Putin’s Double-Edged Phone Call

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “U.S. and Russians will Hold Talks in Ukraine Crisis,” describes a phone call initiated by Vladimir Putin to President Obama. The move caught administration officials off guard, and the intentions of the Russian leader remain uncertain.

Mr. Putin did not mention Crimea in his phone call, perhaps as a stronger negotiation stance or perhaps because he considers the Russian takeover a fait accompli. He did, however, address oppression of ethnic Russians in Transnistria, part of Moldovia that is currently being blockaded by Ukrainian troops.

The question is whether Mr. Putin is trying to buy time before a direct assault on that province or whether he is trying to negotiate his way out of Crimea in the face of nearly unanimous world condemnation. Even China, a regular ally during times like these, did not support Russia’s aggression at the United Nations.

Two top diplomats will now meet to discuss the crisis, and one hopes they do not talk past each other. U.S.-Russian conflicts are always potentially dangerous due to the large numbers of nuclear weapons on both sides and the ever-present possibility of a miscalculation. While the United States is fully aware of Mr. Putin’s desire to rebuild the Soviet Union, the Russians may not realize the lines they may not cross to do so.

National Healthcare Makes It

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Deadline Near, Health Signups Show Disparity,” provides a lot of good news for Obamacare, even as it notes that the success of the legislation often depends on where you live.

For example, Vermont, always a welcome location with progressive attitudes towards national healthcare, had more than 50 percent of the eligible population sign up on an exchange. Kentucky, too, a state that has embraced Obamacare from the governor on down, has also presided over a successful implementation.

Other states, usually run by Republicans, have managed to blunt the impact of Obamacare. Many of these states do not offer their own exchanges or have been hostile to the use of “navigators” to help people sign up.

Moreover, some states chose not to expand their Medicare rolls, an integral part of the initial legislation that was made optional by the Supreme Court. In these states, many possible enrollees fell into a gap between Medicare and Obamacare, with affordable subsidies just out of reach.

It is important to realize that where Obamacare has been given a chance to work, it generally has done so. Outright hostility by state governments just makes implementation more difficult and prevents the spreading of the word about the cost savings available to any individual making less than 42K.

Bin Laden Aide Guilty

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Jurors Convict Bin Laden Aide in Terror Case,” represents appropriate justice for a man who basically served as Bin Laden’s press secretary, making pronouncements from Bin Laden to the outside world. These statements included praise for the September 11 attacks and threats to continue with similar actions.

The results were handed down from a federal grand jury, in the very shadow of the former World Trade Center and represented appropriate justice. It’s important to note that there were no problems with the format — many Republicans would have preferred a military tribunal or just keeping the individual at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba without any rights of habeas corpus.

The successful prosecution may also be a harbinger of more trials to come. President Obama has pledged to close down Guantanamo and doing so before the end of his second term would fulfill that promise.

In any case, one hopes that the victims of 9/11 derive some small measure of satisfaction from this verdict, one more step to holding the terrorists responsible for their actions. Further noise from the Republicans will only cloud the justice executed here, justice that will reverberate in the Middle East and among the minions of Al Qaeda who had felt they were somehow invincible.

Mudslide Destruction

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “In Ocean of Mud, A Plea: Leave Me and Find My Wife,” describes a terrible tragedy of nature: a mudslide in Oso, Washington that killed at least 16 people. As is sometimes the case, man’s activities played a part: logging in the area destroyed the roots responsible for keeping the saturated ground together.

The mudslide occurred around 11 AM with no warning; there was a tremendous roar, and a mass of earth with more volume than the concrete in the Hoover Dam destroyed everything in its wake. More than 150 people are still missing, and 49 homes were destroyed.

The event was not without warning. The danger of a mudslide was reported multiple times, but as is so often the case, developers failed to heed the warnings and built homes right in the path of the potential destruction.

Now rescuers are left with no recourse but to use dogs to try and track buried people who may have found some air pocket and are waiting to be rescued. Soon though, all will be left will be mass funerals and to count the dead.

Man’s ways though will not change. He will continue to try to defy nature and will inevitably be left to reap the consequences.

Japan and Nuclear Weapons

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Japan to Let U.S. Assume Control of Nuclear Cache,” describes a positive development in President Obama’s campaign to rid nations of nuclear material. Japan will be sending 450 pounds of weapons-grade material to the United States where it will be transformed into a less dangerous form.

Other nuclear-safety issues have not been so successfully addressed. The talks with Iran seem to be stalled, and any further nuclear treaties with Russia will probably not be concluded in light of the invasion of Crimea. Some countries like Ukraine divested themselves of nuclear material, but other nations have been more recalcitrant.

President Obama is correct to continue his efforts. One of the most horrifying consequences of loosely guarded nuclear materials involves them falling into the hands of terrorists. And who would bear the brunt of that development? The United States of course.

