"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“A Useful Idiot In Dorky Park”: What’s Does NSA Geek Edward Snowden Do With A Year In Russia?

For centuries, foreigners have had a habit of staying in Russia longer than they intended. The European architects engaged by Catherine the Great, the tutors who came to school the 19th-century aristocracy’s children, and the businessmen who swarmed into Moscow after the fall of communism — all arrived in Russia planning on a short stay and ended up staying for months, years, or the rest of their lives, wooed by love, money, or the sheer gruesome fantastic-ness of the place.

Your case is pretty special, Edward. You only came to Moscow for a flight connection, but now find yourself granted asylum for a minimum of a year. You left Sheremetyevo Airport with a grin yesterday, with a stealth wholly in line with the opaque mystery of your five-week stay inside the transit zone. The big question now becomes: What on Earth are you going to do in Russia?

As a long-standing resident of Moscow myself, allow me to give you a few tips.

Get used to grumpiness. It’s a decent bet that a smiling Potemkin border guard reserved especially for arriving U.S. dissidents was detailed to stamp you into Russia for the first time, but for the rest of us, friendly officials are like unicorns. They don’t exist. Border guards here almost never say a word, even if you greet them with the chirpiest “zdravstvuite” (“hello”). Forget about that verging-on-annoying friendliness one gets from waiters, shop assistants, or random people in elevators in America. From here on in it will be angry glances and accusatory stares, suspicious neighbors and glum shop workers. The U.S. Justice Department might like to have a few words with you, but there’ll be punishment enough in Moscow. Show up at the grocery store without exact change to pay for your “doctor’s sausage” (don’t ask, Edward, just don’t ask) and you’ll get an earful of barking abuse.

The exception to this will be if you end up living in a building with a “concierge,” which in the Moscow incarnation is not a smartly dressed polite man in a suit and hat, but an inquisitive, squinting babushka who will use a combination of your comings and goings, the identity of any visitors you might have, and ceaseless interrogation to put together a complex psychological portrait of you and the other inhabitants of the building. Think of it as an offline, Soviet version of the PRISM program.

Moscow, of course, has spent the past two decades going through wave after wave of change, and if the angry stares get you down, you can always hire a bike and ride with the hipsters at Gorky Park, or party with the nouveau riche at Gypsy, where your newly acquired fame is sure to get you past the strict face control. Indeed, your lawyer Anatoly Kucherena has said that numerous young Russian damsels have already expressed an interest in providing you with shelter, and perhaps much, much more.

Anna Chapman, expelled from the United States as part of a Russian spy ring in 2010, has already proposed to you via Twitter. With the kind of glamorous life she leads now, though, you will need to have deep pockets to keep her happy. Even a coffee can cost upwards of $10 in Moscow, and at the kind of restaurant that someone like Chapman would enjoy, dinner for two is at least $250. (Assuming, of course, that she shows up to the right location for your date.) For now, you say you miss your girlfriend, the acrobatic pole-dancer Lindsay Mills. Perhaps Mills will travel to Moscow to resurrect your relationship, or perhaps you will join the long list of expats in Russia whose relationships are wrecked on the rocks of Slavic temptation.

Aside from what you get up to on a Friday night, there is also the political issue — and the rather obvious and glaring point that you have received political asylum in a country that does not treat its own whistleblowers in the nicest fashion. The most poignant comparisons have been made with Alexey Navalny, the opposition leader and blogger who leaked information about corruption in the Russian elite and was recently handed a five-year jail sentence (for corruption, ironically), which is currently suspended but will kick in if his appeal is unsuccessful. Human rights isn’t a big thing here either: your exit from the airport came on the same day that Russia’s sports minister confirmed that gay athletes at next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi would be arrested if they flaunt their homosexuality.

Glenn Greenwald, the reporter with whom you worked, referred to those who pointed out Russia’s own treatment of whistleblowers or its new anti-gay laws as “drooling jingoists.” I understand, of course, that you were hardly laden down with options of where to go, and a case can certainly be made that staying in a country with a dubious record of its own is preferable to returning to the United States to face charges you believe are unfair.

But what Greenwald seems to miss, or ignore, is that there is a big difference between grudgingly accepting Russia as the best of a set of bad options, and actively trumpeting the beacon of democracy and human rights that is Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. You have previously said that Russia and other countries that offered you asylum were “refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.” Your father went even further, thanking President Vladimir Putin for his “courage” in offering asylum to his son.

