a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Issue #100 (June 1, 2011)

Entering Yosemite

Photo by Don Fausett

The New York Times Rages On
by Joe Carducci

It was a good week for the good fight in alas the paper of record. These days the good fight seems to entail rejecting success on issues once thought important so as to repair the battle-lines that allow for a clear dramatization of the “profound” distance between oneself and class enemies. There was Michael Powell on Tuesday defending Gotham from Cuomo Jr.’s No new taxes vow -- needs doing or upstate might resume polluting the environment. Best keep them unemployed, its just that you wonder how the Times expects the state can keep floating the unemployed when they continue to argue against the interests of Wall Street, whose taxes have been increasingly what the state of New York counts on to sustain their high-tax no-growth policies. Picking up on Powell’s reporting, the lead editorial Thursday was titled, “Reject the Tax Cap”. The Times editorial board is simply agog at this idea because they thought it was clear to everyone that all California’s dysfunction stems from the “ravaging” that Howard Jarvis’s Prop 13 continues to perform with impunity on a California whose legislature barely has two nickels to scrape together. Perhaps its that the Times is in a sunset industry that they secretly wish to drag the city, state, and country down with them so they won’t be lonely in the grave.

Speaking of the grave, the Times was especially kooky about medicine last week. An unsigned editorial, "Running on Medicare the Right Way", repeats Joe Nocera’s column’s advice to Democrats “Don’t Scorn Paul Ryan”, which is part of the Times routine where they seem to imply that the Democrats should all take the high road and leave the low road to them. Under this Medicare advice is an Editorial that berates Republican fundraising with a direct reference to Nixon’s fundraising and an indirect reffing of… (ring the bell) Nazis. Like Hollywood the Times knows that to sell the shuck its all about the reaction shot: Paul Ryan -- Frightening! Profound horror! Bull Connors' Amerika! But the Times no longer trusts Democrats to act the part so they hope to cut in. Somehow the Dems don’t trust the Times either, or maybe they remember that Nixon won twice after learning how from Kennedy. Nocera at least places Ryan with his mentor Jack Kemp (Buffalo again), someone whose name should be pronounced now and again in the current blame-games. Nocera admits to never having been “won over” by Kemp’s enthusiasms but he doesn’t seem to remember Kemp’s real crime, for which in Republican terms, the Tea Party finally threatens justice. It was Kemp’s advice to his party to not get hung up on a green eyeshade penny-pinching deficit-obsession, but rather to focus on growth. Kemp was sure revenue growth could outrun spending growth. (He did too wear a helmet in the NFL!) Though he was right one could lose elections being a Scrooge or a Grinch, one could also lose the race against Democratic spending which is always designed to repeat the Social Security magic which turned even Jim Crow-era southern blacks into Democrats. Anyway, Kemp found his party receptive since they didn’t want to be the bad guy and hell, there seemed money enough. It isn’t so much that Paul Ryan, Ron Paul and others want to do the heavy lifting and be trashed for all time in the newspaper of record. But the Times obviously does not believe there is any crisis that Republican greed won’t pull us out of. Their Oscar-winning economist Paul Krugman believes the stimulus was half-sized and so wasted. He admits he paid no attention to politics until George W. Bush offended him. This late awakening allows him zero doubt on conventional political wisdom: he simply asks Adam Nagourney or Wikipedia. Krugman’s column Monday, "Against Learned Helplessness", asks in all serious obliviousness why we can’t just solve unemployment like FDR did with “W.P.A.-type programs putting the unemployed to work doing useful things like repairing roads….” You have to be a genius to not understand that all that FDR jazz did not fix the Depression, but did require our entry into WWII, at least as far as Roosevelt was concerned, Pearl Harbor or no Pearl Harbor. Not that Roosevelt should have offered himself as a candidate for a third term anyway. And I guess Adam didn’t know that either; I’ll have to check see about Wikipedia. In any case the war distracted posterity (that's us) from the failure of all that economic malaise thru the thirties until the war and its command economy "solved" growth and employment issues. Krugman may believe that our war in Iraq wasn't half big enough either and perhaps will recommend declaring war on the BRICs. That ought to gun the economies jets like FDR taught us.

Below in my Hitchens addendum, I mention some of the revisionism going on about Wilson and WWI and Roosevelt and WWII. I would bracket Wilson and WWI with Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish-American War, as a new elite in the country that was dying to meet the European Imperial powers in their playgrounds with our own moralized interventionism. FDR was doing something different, building a new class whose fate would be tied to the federal government and could be counted on to vote Democratic henceforth. Today the world has recovered from WWII and the federal state designed for war-time command economy cannot trim itself. We are running down the blind alley FDR put us in; we remember Eisenhower warned of the Military-Industrial complex but we forget who ordered it up. The Democrats can finally cut defense spending with the help of Tea Party-types if they’ll accept it. But they will find this buys the entitlement programs they are defending very little time. “The stone wall of Republican opposition,” as Krugman characterizes it may one day dissolve as the party gets out of the way as these programs freefall to their vanishing points.

On Friday in the NYT, Nixon-scholar Rick Perlstein comes out of the closet as an HHH junkie. He pines for an America that “turned out less Reaganite and more Humphreyish.” That would have hastened this current crisis quite abit, maybe to the point of saving the East Bloc from the ravages of Reaganite capitalism. Sounds Humphreyish to me alright.

This week the NYT also weighed in against (drumroll…) States’ Rights, and crucifixion on crosses of either gold or silver, but my favorite gambits were reprises of that Krugman willful naivete, though the Times itself admits no temporal limitation to its own political awareness. Still, building on Krugman’s blindspot regarding who it was turned Patients into Consumers, which ran in April, Gardiner Harris who is a healthcare beat reporter coughs up "As Physicians’ Jobs Change, So Do Their Politics". To quote my GP brother, “No shit, Sherlock!” If one remembers the long ago problems of Soviet medicine one will hear echoes if not ringing bells in Harris’s wonderment. Doctors are becoming salaried employees, maybe soon wage labor, and female wage labor at that. And what follows from this is the Harris marveling that “Doctors” are becoming liberals, practicing medicine as if in a kind of domestic Peace Corp. Don’t tell me, they don’t even own a set of golf clubs!

