Why a far-reaching political fight has broken out over trade at the Russian landmark and site of Pussy Riot's "Punk Prayer" demonstration
MOSCOW -- Looking for a place in downtown Moscow to change your tires, have a snack, buy aspirin, launder your shirts, or purchase gold jewelry? In addition to a handful of shopping centers, Christ the Savior, Moscow' largest Orthodox cathedral, offers all of these services.
The cathedral's lucrative commercial activities are at the heart of a bitter dispute between the Russian Orthodox Church and the country's consumer rights watchdog, which claims unlawful trade is taking place on the cathedral's premises. Both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Christ the Savior Cathedral Fund, which oversees trade at the church, deny wrongdoing and accuse the watchdog of seeking to tarnish their reputation.
The dispute deepened this week when the head of the Society for Consumer Rights' Protection, Mikhail Anshakov, was called in for police questioning after the fund filed a complaint against him for defamation. Anshakov accuses the executive director of the Christ the Savior Cathedral Fund, Vasily Poddevalin, of being in league with Moscow's law-enforcement agencies to silence his watchdog organization. "The fact that this is a business center is common knowledge. As far as I understand, Vasily Poddevalin has contacts in Moscow's law-enforcement system and he is trying to put these contacts to use," Anshakov says. "Otherwise, such high-ranking officials from the prosecutor's office or the main department of internal affairs would not have taken on these cases."
The consumer rights group says trade at the cathedral violates consumer protection law because it is conducted without official price tags or cash registers. According to its findings, only 7 percent of the cathedral's territory has actually been transferred to the church. The rest is owned by Moscow City Hall, which is tied to the Christ the Savior Cathedral Fund. Anshakov says that under Russian law, the Moscow Patriarchate must either legally acquire the portion of the cathedral it is currently using or surrender it.
The commercial activities taking place at Christ the Savior are no secret. A car repair, tire service, and a souvenir kiosk are located adjacent to the building, along with a jewelry stand selling Buran watches for as much as 120,000 rubles ($3,800) and amber necklaces for around 12,000 rubles ($380). A car park, cafe, and laundry service can be found in an underground space beneath the cathedral.
'God Does Not Allow Deceit'
Many Russian Orthodox believers see nothing wrong with the practice and firmly believe the Moscow Patriarchate's assurances that it does not profit from the trade. "Everything here is done honestly, I'm absolutely sure of this," Marina Kaminskaya, a 42-year-old psychologist, said outside the cathedral. "I can vouch for our patriarch and for all priests. God would not allow any deceit to take place next to a church."
But not all churchgoers approve of the bustling trade at the cathedral, rebuilt in the early 1990s from public donations after being destroyed by Soviet authorities. "I don't think this is right," says Yulia, a 25-year-old architect. "This is religion and they are selling [things]. It isn't right."
Russia's all-female dissident punk collective Pussy Riot has been among the most vocal critics of the cathedral's commercial activities. Two of its members are serving two-year prison terms for performing a song critical of the Russian Orthodox Church's ties with authorities in the Christ the Savior Cathedral earlier this year. Members of the collective later said they targeted the cathedral in part to protest its business dealings.
'Gift-Giving at Recommended Price'
The dispute with the Society for Consumer Rights' Protection emerged after Anshakov formally asked prosecutors to look into the activities of the cathedral's fund. Prosecutors, however, turned down Anshakov's request and opened a defamation case against him instead based on a complaint from Poddevalin, the fund's executive director. In July, a Moscow court ruled that transactions conducted at Christ the Savior were not sales but legal "gift-giving at a recommended price." Another court nonetheless cleared Anshakov on October 19.
The new defamation complaint against him and his watchdog was also filed by Poddevalin and stems from a recent press article in which Anshakov reiterated his allegations against the fund. Anshakov also claims that Poddevalin's relatives own some of the fund's businesses. "On which basis are dozens of commercial firms based at Christ the Savior Cathedral?" Anshakov asks. "In addition, some of these firms are registered under the name of relatives of Poddevalin. The cathedral's car wash, tire and repair services, for example, belong to his son and daughter. That's what law enforcement should be investigating, rather than whether or not I defamed Poddevalin."
