Archive for March, 2014

The State Department Responds

Our State Department’s idea of a coordinated response to Putin’s aggression in Crimea is – wait for it – a hashtag.  This afternoon, using her official State Department Spokesman Twitter account, Jen Psaki tweeted out this picture and text:

That hashtag was later used by embassy staff, as well, so apparently they’re invested in this.  Also note that @BarackObama is not the twitter account for the President or the White House, but rather Organizing For Action, the official/unofficial campaign arm of the Obama Administration.  That account has been tweeting heavily about Obamacare, the minimum wage, and immigration, along with touting their official OFA Store Grand Opening, but nothing about Ukraine, so it appears that the @StateDeptSpox doesn’t even know how to properly reference her boss on her social media of choice.  Way to go, guys.

Under Barack Obama, the State Department has gone from incompetent (remember the Reset that was actually “Overcharged”), to dangerously incompetent (Cairo and Benghazi), to delusional (the Palestinian “peace process”), to now simply being an embarrassment.  It’s going to be a long three years.

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Grayson’s Parallel Universe

Alan Grayson (D-Cloud Cuckooland), has long been given to weird and outrageous comments.  A cursory search reveals many of them, including his speech in favor of Obamacare, claiming that Republicans “want you to die quickly.”  Presumably this is to differentiate them from the Democrats who want to place in charge of your health care, a bureaucracy utterly indifferent to your fate.

Yesterday, he delivered one of the more stunning apologias for tyranny that I’ve been privileged to witness since the end of the Cold War, in his defense of Putin’s wrenching of the Crimea, and most of Ukraine’s Navy, away from Ukraine.

Now, you may say that he (Yanukovich) was thrown out of office for good reason. There are allegations against him that he was corrupt. There are allegations against him that he used the military against his own people to stay in power. But the fact is that from the perspective of the Crimeans, their leader, the one that they placed in charge of their country, was thrown out of power.

So it should come as no surprise, as Secretary Kerry recognized, that the Crimeans had had enough, and they wanted to leave this artificial entity called “The Ukraine.” Now, in fact, the Russians did assist. They assisted by disarming the local Ukrainian Army and Navy, that’s what they did, and they did it virtually bloodlessly. They did it so the Ukrainian Army and Navy could not interfere in the referendum that was held.

That’s the fact of the matter. Why are we pretending otherwise? Why are we speaking about “naked aggression?” Why are we speaking about “stealing Crimea?” Why are we speaking about bullying, or the new Soviet Union, or thuggery, or audacious power-grabbing, or “Bully-Bear Putin,” or Cold War II? I’m surprised that Judge Poe didn’t tell us that he was saddened that the Iron Curtain had descended over Sevastopol.

This fact is, as the Chairman has recognized, this is not some new Cold War that is occurring. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. We should be pleased to see – pleased to see – when a virtually bloodless transfer of power establishes self-determination for two million people somewhere in the world, anywhere in the world.

And in fact, what we’re seeing here, instead, is the vilification of Putin, the vilification of Yanukovich, the vilification of anybody who we try to identify as our enemy. Before that it was Saddam Hussein. Before, and since then, it’s been Assad. This does not help. The basic principle here is self-determination, that’s what’s happened in the Crimea, and it’s not for us to determine otherwise.s

These comments are best described by Mary McCarthy’s critique of Lillian Hellman’s writing.  Others, such as California’s Dana Rohrabacher, opposed sanctions on the grounds that they wouldn’t serve US interests. That’s a debatable proposition, but at least it’s debatable, and the people putting it forward appear to live in the same universe as the rest of us.  Grayson appears to have been starring in a trailer for an upcoming science fiction movie involving travel between worlds.

As noted before, Grayson has a history of this sort of nonsense, usually directed at Republicans, so it barely causes a ripple.  If we had an actual media, they’d ask every Democratic member of Congress about Grayson’s absurdities, but there’s little hope of that.

There is, however, some hope that the voters of Florida will rid us of this turbulent representative.  He was first elected, somewhat narrowly, Florida’s 8th District, in 2008, and then crushed by Republican Daniel Webster in 2010 in the same district.  Redistricting seems to have given him a new lease on political life, as it put Webster in the 10th, and Grayson in the 9th, where once again, he was returned to office.  Perhaps, after November 2014, with Obama having turned from aid to anchor, Grayson will once again have to find gainful employment outside of the public payroll.

