Nobody Wants to Live in the Mean New Russia (Ivan Sukhov) from the Moscow Times [in English]
"They want to leave Russia because the social microclimate — the people whom they meet every day at work, at home and on the street — is changing for the worse. They see that people are becoming angrier, meaner and even dangerous. However, that aggression did not appear out of nowhere."
Oil headed to $100? $30? It may not matter (Ron Insana) from CNBC
"It may not matter because energy alternatives could soon make oil a worthless commodity. It may seem unthinkable, but history is replete with commodities that not only lost the bulk of their value, but also their utility."
Hundreds of Poles mob convoy of U.S. troops driving through eastern Europe from the Daily Mail [of the UK]
"Troops from the 3rd Squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment were passing through Polish town of Bialystok. Residents lined the streets to greet the soldiers as they posed for pictures with locals who offered them gifts. The soldiers had been taking part in a NATO exercise to
demonstrate their readiness to defend its members. Poland borders both Ukraine and Russia and the conflict between the two countries has caused anxiety there."
The Sun Is Rising On Solar Panels, And There’s No Fighting It from National Memo
"Huge numbers of Americans have been installing solar panels, thanks to better and cheaper technology. Businesses that stand to lose from this fact have set off clashes in nearly half the states — from Maine to California and Washington to South Carolina. ... So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can huff and puff about a “war on coal,” but to little avail. By the way, the domestic solar industry now employs more workers than does coal mining."
Trillion Dollar Fraudsters (Paul Krugman) from the New York Times
"Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does. Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry."
New Federal Data Show Student Loan Borrowers Suffering More Than Previously Believed from the Huffington Post
"By the new metric, which the department has never used before, roughly 33 percent of borrowers were more than five days late on one of their federal student loans as of Dec. 31. (Since the department only released individual figures for its four largest contractors, rather than a total percentage, however, the actual figure may be a few percentage points higher or lower.) Previous measures had put the delinquency rate much lower, masking the true amount of distress among borrowers trying to make good on their taxpayer-backed debts."
Pelosi, Boehner Rekindle Bipartisanship With $214 Billion Medicare Deal from the Huffington Post
"It's almost like seeing a unicorn run through Congress. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have teamed up on a bill, and it's a biggie. It would fix a massive funding gap in Medicare, extend health care for poor children and make long-term spending cuts." More evidence of a singular shift that seems to be occuring in Congress -- Boehner and Pelosi seem to have to come to an "accommadation" on certain legislation. The goal: to sideline the Tea Party extremists in the GOP. Stay tuned.
Jeb's South Carolina firewall fails to take shape from Politico
"His reservoir of support is neither as wide nor as deep as he might have hoped. Twice before, South Carolina has delivered for the Bush family. In 1988, it famously served as George H.W. Bush’s firewall after he finished third in Iowa. Twelve years later, it served the same role for George W. Bush after John McCain’s New Hampshire victory. But as Jeb Bush seeks to become the third in his family to win here, he’s finding the state almost unrecognizable. The electorate in the first primary state in the South is more conservative than before — and the former Florida governor is perceived as a moderate. Much of the old Bush team has defected to other candidates. And the presence of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is eating into Bush’s natural base of support."
Unhappy With a Moderate Jeb Bush, Conservatives Aim to Unite Behind an Alternative from th New York Times
"In secret straw polls and exclusive meetings from Iowa to California, the leaders are weighing the relative appeal and liabilities of potential standard-bearers like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and the former governors Rick Perry, of Texas, and Mike Huckabee, of Arkansas." Wow! Who's missing from this list? Scott Walker. Has he been a bad boy latly? -- Nuggetsman
How the movie “Trading Places” explains the Iran/Israel conflict! (Joan Walsh) from Salon
"A friendly interview with righty Hugh Hewitt gave Walker a do-over on his foreign policy flubs. Um, it didn't work. ... Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is widely viewed as botching his early opportunity as nominal frontrunner for the 2016 GOP nomination. Even on the right, some former admirers are lamenting Walker’s early mistakes handling questions about evolution, President Obama’s religion and how he would handle ISIS (he memorably compared the challenge to battling pro-union Wisconsin protesters in 2011.)"
