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Wednesday, February 2

The Untouchables

"Pundita, I have an idea about how to improve relations between Moscow and Washington. Sure, Bush asked Putin a dumb question but Putin was dumb to answer with a history lesson. I mean, doesn't Putin watch Chris Matthews and Hannity & Colmes? A history lesson is no way to talk to Americans. You have to package your concept. I learned that from selling on eBay. When Bush asked Putin why he was appointing governors instead of allowing elections, he should have just said to Bush, "My team is The Untouchables. The elections for governors are fixed by the mobs. We're going to appoint governors until we clean up City Hall." Bush would have gotten it right away.
[Signed] Better Rested in St. Louis

PS: I received another weird letter from the post office. I understand about the anthrax attack but put four waterbugs in a plastic baggie with air holes and a little bit of shredded newspaper and lettuce. Now ask yourself, could that make any kind of noise remotely sounding like ticking? I give up. Next time I'm sending spaghetti and just hope the possum and rest of the team like it.

PPS: Re your Monday post on OK Corral I don't think our ancestors invented iron and copper. I think they discovered them."

Dear Better Rested:

Pundita was blowing off steam and taking poetic license in the process, but we're never irritated by a statement of facts. We find your suggestion interesting. The Untouchables are an apt analogy, at least with regard to a part of the situation that Putin's government faced when they began reforms.

(For readers outside the US: in North America "Untouchable" is law- enforcement slang for a police officer or prosecutor who can't be bribed or coerced by criminals.)

Corruption was so entrenched in the Russian bureaucracies that the reformers faced essentially the same situation the Chicago Crime Commission faced in the 1920s. Organized crime was running the State of Illinois. But as Diane Alden points out in an essay for NewsMax, mobsters were only one aspect of a much larger story of corruption in America. Corruption was so entrenched at all levels of government, and at all levels of Illinois civic society, that the commission had to create a secret branch to attempt to fight the corruption.

And The Untouchables were not always untouchable. The team originally consisted of 50 agents, which Eliot Ness put together after reviewing the records of every US Treasury Department agent. Because so many on the team eventually became suspect Ness had to cut the 50 down to 15, and finally to 9. That's what he had, to take on the entire Chicago Gangland: Nine men.

So Russians who think that Americans can't possibly understand what they're going through should learn more about American history. When it comes to corruption in government, America has been there, bought the T-shirt and the video game. The corruption in the 1920s and 1930s was not only the work of crime syndicates, "dirty" cops and corrupt judges. The corruption was endemic. It was a cancer that threatened to kill our democracy.

Americans would probably do well to learn more about that chapter in our history, which isn't taught much in public school. And keep the chapter in mind when following news about Vladimir Putin's government and modern Russia. The Russian government is not only dealing with mobsters but also with the oligarchs, whose wealth and power are mind-boggling.

The Chicago Crime Commission couldn't have imagined the power the oligarchs wielded in the world during the past decade. It's not for nothing that the Russians dubbed those people "oligarchs." Putin's government has been accused of relying on a tight inner circle of ex-KGB agents. I imagine the circle has to be very tight and for the same reason Ness had to cut down the size of his team.

As with Ness, Putin is not a perfect person. But in an imperfect world he's the best bet Russia has at this time to clean up City Hall.

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