There’s this country… run by this government. The head of this government is singularly focused on centralizing his power. This leader acts like a patriot. He speaks of this country’s greatness and restoring it. He talks about transparency and prosecuting corruption. He talks about revitalizing economic growth.
But these are words, and they’re not quite reflective of reality.
The rich are allowed to prosper – as long as they support this leader and his policies – and prosper they do. Tremendously.
The government provides support – both financial and legal – both through government loans, development programs and manipulation of the legal system.
Corruption is endemic, but the leaders in the government claim they are fighting it.
However, any progress is only superficial, and cronyism rules the day. Every day.
Those endeavoring to combat corruption or expose the truth are persecuted by corrupt officials.
The media is intimidated and censored.
Those who don’t toe the line are punished using unethical tax laws and entities.
Thugs support and protect politicians – sometimes resorting to violence – to support the politicians’ agenda.
Does this sound familiar?
Does this sound like America?
In fact, it’s Russia. It’s Russia today.
And the leader is Vladimir Putin.
Putin is an interesting character. I don’t see him as a socialist, Marxist or communist. I think Putin is an authoritarian in the true sense of the word. He wants control. He wants stability to ensure the country remains in his control. And everything he does – from cronyism, to intimidation, to the abuse of the legal system to ensure his enemies are taken out of the game – is meant to advance his own power.
Fiona Hill and Cliff Gaddy write about Putin’s “free marketeer” personality.
Putin’s outsider status and his pragmatism enabled him to reject two of the central tenets of Communism: state ownership and central planning. History taught him that the Soviet economic system failed. Private property, free enterprise, and the market were superior. But Putin’s understanding of capitalism was limited. The business practices he was exposed to during his time as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg did not have a primary emphasis on entrepreneurship, production, management, or marketing. In the 1990s, capitalism in St. Petersburg was more about personal connections to the city government than relations with workers and customers. As such, Putin seems to have emerged from his St. Petersburg experience with the view that winners in the market system are those who are best able to exploit the vulnerabilities of others, not necessarily those who provide the best goods and services at the most favorable prices. This perspective set him up to exploit the vulnerabilities of others, including Russian businessmen, to manipulate them and ensure that they followed the directives of the Kremlin.
Putin is not stupid. He understands what toppled the Soviet Union and the majority of centrally planned economies. I agree with Hill and Gaddy, but it is also precisely why I can’t describe Putin as a free marketeer. Just because he understands why the Soviet economic system failed and respects free enterprise as superior to central planning, doesn’t make him a capitalist. He has allowed the Russian oligarchs to make obscene amounts of money, and is discussing selling shares of government oil and gas giants Gazprom and Rosneft. He backs some privatization, but wants oligarchs to pay a fee to the government for “dishonest” privatization in the 1990s.
He appears to support limited free markets – as long as he has control of strategic industries like defense.
This is not free market capitalism, and this is not truly private property. When the government gives you money, dictates the terms of your contracts, chooses your customers and dictates where you buy parts for your business, the market is far from free.
Barack Obama – despite his claims about respecting the free market – only allows it to function as long as it benefits him and his supporters, and only under his control. Remember Government Motors
Obama understands that central planning will leave him as head of America Decimated, so he knows socialism is the way to go. Ergo he has developed symbiotic relationships with key industries and unions. They support him, and he does everything in his power to ensure that the corrosive policies of his government benefit them, instead of hurting them. I’m convinced this is why the White House insisted on breaks for certain industries during budget negotiations this winter.
Putin is a corrupt strongman with a penchant for dishonest, coercive tactics.
Those who cooperated with him have become rich, and have attained positions of power. Those who haven’t, wind up in jail on questionable, politically motivated charges – their assets seized, their reputations destroyed.
As Hill and Gaddy explain, Putin sat the oligarchs down for a pow-wow in 2000. “He explained that the businessmen would retain their extensive assets, but they would have to agree to a new tax regime that would give the federal government more resources. He told them that they must also actively consider Russian national interests, as defined by Putin and the state, when engaging in economic activities abroad. This was private enterprise with strings attached. The property rights of business magnates were ultimately dependent on the goodwill of the Kremlin.”
Those who dared expose his corruptocrats have suffered through fraudulent charges and rigged trials and subsequent death.
