poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

February 19, 2010

“Next I’d like to ask you, What is your overall opinion of Russia?”

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 5:57 PM
Tags: ,

“Is it very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or are you a bitter former media magnate?”

Released: Gallup’s 2010 Country Favoribility Ratings.

(Favorability among Americans that is…)

Not surprisingly, the poll finds Democrats and young people have a higher opinion of most foreign countries than do the elderly and the GOP. With the notable exception of Israel, which senile neo-cons have a weakness for, apparently. Anyway, why am I posting this poll? Because I am constantly trying to divine, between what I read in the papers (Russia baaaad!), what people on the street say (nothing against the average Ivan – hey the Russians know how to party! However, Putin is a spy, so…) and my own perverse inclinations (If loving Russia is wrong, I don’t want to be right…), how Americans really feel about Russia. What does the new Gallup poll conclude? That while Russia has a less than 50% thumbs up from Americans, that’s actually an improvement:

Partial Rebound in Views of Russia

After dipping to 40% in 2009 — most likely in response to Russia’s 2008 military crackdown on Georgian separatists — favorability toward Russia has recovered somewhat to 47%; however, this remains lower than where it stood for much of the past decade.

The historical high point for positive U.S. feelings toward Russia was 66%, first reached in 1991 and repeated in 2002. However, favorability toward Russia plummeted to 41% in March 2003, after that country sharply opposed the United States’ launching of the Iraq war. (U.S. public opinion of France and Germany, two other countries opposed to the war, also turned more negative in 2003.) By February 2004, Russia’s favorability score was back to 59%, and it remained above 50% until 2008.

Well, for all the “However, Putin is a spy, so…” fearmongering, let it be known that it was not Medvedev at the helm in 2004, year of the shiny happy 59% approval rating. Just sayin’.

Another interesting observation: Russia is nestled just between Mexico and China. Pure coincidence perhaps. I honestly don’t know if Americans are afraid of Russia. Most deny it, opting for a more polite, “No, just confused by it…” If you’ve ever been invited into your boss’s office to be told, “I am confused by your actions…,” you know it’s code for, “There is a law that requires me to give you the chance to explain yourself, otherwise I’d strangle you with my bare fists!” But anecdotal evidence, a.k.a., kitchen conversations with friends and family, not infrequently invoke Mexico and China as countries to be very, very worried about (for admittedly very, very different reasons). Probably most Americans have nothing against these countries or their beautiful cultures, per se, but you could also get a cable news show devoted to demonizing and scapegoating them. These are countries which provoke our anxiety and expose our weaknesses. As opposed to those Arabs who only make us stronger when they attack us and our way of life.

47%. Not high, not scandalously low. But it does make me want to call out those who assert that while Russia is foaming about the maw with anti-Americanism, Russia isn’t even on our radar. We don’t really have an opinion one way or the other about them. Meh. Too inconsequential to bother with hating. Do you know who is inconsequential? Whom no one has an opinion about, one way or the other? Who is not on our radar? And do you see who has the highest favorablity ratings in the new study? This poll was taken before the start of the Olympics. Do the math, kids. Americans are an accepting but proud lot. So long as you don’t get in our way, you are good people. So long as you are inconsequential and boring, we think you’re just peachy keen.

But find yourself ranked between Mexico and China on our list of favourites, and you can bet you are on our freaking radar.

Here’s a snapshot of a typical person who gives Russia a “not favorable” approval rating:

From the National Review:Conrad Black: Our Faltering Rivals. The U.S. is in decline, sure — but it’s still leading.

Ok, not American, technically. But please, take a moment to savour the Canadian pot, and its encounter with the Russian kettle:

“Russia is a fraud.”

Oh, that’s a knee slapper! Ok, so maybe it takes one to know one…

“Its population is in steep decline and chronically afflicted by alcoholism. The governmental system is authoritarian and corrupt, allied with protégés who have been given monopolistic concessions and who repay their rulers with obscene kickbacks. Except for a few areas that have survived from the USSR’s expertise in some defense industries, Russia’s manufacturing is continuing to wither, and its economy depends almost entirely on the exportation of natural resources, especially oil. It is not an efficient producer of anything, and commodity prices are always vulnerable.”

Now that Conrad has explained to us what Russia hasn’t done for him lately… Mark Adomanis at True Slant moves in for the smackdown:

Re: “Fraud”

What makes such arrogance not simply annoying or distasteful but truly, riotously, funny is that, in between visits from the warden and time spent stamping licence plates, Mr. Black has, like all movement conservative hacks, constantly bemoaned the “elitism” and “arrogance” of liberals. But labeling an entire country a “fraud” and consigning it to nothing but the very bleakest of futures…well that’s humbleness, or something.

It’s also the kind of rhetoric that forces Russia to write manifestoes about sovereign democracy. So long as we are all still playing the nation-state game, you can’t write off a centuries old country as a “fraud.” Russia might be unseemly and even evil – but it is legit, recognized nation-wise.

Re: “Its population is in steep decline and chronically afflicted by alcoholism.”

These are actually two very separate issues, but what the hell, why not, we’ll combine them. As I’ve argued before Russia’s population decline has actually abated rather dramatically. What is Russia’s demographic future? No one really knows (predictions are hard, especially about the future!), but it stands to reason that it’s not nearly as bad as Black, Eberstadt, Steyn, Feshbach, and all the other nameless neocon apparatchiks, most of whom have made crude linear projections decades into the future, think. And alcoholism in Russia is not some eternal unchanging constant: the country’s current high rates of alcoholism are the result of a trend that started in the 1960’s, not in prehistory. Alcoholism in Russia was and is largely a reaction to bleak socioeconomic conditions and the easy availability and cheapness of alcohol, not the result of some quasi-mythical Russian predilection for booze and penchant for self destruction. Will this trend be reversed? Perhaps! Perhaps not! The truth is no one really knows, but to pretend that Russians are utterly passive in the face of some all-powerful and immutable force known as “alcoholism” is as condescending as it is stupid.

Moreover, steps are actively being taken to address these problems. While the ship was headed toward the iceberg, it’s changing course.

Re: “The governmental system is authoritarian and corrupt, allied with protégés who have been given monopolistic concessions and who repay their rulers with obscene kickbacks.”

Because authoritarian and corrupt governments have never been influential or powerful on the world stage. Democracies always win!!! Irving Kristol said that, didn’t he? Or was it Francis Fukuyama? Oh whatever, either way democracy rules and autocracy drools – it’s science. […]

As for the second part of that sentence, I can’t even begin to disentangle it. Medvedev got “monopolistic concessions”(?) and is repaying Putin with huge kickbacks? What? I sure hope that Black isn’t suggesting that the current crop of oligarchs are “proteges” of Putin and Medvedev because, unless they’ve perfected time travel, this is simply impossible: the great majority of the oligarchs seized their assets in the early and mid 1990’s when Putin was in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office and while Medvedev was still lecturing law students. Putin’s rule regarding the oligarchs has basically been “you stay out of politics and we stay out of your business. If you do get involved in politics, watch your back.” Is this a particularly enlightened pact? No. But are the Oligarchs Putin’s “proteges?” Only someone who is entirely ignorant of the past two decades of Russian history would say so. I’d also add that the people who granted the “monopolistic concessions” Black so disdains were Western advisers who, of course, were loudly cheered by publications such as National Review for their efforts to implement neoliberalism.

This is why I think Black’s (and other wealthy psychopaths’) complaints about Russia tend to boil down to “What have you done for me lately?” We like a Russia that does our bidding, that gets us rich, that lets us call the shots. The fact is that “monopolistic concessions and who repay their rulers with obscene kickbacks” are nothing new. In fact, American advisors helped bring that monster to life. It’s curious that the neoliberals only decided it was a monster after Putin came to power and challenged our invasion of Iraq and began re-nationalizing industries and asking the small favor that if you are going to get rich off Russia, you not only give back enough to pay a few measly wages around here but … support the government that lets you get away with it. What is new is not the corruption, monopolies and kickbacks. It’s that it’s stopped letting people like Black call all of the shots.

Re: “Except for a few areas that have survived from the USSR’s expertise in some defense industries, Russia’s manufacturing is continuing to wither, and its economy depends almost entirely on the exportation of natural resources, especially oil. It is not an efficient producer of anything, and commodity prices are always vulnerable.”

Also the observation that Russia’s manufacturing is ”continuing to wither” is flatly inaccurate. Russian industrial production withered in the 1990’s, and then, after hitting a nadir in 1998, recovered and surpassed its Soviet level in 2007. There’s been a downturn since the economic crisis of 2008, but that doesn’t exactly make Russia unique, does it? Certain large sectors are actually substantially more productive than they were before communism collapsed, mining production, for example, has increased by 17% over its 1992 level while production of electrical equipment has grown by 74%. Certain other sectors have never recovered: production of clothing and textiles is still down more than 60% from it’s 1992 level. This is because some areas of Russian industry were capable of competing in the world market and other weren’t. Russian industry has not even had two decades of exposure to the discipline imposed by market forces, and even in that limited time frame has changed to a shocking degree. Treating it as a historical constant takes a particularly powerful and willful sort of ignorance.

