Mar 31, 2009

Space Race, Destination - MARS!

YahooNews: The European Space Agency and the US space agency NASA have separately sketched dates around three decades from now for a manned flight to Mars. The Russians are starting the path with psychological research (of course). So today, the hatch slammed shut behind six volunteers from Europe and Russia who will spend three months isolated in a 19,500 cubic feet capsule in Moscow to simulate conditions for a manned mission to Mars.

A Frenchman, a German, and four Russians (sounds like the start to a good joke) must now live in the facility until the experiment ends 105 days later, allowing scientists to assess the effects of long duration space flight on their minds and bodies. The six - all men (tee hee) - will be allowed to take personal effects like books, laptops and DVDs into the facility in Moscow but will otherwise be sealed away from the world. The supplies for the expedition have been worked out in advance and no additional goods will be allowed to enter the capsule once the experiment starts.

Good luck, cosmonauts!

TP Wars or

the "national toilet."

After great speculation, it has finally happened. U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated to the point where it threatens one of our greatest projects, the International Space Station (ISS). Little did the astronauts know that they were going to live in a spin off off the "Real World" when they agreed to their respective trips. Apparently, despite rigorous screening, astronauts, like the whacked-out people selected for reality tv shows, just cannot get along. The divisions in the house have grown so bad that the American and Russian sides refuse to share food, gym facilities, or toilets. Oh what a world.

Mar 30, 2009

Like ripping a Band-Aid off...really really slowly

Yeah, that bad. Kudos to yet another Central European politican being honest.

Financial Times: Gordon Bajnai, the Hungarian economics minister who is set to become prime minister next week, promised a period of ”painful” crisis management at a press conference on Monday, as the country’s finance minister suggested the new leader may get less than a year to do his job. Says Bajnai:

It will be painful. Crisis management will demand sacrifices from every Hungarian family.

He is expected to announce spending cuts, which could include dramatic cutbacks to Hungary’s generous social safety net.

Remont to be detained by Latvian secret police

It was only a matter of time.

Okay, so as usual, I'm exaggerating (hopefully) for effect, but for those Latvian citizens who like to criticize and share their thoughts on the economic crisis, you might actually be detained by the secret police.

According to Christian Science Monitor, last November, Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a young economics professor, published an essay in a leading Latvian newspaper warning that the country was heading for a financial collapse to rival Iceland's. For this, he was arrested and detained for two days. He was charged with spreading unrest and destabilizing Latvia's financial and banking system.

When Latvian pop star Valters Fridenbergs joked at a concert one night about bank runs, the secret police paid him a visit too.

So, for Latvians, I guess the lesson is, you can't get out of the economic crisis through open analysis, constructive criticism, or bad jokes. So much for freedom of speech and the open exchange of ideas.

Mar 28, 2009

Blame Brussels, and get a face mask

Poland has run out of tuberculosis medications. Good friends and neighbors, the Czechs, are shipping some temporary stocks.  According to Rzeczpospolita, a leading Polish daily, the only other country to have ever run out of tuberculosis drugs is Bangladesh.  Luckily, Poland only has a quarter of the TB rate in neighboring Ukraine and Russia (25 new cases per 1000 pop/year, compared to 100 and 110 in Ukraine and Russia, respectively).  But considering the TB epidemic on its border, the lack of the availability of TB treatment is a serious concern.

So how exactly did it come to this?  The EU set a deadline of December 2008 to stop production of non-EU approved medications, a regulation which presumably affected the prevailing TB drug.  The Polish Ministry of Health claimed that there was still a supply that would last a year and half.  Not sure if that means there was a plan for what would happen in the meantime.

Mar 27, 2009

We were just getting to know you!

Financial Times: Mirek Topolanek (whose existence I recently learned of and who is almost as cool as Sergei Lavrov in my eyes) resigned as Czech prime minister on Thursday, handing the political initiative to President Vaclav Klaus and causing anxiety in the EU over the remaining three months of Prague’s European presidency.

God I hope he doesn't fade from the public eye!

