Thursday, July 30, 2009

A bit more about Joe and the Volcano...

Simeon Migelovich, Ukranian-born Jew, and allegedly, boss of the Red Mafia
Just a couple of thoughts for the day today. That piece I wrote about Joe Biden and his remarks about the volatility and susceptibility of Russia seems to have been echoed elsewhere on the web. Fox News calls Biden blunt and states that he has "run afoul" of his own advice, given in the same interview with the Wall Street Journal:

"It is never smart to embarrass an individual or a country when they're dealing with significant loss of face," Biden said. "My dad used to put it another way: Never put another man in a corner where the only way out is over you."

Again according to the article even the Russians were taken aback by Biden's directness:

"The U.S. vice president's intention to tie this serious work (on cutting nuclear weapons stockpiles) to economic reasons rather than to the responsibility that Russia and the U.S. bear to the international community are absolutely incomprehensible," -Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The rest of the article goes on to show other instances of Biden's bluntness and includes a knowing quote from Democratic consultant Tara Dowdell:

"You know what you get when you get Joe Biden," she told FOX News. "I think he's pretty candid. I think a lot of the stuff he says is actually what he's thinking. In politics, unfortunately you can't always say what you're thinking."
Couldn't have said it better.

Politics are politics and the purpose of being a mediator of for the public trust is that you really do need to show that you can be trusted by the public to do the job you are being paid to do. If for example you are invited to sit peacefully at a campfire one night, it might be a better idea to play the guitar than to throw balloons filled with gasoline at the fire. Of course throwing those balloons might seem pretty funny to a lot of people, but spending the evening near the lake is imminently better than spending it at the emergency room or the burn center. Thus my opinion is that if you are trying to enter talks about reducing nuclear arsenals with a volatile and power mongering country, it might be somewhat wiser not to provoke a fight with them while doing so. I mean, nobody said you have to like the Russians, we are just saying that we need to talk reasonably with them. That is the job at hand.

This brings me to the second piece of business which comes from a photo I picked up to illustrate the story about Semion Mogilevich, the alleged mafia kingpin, who was released by the Russians a few days ago despite attempted extraditions by the US (and possibly other countries). The rather banal Washington Post article I reprinted in the BHTimes speaks basically about the machinations of Mogilevich's lawyers and how there might be some political connection to the problems between Gazprom and Ukraine.

However, the real kick in the head came while I was typing in the information about that picture I used whose original source was a 1998 Village Voice article by Robert I Friedman which named Semion Mogilevich the "most dangerous mobster in the world". That article (which can also be found HERE) goes on to speak about a remarkable stream of violence and heinous crimes and an organization of almost empirical proportions. In that article, Mogilevich is said to have been the leader of the "Red Mafia" and involved in extortion, money laundering, trafficking in nuclear materials, drugs, prostitutes, precious gems, and stolen art. It talks about scams with Faberge eggs, Pilfering money from Jews exiting the country during Perestroika, as well as several "legitimate" businesses such as weapons manufacturing and trade firms, which were basically fronts for money laundering.

The article starts out telling us exactly how ruthless Mogilevich is:

In two posh villas outside the small town of Ricany, near Prague, one of the most dreaded mob families in the world savagely murders its terrified victims. The mob's young enforcers, trained by veterans of the Afghanistan war, are infamous for their extreme brutality. Their quarry, usually businessmen who have balked at extortion demands, are repeatedly stabbed and tortured, then mutilated before they are butchered. The carnage is so hideous that it has scared the daylights out of competing crime groups in the area.

The torture chambers are run by what international police officials call the Red Mafia, a notorious Russian mob family that in only six years has become a nefarious global crime cartel. Based in Budapest, it has key centers in New York, Pennsylvania, Southern California, and as far away as New Zealand.

and ends with a rather impressive CV:

Israeli and U.S. law enforcement sources agree that the Red Mafia, though in existence for a mere six years, has become one of the most formidable Russian organized-crime families in the world. Strongest in the Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the U.S., Mogilevich has increased his strength by forging ties with other powerful Russian mob groups as well as with the Italian Camorra. His reported ties to the German BND and ex-police officers in Hungary keep him informed of police efforts to penetrate his organization. ''He also ingratiates himself with the police by providing information on other [Russian crime] groups' activities, thus appearing to be a cooperative good citizen,'' says a classified FBI report. This, along with his strong leadership qualities, his acute financial skills, his talented and highly educated associates, and his use of cutting-edge technology, has so far made the ''Brainy Don'' impervious to prosecution.

To me, and this is from the my quiet little position in my not-so-palatial suite here in Pinsk Belarus, it is always good to remember that where you came from has a lot to do with who you are. It is said about Americans that people who lived through the depression were changed by the experience and forever after retained quirks and foibles about money. People who lost mothers and father when they were young also retain issues.

The post-glasnost, fall of the wall period was known as the "time of the bandits". I suppose one could equate this realistically with the American Wild West or with the prohibition period of the late 20's and 30's. Certainly the clean up period, which is now seemingly underway, in which the government takes over from the "entrepreneurs" is also like what happened during those times. But also, just as gangsters and gunfighters are a popular theme for American literature and film, it is also so with the Russians. They like their tough guy past and feel a connection and identify with the heroes or anti-heroes.

I suppose a not so subtle irony is from American movies about gangsters which have always been popular (found very cheaply now thanks to pirate discs). In fact, I remember seeing a Polish film called I think "Sara", which is about a clandestine love affair between a washed up soldier who has lost his wife and family but who has an affair with the spoiled though ridiculously sexy daughter of the mafia head who hired him to be her bodyguard. The one scene I remember is one in which the soldier has an interview with the mafia boss. The boss is eating a nice supper complete with the obligatory glass of wine, but what was interesting is that he was also watching "The Godfather" on video (the scene in which Michael takes Apollonia to bed) while he was eating. And of course he loses concentration on the subject when she drops her slip- a real problem amongst Poles, I suppose and of course this loss of concentration is the eventual slip-up that leads to his undoing.

But in any case, and this is going back to Joe Biden’s slip-up, I like diplomacy more than I like threats and provocations, and this is especially true when dealing with the Russians, who are still in, or at least not so very far removed from their own Wild West and Al Capone times. But I also like generally the idea of respecting people more than dismissing them. I really enjoyed my life much more after Gorbachev allowed that there was not going to be a nuclear war. I was very bothered by that thought when I was a child and felt great relief when it was gone. I am much older now and am not as sensitive as I was then, but I still don't like the idea of mixing it up with people who have the power to Nagasaki New York in reply to an American housewarming gift from a previous visit. And I also wonder if, if they had it to do over again and knew what the subsequent two decades would be like, if the Soviet Union would not have been allowed to tumble. All something to think about, I am sure.

A little wisdom, a little patience and a little mutual business. This is all that is needed to insure a nice evening around the campfire and a better day tomorrow.

  • Note: Also, please see HERE for an excelent interview with Semion Mogilevich.