Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Russia, Obama, and Hillary

Homicidal Maniacs With Delusions Of Grandeur And Selective Memories
The global recession has hit Russia hard, so now the Russians are eager to have NATO and U.S. supplies (no explosives or weapons, though) shipped to Afghanistan via Russia. That means millions of dollars of much needed business for Russian railroads.

Another mutually beneficial financial deal with the West includes retiring more nuclear weapons. Russia wants to proceed with deals made in the last five years, that call for Russia and the U.S. dismantling most of their remaining nukes (each nation has about 6,000). Russia apparently wants the number reduced to a thousand, rather than the current 2,000. This would save hundreds of millions of dollars a year in maintenance and security costs.

The government has again warned neighboring countries (like Estonia and Ukraine) to stop being ungrateful for what Russia did for them during World War II. This is a long standing sore point. The Baltic Countries and Ukraine consider themselves forcibly made a part of the Soviet Union. All four nations contributed troops to the Nazi war effort against the Soviet Union. Although reviled in Russia and the West, these troops are local heroes, for having fought against the hated Russians (not for supporting the Nazis.) The Russians don't get it, ignoring the fact that Russian secret police and death camps killed millions and millions of people from the Baltic States and Ukraine. Russia considers these dead to be criminals, while the countrymen of the victims consider Russians homicidal maniacs, with delusions of grandeur and selective memories.

Speaking of delusions, hundreds of Russian MiG-29 fighters remain grounded after one of these aircraft crashed last December 5th. The cause was structural failure (the tail separated, in flight, from the rest of the aircraft). The Russian Air Force has been investigating, but has not announced anything yet. It's believed that poor maintenance and a shortage of spare parts is the main cause.

It's gets worse. Russian arms exporters see sales to China falling up to 40 percent this year. The reason is partly the poor quality of Russian weapons, and partly Chinese theft of Russian technology to build their own versions of Russian weapons (complete with flaws, but the Chinese don't seem to mind as long as they save lots of money).

Russia is proposing a new treaty between itself and the West. The main idea is that the West would promise not to invade Russia, or mess with Russian internal affairs (which tend to get messy). Russia, in turn, would stop acting like a paranoid bully.

NATO has told Russia that it is not happy with the way Russia has absorbed two portions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) of neighboring Georgia, and is building a military base in Abkhazia. Russia ignored the criticism. Meanwhile, Russia continues to have problems governing some of its border areas, that would rather be independent. Mainly, it's the Caucasus provinces of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. Long unstable because of clan and ethnic differences, the situation has been made worse by Russian economic mismanagement, and the appointment of corrupt provincial officials. The national government has sent in special police units, but that has done nothing for the unemployment and corrupt officials that anger the locals the most. The violence (weekly assassinations and raids on police stations) is spreading to Moscow, where in one recent week, there were four Caucasus related murders. The northern Caucasus has been a headache like this, for centuries. No one has ever come up with a lasting solution.

Russia has restored aid to Cuba, but at only a tenth of the Soviet era largess (which amounted to over a billion dollars a year), which ended in the early 1990s (and had been declining through the 1980s). Russia is doing this mainly to annoy the United States.

A DDOS attack coming from Russia, temporarily shut down Internet access in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. This was apparently the Russian government using its unofficial Cyber War militia to help shut down critics of a new cooperation deal between Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Russia is paying Kyrgyzstan a bunch of money ($180 million in forgiven debts, a $150 million loan that doesn’t have to be paid back, and $2 billion that does) to follow the party (Russian) line, and shut down the American air base there.

The sharp drop in raw materials prices (especially oil) has hit the Russian economy hard. The global recession has further depressed demand for Russian raw materials. Thus unemployment shot up by a million, to six million, in December. This has caused dozens of public demonstrations, which the police declared illegal, and the state controlled mass media ignored. Many people were arrested. But the Internet is not state controlled (despite attempts) and the word got around that the economy is not well all over. People blame the government, because the government has been taking over everything in sight, and there doesn't appear to be anyone else to blame. It is the governments fault, if only because government policy has made it difficult to make needed reforms (like rebuilding Soviet era infrastructure and obsolete factories). Instead, the government spent billions of dollars trying to prop up the stock market (which lost over 70 percent of its value last year.) By

If You Are Elderly – Be Afraid, Very Afraid
President Obama’s press conference last night was long on fear and short on facts. Once again, he warned the country that our “crisis” will become a “catastrophe” if we don’t immediately pass his spending bill. I always get suspicious when a politician wants everyone to shut up and vote on a 700-page bill. You can bet there are a lot of “surprises” hidden in the fine print.

In the last 24 hours, one of those surprises has been discovered and analyzed by conservative researchers. It is now being exposed by conservative talk radio – the same folks the Left wants to force off the air in the name of “fairness.” Who would have guessed that our president would hide in a “must pass” piece of legislation a provision that “rations” health care and makes it more likely that your Granny will be left to suffer or die?

The legislation sets up a new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology. This office will monitor the medical treatments your doctor is providing you to make sure that Washington agrees that those treatments are appropriate and cost-effective. Another office, the Federal Coordinating Council of Comparative Effectiveness Research, will slow down the use of new medications and technologies because new treatments drive up costs.

