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“… they have food specifically made for cats in America? What a country!”

“… they have food specifically made for cats in America? What a country!”

Having spent a fair amount of time in the late 1970s and early 1980s studying and traveling in the Soviet Union (where all goods were moved to market on roads paid for by the government, too), I really appreciate both the humor and substance of this post by Karoli, 34 glorious, American years:

In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father, his mother, his aunt and many other Jews left the Soviet Union (my mother and I left in 1978), the Soviet propaganda machine began circulating a rumor. It went, roughly: life in America is so terrible that the old people eat cat food.

This was…perplexing.

People didn’t quite get it: they have food specifically made for cats in America? What a country!

A lot of things about America remained beyond their comprehension….

It’s hard for Americans, even the ones who see America’s greatness and love this country for it, to understand the lack of opportunity that my family left. As Communism retreats into the rear-view mirror of history it’s easy to gloss over the everyday ways that Communism is meant to crush the individual and make everyone equal–equally poor, equally scared, equally hopeless.

If you’ve always lived in a country where companies make food specifically for cats then you’ve known an abundance that my family couldn’t even begin to imagine while they waited to be free. They wanted to say and do whatever they wanted, to live freely, to be allowed to earn as much money as they could, to keep their family safe from murderous ideologies and monster rulers. They just wanted the chance. Success isn’t guaranteed to anyone, and they knew this, but only if you come from a land of opportunity do you ever imagine that it’s even possible.

This year marks 34 years that I’ve lived in America. Even in the toughest times, in its darkest days, the times where we all might feel pessimistic about our collective future, we’re all so blessed to be here. On each July 20th I remember exactly how blessed.

(forgot where I saw this article, now I remember, ohiochili in the Tip Line)


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9thDistrictNeighbor | July 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I am reminded of the scene in Moscow on the Hudson when Robin Williams’ character is utterly overwhelmed by the selection offered in the supermarket’s coffee aisle.

About 15 years ago a cousin, who was 16 or so at the time, came to visit from Bratislava. She first went to western Massachusetts to spend time with family, then I met her at Port Authority bus terminal in NYC and promptly took her to Times Square and just stood in the middle by the statue of George M. Cohan and told her to look around. Then we went to Bergdorf Goodman. She cheapened the merchandise with such glee, trying on hats, and looking at the clothes. The sales ladies had such sweet smiles on their faces, as her voice was clearly eastern-European accented. They did not scold; they understood.

She needed shoes. In the mid-’90’s, she still bought shoes at a black-market, open-air weekend sale in Bratislava. They couldn’t try on the shoes enough to see if they fit or were comfortable lest they be arrested. She didn’t know how to buy shoes. I took her to Nordstrom and made them bring out everything in her size. She had to be encouraged to walk around…she didn’t know quite how to buy shoes. We bought a pair.

A few years later, we visited her family. As the bus from Vienna crossed into Slovakia, my dh remarked how they had removed the anti-aircraft weaponry from the border….

God Bless America.

2nd Ammendment Mother | July 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm

And that was 1977! Imagine that propaganda campaign today with our over the top boutique pet stores! Today, dogs have spas, clothes, play dates and gourmet pet food! Then there is the startling array of pet foods available for spiders, crickets, rabbits, gerbils, gold fish and more!

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to 2nd Ammendment Mother. | July 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    If you go to Moscow, there is decadence and excess you don’t even see in the west. Russians are NOT western in thought or how they view life. Some of gaudiest crap you’ve ever seen in your life, much of it in precious metals bedecked with jewels, is for sale in the finest shops of Moscow. Even the old GUM Department store is no longer a “people’s store,” relegated instead to designer boutiques, expensive specialty stores and western chain outlets.

    Asked to describe shopping in Moscow, I say, “Ninety-five percent of the people cannot shop in ninety-five percent of the stores.”

      9thDistrictNeighbor in reply to TrooperJohnSmith. | July 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      Life is cheap in Moscow. A person still needs “papers”, i.e., a work permit to have a job there. People come from the countryside/small towns to find work. Women end up as prostitutes, alcoholics…. If you do not have a permit to be in the city of Moscow (the sprawl of which makes L.A. look like Boise), you cannot get medical care in a hospital. Things get done by bribery and graft.

      There is a grocery store in the shadow of the Kremlin where in 2001 one could not buy a baby bottle or formula, but you could buy Robert Mondavi wines, Perdue chicken, Pringles and Diet Coke. The locals fed rice and peas to the children.

