Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of Pussy Riot, have been detained in Sochi. Photo: Getty
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Two members of Pussy Riot arrested in Sochi

Nadia Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, who were released from prison less than two months ago, say they were arrested in Sochi with a group of activists and journalists.

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

Pussy Riot was arrested in Sochi today. 

Yes, you read that right. Pussy Riot members and internationally known “prisoners of conscience” Nadia Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, who were released from prison less than two months ago, were just arrested in Sochi.

Tolokonnikova claims they were just strolling through town (with a group of activists and journalists), the police claim there was a theft at the hotel where they were staying. 

Pussy Riot had come down to Sochi to do a performance piece called “Putin Will Teach You How to Love the Motherland.” “The police didn’t know how to neutralize them, so they made up a theft in the hotel,” a local lawyer told me as he drove to the station to which the Pussy Rioters were being driven.

But Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are not your average hotel thieves. After their August 2012 show trial, these girls are media experts, live tweeting their arrest. 

Маша Алехина, я и еще одна участница Pussy Riot едем в отдел полиции Блиново за нахождение в Сочи. pic.twitter.com/bj8qpX7gMN

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“Masha Alyokhina, another member of Pussy Riot and I are being taken to the Blinovo [police] station for being in Sochi.”)

Такой олимпийский Сочи. Едем в АДЛЕРОВСКОЕ ОТДЕЛЕНИЕ. pic.twitter.com/PoafsAGTZO

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“This is Olympic Sochi. Going to the ADLER STATION.”) 

При задержании применяли силу.

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“They used force while arresting us.”)

 
 

Pyotr Verzilov, Nadia’s husband and the group’s informal manager, tweeted out their local lawyer’s number. Then he tweeted out the address of the police precinct to which the Pussy Rioters were being taken, adding, “See you at the station, journalist friends!”

Nadia tweeted out her cell phone number and even picked up the phone and talked, allowing this reporter to hear Alyokhina yelling at someone in the background.

Something tells me that heads are going to get bopped at the local police station. The local cops probably got the tip that Pussy Riot was in town and were told to make the problem go away. Panicking about messing up Putin’s Sochi party, they made the situation far worse, given the group’s brand recognition in the West and the number of foreign journalists swarming the place and bored of covering ski jumps.

What’s arguably even stupider is that they did the thing the Russian is state is great at doing: they remade heroes out of Pussy Riot, just as Nadia and Masha were busy mucking up their own image, going on junkets to authoritarian countries and shamelessly asking for money around the world. 

“How stupid do you have to be to arrest Pussy Riot in Sochi during the Olympics?” opposition leader Alexei Navalny tweeted. “There is no Ketchum in the world that can help you on this one.”

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com. New Republic Senior Editor Julia Ioffe will be writing dispatches from Russia for the duration of the Olympics. For the entire collection of her pieces, click here.

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Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

Trump will lead the whitest, most male cabinet in memory – a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

“What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective”.

It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

There has been much discussion about the lack of experience of many of Trump’s appointees (think of the incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign affairs) and their alleged bigotry (the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, denied a role as a federal judge in the 1980s following claims of racial discrimination, is on course to be confirmed as attorney general). Yet what should equally worry the average American is that Trump has picked people who, in the words of the historian Meg Jacobs, “are downright hostile to the mission of the agency they are appointed to run”. With their new Republican president’s blessing, they want to roll back support for the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and don’t give a damn how much damage they do in the process.

Take Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has claimed that the debate over climate change is “far from settled”.

The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is Trump’s pick for housing and urban development, a department with a $49bn budget that helps low-income families own homes and pay the rent. Carson has no background in housing policy, is an anti-welfare ideologue and ruled himself out of a cabinet job shortly after the election. “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience,” his spokesman said at the time. “He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

The fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped to run the department of labour, doesn’t like . . . well . . . labour. He prefers robots, telling Business Insider in March 2016: “They’re always polite . . . They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the department of education, did not attend state school and neither did any of her four children. She has never been a teacher, has no background in education and is a champion of school vouchers and privatisation. To quote the education historian Diane Ravitch: “If confirmed, DeVos will be the first education secretary who is actively hostile to public education.”

The former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for the role of energy secretary by Trump, promised to abolish the department that he has been asked to run while trying to secure his party’s presidential nomination in 2011. Compare and contrast Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal science but failed a chemistry course in college, with his two predecessors under President Obama: Dr Ernest Moniz, the former head of MIT’s physics department, and Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Berkeley. In many ways, Perry, who spent the latter half of 2016 as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is the ultimate kakistocratic appointment.

“Do Trump’s cabinet picks want to run the government – or dismantle it?” asked a headline in the Chicago Tribune in December. That’s one rather polite way of putting it. Another would be to note, as the Online Etymology Dictionary does, that kakistocracy comes from kakistos, the Greek word for “worst”, which is a superlative of kakos, or “bad”, which “is related to the general Indo-European word for ‘defecate’”.

Mehdi Hasan has rejoined the New Statesman as a contributing editor and will write a fortnightly column on US politics

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era