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Eric Kramer

Articles by Eric Kramer

The fog of war and international relations in Ukraine

8 days ago

Understanding the situation in Ukraine and how it will likely evolve in the future is impossible for me, partly due the inherent complexity and unpredictability of war and international relations, and partly because the main players have such strong incentives to strategically misrepresent their actions and intentions.  Are the Ukrainians really getting killed by Russian artillery fire in unsustainable numbers, or are the Ukrainians putting pressure on Biden and the Europeans to step up arms deliveries?  Is the U.S. committed to supplying the Ukrainians with needed weapons as rapidly as training and logistics permit, or are we slow-walking arms deliveries?  Are we willing to leave the end-game negotiations entirely to the Ukrainians, or are we

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Vaccines?  Focused protection?  Not if you ask the fine libertarians at the Brownstone Institute.

9 days ago

Pre-COVID, who would have thought that a significant part of the libertarian thought collective would go anti-vax?  Not me.  But I stand corrected.  From a recent blog post at the illustrious Brownstone Institute:

The people whose directives you are following talk a lot about “pseudoscience,” always accusing those of us who disagree with their directives of pushing it. But you know what pseudoscience actually is? It’s putting forth a premise that cannot be disproven.For example: “my COVID would have been worse without my vaccine.” “More grandmas would have died if we would not have locked down, worn masks and taken vaccines.” These two assertions can actually be easily refuted (look at the nations that did not lock down, and the health of the

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Performative moralism is just bawling upon paper, not political strategy

16 days ago

A small but influential faction of the Democratic left seems to be committed to the idea that the way out of our political difficulties is to persuade Democratic voters that they should be very angry at Democratic politicians.  This is insane on every level. 

For example, Ben Burgis in Jacobin argues (as far as I can tell) that the fact that Democrats are not “waging war” against the filibuster shows that they are “hypocrites” and do not “give a shit” about abortion rights.  Let’s take a look.

Now that we know what the court is planning, the next question is what the Democrats will do with this information. So far, all that seems to be in the works is a symbolic vote intended to put everyone on the record and lay the groundwork for making

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On student loans, why not challenge Repubicans?

18 days ago

The WSJ reports that President Biden is delaying his decision on student loan forgiveness:

President Biden is likely to decide later this summer whether to partially forgive student-loan debt for millions of borrowers, according to administration officials and others familiar with the matter, after the president said more than a month ago that he would weigh in on the issue in the next couple of weeks.The officials said Mr. Biden is likely to announce his plans in July or August, closer to when the pandemic-related pause in federal student loan payments is scheduled to lapse, as the president and his senior advisers continue to weigh the political and economic fallout of any such move. The Biden administration earlier this year extended the pause,

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Biden should talk about Ukraine and Russia all the time

24 days ago

It’s good politics, and right on the merits.

He should frame the war as a fight against fascism, a fight against looming genocide, a fight to preserve freedom in Europe and democracy in America.  He should make it clear that the Ukrainians need to do the fighting, but that we will support them with weapons and sanctions.  He should acknowledge that it will require a modest sacrifice from Americans, but that we have never shied away when justice is on the line.

A Ukrainian victory – something that involves, at a minimum, no gain of territory for Russia, reparations, and real security guarantees for Ukraine – is clearly in our national interest.  Yes, the threat of nuclear escalation is real, but an unchastened Russia is also a very serious

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Parts of the Democratic left are threatening to burn down the house because they don’t get to sleep in the master bedroom

24 days ago

They should reconsider.

In my prior post, I noted that some progressives seem to be blaming their fellow Democrats for not doing more to protect abortion rights.  This “blame the Democrats” strategy may generate clicks, but it’s hard to see what else it will accomplish, other than demotivating Democratic voters.

