Today in Bad Russia-Ukraine News

Let’s go through the depressing details:

  • “Novorossiya” is quite the ominous term.
  • As pointed out by Walter Russell Mead and company, what Vladimir Putin tells a Russian audience is significantly more important than some vague agreement that supposedly is designed to reduce tensions, but in fact is actually designed to allow diplomats to say that they have worked to reduce tensions, without, you know, actually reducing tensions.
  • Allegedly, there is a move to have Ukrainian Jews register their names and property holdings with pro-Russian militants, and pay a registration fee to boot. The State Department is convinced that the leaflets announcing the registration policy are genuine, and is properly disgusted, but Julia Ioffe asserts that the leaflets are not genuine. I would like to believe that she is right, but in the event that she is not, would the Nation be so kind as to denounce some actual fascists, as opposed to the imaginary ones who allegedly staff the new Ukrainian government?

Quote of the Day

It was a simple question to someone accustomed to much tougher ones: What was her proudest achievement as secretary of state? But for a moment, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing recently before a friendly audience at a women’s forum in Manhattan, seemed flustered.

Mrs. Clinton played an energetic role in virtually every foreign policy issue of President Obama’s first term, advocating generally hawkish views internally while using her celebrity to try to restore America’s global standing after the hit it took during the George W. Bush administration.

But her halting answer suggests a problem that Mrs. Clinton could confront as she recounts her record in Mr. Obama’s cabinet before a possible run for president in 2016: Much of what she labored over so conscientiously is either unfinished business or has gone awry in his second term.

Mark Landler and Amy Chozick. File under “gee, ya think?” Incidentally, Clinton’s response–”I really see my role as secretary, and, in fact, leadership in general in a democracy, as a relay race . . . I mean, you run the best race you can run, you hand off the baton.”–is not much of one. The question wasn’t “now that you have finished your term as secretary of state, is there anything left for anyone else to do?” The question challenged Hillary Clinton to state her proudest achievement as secretary of state. She couldn’t. That tells you something about her tenure.

Indeed, I daresay that both she and her supporters would find it similarly difficult to state her proudest achievement as senator from New York. Or . . . well . . . any achievement at all. Don’t believe me? Quick; what was the most significant thing that Hillary Clinton accomplished as either senator or secretary of state. Don’t Google, don’t look up any articles; state something off the top of your own head. And do it fast.

Difficult, isn’t it? I guess we now have an idea of what challenges await Clinton should she decide to run for president.

Yes, Jenny McCarthy Is Anti-Vaccine

Here is the proof. I am sure that there is more proof out there, but this ought to suffice. Can we debate something genuinely controversial now, like whether water is wet, fire is hot, ice is cold, night is dark and day is light? Because that might serve as a more valuable use of our time.

More Bad News from Russia and Ukraine

Ugh:

  • In war, truth is the first casualty. As a realist, I believe that national interests do more to determine the behavior of a nation state than do domestic political factors. But realists certainly don’t dismiss domestic politics out of hand. And unfortunately, since Russians are being lied to by their own government about what is happening in Ukraine, they are in no position whatsoever–even after factoring in the amount of political repression that occurs in Russia–to pressure their leaders to make smarter foreign policy decisions.
  • Pro-Russian separatists are making a bad situation worse. I am sure that Moscow is pleased, as it is incontrovertible that the separatists are acting on Moscow’s instructions.
  • Political and economic chaos are the order of the day in Ukraine. Even before tensions between Ukraine and Russia reached a fever pitch, Ukraine had to face a dire economic crisis. Now, it has to face a dire geopolitical crisis as well.
  • NATO is working to deter further Russian aggression. One hopes the alliance succeeds, but right now, Moscow believes that the West simply doesn’t have the will or the incentive to do much about its bullying of Ukraine. And it may yet be right.

Paul Krugman: Poster Boy for Income Inequality

You cannot make this up:

In late February, the City University of New York announced that it had tapped Princeton economist and New York Times blogger Paul Krugman for a distinguished professorship at CUNY’s Graduate Center and its Luxembourg Income Study Center, a research arm devoted to studying income patterns and their effect on inequality.

About that. According to a formal offer letter obtained under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, CUNY intends to pay Krugman $225,000, or $25,000 per month (over two semesters), to “play a modest role in our public events” and “contribute to the build-up” of a new “inequality initiative.” It is not clear, and neither CUNY nor Krugman was able to explain, what “contribute to the build-up” entails.

