What Are Putin’s Objectives in Ukraine?

I have seen multiple claims that Putin’s objective in Ukraine is to conquer and occupy the country and incorporate it into Russia. Putin himself has repeatedly said that his objectives in Ukraine are to demilitarize it and “de-Nazify” it whatever that means.

I tend to agree with John Mearsheimer: Putin’s objectives are to in Dr. Mearsheimer’s words “wreck” Ukraine.

What are Putin’s objectives in Ukraine? Please provide evidence for your claims.


‘Splain Me

I’d be interested in my readers’ explanations for this. I doubt that it can be explained by their paying too much attention to the media.

For my own part I’m satisfied but I’m upper income, married, religious, a college graduate, a Democrat, and over 55 which fits the pattern.


Commentary on Failed Immigration and Security Bill

For this post I have placed all references at the end of the post.

When President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act in 1980, its intent was to align U. S. law and international treaty obligations. It remains the law of the land. It was passed unanimously by the Senate. It has been enforced by Democratic presidents and Republican presidents. It has been workable for 43 years.

It provided a clear definition of what constituted refugee status:

“The term ‘refugee’ means (A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unwilling or unable to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or (B) in such special
circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation (as Post, p. 103. defined in section 207(e) of this Act) may specify, any person who is within the country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, within the country in which such person is habitually residing, £md who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The term ‘refugee’ does not include any person who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”.

defined the legal standards of proof to be used in the assessment of applications for asylum: the applicant must have a “well-founded fear of persecution”, and raised the number of refugees to be accepted by the United States to 50,000.

Our present situation has two aspects: stock and flow. There is presently a backlog of 3 million asylum applications. That is the “stock”. These cases are being adjudicated by roughly 1,000 election judges with each election judge able to hear roughly 700 cases per year. If the “flow”, new asylum applications received, were to slow to zero, it would take four years to adjudicate all of those cases. That is obviously unacceptable.

The AIC summarizes the problem succinctly:

The changes proposed to border and asylum policy in this bill can be over-simplified into two principles.

  • Making it harder for people to be allowed to start the asylum process upon entering the U.S.; and
  • Making that process itself faster.

The bill that failed to proceed in the Senate included (in the portions relevant to refugees and applications for asylum):

  • Appropriated $2.3 billion in refugee assistance inside the U.S.
  • Appropriated $20.2 billion for improvements to U.S. border security
  • Rather than being heard by immigration judges, asylum officers would review both the applications for asylum and their appeal; asylum applicants would not be allowed representation
  • The standard would be changed from “clear and convincing” to “significant possibility”
  • Additional criteria would be added (asylum claims can be rejected if the person has a disqualifying criminal history, if they were living safely in a third country before seeking asylum, or if they could safely relocate in their original home country)
  • The process will be changed:

    Under the bill, this system is to be in place and operational 91 days after the bill is signed into law. This is how it would work: (1) Migrants receive an initial screening within 90 days of arrival. (2) If the claim fails — a “negative protection decision” — they are immediately ordered for removal. They have 72 hours to appeal or request a hearing. (3) If the claim passes initial screening — “positive protection decision” — they will get a work authorization immediately, be released into the country and have another 90 days before a final decision is made on their case.

  • Establishes “emergency border authority”: when the number of encounters per day reaches 5,000 DHS is obligated to reject additional applications for asylum and remove the applicants from the U. S. Exclusions to this include unaccompanied minors and 1,400 applicants processed per day
  • Establishes “humanitarian parole” for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans.
  • Appropriates funding for an additional 4,300 asylum officers

The bill has a number of shortcomings. Among its defects are that it:

  • Makes bad assumptions
  • Is unrealistic
  • Is unnecessary

AIC’s reaction to the bill was:

Notably, this bill would not stop anyone from being allowed to set foot on U.S. soil. It would not, therefore, do anything to bring down “the numbers” on its own. The bill’s proponents hope instead that it will reduce the number of people who are allowed to stay in the U.S. outside of immigration custody, and therefore, through word of mouth, reduce the number of people trying to come to begin with.

What we have seen, time and time again, is that adding additional penalties or complications to the process for asylum seekers once they arrive in the U.S. immiserates those asylum seekers without having a lasting impact on overall border arrivals. This is especially true when the process is made longer and less certain, contributing to bottlenecks throughout the system including dangerous border overcrowding.

The supporters of the bill assume that word of mouth will be sufficient to reduce the “flow”. They are wrong. New asylum-seekers will be coached to provide the answers that will gain them admission under the new rules.