Unfortunately, the “blame the Democrats” strategy is very popular in some quarters of the progressive left.  It recently reached its fullest expression – the perfect earthly embodiment of its true Platonic Form – in a recent article by David Sirota in Jacobin.  Sirota attributes consummate bad faith to Biden and the Democrats, ignores the real challenges of governing in a two-party political system with polarized voters and multiple veto

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Abortion politics after Roe:  persuasion and compromise

May 24, 2022

The end of Roe

The era of judicial protection for abortion rights appears to ending.  The Supreme Court is poised to uphold a Mississippi statute that prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks, and it is likely to do this by overruling Roe entirely.  When this happens, many states will enforce draconian laws limiting access to abortion.  There is a real possibility that Republicans will seek a national ban on abortion the next time they gain unified control of the federal government.

Democrats are unlikely to win a quick victory in the coming abortion wars, but they may be able to win a war of attrition – if they play their cards right and get a few lucky breaks. 

There is good reason to think that Democrats can win the battle for public

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Oh no!  Vaccination is ineffective, and deaths in Australia are surging!

May 20, 2022

Let’s check back in on the authoritarian hell hole of Australia.

Donald Boudreaux is still tirelessly working to educate people about the dangers of lockdowns and the wisdom of the Great Barrington Declaration strategy of “focused protection”.  Today he quotes this paragraph from an essay by Gigi Foster posted at – hold your breath! – the Brownstone Institute:

Many of those spared death in 2020 or 2021 from COVID are succumbing now in 2022 as our borders re-open, meaning that enduring the horror of lockdowns “saved” only a couple of years of life for a large fraction of Australia’s eventual COVID victims.Australia is now experiencing far more COVID deaths and infections than when lockdowns and other draconian restrictions were being imposed,

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Another installment in the “sigh and blame Manchin” approach to politics:  expiring ACA subsidies

May 19, 2022

One of the biggest design flaws in the ACA is that subsidies for low-income families buying policies on insurance exchanges were too low.  Congress raised the subsidies temporarily, but now they are set to expire right before the November election.  From Huffpo:

Health insurance premiums for millions of Americans will spike if Congress doesn’t act in the next few months, with particularly big increases in politically contested states, according to a report that the liberal advocacy group Families USA released on Monday morning.The subject of the report is the fate of some extra, but temporary, financial assistance available to people who buy insurance on their own through or state-run online marketplaces like the Maryland Health

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Vaccinating the global poor is a moral problem that requires a political solution

May 18, 2022

Writing in The Atlantic in May 2021, Hoeg, Prasad, and Ghandi argued that the United States should delay vaccinating children against COVID-19 until vulnerable adults are vaccinated in poorer countries around the world.  A similar argument could now be made for delaying boosters, at least for people who are not at high risk.  An unvaccinated elderly person in India or Africa is thousands of times more likely to die from COVID-19 than a healthy, middle-aged, vaccinated-but-unboosted American.  

As a matter of personal morality, I find this argument compelling.  I avoided the virus for most of 2020, but late in the year, before vaccines were available, I spent a few hours in an emergency room and left with COVID-19.  During the initial vaccination

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Putin very sick, coup in the works?

May 15, 2022

I haven’t commented on rumors about Putin’s health.  Lots of people have reasons to spread disinformation, and I have no way of seeing through the smoke.  Still, the rumors are out there.  What should we make of this?

Sounds like the Ukrainians are expecting more of this, and plan to try and methodically destroy the new formations. The most interesting interview Ive seen this week is this one by the head of Ukrainian DoD intelligence.— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) May 15, 2022

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Progressives made the perfect the enemy of the good.  Now poor children are going to bed hungry.

May 12, 2022

It’s hard to know why things shake out in Congress the way they do.  Why hasn’t there been agreement on a climate bill?  Why hasn’t a compromise been reached on a child tax credit?  Why not better preparation for the next pandemic, or even for the next wave of this pandemic?  From the outside it’s hard to say, but I am inclined to think that Schumer and Biden both bear considerable responsibility for these failures.

A deeply disturbing article by Rachel Cohen in Vox about the failure to enact a child tax credit suggests that progressives – both in Congress and in advocacy organizations – bear considerable responsibility for the failure as well. 