With defamation now a criminal offense in Russia since July, Anshakov risks much harsher punishment if the Christ the Savior Fund successfully presses charges against him. If found guilty, he faces a fine of up to 5 million rubles ($159,000) or up to 480 hours of community work.
It isn’t the only democratic institution that finds itself in danger.
Four years ago, as a speechwriter for President Obama, I commissioned a binder full of women.
A little context. It was the morning of the Al Smith Dinner, the election-year tradition in which both parties’ nominees don white-tie attire and deliver comedy monologues to New York City’s elite. Our opponent, Governor Mitt Romney had recently used the words “binders full of women” while discussing gender parity in government. Eager to mock the clumsy phrase, I asked a staffer on the advance team to put together a prop.
But our binder never saw the light of day. Obama nixed the idea. I remember being disappointed by the president’s decision, and wondering if POTUS was phoning it in. Of the jokes that did make it into the final draft, one in particular stood out for its authenticity.
The easiest way to take down the web is to attack people’s access to it.
For more than two hours on Friday morning, much of the web seemed to grind to a halt—or at least slow to dial-up speed—for many users in the United States.
More than a dozen major websites experienced outages and other technical problems, according to user reports and the web-tracking site downdetector.com. They included The New York Times, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, GitHub, Etsy, Tumblr, Spotify, PayPal, Verizon, Comcast, EA, the Playstation network, and others.
How was it possible to take down all those sites at once?
Someone attacked the architecture that held them together—the domain-name system, or DNS, the technical network that redirects users from easy-to-remember addresses like theatlantic.com to a company’s actual web servers. The assault took the form of a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) on one of the major companies that provides other companies access to DNS. A DDoS attack is one in which an attacker floods sites “with so much junk traffic that it can no longer serve legitimate visitors,” as the security researcher Brian Krebs put it in a blog post Friday morning.
“Light” events are some of the heaviest lifting in political life. Comedy is hard to begin with, and for the kinds of people involved in politics, jokes are vastly more difficult to write or deliver than “substantive” remarks. And for presidents or presidential aspirants, we’re talking about a special kind of joke. These eminent figures need to come across as “modest” and self-deprecatory, but only up to a humble-brag point. (That is, just enough so that the audience and reviewers will say, “Oh, isn’t it charming that he’s willing to laugh at himself!”) Real comedy often includes a “what the hell!” willingness to say something that will genuinely offend or shock, which national politicians can’t afford to do. The White House Correspondents Dinner, the Gridiron event, the Al Smith Dinner—any event like this is hard (as David Litt, a former member of the Obama speechwriting team, explains in a very nice item just now).
First there was McCain’s caving to Bush’s signing statement on his own torture bill, then his selection of an extremely unqualified and unvetted running mate, then he backed Trump until nearly the bitter end—even after Trump insulted his POW experience and his fellow vets with PTSD. And now, a shameless betrayal of constitutional principle that would have gotten far more attention this week if Trump hadn’t one-upped McCain with all his incendiary “rigged” rhetoric. Reader Don explains:
I don’t know if your readers have seen this yet, but it seems that McCain has announced that his fellow GOP Senators will not confirm any Supreme Court nomination by Clinton. Trump is an ignorant, narcissistic, nasty piece of work. But McCain used to be a guy who remembered and honored (at least sometimes) the old bipartisan traditions of the Senate. His statement is just outrageous and inexcusable. What he’s basically saying is that only Republican presidents get to appoint Supreme Court Justices.
I understand that their thinking is that they don’t want the bias of the Court to shift from conservative to liberal. But the Court has shifted back and forth over the years, and we have managed to survive those changes. Apparently, today’s Republican Party feels that the country somehow won’t survive a Democratic administration or a liberal Supreme Court.
