Tuesday, April 22, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Senate --- Point Of No Return?

The political news about the 2014 U.S. senate races has
been consistent for months --- that is, bad news for
Democrats, especially incumbents who voted for
Obamacare legislation. I have reported and discussed
much of this, and have been amazed by the steady
degradation of the liberal brand in the senate that has
been accompanied by so little effort by Democratic
senate leaders and their vulnerable incumbents to
reverse this political trend.

What has emerged is a call for liberal candidates to
re-state and reinforce their votes on Obamacare, and
to endorse the administration’s whole liberal energy,
tax, education and foreign policies --- none of which
seem to be working very well. The latest, and perhaps
lamest, attempt to reverse their political fortunes has
Obama, Reid, Pelosi and various administration
spokespersons warning that it is only a matter of weeks
and a few months when Obamacare will suddenly be
perceived as a great success, i.e., “Woe to you Republicans
and conservatives (and centrist moderates) for doubting
this landmark change in American healthcare policy!”

At first, only the most vulnerable seats (those where the
incumbent Democrats retired), i.e. Montana, South Dakota
and West Virginia, were considered certain “takeovers.”

Then a second tier of seats (those in which incumbents
chose to run for re-election), i.e., Arkansas, Louisiana,
and Alaska, seemed headed for Democratic loss.

Subsequently and surprisingly, a third tier of senate
races seemed to point to Democratic loss, i.e., Iowa,
North Carolina and Michigan.

Now still another tier of incumbent Democrats, once
considered invulnerable, now appear to have tight races,
i.e., Colorado, New Hampshire, and Oregon, and cannot
be considered safe for the party which now controls the
U.S. senate.

Finally, and shockingly, there are three races that were once
thought iron-clad, Delaware, Minnesota and Virginia, which
although now comfortably leaning to the Democrats, could
become competitive, primarily because the Republicans
seemed to have found strong challengers, or because the
Obamacare debacle might become even worse.

On the Republican side there were also vulnerable
incumbents in Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina,
Tennessee and a vacated GOP seat in Georgia. But the races
in South Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee are now less
likely to change to the Democrats, and the two remaining
vulnerable GOP seats remain the conservatives to lose.

The latest explanation of what will happen in November,
2014 from the Democrats is that the economy will be fully
recovering, the stock market booming and unemployment
will be down dramatically --- and these will offset Obamacare
problems, and rescue the party’s senate control.

It could happen that way, but there is so far no evidence other
than a very slowly  recovering economy. Wall Street appears
nervous that stocks are too high; and tax, regulatory and
environmental policies are doing little if anything to boost

President Obama has just delayed the Keystone oil pipeline
still one more (and unjustifiable) time, apparently to satisfy
some billionaire supporters --- thus giving Republicans
another strong issue.

I have learned from experience that political fortunes rarely
go for long periods in one direction, up or down, and that is
usually because political parties can diagnose their problems
and act to counter them. But we are now only six months from
election day, and that is often the borderline for how long
economic trends can begin to appear.

One pundit wrote a column showing that Democrats could
even gain senate seats in 2014, as they surprisingly did in 2012,
but that seemed more a technical op ed fantasy than anything
which is likely to happen.

In 2016, the advantage on senate incumbency shifts to the
Democrats. They might even lose control by a few seats in 2014,
but be likely to win back control in 2016. On the other hand,
if the GOP gains a net of 9 or more senate seats in 2014, and
their prospects for winning the presidency are good in 2016,
the hopes of Democrats to regain even partial control of
Congress might be lost for a very long time.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Our world is a very busy place. There are more than 7.3
billion persons now living in it. There are more than 200
sovereign nations with borders, and perhaps at least as
many areas within those borders which desire to break
away and form their own new nations. The surface
of the earth is a vast area covered by land and seas and
ice. Underneath the earth’s surface are many layers of
substances, many of which are very hot, that routinely
erupt. At all times, the climate of the earth and its
weather are changing, distributing clouds, winds, rain,
snow, heat and cold. From time to time, small objects
from space enter our atmosphere, and occasionally land
as meteors. All living things, as well, create in their
daily existence changes on the land and in the atmosphere.
Trillions of electrochemical transactions are taking place
virtually everywhere at every moment, night and day,
year in and year out. Our world is a very busy place.

