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It Figures

On the deadline day to sign up for Obamacare1, we were treated to yet another website outage. This despite claims that the website was fixed. I wonder if we will be treated to yet another round of “the Koch brothers and the right-wing are trying to sabotage the website!” claims.

And then there is this:

The CEO of the Cleveland Clinic says that a majority of Americans who signed up for Obamacare have seen their premiums rise.

“About three-quarters of them find that their premiums are higher than they had been previously with other insurance,” Toby Cosgrove told Fox News.

Cosgrove explained that the Affordable Care Act is having a “major effect” upon health care providers.

“We know for example that we’re going to get paid less for what we do,” Cosgrove stated. “Hospitals are going to be paid less for what they do. We also know that insurers are paying less for what we do.”

Am I supposed to be pleased by this?

1. As we all know, it’s not the actual deadline.

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More Government-Sponsored Violence in Venezuela

Behold:

The masked gunmen emerged from a group of several dozen motorcycle-mounted government loyalists who were attempting to dismantle a barricade in La Isabelica, a working-class district of Valencia that has been a center of unrest since nationwide protests broke out last month.

The barricades’ defenders had been hurling rocks, sticks and other objects at the attackers, who included perhaps a dozen armed men, witnesses told The Associated Press.

Lisandro Barazarte, a photographer with the local newspaper, Notitarde, caught images of several of the men shooting into the crowd while steadying their firearms on their palms.

“They were practiced shooters,” Barazarte said. “More were armed, but didn’t fire.”

When it was over, two La Isabelica men were dead: a 22-year-old student, Jesus Enrique Acosta, and a little league baseball coach, Guillermo Sanchez. Witnesses told the AP the first was shot in the head, the second in the back. They said neither was at the barricades when he was killed.

Similar shootings across Venezuela by gunmen allied with the socialist-led government have claimed at least seven lives and left more than 30 people wounded since the anti-government protests began in mid-February.

And strangely enough, we still have no denunciations of government brutality from any chávistas–whether inside or outside of Venezuela. Imagine that.

From the Department of Crazy Ideas . . .

I realize that policymakers are frustrated that it is taking so long to bring about peace between Arabs and Israelis. I understand that those who are working on the peace process must be looking for some ingenious short cut to a just and lasting peace. In many ways, I don’t blame them; were I working on bringing about peace between Arabs and Israelis, I would likely be frustrated too.

But nothing–nothing–justifies the insane idea of releasing Jonathan Pollard to the Israelis in the hopes of winning concessions from Israel relating to the peace talks. Indeed, it boggles the mind and leaves one smacked by gob to think that American policymakers might be trying to link Pollard’s fate to the peace process. To recap history: Jonathan Pollard betrayed the United States by spying for a foreign power. His actions were against the law, and he pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him. He should pay the price for his crimes, and he should pay that price in full. There is no connection–and there should be no connection–between Pollard’s fate and that of the peace process and any effort to link the two should be fought by the United States.

It makes precisely no sense whatsoever for the United States to signal that espionage activities directed against America eventually pay. And it is impossible to see how Pollard’s release would convince the Israelis to compromise on any of their negotiating points in the peace talks; to the extent that either side compromises, it will likely be because it will see any compromise as necessary to the advancement of larger security interests. It will not be because a mediating superpower involved in the peace talks released a prisoner to one side, thereby inducing it to drop certain negotiating demands of greater strategic consequence.

I can only hope that any reports that Pollard might be released are greatly exaggerated. If Pollard is released to Israel, it will signal a pronounced lack of seriousness on the part of the United States in terms of punishing enemy spies, and it will not advance the peace process one iota. Can we get away from this crazy idea, please? And can the person/people who thought the idea up get fired?

The Nation’s False and Dishonest Crimea Narrative

For those who believe that the recent annexation of Crimea by Russia might actually unite Americans of all ideological stripes in opposition to the thuggishness of the Putin regime, I give you this piece by editors of the Nation. It shows that even now, in the immediate aftermath of the annexation, while historical memories are still fresh, there are those who are willing to rewrite current events in order to advance a narrative filled with desperate attempts to explain away unjustified Russian bellicosity. And of course, it ought to surprise no one that the editors are willing to put forth false attempts at establishing moral equivalence in order to leave readers with the idea that the United States is really at fault in this story.

