Opinion

The Great Debate

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Why the Russian sanctions don’t work

putin!!

Why did the U.S. and European sanctions against Russia earlier this week trigger a rebound in the ruble and the Moscow stock market?

To understand this paradox it is worth recalling Yes Minister, the British TV comedy about a blundering politician who stumbles from crisis to crisis with the same justification for every panic response: “Something must be done. This is something --– therefore it must be done.”

The problem with this syllogism is that doing something may be worse than doing nothing -- and the Western decision to rely on economic sanctions in the Ukraine crisis is a case in point.

russian foreign ministerThe obvious objection is that economic gestures from the United States and Europe have proved pathetically ineffectual in deterring Russia and only emphasizes the West’s lack of conviction and planning. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has achieved what were probably his main goals: gaining tacit international recognition for the annexation of Crimea, as an irreversible fait accompli; and extracting an admission from Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov that Kiev is “helpless” to prevent the country’s disintegration as long as Russia remains hostile.

In addition to conceding these huge gains to Putin and undermining U.S. credibility as a global policeman in the Middle East and Asia, economic sanctions could prove disastrous for several more subtle reasons.

Don’t cry for the Nabucco pipeline

The site of a newly opened distribution hub of the gas pipeline Gazelle is pictured in Primda

It is too late for regrets. With Europe worried that Moscow could cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine, which would trigger price volatility and supply risks throughout the continent, the failure of the Nabucco pipeline project stands out.

Created to carry Caspian gas into Europe by bypassing Ukraine, Nabucco would have given Europeans and Americans a much-needed sense of supply security — though the pipeline would have carried its capacity of 31 billion cubic meters of gas annually only near the end of this decade. Instead, Europeans are left scratching their heads and searching for alternative energy supplies.

Russia, meanwhile, is likely to remain Europe’s chief natural gas supplier through at least 2020, despite the anticipated growth of diversified gas shipments to Europe, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the vast U.S. shale-gas resources.

Supersize salaries: How much is that CEO worth?

california combo

The disparity between what chief executive officers earn and what their employees earn continues to grow exponentially. CEO pay levels have increased dramatically for more than 20 years. Pay levels for workers, however, have stagnated. This is a much-cited statistic. But now a proposed bill in the California state Senate aims to do something about this.

Two state senators want to make sure that companies based in California pay a price for granting super-sized salaries to their CEOs. Businesses that reward their top officials with outlandish bonuses and salaries would be forced to pay a special tax.

ellison -- small unhappyOracle CEO Larry Ellison, for example, was paid $78.4 million in 2013. If the median pay for all Oracle employees, including contractors and non-U.S. workers, is less than $200,000 (roughly one four-hundredth of Ellison’s pay) — and my guess would be it is — under the new law the company could soon be paying a 13 percent state corporation tax rate, rather than its current 8.84 percent.

Exorcising the voter fraud ghost

A poll worker looks at voter authorization forms and provisional ballots after the polls closed at the Covenant Presbyterian Church during the U.S. presidential election in Charlotte, North Carolina, November 6, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Keane

When it comes to the fight about voter fraud and voter suppression, how do you prove a negative?

One key question in the battle over the legality of voter identification laws is whether such laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud and whether they suppress a lot of votes from eligible voters.

Though the answer to the second question remains in considerable dispute, after Tuesday’s federal court decision striking down Wisconsin’s voter ID law, it is time for voter ID supporters to throw in the towel and admit state voter ID laws don’t prevent the kind of fraud they are supposedly targeted for.

Donald Sterling: Pariah

Amid the outcries over Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Sterling’s heinous comments about African Americans, something is likely to be overlooked. The response to Sterling in both degree and magnitude was different from that of previous instances of racist ignorance — which shows just how much times have changed when it comes to race.

This time, there was no backtracking, no trimming, no apologies or excuses, no veiled support of the “yes-but” variety. Sterling was slammed with the weight of the world.

