Fearless Prediction of the Day

Oh yes, there will be one. But before I give it, read this:

Armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament in Ukraine’s Crimea on Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev’s new rulers, who urged Moscow not to abuse its navy base rights on the peninsula by moving troops around.

“I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet,” said Olexander Turchinov, acting president since the removal of Viktor Yanukovich last week. “Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry also summoned Russia’s acting envoy in Kiev for immediate consultations.

There were mixed signals from Moscow, which put fighter jets along its western borders on combat alert, but earlier said it would take part in discussions on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial package for Ukraine. Ukraine has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to stave off bankruptcy.

The fear of military escalation prompted expressions of concern from the West, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urging Russia not to do anything that would “escalate tension or create misunderstanding”.

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a “very dangerous game”.

“This is a drastic step, and I’m warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin,” he told a news conference.

And this:

Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine, declared on Thursday that he remained the lawful president of the country and appealed to Russia to “secure my personal safety from the actions of extremists.” Russian news agencies reported that he had already arrived in Russia, but officials did not immediately confirm that.

Mr. Yanukovych’s remarks were his first since he appeared in a video on Saturday night after fleeing Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, for eastern Ukraine. His defiance of the country’s new interim leaders only deepened the political turmoil in the country and threatened to draw Russia more deeply into the conflict.

Mr. Yanukovych, in a letter published by news agencies here, went on to suggest that largely Russian regions of Ukraine – including the east and Crimea – did not accept “the anarchy and outright lawlessness” that had gripped the country and said that orders by the new authorities to use the armed forces to impose order were unlawful. He clearly meant the response to pro-Russia demonstrations in Crimea, which took an ugly turn on Thursday morning when armed gunmen seized control of the regional Parliament in Simferopol.

“I, as the actual president, have not allowed the armed forces of Ukraine to interfere in the ongoing internal political events,” he said, contradicting early reports that he had ordered the military to intervene in Kiev, only to have his order rebuffed. “I continue to order this. In the case that anyone begins to give a similar order to the armed forces and power structures, those orders will be unlawful and criminal.”

Rumors that Mr. Yanukovych had arrived in Russia first surfaced on Wednesday night, with unnamed sources variously putting him at a hotel in Moscow — which denied it on Thursday — or in a government sanitarium outside the city. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said in a brief telephone interview that he was not able to speak on the matter now. On Wednesday night, he said he did not know if Mr. Yanukovych had arrived, but a senior member of the upper house of Parliament said he knew for a fact that it was not true.

And also, this:

Russia scrambled fighter jets to patrol its border and reportedly gave shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president as pro-Russian gunmen stormed offices of Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea, deepening the crisis for the new Ukrainian government even as it was being formed.

The moves pose an immediate challenge to Ukraine’s new authorities as they seek to set up an interim government for the country, whose population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. Ukraine’s new prime minister said the country’s future lies in the European Union but with friendly relations with Russia. Moscow, meanwhile, has launched a massive military exercise involving 150,000 troops and put fighter jets on patrol along the border.

A respected Russian news organization reported that the fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was driven out of Kiev by a three-month protest movement, was staying in a Kremlin sanatorium just outside Moscow.

And now for my fearless prediction: If push should actually come to shove in Ukraine and the Crimea, the United States–despite grave warnings from Secretary of State John Kerry–will do relatively little to interfere. Ukraine and the Crimea are in the Russian sphere of influence, the United States has relatively few diplomatic options available, we can safely assume that military options are completely off the table (no one is going to countenance war with Russia over this issue), and what’s more, the Russians know all of this. To be sure, there may be some substantial harm done to American interests by Russian aggression regarding this issue, and it certainly will do a lot to raise tensions in the region,  but Russia has a relatively free hand to do what it wants in the area (recall Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and the international non-response that followed), and relatively little will or can be done to restrain Russian actions in the immediate future.

Note that I am not saying that Russian actions won’t have consequences for the region at large, and I am (depressingly) not saying that a wider conflict of some sort might not take place as a consequence of what Russia is doing. But sometimes, an already bad situation has to get a whole lot worse before anyone decides to do anything about it, and that may be the case here.

How Bill de Blasio Addresses Inequality

Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire discuss the fissure that has occurred within the Democratic party regarding the issue of education reform. There is a Bill de Blasio camp when it comes to education policy, and the duo describe that camp’s “contribution” to the formulation and implementation of principles and programs that shape how kids are schooled:

With charter schools, de Blasio has singled out a special foe, fellow Democrat Eva Moskowitz, who runs 22 Success Academy charter schools that educate 6,700 students. The mayor cites Moskowitz as the kind of charter operator who needs reining in. Classroom and office space that Success Academy receives from the city enrage the mayor: “There’s no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent.”