We have what might be described as an asymmetric politics. One party disagrees with the other party’s policy domestic policy positions, but recognizes the legitimacy of an opposition party and accepts that the other party is patriotic and loyal to the country. The other party rejects the legitimacy and loyalty of the other party. The efforts to de-legitimize former President Clinton, President Obama, and likely future President Hillary Clinton are part of this effort. The refusal of the GOP Congress to allow Obama any legislative accomplishments was another part of it. I expect that a GOP House will adopt the same obstructionist tactics starting in 2017.
People predict that the U.S. population will continue to get younger, better educated, and less white. I hope our political experiment lasts long enough to see that day.
The candidates are back on the campaign trail, following the third, and final, debate on Wednesday night.
It’s Friday, October 21—the election is now less than three weeks away. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are back on the campaign trail to deliver their final pitch to voters, ahead of Election Day. We’ll bring you the latest updates from the trail, as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:
Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.
Every day in June, the most popular wedding month of the year, about 13,000 American couples will say “I do,” committing to a lifelong relationship that will be full of friendship, joy, and love that will carry them forward to their final days on this earth.
Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way for most people. The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction. Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, which was published earlier this year.
Social scientists first started studying marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: Married couples were divorcing at unprecedented rates. Worried about the impact these divorces would have on the children of the broken marriages, psychologists decided to cast their scientific net on couples, bringing them into the lab to observe them and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were. Was each unhappy family unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy claimed, or did the miserable marriages all share something toxic in common?
Among the major sites that had trouble staying online or functioning properly: The New York Times, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, GitHub, Etsy, Tumblr, Spotify, PayPal, Verizon, Comcast, EA, and the Playstation network. Aside from the inconvenience to those attempting to visit those sites, there’s the question of how an attack like this affects the companies who run those sites. System outages—even seemingly brief ones—can have huge repercussions on the bottom line.
AT&T is reportedly in advanced talks to buy Time Warner, South Africa says it will leave the ICC, ISIS attacks Kirkuk, and more from across the United States and around the world.
—The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a deal for AT&T to buy Time Warner could come as early as this weekend. More here
—South Africa has notified the UN that it is withdrawing from The Hague-based International Criminal Court. A government minister said South Africa didn’t want to carry out ICC arrest warrants against other African leaders—warrants, he said, that would lead to “regime change.” More here
—ISIS, under sustained attack in its last major Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, attacked the city of Kirkuk. At least 19 people are dead in the attacks. More here
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
How the national mythos and U.S. labor laws influence geographic mobility.
Kevin Bacon moves from a big city to a small town in Middle America where dancing is outlawed. Ralph Macchio moves from New Jersey to California, where he learns the art of life and combat. Dianne Wiest moves with her two sons to a California town stocked with vampires.
The trope of American families settling in faraway places isn’t just a plotline for terrible 1980s movies, but a national phenomenon. Decades of data, including a more recent Gallup study, characterizes the United States as one of the most geographically mobile countries in the world. “About one in four U.S. adults (24 percent) reported moving within the country in the past five years,” the report noted. With the comparable exceptions of Finland (23 percent) and Norway (22 percent), Americans also move considerably more than their European peers.
Why her vow not to “add a penny to the debt” is an impossible pledge to keep
Hillary Clinton said nothing on Wednesday night that should derail her considerable chances of winning the presidency on November 8. But if she wins, one simple promise she repeated over and over again could come back to haunt her reelection bid in 2020.
“I also will not add a penny to the debt,” Clinton said toward the beginning of her final presidential-debate performance. She made a similar pledge two more times that night, and it’s a line she has used before on the campaign trail. It’s a short-hand reference to the fact that although she has proposed hundreds of billions in new federal spending for infrastructure, paid family leave, education, and other items, she would pay for those investments by raising an equal or greater amount in revenue through higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations.