5 Best Thursday Columns

Russian palaces, brutal dictators, and closet criminals

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  • David Ignatius on Russian Courage  Bribing a politician with a $1 billion Black Sea palace visible from space requires a unique kind of character. Exposing the person who bribes a politician with a $1 billion Black Sea palace visible from space also requires a unique kind of  character, particularly when the whistleblower is Russian and the politician in question is Vladimir Putin. Yet that is exactly what  Sergey Kolesnikov is doing in his recent open letter to President Medvedev. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius can only marvel at the dogged way in which Kolesnikov has set about proving his claim that Russian business leaders established a slush fund to pay for the "21st century czar's palace" in  the hopes of influencing Putin. Noting that Kolesnikov's open letter is "one of the most detailed allegations I've seen of the  links between Putin and Russia's 'crony capitalism,'" Ignatius is also impressed with Kolesnikov's willingness to take the personal risk of  coming forward. "The Russian businessman, who became wealthy through various ventures., including a medical-supply company called Petromed, appears to have nothing to gain personally by attacking  Putin--and much to lose. That boosts his credibility in my eyes."
  • Joshua Green on Obama's Sort-Of Win  Writing in The Boston Globe, the Atlantic senior editor resists the temptation to say President  Obama trounced Republicans during the lame duck session of Congress, but admits the last two weeks have been a very nice haul for Democrats desperately in need of a few wins. "It isn't quite a Christmas miracle,"  writes Green. "But as Congress goes, it's not too far off." And while Green argues the White House's compromise on extending the Bush tax cuts made the flurry of activity possible, he doubts such dealmaking will become a habit in the new Congress. While "it's tempting at this time of  year ... to suggest that this sudden surge of bipartisanship occurred when lawmakers' hearts swelled" the truth is that "Democrats and  Republicans are concentrating on different battlefields, and far from  signaling any enduring harmony and goodwill, are simply positioning  themselves for the fights ahead."
  • The New York Times Editors Argue for Emergency Abortions at Catholic Hospitals  St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix is just one of the many Catholic hospitals in the United States that are required, in order to maintain their affiliation with the Roman Catholic Diocese, to provide health care that aligns with their religious doctrine. St. Joseph was reprimanded after doctors performed an abortion to save a woman's life last month and this Tuesday the hospital announced it will continue to perform life-saving health care, even in the face of losing its church affiliation. "This is no small matter. Catholic hospitals account for about 15 percent of the nation's hospital beds and are the only hospital facilities in many communities," points out an editorial in today's New York Times urges. "No one has suggested that Catholic hospitals should be required to perform non-emergency abortions. But as St. Joseph's recognized, the need to accommodate religious doctrine does not give health providers serving the general public license to jeopardize women's lives." The Times would like a "formal clarification that denying [emergency abortions] violates federal law."
  • Steve Chapman on the Lack of Democracy in 2010  The Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman marks the end of 2010 by taking a look back at all of the movement away from universal democracy that was made worldwide this year. Chapman includes the appointment of Kim Jung Il's son as heir apparent to North Korean leadership, Hamid Karzai's corrupt election and his recent statement of support for the Taliban and Hugo Chavez's disregard for the wants of his constituency and continual disposal of all opposition, among others in his evidence of this year's democratic deterioration. "This year served mainly to vindicate the desires of tyrants and the fears of pessimists. To recapture the sense that the world is destined for universal democracy, you'd need a time machine," he writes.
  • Why Julian Assange Is, In Fact, a Criminal  The words "journalism" and "news" have been used frequently on the WikiLeaks homepage, observes Michael Lind at Salon.  Perhaps, he suggests, this is an attempt by the group to shield itself from prosecution with the First Amendment. But, Lind wonders--as many do--is WikiLeaks really a legitimate news organization? "Even if WikiLeaks is defined as a news organization, American law allows both prior injunctions halting publication of government secrets and prosecutions of media organizations following publication, in certain circumstances," he notes. He clarifies that he believes most "government secrecy is unnecessary and counterproductive. But everyone other than anarchists who oppose government of any kind must acknowledge the need for diplomats and military officers, as well as civilian officials, to be able to engage in confidential communications among themselves and with foreign governments without fear of unauthorized publicity. Even the government of an isolationist America would insist on that prerogative."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.