Christie should fire the PR advisors who let him release his bogus Bridgegate report

New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie should fire the PR advisors who let him release his bogus Bridgegate report. The report may exonerate Christie from knowledge of the Bridgegate scandal, but the only ones taking it seriously are the Christie true believers.

No Republican can hope to win a national election or a statewide election in New Jersey without independent voters and the Christie appointed review of the Bridgegate incident will convince few independents that Christie didn’t have knowledge. Moreover, the very release of the document damages the Christie rehabilitation campaign.

Let’s first look at the contents. Two topics discussed in the report, prepared by Christie’s favorite law firm, concern independents and main stream media such as the editorial board of the New York Times: one is a disputation regarding the facts and the other a scurrilous interpretation of those facts.

The disputation is the he-said-she-said between Christie and former best bud David Wildstein. Wildstein said he told the governor they had closed Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge on September 11, 2013, midway through the four-day parking lot that the closure caused.  Christie denies it, so the report concludes that there is not enough evidence to point the finger. But like every he-said-she-said, most people believe that there is always a little bit of truth to both sides of the story. And even a little bit of truth on Wildstein’s part sinks the Good Ship Christie.  What were the PR people thinking? Certainly not about how people tend to react to these he said-she said accusations.

The truly amazing aspect to the Wildstein revelation and Christie denial is that if Christie had not released the report, he would have postponed or prevented the idea that Christie really knew from taking seed in voters’ minds.

The other killer for Christie in the report is the psychological analysis it does on the intentions and internal workings of Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridgett Anne Kelly. Kelly takes the fall as the sole instigator of the lane closures, a rogue employee going against the rules. The report postulates that she was under a lot of emotional pressure because she had recently broken up with her lover and concludes that the inner turmoil made Kelly do it. I don’t think I’m the first to roll my eyes and wonder sarcastically if she was also having her period that day. What a load of absolute baloney. When what’s left of the Christie brain trust thought of the ham-handed idea of blaming it all on a scorned woman, they must have been punch drunk from a brew of political melodramas and laddie magazines.

Christie blaming it all on the broken heart of a weak women cum rogue employee leaves many wondering why the Republicans can never seem to strike the right note when it comes to women. It’s as if they have absolutely no clue about what makes women click or what they want. A clue to Chris: it’s not to be patronized by assuming that every mistake professional women make stems from their hormones or emotional lives.

This idle speculation over causation not only offends most women and many men, it calls into question the conclusions of the report.  Anything that stinks that bad must be rotten.

With the report in hand, Christie and his PR hired guns should not have released it.  While it is true that the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannity’s of the world will use it to prove that the issue is closed or to say that it’s the only believable report we will get, most people are sniggering that it was an inside snow job.

Christie should have tossed the report back to his people and told them that they had to take out all mention of psychological motive and just present facts. When the report was appropriately sanitized, Christie should have sat on it…and sat on it. He should have released it the very day of the report from the New Jersey legislature or the U.S. District Attorney.  By releasing the report on a separate day, Christies created another news cycle about the scandal. A similar situation recently occurred when the Paterno family released a report for which they paid good money that repudiated the previous report by a commission headed by a former Director of the FBI. The Paterno report changed no one’s mind and had the negative outcome of creating one more news cycle for the sad story of the sainted football coach who apparently turned his back on child abuse.

If, instead of creating this additional round of bad news, Christie had released his version of Bridgegate the very same day that another major report was released, the story would be about dueling reports and not a “he-said-she-said” in which one side or 50% of the witnesses is accusing the governor of early knowledge.

A complete botch by Christie’s PR machine.  It’s his report, and yet the Christie whitewash may have nuked the governor’s chances for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. It’s kind of a Fat Boy for the frat boy. 

We’re giving American society’s seed corn to the wealthy

The expression “eating the seed corn” is often used as a metaphor for not investing in the future. The expression means that a society or company is spending all its money instead of using some of it to make investments in the future or, in the case of a family or individual, saving some of it. For a society, those investments include public education; programs that insure that children—our citizens and workers of the future—are well-fed and healthy; new roads, bridges, sewers and mass transit systems; and research into basic and applied science.

There are many instances of companies and societies eating their seed corn. For example, the decline and fall of the Polynesian culture on the South Pacific island of Rapa Nui is now blamed on humans in this advanced civilization cutting down the forests, leaving them with no raw materials to build fishing vessels.  On the business level, anytime a company decides to stick with an old technology that puts it at a competitive disadvantage or gives a bigger payout to investors while cutting maintenance and training budgets is eating its seed corn.

