Friday, February 28, 2014
Henry Kissinger once pointed out that since Peter the Great, Russia had been expanding at the rate of one Belgium per year. All undone, of course, by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which Russian President Vladimir Putin called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.”
Putin’s mission is restoration. First, restore traditional Russian despotism by dismantling its nascent democracy. And then, having created iron-fisted “stability,” march.
Use the 2008 war with Georgia to detach two of its provinces, returning them to the bosom of Mother Russia (by way of Potemkin independence). Then late last year, pressure Ukraine to reject a long-negotiated deal for association with the European Union, to draw Ukraine into Putin’s planned “Eurasian Union” as the core of a new Russian mini-empire.
Turns out, however, Ukraine had other ideas. It overthrew Moscow’s man in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych, and turned to the West. But the West — the E.U. and America — had no idea what to do.
Russia does. Moscow denounces the overthrow as the illegal work of fascist bandits, refuses to recognize the new government created by parliament, withholds all economic assistance and, in a highly provocative escalation, mobilizes its military forces on the Ukrainian border.
The response? The E.U. dithers and Barack Obama slumbers. After near- total silence during the first three months of Ukraine’s struggle for freedom, Obama said on camera last week that in his view Ukraine is no “Cold War chessboard.”
Unfortunately, this is exactly what it is for Putin. He wants Ukraine back.
Obama wants stability, the New York Times reports, quoting internal sources. He sees Ukraine as merely a crisis to be managed rather than an opportunity to alter the increasingly autocratic trajectory of the region, allow Ukrainians to join their destiny to the West and block Russian neo-imperialism.
Sure, Obama is sympathetic to democracy. But it must arise organically, from internal developments. “These democratic movements will be more sustainable if they are seen as . . . coming from within these societies,” says deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes. Democracy must not be imposed by outside intervention but develop on its own.
But Ukraine is never on its own. Not with a bear next door. American neutrality doesn’t allow an authentic Ukrainian polity to emerge. It leaves Ukraine naked to Russian pressure.
What Obama doesn’t seem to understand is that American inaction creates a vacuum. His evacuation from Iraq consigned that country to Iranian hegemony, just as Obama’s writing off Syria invited in Russia, Iran and Hezbollah to reverse the tide of battle.
Putin fully occupies vacuums. In Ukraine, he keeps flaunting his leverage. He’swithdrawn the multibillion-dollar aid package with which he had pulled the now-deposed Ukrainian president away from the E.U. He has suddenly mobilized Russian forces bordering Ukraine. His health officials are even questioning the safety of Ukrainian food exports.
This is no dietary hygiene campaign. This is a message to Kiev: We can shut down your agricultural exports today, your natural gas supplies tomorrow. We can make you broke and we can make you freeze.
Kissinger once also said, “In the end, peace can be achieved only by hegemony or by balance of power.” Either Ukraine will fall to Russian hegemony or finally determine its own future — if America balances Russia’s power.
How? Start with a declaration of full-throated American support for Ukraine’s revolution. Follow that with a serious loan/aid package — say, replacing Moscow’s $15 billion — to get Ukraine through its immediate financial crisis (the announcement of a $1 billion pledge of U.S. loan guarantees is a good first step). Then join with the E.U. to extend a longer substitute package, preferably through the International Monetary Fund.
Secretary of State John Kerry says Russian intervention would be a mistake. Alas, any such declaration from this administration carries the weight of a feather. But better that than nothing. Better still would be backing these words with a naval flotilla in the Black Sea.
Whether anything Obama says or does would stop anyone remains questionable. But surely the West has more financial clout than Russia’s kleptocratic extraction economy that exports little but oil, gas and vodka.
The point is for the United States, leading Europe, to counter Russian pressure and make up for its blandishments/punishments until Ukraine is on firm financial footing.
Yes, $15 billion is a lot of money. But it’s less than one-half of one-tenth of 1 percent of the combined E.U. and U.S. GDP. And expending treasure is infinitely preferable to expending blood. Especially given the strategic stakes: Without Ukraine, there’s no Russian empire.
Putin knows that. Which is why he keeps ratcheting up the pressure. The question is, can this administration muster the counterpressure to give Ukraine a chance to breathe?
Katie wrote up one major element of the new New York Times/CBS News poll -- namely that nearly six in ten Americans are disappointed in Barack Obama's presidency -- but there are additional pieces of data worth teasing out and underscoring as well:
(1) The president's approval rating has once again slumped to 41 percent overall, with a majority disapproving of his performance. Independents disapprove (37/53). The president is underwater by double digits on foreign policy (39/48) and on the economy (38/57).
(2) Fully 79 percent of respondents describe their attitude toward Washington, DC's politics as "dissatisfied" or "angry." Just 10 percent of the country is "very satisfied" with the Obama presidency. Hope and change is long dead.
(3) Republicans hold a three-point lead (42/39) over Democrats on the generic Congressional ballot, and that's among registered voters, as opposed to likely, voters. Likely voters tend to lean more conservative. For reference, the final NYT/CBS poll before the 2010 Republican landslide showed Democrats leading on this question by one point.