It’s certainly not teaching. “You will not be expected to teach or supervise students,” the letter informs Professor Krugman, who replies: “I admit that I had to read it several times to be clear … it’s remarkably generous.” (After his first year, Krugman will be required to host a single seminar.)

Ordinarily, I would not care in the least about this little bit of news. Krugman won the Nobel prize in Economics, he is a widely read pundit, he is deeply respected in academic and punditry circles, and it stands to reason that he is going to command a high salary. But given Krugman’s frequent jeremiads against income inequality, it is more than a little hilarious that he is going to be paid “$25,000 per month (over two semesters)” and “$225,000 per year” (note that if Krugman is getting $25,000 per month for a year, he would actually gross a cool $300,000 for the year) in order to “play a modest role” in public events about income inequality and “contribute to the build-up” of an “inequality initiative.” I wonder if Krugman stays up at night worrying that he might be contributing to the very problem that he is decrying and being paid to decry. Probably not.

Oh, and there is this as well:

CUNY, which is publicly funded, pays adjunct professors approximately $3,000 per course. The annual salaries of tenured (but undistinguished) professors, meanwhile, top out at $116,364, according to the most recent salary schedule negotiated by the university system’s faculty union. And those professors are expected to teach and publish. Even David Petraeus, whom CUNY initially offered $150,000, conducted a weekly 3-hour seminar.

Any chance that people like Corey Robin–who raised such a fuss about David Petraeus’s teaching gig–will object to Krugman’s far more lucrative (and far less demanding) deal? Somehow, I doubt it.

Quote of the Day

Mr. [Rand] Paul was in New Hampshire last weekend, speaking to conservative activists at the Freedom Summit, emphasizing the need for Republicans to do a better job of reaching out to Hispanics and African-Americans.

It’s a fine message. Or rather, it would be a fine message if it weren’t for Mr. Paul’s long political association with Jack Hunter, aka the “Southern Avenger,” a former radio shock jock who co-wrote Mr. Paul’s 2011 book “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.” On April 14, 2004—the 139th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination—Mr. Hunter wrote a column titled ” John Wilkes Booth Was Right.” He also lamented that “whites are not afforded the same right to celebrate their own cultural identity” as blacks and Hispanics.

Mr. Hunter remained a member of Mr. Paul’s staff until last July, when the Washington Free Beacon broke the story. Afterward, Mr. Hunter recanted his views and pleaded amnesia. As for Mr. Paul, he defended his former aide, saying he had merely been “stupid,” that he had been “unfairly treated by the media,” and that “he got along fine with everybody in the office, treated everyone fairly, regardless of race or religion.”

So can we now, um, switch the subject?

Yes, we can. Let’s move on to a YouTube video of Mr. Paul in April 2009, offering his insights to a college group on foreign policy. Channeling Dwight Eisenhower, the future senator warned “we need to be so fearful of companies that get so big that they can actually be directing policy.”

“When the Iraq war started, Halliburton got a billion-dollar no-bid contract. Some of the stuff has been so shoddy and so sloppy that our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution.”

Then he gets to his real point: Dick Cheney, who opposed driving all the way to Baghdad when he was defense secretary in the first Bush administration, later went to work for Halliburton. “Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good thing to go into Iraq.”

Mr. Paul’s conclusion: “9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.”

Cui bono—to whose benefit? It’s the signature question of every conspiracy theorist with an unhinged mind. Cheney. Halliburton. Big Oil. The military-industrial complex. Neocons. 9/11. Soldiers electrocuted in the shower. It all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

If Mr. Paul wants to accuse the former vice president of engineering a war in Iraq so he could shovel some profits over to his past employer, he should come out and say so explicitly. Ideally at the next Heritage Action powwow. Let’s not mince words. This man wants to be the Republican nominee for president.

Bret Stephens.

The Liberal Reagan? Not So Fast.

Andrew Sullivan is fond of claiming that Barack Obama is a liberal version of Ronald Reagan. James Freeman throws an appreciable amount of cold water on the notion:

President Obama inspired a generation of young people to support his historic election in 2008. And in 2012, despite the struggles of his first term, Mr. Obama still managed to win the support of a full 60% of voters age 18-29. But the man who once dreamed of being a transformative leader in the Reagan mold is inspiring few of those young people to follow his lead.

“For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks,” reports the New York Times. “Unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual legislatures of politicians and became generational touchstones, Mr. Obama has so far had little such influence.”

