Putinphilia: The Secret American Subculture of Putin-Worshippers

The Russian president Vladimir Putin has a number of fans in the United States—who see him as the very epitome of macho manliness. The National Journal digs in:

Putinphilia is not, of course, the predominant position of the conservative movement. But in certain corners of the Internet, adoration for the leader of America’s No. 1 frenemy is unexceptional. They are not his countrymen, Russian expats, or any of the other regional allies you might expect to find allied with the Russian leader. Some, like Young and his readers, are earnest outdoorsy types who like Putin’s Rough Rider sensibility. Others more cheekily admire Putin’s cult of masculinity and claim relative indifference to the political stances—the anti-Americanism, the support for leaders like Bashar al-Assad, the oppression of minorities, gays, journalists, dissidents, independent-minded oligarchs—that drive most Americans mad. A few even arrive at their Putin admiration through a strange brew of antipathy to everything they think President Obama stands for, a reflexive distrust of what the government and media tells them, and political beliefs that go unrepresented by either of the main American political parties.

They utterly perplex many observers of the Russian-American relationship. “No clue as to what drives it, other than some form of illness,” says Russian-born novelist Gary Shteyngart, author ofAbsurdistan.

There are many faux Putin fans in America—those who mock the hero worship ironically or half-ironically. But plenty of his fans are serious. Three months ago, Americans for Putin, a Facebook group, sprang up “for Americans who admire many of the policies and the leadership style of Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin” and think he “sounds better than the Republicrat establishment.” The group has an eight-point policy platform calling for “a unified [American] national culture,” a “firm stance against Israeli imperialism,” and an opposition to the political correctness it says dominates Washington…

When you see the kinds of things Putin has been photographed doing, you do have to wonder if some of these people do, in fact, appreciate the man for what he stands for (aww).

Is The Economist Left-Wing or Right-Wing? Neither.

Last week, The Economist turned 170 years old. Readers have pondered whether the magazine leans left or right. So The Economist explains itself:

SOME readers, particularly those used to the left-right split in most democratic legislatures, are bamboozled by The Economist’s political stance. We like free enterprise and tend to favour deregulation and privatisation. But we also like gay marriage, want to legalise drugs and disapprove of monarchy. So is the newspaper right-wing or left-wing?

Neither, is the answer. The Economist was founded in 1843 by James Wilson, a British businessman who objected to heavy import duties on foreign corn. Mr Wilson and his friends in the Anti-Corn Law League were classical liberals in the tradition of Adam Smith and, later, the likes of John Stuart Mill and William Ewart Gladstone. This intellectual ancestry has guided the newspaper’s instincts ever since: it opposes all undue curtailment of an individual’s economic or personal freedom. But like its founders, it is not dogmatic. Where there is a liberal case for government to do something, The Economist will air it. Early in its life, its writers were keen supporters of the income tax, for example. Since then it has backed causes like universal health care and gun control. But its starting point is that government should only remove power and wealth from individuals when it has an excellent reason to do so.

Furthermore:

When The Economist opines on new ideas and policies, it does so on the basis of their merits, not of who supports or opposes them. Last October, for example, it outlined a programme of reforms to combat inequality. Some, like attacking monopolies and targeting public spending on the poor and the young, had a leftish hue. Others, like raising retirement ages and introducing more choice in education, were more rightish. The result, “True Progressivism”, was a blend of the two: neither right nor left, but all the better for it, and coming instead from what we like to call the radical centre. 

More explainers like this, media organizations around the world.

“Marriage is Not a Political Act; It’s a Human One.”

A beautiful, must-read reflection from Andrew Sullivan following today’s Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality:

Marriage is not a political act; it’s a human one. It is based on love, before it is rooted in law. Same-sex marriages have always existed because the human heart has always existed in complicated, beautiful and strange ways. But to have them recognized by the wider community, protected from vengeful relatives, preserved in times of illness and death, and elevated as a responsible, adult and equal contribution to our common good is a huge moment in human consciousness. It has happened elsewhere. But here in America, the debate was the most profound, lengthy and impassioned. This country’s democratic institutions made this a tough road but thereby also gave us the chance and time to persuade the country, which we did. I understand and respect those who in good conscience fought this tooth and nail. I am saddened by how many failed to see past elaborate, ancient codes of conduct toward the ultimate good of equal human dignity…

 

 

David Simon on Corrupt Politicians

Only fools play a rigged game forever, writes David Simon in his post titled “Dead Children and Monied Politicians”:

Our elections — and therefore our governance — have been purchased.  Instead of publicly funded elections, instead of level playing fields, instead of processes in which the power of actual ideas prevails over the size of the bankroll, we have given our democratic birthright over to capital itself.  A gun manufacturer’s opinion can be thousands of times louder than the voice of any grieving Connecticut parent.  And the damage that  might come to political careers from individual Americans who wish to have gun laws require as much responsibility of gun owners as, say, motor vehicle laws?  It pales when compared  to the damage that can come to political careers from a lobbying group backed to hilt by those who will profit directly from the fear and violence in our culture.

