of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "United Russia" slate
of candidates for the Duma is the occasion for a new round
of Putin-bashing, with "human rights officials" condemning
the election results as "a retreat from Russia's democratic
what is a "human rights official," anyway? The
way the Associated Press puts it, one might almost suppose
that we're talking about elected officials here, or
else guardian angels appointed by God to watch over the human
race in His stead. In either case, these unofficial officials
deserve to be recalled forthwith, just on the basis of their
phony complaints about the Russian electoral process:
observers delivered a blistering assessment of the vote, calling
it free but not fair. Taxpayer money and state television
was used to benefit a few parties, monitors said in their
the Republicans run television ads featuring Bush's Top
Gun landing on that aircraft carrier, I wonder if these
same monitors will lodge complaints about inappropriate use
of taxpayers' money. The state-supported media of the OSCE countries in whose name the rebuke to Putin
was issued all have an indisputable political bias, and
problem is even worse in Eastern Europe.
head of the OSCE's "parliamentary assembly," had the nerve
to pontificate that the election "failed to meet ... international
standards." The White House endorsed this hypocritical hyperbole,
noting "concerns about the fairness of the election campaign.
We share those concerns." George openly worried that, "because
of the use of administrative resources and the biased media,
legitimate democratic opposition parties would not get the
5 percent of the vote they need to enter parliament."
every government that used "administrative resources" to gain
electoral advantage were to be expelled from the ranks of
democratic nations, who would be left? As for "biased media"
is this something that the Western media, which "embedded"
itself in the U.S. government's war propaganda machine, have
the right to lecture the Russians about?
real complaint of Putin's Western critics is that the Russian
parties favored by Washington and its Euro-weenie satellites
and the Union of Right Forces failed to get the 5 percent
required to garner seats in the Duma. The election was "free
but not fair" because they didn't like the results.
a self-serving application of "international standards"
is hardly surprising, however, coming from the same people
who, when they hold an election
that doesn't yield the right results, simply
hold another one. And for this White House which holds
power due solely to the vagaries of a Supreme Court decision
to complain about Russia's lack of "democracy" has
the administration's credibility hanging
by a chad.
a key indicator of democratic government is ballot access,
and diversity of parties, let's compare the Russian method
of party registration with the American system. In Russia,
as of the beginning of this year, 29 parties had qualified
for ballot status in national elections by verifying at least
members in at least 45 regions. In the U.S., the rules
for ballot status differ from state to state even,
in some cases, from county to county and the burden
of a new party getting on the ballot in all 50 states is so onerous that very
few have managed it. When it comes to this basic question
of who gets on the ballot, the Russians have the Americans
beat hands down.
charges against Putin and the new, post-Soviet Russia are,
in short, malarkey so what's the real deal behind this concert
of "concern" by Western governments and their media amen
philosopher-kings of the movement for global "democracy" have
been gunning for Vlad the Bad ever since he broke up the media monopoly
of the Russian oligarchs. But they really went ballistic went
he began to arrest some of these oligarchs for stealing, lying,
and trying to buy off the Duma from looking too closely into
the highly dubious means by which they acquired their great
from being capitalist heroes
out of an Ayn Rand novel, the objects of Putin's wrath
attained their status as the
industrial-financial titans of the post-Soviet era by
means of government connections.
Khodorkovsky, the "reformed" Russian oligarch who is now
sitting in a Russian jail on charges of theft, fraud,
and other crimes, likes to compare himself to America's "robber
barons" of the nineteenth century, but as Chrystia Freeland,
author of Sale
of the Century: Russia's Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism,
put it, the analogy "raises false hopes" because:
suggests that prosperity is inevitable, and I don't think
it's inevitable in Russia, American robber barons carved their
monopolies out of the wilderness. . . . [Russia's] oligarchs
got what they got because it was handed to them by the state."
arrest led to an outcry in the West, with neoconservative ambassador-of-ill-will
without portfolio Richard Perle demanding that Russia be thrown
out of the G-8 on its ear. But the truth about the jailed
oligarch's empire is that every expansion of its boundaries
was achieved by political pull rather than entrepreneurial acumen.
His initial business ventures under Gorbachev's perestroika
were made possible on account of his position as a high official
in the Young Communist League. His Menatep Bank, the first post-Soviet
commercial bank in Russia, used government funds on deposit
including from the tax collection agency and the state-owned
arms export business as capital to acquire such properties
as Yukos, the state-owned oil company. Khodorkovsky's bid to
acquire it was not the highest, but he got it anyway
at the bargain basement price of $350 million. The other oligarchs
are even worse. A list of those being prosecuted by Putin is
a veritable cavalcade of criminality:
Berezovsky Forbes magazine called him "the
godfather of the Kremlin," little more than a Mafia
boss. The Western media claims he represents the "free media"
in Russia, shut down by the evil Putin. Don't believe it.