I’m not sure why I would expect better from a guy who, having been convicted of fraud, is currently serving time in a Federal Prison, but apparently National Review’s ever so highbrow customers don’t mind getting their (boring and inaccurate) analysis from criminals. I could easily read the ravings of a prisoner provided they were interesting, but this piece of trash reads like a Mark Steyn column that has had all of its hatred, warmongering, and thinly-veiled racism (i.e. the fun bits) surgically removed and replaced with the boring parts of George Wills latest book.

You would not expect better from Conrad Black. But you should from the average Joe who regurgitates these very talking points when asked on what ground he does not give Russia a favorable rating.

What rating would I give Russia? I don’t know. There are a lot of things about it that piss me off. No society is open enough for me. Also, I don’t care much for capitalism. After the financial crisis from which it appears no one learned anything, I’m ready to fail the lot of them. On the other hand, I have a controversial tolerance of corruption (I think Mayor Daley has done wonderful things for this city, including those flower pots downtown) if it gets the job done, and think that if you are boring you are cheating. This is why I have an unfavorable rating for the Switzerlands and Canadias of the world. Watching the tango between unchecked insanity and tiresome process in America or Russia makes me want to root for them. What kind of a ridiculous subjective poll is this anyway? I know this much. I would not give Canadia the highest rating, not after giving the world Conrad Black.

And I wouldn’t give them the Olympics again for a good long while. Also.

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February 12, 2010

Apropos of nothing…

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 4:19 PM
Tags: , ,

Contents: Epic democracy fail; What’s the Mayor’s son doing in Moscow?; Russia moves one step closer to world domination.

I have what they call “writer’s block” and I call “just not bothering to sit down and write and anyway Lost is on!” The Olympics are about to begin, which means I’ll have “just not bothering to sit down and write and anyway the Olympics are on!” The outlook is bleak, my friends. But I refuse to let guilt about a silly blog and pandering to its followers stop me from indulging in the bliss that is watching the Olympic games.

On the other hand, I can’t go on with that video at the top of the page like that. Every time I check my blog, I am overcome with an overwhelming urge to click “play,” and then I have that damned Gorby song in my head all day. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t want to visit my own blog. Also the stalkers freak me out. But that’s a matter for a different post. Something must be done. On the one hand something must be done and on the other I do not wish to do it and this, dear readers, is the story of my life. Which refuses to write its damned self.

A couple of weeks ago we had an election. You know, that beaming floodlight in that beacon in that city on that hill. No one came. What if you held and election and no one came? A man who runs a pawn shop, beat his ex-wife, owes child support and abused his prostitute girlfriend is elected Lt. Gov., apparently. Perhaps you are thinking, “Well, what’s the Lt. Gov. responsible for anyway?” Nothing. Until his boss is indicted and impeached or imprisoned, which the 2 previous Governors have been. Nothing, until they wake up one day and are Governor of Illinois because their boss tried to sell Senate seat and now they have to figure out how to run the State while their boss goes on Celebrity Apprentice to pay for his legal bills. Nothing. Some say, “Eh, let’s get rid of the position of Lt. Governor. They don’t do anything anyway. Put the Attorney General next in line for Governor.” Do you know who says that? Our Speaker, Mike Madigan. Whose daughter is … get outchyer drums kids … Attorney General. Rock. And. Roll.

I do hope that the previous paragraph illustrates for you why I believe all the “OMG!! Russia’s not a democracy!! Call an exterminator!!” hysteria is … still have those drums? … bullshit. Your moral compass needs tuning if you’d wish this upon anyone else, and your intellect honing if you think Russia is exceptional in its horrorshow embarrassment of a democracy.

I was going to write a thoughtful piece on democracy. I was going to call it, “Let’s talk about Democracy,” and have Salt’n’Peppa do a back up jingle. I was so disappointed in our little election. The turn out was about 27%. The most common excuses for not voting were 1) the 2 inches of snow that fell that day and 2) corrupt politicians. When 69% of Ukraine came out to vote, I was coated with another layer of embarrassment. And anger. I felt so passionately about what was at stake here. I had things to say. Now? I’m exhausted and cynical and know people don’t care. I’m also PMS-ing and don’t f***ing care bout your f***ing democracy right now, ok? Fortunately I did begin to write something before I took the last pink pill in the pack:

If the vast majority of people don’t vote, they’ve already handed their personal agency and government over to a minority. And yet these same people would be up in arms if a minority drove in with tanks and took over. Citizens would begin chanting, “Of the people, By the people, For the people!” They’d retaliate and win because that’s how much we love our democracy in this country. But on election day, somehow voting is for losers who still believe in the system, who have too much time on their hands, or who are fanatics. People with that attitude not only suck, they make me understand the appeal of authoritarianism. And yet if people are ignorant of the process and what is at stake, the solution should be to inform and enlighten them, not blame them. We require students to learn the Constitution. But they’re left on their own to figure out how our democratic system works. Unfortunately, to increase the funding for education to ensure that the electorate is both informed of the process and has developed the critical thinking skills necessary to make responsible decisions, people have to go to the polls and vote to increase funding whichalsomeansmoretaxeswhichthemoronsdon’twantsowe’rejustscrewed! Motherf***ers!

I added that last bit a little later. Ignore it. The irony – absurdity, really – of our situation should be clear. As should the source of my frustration, both with my fellow Americans who fail to understand that sitting at home distrusting the system does not, in fact, improve accountability, and with those who peddle democracy like snake oil as the cure to whatever is wrong with your country. The democratic process may be imperative for ideological reasons: the right of every human to equal access to government in order to advocate for their rights and needs. But as a system, it is hardly impervious to apathy or corruption. So it is peculiar to me that it’s what we prescribe, top-down, for Russia’s political ailments. Which seem to be, above all, apathy and corruption. Meanwhile back in Illinois, rampant apathy and corruption is not met with proclamations from on high that we need more or better democracy. In fact, it seems people are coming to the conclusion that Illinoisans should no longer be allowed to choose their leaders. In fact, it seems 75% of Illinoisans agree.

Apropos of nothing…

Mayor Daley’s son was called to active duty. Normally this kind of announcement would go in one ear and out the other. War fatigue. But innocuously buried within the press release was the following, “Patrick Daley was living in Moscow when he got word of his recent redeployment…” It is 2010 and there’s no reason a young American man shouldn’t be living in Moscow for any number of reasons. But this is no ordinary young American man. This is the son of Mayor Daley and the grandson of Mayor Daley. A chill ran down my spine. This is a combination that goes together about as well as Stoli and Valium. I used to joke that Chicagoans could teach the Kremlin a thing or two about corruption and fixing elections. And when I lived in Moscow and told people I was from Chicago, without fail I was asked if I knew Al Capone (no, really, I was). Moscow was positively crawling with mobsters and somehow my hometown carried weight, bought me some cred, even though I’d only seen Capone in the same movies they had. Anyway, my point is that Chicago and Moscow have things in common and they are not good things: inclement weather, political corruption, organized crime. So when I read that “Patrick Daley was living in Moscow when he got word of his recent redeployment…” my first thought was not, “Oh, I wonder if he’s writing a thesis on the portrayal of women’s morality in the latter works of Chekhov as a reflection of social anxiety about modernity or some bs.” My first thought was, “Certainly nothing good can come of this…”

But that is not fair. I don’t know Patrick. Maybe he is writing a thesis on the portrayal of women’s morality in the latter works of Chekhov as a reflection of social anxiety about modernity or some bs. I would not want to be judged by the actions of my father. And I don’t want to be one of those tiresome angry bloggers out to destroy the reputations of complete strangers. So I googled to find out what Patrick was doing living in Moscow. I still don’t know (private equity investment manager or something – I wasn’t putting much effort into it) but this was the first thing that came up:

Sun Times: Russian emigre Garber now king of Chicago taxi empire. He’s a friend of Daley’s son, but City Hall says he got no special treatment.

Fifteen years ago, after being introduced to high-ranking Russian government officials, Garber started a taxi business in Moscow, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2004. He has said he operates 900 cabs in Moscow.
“It’s all about who you know,” Garber told the Tribune. “It’s important to be well-connected. Life is a two-way street.”

Garber has said he met Patrick Daley in Moscow.

“Me and Patrick are very good acquaintances,” Garber told the Sun-Times in a 2008 interview. “We met in Russia somewhere in August 2001. One of my friends, he introduced me to Patrick. We were there twice at the same time. And one time we went out in New York” — where Patrick Daley worked for Bear Stearns, the now-defunct investment and financial services company.

By fall 2002, Garber had started buying taxicab medallions in Chicago, many of which had been surrendered by Yellow Cab as part of its effort to focus more on managing cabs and less on ownership of cabs. Garber had control of 300 medallions in June 2003 when he got a license from the Daley administration to begin operating Chicago Carriage Cab.

In Chicago, as in New York, City Hall has complete control over cab companies. City officials determine the number of cabs, who can operate them, who can own them, who can drive them and how much riders pay to ride in them.

Though Garber expanded to Chicago within a year of meeting Patrick Daley, the mayor’s son had no role in Garber’s getting a license from the Daley administration, Garber has said. And the mayor’s press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, echoes that.

“Patrick didn’t help me with anything,” Garber told the Sun-Times in 2008. “We did not go out in Chicago socially. I knew he was the mayor’s son, and I didn’t want to have any implications that anyone is helping me run my company.

“The only business deals were with a bottle of vodka,” he said then. “Patrick is an excellent guy. Great drinker, knows how to hold his liquor. We played some rugby. He has a great sense of humor.”