Russian Economy Was Doomed Before Ukraine from the Moscow Times [in English]
"The conflict in Ukraine, and the associated economic statecraft employed by both the West and Russia in response to it, offers a convenient explanation for Russia's recent economic woes. But the truth is that the Russian economy has been weakening for several years, and that the Ukraine situation has merely exacerbated pre-existing tendencies."
Indefensible Defense Budgets Coming Out of Europe from the Editorial Board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"An analysis of the 2015 spending plans of the countries in the 28-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization indicates that the old problem of the United States bearing a disproportionate share of its cost is getting worse rather than better."
Most Chinese Say Their Military Can Crush America in Battle (Zachary Keck) from the National Interest
"The vast majority of Chinese citizens believe the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could seize islands in the East and South China Seas, even if the U.S. military were to intervene in the conflicts. No less than 87 percent of respondents said that the Chinese military already possessed the capability to take back the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands from Japan, according to a recent public opinion poll. When asked whether they still believed the PLA could achieve this objective if the U.S. intervened in the conflict, 74 percent said yes." This is a very dangerous mindset! Those who follow this blog and the comparative defense reports we've put out there looking at China and the US's capabilities know that China is in NO position to take on the US virtually anywhere, much less in a situation involving the navies of the two countries. In this poll, you see the box the Chinese have put themselves in: if the US (or ANY country for that matter) should get involved in a dust-up with China, can the Chinese leadership back down without losing face with the folks back home? This polling suggests not.
A Lot Fewer Americans Get Unemployment Benefits Than You Think from the Huffington Post
"The share of unemployed Americans who receive unemployment insurance benefits has dwindled to its lowest point in decades, thanks in part to benefit cuts in Republican-led states. Just 23.1 percent of unemployed workers received state unemployment benefits at the end of 2014, according to a new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank. The rate has hovered beneath 24 percent since 2011 and bottomed out at 22.1 percent in November 2013." The report is HERE.
Hillary’s Prickly Apologia (Frank Bruni) from the New York Times
"Clinton’s challenge is to persuade an electorate that has known her since the Mesozoic era and trudged wearily with her through so much political melodrama that to vote for her is to turn the page, to embrace a new chapter, to move forward. On Tuesday she didn’t look as if she was leaning into the future. She looked as if she was getting sucked into the past. That’s not where voters want to go."
The Joy and the Drama (Josh Marshall) from Talking Points Memo
"For all the Republican carping about IRS and Benghazi! (TM), the Obama years have been essentially scandal-less. There's just nothing to work with. Obama doesn't have weird hangers-on; staff don't surface disputes and ego battles in the press; things just don't happen. You do not get surprises."
China and Russia vs. the United States? (Huiyun Feng) from The Diplomat
"The future of a China-Russian relationship depends largely on relations these two countries have with the West, especially the United States. If Washington pushes too hard on oil prices, Ukraine, and NATO expansion toward Russia, and if the U.S. rebalances too far against China in the Pacific, China and Russia may indeed move towards a formal alliance, even if that may not have been what they originally wanted."
The Student Debt Time Bomb (Chuck Collins) from the National Memo
"Many more are defaulting after facing the stressful realization that they can’t find a job that pays enough to repay their debt. Over half of outstanding student loans are presently in deferral, delinquency, or default. The student debt debacle has huge implications for the future."
Why a Supreme Court Decision to Restrict Health Reform Subsidies Would Backfire on Republicans (Theda Skocpol and Lawrence R. Jacobs) from the Scholars Strategies Network
"Ironically, the citizens and private companies most at risk for big economic losses following a pro-King decision are overwhelmingly located in states governed by conservative Republicans. Furthermore, those who would be harmed are not very poor people who vote for Democrats or skip elections. They are middle-income people, at least half of whom support Republicans."
The Encouraging Cluelessness of Hard-liners (Daniel Larison) from the American Conservative
"... it is also somewhat reassuring to see that their stunts keep backfiring on them. There was some reason to worry that these stunts could damage the negotiations, but overall the effect appears to have been the opposite of the one that the saboteurs intended. ... The reality is that they aren’t tough, unless one defines “tough” as being impervious to inconvenient evidence."