Among CTC advocates both outside and within Congress, there’s a quiet, almost paralyzing crisis

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Biden wants to give Putin an off ramp

May 11, 2022

From Reuters:

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday he is worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not have a way out of the Ukraine war, and Biden said he was trying to figure out what to do about that.. . .Biden said Putin is a very calculating man and the problem he worries about now is that the Russian leader “doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.”

As far as I can tell, Biden has done a very good job navigating this terrible crisis, but he did err in calling Putin a war criminal and saying he cannot remain in power.  Putin is a war criminal, but he can and quite likely will remain in power. 

It’s largely up to Russia and Ukraine to end the war, to decide what kind of peace to

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Has Putin shown us his off ramp?

May 9, 2022

Putin is looking for an off ramp and has outlined his main terms.

In mid-March, it became clear that a full-blown Russian defeat in Ukraine was a real possibility.  That possibility has grown in the past few weeks as the Russians have continued to perform shambolically in every way possible, and NATO has increased its military support for Ukraine.  The scary open question was – and is – whether Russia would escalate in some fashion.  There was speculation that Putin would declare a mobilization in his Victory Day speech, even though it is far from clear that a mobilization would be effective either militarily or politically.

In his speech yesterday, Putin did not declare a mobilization, or even lay the groundwork for one.  Instead, he seemed to

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What effect will over-ruling Roe have on public opinion and the mid-term elections?

May 4, 2022

Assuming the Supreme Court issues a sweeping opinion overruling Roe, how will this affect the upcoming midterm elections?  This question is being widely examined, e.g., here, here, here.  My take is that the key issue is whether the personal stories of women (and teenagers) affected by abortion restrictions get told.

First, a brief review of public opinion:

Most Americans do not want to see Roe overruled.  The split is about 60/30.  People also believe that the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be left to a woman and her doctor (75%), rather than regulated by law (20%).  On the other hand, Americans are evenly split on whether they consider themselves to be “pro-life” or “pro-choice”, and support for abortion drops from 60% in the first

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The politics of student debt forgiveness

April 29, 2022

Progressives have been pressuring President Biden to forgive student debt using existing administrative authority.  Calls have gotten louder as Democrats become more concerned about their weak position going into the November mid-terms.  Supporters of debt relief point to polls showing support for relief, especially among younger voters that the Democrats need to mobilize. 

There are a lot of problems with this analysis.

Debt relief does seem to poll well for certain needy or deserving groups:  those who go into public service, those who are disabled or unable to pay, those in bankruptcy, etc.  I doubt that broad-based relief would be popular, especially once Republicans go on the attack.  Most college grads do just fine, thank you very much.

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A brief glimpse at the dark underside of contemporary libertarianism

April 28, 2022

I just ran across the website of the Property and Freedom Society, a fringe libertarian group I had not heard of before.  (I’m mostly interested in work by people with at least a patina of intellectual credibility.)  Apparently PFS is associated with the Mises/Rothbard wing of the libertarian movement, a group that today stands out for its openness to racist appeals to gain power (link is to an infamous Rothbard paper endorsing “right wing populism”).  Classy.  They call themselves “culturally conservative libertarians”.  That’s one way to put it.

But maybe I should be more open minded.  Ok, let’s take a look.  The first item on their home page today is titled A Brief History of Race Relations.  OK, that sounds interesting, at least if we’re being

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Democratic messaging on Ukraine

April 21, 2022

In a post titled Failing at the Basics, Josh Marshall leads with this:

A new AP poll says that 54% of Americans think President Biden has been “not tough enough” on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. These kinds of public perceptions can be shaped by perceptions of a leader as much as they drive them. So you think Biden is weak as your starting point and therefore you think he’s not being tough enough on Russia rather than the other way around. Also notable, Americans’ hawkishness over Ukraine has dipped a bit from a month ago. But the first, second and third most important thing about this poll is that this is what you get when you’re not reminding Americans every day — and I mean every god-damned day — that the GOP has spent the last 7 years

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The libertarian information filter, vaccine hesitancy, and the “focused protection” con

April 15, 2022

On February 11, 2022, Faye Flam published an opinion piece in Bloomberg titled “Mask Mandates Didn’t Make Much of a Difference Anyway.”  The subhead was “The policies clearly didn’t stop omicron. Let’s focus on tactics that have worked better.”

The headline is somewhat misleading.  Flam acknowledges that masks may be beneficial, especially high-quality masks, and she quotes an expert who supports masking when cases are high and vaccination rates are low.  More important, she emphasizes the importance of getting more people vaccinated, which is surely right, and something we should all be able to agree on.

The libertarian information filter

Flam’s piece was cited in an essay in the libertarian publication Reason by Smelkinson and Bienen.  This

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Arming Ukraine, sanctioning Russia

April 4, 2022

The worse the outcome of a Russian victory in Ukraine, the stronger the case for providing Ukraine with the weapons and supplies it needs to defeat the Russian invasion. 

Russian atrocities clearly strengthen the case for arming Ukraine. 

The very real prospect of ethnic genocide following a Russian victory strengthens the case further:

Yesterday, RIA Novosti published a lengthy piece titled "What Russia should do with Ukraine", which explains in detail what Russia understands by denazification. It’s truly horrific: 1/6— Tadeusz Giczan 🇺🇦 (@TadeuszGiczan) April 4, 2022
Bucha was not an exception. Russian state media prepare public opinion for a full-scale genocide of Ukrainian people. They are speaking about

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Focused protection was never the point

March 30, 2022

As I noted previously, Congress has somehow failed to provide funding for COVID vaccines and treatments.  This is a major policy error, an error that could kill many tens of thousands of people if not corrected.

You might think that spending on vaccines and treatments would be something we could all agree on, regardless of our other differences on COVID policy.  After all, even libertarians who oppose mask and vaccine mandates and social distancing rules claim to believe in “focused protection” and “protecting the vulnerable”, and vaccines, anti-virals, monoclonal anti-bodies all protect the vulnerable.  They do so effectively and cheaply.

Yesterday I searched the following websites for “paxlovid” or “congress spending covid” in the past 30 days

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Inflation, politics, and policy

March 29, 2022

Between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and COVID outbreaks in China, it certainly seems likely that supply shortfalls and upward pressure on prices will continue.  This raises difficult questions about politics and economic policy.

On the political side of the ledger, I think that President Biden’s strategy should be predicated on continued inflation; if inflation subsides people will be happy and he will benefit politically no matter what he does or says now.  He can take some actions to rein in inflation, and recommend others to Congress and the states, but it’s doubtful these will have much visible impact.  So it seems to me that he should state that the war and our sanctions on Russia will lead to global shortages and push prices up, at least

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On Ukraine, tough talk is not cheap

March 27, 2022

Biden has done a pretty good job managing the world reaction to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.  But speaking in Poland, Biden declared that Putin cannot remain in power.  This comes on top of his earlier declaration that Putin is a war criminal. 

From WAPO:

White House officials were adamant the remark was not a sign of a policy change, but they did concede it was just the latest example of Biden’s penchant for stumbling off message. And like many of his unintended comments, they came at the end of his speech as he ad-libbed and veered from the carefully crafted text on the teleprompter.. . .“What it tells me, and worries me, is that the top team is not thinking about plausible war termination,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior

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Ruh-roh . . . is Ashish Jha, the new White House COVID coordinator, a clown?

March 24, 2022

So says Martin Kulldorff:

Surprising choice of @ashishkjha as @JoeBiden’s new Covid coordinator. Not only was he wrong promoting lockdowns, school closures and vaccine passports, he mischaracterized and bullied other scientists by calling them "clowns". A clown would do a better job as Covid coordinator.— Martin Kulldorff (@MartinKulldorff) March 22, 2022It seems like Jha did call Kulldorff a clown.  (Kulldorff was an author of the Great Barrington Declaration and one of the “let it rip” clowns Jha refers to in the tweet Kulldorff shares.)

Calling someone a clown on twitter does not constitute bullying, but it is at least arguable that Jha should not have called Kulldorff a clown.  By the same token, however, Kulldorff

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The COVID funding fiasco

March 22, 2022

At the Atlantic, Ed Yong reminds us that COVID has not disappeared, and that our governing institutions are hardly covering themselves in glory on this issue:

This week, Congress nixed $15 billion in coronavirus funding from a $1.5 trillion spending bill, which President Joe Biden then signed on Tuesday. The decision is catastrophic, and as the White House has noted, its consequences will unfurl quickly. Next week, the government will have to cut shipments of monoclonal-antibody treatments by a third. In April, it will no longer be able to reimburse health-care providers for testing, vaccinating, or treating millions of uninsured Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be unvaccinated and infected. Come June, it won’t be able to support

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Russia / Ukraine tweets, logistics, public opinion, sanctions

March 21, 2022

First, a twitter thread on war reporting (click through if interested):

A thread about how we report supposed victories in war (this one and others), why they dont matter nearly as much as people claim, and how they actually deceive us into understanding what really matters. Partly motivated by this @nytimes headline.— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) March 20, 2022The pictures coming out of Ukraine have played an essential role in rallying Europeans and Americans to aid the Ukrainian cause.  But it is so difficult to keep these emotional pictures from overwhelming our judgment.  Especially for those of us not expert in military affairs.  How can you look at pictures like this and think about negotiating and

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Censoring for me, but not for thee

March 15, 2022

Jay Battacharya and Martin Kulldorff, two of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, have been whining for months about how unfairly they have been treated, how they have been criticized and even censored for their views on COVID policy.  Yet now, at the Brownstone Institute, that illustrious citadel of liberal freedom, we find them saying this (my bold):

In public health, it isn’t enough to be trusted by only half the population. Since widespread trust is essential, the only solution is for public health to eschew coercion and embrace its traditional principles. Public health should never again manipulate or deny authentic scientific results to manipulate the public’s behavior. It should dismiss practitioners who use public health as a

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Russian logistics

March 15, 2022

I should stop posting about Ukraine, since I have no expertise and not much ability to judge the credibility of things I read.  But I keep reading and want to share some twitter threads about Russian logistics that I found interesting.  I had assumed that the Russians would eventually get their logistics problems more or less ironed out, or at least they could “solve” them by throwing enough men and material at the Ukrainians, but it seems like at least in the Kiev area their problems might be less tractable than I believed.  As far as I can see, this doesn’t take away Putin’s ability to destroy Ukraine, including its cities, but it might give Putin more of an incentive to look for a negotiated solution.  In any event, it’s food for thought.


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Miscellaneous thoughts on Ukraine . . .

March 11, 2022

Nuclear strategy podcast

I recommend this podcast on nuclear strategy and Ukraine from 538.

Why caution about escalation?

It appears that President Biden and his team have done a masterful job rallying our allies and Americans to the Ukrainian cause, countering Putin’s propaganda efforts, putting in place a strong sanctions regime, etc.  He also (rightly) resisted actions he viewed as potentially dangerous escalation, especially calls for a no-fly zone and the Polish MiG deal. 

But what’s the logic behind the caution about escalation?  I can think of three theories, but I’m wondering if there are others. 

One is a marginal deterrence theory.  If we impose maximal sanctions now, we have no room to escalate sanctions in response to

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Ukrainian oil and American sacrifice

March 8, 2022

I have not commented on Ukraine because I am horrified and have nothing special to say.  I would like to think the international community can find an “off ramp” for Putin, but I am pessimistic.  I believe the Russians will slowly improve their logistical position, and in any event that the most likely outcome is that the Russian army pulverizes Ukraine with overwhelming force.  I so very much hope I am wrong.

On the domestic front . . .

Apparently President Biden is about to ban imports of Russian oil. I confess I don’t know what to make of this.  It’s not clear that it will hurt Russia all that much, given the fungibility of oil and the financial sanctions that are already in place.  I doubt it will pressure the Europeans to follow suit in the

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