory celebration with its brutal ally in Damascus. It likewise holds the upper hand in its strategic relationship with Russia, supplying Moscow with suicide drones, artillery shells, and fuel for its war against Ukraine.
TLP’s take: Iran may not have the economic or military muscle of a Russia or a China, but it clearly plays an outsized role in global geopolitics—one America can’t afford to ignore, no matter how many of us may be done with the Middle East. The United States shouldn’t be as deeply involved in the region as it has been over the past two decades, but America does need a more balanced and long-term policy approach that serves our wider, global strategic priorities.
Just one more thing…
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of what may be one of the first European settlers to die in Maryland during digs at St. Mary’s City, the first permanent European settlement in modern Maryland.