Thursday, April 17, 2014

Israel/Palestine 3: Passover

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
…[A]nd God divided the light from the darkness. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.… And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.… And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
The generations from Adam to Abraham are 20.  Mind you, they are extraordinary generations spanning nearly 9,000 years.   And some people say it's 18 generations and 4,000 years
The beginning of the world on these accounts is somewhere in the early to mid Neolithic culture.
3. [1]
At first our fathers were beholden to idols. Then the Omnipresent brought us close to His worship, as it is written: And Joshua said to the whole of the nation, so says the Lord, God of Israel: Your fathers settled on the far side of the river forever ago … and they worshipped other Gods.  And I took your father, took Abraham, from across that river, and I walked him through the whole land of Canaan.  And I made plentiful his seed, and I gave him Isaac. And I gave Isaac, Jacob and Esau. And I gave Mount Seir to Esau as a legacy. And Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.
Blessed is the One Who Preserves his pledges to Israel, blessed is He. For the Holy One, Blessed is He, envisioned the end of an era in order to do as he told our father Abraham in the Covenant of the Pieces; as it is written: And He said to Abraham, Know and keep knowing that your offspring and he tortured by them for four hundred years. Know also that I will stand in judgment of their enslavers, and in the wake of that judgment your people will go out with great wealth.
….The Aramean disappeared my father, and he went down to Egypt, and lingered there with a small group. And it was there he transformed us into a great nation, massive and many. …. And we cried out to the Lord, God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voices, and He saw our torture and our toil, and the great pressure upon us. And the Lord lifted us out of Egypt in the might hand of an outstretched arm, with an awesome spectacle, with signs and undeniable wonders.
This teaches us, it was there that Israel became exceptional, distinguished through mitzvoth—distinct as a nation unto itself. Neither suspected of unchastities, nor of noxious talk. And they did not pervert their names, and they did not pervert their language.
In every generation, a person is obligated to view himself as if he were the one who went out from Egypt, as it is said: And on that day tell your son, saying “For this purpose the Lord labored on my behalf, by taking me out of Egypt.” It was not our fathers alone who were deliverd by the holy One, Blessed is He—we are also delivered with them, as it is said: And He took us out from there in order to bring us—to us!—the land that He pledged to our fathers.
[1] From Foer and Englander, New American Haggadah.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Israel/Palestine 2: Beginnings

The archeological record tells us that man became sapien, if not modern, in Africa about 200,000 years ago.  The scholarly consensus, and who am I to dispute it, agrees we are all out of Africa.

Qafzeh skull ~95,000 BCE
In the 1930's they found evidence of early modern man in caves on the slopes of Mt. Carmel, near Haifa, and in Galilee.  The remains of 11 modern humans were carbon dated to 90,000 to 100,000 years BCE--the earliest evidence of migration from Africa ever found.  But this excursion seems to have been a dead end.  Modern man did not leave Africa in earnest until approximately 50,000 years ago, with a first migration across from Ethiopia to Yemen, and a second migration through Egypt and into the eastern Mediterranean.

From there, man spread into the rest of Eurasia and Western Europe. But from at least 50,000 BCE on, man has lived in the coastal plains of Israel and the Judean hills.

Through 40,000 years of the late stone age in the eastern Mediterranean, archeologists have grouped periods according to the sophistication and refinement of the stone tools discovered, and the gradual movement from hunting and gathering in nomadic groupings towards more sedentary life in communities.

Emirian Culture

"Emirian culture was a culture that existed in the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine) between the Middle Paleolithic and the Upper Paleolithic periods.  [Roughly from arrival in Israel Palestine to about 30,000 years ago] .... Numerous stone blade tools were used, including curved knives similar to those found in the Chatelperronian culture of Western Europe."

Kebarian Culture

"Kebaran or Kebarian culture was an archaeological culture in the eastern Mediterranean area (c. 18,000 to 12,500 BC), named after its type site, Kebara Cave south of Haifa. The Kebaran were a highly mobile nomadic population, composed of hunters and gatherers in the Levant and Sinai areas who utilized microlithic tools. 
"The Kebaran is the last Upper Paleolithic phase of the Levant (SyriaJordanLebanonIsraelPalestine). The Kebarans were characterized by small, geometric microliths, and were thought to lack the specialized grinders and pounders found in later Near Eastern cultures. 
"The Kebaran is ... characterised by the earliest collecting of wild cereals, known due to the uncovering of grain grinding tools. It was the first step towards the Neolithic Revolution. The Kebaran people are believed to have practiced dispersal to upland environments in the summer, and aggregation in caves and rockshelters near lowland lakes in the winter. This diversity of environments may be the reason for the variety of tools found in their toolkits. ... They are generally thought to have been ancestral to the later Natufian culture that occupied much of the same range.[1]"