Human beings superimpose a rational explanation and
description of as much of this as they can. In spite of the
age of our planet, and the age of human life on it, which
is measured in millions of years, so-called recorded
history is only about five thousand years old, and so-called
modern history is less than a thousand years old.

Before human recorded history, our ancestors lived in a
daily consciousness that noted natural patterns seen and
heard from the earth and the sky, in the seasons and the
nature of the geography where they lived. We now label
these ancestors as primitives. Their incipient cultures were
created not only from perceived natural patterns, but also
from their perceptions of irregularities, upheavals, and
unexplained phenomena.

One response  to the unexplained by many of these early
peoples and their first societies was, each in its own way,
to transform the unexplained into omens and divine signals.
Out of these came much of ritual, tradition, religions, and
finally “science.”

There is a curious reality about what we call modern science.
On the one hand, it works most of the time in a very practical
way. It was employed to create the industrial age. It enabled
human beings to fly (even to the moon and beyond), to extend
their lifetimes dramatically (including curing illnesses and
other pathologies), to create machines and devices which seem
to work amazingly (especially judged from the standards of
the past). On the other hand, science so far seems not to be an
absolute matter. Our most complex sciences, including
physics, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, chemistry, etc.,
always seem “unresolved” as our understanding of these
becomes more and more refined, and each frontier of our
perception of them presents inevitably still another frontier
and then another, sometimes even contradicting what was
perceived previously.

We still do not “know” the full structure of the atom, of the
universe, or even of the simple planet on which we live.

It is today considered superstitious to try to connect natural
omens to human events, although human beings have apparently
done this since the beginning of their time. We are now, of
course, very “sophisticated” because we have contrived
computers and “miraculous” forms of transportation, not
to mention weapons and other devices of demonstrably
immense power and force.

And yet it is curious that, at preliminary moments of great
historical transformation, there always seems to be a notable
confluence of omens and unexplained phenomena which
precede these transformative moments.

Of course, our worldwide “instant” communications have
heightened our awareness of unusual events. In the past,
all omens were local. Now they are global. Invention and
innovation, always a human trait, now occurs at dazzling
velocities. But as the ancient philosophies of the East remind
us, very few things are what they seem to be.

So how do the unusual weather patterns (both warm and cold),
the recent chains of earthquakes along many of the world’s
faults, the spate of droughts and floods, the appearances of new
and diseases and plagues, the extinctions of various species
(and the survival of others), the sudden intensities of human
nationalisms, religious activity, and the unprecedented large
number of human beings in the world connect to each other
(if at all)?

No one yet knows the answer to this question. But you don’t
have to be paying very close attention to daily news and events
to sense something curious and momentous is going on.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Those of my generation consider the word “resistance”
to be a domestic political term, usually applied to those
who opposed government policies from the left. Some of
my generation were once part of it, some disagreed. Of
those who were part of it, most went on to less radical
views, a few remained on the extreme edge of political
discourse. Today, that meaning of “resistance” has a
quaint and distant tone to it.

For the generation before us, the word “resistance” was
considered an heroic term, usually applied to those brave
European men and women who, at total risk of their lives,
fought invisibly against the unspeakable Nazi degradation
of the whole of Europe, and later opposed clandestinely
the oppression of Soviet communism during the Cold War.

Currently, the term “resistance” has lost much of its
serious cachet, and instead is applied domestically to the
mindless and superficial pseudo-efforts such as “Occupy
Wall Street” and its related ilk.

But the word “resistance” can also be more profoundly
applied to a timeless and natural aspect of human behavior,
the natural resistance to innovation and change.

In an age of unprecedented velocity of technological
change in the worldwide human experience, resistance is
a predictable fellow traveler to the initial awareness of
amazing inventions and scientific breakthroughs.