Small U.S. Colleges Battle Death Spiral as Enrollment Drops from Bloomberg View
"Dowling, which got a failing grade for its financial resources from accreditors last month, epitomizes the growing plight of many small private colleges that depend almost entirely on tuition for revenue. It’s been five years since the recession ended and yet their finances are worsening. Soaring student debt, competition from online programs and poor job prospects for graduates are shrinking their applicant pools."
The Unfortunate Fate of Sweet Briar’s Professors from the Atlantic
"This story has reverberated across the higher-education community over the past week, as many worry that other small colleges may soon suffer the same fate. It's already happening in some pockets. The governing board of Tennessee Temple University, a Christian liberal-arts college, for example, recently voted to shut down the school this May and merge with another Christian campus in North Carolina. ... It may be too hard for the small liberal-arts college model to survive in modern times."
The Case for Free-Range Parenting (Clemins Wergin) from the New York Times
"Most are horrified by the idea that their children might roam around without adult supervision. In Berlin, where we lived in the center of town, our girls would ride the Metro on their own — a no-no in Washington. Or they’d go alone to the playground, or walk a mile to a piano lesson. Here in quiet and traffic-safe suburban Washington, they don’t even find other kids on the street to play with."
China’s Great Wall Of Debt (Anthony Fensom) from The Diplomat
"China’s great leap forward economically has now led the communist nation to join its developed rivals in the major debtors club. ... According to a new report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), China’s debt has quadrupled from $7 trillion in 2007 to $28 trillion as of mid-2014, reaching 282 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and higher than the level of the United States. Continuing its current pace of growth would see China’s debt reach 400 percent of GDP by 2018, the equivalent of Spain. ... As much as $9 trillion of debt is directly or indirectly linked to the real estate sector, including most of the loans by the shadow banking sector, with loans of around $6.5 trillion. In addition, slowing property markets increase the risk of a blowout in local government debt, with up to 40 percent of debt servicing and repayments funded by land sales. ... A senior Chinese government official has told the Australian Financial Review that conditions appear “more and more like the Asian financial crisis,” with as much as $80 billion leaving the country in December alone. The capital flight has sparked concerns of a sharp decline in the exchange rate causing a credit crunch among indebted corporate borrowers."
GOP scrambles to keep Obamacare subsidies flowing in case of Supreme Court victory (Byron York) from the Washington Examiner
""We're worried about ads saying cancer patients are being thrown out of treatment, and Obama will be saying all Congress has to do is fix a typo," said one senior GOP aide involved in the work. In recent private polling for the conservative group Independent Women's Voice, a huge majority of respondents said it would be important to "do something to restore the subsidies" in the case of a Court decision striking them down."
The Transatlantic Alliance in Transition (Antonia Colibasanu) from Real Clear World
" This stresses the core problem that the European Union has today: the increasing lack of unity on foreign policy, and even on common policies regarding the Union's future. As Schultz was saying, "the EU is powerful when united and the problem is that the EU is more divided than united"."
The Absurd World of Russian Public Opinion [Vladimir Ryzhkov) from the Moscow Times [in English]
"The more casualties and destruction in southern and eastern Ukraine, the more blood is spilt there and the more coffins return for burial in Russia's boundless and snow-laden expanses, the greater grows the support for the authorities' actions in Ukraine and the higher the ratings for President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, the sharp rise in prices and the sharp drop in incomes have not only failed to undermine confidence in the authorities, but have actually convinced more Russians than ever before that the country is on the right path. We are witnessing an unprecedented triumph of Kremlin propaganda." There is something oddly reminescent of America's Tea Party in the way Russians are viewing their current state. In the US, I have long thought that, for folks in the Tea Party, they don't beleive they are making real progress unless mass pain and suffering are demonstrably being inflicted. -- Nuggetsman
Pope Francis Agonistes from the New Republic
"Pope Francis ascended to the papacy two years ago, becoming Catholicism’s first leader from South America. A curious narrative soon emerged with regards to his approach to the past and the traditions of the Church among cultural, political, and religiousconservatives in the United States. He has made no substantial changes to Catholic doctrine, and yet has nonetheless earned opprobrium worthy of extreme tampering. It seems rather that Francis inspires uncomfortable feelings, and affronts particular dispositions rather than particular doctrines. A key moment for testing this hypothesis is on the horizon: This summer Francis is expected to publish an encyclical—an authoritative papal document indicating an issue’s pressing priority—on the environment."