Mar 26, 2009

The Babymaker

BBC: Two years after having one of the lowest birth rates in the world, Georgia is enjoying something of a baby boom following an intervention from Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II. As part of a unique incentive, he promised to personally baptise any baby born to parents of more than two children....and it worked!

Well played Georgia.

The Oracle

Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and now chair the Russian Cabinet of Ministers, decided it was high time to share his views on the 10 year annaversary of NATO's war with Serbia. According to Primakov, if NATO had never attacked Belgrade there would never have been a US invasion of Iraq.

"I called Vice President Albert Gore on the phone while flying over the Atlantic to tell him his country was making a very big mistake. I said they would wish they had never done what they were doing."
So there you go. Primakov called it. He predicted the US invasion of Iraq, six years after of Iraq.

We're on a Highway to Hell

So sayeth Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who recently began his stint as a caretaker Prime Minister. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Topolanek decided to ignore diplomatic niceties and blast Obama and Washington for the recent bail outs. Said Topolanek:

All of these steps, these combinations and permanency, is the road to hell. The United States did not take the right path.

Topolanek's speech to the European Parliament angered some legislators, who rebuked him for presuming that all members of the European Union agreed with his harsh criticism of Washington, or the way he delivered it. I for one think it's pretty great.

Mar 25, 2009

How Ukraine Will Destroy the Continent

Through disease, of course. Kind of a scary story for a hypochondriac like me.

According to, a widespread scare about vaccine side effects in Ukraine has led to a sharp drop in immunizations that could result in disease outbreaks spreading across Europe. What diseases are Ukrainians hoping to catch by avoiding vaccinations? Diphtheria, mumps, polio, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, whooping cough and "others."

Experts blame the Ukrainian scare on government mismanagement and irresponsible media coverage of an anti-vaccination campaign launched after the May death of a 17-year-old boy who had received a combined shot for measles and rubella. Government mismanagement in Ukraine? Do tell.

Well, apparently the mismanagement started in the early 90s. After the fall of the Soviet Union the nation was in a state of economic crisis and people might not have received vaccinations. Oops. So UNICEF thinks about 850,000,000 people need vaccinations. Let's hope they get those shots...or quarantine themselves.

Mar 24, 2009

Peregruzka Meets Perestroika

Reuters reports: "U.S. President Barack Obama met Friday with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a prelude to Obama's first scheduled meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 1 in London... The unscheduled meeting took place in the White House offices of Vice President Joseph Biden, said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, who described Biden and Gorbachev as considering strategies making reductions to the two nations' nuclear arsenals."

But the real fun started when Obama dropped in on the meeting. "The president tends to roam around the larger (White) House and sometimes walks into meetings that weren't previously on his schedule," Gibbs told reporters.

We can just see it. "Hey Joe, about your TPS report...Oh, Gorbachev?"

(Thanks Igor!)

Don't get arrested in Poland

ER hasn't been giving much love to Poland as of late.  No surprise, considering the fact that Poland is living "happily ever after" in NATO and the EU, complaining periodically about being treated as second class citizens in the EU and second class allies in the US.  And since the Kaczynski brothers faded from the limelight, there's just not that much to say.  So Poland has it all - democracy, a fairly stable party structure, free media, market economy, rule of law. 

Well, you can scratch that last one.  A new study shows that only 37 percent of Poles rate their justice system positively.  

  • Is the outcome of court cases just? 70.9 % say no
  • How about the justice officials?  Are they competent?  69.3 % doubt it
  • Independent judges? 65 % not so much
  • Effective system? 63 % say definitely not
  • Is it corrupt? 55 % say without a doubt
  • Bureaucratic? 33 % say hopelessly so

ER Warsaw correspondent's relatives in the law field confirm this picture.  Their anecdotes reveal that when a suspect is arrested, he is almost never released with bail, regardless of the crime.  Due to the ineffectiveness of the courts, you're likely to stay in jail without trial for up to 3 years.  At that point when you're life is ruined, you might have a trial, but it would be too expensive for judges to admit having wrongly imprisoned you.  And don't get sick or break a limb in jail either.  The most humane thing to do then is to take you out back and end it there.

