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.
But first …
By Steven R. Maher
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.
But first …
A German mag cover says it all …
editor’s note: I’ve made some sentences bold. – R.T.
By filmmaker Michael Moore
Friends, I welcome you to “The Michael Moore Easy-to-Follow 10-Point Plan to Stop Trump.”
First, let’s acknowledge what we all know to be true: Trump is in deep, deep trouble – in the pocket of Russians, surrounded by alt.right idiots, alone in his bathrobe in a mostly-empty White House – and caught inside a disgusting “shit-sandwich,” so said his supporter who turned down the NSA job.
Only one month into his So-Called Presidency – and yet there is good news, as this is what the American landscape looks like:
• Tens of thousands of citizens across the country have stormed Congressional district offices and town hall meetings to express their rage at the Trump agenda (a dejected Republican congressman, after a 3-hour verbal assault from his angry constituents, said on TV last night, “let’s face it – they [the Obamacare supporters] have won.”).
• A federal court halted Trump’s first Muslim Ban – actually, make that FOUR federal courts have ruled against him! He’s conceded defeat and will not appeal to the Supreme Court (though he will try a new ban – and good luck with that, you son of a Scottish immigrant).
• Progressive Democrat Congressman Keith Ellison appears to be the front-runner for this Saturday’s vote to head the Democratic Party – and to FIX the whole damn mess! Also, a recruitment drive has begun across the country to find the best local candidates to run for state and federal offices in 2018. Millions are committed to never letting the Debacle of ‘16 happen again.
• Our beautiful Army of Comedy – with its Platoon of Satirists led by Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy – is killing it! The devastating impersonation of White House spokesman Sean Spicer by McCarthy has Trump fuming to the point where he has considered getting rid of Spicer. Politico says he simply can’t watch one of his top aides being portrayed by … a woman!
So the momentum is with us right now – and if we all just take a little time to do the Action Plan below, I’m convinced we’ll succeed in halting the dark force that is Trump. We can tie him up in knots at every turn, and eventually, we can bring him down.
So let’s get started with our…
10-POINT ACTION PLAN TO STOP TRUMP
1. THE DAILY CALL: You must call Congress every day. Yes – YOU! 202-225-3121. It will take just TWO MINUTES! Make it part of your daily routine, one of those five things you do every morning without even thinking about it:
1. Wake up.
2. Brush teeth.
3. Walk dog (or stare at cat).
4. Make coffee.
5. Call Congress.
It is impossible to overstate just how much power you have by making this simple, quick DAILY CALL. I know from firsthand experience the impact it has. These politicians freak out if they get just 10 calls on an issue. Imagine them getting 10,000! Holy crap – the dome will pop off that building!
NOTE: if you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t need to call because my rep is a Democrat!” — that is NOT true. They need to hear from you. They need to know they have your support. Don’t believe it? Our beloved Sen. Elizabeth Warren voted in favor of Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development! I’m sure no one in Massachusetts thought they had to call her. YOU DO! She and the other Dems need to hear from the boss — YOU! They work for us – and what boss doesn’t have daily contact with his or her employees?
It’s easy to make The Daily Call. To call your U.S. member of Congress or Senators in D.C., dial 202-225-3121 (or 202-224-3121 if busy). It’s even better to call their direct line. For Senators, find each of their numbers here: http://bit.ly/2kko0Ao. For the direct line to your member in the House of Representatives: http://house.gov/representatives.
Here’s some great news: Someone has created an app to make this very easy: Go to the App Store and get “5 Calls.” The app will dial the friggin’ phone for you and give you talking points for when you speak to your reps!
Here’s what a sample week of your DAILY CALL can look like:
On Monday, call your Congressman/woman and tell them you do not want them to repeal Obamacare. In fact, you want them to improve it so that we have single-payer universal health care like all other “civilized” countries.
On Tuesday, call the first of your two U.S. Senators and tell him to vote NO on Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy. He couldn’t even remember there was a Department of Energy – or what it did!
On Wednesday, call your other U.S. Senator. Demand she do everything in her power to block the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Thursday, call your local State House/Assembly representative in your state capital. Tell her you want the House to vote for legislation that prohibits the incarceration of nonviolent drug users.
On Friday, call your State Senator. Tell him you want him to support all efforts to reduce those activities which cause climate change.
If you’d rather to write to your reps, you can find the best way to do that for each of them here by typing in your address on: democracy.io.
I will post updates on the actions we’re fighting for each day and week on my Twitter and Facebook pages. If you want to know what to call your reps about, I encourage you to follow me right now on Facebook at facebook.com/MMFlint and on Twitter at @MMFlint. All my social media sites are at my website www.michaelmoore.com.