Heard says the mayor and his son have never spoken about Garber.

Heard explains Garber’s success in Chicago this way: “Here’s a young man who started a business in New York and did well and then came to the second-biggest market, Chicago, and started a business here.”

Patrick Daley, who has recently been living in Moscow, didn’t respond to an e-mail asking about Garber.

Patrick Daley, who has been a venture capitalist for several years, has been under investigation by the city’s inspector general and federal authorities over the hidden ownership stake he bought in 2003 in a sewer-inspection company that won millions of dollars in no-bid contract extensions from City Hall.

A year after Garber got into the cab business in Chicago, he hired the mayor’s former chief of staff, Gery Chico, to lobby Norma Reyes, the mayor’s commissioner of business affairs and consumer protection.

Chico didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

Reyes says she believes Chico was trying to get the city to raise the lease rates Garber charges drivers — and wasn’t successful.

Garber’s cab company keeps growing. During the first nine months of 2009, even as Chicago and the rest of the nation remained mired in recession, city records show Garber and his associates kept buying taxi licenses. They bought 68 medallions, paying more than $9.1 million.

Well there you go. An unusually successful Russian businessman who happens purely by chance to be a drinking buddy of the Mayor’s son. Who is under under investigation by the city’s inspector general and federal authorities. And is living in Moscow. Which has no extradition treaty. Meh. Nothing to see here, kids. Move along…

For a moment I was worried that our Mayor might be up to no good, sending his son to Moscow like Michael Corleone was sent to Sicily. And seriously, what would the kids in Kremlin want with the Daleys? It’s hardly as if Chicago is a success story other places would seek to emulate. We lost the Olympic bid, our public transportation is on life support, there are gaping holes in the ground where new skyscrapers were supposed to go and Daley’s been on a madcap privatization rampage, holding one going out of business sale after another to pay the city’s bills. Seriously, it’s not like we’re full of bright ideas over here…

What’s that? You say Medvedev is calling for what? More privatization?

Apropos of nothing…

A Russian company just bought a whole entire town in Latvia. I think the plan is to privatize everything, have private companies or oligarchs buy up our towns and sports teams and when the time is right, re-nationalize it all. Pwned!

And you thought they would arrive on tanks.

Ok, thank you for reading & have a lovely Valentine’s Day! [Stupid consumerist patriarchal holiday. And I’m not just saying that because I’ll be spending it with a pint of Häagen-Dazs, watching Johnny Weir and Yevgeny Plyushchenko duke it out in sparkly leotards. Really. I’m not. Even though it would still be true even if that were my reason for saying it. Hmph.]

February 8, 2010

Dear Mr. Gorbachev

Filed under: Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 3:01 PM
Tags: ,

Hat Tip: Sovok of the Week.

January 29, 2010

The Month in U.S.-Russia Relations and Russia(Male)Watching.

All kinds of things going on in the world of U.S.-Russia relations: meetings, agreements, meetings without agreements, agreements to meet again, Lavrov and Clinton making out in a London elevator… Ok I just made that last part up. But not this:

1) The Son of START may or may not be in the final stages of negotiation, almost 2 months after our decades long arms reduction treaty was allowed to expire un-renewed.

2) NATO and Russia are officially on speaking terms (which makes me feel like I’m writing about middle school students) for the first time since their falling out over Georgia.

3) Re-set Button brainchild, the Russian-US council on civil society, which up until now I assumed was mythological, is apparently holding its first official meeting in D.C. this week.

What does it all mean? It means, “We intend to make an effort to create a situation sometime in the future where we can try to work together, but we reserve the right to not get along if you insist on being so stubborn; we both know I’m better than you anyway.” Which is considered enough of a diplomatic coup in the Obama administration to earn mention in the State of the Union address. The President’s definition of accomplishment seems to be “we kinda sorta maybe (not really) tried to make something better and it hasn’t happened yet but it will eventually, so long as everyone just ignores our actions and only listens to our words or otherwise the magical spell we’re counting on to make this all work will be cursed and fail and it will be all YOUR fault. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you!” [<–Shorter SOTU.]

Anyway, I picked the wrong week not to visit friends in D.C.

I. Mr. Surkov Goes to Washington.

He’s making a list and checking it twice; He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Vladislav is coming to town… Vladislav is coming to town…

I can be naughty, or nice, whatever you prefer. I’m flexible…

(OMG: I image googled “Surkov McFaul” and a picture of my dead cat came up. It’s a haunting!)

Here is RT’s transcript of an Izvestia interview with the fine Mr. Surkov (what? no video, RT? you know looking at him is half the fun!): V.Surkov: “We do not intend to lecture one another.”

(No wonder there has been such stunning silence from the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group. Aside from the fact that just saying “the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group” is enough to make your mouth want to take a two week vacation and hardly lends itself to acronymn. The U.S. has illustrated that it only knows how to communicate with other countries through lecture or military force. These meetings must be epic awkward silences. Still, agreeing not to lecture one another is a remarkable step in right direction. Now let’s agree not bomb each other. Or save the children. Or something. Anything. Please.)

A Russian-US council on civil society that was created due to the initiative of the presidents of both countries will meet in the United States on January 27.

It will tackle issues left over from the Cold War, such as corruption, children’s rights, and stereotypes about Russia on the other side of the Atlantic.

The council will be co-chaired by Russian Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, who was interviewed by the Izvestia daily, ahead of his trip.

Q. Lately, the Russian-US presidential commission council, which you are co-chairing, is being talked about quite a lot. Could you outline the plans of the working group for the nearest future?

Vladislav Surkov: The working group will meet for the first time in Washington, DC, on January 27. A substantial amount of preparation has been done ahead of it, with both sides coordinating the objectives and directives of our sphere of action.

The United States proposed to include only state officials into the council. We did not object to the idea. On top of that, we proposed the inclusion of Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin; chair of the Civil Society Institution and Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation Ella Pamfilova; Presidential Ombudsman for Children’s Rights Pavel Astakhov; and several other persons who are not quite state officials. But since no equivalent posts exist in the US government, they were included in the delegation.

Q.Did you agree on the council’s agenda?

VS: The Russian side initiated the following topics: fighting corruption, migration – the issue of illegal immigration first of all – prisoners’ rights, and a crackdown on crimes against children.

The US side has offered to discuss negative myths and stereotypes, which still exist in relations between our countries. We tried to avoid, where possible, issues which we will most likely not be able to reach an agreement on. We will approach them gradually, as our mutual understanding deepens.

Q. And all of these five issues will be discussed during the visit to the United States?

VS: In Washington we will cover the issues fighting corruption, crimes against children and negative stereotypes only.

Q.What motivated the Russian side to choose its priorities for the discussion?

VS: All the issues approved are supported by explicit statistics, assessment criterions and, most importantly, all are significant for both Russia and the US We have plenty to talk about.

The problem of corruption, for example. Of course, in our respective countries, the problem has different roots. Nevertheless, major corruption scandals happen both in Russia and in the United States.

Another issue is immigration. Russia and the US are world leaders when it comes to the numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Thus, the issue of migration is vital to both countries. The same could be said about the third matter of concern – the issue of prisoner conditions. Again, our countries continue to head the grim list of the countries with the largest number of the incarcerated.

Finally – a highly important problem – crimes against children. During the past several years the number of crimes committed against underage children in Russia has increased tenfold. The United States has extensive experience in combating this evil. That experience will be highly valuable for us, since Russia has a lot to accomplish in that respect.

Q: Will the Russian side pose any questions regarding the deaths of Russian children adopted by American parents?

VS: I would like to emphasize that we will not lecture each other on the issues covered during the meeting. This is not the point of the working group. We know that the United States is concerned over that issue and is working on solving the problem. As far as problems with adopted children are concerned – we, ourselves, have plenty of those in Russia.

Q: Some Russian human rights activists and several US congressmen have subjected you to criticism. Do you have anything to say on that matter?

VS: We hit some bumps during the preparations for the council. We are trading information with our American colleagues on those issues. Overall the process is flowing smoothly, and we have reached certain success already.

As far as my being scrutinized by some Russian human rights groups, as well as American congressmen, I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I think it is a small part of a larger mass of misconceptions, and those very negative stereotypes we will be discussing. I hope we will be able to dispel them during the course of our cooperation.

Q: Will there be a need to refine the activity of the council in the future?

VS: We would really like it if meetings of the working group took place not only in Russian and US capitals, but in other places, as well. We are going to hold meetings in various states and Russian regions. We must not turn into a commission which sits in their cabinets in Moscow and Washington discussing something in abstract terms.

Q: Various mass media report that the US will pose a question on equal cooperation of Russian and US civil organizations. Is there some sort of inequality between these organizations right now, any limitations in their cooperation?

VS: We do not see any inequality between Russian and American organizations, and we think there are no hurdles for a dialogue between them at the moment. Especially considering the fact that many Russian non-commercial organizations subside on grants they receive from the American government.

As far as your question goes, I will strictly stick to the agenda we agreed on, since I’m entitled to holding talks only within its framework. I would like to emphasize once again – these issues will be discussed only within the context of institutions of civil society.

The American side has demonstrated a very civil and good-natured approach to our cooperation. On our part, we will do everything in our power to make the working group a success.

I rather they be working together to tackle the issue of child trafficking than the issue of Lilia Shevtsova’s persecution complex. Hmm. Do you think it is a coincidence that she wrote that FP article on eve of this meeting? Pretty sneaky, sis. BTW, why does Misha have an op ed in the NYT this week? (For non-Russia watcher types who read this blog: Misha is Mikhail Khodorkovsky who is in prison in Siberia on charges of … tax evasion I think. A long time ago he was a Komsomol, then after the fall of Communism, he snatched up a bunch of stuff and became a powerful wealthy oligarch. Then Putin stole his assets and threw him in jail. The peasants rejoiced. The human rights camp flipped out. Surkov worked for Misha before getting a gig in the Kremlin and throwing his former boss in the gulag. Drama! Ok, let’s continue.) His article isn’t terribly interesting. But it is an excuse to post a gratuitous photo of our caged bird who sings for the New York Times.

Hi, Misha!

It seems our leaders are not as enamoured of dear Slava as they are of jailed Russian businessmen. Why doesn’t Surkov have an op-ed piece in the NYT? Get with the program! Seriously, someone in that Moscow fortress should hire me…

This is from Peter Lavelle who got it from JRL who printed it from Nezavisimaya Gazeta. It must be true.

From the JRL today

(Surkov is facing somekind of boycott in the US since being appointed
Russia’s civil soceity point man with the US) [<–I don't know if this is commentary from Peter, JRL or Nezavisimaya Gazeta…]

Nezavisimaya Gazeta
January 19, 2010
BETWEEN THE LINES
Russian and American delegations will meet to discuss matters of civil
society next week
Author: Alisa Vedenskaya

…..”Surkov and McFaul first met on October 12 when Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton was visiting Russia. McFaul told Surkov that
the reaction in the United States to his promotion to Civil Society
coordinator was somewhat equivocal. Surkov parred it by saying that
McFaul’s promotion had gone entirely unnoticed in
Russia because nobody knew him in this country.”

Oh, snap! I’m sure their meeting today went swimmingly… And it is not just Peter Lavelle and JRL and Nezavisimaya Gazeta spreading word of Surkov’s PR problem in D.C.

II. Party of No Hides Obama’s Re-Set Button.

From Moscow News Weekly: “Obama critics slam Kremlin aide.”

Whatever happened to “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Do the math, kids. And can someone explain to me how meeting with your foreign counterpart constitutes an endorsement of that person or their country? What is this, diplomacy for 3rd graders? Do they write these letters when we meet with the Chinese? Russia might have issues, but it’s hardly on par with Pakistan or North Korea or Sudan.

A key Russian-US working group co-led by Kremlin official Vladislav Surkov is under fire over human rights, as US Republicans call for President Barack Obama’s administration to boycott its first meeting in Washington this week.

Though the group aims to focus on issues like fighting corruption and child trafficking, 71 Republican members of Congress signed a letter to Obama expressing concern over Russia’s human rights record and urging that the US government “not participate in any such Working Group unless and until the Russian government has taken concrete, verifiable steps to address… shortcomings in its treatment of political and media freedoms.”

The letter, dated Dec. 11, also called for Surkov, President Dmitry Medvedev’s deputy chief of staff, to be replaced with “someone who has not been involved in establishing oppressive and undemocratic policies”, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Moscow News.

The group, created by Obama and Medvedev last July, is one of 16 tackling issues from trade to nuclear non-proliferation, but it is drawing additional attention because it is headed by Surkov. Dubbed the “grey cardinal” during Vladimir Putin’s administration, Surkov was largely responsible for formulating the “sovereign democracy” concept.

Russian human rights groups have criticised the appointment of Surkov to co-chair the commission, and now US Republicans are using that criticism as a way of attacking Obama.

Interruption: I don’t think Obama’s team chose Surkov to represent Russia. Idiots.

Surkov dismissed the Republicans’ criticisms in an interview with Izvestia, published on Jan. 22. “We do not plan to lecture each other,” Surkov said of the group’s members. “As for criticism against me from some human rights organisations and [members of the US Congress], everyone has a right to [their] opinion. This is a small part of a whole complex of prejudices and negative stereotypes.”
The letter came amid mounting Republican criticism of Obama, while last week the Democratic Party lost its 60-member filibuster-proof Senate majority after Massachusetts elected a Republican senator for the first time since 1972.

Republicans are using the letter simply as a way of putting domestic political pressure on Obama and don’t really have a worked-out Russia policy, said Nikolai Zlobin, an analyst at the Washington-based World Security Institute.

Zlobin said the letter would serve to rally members of Congress against Obama, adding that they were trying to use human rights ill as a bludgeon to get their way on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and trade. “Whatever is said about Russia is not about their policy towards Russia per se, but towards their internal political interests,” Zlobin said.

Stop. Re-read that last part about trying to use human rights as a bludgeon to get their way on their own internal political interests.

Other NGO representatives invited to take part in the group said the Republicans’ call for a boycott was counterproductive.

Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, said it played into a “hysterical” policy towards Russia, and this “hysteria” was convenient for hawkish elements in Russia’s security services.

“To close opportunities for [dialogue] may benefit those parts of the Russian bureaucracy that don’t want any contact at all …because that would expose those who use international mechanisms of money laundering,” said Kabanov, a former Federal Security Service official.

“Corruption is an international problem because money is laundered abroad, and this [affects] American banks.”

Kabanov added: “We have things to say, and if they don’t give us this opportunity then we will find ourselves marginalised again.”

This is why I don’t entirely understand it when Russian intellectuals boycott meetings they are invited to by the Kremlin. Creeps me out.

But wait! There’s more! The Party of No wont stop there!

From the Moscow Times: “Reset in Danger of Being Set Back.”

Because ruining any chance for a healthcare reform bill were not enough to be proud of. (OMG how weird is it that the rhetoric surrounding healthcare reform now includes the phrase, “Bolshevik plot?” What century is this? What universe is this? Does this make the GOP Mensheviks?)

A year ago, when the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama initiated its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, two things were clear: First, the U.S. Congress, particularly the Senate, would have an outsized role to play in the process; and, second, the Democrats would likely have a fillibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, making the advancement of Obama’s major Russia policy overtures a bit easier than might otherwise be the case. A year later, the first proposition remains true, but Republican Scott Brown’s recent upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race complicates the second since Democrats no longer have 60 seats in the Senate— the threshold that allows a party to pass legislation on a “fast track” by depriving the opposing party of its ability to filibuster. All of this means that there could be some turbulence in U.S.-Russian relations in 2010. […]

Congress is a major factor on other Russia policy issues as well. Russian accession to the World Trade Organization is a case in point. Congressional action would be required to upgrade Russia, the largest economy not yet represented in the WTO, from the Cold War-era lows of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to establish normal trade relations, which are required to secure U.S. agreement to Russia’s accession to the WTO. Russian WTO accession seems to be on the Obama administration’s congressional to-do list in 2010, but in the current cold trade climate — Russia just banned U.S. poultry imports, valued at $800 million a year — the issue is going to be as contentious as ever. That may be why Russian officials have sent mixed signals as to whether Russia itself will pursue WTO accession aggressively.

Congressional approval would also be required for the United States to enter into a “123” agreement with Russia on civil nuclear cooperation. This important area that had progressed nicely during George W. Bush’s last year in office was put on ice after the eruption of the Russia-Georgia war.

As far as U.S.-Russian relations are concerned, 2010 is truly the “Year of Congress.” It appears less likely, however, that it is going to be the “Year of Results.”

If Scott Brown ends up responsible for obliterating any hope of improving our relationship with Russia, I better at least get a consolation prize of a Surkov Cosmo centerfold out of the deal.

III. Putin: Party Crasher, Porn Basher.

Speaking of buff. And porn.

Jesse a.k.a The Russia Monitor has posted this little gem of a news story: “The Putin One-Liner Strikes Again.”

I wasn’t even going to mention this but couldn’t resist. Last week, PM Putin showed up to the the Annual Meeting of the State Council to give a speech. Now, by “showed up,” I mean he literally showed up out of nowhere to make an unexpected appearance and an unscheduled speech. The guys over at Power Vertical dissected this move yesterday. Putin made his minutes in front of the mic count, however, by dropping another one of his hilarious, debate-ending one-liners (“Putinisms”). Putin’s grammatical knockout came in a response to rumors on the internets that the recent regional Duma elections were rigged. The PM, visibly angry, hunched his shoulders in disgust and said, “Well half of what’s on the internet is porno! Why quote the internet? If you have evidence take it to court.”

One possible explanation of Putin’s indiscriminate targeting of porno? In the past, online interest in Putin has been found to be negatively correlated with online interest in pornography.

Poor Vova, walking into meeting he wasn’t invited to to complain about more people watching porn than paying attention to him on the internet. Hey, what am I? Chopped liver? I would think you’d want an intelligent poltical activist type ally – like ME -paying attention to you instead of child molesters and depressed husbands. But if he’s really miffed about it, I know of a pretty easy solution to the problem of people who watch porn not watching Vova. Hello! Althletic body? Check. Ham in front of a camera? Check. Bendy girlfriend? Check. FSB who lkes to make sex tapes? Check. BFF Oscar-winning filmmaker? Check. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

He could totally pull it off:

And lastly, I present to you the prize for Best Headline for this week’s coveage of U.S.-Russia relations:

“How Many Polish Patriots Does It Take to Screw Up US – Russia Relations?”