The plus side of this story is that the study actually was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and supported with EU funds.  The Ministry was pretty shocked to see the results, but they're available on the website for all to see.  But downloading polling data on a government website probably isn't exactly what Poles had hoped when joining the EU.

Czechs and Balances

Terribly punny, I know. Deal with it.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Czech Government collapsed today. Honestly, I breathed a little easier once I saw the words Czech Government and NOT Stock Market.

In any case, the right-of-center Czech government, which holds the rotating 6-month presidency of the EU, failed to overcome dissent among its ranks and lost a parliamentary no-confidence vote. The result turns the government of PM Mirek Topolanek (above) into a caretaker cabinet for the foreseeable future.

It is not immediately clear who will be picked by President Vaclav Klaus to form a new government. If three attempts to form a government fail, early elections must be called. Oh Czech Republic, do NOT go Ukraine on us...please.

Mar 23, 2009

"You tried and you failed...

...the lesson is: never try." - Homer Simpson

Apparently, aside from being a Socialist, Hungarian PM Ferenc Gyurcsany is also a follower of Homerian logic, because this week, he called it quits.

Gyurcsany gave his resignation, saying he had become an "obstacle" to the reforms needed to pull the nation out of its worst financial crisis since the end of communism nearly 20 years ago.

Gyurcsany made the unexpected announcement at his party's congress, saying he was keeping a pledge made in January 2008 to change leadership if the beleaguered party's popularity failed to recover. A politician who is true to his word? Could it be true?

Let's hope the next guy has all the answers.

Mar 22, 2009

Baby, come back! (and have babies)

What's Russia's latest plan to increase its population? Programs to combat alcoholism and drug abuse? Programs to improve health care? WAY OFF.

According to the NY Times, Russia is trying to head off the country’s severe population decline by luring back Russians who live abroad as well as their descendants. Moscow has spent $300 million in the past two years to get the repatriation program started, attracting many ethnic Russians who were living in former Soviet republics after the Soviet collapse in 1991.

However, the program has also attracted Russians from as far as Uruguay and Brazil. Many of these South American Russians are descendants of Russian Old Believers who fled the country back in the 1920s, because you know, they wanted religious freedom and to not die. And they've agreed to move to the Russian Far takes a special type of individual to leave Brazil for Vladivostok.

Meanwhile almost all old believers living in Alaska and Oregon have chosen to stay in America, claiming that Russia is still communist and not a democracy. And in fact, while 25 million people are eligible for the program, only 10,300 people have agreed to return. So, how much this really helps Russia's remains to be seen. The United Nations meanwhile still predicts that the country will fall to 116 million people by 2050 (an 18% decline). Back to the drawing board, I think.

Mar 21, 2009

Postcards from Chernobyl

A recent photo of abandoned equipment near Chernobyl. Good price if you’re in the market, but it probably glows in the dark.
Google maps are awesome.

Mar 20, 2009

Words Are Not Enough

So who do we root for???!?!?!! Watch the trailer.....

Mar 19, 2009

Russia v Georgia - The Movie

Yep, a museum in honor of the wonderful Russian victory over Georgia wasn't enough. Now there's a "fictional" movie based on the events of last August.

According to the FP blog, the story of "Olympus Inferno" is fiction but the politics are pretty clear:

The fictional account tells of a U.S.-based entomologist and a female Russian journalist who unintentionally capture evidence that Georgia started the conflict using a special camera night lens as they attempt to film rare night butterflies.

The two face obstacles as they try to get through the frontlines of advancing Georgian forces and back to South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali with proof of who started the war.

Check out the trailer here.

Not gonna lie to you. I want to see it.

Rabbis Expelled from Russia

Given the steady rise of xenophobia in Russia over the past 7 or 8 years, this is pretty serious. And of course, anyone with any sort of historical perspective can see this spells trouble. Too bad you probably can't find an accurate history book in Russia.

According to the LA Timnes, last month, Rabbi Yisroel Silberstein, his wife and two children were abruptly deported from Russia, and banned from returning for five years. Zvi Hershcovich, a Canadian rabbi who had been leading a small Jewish community in the southern city of Stavropol, also was expelled. Both men were accused by immigration authorities of visa violations. (I do not know the nature of said violations.)