In the case of the United States in the 21st century, we aren’t eating our seed corn, we’re giving it to the wealthy for their private use and storage.

We see proof that our seed corn is not being planted for future crops virtually every day in stories about food stamp cuts, collapsing roads and college students going into debt. One recent example is an article I first saw in the Pittsburgh Business Times titled “Beaker is Half Full” about the decline in government support for science research.   Between 10 years of flat federal science research budgets, the effects of inflation and the across-the board sequester cut of 5.5%, the article calculates that the purchasing power of National Institute of Health (NIH) grants has declined by about 25% over the past decade. Whereas in 2001, 32.1% of NIH grant applications received funding; the percentage is now down to less than 17%. Only a right-wing fool would claim that NIH is doing a better job at weeding out badly formulated research proposals. No, what’s happened is we’re doing less research. The numbers for the National Science Foundation (NSF) are similar.

As should be expected for a business journal, the article looks at the business aspect of the news, which in this case means the business of university research, one of the most important economic sectors in contemporary Pittsburgh.  The article cites facts showing the recruitment of graduate students is down, as is interest in careers in science research. The article quotes professors who confess that they think it’s unethical to encourage students to go into a research field. A survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that economic pressures have forced more than half of the 11,000 scientists surveyed to recruit fewer graduate students or abandon an important area of research.  The article focuses much more on the loss of direct and indirect jobs from the cutbacks and less on what’s going to mean to our future: fewer diseases cured or prevented; fewer advances in manufacturing efficiencies, alternative energy sources and new materials; fewer new products to enhance our quality of life; a slower response to climate change, environmental degradation and emerging diseases: in short, a static society that slowly succumbs to its own inadequacies instead of overcoming them through knowledge.

As a business publication, the Pittsburgh Business Times would never suggest what is the only way to stem the decline in American scientific research. It’s the same solution for the problems plaguing public education, our infrastructure and our commitment to growing healthy children: spend more money. But spending more money means raising taxes and no magazine for and by business would ever make that recommendation.

Our current tax structure requires the wealthy and ultra-wealthy to contribute historically low amounts to advance the public good. Right-wingers constantly make the pipe-dream claim that when we lower taxes on the wealthy, we give them more money to create jobs.  In the real world, however, the rich mostly hoard their additional income. Their wealth builds while our roads and bridges crumble, our advances in science decline and more of our children receive inadequate educations.  In a real sense, instead of planting our seed corn, we let the happy few hoard it for themselves.

Nicholas Kristoff has a wonderful article in the New York Times that lists five enormous sources of public revenues that could be used to increase the budget for science research, funding for public education and/or rebuilding our infrastructure. All five involve removing a tax break that only the wealthy enjoy:  tax breaks for private planes  and yachts; the “carried interest” loophole for hedge funds; the U.S. commitment—estimated at $84 billion—to our “too-big-to-fail” banks and the large tax abatements that cities, counties and states give the corporations, estimated at $80 billion a year.

To Kristoff’s list I would add the capital gains tax break for any investment income not produced by a direct investment into a company. A direct investment into a company would be buying stock at the initial public offering. Examples of other investments for which Americans—primarily rich folk—get a capital gains tax break include when selling stocks or bonds bought on secondary markets or artwork and real estate.  I would also raise the highest incremental tax rates to at least 50% of income over $500,000 a year; make it impossible for companies to avoid taxes by creating offshore shelters; and impose an annual wealth tax on people with more than $5 million in assets, not including their primary residence. These ideas sound radical, but in fact all of them except the tax on wealth used to be the norm in the United States.

If we don’t do something, American society will experience a rapid decline. It won’t matter to the wealthy, who will be able to transfer their residence and assets to whatever country is most stable. But the rest of the country will see living standards and the quality of life decline to the standards of undeveloped countries. And the ironic part of it is that the 99% will not even have had the chance to enjoy the short-term pleasures of eating the seed corn, as they will have let the wealthy steal it from them.

It’s time to introduce Duke Energy Chair & CEO to “Orange is the New Black”

Duke Energy just doesn’t give a gnat’s posterior. Not for public safety, not for the law.

Duke Energy flaunts its lawlessness like ancient King David and Bathsheba flaunting their adultery by cavorting in the streets.