Whatever drove Putin to offer you asylum, Edward, it is fairly clear that the former KGB man was not motivated by a principled stance of support for whistleblowers. Trust me on that one. The question now is whether you make a few sheepish statements of thanks to the Kremlin and that’s it, or whether you become one of the legion of infatuated useful idiots, the most notable being the French actor Gérard Depardieu, who has taken Russian citizenship and struck up a bromance with both Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya accused of all manner of human rights abuses.

Entering into the protection, financial or otherwise, of the Kremlin appears to induce crippling cases of myopia in many people, whether they be Gallic buffoons enjoying their alcohol-soaked twilight or Western presenters working for the Kremlin-funded television station Russia Today. You come across as a much sharper individual, Edward. I am sure you have noticed that when it comes to clandestine surveillance, Russia is not exactly a paragon of democratic transparency. But perhaps you feel that Russia’s woes are none of your business, and that your fight is with the U.S. authorities only. If so, then the perfect place for you is indeed Russia Today. The Kremlin-funded channel would almost certainly be delighted to have you. When it comes to America-bashing, nothing is too far out for this channel, which recently confidently asserted that all recent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have been CIA “false-flag” operations, and once ran an op-ed entitled “911 reasons why 9/11 was (probably) an inside job.” The channel airs interview shows fronted by your buddy Julian Assange, and somewhat more unexpectedly, Larry King. The appearance of The Whistleblower, a weekly show fronted by your good self, is more than just an outside possibility.

But the Russian authorities may prefer to keep you quiet. George Blake, the British spy and Soviet agent who fled to Moscow in 1966, is still only allowed to give interviews when he has permission from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, even though he is now 90 years old.

Your lawyer Kucherena claimed that you hopped into a normal taxi before heading off to an undisclosed location to meet American “friends.” Who these friends are, and how you made them, I have no idea, Edward. But there’s a fairly good chance that the Russian security services are keeping several dozen pairs of beady eyes on you.

If you feel comfortable enough to walk the streets, and are allowed to, there is much for you to see and do. There is Red Square and the Kremlin, not to mention Lubyanka, the imposing building that serves as home of the FSB security services (formerly, the KGB). But you probably know all about them already. Then there are the museums, the nightclubs, the delicious Georgian food, and the all-night bars and clubs. Even a kind of nerdy guy can have a lot of fun on his first weekend in Moscow.

A word of advice, however, Edward. If you are approached by a man in a blond wig who suggests meeting for a coffee in the area of Novinsky Boulevard, you should decline politely. And run away, fast.


By: Shaun Walker, Foreign Policy, August 2, 2013

August 9, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Angry, Extreme, Harsh Nut”: Why Rick Santorum Isn’t The 2016 GOP Frontrunner

In just about every presidential election since 1980, the Republican Party has nominated the runner-up from the previous contest. In 1980, 1976 almost-ran Ronald Reagan won the GOP nod; in 1988, Republicans went for 1980 second-placer George H.W. Bush; in 1996, it was Bob Dole, who came in second in 1988; 2008 brought us John McCain, the No. 2 in 2000; and the 2008 runner-up, Mitt Romney, was the nominee in 2012.

Who came in second place in the 2012 Republican primaries? Rick Santorum. The socially conservative former senator from Pennsylvania is giving every indication that he will run again in 2016, says Byron York at The Washington Examiner, “and yet now, no one — no one — is suggesting Santorum will be the frontrunner in 2016, should he choose to run.” Why not? And is everyone wrong to write him off?

This week, Santorum is visiting Iowa, York points out, “where Republicans are excited about Sen. Ted Cruz, where they’re curious about Gov. Scott Walker, where they want to hear from Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul and other new faces.” The media is curious about those new faces, too. But Santorum won 11 primaries and caucuses — including Iowa’s — for a reason, York says.

Each of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates had their moment in the lead, but “Santorum was the one who came closest to a position on the economy that might appeal to middle-income voters alienated by both parties,” York says:

At nearly every stop, Santorum talked about voters who haven’t been to college, who aren’t the boss, who are out of work or afraid of being out of work. And then, when millions of those very people stayed away from the polls in November…. Briefly put, Romney lost because he failed to appeal to the millions of Americans who have seen their standard of living decline in recent decades. Of all the GOP’s possible candidates, Santorum has the most cogent analysis of that loss, and a plan to avoid repeating it in 2016. [Washington Examiner]

In many ways, York makes a compelling argument. “Based on resume, Santorum is a much more plausible presidential candidate and potential president than [Pat] Buchanan or [Steve] Forbes,” the also-rans of the 1996 campaign who were nothing more than a blip in 2000, says Pete Spiliakos at First Things. But Santorum is being lumped in with them instead of Dole and Romney and McCain. “He really isn’t getting the respect he deserves.”