The Times quotes Harvard pollster John Della Volpe: “If you were to call it an Obama generation, there was a window…That opportunity has been lost.” Mr. Della Volpe’s polling of 18- to 29-year-olds shows that only 35% now believe that running for office is an honorable pursuit. “We’re seeing the younger cohort is even less connected with [Mr. Obama] generally, with his policies, as well as politics generally,” he told the Times. The paper also quotes former Obama pollster Sergio Bendixen saying that Mr. Obama’s onetime core supporters among the young “went on to the next website and then the next click on their computer. I just don’t see the generation as all that ideological or invested in causes for the long run.”

Why isn’t President Obama inspiring “virtual legislatures of politicians”? As Freeman notes, it may be because millennials have it really rough in the Obama economy and have soured on politics in general and the president in particular. And as Freeman points out, this may mean that young people won’t turn out this fall for the midterm elections, which constitutes tremendously bad news for Democrats.

The Most Transparent Administration in History, Really Isn’t

Are we honestly supposed to believe that there weren’t ulterior motives behind this move?

The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.

The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.

With the new questions, “it is likely that the Census Bureau will decide that there is a break in series for the health insurance estimates,” says another agency document describing the changes. This “break in trend” will complicate efforts to trace the impact of the Affordable Care Act, it said.

A major goal of the law is to increase the number of people with health insurance. The White House reported that 7.5 million people signed up for private health plans on the new insurance exchanges and that enrollment in Medicaid increased by three million since October. But the administration has been unable to say how many of the people gaining coverage were previously uninsured or had policies canceled, so the net increase in coverage is unclear.

Health policy experts and politicians had been assuming that the Census Bureau would help answer those questions when it issued its report on income, poverty and health insurance, based on the Current Population Survey. The annual report shows the number of people with various kinds of health insurance and the number of uninsured for the nation and for each state.

The story goes on to indicate that according to Gallup polls, more of the uninsured are getting covered as a consequence of Obamacare. But the best way to verify this is through census information. And now–conveniently?–we can’t.

Understandably, Megan McArdle is gobsmacked. And then some:

I’m speechless. Shocked. Stunned. Horrified. Befuddled. Aghast, appalled, thunderstruck, perplexed, baffled, bewildered and dumbfounded. It’s not that I am opposed to the changes: Everyone understands that the census reports probably overstate the true number of the uninsured, because the number they report is supposed to be “people who lacked insurance for the entire previous year,” but people tend to answer with their insurance status right now.

But why, dear God, oh, why, would you change it in the one year in the entire history of the republic that it is most important for policy makers, researchers and voters to be able to compare the number of uninsured to those in prior years? The answers would seem to range from “total incompetence on the part of every level of this administration” to something worse.

[. . .]

Sarah Kliff of Vox says we shouldn’t freak out, because these are the numbers that the census collects for 2013, so the change is actually giving us a good baseline. But I’m afraid I’m not so sanguine. As Aaron Carroll says: “It’s actually helpful to have a trend to measure, not a pre-post 2013/2014. This still sucks.”

I am sure that we will be getting the “move along, nothing to see here” speeches from the administration and its partisans any moment now. Just once, can we ignore those speeches and insist on actual transparency, instead of the pretend variety that we have been getting since January 20, 2009?

Seattle, Meet Brussels. You Two Will Get Along Just Fine.

I suppose that I should look on the bright side in reading this story; maybe as a takeaway, I can be comforted by the fact that certain American cities don’t have a monopoly on perpetrating outrages against their citizens and the free market. But I confess to believing that any such comfort is of the cold variety:

A court in Brussels has banned Uber in the Belgian and European Union capital, promising to fine the ride-sharing service 10,000 euros every time it violates the order.

The Commercial Court in Brussels handed down the ruling last week, according to Tech.eu, summarizing an original report by the Dutch-language De Tijd site.

The court based its decision on the fact that UberPOP drivers don’t have taxi licenses allowing them to ferry passengers in Brussels, according to Tech.eu. The case against Uber came about following “complaints from traditional taxi operators who are not in favor of competition and consumer choice and would like to see their lucrative business protected by the government,” the site reported with a healthy bit of editorializing.

The “healthy bit of editorializing” was, of course, completely and entirely accurate. Government officials used their power to protect the interests of a cartel, and act against the public interest in the process. Here’s hoping that municipal elections occur in Brussels soon, and that the public expresses its outrage over this turn of events. More on this issue, including additional completely and entirely accurate “editorializing”:

Neelie Kroes, the EU’s digital commissioner, said the court’s decision was “crazy” and “outrageous”.

“This decision … is not about protecting or helping passengers – it’s about protecting a taxi cartel,” Ms Kroes told the Financial Times.

“If Brussels authorities have a problem with Uber they should find a way to help them comply with standards. Slamming the door in Uber’s face doesn’t solve anything.”

It ought to go without saying that the more such outrageous stories crop up, the greater the proof that services like Uber are not only convenient, but necessary. Taxicab cartels, wherever they pop up, are out to roger their customers however they can. They deserve to be punished and scared into behaving better, and companies like Uber can help that process along.

Boeing Has a Friend in High Places

And that friend may want to go to higher places still:

On a trip to Moscow early in her tenure as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton played the role of international saleswoman, pressing Russian government officials to sign a multibillion-dollar deal to buy dozens of aircraft from Boeing.

A month later, Clinton was in China, where she jubilantly announced that the aerospace giant would be writing a generous check to help resuscitate floundering U.S. efforts to host a pavilion at the upcoming World’s Fair.

Boeing, she said, “has just agreed to double its contribution to $2 million.”

Clinton did not point out that, to secure the donation, the State Department had set aside ethics guidelines that first prohibited solicitations of Boeing and then later permitted only a $1 million gift from the company. Boeing had been included on a list of firms to be avoided because of its frequent reliance on the government for help negotiating overseas business and concern that a donation could be seen as an attempt to curry favor with U.S. officials.

The November 2009 episode was an indicator of a mutually beneficial relationship between one of the world’s major corporations and a potential future president. Clinton functioned as a powerful ally for Boeing’s business interests at home and abroad, while Boeing has invested resources in causes beneficial to Clinton’s public and political image.

Boeing’s largesse on behalf of the U.S. pavilion at the Shanghai expo was helpful to Clinton at a critical moment as she made it her priority to woo support from corporations to revive the American presence at the event.

She was widely credited with orchestrating a turnaround, and the can-do image she cultivated as secretary of state has contributed to her status as a Democratic front-runner ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.

In 2010, two months after Boeing won its $3.7 billion Russia deal, the company announced a $900,000 contribution to the William J. Clinton Foundation intended to rebuild schools in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The foundation, which Hillary Clinton now helps lead with her husband and daughter, has become a popular charity for major corporations.

The company’s ties came into play again this month when its in-house lobbyist, former Bill Clinton aide Tim Keating, co-hosted a fundraiser for Ready for Hillary, the super PAC backing her potential presidential run.

How very convenient this entire relationship is. Hillary Clinton was allowed to set aside ethical guidelines, she got contributions made to the Clinton Foundation, she made herself look good as secretary of state, and she won a potentially powerful supporter for her presidential ambitions. I guess that we are not supposed to care about any of this, since we are told that a new Clinton presidency is all but inevitable, and since protesting that a new Clinton presidency may not be the most desirable thing on the planet is seen as wrong, somehow. But being the rebel that I am, I cannot help but be more than a little concerned that these all-too-convenient deals might put Hillary Clinton in the White House . . . where more all-too-convenient deals can be made that might not look so good when exposed to the light of day.

Your Government at Work (Social Security Outrages Division)

Using our taxpayer dollars, the government of the United States is confiscating tax refunds of those whose relatives (often their parents) may have received Social Security overpayments. In cases when parents have gotten the overpayments, the federal government sometimes goes after some surviving children, but not others. From the story:

No one seems eager to take credit for reopening all these long-closed cases. A Social Security spokeswoman says the agency didn’t seek the change; ask Treasury. Treasury says it wasn’t us; try Congress. Congressional staffers say the request probably came from the bureaucracy.

And no due process whatsoever is involved:

“It was a shock,” said [Mary] Grice, 58. “What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can’t prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus.”

About the only explanation for the method behind the government’s madness is found here:

Social Security officials told Grice that six people — Grice, her four siblings and her father’s first wife, whom she never knew — had received benefits under her father’s account. The government doesn’t look into exactly who got the overpayment; the policy is to seek compensation from the oldest sibling and work down through the family until the debt is paid.

If you can find anything in this modus operandi to admire, you are far easier to please than I am.

Quote of the Day

In 1970, when China was in the grip of the Cultural Revolution, Zhang Hongbing, a 16-year-old in Guzhen, a county in Anhui Province, made a fateful decision. During a family debate that year, his mother, Fang Zhongmou, had criticized Mao Zedong for his cult of personality. Her son and his father, believing her views to be counterrevolutionary, decided to inform on her. She was arrested that same day.

