As newspapers go, The Moscow Times is heavy on the outrage and light on the research. It employs a stable of colourful journalists, including Alexei Bayer – whose articles typically carry the byline “Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite” although he emigrated to the United States in 1974 and has lived there ever since, lending his articles on Russia a certain authoritative cachet which relies on Russia’s not having changed since 1974 – as well as the begging-to-be-made-fun-of Nickolaus von Twickel, white-ribbon activist and inept strategy hopeful Vladimir Ryzhkov (who is not actually a journalist, but whose sarcastic mockery of the Russian government for warning in 2006 that Georgia intended to invade South Ossetia set a new benchmark for foot-eating; that was in the St Petersburg Times, which has the same owner), bipolar defense expert Pavel Felgenhauer, who probably would not recognize a tank if it was in his parking space when he arrived at work in the morning, and a cavalcade of assorted complainers who remind me of something Lonnie Anderson said once – as her character Jennifer Marlowe in the now-defunct “WKRP in Cincinnati” – “We employ some people who, otherwise, would not be able to get jobs”.
But the jewel in The Moscow Times’ crown is its flame-haired, fact-free fantasy factory, the Duchess of Distortion, Yulia Latynina.
The customary target of her spitting, speed-blinking invective is Russia’s current president, Vladimir Putin, and she often works herself into such a state that you expect her head to start doing creaking revolutions on her shoulders, like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist. She will say – literally – anything, and as if being a journalist murdered by the Russian regime were a badge of honour, appears to regard Mr. Putin’s continuing disinterest in killing her both a personal challenge and a dare to hit even greater heights of hyperbole.
This time, however, her basilisk glare falls upon the beneficiary of the recent Georgian elections and soon-to-be Georgian leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili. This really has nothing to do with any particular offense Ivanishvili has committed, but is a furious and spit-flecked defense of his predecessor and Latynina love-object, President Mikheil Saakashvili (thanks to Moscow Exile for the link).
Those familiar with Latynina’s style know she likes to be always on the attack, and to leap to another subject while you are still unraveling the first. This is no exception, as she launches into an apologia – if you can believe it – for former Saakashvili Defense and Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia. You remember; the guy who resigned in disgrace over videos that showed prison guards raping prisoners in Georgian jails with a broom handle. Why would he do that, if he was no longer Interior Minister in charge of prisons? Because, as his accuser specifically points out, the abuse began years ago, when Akhalaia was still in charge and after he had put his cronies in leadership positions. But of course he is not being charged with that, because there is no proof directly tying him to that incident. I point that out merely to show you what kind of guy has Yulia Latynina rushing to his defense – the same Yulia Latynina who took a shot at Alla Pugacheva (over the Pussy Riot affair) for “living in sin with a gypsy who has a daughter older than herself”. I’m a simple guy, but the message I get is that living in sin with a partner much younger than yourself is way up there on the scale of disgrace, in comparison with having a broomhandle shoved up your ass. Really? Bend over, Yulia. I want you to assist me with a social experiment.
Anyway, as I said, Akhalaia is not being charged for that. According to Latynina, who deliberately muddies the story so as to give her own hallucinogenic reasoning some semblance of credibility, Akhalaia was to be charged with an incident in which Georgian servicemen were imprisoned, beaten and starved, in 2010. Instead, she tells us, a smaller number of military officers was “given a tongue-lashing” by Akhalaia in his office last year, one was struck on the head with a knife handle, and then the group was taken to Vaziani military base where the officers were subjected to physical abuse in the presence of subordinates. This, Latynina assures us, bespeaks an instance in which officers have disgraced their uniform, and their punishment is therefore appropriate. Although she knows absolutely nothing about the case other than what she tells you here, she has concluded that Akhalaia was merely meting out appropriate punishment to “lowlifes” who had brought dishonour on their uniform, and Ahkalaia is some kind of patriot. He should probably have been given a medal for his conscientious and personal enforcement of discipline! She is further curious to know why the head of the General Staff and the Commander of the 4th Army are also implicated “simply because they were standing beside Akhalaia when it happened”, as if it is perfectly unremarkable in civilized military forces for the Defense Minister to physically strike servicemen while senior officers charged with their care look on. Would she be as defensive if former Russian Defense Minister Serdyukov struck a Russian officer in his office while Makarov and the officer’s Army commander looked on, speculate that Serdyukov had only been doing his duty in defending Russian honour, and conclude that the officer struck must have been a lowlife who had disgraced his uniform? I find myself groping for a suitable expression of incredulity.
Not that such a thing would ever happen in Russia, of course; in Russia – I can’t believe I’m hearing this – such repressive measures are not used against political opponents. You’ll want to bookmark that one, I suspect. Apparently Akhalaia is some kind of political oppponent of Ivanishvili, although he resigned some time ago. Just by the bye, I also suspect that while Akhalaia (and several other “high-ranking Interior Ministry Officials”) is in custody, the new government will want him to do some ‘splainin’ about the computer virus his department used to penetrate citizens’ computers and gather personal information; in the case of political opponents, used to discredit them.
Not that we expect much of Ivanishvili; after all, he promised to lower prices and triple pensions, and he’s been in office a whole month already and he hasn’t done it!! What?? Who voted for this hammerhead, anyway??
Sadly, Ivanishvili’s agenda is already crystal-clear. To Yulia, at least. He’s going to “destroy the state machinery that President Mikheil Saakashvili created and that had done such a good job of serving people’s interests. Second, he will have to find some way to distract Georgian voters who are waiting for him to fulfill his grossly exaggerated campaign promises.”