Why Moskowitz? Apropos of Mark Twain’s adage that nothing is more annoying than a good example, Moskowitz annoys de Blasio. When she was on the City Council, she led hearings into how the teachers union hurt students. It was considered heresy then and still is now.

After Moskowitz was driven from office by the unions, she put her ideas into action through her schools, whose students, nearly all low-income and minority, recently trounced other schools on standardized tests — a result her critics attribute to selecting the best students.

Here is why I don’t believe for a single moment that Moskowitz’s charter school got great results simply by “selecting the best students.” It is because it would take an inhuman amount of time and energy for the heads of charter schools “that education 6,700 students” to pick and choose among low-income and minority students–or students of any race or income group, for that matter–in order to find “the best students” with which to “trounce other schools on standardized tests.” At some point, charter school critics may have to admit–however painful it may be–that in general, charter schools seem to be doing something incredibly right when it comes to educating their students. (Which must be why so many students and their families work so hard in order to be able to get into charter schools, by the way.) And even if there is cherry-picking found in charter schools, the newsflash of the day is that there is nothing unusual whatsoever about cherry-picking. Rotherham and Whitmire again: “In truth, the well-off kids went to far better ‘common’ schools. The less well-off and minority students went to schools that didn’t give them an equal shot in life.”

And to close, here is the consequence of enacting the de Blasio vision of education policy:

. . . Consider the third-graders at Success Academy Harlem 5. They share a public school building with P.S. 123. If Harlem 5 children lose their seats, they might have to enroll in P.S. 123.

Here’s the dilemma:

The schools have similar students, but 88% of Harlem 5 third-graders passed New York’s math test compared with 5% of P.S. 123’s.

So much for the notion that Moskowitz’s charter school kids are somehow cherry-picked. So much for the notion that New York city’s current public school system–which is more interested in keeping teachers and teachers’ unions happy than it is in fulfilling the needs and meeting the demands of parents and their kids–is doing right by its students. And so much for the notion that Bill de Blasio has anything meaningful whatsoever to say about education and education policy. The mayor claims to be interested in addressing income inequality. He’ll only make inequality worse if he succeeds in shielding a clearly failed educational structure from much needed reforms.

The Dirty Little Non-Secret about the IRS Scandal

Bradley Smith points out that for anyone wondering about the genesis of the IRS scandal–and yes, it is a scandal–wonder no more; the scandal is easy to understand when you remember that Henry II had a lot to do with it taking place. When you have a host of Democratic politicians–including the president of the United States–attacking conservative 501(c)(4) groups, and you have IRS bureaucrats wanting to make sure that they get in good with the powers that be, it ought to surprise precisely no one that conservative groups will get targeted by the IRS. Lestrade could tell you this just as surely (and just as quickly) as any of the Holmes brothers could.

What is the big lesson that we draw from Smith’s piece? I say the piece teaches us that there are consequences to the propensity of traditional media to celebrate political rhetoric that attacks conservative social welfare organizations, and the laws that allow those organizations to exist. Those consequences include the fact that media approbation provides cover for future IRS harassment of those organizations. Of course, we can be pretty sure that much of traditional media would speak out against Republicans attacking port-side social welfare groups (and yes, this is the part where I ask you to imagine what the media reaction might have been if George W. Bush had started the kind of verbal assault against left-of-center social welfare groups that Barack Obama started against conservatives), and we can be equally sure that much of traditional media will remain resistant to calling out both sides for rhetoric that might encourage government harassment. But that doesn’t mean that anyone ought to give up the fight to have a media structure that puts bias to the side every once in a while, and does the right thing irrespective of the political leanings of its reporters.

The First Amendment Wins a Round

I am happy to report that passing out the Constitution on Constitution Day has been deemed protected speech “in all ‘areas generally available to students and the community,’ which include ‘grassy areas, walkways, and other similar common areas.'” I was worried that perhaps the law, in its majestic equality, might forbid the Constitution from falling under the protection of the First Amendment, but fortunately, we appear to have been spared this absurdity, at least in part. Hooray for small victories; they seem to be in short supply these days.

Additionally, all hail the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which does the Lord’s work when it comes to protecting free speech on campus.