There is presently a shortfall of 25% in the number of asylum officers hired for whom funds have already been appropriated. That strongly implies that there will be a lag between the appropriation for the additional asylum officers and when those asylum officers will be hired, trained, and prepared to review applications. During that lag the backlog of unprocessed applications will continue to mount. How quickly do they expect the hypothetical 5,000 asylum officers to address the backlog of millions of applications?

Assume it’s twice as fast as asylum judges are clearing them. That would just about clear the backlog in a year.

I think there’s good reason to believe that will not happen: the provision for lack of representation is a deal-killer, practically guaranteed to cause the provisions of the bill to be enjoined from taking force until fully adjudicated. How long will that take? While the injunction is in force, the processing of asylum applications will be in limbo with neither immigration judges nor asylum officers processing them. If representation is allowed, that will slow the processing of applications, probably to the present clearance rate or fewer.

If anything the exceptions provided for unaccompanied minors institutionalizes present practice and the way we are dealing with unaccompanied minors is criminal. It is legally-approved kidnapping. The correct way of addressing it is by returning unaccompanied minors to their countries of origin and turning them over to designated authorities there.

The provisions for “humanitarian parole” invite abuse. Every Mexican, Guatemalan, or Salvadoran will magically become Nicaraguans or Venezuelans. Sub-Saharan Africans will become Haitians.

The trigger level of 5,000 asylum-seekers per day before compelling action institutionalizes the present flow and that at 2 million per year is already unmanageable. As a gauge of how unmanageable it is, the $2 billion in refugee assistance the bill called for is far below the mark. Illinois alone’s spending on migrants is in excess of a half billion per year. I can only guess what the total state and local government spending might be.

Furthermore, we aren’t adding housing units nationally at the level required for this mass migration and the migrants will never be able to afford the units we are adding.

What is actually needed is a return to the conditions and standards of the Refugee Act of 1980 which is completely legal and workable with a reasonable limit on applications for asylum at, say, 1,000 per day which is consistent with the admission of 50,000 legitimate refugees per year which is what that act calls for. Claims that we are required by treaty to accept an unlimited number of asylum applications are false for two reasons. The first is that acts of Congress take precedence over international treaties. There is already a law in place. The second is that anything that is unworkable is ipso facto unconstitutional and the status quo is unworkable.

What is lacking is will on the part of the Biden Administration. The effect of the Senate’s bill which failed to proceed was to give political cover to the Biden Administration for its fecklessness in managing the border.

The Refugee Act of 1980
Emergency National Security Supplemental Bill
American Immigration Council analysis of the Senate border bill
PBS News Hour analysis of the Senate border bill
FRED: total housing units
USCIS Asylum Quarterly Engagement Fiscal Year 2023


Friedman’s Reaction to Navalny’s Death

I’m going to admit that I do not understand George Friedman’s reaction to Alexei Anatolyevich Navalny’s death.

My own reaction is that I deplore his death which seems so unnecessary and offer sympathies to his widow and the Russian people. It illustrates the sorry state of Russian politics.


Wealth Distribution 1990-2023

The graphic above is from Visual Capitalist.

I sincerely wish they had gone all the way back to 1970—the trend is even more pronounced.

This development concerns me because I don’t think it is consistent with an egalitarian society. Basically, we’re increasingly becoming a plutocracy with hereditary plutocrats, a large portion of the society largely dependent on government handouts, and a struggling middle class.


The Debate

At Tablet Michael Lind recounts a debate on immigration between two formidable, Nobel award-winning economists: Paul Krugman in 2006 and Paul Krugman in 2024. Here’s the conclusion:

In fact, nothing has changed in the field of labor economics over the last two decades to refute the views that Paul Krugman held about immigration in 2006. What has changed is the class composition of America’s two major parties. In 2006, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voted to erect massive fences along the U.S.-Mexican border. A decade earlier, in 1996, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which expanded the list of offenses to be punished by deportation. Clinton had appointed the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, chaired by Black liberal former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, which called for cracking down on illegal immigration, punishing employers of illegal immigrants, and drastically slashing legal immigration numbers in order to protect American workers, including former immigrants, from unfair competition. All of these measures and policies were denounced at the time by Republican libertarians and U.S. business lobbies, for all the reasons that Krugman 2006 made clear.

Within the last generation, however, the Democratic Party has lost the allegiance of most white working-class voters, along with a growing share of working-class Black and Hispanic voters. Meanwhile it has become the home of affluent, educated whites, a dwindling number of nonwhites, and most immigrants, along with many large corporations and the billionaires who profit from them.

