Another questionable outfit helped by last week's hands-off press coverage is Menatep, the seventh largest bank in Russia, headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, also one of the seven oligarchs. Menatep, too, has ties to the Western media. As a chart in Friday's Washington Post detailed, Menatep owns 10 percent of the company that publishes The Moscow Times and St. Petersburg Times, as well as Russian versions of Cosmopolitan, Playboy, and Good Housekeeping.
What the Post--and everyone else--neglected to say is that for at least part of this decade, it was illegal for any U.S. bank to do business with Menatep. A 1995 CIA report identified Menatep as one of the world's most corrupt banks, with close links to organized crime.
Just One Book
The excellent poet Martín Espada wrote me last week, with a depressing update about America's best-known incarcerated journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal. According to Espada, Abu-Jamal had in recent months become a kind of all-purpose reference library for many inmates in Pennsylvania prisons who say they've been beaten by guards. In one such incident reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a beaten inmate watched as a guard spelled the letters "KKK" in a pool of the inmate's blood on the floor.
By way of retaliation, Espada writes, the Department of Corrections created a new rule requiring inmates to keep all belongings in a single box, 12-by-12-by-14 inches. This meant that Abu-Jamal was forced to part with 17 boxes of books and legal papers. Along with personal hygiene items, Jamal--whose confinement already keeps him isolated from nearly the entire world, including fellow inmates--had room for a single book. His choice: Toni Morrison's Beloved.
During the 1996 Russian presidential election, an American journalist who suggested that a Yeltsin victory meant probable collapse of the Russian economy would have been laughed off the op-ed pages. Following the State Department's leads, the American press frightened us into thinking that a victory by anyone but Yeltsin would lead to disaster. David Remnick, back when he was a mere mortal, wrote a fine but typically alarmist piece for the New York Review of Books in May of that year, warning that Gennadi Zyuganov--the Communist who is Yeltsin's chief rival now as then--"is capable of setting back Russia for many years, and some of the less measured figures at his side could do even more damage." Maybe Remnick was right, but it's interesting that in this week's New Yorker, he's finally come around to the view that Yeltsin must go...
Cynic's office pool of the week: How many months before Cigar Aficionado runs a Monica Lewinsky cover?