The urgent issue today is to stop the drift toward hot war. Yes, Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea trespasses on international law, though it is difficult to bear US officials’ invocation of a principle that Washington itself has often violated (see, most recently, Kosovo and Iraq, the latter now marking the eleventh anniversary of an illegal US invasion and occupation). Financial and visa sanctions, while inflicting a cost on Russia, will not deter Moscow. As Putin argued in his March 18 speech before the Russian Federal Assembly, Russia feels “cornered” and has been repeatedly “deceived” by the West—particularly Washington—since the Soviet Union broke apart more than two decades ago, especially in light of the expansion of NATO to its borders.

The last I checked, there was no American annexation of either Kosovo or Iraq. The Clinton administration launched the air war over Kosovo in order to prevent a potential humanitarian catastrophe. Anyone with a passing knowledge of realist theory understands that the administration did this because it knew that it would not encounter much resistance from Russia, which traditionally has been an ally of the Serbs, and because the administration believed that it would be able to conduct its operations (through NATO air support) with a viable exit strategy from the conflict. No land was annexed, no people were displaced, no Greater America was established through the extension of American sovereignty over one millimeter of foreign territory. Ditto for Iraq. As for Russia feeling “cornered” and “deceived” by “the West,” the editors do nothing whatsoever to lend proof to the assertions; they merely repeat them and think that by repeating, they have established as immutable truths the claims that the West “cornered” and “deceived” Russia. This is not argument. It is not any kind of appeal to reason. It is apologetics on behalf of Vladimir Putin and his regime, pure and simple.

The only way out, the only possible return to stability and cooperation in East-West relations, is through diplomacy and negotiations. For this to happen, Washington and Moscow must recognize that the other side has legitimate grievances and interests. Certainly this must be acknowledged in Washington, where such admissions are hardly ever made.

It is one thing to claim that the Crimea and Ukraine are in the Russian sphere of influence; no one seriously argues otherwise. It is quite another to argue that somehow, the Russians have “legitimate grievances.” What grievances could possibly have led the Russians to violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which “included security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine” in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons? The editors don’t say, because they can’t.

Instead, Senator John McCain, his Democratic colleague Dick Durbin and an assemblage of politicians from both parties are recklessly stoking the flames of folly. They’ve demanded that the United States arm the new government in Kiev, with McCain calling for installation of missile-defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Such bellicosity appeases the hawks at home but enrages the war party in Moscow, which is urging the Russian president to resist caving in to the West.

So now, we are led to believe that “the flames of folly”–and I suppose war–are being fanned not by an illegal Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula, and a potential drive into Ukraine that might reach as far as Moldova, but because John McCain and Dick Durbin think that we ought to give aid to the government in Kiev in order to allow it to potentially maintain its sovereignty and independence against the forces of Russian imperialism. There aren’t too many people in the world who are able to maintain such a morally blinkered view of geopolitics, but by now, it should be entirely clear that the editors of the Nation are not like many people in the world.

Amid hysterical talk from frustrated Cold Warriors like McCain, Helmut Kohl, the father of the reunified Germany, admitted that there have been “great omissions” in European Union policy toward Ukraine. He noted a “lack of sensitivity” in the EU’s relations with Putin and Russia, warning against a reckless call to arms.

Assuming arguendo that anything in this vague bill of particulars is even halfway accurate, is Russia now deemed to be justified in having violated the Budapest Memorandum and trampling over the territorial integrity of another country? Show of hands for anyone who actually believes that kind of argument can be made with a straight face.

In such a charged environment, it’s all the more important to pay close attention to diplomatic initiatives, even if they come from the Kremlin. While it may not be an ideal solution, there is merit in the Russian foreign ministry’s “road map” calling for establishing an international support group—with the EU, United States and Russia as members—to help Ukraine stabilize itself. Among other crucial points, the proposal calls for a Ukrainian national assembly to draft a constitution that would create a new federal system in which regions would have a reasonable degree of autonomy, confirm Russian as a second official language and, critically, uphold Ukraine’s military and political nonalignment—that is, maintain Ukraine’s geopolitical independence from Russia as well as the West, which will require an end to NATO expansion.

