poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

October 8, 2010

Rahm-A-Llama Ding Dong: Revenge of the Liberasts!

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 5:51 PM
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes I get the whole MSM frustration with Russia thinking it is as important as the rest of us. For example, no one cares very much who the next mayor of Moscow will be. But every wonk in the human species is drooling over the race for mayor (King, really, if we’re honest) of Chicago, or more specifically, Rahm Emanuel’s new toy. Which goes to show that Chicago is a more important city than Moscow. Otherwise that gorgeous egomaniac Slava Surkov would have quit Dima to be its new mayor. So much for Luzhkov being an autocrat; he got fired, and no one in the top job wants to replace him. Pah-thetic. Lame. Autocracy my ass.

Overcompensating? Eh?

I have to put some positive spin on this, find a silver lining. For some perspective on my opinion of Rahm as Da Mayor, let us revisit a post from April of this year:

Apparently Rahm Emanuel has nothing better to do than sit up at night scheming up new ways to piss me off. And to his credit, it seems to be the one thing he’s quite successful at. There was that time he ran someone against my friend in a primary, won the primary and lost the general. Actually, that’s the most tolerable part of that story… And then there was the time he showed up at Glen’s Diner, sat next to me, was waited on hand and foot while I waited an hour for my salad only to be informed they’d run out of salad dressing. Then there was the week I woke up to helicopters each morning because my neighbor had decided to take the position of Chief of Staff. And then there was the time he could barely even get his own party to support a watered down piece of crap masquerading as a healthcare reform bill.

But I’m less vocal about his D.C. failures. Because I want him to stay there. Democrats all over Chicago cheered when he took the White House gig. Because they love him and were happy for him? Oh hell no. Because it meant he was leaving! The poor citizens of my fair district were finally given the opportunity to have a decent Congressman when he left. Our whole neighborhood could not get an audience with Emanuel during the run up to the invasion of Iraq. My new Rep. came to my holiday party and brought a whole cheesecake. Just sayin’.

So I am thinking it’s ok if he’s wrecking national policy so long as he’s not here and I can eat a fucking salald in peace. And I get cheesecake.

It’s unfortunate I’ve already used the phrase, “Oh hell no.” It would have been a perfect response to this:

Obama aide Emanuel: I’d like to be mayor of Chicago.

Damn it! You are the chief advisor to the leader of the free world, but that’s not enough? Why won’t you just LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE… Insatiable freak.

Below are the reasons Emanuel would be a crap mayor of Chicago:

~ Chicago likes two kinds of mayors: dictators who rule with an iron fist, and progressive reformers. Emanuel is neither of these, as the recent healthcare debate illustrated. He could not even get his whole party on board, let alone one member of the opposition. Apparently they are not afraid of him. This would have been excusable were he presenting some radical socialist legislation that was ahead of the curve. But he never even entertained the possibility of a public option, let alone single payer healthcare. Fail. Fail. If you can’t even get a few Democrats to support a rather reasonable request, how are you going to get 3 million people to cream “How high?” when you shout, “Jump!” Not gonna happen.

~ Emanuel likes to wear finely tailored suits. That’s cool, if you are running for mayor of New York. I just can’t see our little rascal in a beige trench and fedora, the Mayor of Chicago uniform.

~ Chicago is not Ravenswood. Chicago is not all the cool little trendy neighborhoods and posh suites in mile high skyscrapers. It’s the inner city. There are poor people there. This man believed it beneath his station to communicate with and represent a rather well-off area while he was Congressman. What is he going to do if he has to communicate with and represent rather uneducated and smelly people? Who have no money to give him!!! But who need the snow removed like ASAP.

~ Uhm, we don’t want him to be Mayor. I’m not one of those trite progressives who won’t be happy until Ralph Nader is running the city. I like Mayor Daley. I admire him. Sure he’s corrupt, but you can tell he loves the city. Sure he’s divisive, but the man gets things done. Emanuel tells people to fuck off by calling them names and giving them the finger. Daley tells people to fuck off by bulldozing the airport he wants to turn into a park in the middle of the night. It’s the difference between a schoolyard bully and a leader.

~ Salad.

~ Cheesecake.

At the time I wrote that, I was innocently under the impression that Daley would be my mayor for life. The way your parents have to be your parents for life. You are stuck with them, they show you no respect, but they are not allowed to quit. At the time I wrote that, Rahm seeking to replace Daley just seemed like one more conceited outburst from that little twit, confirming my opinion that he was a conceited little twit. Ha! Well he surely did smack that smug little smile of my pretty face…

Why I Hate Rahm.

Let’s be clear. I do not hate Rahm. I only really know him as constituent who was ignored by him, a party ally who was sabotaged by him, a liberal activist who was referred to as a “fucking retard” by him and a neighbor who gets worse service than him at local restaurants. He could be a very decent human for all I know, when his path is not crossing mine. Pretty much anyone he’s ever crossed paths with thinks he’s a jerk? Ok. But he might have a really beautiful soul which reveals itself only when he is home alone. I like the idea of this.

And speaking of home, Rahm is so well loved that the people who are letting his house (since he was in DC, he might as well make a buck off his house in Chicago) won’t let him back in! They’ve signed a lease which runs until June of next year and are stealthily flexing their right to remain put. What’s so telling about this is that the landlords in this town can usually get away with murder. Having innocent people evicted is child’s play. Frankly, if you can’t accomplish that, you are probably not fit to be a landlord. But he wants to be the landlord of the WHOLE ENTIRE town? Wha? This is my fundamental problem with Rahm Emanuel: he probably has the balls to tell a saint to fuck off, but sticks and stones…, when it comes to action, he flees. He turned straight around and looked for a condo to rent. Lame. Should join Yuri’s pah-thetic club.


Is this why I don’t want him to be Mayor? Seriously? Because he didn’t kill his tenants? Reality check time. Why do I not want him to be mayor? I am asking myself this, searching for a respectable answer. Why am I so fanatical with disgust for this man that I’ve even wondered if he was responsible for the “mysterious illness” that has put Riccardo Muti on a plane back to Italy. And frankly, until I see a video of Muti in Italy, I will be harboring darker suspicions. I’ve turned into a rabid paranoiac – and just to amuse myself. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Is it his tactics? I devote this blog to praising the intimidating strong-arm tactics and bizarre antics of people like Putin. Err… Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds! Yes it is! However, the idea that I deserve a more just system of representation than others is the hobgoblin of my big mind.

Is it his position on the issues? He’s a Democrat. A not very nice Democrat, but at this point I’m through with pansy dems mucking everything up. We’re probably on the same page on basic issues. Except for war and free-trade and Israel and other things mayors don’t actually have very much to do with. He’s not a gay-bashing witch preaching creationism and fighting for the rights of puppy-mill owners, which puts him a head of a significant number of American politicians. He’s a corporatist. Which I hate. But Daley was ready to privatize the entire city for a fast buck, and my only criticism was that he wasn’t very nice to anti-war protesters… I doubt many Communist party candidates will be on the ballot.

He’s well educated, cute, Jewish, a former ballerina even, and we obviously share an uncanny preference for the same schools to attend, places to eat out and streets to live on! I like that he curses. It’s as if he were my own successful Doppelganger!

A Liberast Confesses!

So many years ago it occurred to me that for all they crazy talk about how evil and corrupt and mediaslutty Putin is, those Latynina types surely do spend a whole lotta time writing about him. Let us call it an “idée fixe.” Or a fetish. They may be writing about one thing, but it is their own sick mind to which they expose their innocent readers. And more recently, after les affaires Luzhkov, Browder, Khodorkovsky yadda yadda yadda, it occurred to me (and every other sentient human) that these people only begin their obsession with moral obligation after they suffer some cruel rejection from the villain in question. Normally, wearing a nicely-tailored suit is about the very last thing I will criticise a man for. Normally, the possibility of an attractive, well-dressed ballet dancer in high political office is so, so\ … so hot, I can forgive cruelty and corruption. Maybe even murder.

Call a doctor! I’m sick! I’ve contracted a nasty case of Liberastitis Obnoxiosus. “Who does he think he is, that he can get away with these things?” “The people who support him are just mindless sheep, blinded by the siren song of his sparkly celebrity. Or fear him.” “He doesn’t even think he needs to play well with other. Hrrmph.” “And look at the trail of destruction that follows him wherever he goes. All of his accomplishments are actually failures, if you look close enough.” “It’s not the person, it’s the process!” (<–when you hear the last one, just run.)

