Archive for the ‘corruption’ Category

Now we know why Foley wasn’t rescued.

Monday, August 25th, 2014

The Delta Force raid on the Syrian ISIS camp failed to rescue any hostages. They had been moved. Now we know why.

Anthony Shaffer, a former lieutenant-colonel in US military intelligence who worked on covert operations, said: “I’m told it was almost a 30-day delay from when they said they wanted to go to when he finally gave the green light. They were ready to go in June to grab the guy [Foley] and they weren’t permitted.”

This is a reflex reaction of Obama to any call for action. He delays and thinks and worries about the politics. It has been reported that Obama delayed the bin Laden raid three times.

President Barack Obama — at the urging of senior adviser Valerie Jarrett — canceled the operation to kill Osama bin Laden three times before finally approving the May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL mission, according to a book scheduled to be released next month.

In “Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors who Decide for Him,” Richard Miniter writes that Obama canceled the mission in January 2011, again in February, and a third time in March, The Daily Caller reports

It isn’t just the conservative press but Hillary Clinton even says so.

Through weeks of sometimes heated White House debate in 2011, Clinton was alone among the president’s topmost cabinet officers to back it. Vice President Biden, a potential political rival for Clinton in 2016, opposed it. So did then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

The optics and the political fallout were most of his concerns. In the case of Captain Phillips of the ship hijacked by Somali pirates, reports have circulated that Obama delayed the SEALS raid several times as he agonized over the decision.

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New developments at the hospital where I used to practice.

Friday, June 27th, 2014

When I moved to Orange County in 1972, I joined a friend from my surgery residency in practice at a new hospital that had opened a year before. It was called “Mission Community Hospital,” and was owned by a group of doctors with one of the partners an owner of the new development of Mission Viejo. His name was Richard O’Neill and his family had developed Mission Viejo from part of their huge ranch.

The hospital was small with 110 beds total and the staff was made up of young doctors who had recently finished their training like me. The owners were mostly older doctors and practiced in another area of the county. Some of them we would not have allowed on the staff if they had applied. They largely left us alone and over a period of a few years we developed what we thought was the best hospital in Orange County.

Mission Hospital in 1975.

Mission Hospital in 1975.

This is what the hospital looked like in 1975. The swallows used to nest in that entry area. To the right of the entry, there was a doctors’ parking lot and, for a while, the hospital paid a kid to wash our cars. Tom and I always tipped him extra. The food in the doctors’ dining room was free and good and I got a bit pudgy. The hospital went to considerable trouble to make it friendly to doctors and we responded.

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Iraq Collapses

Friday, June 13th, 2014

The Iraqi collapse we are seeing on TV has been predictable and is related to the Obama decision to leave with no residual US presence. The reasons why the Iraqi army is dissolving are well known.

iraq humvee

An Iraqi Hummvee.

A retired US general tells the story.

The day the U.S. forces left – because of the desire of our people and our politicians, but also because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to sign a required and critically protective Status of Forces Agreement – the Iraqi Army began to deteriorate.

There were myriad reasons for this, besides our departure. Even before the U.S. forces left, American-trained leaders were being replaced with more and more “favored” officers from sects, tribes or families linked to the government. They weren’t chosen for their competency, a big mistake.

This is the history of Arab armies.

In my final tour, between 2007 and 2008, our soldiers did a great job reducing attacks in the north. I was able to observe and compare the capabilities of the four divisions of the Iraqi Army with the many units of the Kurdish pesh merga.

While both groups were becoming increasingly professional and capable, the connection between the pesh merga and the Kurdish government officials and Kurdish population was positive and vibrant. The same cannot be said of the Iraqi triad.

Beyond that, I also had the chance to engage with government officials, police, academics and doctors, lawyers, and women’s groups. The people we met were unfailingly professional and kind. And, almost universally, the Arab Iraqis and the Kurdish Iraqis were vocal in their frustration with the lack of action by “those in Baghdad” to attend to the matters of government: security, economic growth, services.

The attempt to “build a nation” in Iraq was possibly a worthwhile effort but it was abandoned too soon and cannot be revived.

Afghanistan will be even worse as it is far from the sea and evacuation will be much harder for the last US forces to leave.

Lord Elphinstone learned just how difficult it could be.