On Sunday the Times lends space to a couple of these non-practicing Doctors, now apparats deep within the federal healthcare superstructure, Peter Bach and Robert Kocher, who offer "Why Medical School Should Be Free". That’ll be worth every penny, if I might hazard a prediction. Will these classes be conducted in excess storage rooms at Departments of Motor Vehicles? Finally I’ll end on another example of how these Times folks seem to be able to marshal up just the amount of blindness necessary to offer cures for problems that resulted from the last time their cure was tried. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’ve heard Shima Baradaran’s reasoning behind her column, "The Right Way to Shrink Prisons", decades ago. Does she know where such an insane idea as “three strikes you’re out” comes from? It comes from back in the olden days of California radical chic when judges and lawyers and even prosecutors and D.A.s proved they couldn’t be trusted with public safety. I guess you know we’re running out of money when the Chairwoman of the American Bar Association Pretrial Release Task Force no longer argues on moral grounds but tries to sell it as a money-saver.


Hitchens addenda: "NYT Letters - ‘To End All Wars’"
by Joe Carducci

I should’ve tied Christopher Hitchens’ book review from the Sunday section two weeks back into my short bit last week where I sketched in how he washed up on our shores and what that done to him over the years. He gave up on socialism finally, though his transit two years into Thatcher’s first term must have had a lot to do with it. I know from following Brit punk while at Systematic until late 1981 that the little lady sent punk politics around the bend -- gave it a right good lobotomy so-to-speak, she did. It’s likely she did much the same to those significantly up the UK politi-cultural food chain from, say, Crass or Stiff Little Fingers. So quitting Britain in 1982 was probably a sign of inevitably resigning from his particular splinter of the movement, though he likely couldn’t bear to watch. He did finally admit it a couple years ago in answer to Brian Lamb’s consistent wrap-up question every time he appeared on C-SPAN to talk about a new book, Are you still a socialist? Answer finally, No. In last week’s NV bit on Hitchens’ review of a Rosa Luxemburg volume I thought I espied some sentimental attachment to his former non-metaphysical would-be materialist belief system.

Though I did link and excerpt his book review two weeks back, the letters that showed up in last Sunday’s NYTBReview trying to stamp out every last “what-if” “fantasy” insinuation on Christopher Hitchens’ part that Woodrow Wilson should have kept America out of WWI, reminded me of my omission -- I don’t spend near-enough time on this weekly dashed-off cybermulch. These letters are from typical double-dome also-rans from an Alabama University and a Pittsburgh book review -- Sorry Christopher, it’s the best the Times could rustle up that particular Sunday. Hitchens figured without Americans the French were in no position to impose the punitive peace that triggered that little after-skirmish we call the Second World War. There is nothing fantastic about this, of course. Any better terms for Germany would’ve dropped the Hitler vote below his plurality, if he even runs. Perhaps the peace is so improved the bastard even sells a coupla lebensraum landscapes and calls it even -- never even throws his hat in the ring.

Also of interest regarding last week’s line of inquiry is that Hitchens doesn’t mention that these revisionist questions, which Times readers require not be asked (while they interrogate any conventional historical answers with such bravado), were spelled out most clearly recently by Pat Buchanan in his book, A Republic, Not An Empire, which also further speculates that the Tsar of Russia himself may have hung on and spared us the Cold War as well. That’s a bridge too far for an ex-Trotskyite understandably, but the principle is the same and this has now been adapted by the American Right in its libertarian molting of the Policeman-of-the-World role. For Buchanan only the Cold War required that burden, but that’s old news and its unclear where Ron Paul stands on WWI, WWII, or the Cold War. Judging by the letters in the Times Book Review, perhaps they shouldn’t ask him.

Medicine Bow Range, Wyoming

Photos by Joe Carducci

Cossypha Heinrichi by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

James Mackintosh in FT, "The Short View".

“It sounds dotty to suggest the US is at imminent risk of default. A country that has rarely been able to borrow so cheaply, that issues debt in its own currency and has just demonstrated that it can print as much money as it likes need never miss a coupon payment. Yet in the past fortnight traders have come to the conclusion that the US might breach its own constitutional clause that its debt ‘shall not be questioned’. According to Markit, the cost of one-year US credit default swaps, which insure against default, almost tripled in six trading days. According to this -- far from perfect -- measure, the US is now more likely to default than Indonesia or Slovenia in the next 12 months.”


Clive Crook in FT, "The absurdist comedy of US labour laws".

“What makes this so jarring is that in most ways, the US is the quintessentially modern economy: hyper-competitive, perpetually restless, moving the frontier of innovation and productivity ever onward. But here and there are pockets of class-war backwardness that come straight from pre-Thatcher British industrial relations circa 1970. Strangest of all is that the Obama administration apparently sees this as a strength on which to build. If officials have their way, ‘Winning the Future’ -- Mr Obama’s theme of the moment -- will include a larger role for labour policies that looked out of date in Britain 40 years ago. In two weeks, an administrative law judge is scheduled to hear a complaint by the National Labor Relations Board, an arm of the federal government, against Boeing. The aircraft manufacturer has hired workers and invested $1bn in a new factory in South Carolina: it planned to start production of its Dreamliner jet there in July. The NLRB’s acting general counsel says the investment is an act of illegal retaliation against the machinists’ union, and wants the work moved to unionized plants in the state of Washington…. A cynic would suspect a plot by Republican infiltrators to discredit the NLRB, undermine responsible unions and expose Mr Obama and his mid-20th century prejudices to ridicule.”


David Rubinstein in Weekly Standard, "Fat City".

“After 34 years of teaching sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I recently retired at age 64 at 80 percent of my pay for life. This calculation was based on a salary spiked by summer teaching, and since I no longer pay into the retirement fund, I now receive significantly more than when I ‘worked,’ But that’s not all: There’s a generous health insurance plan, a guaranteed 3 percent annual cost of living increase, and a few other perquisites. Having over invested in my retirement annuity, I received a fat refund and -- when it rains, it pours -- another for unused sick leave. I was also offered the opportunity to teach as an emeritus for three years, receiving $8,000 per course, double the pay for adjuncts, which works out to over $200 an hour. Another going-away present was summer pay, one ninth of my salary, with no teaching obligation. I haven’t done the math but I suspect that, given a normal life span, these benefits nearly doubled my salary. And in Illinois these benefits are constitutionally guaranteed, up there with freedom of religion and speech. Why do I put ‘worked’ in quotation marks? Because my main task as a university professor was self-cultivation: reading and writing about topics that interested me. Maybe this counts as work. But here I am today -- like many of my retired colleagues -- doing pretty much what I have done since the day I began graduate school, albeit with less intensity.”


Bret Stephens in WSJ, "The Mexican Paradox".

“Then there is the numbing regularity with which news of drug-related atrocities dominates the international media's coverage of Mexico. The decapitation of 27 Guatemalan farm hands by the Zetas gang two weeks ago. The 146 corpses discovered in April in mass graves in the state of Durango. The hanging in March of five victims from bridges in the resort town of Mazatlan…. And on, and on, and on. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to Mexico becoming another failed state. To wit, the ‘failed state’ boomed. In 2010, a year when there were more than 15,000 drug-related killings (up by nearly 60% from the year before), the economy grew by 5.5% — the fastest rate in a decade. The Mexican peso appreciated against the dollar. Inflation was essentially flat. Foreign reserves rose to $113 billion. Twenty-two million tourists visited the country. Trade with the U.S. reached an all-time high of nearly $400 billion. In Ciudad Juárez, where 3,000 people were killed last year, the maquiladora industries added some 20,000 jobs. The percentage of the population living below the poverty line declined to 47.4% in 2008 (the last year for which the World Bank has data) from 63.7% a decade earlier. Literacy rates surpassed 90%. Life expectancy continues to rise to near-First World levels. In the U.S., sociologists are puzzling over the paradox of falling crime rates in an era of high unemployment and economic uncertainty. The Mexican paradox appears to be the reverse.”


Christopher Caldwell in Weekly Standard, "Oui, the People".

“Strauss-Khan’s departure from the IMF comes a the worst possible time for Europe. The director’s position has traditionally gone to a European, just as the job of heading the World Bank has gone to an American. In fact, in 39 of the years since the IMF was founded in 1946, its director has been a Frenchman. In recent years, the job has involved imposing ‘structural adjustment programs‘ on debtor countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia to ensure that they pay back Western banks. But today the deadbeats are in Europe and North America, and the countries of the old Third World -- from Mexico to South Africa to Singapore -- are putting forward their own credible candidates for the top IMF job. Europe may soon find itself taking orders from those it used to lecture.”


Peter Spiegel in FT, "European integration is unravelling".

“The question Europe must answer is whether this is a temporary flareup or a fundamental shift in the way politics is played. In the US, similar populist demands from the Tea Party have led to an overhaul of the Republican agenda and reshaped the party’s presidential race. Thus far, Europe has responded much more slowly. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, last month called on national governments to resist ‘populist temptation’ and sidestep demands of anti-European voices. Yet it may be neither wise nor possible to marginalise these groups. The Netherlands, which has tussled with an increasingly mainstream anti-globalisation camp since the assassination of populist leader Pim Fortuyn nearly a decade ago, illustrates the dangers of ignoring the growing chorus. The Netherlands has served as the California of Europe, setting trends for the continent from the Enlightenment ideas of Baruch Spinoza to global trade spurred by 17th century Dutch maritime power, and the tolerance and opennesss symbolized by Amsterdam’s coffee shops and red-light district.”


Ariel Levy in NYer, "Basta Bunga Bunga".

“Ferrara is a mountain of a man who chain-smokes Camel cigarettes and drinks espresso like water. When I met him at his office, at Il Foglio, the conservative newspaper he edits, he sat at a desk behind a heap of books that seemed on the verge of collapsing on three dachshunds who lay at his feet. ‘In your country, the neo-puritans are on the right,’ Ferrara said. ‘In our country, they are on the left.’ Their agenda, he says, is to purge Italy of a certain crucial aspect of its Italianness. ‘They hate l’Italia alle vongole,’ he said: the rustic, messy, slippery Italy, akin to the classic pasta with clam sauce, which Berlusconi represents, in all his wily hedonism. Ferrara admits that Berlusconi made ‘a grotesque mistake’ with Ruby, ‘when he called the police because one of his favorite girlfriends was arrested.’ He explained, ‘A real power man has forty people in his chain of command. Berlusconi’s not a professional politician, so he called himself. He thinks like a sultan: you are a member of my harem, so I protect you. This is the classic call that a Milanese industrialist would make.’ But, Ferrara said, ‘to change this to an accusation that he runs a prostitution ring is monstrous.’ He suggested that the prosecutors were being as crafty as their target. ‘It’s tricks against tricks,’ he said. ‘It’s a war of tricks.’ Berlusconi’s supporters emphasize that the Prime Minister is somehow something other than a ‘politician’ (one of the most hurtful insults in Italian politics). The corrupt officials who were ousted in the Clean Hands trials presented themselves as upstanding, chaste, and refined. Berlusconi, at least, has not remade himself as well behaved. ‘He comes from the business world,’ Deborah Bergamini, Berlusconi’s former personal assistant, told me. ‘His mechanisms are not those of a consummate politician.’”


Joshua Chaffin in FT, "Europe poised to rely on natural gas".

“Natural gas is likely to become the energy source of choice after moves by Germany and some other European nations to turn their backs on nuclear power…. Poland and other European states are also pushing to use hydraulic facturing techniques to access shale gas deposits trapped in rock, despite environmental concerns. Gas accounts for 23 per cent of European Union power generation, compared with 28 per cent for nuclear and 19 per cent for renewable sources of power, such as wind and solar.”


Alexei Barrionuevo in NYT, "China’s Farming Pursuits Make Brazil Uneasy".

“Yet some experts say the partnership has devolved into a classic neo-colonial relationship in which China has the upper hand. Nearly 84 percent of Brazil’s exports to China last year were raw materials, up from 68 percent in 2000. But about 98 percent of China’s exports to Brazil are manufactured products — including the latest, low-priced cars for Brazil’s emerging middle class — that are beating down Brazil’s industrial sector. ‘The relationship has been very unbalanced,’ said Rubens Ricupero, a former Brazilian diplomat and finance minister. ‘There has been a clear lack of strategy on the Brazilian side.’ While visiting China last month, Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, emphasized the need to sell higher-value products to China, and she has edged closer to the United States. ‘It is not by accident that there is a sort of effort to revalue the relationship with the United States,’ said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. ‘China exposes Brazil’s vulnerabilities more than any other country in the world.’ China’s moves to buy land have made officials nervous. Last August, Luís Inácio Adams, Brazil’s attorney general, reinterpreted a 1971 law, making it significantly harder for foreigners to buy land in Brazil.”


