DURBAN BRAWL

It’s worth checking out the British papers for coverage of issues like the Durban Conference Against Racism. Among other things, they are less squeamish in quoting some African-American comments. The Telegraph has a quote from Jesse Jackson absent in the Washington Post and New York Times. Jackson accused the Bush administration of “in a sense subverting” the meeting. “It is most unfortunate and unnecessary to withdraw based on one issue,” he elaborated. That “one issue” is whether Israel is inherently a racist state, based upon theories of “racial superiority,” that practices apartheid. Is that a view Jackson endorses? The Guardian also quoted Essop Pahad, President Thabo Mbeki’s number two. “I don’t know if anger helps,” Pahad said. “It’s a matter of great regret. There are millions upon millions of citizens of the United States who will not be happy with this decision; committed people against racism. The anti-racists will be very disappointed in their government and will ask why it is not committed to the same ends, why it does not think that combating racism is important?” Does Pahad think appeasing virulent and unrestrained anti-Semitism – the most poisonous form of racism that has ever existed – is something “anti-racists” should endorse? In fact, we should all be relieved that this conference has ended in collapse. These U.N. sessions are mere opportunities for venting the envy and hatred that pervades the failed and failing states of much of Africa and the Middle East.

CORRECTION: Parris Glendening is separated from his wife, not divorced.

THOSE QUIET RUSSIANS: To my mind, the most extraordinary political story of the last decade is the story that never happened. That’s the much-anticipated collapse of democratic life in Russia. We have been treated from day one to gloomy prognostications about the re-emergence of military rule, suspension of the free press, the rise of corrupt oligarchs, the grip of the mafia, and so on. And much of the gloom seems at least partly deserved. But through it all, Russia has given up a vast empire, transformed its economy, engaged in a brutal and bitter war, and yet still stayed democratic. The much under-rated Boris Yeltsin has something to do with this. But one of the most persuasive recent explorations of the change I’ve yet read is in Ian Buruma’s modest but telling essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Check it out. His counter-intuitive bet on Russia’s long-term stability over China’s seems dead-on to me. Our real fear should not be that China will soon become a militarized capitalist dictatorship, but that it will explode under an authoritarian system that has no way to absorb or redirect the vast social unrest it has unleashed. Buruma’s essay is also a necessary reminder that economics and politics are what we used to call independent variables. And sometimes, political stability is far more important than economic growth.

LETTERS: Was Condit not cute enough? Why Parris Glendenning is sadder than you already thought; etc.