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But somehow admitting that personal grudges and hypocrisy – the hallmarks of Liberastic critique – are polluting my beautiful mind is not inspiring me to clean up my act, even if I risk losing critical thinking skills, or worse, popular credibility. It's not simply the adrenaline of working on yet another a losing campaign, the high of entertaining for a moment the possibility of toppling a powerful public figure, or the creepy self-confidence that accompanies moral superiority on display. I genuinely, sincerely, honestly, authentically believe that only when and if Rahm Emanuel is served a slice of humble pie in the form of a reality check that the world does not serve at his pleasure, could he be a capable leader. Why?

Suddenly I am reminded of the 2008 U.S. presidential primaries. I harbored an angry, passionate dislike of Hillary Clinton for years, so strong it sometimes got me out of bed in the morning. But when Obama began stealing the hearts and minds of unsuspecting Americans, she was forced to work for that which she'd already claimed for herself. And she did. And hard. And I was impressed. Behind that grotesquely fake smile, there lurked an intelligent, qualified woman. And I was also worried that Obama had experience no real public humiliation or hard-fought defeats, and that might make him less than ideal. Like, when things got tough and people stopped loving him for his charm alone, he might flounder, and then really bad people might take advantage of the fact. Crazy, right? What was I thinking! So after years of devoted animosity toward her, I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I know. She thinks VVP has no soul. It’s not terribly relevant to day-to-day Oval Office decisions.

I also used to not like Mayor Daley. I did in the beginning. There was even a photo of him on the mantle. But then I didn’t. Because I saw some cops threatening and pushing a young pregnant woman during an anti-war protest. Horrible. They were unnecessarily abusive and confrontational, when these yuppies and hippies and toddlers just wanted to show up and say “No blood for oil! Show me what democracy looks like!” Harmless. The cops? Not so much. Years passed. We forgot about the war. The protests ended. The train service improved. A lovely park sprung up in the middle of the city. Life was, if not perfect, certainly better. And anyway, Daley’s opposition were clowns who thought the most pressing problem in Chicago was the existence of foie gras on menus. Either they were wrong, and nuts, or right, and Daley had solved all our other problems. Best to shut up and enjoy the park.

Is Liberasty is like some virus you have all your life but only rears its symptomatic head during times of great stress? Yes, I am an emotionally wounded ideologue, but I am capable of having normal political alliances. Yes, it’s contagious (just look at the cynical young Americans who go to Moscow, attend a protest, and suddenly being writing passionately about civil rights!) – but so long as I alert you, you can take precautions. I don’t even remember when I contracted it. High school Amnesty International club? Some pervert along the way managed to convince me that marching down streets and wearing buttons and organizing very small groups of people who have lots of free time can make the world a better place. Probably how I got the idea that writing a blog could do the same. Madness. Brain fever.



The kind of ideals this sick-ass country was founded on!

And Now a Song of Unrelenting Determination and Unmitigated Ego!

Perhaps this a fundamental difference between our liberasts? In America, not only is it acceptable for citizens to demand their representatives to listen to, acknowledge and fulfill the wishes of individuals, no matter how personal, irrational, hysterical and selfish, it’s what we call “civic engagement.” We pride ourselves on this circus. We are participating in democracy! That means we have one! See?! See?! And it is fun. I must be honest – it is a ton of fun. Those Tea Party people pretend to be persecuted, but they’re clearly having a grand ol’ time. (More even than the oversexed liberals. Because liberals actually feel guilt when their actions cause the suffering of others.) We’re a nation of complainers and demanders and believe, deeply, in the primordial pit of our souls, that the government exists to serve us. Not “us”, the collective sum of individuals, but the interests of individuals themselves. Exists to serve me. This isn’t one camp in our system – it is our system.

When people try to replicate this in Russia, it seems offensive. Look at the Liberasts: they only care about themselves and their pet causes. Embarrassing. Why? The same every man for himself culture that breeds narcissists like Emanuel breeds narcissists like me. We’re two side of the same coin, both acting on the conviction that our power to change the world is only constrained by our own personal shortcomings. But is this the opposite side of the coin of … Putinism? Bases and Centrists, parties in power and their opposition, while rarely accomplishing much, and all capable of poor governance, do have a symbiotic relationship, forever correcting for the other (and the other always in need of correction.) I might be totally off the mark, but I don’t witness this same phenomenon in Russian politics. I’m not saying there is, or is not democracy, and with no agreed upon definition of “democracy,” I don’t care. Just that there’s more of a disconnect, something not so… organic, about the Liberal opposition. Less flexible, less able to laugh at themselves?

Or is this just another wrong-headed picture of Russia painted by American pundits?

Because I still haven’t quite figured out why I am so awesome for standing up to Mr. Emanuel, but Kasparov is just a tool.


October 1, 2010

Do We Really Need More Democracy? or, There’s no place like home.

Filed under: Lazy Quote Diary,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 5:14 PM

I know there are many differences in the mechanics of our respective political systems (Chicago, Russia), but in the Sept. 30 issuse of the Chicago Reader, Michael Miner concisely sums up the questions I have been asking about both -rhetorically, no one actually listens to me- for a very long time.

The Reader is a free weekly, and I am making no money, goodness knows, writing this blog. So I hope Miner doesn’t come after me for posting this in its entirety. (Actually, this is just the first part; the rest is about friending politicians on facebook…) Read this, click the link, click on a few ads, do whatever you need to to be a responsible consumer of decent journalism. But first, just read this.

Do We Really Need More Democracy? Or do we just need to use the democracy we have?
By Michael Miner

Any day you’re asked a good question is a pretty good day. The other day I was asked two.

The first one was from my daughter Laura in New York. Everyone is talking about bringing more democracy to Chicago, she said. What does that mean, more democracy? More of what exactly?

I had no idea. Mayor Daley said he’d decided not to run for reelection, and suddenly democracy was on all lips. “Perhaps you’ve heard of it, invented by my noble ancestors, the Greeks,” John Kass wrote in the Tribune, “it is a system of government by which free people debate ideas, sometimes vigorously, sometimes rudely. They elect leaders who are expected to give reasons for their actions. The leaders must form a consensus before they can spend the people’s money. Yes, it is indeed a weird system of governance, relatively unknown in these parts. It’s called democracy.”

Daley’s “unfinished business,” Greg Hinz wrote in Crain’s Chicago Business, is “making Chicago fit for democracy and making democracy fit in Chicago.” And back at the Trib, Dennis Byrne wrote, “Questions about whether Chicago can function as a democracy presume that the City Council will stir itself out of its slumber and break out of its special interest chains. Can aldermen govern, left on their own without a boss instructing them?”

I’d already quoted these quotes in something I’d posted online. Now I reviewed them. Kass was asking for a Little Golden Books version of democracy. Hinz wanted a Chicago where democracy works. Pretty to wish for, thought Byrne, but he seriously doubted Chicago could function as a democracy and the real question, he concluded, was whether Chicago could continue to be functional at all. A dark thought, that. Everyone agreed the democracy dipstick reads low. But there was less consensus on how, or even whether, to fill the tank; the real yearning, I could see, wasn’t for more democracy as much as it was for a nicer, more consumer-friendly democracy that elects leaders as honest as they are brilliant.

For if someone says we don’t have enough democracy in Chicago, the proper reply is, what exactly are we short of? Do we vote? Yes. Is any adult without a criminal record free to run? Yes. Do our elected representatives meet and discuss and write laws, and if we don’t like those laws can we throw them out? Yes. And what about the mayor, who’s ruled for almost 22 years and whose father ruled for 21? Is there something about the way our laws are written that encourages quasi-monarchical dynasties? Not that I can put my finger on.

So what democratic apps are lying around uinstalled? I guess there are the direct referendums that helped bankrupt California. And the recent experiment in Rogers Park—the one the Reader’s Deanna Isaacs just wrote about under the headline “Can Democracy Work in Chicago?”—about 49th Ward residents voting on how their alderman should spend his “menu money”—could be tried everywhere murals are painted on railroad viaducts.

But there’s not a lot of room for expansion.

