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Not According to Plan

David Bordwell—the William Riker of film studies—writes: It’s a commonplace of film history that under Stalin (a name much in American news these days) the USSR forged a mass propaganda cinema. In order for Lenin’s “most important art” to transform society, cinema fell under central control. Between 1930 and 1953 a tightly coordinated bureaucracy...

Imagining Trump’s End

I'm teaching Socialism and Transitions to the Market this semester, and we're reading Francis Spufford's excellent Red Plenty. Here he is on Khrushchev's end: e was starting to frighten them…He had made alarmingly specific, alarmingly verifiable economic promises…He had tried to stick his thumb in the scales of the strategic balance by putting the...

Trump’s Win, Putin’s Loss

Nice catch by Max Trudolyubov, who notes that the Kremlin may have mixed feelings about Donald Trump's victory. As Konstantin Sonin and I discussed a couple of weeks ago, Trump's campaign rhetoric of a rigged system played right into Putin's hands. The goal of Kremlin propaganda is not to convince Russians that their elections are free and fair—they know...

Sean Spicer is no Joseph Goebbels

Donald Trump's first full day in office was marked by an all-out assault on the press. Standing in front of the CIA's memorial wall, the president called journalists "the most dishonest human beings on earth" and made false claims about the size of...um, the crowds at his inauguration. White House press secretary Sean Spicer continued the theme, telling reporters...

What CEU Means (to Me)

Not good. Ignoring an international outcry and over 50,000 protesters in downtown Budapest, Hungarian President János Áder has signed a bill intended to force the Central European University from Hungary. As I write, students are marching to Fidesz headquarters to protest the decision. This is a critical juncture for Hungary—and a personal moment for me. I started my academic career...

Lin-Manuel Mayakovsky

Blogging took a back seat over the holidays, but I'm back and ready to talk...Hamilton. I've been hooked since hearing the soundtrack for the first time last summer, and earlier this week we saw the show in Chicago. Seeing Hamilton on the stage definitely brought out a few elements not obvious from the...

#PutinPresser

Hannah Chapman (Ph.D. student at UW) observes that Trump's news conferences look a lot like Putin's: Under Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer, the near-daily White House news briefings have changed from routine interactions with a professional press corps to a high-profile media spectacle. The briefings frequently beat soap operas in daytime TV ratings...

Donald Trump as Lightning McQueen

Watching Donald Trump struggle to make good on his extravagant campaign promises, I am reminded of the opening scene in Pixar's Cars. Hot rod Lightning McQueen attempts to win the Dinoco 400 by ignoring the advice of his "expert" pit crew, who demand that McQueen change his tires. Announcers Darrel Cartrip and Bob...

A Presentable Enemy (on the future of U.S.-Russian relations)

Andrei Kozyrev, Boris Yeltsin's foreign minister from 1991 to 1996, was in Madison Thursday for a talk on the future of U.S.-Russian relations. We covered a lot of ground at the public seminar and later at our house for dinner—a thrill for faculty and grads alike. What a moment to be discussing such issues, with a U.S. president under...

(Not) Correcting Acemoglu and Robinson

When is an error not really an error? Daron Acemoglu and Jim Robinson recently posted a correction to the key proposition in “Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality, and Growth in Historical Perspective,” the seminal paper in what has proven to be an enormously influential research enterprise. That proposition characterizes equilibrium in terms of the parameter q,...