In response to the expulsions, one of Russia's chief rabbis who is regarded as close to the Kremlin, took the rare step of publicly criticizing the government during a recent meeting between religious leaders and officials.

"Jews have begun to fear for the future of their community in Russia for the first time in many years," said Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi. "In the negative environment of the [financial] crisis, when material problems become exacerbated, some start looking for someone to blame and declare those who are unlike themselves to be guilty."

Russia is home to as many as 1 million Jews, one of the largest Diaspora populations.

President for Life?

Like feathered hair in the 1980s, and just about anything plad in the 1990s, having a President for Life is the new must-have fashion for any aspiring post-Communist energy state. BBC reports:
"Voters in Azerbaijan have overwhelmingly approved proposals to lift the two-term limit for presidents, the election commission has announced...[This includes] a series of other amendments, including new media restrictions that have been criticised by press freedom groups and local journalists, were also approved on Wednesday."
Now, I know ER has a lot of Azeri freinds. But as we've seen from Nazarbayev's recent statements, sometimes term limits can be a good thing.

Mar 18, 2009

The Economic Crisis Makes People Desperate...

...and just plain stupid.

Meet Nazim Medzhidov. He is the manager an outlet of the bargain supermarket chain, "Kopeika," located in SW Moscow. He is 33 years old, and he is facing up to 12 years in prison. Why?

Well, according to the Moscow Times, on March 3 robbery, Nazim robbed his own store, which could have worked out, but Nazim put a gun to his own employee — who had no trouble recognizing him, because Nazim didn't think to wear a mask of any sort. Nazim was trying to get away with 4 million rubles ($116,000).

Congratulations, Nazim, for somehow not receiving a Darwin Award in your 33 years of life. And good luck with Russian prison!


MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said Wednesday it had banned the hunting of baby seals, weeks after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a "bloody industry."

"The bloody sight of the hunting of seals, the slaughter of these defenseless animals which you cannot even call a real hunt, is banned in our country, just as well as in most developed countries, and is a serious step to protect the biodiversity of the Russian Federation," the minister for natural resources, Yuri Trutnev, said in a statement.
The baby seals thank you. Now, if only we can enforce it.

Mar 17, 2009

A Political Pin-Up?

There is no use in ignoring it, so we’ll just get it out of the way. Ladies and gentlemen, we present the next generation of political discourse in Russia: “Putin’s Pin-Up Girl.”

Her name is Maria Sergeyeva. She has a blog; adores Putin; wants to be a government minister, and stuff; despises foreigners; loves to drink; and has strong opinions on the, um, non-traditional sexual relationship.

"I personally consider them my enemies," says Sergeyeva about critics of the state, "They cast doubt on things that are very important to me: the integrity of Russia and its sovereignty."

But what do her fans think? “Maria is a potent combination…she can sway crowds with her passion, her looks and her punchy style, but she also reaches out via her blogs and webcasts to places that normal politics fails to go,” according to a United Russia supporter interviewed by the Daily Mail.

So what’s not taboo in the nexus between sex, booze and enemies of the state? Deep insights like: “[Men] don’t understand what’s wrong in wanting to have sex with someone else … I’ve never seen someone who didn’t cheat on his partner for three years in a row. Maybe they exist?’” Sergeyeva writes.

[Edit: photo updated.]

Happy Name Day to all you Patricks and Patricias!

And thank you Elustrator for this awesomeness.

What Can You Get for $140 Billion

(How about better upholstery in the launch bunker?)

Today, President Medvedev unveiled his comprehensive military rearmament plan from 2011. As the BBC reports, "Mr Medvedev said the primary task would be to 'increase the combat readiness of [Russia's] forces, first of all our strategic nuclear forces.'"

While $140 billion over two years for new nuclear weapons may sound like a lot of money, it's still $20 billion less than the U.S. has spent on AIG over the last six months.

Now that's a weapon of mass destruction.

Mar 16, 2009

More Importantly: Did Putin Get A Nose Job?