The Afghans launched numerous attacks against the column as it made slow progress through the winter snows of the Hindu Kush. In total the British army lost 4,500 troops, along with 12,000 mainly Indian camp-followers. The final stand was made just outside a village called Gandamak on 13 January.[3]

Out of more than 16,000 people from the column commanded by Elphinstone, only one European (Assistant Surgeon William Brydon) and a few Indian sepoys reached Jalalabad.

We have airplanes now but the distance to the sea is still intimidating Pakistan is no friend and Russia has no incentive to help. They lost nearly a thousand soldiers retreating to their border.

Medicaid for all.

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Obamacare has had its problems in implementation but the real problem is the fact that it has severely distorted the health care market by forcing people into narrow high cost markets that do not reflect the real situation in American health care. I have previously expressed my opinion on how to do health reform.

American health care has been distorted by the type of “insurance” that was brought into effect by employer-based insurance. That is prepaid care, not insurance as we know it in every other market.

The history of American health insurance is greatly distorted.

Now we have this latest iteration of the failure of the Obamacare method and the alternatives.

I have believed for some time that what we see is a system of Medicaid for all. The benefits are skewed by politics and the market mechanisms are crippled. Now we see the situation is even worse.

At least 2.9 million Americans who signed up for Medicaid coverage as part of the health care overhaul have not had their applications processed, with some paperwork sitting in queues since last fall, according to a 50-state survey by CQ Roll Call.

Those delays — due to technological snags with enrollment websites, bureaucratic tangles at state Medicaid programs and a surge of applicants — betray Barack Obama’s promise to expand access to health care for some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

As a result, some low-income people are being prevented from accessing benefits they are legally entitled to receive. Those who face delays may instead put off doctors appointments and lose access to their medicines, complicating their medical conditions and increasing the eventual cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Democratic lawmakers who have promoted the law’s historic coverage expansion are wary of acknowledging problems that hand opponents of the Affordable Care Act another rhetorical weapon, said Robert Blendon, a professor at Harvard University School of Public Health and Kennedy School of Government.

What is going on ?

Meanwhile, Republicans usually eager to criticize the Obama administration or states for implementation problems risk looking hypocritical by showcasing the Medicaid waits. Many oppose expanding the program to people with incomes as high as 138 percent of the federal poverty line, as the law allows states to do, and are loath to demand more efficient enrollment to achieve that goal.

“It’s a total contradiction in terms to spend your public time castigating Medicaid as something that never should have been expanded for poor people and as a broken, problem-riddled system, and then turn around and complain about the length of time to enroll people,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a member of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, which advises Congress.

Oh OK.

Updated numbers provided by Bataille indicate that the total number of people affected remains about the same as reflected in the document. About 1.2 million have discrepancies related to income; 505,000 have issues with immigration data and 461,000 have conflicts related to citizenship information.

Many years ago, I was still interested in health policy research. I had an office at UC, Irvine and Orange County, where I live, was undergoing a transition from fee-for-service Medicaid (MediCal in California) to a new HMO-based program called Cal OPTIMA. This seemed a good opportunity to study the outcomes in two contrasting systems for the same population. No studies had been done to see how the MediCal Population would repond to the different incentives of fee-for-service and HMO. I developed a proposal to study this transition at a time when databases for both systems were available. The data from the fee-for-service program was still current and the new HMO program would provide the opportunity to see how the MediCal patients fared under the new program. I had obtained the cooperation of the UCI statistics department and had had some experience with this sort of study at Dartmouth where I had recently compacted a Masters Degree program in health policy research.

The Orange County Health Department had hired the recent director of HCFA, the Medicare intermediary. Funding was available from a large endowment fund devoted to the study of low income California residents’ health care. The organization was called “The California Endowment” and was funded when Blue Cross became a for-profit entity and was obliged by the state to donate a large sum to charitable causes.

The proposal is here.

All that was needed was the approval of the Cal OPTIMA program to use their data. All the funding was assured.

They refused. I wonder why ?

Is the United States becoming a corrupt enterprise ?

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

The activities of the Obama administration have progressed into Mafia territory the past five years. I never thought things could change this fast but it seems I was wrong. The latest example ?

Soon after the US Government sold the last of its stake in General Motors, the company began to announce a huge number of recalls. These safety defects were known for years but unreported until the federal government sold its interests, at a huge loss of course.

