Thursday, 25 December 2008


Ken Berwitz

For many years, there was the dictatorial Czar.  Then for about 70 years there was the freedomless Soviet Union (USSR).  Then the USSR broke up and its SSR's became what they used to be and/or should have been, free states.  Russia became a free state too, with democratic elections.

Now, Vladimir Putin - a former KGB bigshot, let's not forget - is reverting Russia back to the old USSR days.  Bit by bit, piece by piece, it is happening right in front of us. 

Here are the particulars, from Stephen Brown writing for  Please pay special attention to the paragraphs I've put in bold print:

Soviet Law Returns To Russia  
By Stephen Brown | Thursday, December 25, 2008

It was an act of Soviet repression in Vladimir Putins Russia.

Memorial, a leading Russian human rights organization dedicated to keeping alive the memory of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalins victims and to investigating political persecution in the former Soviet Union, had its St. Petersburg offices raided recently. Acting on a spurious accusation by the Prosecutors Office, masked security agents stormed the internationally acclaimed groups premises, seizing computer hard drives containing 20 years of work documenting Soviet crimes.

But while Stalin would have disliked the absence of arrests of those documenting his crimes, that may soon change. Almost simultaneous with the Memorial raid, new legislation was submitted to Russias parliament, the Duma, that reflects a return to Russias sinister, communist past. Concerning a new amendment on the treason law, critics fear the bill will broaden the laws definition so much it will be used against anti-government dissenters.

According to Russian political analyst, Yevgeny Kiselyov, under the old treason definition one had to commit a hostile act that damaged the external security of the state to be charged. In the current amendment, the words hostile and external have been removed. With the words act and security now standing alone, critics say this allows for a much wider interpretation of the law. Also included as a traitor in the new bill is anyone who renders financial, technical, consultative or other assistance to a foreign state, international or foreign organizations or their representatives in their activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation...

Due to this loose definition, some believe the state may now even interpret the new treason legislation any way it pleases, much like in Soviet times. It is suspected the new measure is also meant to curb Russians dealings with foreigners, especially with journalists. Contact with foreigners was strictly prohibited in the Soviet era. Even before the new amendment, Russians, especially scientists, had experienced legal difficulties regarding what is considered elsewhere as normal exchanges with foreign colleagues.

Also indicative that a political climate already existed for the new legislation was a recent announcement by the Prosecutors Office in Yekaterinburg that it is considering sanctions against journalists who have written about Russias current economic troubles. According to the Prosecutors Office, the press, one of the foundations of a democratic society, is actually part of the problem since it is contributing to the panic.

The treason amendment, which has passed the Dumas lower house, is not the only legislation causing Russian human rights activists concern. The Duma also voted recently to ban jury trials on charges of treason and terrorism in favour of a panel of judges. Such charges include involvement in armed units, violent seizure of power, armed rebellion and mass riots. Jury trials disappeared in Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, but were restored in 1993.

Some believe the Russian government is pushing the anti-treason legislation at this point in time because it is preparing for any civil disorders that may arise from the economic crisis sweeping the country. Russias is an energy-exporting economy which, one analyst said, relies on a $70 per barrel oil price to stay afloat. Currently at about $50, if the oil price ever dropped to $20 per barrel, there would be a revolution.

Although Prime Minister Putins popularity rating is high among Russians, much of it is due to the fact the people received a share of the oil riches the last eight years. If this wealth evaporates, and Russians again experience the economic hardships and disorders of the 1990s, then all bets could be off regarding social unrest.

Others believe Putin, a former KGB officer, is simply using the economic crisis to pass legislation to enhance his authority and that of his many former secret police colleagues in the government. They cite the fact that Putin rolled back democratic measures while president; and the latest anti-democratic measures are simply a continuation of this trend.

But the main reason for the new legislation, as well as the biggest obstacle to establishing a democratic order based on the rule of law in Russia, is that the general attitude regarding a free society has changed very little since Soviet times. Russian President Dimitri Medevedev alluded to this in an address to the nation last November when he said: The state bureaucracy is governed by the same distrust of personal freedoms as it was 20 years ago. That logic is pushing it towards dangerous conclusions and dangerous actions.

Just as responsible for this damaging attitude is that for decades after the 1917 Russian Revolution the Russian people saw those in power devising and using the law simply to further their own, sometimes murderous, ends. This immoral and twisted use of legal systems discredited and undermined any faith in them, both among the rulers and ruled. Under Soviet rule, the only law both learned, like in many totalitarian states, was that might is right, which is also the law code of the gangster world.

And these gangster values still persist today, as is evident in some Russian politicians use of language. According to one writer, the gangland term, rubbed out, was gaining popularity in Russian politics in 2006. Even Putin, Russias prime minister, was not averse to this trend. On national television, he warned a sick business owner, who missed a meeting and whose dealings Putin didnt like, to get well soon or we will have to send him a doctor to clean up all these problems. And Andrei Lugovoy, a Duma member and former KGB officer accused of murdering a Putin critic in London with a radioactive substance, told a Spanish newspaper this month anyone seriously damaging the state should be exterminated.

Since Russias leaders have refused to explore and analyse the evil of their countrys Soviet past, it is not surprising some of its aspects are being repeated today. Ironically, the one organization, Memorial, that could have led the way in publicising Soviet crimes and leading the country back to a healthy political and economic life was itself rubbed out.

How sad for the Russian people. 

Former SSR's (soviet socialist republics) that used to be under its thumb are, today, free and prospering.  But the country they broke away from is on a path right back to where it used to be; freedomless and unprosperous. 

Will the people rise up again?  Dare they rise up against Putin?  We'll find out soon enough.