Natufian Culture

"The Natufian culture ... existed from 13,000 to 9,800 B.C. in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was unusual in that it was sedentary, or semi-sedentary, before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities are possibly the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. There is some evidence for the deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture, at the Tell Abu Hureyra site, the site for earliest evidence of agriculture in the world.[1] Generally, though, Natufians made use of wild cereals. Animals hunted included gazelles.[2] The term "Natufian" was coined by Dorothy Garrod who studied the Shuqba cave in Wadi an-Natuf, in the western Judean Mountains, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Ramallah.[3]"

Neolithic Culture

"The Neolithic Era, or  New Stone age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 10,200 BC... in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world[1] and ending between 4,500 and 2,000 BC. 
"Traditionally considered the last part of the Stone Age, the Neolithic ...  commenced with the beginning of farming, which produced the "Neolithic Revolution". It ended when metal tools became widespread (in the Copper Age or Bronze Age; or, in some geographical regions, in the Iron Age). The Neolithic is a progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domesticated animals.[2] 
"The beginning of the Neolithic culture is considered to be in ... Jericho (modern-day West Bank) about 10,200–8,800 BC. It developed directly from the Epipaleolithic Natufian culture in the region, whose people pioneered the use of wild cereals, which then evolved into true farming. ... As the Natufians had become dependent on wild cereals in their diet, and a sedentary way of life had begun among them, the climatic changes associated with the Younger Dryas are thought to have forced people to develop farming. By 10,200–8,800 BC, farming communities arose in the Levant and spread to Asia Minor, North Africa and North Mesopotamia. 
"Early Neolithic farming was limited to a narrow range of plants, both wild and domesticated, which included einkorn wheatmillet and spelt, and the keeping of dogssheep and goats. By about 6,900–6,400 BC, it included domesticated cattle and pigs, the establishment of permanently or seasonally inhabited settlements, and the use of pottery.[3]"

 The Bronze Age and the Rise of Civilizations

In the Near East, the beginning of the bronze age (3300 BCE to 1200 BCE) coincided with the rise of Egypt and Mesopotamia as competing world powers.

"Organised society structured around urban centers first arises in Southwest Asia, as an extension of the Neolithic trend, from as early as the 8th millennium BC, of proto-urban centers such as Catal Huyuk [in Turkey]. Urban civilizations proper begin to emerge in the Chalcolithic, in 5th to 4th millennium Egypt and in Mesopotamia. The Bronze Age arises in this region during the final centuries of the 4th millennium. The urban civilizations of the Fertile Crescent now have writing systems and develop bureaucracy, by the mid-3rd millennium leading to the development of the earliest Empires. "

"In the 2nd millennium, the eastern coastlines of the Mediterranean are dominated by the Hittite and Egyptian empires, competing for control over the city states in the Levant (Canaan)." 

Homer, Troy and The Bronze Age Collapse

"The Bronze Age collapse is the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, expressed by the collapse of palace economies of the Aegean and Anatolia, which were replaced after a hiatus by the isolated village cultures of the Dark Age period in history of the ancient Near East. Some have gone so far as to call the catalyst that ended the Bronze Age a "catastrophe".[1] The Bronze Age collapse may be seen in the context of a technological history that saw the slow, comparatively continuous spread of iron-working technology in the region, beginning with precocious iron-working in what is now Romania in the 13th and 12th centuries.[2] The cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and Syria, and the Egyptian Empire in Syria and Israel, the scission of long-distance trade contacts and sudden eclipse of literacy occurred between 1206 and 1150 BC. In the first phase of this period, almost every city between Troy and Gaza was violently destroyed, and often left unoccupied thereafter (for example, HattusasMycenaeUgarit). The gradual end of the Dark Age that ensued saw the rise of settled Neo-Hittite Aramaean kingdoms of the mid-10th century BC, and the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire."
Which brings us, more or less, to King David, and Solomon, Solomon's Temple, and the real story of the Holy Land.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Israel/Palestine: 1. Geography

For the next month this Blog will focus on Israel/Palestine.  We are traveling there with our long time  friends from Seattle, Josh and Pamela Gruber.  It's our first trip, but they are old hands.  Josh had a career with the Jewish Federations of North America, a group of charitable organizations that raise and distribute $3 billion annually, and HIAS which worked with relocating Russian Jews to the U.S., Israel, and other parts of the world.  In these capacities he had many opportunities to visit and meet people from all walks of life.  We'll stay in a Kibbutz in the Jordan Valley and meet Dudu and his tractor.  