Ben Bland in FT, "South China Sea dispute flares".

“PetroVietnam, the state-owned oil and gas monopoly, said on Sunday that Chinese patrol boats had approached one of its vessels on Thursday and had deliberately cut an exploration cable, which had been submerged 30 meters below the surface to protect it from oncoming ships. The company said China routinely sabotaged Vietnamese oil exploration vessels. ‘When we conduct seismic survey and drilling operations, they have aeroplanes flying over to survey our activities, they harass us with their vessels, and in extreme cases they cut our [exploration] cables,’ said Do Van Hau, a senior Petro-Vietnam official. The enterprise is working with a number of large international oil companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, to explore and develop oil and gas assets in South China Sea waters claimed by Vietnam.”


Wai Moe in The Irrawaddy, "Thein Sein Tackles Chinese Navy Issue".

“According to official sources in Naypyidaw, Chinese officials have repeatedly raised the issue of mobilizing its naval forces in Burmese territorial waters in recent months amid the superpower's increasing interests in the country, most notably the Sino-Burmese oil and gas pipelines, and the Chinese navy's activities in the Indian Ocean, particularly patrolling against Somali pirates. ‘Chinese officials are not suggesting a Chinese navy base in Burma, but having the permission to dock their warships at Burma's ports while they are patrolling the Indian Ocean and Somalia,’ said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘The issue is still under discussion.’ However, Burmese military sources have said they believe that China is more concerned about protecting the strategic port of Kyaukpyu, a multi-billion project that Beijing financed. After the pipelines are finished in 2013, they are expected to have the capacity to transfer to Yunnan Province more than 80 percent of China’s imported oil from the Middle East and Africa, as well as Chinese-purchased natural gas from Burma's Shwe Gas Field.”


Jamil Anderlini in FT, "Hit-and-run sparks rare show of Mongolian defiance against China".

“Unlike Tibetans and Uighurs, who rioted en masse in 2008 and 2009 respectively, Mongolians rarely express dissent towards Chinese rule. In recent weeks, authorities have detained hundreds of Tibetan monks and killed two protesters in Western Sichuan province, according to human rights groups. An official government account said the herder, named Mergen, was run over and dragged for 145 meters after organizing herders to block coal trucks they alleged were destroying grasslands and threatening their livelihoods. Inner Mongolia, which Mongolians nationalists and dissidents refer to as Southern Mongolia, is governed as a Chinese ‘autonomous region’.”


Brian Spegele in WSJ, "China Makes Effort to Cool Unrest in Inner Mongolia".

“Hundreds of People's Armed Police in camouflage uniform stood at attention at five-meter intervals around the perimeter of Xinhua Square. Hundreds more riot police dressed in black patrolled the square. Police buses with tinted windows waited nearby. More than a hundred police in armored personnel carriers and many clad in riot gear waited outside the main entrance of Inner Mongolia Nationality University Monday night. Non-students were prevented from entering the campus, where many ethnic Mongolians students study, and cellphone data communication was cut off.”


Kathrin Hille in FT, "Maoist revival sees ‘red wash’ splashed over Chongqing".

“Every traveller who gets off a train in Chongqing is greeted by the sign ‘Sing red songs, read classics, tell stories, spread mottos!’ Under this slogan, which reappears all over the city, Mr Bo has brought old-fashioned Communist party propaganda back into people’s everyday lives. Commercials on the municipal television network have been replaced by films and soap operas about Communist party history and propaganda. At state-owned enterprises, government departments and schools, staff and students must sing ‘red songs’, praising the party. Even prisoners are required to sing the songs and study communist classics, and their progress is noted.”


Rahul Jacob & Lydia Guo in FT, "Far from home and lonely".

“Ms Sun is not a celebrity motivational speaker, nor has her audience paid large sums to listen to her. She is one of a growing band of psychiatrists and psychotherapists who work with big factories in southern China to help their young migrant workforce cope with the stresses of work -- and growing up. In part, the move is aimed at increasing employee retention. Earlier this year, Stephen Green, an economist for Standard Chartered wrote a report entitled ‘Wanted: 25m workers,’ which argued that labour productivity would be critical in China at a time when job creation is outpacing new entrants to the workforce. The focus on the well-being of workers is also a response to a wave of suicides last year at the huge factory of Foxconn, the behemoth contract manufacturer of Apple’s iPhones and other consumer electronics products.”


Douglas Johnson in NYT, "Sudan’s Peaceful Partition, at Risk".

“Carrots haven’t worked. Washington will need to wield sticks, such as canceling debt relief talks or suspending normalization of diplomatic relations, if Sudan does not withdraw its forces quickly. But ultimately, Washington has limited leverage over the Sudanese government, having reduced both its diplomatic and economic ties during the civil war. The key player will be China. Beijing has considerable economic and political clout in Khartoum; at the same time, it is trying to build good relations with the Southern leadership in Juba. The occupation of Abyei is threatening Chinese oil operations along the border and inside South Sudan. The Chinese Foreign Ministry recently urged the two sides ‘to adhere to peace and restrain themselves’ by fulfilling the provisions of the peace agreement. This may sound like anodyne diplomatic jargon, but it is a sharp break from China’s usual silence about the domestic behavior of the Sudanese regime, and a departure from the support it gave Sudan in 2008 after the International Criminal Court indicted Mr. Bashir on genocide charges. This presents a rare opportunity for the United States and China to work together in pushing for a resolution in Abyei before the South formally declares independence on July 9.”


David Pilling in FT, "China’s master class in schmoozing Pakistan".

“Whatever the Chinese equivalent is of Kool-Aid, Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, appears to have been drinking it. During his recent state visit to Beijing, from where he returned with a promise of 50 fighter jets, he lavished praise on China. ‘We are like one nation and two countires,’ he said, comparing Pakistan’s ‘Islamic socialism’ to the thoughts of Mao Zedong. China, he enthused, ‘was the only voice of reason in international affairs’. Pakistan likes to call China an ‘all-weather friend’. The implication is clear: the US is a fair-weather one. Many Pakistanis have never forgiven the US for abandoning it after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1989.”