There's been some chatter about former White House Photographer Pete Souza's claim to have captured a young Vladimir Putin posing as a random tourist on Red Square. Allegedly, this meeting occurred during Regan's famous visit to Moscow. According to Souza, "It's been verified....and as soon as you see the photo you say, 'Oh my gosh, it really is him.'"

Not sure we're buying it.

Maybe Souza is better at making out those crazy 3-D pictures of a dinosaur or the space shuttle, the kind where you have to cross your eyes and get a headache before the image pops out. The same principles works for this "Putin photo" (including the headache).

On the plus side: the chin is right, as is the brow line, hair color, and direction of his part. But then again: the real Putin has/had less hair, the ear lobes are off kilter, and the nose is very different from older known photos of Putin, and the smirk looks wrong.

If it is Putin, then we can confirm that he has had a nose job. If it's not, then maybe Gorbachev didn't set Regan up after all. Maybe Regan just happened to meet to group of average Soviet tourists; just minding their own business on Red Square when, oh my gosh, it's the U.S. president...time to ask him about America's poor human rights record and the lack of democratic freedoms in the United States.

Mar 14, 2009

Because the Moscow River NEEDS an Orange Glow

This comes straight out of the "You gotta be f*&#ing kidding me" files...more specifically it comes from the New York Times.

So there's a global financial crisis. You may have heard about it. People in Haiti are starving. People in highly developed countries such as Britain have reverted to bartering ... BARTERING (see the New York Times if you don't believe me).

Meanwhile, in Russia, Yelena Baturina has applied for about $1.4 billion in government loan guarantees for her construction company, Inteko. Wife of Mayor Luzhkov and former factory worker, Ms. Baturina is Russia’s richest woman, with a personal fortune estimated at $4.2 billion. What does she want the money for?

Glad you asked. A year ago, Yelena Baturina unveiled her grandest plan yet called Project Orange -- an avant-garde Norman Foster complex shaped like slices of fruit, with a tinted facade that would cast an orange glow over the Moscow River.

I'm going to come out and say it, if she doesn't get the loan, losing Project Orange will not be the worst outcome of the global financial crisis.

Mar 13, 2009

Mr. Whiplash

Putin's public statements on Ukraine are giving everyone whiplash. Last week, he threatened to shut off Ukraine's gas if the country was one day late in making a payment. This week, he’s deeply concerned about helping Ukraine during these difficult times and won't force the country to pay fines for buying less gas than promised.

One colleague has noted that Putin was talking to a domestic, Russian audience. This could explain the tear in space time reality: "They (Ukraine) are on the verge of bankruptcy and as you well know you should not finish off your partners," Putin said.

...Like last week never happened. Good cop, bad cop starts to get really weird if it’s the same cop.

The Swedes are bailing out the Baltics

New York Times: In its deep sense of ownership of the Baltics, Sweden’s own financial self-interest and a broader desire in Europe to avoid a new East-West divide are driving Sweden to spend more money.

Whether it will work to save the Baltics — and whether Swedish citizens will approve — remains to be seen.

Swedish banks have issued loans equivalent to roughly 20 percent of Sweden’s gross domestic product to the Baltic countries, an amount that only a few years ago looked like a wise bet. Now, according to Danske Bank, the loans could cost Sweden a total of 2 percent to 6 percent of its G.D.P. over several years, depending on how many Baltic borrowers default during the recessions ravaging the region.

The strong Scandinavian presence is fairly uncontroversial in the Baltics. The Russian occupation of the three countries for much of the 20th century makes Swedes seem rather benign.

I'm so proud of Sweden, today, for caring about the Baltics. I hope it eventually pays off.

Mar 12, 2009

Denial of Service Attack or Vigilante Justice?

Remember those pesky cyberattacks on Estonia that took down the government websites, banking systems, and led NATO to take up cybersecurity as one of its competencies? Well, RFERL has stumbled upon a clue about who may have done it:

Sergei Markov, a State Duma Deputy from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party: "About the cyberattack on Estonia... don't worry, that attack was carried out by my assistant. I won't tell you his name, because then he might not be able to get visas."
Astute observation on the visa front, but hey, extradition may work as a substitute. Markov claims it was a spontaneous outpouring of civil society's discontent, cyber-vigilante justice if you will. "Something bad had to be done to these fascists," said Markov's assistant, and he took the law into his own hands.