Remember – A call a day keeps the Trump away.
2. THE MONTHLY VISIT: To add even more pressure, SHOW UP! Your member of Congress has a local office in your town or somewhere nearby. So do both of your U.S. Senators (often in the nearest federal building). Go there and ask to speak to their aide about the issues we’re facing (again, I will continually post them on my social media sites).
Also, don’t forget to visit the local office (or the state capitol office) of your State Representative/Assemblyperson, and your State Senator.
And, if you’re lucky to live within driving distance of Washington, DC, show up on Capitol Hill and pay an unannounced (it’s legal!) in-person visit to your U.S. Senators and your Congressman/woman. They pay serious attention to this. It blows their mind that you’d drive that far to see them. Do it!
I know not everyone has the time to do THE MONTHLY VISIT – but if you can, please do!
3. YOUR OWN PERSONAL RAPID RESPONSE TEAM: You and 5 to 20 friends and family members must become your personal RAPID RESPONSE TEAM. Sign everybody up so that when we need to leap into action (like we did at the airports the hour after Trump signed his Muslim Ban), you can email and text each other and make an instant plan. On other days, you’ll share links to good investigative stories and TV news items. Come up with a name for your RAPID RESPONSE TEAM — mine is called “The V for Vendetta Rapid Response Team” and it consists of myself, my daughter and son-in-law (and their new baby!); my two sisters, their spouses and adult children; my cousin; 8 friends; 6 co-workers; and my next door neighbor. That’s 27 of us and we live from Seattle to Michigan to Maryland. And each of them are forming their own local Rapid Response Teams. So that means the 27 on my team are so far responsible 405 new Rapid Responders overnight! And each of those 405 are doing the same – they’re recruiting their own 5-20 people – and BOOM! 4,050 more Rapid Responders tomorrow — and growing!
4. JOIN! JOIN! JOIN!: We all know it’s time for all of us to be part of a greater whole, so let’s actually physically sign up online and JOIN some of our great national groups. I’ve joined Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Black Lives Matter, Democratic Socialists of America, and ERA Action. Some charge money to join, so if you don’t have much, pick the lowest amount ($5 for ACLU for example) — or join groups that don’t charge anything (but if you can help them financially, please do). They will keep you informed of national actions and fight for us in court.
5. THE WOMEN’S MARCH NEVER ENDS: The historical, record-breaking January 21st Women’s March on Washington — and the hundreds of other Marches that day across the US and the world, with over 4 million in attendance! — brought massive numbers of people out who had never protested in their lives. It inspired millions of others and ignited so many local movements we still can’t count them all. The day after the Women’s March, another two dozen protests took place. The day after that, 2,000 Utahans jammed into their state capitol in Salt Lake City. Then, on the following Saturday, tens of thousands of Americans occupied their local airports to oppose Trump’s Muslim ban. And on and on and on. Every day — still! — dozens of actions continue to take place as if the Women’s March never ended. It hasn’t. Join it!
I and a group of friends have set up THE RESISTANCE CALENDAR (www.resistancecalendar.com) that is updated daily, where you can find out what actions are taking place near where you live. All you have to do is type in your city or state in the search bar.
It’s critical that large numbers of us continue to march, protest, sit-in, and be very visible – to Trump, so he knows we are the majority; to put the Dems on notice that we expect them to grow a spine; to our fellow Americans who live in Boise or Tulsa or Grand Rapids and have been feeling alone and afraid since the election. Our mass presence reminds them the people didn’t elect Trump. And it is good for each of us to operate in concert with each other, to feel the solidarity and the hope.
And the official Women’s March on Washington – they’ve called for a national Women’s Strike on March 8th. Let’s join them!
6. TAKE OVER THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The old guard of the Party has twice in 16 years presided over the majority of Americans electing the Democrat to the White House – only for us all to see the losing Republican inaugurated as President. How is it that we have won the popular vote in SIX OF THE LAST SEVEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS — the Republicans have only won ONCE since 1988 — and yet, we hold NO power in any branch of government?! That, plus losing 1,000 local seats in this election that the Dems use to hold — plus watching many Dems in Congress unwilling to stand up to Trump — PLEASE, the old leadership has to go. God love ’em for their contributions in the past, but if we don’t enact a radical overhaul right now, we are doomed as far as having a true opposition party during the Trump era. And that, more than anything, will help to usher in the vice-grip of a totalitarian culture.
