Team Putin Says They Don't Mind The Latest NSA Scandal One Bit

While the rest of the world is bubbling with (subdued) rage against the United States over reports that the NSA has been spying on their leaders, Russia is quietly rubbing its hands.

On Thursday, The Guardian reported that the U.S. had been listening in on the phone conversations of 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to information provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The Washington Post reported that Snowden also obtained documents on U.S. allies collecting data about Russia, Iran and China (that happens?!), and that the U.S. government was warning the allied intelligence agencies that this information may come to light.

The Europeans are walking a fine line, or as Der Spiegel puts it "performing a delicate dance," balancing mandatory indignation while maintaining close ties with the United States. And while Angela Merkel says "spying among friends, that cannot be," the Russians seem to be going out of their way to show that they could care less.

In a nonchalant reaction to the new revelations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday in Minsk, Belarus that the U.S. surveillance efforts will not affect ties between the two states, that "contacts [between the two countries] will never stop." He underlined that the Snowden affair is not high on the Russian foreign agenda: "We have formulated our position on Snowden and have said everything we meant to say."

Instead of expressing their public outrage, like they had earlier this week when Mother Jones reported that the FBI was investigating Washington D.C.-based Russian cultural center for allegedly recruiting American citizens as spies, they decided to sit back. On Wednesday, the American authorities were "unfriendly," on Friday, the Russians assured that they will never cease their contacts with the U.S. Why expend the energy on backlash when you can patiently wait for the U.S. to dig itself a deeper hole?

Russian English-language news outlets are dominated by stories about how the U.S. is in trouble, reporting the blasé reactions of their leaders and  gladly pointing out everyone else's annoyance -- "Irritated EU leaders voice ‘lack of trust' with U.S. after spying claims" reads a Kremlin-backed RT news service headline.

Voice of Russia ran an interview with Spencer Zifcak, a professor of  human rights law at Melbourne University and president of the Australian National Civil Liberties Organization, who is predicting a menacing erosion of U.S.- EU relations. While European news outlets quote officials saying that the spying hardly came as a surprise, Voice of Russia's expert thinks that the news "may result in dramatic changes in diplomatic ties between many countries." Prominently featured on the front page of RT is an article on an upcoming anti-mass surveillance rally in Washington D.C., complete with encouragement from Edward Snowden to join the rally and an interview with Evan Greer from the Fight for the Future campaign, whose video on surveillance inspired the protest.

Greer said that "what we do know is that the NSA and its defenders in Congress have consistently misled the public, given false information, and outright lied about this issue ... What we definitely know is that these programs have had a massively chilling effect on freedom of speech and freedom of expression."

It was a pretty ironic statement, given that it was on Vladimir Putin's favorite news website.


Why '2 Broke Girls' Is All the Rage in China

In China's battle between cupcakes and Communists, the cupcakes appear to be winning. While Chinese President Xi Jinping promotes the "Chinese Dream" of national rejuvenation with mixed success, the U.S. sitcom 2 Broke Girls has drawn Chinese audiences by depicting a more modest dream: the chance to open a cupcake shop.

First airing in the United States in October 2011, 2 Broke Girls tells the story of Max and Caroline, two 20-something women who wait tables at a diner in New York City while saving to open their own cupcake shop. The show's first season appeared on Youku, China's YouTube, in August 2012, and has risen to become the most popular U.S. sitcom on the site, with over 81 million views.

Perhaps Chinese viewers prefer 2 Broke Girls because they can empathize with the characters, who work hard for low pay. In 2012, the average Chinese took home a little less than $4,000 of income, according to official figures. One fan commented on Weibo, China's Twitter, that she wanted to be like Max and Caroline. "Although they are poor," she wrote, "They work hard together to achieve a shared dream."

While wages are much higher in China's urban areas, the country's income gap and the rising cost of living have many worried that hard work will not translate into success, or even security. For these people, 2 Broke Girls represents the dream of a meritocracy. One Weibo user wrote that she felt 2 Broke Girls was about girls "at the lowest tiers of society" pursuing their dreams "with bravery and determination." Millions of Chinese, especially university students and recent graduates facing a tough job market, admire the protagonists' optimism and positive attitude in the face of adversity.

The show depicts a more avowedly individualistic aspiration than the Chinese Dream, which Xi defined in November 2012 as "the national rejuvenation of the Chinese people." The Economist noted in May 2013 that the Chinese Dream contains elements of the American Dream, but also "a troubling whiff of nationalism and of repackaged authoritarianism." On Weibo, some have criticized the official definition, maintaining that the Chinese Dream should focus more on improving overall quality of life and less on the country's GDP.

The Chinese Dream and what can perhaps be called the Cupcake Dream are not mutually exclusive. Numerous senior officials have emphasized the importance of an entrepreneurial spirit, but in the service of nationalism. By contrast, 2 Broke Girls has not appealed to Chinese nationalist sentiment. If anything, Chinese viewers might be offended by the show's stereotyping of its Asian character -- the New Yorker described 2 Broke Girls as "so racist it is less offensive than baffling."

Yet fans of the show in China are drawn in by its feel-good message. "I don't just watch 2 Broke Girls for fun," one viewer explained on Weibo. "I am studying the spirit with which they pursue their dream. At the end of every episode, when they count how much they've saved, I feel an indescribable positive energy. The girl who grew up rich can pick herself back up even though she lost all her money. The girl who grew up poor still has a positive outlook and sharp tongue." The viewer concluded by asking, rhetorically, "Why on earth shouldn't I pursue the life that I want to live?"

Via Weibo/Fair Use