Ally This aitrcle went ahead and made my day. (12/10/11)


Ken Berwitz

Paul Mirengoff of has an excellent piece today about what the idiot "leader" of Syria, bashar al assad, thinks he can get from soon-to-be-President Barack Obama.   Paul takes it apart and explains it beautifully:

A man with nothing much to offer

David Ignatius reports on his interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Syria apparently has been engaged in indirect negotiations with Israel, and Assad tells Ignatius he hopes that Barack Obama will assist in the process.

Ignatius' report confirms, however, that Assad is not prepared to offer Israel anything that would make it worthwhile to turn the commanding Golan Heights back to Syrian control:

Asked whether Syria was prepared to restrain Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Lebanon, Assad said this was a matter the Israelis should sort out in separate negotiations with the Lebanese. Indeed, he promoted the idea of the other negotiating tracks -- which would draw in, at least indirectly, Hezbollah and Hamas.

In other words, in exchange for making concessions to Syria, Assad is offering Israel the opportunity to make concessions to Hezbollah and Hamas. That might be Ehud Olmert's idea of a good deal, but fortunately Olmert is no longer making the calls.

Given this negotiating posture, it's pretty clear why Assad needs Obama to pressure Israel. But what does Assad have to offer Obama (and the United States) in return?

Ignatius's report suggests that Assad is dangling the prospect of making himself useful with respect to Iraq and Iran. In the case of Iraq, he is offering to help "stablilize" that country as American troops leave. What he's really saying, surely, is that in exchange for concessions, he will agree not to stir up too much trouble in Iraq. But it's doubtful that Syria is in a position to stir up much trouble there. Syria is not influential with the Shiite militias, and it's difficult to imagine Sunni tribesmen breaking the peace at Syria's behest.

As to Iran, Ignatius said (in a radio interview) that he asked Assad how someone as secular and westward looking as he could consider remaining in the mullahs orbit. To this shockingly naive question, Assad gave the obvious answer -- it's not about cultural affinities, it's about who "plays a role in the region" and "who supports my rights." Assad is saying that if the U.S. will play a role supportive of Syria in his relations with Israel and Lebanon, Syria might tilt against Iran.

But even if Assad could be trusted to do so (a huge leap of faith), what does he have to offer when it comes to limiting Iran's influence? It is Iran, not Syria, that influences/directs Hezbollah. More generally, Iran's power and influence are a function of ithe inspiration supplied by its ideology, the wealth (now diminished) produced by its oil industry, and its military strength, soon to be bolstered in all likelihood by nuclear weapons. Syria doesn't add (or potentially subtract) much from this equation.

Obama may be naive, but we can reasonably hope that he is not naive enough to enter into any sort of partnership with the likes of Bashar al-Assad. Making concessions to evil tyrants is bad enough. Making them to evil tyrants of no major importance is senseless.

Barack Obama has no foreign policy experience and has never held an executive position (unless you consider being in charge of handing out grant money to be one).  Apparently al-assad thinks that also makes him a fool who can be manipulated into doing really stupid things.

I'm 99% certain that al-assad is wrong (Obama's personnel decisions are anti-Israel enough so that I hold back 1%).  

And I'm 100% certain that in a game of wits between these two al-assad ain't the guy going on to the lightning round.

We'll keep an eye on this to see if/how it progresses.


Ken Berwitz

Is David Paterson having second thoughts about annointing Queen Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg to the United States Senate?

It sure seems so.  Here is the New York Post's account of what he has to say about Ms. Kennedy Schlossberg as of yesterday:.



Last updated: 4:47 am
December 25, 2008

Gov. Paterson yesterday tamped down suggestions that Caroline Kennedy is at the top of the list to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, asking, "How is she a front-runner?"

The comment came as Paterson was arriving back from a trip to Iraq to visit the troops with Reps. Anthony Weiner and Steve Israel at La Guardia Airport. The governor was hit with a crush of questions about the Camelot scion's push to replace Clinton, who will be nominated to become secretary of state.

He bristled when a reporter described Kennedy - who has never been elected to office and whose qualifications have been criticized - as the "front-runner."

"How is she a front-runner?" the Democratic governor, who has sole power to choose Clinton's successor, interrupted tartly.

The remark came as some Paterson advisers have questioned the rollout of Kennedy's candidacy over the past week, even as Mayor Bloomberg - who several sources say is boosting her behind the scenes - publicly urged the governor to speed up his selection process.

Paterson said he was amused by news accounts during his Iraq trip that quoted various "sources" and "friends."

"This whole thing sounds more like the prelude to a high school musical than the choosing of a senator."

He faulted the media for the intense speculation and interest, adding, "You can't kill your parents and then ask the governor to do something about that fact that you're an orphan. The speculation and the discussion of this has been, I think, a little superfluous, but it's everybody's right."

In regard to Israel, a Long Island congressman who has let his interest in the seat be known, Paterson said the lawmaker is "highly qualified," but insisted his goal was not to talk to him about state politics during the trip.

And he added he has no plans to change his current course, which is to wait until Clinton is confirmed for the job.

But Bloomberg showed no signs of letting up.

"I do think the governor, as I said the other day, should make a decision, because this is just distracting and we don't need to have another sideshow," he said yesterday.

The mayor also brushed off Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's criticism that Kennedy may be more beholden to her booster, Bloomberg, than to the governor.

"None of these people are beholden to anyone once they get into office, other than hopefully being beholden to the public," he said.

"I think Caroline Kennedy - I've said it a number of times, you keep asking me - she's a very competent woman who would be a good senator, and the governor is blessed that there are other people who you could say the same thing about."

Is the prospect of selecting a political nonentity with a famous name, who won't answer questions or disclose financials (she's above that, I suppose) starting to make Governor Paterson feel a little ridiculous?

Maybe so.


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