Your “Nothing to See Here, Move Along” Post of the Day

I am really tired of linking to stories like this one, but it’s necessary to do so, given the fact that some people are pretending that the implementation of Obamacare is going just as planned:

In a colossal “oh by the way” revelation, last Friday afternoon the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency under the United States Department of Health and Human Services (that would be the executive branch run by President Obama), quietly released a report exposing the fact that under Obamacare, two-thirds of Americans who work at small businesses will see their insurance premiums increase. So this report – which is more than two years late – says over 11 million American workers will have higher health insurance premiums because of Obamacare. Despite the administration’s attempts to, as House Speaker John Boehner put it, “delay and deemphasize” the report, we now have it straight from the Obama administration that Obamacare will raise health-insurance premiums for American workers. That is a far cry from Obama’s 2008 campaign promise that families would see lower health insurance premiums – $2,500 lower, to be exact – under Obamacare.

Be sure to file this under “Things Paul Krugman Won’t Write About.”

Newsflash: Both Parties Struggle with Science

It is a shopworn cliché that Republicans are anti-science, and to be sure, I do wish that more Republicans would accept that evolution is the best explanation out there (by a lot) regarding the origins of life. But while Democrats are more than willing to make fun of Republicans regarding evolution, they are a whole lot less willing to poke fun at themselves over this:

Only 32 percent of Republicans believe in evolution. And most Democrats (51 percent) don’t know both that the Earth goes around the Sun and that it takes a year to do so.

These are just some of the findings that emerge from a closer analysis of the underlying data in the new National Science Foundation Study. A lot has been written about the drop in the proportion of Americans (55 percent) who think that astrology is “not at all scientific” and about the 26 percent of the population who don’t know that the Earth goes around the Sun. Yet what has entirely escaped comment are some more interesting findings that can be gleaned only from crunching the numbers.

In the NSF study, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago asked:

Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? [EARTHSUN]

That would seem to be an easy question, and if you didn’t know the answer, there was a 50-50 chance of guessing it right anyway.  Yet only 74 percent got that one correct.

For those who did answer correctly, a follow-up question was asked:

How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun: one day, one month, or one year? [SOLARREV]

The question is a multiple choice one, and there is a 33 percent probability of guessing the right answer. In the 2012 survey, only a bare majority of adults were able to answer both questions correctly: 55 percent of adult Americans responded both that the Earth goes around the Sun and that it takes a year for that to occur.

More disturbingly, in 2012 a majority of Democrats (51 percent) could not correctly answer both that the Earth goes around the Sun and that this takes a year. Republicans fare a bit better, with only 38 percent failing to get both correct.

As with astrology questions, conservative Republicans fare the best (67 percent correct on both questions), followed on this issue by Republicans overall (62 percent correct) and liberal Democrats (62 percent correct).

At the bottom are non-liberal Democrats—conservative Democrats (27 percent correct) and moderate Democrats (44 percent correct). For the full political breakdown, see Table 6 in “Who Believes That Astrology is Scientific?” The margin of error for the party and political orientation groups is 3.3-4.0 percent, while the margin of error for the four combination subgroups just mentioned is 4.5-7.8 percent.

See this post as well. One would think that a group of people more apt to believe in astrology would also be more apt to know that the Earth orbits the Sun, and that it takes a year for the Earth to do so. Of course, unless one is Sherlock Holmes, one has no excuse whatsoever for not knowing which body orbits which. And not even then, really.

Clarence Thomas Behaves Admirably at Oral Argument, Thank You Very Much

Following up on this blog post, I want to note Ilya Somin’s observations of Clarence Thomas’s behavior at oral argument. To be sure, one swallow does not a summer make, and the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but I hardly imagine that the following is an exception to the rule where Justice Thomas is involved:

For what it is worth, I saw nothing to support Toobin’s claim that Thomas is disengaged and “not paying attention” during oral arguments. During the course of the argument (which was on a relatively prosaic statutory interpretation case), I saw Thomas confer with liberal justice Stephen Breyer some three or four times, and with Justice Scalia once. I believe I also saw him look up some points in what seemed to be the joint appendix filed by the parties (or perhaps one of their briefs). Obviously, I could not overhear what Breyer and Thomas were saying. Perhaps they were discussing the weather or making plans for lunch. But the timing of their interactions make it likely that they were talking about issues raised in questions asked or about to be asked by Breyer, or one of the other justices.

I only attended this one oral argument (which was the first one I have seen in recent years). However, the fact that Thomas often confers with Breyer during arguments is well-known to court watchers, and has been noted by such knowledgeable observers as Washington Post Supreme Court correspondent Robert Barnes. Thomas himself has confirmed that he sometimes suggests questions to Breyer, who then poses them.

Obviously, there is plenty of room for reasonable disagreement about the quality of Thomas’ performance on the Court. Critics can legitimately claim that he should ask more questions at oral argument himself. But Thomas has a reasonable counterargument when he suggests that the justices would do better to listen to the arguments of counsel rather than take up much of time of with their own points. This is in fact how oral argument was conducted in the early nineteenth century, in the days of John Marshall and Joseph Story.