Michael Wines in NYT, "Pakistan And China: 2 Friends Hit a Bump".

“Pakistan’s defense minister, Ahmad Mukhtar, who accompanied Mr. Gilani on the state visit, announced the deal after Mr. Gilani returned home on Saturday. ‘We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,’ a deepwater port on Pakistan’s southwest coast, he told journalists. Moreover, he said, Pakistan had invited China to assume management of the port’s commercial operations, now run by a Singapore firm under a multidecade contract. On Tuesday, however, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, disagreed, saying the port had neither been offered nor accepted. ‘China and Pakistan are friendly neighbors,’ she said at the ministry’s twice-weekly news conference. ‘Regarding the specific China-Pakistan cooperative project that you raised, I have not heard of it. It’s my understanding that during the visit last week this issue was not touched upon.’ Some analysts were at a loss to explain the discrepancy.”


Matthew Rosenberg & Owais Tohid in WSJ, "Taliban Say They Won’t Hit Nuclear Arsenal".

“A larger assault earlier this week by the Pakistan Taliban on a naval base renewed fears that Pakistan's sizable nuclear arsenal could be vulnerable. The Taliban's spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, dismissed those concerns Wednesday as America's ‘excuse’ to pressure Pakistan's government into fighting the Taliban, who he portrayed as the country's true protectors. ‘Pakistan is the only Muslim nuclear-power state,’ Mr. Ehsan said in a telephone interview, adding that the Taliban had no intention of changing that fact. The Taliban, after all, aim to take over Pakistan and its weapons. He then mocked Pakistan's willingness to work with the U.S., saying, ‘isn't it a shame for us to have the Islamic bomb, and even then we are bowing down to the pressures of America?’”


James Hookway in WSJ, "Fugitive’s Sister Leads Thai Polls".

“Telegenic and, at 43 years old, relatively youthful, Ms. Yingluck draws crowds of thousands of people wherever she goes, many of them lured in as much by the glamour of the Shinawatra name and her glossy image as the free-spending populist policies that propelled her brother, Mr. Thaksin, to power a decade ago. She also would be Thailand's first female prime minister. Mr. Thaksin can't run in Thailand's July 3 ballot himself. He's flitting from country to country to avoid arrest on terrorism charges after the bloody collapse of antigovernment street protests in the center of Bangkok last year. Mr. Thaksin was also convicted of corruption in 2008. He denies both charges, describing them as a conspiracy to finish him off after the military coup that ousted him from power five years ago. But enlisting Ms. Yingluck as what he describes as his ‘clone’ seems to be a masterstroke, analysts say.”


Economist: "The world’s most dangerous border".

“Pakistan’s obsession with India has damaged it in three ways. First, it has given its generals too much power. Pakistan’s army, at 550,000 men, is too small to match India’s 1.1m, but too big for Pakistan. The armed forces eat up 16% of the government’s budget, whereas education gets 1.2%. Because the armed forces are powerful, the government is weak; and the soldiers’ frequent interventions in Pakistani politics exacerbate this imbalance and undermine democracy. Second, it has shaped Pakistan’s dealings in Afghanistan. In the 1990s Pakistan helped create the Taliban partly in order to undermine India’s allies in northern Afghanistan. Although it signed up to fight the Taliban after September 11th 2001, Pakistan has continued to protect some of the Taliban in order to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan. Third, it has led Pakistan to foster Islamist terrorism — especially the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Punjab-based outfit whose purpose is to attack India.”


James Lamont in FT, "India must tread carefully in Africa".

“An Indian diaspora is deeply rooted in east and southern Africa. Traders have plied the Indian Ocean for centuries. India, as one of the first colonies to win independence from Britain, gave inspiration to the ambitions of countless African liberation movements and leadership as the world‘s largest democracy within the Non-Aligned Movement. Today, Indian Railways runs the networks of close to a dozen African countries as part of bilateral technical and aid support that predates China’s recent engagement. Yet it has taken Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, and his predecessors in New Delhi a long time to join the dots and come up with a state-led initiative to raise the profile of India in Africa.”


David Gelles in FT, "Basketball aims for slam dunk in India".

“International income makes up 10 per cent of the NBA’s revenues, thanks in large part to its 20-year push in China, where it has become a cultural fixture, and a lucrative business, with sales of jerseys, broadcast rights and the development of sports arenas. While basketball’s popularity in China was aided by the success of Yao Ming, the 7ft 6ins (2.29 meters) player for the Houston Rockets, no Indian national has played in the NBA.”


WSJ: "Saudi Bid to Curb Iran Worries US".

“Saudi Arabia's efforts, though against a common enemy, signal increasing friction with the Obama administration. Its invitation to Pakistan in particular could complicate U.S. security goals in South Asia. The push also complicates U.S. efforts to guide popular uprisings in the Middle East toward a peaceful and democratic conclusion. The chief of the Saudi National Security Council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan al Saud, asked Pakistan's powerful generals in March to lend support for the operation in Bahrain, according to Pakistani, U.S. and Saudi officials briefed on the meetings. Bahraini soldiers with a portrait of Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on an armored personnel carrier at a checkpoint in Manama. Prince Bandar — who was the Saudi ambassador to Washington for more than two decades — told the Pakistani generals that the U.S. shouldn't be counted on to restore stability across the Middle East or protect Pakistan's interests in South Asia, these officials say.”


Anthony Shadid in NYT, "Can Turkey Unify the Arabs?"

“‘The normalization of history,’ proclaims the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, whose government has tried to reintegrate the region by lifting visa requirements and promoting a Middle Eastern trade zone, as it deploys its businessmen along the old routes and exports Turkey’s pop culture to an eager audience. ‘None of the borders of Turkey are natural,’ he went on. ‘Almost all of them are artificial. Of course we have to respect them as nation-states, but at the same time we have to understand that there are natural continuities. That’s the way it’s been for centuries.’ There is admittedly a hint of romanticism in it all. The Arab world may in fact be bracing for years of sectarian and internecine strife in places like Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. And in seeking to be a more prominent, and steadying, influence, Turkey’s ambitions may well be greater than its means. Still, economic realities are already restoring old trajectories that joined the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq, tied Batumi in Georgia to Trabzon in Turkey, and knit Aleppo into an axis of cities — Mosul, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep and Iskenderun — in which Damascus, the leading but distant Arab metropole, was an afterthought.”