Duke, the largest electrical power company in the country, illegally pumped as much as 61 million gallons of coal-ash wastewater into Cape Fear. Duke did it on purpose and now it’s denying it, saying it was just routine maintenance. But the usually-moribund North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and environmental groups have Duke caught red-handed.

This latest release of dirty water by Duke comes on the heels of its massive spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River a few weeks back. The federal government is investigating that reportedly accidental release, which resulted from the rupture of a pipe.  So far Duke and North Carolina state regulators are sharing blame for the poor maintenance that led to the rupture.

Letting maintenance slide has become the norm in the age of low taxes on the wealthy. Lots of communities in the Unites States are used to that. Think about New Orleans levees before Katrina or the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis.

But in its latest willful polluting of our water, Duke acted alone, and now even North Carolina state regulators are pissed off.

What are we to make of Duke’s flagrant violation of state and federal environmental regulations? Was Duke’s management emboldened by weak enforcement under the rabidly anti-regulation Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who previously worked for Duke? Or perhaps they thought the Republican legislature would eventually pass a law exempting Duke from following any environmental or product safety laws?  And why not? Duke contributed to the election campaigns of most of them.

Duke Energy is a corporation, but a corporation is run by people. One reason that Duke’s executives such as Chairman of the Board Ann Maynard Gray and Chief Executive Officer Lynne J. Good think they can act with impunity is that have no fear of real consequences.  Even if fired summarily by the board of directors (and fat chance of that unless the company is losing money), a C-level executive has probably already made enough money to be set for life. And these guys—and in the case of Duke Energy, these guys and gals—never go to jail.

It’s about time that changed. We should throw away centuries of jurisprudence and tear the corporate veil to shreds. The corporate veil is the legal principle that a corporation is a separate legal person from its executives, employees, board members or shareholders. It seems to me that when the fictitious person called a corporation does something illegal the real people who make the decisions—the executives—should pay the fines from their own pockets and go to jail. It is true that employees and executives who act alone and break the law sometimes go to jail, but when a corporation breaks the law or makes a bad mistake, it usually just pays a never-large-enough fine and no one ends up in prison.

I think both Ann Maynard Gray and Lynne J. Good would look as sharp in a saggy orange prison uniform as Taylor Schilling, star of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.”  The rest of the Duke Energy Board, by the way, consists of 13 white males, one white female and a male who used to be Obama’s U.S.  Ambassador to the European Union and looks as if he could be white or African-American.  Having an individual or two on the board with the President’s private phone number stored in his cell phone probably makes the rest of these wealthy and connected scofflaws sleep a little more easily at night.  And it probably doesn’t hurt that they live far away from the communities and natural areas damaged by their dumping.

Does anyone want war? What else then do Obama’s Ukraine critics want him to do?

Anybody want to go to war over Crimea?

Anyone want to see American soldiers die? Anyone want to see Ukrainian soil soaked with the blood of innocents? Anyone want to see the unspeakable tragedies of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria repeated?

Anyone want to risk a nuclear conflagration?

And for what? To keep Ukrainian ownership of Crimea, a predominantly Russian-speaking peninsula which was part of Russia for centuries and whose ties to Russia go back even further? To keep Crimea part of an oligarch-dominated kleptocracy masquerading as a democracy with a political culture as corrupt as Russia’s?

What is the difference between what is happening in Crimea and what happened in Ossetia and Abkhazia, which we let Russia take from Georgia during the Bush II Administration? Why go to war today when we didn’t go to war back then?

Once we have made the decision not to go to war, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Ted Cruz, Dick Cheney, The Wall Street Journal and others criticizing Obama’s actions in the Ukraine crisis don’t have a leg to stand on. None of these critics have actually used the “w” word, not even in its many euphemisms, which leads me to believe that Republican criticism is all about getting elected and not about meeting a particularly knotty global challenge.

The critics of how Obama is handling the Ukraine crisis make two arguments:

  1. Russia would not have acted so aggressively if Obama didn’t have such a wimpy foreign policy, as demonstrated by our backing down on sending a military presence to Syria
  2. We should do be doing more right now in the way of economic sanctions of Russia

The critics of the president seem to forget that when he proposed military action in Syria, the nation objected vociferously, so much so that Obama couldn’t summon a majority in Congress to support putting American lives at risk to intervene in a truly monstrous civil war. Thanks in part to Russia and Iran, we did get Bashir Assad to stop using chemical weapons, which was the reason Obama wanted to engage the military. While the American people—fomented by the mainstream and right-wing media—are enraged at Russia and Putin for annexing Crimea, going to war is another story.  I could find no survey of how the American people feel about going to war over the Crimea, but I’m guessing that the results of such a survey would not make Putin quake in his boots.