As matters stand now, individual human life duration will be
extended not only a few years every generation, or even a decade
or so (as in the recent past), but close to the limit our physical
bodies can accommodate --- certainly past 100 years of age.
Our abilities to communicate with each other, to travel to see
each other and the rest of the world, to understand the
stupendous complexities of the world we live in and the
worlds far beyond us --- each have a truly and temporary
numbing effect on our consciousnesses. In terms of behavior,
most of us, in varying degrees, resist the new as we perceive
and less consciously, attempt to translate and integrate its
impact on what we do, how we think, and what we believe.

This is a very big subject, and much of it is beyond my own
understanding, so I want to concentrate here on “political”
transformation, particularly American political transformation
in the near future. We have many “wise” men and women,
high tech “gurus” and savvy writers who have been discussing
innovation and transformation in very recent years, but almost
no political figures.

Part of the reason virtually all innovation is resisted is that the
status quo includes many forces which stand to “lose” from
new technology and new thinking. In American political life,
this is intensely true, especially in today’s highly partisan
atmosphere. One of the most interesting new concepts now
being introduced to the whole range of government bureaucracy
is the notion of “transparency,” that is, the ability using the
internet to view almost instantly the conduct of how tax money
is spent, and government programs applied, at the local, state
and national level. The technology exists, but the application is
being resisted at all levels by bureaucracies either jealous of their
“invisible” power or, in some cases, their corruption taking place
outside public view.

One of the very few American political figures who is talking
about innovation, and talking about it outside a partisan context,
is Newt Gingrich. He is speaking about it, writing books about it,
and promoting it. He has even publicly lauded liberal Democrats
(such as the lieutenant governor of California Gavin Newsom)
who are doing the same.

But, as in the case of transparency, it’s tough going with the
general public and the established interests. This, however, is
as it always is. We should be neither surprised not disappointed.
It is inevitable impulse of human resistance at work.

The other side of resistance is the speed with which it is
overcome when the resistance evaporates. I used the word
“evaporates” because the transformation is almost always sudden
rather  gradual --- resistance does not slowly melt, it quickly
evaporates. (Think of how rapidly the internet has transformed
modern life.)

I do not know exactly when the technology that will enable
virtually total transparency of American public life will take
over from the past, but it’s only a matter of time. And when it
does come, everyone will ask “How did we live without it?”
and “Why did we live without it?”

The same is true of all the innovations Gingrich, Newsom and all
the prophets of the future are now trying to tell us about. It might
be in time for the 2016 elections, or it might be a few years later.
Young politicians in both parties might well take note now,
however. History always treats the future more kindly than the
past, and however slow it might be, the same is true of the

Those who are fixed on the orthodoxies of liberal vs. conservative,
Democrat vs. Republican, class warfare, religious conflicts, etc.,
will sometime soon feel like the person  today whose only
communication is by a landline telephone, watches network TV,
and writes on a typewriter.

[In full disclosure, I know personally some of those whose work
I mention above. I do not think that prevents me from discussing
the principles of human innovation, but my readers can judge
for themselves how useful and accurate my observations are.]

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 3, 2014


The problem with those self-styled idealists in both
national parties who want to limit the increasing volume
of money in U.S. elections is that they could not, and
cannot, devise legislation which would accomplish their

As we have seen, following the passage of McCain-Feingold,
the so-called “special interests” always find legal ways to
get around the law’s restrictions. Furthermore, the U.S.
supreme court continually has ruled that contributing
financially to a federal political campaign is a form of free
speech, and can be limited only when there is a clear and
present risk of abuse.

Behind most of the rhetoric about money in politics is a
game of seeking partisan advantage. Liberals denounce and
condemn affluent Americans and corporations for trying
“to buy” elections. Conservatives denounce and condemn
labor unions for trying to do the same.

The historical fact is that money has played a role in American
elections from almost the outset of the Republic. It is fair to say
that special interest groups once did have an unfair advantage
in promoting their candidates and causes. But the 20th century
brought much more of an equilibrium to the financial aspect of
elections, especially after 1936, and today both parties each
have ample numbers of rich donors and large organizations
participating in financing their election campaigns.

