Posts tagged ‘Ukraine’

So I Was Wrong Again -- American Politics and No Way Out

About 30 years ago there was a Kevin Costner movie called "No Way Out".  If you never saw it and ever intend to, there is a major spoiler coming.  Anyway, Costner is a military officer having a fling with a woman played by Sean Young, who is also having a fling with Costner's superior officer.  Sean Young turns up dead (probably a fantasy for the director since every director who worked with her wanted to kill her).  There is some sense that Costner's superior officer may be guilty, and Costner is named by the officer to lead the investigation, but with a twist -- the officer is trying to get the girl's death blamed on a mysterious Russian spy, who may or may not even be real, to divert attention from his adultery and possibly from the fact that he was probably the killer.  Things evolve, and it appears that Costner is going to be framed not only for the girl's death but also as the probably mythical spy.  The movie is about Costner desperately trying to escape this frame, and in the end is successful.  But in the final scene, Costner is seen speaking in Russian to his controller.  He is the spy!  The original accusation was totally without evidence, almost random, meant to divert attention from his superior's likely crimes, but by accident they turned out to be correct.

I feel like that with the Russian election hacking story.  For months I have said the Russian election hacking story was a nothing.  It made little sense and there was pretty much zero evidence.  It was dreamed up within 24 hours of the election by a Clinton campaign trying to divert attention and blame for their stunning loss.  I have called it many times the Obama birth certificate story of this election.

But it turns out that pursuing any Trump connection whatsoever with Russia has turned up some pretty grubby stories.  In particular, seeing a Presidential campaign -- and the President's son -- fawning over unfriendly foreign governments to get their hands on oppo research is just plain ugly.  That the Clinton campaign may have done shady things to get oppo research of their own is irrelevant to the ethics here (and perhaps one good justification for electing Republicans, since the media seems to be more aggressive at holding Republicans to account for such things).

Sorry.  I fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never underestimate the stupidity and ethical flexibility of politicians."

Postscript:  In general, my enforced absence from both twitter and highly partisan blogs is going quite well.  I will write more about it soon, but I have to mention this:  I had a small break in my isolation yesterday when I was scanning around the radio on a business trip.  I landed on Rush Limbaugh, and would have moved on immediately but the first words I heard out of his mouth were "golden showers".  OK, I was intrigued.  He then used that term about 3 more times in the next 60 seconds (apparently he was going with the "everybody does it" defense of Trump by accusing the Clintons of getting oppo research from the Ukraine, or whatever).  Anyway, any issue that has a Conservative talk show host discussing golden showers from Russian hookers can't be all bad.

Even an Influential Chart Can Be A Graphics Fail

Presumably most of you have seen this chart frm a study that says that not only do Americans not know where the Ukraine is, but that desire for US intervention there is correlated with such knowledge or lack thereof (the less people understand where it is, the more they support intervention).

I find the study results both depressing and unsurprising, so I won't comment on them per se.   Though I suppose if you confuse the Ukraine with the Yukon (as a number of respondents seem to), interventionism might make more sense.  My only question is:  where were such studies of domain knowledge vs. policy recommendations in the health care or minimum wage debate?

However much impact this chart has had, though, it is still a graphics fail in my mind.  Why?  Because the author attempts to portray a second variable by the dot color.  But the variable he or she chooses to portray is the distance of the point from the correct location (red being more correct, blue less).  But that is easy to see without the variation in color.  It is redundant information.

A much better chart would have been to color code each dot with that respondent's Ukraine prescription, from blue = intervention to red = non-intervention.  This way the chart would have supported the full findings of the study (link between geographical knowledge and policy prescription) rather than just one aspect (quality of geographic knowledge).

Update:  If so many people got the Ukraine and the Yukon confused, God help us if the next Russian crisis is in Georgia.

Long-Term Chernobyl Harm Revised Downwards

You know those towns along the highway where people joke "don't blink, or you'll miss it?"  Well, apparently I blinked and missed this story.  If the ice in a climatologist's bourbon & water melts faster than she expected, it gets a three-day spread in the New York Times, but this environmental good-new story (surely an oxymoron to most editors) seems to have been pushed to the back page last September:

The long-term health and environmental impacts of the 1986
accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, while severe,
were far less catastrophic than feared, according to a major new report
by eight U.N. agencies.

The governments of Ukraine,
Belarus and Russia, the three countries most affected by radioactive
fallout from Chernobyl, should strive to end the "paralyzing fatalism"
of tens of thousands of their citizens who wrongly believe they are
still at risk of an early death, according to the study released Monday.

The 600-page report found that as of the middle of this year, the
accident had caused fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to
radiation, most of them among emergency workers who died in the first
months after the accident.

In fact, even the "while severe" added into the first paragraph seems to be the last gasp of an editor unwilling to accept any environmental good news, since nowhere in the article is there any evidence published of any negative long-term effect at all except that caused to the mental well-being of local citizenry by the continual onslaught of media and governmental horror-predictions.

In fact, the article goes on to say:

Over the next four years, a massive cleanup operation
involving 240,000 workers ensued, and there were fears that many of
these workers, called "liquidators," would suffer in subsequent years.
But most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas
"received relatively low whole radiation doses, comparable to natural
background levels," a report summary noted. "No evidence or likelihood
of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found,
nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformations."

In
fact, the report said, apart from radiation-induced deaths, the
"largest public health problem created by the accident" was its effect
on the mental health of residents who were traumatized by their rapid
relocation and the fear, still lingering, that they would almost
certainly contract terminal cancer. The report said that lifestyle
diseases, such as alcoholism, among affected residents posed a much
greater threat than radiation exposure.