Why the New Lawsuit Won’t Kill Obamacare (Jonathan Chait) from New York Magazine
"All this is to say, Republicans are not going to have leverage to wrest concessions in return for un-wrecking Obamacare’s exchanges. They will simply find themselves recapitulating a form of hostage politics, where they demand policy concessions in return for sparing America widespread damage, and Obama simply insists they spare America, full stop. Hostage politics are not popular. Congressional Republicans can hold onto their stance of refusing to reopen the exchanges, but they will pay a significant price to do so."
The Obamacare Fight Has Always Been About Race And Gender Anxiety from Talking Points Memo
"Trying to contrast the ACA with the constitution, Carvin characterized the ACA as “a statute that was written three years ago, not by dead white men but by living white women and minorities.” It’s startling to see an Obamacare opponent so bluntly characterize efforts to destroy the law as a way to preserve white male privilege in this way, much less taking it so far as to suggest the privileges of dead white men count for more than the needs of living women and people of color. But it shouldn’t be. The race- and-gender-based opposition to the ACA has been baked into the fight against it from the beginning, when the bill was very nearly derailed by opponents claiming that it would somehow override federal bans on funding abortion."
Selma Anniversary from the Huffington Post
"As the ceremonies begin this weekend to celebrate the landmark civil rights march, it is important to reflect on the progress -- or a lack of it -- that's occurred when it comes to true racial justice and equality for all African-Americans."
For 2016, candidates count, but don’t ignore fundamentals (Dan Balz) from the Washington Post
"Setting aside applause meter readings or straw-poll results, the conference also showed that Republican voters have plenty of choices this cycle, no matter their criteria for choosing, whether it is ideology, philosophy, style, experience, generational appeal or the pragmatic question of who’s most capable of defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton."
Report: Hillary Clinton Exclusively Used Private Email While At State Dept. from Talking Points Memo
"Hillary Clinton may have violated federal regulations by exclusively using her personal email address to conduct business at the State Department, the New York Times reported Monday." AH! Clinton deja vu all over again!! This is EXACTLY and PRECISELY what the Hoorah for Hillary crowd needs to be concerned about! WHAT WAS SHE THINKING!? How is it possible that she and her aids thought they could do this and not have it blow up in thier faces!? Unless this story is completely meritless (who believes that?), if you are a GOP operative, this story writes itself: (1) demand all the personal emails from when she was Sec of State; (2) after prolonged hemming and hawing, Hillary will produce a subset of them; (3) the GOP (and the media) will demand ALL of them -- even as the already released subset contains emberassing revelations; (4) after "email-gate" knocks 10 points off her poll numbers and months of stalling and avoidance, the rest of the emails will be released, inflicting further damage on her candidacy; and, finally (5), the GOP will simply continue to accuse Hillary and Bill of still withholding, "not coming clean" and making the worst of whatever had already been released -- and, for the most part, what the Clintons say won't matter because their credibility will be shot. Have we been here before? You bet. I actually think how Hillary deals with this is a HUGE test for her campaign. Have the Clintons learned anything in the last fifteen years? - Nuggetsman
Walker’s Reagan Nostalgia and Foreign Policy (Daniel Larison) from the American Conservative
"Even if one grants that Reagan’s decision to fire the striking workers had some effect on the way he was perceived by other governments, it is just painfully ignorant to call a purely domestic decision the “most significant foreign policy decision” of the last five decades."
Hawks fly high at CPAC from Politico
"At the podium and in the halls, much of the talk at the raucous gathering focused on the need for a more muscular U.S. foreign policy — one that takes a harder line against Islamic State militants, doesn’t compromise with Iran, stands up to Russia and does even more for Israel. The sentiments were especially notable for an event that tends to draw a strong libertarian contingent wary of foreign intervention."
Baby Woolly Rhino Discovered In Siberia Is The First Ever Found from the Huffington Post
"Scientists are going gaga over the recent discovery of a baby woolly rhino. The pristine specimen of the tiny extinct rhino--the only one of its type ever found--was discovered in permafrost along the bank of a stream in Siberia's Sakha Republic, The Siberian Times reported."