Be that as it may, Toobin is wrong when he claims that oral arguments are “the public’s only windows onto the Justices’ thought processes.” In reality, the justices’ written opinions are far more significant “windows…onto their thought processes” and explain their views in far greater detail and nuance than oral argument questions do. Obviously, many of the opinions are difficult for nonexperts to follow. But the same is true of many oral argument questions, whose significance can only be understood by observers with extensive knowledge about the case.

I believe the short version of Professor Somin’s post is “no one should take Jeffrey Toobin seriously,” a point with which–of course–I wholeheartedly agree.

Quote of the Day

Another lesson of Mr. Sestanovich’s book is that diplomatic engagement with U.S. enemies is a fool’s errand unless it’s aimed at achieving a deeper strategic purpose. Take Ronald Reagan’s personal diplomacy with Mikhail Gorbachev. Progressives today point to that diplomacy to defend their own concessions to U.S. adversaries. But such thinking, Mr. Sestanovich suggests, misses the essence of Reagan’s strategy.

For Reagan, the author writes, the purpose of engagement “was to get others to see issues at hand ‘though my eyes.’ Until they did so, he was not prepared to compromise America’s competitive position. (Once they did, of course, compromise became less necessary.)” Thus, while Reagan’s relationship with Mr. Gorbachev grew ever warmer, particularly in his second term, the Gipper gave up almost nothing substantive in their talks. Most issues, from the deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe to the fate of Soviet dissidents, were “resolved in exactly the same way: the Soviets folded, and the Americans prevailed.”

“Maximalist” also makes clear that the U.S. has never achieved strategic continuity. American strategy has frequently shifted, sometimes over the course of a single administration, and these disruptions have often proved beneficial to our national security. After a decade of American drift, Reagan came to office with a new formula: “We win, they lose,” the president told an aide early on. The simplicity of this one-liner masked its profundity. The Cold War was no longer something to be “managed” but a moral conflict with a zero-sum outcome. “No previous president had imagined the decisive outcome that he did,” the author writes. “Reagan proposed success.”

Sohrab Ahmari (via InstaPundit.) Of course, there is absolutely nothing that should have prevented foreign policy realists–and I write this as a foreign policy realist–from seeing what Reagan saw in terms of what the geopolitical landscape looked like when he became president. Alas, many failed to do so.

Quote of the Day

It’s a thought experiment I often present to the Western Chavista, one that usually ends up demonstrating that sympathizers of the regime, both in this country and in Europe, have something of a colonialist attitude towards Venezuela. Because one wonders the reaction of these faux progressives if Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel–pick your the imperialist lackey!–arrested an opposition leader who had organized peaceful street protests? Or if the CIA shut off the internet in politically restive cities like Berkeley and Brooklyn; blocked Twitter traffic it found politically suspect; and took over PBS, forcing it to broadcast only pro-administration agitprop, never allowing the opposition party to traduce the government across public airwaves? Or if the president forced the removal of BBC America from all cable providers for being too anti-American?

Perhaps reactions would be muted if motorcycle gangs loyal to President George W. Bush circled anti-Iraq War protests physically attacking–and occasionally murdering–demonstrators. How about if a judge ruled against President Obama’s domestic spying apparatus and, in return, the White House ordered that judge thrown in prison? How long would an American president be allowed to run up massive inflation, despite massive oil revenues coming into government coffers? How long would it be considered reasonable–and not the president’s responsibility–to preside over 23,000 murders in a country of just under 30 million people, a rate that would horrify the average resident of Baghdad? How long could supermarket shelves remain bare of basic staples like bread and milk before The Nation or The Guardian would gleefully decide that America was a failed, kleptocratic state? Or if Bush or Obama’s economic policies meant that toilet paper could no longer be found on the open market?

So I ask a rather straight-forward question to those who pretend to care about the Venezuelan people (much like those who miraculously lost interest in the Vietnamese people after 1975 or the Nicaraguan people after 1990), those who care so deeply for the poor and destitute in Latin America: Why the double standard?

Michael Moynihan, who calls supporters of the Maduro regime in Venezuela “useful idiots.” The epithet sticks because it fits.

Republicans Need Better Tech Talent

So it is nice to see that they are working to become more technologically proficient, thus giving Republicans a better chance of actually winning elections. Now, if Republicans also work to get better and smarter campaign managers–not to mention getting better and smarter candidates–they might actually give Democrats a run for their money in future races.

Oh, and be sure to keep an eye on Patrick Ruffini. If Republicans do indeed close the talent gap with Democrats, they will have people like Ruffini to thank.

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