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Shrinking Pool of American Experts on Russia

by Donald Douglas on Friday, March 7th, 2014

This is article 1131 of 1260 in the topic International

One of my professors and mentors at Fresno State, Dr. Al Evans, was a bona fide Russia expert. I took three courses with him, Modern Politics, Soviet Politics and Soviet Foreign Policy. This was from around 1989 and 1991, so it was an extremely exciting time to study Soviet politics, you know, with the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day 1991.

In any case, I’m reminded of Professor Evans by this story on Russia expert at the New York Times, “Russia Experts See Thinning Ranks’ Effect on U.S. Policy“:

WASHINGTON — “I have to do a TV broadcast now, can I call you back in maybe an hour?” Angela Stent, the director of the Russian studies department at Georgetown University, said when she picked up the phone. An hour later she apologized again. “I’m afraid I’ll have to call you back.”

For Ms. Stent and other professional Russia watchers, the phone has been ringing off the hook since Ukraine became a geopolitical focal point. “It’s kind of a reunion,” she said. “Everyone comes out of the woodwork.”

But while the control of Crimea by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has brought America’s Russia experts in from the cold, the news media spotlight has also showed important shifts in how American academics and policy makers think about Russia, not to mention the quality and quantity of the people doing the thinking. Among those experts, there is a belief that a dearth of talent in the field and ineffectual management from the White House have combined to create an unsophisticated and cartoonish view of a former superpower, and potential threat, that refuses to be relegated to the ash heap of history.

“It’s a shorter bench,” said Michael A. McFaul, who returned from his post as the American ambassador in Moscow on Feb. 26, as the crisis unfolded. He said the present and future stars in the government did not make their careers in the Russia field, which long ago was eclipsed by the Middle East and Asia as the major draws of government and intelligence agency talent.

“The expertise with the government is not as robust as it was 20 or 30 years ago, and the same in the academy,” Mr. McFaul said.

The drop-off in talent is widely acknowledged. “You have a lot of people who are very old and a lot of people who are very young,” said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former economic adviser to Boris N. Yeltsin, a former president of Russia. Mr. Aslund, who had a dozen interviews on Ukraine on a single day this week, said people in the prime of their careers mostly abandoned Russia in the 1990s.

“It is certainly harder for the White House, State Department and intelligence community to find up-and-coming regional experts who are truly expert on that region,” said Strobe Talbott, the president of the Brookings Institution and President Bill Clinton’s Russia point man. “It’s a market problem.”

Compounding the effects has been a lack of demand for Russian expertise at the very top of the foreign policy pyramid.

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Democrat Party Deception is Destroying the Republic

by Donald Douglas on Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

This is article 402 of 471 in the topic Government Corruption

From Senator Tom Coburn, at the Wall Street Journal, “The Year Washington Fled Reality“:

The culture that Mr. Obama campaigned against, the old kind of politics, teaches politicians that repetition and “message discipline”—never straying from using the same slogans and talking points—can create reality, regardless of the facts. Message discipline works if the goal is to win an election or achieve a short-term political goal. But saying that something is true doesn’t make it so. When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict. In a republic, deception is destructive. Without truth there can be no trust. Without trust there can be no consent. And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos….

The coming year presents an opportunity to Americans who hope for better. Despite Washington’s dysfunction, “We the People” still call the shots and can demand a course correction. In 2014, here’s a message worth considering: If you don’t like the rulers you have, you don’t have to keep them.

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Obama’s Philosophy Seeks to Destroy Life, Liberty, Property — and the Pursuit of Happiness

by Donald Douglas on Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

This is article 953 of 1015 in the topic Obama

An amazing piece, from Harry Binswanger, at Forbes, “Obama to Americans: You Don’t Deserve to Be Free“:

Obama’s real antagonist is Ayn Rand, who made the case that reason is man’s basic means of survival and coercion is anti-reason. Force initiated against free, innocent men is directed at stopping them from acting on their own thinking. It makes them, under threat of fines and imprisonment, act as the government demands rather than as they think their self-interest requires. That’s the whole point of threatening force: to make people act against their own judgment.

