Events have called for a pause in speaking about Russia. It is impossible for me to take in the force of the news. Reports from CNN and other news outlets give a gruesome picture. Democracy Now! has done some excellent reporting. I encourage readers to tune into to their episodes over the past few days. All of the tensions that under “normal” circumstances lie below the surface of New Orleans has exploded to the surface, fueled by desperation, frustration, and anger. All I feel here in Moscow is sorrow, bewilderment, frustration, anger, and embarrassment of the inadequate response by the Unites States Government. So many people are suffering, and it seems all people can do is moralize about looting. Are we so naive to think this wouldn’t happen!? There isn’t much more for me to say that hasn’t or is being said by many media outlets around the country.
Take for example, an editorial by the New Hampshire Union, one of the most conservative newspapers in the country, wrote a blistering editorial against the Bush Administration’s response, or lack thereof. The editorial reads in part:
“As the extent of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation became clearer on Tuesday — millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews can’t reach some regions — President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before.
Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.”
A desperate and empassionate editorial from the Biloxi, Mississippi’s Sun Herald asks:
“Yet where is the National Guard, why hasn’t every able-bodied member of the armed forces in South Mississippi been pressed into service? On Wednesday reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics. Playing basketball and performing calisthenics! When asked why these young men were not being used to help in the recovery effort, our reporters were told that it would be pointless to send military personnel down to the beach to pick up debris.”
Many are noting how the response by the National Guard has been hampered by the Iraq War. 40% of Mississippi’s National Guard and 35% of Louisiana’s are in Iraq. I can’t imagine the frustration of these soldiers having to watch and not help their families and neighbors.
And finally, as the fears and warnings that it was not if a hurricane like Katrina would strike New Orleans and Gulf Coast, but when, come to fruition, NOW there is recognition that all the reporting New Orleans’ The Times-Picayune about Crescent City’s inadequate infrastructure. As usual too little to late.
I know the traffic on this site isn’t heavy, but being on the other side of the planet I feel obligated to at least list organizations where people can donate money, goods, etc.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Perhaps I should change the focus of this blog to “Did we Americans learn anything from the Soviet Union?” since the actions of State and Congressional representatives keep pulling me away from Russia. Today’s outrage is a call by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) for the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute the NY Times with criminal charges for publishing stories about the Bush Administration’s secret financial monitoring program. The LA Times published a similar story. Vice President Dick Cheney blasted the papers on Friday for revealing the program. Apparently Cheney and King believe that the press should do their bidding. Sadly the press did for the first four years of the Bush Administration. Now it’s finally pushing back. Well, at least a little bit. Here is what King said according to Editor and Publisher:
Rep. Peter King blasted the newspaper’s decision last week to report that the Treasury Department was working with the CIA to examine messages within a massive international database of money-transfer records.
“I am asking the Attorney General to begin an investigation and prosecution of The New York Times — the reporters, the editors and the publisher,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “We’re at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous.”
The conservative lawmaker called the paper “pompous, arrogant, and more concerned about a left-wing elitist agenda than it is about the security of the American people.”
Notice the tired rhetoric: we are at “war”, the NY Times as “pompous, arrogant”, and “left-wing elitist agenda”. Look how he positions himself and his support for such a program as in the interests and desires of the “American people.” I guess representatives like King expect us to focus all attention of the boogeyman “left-wing elitist agenda” and not the fact that the American government is spying on Americans under the guise of the eternal War on Terror. Why don’t they just stop with all the whining and nationalize the media already. That is clearly what they want.Post Views: 26
By Sean — 13 years agoFirst I urge everyone to read Chalmers Johnson’s new article “How to Create a WIA — Worthless Intelligence Agency.”
There are certain political ironies that have occurred in the last 15 years that continually stick in my mind. One is the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. While Clinton was intent on preventing genocide in Kosovo, (Or was it stopping. We were led to believe at the time the genocide of Kosovars was already taking place), another more horrible genocide occurred a few years earlier in Rwanda. An event so horrible, it is said that 700,000 people were killed mostly by machetes. Nothing was done to stop it and like the extermination of European Jewry, the slaughter of Armenians in 1910, or the killing of a million Cambodians by Pol Pot in the 1970s, we are left to ask the question of how was it allowed to happen.
The second irony is similar to the first. At the same time Bush regaled us with the humane mission to “free the Iraqi people,” a more devastating and horrible genocide in Sudan was brewing. Exact numbers as to how many African Sudanese have been displaced and killed by Arab Sudanese militias are difficult to get. Estimates I’ve read place the deal toll around 300,000 with about a million displaced. It could be higher for all I know. So as American bombs and Marines destroy Iraq in order to save for democracy, the Sudanese have no world leader acting on their behalf. I must say that the U.S. is certainly not responsible for these genocides by its inaction. Its just ironic how for the most recent genocides, the U.S. choose not to get directly involved in the more severe of them, both of which occurred on the African continent. One cannot, however, say the same for the Europeans, who conveniently turned their heads away from the mutual slaughter in Serbia as well as what has occurred in their former colonies on the African continent. Their complete lack of action deserves the highest condemnation.
The third irony, and this is far less tragic on human levels, is the recent concern over the presidential elections in the Ukraine. The issue, for those who don’t know is this: The Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych seems to have beaten opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko by a slim margin of 800,000 votes in a runoff election for President. The percentage breakdown is 49.53% for the former and 46.66% for the latter. A close election for sure. Despite the fact that exit polls came out with Yushchenko ahead, Yanukovych won. Sound familiar? Except for one crucial difference. Instead of sitting at home, for the past three days, Yushchenko supporters have filled the streets of Kiev demanding at least an investigation of voter fraud and at most, Yanukovych to hand over power. Other countries have gotten verbally involved, with many Western countries, including the U.S., calling for election officials to not certify the vote, while Russia has told them to mind their own business and wait for the counting to be over. The West favors Yushchenko because he is pro-Western and desires to move Ukraine to possible entry into the European Union. Russia supports Yanukovych because of his pro-Russia stance and desires to keep Ukraine in their obit. This split between East and West is also visible in the electorate. Western Ukraine, which is Catholic and more cosmopolitan favors a move to the West, while the East favors, well, the East. All this has given the Russian media something to cover besides Putin’s “reforms” of Russian elections by making governors appointed rather than elected and the Yukos affair where billionaire Mikhail Khordokovsky is being charged with tax evasion and theft of government property. As of today, other executives of Yukos, including one American born executive, fled the country fearing that they might be next.
Now the irony is that the U.S. has passed judgment on the validity of the Ukrainian elections at the same time it refuses to pass similar judgment on its own. Even more ironic, the Ukrainian people on both sides of the issue have flooded into the streets giving support to their candidate. And in the freezing cold, mind you. In a country where “democracy” is only 13 years old people are making sure their votes are counted, while in the U.S., the supposed shining star of democracy, the so-called opposition candidate concedes before all the votes in Ohio are counted. To make matters even farcical, the same Bush Administration that is charging fraud in the Ukraine was urging Kerry to concede for the “good of the nation.”
Now I’m not one of those “Bush stole the election” people. He won and its not going to do us any good to continue with that line. Especially if it will forsake any real examination as to why he did win. But it is clear that American democracy needs fixing. It’s petrified beyond belief and there is no indication that politicians on either of the isle are willing to fix it. It’s better to have a system you can manipulate. You just have to make sure you can do so better than the other guy. There is no reason why the wealthiest country in the world votes the way it does. In most democracies, election day is a holiday or is extended over a few days, voters are issued a national voter ID card, much like a library card, and some countries even fine people for NOT voting. This is not to say that their elections are perfect either, but if our government is going to declare itself the shining example of democratic government, then elections should be at least a little better, dontcha think?
So today it was -13 C. You will have to console your conversion charts for what this means in Fahrenheit. I have no idea. To me its just cold and to tell the truth, I don’t feel much difference between 0 C and -13 C. I think past freezing cold is just cold. The sun has been out the last few days, so that has been a relief. The lack of new snow has allowed Russian work crews to get the snow off many of the sidewalks. It is a lot easier to get around than it was 4 days ago.
