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On The Benefits of Natural Disasters

The sight of Hurricane Isaac bearing down on the Republican Convention in Tampa brings to mind the devastation of Katrina 7 years ago, which was both a human tragedy and a political disaster for then President George W. Bush. It's tempting to think what a dictator might have made of the situation; certainly the more ambitious or cunning among them would have leveraged the event into political capital. They would have responded forcefully, mobilizing all the power of the State. They certainly would not have let themselves be pictured looking down on the destruction from a safe vantage point, aloof and awkward. That being said, what opportunities can the tyrant expect after the winds die down? Continue reading "On The Benefits of Natural Disasters"

Dick's Tips: Zero Tolerance

I often get contacted by my colleagues around the world, and I've found over the years that there are 2 kinds of messages I typically receive; 1) a request for money (don't waste your time) or 2) a request for advice. I don't mind the latter because, as I've told you before, I love to hear myself talk. So I've decided to reach into the state mailbag and answer one of the many entreaties I've received from an autocrat at bay. 


"Dear Rich," he writes, "I have small problem. Annoying ethnic group agitating for rights, causing big disturbance [obviously this guy was not educated in the West!] and media attention. But after last massacre, UN watching me like hawk -- what I can do?" 

Continue reading "Dick's Tips: Zero Tolerance"

Ethiopian Meles Zenawi Dead

RIP President Zenawi. His predecessor was a great source of inspiration in the Dictator's Handbook, but Zenawi less so. That doesn't mean he didn't know a thing or two about running a nation on the basis of strategic interests. He befriended the Americans and encouraged investment in security apparatus, but his record on human rights will be remembered for some notable weaknesses. From the Courier-Journal:


"I think on the human rights side his legacy will be much more questionable. The country remains under a very tightly controlled one-party rule and this will be the challenge for the new leadership, to take advantage of the opportunity that his death presents in terms of bringing Ethiopia into a more human rights-friendly, reform-minded style of leadership," Lefkow said.


A Safe Internet

Too many autocrats out there intent on clamping down on Internet communication to even list here, and we devoted an entire chapter to the nuances of using the Internet to monitor and control your people – every dictator's dream, made reality.

But as usual, Russia brings it to a whole new level. Continue reading "A Safe Internet"

On Trashing Your Surrogate

One of the perennial challenges faced by dictators is remaining in power. This is particularly true in the modern age when for the most part it is necessary to show an affection for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. How does the modern autocrat respond to these pressures when jack-booted authoritarianism won't do? As we point out in chapter 12 of The Dictator's Handbook, adopting a strategy where you alternate in power with a chosen successor is one way to have your cake and eat it; pay lip service to electoral law but remain the power behind the president. No problem, right? Particularly if your surrogate owes you his political life?  Continue reading "On Trashing Your Surrogate"

Dictator Dislikes: Punk Rock

Sometimes a state journalist will ask me what kind of music I like during a puff-piece interview. My answer is nearly always the same; I like classical music, sometimes jazz at a stretch, though you'd never catch the Presidential ensemble playing Miles Davis as I arrive or leave an official state event. In the newspaper profile I am nearly always (hell, let's say always and leave it at that) depicted as an urbane lover of fine music, which of course I am. Lately, however, I've been thinking of commissioning a piece on music to avoid (Dick's Picks -- has a nice ring, don't you think?), and top of the list is a genre that I could never stand: punk rock.  Continue reading "Dictator Dislikes: Punk Rock"

Dictator's Handbook: Now for sale on Kobo

I'm happy to announce that the Dictator's Handbook is now available for sale on Kobo Books as well. You can find it here.

Kobo is an interesting company, and helps makes ebooks available to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, which is useful as larger companies don't necessarily sell easily to non-United Statesian markets (that's a real word, I promise). Here is their credo:


We take up the challenge to bring reading to more people,
in more places, and inspire people to read more.
We will make books accessible to everyone, anytime, anyplace.
We will bring reading to all kinds of readers young and old.
We will create an innovative reading experience that will
inspire you.
We will spread the word and challenge you to do the same.
We will focus our will and harness our ingenuity to help you…


They sell devices as well as epub files, with or without Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, and generally do a great job of making the concept of reading ebooks something where the public, not the publisher, is empowered. As an author, I find that liberating. If you do too, go buy the darn book :-)

The Far Enemy (Scapegoating)

A recent post in our forum takes note of the anti-US rhetoric of Bolivian president Evo Morales, and suggests that its virulence might be harming that country's relationship with important neighbors like Brazil. My partner in crime is the resident Bolivia expert and I defer any deeper analysis to him, but I think it's safe to note that the persistent use of anti-US language and imagery by Morales is a classic dictator tactic: find a safe, distant enemy to blame for economic and other ills, preferably an enemy that your supporters are primed to hate, and deflect and distract attention from your own nefarious actions. Read on.  Continue reading "The Far Enemy (Scapegoating)"