Just as Republicans favored wage-suppressing mass immigration when they were the party of the affluent, college-educated overclass, today’s elitist Democrats now favor a never-ending stream of immigrant workers with little or no bargaining power for their constituents—like Silicon Valley donors whose firms depend on exploiting H-1B indentured servants, and urban professionals whose two-income lifestyle depends on a bountiful supply of cheap nannies, maids, restaurant workers, and Uber drivers.

Actually, I think he’s drawing a false dichotomy there. The neoliberal strains remain quite strong in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, just as they were 30 years ago. They were as wrong and feckless then as they are now. And here’s why:

Between 1980 and 2010, chiefly as a result of the massive expansion of the H-1B program, the number of American computer science jobs held by foreign-born workers exploded from 7.1% to 27.8%. In 2021, 74.1% of the 407,071 H-1B visas issued to specialty foreign workers by the U.S. went to nationals from India. The overwhelming share of young Indian men among H-1Bs reflects not any extraordinary skills that they alone possess but rather their willingness to work for lower wages and benefits than their American counterparts, as well as the accidental importance of Indian labor contractors or “body shops” as suppliers of indentured servants to U.S. companies beginning in the 1990s.

The U.S. Department of Labor sets four H-1B wage levels, based on the median wage of other workers in the same occupation and region, with the help of survey data from the Occupational Employment Statistics survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As Daniel Costa and Ron Hira point out in a 2020 study, the Department of Labor sets the two lowest wage levels for H-1Bs well below the local median wage. “Not surprisingly,” Costa and Hira write, “three-fifths of all H-1B jobs were certified at the two lowest prevailing wage levels in 2019.”

This finding bears some attention. If H-1Bs are all geniuses with unique and valuable skills that both American workers and immigrants with green cards lack, then why are tech firms and their contractors so determined to pay most of their H-1Bs the very lowest wages permissible under U.S. law? Costa and Hira point to corporate savings on wages: “Wage-level data make clear that most H-1B employers—but especially the biggest users, by nature of the sheer volume of workers they employ—are taking advantage of a flawed H-1B prevailing wage rule to underpay their workers relative to market wage standards, resulting in major savings in labor costs for companies that use the H-1B.”

The main effects of this development are to place downwards pressure on wages for software developers and boost the stock values of companies that depend primarily on software development. My next post today will be a graphic illustrating the increasing amount of national wealth being held by a very small number of people. If you want to know why that might be, this is it.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a Permanent Democratic Majority

I very much liked Matthew Karp’s piece at The Nation, largely a review of Teixeira and Judis’s books, The Emerging Democratic Majority and their recent Where Have All the Democrats Gone?. Here’s the quick summary of the latter work:

To examine how and why, Judis and Teixeira have broken Where Have All the Democrats Gone? into two main parts that assert two distinct arguments, each existing in some tension with the other. The first part is essentially historical and offers a detailed review of national politics since the 1960s, with a special focus on the causes and chronology of class dealignment. Here Judis and Teixeira contend, as forcefully as any member of the Democratic Socialists of America, that “neoliberal” economic policies—under presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama—bear the lion’s share of blame for the working-class defections from the Democratic Party.

The second part of the book goes in a different direction. It is prescriptive, with the authors offering plainspoken, poll-tested advice to the Democratic Party today. To once again become “the party of the people,” the Democrats must do more than merely return to the liberal economics of the New Deal; they must also break with the “cultural radicalism” that, Judis and Teixeira contend, continues to alienate working-class voters from the party. Now sounding less like leftist tribunes than centrist op-ed columnists, the authors call for a pragmatic “middle ground” on questions of race, gender, climate, and immigration.

Predictably enough for an author writing in the reliably progressive The Nation, Mr. Karp scoffs at their prescriptions.

But Judis and Teixeira are not edgy cultural conservatives, just unfashionable moderates. They advocate a suite of positions, from anti-discrimination laws to mixed investment in gas, nuclear, and green energy, that might have passed for liberal common sense in the 1980s but promise to win few disciples today.

What follows is a pretty good description of the development of the two parties since the early 1970s. I found the description of recent developments interesting:

Judis and Teixeira think they know why. As organized labor’s strength has declined, its influence within the Democratic coalition, they argue, has been replaced by progressive think tanks, foundations, media outlets, activist groups, donors, and academics. These institutions, which function as what the authors call a “shadow party,” largely reflect the liberal and left-wing values of “young professionals in the large postindustrial metro centers and college towns.”