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PERA Benefits Among Most Generous in the Country

Late last week, the redoubtable Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute published a state-by-state comparison of full-career public pension retirement benefits, in that organization’s monthly Economic Perspectives.  While news of PERA’s long-term fiscal problems won’t be a surprise to anyone reading this blog, it may come as a surprise to learn that Colorado ranks among the most generous states when it comes to that measure.

In nominal dollars, Colorado ranks fourth in the country, at just over $60,000 for an employee who spends his entire career in the state civil service.  The $60,420 per annum figure ranks just behind California and Alaska, and considerably behind Nevada’s $64,000.  When adjusted for the states’ relative cost of living, as calculated by the Council for Community and Economic Research, Colorado jumps well past both California and Alaska, into 2nd place.

Biggs also noted that the present value of these benefits can create “pension millionaires,” whose benefits exceed $1 million in today’s money.  When Colorado’s benefit is compounded at the maximum 2.0% COLA, and then discounted using a 3.5% risk-free discount rate, the total comes in at $1.25 million in 2014 dollars, assuming the beneficiary retires at 60 and lives to 82.5 years of age.

As Biggs points out, the need to stay for an entire career in order to collect benefits, at the same time that they forego Social Security benefits for those years, is a serious disincentive to retaining qualified and motivated public employees.  Those who leave – or arrive – in the middle of their career get shortchanged the most, since vesting and benefits are not proportional to the years served.

The problem here isn’t that workers are greedy, or that these benefits themselves are unsustainable.  It’s that the results are unfair to the majority of workers, who find their own benefits shortchanged in order to fund the retirements of full-career public servants.  A conversion to a defined contribution plan, where workers are always fully vested in their own contributions would help to solve this problem, and be much fairer to the majority of workers who do not spend their entire careers with the government.

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Springtime for Putin

Last week, I posted a comment on Facebook to the effect that I was waiting for the Pat Buchanan column defending Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a defense of traditional conservative values.  I meant it as a joke, but he seems to have taken it as a challenge.

In a remarkable column, Buchanan takes Hillary Clinton to task for comparing Putin’s motives to Hitler’s in 1935-39. Then he does the same thing, in order to exonerate Putin. In doing so, he has to exonerate Hitler. It’s the Double-Reverse Godwin, and he gets 6.0 from the German judge!  And the Russian judge!  The only thing missing was a description of how it’s all Israel’s fault, or the Jewish lobby’s fault, although I guess this is only a few hundred-word column, and he has to leave something for the long program.

Here’s Buchanan’s take on the events of 1935-1939:

He imposed conscription in 1935, sent his soldiers back into the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, demanded and got the return of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.

He then sought to negotiate with the Polish colonels, who had joined in carving up Czechoslovakia, a return of Danzig, when the British issued a war guarantee to Warsaw stiffening Polish spines.

Enraged by Polish intransigence, Hitler attacked. Britain and France declared war. The rest is history.

It’s not often you get to read histories from a parallel universe in a political journal.  Hitler didn’t just get the return of the Sudeten Germans, he got the Sudetenland, which included the only serious geographic obstacle to the rest of Czechoslovakia.  In-between Munich and Hitler’s, ah, “negotiations” with the Poles, Hitler walked into Bohemia, Moravia, and Prague, effectively annexing the rest of Czecholovakia and along with it, the Skoda Works.  Although not very many more Germans.

It’s true that Poland fought a series of short, unpleasant border wars with most of its neighbors, and that it took advantage of Munich to settle some leftover business with Prague. (Paul Johnson in Modern Times suggests that that’s at least part of the reason why Poland didn’t have any local friends when its own day of reckoning came.) It’s also true that Zaolzie bore none of the strategic or military significance that the Sudetenland did, and that the Poles didn’t exactly have the same strategic ambitions as did Germany.

Hitler wasn’t going to get Gdansk/Danzig without a fight, and he knew it.  But he didn’t just walk in an take the Polish Corridor.  He shelled Warsaw for weeks, and partitioned the entire country between himself and Stalin.  So according to Buchanan, Hitler needed Prague to secure the Sudetenland, and he needed Warsaw to secure Danzig.

If I were living in Kiev right now, I’m not sure I’d find that encouraging.

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