The radical, uncompromised, laissez-faire capitalism that Obama pretends was in place in 2008 is exactly what morality demands. Because, as Ayn Rand wrote in 1961: “No man has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others. . . . To claim the right to initiate the use of physical force against another man–the right to compel his agreement by the threat of physical destruction–is to evict oneself automatically from the realm of rights, of morality and of the intellect.”

Obama and his fellow statists have indeed evicted themselves from that realm.


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Russia Still Vulnerable to Terrorism 14 Years After Putin Took Power

by Donald Douglas on Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

This is article 676 of 804 in the topic Terrorism

At WSJ, “The Volgograd Bombings” (via Google):

When Vladimir Putin became Russia’s acting president on December 31, 1999, the country was reeling from terrorist bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow while it attempted to bring an insurrection in the Caucasus to heel. Fourteen years on, not enough has changed.

That’s something the Russian president might consider following back-to-back suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd (previously Stalingrad), which left 32 dead and dozens more wounded. Coming weeks before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi more than 400 miles to the south, the attacks are an unsettling reminder of how vulnerable Russia remains to terrorism.

So far no group has taken responsibility for the attacks, though in July an Islamist Chechen leader named Doku Umarov released a video calling on followers to use “maximum force” in anticipation of the Olympics. Chechen terrorists have also been responsible for the 2002 seizure of a Moscow theater, the 2004 attack against schoolchildren in Beslan, the 2010 attacks on the Moscow subway and the Domodedovo airport attack in in 2011. The potential for further attacks leading up to the Sochi Games is high.

Mr. Putin has pursued a policy of maximum repression in the Caucasus—the second Chechen war alone is thought to have taken 100,000 lives—so it’s tempting to view these attacks as a reprisal. But the Chechen jihadists are not much different from the Somali jihadists who seized Nairobi’s Westgate mall in September, or the Indonesian jihadists who blew up a nightclub in Bali a decade ago. Terrorists will justify their murders with whatever political alibi is convenient.

Then again, Mr. Putin also needs to reconsider the merits of creating a security state, especially when it fails to provide Russians with basic security. Fourteen years of Putinesque discipline have done little to improve a corrupt and inefficient police force and equally bad conscript army. In some cases Chechen terrorists have succeeded in bribing their way through security checkpoints.

In the short term, Russia will have no choice but to heighten security throughout the country while it attempts…

And see the Christian Science Monitor, “Russia suicide bombing: Is Doku Umarov the Kremlin’s worst nightmare?

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Tenured Radicals Cannot Be Trusted with Our Academic Freedom

by Donald Douglas on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

This is article 1093 of 1260 in the topic International

An outstanding entry, from William Jacobson, at Legal Insurrection:

Academic supporters of the Israel boycott should understand that what goes around comes around….

The anti-Israel Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement is a frequent focus here because it embodies so much of the pathology of the Leftist-Islamist anti-Israel coalition.

While disavowing anti-Semitism, BDS singles out and holds only Israel to standards not applied much less met by any other country in the Middle East or Muslim world. Israel, and Israel alone, is put under a microscope and each defect found turned into grossly exaggerated and often outright false claims of racism, Apartheid, colonialism and so on. Only Israeli academics and institutions are subjected to boycott even though by any objective standard non-Jews are far more free academically and otherwise in Israel than non-Muslims are in the Muslim world.

We also witness the bizarre self-parody of LGBT and Women’s rights groups siding with Islamists who hate LGBT and women’s rights, all in the cause of BDS. There is a sickness beyond reason behind BDS, as witnessed by the BDS claim that Israeli soldiers failing to rape Arab women is racist and open support for Hezbollah as part of the BDS campaign.

BDS and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand, particularly in Europe. There is a thin line between organizing abusive disruptions of speeches, concerts and lectures by Israelis and throwing the punch or thrusting the knife. That thin line has been breached in Europe, as harsh demonization of everything Israeli stokes and promotes anti-Semitic violence by Muslims to the silence or tacit endorsement of the European Left.

The rhetoric emanating from BDS supporters in the U.S. also is so extreme that even some harsh left-wing critics of Israeli policies have dared call it was it is. It is no surprise that strong BDS supporters like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd conflate criticism of Israel and Jews, and BDS campus activists in South Africa sang “shoot the Jew.”