If Chicago’s cursed with a corrupt, inefficient autocracy, it’s because the people of Chicago, in their wisdom and by their votes and actions, have repeatedly chosen it. Let’s blame the victim: we have the democracy we deserve. Just as Barack Obama’s greatest accomplishment as president could turn out to be getting elected president, the biggest contribution to democratic reform made possible by Richie Daley’s decision not to run for reelection may be the decision itself. Mayors don’t have to die in office or cling to it until their parties throw them out—as Daley just taught by example to Chicagoans who had never seen anything else.

Last week in the Reader I shared the lamentation of a tiny Tea Party group, the Johnson County Patriots of the Republic, in western Missouri. There’s a long list of grievances posted on their website, but in the end their beef comes down to this: “Some of our elected representatives treat us like children. Far too many of our politicians insult us in town hall meetings. They dismiss us by refusing to respond to our questions, through the rudeness of their office personnel, and by giving us meaningless responses that answer none of our concerns. All of these actions make it clear that they no longer take us, the people, seriously.”

Folks go to the polls in western Missouri, same as they do here. What aggrieves the Johnson County Patriots isn’t that there’s too little democracy but that democracy in their view doesn’t work for them the way it works for the big shots. They sound just like Kass—the difference being that an angry voice speaking for itself is more compelling than Kass’s sarcastic voice speaking for a disrespected multitude he doesn’t belong to. The Patriots look around at the democracy their forefathers left behind and feel it snickering at them. Here in Illinois, a lot of folks do too. Voters face humiliating choices in November’s most important races: Quinn versus Brady for governor; Giannoulias versus Kirk for the U.S. Senate. But who or what gave us these candidates? Who gave us Blagojevich? Who gave us George Ryan? Do we blame democracy for failing to gild the ballot with more competence and virtue?

I’m just asking—I’m as eager to live in a Hellenic paradise as the next guy is.

It’s all very Wizard of Oz, isn’t it? We’ve courageously exposed the man behind the curtain, only to learn we’ve had the power ourselves all along.

Except I don’t think anyone in Chicago, or Moscow, would actually rather live in Kansas. I mean, there are reasons we live here, few of which can be found in some quaint rural dustbowl town full of pigs and witches. And that’s the clencher, so far as I can tell. Are we, as demanding citizens, prepared to be as humble and accountable as we want our new leaders to be? Are we prepared to go full out Temperance-style hysterical with a war on Corruption? Are we ready to excersize our democratic power, knowing well the consequence that we will be to blame when things fall apart?

Can we oust the Wizard, but keep the dancing munchkins, flying monkeys, poppy fields and yellow brick roads? That’s what I want to know.

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.]

December 16, 2009

Odds & Ends: These are a few of my favorite things Edition

Contents: Kurkov, Kremlin comics and Applebaum’s antics, Democracy and Capitalism and Swiss minarets. Overweight hedgehogs and Barack bitching, These are a few of my favorite things…

“Now get a good night’s sleep, children. For tomorrow we must hike across the Alps to Switzerland, where we will be safe from the Nazis … I mean … the Muslims.”


1. You may stop holding your breath now. Of course I cannot allow the Swiss vote banning minarets to pass unmentioned here, a site borne of Swiss oppression. Everyone and their mother was blogging about it. (“Today, we are all Swiss jihadists!”) But I don’t like to contribute to the noise level or take part in op-ed epidemics. It only perpetuates the phenomenon of knee-jerk reaction + moral authority + Internet connection that has come to replace the profession once known as journalism. It discourages reflection and sobriety. That said, there was some memorable commentary in the days following the referendum. My favorite was from Crooked Timber:

One can only suppose that, having waited until 1971 to give women the vote in Federal elections, and in some parts of the country until 1990 in Cantonal elections, the Swiss are now making up for lost time making good on their commitment to feminism.

And now that my wait is over, I am not here to simply indulge in Schadenfreude for the fallen Swiss. Or to give a lecture on why the banning of minarets is perverse. Or to present another exhibit in my case against this fair (no, really) nation. Or to even wonder aloud with a hint of nefarious intent, “What kind of country, do you imagine, would remain neutral during the Holocaust, but take a firm stand against Islamic symbolism?” No. Rather than lavishing the Swiss or the Muslims with attention, I suggest this story has a much more profound implication that transcends issues of nationality or religion or Europe’s race problem.

The implication is that DEMOCRACY can be totalitarian. Sure, we can blame a majority of Swiss for being xenophobic. Baaad xenophobic Swiss. Whatever. Sometime the majority are assholes. Or in the case of my country, dangerously undereducated. The result is George W. Bush and Swiss minaret bans. Maybe democracy is still the best of all of our terrible ideas, but shouldn’t we be asking, “Why?” Is it because our personal opinions or “values” based on fear, ignorance, greed or any of our most base instincts are more precious than the equal application of rights to all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc.? Is Joe Blow down the street a better steward of our rights than those whose job it actually is to protect them? Do we champion this institution because it recognizes and empowers The People, or because it it recognizes and empowers … ourselves?

Do people even think about these things when they’re mewing about democracy and authoritarianism?

2. Wait, I’m not done with Switzerland! Remember Anne Applebaum and her indignation at the Swiss authorities who had the sick nerve to jail a man who drugged and sodomized a young girl and then fled the police? Taking together all the words in that previous sentence, you would be left to assume that darling Anne must harbor some kind of irrational hatred of the Swiss. (Or an irrational affinity for rapists…) But no! (Must be the latter….) Who should come to the defense of the Swiss minaret ban but the woman who came to the defense fo Roman Polanski?! I see a pattern here. Mark Ames’ new opus, “Anne Applebaum is a dingbat,” tries to explain the WaPo column in which she states:

This decision has been interpreted across Europe, and particularly in the United States, as evidence of Swiss bigotry and rising religious intolerance. But it was not — or at least not entirely. More important, it was evidence of fear, though not fear of “foreigners” or “outsiders” as such. […]

There is, therefore, nothing especially Swiss, or especially isolationist, about the recent referendum result. A similar question, put in a similar way, might well have led to a similar result anywhere in Europe. The growth of the “far right” parties in the recent past is almost always connected to fear of Islamist extremism.

Ames comes back with:

First of all, why’d she leave out the word “racist” or “bigoted”? The criticism wasn’t that the Swiss are Swiss, or that they’re isolationist–it’s that they’re Nazi fucks whose gilded streets are paved with Jews’ gold teeth and African blood diamonds.

Applebaum argues that the Swiss aren’t really Swiss, they’re just regular Europeans. Because all the other European countries would do the exact same thing–so long as we’re talking about a highly qualified conditional reality in which a similar (though not the same) question, put in a similar (though not the same, so now it’s twice-removed from sameness) way– run it through the modal verb tense “might well have led to” … and voila! All Swiss are Socrates!

If that makes no fucking sense whatsoever, then ask yourself the real question here: why the fuck is Anne Applebaum trying to cover for far-right European racists?

Answer: because her husband, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, is one of ‘em.

In fact, Sikorski is the perfect Archie Bunker to Anne Applebaum’s dingbat. Just consider this knee-slapper Sikorski told last November shortly after the election of President Obama:

“Have you heard that Obama may have a Polish connection? His grandfather ate a Polish missionary.”

You get it? Because Obama is black. And blacks, according to Polish bigots, are cannibals. Seriously, it’s funnier in the original Polish, you had to be there–it kills ‘em in Krakow every time–bowls ‘em over in Gdansk.

Wow, the Swiss and Applebaum all in one package. Santa came early! In fact, Swiss Applebaum sounds like the kind of delicious holiday treat I might find at a local European bakery. But lo, what do I find in the stocking hung by the chimney with care?

True story: Anne’s car blew up and she got secret service protection because maybe the Kremlin was trying to off her or something but really her car just malfunctioned and she kept slamming on the accelerator and blew it up!

3. Wait, I’m not done with Democracy! Or rather, Russia’s non-Democracy. Or rather, its general eeeevilness. First, I feel I should weigh in on the death of Mr. Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who perished in prison awaiting trial for tax evasion. Acc’d. the Wall Street Journal’s “Murder by Natural Causes”:

This week Vladimir Putin’s regime proved an even colder and darker place than what a Russian winter alone can offer.
Ethicists may debate when not preventing a death becomes murder. But one doesn’t need a Ph.D. to conclude that the death of Sergei Magnitsky was just that—a state sanctioned murder. […]

Hermitage chief William Browder describes his late attorney as “a healthy 37-year-old professional” when he entered the jail. But being completely cut off from his family, and the physical pressures he endured while in custody, proved too much. Magnitsky made numerous official complaints of his treatment, including a 40-page report to the general prosecutor describing squalid conditions, treatment bordering on torture, and the onset of gallbladder stones, pancreatitis, and a severe digestive ailment. […]

With this new milestone, Moscow consummates the marriage of brutality and revisionism. Contemporary Russia is almost comically weak when viewed from the West, which once feared Moscow would destroy the world. But that doesn’t mitigate the merger of Stalinism with Putinism, nor the tragedy that means for the Russian people.