Taxpayers, drivers, and investors who assumed the government would never fail to disclose rampant safety problems in a company it owned can rest easy, though. Instead of investigating fatally flawed GM components while the U.S. government was the company’s largest single owner, the NHTSA was busy harassing Toyota — one of GM’s top competitors — for an alleged malfunction that led to “unintended acceleration” in Toyota vehicles. Toyota was fined and eventually bullied into recalling 8 million vehicles over the issue.

Toyota is probably the safest, highest quality auto maker in the world. I drive one and have bought Toyotas for my daughter.

And what was the final result of the NHTSA investigation?

Many drivers may have confused the gas and brake pedals a problem that may account for “the vast majority” of the unintended acceleration incidents the agency investigated, NHTSA deputy administrator Ron Medford said at Tuesday’s NHTSA press briefing.

“What mostly happened was pedal misapplication where the driver stepped on the gas instead of the brake or in addition to the brake,” Medford said.

The Toyota cases were always about driver error, not safety of the auto. Only the trial lawyers and a complacent government permitted this raid on a company to proceed.

Is that the only case ?

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Rape Culture

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

trapeculture-thumb-250x219-896

The college scene is all agog about rape culture. How do we know if it is a problem ?

It’s a phrase you hear a lot. But, what exactly does it mean? Is there one general definition? Not necessarily. In many ways the phrase evokes the famous Supreme Court comment about obscenity from Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”

And, you don’t have to look far to see examples of rape culture these days. Whether it’s advertising, movies, music videos or social media — images, words, concepts — it’s all out there illustrating men dominating women.

So, now we know the problem. It is men.

Popular movies are strewn with plots of men with the sole purpose of having sex. In the movie “American Pie,” the entire plot of the film revolves around teenage boys wanting to throw a party so they can get girls drunk and have sex with them.

That movie was when ? Well, it was 1999. That was 15 years ago, wasn’t it ? How old were these activists then ?

It’s also been stated by writer Adam Herz that the title also refers to the quest of losing your virginity in high school, which is as “American as apple pie.” So, it wasn’t just about girls losing virginity ?

How about porn star/student, Belle Knox ?

Despite the ordeal, Knox said she plans to continue both her porn work and her classes at Duke. In interviews, she frequently mentions working to increase the rights of sex workers.

“I really want to break down barriers,” Knox said. “I want to change peoples views on sex work. … I mean, I was the first porn star to go on ‘The View.’ This is really exciting for me.

She complains about the publicity and the reaction of others but “This is really exciting for me.” Feminism 2014 version. Another porn star success story.

Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She does cam work, some porn, stripping, and some fetish work. Unlike Knox and L., Parreira is out about her sex work. “The department seems to be a sort of hub for sex workers and sex work research, so it has been a non-issue,” Well, that’s a relief.

Now, back to rape culture. Maybe it’s a tiny bit exaggerated ?

An early sign of an obsession with “rape culture” on campus occurred at Duke during the lacrosse case. In April 2006, in a 2000-plus word statement that declined to mention the presumption of innocence, Duke president Richard Brodhead created a “Campus Culture Initiative,” to explicate and “confirm [emphasis added] the existence of a dominant culture among Duke undergraduates.” There was, of course, no rape, but the CCI proceeded along as if there were, operating under the Orwellian slogan that “diversity makes a more excellent university.”

The Duke LaCrosse team case is a horrible example of leftist agitation in action. The whole story is here. Briefly, a hysteria descended on the Duke University campus after a stripper, later convicted of murder, accused the La Crosse team of a gang rape. The young men of the team were immediate demonized by the usual suspects of campus radicals. Fortunately, the boys came from families that could afford good lawyers.

The immediate frenzy followed the usual script.

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Putin, Crimea and Ukraine

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

UPDATE: Michael Totten has an update on Crimea.

The new ruler is a former gangster whose street name was “Goblin.”

Lawmakers were summoned, stripped of their cellphones as they entered the chamber. The Crimean media was banished. Then, behind closed doors, Crimea’s government was dismissed and a new one formed, with Sergey Akysonov, head of the Russian Unity party, installed as Crimea’s new premier.

It if was a crime, it was just the beginning. Akysonov’s ascent to power at the point of a gun presaged all that has happened since — the announcement of a referendum on Crimean independence and the slow, methodical fanning out of Russian forces throughout the peninsula, ostensibly to protect Russians here from a threat no one can seem to find.

