Recent Posts

Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism


Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

Ivan Made Me Do It

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NASA has been hit with another scandal. Intrigued, I watched the CNN coverage today only to repeatedly roll my eyes at all the references to the “Right Stuff”. God who writes this copy? Kind of makes me sorry for Wolf Blizer who has to read that swill. Well maybe not that sorry.

It appears there is a Russian connection in all this. According the NASA report’s findings, one American astronaut flew on a Russian spacecraft after some heavy pre-flight drinking. You guessed it. The Russians have a little toasting ceremony several hours before being shot into space like monkeys. Here is how Dr. Ellen Ochoa described the ritual during Friday’s press conference:

There is a ceremony in Kazakhstan that happens about 7-1/2 hours before launch. I don’t know if crew members have actually ever drank alcohol. I have even been in the ceremony, and I still don’t know the answer to that. It is really a situation in which there is a chance to say a few parting words, and the Russians who, of course, manage and sort of control the practices of that, for them it is a great tradition. In their society, it was done with Yuri Gagarin went and flew, and they had a few parting words.

Really, the intent of the ceremony is to share a few special moments with a crew that is about to go off on a mission. I actually don’t know if any crews have ever had a sip of the champagne that is handed around or not. That is a potential situation, though, in which alcohol is present in that 12 hours. I don’t believe there is any –well, I know I don’t have any concern about there being a crew member under the influence or effects of alcohol.

The policy that I have put out explicitly states the 12 hours. I am going to be having discussions with members of the Russian Space Agency to talk over this and to talk with our Expedition crew members, to talk about how we can respect the culture and traditions of the Russian Space Agency and making sure that we are doing everything that complies with our practice and our desire to make sure that everything is safe and that we have no issues with safety or mission success.

Well if Gagarin could do it then why not? Plus what’s a few shots 7 1/2 hours before a space flight? Especially since it’s now clear American astronauts aren’t the poster children for sobriety. Also could there be a better way for NASA to put that $19 million Russian toilet that turns piss into drinking water to use? Much ado about nothing. I gotta say, be sure I’d down a few beforehand if was going to be shot into space. And be sure it wouldn’t 7 1/2 hours before the flight. It would be about 7 1/2 minutes.