Stay classy, Discovery Institute!

Ok, thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend!

January 21, 2010

Lilia Shevtsova

Lilia, Lilia, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions… It’s also paved with selfishness, arrogance, ignorance and Washington Post columns. (Personally, I don’t believe in Hell, but on the off chance I am wrong, I won’t be writing any WaPo columns. And I am not going to try to save Lilia’s soul by telling her to shut up. I’m more interested in saving our collective sanity by illustrating why we should just quietly ignore her. )

Appeasement, in slacks.

I. Lilia’s Article.

On January 5th, Lilia Shevtsova wrote an article in Foreign Policy Magazine entitled, “The Kremlin Kowtow: Why have Western leaders and intellectuals gone soft on Russia’s autocracy?” I did not read this article when it came out, but it turns out I didn’t really need to, since I had read a Washington Post article she and several other Russian intellectuals had authored on the eve of Obama’s trip to Moscow last year. Which pretty much said the same thing. From the Washington Post article, “False Choices For Russia”:

We object, for example, to the basic proposition of calling for a return to realpolitik because some believe that the worsening of Russian-American relations was mainly caused by Washington’s insistence on “tying policies to values.” The result, some American “realists” argue, is that the United States needs to build a new relationship with Russia based on “common interests and common threats.”

The humanity! Mr. Obama, you can’t just go around the world building relationships based on “common interests and common threats,” relationships that call into account matters such cause and effect or human behavior. Think of the children! I mean the liberals! Anyway, you get the picture. She doesn’t want want the U.S. to play ball with Russia without a “values” clause that has some gleaming white American teeth.

Now she is upset with European leaders’ willingness to play ball with Russia, despite its allegedly brutal autocratic regime. Before we get to the finer points of this batty argument, I will remind you what it looks like when the whole civilized world refuses to play ball with a country based on its perceived lack of democracy: North Korea. How’s that working out for human rights in North Korea, Lilia? Now on to her article in FP:

II. My Response.

Or, excerpts from Lilia’s FP article, interspersed with my responses. She begins:

At a conference last month in Berlin, I witnessed another example of this divide. When I started to raise the question of democratic standards in Western-Russian relations, I was interrupted by another Western attendee. “You irritate us,” he said. “International relations are not about values; they are about power!” If he is right, Russian liberals will have to reconsider their expectations about the Western opinion-leaders they have long counted on for moral support and understanding.

She seems to suffer Applebaumian paranoia. When people say, “You irritate us,” they are not trying to dismiss your cause. They mean, “You irritate us.”

And moral support? Understanding? Western opinion-leaders? Either you own a bank I don’t know about or it’s time we had “the talk.” Western opinion-leaders didn’t get to be Western opinion-leaders by caring about democracy and human rights and you. During the Cold War people like you made the news. Perhaps you thought the leaders in the West really cared about democracy and human rights, that those like you were more than ideological pawns in a global game. But then in 1991 something crazy happened, and now you refuse to part with your dissident rockstar status. Profoundly ironic. You don’t want a return to the Soviet Union, just to the leverage it gave you. So forgive me if it seems interesting that you should go around fear-mongering about a return to the Soviet Union. Anyway, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, Lilia. The whole rest of the world’s leaders are just as selfish as Russian ones.

I’m sorry – this still baffles me: “Russian liberals will have to reconsider their expectations about the Western opinion-leaders they have long counted on for moral support and understanding.” You really have no idea what team you are playing on, do you? Or you do and are lying to us.

This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic:

The results could be catastrophic — not merely for the activists who are working to make Russia a free country, but for the moral authority of those in the West who preach liberty but practice something quite different.

Sweetheart, that veiled threat would only work if we had not already squandered our moral authority. Maybe since you hear that in the Russian media, you assume it is propaganda, but I can assure you there is nothing you and Kasparov can do to our moral authority that hasn’t already been done better by Iraq, black CIA prisons, Guantanamo, etc.

True, when some Western leaders come to Moscow they make a point of meeting human rights activists or the moderate opposition. “They ask us how they can help us. We explain that they should raise the question of human rights and democracy when talking to Russian leaders,” says Arseny Roginski of the human rights group Memorial. “But after that, usually nothing happens.”

Y’all should consider yourself lucky. When America meddles in the domestic politics of other countries, horrible, horrible things tend to happen. And if it is any consolation, liberals in America experience the same thing when our leaders talk to us about civil liberties an democracy. “Promises, promises, you knew you’d never keep…” Obama can’t even deliver for his own people; what makes you think he can deliver for you?

Just when I am about to ask the perennial question, what exactly do Lilia and her comrades mean when they use words like “democracy” or “liberal,”

One influential European leader, Robert Cooper, the E.U. director-general for external and politico-military affairs, does not shy from discussing democracy with the Russian political elite. In an interview with the pro-Kremlin Russian Institute he concluded, “Sometimes I think that the word ‘democracy’ becomes problematic. I would prefer to talk about responsible, open government that defends the rights of nations … but has enough legitimacy to use tough administrative measures when there is a need for them.” Such an understanding of democracy is exactly what the current Russian government is looking for.

She fails to explain what precisely is wrong with this understanding of democracy, other than the E.U. and the Kremlin like it, and she’s clearly not happy with them. Which strikes me as sophomoric logic. “Responsible, open government,” sounds like a reasonable aim to me, and legitimacy and authority are surely necessities for any effective government. If this is really what the current Russian government is looking for (I think she’s being too generous), they should be commended.

The following paragraph makes no sense, either in the context of the article or in itself. It’s like when you get into an argument with your lover and have a valid point but then your emotions take over and you end up sounding like a crazy person. Which makes me secretly love it.

Russia’s reform-minded forces have long since stopped calling on the West to help advance democracy in Russia. They understand that transforming Russia is a job for Russian society itself. But reform-minded Russians expect the West at least to avoid holding back change by supporting the authoritarian forces that would suppress it. Prominent Russian human rights activists and liberals like Sergei Kovalev, Garry Kasparov, and Grigory Yavlinsky, long considered pro-Western voices, have recently become critics of the West’s increasingly accommodating policies toward Russia. One might say that these voices are just a small minority of Russian society. But if the West loses this pro-Western minority, it will lose Russia altogether.

We don’t expect you to help. Why aren’t you helping?! This is a job for Russia. The West needs to do its part! We are a minority. We are Russia altogether! Why isn’t anyone listening to me?! Why are you cuffing me to the bed?!

She concludes with the following:

This begs the question: How can Western civilization resolve its own internal problems with democracy if it abandons its mission of promoting liberty?

Let’s ignore that this is really the least of the questions her article begs.
Let’s ignore the fascinating arrogance this question implies, that the fate of Western civilization rests on Lilia’s political interests.
Let’s ignore the horrible horrible things that happen when Western leaders trot the globe promoting liberty.
Let’s not be hysterical. Let’s be rational.

Isn’t she putting the horse before the cart? Don’t America and Europe need to get their own houses in order before they are able to do her housecleaning for her? Didn’t Voltaire, high priest of civil liberties have something to say about that? Something about a garden?

Sloth. That’s the other thing they use to pave roads to Hell. I don’t know Lilia, but she strikes as a busy, hard-working woman. Yet I suppose my biggest grief with her and Russian liberals is their aversion to doing the grunt work that most functioning democracies require. I say this as someone who, in a non-functioning democracy, along with thousands of everyday citizens, actually goes out and organizes support, raises money, knocks on doors, holds public forums, annoys total strangers by surveying their needs, interests, issues and annoys them again by making damn well sure they vote, and vote for my candidate, who loses. Over and over and over, American Democrats and liberals and champions of human rights and social justice LOSE. And when I lose, I do not go running to the leaders and opinion-makers asking, “What have you done for me lately?” I ask, “What more could I have done? How have we failed to communicate our message? Why are our citizens so fucking stupid?” Because in a democracy, you can’t blame everyone else when you lose. Even when the votes are rigged and stolen. And what if your magical pony scenario wherein the West stops engaging Russia and poof! Russian liberals are suddenly a force to be reckoned with, even perhaps in power, were to materialize? How is that a democratic process? And what organization and popular support will you have in place to maintain your power? I ask because the people you are up against have a very fucking good organization and some genuine popular support. It seems to me that instead of making empty threats to so-called Western leaders and writing articles in English-language newspapers, you would have a far better chance of success if you focused on building an organization and support at home. So, Lilia, darling, you can hardly fault those who read your articles for wondering if Russia really is ready for democracy. Or rather, if you are.

III. Someone Else’s Response.

Much classier than mine.

Gordon M. Hahn has written an artcle, “Bashing Russia, Kowtowing to Beijing, and Avoiding Responsibility – One Russian Liberal’s Formula for Failure. Response to Lilia Shevtsova’s “The Kremlin Kowtow – Why have Western leaders and intellectuals gone soft on Russia’s autocracy?” www.foreignpolicy.com, January 5, 2010.” on the website, Russia: Other Points of View.

Timothy Post, living up to his name, posted this on facebook. He thinks it’s one of the best articles he’ll read all year. There are parts of it I am not completely on board with (investment in Russia – gives me the willies) but this is a far more mature response to Lilia’s article than mine, and focusses on why it is imperative that the United States and Russia maintain a working relationship. Which is a topic near and dear to my heart. I recommend you go read the whole thing (it’s not so long), but have chosen some of my favorite excerpts to repost here. They generally do not require commentary. A sign of a good writer, I think.