There are some reasons for that, Spiliakos concedes. Santorum didn’t run a very tight campaign, he would often ramble in his primary-night speeches, and in the debates he would sometimes lose his temper and couldn’t “seem to avoid getting into self-destructive arguments.” But these are things that “could probably be mitigated with more money and staffing to take care of the nuts and bolts and help him prepare remarks,” Spiliakos says.

Of course, not everyone is on board with the Santorum-as-frontrunner argument. Santorum’s fund-raising problems in 2012 weren’t an accident, says Daniel Larison at The American Conservative. His strident social conservatism on birth control and abortion turned off even some Republicans, and even York’s boosting of Santorum’s focus-on-the-little-guy economic message misses just “how allergic many in the GOP are to anything that sounds like economic populism.”

Throw in Santorum’s foreign policy vulnerabilities — he’s “fanatically hawkish in a party that is moving gradually in the other direction,” toward Rand Paul — says Larison, and its pretty clear that “if you wanted to invent a politician who could alienate several different parts of the Republican coalition all at once, you would design someone like Santorum.”

In the end, says James Joyner at Outside the Beltway, “Santorum may be ‘open’ to running for president again but he’s not the front-runner. Indeed, he’s simply not going to be the nominee.” Yes, there was that brief moment, right after the Iowa caucuses, when “Santorum seemed like a plausible nominee,” but he pretty “quickly revealed himself to be an angry nut trying to tap into petty resentments.”

Santorum simply comes across as harsh and extreme, even to die-hard Republicans. While it’s true that the GOP has a tradition of nominating the guy whose “turn” it is, my strong guess is that, as when George W. Bush was nominated in 2000, none of the candidates from last time around will be relevant. Mitt Romney almost certainly won’t run again. Santorum hit his ceiling in 2012…. I don’t have any sense who the 2016 nominee will be this far out. The party is still sorting out its identity, which the 2014 midterms may or may not contribute to solving. But I’d bet good money that it won’t be Rick Santorum. [Outside the Beltway]


By: Peter Weber, The Week, August 8, 2013

August 9, 2013 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Stupid Do They Think We Are?”: Women Can Love Puppies And Oppose Men Who Think They Should Control Our Bodies

I feel like a 12-year-old trying to explain why Muffy is no longer dating Binky, but here goes:

National Right to Life has broken up with Cleveland Right to Life because Cleveland Right to Life wants to amend its mission statement to ban same-sex marriage — in Ohio, mind you, where same-sex marriage is already banned.

Think of it as the “So there!” initiative — in case any gay people in Ohio missed the 2004 “We mean it!” voter referendum that stripped them of rights they never had.

Welcome to my little patch of Wackadoodle Land.

National Right to Life says it’s focused on eliminating a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. After all, there’s only so much energy in a day, and we womenfolk have been a handful ever since we got the right to vote. Trying to take away women’s legal rights in 2013 is exhausting work. Embarrassing, too, when your loudest spokesman is the former and possibly future Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum.

There’s a new YouTube video of Santorum making the rounds. This time, he accuses liberals of making it hard for conservatives to shower in Texas.

“What the pro-choice movement does is they just don’t focus on their little issue,” he said. “They focus on everything they do and every aspect of their lives. They make it uncomfortable for students who come to Austin to shower at a Young Men’s Christian Association, YMCA, gym, because they live it. They’re passionate. They’re willing to do and say uncomfortable things in mixed company. They’re willing to make the sacrifice at their business because they care enough.”

Then he went on to talk about the American Revolution.

I am reminded of a male reader’s letter during last year’s Republican presidential primaries. “I do not understand,” he wrote, “how a lady who can be so sweet to her puppy can be so mean to Rick Santorum.”

Oh, yes, you do.

What Santorum failed to mention — but the Austin Y later explained in a statement — was that the young men showed up for showers wearing T-shirts telegraphing their support for legislation outlawing most abortions. The Y director asked them not to return because the organization tries to offer a partisan-free environment.

“So,” you might ask, “what does same-sex marriage have to do with abortion rights?”

Silly you, having a point. You never are going to fit in with this crowd.

