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One of the main theses of this blog is that in many respects, Russia is far more similar to the the “West” (and vice versa) than various democratists would have you believe.

Case in point (h/t Jon Hellevig):

When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited an Ohio coal mine this month to promote jobs in the coal industry, workers who appeared with him at the rally lost pay because their mine was shut down. The Pepper Pike company that owns the Century Mine told workers that attending the Aug. 14 Romney event would be both mandatory and unpaid, a top company official said Monday morning in a West Virginia radio interview. … Moore told Blomquist that managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.”

“Mandatory” but “no one was forced to attend.” Hmm… how does that work?

This episode of Ohio coal workers pressured to attend a Romney rally does in fact neatly parallel anecdotally numerous cases in the run-up to the Russian elections. I even accept that these cases are far more prevalent in Russia, though the reasons for this are structural. Whereas single industry towns with singular political allegiances – e.g., coal towns, for whom Romney is far preferable to Obama – are the exception rather than the rule in the US, there are hundreds of such “monograds” in Russia. These monograds tend to have authoritarian political cultures at the local level.

But its not like you never stumble across analogues to them in the West.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the most common tropes against Russia is that critical (independent, democratic, etc) journalists there are dying like flies, presumably because of the “culture of impunity” created by Putin or even on his express orders. It is rarely mentioned that the statistical chances of a Russian journalist dying by homicide is an order of magnitude lower than in several countries widely recognized to be “democratic” such as Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, and the Philippines, or that – unlike Turkey or Israel (!) – Russia does not imprison any journalists on account of their professional work. To this end, I compiled a “Journalism Security Index” to get a more objective picture than the politicized rankings produced by outfits like Freedom House that put Russia on par with Zimbabwe.

As usual in these situations, a few graphs are worth thousands of words.

The graph above shows the numbers of journalists killed in Russia for every year since 1992 as compared with other “democratic” countries like Brazil, Mexico, India, and Colombia. As one can see, the situation has improved greatly in the past three years, with only one journalist (in Dagestan) getting killed in 2011; meanwhile, the situation in Mexico has deteriorated to levels unseen in Russia since the early 1990′s. Does this mean that Felipe Calderón is the next Stalin? Or is it that he is just faced with a drugs war that is rapidly spiraling out of control?

However, even this likely overstates the risks to Russian journalists, because there are simply a great many of them. According to the latest UN data, there were 102,300 newspaper journalists in Russia, far more than in Brazil (6,914) or India (16,079), and while data for the other two does not exist, I will assume that there are as many journalists per capita in Colombia (so 1,670) and three times as many in Mexico (13,027) as in Brazil. You can adjust the latter two figures within the bounds of plausibility but as you will see, this would not make a cardinal difference. So let’s start calculating annual homicides per 100,000 newspaper journalists (latest figure) – a rough but valid proxy for the general level of journalistic peril in any given country.

Wow! You can’t see anything past Colombia! Let’s remove it.

So once you make some necessary adjustments for respective journalist populations, it emerges that Russian journalists have been relatively safe compared to other democratic countries throughout virtually its entire post-Soviet history. They are now safer by orders of magnitude. (The dip in Brazil’s and Mexico’s rates in 2012 are artificial as only half the year has passed).

Finally, homicides per 100,000 journalists are compared with the population as a whole. As one can see from the above graph, Russian journalists were always safer than the average Russian citizen, and are now safer by an order of magnitude. Only one Russian journalist was killed in 2010 and 2011 for a rate of about 0.5/100,000 per year, relative to an overall homicide rate of slightly less than 10/100,000. The average journalist is far less likely to have criminal or binge drinking proclivities than the average citizen (factors that account for the overwhelming bulk of homicides in Russia) so it is right and proper that their homicide rate should also be well below the national average.

The same cannot be said of the other countries we are comparing Russian journalists to. In 2010, the homicide rate in Mexico was 18/100,000 (vs. 77/100,000 for journalists), in Brazil it was 25/100,000 (vs. 14/100,000 for journalists in 2010, but soaring to 87/100,000 in 2011), and in India it was 3.4/100,000 (vs. 12/100,000 for journalists).

It need hardly be mentioned at this point that for most of the “democratic” Yeltsin period, life was riskier for Russian journalists than under “authoritarian” Putin and his “stooge” Medvedev. There were 41 journalists killed in Russia from 1992-1999, compared to 30 from 2000-2008, and 6 from 2009-today (of which 5 occurred in 2009). Does this then mean that Yeltsin, not Putin, was the real Stalin? Of course not. The journalist killings in the 1990′s were a product of the chaos and lawlessness of that time, much like the narco-related killings decimating the ranks of Colombian, Brazilian, and Mexican journalists today. As one can see from the graph above, killings of Russian journalists have always been substantially correlated with the overall homicide rate; the latter began to sustainably decline from the mid-2000′s, and from 2009, journalist killings appear to have followed suit.

Why then does Russia have one of the lousiest reputations for journalist killings in the world, whereas a purely statistical analysis implies that it is in fact now extremely safe relative to several other “democratic” countries like Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, India, and Colombia, and does not imprison any journalists unlike Turkey or Israel?

Ultimately, I think it has much to do with the unhinged hostility of the Western media to Russia. Case in point, let’s look at The Guardian’s coverage.

When a journalist is killed in Mexico or Brazil, it is reported placidly and matter of factly, the newspaper restricting itself to: Names and identities (four journos from Veracruz; Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes); possible culprits (“the work of the cartels”; “accusing local officials of corruption”); some basic context, e.g. quantity of other journalist killings in the recent past. And apart from a final sentence or two noting that “corruption means it is often difficult to define where the authorities stop and organised crime begins”, that is pretty much the harshest judgment they make.

Now turn to the Guardian’s coverage of the sole Russian journalist killed in the past three years – Khadzhimurad Kamalov, in Dagestan, 2011. The difference begins with the titles. What used to be “Four Mexican journalists murdered in last week” or Brazilian journalist and girlfriend kidnapped and murdered” now becomes “Truth is being murdered in Putin’s bloody Russia.” And it continues in the same vein, with rhetoric being substituted for facts: “Crimes against freedom bathed in slothful impunity”; “Inside Moscow, rulers who pay lip service to human rights parade only an indifference that makes them complicit in these crimes” (is Calderón or Dilma Rousseff complicit in journalist killings in their countries?); “How many more, Mr Putin? How long are we supposed to mourn fellow journalists who died trying to tell us, and their fellow Russians, what a slack, slimy, savage state you run?”

No further comment is necessary.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Authoritarianism doesn’t always come with bells, whistles and goose-steps. More typically, it develops in a series of interlocking steps – a state of emergency (“war on terror”) here, a couple of indefinite detentions and Presidential hit orders there, their eventual legal codification – that while on their own seem justifiable and even innocuous, when taken together generate a pernicuous influence on the democratic polity. Furthermore, the gradualism or “creeping normalcy” of these processes insulate the gradual amassment of powers by the power ministries from challenge and conceals it from the eyes of a largely apathetic citizenry and compliant mass media. Nonetheless, in retrospect, specific precedents and laws will stand out: say, Article 58 in the early USSR, or…

While browsing Glenn Greenwald’s blog today, I came across a bill proposed by McCain and Lieberman (both tireless promoters of the freedom agenda abroad if not at home) back in March 2010 that, if passed, may well come to be seen as the tombstone to meaningful civil rights and rule of law in the US. Welcome to the S. 3081 “Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010.” First, the definitions:

SEC. 6. DEFINITIONS. …

(9) UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENT- The term ‘unprivileged enemy belligerent’ means an individual (other than a privileged belligerent) who–

  • (A) has engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners;
  • (B) has purposely and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
  • (C) was a part of al Qaeda at the time of capture.

This basically replaces the Bush-era concept of the “alien enemy combatant” with “unpriveleged enemy belligerent”. At least they no longer discriminate against non-American citizens. ;)

In particular, note that in our age, the concept of “material support” is coming to be interpreted in the broadest terms (it includes, amongst other things, to “to engage in public advocacy to challenge a group’s “terrorist” designation or even to encourage peaceful avenues for redress of grievances.”)

