If the press, most likely via leaks from pissed off FBI-ers (without an independent prosecutor there is little chance the truth about Russia and Trump will be uncovered now during the DC investigations), learns Donald Trump, to improve his chances of winning the presidency, colluded with Russia during the presidential campaign, then Trump’s behavior was treasonous. He sold America down the river in hopes of winning the election. Russia = nation that works to destabilize democracies = an enemy nation. Trump’s betrayal of America – putting her in harm’s way for political gain = reason to impeach Trump. – R.T.
Praying today for the people – THE CHILDREN! – of Syria! Praying our President acts with grace and wisdom.
A scary, uncertain time. Peace! In the ‘hood, Syria, Russia, America! pics: R.T.
McGovern, Pelosi Call for Congress to Reconvene to Debate Military Authorization for Syria
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, a senior House Democrat and leading critic of the expanded use of military force by presidents in both parties, joined House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers calling for Speaker Ryan to immediately call the House of Representatives back into session to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force for military actions taken in Syria.
In February 2017, Congressman McGovern led a bipartisan group of 19 lawmakers calling for Speaker Ryan to hold a debate and vote on the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) for U.S. military operations in the Middle East.
Following President Trump’s unilateral action to order airstrikes against Syria last night, Congressman McGovern is renewing that call with this statement:
“Every president must obtain congressional authorization to launch military strikes and President Trump is no exception. President Trump’s unilateral action to attack Syria without consulting Congress and obtaining authorization is an alarming violation of the checks and balances put in place by the Constitution – safeguards established to prevent presidents from taking our country to war without the consent of the American people.
“Americans must have a say when it comes to war. President Trump’s failure to work with Congress to achieve a bipartisan consensus on military action has shut out the voices of the American people and raised serious concerns about the possibility of military escalation without any input from their elected leaders. The time to debate U.S. military operations is before we drop bombs and send troops – not after.
“Today I am joining the growing bipartisan call for Congress to immediately reconvene to debate the path forward for U.S. military operations in Syria. If the President intends to escalate U.S. military involvement in Syria, he must to come to Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force which is clearly crafted to meet the threat and prevent another endless war. The American people and our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.”
Full Text of Pelosi Letter to Speaker Ryan:
April 7, 2017
The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker of the House
H-232, United States Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Speaker,
I am writing to request that you call the House back in session immediately to debate any decision to place our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.
Bashar al-Assad ‘s chemical weapons attack on his own people places him outside the circle of civilized human behavior. Assad also continues to attack his own people with conventional weapons. Meanwhile, Russia props up the Assad regime and enables its brutal war crimes to continue.
The President’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty. Congress must live up to its Constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against a sovereign nation.
As heartbreaking as Assad’s chemical weapons attacks on his own people was, the crisis in Syria will not be resolved by one night of airstrikes. The killing will not stop without a comprehensive political solution to end the violence. The American people are owed a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives to keep our brave men and women in uniform safe and avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians in Syria.
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible on this matter of grave concern to our national security.
During the campaign leading to Donald J. Trump’s November 8, 2016, presidential election, Republicans obsessed over the large speaking fees paid to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by Wall Street investment firms.
According to the GOP, these fees were in exchange for access and/or influence during a Clinton Presidency. Trump himself denounced these payments as a “pay to play” deal on Clinton’s part.
Now it turns out that Trump’s son, Donald J. Trump Jr., was paid $50,000 for speaking at an October 11, 2016, dinner at the Ritz Paris Hotel, hosted by the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, reported the Wall Street Journal this past Friday, March 3, 2017.
“The Trump organization didn’t dispute that amount [$50,000] when asked about it by The Wall Street Journal,” the newspaper account stated.
Reported the Journal: “… [the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs] President, Fabien Baussart, and his Syrian-born wife, Randa Kassis, have cooperated with Russia in its drive to end the Syrian civil war, according to U.S., European and Arab officials. In December, Mr. Baussart nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize. Ms. Kassis is a leader of a political faction endorsed by the Russians in negotiations to end the war in Syria.”
The Wall Street Journal report came the day before President Trump’s favorite bête noire, Saturday Night Live, portrayed son Eric Trump as an intellectually challenged near-idiot. Eric was presented as blurting out that his father was still making decisions for the Trump family business from the Oval Office, while his brother Donald Trump Jr. was hastily feeding him Cheerios and fluids to shut him up.
If you have $50,000 and want to hear the wit and wisdom of Trump Junior, his speech-giving career is ongoing.