The Bachelor Billionaire

Forbes Magazine has ranked "Bachelor billionaire" Mikhail Prokhorov as Russia's richest person, and the 40th richest in the world. Despite a 51% drop in his net worth, the magazine estimates his personal fortune at $9.5 billion.

Oh yes, and Forbes was nice enough to mention his habit for importing Russian prostitutes (err "friends") to join him at the French ski resort of Courchevel.

Money still can't buy you love. But it can buy just about everything else.

Mar 11, 2009

Here He Comes to Save the Day!

Nazarbayev's on his way!

That's right, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has solved the global financial crisis (finally).

"In our view, we must create a single world currency under the aegis of the United Nations," Nazarbayev said on Tuesday according to Foreign Policy. He has never publically spoken about this idea until now; however, he has written about it in the past.

Nazarbayev first called for the creation of a worldwide currency, to be called "acmetal" - a combination of "acme," a Greek word meaning the peak or the best, and "capital" - in an article published last month. He also suggests that we convert from "capitalism" to "acmetalism."

ACMEtalism...Chuck Jones and Mel Blanc could have had a field day with this one.

Mar 10, 2009

Georgian Song Banned from Eurovision

That's right, Georgia, YOU CAN'T WIN. Remember last month, the Georgians submitted the subtly anti-Putin song "We Don't Wanna Put in" for Eurovision? Well, according to, the European Broadcasting Union deemed the song "too political" for the Eurovision competition.

According to the rules of the event, no "lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the Eurovision song contest".

In a statement today, the EBU said Georgia would have to change the lyrics and title or submit a new entry by 16 March, otherwise it would not be allowed to take part.

Mar 9, 2009

Did Russia Rig the Eurovision Contest?

You can rig a presidential election, rig the parlamentary vote, change the constitution to appoint governors, and shoot any pesky journalists who get in the way...but don't you dare try and rig the Eurovision contest.

Dare accepted:
"I got a call two days ago from a well-known Russian composer who told me that Prikhodko would win. I knew about it two days ago."
And yes, we had to make this about geo-politics.

But what of the Russian Tycoons?

Because most of the world is struggling to, we often overlook the real victims of the economic crisis: The Tycoons. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Russia's debt-burdened tycoons might have to part with their assets amid the deepening global crisis as the government no longer has the resources to bail them out. Says Gregory White:

Like many other governments, Russia's has consistently underestimated the severity of the global downturn. After promising generous aid to a swath of industries late last year, the Kremlin quietly scrapped nearly all of those plans in the past few months, officials say. Other costly decisions were delayed by Russia's bureaucracy.

So Russian tycoons have to part with assets AKA diamond studded cars, yachts that are too heavy to float, and fur clad models??? And Russian bureacracy saved money this time??? I just don't understand the world anymore.

Mar 7, 2009

Ukraine Goes Tracy Jordan

YahooNews: On Saturday, on Artema Street, in front of one of the city's beleaguered banks, 70 protesters gathered this week to vent their anger. Most have been told they can't touch their money for six months. Similar protests are often seen in the city.

The people on Artema don't trust banks, bank regulators, the economy, the currency, the government or politicians. President Viktor Yushchenko -- the man whose orange banner led the revolution -- has an approval rating below 3 percent.

I guess the lesson is, if you're a theif in Ukraine, you'd probably have better luck flipping people's matresses than robbing banks these days.

Mar 6, 2009

The Diplomacy of Cheese

Allow me to be the first to say it: this is embarrassing.

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red ‘reset button’ to symbolize improved ties. Clinton joked to Lavrov: ‘We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?’ ‘You got it wrong,’ said Lavrov, smiling as the two pushed the reset button together before dinner at a Geneva hotel. He told Clinton the word ‘Peregruzka’ meant "overcharge," to which Clinton replied: "We won't let you do that to us."