I’m pretty sure we’ve already taken a look – several times – at the impressive state machinery that Mr. Saakashvili created and that had done such a good job serving the people’s interests. But what the hell, let’s look again. Here’s a snapshot of Georgia in the rest of the world as the torch is passed to Ivanishvili, provided we can all agree that a month is not quite enough time for it to have moved to the head of the list. See it? Right down there, three slots below Congo. The ranking is based upon GDP. But hey, it’s really easy to set up a business in Georgia!! that must count for something. Well, let’s see. GDP, $14 Billion. GDP growth year-over-year, 7.3%; pretty good. All Saakashvili’s doing , of course. Really, 7.3% is excellent considering American growth is a sickly 2.3%; both Russia and Canada are doing better than that. I can’t help noticing, though, that Congo’s growth is only a tenth of a point lower than Georgia’s, and I haven’t seen too many articles singing the praises of Congo as an economic juggernaut with impressive state machinery that serves its people’s interests. GDP growth (back to Georgia) quarter-over-quarter is unavailable. Interest rate, 5.75%. Inflation, .10%. So far, so good. Oops. Unemployment, 15. 1%. Ladies and gentlemen, the impressive state machinery of President Saakashvili has just come to a shuddering halt.
How bad is 15.1% unemployment? Well, first of all, that’s only the rate the Georgian government reports. Once Ivanishvili gets a feel for where things actually stand, expect it to go up sharply, because the former Georgian government had some eye-wideningly creative ways of making unemployed people look employed; in fact, that will be a good test of Ivanishvili’s honesty, because if he says the unemployment rate has doubled since he took over, he’s going to take a lot of flak for it, notably from assrockets like Latynina. Anyway, back to how bad is 15.1% unemployment. Let’s look, in the context of who else is exemplary of horrible unemployment. Senegal, 12%. Gabon, 16%. Mali, 10.5%. Kyrgyzstan, 8.6%. Egypt, 12.6%. In fact, of all those countries listed – 150 in all – only 24 are worse than Georgia. The jobless rate in the poorest country in the world (Liberia) – in terms of GDP – is 3.7%.
We don’t want to spend a lot of time poring over boring statistics, but one I think is particularly illustrative of the fine state machinery President Saakashvili put in place to serve the people’s needs is the nation’s balance of trade. This records how much money Georgia makes on its exports balanced against how much it spends on imports. In a perfect arrangement, it’d be a strong net positive, indicating the country was accumulating wealth by not spending as much as it is earning on its exports. As you can see, the fine state machinery of President Saakashvili resulted in a staggering negative ($509 million at last count, only slightly less than its worst performance of $580 million in 2007 – reset the default start date to 2004 to see Saakashvili’s entire debacle), suggesting the country is in about 10 times the financial trouble it was when Saakashvili took over. Would you like to see what a healthy balance of trade, over the same period, looks like? Here you go. The Georgia balance of trade site helpfully points out that Georgia – under Saakashvili – “has failed to diversify its exports and relies heavily on agriculture and low value added resource exploration”. Meanwhile, the state borrowed heavily to finance President Saakashvili’s megalomanaical ambitions.
Which brings me to the accusation that Ivanishvili will “rule from his palace”. To begin with, I doubt very much he ever said that, or anything close, and I suspect Latynina simply made it up. But even if he did say exactly that – so what? It’s his house: he’s a billionaire, and he paid for it. It cost the citizens of Georgia zip, nada, nothing. Did Saakashvili rule from the counter at the Tbilisi McDonalds? Of course not – he ruled from the Presidential Palace, which he had built to his specifications and with the assistance of Italian architect Michel de Lucci (who also designed that ostentatious glass bridge Saakashvili had built, the man has a thing about glass). The immediately obvious difference is that the Georgian taxpayer footed the bill for Chateau Saakashvili, and which its tenant allowed had cost “a trifle” at GEL 13 Million. You have only to look at it – it’s several times the size of the White House – to know that is just another of the numberless lies out of Saakashvili’s mouth, but that’s as may be – even if it only cost $1 million, that’s $1 million more than Ivanishvili’s residence cost the people of Georgia.
There are other newsmagazines like The Moscow Times; you can find them anywhere. Usually arranged in gaudy review at the supermarket checkout, where you can catch up on what’s really going on – did you know, for instance, that Jill Kelly, Florida socialite at the eye of the Petraeus hurricane, is actually a Russian spy working for Putin? True story. Bet you were way behind the curve on the bombshell that Mitt Romney, grief-stricken at the implosion of his presidential ambitions, has left the USA and moved with his entire family (remember, he’s a Mormon, so that’s probably, what, a million people?) to the Cayman Islands. Remember, you heard it here first. Oh, and Kim Kardashian’s butt implant exploded when the plane in which she was a passenger had to go above 38,000 ft. to avoid turbulence. I’m a little skeptical about that one. Anyway, the point is that there are other outlets where you can just make shit up and never have to explain, or give vent to your journalistic creativity, depending on your point of view. I’m sure such outlets would welcome dirt on Vladimir Putin – perhaps one in which Putin was piloting the plane, on a secret mission to pick up girlfriend Jill Kelly, when Kardashian’s butt exploded.
Bellevue has a lovely facility, where I’m sure Yulia would be welcomed as a prestigious guest. And she’d be in wonderful America, where all things are possible, instead of stinky rotten Russia where everything is dirty and hateful and the stupid people keep voting for Putin. Only one thing in her life would remain unresolved, one tiny barrier standing in the way of blissful happiness.
Okay, then; they can hire a Putin lookalike to creep in and pretend to try to kill her. That will set her poor jellied mind at rest.