I’m thinking that it was less America’s actions in Syria and more our reaction to what Russia did in Georgia that emboldened Putin to annex Crimea. I’m sure someone in the Kremlin has read the surveys that show that the American people are sick of war and tired of the human and financial costs of military interventions.

Once military action is off the table, the Obama response makes perfect sense. The Administration has decided first to implement sanctions that only hurt the Russians. Only if those sanctions don’t work will he consider sanctions that would also hurt the world, European and American economies.  And once the Administration has decided to limit sanctions to what will hurt Russia, it makes perfect sense to show them only a little at first, before ratcheting up the pain. The more steps there are in the response, the more flexibility we have in negotiations.

But what kind of negotiations are we talking about?

What the United States and the West should be doing now is making sure that Russia stops with Crimea. Steps we could take include supporting a truly democratic election process in Ukraine, funneling massive economic support into Ukraine, weaning Ukraine and other western nations from their dependence on Russian oil and gas and even placing or threatening to place NATO troops on the Ukraine-Russian border as peacekeepers, with the approval of Ukraine of course.

Meanwhile, we should engage in negotiations with Russia to recognize the annexation of Crimea in return for economic support of the Ukraine and promises to stay out of Ukraine politics. Let Russia have Crimea, but make them pay for it. They will.

Those who think union spending on elections offsets corporate spending aren’t adding up the numbers

A common mantra of the right-wing when the subject comes to spending by large organizations to influence elections is that unions do it more than business does. Recently the right has encapsulated this argument into a comparison between one family—the Kochs—contributes and what unions contribute to elect their preferred candidates.

But a chart by investigative journalist Lee Fang and website Republic Report republished in Nation shows that any comparison between election spending by the Kochs and unions is as much of a conflation as the 2004 comparison between the military records of George Bush and John Kerry.

The differences in numbers between right-wing and left-wing political spending are so large that the mere act of placing them in the same sentence without including amounts qualifies as a lie. The chart, titled “Koch Bust” is a bar graph showing the total political spending in the 2012 election by Koch Brothers-backed groups and by unions. The Kochs contributed more than $412 million, while the combined contributions of the 10 biggest unions equaled a mere 153.5 million. That’s 2.7 times as much money spent by the Kochs to elect candidates than spent by the major unions.

The total includes money contributed directly to campaigns or to support issues of importance to campaigns by individuals, political action committees and indirectly. The Republic Report refutes the facts and figures supplied by The Wall Street Journal and others, which claim that unions far outspend the Koch Brothers. The numbers from the right-wing neglect to include “dark money,” which are contributions that aren’t reported until after the election. Some $408 million in Koch election contributions came as dark money, so leaving that source of campaign financing is duplicitous to say the least.

There are three levels of deception in saying that unions spend more than the Kochs to influence elections:

  1. The lie itself, which implies that left-supported candidates enjoy a major advantage over poor little conservatives. This lie plays into the “sinking ship” mentality that conservatives like to employ to describe the current supposedly embattled status of the right. Of course nothing could be further from the truth in a country where a qualified candidate for a judgeship gets voted down because he did his job as a defense attorney or a law permitting discrimination could pass a state legislature.
  2. The idea of limiting the terms of comparison to Koch versus unions, which leaves out the outsized contributions by Sheldon Adelson, Phillip Anschutz, groups controlled by Karl Rove, the Wal-Mart family and other wealthy individuals and families.  Let’s also not forget about the National Rifle Association.
  3. The implication that the fact unions are also taking advantage of the shambles that the Supreme Court created in the Citizens United decision makes the decision okay and proves that it doesn’t give a special advantage to corporations. Of course there are left-leaning campaign contributors, too, such as George Soros and Tom Steyer, but they are severely outnumbered and don’t give as much money.

On the surface, the real trump card for the right in the campaign spending argument could be the fact that Barack Obama outspent the Republican opponent in both his presidential victories. In fact, the winning candidate in presidential campaigns virtually always outspends the opponent, for the simple reason that the winner has managed to raise more money. The candidate with more money also usually wins statewide and local elections. It’s as if money votes first and then the voters go to the polls to confirm the decision that money has made.

