Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Slate: Russia = Zimbabwe? Where's the beef??

It isn't much of a secret that I haven't been thrilled with Slate for some time now. A site I used to read religiously every day has inched lower and lower in quality with each passing week and is now something which only rarely has an article I actually read. Moreover, they've given the hawkish nutcase Christopher Hitchens (who has become something of a sad clown since 9/11 - even more full of himself now than he was before) a home after he abandoned The Nation and provide a voice to the lunatic ravings of Mickey Kaus, who's personal vendetta against John Kerry don't make sense much of the time (I've long since stopped reading him.).

Here's an example. Today, there's an article entitled: Is Russia the Next Zimbabwe? It is an interesting examination of the Yukos crisis in Russia and Putin's war against Khodorkovsky - another example of Putin's assault on dissent within Russia. The article has a number of interesting things to say and it provides an excellent backgrounder on the subject. I have no problems with that.

However...Zimbabwe is mentioned exactly once in the whole article. Here it is:
But once the renationalization genie is out of its bottle, stuffing it back in will be difficult. And competing for the title of the northern hemisphere's version of Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe committed macroeconomic suicide by seizing farms from white landowners, is probably not the way the newest member of the G8 club of supposedly developed nations wants to make its mark. Foreign investment, the lifeblood of the economic growth before which Putin piously pretends to genuflect, will take a holiday far away.
And that's it. Read the article yourself - you'll find no other mentions of Zimbabwe anywhere.

Two sentences - and no evidence that the two cases are even remotely similar. No mention of exactly what happened in Zimbabwe that led up to Mugabe's disastrous decision to nationalize all the white held farms as part of his land reforms. No mention of the decades of bloodshed in Zimbabwe, back when it was called Rhodesia and had a white-held semi-apartheid government that was a friend to the West because it was anti-communist. No mention that the white land owners in Zimbabwe who remained after Rhodesia ceased to exist and Mugabe's Zimbabwe took its place did not have nearly the power or money that Khodorkovsky had. No mention that a large part of the decision to first allow the squatters more lienency and then to nationalize all the white held farms was an attempt by a tottering old dictator to stave off a coup or civil war by his own people, who were unhappy with how much they were getting. Nevermind that there are very large differences between Russia and Zimbabwe in so many other areas that make it far less likely for foreign investment to completely flee the country.

Listen - far be it for me to defend Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe. They've ruined the country and arguably have been far worse for their people than the white government of Rhodesia was - and just about as democratic. Moreover, the land reforms of Mugabe have been, admittedly, a great disaster for that country (regardless of motivation) and the region as a whole, destabilizing an entire part of southeast Africa. But...I don't see much relating the two cases. I'm sure a case can be made, however, Kim Iskyan (the author of the piece) doesn't even really try to make it. She just says that it could be that way...but not how the two are related. It is sloppy writing and worse editorial decision making (for allowing such a sloppy piece to be published).

Maybe I'm also annoyed that Slate has moved so much further to the right over the last few years, when they used to be a reliably leftwing voice out in the internet. Who can say...all I know is that if Slate ever went over to a subscription/pay service - I'd probably just abandon it at this point. I'm not certain what use it is anymore...


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