Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

TIME's Person Of The Year

Thomas and I just saw it, and we cannot believe it. According to TIME, the person who deserves the honor this year is Vladimir Putin:

No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin's. The Russian President's pale blue eyes are so cool, so devoid of emotion that the stare must have begun as an affect, the gesture of someone who understood that power might be achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs, like blinking. The affect is now seamless, which makes talking to the Russian President not just exhausting but often chilling. It's a gaze that says, I'm in charge.

This may explain why there is so little visible security at Putin's dacha, Novo-Ogarevo, the grand Russian presidential retreat set inside a birch- and fir-forested compound west of Moscow. To get there from the capital requires a 25-minute drive through the soul of modern Russia, past decrepit Soviet-era apartment blocks, the mashed-up French Tudor-villa McMansions of the new oligarchs and a shopping mall that boasts not just the routine spoils of affluence like Prada and Gucci but Lamborghinis and Ferraris too.

When you arrive at the dacha's faux-neoclassical gate, you have to leave your car and hop into one of the Kremlin's vehicles that slowly wind their way through a silent forest of snow-tipped firs. Aides warn you not to stray, lest you tempt the snipers positioned in the shadows around the compound. This is where Putin, 55, works. (He lives with his wife and two twentysomething daughters in another mansion deeper in the woods.) The rooms feel vast, newly redone and mostly empty. As we prepare to enter his spacious but spartan office, out walk some of Russia's most powerful men: Putin's chief of staff, his ideologist, the speaker of parliament—all of them wearing expensive bespoke suits and carrying sleek black briefcases. Putin, who rarely meets with the foreign press, then gives us 3 1/2 hours of his time, first in a formal interview in his office and then upstairs over an elaborate dinner of lobster-and-shiitake-mushroom salad, "crab fingers with hot sauce" and impressive vintages of Puligny-Montrachet and a Chilean Cabernet.

Vladimir Putin gives a first impression of contained power: he is compact and moves stiffly but efficiently. He is fit, thanks to years spent honing his black-belt judo skills and, these days, early-morning swims of an hour or more. And while he is diminutive—5 ft. 6 in. (about 1.7 m) seems a reasonable guess—he projects steely confidence and strength. Putin is unmistakably Russian, with chiseled facial features and those penetrating eyes. Charm is not part of his presentation of self—he makes no effort to be ingratiating. One senses that he pays constant obeisance to a determined inner discipline. The successor to the boozy and ultimately tragic Boris Yeltsin, Putin is temperate, sipping his wine only when the protocol of toasts and greetings requires it; mostly he just twirls the Montrachet in his glass. He eats little, though he twitchily picks the crusts off the bread rolls on his plate.

And the title seems fitting as well -- "A Tsar is Born." It coolly reflects the author's (Adi Ignatius) gushing platitudes of a man that the West is right to mistrust. The president may have "looked into his soul" but those with a suspicious mind are wary of the many who is poised to become Russia's next "ironman." He is forbidden from running for president a third consecutive time, but he has named his successor (Dmitry Medvedev), and he has also stated he wishes to be the Russian Federation's next prime minister.

That has a few of us a little concerned. With his chosen in place, he could literally continue ruling over Russia. TIME has given him this distinction because of his "extraordinary feat of leadership in taking a country that was in chaos and bringing it stability." All right, fair enough, but why was General David Petraeus not given equal distinction?

It was General Petraeus's strategy that brought a virtual end to the sectarian fighting in Iraq. It was his strategy that has put al-Qaeda on it's heels. The enhanced security and stability he forged gave the Iraqi government its needed time to begin stabilizing their domestic problems, such as infrastructure, diving oil revenues, and completing the training of their military.

This is why we are appalled at TIME for choosing a man who has taken steps to quash dissent and free speech in his country. There are still lingering questions about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, and whether or not those in Russia -- especially Putin and his inner circle -- had anything to do with it. While Putin is not trying to conquer Europe, his award as person of the year is as ludicrous as when TIME chose Adolf Hitler in 1938, Josef Stalin in 1939 and 1942, and when they chose Khomeini in 1979. While Putin surely lacks their overall legacies, he has ruled Russia with an iron fist, he has been contentious to the other European nations, and with his continued deals with Iran he is making himself a problem for Western diplomacy with that theocratic regime.

TIME, like the Nobel Committee, has shown yet again that their awards mean little.



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