But the fact that Koch and Adelson couldn’t impose their will on the presidential election does not disprove that these American oligarchs have too much influence on the outcome of elections. Besides having the ability to give more to each election, they can also give to more elections. Someone with a few hundred bucks to contribute may just give it to his or her preferred choice for president or senator. The rich folk are spreading it around. Thus we end up with a Congress full of right-wingers who propose legislation that surveys show the majority of Americans are against.

Low taxes lead to privatization of U.S. science, as billionaires decide what research to fund

We may be entering a new age of court sponsorship similar to Renaissance Europe when landed nobility adopted painters, sculptors, playwrights, choreographers and writers, supporting their efforts and in return reaping some of the glory of creation. But in this new age, it’s not aristocrats by birth who provide the support but the aristocrats of money such as Larry Elison, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Gordon Moore, union-hating liberal Michael Bloomberg and the nefarious David Koch. And the support is going not to the arts, but to research scientists.

The New York Times article that details the enormous amounts given by these and other billionaires to support scientific research zeroes in on the big problem of the ultra-wealthy selecting research topics: they decide what’s important and not scientists or the government, which represents all of us. Traditionally, peer-review groups at campuses and research facilities or government agencies decided what research deserved funding. When the government did it, it mostly let scientists make the decisions and awarded research on merit and importance and not politics, except partially during the Bush II faith-based Administration. It is true that industry has often had an outsized say in setting scientific policy; for example, when Truman decided to implement the results of a white paper advocating commercialization of nuclear power and denied funding for recommendations in a white paper on solar energy.  But having influence is not quite the same thing as making the decision without any checks or balances.

Now government support for scientific research is down, as Congress would prefer to keep taxes on the wealthy at historic lows over investing in our future. The billionaires are stepping into the breach, but only in the areas that they care about.

As might be expected, most of the billionaires giving large dollars for science research donate to fight a disease with which they are familiar. David Koch and Michael Milkin have both had prostate cancer. Google’s Sergey Brin’s mother had Parkinson’s. American oil oligarch Harold Hamm had diabetes. Leon Black’s wife had melanoma. Eli Broad’s son has Crohn’s disease.

This privatization of America’s science research policy is as bad for the country as the privatization of prisons, education and war-fighting have been, but the privatization of actual decisions of who gets how much is even worse. We would be much better off having scientific groups decide on funding for specific projects than non-scientists with lots of money.

In the past, higher taxes on the wealthy helped to finance the American science that cured polio and other diseases, put men on the moon, earth-quaked buildings and computerized the world.  The growing inequality of wealth—the rich getting richer and everyone else falling behind—gives the wealthy an unfair say in the personal lives and futures of everyone. Their control extends beyond the ability to buy more goods and services, as they buy more political influence, more campaign ads and even more scientists. Who is is to say whether the billionaires will share breakthroughs with the rest of the world—perhaps they will want to make money on the new discoveries. We see what happens when private entities own drug discoveries—some drugs are a thousand dollars a pill, while no American company is willing to make flu vaccines because the profit margin isn’t great enough. Privatization of science will likely lead to similar inequities.

I also wonder if the billionaires will employ their standard business practices in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Will David Koch suppress any research into food allergies that link them to global warming or the burning of hydrocarbons? Will Jeff Bezos insist on introducing Amazon’s employee-unfriendly wage and workplace practices into the science organizations he supports? Will scientists working for Michael Milkin be more likely than average to falsify data?

A much better approach would be to raise income taxes on high incomes, and end the special tax rate for capital gains tax and the carried interest exemption. In other words, raise taxes on the wealthy and use part of that money to increase public support of scientific research.

It’s time the West, Russia and Ukraine think about exchanging Crimea for money, stability and non-interference

When representatives of nations get together to carve up territory to fabricate other nations, their process usually resembles that of unethical sausage makers. Take the abominations created by the winners of World War I: Yugoslavia was created out of Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and other geographical territories containing discrete cultures. Slovak-speaking Slovakia and German-speaking Bohemia were stitched together to form Czechoslovakia.  Modern Iraq comprises two territories that had frequently been in cultural clash since the Akkadians and the Sumerians of ancient times, plus land on which Kurds lived.