I have yet to slip on the ice, but like not getting sprayed by a skunk while walking Coco in my neighborhood in LA, each day of success only makes failure a greater possibility. Today, I discovered that Russians lack skills in defensive driving. Despite the fact that there is snow, and some streets still have a little ice, Russians seem to drive as they would under normal conditions. This means fast and getting to the next intersection by any means necessary. In the past four days I’ve seen four car accidents, twice as many as I’ve seen on the surface streets of LA over the two years I’ve lived there. Now its not the fact that there are accidents that is the problem. These are bound to occur in such weather conditions. What irks me is that when there is an accident they don’t move the cars out of the fucking way. They just sit there clogging all the traffic until whatever needs resolution is resolved. See, in America we have this thing called a shoulder, where here in Russia this is just another lane. Normally, I would give a shit either way. Most of my traveling in Moscow is either underground or by foot. I do however have to take a trolleybus to the metro from my apartment. Its about a mile and half, which normally I don’t mind walking, but with the cold, snow, and ice this easily feels like 3 miles.
This morning I get on the #49 trolleybus like usual. After going about 25 feet, the driver opens the door and tell everyone to get out. There is an accident between two delivery trucks blocking the trolleybus. The bad thing about trolleybuses is they can’t exactly go around things or each other because they are connected to a line of wires above the bus. The trolleybus basically has to wait until the road is cleared. One would think this would happen quickly to restart the flow of traffic. Not here. About six trolleybuses, that’s right S-I-X, were stopped behind this accident for at least an hour. I walked the one and a half today (which is the third time I’ve done so in the last week.). A 15 minute commute under normal conditions took me about an hour.
My khozika (which means landlady), Natasha, constantly refers to the mayor of Moscow as that “shit” (govno) Luzhkov. For the fourth time this year, Luzhkov is raising the metro fair, from 10 to 15 rubles. This is still a deal by American standards. For about $.50 you can get anywhere in Moscow by metro. There are no transfers. Once you’re inside the system, you’re inside. For Russians, however, this can be a heavy burden when your monthly salary is $200 a month and you have to take the metro everyday. Luckily for Natasha, she rides for free. Moscow has a whole class of people who ride the metro for free: pensioners (which she is one), invalids, war veterans, and probably many more than I don’t know about. There is some talk about getting rid of this too. When this happens, the old are going to rise in revolution.
The problem is that the metro represents one of the leftovers from the Soviet system. It’s an amazing system, with more than 120 stations, with more being added on. Some of these stations are like communist palaces. The Soviet past is still on display, with iconography of workers, peasants, and Lenin. The Moscow metro deserves a tour in itself. The metro moves at least 8 million people a day, and without it, there would be no Moscow. In addition to its aesthetics, it also represents the past because during the Soviet Union it was very, very cheap along with the whole class of people who could ride for free. Each increase in fares or restriction of free riders symbolizes another security you could rely on. In the end, I think that by the 1970s, the Soviet system was that: security. Sure people weren’t rolling in luxury. There wasn’t much you could buy. Sometimes there wasn’t anything you could buy. But in the end, you could count on the system’s security and predictability. For this security and predictability people traded their democratic rights. It seemed that by the late 1970s there was a silent agreement between state and society: if you don’t mess with our business (the running of all aspects of the country), we won’t mess with yours. However, there is always a glaring contradiction in this formula, one that the Chinese are finding out about more and more. The divide between state and society is never that stark. Affairs of the state always seep into the affairs of society and individuals. I think China’s capitalism without democracy is one attempt to negotiate this contradiction.
In Russia, there is no compromise. This doesn’t look like it will change with Putin’s political reforms. The Russians have capitalism with all its unpredictability and lack of security; you can buy shit if you have the money. You can buy more shit than you ever can imagine. People like this and consumerism is now the new ideology. Ask people if things are better now than 20 years ago and they will say yes (especially if they are younger). Either way you look at it, consumption is cool. It’s why Americans don’t give a shit their political system, and I would suspect why Russian’s don’t either.