Notice that nothing in this excerpt actually calls for the Crimea to be returned to Ukraine. The “diplomatic initiatives” that serve as the basis for the editors’ call for negotiations would effectively enshrine the annexation of the Crimea as a valid, irreversible act. Calling for Ukrainian “regions” to have “a reasonable degree of autonomy” sounds lovely in theory, but it can hardly be read as anything but an attempt to advocate a governmental structure that will allow the Kremlin to foment agitation among ethnic Russian populations within Ukraine for secession and unification with Russia. Vladimir Putin could hardly ask for more in the aftermath of the annexation, though I am sure that the editors will encourage him to try asking for more anyway.

A settlement is possible if all countries’ security interests are taken into account. This would mean that Ukraine would hold elections with participation and guaranteed protection for ethnic Russians; would have a nonaligned government (stripped of neofascists); would pledge never to join NATO; and would develop economic relations with Russia and the EU (unavoidable if Ukraine is to survive economically).

It should, of course, be left to the Ukrainians to decide with whom they want to establish close diplomatic and economic ties, but the editors believe that the United States should lend its backing to Putinesque imperialism and force the Ukrainians to agree to diplomatic and economic terms that may not actually be in Ukrainian interests. This puts the lie to the editors’ claim that they are interested in establishing an arrangement in which “all countries’ security interests are taken into account.” Also, who are these “neofascists” who are supposedly populating the Ukrainian government (which is supposed to be “nonaligned,” mind you, to satisfy the editors’ desire to back up the Putin regime’s demands)? The editors don’t say. David Frum calls shenanigans on the claim that “neofascists” are running rampant in Ukraine, and unlike the editors of the Nation, he actually backs up his claims.

There is also good reason to think Putin—who emphasized that Russia has no designs on other regions of Ukraine—is ready to negotiate. A successful outcome could include Moscow’s recognition of a legitimate Kiev government; demobilization of troops; resumption of gas discounts as well as favorable trade relations to prevent Ukraine’s economic collapse; and perhaps even establishing a special relationship between Crimea, now annexed by Russia, and Ukraine (though, of course, without affecting Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol).

It is so charming that the editors seem to believe that Putin was telling the truth when he “emphasized that Russia has no designs on other regions of Ukraine,” worrisome news to the contrary notwithstanding. Even if Russia makes no further moves, claiming that Russian actions are somehow okay because only Crimea was annexed doesn’t even remotely amount to a serious argument.

Even more is at stake in this profound crisis. Washington needs Russia’s cooperation in addressing global and regional issues such as the Syrian civil war, now in its third year; negotiations with Iran; exiting Afghanistan; the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorists; relations with China; and managing North Korea.

It is so charming that the editors seem to believe that Russian “cooperation in addressing global and regional issues such as the Syrian civil war . . . negotiations with Iran; exiting Afghanistan; the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorists; relations with China; and managing North Korea” are forthcoming if the United States will just be willing to let the Putin regime have Crimea and be able to continue bullying Ukraine. Of course, even before this crisis, the Russians have been manifestly unhelpful in managing the Syrian civil war, helping out in Afghanistan, assisting in the fight against terrorism, helping the United States manage relations with China and working to calm the situation on the Korean peninsula. But leave it to the editors of the Nation to pretend that recent history simply does not exist.

We cannot afford a new Cold War. This crisis must not be framed as a US-Russia showdown or as a question of American “weakness” or “fecklessness.” Resolution will demand leadership on both sides. Obama and Putin must transcend their respective war parties and hardliners at home—as Ronald Reagan did, from 1985 to 1988, when he met Mikhail Gorbachev halfway—and provide real leadership so that a broad, pluralistic and democratic center in Ukraine emerges that is committed to establishing a new constitutional order: one that is capable of reconciling the interests and concerns of all parts of that country.

All of this is rhetorical pabulum that pretends that the nature of the Ukrainian government–and not Russian aggression–is the real obstacle to a just and comprehensive diplomatic solution. I would ask the editors of the Nation to be ashamed of the fact that they wrote a truly terrible editorial that sought to pass off as respectable the most pathetic justifications for belligerent and imperial behavior on behalf of Moscow, but I am pretty sure that the editors of the Nation have no conception whatsoever on how to feel shame.

