Russia

The Fourth Wave

Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote that all the great events of the past 700 years—from the Crusades and English wars that decimated the nobles, to the discovery of firearms and the art of printing, to the rise of Protestantism and the discovery of America—had the ineluctable effect of advancing the principle of equality. Political scientist Samuel Huntington went further and identified several historical waves of democratization. The First Wave began with our own revolution in 1776, which was quickly followed by the French Revolution.

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Every night for a week and a half, I stayed up until four in the morning in my Moscow hotel room, watching Egypt’s glorious revolution. It was a routine prompted partly by a bad case of jet lag, but mostly by captivation with an uprising that appeared to have acquired its own unstoppable momentum.

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Silicon Implant

When Dmitri Medvedev became Russia’s president in 2008, he projected a very different image from that of his predecessor. Vladimir Putin is a buff former KGB agent who is fond of rugged pursuits, such as hunting and fishing, and is frequently photographed engaged in them without his shirt on. Medvedev is an elfin St. Petersburg-trained lawyer who enjoys chess and photography, practices yoga daily, and is the proud owner of the complete recordings of Deep Purple on vinyl.

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Jim O’Neil, an economist at Goldman Sachs and the man who coined the acronym “BRICs” (standing for Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and thereby promoted those countries to the forefront of U.S. and European consciousness, is now saying that the year 2011 is “the year of the U.S. comeback.” Now, it’s true, analysts at investment banks make a lot of lousy predictions. And as our last “MetroMonitor” showed and as everyone in touch with reality already knows, the U.S. economy is still struggling.

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Karat Top

In the summer of 1932, Louis McFadden, a former bank president turned Pennsylvania Congressman, stood up on the House floor to reveal a sinister plot. Over the course of a 25-minute speech, he explained how the Federal Reserve—“one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever known”—was being steered by a cabal of European bankers who had, among other sins, paid for Leon Trotsky’s return ticket to Russia and funded the October Revolution. But McFadden’s pleas to dismantle the Fed and embrace gold (in his view, “the only real money”) were greeted with ridicule.

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The Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review is Turkey's major English language newspaper. Its web site this morning reported that, according to a survey of 1503 Turks done by MetroPoll, the United States is considered by 43% of the population as the major threat to Turkey. This means that the U.S. heads the list of enemies of the Turkish state. Israel follows but by only slightly more than half of the respondents. As for Turkey's traditional enemies -Iran, Greece, Iraq, Russia, Armenia- very few respondents see them as antagonists at all.

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After last November’s election, one might have expected the Obama White House and Democratic Congress to take six weeks off to mull their defeat. Instead, they used the lame duck session in December to win cloture-proof majorities for some very significant bills. Just today, the Senate ratified the new START arms control treaty by a whopping 71 to 26 vote. On December 18, the Senate voted by 65 to 31 to strike down the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against gays serving openly in the armed forces. Today’s ratification of the New Start treaty reduces U.S.

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Back to Normalcy

Where on earth is the United States headed? Has it lost its way? Is the Obama effect, which initially promised to halt the souring of its global image, over? More seriously, is it in some sort of terminal decline? Has it joined the long historical list of number one powers that rose to the top, and then, as Rudyard Kipling outlined it, just slowly fell downhill: “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday / At one with Nineveh and Tyre”? Has it met its match in Afghanistan?

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It seems eccentric, to say the least, that the FIFA selection committee chose Russia as the World Cup’s home in 2018, and all the more so as it meant overlooking perfectly serviceable countries such as Britain. (They also chose Qatar over the U.S. for 2022, but that's another counterintuitive story altogether.) Why not Russia, you might ask. After all, the country is home to numerous top-drawer soccer teams and has a solid pedigree for hosting international club games at their stadiums.

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I couldn't believe my eyes as I read Alan Cowell's New York Times report this morning that (as of now) 19 countries would not attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo for the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

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