It sounds complicated, but don’t be confused. Europe already has those offices and former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle wrote about them in a book last year. It was this “expertise” that led President Obama to nominate Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services, so he could serve as the architect of the planned nationalized health care scheme. But here’s the bottom line of how it works in Europe and what Daschle and others want to implement here: The federal government will decide your medical treatment with COST being the main consideration. Daschle argues in his book that instead of treating seniors, they will have to become more accepting of the conditions that come with age!

Betsy McCaughey, former Lieutenant Governor of New York and a health care analyst, points out that this socialized medicine approach would be disastrous. In 2006, in England, the health care board ruled that elderly citizens with macular degeneration could not receive treatment with a new drug until they were blind in one eye! It took three years of public protests to reverse the policy. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Last year, one thousand British doctors were fighting hard to reform Britain’s health care system because that “progressive” nation also has one of the highest cancer mortality rates in Europe. Why? Because some bean counting bureaucrats in the basement of the British Health Department decided it isn’t “cost effective” to treat cancer patients. Like Nancy Pelosi trying to justify birth control in the stimulus bill, the Left sees people as a burden to Big Government’s bottom line.

Consider this irony. A powerful politician who has long championed government health care had a seizure last year. In Canada or Great Britain, “average Joes” might have to wait months for an MRI. Not this politician. Twenty-four hours later, he was diagnosed with a rare form of malignant brain cancer. Unlike “average Joes” in Canada and Great Britain, this politician didn’t have to wait months to see a specialist. Within two weeks he was treated by some of the world’s foremost experts on brain cancer.

Ted Kennedy is alive today probably because we don’t have socialized medicine. The free market, while flawed, is still the best system man has devised. I’m sure there is room for improvement, but I’m equally sure that government isn’t the solution. The Europeans and Canadians flocking here to get health care denied them by their socialist governments obviously agree. But where will Americans flee under the new socialist order?

Here’s the danger inherent in government-run health care. Just like a child living in a parent’s house has to abide by the parent’s rules, you will be treated like a child. If you expect Uncle Sam to pay for your health care, then Washington bureaucrats will dictate whether saving your health is too costly. The elderly always suffer under such a system. By the way, what the heck is this doing in a “stimulus bill”? And does it help explain why our new president is so intent on spending a trillion dollars after only one week of congressional debate?

Hillary's Incredible, Shrinking Role
By Dick Morris
Published on on February 9, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is finding that her job description is dissolving under her feet, leaving her with only a vestige of the power she must have thought she acquired when she signed on to be President Obama's chief Cabinet officer.

Since her designation:

• Vice President Biden has moved vigorously to stake out foreign policy as his turf. His visit to Afghanistan, right before the Inauguration, could not but send a signal to Hillary that he would conduct foreign policy in the new administration, leaving Hillary in the role of backup.

• Richard Holbrooke, the former Balkan negotiator and U.N. ambassador, has been named special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He insisted on direct access to the president, a privilege he was denied during much of the Clinton years.

• Former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine), negotiator of the Irish Peace Accords, was appointed to be the administration's point man on Arab-Israeli negotiations.

• Samantha Powers, Obama's former campaign aide, who once called Hillary a "monster," has been appointed to the National Security Council (NSC) as director of "multilateral affairs."

• Gen. James L. Jones, Obama's new national security adviser, has announced an expansion of the membership and role of the NSC. He pledges to eliminate "back channels" to the president and wants to grow the NSC's role to accommodate the "dramatically different" challenges of the current world situation.

• Susan Rice, Obama's new United Nations ambassador, insisted upon and got Cabinet rank for her portfolio, and she will presumably also have the same kind of access to Obama that she had as his chief foreign policy adviser during the campaign.

So where does all this leave Secretary of State Clinton?

While sympathy for Mrs. Clinton is outside the normal fare of these columns, one cannot help but feel that she is surrounded by people who are, at best, strangers and, at worst, enemies. The competition that has historically occupied secretaries of State and national security advisers seems poised to ratchet up to a new level in the current administration.

Hillary's essential problem is that she is an outsider in the current mix. She was the adversary in the campaign, and Rice and Powers -- at the very least -- know it well, having helped to run the campaign that dethroned her. Can they -- and she -- be devoid of bitterness or at least of normal human trepidation? Not very likely.

The fact is that the power of the secretary of State is not statutory, nor does it flow from the prestige of the post's occupant. Former Gen. Al Haig, once supreme commander of NATO and chief of staff to President Nixon, found that out when he was undercut as secretary by the White House troika of Mike Deaver, James Baker and Ed Meese. Bill Rogers, Eisenhower's attorney general and Nixon's California confidant, found himself on the outs from the moment he became secretary of State, with Henry Kissinger soaking up all the power through his direct access to Nixon as national security adviser.

The power of the secretary of State flows directly from the president. But Hillary does not have the inside track with Obama. Rice and Powers, close advisers in the campaign, and Gen. Jones -- whose office is in the White House -- all may have superior access. Holbrooke and Mitchell will have more immediate information about the world's trouble spots.

So what is Hillary's mandate? Of what is she secretary of State? If you take the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan out of the equation, what is left? One would have to assume that the old North Korea hands in the government would monopolize that theater of action. What, precisely, is it that Hillary is to do? The question lingers.

And for this she gave up a Senate seat?

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