BDS, because of the facade of supporting Palestinian “civil society,” is in vogue in many corners of American academia. Those academics stand apart from the U.S. population, where support for Israel is at historic highs.

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Greedy Union Workers Force Boeing’s Exit from Seattle

by Donald Douglas on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

This is article 60 of 66 in the topic Business

From today’s Los Angeles Times, “Boeing families in Seattle area feel spurned over 777X project: The aerospace giant threatens to build its newest airliner out of state unless a union approves concessions. Some workers have generations of history there“:

MILL CREEK, Wash. — Shannon Ryker is a third-generation employee of aerospace giant Boeing Co. She followed her grandfather into the huge plant in nearby Everett. And her father. And her Uncle Bob.

Her youngest sister worked at Boeing until she became pregnant. Both of Ryker’s brothers-in-law and one of their dads work there. Her other sister’s stepson has applied for a Boeing job.

So it wasn’t easy for the 37-year-old mechanic to sit down in her crowded apartment here on a recent Sunday and write to Boeing management about her growing disappointment.

“Like my 86-year-old grandmother, I would like to tell my children and grandchildren that ‘Boeing has been good to this family,'” Ryker wrote in an open letter that has since landed on company break-room tables and in co-workers’ email in-boxes. But now, she said, “I no longer can hold my head high and say I am proud to work at Boeing.”

At issue is the company’s hunt for a site to build its newest airliner, the 777X. Ryker and other members of the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 overwhelmingly voted last month to reject a contract that would have cut some pension plans and healthcare benefits but guaranteed the program would stay in the Pacific Northwest.

Since the vote, Washington’s largest private employer has been looking elsewhere for a site to build the plane, a potential move that threatens the state economy and the middle class Boeing helped create.

The company’s decision reflects the hard realities of the industry and the latest skirmish in the fight for union survival. Boeing says the contract concessions are essential to compete financially with its longtime European rival Airbus, which plans to deliver its own new twin-aisle jetliner next year….

Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Raymond L. Conner laid out the stakes in a letter to workers before the Nov. 13 union vote on the 777X, an essential part of the company’s long-term product strategy. “What we want to avoid is that we become one of the companies that made decisions too late to remain competitive in the marketplace,” he wrote.

Boeing gave other states until Tuesday to submit proposals to build the wide-body’s latest generation. Within days of the union vote, California, Missouri and Texas made appeals to Boeing in an attempt to snag the program.

The company joins a long line of manufacturers and municipalities that have sought to wring concessions from unions that once negotiated comfortable pensions and wages.

After a bitter strike in 2008, the company shipped much of the work on its 787 Dreamliner to South Carolina, a right-to-work state. Seven years earlier, it moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago. Its Washington workforce is more than 83,000 strong, but there are fears that the company’s future is elsewhere.

“If Boeing doesn’t build the 777X here, this could be the start of a long, steady decline of the company’s presence here,” said Scott Hamilton, an aviation industry consultant who figures Boeing could be gone by 2030, based on backlogs and production rates.

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State #ObamaCare Exchanges Vulnerable to Wi-Fi Attacks

by Donald Douglas on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

This is article 622 of 699 in the topic Healthcare

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High Deductibles Fuel #ObamaCare Sticker Shock

by Donald Douglas on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

This is article 621 of 699 in the topic Healthcare

Yeah, and mind you, this is exactly how it’s supposed to work.

At the Wall Street Journal, “High Deductibles Fuel New Worries of Health-Law Sticker Shock: Some Lower-Cost Plans Carry Steep Deductibles, Posing Financial Challenge” (via Google):

As enrollment picks up on the website, many people with modest incomes are encountering a troubling element of the federal health law: deductibles so steep they may not be able to afford the portion of medical expenses that insurance doesn’t cover.

The average individual deductible for what is called a bronze plan on the exchange—the lowest-priced coverage—is $5,081 a year, according to a new report on insurance offerings in 34 of the 36 states that rely on the federally run online marketplace.

That is 42% higher than the average deductible of $3,589 for an individually purchased plan in 2013 before much of the federal law took effect, according to HealthPocket Inc., a company that compares health-insurance plans for consumers. A deductible is the annual amount people must spend on health care before their insurer starts making payments.

