Garry Kasparov: The U.S.S.R. Fell—and the World Fell Asleep 

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25 years after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, plenty of repressive regimes live on. Today, the free world no longer cares.

Garry Kasparov writes: A quarter-century ago, on Dec. 25, 1991, as the last Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, resigned after a final attempt to keep the Communist state alive, I was so optimistic for the future. That year and the years leading up to that moment were a period when anything felt possible. The ideals of freedom and democracy seemed within the reach of the people of the Soviet Union.

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“It is difficult to describe what life in the U.S.S.R. was like to people in the free world today. This is not because repressive dictatorships are an anachronism people can’t imagine, like trying to tell your incredulous children that there was once a world without cellphones and the internet.”

I remember the December evening in 1988 when I was having dinner with friends and my mother in Paris. My family and I still lived in Baku, capital of the then-Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, where I was raised, but I had become accustomed to unusual freedoms since becoming the world chess champion in 1985. I was no longer accompanied by KGB minders everywhere I went, although my whereabouts were always tracked. Foreign travel still required special approval, which served to remind every Soviet citizen that this privilege could be withdrawn at any time.

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“The U.S.S.R. ceased to exist in 1991, but there are plenty of repressive, authoritarian regimes thriving in 2016. The difference, and I am sad to say it, is that the citizens of the free world don’t much care about dictatorships anymore, or about the 2.7 billion people who still live in them.”

My status protected me from many of the privations of life in the Soviet Union, but it did not tint my vision rose. Instead, my visits to Western Europe confirmed my suspicions that it was in the U.S.S.R. where life was distorted, as in a funhouse mirror.

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Miloš Forman

That night in Paris was a special one, and we were joined by the Czech-American director Miloš Forman via a mutual friend, the Czech-American grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

We were discussing politics, of course, and I was being optimistic as usual. I was sure that the Soviet Union would be forced to liberalize socially and economically to survive.

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“The words of John F. Kennedy in 1963 Berlin sound naive to most Americans today: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free,” he said. That for decades the U.S. government based effective foreign policy on such lofty ideals seems as distant as a world without iPhones.”

Mr. Forman played the elder voice of reason to my youthful exuberance. I was only 25, while he had lived through what he saw as a comparable moment in history. He cautioned that he had seen similar signs of a thaw after reformer Alexander Dubčekhad become president in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Eight months after Dubček’s election, his reforms 51e3z2ms3il-_sl250_ended abruptly as the U.S.S.R. sent half a million Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia and occupied the country. Many prominent Czechs, like Messrs. Forman and Kavalek, fled abroad.

[Order Garry Kasparov’s book “Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped” from Amazon.com]

“Gorbachev’s perestroika is another fake,” Mr. Forman warned us about the Soviet leader’s loosening of state controls, “and it will end up getting more hopeful people killed.” I insisted that Mr. Gorbachev would not be able to control the forces he was unleashing. Mr. Forman pressed me for specifics: “But how will it end, Garry?”

I replied—specifics not being my strong suit—that “one day, Miloš, you will wake up, open your window, and they’ll be gone.”

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“Ronald Reagan’s warning that ‘freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction’ was never meant to be put to the test, but it is being tested now. If anything, Reagan’s time frame of a generation was far too generous. The dramatic expansion of freedom that occurred 25 years ago may be coming undone in 25 months.”

It is difficult to describe what life in the U.S.S.R. was like to people in the free world today. This is not because repressive dictatorships are an anachronism people can’t imagine, like trying to tell your incredulous children that there was once a world without cellphones and the internet. The U.S.S.R. ceased to exist in 1991, but there are plenty of repressive, authoritarian regimes thriving in 2016. The difference, and I am sad to say it, is that the citizens of the free world don’t much care about dictatorships anymore, or about the 2.7 billion people who still live in them.

Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov

The words of John F. Kennedy in 1963 Berlin sound naive to most Americans today: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free,” he said. That for decades the U.S. government based effective foreign policy on such lofty ideals seems as distant as a world without iPhones. Read the rest of this entry »


Garry Kasparov: Vladimir Putin Takes a Victory Lap While Barack Obama Helplessly Watches

putin-obama

Obama’s speech was routine because he knows he will not act. Putin’s speech was routine because he knows he will act anyway.

Garry Kasparov writes: With the Middle East in chaos and a belligerent Russian regime stoking the turmoil, the dueling speeches at the United Nations on Monday by presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin might have offered new insight. What the world saw instead was entirely predictable.

“The images of the two leaders together are being splashed across the Russian media as a huge triumph for Mr. Putin. The narrative, which began circulating as soon as the meeting was announced, is that not only did the valiant Mr. Putin confront and condemn the weak Mr. Obama and the evil United States, he did so in New York City, the belly of the beast itself.”

Mr. Obama has already decided to continue his policy of disengagement from the Middle East, and his platitudes about cooperation and the rule of law rang hollow in the U.N.’s General Assembly hall. Of the conflict in Syria, he said, “we must
recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.” But every
51jUYNkqdIL._SL250_listener was aware that Mr. Obama had no intention of backing his words with action.

[Order Garry Kasparov‘s bookWinter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped” from Amazon.com]

Mr. Putin, speaking about an hour later in the same room, included his usual NATO-bashing and obvious lies. “We think it is an enormous mistake,” Mr. Putin said, “to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face.” He spoke of national sovereignty—which is very important to Mr. Putin, unless it’s the sovereignty of Georgia, Ukraine or another place where he wishes to meddle.

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“Mr. Obama has already decided to continue his policy of disengagement from the Middle East, and his platitudes about cooperation and the rule of law rang hollow in the U.N.’s General Assembly hall.”

The content of the speeches was irrelevant to Mr. Putin before he even opened his mouth. He made his first U.N. address in 10 years because looking like a big man on the international stage is the only ploy he has left to justify his rule in Russia. His devil’s bargain with the Russian people a decade ago was to provide prosperity in exchange for their giving up their rights and democracy. Now we have none of the above.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

Mr. Putin’s only remaining gambit is to claim that he is defending Russian greatness while surrounded by enemies (whom that he is an expert at creating). With his offensive in Ukraine sputtering along, new fronts were needed. He has found them in Syria and at the U.N.

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“The content of the speeches was irrelevant to Mr. Putin before he even opened his mouth. He made his first U.N. address in 10 years because looking like a big man on the international stage is the only ploy he has left to justify his rule in Russia.”

In this light, the much-hyped private meeting between Messrs. Obama and Putin was the biggest possible prize. The only statement to come out of the meeting was that the U.S. and Russia would consider working together against Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Not that Mr. Putin cares about cooperation, as long as his goal of preserving Bashar Assad’s murderous dictatorship in Syria isn’t interfered with.

“His devil’s bargain with the Russian people a decade ago was to provide prosperity in exchange for their giving up their rights and democracy. Now we have none of the above.”

Yet the images of the two leaders together are being splashed across the Russian media as a huge triumph for Mr. Putin. The narrative, which began circulating as soon as the meeting was announced, is that not only did the valiant Mr. Putin confront and condemn the weak Mr. Obama and the evil United States, he did so in New York City, the belly of the beast itself. As soon as the first pictures were taken, the meeting became a great success for Mr. Putin, and another self-inflicted defeat for American foreign policy—and for stability and democracy in the Middle East. Read the rest of this entry »


Garry Kasparov: The Global War on Modernity

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Islamists set the time machine to the Dark Ages. Putin dreams of czarist Russia. A common enemy: Americakasparov-tall

Garry Kasparov writes: The recent terror attacks in Paris at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and at a kosher supermarket, leaving 17 people dead, represented the latest offensive in a struggle that most people, even many of its casualties, are unaware is even taking place.

