Monthly Archives: December 2011

Violence deepens in Kazakhstan

Unrest in western Kazakhstan has taken an ominous turn, as a video has emerged showing police shooting unarmed protesters. “The video was apparently taken by a witness from her apartment window and was posted on YouTube on December 20,” reports Radio Free Europe.

I’ve taken an interest in Kazakhstan, an important U.S. ally, since April 2009, when I attended the Eurasian Media Forum in the Central Asia nation’s largest city, Almaty.

The country, a former Soviet satellite, mixes authoritarianism with some elements of democracy. I interviewed critics of the government who seemed to have no fear of speaking (or writing) freely. Yet the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, though thought to be popular, rules with an iron hand, and was in the midst of a campaign to censor the Internet during my brief time in Almaty. You can find my blog posts about Kazakhstan here.

From my very sketchy perspective as an outsider, it seemed to me that Kazakhstan’s troubles began earlier this year, when Nazarbayev, according to this New York Times account, almost certainly stole an election he probably would have won anyway, claiming 95.5 percent of the vote.

In November, the Peace Corps withdrew its 117 volunteers from Kazakhstan for reasons that were unclear. Though one of the reasons given was that the country had become too economically advanced to need the Peace Corps, there was also speculation — according to the Christian Science Monitor — that the move was related to attacks by Islamist terrorists. That’s an ominous development in a country with a reputation for being secular and Western in its aspirations.

The recent unrest is related to a strike by oil workers, which has been going on for some time but which has escalated recently, according to the BBC. Adil Nurmakov, Central Asia editor for the Harvard-affiliated blogging network Global Voices Online, wrote about the unrest on Dec. 19, offering what strikes me as a balanced approach between the government’s version of events and that of the protesters. (My video interview with Nurmakov is here.)

So I was struck by a post Nurmakov wrote on his Facebook page today. Nurmakov wrote in Russian, but according to Google Translator, he said:

This video has changed a great deal in my attitude to the events. Yes, by the time the meeting has ceased to be a rally, much has already been burned and looted the city, the situation became uncontrollable. However, in this video is not visible outside of police self-defense can not be seen as protecting the civilian population or any property. It is clear that the police used force disproportionately and arbitrarily and cruelly. And here it must be said directly — the state must recognize that the security forces crossed the line, then to not having sufficient grounds. The state should investigate all the facts of injury and homicide, identifying and publicizing their circumstances. The state must find the perpetrators of the facts of unjustified violence, and punish their police.

Nurmakov posted much the same thing on his blog, too.

Kazakhstan is largely off the Western media’s agenda, but this is important. On the one hand, an Arab Spring-like awakening would be welcome. On the other, a descent into violence and radicalism would be a tragedy for the Kazakh people — and incredibly dangerous, given that Kazakhstan is a rare oasis of stability and prosperity in that region.

Is the Times Co. ready to sell the Boston Globe?

Within days of Janet Robinson’s sudden retirement as chief executive of the New York Times Co., word leaked that the company was looking to sell its smaller papers in the South and the West.

Which raises a question: Is the Times Co. finally ready to sell the Boston Globe? I review the rocky history of Times Co. ownership in my latest for the Huffington Post.

Mehanna verdict: Speech, actions or both?

Was Tarek Mehanna of Sudbury found guilty because of his loathsome but constitutionally protected free-speech activities on behalf of Al Qaeda? Or did the jury believe he actually engaged in terrorism, especially during a trip to Yemen, where prosecutors say he sought training?

I hope reporters covering the case will seek to interview every juror, because the answer is vitally important. Right now it’s hard to know whether the verdict was an outrage against the First Amendment or something quite a bit less than that. In following coverage of the trial, it was clear that prosecutors tried to conflate the two — using Mehanna’s expression of pro-terrorism views to prove he was an actual terrorist.

Boston Globe reporter Milton Valencia tweeted a little while ago, “Judging by verdict, this was more than 1st Amendment decision. Was also centered on Yemen trip. Found guilty of conspiracy to kill.”

Ron Paul’s racist ties get another airing

It’s good to see that Ron Paul’s dalliance with racists and anti-Semites is getting another airing. The Weekly Standard is recycling James Kirchick’s splendid New Republic article of four years ago, in which we learned that newsletters with names like Ron Paul’s Freedom Report and the Ron Paul Political Report were filled with gems such as a reference to Martin Luther King Day as “Hate Whitey Day.”

Paul, naturally, claimed to know nothing.

The New York Times gives the charges an airing today. For what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote for the Guardian in early 2008.