I’ve lived here all of my many years and I am as appreciative, perhaps even more so, of this country as this writer, explaining why I will continue to act as a “right-wing wacko.”

That’s the derisive name slapped onto me so that my arguments can be readily dismissed. The name I give myself however is a common sense constitutionalist fearing government yet recognizing that some government is necessary, who basically wants the happiness that comes with freedom FROM government, and who subscribes to the leave-me-alone wisdom of Brandeis as expressed in Olmstead v. US (1928),

“The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred against the government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”

NC Mountain Girl | July 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

There’s a story that Stalin ordered showings of The Grapes of Wrath to show the suffering of American farm workers. The film was withdrawn when he heard back the Soviet audience was amazed that even the most downtrodden of Americans owned their own cars and trucks.

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to NC Mountain Girl. | July 24, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I’ve heard Lefties say this is an urban legend. Well, according to several friends in Russia, it was not. This story became something of a legend to people who grew up in agriculture, especially in the vast Ukraine.

    The target audience of Stalin were the peasants and former Kulaks who’d been collectivized after much, much hardship and near revolt. Lenin, and later Stalin, had used starvation (The Ukraine’s Great Starvation), the NKVD and even the army to enforce the new system.

    The ploy was to show the collectivists that individual farms were failing and America and that the evil Capitalists were to blame. The films were painstakingly subtitled and trucks were outfitted with generators and projectors. So many of the peasants were illiterate that special ‘readers’ were sent along to read the subtitles aloud with megaphones.

    Well, it backfired. The peasants, who were as tied to the land as they were before manumission. In Soviet times, this was enforced by not giving most farmers internal travel documents. When they saw was that in America, you might starve, like they’d seen in recent experience, but you could get off the land and at least try to do something else in another place. The real kicker was that these people like themselves had a motor vehicle! They even saw that the roads were mostly paved and that the cities, hostile though they were, were unlike any village or town they’d ever seen. Finally, the police, brutal by American standards, were absolute cream-puffs by Soviet standards.

    Rather than reinforce collectivization, the films actually spread unrest. Sabotage and work slowdowns spread in the wake of the cinema trucks.

    History doesn’t record whose great idea this was. It may well have been Stalin’s, as he was a huge American film fan, but rest assured, the person who ultimately took the blame for it, surely disappeared into the cells of the Lubiyanka.

LukeHandCool | July 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm

“As Communism retreats into the rear-view mirror of history …”

You know those lefty American Jews who accuse other Jews (and Gentiles) of being “Israel Firsters”?

They feel great driving home after a Stockholm Syndrome Special Treatment at the Swedish Massage Parlor, with dreamy communist images in their history’s rear-view mirror closer than they appear and, hopefully, approaching fast.

Excellent link. Ironically, immigrants can often teach many Americans about America’s greatness.

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to LukeHandCool. | July 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    What’s always funny is to see how people from Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union react to the advance of socialism in America.

    A couple of years ago, my Leftist university professor sister was delighted when one of her colleagues from the old Russian city of Voronezh got her US citizenship. They always register new citizens to vote just after the ceremony.

    A couple of days later, I’d come by to pick sis up for lunch, and she asked if we could stop by the new Citizen’s office. Being a good, responsible Poli-Sci prof, Sis gave her colleague some DNC literature and playfully pinned an Obama button on her. The new American took it off and politely gave it back to sis.

    She said, “I have seen socialism and personality worship. This man Obama is a socialist, and I will not support him.” Then she added with a smile, “Where do I find button and materials for the other side? The good side?” I told her I’d help her with that and invited her along for some good old American fare.

    We had a very nice lunch. 😀

    WarEagle82 in reply to LukeHandCool. | July 24, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    “As Communism retreats into the rear-view mirror of history …”

    Look again and check the rear-view mirror right now because communism isn’t fading at all. It is tailgating us and gaining fast riding in Obama’s campaign bus!

Excellent link.
“the Soviet propaganda machine began circulating a rumor. It went, roughly: life in America is so terrible that the old people eat cat food.

This was…perplexing.

People didn’t quite get it: they have food specifically made for cats in America? What a country!”
We certainly did a lot of reading between the lines, and watching between the lines, too. They showed hard core leftist American movies in USSR, but the viewers weren’t interested in ideology. We were on the lookout for the details of everyday life, and they seemed lavish, even what was supposed to be seen as poverty seemed lavish.

Despite decades of AWFUL flirtations with Collectivism here, we STILL managed to create a society and standard of living that appears literally to have spoiled so many of us.

We enjoy a profound detachment from the hardships that are everyday life for almost the entire human population now, and certainly throughout history.

One thing that has always haunted me is how thin is the veneer of our “civilization”. How little it takes to strip it away. For instance, without reliable electrical power we are screwed.

theduchessofkitty | July 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Nowadays, cats can eat Filet Mignon, beef tips with mushroom sauce, chicken Alfredo and other delicacies coming from a can.

Meanwhile, their owners have to stick to eating processed food because it is cheaper for them than buying fresh produce and meat at the supermarket, due to inflation.

LukeHandCool | July 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm

” … they have food specifically made for cats in America? What a country!”

—And American cats being American cats … they don’t appreciate it one bit.

A while back I came across a 2004 article regarding Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States, 1492-Present. Here is an excerpt:
“(Howard Zinn’s) failure is grounded in a premise better suited to a conspiracy-monger’s Web site than to a work of scholarship. According to Zinn, “99 percent” of Americans share a “commonality” that is profoundly at odds with the interests of their rulers. And knowledge of that awesome fact is “exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them-from the Founding Fathers to now-have tried their best to prevent.”
History for Zinn is thus a painful narrative about ordinary folks who keep struggling to achieve equality, democracy, and a tolerant society, yet somehow are always defeated by a tiny band of rulers whose wiles match their greed. He describes the American Revolution as a clever device to defeat “potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.” His Civil War was another elaborate confidence game. Soldiers who fought to preserve the Union got duped by “an aura of moral crusade” against slavery that “worked effectively to dim class resentments against the rich and powerful, and turn much of the anger against ‘the enemy.’”
Nothing of consequence, in his view, changed during the industrial era, notwithstanding the growth of cities, railroads, and mass communications. Zinn views the tens of millions of Europeans and Asians who crossed oceans at the turn of the past century as little more than a mass of surplus labor. He details their miserable jobs in factories and mines and their desperate, often violent strikes at the end of the nineteenth century-most of which failed. The doleful narrative makes one wonder why anyone but the wealthy came to the United States at all and, after working for a spell, why anyone wished to stay.”

    WarEagle82 in reply to Sally Paradise. | July 24, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Zinn was a moron and I hope he and his Stalinist apologist buddy Walter Duranty are enjoying their Stalin-esque living quarters and conditions where they likely ended up…

    9thDistrictNeighbor in reply to Sally Paradise. | July 24, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Zinn’s opus had a brief fling as the favorite history text of education schools. Districts wouldn’t buy it, though.

    If you think Zinn’s book is trash, just look at any US history textbook currently in use in any high school: written by committee, with plenty of pictures of the downtrodden, under-whatevers, fluff and garbage, nothing of substance.

iconotastic | July 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm

My wife grew up under communism and it’s crashing aftermath. Her stories about the children standing in line to get salt and sugar because the ration was per pair of hands. The kids would wait in line for 4 hours, get their sugar/salt/whatever, then run to the end of the line again and wait for the next kilo. I am sure her comment about cat food would be that Americans didn’t have to wait in line for that either.

Needless to say, her opinion of Obama is even lower than mine. And, now that she heard what Obama said (“you didn’t build that”), she is infuriated. So much so that she might even start up a pro-Romney/anti-Obama website in Russian to explain some of these issues to many of our Russian-speaking immigrants/citizens (many of whom still don’t really believe that voting matters).

    theduchessofkitty in reply to iconotastic. | July 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    A Russian lady cut my husband’s hair at a salon about a month ago. She engaged him in a conversation, when the topic of The One came. He was quite strong in his opinion of him, and she responded, unequivocally, in her strong accent, “Obama is NOT GOOD for the country.”

    The Russians have had over seventy years experience with Communist pigs. They can smell one from ten miles away. They know!

    jdkchem in reply to iconotastic. | July 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    My wife was a police inspector in Rostov in the 80’s. From what she has said she had it much better than most. She has not grasped that the economy sucks and has been tough for everybody. Nor has she grasped that learning English or getting a job requires effort. Neither just happen because you show up.

      TrooperJohnSmith in reply to jdkchem. | July 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm

      God bless her!

      She and people like her are why I love my Russian friends, both here and still living back home. I confess to being a Russophile of the highest order.

      And not one living over here ever complains, except about Obama! 😀

I recall reading about Boris Yeltsin’s first visit to the USA as a deputy agriculture minister. he wanted to see a grocery store, but he suspected that our State Dept. would create faked store to impress him. so an aide suggested that while driving to the factory where he was to visit, that they stop at a random store. Yeltsin thought this was a great idea. Upon sighting a grocery, he said, Stop, stop! once they went in, and Yeltsin saw the typical produce section, he burst into tears at the abundance.

Henry Hawkins | July 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm

As long as America has young idealistic people as yet unspoiled by practical experience there will be support for the rosiest of euphemistic descriptions of socialism and/or collectivism.

This post reminds me of a TV clip I saw several months ago – forget where, maybe here on LI? – where a mindless Occupier protester is taken to absolute school by a middle-aged Russian emigre. To the Occupier’s credit, he listened respectfully – and hopefully learned something.

Henry Hawkins | July 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm

As for “young idealistic people”, look to America’s universities for people as old as 75 who still meet these criteria.

Henry Hawkins | July 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm

You are so correct!! There is nothing like experience or having (or leaving) skin in the game to help one mature.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to MAB. | July 24, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Through the fog of years I still recall my earliest notions of how things worked and I cringe in embarrassment.

I have a real dilemma. Should I not comment and pretend that my favorite blog in the whole world picked one of my tips for discussion was just a ho-hum everyday happening, or should I admit that when I saw this that I did a Happy Dance?

Cue the music!

Juba Doobai! | July 24, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Some Asians are very fond of Obama because they are into the black victimhood story (I think victimhood is part of the Communist narrative anyway). I had the pleasure of explaining “you didn’t build that” to a friend, a small business owner who works roughly 17 hours a day. He got it right away perhaps because two decades ago in the 1990’s they were still using ration cards. His biggest dream is to migrate to the USA. His most often asked question: what could he do? The answer is usually whatever you want to do.

Even in the age of Obama, the dream burns brightly all across the globe: America, land of opportunity, land of freedom, land of dreams. Perhaps in their minds, we have elections, and they can make a difference. What is bound today can be free tomorrow. I don’t know. I do know that Bush was right that freedom is the yearning of every man (seemingly except in Islamic countries, of course). I do know that unless we get rid of Obama, we, too, will enter into that dark nightmare of Communism where we will not know either freedom or the abundance if brings.

I spent some time in the FSU not long after the fall of the Soviet Union. I remember when you literally could hardly find food to buy assuming you could find an open store. I’m talking about trouble finding milk, butter, yogurt, fruit, vegetables or meat. You could almost always find bread and vodka and potatoes.

I met people who had never eaten a banana before their 45th birthday! Had never seen fruit in the markets in winter (which is nearly 6 months of the year there)!

I cannot believe how these people managed to survive. When we came back to America and started driving again, and going to supermarkets with over 9,000 items on the shelf it was a bit overwhelming. I still sometimes just shake my head when I walk through the aisles and think of how we once lived.

I have seen Obama’s future vision for America and Americans. You really don’t want it! Trust me…

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to WarEagle82. | July 24, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Things were so bad in those days and the currency so worthless that many factories and businesses paid employees with merchandise. It was largely a barter economy while the falling pieces of the economy were still coming to rest.

      WarEagle82 in reply to TrooperJohnSmith. | July 24, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      It’s true. We knew people who got paid, at least in part, in flour or other commodities. And people who received their payment in the output from the factories where they worked. In fact, there is a train stop a few hours east of Moscow where a glass factory is located. People line the station platform when the trains come through selling items from the factory that were either part of their compensation for their labor. I always tried to buy at least a few things there on each stop.

      In other places people sold food at the stations along the way. It was handy because on the first year or so of our time there were no dining cars on the trains on our run. We had to either shop in Moscow or subsist off what we could buy along the way.

      I saw the “Worker’s Paradise” up close and personal. What a trip…

BannedbytheGuardian | July 25, 2012 at 6:24 am

Russia spent the 20th century under unimaginable burdens .

It survived.

History has not ended. Those forces will return at any time anywhere.

    WarEagle82 in reply to BannedbytheGuardian. | July 25, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Those “forces” still own and run Russia. There may have been a very brief window to allow true democratic reforms to take hold in Russia but it didn’t happen. The KGB still runs Russia…