The health law makes tax credits available to help cover insurance premiums for people with annual income up to four times the poverty level, or $45,960 for an individual. In addition, “cost-sharing” subsidies to help pay deductibles are available to people who earn up to 2.5 times the poverty level, or about $28,725 for an individual, in the exchange’s silver policies.

As enrollment picks up on, many people with modest incomes are encountering a troubling element: deductibles so steep they may not be able to afford the portion of medical expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. Christopher Weaver discusses. Photo: Getty Images.

But those limits will leave hundreds of thousands or more people with a difficult trade-off: They can pay significantly higher premiums for the exchange’s silver, gold and platinum policies, which have lower deductibles, or gamble they won’t need much health care and choose a cheaper bronze plan. Moreover, the cost-sharing subsidies for deductibles don’t apply to the bronze policies.

That means some sick or injured people may avoid treatment so they don’t rack up high bills their insurance won’t cover, according to consumer activists, insurance brokers and public-policy analysts—subverting one of the health law’s goals, which is to ensure more people receive needed health care. Hospitals, meantime, are bracing for a rise in unpaid bills from bronze-plan policyholders, said industry officials and public-policy analysts.

Because all health plans now are required to provide certain minimum benefits, “consumers may be tempted to shop on premium alone, not realizing that the out-of-pocket costs can have a dramatic effect upon the annual costs of health care,” said Kevin Coleman, head of research and data at HealthPocket.

Mr. Coleman said he expects the high deductibles will “produce some reduction in medical-service use” for enrollees who don’t qualify for subsidies.

Of course, millions of Americans who went without insurance before the health law are in better shape today, despite the high deductibles. They are covered for much of the cost of expensive health care such as cancer treatment or major operations that could be a financial catastrophe for people lacking insurance.

And deductibles had been growing for years. It is unclear how much deductibles would have risen for individually purchased policies if the health law didn’t exist.

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Democrat Party Has No More Centrists

by Donald Douglas on Monday, December 9th, 2013

This is article 136 of 144 in the topic Democratic Party

Well, it goes without saying, but still.

Here’s Michael Goodwin, at NY Post:

Make no mistake, polarization is real and results from power blocs in both parties moving away from the center. But that doesn’t make them equally guilty.

Conservatives revolted over the destructive expansion of government and growing curbs on individual liberty. They take seriously, and sometimes too literally, the Constitution’s limits on federal power.

Progressives recognize almost no limits. They want a bigger government with more power, coming at the expense of individual liberty. Many want the Constitution scrapped or stretched beyond recognition.

If you’re not sure where you stand, think of Barack Obama as the litmus test. If you’re with him, you’re no hawk or centrist. You’re a progressive. But don’t confuse that with progress.

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Obama Offers Fake Solution to #ObamaCare Crisis

by Donald Douglas on Friday, November 15th, 2013

This is article 592 of 699 in the topic Healthcare

At IBD, “Obama’s Phony Cancellation Solution“:

Fraud: President Obama’s attempt to fix the insurance cancellation problem that his own law created isn’t meant to help anyone. It’s an attempt to shift blame for the mess onto the backs of insurance companies. Some fix.

Even a cursory glance at Obama’s “plan” shows that it won’t solve anything. Obama says state insurance commissioners could, if they want, let insurance companies extend existing individual plans another year. But they don’t have to.

Obama would also leave it up to the insurance companies whether they’d extend these policies, while requiring them to send letters to millions who’ve already gotten cancellation notices explaining why their current plans suck — thereby loading still more costs onto the backs of insurance companies.

Let’s put aside for the moment the question of whether Obama can even do this legally.

This is a president who, after all, has already arbitrarily changed and postponed various parts of ObamaCare — such as the congressional opt-out, the employer mandate, various enforcement rules, cuts to Medicare Advantage, out-of-pocket caps — when they would have proved politically hazardous.

The question is: Why should anyone trust Obama’s latest “you can keep your plan” promise?

It turns out, no one should.

Even if Obama’s proposal were legal — and he hasn’t even convinced liberal stalwarts like Howard Dean, who wonders whether Obama “has the legal authority to do this, since this was a congressional bill that set this up” — it is logistically impossible. And Obama knows it.

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