You must do two things:
1. Let the DNC know that THIS SATURDAY, February 25th, the Democratic National Committee MUST elect reform and progressive candidate, Congressman Keith Ellison, as the new DNC chair. Keith is a former community organizer, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and a key backer of Bernie Sanders. He not only has Bernie’s support -and mine-but he’s also backed by Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Gloria Steinem, John Lewis and many others. Sign his petition of support at www.keithfordnc.org/howyoucanhelp. Let the DNC know how you feel.
And locally, you need to start attending your county Democratic meetings. If possible, organize your friends and others and take over your local Dem organization. More on this at a later date.
7. HELP FORM BLUE REGIONS OF RESISTANCE: People keep saying to me, “Mike – I live in a Blue State – what can I do?” If you live in a Blue State, you have one of the MOST important tasks to complete: Show the rest of America what it looks like when Trump isn’t in charge! Blue States and Blue Cities must do an end-run around Trump and create the America we want to live in. That means New York goes ahead and offers Free College for All. California can create its own Universal Health Care. Oregon can stop mass incarceration of African Americans. Hawaii can enact its own climate change laws. Blue States can show the rest of country how much better life can be. Important historical note: Before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, California and New York passed their own state laws to make it legal. This greatly helped pave the way for CHOICE being the new normal — and the enactment of Row v. Wade.
8. YOU MUST RUN FOR OFFICE: I know, that’s the LAST thing you want to do. But if we keep leaving the job up to the dismal, lame, pathetic political hacks who have sold us all down the river, then what right do we have to complain? This is only going to get fixed when you and I decide we are willing to put in our time — even if it is a brief time — and run for office. I ran when I was 18 and got elected. You can, too. We need good candidates for the 2018 elections — and not just Congress and State Houses, but also school boards, city councils and county commissions. Why not take out a petition today and run next year? Heck, I’ll bet I’ll even support you!
I realize most of you can’t do this — but there is one office every one of us can and SHOULD run for next year: PRECINCT DELEGATE. Every precinct, every neighborhood can elect x-number of Dems to the county Democratic Convention. It’s on the ballot and it’s usually blank – no one runs for it. So the precinct delegates end up being appointed by the party hacks. And that’s who ends up eventually at the national convention to pick the next presidential candidate. So this is an important position to run for. The time commitment is just 3 hours a year! You attend the county convention — that’s it. Call your city or county clerk and find out how to get on the ballot. If you’ll do it, I’ll do it. It’s the first step to making sure we put a candidate on the ballot who can win.
9. YOU MUST BECOME THE MEDIA: Stop complaining about the media, stop wishing they were something they’re not, find the ones who are doing a good job and then start your own “media empire” by sharing their work and your work on the internet. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media sites to spread news and information. Make sure all your friends and family are signed up. Yes, I’m talking to you, Baby Boomers. Get over it, put down your postage stamps and your “TV clicker” and find a six-year old to show you how to start tweeting. You can be your own reporter, your own editor. You can curate the news for your friends. And now Facebook lets you have your own network with Facebook Live! It’s all free. Get on social media now. Imagine, your own CNN is in the palm of your hand…
10. JOIN THE ARMY OF COMEDY: Trump’s Achilles heel is his massively thin skin. He can’t take mockery. So we all need to MOCK HIM UP! Not just the brilliant people at SNL or Colbert, Seth Myers or Samantha Bee — but YOU. Use your sense of humor and share it with people. Get them to do the same. Keep sending around the SNL links spoofing Sean Spicer, Trump and Kellyanne — there’s no such thing as watching them too many times! Hahaha. I truly believe the final tipping point for Trump will be when he implodes from all the laughter — the mocking, the unbearable ridicule of tens of millions of Americans that will discombobulate him and force him out of the White House. I know this seems like Mike’s fever dream, but I believe it can work. I don’t know what happened to Trump in boarding school at 13 and I don’t care. Whatever it was, let’s use it. He’s used all the other things he picked up over the years – misogyny, bigotry, greed – against the powerless and the unfortunate. It’s time to laugh him outta town. And if there’s one thing we all could use right now is a good laugh — AND the possibility of a much-shortened presidential term.
So, there you go! The 10-Point Action Plan to Thump Trump. Something for everyone. And every one of us needs to do them. Please share this and spread the word. We can stop him. We can nonviolently block and obstruct halt the damage he’s doing. But it’s going to need – and take – ALL HANDS ON DECK!
Let’s make Trump toast again.
– Michael Moore
But first …
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.
A cry for help in Trumpland!
This 35-page “top secret” report on madman Trump’s ties to the Russians is as lurid as his hair color!
THIS DANGEROUS, RIDICULOUS PAWN will soon be our next president!
Click on the blue-colored link below to read the report…
From The New York Times:
InCity Book Review
Secondhand Time, The Last of the Soviets
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.