He is a pariah. National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver has now even taken the unprecedented step of formalizing Sterling’s non-personhood. He can have nothing whatsoever to do with professional basketball. He is through — an old man with a life sentence.

An America beyond black and white

America is growing too complicated and mixed — very brown, I would say.

Everyone is becoming everything. And the old man was a fool not to see it.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is on record pleading with his companion, V. Stiviano, not to be seen in public with black people and certainly not to post pictures of herself on the Internet with black athletes — particularly Magic Johnson.

But the most ironic thing about his comments is that Sterling was often seen and photographed at Clippers games sitting alongside Stiviano, a woman much younger than he and who is, by her own description, Mexican and black.

In the parlance of modern-day Los Angeles, Stiviano is a “Blaxican.”

from Stories I’d like to see:

Regrouping for Detroit, GM’s bankruptcy evasion and Chinese corporate records

1. Kevyn Orr and a Detroit rebound?

Last Friday, I happened onto a C-Span broadcast of a speech to a national group of bankruptcy lawyers given by Kevyn Orr -- the emergency manager who Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed to take over Detroit’s finances and guide the fallen city through bankruptcy. Since I couldn’t stand watching the Yankees get slaughtered by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, I stopped on the Orr speech for a minute. I stayed 45.

I had never seen Orr speak or paid much attention to Detroit’s troubles and his efforts to dig the city out from under. But if his talk -- riveting, funny, emotional, self-effacing, forceful, fact-filled, wholly convincing and seemingly off the cuff -- is any indication, both Orr and Detroit 2014 are big national stories.

They are worthy of coverage beyond the good work that’s been done by, among other local outlets, the Detroit Free Press, which ran this comprehensive story  last month, on the one-year anniversary of Orr leaving a lucrative partnership at the Jones, Day law firm to take on the rescue job.

The increasing significance of race

Behind every Supreme Court decision is a sociology of ordinary life. Opinions reveal the justices’ view of what’s what in the world, how people act and why things change.

Justices probably prefer that we focus on their legal analyses, but we can glean the sociology behind their assumptions. Last week, judicial world views spun into interplanetary conflict when the court voted to affirm Michigan’s vote to bar all consideration of race, gender, ethnicity, color or national origin in public decision-making, including in state college admissions.

The justices based their decision on a novel faith in the democratic process, which Justice Sonia Sotomayor spent 58 pages countering in a dissent that seemed to come from another universe.

Cliven Bundy: Racism entwined with government antipathy

Conservatives would like us to believe that hatred of government and racism are totally separate phenomena. That one has nothing to do with the other. They’re wrong.

Resentment of the federal government and racism have gone hand-in-hand in the United States for 200 years. In the 19th century, Democrats were the anti-government party. That was the legacy of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.  Southern slave owners embraced the Democratic Party because they feared the federal government would take away their property without compensation. And it did.

Southerners rallied to the cause of “states’ rights” because it meant the preservation of slavery. Later, that morphed into segregation.

U.S. v Russia: Searching for Kennan

No matter how counterintuitive it may seem, Washington needs to stop lecturing Russian President Vladimir Putin if it wants to resolve problems with him.

In George Kennan’s celebrated 1946 “long telegram,” the diplomat and scholar explained why Russia’s conduct was so often duplicitous. Kennan might well have been writing about Putin when he laid out the West’s problems with the Kremlin leaders’ behavior. Being annoyed with them wouldn’t help, Kennan advised, since their conduct was based on a fierce Russian nationalism complicated by a serious streak of insecurity about Moscow’s position in the world, evident whenever Joseph Stalin felt the Soviet Union was not receiving the respect he believed it was due.

We see this pattern in Putin’s conduct today. He insists that the United States “treats Russia like the uninvited guest at a party,” freely interfering in his country’s affairs, which he won’t tolerate — no matter the cost. Confronted with his outright hostility, the West seems at a loss as to how to deal with the bellicose Kremlin.

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