Friday, February 28, 2014

Filipoving Up My Olympics Coverage

Well, they already ruined the party and wrecked the opening, with the protests noted and logged, thank you, so why not crap on the closing ceremonies, too?

"Putin muscled Sochi to success. Now, what’s next?" by David Filipov |  Globe Staff, February 23, 2014

SOCHI, Russia — In the end, nothing could rain on Vladimir Putin’s Olympic parade. Not unfinished hotel rooms, suppressed dissent, overbearing law enforcement, or — so far, thank goodness — Islamic terrorists.

There were embarrassing blips (they shoot dogs, don’t they?) and deflating defeats (the futile final 52 minutes of the Russian men’s hockey quarterfinal loss to Finland will not soon be forgotten here).

Finally saw another dog, huh?

RelatedUS men’s hockey team humiliated in Sochi

Forgot to read it, sorry.

There were horrifying images of street violence in neighboring Ukraine, and the hideous sight of female members of the punk-activist group Pussy Riot being whipped by Cossacks, a rogue element inexplicably brought in to augment a security force already the size of the Army of the Potomac.

"Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said Saturday that a Cossack who horsewhipped members of a punk group has been ‘‘held accountable.’’ Local media reported that the attacker was fined but did not identify him. The group Pussy Riot spent five days in Sochi this week, filming footage for a video criticizing President Vladimir Putin and the Sochi Olympics. A man in a group of Cossacks armed with whips began lashing as the group performed Wednesday."

They got pussywhipped!

Once the Winter Games started, however, the focus was mostly on the athletes, rather than critics of the Russian president’s no-holds-barred approach to making Sochi into a national showcase. The venues were widely praised, though warm temperatures sometimes made snow conditions iffy. Things ran smoothly, thanks in part to a vast, English-speaking volunteer force that is still smiling, and entering the final day of competition, the host nation was leading the medal standings.

Part 2 of the Russian president’s plan is to make Sochi a destination, and not just for Russians who stopped coming here when the end of the communist police state opened up the rest of the world to them.

Putin wants you in Sochi. He’s already built it. But will you come?

The balmy climate and snow-capped Caucasus peaks are already mentioned in the tourism brochure. There will be other attractions.

The Adler Arena, a.k.a the Dutch Fort Knox after their gold medal blitz, will be converted from a speedskating arena to an exhibition center. Fisht Stadium, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, will host the 2018 World Cup. The Alpine venues will be turned into a ski resort. The media center will become a massive shopping center, and that raises a red flag.

Greater Sochi has about 400,000 residents. It also has a mall with unclaimed store space in the city center, where most of the people live. Only a small percentage of the population lives near the coastal cluster and Olympic Park. Who’s going to shop there when there’s no international event to draw outsiders in?

Who is going to shop when there is no money except the wealth being concentrated at the top?


"The report warned that cities that have spent heavily solely to stage the Olympics and promote national pride — such as Beijing and Athens — have struggled financially, and their venues have been unused after the athletes left. But others, such as London and Barcelona, have used the Games to revitalize neglected neighborhoods." 

Yeah, it all depends on where they have been held. What is Spain's unemployment, 25%?

Paul Beck, an eternal optimist and a lifelong builder of theme parks, believes the masses will come. He waves his hand at the teeming crowds gawking at the colorful towers and lining up at carousels of his latest creation, Sochi Park. “It’s not even finished, and they already love it.”

The sprawling Russia-themed park, or at least the fraction of it that was open, saw 10,000 visitors a day during the Olympics, where it was one of the few places you could go without a ticket or an invitation.

As if Boston or any other venue would be any different!

Its premier attractions, extreme roller coasters that top 60 miles per hour, haven’t opened, and there is nothing but barren earth beyond the gates to special theme areas. But Beck is convinced people will line up to brave the Quantum Leap (“it’s hellishly frightening,” said one of his aides. “I wouldn’t go on it.”) or the Firebird (a free-fall so long that you’ll have time to calculate 65 meters in feet.), and everything is supposed to be fully operational by July.

Speaking of deadlines, mark Oct. 12 on your calendar. Russia will host the Formula 1 Grand Prix that day, assuming workers can finish the stadium, pave the finish line, and finish off the track by then. And why not? The theme park went from mostly wetland to almost Disneyland in nine months.

Can it all work? Alexander Valov, whose site,, has become required reading for anyone trying to learn what the state-run press won’t tell you, has his doubts.

Which is also why you are reading this blog!


Don’t tell it to Putin. The Kremlin pooh-poohed a report by opposition leaders that suggested $30 billion of the $51 billion spent on Sochi was stolen. The official line was that most of the money went into infrastructure needed to make the Black Sea coast as nice as Nice. So the plan can’t fail.

They $hit their pants?

But the problem is deeper. The Olympics showed that Russia does Big well. It’s the little things that don’t always work.

Take the “Ring of Steel” security system that skeptics questioned. Bolstered by zeppelins, brightly colored helicopters, legions of smiling security staff in magenta uniforms, and a good chunk of the Black Sea Fleet, law and order Russian-style kept big-time troublemakers at bay.