It should be noted that much of the Nation’s coverage of Russia is shaped by the writings of Stephen Cohen, who is married to Nation editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel. Isaac Chotiner calls Cohen “Vladimir Putin’s American apologist,” and it is not hard to see why:

Cohen’s discussion with Fareed Zakaria was brief but telling. After first denying that Putin was a “rank dictator” and saying that he is not “a thug” or “anti-American” (would Putin even deny this last bit anymore?), Cohen got to the main point of his argument:

Remember that was the second time in the 20th century that the Russian state had collapsed, the first time in 1917. So to recreate stability, prosperity, greatness, whatever that means in Russia at home and, in the process, restore Russia’s traditional zones of national security on its borders, that means Ukraine as well. He did not create this Ukrainian crisis. It was imposed on him and he had no choice to react. That’s where we stand today.

Notice that Cohen initially argues that some sort of control over Ukraine is a requirement of Russian greatness. And then, after explaining this, he says the whole crisis was “imposed” on Putin! This is apologetics done well: first you explain why bad behavior is actually sensisble, and then you say that the bad behavior wasn’t really under the control of the bad actor.

Cohen also makes a comparison with the United States:

What if, suddenly, Russian power showed up in Canada and Mexico and provinces of Canada and Mexico said they were going to join Putin’s Eurasian economic union and maybe even his military bloc? Surely the American president would have to react at least as forcefully as Putin has.

Zakaria, to his credit, pointed out that the United States would obviously not act similarly, but let’s say (for fun) that Cohen is right and that the United States would in fact invade part of Canada in such a scenario. What would be Stephen Cohen’s response? Would he get on television and explain American history, and American grievances, and American nationalism? Would he call for more “understanding” of American warmongering and aggression? Would he scold the liberal media for criticizing the United States? Of course not! He would be screaming at the top of his lungs about American imperialism and whichever bloodthirsty (albeit fairly elected) American leader happened to be in power.

Indeed. And so would the rest of the Nation’s editorial board. Because apparently, imperialism and bellicosity are only okay when practiced by the Putin regime.

The Next Time Harry Reid Attacks the Koch Brothers . . .

Someone should slip him a copy of this article and ask him whether he really is in any position whatsoever to throw stones at anybody. Of particular interest are the parts of the article that detail the degree to which members of the Reid family have profited off of their political connections, and the fact that Reid uses campaign funds in order to buy gifts for campaign staff and supporters. Of course, the Koch brothers would be raked over the coals if they did that sort of thing, but since they don’t–and Harry Reid does–perhaps it is time for the media (at least the honest portions of it) to take Reid to task. He is, after all, the Senate majority leader, charged with particular and special responsibilities and the face of Senate Democrats. Last I checked, with great power comes great responsibility and that means that people like Harry Reid ought to be held to a higher standard–a standard he is currently failing to meet.

New Jersey’s Silly Ban on Tesla Sales

In its dubious wisdom, the state of New Jersey has decided to forbid the direct sale of Tesla automobiles. This decision has no legal or economic justification whatsoever, as a group of law professors and economists point out. I am frankly amazed that we are even forced to debate the issue, but apparently, in some parts, it is not fashionable to preserve consumer choice, have free markets or combat senseless, undesirable regulations. Meanwhile, protectionism continues to have strong–if benighted–backing in too many quarters.

Of course, those who innovate in the private sector have traditionally had to put up with a host of nonsense from the powers that be in the political world, so in a real sense, it comes as no surprise that this fight is being had. But the lack of surprise attendant to this controversy does not make the controversy itself any less outrageous.

Robert Gates Regards Russia

And unsurprisingly, he has some good advice on how best to counter the aggressive policies of the Putin regime:

The only way to counter Mr. Putin’s aspirations on Russia’s periphery is for the West also to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia.

Europe’s reliance on Russian oil and gas must be reduced, and truly meaningful economic sanctions must be imposed, knowing there may be costs to the West as well. NATO allies bordering Russia must be militarily strengthened and reinforced with alliance forces; and the economic and cyber vulnerabilities of the Baltic states to Russian actions must be reduced (especially given the number of Russians and Russian-speakers in Estonia and Latvia).