“A talent-booking agency called All American Speakers lists Donald Trump Jr. on its website as a client who commands a minimum of $50,000 an appearance,” said the Wall Street Journal.
editor’s note: We’ve made some sentences bold. – R.T.
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, a senior House Democrat and leading voice calling for a full investigation into the ties between the Trump White House and Russia, called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign following revelations that Sessions lied under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his contacts with Russia during the 2016 election.
“It is now clear that Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath to Congress about his contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. During his Senate confirmation hearing, he said ‘I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.’ We now know that statement is not true.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions was already unfit to investigate the ties between the Trump White House and Russia because of his senior role on the 2016 Trump campaign. With this new evidence that he lied about his own contact with Russian officials during the campaign, it is clear that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign now.
“Americans deserve the truth about the full extent of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and attack on our democracy. We need a full and independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the political, personal and financial connections of President Trump to the Russians. The time for action is now.”
Unholy Alliance: The Agenda Iran, Russia and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World
By Jay Sekulow, (2016, First Howard Books, 310 Pages)
Reviewed by Steven R. Maher
If you dislike Muslims, you’ll love this book. If you were looking for an even-handed description of the Middle East turmoil, reading Unholy Alliance: The Agenda Iran, Russia and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World, will be a severe disappointment. That was this writer’s opinion after reading Jay Sekulow’s Unholy Alliance. In this book, Sekulow postulates the unlikely theory that “Muslim jihadists” such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS are conspiring with Iran and Vladimir Putin’s Russia to take over the world.
Sekulow wants the reader to believe that Sunni terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS are, or could be, allied with Iranian Shiites to seize the planet. That the Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting each other for 1,400 years argues against this.As support for his belief in a pan-Muslim terrorist conspiracy, Sekulow says Shiite Iran is the major backer of the Sunni Hamas movement in the West Bank. That is an exceptional case, as Hamas is in the belly of Israel, and Israel is a major target of Islamic extremists today.
Sekulow ardmits that Iran is fighting Al-Qaeda in Syria, and asserts later that Al-Qaeda directs its overseas operations from Iranian sanctuaries. The idea that Iran is knowingly allowing Al-Qaeda to direct its Syrian followers from Iranian territory to kill Iranian Revolutionary Guards supporting Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, is absurd.
Chief Counsel of ACLJ
Sekulow is the Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, the conservative version of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The ACLJ was founded in 1990 by law school graduate and evangelical minister Pat Robertson to protect constitutional and human rights worldwide,” says Wikipedia. “ACLJ generally pursues constitutional issues and conservative Christian ideals in courts of law.”
This book reads like a law review article. Sekulow sources his book with Teutonic thoroughness, citing 1,460 endnotes in the186 pages in the body of the book. There are 119 pages – or 38% of the total – devoted to acknowledgments, notes, appendixes, and the index.
“Unholy Alliance” is like another tome reviewed here, “Trouble in the Tribe”. (See http://incitytimesworcester.org/steve-parked-%F0%9F%9A%99-in-roses-space-incity-times-book-review/.) In “Trouble in the Tribe”, we noted how the author dumped a great deal of specific information into endnotes, “which should have been better served in the main text, or attached as footnotes on the pages where they are cited.” In Unholy Alliance, there is a whole page for one endnote, and a large mass in commentary in the others that would better serve the reader being attached as footnotes. Unlike “Trouble in the Tribe”, “Unholy Alliance” makes little pretense at being an evenhanded analysis.
Sekulow analyzes the Muslim faith. He provides examples of how British Islamic groups prefer Islamic tribunals using Sharia law to British courts, and the terrible injustices which take place in those tribunals, particularly against women. He implies that America’s Muslim population has the same plan for the U.S. This book was published in September 2016, before Donald Trump’s surprising upset. Trump’s election makes the possibility of American courts adopting Sharia law remote.
He quotes sections of the Koran which, taken out of context and the times in which they were written, make the Muslim faith look absurd and blood thirsty. Sekulow acknowledges that critics of Judaism have done the same type of misrepresentation of the Jewish bible. He excuses this by saying essentially that the Koran was intended as a “universal and timeless” document, while the Jewish bible is a history book.
Some of the sources cited by Sekulow are at best dubious. This is another reason the author may have avoided footnotes. To find who the references are for some of these, you must turn several hundred pages forward to look up the endnote. On the other hand, if there were footnotes naming these sources, the questionable nature of some of Sekulow’s sources would become immediately known to the reader.
To illustrate this, we did a computer analysis of Chapter Nine “Iran and Al Qaeda”. The last time America launched a preemptive invasion in the Middle East, George W. Bush and the neocons linked Al-Qaeda to Iraq.
We plugged into an Excel spreadsheet the 141 sources cited by the author in 132 endnotes in Chapter 9. We then sorted the data by two sequences: by the source cited in the endnote; and by the year in which the source originated. We found:
• 51% of the sources were dated 2009 or prior. For some reason, Sekulow relied on older historical information. There were only four sources from 2012, two cites from one source dated 2014, and three from 2016.
• One out of five endnotes (28 in total) cited Ronen Bergman’s book “The Secret War with Iran.” One PBS broadcast was cited seven times. The 2004 9/11 Commission Report was cited 17 times. The 13 sources dated 2013 included four marked “opinion” in its web locations, and seven endnotes were from three sources.
• Most disturbing of all was Sekulow’s frequent cites to the Weekly Standard, the neoconservative magazine that clamored for the disastrous 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. One such article, cited in five endnotes, was co-authored by William Kristol, America’s foremost neoconservative. There were 23 sources dated 2015; sixteen of these, or 70%, derived from the Weekly Standard. The same people who bought us the war in Iraq are now ginning up for a war in Iran.
As we said at the beginning of this book review, if you dislike Muslims, you’ll like this book. If you were looking for an even-handed description of the Middle East turmoil, reading “Unholy Alliance” will be a severe disappointment.
The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World
By Derek Chollet, (2016, Perseus Books, 262 Pages)
Reviewed by Steven R. Maher
Journalism has often been called the first draft of history. With that in mind, former Obama administration official Derek Chollet has evaluated President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Chollett covers an enormous number of issues, personalities, and events in a short 262 pages, a concisely written book and that will be a valuable resource for future historians.
Unexpected foreign events often arise during a Presidency. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, drawing the U.S. into World War II, and changing the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Soviet Union installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, leading to the missile crisis and John F. Kennedy’s finest hour. 9/11 pushed George W. Bush into being a different President than the one he campaigned as. While Bush’s unexpected event was in his first year in office, two of Obama’s problems came late in his second term: the catastrophic insurgency of ISIS, and the ominous resurgence of Putin’s Russia.
Barack Obama inherited an America facing the abyss. As Wikipedia put it: “The bursting of the US housing bubble, which peaked at the end of 2006, caused the values of securities tied to US real estate pricing to plummet, damaging financial institutions globally. The financial crisis was triggered by a complex interplay of policies that encouraged home ownership, providing easier access to loans for subprime borrowers, overvaluation of bundled subprime mortgages based on the theory that housing prices would continue to escalate, questionable trading practices on behalf of both buyers and sellers, compensation structures that prioritize short-term deal flow over long-term value creation, and a lack of adequate capital holdings from banks and insurance companies to back the financial commitments they were making.”
America hovered on the edge of another Great Depression:
• By January 2009 the economy was shedding 800,000 jobs a month.
• American families were losing 100,000 homes a week as home values plummeted and entire neighborhoods, particularly in the inner cities, were devastated.
• The banking system seemed ready to implode, with major financial institutions like the Lehman brothers going bankrupt. Hard core conservatives urged the U.S. government to stay out.
• The automotive industry ran out of money. Cash burn was so bad that General Motors told the White House it had on hand only two weeks of money left to operate. The potential loss of jobs from this one problem alone could be counted in the millions.
Mitt Romney wrote a tome in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”, saying the U.S. should not save the auto industry. That the “supply chain” – the subcontractors and factories manufacturing components for the auto industry, located mainly in the “Rust Belt” states that voted in 2016 for Donald Trump – would die and could not be revived, did not worry Romney.
The Long Game
It should be borne in mind that these were just the domestic issues Obama faced. It says nothing about the foreign affairs calamities facing the U.S., including ongoing wars tying up 175,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is hard to think of a president who entered office facing more challenges of historic magnitude,” commented Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Obama set out to play the “Long Game.”
“The defining element of Obama’s grand strategy is that it reflects the totality of American interests – foreign and domestic – to project global leadership in an era of seemingly infinite demands and finite resources,” writes Chollet. “This is playing the ‘Long Game.’”
Chollet describes Obama as a political version of Warren Buffett, who became a billionaire by buying up companies with a strong market base but which were financially weak. When the economy got better, the values of these investments skyrocketed. Buffett made his billions by looking not at these companies’ value at the time he bought them, but what he expected these entities to be worth over time.