Mr. Zhang still recalls how his mother’s shoulder joints gave a grating creak as her captors pulled the cord tight. Two months later, she was shot to death.

In 1980, four years after Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the verdict on Fang Zhongmou was reversed. A local court declared her innocent.

In the months and years that followed, Zhang Hongbing and his father scrupulously avoided all reference to this episode. Only in retirement did his father raise the subject: As an adult at the time, he took responsibility for what they had done.

In 2013, the Chinese media reported the lifelong regrets of Mr. Zhang, then 59 years old. For years he would often break down in tears, howling and wailing. “I see her in my dreams,” he said, “just as young as she was then. I kneel on the floor, clutching her hands, for fear she will disappear. ‘Mom,’ I cry, ‘I beg your forgiveness!’ But she doesn’t respond. Never once has she answered me. This is my punishment.”

Why, in those dreams, does Ms. Fang never say a word to her son? It’s not, I think, that she wants to punish him, for she knows that the true blame lies with others — with those who were in power at the time. She — like the souls of all who perished during the Cultural Revolution — is awaiting their apology. She has been waiting for 44 years.

Yu Hua.

Tensions Rise in Ukraine

In the event that you have forgotten, things remain really bad between Ukraine and Russia. And they are getting worse:

Armed separatists took virtual control of a city in eastern Ukraine on Saturday and Kiev prepared troops to deal with what it called an “act of aggression by Russia“.

Pro-Russian activists carrying automatic weapons seized government buildings in Slaviansk and set up barricades on the outskirts of the city. Official buildings in several neighboring towns were also attacked.

The developments have increased concerns of a possible “gas war” that could disrupt energy supplies across the continent.

“The Ukrainian authorities consider the events of the day as a display of external aggression from Russia,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.

“Units of the interior and defense ministries are implementing an operational response plan,” he added.

I am sure that the Nation will find a way to blame all of this on Ukraine, “neofascists” and the United States.

On Why We Are Told that We Are the Government and the Government Is Us

Read Kevin Vallier on the subject, as he responds to Barack Obama’s claims that “the government is us,” and makes a host of interesting points in response, including the following:

To vindicate the idea that the government “is us” in some interesting fashion requires a lot of heavy philosophical lifting. You have to do all of the following:

(1) Define the idea of a general will or collective will in a plausible fashion.

(2) Show that the idea does not contain an inherent contradiction (like an Arrow impossibility result).

(3) Show the ideal is normatively powerful enough to justify a state, any state.

(4) Explain how a government could be structured to express this will.

(5) Explain how individuals must be motivated in order to express this will.

And that’s just the normative part. On to the descriptive part:

(6) Argue that modern democratic governments are at least similar to the ideal institutional type.

(7) Argue that modern democratic citizens are at least similar to their motivational ideals.

(8) Argue that the relevant similarities are sufficient to show that democratic governments and citizens at least partly realize the ideal.

This is a tall order indeed. You’re going to have to be Rousseau, Kant, Rawls or Habermas or one who operates in their shadows to even formulate an interconnected and coherent series of arguments to reach these goals.

Quite so, and Vallier is to be praised for having laid all of this out–and for making it clear that just about no one is going to be able to clear this particular bar. Having written all of this, I do want to take slight issue with the following from Vallier:

Now readers on this blog, including myself, think this claim [that the government is us--ed.] is obviously false and that those who think it is true labor under a serious and dangerous delusion. Even if government isn’t inherently evil, the idea that it expresses our will to such an extent that the government should somehow be identified with its subjects is simply a quasi-theological belief that legitimates the power of the democratic state.

And yet, why do people think that this is true? Obama’s no moron, and he almost certainly thought this before he was president or even thought he could become president, so it’s not just power corrupting him.

Well no, the president is certainly not a moron. But the reason he and other port-siders think this is because he and other port-siders want some form of philosophical justification for the expansion of government into just about every aspect of our daily lives. Thus the claims that we are the government and the government is us; such claims prevent the citizenry from thinking of themselves as being in opposition to the government, and from thinking of the government as some kind of Other. Citizen identification with the government makes it easier to acquiesce in the expansion of government. The president–and those who sympathize with him politically–know all of this, so they are more than happy to press the narrative that we are the government and the government is us.

As Vallier demonstrates, the narrative is false. But it is also superficially appealing–at least to some–so don’t expect the president or his allies to drop it anytime soon.

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