Western investment in Russia should be curtailed; Russia should be expelled from the G-8 and other forums that offer respect and legitimacy; the U.S. defense budget should be restored to the level proposed in the Obama administration’s 2014 budget a year ago, and the Pentagon directed to cut overhead drastically, with saved dollars going to enhanced capabilities, such as additional Navy ships; U.S. military withdrawals from Europe should be halted; and the EU should be urged to grant associate agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine.

So far, however, the Western response has been anemic. Mr. Putin is little influenced by seizure of personal assets of his cronies or the oligarchs, or restrictions on their travel. Unilateral U.S. sanctions, save on Russian banks, will not be effective absent European cooperation. The gap between Western rhetoric and Western actions in response to out-and-out aggression is a yawning chasm. The message seems to be that if Mr. Putin doesn’t move troops into eastern Ukraine, the West will impose no further sanctions or costs. De facto, Russia’s seizure of Crimea will stand and, except for a handful of Russian officials, business will go on as usual.

No one wants a new Cold War, much less a military confrontation. We want Russia to be a partner, but that is now self-evidently not possible under Mr. Putin’s leadership. He has thrown down a gauntlet that is not limited to Crimea or even Ukraine. His actions challenge the entire post-Cold War order including, above all, the right of independent states to align themselves and do business with whomever they choose.

Surprise! (Obamacare Edition)

Who didn’t see this coming?

The Obama administration has decided to give extra time to Americans who say that they are unable to enroll in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace by the March 31 deadline.

Federal officials confirmed Tuesday evening that all consumers who have begun to apply for coverage on HealthCare.gov, but who do not finish by Monday, will have until about mid-April to ask for an extension.

Under the new rules, people will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on HealthCare.gov to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth.

Yet another extension, yet another act undertaken by the White House that should actually require congressional approval, yet another blatantly political maneuver. And the excuse-mongering on the part of people like Harry Reid is just nothing short of laughable:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the fault of struggling to sign up on the Obamacare exchanges didn’t lie with the faulty website, but with the people who weren’t “educated on how to use the Internet.”

Explaining the reasoning behind the latest Obamacare delay, Reid said too many people just didn’t know to use their computer properly and needed more time. Apparently, it had nothing to do with the well-documented failings of the website that have embarrassed the White House for months.

“We have hundreds of thousands of people who tried to sign up who didn’t get through,” he said. “There are some people who are not like my grandchildren who can handle everything so easily on the Internet, and these people need a little extra time. It’s not — the example they gave us is a 63-year-old woman came into the store and said, ‘I almost got it. Every time I just about got there, it would cut me off.’ We have a lot of people just like this through no fault of the Internet, but because people are not educated on how to use the Internet.”

People actually believe this?

Speaking of health care “reform,” this article tells you just about everything you need to know about the degree to which Democrats are panicking about Obamacare’s impact on their political prospects in this year’s midterm elections:

One of the nation’s leading Democratic pollsters and strategists is urging embattled House and Senate incumbents to abandon their defense of Obamacare and instead pledge to “fix it.”

Celinda Lake, whose firm Lake Research Partners provided the Democratic analysis of the new George Washington University Battleground Poll released Tuesday morning, summed up her advice to Democrats when it comes to Obamacare: “Don’t defend it.”

In unveiling the poll, she said that the new Democratic strategy should be for candidates to promise to fix the troubled system while pledging to help keep Americans out of the claws of greedy insurance firms.

“In terms of Obamacare, don’t defend it, say it was flawed from the beginning, and we’re going to fix it,” said Lake at a poll briefing hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

I seem to recall a host of Obamacare advocates telling me that Obamacare will never turn out the electoral drag on Democrats that Republicans hope it will be. But a truly popular program would never be in need of Celinda Lake’s spin. For that matter, neither would a truly popular political party.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement Shows Its True Colors

In the event that you are looking for proof that anti-Israel activists on American college campuses refuse to tolerate any point of view other than their own, seek to disrupt the activities of others, do not believe in free speech and robust debate, and rely on shouting down people on the other side instead of actually defending their own views, I give you this.