An acerbic take, but one we need to hear.

How Barack Obama Won the 2012 Presidential Election

The New York Times has a good piece on how the President clawed back in the final month of campaigning after a miserable showing in the first debate:

Mr. Obama, who had dismissed warnings about being caught off guard in the debate, told his advisers that he would now accept and deploy the prewritten attack lines that he had sniffed at earlier. “If I give up a couple of points of likability and come across as snarky, so be it,” Mr. Obama told his staff.

As his campaign began an all-out assault on Mr. Romney’s credibility and conservative views, the president soon was denouncing Mr. Romney’s budget proposals as a “sketchy deal” and charging that the Republican nominee was not telling Americans the truth.

Mr. Obama recognized that to a certain extent, he had walked into a trap that Mr. Romney’s advisers had anticipated: His antipathy toward Mr. Romney — which advisers described as deeper than what Mr. Obama had felt for John McCain in 2008 — led the incumbent to underestimate his opponent as he began moving to the center before the debate audience of millions of television viewers.

Indeed,

By the end of the 30 days, after Air Force One carried Mr. Obama on an almost round-the-clock series of rallies, the president had reverted back to the agent of change battling the forces of the status quo, drawing contrasts between himself and Mr. Romney with an urgency that had been absent earlier in the race. Mr. Obama had returned, if not to the candidate that he was in 2008, as a man hungry for four more years to pursue his agenda in the White House.

Not to be discounted: Hurricane Sandy and Romney’s (negative) portrayal of federal relief in national disasters.

On Nate Silver and Predicting Elections: Betting is a Tax on Bullshit

Yesterday, The New York Times math/election guru Nate Silver offered, via Twitter, to make a $1,000 election bet with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on who would win the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election.  Silver’s overlords at the New York Times were not pleased. From their Public Editor Journal:

Whatever the motivation behind it, the wager offer is a bad idea – giving ammunition to the critics who want to paint Mr. Silver as a partisan who is trying to sway the outcome. It’s also inappropriate for a Times journalist, which is how Mr. Silver is seen by the public even though he’s not a regular staff member. “I wouldn’t want to see it become newsroom practice,” said the associate managing editor for standards, Philip B. Corbett. He described Mr. Silver’s status as a blogger — something like a columnist — as a mitigating factor. Granted, Mr. Silver isn’t covering the presidential race as a political reporter would. But he is closely associated with The Times and its journalism – in fact, he’s probably (and please know that I use the p-word loosely) its most high-profile writer at this particular moment. When he came to work at The Times, Mr. Silver gained a lot more visibility and the credibility associated with a prominent institution. But he lost something, too: the right to act like a free agent with responsibilities to nobody’s standards but his own.

Alex Tabarrok counters and thinks that betting is a good idea, a way to put your money where your mouth is:

My best parse of the argument is that by betting Silver has given himself an interest in the election and this hurts his credibility. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

A properly structured bet is the most credible guarantor of rigorous disinterest. In order to prove his point, Silver is not required to take the Obama side of the bet! At the odds implied by his model (currently between 3 and 4 to 1) Silver should be willing to take either side of a modest bet. Indeed, we could hold a coin toss, heads Silver takes the Obama side, tails he takes Romney.

In fact, the NYTimes should require that Silver, and other pundits, bet their beliefs. Furthermore, to remove any possibility of manipulation, the NYTimes should escrow a portion of Silver’s salary in a blind trust bet. In other words, the NYTimes should bet a portion of Silver’s salary, at the odds implied by Silver’s model, randomly choosing which side of the bet to take, only revealing to Silver the bet and its outcome after the election is over. A blind trust bet creates incentives for Silver to be disinterested in the outcome but very interested in the accuracy of the forecast.

Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge.

Fantastic.

As of this writing, Joe Scarborough has not agreed to the bet. But he should.

The New Yorker Editors Endorse Barack Obama

A very articulate message from the editors of The New Yorker in support of re-election of Barack Obama for President of the United States:

The choice is clear. The Romney-Ryan ticket represents a constricted and backward-looking vision of America: the privatization of the public good. In contrast, the sort of public investment championed by Obama—and exemplified by both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act—takes to heart the old civil-rights motto “Lifting as we climb.” That effort cannot, by itself, reverse the rise of inequality that has been under way for at least three decades. But we’ve already seen the future that Romney represents, and it doesn’t work.