SEC. 2. PLACEMENT OF SUSPECTED UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS IN MILITARY CUSTODY.

5(a) Military Custody Requirement- Whenever within the United States, its territories, and possessions, or outside the territorial limits of the United States, an individual is captured or otherwise comes into the custody or under the effective control of the United States who is suspected of engaging in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners through an act of terrorism, or by other means in violation of the laws of war, or of purposely and materially supporting such hostilities, and who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent, the individual shall be placed in military custody for purposes of initial interrogation and determination of status in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

This not only allows but REQUIRES all individuals just SUSPECTED of “materially supporting” (the vaguely defined) “hostilities against the United States”, be he arrested in the Empire or its colonies, to be INCARCERATED by the military. With help from particularly liberal interpretations of the Espionage Act, the opportunities are endless!

(b) Reasonable Delay for Intelligence Activities- An individual who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent and who is initially captured or otherwise comes into the custody or under the effective control of the United States by an intelligence agency of the United States may be held, interrogated, or transported by the intelligence agency and placed into military custody for purposes of this Act if retained by the United States within a reasonable time after the capture or coming into the custody or effective control by the intelligence agency, giving due consideration to operational needs and requirements to avoid compromise or disclosure of an intelligence mission or intelligence sources or methods.

These checks are just subjectivity galore, offering no real protections. What constitutes a “reasonable time”? What’s “due consideration to operational needs” in an endless-by-definition “war on terror” which many of the supporters of this bill gleefully proclaim will last decades?

Now for the nuts and bolts of how the status of “unprivileged enemy belligerent” is to be conferred.

SEC. 3. INTERROGATION AND DETERMINATION OF STATUS OF SUSPECTED UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS. …

(a) Establishment of Interrogation Groups-

(2) COMPOSITION- Each interagency team under this subsection shall be composed of such personnel of the Executive Branch having expertise in matters relating to national security, terrorism, intelligence, interrogation, or law enforcement as the President considers appropriate. The members of any particular interagency team may vary depending on the skills most relevant to a particular case. …

(b) Interrogations- …

(2) UTILIZATION OF OTHER PERSONNEL- A high-value detainee interrogation group may utilize military and intelligence personnel, and Federal, State, and local law enforcement personnel, in conducting interrogations of a high-value detainee. The utilization of such personnel for the interrogation of a detainee shall not alter the responsibility of the interrogation group for the coordination within the Executive Branch of the interrogation of the detainee or the determination of status and disposition of the detainee under this Act.

(3) INAPPLICABILITY OF CERTAIN STATEMENT AND RIGHTS- A individual who is suspected of being an unprivileged enemy belligerent shall not, during interrogation under this subsection, be provided the statement required by Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436 (1966)) or otherwise be informed of any rights that the individual may or may not have to counsel or to remain silent consistent with Miranda v. Arizona.

If the glorious Government suspects you then you have no rights. Props to them for spelling it out clearly.

(c) Determinations of Status- …

(1) PRELIMINARY DETERMINATION BY HIGH-VALUE DETAINEE INTERROGATION GROUP- The high-value detainee interrogation group responsible for interrogating a high-value detainee under subsection (b) shall make a preliminary determination whether or not the detainee is an unprivileged enemy belligerent. The interrogation group shall make such determination based on the result of its interrogation of the individual and on all intelligence information available to the interrogation group. The interrogation group shall, after consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, submit such determination to the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General.

All unelected; unaccountable.

(2) FINAL DETERMINATION- As soon as possible after receipt of a preliminary determination of status with respect to a high-value detainee under paragraph (1), the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General shall jointly submit to the President and to the appropriate committees of Congress a final determination whether or not the detainee is an unprivileged enemy belligerent for purposes of this Act. In the event of a disagreement between the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General, the President shall make the final determination.