I suppose that in some sense, I don’t blame the BDS crowd for having adopted the thuggish tactics Jonathan Marks describes in his excellent and devastating piece. Any lawyer can tell you the old saying about how when you have neither the law nor the facts on your side, you pound the table. Pounding the table is precisely what the BDS crowd is doing because its semi-intelligent members (I’m trying to be charitable here) seem to understand (however vaguely) that the facts aren’t on their side. And as Marks points out, BDS tactics are getting the movement nowhere. To be sure, the fact that the BDS crowd engages in self-destructive behavior does not mean that Israel supporters should remain silent or on the sidelines. They should ensure that they are and remain a presence on campus, and they should work to show that unlike the BDS crowd, they are mature, responsible, persuasive, and utterly in command of the facts surrounding the debate. Doing so will further allow them to claim the moral high ground over the BDS types, and will help see to it that the BDS crowd is consigned to the ash heap of campus activism–where the movement belongs, and where it should have been stillborn.

Nota bene: It ought to surprise no one that Philip Weiss approves of thuggish, unthinking, reality-and-fact-denying tactics, and that he is associated with the BDS crowd. Birds of a feather, and all that.

Explaining Paul Krugman

Greg Mankiw is rightly exasperated with Paul Krugman’s propensity to write columns that “[take] a policy favored by the right, [attribute] the most vile motives to those who advance the policy, and [ignore] all the reasonable arguments in favor of it.” There are two possible reasons why Krugman likes doing this kind of thing:

  1. Krugman actually believes that the most vile motives should be attributed to people who advance policies that he doesn’t like, which indicates that Krugman is epistemically closed off from competing theories and beliefs; or
  2. Krugman knows that he is engaging in rhetorical excess, but does it anyway because rhetorical excess is what his fan base wants, and they love him for providing it on a regular basis.

Neither scenario makes Krugman look good. And neither scenario makes the New York Times look good for giving Krugman a platform, and refusing to check his worst impulses.

The latest example of Krugmaniac rhetorical excess can be found here; note Krugman’s almost casual comment that the Koch brothers (seriously, what is with the port-side obsession with these guys?) are supposedly “serious evildoers who use their wealth to push hard-line right-wing, anti-environmental policies that redound very much to their own benefit.” “Serious evildoers!” The rhetoric takes your breath away because it’s . . . well . . . crazy. And because even without the standalone craziness of the statement, it’s more than a little appalling that Krugman doesn’t even go through the motions of entertaining the possibility that those who think differently from him may actually be motivated by good intentions, however little Krugman may think of their policy positions and political philosophies.

Do I really need to point out that the Kochs aren’t “serious evildoers” who “aren’t identified with innovation”? Fine; check out this post and the attendant links for an actual, fact/reality-based discussion of the Kochs. I am sure that the crack research staff at the New York Times would have been happy to track all of this information down for Paul Krugman, but again, either Krugman really does believe the insane-asylum rhetoric he types out, or he is willing and eager to cater to the worst prejudices of his audience, so there is no chance whatsoever that he would be willing to be mugged by reality on this issue. (This, of course, doesn’t mean that the rest of us cannot and should not point out the facts, if only to provide a counter-narrative to Krugman’s propaganda.)

While we are on the subject of the Kochs, I guess I have to point out the obvious: If the Democrats are pinning their midterm hopes on making two brothers the vast majority of Americans never heard of into SPECTRE-level villains, that says something about the parlous political position in which the party finds itself. Also, the Democrats’ most enthusiastic Koch-basher–no, not Krugman, though he certainly puts in his best effort to win the prize–is less popular than are the Kochs. Awkward.

Nota bene: Since I am sure that someone is going to cite this post as evidence for the proposition that I am in the pocket of the Kochs, let me respond with the following:

  1. I don’t receive a dime from the Kochs or any Koch-related entities.
  2. I never have received a dime from the Kochs or any Koch-related entities.
  3. I never will receive a dime from the Kochs or any Koch-related entities.
  4. If you somehow find a way to disprove the prediction found in (3) immediately above, I shall be your bestest, bestest buddy.

Quote of the Day

Universities should be citadels of open debate, even when the views expressed make people uncomfortable. Get over it. Respond with a better argument. Make your own sign. Hold your own meeting. Great universities are built on free speech, free inquiry and spirited debate. So are great countries.