While denying ANYONE medical care is deplorable, I wonder why it is “murder” when Russia does it and, er, the free market at work when America does it. What’s up with that shit? And if the WSJ is correct … America is a Stalinist country. Just sayin’. And BTW, Dima axed a slew of prison officials in response to the Magnitsky death. Why can’t Barack axe a slew of insurance providers who take the same decision to deny medical treatment to those who need it? Oh yeah, democracy…

It seems I’m not the only one who quibbles with the equation of Stalinism to Putinism. Human rights activists in modern Russia are quick to differentiate between the Communist era and the current regime, citing that the latter is … more dangerous:

Former Soviet dissidents criticized the condition of human rights in Russia under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying their work is more dangerous than in the final decades of the communist regime. […]

While Russians today enjoy many more freedoms, there were “much fewer” killings of dissidents during the communist era, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 82, who was forced to emigrate to the U.S. in the 1970s because of her anti-Soviet views.

Kovalyov, Alexeyeva and Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial human rights group, will receive the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought later this week in Strasbourg. Estemirova was a member of Memorial, which documents Soviet-era repression and human rights violations.

Get yer irony on.

While “comically weak” was not among the list of explanations University of California Berkeley undergraduates provided for their negative associations about Russia, the WSJ’s colorful language is certainly illustrative of the PR crisis facing the country these days. Clearly they just need to re-brand themselves. “Multicultural Russia.” ”Eco Russia.” “Resilient Russia.” I’ve earnestly been making this point for a while (no one listens to me!), though I was thinking about it mostly in terms of policy initiatives and less in terms of … branding. When Americans wrap crap in a pretty package, it is branding. When Russians do it it is called a “Potemkin Village.” Apparently some lies are better than others. Hell, even when Russia does make an effort to do something genuinely democratic all anyone talks about it how obnoxiously stage-managed it all is. As if the entire Western political system is not rapidly becoming nothing more than a high-budget made for TV production. Though perhaps it would help if Putin’s set design team were a bit less inspired by the dystopian aesthetic of Zamiatin’s We, “… shining all sky-blue crystal regularity through the glass …”

Unless that’s what he’s going for, of course.


1. If you are not new to this blog, you are well aware of my low threshold of intolerance for irresponsible journalism. I’m also forever fascinated with the phenomenon in which Western cultural institutions become some kind of absurd parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes when they get into the hands of our Russian friends. I mean, it’s just genius how that happens. Anyway, the following story caught my attention the way Reeses Dark candy bars have: two of my favorite things, combined to serve absolutely no benefit to society:

From AFP: British tabloids inspire Russia’s school for scandal:

As students scribble in notebooks, a lecturer draws on a flipchart in what might look like any regular night class — except these are budding reporters picking up tips from the editor of Russia’s most muck-raking tabloid.

The editor of the weekly Zhizn, Aram Gabrelyanov, has opened a tabloid journalism school at the newspaper’s Moscow office, offering classes taught by staff reporters and jobs for the best students.[…]

“Unfortunately no one likes tabloid journalism in Russia. It’s customary to say it’s ugly and unethical,” he said. “I completely disagree. There are two types of journalism: interesting and not interesting.”[…]

How quickly they learn and mimic our bad behavior, like impressionable young children…

“I’d really love to work here,” said one student, Maria Tokmakova, who studies advertising by day. “I think it’s yellow press, but it’s what people need.”

Another student, Ali Shartuni, agreed. “It’s the most progressive (paper) here. It’s like a Western country’s way of working,” he said.

Nevertheless, the criticism most frequently levelled at Zhizn is that it fawns to the Kremlin.

Gabrelyanov makes no secret of the fact that any negative coverage of the country’s rulers is banned.

“My direct order to my journalists, I don’t hide this, is that we don’t write anything about President (Dmitry) Medvedev and (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin,” Gabrelyanov, referring to Russia’s ruling tandem.

“We don’t write and we won’t dig. First because there’s no point and secondly because it’s not needed for the foundations of the state.”

Impressive. Combining the absence of social value encouraged by the Capitalist School with the absence of independence encouraged by the Communist School. What monster has this coupling managed to spawn, I wonder? On the other hand, I’d probably do worse to get a meeting with Surkov.

Gabrelyanov said he consults regularly with a man seen as the Kremlin’s gray cardinal, deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, whom he described as “the cleverest man I know,” as well as Kremlin media advisor Alexei Gromov.

But he denied acting on Kremlin orders. “Of course (Surkov) doesn’t phone me. Why would he phone me to say publish this or that? That’s small stuff,” Gabrelyanov said.

Alexei Simonov, the president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a media freedom group, said Gabrelyanov’s school would teach journalists to impose limits on their reporting.

“I think that Zhizn is one of those newspapers that shouldn’t teach journalists,” Simonov said. “There’s nothing good about this.”

No. There isn’t. And that’s why people like it.

2. Possibly the only people in America who care about poetry anymore are uptight feminists and cowboys.

What? I say that as an uptight feminist.

You know, after that “Who are Russia’s Top Thinkers” nonsense, I’ve begun reading a lot of Pelevin, who came highly recommended in the comments. I’m really enjoying it very much! (“Yellow Arrow” and “Buddha’s Little Finger” so far.) However, I always keep my eyes peeled for more Kurkov. Someone at SRB linked to this little piece in which Andrey waxes poetic on Ukrainian fads, including an explanation of the popularity fo Radio Chanson:

Whenever I get in a taxi, I immediately seem to fall into a world of romanticised crime. In virtually every car the radio is tuned to ‘Radio Chanson’. Its playlists are extensive but homogenous: almost all the songs – most in Russian – concern the tragic and romantic lives of their criminal ‘heroes’, macho Russian types who drink port and vodka – men who value the faithfulness of the women waiting for their release from prison and their ‘real’ male friendships above all.

Why on earth is this music popular? When the Soviet Union collapsed the ensuing democratisation legalised a huge stratum of criminal and ‘gutter’ culture. The songs of the street used to be direct attacks on oYcial patriotic music. That official music is now long buried. In the void, these songs caught on, floated to the surface of social taste and became a lucrative engine of showbusiness. Much of this genre’s repertoire became hits with the middle-aged and older generations in the post-Soviet era.

Listeners’ fondness for these songs is easy to account for. In a country where millions of people have spent time in jails and camps, people identify more easily with prisoners than with, say, security guards or policemen. The persistent distrust of authority has eroded any faith in the criminal justice system. Almost everyone can consider himself hard done by, and this sense of unfairness is the real subject of most of these songs. Hence the rise of a new Russian macho type who, unlike his Western equivalents, is not clean-shaven and wears no perfume but instead smells of sweat. He has a keen sense of justice and is not afraid to defend his honour with his fists. The criminal ballad is a male cult of justice that can express itself in the coarsest tones.

I only mention it because a while back a commenter here mentioned that Radio Chanson was on in every cab he got into too. I respect Kurkov’s cultural insight, but wonder if there isn’t a more obvious explanation. One that involves financial incentive. … Hey, that branding thing just might work if the Kremlin can buy off the cabbies of New York City! Brilliant. Those kids should hire me.

3. Oh the Dom Khudozhnikov…. Or House of Artists for you anglophiles. There are not words to describe the tender place in my heart reserved for this institution. I’m all sentimental about it. There was a kind of bar in the basement where you could get real Turkish coffee, with a casual art galleries above. Gorky Park across the street, Parisian-style art fair along the river embankment, the Graveyard of Dead Monuments around the back. Steps from both home and a Shokoladnitsa. A gem. A true gem.

On the other hand, the building itself is not much to look at. So I’m a bit conflicted about this:

From the NYT: Moscow Cultural Landmark Is Seen as Threatened:

Artists and preservationists are in uproar because Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin has signed a decree that critics say would allow developers to demolish a Soviet-era cultural landmark, the Central House of Artists.

