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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Answering to PepsiCo

WASHINGTON -- Congress occasionally holds hearings about Russia, and at such times it's often hard to tell we're discussing the only institution on Earth with the potential to erase the United States as a nation.

You'd never guess there had been an economic and political decade of revolution, a war in Kosovo, a war in Chechnya, a Sept. 11. Instead, there is only the Washington game: hire a lawyer, hire a lobbyist, wheedle for advantage.

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So it was last week as Congress considered whether to repeal Jackson-Vanik, a 28-year-old law that punished the Soviet Union for punishing its Jews. In more modern times, Jews have been as free as anyone to come and go, so logic, and the Bush administration, argues for a repeal.

Then again, it's an election year. And Congress has all sorts of interests to consider, including its own. So there was the PepsiCo lawyer testifying on behalf of "the maker of Stolichnaya vodka, the principal brand of Russian vodka."

"I come before this committee," the lawyer intoned, "in order to bring to your collective attention certain facts and conduct by the Russian government which brings into serious question Russia's ability to act as a reliable trade partner, to respect the rule of law, and to conduct itself in accordance with the practices we associate with free-market economies."

Goodness!

"Utilizing many of the presumably discarded methods of Soviet-era intimidation, disrespect for international legal principles and raw police power, the government of Russia is attempting to nationalize again the vodka industry. In effect, this will reverse Russia's progressive privatization practices of the past and casts significant doubt on Russia's ability to become a reliable member of the international economic community."

"That's private property. ... You're going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company!"

-- Colonel Bat Guano, "Dr. Strangelove."

Next up was the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of Domestic Nitrogen Producers, who griped that American farmers are buying Russian fertilizer cause it's cheaper. "Not fair!" the chairman says, because most of the price of nitrogen fertilizers is the price of natural gas, and in Russia, natural gas prices are held low by fiat.

"These low, nonmarket prices mean that inefficient Russian nitrogen plants continue to operate and to export. They also mean that Gazprom, which does not make a profit on its domestic gas sales, often barters its gas for fertilizer and then exports it for hard currency," he testified, adding that Gazprom has bought into "a substantial portion of the Russian nitrogen fertilizer industry."

Fertilizer was followed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which talked about chicken, of course, but also about soy oil, skim milk powder, ice cream, wheat.

The federation representative testified that the 10 percent Russian VAT levied on imports and domestic goods -- but not on exports -- is unfair.

"Russia should agree to accept meats from all U.S. federally inspected plants," he told Congress. "Russian restrictions on pests/weeds that are not necessary for quarantine purposes and lack scientific merit should be eliminated," he said. And, "We oppose mandatory [Russian] labeling requirements for genetically modified foods or agricultural commodities."

Eat our meat and wheat, drink our Pepsi, keep your fertilizer, don't ask questions, don't mess around with your vodka industry because we bought some of it ... do all that, and maybe then we'll drop the battle for Soviet Jewry?

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a Washington-based fellow of The Nation Institute [www.thenation.com].