The shabbiness behind the Sochi Olympics

The shabbiness behind the Sochi Olympics

Olympic village with plenty of construction cranes in evidence.

COLORADO SPRINGS, February 16, 2014 — Before the Olympic Games even began, journalists were writing and Tweeting about the shoddy construction of hotels, the poor service and the just plain bizarre. The Twitter account @SochiProblems had more followers than @Sochi2014.

Sally Jenkins writes in the Washington Post, “The most expensive Olympics in history are partly a Potemkin village, an elaborate facade built to impress foreign passersby and to enhance the image of a small, odd, chill-faced man who likes to pose menacingly shirtless in order to seem much taller than he actually is.”


As opposed to the man in the White House, often lampooned with big ears, who has been photographed on a bicycle wearing a helmet. He’s plenty tall.

“You find yourself yearning hard for Russian national renewal even as you root against Putin and the small group of 110 billionaire accomplices who have hijacked its wealth,” she continues.

That according to Putin’s critics. If true, it pales in comparison to the billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars wasted while driving the national debt to over $17 trillion. Under Obama, the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten food stamps. The middle class is shrinking and those left with jobs are paying for it all. The comment does at least preserve its author’s socialist leanings by getting that dig in at the Russian wealthy. It’s all their fault, of course.

“Communism is dead in Russia, writes Mark Kiszla in the Denver Post. “But a large, sticky pile of bureaucratic red tape remains for Olympic tourists, whether the goal is to obtain something as essential as a visa or as simple as a spare key to a hotel room.”

The spare key might not have been worth the effort. One person Tweeted that while they were downstairs eating breakfast, the hotel came and changed the locks to their room.

It takes more than regime change to effect a culture change — especially when the new regime is headed by a former KGB leader. In the former Soviet Union, the government pretended to pay people, and those people pretended to work. Old habits die hard.

So journalists are presented with a dilemma. One the one hand, Soviet communism obviously failed and its after-effects are in-your-face at Sochi. They can’t praise that even as they seek to help transform America into the socialist paradise the Soviet Union was supposed to be. Yet they can’t praise the new Russia either, with its wealthy entrepreneurs and crony capitalists. What to do?

One NBC correspondent traveled out to Yakutsk in eastern Siberia to gush in a travelogue-like style about an underground food storage site turned into ice sculpture palace in the sub-zero temperatures. There was also lots of great footage of picturesque reindeer sleighs and hardy ponies that live outside in the -45 degree temperatures.

There were no shots of former Gulag sites or the interiors of Soviet-era highrises, seen only from the outside and at a distance. The crumbling buildings with heat and water systems that don’t work reliably are the same kind as they found at Sochi.

Dr. Richard M. Ebeling, and economist who spent time in the new Russia, understands the problem. If you want concrete for your construction project, you had better send armed guards with it. If you don’t, the load is likely to be diverted once or twice along the way from the plant, the driver being bribed and the concrete being watered down before it arrives at your site.

Trust is required for a market system to work, the kind of trust that allows you to make a contract and believe the other guy will keep his word. This is the kind of trust reinforced by religious scruples, the religious scruples that the left is trying to drive out of the public square.

Journalists don’t seem to think about those issues. They seem to expect the accoutrements of life in a capitalist society while savaging the market and the capitalists who make it possible. Sochi ought to wake them up.

But it probably won’t. All of that will be forgotten as they begin to focus on why they’re at the Olympics in the first place: to celebrate gay athletes and ads featuring gay people. Let the games begin!

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