An over-earnest doozy from the Times today. Describing the move of veteran Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross from the State Department to the White House, the Times writes, helpfully:
David Makovsky, Mr. Ross’s co-author in the just-published book Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East (Viking), offered a different possible reason: “Dennis Ross is the Lebron James of Middle East diplomacy,” Mr. Makovsky said.
While the comparison is somewhat strained, the larger point is as valid as any of the other theories meant to explain Mr. Ross’s move from Foggy Bottom to Pennsylvania Avenue.
New blog post, in RUSSIA!:
Today, a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Igor Popov, the deputy to the artistic director of the venerable, historical, mythical Moscow Art Theater, founded by Constantin Stanislavski in 1898 and home, once upon a time, to Anton Chekhov and Mikhail Bulgakov.
Popov was apparently on the verge of embezzling 36 million rubles (a hair over $1 million USD now that the ruble’s been on fire sale) earmarked for the renovation of the historic building in the center of Moscow. He had been in charge of overseeing the contracts and the funds, which he demanded be transferred to a shell account whence he could remove them for pocketing purposes.
Reactions at the Theater have been varied. Artistic Director Oleg Tabakov, a People’s Artist and the voice of the famous cartoon cat Matroskin, is apparently cooperating vigorously with the authorities.
A spokesman for the theater told the press, however, that all this arrest stuff seems to be a bit much. The money hasn’t been stolen, the renovations continue apace — what’s a little attempted embezzlement between friends? “It doesn’t strike me as beneficial to the theater’s health,” he said.
How To Steal A Million [RUSSIA!]
Today, I received an odd emailing from The Nation, with the following subject line: “Dick Cheney called…he wants his empire back.” I thought it would be a rant about, well, Dick Cheney. Instead it was an odd call to arms — to switch phone companies:
Dear Nation Reader,
Did you know that AT&T contributed the legal maximum to the Bush-Cheney campaign, twice? I didn’t. But I do know that there’s a cell phone company that shares your progressive values, and I’m hoping if you’re not already a Credo Mobile customer that you’ll quickly become one by following the links below.
Now, we all know traditional media outlets like The Nation, founded in 1865, are struggling to stay afloat. I also know that, in America, we like to think we vote with our credit cards. (On its site, Credo Mobile advertises its donations to Planned Parenthood and Greenpeace, and ticks off political stances — “stop global warming,” “reform political campaign financing” — as if they’re features of a cellular plan.) But this, for such a progressive, left-leaning magazine, seemed, well, an odd choice.
Yesterday, the New York Times had an interesting story about the vigorous bounce-back of so-called developing markets, focusing exclusively on the BRIC countries. Industrial production has picked back up in China, car sales are on the rise in India, and Brazil’s stock market shot up by 41% in the last three months.
The notable blank in the piece was, of course, the R. Russia slipped past almost without mention.
So to fill in the gap, I’ll draw on a recent investors’ note sent out by the Eurasia Group, whose Russia analyst has just returned from a research trip. As has been widely reported, the economic situation in Russia has calmed significantly since the calamity that was fall and winter. This, however, is due largely to the rally of commodity prices — namely oil — in the last few months. Given that, Russia could have made it into the Times. But there are significant risks of further destabilization. Apparently, Russian banks are sitting on a huge pile of non-performing loans, and no one knows just how many of them they have:
Current official statistics of 3-5% understate real conditions, and while state banks forecast 10% by the end of the year, private bank analysts in Moscow say the real level could reach 30%, forcing the state to undertake a massive recapitalization.
Then there’s the fact that there is a struggle brewing between liberals and the “strong men” over now in-play assets, consumer prices have sky-rocketed, unemployment is still high, and that the Kremlin’s economic team, even with some very competent technocrats in charge, seems content to simply bob back up on rising oil prices without undertaking real, structural reforms.
Perhaps this is why the Times didn’t mention Russia in its things-are-looking-up panorama, though including one slightly more shaky example would have made for a more believable, well-calibrated piece.
Last night, I went to a cocktail party on the humid terrace of the Maritime Hotel, in Chelsea. Nouriel Roubini, the host and the subject of a profile I wrote for The New Republic, floated around what he called “a smart, finance-oriented crowd,” explaining his latest prediction: a W-shaped recovery, like what we saw in the 1930s. This latest bounce in the stock market, he says, is nothing but a sucker’s rally. Sometime at the end of 2010, we may see a second dip — thus the W shape.
Interesting, this. Roubini originally went against the optimists, who said it would be a short, V-shaped recession; it would, he said, look more like a U. Then things got really, really bad and he changed his mind: a prolonged L-shaped recession. Then things improved a bit, and he went back to U. Now he’s toying with a W.
Clearly, this is a fluid, evolving situation, but this pin-balling around the alphabet is, to me, only the latest, most funny explanatory crutch in a field chock-full of helpful, meaning-killing clichés. In any case, SmartMoney offers a good explanation for the different shapes, though they leave out the hypotheticals I’d most like to see: a Q, say, or a B.