Well that’s reassuring! But things are about to get even more interesting…

(d) Regulations-

(2) CRITERIA FOR DESIGNATION OF INDIVIDUALS AS HIGH-VALUE DETAINEES- The regulations required by this subsection shall include criteria for designating an individual as a high-value detainee based on the following:

(A) The potential threat the individual poses for an attack on civilians or civilian facilities within the United States or upon United States citizens or United States civilian facilities abroad at the time of capture or when coming under the custody or control of the United States.

(B) The potential threat the individual poses to United States military personnel or United States military facilities at the time of capture or when coming under the custody or control of the United States.

(C) The potential intelligence value of the individual.

(D) Membership in al Qaeda or in a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda.

(E) Such other matters as the President considers appropriate.

The emphasis on “potential threats” – everyone is if you’re paranoid enough – is disturbing enough. But the final point gives practically unlimited leeway to the President, to Obama and his successors, and is otherwise known as “rule by man“, or Caesarism.

SEC. 4. LIMITATION ON PROSECUTION OF ALIEN UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS.1

(a) Limitation- No funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Justice may be used to prosecute in an Article III court in the United States, or in any territory or possession of the United States, any alien who has been determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)

(b) Applicability Pending Final Determination of Status- While a final determination on the status of an alien high-value detainee is pending under section 3(c)(2), the alien shall be treated as an unprivileged enemy belligerent for purposes of subsection (a).

If I understand it correctly, this basically reinforces the essential points of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Once a foreigner suspected of being an ememy combatant / enemy belligerent is captured, not even the (minimal) protections offered to US citizens will be made available.

SEC. 5. DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL OF UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS.

An individual, including a citizen of the United States, determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)(2) in a manner which satisfies Article 5 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners in which the individual has engaged, or which the individual has purposely and materially supported, consistent with the law of war and any authorization for the use of military force provided by Congress pertaining to such hostilities.

The reference to the Geneva Conventions is irrelevant filler: it has already been determines that these protections don’t apply to unlawful enemy combatants. Since the “war on terror” is an Orwellian permanent war, it implies that the detentions can in fact be as long as the system wants it to be (unless cut short by “intentional homicide” or accidents).

One has to be deluded to think that this bill will only be used against real terrorists if it passes. There are a whole lot of other targets for the picking by the power elites:

  • Environmentalists, climate scientists: Are already regularly harassed, marginalized, occassionally branded as “eco-terrorists.” Note that one of the sponsors of the bill, Jim Inhofe, is a rabid AGW denier who has called for the criminal prosecution of climate scientists. No doubt he will have his own peculiar ideas of what constitutes hostilities against the US.
  • Muslim activists: For every real Islamic terrorist who is swept up by the security services, it seems there are at least ten or more whose only sin was being engaged with Islamic charities or activist causes or purposefully set up by the FBI.
  • Wikileaks: Prominent political figures in the US have equated Assange with terrorists, with Sarah Palin calling for him to be hunted down like Osama bin Laden. Imagine the possibilities if someone like her were to be President with this law on her side. Meanwhile, the Bradley Manning imprisonment shows that grim reality (a US citizen held in stiffling solitary confinement for months without charge) remains well ahead of its own impending legalization / normalization.
  • Pirates: With the soaring corporate takeover of politics and the influence of the MPAA and other dedicated opponents of information freedom, will pirates be “information terrorists”?
  • Tea Party: While the GOP may entertain those elements of Tea Party populism that benefit their rich backers, they have zero interest in accomodating those Tea Party off-shoots that actually advocate Establishment-contrary policies such as ending Wall Street bailouts or paring down the military-industrial complex. Aren’t these also a potential terrorist threat?

This is a bill that must be watched closely, if or once it gets round to a hearing or markup; its passage unlikely today, but vastly more probable if there is another terrorist act (even a failed one). Note that a decade ago, and maybe even five years ago, such a “extremist, tyrannical and dangerous” (in Greenwald’s words) piece of legislation would have been unimaginable.

At least in its current form, adoption would open the floodgates to a massive retreat of civil liberties – especially under future Presidents operating with lowered ethical standards and a more accomodating and conservative Supreme Court, and higher dependencies on corporate sponsors and unaccountable security agencies.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.