Forbes shows how Berezovsky is the main suspect in
the murder of the previous owner of Russia's biggest national
TV network, who was shot down in a gangland-style assassination
of the sort that was all too common in the Yeltsin era.
Abramovich A Berezovsky protιgι, brought into the
Yeltsin-oligarch inner circle and amply
rewarded with a virtual monopoly on aluminum production
in the former Soviet Union.
Potanin A former Communist in charge of the Minister
of Trade, Potanin profited from the phony "privatization"
of Russian industry that merely turned over "socialized"
property to the nomenklatura.
Alekperov Another "former" Commie who turned his government
career into a fortune: a first deputy minister of energy
under the old regime, Comrade Alekperov snapped up Lukoil,
the largest oil company in Russia, under the "shares
for loans" ersatz-privatization scheme cooked up by
as a pay-off for their support to the Yeltsin regime.
Using methods that would be illegal in most Western countries,
Russia's oligarchs ripped off their own shareholders and stiffed
foreign investors to the tune of billions of dollars. As the
Los Angeles Times reported:
excluded minority shareholders by moving shareholder meetings
at the last minute to remote locations. He ordered the issuance
of shares to dilute the power of other stockholders. After
the financial collapse of 1998, he shuffled his remaining
assets through subsidiaries to hide them from creditors. Once,
at a time regulators were asking tough questions about operations
by his bank, Menatep, a truck carrying Menatep documents happened
to fall into the Moscow River."
Russians will be forgiven for viewing Westerners preaching
"democracy" and "free markets" with some degree of skepticism
when they give crooks like Khodorkovsky and his fellow oligarchs
a free pass. Their machinations are all "in the past," as
the Times account avers. That was then, but this is
now: Khodorovsky has "turned over a new leaf," we are told,
and is now pledged to "transparency," the principles of "corporate
governance," and, yes, "democracy" and the "free market."
In order to head off an investigation and full public exposure
of their ill-gotten gains, the oligarchs, led by Khodorkovsky,
ventured into politics, buying political parties by the dozen,
including not only Yabloko and the SPS, but also secretly
funding the Communist Party. Putin acted swiftly, and decisively,
outflanking the oligarchs with a crackdown that has proved
popular on the Russian "street."
Capitalism, never very popular in Russia, has suffered a setback
in the former land of the Soviets not on account of the
arrest of Khodorovsky, but because of the crony capitalism
practiced by he and his fellow oligarchs.
It is oh-so-appropriate that Richard Perle should become the
chief Western defender of the crony capitalist Khodorovsky:
Perle's links to such companies as Trireme Partners, Boeing,
and Hollinger International have paid off as a direct result
of his high-level political connections. Boeing was subsidizing
his company, Trireme, even
as Perle lobbied for huge government contracts on Boeing's
behalf. Trireme Partners received substantial investments
from Hollinger even as Perle
and his friends presided over the Hollinger board of directors.
Seymour Hersh exposed
Trireme as enriching Perle even as the company cashed
in on the consequences of his policies. (Perle announced a
suit against Hersh and the New Yorker in the British
courts, which are notoriously tilted against the defendant
in such cases, but somehow never followed through on the threat.)
The Perles, Khodorovskys, and Conrad Blacks of this world
stick together. That's why they call it crony capitalism.
The real reasons for the concerted attack on Putin and evocations
of a new "Russian threat" have nothing to do with the consolidation
of a neo-Soviet regime in the Kremlin, and everything to do
with Moscow's increasingly independent foreign policy stance.
Putin opposed the Iraq war, and is cooperating
with Iran in the development of nuclear technology for
peaceful purposes. The neocons have always considered Russia
as the enemy: the infamous Wolfowitz
memorandum, in which the now deputy defense secretary
and architect of the Iraq war laid out the new hegemonism
of post-cold war American foreign policy, explicitly targeted
Russia for encirclement and subjugation in a U.S.-dominated
Our vindictive neocons, ever vigilant for fresh threats, and
new "Hitler" figures to demonize and destroy, are looking
beyond the Middle East, to a new cold war with the former
Soviet Union. Putin, they think, fits the bill. George W.