Ladies and gentlemen, we present the "Diplomacy of Cheesy Props."

Apparently this is what we can expect from our new Sec. of State, who must now renegotiate a milestone arms treaty with Lavrov, bring him around to eliminating Iran’s Israel-erasing nuclear weapons program, while simultaneously restoring confidence in allies who are nervously waiting for Washington to sell them down the river.

How do you do this? With rubber chickens and hand buzzers, apparently. What about the whoopee cushions? That will really earn you respect at the negotiating table.

(And in case you're wondering, the button should have said: perezagruzka.)

Acrobats Stranded in Ukraine!

That's right, the worst has happened: there's a clown shortage in Britain.

According to YahooNews, in November, the British Home Office introduced a points-based system to crack down on illegal immigration and create what its web site describes as "a significantly more straightforward and transparent structure." It's easy enough for foreign trapeze artists and acrobats to secure the requisite points for entry into Britain based on their unique skills. But ringmasters say that various problems with the new system - including faulty computer software and poorly trained embassy staff - are preventing international talent from reaching Britain's big tops. Says owner of the Great British Circus Martin Lacey:

My season started in February and I've got comedy acrobats stranded in the Ukraine, and Mongolian horse riders who were refused their visas in Ulan Batur.

According to Malcolm Clay, secretary of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, British circus schools don't produce artists at an acceptable standard, largely because their students refine skills like tightrope walking or fire-breathing as a hobby, not as part of a life-long career. As a result, British circuses rely on artists from countries with long-established histories of state-sponsored circus schools.

Gorby Criticizes the Big Dog

Yahoo: In some of his strongest criticism of his successors, Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday likened Vladimir Putin's United Russia party to the worst of the communists he once led and helped bring down, and said Russia is today a country where the parliament and the judiciary are not fully free.

Other musings from the accidental destroyer of communist Russia:

He still holds out hope that one day Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus will join with Russia in forming a new union. BURN to the rest of Central Asia.

Gorby laughed when asked whether his recent appearance in Louis Vuitton ads might not cheapen his momentous legacy, saying his foundation needed the money. He noted that he had also once appeared in Pizza Hut ads, and asked if any other offers might be forthcoming.

Clinton Meets Lavrov

Sec. Clinton resumed her magical mystery tour through the Mid-East and Europe with a town hall meeting at the European Parliament.

Whereas VP Biden had previously said America wants to “hit the reset button” with Russia (there’s a reset button?), Clinton informed her audience that she intends to make a "fresh start" during her working dinner with Foreign Minister Sergei ("who are you to $*#&^$% lecture me) Lavrov. “Our engagement with Russia in no way undermines our support for countries like Georgia or the Baltics or the Balkans or anywhere else in Europe,” she said.

Back in Washington, however, there seems to be some disagreement on this point. In fact, former Asst. Sec. State for Democracy & Human Rights David Kramer cautioned in the WashPost against trading away E. Europe and democracy promotion in exchange for help with Iran. "Any 'grand bargain' the United States makes with Russia would be viewed in Moscow as a sign of U.S. desperation."

So watch the desperation, Sec. Clinton. Don't giggle too much, and make sure you let Lavrov lean in for the first kiss.

Not that any of this matters much, since today’s number is: 274.

That’s the number of days left until the START treaty expires.

Mar 5, 2009

Lolz @ State

The US Department of State has requested that we all "Text the Secretary a question about her trip to the Middle East and Europe."

Inside U.S.: 90822
Outside U.S.: 202-255-6299

Done and done:

“Zomg, ur trip iz coolz. ROTFL @ Hamaz. Whats up with Russa? hahah Drinks l8r?”
So it's come to this. Public discourse over America's changing role in a multi-polar world, complex and highly nuanced issues of policy, the international response to a global crisis...all reduced to a text.

I've wasted my life.

NATO patches things up with Russia...ish

Reuters: Today, NATO foreign ministers agreed to resume high-level formal ties with Russia, suspended last year after Moscow's military thrust (ha! thrust? more like blitz)into Georgia.