Journalists who dared expose corruption and government misdeeds… well… Anna Politkovskaya dared, and died – shot in the elevator of her apartment building after writing unfavorable reports about Putin and the FSB.
That’s how Putin treats those who attempt to challenge him.
Now, before you deride me for making a direct comparison between Putin and the current administration, I’m not. I am, however, pointing out the similarities between the tactics of these two administrations. Barack Obama is constrained by the governmental system of the United States, so his authoritarianism is tempered by our system of checks and balances. Vladimir Putin has no such constraints, as head of a modern, imperial state.
Whereas Putin took care of an adversarial Mikhail Khodorovsky, an oligarch who openly criticized corruption and the authority the Kremlin exercised over society in Russia, by having him charged with tax fraud and tossed in jail for nine years. Khodorovsky was later charged with embezzlement from his own company – Yukos – and and his sentence was extended until 2017.
Barack Obama has no such overt power. He has no power to imprison someone critical of his administration, but a May 2013 Department of Justice IG report shows that Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke leaked a document intended to smear John Dodson – a whistleblower with information about “Operation Fast and Furious,” which funneled thousands of illegally-purchased guns from the US into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, some of which were found to be connected to the murder of American law enforcement officers.
According to Dodson’s attorney, Dodson had received an e-mail from a Fox News producer asking for comment about excerpts from an internal ATF investigative memorandum that Dodson had drafted and which described a proposed undercover operation for an ATF firearms investigation (the Dodson memorandum or memorandum).
Dodson’s attorney alleged that officials within the Department of Justice (Department or DOJ) had disclosed the memorandum to retaliate against Dodson for his criticism of the conduct of the firearms trafficking investigation referred to as Operation Fast and Furious. On June 15, 2011, shortly before the alleged unauthorized disclosure, Dodson and other ATF agents had expressed their concerns about Operation Fast and Furious during testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The report found “Burke’s conduct in disclosing the Dodson memorandum to be inappropriate for a Department employee and wholly unbefitting a U.S. Attorney.”
The IG also uncovered discussions among senior officials at the Department of Justice about smearing Dodson. One of those was public affairs head Tracy Schmaler, who resigned after emails uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed that she worked with leftist advocacy group Media Matters to smear whistleblowers and members of Congress and the media who sought to investigate Obama DOJ scandals.
So no, Barack Obama has not sought to fraudulently arrest his adversaries, but officials in his administration have certainly sought to embarrass and discredit them.
In 2007, Sergey Magnitskiy, an auditor at a Moscow law firm, exposed Russian police for giving evidence taken during police raids of investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital Management, which was accused of tax evasion and fraud, to organized criminals, who then used the evidence to take over three of Hermitage’s Russian companies and who then fraudulently reclaimed $230 million of the taxes previously paid by Hermitage. Magnitskiy also claimed police had accused Hermitage of tax evasion solely to justify the police raids so they could take the materials needed to hijack the Hermitage companies and effect the tax refund fraud. Magnitsky’s testimony implicated police, the judiciary, tax officials, bankers, and the Russian mafia.
According to Magnitsky’s investigation, the documents that had been taken by the Russian police in June 2007 were used to forge a change in ownership. The thieves then used forged contracts to claim Hermitage owed $1 billion to shell companies. Unbeknownst to Hermitage, those claims were later authenticated by judges. In every instance, lawyers hired by the thieves to represent Hermitage pled guilty on the company’s behalf (and without its knowledge) and agreed to the claims, thereby obtaining judgements for debts that did not exist; all while Hermitage was unaware of these court proceedings.
The new owner, based in Tatarstan, turned out to be Viktor Markelov, a convicted murderer released just two years into his sentence. The company’s fake debt was used to make the companies look unprofitable in order to justify a refund of $230 million in tax that the companies had paid when they had been under Hermitage’s control. The refund was issued Christmas Eve of 2007. It became the largest tax rebate in Russian history. Hermitage contacted the Russian government with the investigation’s findings. The money, which was not Hermitage’s, belonged to the Russian people. Rather than opening a case against the police and the thieves, the Russian authorities opened a criminal case against Magnitsky.
For exposing this corruption, Putin’s government, Magnitskiy was arrested and imprisoned. He was held without trial for 11 months, and conveniently died eight days before he would have had to have been released. He was denied family visits and medical attention. He had been beaten and tortured prior to his death for refusing to drop his accusations against the authorities.