One of the most ludicrous and demonstrably false assumptions
made these days, usually promoted by liberals and Democrats,
is that rich persons and corporations are uniformly conservative
and Republican. In fact, most of the “new rich” are liberals and
Democrats. A new study shows that most of the millionaires in
Congress are Democrats. Some of the richest Americans, many
of them billionaires, give exclusively to Democrats and liberal
causes. One hundred years ago, it was true, “big” business and
corporate moguls were almost entirely Republicans, but that has
long ceased to be so. Today, many of America’s richest citizens
and largest corporations create a liberal public image about
their politics, and routinely choose to support “progressive”
and left-leaning candidates over conservative ones. They respond,
furthermore, to politically-correct pressure from the left much
more often than to conservative interests and principles.

Liberals like to single out such individuals as the Koch brothers
(who contribute to conservative candidates and causes), but
conveniently fail to mention George Soros, the Rockefeller family
and many of the newly-created billionaires of the high tech
industry (who contribute only to liberal candidates and causes).

In short, the discussion about money in politics has become a
shell game devoid of honest debate.

The bottom line is that money does not buy most competitive
elections because good candidates from both parties either have
enough resources of their own, or can raise them from their party’s
supporters. Character, personality and ideology still matter more
in most elections.

Rich liberals and conservatives should be able to contribute to
the candidates and causes of their choice. Yes, unions should be
able to contribute to candidates who support their interests, and
both liberal and conservative organizations should be able to assist
those who share their political views.

If there is an unfair advantage in elections today, it might be more
likely found with those incumbents of both parties who remain
in office long after they make their most useful public contributions.

That is a genuine political issue that neither party today is prepared
to debate.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 31, 2014


Here are some quick commentaries on a variety of
current news events:

challengers from their own political party, so the
expectation by some pundits that Hillary Clinton will
be nominated for president by acclamation in 2016
does not seem very realistic. If, however, the electorate
is leaning heavily to the Republicans by late 2015, and
“Obama-fatigue’ is rampant, those Democrats who
might make a serious challenge could cede the nomination,
and look ahead to 2020. Bill Clinton was the beneficiary
of this kind of thinking in late 1991, and several first-rank
Democratic presidential aspirants, most notably Mario
Cuomo and Dick Gephardt, took a pass. A recession and
Ross Perot intervened, however, and President George
H.W. Bush’s “certain” re-election fizzled. Ironically, the
major Democratic challenger to Mrs. Clinton in 2016 would
likely be Mario Cuomo’s son, Andrew, now governor of New
York, as was his father in 1992.

ALTHOUGH MUCH SPECULATION for 2014 has a focus
on the numerous currently-held Democratic seats that
might be won by Republicans, and possibly giving the GOP
control of the senate as well as the house, there are at least
two Republican-held seats that might be won by Democrats.
Michelle Nunn, a moderate Democrat, could win in
Georgia where the GOP does not yet have a candidate,
and GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell faces a serious
race with Democrat, Allison Grimes, in Kentucky. In addition,
the North Carolina senate seat, currently held by Democrat
Kay Hagan, was originally thought to be a likely takeover,
but again, the GOP has not yet settled on a strong candidate,
and the opportunity might be lost next November.

IN IOWA, HOWEVER, the Democrats have experienced
their first Delaware (2010), Nevada (2010), Missouri (2012)
and Indiana (2012) “moment” (all of the preceding were
blunders made by Republican senate candidates). Iowa
Congressman Bruce Braley, the putative Democratic nominee
for the open senate seat in the Hawkeye State , unburdened
himself of the opinion that the other Iowa senator, Chuck
Grassley “was only a farmer and never went to law school.”
It has to be remembered that Iowa is a farm state and that
99% of its citizens are not lawyers. The Iowa contest,
previously rated “likely Democrat” is now suddenly “too
close to call.”