The property houses. among other things, the 20th-century works of the Tretyakov Gallery, including paintings by Malevich and Kandinsky as well as Soviet Socialist Realists. Covering 23 valuable hectares, or about 57 acres, along the Moscow River and opposite Gorky Park, it has long been in the sights of Yelena Baturina, a billionaire real estate developer and the wife of Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov.

Last year, Ms. Baturina unveiled a design commissioned from Norman Foster. It resembles a disco ball sliced into sections like an orange and is known by that name, apelsin, in Russian.[…]

Ms. Baturina presented her apelsin project as a multipurpose complex that would include a hotel, retail space, restaurants and space for a museum.

Officials of the Tretyakov Gallery and the Confederation of Artists’ Unions, which owns the other 40 percent of the building, and leases the land under it from the Moscow City authorities, expressed shock at her announcement. Several months later, after meetings with government officials, they voiced support, saying they would get much-needed state-of-the art spaces, to be built next to the existing structure, which would then be demolished.

Supporters of the Central House have signed petitions, held protests, and packed hearings advertised by Moscow city officials as a forum to take public opinion into account.

Mr. Bychkov, the director of the Central House of Artists, also owns a company called Expo-Park that rents space in the building for popular events. He said in an e-mail message that he would fight on, using a new tactic.

Experience “has shown that it’s senseless to organize campaigns within Russia,” he wrote. “We would like to involve the international art community. This won’t be a political discussion, but an ethical, professional and artistic one.”

The architectural premise sounds cool. I mean, it is an ugly building in its current form. I specifically remember being perplexed that the place set aside as the “Home of the Artists” was so very unremarkable. Someone informed me that “Communism made everything ugly.” But a hotel and shops? And Ms. Baturina? Gah! I’m not a member of the international art community, but would like to know where I can sign up for this cause.

Speaking of exhibits, this month in Moscow will be held an exhibition of reprints of famous drawings of nudes, scribbled upon by Joseph Stalin.

From English Russia (look, it’s been reported in a lot of other places too – it’s real): “Gay” notes of Stalin on the celebs reproductions:

The leader “completed” 19 pictures of such artists as Repin, Ivanov, Surikov, Rubinstein, Serov and others with some notes and drawings made in a red, blue and grey pencil. Thus, on one of them, the generalissimo crossed out the genitals of a nude personage with a red pencil that he usually used to write the names of those who should have been shot. On another one, with a female nude, he wrote something obscene in the Georgian language. On the third – the male nude was “dressed” by Stalin in underpants. On the fourth – next to a nude ancient hero he inscribed: “One thoughtful idiot is worse than 10 enemies. I. Stalin”… On the fifth – in a blue pencil – he wrote: “Is he afraid of the sun? Coward!!! I. Stalin” and the nude itself was crossed out in bold. There is also a picture where Stalin drew underpants on each nude person and inscribed: “Do not sit on the stones with your bare ass! Enter Komsomol and the workers’ faculty! Give out trunks to the fellow! I. Stalin.”

Yes, this is the man who saved civilization from the Nazis. Some have suggested his scribbling doth protest too much and signifies a latent homosexuality. Who cares at this point? The man clearly had major psychological issues, and I don’t think being trapped in the closet was chief among them.

Click here for pictures!

3. Staying on topic, it seems Russia is looking to get rid of its pride. Gay Pride that is.

From Russia Blog: Moscow Outsourcing Gays to Berlin (Kyiv Might Be Better Option):

In a strange twist of history, Moscow has asked Berlin to host Moscow Pride in order to avoid Neo-Nazis (and grandmas) that might want to harm defenseless Satanists. The Commissioner for Human Rights in Moscow, Alexander Muzykantsk, outlined his proposal:

“In recent years, Berlin became de facto the world capital of sexual minorities. Because there are friendly relations between the mayors of Moscow and Berlin, why not an agreement in which the representatives of sexual minorities in Moscow will hold their parade in Berlin with the support of the city?”

Russia Blog cites a Soviet Realist monument featuring a rainbow and handsome, buff male comrades holding hands as reason to relocate the parade to Kiev. Because Kiev is sooo welcoming to sexual minorities, right…

You must by now be pondering the prevalence of latent homoerotica in Soviet aesthetics. Maybe you are thinking, “Aha! So all of this posturing about Russia being a culturally Christian, heterosexual country, about homosexuality being an evil imported by the West along with jeans and Pepsi, it is a sham! Homosexuality was alive and well (ok, not well…) even during the time of Stalin!” Pardon my eloquence, but, “Duh.” In fact, Tolya has translated an article which dates it back to the 16th Century. I suspect even that is embarrassingly naive…


~ The Saddam Channel, airing “mostly a montage of flattering, still images of Saddam” Hussein, has begun broadcasting throughout the Arab world.

~ “Russian scientist who trains seals to carry out military missions has complained that Russia is losing the race against the United States to arm sea mammals.”

Psst. Use octopuses.

~ Watch a fat hedgehog swim around a bathtub.

You know you want to.

~ Obama complains that he “gives nicer stuff” than he gets, pointing to an obnoxiously fine piece of jewelry the First Lady has some nerve wearing on TV in this economy.

Actually, this gives me hope. First of all, I can totally relate. Which is not something I’ve ever been able to say about a President. Secondly, it means he has the capacity for bitchiness & honesty (to which I can also relate). I just wish he’d aim these skillz at the health insurance industry, and not his wife.

~ Deep Thoughts, by Dmitry Rogozin.

He’s filling in for Jack Handy now:

“Internet is a funny thing. Man becomes girl, young guy becomes veteran, liberal becomes Nazi. At the same time everyone is rude to everyone.”

“Their touching care about HR in Russia causes me to feel like when you talk to someone who hasn’t washed their socks for quite a while.”

“Today in Antwerp fine-art gallery saw picture by A.Kabanel “Cleopatra testing poison on prisoners”. It’s genius!”

Good to know where he stands on testing poison on prisoners.

~ Totally stood up by M. Sarkozy, Vova breaks out his trademark sarcasm, remarking, “I wish you could have friends who don’t turn their back on you when you take a more modest job.” Poor Vova…

But wait, are congratulations in order? I can’t say, but if they are, I’d like to see Liudmila go all Elin Nordegren on his ass.


Ok, that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely holiday season!

Comments Policy

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.


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.

October 30, 2009

Odds & Ends Halloween Special: Putin & Democracy.

Filed under: Odds & Ends,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 5:29 PM
Tags: ,

What? You know you think it’s scary…

I. Putin.

In honor of our favourite spook.

~ AFP: Putin to be cast in bronze for Schwarzenegger.

This some kind of Reptilian custom?

MOSCOW — A bust of Russia’s muscle-flexing strongman Vladimir Putin is being created as a gift for ex-Hollywood bodybuilder and California’s current governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, its sculptor said Tuesday.
The bust is currently being made in Putin’s home city of Saint Petersburg on an order of Russia’s Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation and will be delivered to the movie star turned politician in March.

“Putin is such a complex personality. He’s left no one indifferent,” Alexander Chernoshchyokov, a Saint Petersburg-based sculptor who has been working on the Putin bust since June, told AFP.

In 1991 the Russian artist made a sculpture of Schwarzenegger and Vladimir Dubinin, the president of the bodybuilding federation, personally delivered the gift.

The two Russian men soon learned the Hollywood action hero collected sculptures, Dubinin said.

His collection however lacked figures of Communist-era leaders, so a few years later Chernoshchyokov made the sculptures of Stalin and Lenin.

“Then we brought him the busts of Gorbachev and Yeltsin,” said Dubinin, referring to the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the late Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

A sculpture of Putin, a former president and current prime minister, was the next logical step, he added.

Capturing Putin’s features proved difficult however. “He’s changing every day. His features even change during the day,” said Dubinin.

He’s a shapeshifter! Damn…

Well, the news of said bust has the Guardian wondering, who would win a celebrity deathmatch between the Guvernator and the Prime Minister:

~ Poll: “Who would win an armwrestling contest between Putin and Schwarzenegger?”

I am pretty certain that “armwrestling contest” is polite British for “celebrity deathmatch.” Arnie’s winning the poll, but I couldn’t resist rescuing this from the comments:

“btw – of the 25 comments so far on this story 5 are by Guardian employees!! Please can I have a job at Grauniad Towers?”