But here’s the most interesting bit: Aksyonov’s sudden rise as Moscow’s crucial point man in Crimea has revived simmering allegations of an underworld past going back to the lawless 1990s, when Akysonov is said to have gone by the street name “Goblin,” a lieutenant in the Crimean crime syndicate Salem.

Putin is dealing from a weak hand but Germany was near bankruptcy when Hitler invaded Poland. Holman Jenkins at WSJ, has a nice summary of where we are.

Vladimir Putin probably would not have spent 90 minutes on the phone with President Obama on Saturday if he intended to make a grab for eastern Ukraine. He would not have jawed twice on Friday and Sunday on the phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who subsequently doubted his grip on reality.

He is not going to try to annex the eastern Ukraine where Russian speakers are alleged to be crying for rescue from The Ukraine.

He is even using fake videos like the Palestinians have done before to make his argument. The Russian speakers are not buying.

The Russian speakers are only about 17% of the whole Ukraine population.

350px-Russians_Ukraine_2001

They are concentrated in the eastern portions which are also the poorest and least productive. Ukraine could do without them except for the precedent set.

Western leaders are a risk-averse, short-term-minded lot, but if their decisions are dictated by a conviction of Mr. Putin’s iron grip on Russia, they make a mistake. Many sanguine voices, in fact, already note how the U.S. shale revolution has weakened Mr. Putin’s hand. If Western leaders were so inclined, they might surprise themselves at how vulnerable Mr. Putin’s petro-dependency makes him.

Ukraine has signed contracts with western oil firms to explore what seems to be a large area of oil shale. This is a big threat to Russia’s sole export and prop of its declining economy.

Withdraw Europe’s support for pipelines Mr. Putin wants to build. These, by way of the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, aim to reduce Ukraine’s leverage as transit path for gas exports that generate much of his regime’s income. Mr. Putin might like to shut off the gas but he can’t. He needs the money.

Get moving on the pending U.S. trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic trade partnerships, which grant member countries automatic approval of U.S. liquefied gas exports. The mere prospect of U.S. exports has already eroded Russia’s pricing power.

Let Exxon and other Western oil firms queuing up to explore Siberia and Russia’s Arctic know their efforts are not currently appreciated. A single caustic hearing on Capitol Hill should do it.

They could do as well in Ukraine.

Ukraine, with its control of strategic pipelines, moving toward energy independence and even energy competition with Russia (it recently signed shale deals with Shell and Chevron ) was not acceptable.

Most of all, “Putin lost Ukraine” would have been a powerful meme in the hands of his enemies, who are numerous and don’t actually care about Ukraine.

The West followed down his path, which bears passing resemblance to the petro-regime of Saddam Hussein, because Russia has nuclear weapons and Mr. Putin seemed preferable to chaos. The West may eventually get chaos anyway. Secretary of State John Kerry managed to put his finger on a truth. Mr. Putin knows no more about the true sources of 21st-century wealth and power than a swordfish knows about macramé. No, the Cold War is not returning. Russia does not have the heft to sustain a Cold War even against placid Europeans or a strategically listless President Obama. His current Western enablers just hope Mr. Putin self-destructs on somebody else’s watch.

The Russian speakers in east Ukraine are not convinced this is the right course.

But in Monday’s survey, 82% of his party’s loyalists rejected any such generosity. Even the adherents of the Communist Party, who tend to feel entitled to all of Russia’s former Soviet domains, said with a broad majority — 62% — that Russia should not jump into Ukraine’s internal crisis.

Putin’s captive media in Russia can convince Russians in Russia that the west was behind the coup in Ukraine.

Moreover, 45% blamed western influence for bringing people on to the streets of Kiev, where the “Euromaidan” protests that were originally in favour of further European integration later turned into a general condemnation of the corrupt regime.

The results are still in doubt.

The “Deep State.”

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

UPDATE: From Zerohedge: Is the deep state fracturing among the elites ?

History suggests that this low-intensity conflict within the ruling Elite is generally a healthy characteristic of leadership in good times. As times grow more troubled, however, the unity of the ruling Elite fractures into irreconcilable political disunity, which becomes a proximate cause of the dissolution of the Empire if it continues.

We live in interesting times.

This essay on the blog of Bill Moyers, a left winger and former LBJ press secretary who is almost 80 years old, is interesting. It has the usual leftist slant on the topic but also includes many good observations.