Charles Lipson. Alas, the piece is behind a paywall, but if you can get through to read it, be sure to take the time to do so.

Uber, Traditional Taxicabs and the Failure of Regulation

Read Larry Downes’s comparison of UberX to a traditional metered cab, and you will readily understand why the following is happening:

So traditional taxi and limo services are responding the only way they know how to—by using legal challenges and regulatory obstacles to block or even ban the services.  In some cities, including Portland and Miami, they have so far been successful.  In other locations, including the District of Columbia the start-ups have managed to deploy their fanatical customers to help put pressure on local regulatory boards to reverse earlier bans.

What started out as a fight over price and quality has turned into a fight to win the hearts and minds of regulators.

That fight took an ugly turn this month when Seattle’s Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations voted to limit the number of vehicles UberX and two similar services could operate to 150 each, down from an estimated 2,000 that had been in service.

Explaining her rationale for the vote, city council member Sally Clark, who chairs the Taxi Committee, explained, “No, I don’t want to ‘temporarily’ kill innovation, but I do want to buy a year for the taxi world to adapt.”

Clark’s rambling blog post and a subsequent one written after the vote give all sorts of explanations as to why it is in consumers’ best interests for governments to protect taxi and limo services from market competition even when every other business large and small must compete on its own merits.  These include concerns over the training of drivers, adequate insurance, and protecting consumers from unfair pricing.

She also notes that most of Seattle’s drivers are immigrants.  And those immigrants may have had to pay as much as $150,000 on the “gray market” for the right to operate for-hire vehicles, because, Clark notes without irony, Seattle hasn’t issued new medallions for over twenty years.  (The City Council issued a moratorium in 1990).  And anyway, she concludes, companies such as Uber have raised millions in “massively successful” venture financing rounds, suggesting, I guess, that they are all run by fabulously rich people.

The incoherence of regulators such as Clark isn’t much of a surprise.  Like the taxi and limo drivers they oversee, the regulators haven’t had to deal with disruptive technological change for decades.  The committee was created to protect consumers, of course, but after all this time working exclusively with the industries they regulate, it’s not surprising to find something at work akin to what psychologists call Stockholm Syndrome.

Companies like Uber and outfits like food trucks tend to go the extra mile in making customers happy, which is why traditional, staid businesses are so threatened by them, and why those staid businesses call in government regulators to protect them from the big, bad, mean and unkind free market. And too often, those regulators–who in the case of the benighted Sally Clark, are also elected politicians–are more than willing to coddle the complainers, all at the expense of consumers. I have to wonder why anyone who relies on good taxi service in Seattle bothers to elect and re-elect people like Clark; she clearly doesn’t have the best interests of her constituents at heart when it comes to issues like these. And just imagine how many other ways politicians and regulators use regulations to protect select interests at the expense of the public at large.

(Link via Geoffrey Manne, via social media.)

Today in Depressing News Regarding Ukraine

Here it is:

  • Russia may not be done conquering. In a strange way, I almost hope that the Russians try to launch an offensive to reach Transnistria, as I cannot imagine a more blatant example of overreach that might serve to further isolate Russia in the international community, and as such overreach may prove to be exceedingly costly to the Russians–provided, of course, that the Ukrainians are able to mount a stiff and effective military resistance to any new Russian offensive.
  • The Ukrainians, for their part, are on their guard. Note that the Russian puppet in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, is urging Russians throughout Ukraine to foment unrest.
  • Of course, I cannot blame the Ukrainians for withdrawing. They are utterly overmatched by the Russian military. (See also this.) But there are only so many instances of Russian aggression that will be allowed before the Ukrainians are pressed beyond the breaking point.
  • In Afghanistan, memories are clearly short. Incidentally, if this is the most that we can expect from a supposed ally, then perhaps we ought to seriously rethink how we continue to deal with the Karzai government. Of course, if reports that the United States has fumbled aid policy–and “nation-bribing”–are true, then a case may be made that we have ourselves to blame (at lest in part) for the actions of the Karzai government.

Strolling Down Memory Lane

Everyone remembers the time when Nate Silver predicted disaster for a particular party’s election prospects, and operatives of said party turned on Silver and denounced him for predictions inconvenient to their side, thus proving that operatives of said party are epistemically closed and live in a bubble where facts and reality are not welcome. Right?