LOL. Anyway, who knows who the victor would be. I suppose it depends on if Hollywood special effects are allowed. That’s the only possibility I see for Schwarzenegger to win. Sadly, all the special effects in the world haven’t helped him save California from economic disaster. Perhaps instead of a bust, we should send him Vova’s managerial skills?

Cast in bronze, now cast in a film:

~ SMH: Agent Putin cast as Cold War hero.

Oh, I totally remember that part…

Geez, no wonder Gorby’s so pissed at Putin right now. “Hello, over here, remember me? Glasnost? Perestroika? Ring a bell? Anyone? Bueller? …” Poor fellow’s fallen from Nobel Prize winner to Mr. Cellophane. (Take heed, Barack.) Anyway, what did our spy do that was so special?

MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin single-handedly defended KGB offices in East Germany from crowds of looters after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a documentary claims.
The program is likely to boost the Russian Prime Minister’s cult of personality as it casts him as a Soviet patriot who defied a crowd of rioting East Germans.

Mr Putin was serving as a KGB major in Dresden in 1989 when the wall fell. According to his and other accounts, he brandished a pistol to prevent the angry crowd from ransacking the spy agency’s offices.

He will be shown discussing the incident in a documentary called The Wall to be shown on state-controlled television next month.

The program’s maker, Vladimir Kondratyev, defended his decision to make Mr Putin a main character. He said he was one of the few Soviets who had first-hand experience of East German protesters preparing to storm the building.

Yeah, well, the way I heard the story was that he and his colleagues saw the angry crowd, freaked out, ran inside and began destroying documents at break-neck speed. Which is not to say he is not a hero in other respects, just not in the Cold War hero way, is all. It’s ok. He’s still got his priorities straight:

~ WSJ: Russia To Cut State Aid To Banks By More Than Half In 09.

Psst. WSJ, I think that’s “in ’10.”

The 150 billion rubles diverted from banks could be channelled to help the real sector of the economy, Putin said.

And by the “real sector of the economy” he clearly means … literature!

~ From a meeting the PM held to discuss issues brought up by Russian writers:

“First of all, it is still a government priority to encourage literature and writers. Accordingly – as I understood it – you proposed a Russian Federation Government resolution that would increase the number of Russian Government awards for arts and culture from 20 to 25.

Unfortunately, in previous years there were no writers among those who received awards. But this increase of five awards will enable additional support of talented writers, and these additional five awards will be given exclusively to writers. Let me remind you that a laureate receives one million roubles with his or her award.

In addition, grants for creative initiatives in the arts will be doubled from 25 to 50 million roubles, which also means an increase in funding for literary projects. We will allocate the necessary funds from the federal budget for 2010.

Secondly, so-called thick or literary magazines have traditionally played a major role in Russian literary life. The writers at the meeting repeatedly brought up the idea of supporting these thick magazines.

Let me point out that these magazines must be available to general readers, both directly through subscription and in our libraries.

I asked the Ministries of Finance, Communications and Mass Media, and Culture to look for additional ways and additional funds to support these thick magazines starting from 2010.

As of 2010, the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media will double the annual subsidies for literary magazines. These funds will be directed towards increasing the circulation of magazines, remuneration for the authors, and improving printing quality and design.

In addition, I consider it necessary to allocate no fewer than 50 million roubles to our leading local, district and city libraries to purchase the thick magazines.”

Hee hee hee. He said, “thick magazines.” Hah hah.

Something tells me Surkov is behind this. Clearly. Everyone knows he likes to write. He writes rock lyrics and pulp novels. He’s a total culture vulture intellectual type. Unlike those losers in Sechin’s gang. Whom he also wants out of the banking system. Coincidence? I think not… Wow, who knew it was so easy to be a Kremlinologist? Apes could do it. Especially since it’s a pastime which largely consists of pulling stuff out of your ass. I need a job at Stratfor ASAP.

II. Democracy.

While we’re on the topic of pulling things out of your ass, check out this headline:

~ Time: Medvedev Dashes Hopes for More Democracy in Russia.

I give up. Instead of a detailed smackdown every time someone writes an terrible article, I am just going to wallow in the wrongness of it all. The brilliant Natalia Antonova recently wrote, “Acceptance confuses the hell out of unhappiness. You turn to it and say, “thank you, I’m grateful that we get to hang out again, should we sit down and order a drink?” Unhappiness isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. It looks around uneasily. It wonders just what the hell you are playing at. It puts its bloody samurai sword on the table, and sits its ass down.” Perhaps instead of allowing the state of the Western journalism make me unhappy, I am going to invite it for a drink. And accidentally forget to mention the arsenic. 😉

Medvedev finally agreed to meet with the opposition leaders on Oct. 24. He clearly realized the gravity of the moment. “Let us not allow this to become the funeral of our democracy and our electoral system,” Medvedev told the deputies. “Although it is true, I made a point to wear black today, because I knew you would be in the mood for a funeral.” Three days later, Medvedev asked Churov to look into the opposition’s claims. Then the President slipped back into his usual complicity. He said the elections had been “satisfactory” and that any claims to the contrary would have to be settled in court. (Read TIME’s 1991 article “The End of the U.S.S.R.”)

This statement, aired on state television, killed off whatever flicker of hope liberals had that Medvedev might finally start moving Russia toward real democracy. The humbled opposition has since gone back to their places in the Duma. And the pro-democracy camp can only look with dread to 2012 when Putin is widely expected to run for President again. Whether he realizes it or not, Medvedev may already be a lame duck.

The nerve! Making them settle legal claims in court! Death of democracy indeed! Look with dread ye “pro-democracy” camp, upon the possible future election of the most popular politician in the country by the majority of its citizens! The horror, the horror…

Suffering an epidemic of irony, most journalism about the state of democracy in Russia focused only on the politicians and never on the actual public, to ask what they want. Which is the whole effing point of a democracy, as I was taught in good old American schools. I once asked, “What is it called when a majority of the citizens vote to not have a democracy?” Well, I was being facetious, attempting to illustrate the emptiness of these labels in contemporary geo-politics. But the question continues to bite at my ankles, demanding attention. Especially when I see things like this:

~ FPB Russia: Russians to Democracy: Good Riddance?

although 95% of Russians polled by Levada believe that they have no control over their political destinies, a whopping ‘26% believed that democratic governing was not suitable for Russia’.

In fact, when asked whether they a) either completely believe or just tend to think that democracy is needed or b) completely believe or just tend to think that democracy is wrong for Russia, the proportion narrows to just 50:31.

Moreover, “the majority (60%) also said it would be better for Russia if the president controlled both the courts and the parliament…and nearly 25% said the Soviet Union had a better political system that the current Russian model (36%) or that in Western countries (15%)”.

The following Levada Centre graph illustrates the Russian approval of three political systems: the Soviet one, the current one, or Western style democracy (the fourth line, in green, is marked ‘other’).

Contrary to almost all Western political science thinking, the most popular system from 1996 to 2007 was the Soviet one (blue), consistently winning the approval of 40-45% of the very people who were supposed to have rejected it in 1991, and twice as popular as the Western style democracy (red) they were meant to have favoured.

But the most interesting journey is marked by the yellow line indicating “the current system”. Under Yeltsin’s supposed golden age of democracy and freedom, this yellow line never rose beyond 10%. But as soon as Putin came in, in 1999, it has shown a steady rise. In 2007, it finally beat the front runner, the Soviet system, and continues to grow.

Most importantly, for the first time since the fall of the USSR, an overwhelming plurality of Russian citizens prefer their current system to either an idealised Soviet past or an increasingly demonised ‘Western alternative’.

In fact, this picture of contentment seems to demolish the liberal idea of Russians cowering under an increasingly authoritarian regime, just waiting to be rescued back to democracy.

Good. I think we’ve done enough “rescuing” of other nations for the time being.

(BTW, if you think all polls are bs, check this out! Laws of the universe have changed, my friends.)

III. Odds, ends.

And to end on a light note.

~ Vova.com

A blog devoted entirely to VVP. In case you don’t get enough of that here. Not sure why I had not discovered this before. Here’s an example of some of their headlines:

“Putin the superhero banished from Ukrainian airwaves”

“Do you think Vladimir Putin is cool, or what?”

“Prime Minister Putin Bitch Slaps Oleg Deripaska”

“Is Prime Minister Putin suffering from a severe case of Psychosis? Or is it something else like?”

