The Sunday Subject – January 23, 2022

Senate Democrats failed to change filibuster rules in an effort to counter Republican-sponsored voting restrictions in many states.

The Democrats made an impassioned case for legislation opposing attacks on voting rights, but ultimately failed to overcome a Republican blockade and opposition from Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who voted with all fifty Senate Republicans. In a 48-52 vote, the Senate struck down an effort to reinstate the “talking filibuster,” which would have allowed elections legislation to pass by a simple majority vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged the differing opinions within his caucus over keeping the sixty-vote threshold required to pass most bills, though argued that the changes would be limited and only apply to election reform.

Governor Hochul’s first state budget plan marks a “near seismic” shift from the budget plans of her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.

Unveiling her first state budget plan this week, Hochul proposed spending huge amounts of money on all levels of local governments. The budget comes as part of a promise to work with local governments across the state to devise solutions for the problems facing New York, reversing the lack of respect shown by Cuomo toward the units of government that rank lower than Albany but are still responsible for many public services. Among other things, the budget includes more funding for road, bridge and pothole repairs; new environmental spending that will boost local infrastructure work and expand improvement works projects; state aid for strained local public health agencies; economic and community development funding; and more money for county veterans programs. “Governor Hochul’s budget is a welcome change in tone and process that incorporates many of the concerns, needs and policy ideas raised by local leaders,” said Marte Sauerbrey, president of the bipartisan New York State Association of Counties and chairwoman of the Tioga County Legislature. 

Governor Hochul has solidified her frontrunner status for the upcoming Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Her Tuesday campaign finance report revealed that, with $21.3 million amassed, she far surpasses her competitors. A Siena College poll found that 46% of Democrats back the new governor, compared to 12% for de Blasio, 11% for New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams and 6% for Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi of Nassau County. “Five months is a long time in politics, but given her bully pulpit, campaign war chest and enormous early lead, Williams, Suozzi and de Blasio, if he enters the race, have a lot of catching up to do and a very steep path in front of them,” said pollster Steven A. Greenberg.

A newly declassified video shows the killing of ten innocent Afghan civilians in a botched drone strike carried out by the US.

The footage reveals more about the US drone strike last August in Kabul, capturing insights on how the military made a life-or-death decision based on imagery that was hard to interpret in real time and prone to confirmation bias. The strike, whose victims included seven children, has been made available through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The negligent misjudgment became one of the events that marked the end of the twenty year war in Afghanistan. 

President Biden has stated that he expects President Vladimir Putin of Russia to invade Ukraine.

Russia has stationed more than 100,000 Russian troops at the border over the past several months. Putin has stated he believes Ukraine to be an extension of “historical Russia” and within Moscow’s sphere of influence today. The Russian president feels threatened by Ukraine’s turn westward after a revolution ousted the country’s pro-Russian president in 2014. One of Putin’s former advisors, Gleb O. Pavlovsky, described the Kremlin’s perspective on Ukraine as a “trauma wrapped in a trauma” — referring to the dissolution of the Soviet Union paired with the separation of a country Russians have long viewed as closely tied with their own. Experts, however, still remain unsure whether Putin has made a decision, as some believe that he hopes to use the events to gain concessions from the West — in particular, for NATO to stop expanding into countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. US officials have promised “massive” economic sanctions, far worse than those imposed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, if Russia carries out the invasion.