The U.S. simply cannot uphold Russian liberals today as it once did Soviet dissidents, and we should not conceptualize Russian state-society relations as a modified version of Soviet state-society relations. Russia has come along way from the Soviet totalitarian model. The Soviet system’s omnipresent repression and cruelty created state-society relations that Anna Akhmatova once described accurately in the early 1950s as two Russias confronting each other: one, the imprisoned – the other, their wardens. Thus, Western leaders had reason to suspect during the Cold war that hatred of the communist regime inside the USSR was such that, there was a thirst for democracy and freedom – and sooner or later, it would have to be quenched. If and when the Soviet system opened up, movement to democracy and the market could be expected

The situation today is much different. Although the Russian state remains today overbearing and on occasion repressive, there is a modicum of democracy and markets providing considerable room for the opposition to live, speak, and organize openly. The opposition is simply not given the opportunity to win elections. State administrative electoral manipulation of various sorts and state media domination are largely at fault, but so too are the liberals’ unpopularity with Russia’s electorate, their poor governing record in the 1990s, and their internal divisions and petty squabbling for which Russians rejected them as a viable option for leadership. The absence of an effective or responsible democratic opposition renders any aggressive Western backing of democracy forces against the Kremlin a losing proposition.

And a dangerous one too, IMO.

Also, because of NATO expansion and other U.S. policy mistakes (failure to provide timely economic assistance for Russia’s great depression in the early 1990s, preservation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty and attempting to deploy ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, etc.), we no longer have the Russians’ trust – either at the level of the elite or among the general public.

And we’re losing Lilia’s! (Sorry – I could not resist.)

Dr. Shevtsova charges that putting arms control negotiations at the top of the relationship’s agenda now is misplaced and that Moscow and Washington are using “a Cold-War era mechanism to try to imitate cooperation.” The fact is if we used her proposed “values-based” approach, arms control would be the only cooperation possible.

Valuable cooperation would be lost in a host of other areas – Afghanistan and the overall war against jihadism, space, and anti-piracy – just to name a few.

But please let’s not underestimate the necessity for arms control.

To support her call for Russia’s isolation, Shevtsova notes that Sergei Kovalev, Garry Kasparov, and Grigory Yavlinsky have long supported such an approach. However, last month’s congress of Yavlinskii’s Yabloko party decided to advance cooperation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Kovalev was a State Duma deputy until 2003 and has attended meetings with President Medvedev, so he is not averse to cooperating in limited fashion with the regime that Shevtsova recommends the West should shun. The only true recalcitrant in her group of admirable dissidents, Gary Kasparov, has allied with the neo-fascist pornographer, National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov.

Hey, that would be “neo-fascist pornographer, National Bolshevik Party leader, brilliant writer, and probably the only sincere opposition in the lot who isn’t hiding some agenda designed to make him wealthy or a hit with the DC crowd, Eduard Limonov.” Pretty sure that is his official title.

There are projects that would be worthy for the U.S.-Russia Civil Society Working Group to cooperate on. One is former U.S. Army Colonel Charles Heberle’s democracy education program, which the Russian Ministry of Education is preparing to institute in all of Russia’s schools and has been functioning for years in schools in Petrozavodsk, Karelia. Dr Shevtsova is especially off base when she asserts there are few in the U.S. who believe Russians are ready for democracy.

Fascinating – I had no idea. Granted, I don’t trust a “democracy education program” in the hands of McFaul, or the Ministry of Education in the hands of Surkov. But together, that could be one crazy lovechild, if those two ever decide to get into bed with each other. Also, isn’t Gorby working on something similar?

Today’s Kremlin and today’s Russia are not yesterday’s Kremlin and the USSR, and Russia’s liberals should use the system to change the system. Their dependence on the West discredits them internally, could make them subservient to forces that are not as devoted to Russia’s development as they, and foist on them ideas that may not be suitable for, or politically marketable in Russia in the near future.

If anyone got the impression from my take-down of Lilia that it is the Russian liberals whom I oppose, a clarification is in order. It’s the “forces that are not as devoted to Russia’s development as they, and foist on them ideas that may not be suitable for, or politically marketable in Russia in the near future,” whom I oppose.

The best way for the West to assist them is to support Russia’s efforts when possible, engage the Kremlin in democratization projects, and improve the relationship so that the distrust built up through much of the post-Cold War period begins to evaporate. Remember that when U.S. President Ronald Reagan seriously engaged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987-88, the latter’s position was strengthened such that he could push his perestroika reforms in earnest.

While many understandably have a far different take on those salad days of Russian democracy (and the chaos that followed) than anyone inclined to idolize Reagan, this is a clear refutation of Lilia’s fuzzy logic.

Timothy recommends we read Hahn’s article and send it to our representatives. Why not? Hey, I sent a Stephen Cohen piece to mine, soon after Obama came out and pretended to scrap the missile shield fiasco! Sometimes this whole democracy thing actually pretends to work…

November 9, 2009

Another brick in the wall of Berlin Wall diaries.

End of History it was not. Or, when we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, we’re sent running into its arms by the mistakes of the present. Or, how everything would be better if a charming socialist who loves democracy and values US-Russian relations were the ruler of the universe instead of out peddling shi shi luggage. Oof!

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.

1. Global poll: BBC: Free market flawed, says survey.

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new BBC poll has found widespread dissatisfaction with free-market capitalism.
In the global poll for the BBC World Service, only 11% of those questioned across 27 countries said that it was working well.

Most thought regulation and reform of the capitalist system were necessary.

There were also sharp divisions around the world on whether the end of the Soviet Union was a good thing.

[Update] Here’s a link to the complete findings of the BBC poll.

2. Former Eastern Bloc poll: Pew: End of Communism Cheered but Now with More Reservations.

The Pulse of Europe 2009: 20 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, publics of former Iron Curtain countries generally look back approvingly at the collapse of communism. Majorities of people in most former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries endorse the emergence of multiparty systems and a free market economy.

However, the initial widespread enthusiasm about these changes has dimmed in most of the countries surveyed; in some, support for democracy and capitalism has diminished markedly. In many nations, majorities or pluralities say that most people were better off under communism, and there is a widespread view that the business class and political leadership have benefited from the changes more than ordinary people. Nonetheless, self reported life satisfaction has risen significantly in these societies compared with nearly two decades ago when the Times Mirror Center1 first studied public opinion in the former Eastern bloc.

Among the many interesting findings: While support for democracy and capitalism have generally decreased in most former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries, it seems to have decreased only moderately in Russia (-8%, -4%) (on par with East Germany) compared to Bulgaria, Lithuania, Hungary, &Ukraine, whose support for the change to these systems has decreased anywhere from -18% to -42%.

There are more fascinating graphs on their website, including support for democratic values (freedom of speech, democratic elections, etc.):

A general conclusion that can be drawn from the poll’s results suggests that Russians express the least enthusiasm for democratic values, while the most acceptance is expressed by those in the former East Germany, closely followed by the Poles and Czechs.

and the belief that forces beyond personal control decide one’s fate:

Americans remain far more individualistic than Europeans. Fewer than a third (29%) of Americans surveyed believe success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside their control. Majorities in 10 of the 13 European countries surveyed think they have little control over their fate.

3. United States poll: Rasmussen: Just 53% Say Capitalism Better Than Socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.
Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans – by an 11-to-1 margin – favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism.

Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev In His Own Words.

You know, the man who actually earned the Nobel Peace Prize…

1. NYT: Now Clear Away the Rubble of the Wall.

On avoiding a New Cold War:

I was shocked by a letter that politicians from Central and Eastern Europe sent to President Barack Obama in June. It was, in effect, a call to abandon his policy of engagement with Russia. Is it not shameful that European politicians gave no thought to the disastrous consequences of a new confrontation they would provoke?
At the same time, Europe is being drawn into a debate over responsibility for unleashing World War II. Attempts are being made to equate Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Those attempts are wrong, historically flawed and morally unacceptable.

Those who hope to build a new wall of mutual suspicion and animosity in Europe do a disservice to their own countries and to Europe as a whole.

And:

The current model of E.U. relations with other European countries is based on absorbing as many of them as quickly as possible while leaving the relationship with Russia a “pending matter.” That is simply unsustainable.

Some in Europe are reluctant to accept this. Is this reluctance a sign of unwillingness to accept, and take part in, Russia’s resurgence? What kind of Russia do you want to see: a strong, confident nation in its own right or just a supplier of natural resources that “knows its place?”

Too many European politicians do not want a level playing field with Russia. They want one side to be a teacher or prosecutor and the other, Russia, to be a student or defendant. Russia will not accept this model. It wants to be understood; simply put, it wants to be treated as an equal partner.

2. Guardian: The Berlin wall had to fall, but today’s world is no fairer.

Gorby on “ultra-liberal capitalism.”

The crisis of ideologies that is threatening to turn into a crisis of ideals, values and morals marks yet another loss of social reference points, and strengthens the atmosphere of political pessimism and nihilism. The real achievement we can celebrate is the fact that the 20th century marked the end of totalitarian ideologies, in particular those that were based on utopian beliefs.
Yet new ideologies are quickly replacing the old ones, both in the east and the west. Many now forget that the fall of the Berlin wall was not the cause of global changes but to a great extent the consequence of deep, popular reform movements that started in the east, and the Soviet Union in particular. After decades of the Bolshevik experiment and the realisation that this had led Soviet society down a historical blind alley, a strong impulse for democratic reform evolved in the form of Soviet perestroika, which was also available to the countries of eastern Europe.

But it was soon very clear that western capitalism, too, deprived of its old adversary and imagining itself the undisputed victor and incarnation of global progress, is at risk of leading western society and the rest of the world down another historical blind alley.

Today’s global economic crisis was needed to reveal the organic defects of the present model of western development that was imposed on the rest of the world as the only one possible; it also revealed that not only bureaucratic socialism but also ultra-liberal capitalism are in need of profound democratic reform – their own kind of perestroika.

Today, as we sit among the ruins of the old order, we can think of ourselves as active participants in the process of creating a new world. Many truths and postulates once considered indisputable, in both the east and the west, have ceased to be so, including the blind faith in the all-powerful market and, above all, its democratic nature. There was an ingrained belief that the western model of democracy could be spread mechanically to other societies with different historical experience and cultural traditions. In the present situation, even a concept like social progress, which seems to be shared by everyone, needs to be defined, and examined, more precisely.

3. The Nation: Gorbachev on 1989.

Katrina and Stephen interview Gorby. Some choice morsels.

A dinosaur and a Bolshevik:

MG: Let historians think what they want. But without what I have described, nothing would have resulted. Let me tell you something. George Shultz, Reagan’s secretary of state, came to see me two or three years ago. We reminisced for a long time–like old soldiers recalling past battles. I have great respect for Shultz, and I asked him: “Tell me, George, if Reagan had not been president, who could have played his role?” Shultz thought for a while, then said: “At that time there was no one else. Reagan’s strength was that he had devoted his whole first term to building up America, to getting rid of all the vacillation that had been sown like seeds. America’s spirits had revived. But in order to take these steps toward normalizing relations with the Soviet Union and toward reducing nuclear armaments–there was no one else who could have done that then.”
By the way, in 1987, after my first visit to the United States, Vice President Bush accompanied me to the airport, and told me: “Reagan is a conservative. An extreme conservative. All the blockheads and dummies are for him, and when he says that something is necessary, they trust him. But if some Democrat had proposed what Reagan did, with you, they might not have trusted him.”

By telling you this, I simply want to give Reagan the credit he deserves. I found dealing with him very difficult. The first time we met, in 1985, after we had talked, my people asked me what I thought of him. “A real dinosaur,” I replied. And about me Reagan said, “Gorbachev is a diehard Bolshevik!”

KVH/SFC: A dinosaur and a Bolshevik?

MG: And yet these two people came to historic agreements, because some things must be above ideological convictions. No matter how hard it was for us and no matter how much Reagan and I argued in Geneva in 1985, nevertheless in our appeal to the peoples of the world we wrote: “Nuclear war is inadmissible, and in it there can be no victors.” And in 1986, in Reykjavik, we even agreed that nuclear weapons should be abolished. This conception speaks to the maturity of the leaders on both sides, not only Reagan but people in the West generally, who reached the correct conclusion that we had to put an end to the cold war.

Muddled American thinking:

KVH/SFC: What was most important–the circumstances at that time or the leaders?

MG: The times work through people in history. I’ll tell you something else that is very important about what subsequently happened in your country. When people came to the conclusion that they had won the cold war, they concluded that they didn’t need to change. Let others change. That point of view is mistaken, and it undermined what we had envisaged for Europe–mutual collective security for everyone and a new world order. All of that was lost because of this muddled thinking in your country, and which has now made it so difficult to work together. World leadership is now understood to mean that America gives the orders.

KVH/SFC: Is that why today, twenty years after you say the cold war ended, the relationship between our two countries is so bad that President Obama says it has to be “reset”? What went wrong?

MG: Even before the end of the cold war, Reagan, Bush and I argued, but we began to eliminate two entire categories of nuclear weapons. We had gone very far, almost to the point when a return to the past was no longer possible. But everything went wrong because perestroika was undermined and there was a change of Russian leadership and a change from our concept of gradual reform to the idea of a sudden leap. For Russian President Boris Yeltsin, ready-made Western recipes were falling into his hands, schemes that supposedly would lead to instant success. He was an adventurist. The fall of the Soviet Union was the key moment that explains everything that happened afterward, including what we have today. As I said, people in your country became dizzy with imagined success: they saw everything as their victory.

In Yeltsin, Washington ended up with a vassal who thought that because of his anticommunism he would be carried in their arms. Delegations came to Russia one after the other, including President Bill Clinton, but then they stopped coming. It turned out no one needed Yeltsin. But by then half of Russia’s industries were in ruins, even 60 percent. It was a country with a noncompetitive economy wide open to the world market, and it became slavishly dependent on imports.

How many things were affected! All our plans for a new Europe and a new architecture of mutual security. It all disappeared. Instead, it was proposed that NATO’s jurisdiction be extended to the whole world. But then Russia began to revive. The rain of dollars from higher world oil prices opened up new possibilities. Industrial and social problems began to be solved. And Russia began to speak with a firm voice, but Western leaders got angry about that. They had grown accustomed to having Russia just lie there. They thought they could pull the legs right out from under her whenever they wanted.

The moral of the story–and in the West morals are everything–is this: under my leadership, a country began reforms that opened up the possibility of sustained democracy, of escaping from the threat of nuclear war, and more. That country needed aid and support, but it didn’t get any. Instead, when things went bad for us, the United States applauded. Once again, this was a calculated attempt to hold Russia back. I am speaking heatedly, but I am telling you what happened.

Parable of the goose:

KVH/SFC: Finally, a question about your intellectual-political biography. One author called you “the man who changed the world.” Who or what most changed your own thinking?

MG: Gorbachev never had a guru. I’ve been involved in politics since 1955, after I finished university, when there was still hunger in my country as a result of World War II. I was formed by those times and by my participation in politics. In addition, I am an intellectually curious person by nature and I understood that many changes were necessary, and that it was necessary to think about them, even if it caused me discomfort. I began to carry out my own inner, spiritual perestroika–a perestroika in my personal views. Along the way, Russian literature and, in fact, all literature, European and American too, had a big influence on me. I was drawn especially to philosophy. And my wife, Raisa, who had read more philosophy than I had, was always there alongside me. I didn’t just learn historical facts but tried to put them in a philosophical or conceptual framework.

I began to understand that society needed a new vision–that we must view the world with our eyes open, not just through our personal or private interests. That’s how our new thinking of the 1980s began, when we understood that our old viewpoints were not working out. During the nuclear arms race, I was given a gift by an American, a little figure of a goose in flight. I still have it at my dacha. It is a goose that lives in the north of Russia in the summer and in the winter migrates to America. It does that every year regardless of what’s happening, on the ground, between you and us. That was the point of this gift and that’s why I’m telling you about it.

KVH/SFC: Listening to you, it seems that you became a political heretic in your country.

MG: I think that is true. I want to add that I know America well now, having given speeches to large audiences there regularly. Three years ago I was speaking in the Midwest, and an American asked me this question: “The situation in the United States is developing in a way that alarms us greatly. What would you advise us to do?” I said, “Giving advice, especially to Americans, is not for me.” But I did say one general thing: that it seems to me that America needs its own American perestroika. Not ours. We needed ours, but you need yours. The entire audience stood and clapped for five minutes.

4. Gorbachev interview on RT:

[The Place Where I’m Posting Random Berlin Wall-related Items of Note]

1. Review: “THE YEAR THAT CHANGED THE WORLD :The Untold Story Behind The Fall of the Berlin Wall,” By Michael Meyer.

Superfly fun and interesting read by a journalist who was on the ground in the Eastern Bloc as Communism fell.

Friedrich Nietzsche once described an argument about history. “I have done that,” claims memory. “I cannot have done that,” pride retorts. Or, to put it differently: The past is what happened, history what we decide to remember. We mine the past for myths to buttress our present.
The good historian is a myth buster. Michael Meyer is a very good historian. As Newsweek’s bureau chief for Eastern Europe in 1989, he watched the world turn on a dime. The myth he busts in this book concerns the contribution the United States made to the collapse of communist regimes that year. Some Americans want to believe that those regimes crumbled because of White House manipulation — clever diplomacy backed by raw power. In fact, American meddling was rather benign and, during that fateful year, conspicuously ill conceived.

The preferred myth begins with Ronald Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987. “We hear from Moscow about a new openness,” he sneered, demanding proof. “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” According to the myth, the wall came tumbling down because Reagan, like some benevolent wizard, shouted “Open Sesame!” The moral drawn is that evil, dictatorial regimes crumble when confronted by righteous indignation. Cue Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush, who idolized Reagan, tried to emulate his hero. His distortion of the past inspired tragedy in the present.

The real story, minus the comic book hero, is more complicated — and interesting. Reagan still plays a role, but as diplomat, not Rambo. His contribution came in accommodation; his willingness to talk to Gorbachev gave the Soviet leader the confidence to break molds. Gorbachev, furthermore, did not tear down the wall; he merely suggested that change would be tolerated.

2. RT interview of Putin on the fall of the Berlin Wall.

For some reason this totally cracks me up.