I think there is a flawed assumption in liberal democratic thinking. We assume that people care about their democratic rights. That freedom is the most prized possession of the human spirit. The flaw is in the fact that “freedom” is equated with the mechanisms of democracy like free speech, voting, elections, etc. Late capitalism has been able to brand freedom differently. The liberal subject is not just a political subject; it is a consuming subject. In fact there is no difference between the two. As long as one can consume, one is politically happy. Perhaps this is why the economy in America is measured by the Consumer Confidence Index. Freedom is in the consumption of individualism, which is communicated to us through products. A perfectly reified existence.
Late capitalism has aestheticized politics. We are no longer interested in the actual policies (or policy failures) of a candidate. We are only interested if they emit an image to fulfill our desire; whether that desire be one for security, leadership, strength, principles, morals, etc. Much like an advertisement fulfills our desires not for the product itself, but for the psychic and emotional satisfaction it brings. This, according to many cultural theorists, is called the affective properties of late capitalism. Late capitalism is not so much in the business of creating things, as it is affects—the things that tap our emotions, desire, etc. We don’t use Crest because it’s better than Colgate; Pepsi doesn’t taste better than Coke. They simply tap into a desire, perhaps even a nostalgia for some feeling from the past.
In the 1920s, the Frankfurt school of Marxism called this fascism. Its philosophers argued that when all politics became aestheticized, like how the fascist movements of Europe did, they tapped into people’s inner desires for national greatness, belonging, purity, security, what have you. Politics became less about satisfying your material needs: employment, housing, social services etc.; it became about satisfying your affective desires, desires that could never be completely fulfilled. People’s desires are what Slavoj Zizek calls the “sublime ideal.” This ideal can never be fulfilled; it is only imagined.
Perhaps this is why the “ironies” that I began with occurred the way they did. Clinton’s concern for the Kosovars and Bush’s mission to “free the Iraqis” was more publicly acceptable than helping the Africans. Perhaps this is why elections in the Ukraine can be accepted as corrupt, but American elections cannot. It is easy to accept corruption in the Ukraine because it is not us; it is not the Earth’s shining example of democracy. The actions of its people attest to this. For Americans to say the same about their own system would be treading on the outskirts of that sublime (blind) ideal. The affective nature of American politics makes the realization that its system is corrupt (though many Americans will admit that it is, but will shrug their shoulders when asked what to do about it) is possibly too much of a shock to their individual identity. America doesn’t bring them material well being, as it brings them emotional well being. The knowledge that you live in the greatest country not only in the world, but that has ever existed; that its existence is sanctioned by God himself is too powerful to assuage by lies, deceit, corruption, or incompetence. These realities don’t fit in the narrative. They don’t come close to shaking the grip of the emotional explosion the red, white, and blue brings to one’s heart.Post Views: 40
By Sean — 9 years ago
Update: I posted the entire interview. Russia comes in about halfway in.
Republican VP Candidate Sarah Palin finally sat down for an interview. Lo and behold, Russia came up in her exclusive with ABC’s Charles Gibson. Here are her thoughts on Russia resurgent, letting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, and going to war to defend those “smaller democratic countries.” And she says we can’t repeat the Cold War.
Sarah Palin on Russia:
We cannot repeat the Cold War. We are thankful that, under Reagan, we won the Cold War, without a shot fired, also. We’ve learned lessons from that in our relationship with Russia, previously the Soviet Union.
We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it’s in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.
GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?
PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.
GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.
PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.
Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but…
GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?
PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.
But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point and I think that we need to — especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn on, on either ticket, we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members.
We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.
GIBSON: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States to go to war if Russia were to invade.
PALIN: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.
And we have got to be vigilant. We have got to show the support, in this case, for Georgia. The support that we can show is economic sanctions perhaps against Russia, if this is what it leads to.
It doesn’t have to lead to war and it doesn’t have to lead, as I said, to a Cold War, but economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, again, counting on our allies to help us do that in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin and some of his desire to control and to control much more than smaller democratic countries.
Well, Mrs. Palin, if you get into office I hope you and Grandpa McCain put your money where your vigilant mouth is. I know a lot of Russia scholars in need of some of that war machine money. It’s been slim pickin’s since the Evil Empire went belly up in 1991.Post Views: 76