The reëlection of Barack Obama is a matter of great urgency. Not only are we in broad agreement with his policy directions; we also see in him what is absent in Mitt Romney—a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity. A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America—one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality—represents the future that this country deserves.

Read the whole thing.

The Destruction of the 1 Percent

Chrystia Freeland pens a brilliant essay on the destruction of the 1 percent. She begins with the rise of Venice during the Renaissance and its subsequent decline:

In the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.

Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy.

The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.

She then makes a compelling argument that such a decline will happen in America. The only thing I found at fault with the essay is an unsympathetic jibe toward Apple and its Maps app in the latest iOS.

Joe Biden, Server Extraordinaire

This is a hilarious parody in The New Yorker on Joe Biden becoming your dinner server:

Hey, chief. There’s the guy. How you doin’? Got your friends here, party of six. Lady in the hat. Great to see you. My name is Joe Biden and I’ll be your server tonight. Lemme tell you a story. (He pulls up a chair and sits.)

Folks, when I was six years old my dad came to me one night. My dad was a car guy. Hard worker, decent guy. Hadn’t had an easy life. He climbed the stairs to my room one night and he sat on the edge of my bed and he said to me, he said, “Champ, your mom worked hard on that dinner tonight. She worked hard on it. She literally worked on it for hours. And when you and your brothers told her you didn’t like it, you know what, Joey? That hurt her. It hurt.” And I felt (lowers voice to a husky whisper) ashamed. Because lemme tell you something. He was right. My dad was right. My mom worked hard on that dinner, and it was delicious. Almost as delicious as our Chicken Fontina Quesadilla with Garlicky Guacamole. That’s our special appetizer tonight. It’s the special. It’s the special. (His voice rising) And the chef worked hard on it, just like my mom, God love her, and if you believe in the chef’s values of hard work and creative spicing you should order it, although if you don’t like chicken we can substitute shrimp for a small upcharge.

Thank you. Thank you. Now, hold on. There’s something else you need to know.

Our fish special is halibut with a mango-avocado salsa and Yukon Gold potatoes, and it’s market-priced at sixteen-ninety-five. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Sounds like “Hey, Joe, that’s a piece of fish and a little topping there, and some potatoes.” “Bidaydas,” my great-grandmother from County Louth would have called ’em. You know what I’m talking about. Just simple, basic, sitting-around-the-kitchen-table-on-a-Tuesday-night food. Nothin’ fancy, right? But, folks, that’s not the whole story. If you believe that, you’re not . . . getting . . . the whole . . . story. Because lemme tell you about these Yukon Gold potatoes. These Yukon Gold potatoes are brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and hand-sprinkled with pink Himalayan sea salt, and then José, our prep guy. . . . Well. Lemme tell you about José. (He pauses, looks down, clears his throat.) 

You should finish the piece here. The ending cracked me up.

Everything You Think You Know About China Is Wrong

The byline for this Foreign Policy piece reads: “”Are we obsessing about its rise when we should be worried about its fall?” So, it gained my attention for a quick read:

The disconnect between the brewing troubles in China and the seemingly unshakable perception of Chinese strength persists even though the U.S. media accurately cover China, in particular the country’s inner fragilities. One explanation for this disconnect is that elites and ordinary Americans remain poorly informed about China and the nature of its economic challenges in the coming decades. The current economic slowdown in Beijing is neither cyclical nor the result of weak external demand for Chinese goods. China’s economic ills are far more deeply rooted: an overbearing state squandering capital and squeezing out the private sector, systemic inefficiency and lack of innovation, a rapacious ruling elite interested solely in self-enrichment and the perpetuation of its privileges, a woefully underdeveloped financial sector, and mounting ecological and demographic pressures. Yet even for those who follow China, the prevailing wisdom is that though China has entered a rough patch, its fundamentals remain strong.

Americans’ domestic perceptions influence how they see their rivals. It is no coincidence that the period in the 1970s and late 1980s when Americans missed signs of rivals’ decline corresponded with intense dissatisfaction with U.S. performance (President Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “malaise speech,” for example). Today, a China whose growth rate is falling from 10 to 8 percent a year (for now) looks pretty good in comparison with an America where annual growth languishes at below 2 percent and unemployment stays above 8 percent. In the eyes of many Americans, things may be bad over there, but they are much worse here.

The rest of the piece here.