Stomping around the Danvers Rail Trail

Click on image for more photos

On Saturday and Sunday I ran the length of the Danvers Rail Trail, first heading out to the Peabody line and then to Route 97 in Topsfield the next day. Today I returned with my iPhone and took some pictures on the Swampwalk, near the Topsfield line, and on the trail itself.

The trail has been quite a boon to the town, and it continues all the way to the center of Topsfield.

Mapping the arrest of journalists at Occupy events

Josh Stearns of Free Press has been tracking the arrest of journalists at Occupy events for the past several months. Now he’s put together a Google map with names, places and, where available, video. An interesting project and a valuable resource.

When Christopher (maybe) met Henry

I did not realize until reading one of the many obituaries about Christopher Hitchens that he’d written a short book about Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man.” I think I’ll make it my next read.

There are a lot of well-deserved tributes to Hitchens today. I was especially moved by Ian McEwan’s in the New York Times. Turned out Hitchens was a man who faced death with bravery and even scorn right up to the end.

In March of 2001, I wrote an overview for the Boston Phoenix of Hitchens’ devastating portrayal of Henry Kissinger, first published in Harper’s and later turned into a book titled “The Trial of Henry Kissinger.”

Which calls to mind my one and only Hitchens anecdote. I can’t remember where I picked it up, and it has the ring of something that ought to be true rather an actual occurrence. But, supposedly, Hitchens was once introduced to Kissinger at a party. Kissinger’s eyes narrowed while Hitchens waited nervously to see what the former secretary of state would say.

“So, you called me a war criminal,” Kissinger told Hitchens.

Hitchens averred that, yes, he had, but that he’d also called Bill Clinton a war criminal because of his air strikes in the former Yugoslavia.

“Bill Clinton,” Kissinger was said to have replied, “doesn’t have the moral courage to be a war criminal.”

If it didn’t actually happen, it damn well should have.

What will Robinson’s departure mean for the Globe?

Janet Robinson

What will the apparently less-than-pleasant departure of New York Times Co. chief executive Janet Robinson mean for the Boston Globe, its second-largest newspaper?

Obviously it’s way too early to say. But no sooner had the word gone out last night than Globe editor Marty Baron tweeted, “Grateful for her support of the @bostonglobe: New York Times CEO Janet Robinson to retire.” Not that it’s possible to read too much meaning into that.

On the other hand, Financial Times columnist John Gapper read plenty of meaning into the Times’ own account of Robinson’s retirement, tweeting, “Sulzberger fired Robinson, according to NYT (in ninth para)” (via the inestimable Jack Shafer). And what does that ninth paragraph say?

Last Friday, Mr. Sulzberger called a meeting with Ms. Robinson on the 15th floor of the company’s Manhattan headquarters. He raised the issue of installing a different type of leadership at the company, according to people familiar with the meeting who declined to be identified discussing confidential company business.

The Times Co. has done a far better job than most newspaper companies of transitioning to the digital age. The Times and the Globe have pioneered the introduction of flexible paid digital editions. Moreover, both papers are performing financially much more strongly than they were when the bottom nearly fell out of the entire industry back in 2009. So you’d think Robinson would be on the plus side on those two key issues.

Nor do I think it’s credible to believe she was ousted because of the Times Co.’s collapsing stock price. As Ira Stoll notes at Future of Capitalism (via Romenesko), $10,000 worth of stock in 2004, the year she took over, would be worth $1,855 today. But that’s an industry-wide trend, and, seen in the context of major newspaper companies like Tribune falling into bankruptcy, the Times Co. seems to have done rather well.

So it will be very interesting to see what the real reason is for her abrupt, well-compensated ($4.5 million next year) departure.

Unrelated observation: Given their travails of recent months, how cool is it that I’m able to credit both Jack Shafer (now with Reuters) and Jim Romenesko in the same blog post? The natural order has been restored.

Live-blogging tonight’s debate

If you’re interested — and even if you’re not — I’ll be live-blogging tonight’s Republican presidential debate, which begins at 9 p.m. on the Fox News Channel.

My apologies to those who subscribe to Media Nation by email. You may want to turn it off for the next few hours, as you will receive an email every time I update. The simplest solution is to send a blank email to You can always join again later.

9:08 p.m. A little bit of a minefield for Newt Gingrich coming out of the box. He negotiated it pretty skillfully, although his saying that he teaches generals “the art of war” was laugh-out-loud funny.

9:51. Gingrich is mangling Jefferson and Marbury v. Madison. He says he understands it better than lawyers. Good luck with that.

9:53. I am so sick of listening to Bachmann and Santorum I could scream. At least watching Perry trying to negotiate a simple sentence is entertaining.

9:57. Perry managed to name three Supreme Court justices. Let the bandwagon start rolling again.

9:59. I’m bailing on the live-blog, and will be live-tweeting the second half of the debate here.