Timur Kuran in NYT, "The Weak Foundations of Arab Democracy".

“The preconditions for democracy are lacking in the Arab world partly because Hosni Mubarak and other Arab dictators spent the past half-century emasculating the news media, suppressing intellectual inquiry, restricting artistic expression, banning political parties, and co-opting regional, ethnic and religious organizations to silence dissenting voices. But the handicaps of Arab civil society also have historical causes that transcend the policies of modern rulers. Until the establishment of colonial regimes in the late 19th century, Arab societies were ruled under Shariah law, which essentially precludes autonomous and self-governing private organizations. Thus, while Western Europe was making its tortuous transition from arbitrary rule by monarchs to democratic rule of law, the Middle East retained authoritarian political structures. Such a political environment prevented democratic institutions from taking root and ultimately facilitated the rise of modern Arab dictatorships. Strikingly, Shariah lacks the concept of the corporation, a perpetual and self-governing organization that can be used either for profit-making purposes or to provide social services. Islam’s alternative to the nonprofit corporation was the waqf, a trust established in accordance with Shariah to deliver specified services forever, through trustees bound by essentially fixed instructions. Until modern times, schools, charities and places of worship, all organized as corporations in Western Europe, were set up as waqfs in the Middle East. A corporation can adjust to changing conditions and participate in politics. A waqf can do neither. Thus, in premodern Europe, politically vocal churches, universities, professional associations and municipalities provided counterweights to monarchs. In the Middle East, apolitical waqfs did not foster social movements or ideologies.”


Qantara.de: "Draft of an Islamic Anthropology".

“The idea of the human being as an individual personality bears the deep stamp of the Christian religion and European culture. For Muslims, this way of thinking is not a matter of course. Moroccan philosopher Mohamed Aziz Lahbabi interpreted the concept of the person from the perspective of Islamic sources, generating a dialogue between the Muslim image of man and that of Western anthropologies.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Veiled talk of American imperialism".

“Out of that same mix of Saudi money and Brotherhood networks and doctrine grew the major Muslim organisations in the US -- the Muslim Student Association and the Islamic Society of North America in the 1960s, the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the 1990s. The second half of the book describes how Islamist groups, particularly Isna, evolved after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. ‘Whereas once working on this subject had meant burying myself in libraries and reading obscure articles, now I followed the most significant events and publications on the topic by following the news,’ Ahmed writes. It shows. The Egyptian chapters draw on the accounts of historians and sociologists. The American ones recount a bunch of five- and six-year-old political squabbles. The veil drifts out of view almost completely. Ahmed has a political axe to grind. She believes the theme of the ‘oppression of women in Islam’ -- always in quotation marks -- serves an ideology, and that that ideology is imperialism.”


Raymond Ibrahim at MEforum.org, "Islamists Project Islam’s Worst Traits onto Christians".

“Much of the recent violence inflicted upon them is based on the constant — but baseless — accusation that the Coptic Church is abducting and tormenting Coptic women who convert to Islam. Amazingly, it is precisely the opposite scenario — Muslims kidnapping Christian women and forcing them to convert to Islam — that is a notorious phenomenon in Egypt. Indeed, a bipartisan group of eighteen members of the U.S. Congress wrote last year to Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, director of the State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office, documenting how Coptic females are increasingly subject to ‘fraud, physical and sexual violence, captivity, forced marriage, and exploitation in forced domestic servitude or commercial sexual exploitation, and financial benefit to the individuals who secure the forced conversion’”.


Lunch with the FT: "Francis Fukuyama".

“What explains the west’s primacy over the past two centuries? Was that an accident of relatively recent history, as revisionist historians argue, or did it reflect longer-term advantages? He is in the latter, more traditional school. ‘The invention of the scientific method, its institutionalisation in universities, the creation of an ongoing system for exploring nature and then commercializing the results of those things. It‘s an intersection of ideas and social institutions that gels in Europe, sometime in the 17th and 18th centuries.’ So, I ask, now that China is catching up so fast, is it also going to contribute proportionately to the global stock of innovation? ‘This gets into the realm of ideas much more than is in my book. But one thing that’s always struck me is that there is no high level of abstraction in the Chinese religion or Chinese thought. The idea that there are hidden forces, which are universal, like gravity, which apply throughout the universe, is very western. Chinese religion is particularistic. And I think to this day, if you think about high-level theory, it‘s still not coming from Asia.’”


Bryan Appleyard in Sunday Times, "A real eye-opener: Adam Curtis".

“The link with Tansley was that the idea of the ecosystem echoed the idea of the global mechanized markets. It also threatened our existence as active, involved individuals by turning us into mere nodes in a network. We would have no power over this network, we would merely have to be its janitors, ensuring its efficiency and stability. Yet this politically quietist view leads to the cult of managerialism, the dominant and -- Curtis and I agree -- probably most pernicious ideology of our time. Tansley‘s ecosystem was later reinforced by Richard Dawkins‘s idea of the selfish gene. People took this to means, not quite fairly to Dawkins, that we are helpless robots, manipulated by the replicating demands of our genes. There are many more startling links in this series. One draws in the hippies, a not-as-harmless-as-it-seems tribe that has always enraged Curtis. Everybody thinks of the hippies as mild-mannered, sandal-wearing lefties. To Curtis, they were the precursors of the libertarian, Randian hard right, machine-minded managerialists who now run the world. The hppies credated the dangerous cult of the self, isolated from society. "‘All Watched Over’" traces the history of thousands of communes formed int ehth 1960s and 1970s in the belief that stable, equal communities would magically emerge.”


Chris Kraus at LA Review of Books on Palle Yourgrau’s book, Simone Weil.