“Something else like.” Definitely. I got sick in Russia and no one knew why and they took blood and they said it was “something else like” and gave me Siberian tea to drink. Prescription Siberian tea, even, Actually, it turned out to be ovarian tumours… God, I hope VVP is suffering from Psychosis and not something else like!

~ Rogozin.

I’m now obsessed with Rogozin’s Twitter account. This is how people get sucked into these social networking tools, isn’t it? I’m a bit terrified of Twitter, but it offers fascinating insight into the minds of public officials. Which is seriously creepy. But fun! And ’tis the season for creepy fun. He’s recently been going on about Belgium. Of all things.

“Last Sat saw Making love to a Belgian – performance flavored with simple humor. It is about relations of Belgian husband and his French wife”

Look, mom!  No hands!

“What do I like about Brussels? The fact that you can do motosports 24/7/365 here”

Gah! No hands! Proof again of my theory that making people believe you are truly a kamikaze madman is conscious political strategy in Russia.

~ Lastly, in honor of the holiday at hand, I’d like to share this little piece of trivia with you all. I am from the most haunted town in America! Or one of them. They jury appears to be out. Well, if there is a more haunted town than Alton, I don’t want to find out. Ghosts are all fun and games when they are in the movies. Very different story when they are standing…


Happy Halloween! Enjoy your weekend & thanks for reading!

October 28, 2009

Surkov says something boring, Western media forced to invent interesting story.

Or, “speaking of wrecks…”

Vladik. Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful…

(c/o itogi.ru)

Surkov showed up on my radar several years ago when he told a group of journalists at a press conference they should read Dostoyevsky if they wanted to learn about Russia. He was in a mood that day and also said people shouldn’t be lecturing Russia about democracy when what they’re really interested in is hydrocarbons. Apparently he studied at the Institute of Public Relations imeni Putina. Love their policies or hate them, these fellows tell you how they really feel. Medvedev plays it a bit safer, I think. It is clear to me he wants to be liked by the world. Putin doesn’t want to be liked so much as respected. Surkov’s job is to keep Dima well-liked and Putin well-respected, but one gets the impression he could give a flying f what any of us think of him. Which has the paradoxical effect of making me think quite highly of him indeed. Unfortunately, this means he doesn’t often engage in public self-promotion. I think the last time I saw him mentioned in the news was something about the U.S.- Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission and the meeting between him and McFaul (oh, what I would give to be in that room!) and was primarily about McFaul’s latest ideological u-turn. So it was a joyful surprise to find Surkov interviewed in Monday’s issue of Russia’s Itogi magazine. Far less enjoyable and, regretfully, less surprising, was how I found out about it…

I. The Scoop.

Reuters: Kremlin warns against wrecking Russia with democracy.

If the past 9 years in America have taught me anything, it is how to read a newspaper, a skill which has also been quite valuable to me when trying to understand what the hell is happening in Russia (and is applicable to any subject which may capture your interest.) Step 1: read the headline. I know, it sounds obvious, but apparently people have never been taught this. What is it saying? This one says the Kremlin views democracy as a wrecking ball. Step 2: read the article. Does anything in the article actually support the claim made in the headline? If you answered “No,” well, get used to it kids… If you answered “Yes,” proceed to Step 3: re-read the article. Is the claim supported by verifiable facts or logic, or by hearsay, opinion or interpretation? If you answered “Facts or logic,” send that journalist a dozen roses to show your appreciation and ease the pain. Because they’re about to be axed for writing informative unsexy articles. Let’s continue with our example. The bullet points below the headline are:

* Warns of collapse if political stability threatened.
* Says Russia does not need a new Mao.

Well, neither of these bullet points support the headline, or even really qualify as “news” to anyone who has not recently undergone a lobotomy. But they use the words “threatened” and “Mao,” and now you have images of red flags and horrible commies dancing about in your head, just in case you’d begun reading this article under the misguided impression that it had anything to do with reality circa 2009. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

I think the following must have been the inspiration for the headline:

…in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system built under former President Vladimir Putin, Surkov warned that the resulting instability could rip Russia apart.

“Even now when power is rather consolidated and ordered, many projects are very slow and difficult,” Surkov was quoted as saying by the Itogi weekly magazine.

“If we add any sort of political instability to that then our development would simply be paralysed. There would be a lot of demagoguery, a lot of empty talk, a lot of lobbying and ripping Russia to pieces, but no development.”

Political instability does in fact tend to make things worse. But, as Surkov EXPLICITLY states in the interview in question, “it is important not to confuse a liberal, democratic society with chaos and disorder.” [Link.] Perhaps the matter of “wrecking Russia with democracy” has been inferred from the remark about ordered, consolidated power. This would assume a belief that any move toward more order and consolidation of power is a move away from democracy. It’s an argument, and I’d like to hear it, but this article doesn’t make it. Finally, maybe it is because Surkov’s warnings of instability are “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system.” I could accept that logic. If the interview had gone something like, “Q: What do you say to your opponents who are calling for democratic reforms?” “A: Democratic reforms create instability, and that instability would wreck Russia. Look what happened last time we tried democratic reforms. Yikes, right? If those democratic reformer types get their way, you’ll be standing in breadlines again! Poniatno?!

Except… That’s not at all what happened.

Of course, you’d have to be bothered to actually read the original interview to know this. After my futile search of the Reuters article for the part where Surkov warns of “wrecking Russia with democracy,” I decided it must have been in the original interview and was just accidentally left it out of the Reuters article. So I read the interview. Which appears to be more than we can surmise of Guy Faulconbridge, the author of the Reuters article about the damn interview. Man, I am sick of doing journalists’ work for them. Where’s my paycheck? There I was, nervous that perhaps my “how to read a newspaper” instructions were a bit condescending, as if my readers were monkeys instead of well-educated, intelligent, adult humans. But Faulconbridge didn’t even make it as far as Step 2. And he’s a professional. See – I knew publishing them would be public service. I’m going to write a book on the de-monkeyfication of information consumption. But before that, let’s find out what our mysterious nogoodnik in the Kremlin has to say about democracy. And Cezanne…

2. The Source.

Итоги: Обновляйтесь, господа!

The title of the interview might be translated as “Update, Gentlemen!” One assumes it is meant to underpin Medvedev’s big, “Forward, Russia!” speech. Or not. I don’t know. Too bad the Reuters article wasn’t, “Kremlin warns against wrecking Russia with democracy!” It would have at least captured the aesthetic. Anyway, it turns out interview is largely about modernization, technological innovations, diversifying the economy, raising the standard of living, blah blah blah and the responsibility of the individual as well as the State in this undertaking. All Obama-like. Or was it Kennedy? Anyway. The actual discussion of democracy was not “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system” but in response to the following question:

Владимир Путин на форуме “Россия зовет!” заявил, что наша экономика и впредь будет строиться на либеральных принципах. Аналогичные сигналы подает и президент. Но история модернизаций говорит о том, что они могут проводиться в том числе и силовым путем. Как по-вашему, Россия способна к либеральной модернизации?

[Trans. c/o Google: Vladimir Putin at the forum “Russia is calling!” said that our economy will continue to be based on liberal principles. Similar signals are fed and the president. But history says upgrades that they may be including by force. How do you think Russia is capable of a liberal modernization?]

Note, this is a question about the economy, not political opposition, and about liberal modernization, not nec. democratic reforms as you and I might understand them. From Surkov’s response:

В вашем вопросе, возможно, речь идет о неавторитарной модернизации, которая опирается на демократический строй. Конечно, на мой взгляд, осуществление такой модернизации вполне возможно.

[Trans: In your question, perhaps, it is about nonauthoritarian modernization, which is based on the democratic system. Of course, in my view, the implementation of such an upgrade is possible.]

Modernization based on the democratic system is possible. Huh. Where’s the wrecking? I’m not scared yet. In fact, it turns out Surkov says it is not only possible, but Russia’s “task.” Get to work kids, nonauthoritarian modernization calls!

Наша задача доказать самим себе простую мысль, что мы можем модернизироваться, опираясь на демократические институты. Но здесь важно не перепутать либеральное, демократическое общество с хаосом и беспорядком.

[Trans: Our task is to prove to ourselves the simple idea that we can modernize, relying on democratic institutions. But it is important not to confuse a liberal, democratic society with chaos and disorder.]

