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Our Man in Moscow

The true story of how a nice kid from Los Gatos moved to Moscow, pranked the media and ended up in the crosshairs of the Russian government and a U.S. congressman

By Mark Ames

MOSCOW—United States Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-San Antonio) wants to subject me to gross human rights abuses that could include my torture and death. The reason? To teach "future pranksters to think twice."

I'm not joking. And neither is he.

In an interview that Rep. Bonilla gave to the San Antonio Express-News published July 15, the former-anchorman-turned-Bush-houseboy said that he was so unamused by a "prank" that my Moscow-based newspaper took credit for—I'll get to the details of this prank a little later—that he had asked the United States government to push Russia to "prosecute" and "punish" me.

This is no laughing matter—unless you think torture and murder make for great punch lines. Just a few days before Bonilla called for Russia to take "tough action" against me, Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of the recently launched Russian edition of Forbes, was murdered outside his Moscow office. I knew Paul. He lived in the same apartment building in Moscow as I did, a Stalin-era Gothic monstrosity on the banks of the Moskva River, and he interviewed me in 1996 for a Forbes (U.S. edition) article on American expats working in the city.

Paul was a controversial figure in post-Soviet Russia, largely because of a book he wrote in the late 1990s on Russia's most infamous oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, whom he named "The Godfather of the Kremlin." Berezovsky sued Klebnikov in London for libel and won. In late 2000, Berezovsky fell out with Russian President Vladimir Putin and was forced to flee to London, where he was given asylum. With Berezovsky gone, Paul felt safe enough to return to Moscow, leaving a posh editor's job in New York to launch Forbes Russia this past April.

No one knows exactly why he was killed; he's the first American journalist ever to get whacked in Russia. Some think the killing may have been linked to Berezovsky, while others say that a May article in Forbes Russia listing Russia's 100 wealthiest individuals might have threatened one or more of those whose wealth was meant to be kept a secret—which means nearly every oligarch on that list.

The circumstances of the murder were unsettling and professional enough to dispel the idea that it was a low-level revenge murder. Two gunmen killed him with between four and 10 bullets, mostly to his chest, according to various reports. Moreover, the ambulance that "rescued" arrived without an oxygen tank. Once in the hospital, another patient was rushed into an elevator ahead of Paul, leaving him to take another elevator. This elevator strangely went down instead of up and happened to get stuck for nearly 20 minutes, just enough time to make sure that Paul was dead and beyond rescue. One account said that "bodyguards" ensured that Paul was put into the "faulty" elevator.

Whatever your theory on his murder, news that Russia's prosecutor general is now in charge of this "top priority" case almost certainly means that it will never be solved and that some luckless immigrant from the Caucasus will take the fall. That's the way "top priority" cases are solved here in Russia.

Beatings Are 'Routine'

It may seem strange that a Los Gatos native should wind up in this bizarre and dangerous position, 10,000 miles from home, but as one aide close to Rep. Bonilla told me, "You should have thought about that earlier, and now you're going to have to suffer the consequences."

I first moved from Los Gatos to Russia 10 years ago, and I started my newspaper, the eXile, in 1997. The eXile is an English-language semimonthly alternative serving the thousands of expatriates in Moscow, as well as tens of thousands of online readers (www.exile.ru). The newspaper offers a combination of investigative journalism, press criticism and vicious satire that only seemed possible in the Yeltsin-era, when chaos and anarchy prevailed in Russia.

Today, most of the Russian media has been shut down or brought to heel, sometimes violently (as in Paul's case), sometimes through Singapore-style "administrative means" (i.e., lawsuits and tax bills). Since Putin took control, the former KGB lieutenant has imposed a kind of creeping authoritarian order that is becoming increasingly neo-Soviet. Enemies are jailed or exiled; unpleasant news is whitewashed or censored; and elections are openly rigged. In the most famous case of Putin's presidency, he jailed the head of Yukos, once Russia's leading oil company, when it appeared that the two of them were locked in a battle over the future political and economic direction of the country.

Putin won the old-fashioned way, and today Yukos, once the darling of the West (including links to Vice President Cheney, the Carlyle Group and Exxon Mobil), is being stripped and junked—and looks set to be sold off to state-owned energy companies tied directly to Putin, while Yukos' founder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is sitting in jail, and most of the other shareholders are in exile.

One of the great mysteries in the local journalism world is why we are allowed to continue. In my newspaper's 7 1/2 years, we've stepped on a lot of toes. Every few months, some threat—emailed or phoned-in death threats, tax raids or lawsuits—has been directed at us, but we have always managed to find a way to survive. Yet in all of my years here, never has an American government official—let alone a high-ranking congressman!—threatened our lives so directly over something so completely silly.

Russia is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work by Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the U.S. State Department, which noted in its most recent human rights report, "A number of journalists were beaten, killed or reported missing for reasons that may have been associated with their journalistic activities. ... According to the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation, 10 journalists were killed during the year under mysterious circumstances, and 96 were physically attacked. ... As in 2002, independent media NGOs characterized beatings by unknown assailants of journalists as 'routine' ..."

The only thing that isn't "routine" is when a sitting congressman tries to get these same Russian human rights violators to "punish" an American journalist. I'm not sure if any journalists here have died as a result of a prank that someone didn't find funny, but I am absolutely sure that I would be the first American journalist in Russia—if not in the world—to be "punished" because a U.S. congressman wanted to teach "pranksters to think twice."

The Russian justice system that Rep. Bonilla wants to "investigate" me is so notoriously corrupt that even President Putin is ashamed of it—when he isn't using the courts to destroy his enemies, he is publicly denouncing them for their corruption and unreliability. As the State Department's report noted, "There were credible reports that law enforcement personnel frequently engaged in torture, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment and often did so with impunity."

So how serious is the threat from Bonilla? I called his office in Washington but was not able to get Bonilla's people to speak with me directly. However, one aide to a government official close to this case told me, "It's out of [Bonilla's] hands now. The matter has already been turned over to the State Department. You're going to have to deal with the consequences of your joke."

We've all heard of terror suspects being shipped off to notoriously unliberal, torture-friendly countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt, but who would have thought that Bush's petty fascism would come to this: use a joy buzzer on a Republican, and it's off to the gulag.

The Prank

And now some background on the "prank." At the end of June, a letter signed by five Republican congressmen (including Rep. Bonilla, as well as another right-wing nut, Dan Burton of Indiana) and addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell was posted on the website of a shadowy right-wing Washington, D.C., lobbying group called the American Defense Council. The letter alleged that former Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko—a "young reformer" adored by the West during his brief 1998 reign—was trying to use stolen IMF funds to purchase property in Chicago and, with it, an American green card.

The letter was a fraud. But before the congressmen could disavow it, the allegations appeared all over the Russian media. It was big news because Kiriyenko is still a major player in the Russian political scene, only in an entirely different, and darker, capacity. The former young reformer is now President Putin's representative to the rich Volga region. Kiriyenko is one of seven "superrepresentatives" that Putin named to bring chaotic regions to heel as he consolidated "vertical power" over the past four years. Nearly all of the Kremlin's superrepresentatives are either FSB (the former KGB) or military.

Why would someone forge this letter? Most people assume that Kiriyenko has made some serious enemies in the Volga region as he squeezed the local power elites to fall into line with the Kremlin. By blackening his name, some enemy (or enemies) of Kiriyenko probably hoped to derail his efforts. The letter was dated June 4, but it only made headlines when the muckraking Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported the accusations as fact.

Here I should note one huge difference between Russian and American journalism: Russians aren't huge on fact checking, sourcing or anything that smacks of caution. To their credit, Russian journalists take far greater chances—and get far better scoops—than mainstream American journalists, who are often paralyzed by caution. On the other hand, Americans don't screw up stories nearly as much as Russians do, nor do they get beaten, lacerated and murdered as often—and Novaya Gazeta has had all of these happen to their staff, including the poisoning death of their editor Yuri Shchekochikhin last year.

Kiriyenko immediately sued the newspaper, and the U.S. congressmen disavowed the letter the day after Novaya Gazeta's article appeared. Here's where the eXile comes in. We have pulled off all sorts of pranks. Last year, our staff and about a dozen other locals invested hundreds of dollars into a prank whereby our intern, a quiet college student from Connecticut, was transformed into "well-known New York night-life figure Buns McGillicuddy" in order to punk the pretentious high-end clubbing scene that Moscow is famous for.

We paid off a cop to escort Buns' car with sirens flashing, got local television and camera crews to follow our intern around, dressed him up to the hilt and filmed him with his entourage as the red carpet was rolled out at the snottiest, trendiest clubs in Moscow. Just the night before, these same clubs had rudely turned our intern down. The night of the prank, people literally fell to their feet and kissed his ass just because we had given him an entourage. One of Moscow's most famous nightclub figures was photographed by our people actually kissing our intern's hand as he greeted him.

It was in this long tradition of pranks and metapranks that I decided, since no one had taken responsibility yet for the Kiriyenko letter, that we would take credit ourselves. I had just returned from California after several months of researching a new book on the rage-murder phenomenon in America's offices and schools (part of which came out in a Metro article about the student bombing plot at my former high school, Saratoga High, class of '93, in February of this year).

To make our fake prank look halfway believable, we took photos of us supposedly creating the forged letter and another of me faxing the letter off from Washington. D.C. (when I was really in our Moscow office)—then two more photos of my partner Jake Rudnitsky and I celebrating victory by doing stupid break-dance moves. And I used goofy language that was intended to make the reader think "Did they or didn't they?" until the last line, in which I wrote that the eXile had also arranged a mini-banking crisis that same week, in which several large-scale banks in Moscow were collapsing, leading to hundreds of millions of lost deposits.

And the amazing thing was, everyone believed it. I mean everyone.

The Killing Joke

If that wasn't wacky enough, now I'm in the incredible position of trying to prove that we didn't do the prank. That the whole joke was that we didn't pull off the joke.

It may be too late, if Rep. Bonilla has his way. Everyone bought it when we took credit for the forged letter. But no one believes us now that we've admitted we had nothing to do with it, even though no one bothered to check if we really did compose the forged letter in the first place.

It's funny, right? In an "I just flew in from Nizhny and boy are my wings tired" sort of way. Heh-heh-heh. Ah, yeah, guess you had to be there. Or maybe not.

I can't seem to find out how much danger I am in now. The U.S. Embassy here in Moscow is either equivocating or giving me the high hat. A Russian employee in the Citizen Services section told me that while his department knows of no joint U.S.-Russian criminal investigation to arrest me, such a thing could be happening without Citizen Services' knowledge.

He suggested I contact the press officers. But when I called them, for the first time ever in my years as a journalist here, they wouldn't speak to me. They only communicated through their Russian secretary—or rather, they only allowed me to communicate to them through the Russian secretary—and, finally, when she was incapable of making sense, they had me fax them whatever it was that I wanted to ask or tell them.

I told them in the fax that the prank was that we didn't pull the prank—and I asked them whether or not they were working to have me thrown into Butirka, Matrosska Tishina or Lefortovo, the three main jails here in Moscow.

I have still not received an answer.

When I called the offices of the Republican congressmen whose names were forged, I was told that all five of them have officially asked the State Department to push Russia into arresting me. One aide told me, "Speak to the State Department about this. It's no longer in our hands."

State won't speak to me. And no one in Washington believes me when I tell them that we had faked the prank. "I saw the forged letter on your website. Forgery is a crime," one aide informed me.

Actually, according to a friend of mine in the State Department, even if I had forged the letter, it would not be a federal crime, nor would State actively lobby a government it accuses of human rights abuses to "punish" an American journalist over anything, let alone a prank.

I asked the congressional aide, "Do you realize that an American journalist was just shot and killed here and that your Republican administration has accused Russia of all kinds of human rights abuses against journalists? This is insane. And it's over a joke I didn't pull."

"If it was a joke, it was a very stupid joke and now you're going to pay the consequences for it." The aide seemed pleased with this kind of "toughness." Nothing is too crazy—or too stupid—for a Republicans official these days.

'Don't Sit Too Close To Ames'

With 20/20 hindsight, we doctors of humor can now officially declare that taking responsibility for the forged Kiriyenko letter was not the smartest move in humor history. In fact, it's about the unfunniest nonprank ever not committed. Not-funny for me and Rudnitsky, that is.

The issue in which we took responsibility for the forged letter came out on the very same day that Klebnikov was murdered. A few days later, while were drinking with friends near Pushkin Square, an advertising exec told me that his Russian partner warned him, "Don't sit too close to Ames" because "it isn't safe." Everyone laughed uneasily, yet their chairs managed to inch farther and farther away from mine.

Both Moscow and the expatriates' place in the city have changed a lot since Putin took control. Thanks to billions in washed oil revenues as well as Putin's cultural clampdown, Moscow has gone from an overtly violent free-for-all to something I imagine Buenos Aires was like in the 1990s: bourgeois and shiny in the central districts, becoming increasingly dilapidated, depressing and dangerous the farther you get from Red Square.

Black humor has lost its cocky appeal among Moscow's expats ever since Klebnikov was murdered. That sense of consequence-free invulnerability you get from being a Westerner in Moscow is now gone. We all feel as exposed as locals have been ever since Prince Dolgoruky brought his land development schemes to the banks of the Moskva.

So not only is my newspaper more exposed on an intangible level (i.e., now no American journalist feels safe), but we have become vastly more exposed in the most tangible way possible. We're now a household name in Russia. Our "metaprank" was played on all top radio stations and on the TV news. Weird stuff started to happen after that. On the day the news hit, I got a call from a Russian journalist on my cell phone. Suddenly I heard a third party—my friend got cut off, and a few seconds later, the other person hung up, and the phone went dead.

Later, at a lunch I had with a local investment banker, I noticed two burly Russians taking a seat right next to ours—they had the same look and demeanor as a friend of mine who served in counterintelligence in the Afghan War. When I started staring at them, they suddenly stood up and walked out without paying their bill. Paranoid? Yes, but as Silicon Valley ideologue Andy Grove famously wrote, "Only the paranoid survive."

The Russian media have been hounding me (one guy claiming to be a journalist from Gazeta even threatened to come after me "face-to-face" in a chat-exchange with our designer last week); lawyers, including Kiriyenko's, have been calling our offices; and a right-wing Texas Republican congressman is using the weight of American power to have us "punished" the Russian way.

To give you just another example of how insane the context of this story is, on July 15—the same day that Bonilla gave his interview to the San Antonio Express-News—a Russian energy official was quoted as telling Assistant U. S. Commerce Secretary William Lash in a meeting in Moscow, "People who don't understand the rules get killed." Lash was reportedly shocked and asked for clarification, wondering if his Russian counterpart meant "financial disaster."

"No," the Russian official told him, "physically killed."

One is reminded of that scene from Casino when goon Joe Pesci threatens to put the respectable banker into a coma because, from Pesci's point of view, the banker is just as corrupt and sleazy as any other criminal:

"And just about the time that I'm comin' out of jail, hopefully, you'll be comin' out of your coma. And guess what? I'll split your fuckin' head open again. Because I'm fuckin' stupid. I don't give a fuck about jail. That's my business. That's what I do. And we know what you do, don't we, Charlie? You fuck people out of money and get away with it."

The Russian official didn't see any reason to hide behind hypocrisies. He works for a thuggish regime intent on exacting its cut of any deal. Secretary Lash's mission was to push the Russian dons into letting American oil dons like Exxon Mobil get in on a piece of the Russian hydrocarbons racket. The Russian official spoke to Lash straight up, Mafiya-to-Mafia.

Here is the difference between Russia and America today in a nutshell: the Russians don't fake what they're about, while the Americans pillage and slaughter with a big pious smile on our face. We actually act shocked if someone stops playing "pretend." And I'm sure if Secretary Lash was told what his true mission was—to take a cut of Russian raw resources for American corporate profit—he would be genuinely outraged by the very suggestion.

Beacon of Freedom

Maybe you're thinking, "Hey, Ames, don't worry, you can count on the good ol' US of A, the beacon of freedom and liberty for all the world, to help bail you, a citizen, out of this mess. Right?"

Yeah, right.

Let me quote in more detail again what Rep. Bonilla told the San Antonio Express-News. This is not a hoax—you can check for yourself in the Express-News' online archives. In fact, you should check—the whole reason this story got blown out of proportion is because no one in the English-language press ever bothered to contact me.

Web Posted: 07/15/2004 12:00 AM CDT

Bonilla Forgery Was Work of Tabloid

Gary Martin
Express-News Washington Bureau

[[http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/nation/stories/MYSA071504.
12A.ForgedLetter.b72c660.html ]
The original page]

WASHINGTON—A Moscow alternative weekly has claimed responsibility for a phony letter with forged signatures of five congressmen that implicated former Russian Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko in the disappearance of a $4. 8 billion loan.

The letter was sent to Russian newspapers, where it appeared as a news story that quoted the document and named the alleged signatories, including Rep. Henry Bonilla, R- San Antonio.

... The forged letter, dated June 4, was written to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and signed by "five bland Republican congressmen," the Russian alternative weekly admitted.

U.S. lawmakers weren't amused. "Forgery is a crime regardless of your nationality," Bonilla said. The U.S. and Russian governments should work together to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators, he said.

 

Two things stand out as particularly funny about Bonilla's stated desire to team up with the Russian government in order to take "tough action" against me. The first thing that's funny is that Bonilla called for the Russian government to "punish" me just five days after American citizen Klebnikov was murdered in Moscow. Since Rep. Bonilla is a Republican, he must read his party's organ, the Wall Street Journal. That means that he must have read the WSJ editorial "Lawless Russia," published July 12, two days after Klebnikov's murder: "The Committee to Protect Journalists, which records attacks on journalists throughout the world, cites Russia as a special problem. ... The murder of Paul Klebnikov demonstrates that Russia is not a normal country. Perhaps it's time for the leaders of free democracies to ask Mr. Putin whether the rule of law exists in Russia."

Bonilla sits on the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, so he should be aware of the human rights problems here. But let's be honest—Bonilla, a Bush Republican, could give an armadillo's ass about human rights. In his 12 years in Congress, the Mexican-American right-winger has distinguished himself as having the worst record among all Latinos when it comes to voting for Latino causes. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda gave him a 22 percent on its most recent report card; in the 106th Congress, he received a resounding 0 percent score from the NHLA.

In the 2002 election, Bonilla's share of the Latino vote fell to some 8 percent in his district. Indeed, he is so loathed by fellow Latinos that in a recent Texas redistricting scandal, Republicans redrew his once-Latino district to drastically cut the number of Latinos and pack it with wealthy whites. If you remember that whole redistricting scandal last year in Texas, in which Democratic legislators fled the state, then here is the scandal brought home to this Silicon Valley journalist: Texas was redistricted in order to disenfranchise Latino voters so that Henry Bonilla could stay in power in order to push Russia to "punish" me.

This guy is like the Doug Neidermeyer of the Latino political world—he was so scared of getting shot by his own troops that he had half of them shipped out of his district.

Rep. Bonilla is not only a shameless foot lackey serving rich Anglo interests directly against his own people, but he's also as corrupt as they come, even by the high standards set by Texas Republicans. In 1999, Bonilla set up the American Dream PAC in order to fund Latino and minority GOP candidates—and wouldn'tcha know it, nearly all of the PAC's $547,000 was spent supporting last year's redistricting effort.

A right-wing Republican activist I know described Bonilla as "a nut case," while another person who has dealt with Bonilla told me, "He's not considered to be very bright by those who know him."

Taking Strong Action

Since none of the five Republican congressmen or staff would speak to me on the record, I phoned Gary Martin, the Express-News Washington bureau reporter who interviewed Bonilla about me.

"Why didn't you contact me before you published the article?" I asked him.

"I tried, "Martin told me, "but I couldn't get through." He read me the phone number to our office.

"You mean it was busy or no one was in, or you just couldn't get through?" I asked.

"No, I couldn't get through. Maybe I was dialing it wrong or something."

"So why didn't you send me an email?" I asked. "My email address is listed on the same site."

"Because ..." he paused. Then, in a kind of wry, jocular Texas accent, he answered, "I was leery of sending you an email."

I told Martin about Russia's appalling human rights record, particularly its treatment of journalists, and about its jails, where some 20 percent of inmates here are believed to suffer from an incurable strain of tuberculosis.

"I was not aware of that," Martin said.

"Well don't you think that Rep. Bonilla should have thought of that before publicly calling for America to team up with Russia to 'take strong action' and 'punish' me?"

"That's a good point," Martin said, implying that he'd learned his lesson, and it would never happen again.

I couldn't believe my ears—why should I have to tell Martin how to do his job?! It reminded me of another scene in Casino—in fact, too many true-life things are reminding me of Casino these days—when Sam "Ace" Rothstein chews out the dumb hick slot-machine manager who doesn't know how to do his own job:

Ace: You're the slots manager. I shouldn't have to tell you this.
Ward: Dang, you are right, Mr. Rothstein, I am so sorry.

I asked Martin if he had heard about Paul Klebnikov's murder.

"Yeah, I heard about that," Martin answered.

"Don't you think that Rep. Bonilla should have thought about that when he threatened to get the Russians to 'punish' me? This is a serious threat."

"Yeah, I didn't think of that," Martin said, Casino-like.

Dang.

I asked Martin how far he thought Rep. Bonilla planned to take his crusade against me. "Did he really say to you, 'The U. S. and Russian governments should work together to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators'?"

"Yes, that's what he said," Martin said.

"So how actively is he using his status to push the Russians to prosecute and punish me? I'm asking because this is essentially a threat to my life from a U.S. congressman."

"I didn't get the idea that they're actively pursuing them," Martin answered, in a tone that was more wary than worried.

Apparently, he was wrong.

Martin, incidentally, was the only journalist to report that we also claimed credit for the banking crisis—and he believed that, too, ending his article with "it also warns of another prank involving a 'banking crisis.'"

Yeah, and if you buy this snake oil, you can protect yourself from our banking crisis prank. No, seriously, it says so in the eXile! They've got pictures to prove it!

Squeeze Play

I suspect that the Russian authorities already know who was behind "The Letter," which is why we're still here and able to write about it. At least, that's my comforting theory.

Kiriyenko's lawyer called our office on July 14, laughing and wishing to personally congratulate me. I'm not sure he meant it, although some journalists have told me that Kinder (as Kiriyenko is known) really would be pleased, because this scandal was so damaging that the only thing that could really clear his name would be if it was all the work of some silly American pranksters. In other words, we inadvertently wound up saving the former prime minister and really pissing off whoever was trying to smear him.

In the meantime, the Russian press's reaction to our revelation about the nonprank was mixed. In Kommersant Vlast, a national news magazine with ties to Berezovsky, I was named "Hero of Russia" for the prank, complete with a big photo of me grinning. On the other hand, both Gazeta, a national newspaper tied to Yukos, and Ogonyok, a culture magazine holdover from the Soviet days, launched vicious attacks on me personally, including fake interviews and fake quotes.

For the last few days, I've been doing a lot of thinking out loud about this. If you were to stand outside my apartment—please don't, but I'm just saying, hypothetically, if you were stand there, you'd hear muffled cries of "Zoinks!" and "Yikes!" and "Aaaiiieee!!!" Over and over and over. But you wouldn't see me. No way, Sergei. Because I ain't leavin' my apartment, folks. Not after what happened to Klebnikov. (Incidentally, I have since moved from the building where he and I once lived; now I'm in a pre-revolutionary apartment building with a view of my old building and a nearby synagogue.)

A close lawyer friend of mine in Washington suggested that I leave Russia and settle the matter in the United States "until things cool down." Last week, I got an email from a European diplomat and self-described fan who told me that I could take refuge with him in the Central African Republic:

I serve a posting in the Central African Republic (yep, the same place where Bokassa once ruled and where more recently Jean-Bertrand Aristide went temporarily after his fall from power in Haiti). You are welcome to stay with me there should you wish to remain out of sight for a while, for which the CAR seems to be the perfect place.

I may take him up on his offer, if I can ever track down the CAR ambassador here in Moscow. A large, dominant faction of Americans has become very nasty, very paranoid and very dangerous lately, and it's only going to get worse. We have entered a kind of Bottom Feeder Age in which slimeballs like Bonilla thrive and multiply the fouler and more toxic our political culture becomes.

Am I scared that I'll get whacked or thrown in jail? Am I britting shicks?

Put it this way: If Bonilla has his way, I'll be crapping into a communal hole in a TB-infested Russian jail by the time you read this. I have no idea if the Americans or the Russians are planning to arrest me, or if, as one Russian suggested to me, someone is going to want to become a hero by taking me out "for the Motherland." Since I have done nothing illegal, I am not afraid of anything my government would do—I'm just afraid if they get the Russians to do it for them.

So far I have not received any indications that I'm being investigated, but that offers no comfort. Whenever I used to get death threats, my friends always told me, "If they threaten you, it's not so serious. If they really mean to do something, they'll never tell you about it in advance." Klebnikov was never warned, which is why everyone was so shocked and surprised.

Squeezed between Rep. Bonilla's petty fascism and my own fear, I can't tell if I've won something by exposing just how evil one of my own country's representatives is, or if I'm about to lose it all.

If Bonilla gets his way and I'm thrown into jail, as one childhood friend of mine joked, "Just click your heels three times and go, 'There's no place like San Jose; there's no place like San Jose.'"


Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the August 4-10, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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