Cleveland Right to Life President Molly Smith explained the anti-gay agenda this way to The Plain Dealer: “How can you be for the child if you are not for the family?”

Fascinating question in light of the largest study of children with same-sex parents, by the University of Melbourne, which showed they do as well as — and sometimes better than — children raised by heterosexuals.

Lead researcher Dr. Simon Crouch said that’s because gay families deal with more challenges (hello-o-o-o-, Cleveland Right to Life), which makes their children more resilient.

“Because of the situation that same-sex families find themselves in, they are generally more willing to communicate and approach the issues that any child may face at school, like teasing or bullying,” he told a reporter.

Experience has taught me to expect a few emails insisting this study doesn’t count because it’s about foreigners. They’re Australians. Home of Ugg boots. You don’t get more American than that.

Cleveland Right to Life board member Jerry C. Cirino told The Plain Dealer that he, too, supported the same-sex marriage ban: “We know it is not only important to protect the rights of a child to be born. … We should also care about the child after they are born.”

Again, no explanation as to how same-sex parents hurt children. Surprising, considering local Right to Life chapters’ fondness for fun fake facts that find their way into Ohio laws that can’t survive constitutional challenges. National Right to Life is sick of that, too. Ask them about Ohio’s “heartbeat bill.” That went well.

Nevertheless, let’s look on the bright side. Finally, Cleveland Right to Life claims to be in the business of looking out for the children they insist women must bear. Surely, those press releases are on the way calling for universal health care, affordable day care and a living wage for all working parents.

How stupid do they think we are?

Again, I’m reminded of that male reader. I responded to his initial email by explaining that we women are complicated creatures capable of holding more than one thought in our heads. We can love puppies and oppose men who think they should control our bodies.

The reader was unimpressed. “Well,” he wrote, “now you just sound like my wife.”

Well, yes. We’re everywhere.


By: Connie Schlutz, The National Memo, August 8, 2013

August 9, 2013 Posted by | Reproductive Rights, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On The Receiving End Of The Insanity”: August Off To An Awkward Start For The GOP

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) received some unexpected pressure from the far-right this week, when he told constituents he’s strongly opposed to the Affordable Care Act, but he doesn’t want to shut down the government. For his conservative constituents, that’s simply unacceptable — Pittenger’s many votes to repeal “Obamacare” aren’t enough to satisfy the right, which wants GOP lawmakers to go much further.

As it turns out, Pittenger isn’t the only one. Watch on YouTube

In this clip, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) was also pressed by a constituent on whether he’s prepared to vote against any funding bill that includes funding for Obamacare.” As Jonathan Cohn explained:

The question draws strong applause from the audience. Schock says he shares the frustration with Obamacare, calling it “an extremely flawed bill” and supporting repeal. But shutting down the government, Schock goes on to explain, would be an extreme step — one that would have harsh consequences for average Americans. “If you’re going to take a hostage,” Schock says, “you gotta be willing to shoot it.” Another attendee quickly quipped, “kill it.”

As Aviva Shen noted, there was a similar scene in Nebraska at an event hosted by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R). When the congressman said he rejected a Republican plan to trigger a government shutdown, a constituent drew applause by arguing, “[W]e elected Republicans to fight for more conservative policies.”

GOP officials had fairly specific hopes for the August recess. Having conservatives complaining that Republicans aren’t far-right enough on health care wasn’t part of the plan.

Indeed, let’s not forget that the ideal scenario for Republicans was for far-right activists to show up at town-hall meetings and shout at Democrats, about health care and other issues. But as the August recess gets underway, these early reports suggest far-right activists are indeed showing up, and they’re glad to shout about health care, but it’s Republicans who are on the receiving end of their ire.

As we discussed yesterday, this is a mess the GOP created. If Republicans aren’t pleased with the results, they have no one to blame but themselves.

As party officials and strategists ponder their next step, they may also want to keep in mind that the pro-shutdown activists making a fuss at town-hall events aren’t part of the American mainstream. The conservative Washington Examiner had an interesting item yesterday on an important poll.

First, let’s examine a poll conducted June 2-5, several weeks before a small group of congressional Republicans proposed their defund-or-shutdown strategy. The survey, conducted for the Republican nonprofit Crossroads GPS by GOP polling firm North Star Opinion Research, examined voter attitudes toward Obamacare and its implementation.

