Was Tina Fey (as Sarah Palin) aping Nikita Khrushchev?

Look at this! In the 21 September 1959 issue of the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is quoted as saying,

“San Francisco is a neighbor. You live very close to Russia and we look in each other’s windows.”

Of course it was in Tina Fey’s parodying of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live that she had this classic exchange with Amy Poehler playing Hillary Clinton:

FEY AS PALIN: “You know, Hillary and I don’t agree on everything…”

POEHLER AS CLINTON: (OVERLAPPING) “Anything. I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.”

FEY AS PALIN: “And I can see Russia from my house.”

Art continued to imitate are imitating life, when I extended this in a 2008 live action interactive murder mystery production, in which I played a Russian oil executive who wanted to “dryeill ze Bay” here in Bay View. When someone asked my character what I thought of Sarah Palin, I said, “You know, ven I go home to Vladivostok, and look out my bedroom veendow, and I see… Sarah… Da, Sarah, ona otchen korosho!”

Yeah, you pretty much had to be there. And while it is unlikely that Ms. Fey knew that obscure quote from Nikita Khrushchev, who knows? Art imitating life imitating art in the strangest ways.

More on the Russian spy ring

A few things:

• A total of eleven people have been arrested. They led seemingly normal lives in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia.

• Their neighbors thought they were average suburbanites, not spies. “‘They couldn’t have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas,’ 15-year-old Jessie Gugig quipped to the New York Times after the arrest of the Murphys.”

• This case is showing the subtly with which the Obama administration is capable of operating. From The Guardian:

[President] Obama was aware of the investigation before he met with the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev at the White House last Thursday. The two leaders did not discuss the issue, Gibbs said.

• Obama knew about it, but he and Medvedev had cheeseburgers together one day in Virginia! Mr. Obama certainly is a cool-minded leader if he can pull that off.

• Curiously, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin is among those who have said this won’t have a real impact on the course of Russian-American affairs. A writer for The Guardian agrees with that. (It’s my sense, too.)

• Who knew—Medvedev’s a Mac user! And an iPad user. And Steve Jobs gave Medvedev an Apple iPhone 4G during his tour of Silicon Valley. Lucky dog…

(Compare this to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s tour of California in 1959, when there was still extensive train service, and Silicon Valley didn’t exist!)

• The FBI announced the arrests a few days after Medvedev returned to Russia. David Hearst argues that this spy scandal is the last thing that Medvedev needs as he seeks to bring Russia more fully into the modern economic systems.

• The good news? The spy ring was busted before it could do any real spying.

Mislabeling a Brezhnevian G.O.P. coup as “stalinism”

“Bad search engines can yield amusing results” was the original name of this post. Pardon me if that sounds like a weak headline from most any daily newspaper you’re able to find in Milwaukee these days. (How many are there now again?) But it’s true. I was trying to find the editorial in which the Wisconsin State Journal referred to Madison’s Progressive Dane party as “stalinist.” Not even Google would turn that one up, so I tried WSJ’s search engine.

While the editorial which condemned Progressive Dane was absent, the very last item in the results was quite amusing to me:


ARTICLE: Barry Alvarez

Linking “stalinism” and the football team’s coach is the most daring thing I’ve seen the State Journal do in decades. If not the most honest.

But what am I saying? As the Badger Herald once printed, such labels should not be lightly tossed around. Especially when people don’t know anything about what the labels actually mean.

As someone who’s extensively studied Russian and Soviet history, I may be a little better able to do that with the term “stalinism.” I’m not sure I’d use it to describe Alvarez. He’s no Joe Stalin. For instance, Josef Stalin helped beat Hitler in World War II. And that’s fine and good. But did he ever lead a football team to the Rose Bowl? I don’t think so!

So when New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes that “G.O.P. Stalinists” have “invade[d] Upstate New York,” I have to pause to wonder. Is this another case of the misapplication of an incendiary phrase, similar to calling President Obama a marxist? When the Progressive Dane party and future-former Republican evangelists such as Sarah Palin and the teabaggers are labelled “stalinists,” I have to wonder if that’s appropriate. Or even correct. These terms tend to be applied when somone is trying to raise the temper of their perceived audience, even when they don’t really know what they’re saying. Sadly, it works.

I have a hunch that Frank Rich knows something about the history of the Soviet Union and the horrors that befell it under Uncle Joe. He probably knows a lot more about it than Sarah Palin does, even if her house happened to be on Attu Island. Calling the move “stalinist” may be over-reaching, but I take that term literally. To me, it means having secret police rounding up people in the middle of the night, and taking them to deep underground prisons, from which they never return.

This is not to say that Mr. Rich does not have a point. As I’ve wondered aloud, what will be the effect of the moderate Republicans such as Dede Scozzafava getting pushed out by the reactionary wing of the party and its once-and-future members?

While this has been a purge, to the best of my knowledge, it has been a completely bloodless purge. Thus it is much more in line with the outer of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who was put on trial by the Soviet Politburo on drummed-up charges two years after the Cuban-Turkish Missile Crisis and quietly made to step down.

So, even if Palin couldn’t actually see Russia from her house (wink!), the rush to throw love and money at Hoffman seems slightly more in the style of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (the Politburo) in 1964 than Stalin’s Great Purge (nee “Great Terror”) of 1932-1939.

But who on earth knows what you’re talking about if you say, “Geez, the G.O.P. sure pulled a real Brezhnevian coup there in New York twenty-third, huh?”

China and Russia explore future energy, political, and military partnerships

Although China and the Soviet Union were viewed by many as part of a monolithic wall of communism, their differences ran deep. In fact, Soviet Premier N. S. Khrushchev and Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong had such a fierce clash in 1959 that the cold silence between the two states lasted until some time after the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.

Fast foward to 2009. According to the AP, Russia’sonce-and-future president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “landed in China Monday in an effort to bolster energy, political and military ties between the former rival nations turned strategic partners.”

High on the agenda are a gas-for-loans deal, which is reported to be similar to a $25 billion oil-for-loan deal that the two states worked out earlier in 2009.

So then, Russia is certainly oil-rich, but not quite as financially boyant as they were when petroleum was around the $80/barrell mark. China, on the other hand, has relatively few mineral resources, but they are doing quite well for themselves under former Chairman Deng Xiaoping’s 1984 plan for “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” And really, who needs democracy when you can have socialism with Chinese characteristics?

Or it could be like Russia. There, Anders Åslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics argues, market reform has succeeded, but democracy failed to take root.

(Note: The author is at this point extremely grateful that he is in a country where he can say that without fear of persecution from anyone except an occasional blog troller, and not the secret police.)


Anyhow. Russia and China teaming up. Huh! Wonder what could come of that. Putin looks out for his own, and I’m sure the infusion of cash will go a long way to help him when he runs for re-election as Russian president in 2012. Unless Medvedev tries again; he’s been doing all right, so it just may work out that he can run for reelection should Putin allow him to do so.

Another fair question is what it means for China. They already have an oil pipeline a deal for an oil pipeline in the works that would run from Siberia to China.* Their rapidly expanding industry needs energy, especially petroleum, and consumes it ravenously. And there’s the whole shipping aspect — all that cheap plastic crap has to get to Wal-Mart somehow. The mind can swirl in amazement at the scale of it until you narrow down your range of vision and focus on particulars within it.

* That’s such a big space, it’s like saying a pipeline would run from western Canada to somewhere in the lower 48 American states.

Update: No breakthrough for China and Russia on natural gas, apparently, but you’ve gotta start somewhere. Besides, how else do you get great pictures like this?

The above photo is of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reviewing troops with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. (Photo (C) 2009 AFP/Getty Images.)