Honestly, I'm sick of the damn hypocrisy and insults.

But poked in the side by a few women in neon ski-masks, Russian law enforcement couldn’t help showing its overbearing side.

Then the Amerikans must have felt right at home.

The smooth way the Games went off made ordinary Russians — far more of whom are proud of Sochi than you’d think, given how poorly they live and how much was spent — bristle when they heard the words Potemkin Olympics. 

I'm sure they will be happy to see you to the airport, a$$hole.

But away from the glistening new hotels and palm tree-lined seafront, Sochi is pockmarked with half-finished apartment buildings that have gone fallow. 

Now it sounds like Boston.

An impressive network of roads and railways was built to connect Sochi with the coastal and Alpine Olympic clusters. But there’s a soft underbelly. For example, one road project was supposed to include gas lines to local residences. The pipes were buried under the road, but the gas never flowed because of leaks. The only fix would be to dig up the road, or leave the residents without gas. Guess which option was chosen.

Fixing this stuff is hard in Putin’s Russia. Politics and business interests are welded together.

Nowhere more so than in AmeriKa at this time! Wow!

Regional leaders have a free hand as long as they remain loyal to the Kremlin and keep order in their house. Whistleblowers are ignored or socked away in prison.

No kidding?

"In the Obama administration’s unprecedented number of prosecutions to date, six government employees and two contractors have been targeted for prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act for accusations that they leaked classified information to the press. There were just three such prosecutions under all previous US presidents. To bypass journalists, the White House developed its own network of websites, social media, and an online newscast to dispense favorable information and images. In some cases, the White House produces videos of the president’s meetings with major figures who were never listed on his public schedule. Instead, they were kept secret — a departure from past administrations, the report noted."

You were saying, Dave? 

At the top of the chain is Putin’s determination to personally raise Russia’s prestige. These Olympics were going to come off, come hell or high water.

High water may be coming, by the way.

The Olympic venues, massive concrete buildings, have been built on a foundation of muck that is below the level of the Black Sea. The construction has clogged the rivers that used to carry the sediment that formed the beach that holds the sea back. The Olympic builders, spurred on by Putin’s deadlines, ignored the pleas of residents and environmentalists for feasibility studies and public debate.

Alik Le, who headed a group whose entreaties were tossed aside, acknowledged that dire forecasts of imminent flooding might be a bit over the top. But....

The Globe flak will go over it anyway!


"For Russian activists, better than bad is not enough" by David Filipov |  Globe Staff,  February 23, 2014

Alexander Valov told a story.

His mother cried at the television, at the violence and the economic crashes and the gangland wars and the robber baron capitalism.

The way Valov sees it, there was a positive side to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. The robber barons, the criminals— all of that was brought under control.

Something I have mentioned often; however, when your new$paper is a mouthpiece and obscurer of those groups it's not mentioned much.

The country’s economy stabilized somewhat, people began to be able to live, work, travel, buy things, as long as they kept criticism to a minimum. 

Life got better and yet there were protests?

Some of the young Russians I spoke to these last three weeks stopped there. They didn’t remember the Soviet days.

Don't worry; they are coming back if my agenda-pushiong pre$$ and its ma$ters in government have their way.

They thought of the 1990s as a recurring nightmare, and whatever the limitations of Russia now, it is is better than all that.

In other words, they didn't like AmeriKan-$tyle capitali$m.

For Valov, and a few activists I met in Sochi, better than bad is not enough. He has uncovered corruption and abuse of authority among Sochi’s regional elites during the construction of the Olympic complex, and he says he has gotten action. A corrupt regional official was fired, a riot police commander was cashiered, a man who had been evicted so a construction company could build a tunnel was given a house.

If only Americans could get the same reaction from authority.

His blog, he says, is not just a place to complain. It’s where he fights for the democracy he believes in against the functionaries and crooks that undermine it.

And to blow off steam.

“We don’t just write about them,” he said. “We are at war with them.”

But not at war with his own country.

“The way the Olympics were built hurt the area,” he said. “But I am trying to help. I wanted the Olympics to show Russia’s best side. I’m like any patriot who loves his country.”

As he told me all this, his eyes never dried.

Crybaby Russian! Must be blinding him to Putin's tyranny.


So who won, anyway? 

What do you mean Israel didn't win any medals?

"Seven Putin protesters get up to 4-year terms" Associated Press, February 25, 2014

MOSCOW — Hundreds of their supporters gathered outside the courtroom to condemn the trial and the Kremlin’s crackdown on opposition since Putin returned to the presidency. As the judge read out sentences, chants of ‘‘Shame!’’ drifted into the courtroom.

About 200 people, including two members of the punk band Pussy Riot who spent nearly two years in prison for their own anti-Putin protest, were briefly detained by police outside court.

Some of them, including members of Pussy Riot and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, were detained again later Monday when protesters attempted to hold an unsanctioned rally outside the Kremlin....

All in "reaction to the upheaval in neighboring Ukraine," of course.