I think it was Matt Yglesias who characterized this evolution of the party more succinctly as people who contribute to campaigns or work on campaign staffs. This is the kernel of Mssrs. Teixeira and Judis’s prescriptions:

To regain these voters, Judis and Teixeira conclude, Democrats must trim their sails on these subjects and reclaim a middle ground. In the authors’ view, this does not mean altering the party’s basic commitments to civil rights, lawful immigration, and action to combat climate change. But it does involve a retreat from positions that, polls suggest, have put the party at odds with a majority of voters, such as supporting trans athletes in women’s sports or opposing the use of natural gas. It would also mean adopting a more cautious, moderate vocabulary on these and related questions. Rather than heighten the tensions in an unwinnable war of values, Democrats should seek to lower the temperature with bland affirmations of patriotism, simple opposition to prejudice, and a general openness to disagreement.

That leads to the crux of the piece:

Judis and Teixeira can brandish all the polls and surveys they like, but they are proposing a cease-fire to an army that has swept the field: Why should Democrats abandon the culture war when it has yielded them so much fruit?

The Democratic coalition today is built to fight, and perhaps to win, this struggle. It is not built to become a “party of the people,” a vehicle to oppose elite rule, or a force for major economic reform. Insofar as the upper-middle-class Democratic base finds itself pinched or bruised by the reckless march of capital, it may consider mild adjustments to the fiscal or regulatory order; insofar as it wishes to reward the less-advantaged voters inside the coalition, it may support mild increases in welfare spending. But a party that wins 60 percent support from the wealthiest 10 percent of the country and 75 percent support from top earners in business and finance and that claims enthusiastic allegiance from much of the billionaire class will not organize a new New Deal. Its “material interest and social position” simply does not favor a transformation of class power in the United States—or, to say the same thing in different words, a government that can deliver good jobs, healthcare, housing, and education to all its people. To change the world, the Democrats will first have to change themselves

While I hail self-examination I doubt that the party is capable of doing it for a reason alluded to above: the sense of entitlement.

My interpretation of what has happened over the last 50 years is somewhat different, either from Mr. Karp’s or from Mssrs. Teixeira and Judis. I think that the Democratic Party has increasingly become the party of government, which includes not just the civil bureaucracy but public employees’ unions, “progressive think tanks, foundations, media outlets, activist groups, donors, and academics”, and others who owe their livelihoods in whole or in part to government including lawyers, healthcare workers, and even ABC, Meta, Amazon, and Microsoft. In preemptive response to complaints about my including those last four, there is nothing natural about any of their business models and they could be wiped out overnight by regulation. Their managements are surely aware of that which is why they are acting to prevent that from happening.

The dirty little secret is that government depends on a healthy private sector. It can’t prosper without it. What people tend to forget is that government’s revenues derive from two sources: taxes and what is sometimes referred to as “money creation”. Taxes by their very definition remove money from the private sector, reducing its output. Government redirecting that money inevitably results in deadweight loss. “Money creation” beyond the growth of aggregate product, similarly, takes money away from the private sector.

One might wonder why, based on those sentiments, I am a Democrat. The reason is simple. Anarcho-capitalism does not result in paradise on earth but in “nature, red in tooth and claw” with the strong preying on the weak. I want a prudent, temperate, moderate, non-corrupt government rather than no government at all and the only way I see to accomplish that is with better Democrats.


Ukraine and Commitment Escalation

At The Hill international relations prof Andrew Latham warns about Ukraine’s meager prospects for victory in its war with Russia:

In professional journals, on influential websites and across the full spectrum of media outlets, observers, analysts and pundits alike continue to inform us that, yes, there is a way for Ukraine to prevail over Russia, expelling the latter from all of its territory, including Crimea.

One might claim that these arguments are being advanced because the facts on the ground warrant them; because the shifting geopolitical and battlefield realities clearly indicate that the military balance is tipping in Ukraine’s favor. As Ukraine acquires more weapons (and more sophisticated weapons), it will inevitably achieve the kind of tactical advantages that will propel it first to operational and then to strategic breakthroughs, culminating in total victory. All that’s required is one more mobilization of Ukrainian youth, one more tranche of Western financial aid, one more delivery of American, French or British wonder weapons.

But the strategic, operational and tactical realities of the war simply don’t support any version of this argument. Ukraine is not prevailing at the tactical level — if anything, Russia’s advantage at there is growing rather than diminishing, as Russia outpaces Ukraine in adapting to the evolving realities of the battlefield. The net result? Russia not only remains capable of sustaining the kind of defense-in-depth that has completely frustrated all Ukrainian offensive efforts, but is increasingly able to mount successful offensives in places like Avdiivka.

In short, Russia is winning the war and there is little to suggest that any foreseeable political, economic, tactical or technological developments are likely to alter that fundamental reality. So why are we seeing arguments about an ultimate Ukrainian battlefield triumph, in the face of all the devastatingly contradictory evidence?

