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MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
eXile Classic / March 20, 1997
By Mark Ames

There was an earlier version of this very column that was much better. But it got spiked. Matt didn’t like it, and nowadays, what Matt says, goes. See, I sold him the eXile for a song-or rather, a dirge. And lemme tell ya folks, that song I sold myself for ain’t gonna hit the turntables of Russkiye Gvozdy anytime soon.

I nearly had a stroke when I heard that Matt Taibbi was going to be the newly-installed rival editor at Living Here-or rather, Night of the Living Here-the Freddy Krueger of local publications. That paper has risen from the dead so many times that even Jesus must be getting nervous. Hey, those punks are stealing my schtick! I had a monopoly on this resurrection thing for 2000 years, and now look at ’em! Yaweh, can’t we do something? They’re making us look bad! Give ’em the old fire and thunder!

My first instinct was to surrender and flee. But surrendering isn’t as easy as you’d think. It took roughly a decade for the Soviet Union to surrender to Afghanistan, and about the same amount of time for the Americans to surrender to Vietnam. The Russians still haven’t surrendered to the Chechens (as the U.S. hasn’t to Vietnam), instead postponing official defeat for five years. Even the Iraqis, who got wiped out in one of the cleanest military blowouts in history, have never surrendered. Which is to say, surrendering is really “out.”

So I says to myself, how do I go about surrendering in this day and age? A coward’s gotta watch his back. First of all, there’d be a revolt in the eXile ranks if they saw me unfurl the white flag. Not that I, famously self-centered to my core, would care-but what if my colleagues got ahold of me as I was making my getaway? The fate of one of my all-time comic heroes, Nicolae Ceasescu, hung over my head. What if the eXile staff saw me zooming by the Presnensky Val offices on my way to Sheremetyevo-2-they’d run me off the road, roll the car, drag me out and hang me from a “Ya Tebya Lublyu” billboard. Taibbi and I had our great summit meeting on Sunday afternoon, March 9th, at the Starlite Diner. He didn’t know it, but even before the meeting, I’d stitched together a white flag so large that it made the AIDS quilt look like a used kleenex tissue. I brought my symbolic sword along, ready to hand it over and sign the requisite “humiliating treaty.” I came prepared to surrender everything.

Here’s a problem I’ve suffered from ever since I was a kid. Namely, I’m a lousy negotiator. The first time I ever “sold” something was when I was about six years old. My parents had bought me a tiny little metal safe with a red dial. I collected about seven and a half dollars of change in that safe, and kept it under my bed. Then one day, something in my DNA whispered that I should “sell,” although that same Amityville-gene-voice didn’t tell me a few other basic concepts, such as “profit” and “sucker.” It just said “sell.” I needed something to sell, so I stole a few things from my parents and put them out in front of my bedroom, with a crayon-drawn sign that said “Sale!” I cleverly put the safe out as well, as a kind of bait. Foot traffic was very low-just my brother, actually. He sneered at me on his way to the kitchen and back. So I decided to hook him in. “Want this?” I said, holding out a wrapped tampon.
“What the fuck for?” my brother scoffed. He was cool because he swore.
“How ’bout this?” I said, pointing to dad’s nail clippers.
“All right, what’s in the safe?” he asked.
“How much?”
“About seven bucks,” I said. “Wanna buy it?”
“Not really. What’re you selling it for?
This is where I choked. “Um… a buck.”
“One dollar?!” he asked indignantly. “No way.”
“Okay, fifty cents,” I said, employing my famous reverse-haggling technique. “Fuck you,” he said, walking away.
“A quarter. Fifteen cents! Wait, Scott. What’ll you pay?”
“A nickel,” he said, stopping.

I thought about it for a minute. Yeah, that was a tough call, selling him seven dollars in change for a nickel. But hell, I’d’ve closed my first deal! I’d make investment banking history! Let the accountants work out the numbers-stuff. I just wanted to make that sale. So I agreed.

I brought these same Kissinger-esque negotiating skills to the table when Taibbi and I met to discuss his future. I knew it would be difficult, so I thought long and hard about a strategy. But when I saw him, instinct took hold. I offered him everything. My job as editor-in-chief. A column. The leads. And most of my salary. But he wanted more. So I apologized, and gave him more. His picture in every issue; veto rights over my column, should it read better than his pieces (my column will eventually be phased out, to be replaced by “Taibbi on Taibbi,” a new bi-weekly feature). I even offered him my girlfriend, Alyona. He didn’t ask-I just gave her to him. It really hurts to see the two of them together now.

…Gosh, all of this somehow reads so familiarly, in a relevant-to-Russia sort of way-and I’m not just saying that for the sake of an end-o’-the-column wrap. I was playing Russia, and Taibbi played The West. I was Kozyrev and Sheverdnadze all wrapped into one obsequious sell-out, while Taibbi played the role of 40 billion dollars in fake Western aid. Okay, here we go: “Hi, I’m Mark/Russia, and I’ve lost my nerve to compete with you, so I’m just going to give you everything, plus the girl. I realize that I’m probably in a strong position-perhaps stronger than you. But I lost my nerve. Everything I worked to build up is yours. Plus the girl-don’t forget that! Deal? Yeah? You mean it? Whew! I feel so lucky! Thank you, my Western friends! With you on my side, everything’s going to be so much better!”

This article was publihsed in Issue #3 of The eXile in March 1997.

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