“Games are won by players who focus on the playing field – not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard,” observed Buffett.
Obama believed the U.S. overextended itself by pouring so much manpower, equipment, and money into Iraq, instead of hunting down Al-Qaeda and its leaders. Obama thought the U.S. should shift America’s focus from the Middle East to the Pacific Basin; rebalance America’s projection of power, putting as much emphasis on diplomacy and economic sanctions/assistance as Bush did on the use of military force; and reset America’s alliances with NATO and Russia.
To go into every topic Obama’s administration dealt with would fill up this entire newspaper. We’re going to look at some of Obama’s foreign policy successes, his failures, and draw some conclusions.
Historians are likely to regard the Iran nuclear treaty as a hallmark of Obama’s administration. When Bush left office, Iran was moving full speed ahead on its
nuclear program. Obama convinced the Russians, Chinese, British, and French to impose sanctions that devastated the Iranian economy. Since the July 2015 signing of the treaty, Iran has removed weapons grade uranium, reduced the number of centrifuges by two thirds, and removed the heavy water reactor at Arak and filled it with concrete. For the moment, Iran has been disarmed. That is no small achievement, and may be one a bellicose Trump could build upon.
In August 2013 Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad used chemical weapons against opposition held territory, killing 1,400 civilians, including women and children. Obama had warned Assad in 2012 that doing this would be crossing a red line. The only nation willing to back the U.S. in using military force was France (derided as the seller of “freedom fries” during the Bush era). Britain’s parliament voted against participation, and the American people overwhelmingly opposed involvement in a third Middle East conflict. Congress refused to authorize military action by Obama. The Republican Congressional war dogs made macho denunciations of Assad, but wouldn’t vote to authorize U.S. military action against the Syrian tyrant.
Chollet cited other problems related to using military force to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons. There were 50 sites containing 1,300 pounds of chemical weapons, dispersed around Syria. Neutralizing these would require heavy air and naval attacks along with 75,000 ground troops. There was a danger Assad’s military would collapse under such an assault, and hundreds of tons of chemical weapons fall into the hands of ISIS/Al-Qaeda. After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry remarked that the matter could be resolved by Assad giving up his weapons, the crisis was resolved diplomatically.
Chollet writes: “Without a bomb being dropped, Syria admitted to having a massive chemical weapons program it had never before acknowledged, agreed to give it up, and submitted to a multinational coalition that removed the weapons and destroyed them in a way that had never been tried before.”
Obama lost face because he drew the red line and didn’t take military action against Syria. But he achieved the maximalist objective of disarming Syria. Reagan faced a similar situation when 250 Marines were massacred in Lebanon by terrorists in 1982. Instead of doubling down, Reagan prevented America from getting dragged into a quagmire by “redeploying” the surviving Marines to ships offshore. Both Presidents did what was best for their country, even if it meant a personal loss of face.
Bin Laden and the drones
Obama’s Presidency reached its pinnacle in May 2011 when Seal Team Six descended upon Osama bin Laden’s lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed the Al-Qaeda leader. Few Americans knew that Obama had played a key role in planning the mission. The plan originally call for the Seals to go in without helicopter backups. Obama insisted that backup helicopters be situated in reserve not far from Abbottabad. These proved crucial when one of the Seal helicopters crashed while landing.
Obama used the same strategic approach to get America out of Iraq and Afghanistan that Richard Nixon used to get the U.S. out of Vietnam: advance the air power while withdrawing the troops. Nixon used B-52s and laser guided ordinance to bomb North Vietnam into signing a peace treaty. Obama sent American drones on hundreds of missions to kill Al-Qaeda and associated terrorist leaders. Some criticized this because of the civilians killed in the drone strikes. However, by and large, it did disrupt Al-Qaeda’s ability to launch mass casualty attacks on the U.S. homeland.
The Russian Reset, Part I
With all the noise being generated over Trump and Vladimir Putin, Obama’s “reset” with Russia has been widely viewed as a failure. However, when the policy was first implemented in 2009, it did lead to some successes. This was due to the fact that Putin was not the Russian President; Dimitri Medvedev was, and he wanted to work with the United States. With Medvedev’s help, the U.S. organized the sanctions against Iran; agreed to destroy one third of Russia’s nuclear arsenal; supported setting up supply lines to Afghanistan that avoided a volatile Pakistan; and voted with the U.S. during the U.N. debate authorizing the use of military force against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Now, let’s look at some of shortcomings of Obama’s Presidency.