Bush, who said he looked into Putin's eyes and "got
a sense of his soul," may decide that he didn't like what
he saw after all. The two got along famously, but the War
Party is working hard to undermine U.S.-Russian relations,
just as they have alienated virtually every one of our friends
internationally. There is much speculation, some of it perhaps
wishful thinking, that the neocons are in retreat, and losing
their influence over U.S. foreign policy. Surely the course
of U.S.-Russian relations in the coming months will give us
a clue as to whether or not this is true.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The brouhaha over Neal Boortz's
invitation to address the Libertarian Party's national convention
up fast there's
even a "Boot Boortz" blog! and I am pleased as
punch to add yet more fuel to the fire. Journalist John Sugg,
of Atlanta's Creative Loafing weekly, tells me Boortz
won't talk to him after the paper "exposed his compound chickenhawk-ness."
Yes, along with most of his fellow warmongers, the radio talk
show ranter who just can't wait to send more soldiers
off to die wriggled out of the draft in the Vietnam
era. As to how he did it remains something of a mystery, because
Boortz's story changes, depending on what day it is. Sometimes
he says he got off because of his poor vision yet the
guy has a pilot's license. Gee, he can't be that
blind! Alternately, Boortz claims it was his asthma that exempted
him, although, as Sugg points out, how this jives with his
announced plan to climb Mount Everest is, uh, unclear.
So, it turns out that Boortz, who bloviates endlessly in support
of the Iraq war, and charges
antiwar protestors with sedition and aiding "terrorism,"
is a chickenhawk
and a liar.
Is this really the kind of "outreach" the LP wants to engage
The response of LP officialdom to the ongoing controversy
is, unfortunately, typical of bureaucratic types who have
a strong sense of territoriality: extreme hostility. Convention
chair Nancy Neale (wife of the LP national chair) sent a message
to Texas LP members who insisted on discussing the Boortz
issue on a Texas
LP email discussion list, ordering them to cease and desist.
Those who defied her were deleted from the list.
It's only natural for people who can't defend their position
to want to cut off debate. Remember, though, these are the
same people who are claiming that the LP needs to be "open"
to pro-war "dissent" and that we shouldn't be afraid to "debate"
in public, at the LP national convention. Just don't do
it in private! This goes way beyond hypocrisy, and lands us
deep in Bizarro
We can expect the same bureaucratic maneuvering at the upcoming
meeting of the Libertarian National Committee, where the
Neale-ites will no doubt keep discussion of the Boortz question
to an absolute minimum (if they even allow it on the agenda).
In a missive to one of her critics, forwarded to me by a member
of the Texas LP, Ms. Neale avers that her critics (and antiwar
libertarians in general) are "a tiny minority," warbles that
the LP is "small potatoes," and that anyone who doesn't approve
of Boortz had better shut up.
Let's show this harpy just how wrong she is. If you're an
LP member, you might want to check out this
list of Libertarian National Committee members: find your
rep and give him or her a call.
Why am I making such a big issue of this? Because I'm sick
unto death of the intellectual and political atmosphere generated
by the War Party: they have poisoned the very air with their
talk of "sedition" in the antiwar movement, and their bloodthirstiness
is mixed with an abject cowardice that any decent person is
bound to find repulsive. In a world permeated by Evil (yes,
I do mean to capitalize it), is there not one spot
that remains untouched, a refuge for those of us who don't
buy into the general malevolence?
No, I'm not a member of the Libertarian Party, I haven't been
since 1983. But I did put in a good 12 or so years as a party
activist, and I don't like to think that the organization
I spent so much time building has become a platform for everything
It has come to my attention that
my articles, or in some cases various pieces of them torn
out of context, have begun appearing
on Indymedia, in what appears to be a systematic campaign
on someone's part to achieve only-God-knows-what. I also note
that Pravda has been posting my articles (no, I'm not
going to give them a link), without my permission and
in express violation of the copyright notice prominently displayed
on Antiwar.com: but, then again, you wouldn't expect Commies
(or national socialists, at any rate) to have any respect
for property rights. The creepy
lawyer and wannabe columnist Glenn Reynolds made much
of my alleged Pravda "connection" leave it to a lawyer
to rationalize and legitimize theft.
I have no connection whatsoever with Pravda: indeed,
I find this odd mixture of the National Inquirer and
the National Socialist personally and politically distasteful.
I have no connection with Indymedia, either: apparently their
postings are almost completely unmoderated, and posters steal
(and alter) original material, so that there is no way to
tell what one is reading.
These people are thieves, pure and simple. I also note
that they are too stupid, or too lazy, to put in the links
that are so essential to any reading of my internet writings:
in this important sense, they have altered my work again,
without my permission.
There is only one outlet other than Antiwar.com that is authorized
to carry my column on a regular basis, and that is Etherzone.com,
which has been running it with my permission for years.
So if you see "Behind the Headlines" posted anywhere else,
you can be sure that it is not authorized by me or by Antiwar.com,
and there is no guarantee that you are reading my column exactly
as I have written it.
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