There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power. [1]

Moyers had a significant role to play in the early stages of this administrative state.

Failure to recognize the distinction between the way in which the Department of the Army operates and the standing operating procedures of military organizations in the field has frustrated generations of field soldiers, who have taken for granted the necessity for tight management at the top, known to them as unity of command.This struggle for executive control within the Army has
taken place during a period of increasingly centralized authority over individual and corporate activities throughout American life.

Moyers has more of a role here than he admits. After some nonsense about Republican “obstructionism,” he says this:

Despite this apparent impotence, President Obama can liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented — at least since the McCarthy era — witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called “Insider Threat Program”). Within the United States, this power is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal, state and local law enforcement.

I think it is interesting to see that the left, certainly Moyers territory, sees this.

During the time in 2011 when political warfare over the debt ceiling was beginning to paralyze the business of governance in Washington, the United States government somehow summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there. At a time when there was heated debate about continuing meat inspections and civilian air traffic control because of the budget crisis, our government was somehow able to commit $115 million to keeping a civil war going in Syria and to pay at least £100m to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters to buy influence over and access to that country’s intelligence. Since 2007, two bridges carrying interstate highways have collapsed due to inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, one killing 13 people. During that same period of time, the government spent $1.7 billion constructing a building in Utah that is the size of 17 football fields. This mammoth structure is intended to allow the National Security Agency to store a yottabyte of information, the largest numerical designator computer scientists have coined. A yottabyte is equal to 500 quintillion pages of text. They need that much storage to archive every single trace of your electronic life.

Yes, indeed.

Government life is typically not some vignette from an Allen Drury novel about intrigue under the Capitol dome. Sitting and staring at the clock on the off-white office wall when it’s 11:00 in the evening and you are vowing never, ever to eat another piece of takeout pizza in your life is not an experience that summons the higher literary instincts of a would-be memoirist. After a while, a functionary of the state begins to hear things that, in another context, would be quite remarkable, or at least noteworthy, and yet that simply bounce off one’s consciousness like pebbles off steel plate: “You mean the number of terrorist groups we are fighting is classified?” No wonder so few people are whistle-blowers, quite apart from the vicious retaliation whistle-blowing often provokes: Unless one is blessed with imagination and a fine sense of irony, growing immune to the curiousness of one’s surroundings is easy. To paraphrase the inimitable Donald Rumsfeld, I didn’t know all that I knew, at least until I had had a couple of years away from the government to reflect upon it.

The IRS bureaucrat begins to see that the Tea Party is a threat to his pension and continued nice life. That, of course, is not what Moyers is concerned about.

The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street. All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted. The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.

This is what some of us refer to as The Ruling Class.

There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government. While they work throughout the country and the world, their heavy concentration in and around the Washington suburbs is unmistakable: Since 9/11, 33 facilities for top-secret intelligence have been built or are under construction. Combined, they occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet. Seventy percent of the intelligence community’s budget goes to paying contracts. And the membrane between government and industry is highly permeable: The Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, is a former executive of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the government’s largest intelligence contractors. His predecessor as director, Admiral Mike McConnell, is the current vice chairman of the same company; Booz Allen is 99 percent dependent on government business. These contractors now set the political and social tone of Washington, just as they are increasingly setting the direction of the country, but they are doing it quietly, their doings unrecorded in the Congressional Record or the Federal Register, and are rarely subject to congressional hearings.

Remove some of the obligatory left wing rhetoric and I agree with this completely. Read the rest.

In 2013, General David Petraeus joined KKR (formerly Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) of 9 West 57th Street, New York, a private equity firm with $62.3 billion in assets. KKR specializes in management buyouts and leveraged finance. General Petraeus’ expertise in these areas is unclear. His ability to peddle influence, however, is a known and valued commodity. Unlike Cincinnatus, the military commanders of the Deep State do not take up the plow once they lay down the sword. Petraeus also obtained a sinecure as a non-resident senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. The Ivy League is, of course, the preferred bleaching tub and charm school of the American oligarchy. [4]

Exactly. Think about global warming and energy policy, matters Moyers neglects.

Ukraine

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

UPDATE: Max Boot, who I also respect, adds some thoughts.

The Orange Revolution failed because of corruption and inertia in the economy. What now?

This is, after all, the second popular uprising against Yanukovych, the first being the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Although thwarted in his attempt to steal that election, Yanukovych returned to power in 2010, managing to win a fair election after his political adversaries failed to show results while in office.