It is not naive or idealistic to want to rid the world of nuclear weapons. These arms could result in the extinction of the human race. And one day, we will have successfully defanged this threat, and our grandchildren or great grandchildren will thank us.

The first step, however, is to secure loose weapons grade material. And both Japan and the United States should receive kudos for these efforts.

Healthy Youth

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Administration Plays to Young in Health Push,” describes the final promotional healthcare subscription effort to youth prior to the March 31st deadline. The Obama administration is pulling out all spots in its effort to reach its goal of six million enrollments, already reduced by one million in light of the faulty initial rollout.

The campaign includes advertisements during the NCAA basketball tournament, appearances on top YouTube shows and talk radio, including all-sports channels. The President has also made personal appearances on a variety of outlets popular among the young.

The ability to sign up young people is critical to the success of national healthcare. This demographic helps the insurance companies make a profit, but it is still worthwhile for the young to avoid catastrophic illnesses and ensure they are covered. Widespread demographics will also help to avoid higher premiums in the long run.

The deadline itself will spur youth to sign up because it is a good deal. The subsidies are significant and make insurance affordable based on the person’s salary. Being a member of a healthcare plan also provides essential support for prescriptions and related “wellness” care such as regular checkups, vaccines and any tests that may be required.

Some churches are even gearing up to support the effort, providing informational material and urging members to participate.

One hopes all these actions will help to counteract the misinformation on the right, an unconscionable tactic that they will soon regret.

Crimea Joins Russia

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Putin Reclaims Crimea for Russia and Bitterly Denounces the West,” describes the end of the “reset” in diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States, and the likely end of cooperation in other areas including Syria and Iran.

Seemingly overnight, the world order has been upended as Russia poured its troops into Crimea and, after a quickly organized referendum, annexed the peninsula into Russia proper.

Yesterday, Putin gave a major policy address decrying the previous humiliations of Russia and vowing a more muscular foreign policy. In his speech, Russia was the victim — the protests in Kiev and eventual takeover of the government were not praised as democratic but an extra-Constitutional coup.

Putin also mentioned other conflicts where the West tried to manipulate outcomes including the Balkans and Libya. And he decried the expansion of NATO to almost the very edge of Russia’s borders. In one of his more memorable line, he said that if you push a spring hard enough, eventually it will recoil.

Russia definitely has more power now than it did at the end of the Soviet Union, thanks largely to the discovery of large gas reserves. Whether it can blithely reassume its role as a superpower counterbalancing the United States, however, seems unlikely.

Putin Power

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Putin Recognizes Crimea Secession, Defying the West,” describes an unresolvable conflict between Russia and Europe over the status of Crimea. Crimea held a rigged referendum yesterday and claimed that 97 percent of the voters supported joining Russia.

Putin then recognized Crimea as a sovereign nation, the first step towards annexing the region. Meanwhile, President Obama’s economic sanctions against Russia were derided and, indeed, they only affected 11 people. Europe’s sanctions were slightly stronger, affecting 21 people, but they purposefully avoided any of Putin’s insiders.

Russia’s invasion of Crimea has become an irrevocable fact on the ground, and no one has the strength to roll it back. If Russia wanted, they could easily invade Eastern Ukraine as well, where demonstrators are clamoring to join the Russian Federation, too.

It is discouraging to note that President Obama held back some sanctions against Russia so he can implement them as a further step should Russia’s behavior persist. The unwillingness to put military options on the table has made the United States “a paper tiger” and, in effect, given the Russians carte blanche to reestablish their empire.

Other nations bordering Russia, especially those that were once part of the Soviet Union, are understandably nervous. Russia’s neighbors are particularly vulnerable because of geographic realities and the unwillingness of the United States to entertain the possibility of war to stop Russian aggression.

Flight Chronology

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Timing of Report by Flight’s Pilot Focuses Inquiry,” describes the latest chronology of the missing airplane according to the latest Malaysian pronouncements.

The Malysian government has released a series of contradictory statements about the flight, but it seems to hone in on the truth, albeit in a circular manner. It now says that the Acars tracking system was turned off before the pilot gave the final goodbye to Malaysian air control, with no report of anything going wrong.

That suggests the system was turned off on purpose, just before the flight was diverted into a six-hour trek across the Indian Ocean. Whether the flight actually landed somewhere instead of crashing is seeming more and more likely. Why would someone exercise such a great level of expertise if they only wanted to crash the airplane with everyone on board?

No terror group has claimed any responsibility for the diversion, which to my analysis points heavily to Al Qaeda, because central Al Qaeda (as opposed to the offshoots) never claims responsibility for its actions. If so, there must be a second part to the plot — the use of the airline as a projectile perhaps in a manner similar to 9/11.

The fact that no one has ever considered hijacking a plane to use it later also testifies to the evil creativity of the group; no one thought to use airplanes as bombs against the World Trade Center either.