Here Surkov differentiates between a liberal, democratic society and chaos and disorder, a distinction which, if you lived in Russia circa 1995, as did perhaps many Itogi readers, you’d appreciate. And while the wrecking powers of chaos are well documented, I’m still waiting for the part where liberal, democratic society wrecks Russia. So far this interview is pretty boring compared to all the hype…

Хотя Мао Цзэдун и говорил, что большой хаос создает большой порядок, он скорее имел ввиду, что из разрухи рождается жесткий, а то и тоталитарный режим. Нам это не нужно. Нам не нужен Пиночет. Но мы должны знать, что неконсолидированная и несбалансированная власть, слабые демократические институты не способны обеспечить экономический подъем. Даже сейчас, когда власть достаточно консолидирована и упорядочена, многие проекты идут очень медленно и трудно. Если добавится какая-то политическая неустойчивость, то наше развитие будет просто парализовано. Будет много демагогии, много болтовни, много лоббирования и растаскивания России по кусочкам, но не будет развития.

[Trans: Although Mao Zedong and said that a big chaos creates a large order, he probably meant that out of chaos comes hard, if not a totalitarian regime. We do not need. We do not need a Pinochet. But we must know that unconsolidated and unbalanced power, weak democratic institutions are not able to ensure economic recovery. Even now, when power is sufficiently consolidated and streamlined, many projects are going very slow and difficult. If you add some sort of political instability, our development will be just paralyzed. There will be a lot of demagoguery, a lot of chatter, a lot of lobbying and stripping Russia in pieces, but there is no development.]

Aha! It’s not democracy but “unconsolidated and unbalanced power, weak democratic institutions” which threaten to wreck Russia. Well… uhm… Obviously. That’s been a frequently observed fact illustrated throughout Russia’s history. I’ve wasted all my time on this? Excuse me while I call Guy Faulconbridge and ask for 45 minutes of my life back.

Ok, I am back. I didn’t call. I decided that just because a person can alter people’s perceptions of reality using nefarious journalistic powers, it doesn’t mean a person can actually alter reality, spacetime continuum-wise. Anyway, since we are here, and since Surkov is bound to have said something controversial and brilliant in the interview because that’s how he rolls, let’s have a look. Here’s our propagandist at work:

Надо осознать, что, если мы не преобразуемся, мы обречены если не на распад и гибель, то на поражение в мировой конкурентной борьбе и довольно унылое существование. Нам абсолютно необходима новейшая экономика, основанная на творчестве, на азарте изобретательства, на создании не имеющих аналогов продуктов, полезных людям.

[Trans: We must realize that if we do not transform, we are doomed if not for the decay and death, then to defeat in the global competition and a rather sad existence. We absolutely need the newest economy based on creativity, the excitement of invention, on the creation of unparalleled products useful to people.]

That’s all ya got? Seriously? No lashings? No manifestos? No literary name-dropping? Just talking points from “How to talk like a politician for dummies?” No, you are not a dummy. You are Surkov. You are fabulous. Say something fabulous.

В свое время известный французский импрессионист Поль Сезанн был очень недоволен электрическим освещением на улицах Парижа. Он считал, что этот свет неправильный, хотя для того времени внедрение этих технологий было большим шагом вперед…

[Trans:At one time the famous French impressionist Paul Cezanne was very displeased with electric lighting in the streets of Paris. He believed that this light is wrong, although at that time the introduction of these technologies was a big step forward….]

Well, he threw me a small bone. A bone is a bone, however. I don’t see Rahm Emanuel waxing philosophical about Cezanne.

Have we learned our lesson today, kids? I mean, in addition to the one about reading a newspaper? I think we have. And it is not that the Western media is lazy and biased and make up disparaging crap about Russia because they hate Russia and their way of life. No. It is that when people from the Kremlin say very sensible, obvious, innocuous, rational and boring things, the Western media, rather than being lazy, are forced to make up stuff. Because no one wants to read very sensible, obvious, innocuous, rational and boring things. If that’s all that were in the papers, the public would eventually come to the conclusion that they don’t need the press to tell them what is going on, only an Internet connection their critical thinking skills. And then they’d stop reading newspapers. And then, and then, why, the world would abruptly come screeching to a fiery end because you can’t have democracy without the press, and you can’t have peace and prosperity without democracy! Right? Right? So it is the duty of journalists to write anything they think will keep them in business, for democracy. Even when the things they write … er … undermine the principles of democracy. Like the truth. And our intelligence.


III. The Context.

I suspect the desire to interpret anything Surkov says or does at the moment as “in answer to calls from opponents for democratic reforms to liberalise the political system” is a reaction to the recent walk-out of so-called opposition party officials in protest after their poor showing in this month’s municipal elections. The walkout was purported to be a condemnation of Surkov, who not only reportedly invented some of these parties, but is considered by many to be the brains behind Russia’s system of electoral politics, a.k.a., “managed democracy.” It’s clear the Western media would like to see a genuine confrontation between the Kremlin and its opponents for a variety of reasons. What is less clear is how genuine an opposition parties like “Just Russia” actually represent, who is to blame for their losses, and how the Russian citizenry would benefit from a collapse of the current regime. The drama seems to have largely fizzled out before escalating into anything critical. RFE/RL has a pretty fascinating interpretation of the walk-out: The Revolution Will Be Stage-Managed. I don’t know if any of it is true, but the headline is witty. And that’s what counts, right?

Was Surkov’s warning about weak democracy and chaos an allusion to recent events, or just a reasonable comment anyone could make in the context of the past 20 years? Does the Kremlin really think democracy could wreck Russia -give and inch and they take a mile- and that recent events are a foreshadowing of this? Who exactly are we referring to when we say, “the Kremlin?” Are democracy and well-ordered and consolidated power incompatible? Is one more desirable than the other? Can democracy actually “wreck” a country? These are all interesting (well, to me) lines of questioning. It would have rocked if Guy Faulconbridge, who so far as I can gather was the only mainstream Western journalist to cover the Itogi interview, had written an article raising such questions, rather than copying and pasting a handful of quotes and slapping a contentious headline on it. Wouldn’t journalism be more of a service if it forced people to think for themselves rather than told them what to think? Right now there are people out there with less free time than I walking around under the impression that Russia sees democracy as a threat. Period. As if it were 1952 or something. How is that helpful?

Let’s end on a light note. Just in case you fear, as I did, that our Presidential advisor/goth band lyricist/youth cult leader has succumbed to mediocrity, it seems Surkov’s trademark wry humour and observations were on display during an address to the country’s Public Chamber last Tuesday. According to the website, Putinania, he opened with the following remarks:

“I did not come from Mars. I am a guy. I began work as usual. I worked at a business. At a big business. I was born in the state. I am not trying to pretend. I am one of you.”

Not a martian! Good to know. We could mate…

And according toRussia Today, he made the following observation in the same address:

“I am not against [the criticism], you are welcome. The Kremlin is alright to attack – that’s what it is for. But, we have many of those who are in the opposition to power and no one who opposes a problem,” Surkov concluded.

Ouch! Yes, he’s still on. Whew.


Maybe they are lying to me as well! Great. Now I have trust issues. Like I needed something else to blame mainstream media for. What, illegal and immoral war wasn’t enough? Now I have to go through life paranoid, singing “I am a rock, I am an island?” I should change this headline to “Poemless warns against wrecking your soul with terrible journalism.”

Be afraid! Be very afraid!

[Update: More Surkov in Stratfor’s Special Series: The Kremlin Wars in comments.]

September 16, 2009


Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 1:41 PM
Tags: , , ,

What can I getchya, honey? Apple, or blueberry? Applebaum, or Ayn Rand?

I thought I was being a bit hyperbolic in my last post about leaves falling to the ground. Anything for a metaphor. It’s only mid-September, and summer just managed to arrive in Chicago last week. But, lo. On the way to work this morning I observed by the Museum of Science & Industry trees which had not only burst into reds and oranges, but had indeed already shed their leaves! What does this have to do with pie? I love autumn, and one of the very many things I love about it is a childhood memory of driving up the Great River Road to look at the leaves turning color along the bluffs, go apple picking and top off the day at some dank catfish shack accessible only by ferry. We would pick so many apples we’d run out of things to do with them. We’d try to give them away, but our neighbors were in a similar predicament. Everyone knew to turn off the lights and hide behind the curtains if a neighbor bearing gifts of apples was spotted walking toward your house. By November the very aroma of apples made me nauseous… Well, we ate lots of pies. (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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