Well, applying Occam’s razor — the principle that “other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones” — I would suggest that the delusional belief that there is a pathway to total victory for Ukraine is based less on evolving military or geopolitical realities than on a simple psychological dynamic, one best summed up in the concept of “commitment escalation.”

According to this concept, individuals or groups sometimes exhibit a tendency to persist with a failing argument, even as that argument becomes increasingly untenable in light of the facts. This behavior is marked above all by an adherence to prior commitments — sunk costs, as the economists might put it — regardless of their present plausibility or rationality. It is a psychological dysfunction.

I arrived at that conclusion well over a year ago and I think that any rational reasonably well-informed individual would. What has transpired since is the futile loss of thousands of Ukrainian lives and the destruction of billions of dollars worth of property.

The challenge today is not how to produce a total Ukrainian victory but how to avoid total Ukrainian defeat. That’s why I support continued U. S. support for Ukraine. I also emphasize that we have a moral obligation to ensure that out aid is used properly, something the Ukrainians have amply demonstrated is necessary.


Japan Falls to #4

Via this post by Elizabeth Beattie at Japan Times comes the news that Japan’s GDP has declined to the fourth largest in the world, behind Germany, China, and the United States:

Setting aside the debate over the state of the Japanese economy, the figures have seen the country lose its position as the world’s No. 3 economy in dollar terms — slipping behind Germany — as was projected last year by the International Monetary Fund.

India is ultimately projected to overtake both countries.

Despite a prolonged period of low growth, Japan had managed to maintain its standing as the world’s third-largest economy for more than a decade. It was previously the world’s No. 2 economy after the United States, but China claimed that position in 2010.

Japan’s step down the economic rankings is partly a symptom of the yen’s stubborn weakness against the dollar. At the same time, the Japanese currency’s weakness is also reducing consumer purchasing power by contributing to inflation through increased import costs. Private consumption declined 0.2% in the October-December period from the previous quarter.

It’s hard to know how to react to this news. For the couple of decades Japan’s per capita GDP although noisy has been more or less flat.
Statistic: Japan: Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in current prices from 1987 to 2028 (in U.S. dollars) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista
That means that despite Japan’s declining population and deteriorating dependency ratio, standards of living in Japan have been pretty stable.

Japan’s public debt to GDP ratio is simply staggering—264%. That debt overhang is clearly a drag on Japan’s GDP. The questions are when will that be felt and what the reaction of the Japanese people to it will be?


Rove’s Advice

Karl Rove offers advice to the Biden campaign in a piece at the Wall Street Journal. Here’s the kernel of the piece:

Mr. Biden made a mistake when he complained at an already ill-conceived press conference last Thursday that it “wasn’t any of their damn business” when the special counsel asked when his son Beau died. The president’s attempt to sidestep his failure to recall the date fell flat.

It won’t turn things around, either, to ask voters to “look at all he’s accomplished,” as Jill Biden did in a campaign email after the special counsel’s report. Team Biden has beaten this drum for more than a year, yet his numbers remain underwater at 39% favorable, 57% unfavorable in the RealClearPolitics average. If bragging could raise numbers, Mr. Biden’s would be in the stratosphere.

Vice President Kamala Harris didn’t help by asserting that she’s “ready to serve” if something happens to Mr. Biden. That was better left unsaid. Ms. Harris boasted that anyone who observes her as vice president “walks away fully aware of my capacity to lead.” That reminds swing voters that Mr. Biden might not last until the end of a second term.

Similarly, Mr. Biden’s attempts at humor underscore the problem more than they obscure it. Joking as he did Monday that “I’ve been around a while, I do remember that” won’t make him sharper, younger or stronger. To voters looking at an increasingly dangerous world, this is no laughing matter.

To win, Team Biden has only one option—an all-out attack on Mr. Trump, using every means of communication every day in an assault of unusual scope and expense. Victory would require Mr. Trump’s cooperation in making truly outrageous appeals to his hard-core supporters that alienate swing voters. Fortunately for Mr. Biden, the former president has done his best to help.

He continues by considering what he refers to as the “LBJ option”—the president withdraws after April 3:

By April 3, almost 78% of Democratic convention delegates will have been selected and by April 29 nearly 85%.

Note that VP Harris would not automatically inherit President Biden’s delegates. Essentially, it would be up to the party leadership to determine who the candidate would be. The “smoke-filled room” would be a Donnybrook. But that is what would happen. Don’t be surprised if that’s exactly what happens. I wouldn’t be surprised if the party leadership starts putting pressure on President Biden to do just that.