The other major "fallout" seems to be massively wasted government spending:

Officials said that the continued intense medical monitoring of tens of
thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is no longer a smart
use of limited resources and is, in fact, contributing to mental health
problems among many residents nearly 20 years later. In Belarus and
Ukraine, 5 percent to 7 percent of government spending is consumed by
benefits and programs for Chernobyl victims. And in the three
countries, as many as 7 million people are receiving Chernobyl-related
social benefits.

Sounds like post-Katrina proposals.  We have already seen more level-headed analysis debunk similar horror stories (remember "toxic soup") in New Orleans.  I wonder what a sober analysis of the real long-term health effects around the PG&E site that Erin Brockovitch made her name on would reveal?  When I lived in St. Louis, we had a local meteorologist we used to joke had "accurately predicted twelve of the last three blizzards".  Environmentalists who perplexedly scratch their heads as to why everyone does not yet fully buy into global warming should move past their "everyone is in the pay of the oil companies" explanation and maybe consider for a minute that their panicked prediction of twelve of the last three environmental disasters may be part of the explanation as well.

By the way, what really killed nuclear power was the costliness of the ridiculous regulatory regime.  In a prior post, I suggested an alternative regulatory regime, copied from airlines (see, we libertarians can sometimes hold our nose and actually make a regulatory reform proposal short of "throw it all out").  Reason's Hit and Run points to an example of those on the left reconsidering nuclear power.

Time to Thaw Relations With Cuba

First, a couple of disclaimers:  The human rights situation in Cuba still sucks, and Castro still is a reprehensible leader.

That all being said, its time to try a different policy vis a vis Cuba.  While the strict embargo of all things and all people back and forth to Cuba may well have been appropriate in the 1960's to make sure Cuba and the world understood our displeasure with Castro, its not working for us now.  Forty-five or so years later, nothing has really changed in Cuba.  Heck, that's more years than the Cold War with Russia lasted.  And, since the economic blockade has become pretty much unilateral, with the US about the only country in the world still observing it, its hard to see Castro throwing up the white flag any time soon.

The US has made its point -- we think Castro is a brutal totalitarian.  Castro has made his point -- Cuba is not going to fall based on US economic pressure.  Its time to try engagement.  This does not mean that the US sanction the human rights situation in Cuba.  It does mean that we acknowledge that engagement with western ideas through trade and commerce have done more to liberalize countries like China, India, and southeast Asia than any other policy we have tried.

Fareed Zakaria has a nice article in the International Edition of Newsweek advocating just this approach, not just in Cuba, but all over the world:

For almost five decades the United States has
put in place a series of costly policies designed to force Cuba to
dismantle its communist system. These policies have failed totally.
Contrast this with Vietnam, also communist, where Washington has
adopted a different approach, normalizing relations with its former
enemy. While Vietnam remains a Leninist regime in many ways, it has
opened up its society, and the government has loosened its grip on
power, certainly far more than that of Fidel Castro. For the average
person in Libya or Vietnam, American policy has improved his or her
life and life chances. For the average person in Iran or Cuba, U.S.
policy has produced decades of isolation and economic hardship.

Don't
get me wrong. I think the regimes in Tehran and Havana are ugly and
deserve to pass into the night. But do our policies actually make that
more likely? Washington has a simple solution to most governments it
doesn't like: isolate them, slap sanctions on them and wait for their
downfall....

Critics could argue that I'm forgetting the many surprising places
where regimes have fallen and freedom has been given a chance to
flourish. Who would have predicted that Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan
would see so much change in the past year and a half? But these
examples only prove my point. The United States had no "regime change"
policy toward any of these countries, and it had relations with all of
them. In fact, these relationships helped push the regimes to change
and emboldened civil-society groups.

Ah, you might say, but these regimes were not truly evil. Well, what
about Mao's China at the height of the Cultural Revolution? Nixon and
Kissinger opened relations with what was arguably the most brutal
regime in the world at the time. And as a consequence of that opening,
China today is far more free"”economically and socially"”than it has ever
been. If we were trying to help the Chinese people, would isolation
have been a better policy?

For years I think we feared to normalize relations with Cuba because we were afraid of looking weak;  however, today, after kicking regimes out of Afghanistan and Iraq and threatening four or five others, I am not sure this is a concern.  Besides, we are normalizing relations with Vietnam, who we actually fought a war against and who are at least as bad at human rights as Cuba. 

I fear that what may be preventing a new policy with Cuba is the electoral college.  Or, more specifically, the crucial status of Florida as a tightly-contested presidential election swing state and the perception (reality?) that there is a large high-profile Cuban population in Florida that opposes normalization, at least as long as Castro can still fog a mirror.

 

I Hope This is Good News

From Yahoo News:

Pro-West opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko claimed victory in Ukraine's historic presidential election rerun, telling supporters the vote was a triumph for the country and proclaiming that "now we are free" from dominance by neighboring Russia.

This seems like good news, especially given the creeping fascism in Russia.  However, we've been disappointed by putative democrats before.

Good Stuff at Scrappleface

First, Scrappleface reports:

After a week of tough negotiating by France, Germany and Britain, the Islamic Republic of Iran has conceded to reduce the size of nuclear warheads it will use in the eventual bombing of Paris, Berlin and London.

I might have thought this was humor until I read this line, which seems all too real:

Iran has pledged to stop enriching uranium, while retaining 20 operating centrifuges, and continuing to process plutonium

LOL.  Even better, Scrappleface also reports that CBS is considering emulating recent moves by the Ukraine press to abandon bias:

Inspired by a public pledge from Ukrainian TV journalists to provide unbiased reporting from now on, CBS News has launched an internal investigation to assess the potential impact of such a move.

Go read it all.