As Yogi once said, nothing difficult is ever easy

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2001

At the risk of being called a Downtown Liberal, I admit to having lived in Moscow for two years in the decade before the Soviet Union went out of business.

I'd been diving under school desks and huddling in hallways for "atomic bomb drills" since the first grade. I'm curious by nature. I reached a point where I wanted to see for myself who those grim old men waving weakly from atop Lenin's Tomb were. I wasn't yet reading the Juneau Empire, but I wanted to know "what's up with that" place.

In 1982, the news company for which I worked sent me. Less than a decade after my return home, the U.S.S.R. found its rightful place on the scrap heap of history.

Today, we may not give much thought to Moscow, Vladimir Putin or CCCP stamped on ICBMs, but no nation had a greater influence on U.S. policy between 1945 and 1990 than did the former Sov U. It was the other superpower. As such, it was the common thread in the fabric of the Cuban missile crisis, the Berlin Wall, mutually assured destruction, the shootdown of KAL 007, the suppression of democratic movements in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary, the occupation of the Baltic states, the invasion of Afghanistan and our also-ran status in Gold Medal counts from Olympiad to Olympiad.

From No. 1 or No. 2 atop most charts, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The Soviet Union papered over its problems, operating as if failure was success and lies were truth. It replaced Czarist Russia but was not fundamentally different. The palaces of the ruling elite were warm and well-stocked. The masses were cold and hungry. Tattletales and armed thugs were paid to enforce order and suppress questions.

From the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and almost to the end, party bosses pronounced everything to be all right. Better than all right. The wheat harvest was celebrated annually in the news media while the Kremlin quietly bought millions of tons of grain from the West.

TV showed collective farmers bringing in the potato crop while off camera millions of tons of potatoes rotted because harvest equipment and fuel were assigned to certain areas on certain dates that only luckily might correspond to ripening crops in the fields.

The military showed off its firepower in Red Square while people living in Moscow's suburbs did their laundry in rivers and drew their water from communal wells.

Problems cried out for action. Rulers responded with words. For 70 years, the planet's largest nation polished the chrome and honked the horn instead of tuning the engine and changing the oil. In 1990, the wheels fell off.

But before we feel too smug about having won the Cold War, we should ask ourselves individually, and, excuse the term, collectively, whether the Soviet experience was unique.

Consider Braniff, Montgomery Ward, Michael Milken, Betamax, Edsel, the Anchorage Times, the XFL, the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon, asbestos, racial segregation and the Space Shuttle Challenger.

We deal with problems or we don't. Few solve themselves. Lately, I've been wondering about a few problems we seem to have addressed more with words than action.

As the latest Norwegian Sky experience demonstrates, the best intentions may not be enough when it comes to cruise ship regulation. This issue won't go away. State lawmakers should deal with it while the cruise industry is receptive. Gov. Tony Knowles should adjust the special session date so legislators will be more inclined to cooperate.

Alaska needs a long-range fiscal plan, environmentally sound economic development and the courage to fund public education adequately rather than punitively. We must hold educators accountable for teaching, students accountable for learning and parents accountable for the content of the TV, movies and video games their kids watch and play.

Nationally, we don't have to have uniform voting systems, but the systems in place do have to work. We need an energy policy that pursues conservation as ardently as drilling. We need to quit fooling ourselves about global warming.

If we won't practice bipartisanship, we should quit saying we value it.

In Juneau, we need to quit insulting those with whom we disagree and stop stereotyping people based on where they live or how they make their living.

We should go beyond convenience when it comes to garbage bear policy.

I'm not against compromises and incremental steps. But inaction also has consequences.

Steve Reed can be reached at

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