(4) The new poll poll is D+7, which is an accurate reflection of the electorate composition over the last two presidential cycles. The 2010 midterm partisan turnout breakdown, by contrast, was D+0. National Journal argues that while conservative critiques of polling samples (including from yours truly) turned out to be misplaced in 2012, our previous arguments apply more aptly in the 2014 cycle. A plurality, 38 percent, of respondents in this poll categorize themselves as independents. Among that group, they lean GOP by nine points.
(5) On Obamacare, it seems as though this pollster has stopped asking the binary support/oppose question, on which the law has consistently been upside down by 12 to 25 points in virtually all polling. They're now giving respondents three options, asking whether they support the law and want it kept intact, whether they want to see changes to the law, or whether they favor full repeal. On that question, just six (!) percent pick the first option. Half of respondents want changes, and 42 percent back full repeal. Some liberals may try to spin this into evidence of public support for the law, which couldn't be further from the truth. When offered the choice between maintaining the current law or scrapping it, repeal wins easily. A substantial majority would prefer to return to the pre-Obamacare system than continue under the new law as it exists. And super-majorities oppose the individual mandate tax, which is the tent pole of the law. Make that popular "change," and Obamacare collapses. Among the few popular elements of Obamacare are protecting people with pre-existing conditions and allowing "children" to remain on their parents' plans through age 26 -- both of which will certainly be preserved in an eventual Republican alternative to the law.
(6) On immigration reform, 53 percent say most illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the US and apply for citizenship. 43 percent say they should either be allowed to stay without a path to citizenship, or should be removed from the country. On global warming, slightly more people say the phenomenon is naturally occurring or doesn't exist than believe it's caused by human activity. Fifty-six percent of respondents believe same-sex marriageshould be legal (including 40 percent of Republicans), but two-thirds believe the decision should be left up to the states. A slim majority (51/46) favor marijuana legalization. A significant majority (38/61) support stricter limits or outright bans on abortion.
Future historians will likely be flummoxed by the moment we're living in. In what amounts to less than a blink of an eye in the history of Western civilization, homosexuality has gone from a diagnosed mental disorder to something to be celebrated -- or else.
Indeed, the rush to mandatory celebration is so intense, refusal is now considered tantamount to a crime. And, in some rare instances, an actual crime if the right constable or bureaucrat concludes that you have uttered "hate speech."
Or, if you refuse to bake a gay couple a cake for their wedding. That was the horror story that sparked much of this foofaraw.
Arizona's proposed SB 1062 would have amended the state's 15-year-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a few minor ways so as to cover businesses the way it already covers government. Arizona's religious freedom statute was modeled on a similar federal law signed by Bill Clinton with large bipartisan majorities in both houses. It would have allowed small businesses to decline work that violated their consciences, unless the government could show a compelling reason why such refusal was unreasonable or unjust.
Speaking of unreasonableness, according to ESPN's Tony Kornheiser, if Arizona allows bakers to refuse to bake cakes for gay couples, gays may have to wear "yellow stars" like the Jews of Nazi Germany. It would be Jim Crow for gays according to, well, too many people to list.
Now lest you get the wrong impression, I am no opponent of gay marriage. I would have preferred a compromise on civil unions, but that ship sailed. The country, never mind the institution of marriage, has far bigger problems than gays settling down, filing joint tax returns and arguing about whose turn it is to do the dishes. By my lights it's progress that gay activists and left-wingers are celebrating the institution of marriage as essential. Though I do wish they'd say that more often about heterosexual marriage, too.
But I find the idea that government can force people to violate their conscience without a compelling reason repugnant. I agree with my (openly gay and black) friend, columnist Deroy Murdock. He thinks private businesses should be allowed to serve whomever they want. Must a gay baker make a cake for the hateful idiots of the Westboro Baptist Church? Must he write "God hates fags!" in the icing?
The ridiculous invocations of Jim Crow are utterly ahistorical, by the way. Jim Crow was state-enforced, and businesses that wanted to serve blacks could be prosecuted. Let the market work and the same social forces that have made homosexuality mainstream will make refusing service to gays a horrible business decision -- particularly in the wedding industry!
When August "Gussie" Busch, the CEO of Budweiser, bought the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953, he was vexed by the Brooklyn Dodgers' success, which was due in large part thanks to Jackie Robinson. He asked Cardinals executives how many blacks they were cultivating, and when they said "None," he was appalled. "How can it be the great American game if blacks can't play? Hell, we sell beer to everyone!" he exclaimed. The next year the Cardinals had a black first baseman, Tom Alston.
In 2000, Jonathan Rauch, a (gay) brilliant intellectual and champion of gay marriage, wrote a wonderful essay on "hidden law," which he defined as "the norms, conventions, implicit bargains, and folk wisdoms that organize social expectations, regulate everyday behavior, and manage interpersonal conflicts." Basically, hidden law is the unwritten legal and ethic code of civil society. Abortion, assisted suicide and numerous other hot-button issues were once settled by people doing right as they saw it without seeking permission from the government.
"Hidden law is exceptionally resilient," Rauch observed, "until it is dragged into politics and pummeled by legalistic reformers." That crowd believes all good things must be protected by law and all bad things must be outlawed.
As society has grown more diverse (a good thing) and social trust has eroded (a bad thing), the authority of hidden law has atrophied. Once it was understood that a kid's unlicensed lemonade stand, while technically "illegal," was just fine. Now kids are increasingly asked, "Do you have a permit for this?"
Gay activists won the battle for hidden law a long time ago. If they recognized that, the sane response would be, "You don't want my business because I'm gay? Go to hell," followed by a vicious review on Yelp. The baker would pay a steep price for a dumb decision, and we'd all be spared a lot of stupid talk about yellow stars.
Gardner Makes A Total Of 14
Democratic Seats Vulnerable
The GOP's probability of taking over the United States Senate increased dramatically Wednesday with the entry of Rep. Cory Gardner into the race against incumbent Obamacare enthusiast Senator Mark Udall in Colorado.
The biggest loser because of this move --other than Udall who is as tightly bound to Obamacare as President Obama himself-- is Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, whose already sinking campaign is going to quickly find itself on the wrong side of the triage tent as Democratic strategists and donors realize that Re. Tom Cotton is unbeatable in the Razorback state.
Here's the list of Democratic seats which Republicans are positioned to take, from the mortal locks at the top down to the biggest but still possible reach at the bottom:
1. West Virginia: Rep. Shelley Moore Capito v. no one.
Jay Rockefeller quit after Capito got into the race. She will win, going away.
2. South Dakota: Former Governor Mike Rounds in South Dakota v. no one inSouth Dakota
This is a mortal lock for the popular Rounds.
3. Arkansas: Rep. Tom Cotton v. the hapless legacy senator Mark Pryor in Ark
Pryor won his seat because his dad held it for years. Now the combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq Tom Cotton has a lead and is building it day by day, as shrinking Pryor struggles to erase all his positive endorsements of Obamacare. Most recently he was for repealing the cuts to career military COLAs after he was for them.
4. North Carolina: A businessman and former Speaker of the North Carolina House Thom Tillis is already ahead of another Obamacare booster, Denocratic incumbent Kay Hagan.
5. Michigan: Former Lt. Governor Terri Lynne Land is contesting an open seat left so by ancient Carl Levin, who has designated a no name with a propensity to disappear even more from voters' minds. Land is running on the same ticket with popular GOP governor Rick Snyder, and has established an early lead.
6. Virginia: Ed Gillespie is running against a popular former governor-turned-senator Mark Warner, in a purple state, but Warner is tightly tied to both Obamacare and the new governor Terry McAullife, and Gillespie is a pro's pro with terrific fundraising ability and genuine and deep roots in the Commonwealth.
7. Alaska: Either Mead Tradwell or Dan Sullivan will beat Mark Begich, who only won the seat six years ago because a corrupt Department of Justice prosecution of Ted Stevens hounded the late Stevens from office. Begich provided the crucial 60th vote for Obamacare, and Alaskans won't forget.
8. Montana: Rep. Steve Daines must unseat the recently appointed John Walsh, who was gifted his seat when clueless Max ("Obamacare is a train wreck") Baucus was exiled to China in an obvious attempt to hang on to the seat.
9. Colorado: Rep. Gardner is young, charismatic and an experienced veteran of Rocky Mountain State politics who spent years on the U.S. Senate staff of Wayne Allard, a stint in the Colorado legislature, and checked both big boxes --as a CSU undergrad and CU law grad. Mark Udall is Narack Obama in a badly fitting cowboy hat.
10. Louisiana: Rep. Bill Cassidy is in a dead heat with long-time hanger on Mary Landrieu, and will have to go through the "jungle primary" before facing Landrieu head-on a few weeks later. If, as expected, the Republicans already control the incoming majority, he will win in a romp. If the Senate hangs in the balance, more money will flow into the Lousiana race than has ever been seen there before.
11. Minnesota: Mike McFadden is a self-funding successful businessman who has an uphill but doable battle with comedian Al Franken, who along with Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer, define the left edge of the United States Senate. If Gopher State voters get tired of being the butto jokes because of Franken, McFadden can win here.
12. Iowa: This is an open seat, but with popular Republican governor Terry Branstad running for an easy re-election, if the GOP nominates the right candidate from among many contenders, he or she could win in November against an off-the-shelf-left-wing Democrat, blah blah blah Bruce Braley.
13. Oregon: Dr. Monica Wehby is a pediatric neurosugeon --exactly the sort of person Obamacrae booster incumbent Jeff Merkely didn't want to face but will in November.
14. New Hampshire: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is praying Scott Browndoesn't get into the race, but the former Massachusetts senator has been a second-home resident of the Granite State for decades and may take the plunge. If he does --or if columnist-to-the-world Mark Steyn dives in-- Shaheen who delivered Obamacare and all its misery to New Hampshire, will be in deep trouble.
There's the list that makes Harry Reid twitch. How wonderful it will be to see him live with the rules he has enacted, all the precedents he has dashed, all the abuses he brought about. Cory Gardner made a lot of people happy yesterday, but not nearly as happy as November will make them.