“The guaranteed freedoms represented by the First Amendment frighten the radical mullahs and dictators more than any drone strike or economic sanction.”

Globalization has effectively compressed the world in size, increasing the mobility of goods, capital and labor. Simultaneously this has led to globalization across time, as the 21st century collides with cultures and regimes intent on existing as in centuries past. It is less the famous clash of civilizations than an attempt by these “time travelers” to hold on to their waning authority by stopping the advance of the ideas essential to an open society.

ISIS-terror

“Many politicians and pundits in the Free World seem to think that refusing to acknowledge you are in a fight means you can avoid losing it. But ignoring the reality of the conflict puts more innocents like the Paris victims—instead of trained soldiers and law enforcement—on the front lines.”

Radical Islamists, from the Taliban and al Qaeda to Boko Haram and Islamic State, set the time machine to the Dark Ages and encourage the murder of all who oppose them, often supported by fatwas and funds from terror sponsors like Iran. The religious monarchies in the Middle East are guilty by association, creating favorable conditions for extremism by clamping down on any stirring of freedom.

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 “There are no easy ways to deter homegrown terrorists or nuclear-armed dictators, but this culture of denial must end before true progress can be made.”

Vladimir Putin wants Russia to exist in the Great Power era of czars and monarchs, dominating its neighbors by force and undisturbed by elections and rights complaints. The post-Communist autocracies, led by Mr. Putin’s closest dictator allies in Belarus and Kazakhstan, exploit ideology only as a means of hanging on to power at any cost.

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Since the time travelers cannot fight head-to-head with the ideas and prosperity of the Free World, they fall back on their arsenal of ideology, violence and disregard for human life.”

In the East, Kim Jong Un ’s North Korea attempts to freeze time in a Stalinist prison-camp bubble. In the West, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and the Castros in Cuba use anachronistic socialist propaganda to resist increasing pressure for human rights. Read the rest of this entry »


Garry Kasparov: I’ve said it before, but if …

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The Singularity is Coming and it’s Going To Be Awesome: ‘Robots Will Be Smarter Than Us All by 2029’

World’s leading futurologist predicts computers will soon be able to flirt, learn from experience and even make jokes

World’s leading futurologist predicts computers will soon be able to flirt, learn from experience and even make jokes

Adam Withnall writes:  By 2029, computers will be able to understand our language, learn from experience and outsmart even the most intelligent humans, according to Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil.

“Today, I’m pretty much at the median of what AI experts think and the public is kind of with them…”

One of the world’s leading futurologists and artificial intelligence (AI) developers, 66-year-old Kurzweil has previous form in making accurate predictions about the way technology is heading.

[Ray Kurzweil’s pioneering book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology is available at Amazon]

In 1990 he said a computer would be capable of beating a chess champion by 1998 – a feat managed by IBM’s Deep Blue, against Garry Kasparov, in 1997.

When the internet was still a tiny network used by a small collection of academics, Kurzweil anticipated it would soon make it possible to link up the whole world.

Read the rest of this entry »


Who Dreams of Being Average?

The American Dream has long evoked the idea that the next generation will have a better life than the previous one. Today, many Americans feel that dream is in jeopardy.

The American Dream has long evoked the idea that the next generation will have a better life than the previous one. Today, many Americans feel that dream is in jeopardy.

 Average Is Over—But the American Dream Lives On

Who dreams of being average? Americans define personal success in different ways, but certainly no one strives for mediocrity. The children of Lake Wobegon, after all, were “all above average.”

Perhaps this explains why some reviewers have understood the glum predictions of Tyler Cowen’s Average Is Over—that shifts in the labor market will cause the middle class to dwindle—as heralds of the death of the American Dream. This understanding misses the real thrust of Cowen’s book.

Everyone has their own notions of what constitutes the American Dream, but when writer and historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase in the 1930s, he wrote that in America “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Cowen’s vision of our future actually reinforces this idea. Read the rest of this entry »