“Attending the elite École Normale as one of its first three female students, she was a philosopher by vocation, but apart from her lycée professorships, she did nothing to advance her intellectual reputation. She was far too absorbed in developing her ideas — a project, she believed, that could only be pursued experientially. Traveling to Germany in the early 1930s, she warned French leftist colleagues of fascism’s deep and dangerous appeal. She organized the unemployed, taught Worker’s Education, debated ideology with Leon Trotsky and, at age 25, took a year’s leave from her lycée professorship to work in a factory. Doubtful of the French left’s ability to reach, much less represent, workers’ experience, she wanted to know for herself what it means to be dispossessed. Throughout that year Weil suffered from headaches, didn’t eat and recoiled from scoldings, learning first-hand the existential state of Malheur…. Two years later, volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War, Weil observed the narcotic effects of power and violence. Exhausted and disillusioned, she traveled through Italy in search of beauty. Alone in a small chapel, she found herself overwhelmed by ‘something stronger than I was [that] compelled me for the first time to go down on my knees.’ Her subsequent work was informed by a yearning towards God, i.e, a supernatural, absolute Good that can be approached only through selfless attention, a detachment borne of humiliation…. ‘Affliction,’ she wrote in The Need for Roots, ‘confers immense prestige so long as it is accompanied by strength.’ ‘I do not separate my thought from my life,’ Weil’s near-contemporary Antonin Artaud wrote in one of his many manifestoes, Situation of the Flesh. Because Artaud repeatedly proclaimed himself a poet and a madman, his practice — his singular performativity of ideas — has been easily incorporated into our histories of high modernism. But Weil — a young woman, clumsy, cerebral, thin, and poorly dressed — wrote no manifestoes. Consequently, her work remains as vulnerable in death as it was in life.”


Peter Woit in WSJ on Roger Penrose’s book, Cycles of Time.

“‘Cyclic’ indicates that the universe somehow circles back to a condition at which it could start all over again, in another Big Bang, an endless cycle of death and rebirth. Such cyclicity is a feature of several other recent speculative cosmological models, including some in which the Big Bang is just one of a sequence of collisions among multidimensional membranes or ‘branes.’ ‘Conformal’ refers to a particular type of geometry, which Mr. Penrose is a master of and which he thinks might explain why the universe won't merely keep expanding forever. (A geometry is said to be ‘conformal’ if its properties don't change when it is transformed in a way that preserves angles but not distances.) Mr. Penrose's crucial point is that, in physics based on a conformal geometry, there is no way to characterize either distances or energy levels as ‘small’ or ‘large.’
Mr. Penrose points out that, as one goes back toward the infinite energy density of the Big Bang, the geometry of the early universe could in some sense be called conformal. Likewise, as one goes far enough into our distant, boring future, if everything turns into massless radiation, there's no usable energy scale — and the geometry is also conformal. Mr. Penrose's radical suggestion is that, somehow, this distant past and distant future can be matched together, since they share the same geometry. A universe at either extreme of its existence is one that has no fixed ideas about what is big and what is small. Perhaps this curious coincidence indicates that one can pass continuously from one extreme to the other, and this transformation is what happened at the moment of the Big Bang.”


Harvey Mansfield in WSJ, "Sociology and Other ‘Meathead’ Majors".

“In colleges today, choice is in and requirements are out. Only the military academies, certain Great-Books colleges and MIT (and its like) want to tell students what they must study. Most colleges offer a cornucopia of choices, and most of the choices are bad.

The bad choices are more attractive because they are easy. Picking not quite at random, let's take sociology. That great American democrat Archie Bunker used to call his son-in-law ‘Meathead’ for his fatuous opinions, and Meathead was a graduate student in sociology. A graduate student in sociology is one who didn't get his fill of jargonized wishful thinking as an undergraduate. Such a person will never fail to disappoint you. But sociology has close competitors in other social sciences (including mine, political science) and in the humanities.”


Chuck Crisafulli in LATmag, "When the Beatles met Elvis".

“But perhaps the greatest of L.A.’s rock ’n’ roll tête-à-têtes occurred on a still summer night in 1965, high up in the rarefied climes of Bel Air. There, in a splendid home on Perugia Way, Elvis met the Beatles. Or more precisely, the Beatles met Elvis. When the group traveled to the U.S. in 1964, they frequently cited Elvis as a major influence. Beatles manager Brian Epstein contacted Presley’s manager, the famously colorful Colonel Tom Parker, about organizing a meeting, but the logistics could never be worked out. The closest the Fab Four got to contact with the King came after their first visit to The Ed Sullivan Show, when the curiously charisma-deficient host read from a telegram: ‘Congratulations on your appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and your visit to Amer­ica. We hope your engagement will be a successful one and your visit pleasant. Give our best to Mr. Sullivan. Sincerely, Elvis & the Colonel.’ The following year, when the Beatles returned for a second U.S. tour, it all came together. The Beatles were in Los Angeles for a week, staying in a rented Benedict Canyon house while they played two nights at the Hollywood Bowl. Elvis was at his home on Perugia Way in Bel Air, having just returned from location, shooting his latest movie, Paradise, Hawaiian Style.”


Ben Schwartz at Perfectsoundforever.com, "Viva Vietnam".

"While writing Born to Run, Springsteen talked of losing interest in Dylan after "John Wesley Harding" (1967) and the Rolling Stones after 1967-8. Instead, he endlessly played an Orbison tape he picked up from Mitchell at the Crawdaddy! offices. On "Born to Run" (1975), Jon Landau joined Springsteen as producer. Along with Van Zandt, they went about rolling back rock's '60's innovations to its core. They certainly weren't alone. With Vietnam and Watergate receding, escapist '50's nostalgia thrived. That leather jacket James Dean love, you could see it in the Ramones, Grease, Sha Na Na, The Lords of Flatbush (1974), the 1975 Happy Days pilot featuring Arthur J. 'Fonzie' Fonzarelli, or novelist Richard Price's debut, The Wanderers (1974). Springsteen himself went on stage in leather and a King's Court Elvis Fan Club button, playing Mitch Ryder medleys. 'The living culmination of 20 years of rock & roll tradition' is how Dave Marsh saw him. 'As the sixties fell apart rock and roll loyalists aggressively revived the street punk myth,' wrote Ellen Willis, in a review of a 1974 Springsteen show. 'Pure rock and roll,' she noted, in the wake of self-consciously arty country, folk, and electronic hybrids, 'became a symbol of protest for fans and performers who resisted the counter-culture's aristocratic bias.' A 'revolt against elitism,' she called it, warning 'there is a difference between middle-class kids who identify with street punks and the punks themselves. Since this difference was often denied, nouveau punkism generated its own brand of pretension and dishonesty.' That last is a rather prescient comment in light of the mass confusion to come on 'Born in the USA.' To be sure, Willis saw Springsteen as genuine. She admired his affection for outsider street life... much as she did the New York Dolls' embrace of 'gay-low-life.' If even rock’s liberal intellectuals were in revolt against rock’s counter-culture 'elitism,' and preferred 'tradition' – those two favorite GOP buzzwords – to Woodstock's 'foppish trappings' (as Marsh called it) what of rock's conservatives?"