This is a second chance for the pro-Western parties in Ukraine to deal with the deep-seated malaise of the economy, the pervasive corruption, and all the other ills that afflict this troubled land. They had better do better than last time–and all the while fending off what are sure to be determined attempts at sabotage emanating from Moscow.

What to do about Ukraine ? Michael Totten has some ideas.

Ukraine's Day Infamy

He has several suggestions about other sources. I pretty much rely on him as he has been all over and has a good eye.

I spent a week in Ukraine a few years back when I traveled by car from the Polish border through Lviv to Kiev and down to Odessa and Yalta. I wrote about it at length in my book, Where the West Ends. So I feel obligated to write about it now that the capital is on fire.

Kiev is a magnificent city, and it pains me to see it like this, but I should not be surprised. Almost every country I’ve ever written about is either in hell, has only recently recovered from hell, or is on its way to hell. I hoped when I visited Ukraine that it was on its way out, but I did not have a good feeling about it, as you’ll recall if you read my book.

From his recommended source,

First let’s consider the bad reasons for a breakup—Ukraine’s diversity in general and the regional, ethnic, confessional, and cultural divisions between its “West” and “East” in particular. A good place to start is a recent article by Orlando Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London, “Is There One Ukraine?” Figes, who should know better coming from the UK, writes about Ukraine’s divisions as if they were unique and as if diversity alone justified or led to breakup. He’s wrong on both counts. Ukraine’s diversity is pretty much the norm for all stable states everywhere.

He has some excellent points. One is about The Party of Regions.

What is unusual about contemporary Ukraine is that it’s exploited by a criminal gangster regime—Yanukovych’s— in cahoots with another criminal gangster regime—Putin’s. Many countries have the misfortune of being misruled by homegrown camarillas. Many countries have the misfortune of being dominated by predator states. Ukraine has the double misfortune of being misruled at home and “mis-dominated” abroad.

The president, who has now fled Kiev, is described a a “criminal madman.”

Remove the southeast and Ukraine’s treasury experiences an immediate boon; its demographics, energy consumption, and health improve; and its politics automatically become more democratic and less corrupt.

Although lopping off the Donbas would benefit the rest of Ukraine, Yanukovych’s mafia regime desperately needs Ukraine to be whole. If Luhansk and Donetsk were to split away, their rust-belt economy would collapse without Kyiv’s financial support and the Regionnaires, trapped in their polluted bailiwick, would have nothing to steal. And what would Yanukovych’s multibillionaire pal, Rinat Akhmetov, do without easy access to Ukraine’s resources?

There appears to be no good solution to Ukraine, including partition although that may be what will happen.

The moral for the democrats is simple. If and when they return to power, the democrats should call the Regionnaires’ bluff. Next time the Regionnaires threaten to leave, the democrats should point to the door, and say, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

The same might apply to Quebec.

The Wall Street Journal had a good piece yesterday comparing Ukraine with Georgia 5 years ago.

The West dragged its feet on financial sanctions against the Yanukovych circle, but on Thursday last week a move by the EU—after 77 protesters were shot dead in broad daylight—helped bring down the Ukrainian leader. Fearing for their assets and visas, his cronies quickly dropped him.

and: At every opportunity, Mr. Saakashvili says that Ukraine’s best defense against Russian pressure is a successful move to European-style rule. This is what the revolution was about. “Change must come fast,” he says. “I’m worried about Crimea, but I’m more worried about Kiev. If Kiev goes into protracted political crisis, then everything else will explode.”

If Ukraine starts to go after its oil and gas reserves with fracking, a lot may change.

Is Venezuela collapsing ?

Friday, February 14th, 2014

UPDATE: More on the role Cuba is playing in Venezuela now.

Belmont Club has a good post today on the collapse of Venezuela. The car manufacturers have announced they are closing their plants.

Toyota Motor Co. said it would shut down its assembly operations in Venezuela due to the government’s foreign exchange controls that have crippled imports and made it impossible to bring in parts needed to build its vehicles.

The country’s other car manufacturers, including General Motors and Ford, haven’t even started operations this year, while waiting for needed parts to arrive.

The oil field workers left years ago when the Chavez government cut oil workers’ pay.

Workers’ protests continue at Venezuela’s Puerto La Cruz refinery, in the northeastern state of Anzoátegui. The oil workers are requesting the payment of their contractual benefits. Workers gathered and had some meetings in the refinery and handed out fliers. These actions will continue until the authorities of state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa) meet each of their requests. Oil workers complained that the oil industry has violated 80% of the current collective bargaining agreement.

Army officers had no such limit on pay raises.

[They] got a 40 % raise last year. So let’s see, they get a 40 % raise in 2010, and a 50 % raise in 2011, and meanwhile oil field workers, the ones who create the wealth the government uses to give these obscene pay raises to the military, are protesting low pay and lack of legal payments they are supposed to get.

The oil workers who could, all left for Canada. That was about the time that the Alberta oil sands fields were coming on line. Those workers, and especially the engineers, are not going back to Venezuela any time soon.

Welcome to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, a country with the fifth largest oil reserves in the world and absolutely broke. It’s a remarkable achievement for Chavismo. A just-wow moment. Socialism is useless at everything except for smashing things in record time. There it excels. It’s hard to imagine that as late as the 1980s Venezuela had the highest standard of living in Latin America. But then in 1960 Detroit was the richest city in the world in per capita income. Now it’s well … Detroit.

Cuba is helping the post-Chavez government to cope.

The violence against unarmed citizens is reminiscent of the April 11, 2002, bloodletting, when 17 individuals who were part of a peaceful opposition march in the streets of Caracas were similarly gunned down by snipers. That was the day the head of the military told Hugo Chávez that he would not move against the crowd and that he was removing Chávez from office. Chávez prevailed, in part due to U.S. dogma against “a coup” and in part because the opposition bungled what ought to have been a transition to democracy.

Obama is a friend of Venezuela and will oppose any attempt to overturn the tyranny. He showed his true colors in El Salvador by rewarding the bad behavior of the current government.

What we see today in El Salvador is a government heading in the opposite direction from those core principles. In 2000, El Salvador was ranked as the 11th-freest economy in the world, according to the annual Index of Economic Freedom co-published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. Today, it is 53rd and has registered declining scores in six of the 10 economic freedoms, including investment freedom, the management of public spending, labor freedom, and freedom from corruption. El Salvador’s performance in other world economic indices has also plummeted.

Obama’s friends seem to have dodgy records on civil liberties.

The deterioration in central and south America continues apace . There is an interesting pattern.

‘There are two Latin Americas right now. The first is a bloc of countries—including Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela—that faces the Atlantic Ocean, mistrusts globalization and gives the state a large role in the economy. The second—made up of countries that face the Pacific such as Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia—embraces free trade and free markets.’

The results are becoming clear.

Stifling bureaucracy, protectionist trade barriers, widespread corruption, lack of investment in infrastructure and the limited scope of economic reforms have been piling up like wood on a bonfire for a number of years. Inflation and weak government finances have provided the starter fluid and it maybe that lower demand for commodities will be the spark.

The divide has been developing for years. As Luhnow reports, ‘ A key moment in creating the two Latin Americas came in 2005, when Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela (then led by Mr. Chávez) lined up to kill the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas—a free-trade zone stretching from Alaska to Patagonia and promoted by President George W. Bush. Troubled by the FTAA’s demise, the Pacific Alliance set out to create its own free-trade area, eliminating tariffs on 90% of goods and setting a timetable to eliminate the rest.’

Obama seems more interested in the Atlantic states.

The genius of the Left — Chavez’s for example — is that it destroys things from the inside out. They pervert religion, collapse the mores, abolish the family, shred the constitution and gradually expropriate the property. The differences from one day to the next are apparently imperceptible, but it is harder and harder to go back until finally there is no reversal of ‘progressive gains’ possible at all. The public is finally faced with the stark choice between chaos or authoritarianism. And most people will chose the Boss over the Mob.

Does any of that sound familiar ?

Most people are spurred into resistance by a crisis. But they remain lulled into complacency while the crisis remains imperceptible. Progressive tyranny benefits from image management, and takes great pains to keep crisis from view. The most insidious thing about a secret police is its very secrecy, because the mayhem it wreaks is upon the intangibles, among things we call legitimacy. So it goes until only a facade is left. Until the day of death the victim is largely asymptomatic, except for a gradual weakening. When the onset comes he discovers that his immune system is completely gone and the end is sudden.

And Iran is allying itself with Venezuela.