Funny, with all this slicing and dicing of territory, no one in the Western European imperium of that era thought that either the Kurds or the Armenians deserved their own country. That certainly wasn’t the case when the Hashemite family lost the war to control the Arabian peninsula to the Saudis in 1930. Britain helped the Hashemites (a family, not a people or ethnic group) install themselves as royalty over most of the homeland of the Palestinians, AKA Transjordan.

Many of the geopolitical troubles over the last few decades derive from these decisions almost a century ago to impose statehood on badly mashed-up geographies.

The aftermath of World War II wasn’t much better, with the British botching the independence of the Indian subcontinent and the weird division of much of Africa into nation states that disregarded ethnic boundaries.

In the case of the Crimea, however, the Russians brought it on themselves, or perhaps it’s more correct to say that Khrushchev brought it on Russia by giving Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (part of the Soviet Union) in 1954 for administrative reasons.

If you go back far enough in history, many have laid claim to the Crimean peninsula, including the Cimmerians, Bulgars, Greeks, Scythian, Goths, Huns, Khazars, Kievan proto-Russians, Mongols, Tatars, Ottoman Turks, Venetians and Genovese. But since the 18th century, the Russians and then the Soviet Union, dominated by Russia, controlled Crimea until the breakup of the Soviet Union. Almost 60% of the population identifies itself as Russian (36% are Tatars, who are primarily Muslims and just 12% are Ukrainians). Although Ukrainian is the official language, most people speak Russian, most government business is conducted in Russian and most TV and radio stations broadcast in Russian.

Never fear, dear readers. I’m not getting ready to support the recent Russian saber-rattling in Crimea, whether it is conceived as army maneuvers or an invasion.  Russia is dead wrong to try to use military power to control events in a neighboring nation, just as the United States was wrong to invade Argentina (1890), Chile (1891) Panama (1898), Dominican Republic (1903), Honduras (1907 and 1911), Haiti (1913 and 2004), Mexico (1914 and 1923), Guatemala (1920, 1954 and 1966), Grenada (1983) and Colombia (2003). Except for Mexico, none of these countries borders the United States. In none of these countries is English a dominant or even prevalent language. There is no deep American cultural history in any of these countries.

American presidents have always given the same reason for all these invasions: to protect American lives.  Sound familiar? Of course it does, because it’s the essence of Putin’s rationale for using military force in Crimea. Putin is as transparently devious as the United States has been in all of its invasions of neighbors. We were wrong in every single instance and Russia is wrong now.

But wrong doesn’t seem to matter much when large and militarily powerful nations flex their muscles in their sphere of interest.

Every option seems onerous for the West and especially for the United States, still broke from prosecuting two goalless and mismanaged wars. Civil war in Ukraine, a broader conflagration with Russia, or an economic boycott of the world’s leading producer of fossil fuels makes both the West and Russia suffer. Economies are so intertwined in the new world order that any major showdown will hurt both parties. Putin knows that misery to his people and loss of income to his friends will come, which is why he is moving carefully while asserting what he thinks is Russia’s right to hegemony. Similar concerns explain why the United States and our allies are also responding gingerly.

It’s time to start thinking creatively. Let’s start by making a distinction between the Crimea and the rest of eastern Ukrainian in which Russian speakers predominate. Where Russia ends and the Ukraine begins is subject to dispute in the eastern part of the Ukraine. It’s one flat prairie for a long stretch. Crimea, by contrast, although hanging on as if by one finger to Ukraine, is a discrete territory which in every way is more Russian than Ukraine. If I were dictating foreign policy for the United States and our allies, I would let Russia have Crimea in return for three concessions:

  1. Russia agrees not to interfere in any way in Ukrainian elections.
  2. Russia removes any troops it has from the non-Crimean part of Ukraine.
  3. Russia continues to provide support to the Ukrainian economy by selling natural gas to it at discounted rates and giving loan guarantees for at least 25 years.

The trade of Crimea for money and stability is not appeasement, as Russia will pay a price for the return of Crimea. It really is a win-win for everyone except for the small number of ultra-nationalist Crimean Ukrainians. It avoids both a military and an economic conflagration. The Ukrainians get a lot more out of the deal than the Mexicans, Guatemalans or Haitians did from U.S. invasions and Russia doesn’t really get that much—just return of a small piece of land over which it has had cultural control for many centuries. It corrects a mistake that Khrushchev made some 60 years ago.  Would that all the mistakes of the so-called nation-builders were that easy to correct.