According to the mainstream media, upwards of 500,000 Syrians have been killed in the civil war and millions have fled to Europe. Obama appears to have done what he could diplomatically to stop the carnage. But faced with the obduracy of Syrian President Assad, the lack of allies who supported intervening in Syria, the U.S. had no good choices. If it supported Assad, the U.S. would be siding with a blood thirsty dictator. If Obama opposed Assad, ISIS and Al Qaeda might take control of the country. His critics charged that he could have supported moderate Syrians earlier, but there was a problem with vetting these groups.
What Obama should have done is establish no fly zones in Syria where Syrians fleeing the conflict could be protected. This would also have stopped large masses of Syrians from fleeing to Europe.
When America troops left in 2011, Iraq by and large was peaceful. The emergence of ISIS could not have been foreseen by any American President. It was with a few thousand guerillas that ISIS attacked and conquered huge swaths of Syria and Iraq. In Mosul, with its million residents, stated Wikipedia, “the Iraqi army had 30,000 soldiers stationed in the city, facing a 1,500-member attacking force.” With such favorable odds, the ISIS force should have been smashed. Instead, the 30,000 Iraqi soldiers abandoned their U.S. equipment and fled.
Few were clairvoyant enough to anticipate the total ineffectiveness of Iraq’s armed forces, equipped with billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment. From a few thousand fighters, ISIS grew to an armed force of 30,000 men as wannabe Jihadists from Europe and the Middle East swelled their ranks. They were armed with the American weapons left behind by the fleeing Iraqi army.
In 2011 there was yet another U.S. intervention on “humanitarian” grounds in Libya that turned into a mission to overthrow Gaddafi. After Gaddafi was killed, Libya descended into anarchy as warring factions fought each other. The U.S. was prodded into action on Libya by its European allies; Obama should have insisted on a post-war NATO occupation force from these allies to assist Libyans in setting up a stable government.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposed intervening in Libya, saying: “Can I just finish the two wars we’re already in before you go looking for new ones?”
The Russian Reset, Part II
In 2012 Vladimir Putin took back his old job of Russian President. Putin’s animus against Hillary Clinton stems from this episode; Putin apparently believes that Clinton ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to clandestinely block his return to the Russian Presidency. In any event, Obama’s measures to persuade Putin to stay out of Syria and the Ukraine were unsuccessful, and this must be regarded as another Obama shortcoming.
History will give a much fuller judgment on Obama when the facts become available. Since Obama’s foreign policy was set up with the intention of yielding long term benefits, a historical perspective will be necessary to evaluate Obama. The failures he had, particularly in the Middle East, rose from his fervent desire to keep the U.S. out of another war.
Obama may well be remembered by historians for two things that didn’t happen on his watch. First, he kept the economy from imploding. The car industry was saved, the banking system made solvent, and a slow but painful process of economic revival took place. Second, he didn’t get sucked into another quagmire like Iraq. The 175,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reduced to 15,000. Yes, it wasn’t a perfect Presidency. But considering the near collapse of the economy in 2008, Obama did well in keeping America from falling into the abyss of a second Great Depression, and from being drawn into another grinding war. History is likely to view Barack Obama very kindly.
editor’s note: We’ve made some sentences bold. – R.T.
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, a senior House Democrat and leading voice in Congress on U.S.-Russia relations – author of a bipartisan bill recently passed by Congress to sanction Russia for corruption and human rights abuses – released the following statement in support of the Obama Administration’s latest round of sanctions against Russia:
“I strongly support President Obama’s actions today to respond to Russia’s interference in our election. American democracy was attacked in 2016. This was a very serious act by a foreign government and deserves a very serious response. These sanctions are a strong step to hold accountable those individuals identified by U.S. intelligence agencies as responsible for meddling in our presidential election. But more action is needed.
“We need an independent and bipartisan commission to fully investigate the actions by all who played a role in interfering in this year’s election. Protecting our elections from foreign interference is vital to our national security and must be our first priority. Both Republicans and Democrats alike must put country first and work together to support a complete and thorough investigation to give the American people the answers they deserve and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
“President-elect Trump’s continued praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign and in the face of overwhelming evidence that Russia interfered in our election should alarm all Americans. The incoming Trump administration must work with both parties in Congress to build on these new sanctions and ensure this attack on American democracy is answered strongly and swiftly. We must be united in standing up to Russia and protecting the integrity of our elections against all foreign influence.”
Rose says: Oh, baby, it’s Putin hat time! Pax, baby! It’s only faux fur – as fake as Putin’s professed love for Donald Trump, our soon to be Idiot in Chief!!