James Parker in Atlantic, "Notes From the Underworld".

“The panicking parents of yesteryear now seem like characters from folk memory. An anti-metal case in our current climate might more appropriately be brought by Richard Dawkins or the Council for Secular Humanism, arraigning some metalhead for singing too loudly about damnation. Not every metal act subscribes to the cosmology of Geezer Butler as made manifest in the sound of Black Sabbath: metal today is produced with equal sincerity and efficacy by atheists and Christians, depressives and libertines, diabolists, miserablists, absurdists, and those whose only religion is metal itself.”


Will Friedwald in WSJ, "Tracks to Our Music Heritage".

“Upon launch, about 10,300 tracks originally released by the Victor Talking Machine Co. between 1900 and 1925 became available as streaming audio at www.loc.gov/jukebox. According to Gene DeAnna, head of the recorded-sound collection, in the first two days more than a million people logged on; within a week, visitors had racked up 600,000 plays. Listeners can play individual tracks or precompiled playlists, or assemble their own. No wonder people are so interested: The first 25 years of the 20th century represent the birth of jazz, the blues, the Broadway musical, the big band, country music, pop singing and the Great American Songbook, not to mention a golden age of opera and a flowering of ethnic music. Superstars from the era still loom large: Enrico Caruso, Al Jolson, Bessie Smith. Mr. DeAnna says that the Jukebox had been in progress for nearly a decade, having been developed by himself and his predecessor, Sam Brylawski, the Library of Congress's David Sager, David Seubert of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and others.”


David Elstein at Opendemocracy.net, "America’s National Public Radio turns 40: BBC take note".

“Interestingly, some people in US public radio envy the British and Australian systems, with their strong centre and top down command structures. That would deliver 100% take-up of the best programmes, and bolster NPR in its dealings with politicians. But I wonder if they are right. The bottom-up approach seems to me attractively more democratic. It allows power to be distributed, and local stations to build very specific identities and strong relationships with their listeners. It is also cost effective – NPR’s budget is just £100m, compared with the £600m annual budget for BBC radio (admittedly, covering a multitude of national and local stations). Most importantly, it allows greater resilience in the face of powerful ideological attacks (to which the BBC is also regularly subjected) – and no capacity for government to impose massive cuts in spending in a single negotiating session. Of course, the internal market for radio programmes is inherently wasteful, but it is also creatively hugely stimulating. Without it, the precious independence of the individual stations would quickly wither. For some people, the perceived blandness of NPR’s news output is a disappointment: listen for yourself to see if you agree. But the wealth and variety of non-news content is hugely encouraging; and I find the structure of NPR a profound comment on our centralised systems.”


John Kay in FT, "Publishers badly need a new Sir Thomas Bodley".

“The Hargreaves report on intellectual property, published last week, is a landmark in the evolution of British policy. Ian Hargreaves concludes the existing intellectual property regime, far from being a spur to innovations and growth, gets in the way. The contrast between this document and the paper on the digital economy Lord Carter prepared for the last Labour government could hardly be more marked. Mr Hargreaves deplores the way government policy has been led by business interests and not evidence of its effects. The Carter report, unintentionally, illustrated his point in every chapter. Sadly, it may be too late. Britain has for generations enjoyed an enviable competitive advantage in music and book publishing. The future of these industries is now in the hands of three US companies -- Apple, Amazon and Google. In the face of supine government policies, only these organisations have had the strength to challenge the political and market dominance of vested interests.”


Gary Silverman in FT, "Mets and Yankees at first economic base".

“At the height of the credit bubble, both the Yankees and the Mets knocked down their old homes and erected costly new stadiums catering to expense account-wielding masters of the universe who need soft seats, Chardonnay and lobster rolls to make it through a ball game. By the time the new stadiums opened in 2009, the joke was on the ball clubs themselves; the Lehman and Bear Stearns bankers who had been expected to entertain clients at the games were at home polishing their CVs. Seats at the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field -- named for the soon-to-be-bailed-out bank -- didn’t sell quite the way the clubs hoped. There were even empty seats at the Yankee Stadium for the Subway Series, which helps explain the subdued atmosphere.”


Aleksandra Waliszewska & Matthew Wascovich book, Fantastic Animals.


The Hired Hand (1971) Peter Fonda (Alan Sharp) / PF, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom; music: Bruce Langhorne, with The Limey (1999) at Aero Theatre, Santa Monica.

• Fri. June 10, 7:30pm w/ Peter Fonda Q&A


Obituaries of the Week

• Syed Saleem Shahzad (1970 - 2011)

“Shahzad, 40, had on several occasions been warned by officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) over articles they deemed to be detrimental to Pakistan's national interests or image. He leaves a wife, two sons aged 14 and seven, and a daughter aged 12. Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan earlier said he suspected ISI officials abducted Shahzad, possibly because of a recent story he wrote on al-Qaeda infiltration in the Pakistani navy. Authorities haven't commented.”

Sergei Bagapsh (1949 - 2011)

“Though he was an ethnic Abkhaz, he married into a large Georgian family, and remained on good terms with his in-laws even as Abkhazia’s separatist war in the early 1990s tore the country apart. The August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia was a victory for Mr. Bagapsh, who had long lobbied the Kremlin — or any other government, for that matter — to recognize Abkhazia as a sovereign nation. The slender wedge of beachfront land, once a cherished vacation spot for the Soviet nomenklatura, or ruling elite, was now under the protection of the Russian Army, and Mr. Bagapsh was received in Moscow as a bona fide head of state. But he found himself in a far more difficult position than he had anticipated. Russians lined up immediately to grab prime real estate and privatize energy and transportation infrastructure, which could be crucial to preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Under extraordinary pressure from Russia to compromise, Mr. Bagapsh also had to answer domestic critics who accused him of selling off Abkhazia’s assets. ‘After the August war, Abkhaz society — and this was also the tragedy of Bagapsh — is, if anything, more divided than it was before,’ said Peter Semneby, the former European Union special representative to the South Caucasus, who met many times with Mr. Bagapsh.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho.

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