September 17, 2009

a note on missile defense.

It seems a little precipitous to gloat, especially given the lack definitive confirmation that the plan has been scrapped in President Obama’s official statement. But hey, the whole entire global media has run with the story, and they’re never wrong about anything, right?

Nevertheless, I simply CANNOT pass by the opportunity to post this, originally published prior to Obama’s visit to Russia in July of this year. You know, a few months ago.

CBS: “White House to Hold Firm on European Missile Shield.”

In advance of Pres. Obama’s first trip to Russia next week, the White House is serving notice on the Kremlin that he won’t be making any concessions to win its approval of a U.S. missile shield in Europe or membership in NATO for Russian neighbors Ukraine and Georgia.

“We don’t need the Russians,” says Michael McFaul, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russian affairs on the National Security Council staff.

In a conference call with reporters, McFaul responded with unusually tough talk when asked what reassurances Pres. Obama is prepared to give in his talks starting Monday with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

“We’re definitely not going to use the word reassure in the way that we talk about these things,” said McFaul. “We’re not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense.”

(more…)

September 1, 2009

lqd: The Western View of Russia

I’m publishing the whole damn article because 1) This is a fresh and compelling explanation of the current impasse in U.S.-Russian relations, 2) they said I could and 3) I’m a bit too busy to think up my own theories and write about them.

The article is perhaps simplistic, or let’s say narrow in its view. It is one explanation of many and probably accounts for some but not all of the problem, since it doesn’t address the most basic motivations for all politics: money, power, greed and sheer stupidity. But I really do like the proposition! It jibes with reality as it is perceived by me (always a plus) and is neither chauvinist nor dismissive. How refreshing!

N.B. I was born in America in the 70’s and came of age in the 80’s, yet I don’t fit either stereotype of the Cold War or post-Cold War generations. I am soooooo ahead of my time! Ah, the rewards of trauma.

[Update] Some folks have wondered if I think this article actually gets it right. Well, I think it passes the Cato sniff test, referring to that most convincing benchmark of proof and funniest quote ever produced by a think tank:

“The sociological generalization we have stated is intuitively compelling; something like it must be true.”

Ok, pull up a chair, here’s the article, care of Stratfor.com:

“The Western View of Russia”, by George Friedman. (more…)

August 18, 2009

dreaming, tripping and reading through the Caucasus.

Contents: Gory Gori, Грозный Grozny and the Ecstasy of War.

I haven’t slept well for the past few nights. Thunderstorms, fighter jets breaking the sound barrier, a fickle cat and the fate of the public option have kept me awake. I finally managed to fall into a proper sleep (I think leaving Chopin on repeat all night helped) and had a bizarre dream. I was on an Amtrak with my little brother, Dmitry Medvedev, Anne Nivat and some strangers. The scene had an ominous feel, like when those tv people who were Lost got on that plane to return to that Island. But instead of a mysterious island where nothing makes sense, we were going to S. Ossetia. I didn’t have my papers in order, but Medvedev laughed like Santa Claus and told me it didn’t matter. When we returned, I had no memory about the place, and no stamps in my passport. But I was told I had been there. Nivat showed me photos of our trip. And yet I remembered nothing. It was like my memory of it had been wiped perfectly clean. I felt like I had accidentally stumbled into a Michel Gondry film. With a soundtrack by Chopin.

I should not watch the news before bed. Or at least not France24. Or at least not this:

I. A Video.

A few reactions:

1. I expect a one-sided story from the American mass media. I don’t think I ever did recover from the US reporting of the war last year. I was mortified. Not by war. We’ve been at war every day for over half a decade. It’s just no longer practical to be outraged by the killing of innocent civilians. (I am, but I’m not a very practical person.) I was mortified by the narrative. And it’s a damn shame, because if the coverage had been a little more nuanced, I’d probably be a lot more mad at Russia, which was the point of that coverage, right? It still frustrates and baffles, but no longer shocks. Except when the French do it. I have higher standards for the French. On the other hand, they had the good excuse that the Russian/S. Ossetian forces wont allow them to cross into S. Ossetia to see what’s up over there. I remember that being an issue during the war too. Reporters being unable to verify that Georgia had bombed Tskhinvali because Russian troops weren’t allowing them down the road.

Nevertheless, isn’t it the job of a professional reporter to attempt to confirm hearsay? Or do we live in a world where what people believe is true is deemed more important than what is actually true? The people of Gori say they have heard that Russia is gearing up for another war. Georgian soldiers with their Russian Kalashnikovs are shown training. The cognitive dissonance is makin’ me crazy. And has anyone yet provided us with a semi-believable reason why Russia would want to launch all out war on Georgia proper? That would benefit them how, exactly? Now, how could getting people to believe it benefit Georgia? Precisely. Thank you for participating in today’s logic excessive. A pony for you all.

2. A free two-bedroom house with a flat screen tv for Georgian refugees of last year’s war. They complain it is mediocre. Just what kind of palaces were what inhabiting in South Ossetia? I know Americans facing foreclosure who would snap up one of those homes with a flat screen tv in a second. Maybe in return for our military industrial generosity, Georgia can give Americans some free houses too.

For those of you who protest, “But they are very very little houses, poemless!” there is a short story by Tolstoy I recommend.

3. The old farmer fellow, Vassily, in the hat, is just brilliant. The war last year destroyed his crop. He lost 2/3 of his harvest. He goes on about Ossetians shooting in the fields, making it difficult for him to work. He weeps like a child. But you don’t see him demanding compensation for his losses. His lament? “If only they Soviet Union had never ended!” There was peace then. And bonuses. “Now we have freedom. We are free, with empty pockets.” Now he is praying to God for help. Well, to God and the President, but if it is peace he is after, I think he might have more luck with God. And I say that as an atheist. A God-fearing Georgian whose farm was ripped up by Russian tanks longs for the good old days of the USSR. Put that in your ideological pipe and smoke it. (more…)

August 6, 2009

diary of a political ninja.

Contents: No, actually, this is what democracy looks like ; In which I chat with Putin’s media strategist after a game of Wii bowling ; The scale of cool ; Oops! Someone forgets their shirt again.

Act I. Managing Democracy.

I devoted my entire weekend to learning how to run a political campaign (political ninja school) and getting tipsy with the future leaders of America. I now have all the mad skillz to run a winning grassroots candidate in … uh, Oregon. Or somewhere else there is grass. Maybe. Chicago? No one has yet figured out how to run a winning grassroots candidate in an area where we don’t have things like multiple parties, meaningful general elections or finance laws. Or grass. For that I think I would need to attend a United Russia political ninja school. But I am glad I now know what I know, and I believe every American should know it too. Because there are still many otherwise intelligent folks out there who are under the impression that democracy is just a noble principle or ideology. Like honesty, generosity and responsibility. They tell you in Sunday school to be it, you are it, you go to heaven. Period. People don’t seem to realize that democracy is in fact a micro-managed process which may or may not be noble and, unfortunately, is possibly more effective the less noble it is. This is why Republicans win. This is also why people who have never seen a voter file, walked a precinct or quite conceivably have never even seen the inside of a polling place on election day will eagerly get on tv to tell you there is no democracy in Russia. I, however, hear stories of voter intimidation, ballot purges and dirty campaigns and eagerly tell you there is democracy in Russia. Because if there were not, they would not need to do this shit, people. It’s like physics: you can’t see the gravity, only the rotten apple that falls from the tree. If you are purging your challengers from the ballot, it means 1) there are citizens willing to challenge you, 2) there is a process by which they can attempt that and 3) there are people who will vote for them.

I was not taught how to axe people off ballots last weekend. Chicagoans already know how to do that. Just ask Barack. Still, I bet a United Russia or Nashi ninja school would have classes like, “Advanced ballot purging,” or “What to do when your opponent runs an organized crime syndicate,” which would be more applicable to my local situation. They also had a “love oasis” at the Nashi camp, which would have been useful last weekend. Ooof. There is nothing more depressing than a pack of politicos with no social lives at a bar on a Saturday night. “We’ve been talking politics all day. The only thing left to talk about is sex and religion.” And we’re not religious. So we behave like 14 yr. old boys. On booze.

Anyway. I bet UR trainings aren’t terribly different from ours. I bet we all use the same mind-numbing, numbers-crunching spreadsheets and math calculations, the only difference being that in the “vote goal” column, UR figures for 72% instead of 52%. Hard to argue with their “aim for the moon” mentality. US Democrats are taught to have low expectations for persuadable voters. Round down. Remember that these people voted for Bush. Knock another 401 registered voters off that column. It’s all about the numbers. I bet most campaigns are lost because of bad math. You know who is really good at math? [Insert dramatic pause…] The Russians! This is my new counter-argument for the racists who assert that Russia is “genetically predisposed” toward political dictatorship. It’s in their DNA, they say. Well you know what else appears to be in the their DNA? Serious math skills, that’s what. Between that and their “genetic predisposition” for being absolute propaganda fiends and their “inherited” willingness to subject themselves to just about anything, regardless how insane, Russia would seem to be “genetically predisposed” to be the model nation for democracy! Putin should technically never have to steal or fake an election with this repertoire. Assuming he is managing his campaigns the same way we manage ours…

And I do. Because both Russia and my little progressive grassroots organization hired the same political strategist. (more…)

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