Donald Trump! Our next president!!!! Madness!!!! Think: North Korea, China, ISIS, Iran, our intrepid servicemen and women, African Americans, the working class, planet earth, refugees … Think: more war, more terror attacks, more extinct flora and fauna, more betrayals, more pain, more deaths. America’s in for one hell of a roller-coaster ride! Everything we hold close to our hearts – rights and mores we take for granted – Trump will stomp on! And that day-glo orange hair – every follicle a hair-spray-saturated punch line. FOUR YEARS OF TRUMP. GOD SAVE US.
By Svetlana Alexievich, (2016, Random House, 470 Pages)
Reviewed by Steven R. Maher
If Americans want to know why Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is so popular among his own people, they might want to read Svetlana Alexievich’s “Secondhand Time,” subtitled “The Last of the Soviets.” It’s an oral history of what happened in the former Soviet Union after the 1991 collapse of the Communist state.
In 2015 Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her previous books were first person accounts of the Soviet Union’s unsuccessful war in Afghanistan, suicide by old-line Communists after the Soviet Union disappeared and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Secondhand Time is the latest in this genre.
While a history buff, this writer has not read a lot books of disparate “first person” accounts. This book is different. In Secondhand Time, Alexievich breaks the book down into readable blocks. She interviewed former Soviet citizens about aspects of how they handled the transition to democracy and free enterprise capitalism. She puts in well placed chapters, quoting newspaper articles, citations from books and other sources to create a refreshing change of narrative. The terrible difficulties faced by the average Russian at the grass roots level during the great transition to a Western style political and economic system are at the heart of this book.
The phrase “Average Russian” well sums up life in the Soviet state. Except for those who worked in the “nomenclature” – the Bolshevik bureaucracy – the best most citizens could aspire to was being average. Ordinary Russians could expect to live on a subsistence diet in substandard housing. But for a people who had known nothing better, this system provided for their basic needs, and made the Soviet Union into a superpower many Russians took pride in.
This all changed when Michael Gorbachev become ruler of the Soviet Union. When he introduced the “perestroika” policy of restructuring Soviet society, Gorbachev gave impetus to a flood of reform that he soon lost control of.
While Gorbachev remains an esteemed figure in the West, in Russia today he is a reviled figure, held responsible for collapsing the socialist economy before he found something to replace it with. There was no subtlety to what happened. There was no managed transition to a market economy. One day the Soviet currency was devalued, and within days ordinary Russians lost everything.
Russians had no idea what to do, or how to function under lassie faire capitalism. What entrepreneurial skills and drive they once possessed, had been killed by 74 years of Communist rule. Their bank accounts reduced to nothing, they searched their homes for anything of value to be sold at hastily built kiosks. Highly educated Russians with PHDs and doctorates found themselves washing dishes, digging ditches and cleaning toilets. Many could not find work at all.
The lucrative state monopolies, such as the oil companies, were divvied up among the Soviet leadership, who overnight went from being supposed Communist egalitarians to capitalistic oligarchs. Large, organized crime syndicates sprung up across the nation to shake down newly ambitious small capitalists, murder ordinary Soviet citizens and feed like vampires off the populace.
Crimes rates soared. Russians who lived in a safe society found themselves coming across corpses of murder victims while walking down streets. Raw and ugly racism emerged. Tajiks – a Central Asian, dark skinned people – became the African-Americans of Russian society, manhandled by law enforcement, discriminated against in housing and jobs, and exploited for their cheap labor. The number of Russians who benefitted from the change to a market economy were few and far between.
This all took place in a society where there was no safety net for the unemployed, the old or the ill. It took Americans two hundred years to develop social security and Medicare. No wonder many Russians yearn to go back to the old USSR. These people were derisively called “Sovoks.” In America, they would probably be called “deplorables.”
Preparation for Putin
Particularly chilling to read were the cries for a Stalin-like strongman to “make Russia great again.” The recount of terrorist attacks by Chechen Islamic terrorists in Moscow reminds one of 9/11. There are sections about mothers burying children killed in Chechnya, reminding one of American mothers doing the same for offspring killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Alexiewich sees this as being within the Russian tradition of having strong Tsars. History has prepared the Russians for a leader like Vladimir Putin. It’s no wonder he has such widespread approval among the Russian public at large.
The book has several flaws. Some of the chapters are too long, and an index would have helped. Whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, this book’s subject matter is difficult to get through. But if you want to know why Putin is so popular in today’s Russia, reading this book would be a good place to start.