Did you think that I was writing about Silver’s opinions and predictions regarding Republican prospects in 2012? Well . . . I wasn’t.

Now, let’s be fair. It’s March, 2014, not November, 2014. A lot can happen in a little over seven months. But I can’t tell the difference between Nate Silver (2014 Edition) and Nate Silver (2012 Edition). In each year, Silver looked at the political facts on the ground, and then made periodic judgments regarding how well–or how poorly–each party was doing in its respective races. Republicans didn’t like what Silver was saying back in 2012, so they decided to try to undermine his credibility. This was a mistake, of course; Republicans should have heeded Silver’s warnings and worked to try to address the weaknesses his analysis revealed. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and 2014’s Democrats are doing their best imitation of 2012’s Republicans.

I of course look forward to the “reality-based community’s” denunciations of this kind of head-in-the-sand behavior. Those denunciations should be coming any day now . . .

In Ukraine, Tensions Remain High

I haven’t been blogging for the past two days because I have been laid low by The Worst Cold In The History Of Ever. Any hopes that in the time that it took me to recover, the Ukraine crisis could be resolved, seem to have gone out the window.

  • Ukraine remains worried that Russia may launch an invasion of eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration shares those concerns. So, that’s hardly comforting.
  • Demonstrations have begun, agitating for secession on the part of eastern Ukraine. I’d be very much surprised if these demonstrations were anything more than astroturf operations that the Russians have sought to encourage. Astroturf or not, however, they may serve Moscow’s purposes in the event that the Putin regime does decide to move into eastern Ukraine.
  • This doesn’t necessarily have to do with Ukraine, but it is worth noting that while a number of people have urged the United States government–and its allies–to remember that Ukraine is in the Russian sphere of influence when considering Russia’s recent activities, the Russians have not been shy about seeking to establish a presence in our sphere of influence. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this, given John Kerry’s unwise declaration that the Monroe Doctrine is no longer in effect, but we should be concerned; after all, the Chinese are also trying to establish a western hemisphere presence. Perhaps next time, we’ll think twice before blithely declaring that we don’t have valid strategic interests in an area of the world where our strategic interests are in fact quite pronounced.

Purges Are Destructive Things

Many a time, I have complained about Tea Party efforts to get rid of Republican representatives and senators who are subjectively deemed to be disloyal to the right-of-center cause, even when those efforts end up throwing congressional seats to Democrats. As I have often said, only winners can afford to purge their ranks. Losers cannot. And even in the case of winners, purging ranks based on philosophical and ideological factors is not advisable; doing so will only serve to wreck whatever governing coalition a particular winning side may have been able to put together, a coalition that of mathematical necessity, will have to include people like moderates and independents.

So I guess it is more than a little noteworthy that Markos Moulitsas is now seeking to purge the ranks of Senate Democrats. As one who is right-of-center, I welcome this move; it will mean that that seats Democrats could still hope to keep may not be more easily captured by Republicans. I am fine with this outcome.

I do hope, however, that as the Democratic bloodletting and purging of ranks begins, similar activities cease on the Republican side. Republicans should be working to capture the loyalties of the very moderates and independents that people like Markos Moulitsas want to cut loose from the Democratic coalition, and they won’t do that if perfectly good Republicans are challenged in primaries because of perceived deviations from the “correct” ideological path; deviations that in the grand scheme of things, don’t amount to anything worthy of note. The sooner Republicans learn to live with a big tent, the sooner they can go back to winning elections and actually influencing policy in a measurable and lasting way.

Lots of conservatives hold up Ronald Reagan as a lodestar for how a conservative ought to behave. Well, I lived through the Reagan years, when James Baker was the chief of staff and the treasury secretary, when Howard Baker and Bob Dole were Senate majority leaders, and when George H.W. Bush was the vice president. Ronald Reagan didn’t kick out moderates. He worked with them, and won with them. I have written before that Republicans need to focus on being comfortable in their own skins, rather than trying to be the next Ronald Reagan, but to the extent that Reagan’s memory continues to influence the Republican party, let the party learn from how Reagan incorporated moderates (and Democrats!) as part of the Reagan coalition, and how he dramatically influenced the course and nature of the country as a consequence.

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