Udall, a Democrat, has declared that he would make his
“yes” vote for Obamacare again, if he had the opportunity.
This strategy, in a state where Obamacare is unpopular and
controversial, might be the most contrarian approach of all
in 2014, especially since the Republicans seem to have settled
on a strong candidate, Congressman Cory Gardner, who is a
vocal critic of Obamacare. Certainly, it is the most LOL
campaign idea of the cycle. Watch this race.

regained its lead in snowfall for cities over 100,000 population.
As of March 30, the “Gem City” had received 137+ inches of
snow. Located on the southern shores of Lake Erie, the city
is always one of the major U.S. recipients of the well-known
meteorological “lake effect” that produces heavy snowfall
along the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

his hitherto feckless confrontation with Russian President
Vladimir Putin? If he continues to ramp up sanctions
against the former Soviet regime’s recent annexation of
Crimea from Ukraine (and its current veiled threats
against the rest of Ukraine and Estonia), he might just
provoke a diplomatic turnaround in Eastern Europe. German
Chancellor Angela Merkel could play a major role in this
by bringing her European Union colleagues with her in an
overall Western sanctions program. In spite of his recent
actions and statements, Mr. Putin’s national economy would
likely face serious problems if there were major sanctions
and drop-off in trade with the U.S. and Europe. Mr. Putin’s
trump card of the oil and gas he supplies to Ukraine and
Europe could be offset in part if the U.S. continues down the
road of energy self-sufficiency, and new gas supplies to Europe
became more available.

Speaking of Crimea, local officials are concerned that the
region’s vital tourist industry (four million visitors a year,
many of them from cruise ships on the Black Sea) might
evaporate in the coming season because of the political crisis.
Among many sites, the museum at Yalta featuring the wax
figures of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin is empty of visitors
these days. Seven major cruise lines have already cancelled
stops in Odessa (Ukraine), Sevastapol (Crimea) and Yalta

On a more positive tourist note, the 350-year grand tradition
of world’s fairs and international expositions still continues,
despite a drop-off in recent years. The next one is scheduled
for Milan, Italy in 2015: followed by Astana, Kazahstan in
2017; and Dubai in 2020-21.  Latest potential entry is the
Twin Cities of Minnesota (Minneapolis/St. Paul) which is
preparing a bid for 2023.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 28, 2014


There are a number of serious Republicans interested
in running for president, at this early point, in two years.

Some of them, such as Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and
Marco Rubio don’t seem to have a broad enough base to
enable them to win the nomination, but they have motivated
and vocal supporters, and if they run, they will be notable
factors in the Republican primaries and caucuses.

Others, including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and
Rick Perry might be seen as figures of the past, and might
not run (although Governor Perry is making serious
noises about another run in 2016).

2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Governors
Susana Martinez, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and John
Kasich are frequently mentioned, but have yet to indicate
their serious interest in 2016.

The two figures who would probably be frontrunners if they
ran, Governor Chris Christie and former Governor Jeb Bush,
have current political problems to overcome (although it is
more likely than not that one of these two men will be the
GOP nominee).

On the other hand, if the field is large, the primaries and
caucuses very bitter, AND the frontrunners falter, the
resulting stalemate might propel forward a name which has
not recently been mentioned seriously, 2012 nominee Mitt
Romney, back into contention.

Romney was perhaps the wrong candidate for 2012 because
his persona played into the negative Democratic media
campaign that year, and because he did not, at the end,
assemble as competitive campaign as did Barack Obama.
But 2016 promises a very different political environment.
After two terms of Mr. Obama, the voters may be weary of
any Democrat (as they were in 2008 of any Republican).
We must await the results of the 2014 midterm elections to
draw more precise and verified conclusions, but Obamacare
almost alone seems to be moving the electorate to the GOP,
and threatens to spoil the Democratic Party brand for years
to come.

In spite of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan,
changing our approach to the Middle East by diminishing our
long alliance with Israel in a trade-off for (so-far) feckless
relationships with other players in the region, and reducing
our military and defenses, Mr. Obama’s numbers are very
low in polls about his performance in foreign policy. He has
been out-dueled so far in his relationship with Russian
President Putin. His first term secretary of state, Hillary
Clinton, is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic
Party in 2016, but, although she will surely try to do so, it might
be difficult for her to separate herself from Mr. Obama and
her own actions (including her “re-set” with Russia) when
working for him. (Remember Hubert Humphrey attempting
to do this in 1968?)

Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia and Mr. Putin were a
major problem for the U.S., an assertion he made in the 2012
campaign and subsequently ridiculed by Mr. Obama, looks
rather prescient these days. So do most of his views on the
domestic issues he ran on in 2012.

Only twice in the past 100 years has a defeated Republican
presidential nominee been renominated by his party. Thomas
Dewey lost in 1944, and lost again in 1948. Richard Nixon lost
in 1960, but won in 1968 (and again in 1972).

In spite of his recent public visibility, there are no indications
that Mitt Romney is even thinking about running again in
2016, nor under present circumstances, would he now be
considered a serious candidate. But in spite of the large number
of major GOP candidates, the Republican field is not yet in
focus for one of them to win the nomination.

Considering Mr. Romney’s stature, it is not without some
curious interest to speculate that, in certain circumstances,
he might resolve a GOP convention stalemate, or even earlier,
return to the campaign field.

I’m just saying.

Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


The U.S. media portrayal of Russian President
Vladimir Putin has been unrelentingly negative
following the Russian army intrusion into Crimea,
the subsequent occupation of the former Ukrainian
autonomous province, the hurried plebiscite there
favoring re-annexation by Russia, and finally the
formal merger of Crimea into the Russian nation.

Mr. Putin’s rationale for his actions has been his
judgment that the Ukrainian revolution which ousted
the controversial Ukrainian president was illegal, and
that both ethnic Russians and Ukrainian Jews were
threatened by the new regime which, he claims, is
ultra-nationalist and fascist. When Russian officials
further warned that anti-ethnic Russian actions in Estonia
were being “monitored,” more alarm bells went off in the
Western media, and Mr. Putin’s behavior was sometimes
likened to Nazi rationales for its aggression in Europe
75 years ago when the German dictator used the “welfare”
of ethnic Germans as the “excuse” for his aggression into
the Rhineland, followed by Czechoslovakia, Austria and

Furthermore, Mr. Putin’s rather transparent attempts to
reassemble the old Soviet empire that had disintegrated
after the end of communist rule of Russia in 1991 (in the
form of a Russian "sphere of influence") has been
regarded as a possible revival of the Cold War that pitted
democratic capitalist nations against Marxist states from
1945 to 1990.

A personal duel between President Putin and U.S. President
Obama has simultaneously been taking place, a diplomatic
contest in which the Russian leader had continually
outmaneuvered the American chief of state in a series of
confrontations. In spite of Mr. Obama’s consistent pattern
of trying to placate Mr. Putin, including unilaterally
pulling U.S. missile forces out of Central Europe and
seemingly giving priority to Russian security concerns
over concerns of U.S, allies, Mr. Putin had regarded
these actions as American “weakness” and the U.S.
president as a diplomatic “amateur.” During the
Crimean crisis, several long personal telephone
conversations between the two leaders seemed to
accomplish little if nothing at all, excepting Mr. Putin’s

Finally, Russian diplomatic and trade activity has been
increasing in South America and Cuba, with Russian
navy vessels visiting Cuba for the first time since the
end of the Soviet Union.

Facing U.S. and European sanctions for his actions in
Crimea, Mr. Putin has responded by placing reciprocal
sanctions and withdrawing Russian investments in the

Complicating this global confrontation has been
Ukrainian and European dependence on Russian oil
and gas, and U.S. dependence on Russian support in the
effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The U.S. media, for the most part, has not however fully
covered the composition of the factions which made
up the “Maidan Square” revolution that ousted Ukrainian
President Yanukovych a month ago. Properly labeling the
ousted leader’s corruption and unpopularity, media
coverage has glossed over important components of the
new revolutionary Ukrainian government which has
placed figures from far right and anti-semitic nationalist
groups in positions of significance.

While regarding serious secessionist movements in
Great Britain (Scotland), Spain (Catalonia) and Italy
(Venice/Veneto) with benign neutrality, the U.S. media
has been aggressively hostile to the Crimean secessionist
activity, even though Crimea has historically been part of
Russia for centuries and only recently was unilaterally
(without voter consent) handed over to Ukraine by then
Russian communist leader Nikita Krushchev.

Ukraine itself was part of Russia, and later the Soviet Union,
although the suppression and inhumane treatment of this
region (most notably the starvation of millions of Ukrainian
peasants in the 1930s by Soviet dictator Stalin) had
understandably made most ethnic Ukrainians strongly
anti-Russian. This anti-Soviet activity was expressed as
early as the outbreak of World War II when some Ukrainian
nationalists openly cooperated with and aided advancing
Nazi German armies.

Furthermore, many Ukrainian nationalists, historically
violently anti-semitic, participated in the Holocaust. Since
Ukraine and Belarus had been a large part of the settlement
of Ashkenazi Jews from 1600 to the late 1900s, the large Jewish
population suffered violent persecution not only from the
German Nazis, but also (for a longer time) from extreme
Ukrainian nationalists before, during and after World War II.
In fact, while Jewish emigration from Russia subsided after
2000, it was increasing from Ukraine where a rise in
antisemitism occurred.

Under President Putin, it is pointed out by many Jews now
living in Russia, Jewish religious and cultural life has
recently flourished. President Putin himself has seemed to
go out of his way to establish ties not only with Russian
Jewish leaders and organizations, but has opened considerable
dialogue with the state of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
This is in contrast to Soviet policy. Although the Soviet Union
voted for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, it soon
took sides against the Israelis, even as there was an increase
in anti-semitism throughout the Soviet Union after World
War II. Millions of Soviet Jews subsequently emigrated, mostly
to Israel, Western Europe and the U.S.

Current Russian concern for ethnic Russians in Estonia,
however, is much less credible. Many of the ethnic Russians
who live in the now independent nations of Estonia, Latvia
and Lithuania are descendants of Russian invaders who took
over these countries by force during World War II. Russia
imposed the Russian language on these nations, even though
they already had languages of their own.

As for Mr. Putin’s desire (some say “obsession”) to recreate
the old Soviet Union, this, too, lacks credibility when it is
considered that most of the new nations which broke away
from the Marxist empire (including Ukraine, Belarus,
Kazakhstan, Georgia and other smaller states) seem quite
happy with their independence, their new national identity,
and their sovereign right to not be restricted solely as being
part of a rigid Russian "sphere of influence."

In hosting the recent winter Olympic games in the Russian
city of Sochi, and by interjecting a Russian diplomatic role in
the crises of Syria, Iran and the Middle East, Mr. Putin has
sought to increase Russian global prestige. He has had, in
these endeavors, some success. It would seem somehow
self-destructive for him to now to over-reach by bringing up
memories of the ruthless Soviet domination of Eastern
Europe and its Cold War threat to Western Europe by forcibly
trying to re-create the old empire.

The situation in Ukraine, however, might be somewhat
more complicated than it now seems. Respecting genuine
Ukrainian independence and the right of its people to
change their government if a clear majority wants to do so,
Americans and Europeans have also the right to expect that
the endemic corruption of the previous Ukrainian regime
will not just be replaced with the corruption of a new regime,
and that the new regime will  not ignore the human rights of
all its citizens. An independent Ukraine has the right to
establish ties to the European Union if it wishes to, but
Russia has historical ties to Ukraine, and economic interests
there, and it has the right to expect that Ukraine will not be a
hostile neighbor (just as the  U.S. has opposed having Cuba
as a hostile neighbor).

It might be that Mr. Putin’s primary motive in Ukraine has
been for domestic Russian consumption. When he returned
to the presidency after a term as prime minister, Mr. Putin
was no longer as popular as he had been, There were
unprecedented demonstrations against him. After seizing
Crimea, however, his popularity has reportedly soared.

Annexing Crimea is not totally a plus for Mr. Putin. Crimea
has a weak economy and was a formerly a financial burden
for the government in Kiev.  Now Moscow must bear the
Crimean deficit of billions of rubles, and deal with the fact
that the Crimean standard of living is notably lower than the
rest of Russia.

Like so many international circumstances, the situation in
Eastern Europe is complicated. It is in all our interests to
understand these complications as best we can.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.