Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Republican Victory in the Florida Congressional Special Election Is another Loss for “Obamacare”

My last three posts have been focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but I wanted to mention the latest political development in regard to the law to federalize health insurance that was approved by a majority liberal Democratic United States Congress signed by President Barack Obama. 

I had planned since last year to note how much of the law has been chipped away or delayed, but the delays have become too numerous to keep up with posting about them.  Already, two parts of the law (the 1099 requirement for businesses and the CLASS Act for long-term care), have been repealed, while the federal attempt to force States to opt into Medicaid expansion was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.  There are numerous efforts by the States to limit the affect of the federalization of health insurance, as well as litigation about various parts of the law. 

In addition to its many glitches, the harmful effects of the law, now that it is being partially implemented, are finally being observed, such as the loss of people’s preferred insurance plans, increased premiums, loss of the ability to see one’s doctor of choice and decreased full-time employment as employers lay off workers or reduce them to part-time.  Most of these consequences were contrary to what the liberal Democrats had promised.  Opposition to the law to federalize health insurance contributed significantly to the Republican gains in the 2010 congressional elections, including the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives – before much of the implementation of the plan had begun.

The latest sign of continued public wariness of the law to federalize health insurance, or “Obamacare,” as it is known in politics, is the upset victory by a Republican in a Congressional special election in Florida.  The seat had been safely held by the GOP, until the death of the district’s longtime U.S. Representative.  The victory by the Republican, David Jolly, was considered an upset because voter registration within the district had shifted toward the Democrats.  In fact, the district’s electorate had voted for the Obama-Biden ticket in both 2008 and 2012.  In addition, the Democratic nominee was a statewide official and the Democrats, sensing victory, heavily outspent the Republicans. 

The reason the Republican won was primarily because he campaigned for the need to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”  Oftentimes, special elections for Congress are harbingers of the general election.  The special election in Florida clearly suggests that voters disapprove of the federalization of health insurance and are wiling to elect Republicans to make drastic changes to the law.  It also suggests they might hold incumbent Democrats accountable for the Obamacare fiasco and thus deprive them of their majority in the U.S. Senate, in addition to keeping Republicans in the majority in the House and possibly adding to their majority.  A GOP majority in both chambers of Congress would effectively limit what little mandate Obama had and further require him to make serious compromises, not only to reform his signature legislation, but to reduce the debt in a fiscally responsible manner without raising taxes or gutting defense. 

The Republican victory in the Florida special election will encourage other GOP nominees to campaign against Obamacare and provide them the opportunity to promote market-oriented, fiscally responsible, constitutional reforms, such as allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines and reforming tort law to reduce medical liability insurance rates, which, in turn, would lower healthcare costs.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Russian Inconsistencies Re: Crimea vs. Kosovo

           The Russians and their sympathizers are claiming that the West is being “hypocritical” in opposing the referendum for independence of Crimea after supporting independence for Kosovo.  The West is being entirely consistent in supporting liberty and self-determination, while the Russians and those who sympathize with them are the ones who are being inconsistent.

            First of all, hypocrisy, which is the most overused and misused word of our time, means a “false show of morals.”  A referendum for independence is not a moral issue, but even if it were, the West’s support for Kosovo’s independence was sincere, as is its repugnance of the Crimean referendum because the former represented self-determination while the latter does not.  What the Russians and their sympathizers mean is to accuse the West of inconsistency

            The West’s principles in regard to self-determination are two-fold.  First, overthrowing a government or declaring independence is justified only when liberty is not respected, which was the rationale behind the American Declaration of Independence, for example.  Second, self-determination by a people necessarily is expressed only if the choice is freely made.  Unlike in Kosovo, neither of these two principles was present in the case of Crimea.

            Kosovo had been an autonomous province of mostly ethnic Albanians within Yugoslavia (later Serbia) with a significant minority of Serbs, as well as others.  The Serbs, led by Communist Slobodan Milosevic, had stirred up antipathy against the ethnic Albanians, as they had against Croats and Bosnian Muslims during the various wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which led to an independence movement and the declaration by the Kosovar government of independence after Yugoslavia had stripped the territory of its autonomy.  There were incidents of genocide against Kosovar Albanians, as well as forced deportations, which represented the same type of “ethnic cleansing,” as ethnic Serbs had committed in other parts of the former Yugoslavia.  After a N.A.T.O.-led air assault against Serbia in 1999, a truce took hold, backed by international peacekeepers under United Nations mandate.

The U.N. administered the mostly autonomous territory with the intent to determine the territory’s final status, including independence, and monitored popular elections until Kosovo’s popularly elected government declared independence in 2008, nine years after the end of Serb rule.  Kosovo chose not to merge with neighboring Albania, which had not invaded it, and to respect minority rights, including those of Kosovar Serbs.  In short, Kosovo, protected by peacekeepers, had freely chosen independence democratically, not union with the nation-state of its mother tongue, only after its liberty had been violated, after a lengthy period of transition, while guaranteeing the liberty of ethnic and religious minorities.

In Crimea, by contrast, there has been no genocide or forced deportations or any credible threats to ethnic Russians there.  The referendum was conducted hastily, without the opportunity of any significant public debate, which deprived the opposition an opportunity to organize and campaign, and without any international observation, unlike Kosovo’s elections.  In contrast to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, Crimea’s referendum did not represent a free choice because it was conducted without sufficient press freedoms or freedoms of assembly, with the Crimean people surrounded by Russian troops who had recently invaded it with the intent to annex it.  Furthermore, the Crimean referendum also did not permit a free choice because the options on the ballot were only two: greater autonomy in the ethnic Russian-controlled territory (de facto control by the Russian Federation) or independence (with the intent to be annexed by Russia).  There was no option for the status quo of autonomy within Ukraine.  The ethnic Russians in Crimea were stirred up by nationalist Russian propaganda that the Ukrainian government were “fascists” who threatened them.  It was not clear how many of the Russians were aware of the lack of liberty in authoritarian Russia they voted to join.  Not surprisingly, ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars mostly boycotted the referendum, meaning that the supposed 97% vote in favor of independence represented only the ballots cast by some of the 60% Russian electorate.  There is no guarantee by Russia, in contrast to Kosovo, of minority rights in Crimea.  Indeed, no ordinary citizen in Russia enjoys freedom fully.
Unlike Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the referendum in Crimea was neither justified, nor a free choice.  Therefore, the West’s support for the former and opposition to the latter is consistent with its belief in liberty and self-determination.  The West could support Crimean independence only if it were justified as being necessary and the choice were free.  Moreover, the United States had agreed to protect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity in 1997, an agreement to which Russia was also a party. 

In addition to violating its agreement to recognize Ukraine’s borders as including Crimea, Russia’s opposition to Kosovo’s declaration of independence is inconsistent with its annexation of Crimea.  Russia had opposed Kosovo’s independence because it supported the Communist government of fellow Slavs Serbia, despite Serbian crimes against humanity.  Russia had also opposed independence for other former Yugoslav territories that were not allegiant to it.  The brutal Russian suppression of the independence movement in the Russian territory of Chechnya is also inconsistent with the new Russian foreign policy of ostensibly supporting self-determination.  The Russian government’s only consistency is to pursue its own interests, regardless of principles.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Russia Violates Its Treaty Recognizing Crimea as Ukrainian

In my last post, I mentioned a 1997 agreement in which the United States pledged to protect Ukraine.  That treaty, which was reached in order to eliminate Soviet nuclear weapons from Ukrainian territory, also included Russia.  In it, the Russian Federation agreed to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  The Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea violates the agreement, in addition to broader international law.

Russian troops invading Crimea and seizing Ukrainian government facilities there, as well as those Russian troops who have made incursions into other Ukrainian territory wore no identifying insignia on their uniforms, which suggests that Russia has had to hide what it has been doing because it knew it was violating international law.

One excuse that Russians and their sympathizers are using to justify Russia’s conquest of Crimea, despite the 1997 agreement, is that the Black Sea peninsula had previously been Russian, until it was transferred by the Soviets to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.  However, by this reasoning, because Crimea had been part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire previously, it should be part of Turkey.  Indeed, just as there are Russian colonists in Crimea, the presence of which was used as a justification for uniting the territory with Russia, there are longtime Turkic Muslim inhabitants, too, namely the Tatars. 

In fact, the Russian Federation is the rump of the Soviet Empire, of which it is the successor, but it nonetheless is also the rump of the Russian Empire.  The Russian Federation is thus a polyglot empire.  While ostensibly supporting Crimean self-determination, it opposes independence from Russia for Chechnya, but the Russian Federation’s borders, territorial integrity and sovereignty, like Ukraine’s, are internationally recognized, just as Russia itself recognized Ukraine’s borders to include Crimea.  The question of sovereignty over Crimea was no oversight, but a major concern at the time because of Russia’s desire to maintain its Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Crimea. Ukraine agreed to lease the base to Russia, which was permitted no more than 25,000 troops in the autonomous territory.  

Russia and its sympathizers are also being inconsistent in their attempt to make the West seem inconsistent by comparing the referendum for independence for Kosovo to that of Crimea, as a legal justification for the latter referendum.  I shall refute this argument in my next post.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Conservative Commentary on the Crisis in Ukraine

           Russia has invaded the Ukrainian territory of CrimeaRussia must respect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity or else pay a price for its invasion, to deter it from any further aggression.
            The Crimean Peninsula is where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based, at the port of Sevastopol, where the Russian Federation leases a base.  Russia is permitted to base up to 25,000 troops in the territory.  A majority of Crimea’s population is Russian.  Concern for the rights of linguistic minorities after the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government was Russia’s pretext for its invasion, despite any threat to the Ukrainian Russians.  Ukraine must respect minority rights, as its new government has declared it will.  Crimea is also a popular resort for Russians.  There is much pro-Russian sentiment in Crimea, as well as the rest of eastern Ukraine, but not all Ukrainian Russians necessarily wish to live under the authoritarian rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

            There is some fear in the former Soviet republics and in the West that Crimea is to Russia as the Sudetenland was to Nazi Germany.  In the case of the latter, Adolph Hitler insisted on invading the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia under the pretext of protecting the Germans there and uniting them with their countrymen in Germany.  However, it has become increasingly clear that Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, after the Georgian government responded to Russian provocations in two breakaway republics, was a harbinger of its invasion of Ukraine.  Then, as I posted at the time and subsequently, Russia paid little price for its aggression against the former Soviet republic and its establishment of puppet states in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which is essentially the seizure of 30% of Georgian territory. 

What little price Russia was paying for invading Georgia, United States President Barack Obama forgave without demanding any improvement in Russian behavior.  Some liberal defenders of Obama have criticized former President George W. Bush for trusting Putin before his Russian counterpart had established a record, but by the time Obama was inaugurated, Putin’s authoritarianism and aggression were obvious, which makes Obama’s forgiveness of Russia less understandable and hardly the basis for a defense of Obama’s Russian policy.  Indeed, Obama’s weakness allowed Putin to calculate that aggression would be worth the risk.

            This time, in order to deter any further Russian aggression and to reassure former Soviet republics and Eastern European states, Russia must pay a sufficiently high price.  Targeted economic sanctions and the freezing of assets against individuals associated with the Russian invasion of Crimea, a boycott of the Group of 8 Industrialized States Summit in Sochi, a rejection of the invitation to send a government delegation to the Paralympics in Sochi and the suspension of military exchanges have already been announced by the Obama Administration.   The boycott of the summit was joined by the other seven states.  The expulsion of Russia from the G-8 is under consideration, while the Congress considers additional measures.  The Administration has also announced a billion-dollar loan to Ukraine, through the International Monetary Fund, while the European Union is extending $15 billion in credit.  Although the U.S. is beefing up its military posture in N.A.T.O. territory near Russia, Obama is only providing non-military aid to Ukraine, despite a 1997 agreement in which the Americans pledge to defend Ukraine, in contrast to Bush, who provided military support to Georgia

            Ukraine should shore up its defenses of the rest of eastern Ukraine, without giving any legal recognition to Russia’s conquest of Crimea, which is a fait accompli.  The referendum set for Sunday by the pro-Russian Crimean autonomous government allows only two choices: greater autonomy within Ukraine (i.e. de facto Russian control through a puppet state) or immediate independence with the intent to join the Russian Federation (i.e. ostensibly de jure Russian control).  The referendum is of dubious legitimacy, even if the choices were wider, as the political advantage is tilted heavily to the pro-Russia side.  There is little time for the opposition to organize.  Regardless, the opposition would be campaigning in a climate of fear, surrounded by Russian troops.  Russian-style elections are notorious for the intimidation of the opposition, even without troops.  Although the U.S. and its European allies are threatening Russia with punishment if the referendum occurs, Crimea is expected to merge with Russia nevertheless.  Ukraine would then be wise to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal of its forces and the resolution of other issues, such as the transfer of property, while continuing to protest diplomatically Russian violations of its sovereignty.  Russia may eventually regret its imperialism, but in the meantime, the Ukrainian government must avoid any unnecessary loss of its troops who are currently being besieged by Russian forces in Crimea, and work out a deal on the best terms it can.   

          Conservatives should support tough measures against Russia for its aggression, resist unnecessary cuts to the military, offer more former Soviet republics and eastern European states a pathway to join N.A.T.O., as well as support the drilling for natural gas and the export of oil and gas, which would help deny Russia the wealth it uses to try to reconstitute the Russian/Soviet Empire.