Russia immediately welcomed the move, and so did I. Sorry, Georgia, you shouldn't poke bears. Just ask this idiot.

Anyway, everyone still has your back, Georgia...well Russia doesn't, but Secretary Clinton and other allies emphasized that differences persisted with Russia, particularly over Georgia. She added that NATO had to find ways to "manage" these differences while also standing up for its principles when security or other interests were at stake.

Woot for tense, modest cooperation.

The Week Is Incomplete Without a Gas Crisis

Washington Post: Masked state security officers armed with automatic weapons raided the headquarters of Ukraine's national gas company Wednesday in a dramatic escalation of the feud between the country's top leaders during a crippling financial crisis.

President Viktor Yushchenko said the operation was part of a criminal investigation into the firm, Naftogaz, which was at the center of the dispute with Russia this year that left gas customers in much of Eastern Europe shivering.

But Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko condemned the raid as an attempt by "corrupt groups" to disrupt the company's operations just days before Ukraine must make a critical payment to Russia or risk another gas cutoff.

Given: Ukraine is falling apart.

Question: Why are "state security officers" always masked? And why do the newspapers feel compelled to tell us they are every single time?

[Edit: We've had far too many pictures of Putin of late, so here's one of Yushchenko taking a dip, for the hell of it.]

Mar 3, 2009

BBC: Seriously Now, Who's in Charge?

As the Kremlin prepares to celebrate the first annaversary of "Operation Successor," the BBC asks a rather impolite question: Is Medvedev really in charge?

According to a Kremlin Spokeswoman, the answer is obvious:

“The president is fully in charge of foreign affairs, the armed forces and many other areas. Over the past year [Medvedev] has fully carried out those duties.”

That's odd, since we seem to remember Putin (not Medvedev) calling the shots from a forward observation post during the Georgian War; Putin who spoke with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to discuss international relief efforts to help Chinese earthquake victims; Putin who traveled to Davos; Putin who negotiated with Tymoshenko during the international gas crisis; and Putin who took the call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel right before he re-authorized gas shipments to Europe.

Since left is right, up is down, Stalin was a "good manager," and the ruble is a strong international reserve currency, all evidence from the last year points to one undeniable fact: Medvedev is the absolutely the one “fully in charge of foreign affairs and the armed forces,” and Russia's rightful constitutional ruler.

Take that legal nihilism.

(If you haven't seen it, link to the Russian rap video "Vladimir Rules," highlighted in the BBC report, click 1) menu 2) video option at the bottom.)

Mar 2, 2009

Kadyrov Continues to be a Bastion for Feminism

Washington Times: Today, Predident of Chechnya and alleged human, Ramzan Kadyrov said the women, whose bodies were found dumped by the roadside, had "loose morals" and were rightfully shot by male relatives in honor killings.

Mr. Kadyrov describes women as the property of their husbands and says their main role is to bear children. He encourages men to take more than one wife, even though polygamy is illegal in Russia.

Way to keep tabs on this one, Putin and Medvedev. This is all clearly under control.

Russia's Minister of Finance Takes One for the Team

CNN: Today, Russia's finance minister made a rare admission of responsibility for the country's severe economic crisis.

The Russian government overspent its vast oil revenues in recent years, fueling inflation, and failed to diversify the national economy, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said in an exclusive CNN interview.

Kremlin officials usually blame the West, and specifically the United States, for the global economic crisis.

Meanwhile, pigs are flying, hell has frozen over, and monkeys are in fact flying out of my butt.

The EU really hates helping out Eastern Europe

It's just a fact. First, they don't want to let them work in W. Europe. Now, they refuse to bail them out. According to the Wall Street Journal, European Union leaders, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, rejected a call by Hungary for a sweeping bailout of Eastern Europe, as the bloc struggled to find consensus on an approach to the spiraling financial crisis at a summit Sunday.

The global recession has greatly strained the bonds holding together the 27 nations that now make up the European Union, formed in the wake of World War II, and poses the most significant challenge in decades to its ideals of solidarity and common interest.

Solidarity is only really a good idea when it helps everyone, Eastern Europe. Sorry.