Not surprisingly, the results were almost uniformly negative for Obama and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act — with the key exception being the response to this question: “Some say that the health care reform law is so bad that an effort to repeal it should be attached to a bill necessary to keep the government running. Do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea for opponents of the health care reform law to risk shutting down the government in an effort to get rid of the law?”

Only 29 percent of respondents said this was a good idea, compared with 64 percent who said it was a bad idea and 7 percent who didn’t know.

Remember, this was a Republican pollster, publishing results intended to be helpful to Republicans.

It leaves the party in quite an awkward situation. After deliberately getting far-right activists all riled up about gutting the federal health care system by any means necessary, many Republicans are now balking at a government shutdown threat, leaving the GOP base feeling betrayed. But if Republicans take the base’s demands seriously, they risk alienating the mainstream, and handing Democrats a cudgel to use against them in the 2014 midterms.

Maybe GOP leaders should have thought this through a little more?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 8, 2013

August 9, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Debunking The Myth”: Doable, Efficient, And Necessary, A Higher Minimum Wage Will Not Reduce Jobs

As fast-food workers strike across the nation, progressives must separate fact from fiction in order to secure a living minimum wage.

Fast-food workers are going on strike from New York to Seattle to demand higher wages, highlighting the never-ending controversy over the consequences of raising the minimum wage. Many news stories seem to suggest that economists have decided a higher minimum wage will cause job loss. However, with more analysis, we undercover the truth: there is no clear link between a higher minimum wage and reduced employment.

John Schmitt, a Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, reported in February 2013 that multiple meta-studies (studies that use statistical techniques to analyze a large number of separate studies) found that for both older and current studies alike, there is no statistical significance in the effect of an increased minimum wage. Put plainly, if the effect is not statistically significant, then there is no proven effect— increases in the minimum wage do not cause job loss.

Accordingly, a few weeks ago, over 100 economists at organizations ranging from the Center for American Progress to Boston University signed a petition in support of increasing the minimum wage. They present current research from well-established organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows there are no negative employment effects from minimum wage increases. This includes the most comprehensive data available, based on the increasingly accurate testing that has occurred as more and more states increase minimum wage levels. Even more importantly, this recent series of studies uses cutting-edge econometric techniques to control for extraneous variables such as economic downturns and geographic effects. When economists do that, they find that minimum wage increases do not reduce employment.

Logically, this makes a lot of sense. A higher minimum wage is a win-win situation economically: Employees have more money to be consumers and are more productive, while businesses wind up reducing costs in the long run, since they won’t have to spend as much money hiring and training new workers (by analyzing data from five separate studies, economists representing the Political Economy Research Institute found that McDonald’s could easily make up for the costs of a higher minimum wage with a mere five-cent price increase on Big Macs). It’s just as Henry Ford realized—when he paid his workers more, they became part of his customer base, making his company even more profitable. Increasing the customer base and expanding customer pockets helps stimulate the entire economy, badly needed in the current recession.

So if we have no evidence linking high wages to job loss, our next question is: Are higher wages needed as a poverty reduction tool?

Currently, the 2013 federal poverty guidelines stipulate $23,550 for a family of four as poverty level. A $7.25 minimum wage currently nets the protesting fast-food workers $15,080 a year if the workers are lucky enough to work 40 hours a week. In a typical household with two parents and two children, parents who make $7.25 an hour earn far below the living wage of $13.55, according to an MIT wage calculator. The numbers become even starker when you separate out true living expenses: food, medical care, housing, transportation, and other needed expenses add up to a required $37,540 annual income before taxes, which is notably different from the poverty guidelines that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services set. Even if the two parents worked 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, they would only earn $30,160 in total, significantly below the resources they need to live. Moreover, these estimates are only for a typical nuclear family. The struggle that single-income families, large families, or families living in high-cost cities go through is exponentially higher.

The buying power of the minimum wage has steadily been waning due to the effects of inflation for the past 40 years. When prices increase, a worker’s paycheck buys less and less. To put it in perspective, we look to another brief by John Schmitt: If minimum wage had continued to match productivity growth, it would have been $21.72 per hour in 2012. If we only adjust for the cost of living, a minimum wage pegged to inflation would be $10.52.

A huge bulk of evidence makes the case that increasing the minimum wage is a doable, efficient, and necessary change for the economy. This change needs to happen now. We as Americans have a moral obligation to make sure that other Americans who are working hard to support themselves and their families are able to make a living.


By: Emily Chong, The National Memo, August 8, 2013

August 9, 2013 Posted by | Jobs, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: