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Romney fuzzy on presidential 'first trip' etiquette

Romney gets his pander on at AIPAC:

As President, peace will be my solemn goal. A peace based not on empty assurances, but on true security and defensible borders. This will require American strength, and a demonstration of our resolve. That’s why, as President, my first foreign trip will not be to Cairo or Riyadh or Ankara. It will be to Jerusalem.

If this is a dig at Obama, I'm not sure exactly what Romney is referring to. The president's first trip abroad wasn't to Cairo, Riyadh, or Ankara, it was to Canada. On his first major international trip in April 2009, he visited Britain, France, Germany, and the Czech Republic before hitting Turkey.

This is pretty standard practice. Since Franklin Roosevelt, nearly every president has gone to either Canada or Mexico first. (Carter went to Britain first; Truman and Nixon went to Belgium.)

As far as I can tell, Israel has never been particularly bothered by this practice. But between this and "that oil from Canada that we deserve," Romney is running a serious risk of incurring the wrath of our neighbor to the north. 

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Chechen precinct gives 107 percent

As usual, the restive region of Chechnya went a bit over the top with the election fraud in Russia's presidential contest, with 99.59 percent reported turnout and 99.82 percent of voters backing Vladimir Putin. One precinct, according to the New York Times, really went above and beyond: 

The final tally: Putin, 1,482 votes; Gennady A. Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, one vote.

This result was in itself statistically improbable. But even more difficult for the teachers who had been drafted onto the electoral commission to explain was the turnout: there were only 1,389 people registered in the precinct, meaning that the turnout was 107 percent.

Given what was going on elsewhere in the region, it's not really hard to understand how this happened: 

Through the day in this neighborhood of Grozny, dozens of minibuses, some bearing the emblem of the local Gazprom affiliate, ChechenRegionGaz, shuttled voters to, from and — significantly — between polling stations.

It was hardly concealed. Asked what she was doing entering more than one polling station, one woman replied without hesitation, “We’re voting.”

Marieta N. Beshirova, a nurse, bundled in a felt coat against a frigid mist drifting down from the Caucasus Mountains, piled out of an ambulance at one polling station with other hospital employees. “If our Ramzan needs us to vote, we will vote,” she said, referring to the region’s leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov. “And we will do it wholeheartedly,” she added, without any enthusiasm.

This goes back to a recent post I wrote on election results in non-democratic elections. While the contests are equally undemocratic, there's a significant difference between countries like Iran and Russia -- where victories tend to be in the 60s -- and places like Cuba and North Korea -- where they're closer to 95 or even 99 percent. 

Russia's something of a hybrid case. Nationwide, Putin took a high but certainly statistically possible 63 percent. Chechnya is essentially a North Korea-like island of absolute dictatorship within Putin's managed democracy. 

One wonders why the Kremlin continues to allow this sort of thing to go on in Chechnya -- it doesn't exactly help Putin's global image to have the fraud be quite this blatant. It seems like either Putin is essentialy giving Ramzan Kadyrov pretty free rein to rule Chechnya as he sees fit, or he views the election as an opportunity to demonstrate absolute power over a previously rebellious region.  

STR/AFP/Getty Images