The Arabian tectonic plate sits like a shield between the massive Eurasian plate to the north and the African plate to the south and west.  Great rifts along the Red Sea and Persian Gulf allowed the water to rush in.  

Along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, a sliver of low lying plain clings to the edge of the African plate, the remnant of an ancient seabed.  

Tectonic pressures between the Arabian plate and the African plate raised the Judean hills to 2600 feet, forming the backbone of Israel/Palestine as we find it today. From this ridge of the Judean hills the terrain drops 4,000 feet in 15 miles to the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 1400 feet below sea level.  

From the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley extends north 65 miles to the Sea of Galilee.  To the east a few narrow roads and paths rise sharply up to the plains of Transjordan.

The area from Beersheba on the northern edge of the Negev up to Mount Hermon above the Golan Heights (~150 miles), from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River (~28 miles at the Sea of Galilee; slightly wider in the south) comprises about 6000 square miles.  This is roughly the size of the San Francisco Bay Area from Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz. 

Like a slightly bent index finger, the central mountains touch the Mediterranean at Mt. Carmel by Haifa.  Along the knuckles of this finger lie the Jezreel and Beit She'an valleys connecting the Mediterranean and Jordan River Valley.  In recent geologic times the Mediterranean was connected to the Dead Sea through these valleys, but this connection was lost about two million years ago, when the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River Valley was uplifted.  Today these valleys, along with the upper Jordan River Valley, are fertile and key agricultural areas that account for much of Israel's agricultural production. 

Across the Jezreel and Beit She'an valleys, the Lower Galilee gently rises towards the Upper Galilee and the Lebanon border.  The Jordan River Valley continues north from the Sea of Galilee, gaining 3,000 feet in elevation to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.  To the east of the Sea of Galilee, the terrain rises to 3300 feet and the Golan Heights plateau.  

The Golan Heights Plateau is bordered on the south by the Yarmouk River, which forms the border between Syria and Jordan and flows into the Jordan River just below the Sea of Galilee.  The cool climate, high altitude, and basalt derived soils make the Golan Heights ideal for cultivation of grapes, and today there are a number of wineries located in the Golan Heights.  

 We leave in a week...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chief Justice Roberts and the Corruption of Money in Politics--Go Read Fishkin

Money in Politics

Money in politics has a corrupting influence.  It's a widely based perception.  Money buys access, influence, and control of our elected officials because in our modern day democracy elected officials are forced to raise money non-stop.  Legislators routinely vote on bills they do not understand or master.  They get away with this because their job is not to figure out what's in these bills and to master the nuances in order to properly judge their merits, and vote accordingly:  their job is to figure out who supports the bill, who opposes it, and how not to ruffle the feathers of important donors.  Normal constituents don't figure prominently in this calculus.

McCutcheon v. FEC disputes the Premise

Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas don't share the perception. In a most remarkable turn of phrase in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (U.S. Supreme Court, April 2, 2014) Chief Justice Roberts dismissed any concern about the corrupting influence of money in politics. It's not corrupting, it's protected by the First Amendment, and it's at the heart of our democratic process, says Roberts:  
“Ingratiation and access  [by spending vast sums of money]. . . are not corruption.  They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns."   (slip op. at p.2)
"Constituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and responsive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials." (p.39)
The right to participate in democracy through political contribution is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute. Our cases have held that Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. 
At stake in McCutcheon was an upward limit of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 whereby Congress limited to $123,200 the total aggregate amount that any individual could contribute to candidates and committees during any two year election cycle.  The court struck this limitation on spending as unconstitutional.

 The problem with the majority decision is that it takes an extremely limited view of "corruption" and money in politics.  It's not corruption unless there is an explicit quid pro quo:  an official act in exchange for money.  Seeking favor, access, and influence is not corruption, ever, therefore it cannot be regulated.  In thus holding, the court overruled an earlier unanimous Supreme Court holding, Buckley v. Valeo (1976), which held that aggregate spending limits were constitutional and which recognized the corrupting power of seeking favor, access, and influence through large donations to elected officials.

Joey Fishkin and Why the Money is Corrupting of the Political Process

The dissent, in a passionate, if less than completely clear opinion, makes the case why the Supreme Court should not turn its back on the corrupting influence of large donations in politics, and why this is an appropriate area for Congressional regulation.  In a brilliant exposition, University of Texas law professor, Joey Fishkin, explains.

Who is a Constituent:
In yesterday’s big campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, Chief Justice Roberts doubled down on a very narrow definition of corruption, one that calls most remaining campaign finance regulation into some doubt.  That was the most important thing that happened in McCutcheon.  However, the mostinteresting thing that happened in McCutcheon, to my eye, was something subtler, something having to do with the question in the title of this post ["Who is a Constituent"].
Fishkin repeats the quotes from the opinion, above, and asks us to look carefully at Roberts' use of the word "constituent."  Who are the "Constituents" of your Congressman or Congresswoman?
So here is the puzzle.  Who exactly does Chief Justice Roberts have in mind when he says “constituents”?   This is a legal case, so most obvious answer is the plaintiff, Shaun McCutcheon.  After all, that’s whose rights the case is about. But McCutcheon, like most donors, supports candidates in places other than where he lives.  (Lots of places, in fact.  That’s how he ran up against the aggregate contribution limits.)  So when Chief Justice Roberts speaks favorably about “ingratiation and access” by campaign donors, calling it a “central feature of democracy” that “constituents” support candidates they agree with—and candidates ought in turn to be “cognizant of and responsive to” the concerns of such “constituents,”  who is he talking about?
Fishkin suggests that the key to why large donations are corrupting of the political process have something to do with the fact that when a wealthy person gives large sums of money to Congressmen and Congresswomen all over the country, this donor and his or her money become a "Constituent" of politicians not in the donor's district.  The Congressman who receives the donation is suddenly beholden to this outside influence, with interests that are different and may be competing with the interests of the real constituents in the Congressman's District.  That's why it's corrupting.  That's why Congress may want to impose limits on how many campaigns you can contribute to, a point that was completely lost on Roberts.

Read Fishkin.  It's a great post.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bruegel and the "Dismal Science" in Detroit

There is a cool Bruegel, "The Wedding Dance" (1566) hanging in the Detroit Institute of Arts. For now, anyway.

 The museum paid $35,075 for the painting in 1930, or about $2.1 million in today's dollars. According to the auction house Christies, today it would fetch $200 million.  

As it happens, Detroit is bankrupt.  Creditors would dearly love to put their fingers on this Bruegel.  Should they? And to what lengths should the city go to avoid this fate?  Economist Robert Frank examines the question.  

This is offensive to some.  Here's an email I received from Sandy Zirulnik, one of my retired friends:  
The author is ROBERT H. FRANK, an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.  Applying science in a stupid way to come to a ridiculous conclusion [sell art; build schools], in my humble opinion.....How many economists does it take to screw a light bulb?
 I’m not attacking science, I am disappointed that nonsensical thinking masquerades as science.  This article is embarrassingly idiotic.  Shame on the author, shame on the NY Times for printing this drivel, shame on Cornell for giving this guy a job title.

Should the museum () do a calculation and say “we can better spend the money on street lights”?  This misses the point.  The Breugel painting, which I have seen many times, was not acquired by anyone for $200 million.  It may be worth that on the open market, but it is not on the open market.  The museum is lucky it owns the work free and clear.  Just because someone might pay that kind of money for it does not mean that the “people”, who own the painting, should sell it. 
The theory that you can or should apply a cost/benefit analysis to artworks, especially publicly owned artwork makes no sense.  What is a ticket to a Barry Manilow concert worth?  Whatever someone will pay.  Should all art museums have "maximum high value" prices set for all of their artworks and sell when they hit that value?  That may apply to Dollar Stores, but not to cultural assets, which  are - as they say in the MasterCard commercials - "Priceless", which literally means no price.  Otherwise all such assets wind up belonging to the world's superrich because the people abdicated.

Visit the Dollar Store Museum of Art - Nothing over $0.99.
Well, they don't call it the dismal science for nothing!  But, of course, cost/benefit is one of the things economists spend their time thinking about.  It can be a pain in the ass because (bother) every time some economist raises a cost/benefit question like this, we've got to rack our brains about it.  It's like when GM did cost/benefit analysis on the Pinto gas tanks?  Really? Did they have to?  Some things in Detroit are just best left unexamined. 

I'm not offended by the question.   Although the city didn't pay $200,000,000 for this painting in 1930, the city is in bankruptcy and must consider shelling out—or someone must shell out on its behalf--$200 million today for the city to preserve the painting. [Or so I'm assuming for present purposes]

In light of that, it seems not inappropriate to ask whether this is the best use of $200 million for the city of Detroit right now.  The same question might be confronted by a philanthropist who wants to do some good.

I do like that Bruegel, and I would like to go see it some day.  It may not be sound cost/benefit analysis, but like my friend Sandy, I'm hoping Detroit gets to keep it's Bruegel. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Depressing State of the ACA and Hobby Lobby Fish Vouchers

I haven't delved into the Hobby Lobby cases.  As they say, "it's complicated."  

But here is Sandy Zirulnik's satirical take: 
"In a close decision today, the US Supreme Court approved a plan by Hobby lobby to compensate employees with fish vouchers rather than cash.  The company owners claimed that their religious beliefs prevented them from giving employees monetary compensation which might allow individual employees to purchase items that violated the company owners religious convictions. 
The Supreme Court accepted the argument that company owners' religious beliefs can lead to a corporation's religious beliefs and can further lead to the religiously-based compensation that a company may pay employees.  Hobby lobby compensated employees with envelopes containing vouchers for flour, spaghetti and water as well as fish protein. Hobby lobby in their arguments said "we cannot have our employees buying, condoms, pork, Health insurance, or other religious items in conflict with our tenants"
I think this is funny because, duh!  It's good satire because it's right on the correct line and asks us to think about what the line means. But there is a difference, of course, between an employer paying workers with cash that might be used to purchase birth control, and an employer being forced to provide a health plan that provides birth control coverage.  It's true that in both cases the decision to use birth control is up to the employee; however, forcing the employer to purchase coverage for birth control is a bit like the employer being forced to purchase condoms and hand them out at staff meetings.  The condoms may, or may not be used, but it does clearly impinge on the employer's "birth control is immoral" stance.  

If you want to read more, here is Eugene Volokh 
describing the lay of the land.  Volokh is a right winger, but sober 1st Am expert at UCLA,  

Marty Lederman at Balkanization,  a Yale liberal law blog, did a whole bunch of posts on Hobby Lobby a while ago.  

Finally, here is Gerrard Magliocca in a very pessimistic mood about the state of ACA in toto.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pouring Olympic Billions into the Black Sea Like so Much Snow Melt, and Other Irrationalities.

Russia just spent $51 billion on the Sochi Olympics.  Considering the U.S. economy is six and one half times larger than the Russian economy, this is like the U.S. having spent $300 billion on the Salt Lake City Olympics, the equivalent of 3,750 $80 million hospitals, or 40 new San Francisco Bay bridges ($7.5 billion each), or employing 3.75 million teachers for a year!
  • Salt Lake City Olympics $2 billion
  • Vancouver Olympics  $6.4 billion
  • Sochi Olympics $51 billion
Annexing Crimea is not designed to make the most of this investment.  For starters, Sochi was to be the destination for a G-8 Summit this summer. This now won't happen; Russia is no longer in the G8. No, annexing Crimea will not help develop Sochi as an international resort spot.

What Kimberly Marten Fears

Kimberly Marten is a political scientist with Russian expertise at Barnard College.  She spoke with Terry Gross.  Here's her fear.  Putin seems to be throwing his lot in with the ethnic nationalists. This is not a reasonable, or rational, or trivial thing to be doing. It means Russia's actions may not be predicated on rational self-interest in the near future.  Marten fears it is possible Russia will invade Eastern Ukraine and march to Moldova to "protect" the Russian population there, and to occupy Odessa while they are there. Marten does not think this would necessarily provoke a NATO response, but she fears it might result in a Ukrainian insurgency, supported by Poland.  A Ukrainian insurgency supported by Poland, a NATO member, might eventually drag in NATO.

How much deterrence is required to dissuade an irrational, ethnic nationalist power from acting against its own self-interest? Let's not ask John McCain or Mitt Romney.

Russia is Not an Economic Superpower

Today, the economic Superpowers are the EU (~$17 trillion), the U.S. (~$16 trillion/year), China (~$8 trillion/year), and Japan (~$6 trillion).  Russia is not in that club.  When you think Russia, think California, or Canada with four times the population. Russia cannot easily afford to pour $51 billion into the Black Sea like so much snow melt. 
  • Russia GDP  2.55 trillion/142 million pop.
  • California      1.8 trillion/38 million pop
  • Canada         1.5 trillion/35 million pop
  • USA             16.8 trillion/313 million pop
  • China             8 trillion/1.35 billion pop
Russia’s economy is barely growing, inflation is rising, and capital is pouring out of the country. It is the only major country to have lost population the last few years. Annexing other countries, they just acquired ~2.3 million with Crimea, is no way to fight that trend. Inflation is expected to reach 6.9-7.0 per cent in March, up from 6.2 per cent in February. 

Economists predict that Crimea will be a drag on Russia's economy for the foreseeable future, to the tune of  $3 billion per year, which is not an insignificant number in light of the fact that Russia's annual budget is approximately $500 billion, about 15 percent of the U.S. Budget of $3.4 trillion.
  • Russian Budget  $500 billion/2013
  • US Budget        $3.4 trillion/2013

Russia is Not a Military Superpower 

The U.S. annual military budget is $680 billion, the EU military budget is about $274 billion, China's military budget is $166 billion (and growing), ....Russia's military expenditures are ~$91 billion. This is not paltry but no match for NATO's military expenditures which are more than 40 percent of Russia's budget!  

How Much Deterrence?

NATO is not treaty bound to defend Ukraine. Neither the U.S. nor the EU have substantial economic interests that would justify going to war over Ukraine, notwithstanding the fact that Russia is not a match to NATO militarily.  However, any signs that Russia might move into Eastern Ukraine, not to mention moving towards Moldova and Odessa, would put tremendous pressure on NATO and U.S. decision makers to intervene. Such pressure might cause them to intervene in ways that are not, strictly speaking, in the EU or U.S. best interest.

Michael Shear and Peter Baker in the NYT today remind us of some of that pressure:
Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama’s 2012 presidential challenger, made clear his own assessment during the campaign, saying repeatedly that Russia was America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe” and arguing that Mr. Putin’s aggressive stance demanded a similar response from the American president.
.... In recent weeks, as Mr. Putin’s forces rolled through Crimea with little regard to warnings by Mr. Obama, Republicans have said Mr. Romney has been vindicated, and Mr. Obama proved wrong. In February, Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s 2008 rival, called him “the most naïve president in history.” 
After Russian troops began taking control of Crimea, Sarah Palin, the Republican Party’s 2008 vice-presidential nominee, took credit for predicting it. “Yes, I could see this one from Alaska,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “I’m usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did, despite my accurate prediction being derided as ‘an extremely far-fetched scenario’ by the ‘high-brow’ Foreign Policy magazine.”
And Sunday, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Romney echoed Mr. McCain’s assertion that the president had been naïve about Russia. “His faulty judgment about Russia’s intentions and objectives has led to a number of foreign policy challenges that we face,” Mr. Romney said. “This is not fantasy land. They are not our enemy but an adversary on the world stage.”
So far, Obama is holding his cool and it's a good thing.
“My response then continues to be what I believe today,” he said, referring to his answer to Mr. Romney in 2012. “Which is: Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the No. 1 national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” 
.... In the weeks ahead, Mr. Obama may face more criticism as the confrontation between Mr. Putin and the Western nations continues with no end in sight. But Mr. Obama’s aides have made clear that they have no intention of letting Mr. Romney or Mr. McCain succeed in painting the president as doe-eyed in the face of a harsh reality.
Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to the president, said, “Well, look, we’ve been very clear-eyed about our Russia policy from when we came into office, which is that we will cooperate when we have common interests and we can form common positions, but we’ll be very clear when we have differences.” 
Let's hope that scenarios of escalating irrationality remain a poltergeist of wars past, and that Russia will regain its footing to act in its rational self-interest. Let's hope the Russian oligarchs who want to make money win out over the Nationalist Russ spoiling for a self-destructive fight with ethnic minorities and the West. Let's hope the U.S. and NATO continue to act in their rational self-interest and reject those who would counsel to take Putin at his irrational worst and raise the ante with F-16s in Poland, an aircraft carrier battle group in the Black Sea, and red lines that threaten war.

Give those boys a Trombone