Once again, Barack Obama enjoys no such impunity. He cannot orchestrate fraud and murder on that scale. But he certainly can fire those charged with exposing government corruption. Inspectors General such as Gerald Walpin, who investigated Kevin Johnson – an Obama ally, former professional basketball player and mayor of Sacramento.
Johnson helped found a community group called St. HOPE Academy, and Walpin investigated how $847,673 in grant funds from AmeriCorps, a division of the Corporation for National and Community Service, were used by St. HOPE.
The funds were approved for St. HOPE to manage one-on-one tutoring for elementary and high school students; managing the redevelopment of one building a year in the Oak Park neighborhood; and for work surrounding Guild Theater and Art Gallery events.
The goals were to improve the reading and math for 100 elementary and high school students, to stimulate economic growth in Oak Park, to increase local arts programming and to recruit and train 500 volunteers to complete 10,000 hours of service.
But in the thick of Johnson’s mayoral run last September, Walpin announced that Johnson, St. HOPE Academy, and former St. HOPE executive director Dana Gonzalez, were suspended from participating in federal contracts or grants until the investigation was complete.Walpin said in a statement at the time that his initial report “cited numerous potential criminal and grant violations, including diversion of federal grant funds, misuse of AmeriCorps members and false claims made against a taxpayer-supported Federal agency.”
The Inspector General investigated whether any of the AmeriCorps funds had been diverted and misused, among them: that AmeriCorps members had been used to recruit students for St. HOPE Academy, for non-AmeriCorps clerical and other services, and for political activities in connection with the Sacramento Board of Education election. AmeriCorps members performed services “personally benefiting… Johnson,” such as “driving [him] to personal appointments, washing [his] car, and running personal errands.”
Not only was Walpin fired, but Obama publicly questioned his sanity and competence, as well as his ability to serve, thereby discrediting this adversary.
All for investigating his friend.
In Russia Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist well known for her criticism of Vladimir Putin and her opposition to the Chechen conflicts. After numerous threats and an attempt to poison her, she was found shot in the elevator of her apartment building.
Of course, there’s no concrete proof that Putin was involved in any way, but it certainly is convenient that those who oppose him – adversaries such as Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer who publicly accused his superiors of trying to assassinate Russian media magnate oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who somehow recently wound up dead… as did Litvinenko, who was arrested and repeatedly persecuted in Russia until he fled to the UK and began working as a journalist and consultant to British intelligence services until his untimely death from polonium poisoning.
Journalists haven’t died during the Obama administration – not even ones who reported on the numerous scandals that have taken place so far in the Obama presidency. But media intimidation? That’s another story. Not only did Eric Holder approve a search warrant for Fox News reporter James Rosen’s emails, but named him as a co-conspirator in an intelligence leak – rich, considering how much information this administration has itself leaked. Get this straight – the Department of Justice has treated a reporter like a criminal for doing his job. And he wasn’t the only one. The DOJ also secretly grabbed the phone records of the Associated Press that listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Connecticut, as well as for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery.
No, journalists have not died. But the media intimidation and intrusion is morally repugnant. James Rosen is not Anna Politkovskaya, but this administration treated him like a criminal – like a spy who endangered this nation’s national security – by monitoring his calls, his emails and tracking his movements. Chilling, isn’t it?
Before the presidential elections in Russia, the foreman of tank manufacturing plant Uralvagonzavod offered to take a few of his pals to Moscow to “take care” of the opposition for Vladimir Putin. He was rewarded with a plum position as Putin’s authorized representative in the Urals region in return for his loyalty. Meanwhile, unilateral union support in this country helped Barack Obama win the White House. Union thugs physically attacked perceived opponents and destroyed private property. Their support has been well rewarded with plum contracts and protection of benefits at the expense of non-union workers.
And let’s not forget the use of the IRS – the most feared and intimidating organization in this country – an organization with unmatched power to seize assets and destroy lives – harass organizations that oppose the administration, while in Russia a new law targets NGOs that promote rule of law and that receive foreign funding by branding them foreign agents.
No, there is no evidence of direct presidential involvement in any of these cases, but in all of them, it is quite obvious that the respective administrations are guilty of egregious acts. It is difficult to comprehend how these incidents happened without presidential knowledge.
The incidents themselves cannot be compared to one another, but the tactics certainly can.