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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Credit Where Credit’s Due
By Fred Flintstone

Fred is not much for gambling. He once spent $10 at the tables in Reno, about that much as well in Vegas, and never a kopek in Bedrock. Years back he had a wise mentor who lived in gambling-free Boulder City near Boulder Dam, ‘Curly’ Smith, a building contractor who was a director at Fred’s company. Fred occasionally had a chance to visit Curly, but they stayed clear of nearby Las Vegas, which Curly called “the dumping ground for money”

Curly didn’t care much for smoking either, and passed out anti-smoking brochures on airlines at a time when there weren’t even “No Smoking” sections on flights. Fred once heard Curly, in his ever courteous, down-home Okie manner, explain to a waitress why she shouldn’t smoke. She returned in a few minutes to ask, “How do you know I smoke?” “Well, honey,” Curly replied, “I can tell by the color of your skin.”

Artwork by Julia Nozdracheva

Last week, the Russian government in one stroke rid the country of one of those twin curses, when all casinos closed on June 30, just days before the arrival of the US President. Hundreds of small slot-halls, which had popped up like toadstools on the taiga, had already been dismantled over the past two years, particularly those near metro stations. But the big business casinos flourished until close to midnight on closing day. More slots were idled than operate in Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined.

The government, reportedly at the direction of Prime Minister Putin, withstood fierce business and financial pressure and emptied about 150,000 square meters of commercial space, eliminating, depending upon whom you believe, hundreds of thousands of casino-related jobs. There is never a good time for such a step, and to do so in the midst of the economic crisis makes it even more difficult. Whether each of the four planned gambling centers that are planned in Altai, Kaliningrad, Krasnodar and Primorsky can be successfully turned into a “little Vegas” remains to be seen.

If Mr. Putin was truly behind this effort, he should be given credit where credit is due, and not just for the gambling gambit – he guided this huge and complicated country out of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the era of pillaging by the oligarchs that followed, a situation that makes the current financial problems in the West look like a small bump in the road.

Fred hopes the new American leader will take some knowledge home with him, extracted by his own inquisitive mind rather than “expert” advisors. Each of the last two US presidents had a top advisor who “spoke Russian”, but Fred doubts they really knew much about the country. There’s a big difference between polishing declensions with a Cold War exile turned professor than learning “colorful expressions” from a physicist who had to turn gypsy cab driver after the end of the USSR. Evidence the label on the now famous “Re-Start” button given by Ms. Clinton to Foreign Minister Lazrov, which actually meant “overcharge”.

It’s too bad the President won’t have a chance to flag down a gypsy cab like the one Fred did recently. Like cab drivers everywhere, the driver complained, “We have the whole Mendeleev’s Table in this country. Why can’t we do better?” – assuming his guest knew what the Mendeleev Table is.

The President and his family did reportedly spend their last night on the rooftop of the Ritz-Carlton. With its magnificent view over the Kremlin and Red Square the Ritz is an opulent replacement for the stark Soviet eyesore Intourist Hotel that previously occupied the site, in itself a tribute to the transformation of the past 17 years.

Oh, and Mr. Putin, about the smoking?

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