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Putin Derangement Syndrome

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I am pretty bad with these puns. But this one might just be SSC-worthy.

One of my goals for the rest of Anti-Bolshevik Month is to write a comprehensive alternate history in which the Russian Republic survives WW1.

Randall Parker’s question on Twitter: “Imagine a time traveler goes back to 1913 and kill Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, Gavrilo Princip and a few others. How does 20th century play out?

Gave me a convenient opportunity to sketch out the basics: “If you study the details, success of both October Revolution & Nazi ascent were almost freak occurrences. Moreover, latter depended on the former. Very unlikely to repeat. There might not have been a WW1, and not just Pinkerian reasons, but Realpolitik ones. Russian power was rapidly converging to German, making two front war increasingly untenable; hence, German General Staff urged war sooner, before 1916 at the latest. USA and Russia would dominate mid to late 20th century, and more equally; a China on S. Korea’s development trajectory would be surpassing both ~2000 (instead of Russia in 1990 and the US around ~2030 in our TL). Tech in general might be about a decade further advanced, though rocketry might lag slightly. But global warming also worse, since Communism wouldn’t have retarded many countries’ development.

In other news, Andy Weir, the guy who wrote The Martian, now has a new sci-fi book “Artemis” about a 2,000 population lunar base in the late 21st century.

Anyone read it? Is it any good?

Tolkien’s son resigns as director of the Tolkien estate. Hopefully the days of capricious copyright exploitation are coming to an end. Film adaptation of The Last Ringbearer when?

Main

* Top 500 supercomputer list for November 2017 is out.

Although China first overtook the United States in June 2016 by the smallest of margins, for the first time the gap has become truly significant: China – 202; United States – 143.

As per usual, Russia has a grand total of around 3, because the Putin regime prefers the Rotenbergs to R&D.

poland-death-march

* Inspirational imagery from the Polish nationalist march in Warsaw. Vincent Law attended and has a good writeup.

Much more impressive than the sad affairs that pass for such in the Trumpreich and the Putlerreich. But long-term prospects are mixed, at best.

* Lubos Motls: Bitcoin congestion singularity may be coming. Can’t really serve as a normal means of exchange if a single transaction costs you several cups of coffee.

* spandrell: Biological Leninism.

* Scott Alexander: Book Review: Legal Systems Very Different From Ours

They feared that a written law code generally available would lead to rules lawyering and supported unequal treatement based on the unequal status of those to whom the law applied…Some early writers argued against making the law code publicly available. …

Where the offense did not seem to fit any category in the code, the court felt free to find the defendant guilty of doing what ought not to be done or of violating an Imperial decree — not an actual decree, but one that the Emperor would have made had the matter been brought to his attention.

The sections on China were fascinating – it was the definition of Kafkaevschina. And the same order prevailed at the end of the Qing dynasty.

byzantine-culture-world

* Caitlyn Green with a world map of where Byzantine artifacts have been found.

* Gerald Clare: The Forgotten Dream of a Russian Africa

* Alt Left podcaster Robert Stark has a book out, Journey to Vapor Island. B.W. Rabbit reviews it.

Russia

* Russian rearmaments program from 2018-2027 is, at 19 billion rubles, virtually equal to that for the period 2011-2020.

Adjusting for inflation, this translates into a massive cut to military spending.

* New VCIOM poll: While Putin’s approval remains high, indicators of social dissatisfaction nearing the heights they reached around late 2011, when mass protests kicked off.

* Patrick Armstrong: RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 16 NOVEMBER 2017

So now RT America is a “foreign agent“. (Remember all the faux outrage about Russia’s FARA imitation law? No? But it was only a year ago: “Russia: Four years of Putin’s ‘Foreign Agents’ law to shackle and silence NGOs“. Hard to keep up, isn’t it?) In case you think this reflects poorly on the “champion for free speech and free press”, John McCain, channelling Brezhnev, explains why it doesn’t.

* Bershidsky: Russia’s RT Just Isn’t Worth Attacking. Simpler Explanations Are Usually Correct. Even on Russia.

It looks like Russia’s retaliation will be very mild; so far, we only know that RFERL/Voice of America and their various projects will have to register as foreign agents.

* Alexey Kovalev: Here’s what Russians think: Brexit is your creature – don’t blame it on us

* Kevin Rothrock translates Oleg Kashin’s op-ed for the liberal Republic webzine (formerly Slon): When Russians stopped believing in the Western media:

There’s a thoroughly naive misperception that the people working for propaganda outlets are all hard-nose cynics ready to say that black is white just so they can make their mortgage payments. In fact, anyone who’s talked with just one of these people knows that any cynicism that might guide them is something entirely different: it’s not “I lie because of my mortgage,” but “I say what serves the state’s interests because that’s how it works everywhere — we serve Russia, CNN serves the U.S., and the BBC is itself a state organization.”

Hearing this kind of talk, Russians from the independent media of course always laughed, but time has shown that the ones who said “it’s like this everywhere” were right. At the very least, over the past year and a half, the Western press with its highest standards has gifted us too many outrageous stories to ignore.

Kashin is a Russian liberal, yet even so, he is of the firm opinion that the Western media has gone way overboard in their Russiagate hysteria. In this sense, he parallels Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky and Alexey Kovalev, who sometimes writes for The Guardian – both of them are highly anti-Putin pro-Westerners, yet not completely devoid of critical observation, for which they in turn have been accused of being Kremlin trolls by the ROG truthers.

* Joe Lauria: The Creation of RussiaGate

* Russian freedom fighting anarchist Pyotr Pavlensky flees to the West (after a rape accusation cooked up by the KGB… maybe not). Burns down a French book. Neoliberals who praised him when he was pulling his stunts in Russia now practice punitive psychiatry on him.

* Bryan MacDonald: How George Soros’ people enlisted me as a ‘foot-soldier in the fight against Putin’. There are a lot of these scam NGO’s sucking up State Department and Soros money.

* Muh based Putlerreich introducing gender equality law inc. quotas for female % in politics; will solve “problems of sexism, ageism, harassment.”

* Russia Elections 2018:

Will Putin run? Bryan MacDonald thinks there is still a slight chance that he won’t. Will have a separate post on this.

Ksenia Sobchak got a Vkontakte account just this week. Goes to show why she won’t rise above the single digits: All the Russian liberal kreakl tusovka hangs out on Facebook.

World

* James Thompson: Boost your IQ. Important discussion of two recent papers on effect of more school education on later IQ.

* Gregory Hood: The Lie of Law

* Defrosted: Just noticed that Peter Frost is writing again, though at his own website now.

* New study: Moderate alcohol consumption improves foreign language skills (the paper). Funny and so very true.

india-map-gdp-per-capita

* GDP per capita map of the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan used to be richer than India, really strikes home the fact that this is no longer the case.

* The Atlantic has a very long profile of Andrew Anglin. Skimmed through it. Seems like a stereotypical background for a Neo-Nazi.

* Inventor of Ethereum is much less cool than Pavel Durov.

* Bunch of Alt Right/Alt Right people lost their Blue Checkmarks on Twitter (Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler, Laura Loomer, James Allsup would be recognizable to many); Baked Alaska got suspended entirely.

This is in line with a new Twitter policy to remove verification from users who “promote hate” (except, presumably, against white people).

However, the real fun will begin on Nov 22, when new rules on the display of “hateful imagery and hate symbols” – developed in conjunction with the ADL – will come into effect. Like schools and workplaces, it will now also take into account offline behavior, as well as “monitor for hate speech in usernames, display names, and profile bios.”

Since everyone born in 1988 is, by definition, a Nazi, there’s some chance @akarlin88 will be shut down around that time. Can’t say I’ll miss it.

* Wrath of Gnon digs up a note on medieval German hospitality.

german-hospitality

I have sometimes wondered about practical logistics of long-term travel in the deep past (esp. if you lose your purse). This helps explain things, I suppose.

 
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powerful-take

It will be the centenary of the October Revolution in a couple of days – the original color revolution that finished off a great and rapidly modernizing empire and handed power to a gang of Russia-hating criminals.

To mark the occasion, the next two weeks I will be documenting the dismal failure of sovok across almost virtually all spheres of life. Obligatory trigger warning for commies.

Featured

* gwern’s October 2017 newsletter

* Not only a good intro to Bitcoin per se, but an original (so far as I know) way of thinking about it: https://blog.chain.com/a-letter-to-jamie-dimon-de89d417cb80

There’s a TL;DR version at the end.

map-becker-world-iq

* James Thompson: The World’s IQ = 86: Test results of 550,492 individuals in 123 countries

Link to David Becker’s database: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B3c4TxciNeJZWUx5bzBWZ1BuMUk

The discussion is also worth reading.

* Heiner Rindermann has what appears to be a rather interesting book coming out on January 1, 2018: Cognitive Capitalism: Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations

poll-military-government* PEW: Globally, Broad Support for Representative and Direct Democracy (PDF)

Many interesting tidbits there but one table I liked is support for military government by left/right.

Mostly as you’d expect (right more supportive), with the understandable exception of Venezuela – and the less understandable exception of Hungary (unless you read hbd*chick).

* Emil Kirkegaard: About that blog: Italian IQs, Lynn IQs, brain size and doctors

* /r/gorgich: Cultural macroregions of Russia

* Daniel Treisman – 2017 – Democracy by mistake

How does democracy emerge from authoritarian rule?… In about two thirds, democratization occurred not because incumbent elites chose it but because, in trying to prevent it, they made mistakes that weakened their hold on power. Common mistakes include: calling elections or starting military conflicts, only to lose them; ignoring popular unrest and being overthrown; initiating limited reforms that get out of hand; and selecting a covert democrat as leader. These mistakes reflect well-known cognitive biases such as overconfidence and the illusion of control.

Leonid Bershidsky writes about it.

* 39% of French citizens spoke Occitan in 1860.

* A beautiful @WrathOfGnon thread about the superiority of medieval urbanism:

Russia

* Lucy Komisar: The Man Behind the Magnitsky Act Did Bill Browder’s Tax Troubles in Russia Color Push for Sanctions?

Attack on RT

* RT: Revealed: How Twitter pushed RT to spend big on 2016 US election; Twitter’s multi-million dollar US election pitch to RT revealed in FULL

kovalev-saudi-propaganda

Even some Russian oppositioners like Alexey Kovalev think it is ridiculously selective.

* RT: NGO publishes names of 2,300+ RT guests, labels them ‘useful idiots who undermine Western democracy’

I was amused to see that Nina Khrushcheva was on there (not sure about the “useful” part, though).

Alexander Mercouris: Blackmail and the latest attack on RT

* Michael Tracey uncovers Twitter’s criteria for being a Russia troll:

We took a similarly expansive approach to defining what qualifies as a Russian-linked account. Because there is no single characteristic that reliably determines geographic origin or affiliation, we relied on a number of criteria, including whether the account was created in Russia, whether the user registered the account with a Russian phone carrier or a Russian email address, whether the user’s display name contains Cyrillic characters, whether the user frequently Tweets in Russian, and whether the user has logged in from any Russian IP address, even a single time. We considered an account to be Russian-linked if it had even one of the relevant criteria.

Beware of the Cyrillic autocracy!

Russiagate

* Alexander Mercouris: Robert Mueller should resign

In other words instead of arriving its suspicions of Russian meddling in the Presidential election on its own investigations the FBI chose to rely on the work of two private contractors – CrowdStrike and Christopher Steele – both of whom were found and paid for by the DNC, and one of whom – Christopher Steele – was then passed on by the DNC to the FBI so that he could be paid by them as well.

That makes the FBI look more like an accomplice of the Democrats and the DNC than an impartial and objective police agency.

* But perceptions are another matter.

* Some stuff comes out further proving that DNC colluded with Hillary to give her the nomination.

Real Democrats: Donna Brazile was duped by Russia. Putin is God, etc.

* Latest video from Kirill Nesterov, chief editor of ROGPR podcast.

(It’s in Russian, but mostly just consists of translations of the most “powerful” Russia takes from Anglo Twitter).

* The insanity is not contained to the Left:

putler-welcome-to-resistance

* Daily Caller: Growing Evidence That Russia Using ‘The Resistance’ To Stoke Division

Powerful Takes on Manhattan Terror Attack

Other

* Paul Robinson: Wall of Grief (Putin on Stalin)

* Patrick Armstrong: How I Became a Kremlin Troll

* Chechens organize a queue for the new iPhone in Moscow, selling the first position for R300,000 ($5,000). A few hundred Virgin Kreakls – their idea of “creativity” consisting of being the first person in their tusovka to get a new iPhone – wait in line for a several hours… only for a gang of Chechen Chads to push them aside at the last moment, snap up all the iPhones, and put them up for sale on Russia’s eBay within a few minutes.

* Daily Beast: She’s in Pussy Riot. He’s on the Far Right: How Maria Alyokhina and Dmitry Enteo Fell in Love

Still a better love story than Twilight.

* Affirmative action Kremlinologist Terell Starr: “Ukrainians and black folk share common bonds when it comes to resisting supremacy, whether it is from “white people” in the U.S. or Russia.Memetic response.

Hell

Meanwhile, in the actual Putlerreich…

* Moscow authorities want to install a monument to Islam Karimov in the city center, a Central Asian tinpot dictator who removed all of his country’s WW2 monuments.

What makes this even “better” is that the Uzbeks themselves are slowly doing away with Karimov’s legacy, with their new President inching towards liberal reform and criticizing his predecessor for abuses. So it fails even as geopolitical bootlicking.

Almost certainly pointless petition against this: https://www.change.org/p/владимир-путин-против-установки-в-москве-памятника-президенту-узбекистана-исламу-каримову

* Leader of Tatarstan implicitly threatens Putin with low vote numbers if Tatar language instruction in schools is made non-obligatory (“We made it so that all the electoral processes are done by the directors of our schools“).

The problems of relying on ethnic minority states-within-states to give you a 10% point bump in elections…

* Meanwhile, the son of a Tatar director of a military academy (who is also a member of the pseudoscience organization RAEN) was arrested in Tajikistan for joining ISIS for 2 years. Previously, after completing his PhD under his dad at said military academy (nepotism), he was made responsible for ensuring the security of military R&D communications, and had the appropriate high level security clearance for it. Said military academy to KP journalists requesting comment: “We won’t say anything, the director isn’t here, and we don’t know when he will be.”

World

conferederate-iconography

* @tcjfs: Huntington argues the Confederate monuments to “the Blue & the Gray” were built thru 1920 to foster united American national reconciliation

Seems to parallel Soviet celebration of Victory Day: First Moscow May 9 parade after 1945 was in 1965; then 1985, 1990, became yearly event in 1995.

* Guardian: Romania shrugs off label of Europe’s poor man as economy booms.

* China unveils massive island-building vessel

Remarkable cultural continuity: Great Wall on land 2,000 years ago, now a Great Wall in cyberspace and on the high seas.

alt-right-bin-laden

* So Osama bin Laden was a gamer, like all the other great men of the 20th century.

BTW, Navalny is a console peasant, while proves he is not destined for greatness.

 

racism

Culture War

* Bread Pilled: Jordan Peterson turning young, Western men into Christians Again

Only heard of the guy thanks to spandrell. Sounds like a big phenomenon.

* #ItsOkayToBeWhite is a brilliant strategy. /pol/ continues to deliver.

* Frances Lee: Why I’ve Started to Fear My Fellow Social Justice Activists

* John Derbyshire: Geezers Don’t Care! Marc Faber Defies AntiRacist Moral Panic

* Feminist prof says ‘traditional science’ is rooted in racism

* Geoffrey Miller channels Taleb: To understand the present, read good books about our biological & cultural history, & sci fi about the future. ‘News’ is a distraction.

* Melissa Meszaros: Buzzfeed’s Male Writers Revealed to have Dangerously Low Testosterone

* Porn Addicted Bomb Nazi Mutilated Himself With An Axe. Exemplary commitment to nofap.

* Eliezer Yudkowsky’s struggle:

.

 
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putin-derangement-syndrome I didn’t really invent this meme, as Patrick Armstrong once credited me; there were a few disjointed mentions of it there and there from before 2011. That said, I do think I did more than than anyone else to popularize it. Anyhow, the term Putin Derangement Syndrome has finally gone mainstream, with Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibi writing about its “arrival” a few days ago (though arguably, it arrived a decade ago).

One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.

The aforementioned Mensch, a noted loon who thinks Putin murdered Andrew Breitbart but has somehow been put front and center by The Times and HBO’s Real Time, has denounced an extraordinary list of Kremlin plants.

She’s tabbed everyone from Jeff Sessions (“a Russian partisan“) to Rudy Giuliani and former Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom (“agents of influence“) to Glenn Greenwald (“Russian shill“) to ProPublica and Democracy Now! (also “Russian shills“), tothe 15-year-old girl with whom Anthony Weiner sexted (really, she says, a Russian hacker group called “Crackas With Attitudes”) to an unnamed number of FBI agents in the New York field office (“moles“). And that’s just for starters.

Others are doing the same. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, upon seeing the strange behavior of Republican Intel Committee chair Devin Nunes, asked “what kind of dossier” the Kremlin has on Nunes.

Dem-friendly pollster Matt McDermott wondered why reporters Michael Tracey and Zaid Jilani aren’t on board with the conspiracy stories (they might be “unwitting” agents!) and noted, without irony, that Russian bots mysteriously appear every time he tweets negatively about them.

Think about that last one. Does McDermott think Tracey and Jilani call their handlers at the sight of a scary Matt McDermott tweet and have the FSB send waves of Russian bots at him on command? Or does he think it’s an automated process? What goes through the heads of such people?

I’ve written a few articles on the Russia subject that have been very tame, basically arguing that it might be a good idea to wait for evidence of collusion before those of us in the media jump in the story with both feet. But even I’ve gotten the treatment.

I’ve been “outed” as a possible paid Putin plant by the infamous “PropOrNot” group, which is supposedly dedicated to rooting out Russian “agents of influence.” You might remember PropOrNot as the illustrious research team the Washington Post once relied on for a report that accused 200 alternative websites of being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season.”

Politicians are getting into the act, too. It was one thing when Rand Paul balked at OKing the expansion of NATO to Montenegro, and John McCain didn’t hesitate to say that “the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

Even Bernie Sanders has himself been accused of being a Putin plant by Mensch. But even he’s gotten on board of late, asking, “What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?”

So even people who themselves have been accused of being Russian plants are now accusing people of being Russian plants. As the Russians would say, it’s enough to make your bashka hurt.

The paranoia is matched only by its ignorance and stupidity:

Even the bizarre admission by FBI director (and sudden darling of the same Democrats who hated him months ago) James Comey that he didn’t know anything about Russia’s biggest company didn’t seem to trouble Americans very much. Here’s the key exchange, from a House hearing in which Jackie Speier quizzed Comey:

SPEIER: Now, do we know who Gazprom-Media is? Do you know anything about Gazprom, director?
COMEY: I don’t.
SPEIER: Well, it’s a – it’s an oil company.

(Incidentally, Gazprom – primarily a natural-gas giant – is not really an oil company. So both Comey and Speier got it wrong.)

As Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg noted, this exchange was terrifying to Russians. The leader of an investigation into Russian espionage not knowing what Gazprom is would be like an FSB chief not having heard of Exxon-Mobil. It’s bizarre, to say the least.

And it may lead to some very bad things, from entrenching the status quo…

Moreover, even those who detest Trump with every fiber of their being must see the dangerous endgame implicit in this entire line of thinking. If the Democrats succeed in spreading the idea that straying from the DNC-approved candidate – in either the past or the future – is/was an act of “unwitting” cooperation with the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.

Imagine it’s four years from now (if indeed that’s when we have our next election). A Democratic candidate stands before the stump, and announces that a consortium of intelligence experts has concluded that Putin is backing the hippie/anti-war/anti-corporate opposition candidate.

… to war.

But if you’re not worried about accusing non-believers of being spies, or pegging legitimate dissent as treason, there’s a third problem that should scare everyone.

Last week saw Donna Brazile and Dick Cheney both declare Russia’s apparent hack of DNC emails an “act of war.” This coupling seemed at first like political end times: as Bill Murray would say, “dogs and cats, living together.”

But there’s been remarkable unanimity among would-be enemies in the Republican and Democrat camps on this question. Suddenly everyone from Speier to McCain to Kamala Harris to Ben Cardin have decried Russia’s alleged behavior during the election as real or metaphorical acts of war: a “political Pearl Harbor,” as Cardin put it. …

But when it comes to Trump-Putin collusion, we’re still waiting for the confirmation. As Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters put it, the proof is increasingly understood to be the thing we find later, as in, “If we do the investigations, we will find the connections.”

This seems especially relevant right now for some reason.

I suppose I will now need to redouble my efforts on pushing the ROG (Russian Occupation Government) meme, which is apparently so all encompassing that an American Tomahawk strike ordered by Putler’s puppet Trump on a military base with Russian advisors is, in fact, a “manufactured Cold War 2.0 which will lead to a peace deal that includes lifting sanctions on Russia” according to the top voted comment on the relevant thread at the /r/politics subreddit.

Truly, there are no limits to the reach of ROG’s tentacles.

 
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I was under the impression this particular meme was played out, and replaced by the “Russian Hackers” one, but it appears not.

By request of the Latvian Ministry of Defense, courtesy of NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre for Excellence, and in all likelihood paid for by your tax dollars, we have the following report: Stratcom Laughs: In Search of a Strategic Framework.

Paul Robinson explains:

The report states its purpose as being to study humour as a ‘strategic communication tool’. The first part of the report undertakes a long academic analysis of what humour is and what purposes it serves. In later parts it then looks at how the Russian state allegedly uses humour as a propaganda tool and how Ukrainians have countered it with humour of their own.

The basic conclusion of the report is that in Russia, ‘the entire “official humour industry” … is directly Kremlin-controlled’. Working for the Kremlin, Russian comedians use humour to reduce their compatriots’ stress and make them feel more comfortable and thus more accepting of the political system. They provide audiences with a positive sense of social identity, which is contrasted with a negative view of others. The ‘in-group’ – Russia – is portrayed as victimized by the ‘out-group’ – the West. And in the context of Ukraine, through comedy, ‘Russian propaganda has been trying to use and exacerbate a number of differences between social groups so as to create an atmosphere of total distrust and panic.’

Here are a few especially striking examples of Russia’s propaganda war from the report:

The way Western leaders, especially those the United States, are portrayed in the comedy content of the entertainment broadcasts points to a disinformation campaign.

putin-dobby Putin has been at the center of jokes in Western entertainment broadcasts since, like, when Harry Potter was still cool.

Another factor influencing the intensity of joking about a particular state and its leaders, as well as the content of the jokes, is the position of the country in the hierarchical frame of international relations created by the shows’ discourse. Russia and the US are portrayed as the leading actors. Germany, France, and Italy are recognized as less influential, but still important actors, while the images of other Western countries and their political leaders are not featured as regularly as those mentioned. Being ignored here works as another, no less important instrument for underlining the hierarchy built by the discourse.

Butthurt Belt detekted.

Why won’t Putler pay attention to me?

Donald Trump’s image has been portrayed through his bizarre behaviour. Interestingly, an integral part of the visual presentations of Donald Trump has been his strange hairstyle (as been pointed out several times in Urgant shows). For example, in the 10 December 2015 episode of Vecherniy Urgant, Ivan Urgant described Trump’s hairstyle as the best place for birds to nest.

trump-hairWho hasn’t made fun of Trump’s hair outside the Breitbart ecosystem?

So pretty much the entirety of the Western MSM serve ROG (Russian Occupation Government). Glad to see that set straight.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: NATO, Putin Derangement Syndrome 
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It’s just a bit ironic that the figurehead of a movement (best known to the general public as the author of the world’s most popular Harry Potter fanfic) that emphasizes “politics is the mindkiller” has lapsed into all-out Putin-Trump Derangement Syndrome and fake news generation.

yudkowsky-for-cp-or-putin

Not entirely unexpected, though – Arthur Chu, an SJW activist and onetime Yudkowsky disciple, famously admitted to “mindkilling” himself on a “regular basis” because that is what “you have to do to be a feminist anti-racist progressive.” I suppose going hardcore like that might marginally increase your messaging effectiveness by reducing internal cognitive dissonance, but at the cost of… well, 98% of people regarding you as an unhinged loon.

Which makes it all the more difficult for people to take you seriously on the actually serious matters like the AI alignment problem (that is, people outside the LW/EA bubble).

Anyhow, the background: Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian “dissident” who lives in Britain, and the “hero” of the NYT article cited by Yudkowsky, was found to have child pornography on his computer in 2015. He has since been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service with possession. On his part, Bukovsky has insisted that he was framed. (Incidentally, this was an explanation that The Unz Review’s John Derbyshire was curiously eager to buy into. I suppose boy fiddlin’ might be a kebab pervasion when practiced by Asian grooming gangs, but it is also a hallowed tradition of the English upper class, and hey, dey culcha has to be respected).

Quite why the Russian intelligence services would want to set up an irrelevant has-been whom nobody outside a 100m radius of Echo of Moscow HQ even knows exists must remain a mystery. Though one can only admire their dedication – apparently, there were thousands of images, downloaded over a 15 year period. Putin must have started the operation almost as soon as he first became President!

In short, we have come to the point – at least amongst a certain “rationalist” segment of American society – where maintaining “traditional” stances on child pornography is now tantamount to being a Putler shill.

One is tempted to assume that this is the usual shitlibbery at work. But still, there are other curious coincidences. Like, why would Yudkowsky start kvetching about this now of all times? Surely it can’t have anything to do with certain pizza-related rumors that have begun to circle and gain media attention on the altsphere this past month.

 
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The front page of The Guardian on the first day of Panama Leaks:

guardian-front-page-on-panama-leaks

$2 billion!? Very impressive. Though admittedly, a rather disappointing find after more than a decade’s worth of searching for Putin’s $200 billion stash.

But still, a curious choice of whom to focus on, considering the minor detail that Putin’s name doesn’t appear in the Panama Papers even once.

putins-name-doesnt-appear

This isn’t the only curious thing about it.

For instance, there is also the observation that it comes on the heels of the tabloid stories that Putin is dating Wendy Deng, a fantastic claim which has been repeated uncritically because if it’s about Putin, it’s true.

And the Reuters story about a series of women allegedly connected with Putin all buying properties from the same real estate agent.

Not to mention the identity of the two other main “first day” targets: Messi, aka FIFA. which awarded the football 2018 World Cup to Russia, and Icelandic politicians who put banksters in jail.

Then there is also the curious fact that only 149 documents of the 11 million total were actually released in the first batch, which means that our intrepid journalists must have started off by doing selective searches on all the people they could think of who they assumed were associated with Putin from his Saint-Petersburg days in the 1990s, discovered that some of them became very rich during the economic boom of the 2000s, and tallied the total value of their assets to arrive at the not especially impressive figure of $2 billion (considering the numbers of people involved in this grand conspiracy) that they were stashing away for Putin in a tropical tax haven… just like other perfectly respectable members of the global elite, from Xi Jinping, the Saudis, and German corporations to David Cameron, Petro Poroshenko, and Mitt Romney.

None of which is not exactly news.

But it is precisely Putin who has attracted something like 50% of the media fallout from the Panama Leaks. The political class of a basically irrelevant country, albeit the only one in the world which prosecuted its banker class for their financial machinations; as well as the United States’ new bugbear, FIFA, garnered another 25%.

Leaving only 25% of the coverage for everyone else:

panama-leaks-world-map

All in all, a most curious set of coincidences indeed.

There was overwhelming demand to release all the documents and make them available in a searchable database:

wikileaks-should-we-release

Unfortunately, this time, it wasn’t Wikileaks who possessed the treasure trove. Too bad!

wikileaks-too-bad

So naturally what happened was that the range of documents that were released were from the outset tightly constricted and focused against those entities the Western order considers to be its enemies, and filtered through a journalistic establishment that it has become increasingly clear loyally serves that same order.

Even those targets that did not meet the above criteria were in general either already known (the offshore adventures of David Cameron’s father), universally suspected anyway (the Saudis), or who were either irrelevant and/or had undermined and humiliated the Western order in some way (Icelandic politicians, FIFA).

Why this might have been the case becomes a bit clearer when we look at the outfit behind the Panama Leaks. That outfit is the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is funded in its entirety by the US Center for Public Integrity, and which in turn is sponsored by… well, Soros, in short.

And all the other usual regime change/color revolution suspects.

icij-sponsors

Craig Murray explains the real deal:

The Suddeutsche Zeitung, which received the leak, gives a detailed explanation of the methodology the corporate media used to search the files. The main search they have done is for names associated with breaking UN sanctions regimes. The Guardian reports this too and helpfully lists those countries as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia and Syria. The filtering of this Mossack Fonseca information by the corporate media follows a direct western governmental agenda. There is no mention at all of use of Mossack Fonseca by massive western corporations or western billionaires – the main customers. And the Guardian is quick to reassure that “much of the leaked material will remain private.”

In effect the main targets of Panama Papers and especially Putin are mere whipping boys, politically convenient decoys to draw attention away from people asking hard questions about the banal realities of a world ruled by the 1% offshore aristocracy.

Regardless, the Guardian’s resident neocon Natalie Nougayrède, riding on the headwinds of a media storm that the media-industrial complex she serves has itself ignited, goes on to proclaim her divine knowledge of not only the most intimate details of Putin’s social ties the secrets of the Dark Lord of the Kremlin’s mind itself:

The fact that Putin’s name does not appear in the Panama Papers will not calm the paranoia and conspiracy theories that his regime thrives upon. Indeed, these revelations will be seen in Moscow’s ruling circles as part of a CIA-led operation involving the manipulation of the “Anglo-Saxon” media.

So Putin leads like 50% of the stories in Western coverage of the Panama Leaks, despite his name not appearing in any of the Panama documents even in passing, and yet thinking there is anything unusual about this makes you a conspiratard or a “useful servant” of the Russian mafia state at best, if not a proxy of Putin himself.

After all, its not like a major former editor of a prominent German outlet has ever claimed that the CIA holds extensive influence over the German media, nor have there ever been any hints whatsoever that there is an organized Western intelligence operation to undermine Putin. We know that this is just not the sort of underhanded tactics that any Western democracy would ever use.

Move along, citizen, nothing to see here.

None of this is to deny that Putin and his associates do not lead lives of luxury, have exploited their political connections to make money, or even that some of them use offshore tax havens to avoid taxes or keep their assets safe from expropriation.

To the contrary, all three of these statements are substantially true.

But possibly the single biggest irony in this entire affair is that someone positively inclined towards the Kremlin could just as easily argue that the Panama Papers prove that Russia’s fight against offshoring was actually improving in recent years, under Putin:

In internal letters contained in Mossack Fonseca files, Malyushin was identified as the “beneficial owner” behind Panama-based Anttrin Services Corp., only in 2013, when the company suddenly shut down. As it appears from letters, Malyushin was in a hurry to get rid of his company.

Most likely, this was related to changes in Russian legislation. In the first half of 2013, a new pack of anti-corruption laws was adopted forbidding Russian officials from having foreign bank accounts or using foreign financial instruments, including holding shares in companies.

This is a datapoint that the 2013 anticorruption law forbidding Russian bureaucrats from holding bank accounts abroad is actually working. Incidentally, to add to the irony, that same law had been condemned at the time of its publication by the purportedly (but actually nothing of the sort) “pro-Putin” Forbes blogger Mark Adomanis, who portrayed it as a “forcible asset repatriation” that would reinforce Russian autocracy and put Putin in a “much, much more powerful and domineering position.”

If you were a journalist with a pro-Kremlin agenda you could certainly argue this point with at least as much legitimacy as if you were to follow the Western MSM party line and focus on what Panama Leaks “prove” about Putin and his entourage.

However, that journalist would almost universally be condemned as a Putin shill and not really a journalist at all, whereas the likes of neocon blowhard Natalie Nougayrède and serial plagiariser Luke Harding are free to roam and dominate Western media op-ed spaces with their own paranoid ramblings. Of late, they have even broken free from the informed scrutiny of their readers, with the Guardian’s Russia journalism apparently having joined that triggering triad of “race, immigration and Islam” on which the Guardian no longer accepts comments from the great unwashed of the “Comment is Free” discussion boards.

Which is perhaps just as well given how thoroughly the Western Narrative has become discredited even amongst The Guardian’s readers, despite the endless purges it has instigated over the years against its critics.

 
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In a recent interview with the opposition Dozhd TV channel – which is, incidentally, available for public viewing in Russia as part of the NTV Plus satellite TV package – for the first time openly declared he wants to be President. He also speculated about the motivations behind the Kirovles fraud case being brought against him. (He expects to get a suspended jail sentence that will disbar him from electoral politics).

However, I think other parts of the interview were at least equally interesting and telling about what sort of politician Navalny would be. First, he unequivocally said that he would send Putin and his friends to jail. It is rather ironic that the self-appointed leader of the extra-parliamentary Russian opposition doesn’t bother, unlike Putin, to even pay lip service to the rule of law and judicial impartiality that he supposedly espouses. Second, his tendency to intemperately react to critics – even those who support him – is, once again, on full and inglorious display.

Below is a translation from the relevant part of the interview.

Host: Many people interpreted you as saying, I paraphrase, “I am Alexey Navalny and I will put you in prison, once I become President.”

Navalny: I don’t know about a President Navalny, but one day there will come to power those who will put him in prison. It’s a general feeling, I or we altogether, in another regime we would put him…

Host: [interrupting] [unclear] is it we or I?…

Navalny: Well, I, because I feel myself as part of this process, and I will do everything possible to make sure that he, and Putin, and Timchenko, and the entire list go to prison. To me these are all chains in this odious, kleptocratic regime, from the policeman who breaks your arm to Timchenko who steals oil, it’s all related…

Host: [interrupting] Do you want to become President?

Navalny: I do want to become President. I want to change life in this country, I want to change the system of administration, I want to make it so that the 140 million people of in this country – who are surrounded by oil and gas that flows out of the ground – would no longer have to live in destitution and hopeless squalor, but lived normally, like in any European country. We aren’t any worse than Estonians!

Host: Do you have a clear, well-planned program? Because as we know, and I think we raised the issue a year ago with you, you said that one shouldn’t lie and steal, and we got questions from many people like this on air: “To not steal and lie is all well and good, but what can we concretely do about it?”

Navalny: These “many people” are all idiots. We don’t need to do anything other not lie and not steal.

Host: So everyone will cease to not lie… will cease lying and will cease stealing…

Navalny: [interrupting] It’s the principles that are important.

Host: … and the Sun will start shining?

Navalny: If the top echelons of government will no longer lie and steal, but will do what is expected of it, and will at the least start to realize those nice programs of Putin such as Strategy 2020… All the reforms we need have already been compiled, down to roadmap detail. But none of them are being fulfilled.

Host: [interrupting] [unclear] … So the plans suit you. At least as they are on paper.

Navalny: No. They don’t exist. The plan for Russia’s development, and reforms, has been reworked multiple times, and overall everybody pretty much understands and agrees… We have this strange situation where we have a consensus between Left and Right as relates to the reforms we have to carry out, but they aren’t getting carried out, because the essence of the current regime is corruption. Everybody more or less understands how to combat this corruption, and we bring very concrete and constructive proposals on how to combat corruption to Medvedev’s anti-corruption conferences…

Host: For example Rospil.

Navalny: Yes Rospil, and our Anti-Corruption Fund, and many other suggestions, and many people there agree with those suggestions, but nothing happens further.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anti-corruption efforts have been significantly stepped up in recent months, both in terms of headline making events (e.g. the dismissal of Serdyukov) and the less heralded progress in the introduction of new laws to combat the source. One of these is a ban on Russian bureaucrats holding foreign bank accounts (this represents a watering down of the original provision, which would have also banned foreign property holdings).

Not everybody is happy with this law, as to be expected. What is not to be expected is who exactly that is. For instance, Mark Adomanis, a liberal anti-Putin blogger who is nonetheless one of the most informed and objective Russia watchers out there (which many of his detractors take as evidence that he is a Putin stooge). Well, judge for yourself, based on his reaction to a press conference with Presidential Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov, in which he said that bureaucrats would have three months to move their assets back to Russia.

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/319241695415906304

“Forcible asset repatriation”? That’s some strong rhetoric there! I must have missed the part where the Kremlin was holding a gun to the heads of those offshore chinovniki forcing them to continue working for the government. Why is no-one being arrested for extortion??

As an informed observer, Mark Adomanis surely knows that quite a number of Duma deputies and other officials have already resigned their seats because they’d rather keep their foreign nest eggs than continue in political life. Nobody is forcing them to make the latter choice, so how does “forcible” describe anything?

Fortunately, he soon clarifies his position.

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/319246516160180224

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/319246635446194176

Oh, I see. Less corrupt bureaucrats equals a more powerful Putin. And because Putin is the Dark Lord of the Kremlin, it’s for the best if bureaucrats were to remain just as corrupt and apatride as they are now. Essentially he would have Russia cut off its nose to spite Putin’s face.

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/319246244365099008

Note also the overt double standards.

Now just to make things absolutely clear, I don’t have an issue with that. Mark Adomanis has a perfect right to his own political views on Russia and to air them on his blog and Twitter account. What I do however want to point out is that many people, including some fairly high profile ones, seriously consider him to be a “Russophile” or even a paid-up stooge of the “Putin regime.” (Some of the more conspiratorial-minded even consider Masha Gessen, who wrote a biography of Putin called “The Man without a Face,” to be a Kremlin flunky). In reality, as far as his priorities go, cleaner and more effective government in Russia takes a clear second place to the prime imperative of politically undermining Putin. All this just serves to illustrate how utterly divorced from reality the mainstream commentary is when it comes to Russia and Putin.

PS. Since I scheduled this to be published, Adomanis has written an entire blog post about it, where he in addition also takes exception to the Russian government not bailing out Russian deposit holders in Cypriot, in addition to expounding on the points he already made on Twitter.

The fact that many Russian officials had accounts in foreign banks acted as a (very!) crude check on Putin and the center’s ability to control things: true autocracy is impossible in a situation in which any mid or high level official can, at a moment’s notice, go abroad and live off the accumulated assets in their foreign bank accounts. … Assuming the Kremlin actually can get officials to “repatriate” their foreign holdings (a very big if, I grant you) they will be in a much weaker position to question or resist anything the President demands. Basically, completely banning the holding of foreign accounts would make the Russian government even more unaccountable, unpredictable, and arbitrary.

The evidence for these assertions that Adomanis brings to the table are precisely zilch. This is especially disappointing coming from a pundit who has based a substantial part of his blogging career on expounding the extremely tenuous nature of the ties between autocracy/democracy, and things like economic performance and demographic health. So why now this supposed link between corruption and democracy? Aside from the general lack of data and incoherence, for a man so concerned with “autocracy” in Russia, I wonder if Adomanis realizes that simply translating his article would make for excellent propaganda for Putin (e.g. by feeding “the good Tsar stymied by his bad boyars” trope).

PPS. And it’s been translated at Inosmi, with most of the reactions as predicted above. E.g. the commentator AndrewGur: “Did I get this right? This journalist is suggesting that one component of democracy – is the possibility not to obey the orders of the President while under the control of a foreign enemy who controls them by dint of them having their money there?”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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By the usual standards of Guardian reporting on Russia, this one by GQ Russia editor Andrew Ryvkin is… well, about par for the course.

Citing a recent PwC report that Russia will overtake Germany to become Europe’s biggest economy in 2030, he asks, “Should we believe them?

Well, the PwC is just repeating predictions made almost a decade earlier by Goldman Sachs, which has thus far proved very accurate on the growing prominence of the BRICs in general, and of Russia in particular (regardless of repeated attempts to kick it out of that grouping, against the judgment of Jim O’Neill, the inventor of the BRICs concept himself).

So in effect Ryvkin is asking us whether we should trust a range of organizations with a great predictive record on the issue to the uninformed ravings of a Guardian hack.

Forget Russia’s very reasonable and respectable growth rates compared to the other Central-East European countries. According to Ryvkin, Russia’s downfall will be because it is “politics”, and not “strict economic policies”, that “rule these wintry lands.” What is the primary example he uses to demonstrate this?

One should also have sedatives close to hand while reviewing the figures. Russia has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and is barely making an effort to hide it. For instance, one of the Sochi 2014 Olympic projects – a 50 km road – costs nearly $8bn.

This meme was popularized by Julio Ioffe in the Western press on Russia back in 2010. It has also long since been long debunked, including on this very blog – although it continues to float around as a cliche among Russian liberal and journalist circles.

The only problem with looking at Russia through this failed state prism, without bothering to corroborate sources, is that in no sense can the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana route be described as just a “roadway”. Intended to be completed within 3 years in an area with a poorly developed infrastructure, this so-called “road” also includes a high-speed railway, more than 50 bridges, and 27km of tunnels over mountainous, ecologically-fragile terrain!

Then there’s this bizarre statement: “Germany, is currently associated with its policy of austerity, Russia is known for precisely the opposite.” That’s certainly news to me, as Russia has run balanced budgets for the past 2 years* – in stark contrast to, well, pretty much the rest of the developed world (including Germany for that matter).

And here you’re inevitably faced with a question: how would the Russian government act if it became a leading European economy and faced a crisis like the one in we have now in the eurozone, considering that this government has allowed the construction of a $160m/km road?

That is an extraordinarily remote possibility, seeing as Russia has fiscal unity and no significant sovereign debt (i.e. the lack of which define the European crisis). The very question is not only based on a faulty premise (the so-called “caviar road”) but essentially meaningless.

After some of the usual moralizing and content-free platitudes about the absence of Russian democracy, as well as the further extremely bizarre idea that the Chinese economy is not politicized like Russia’s**, Ryvkin wanders back on track with the usual spiel about how Russia is Nigeria with snow.

Here’s a question: who would want a Russian-made car, when even Russians don’t want them? Another one: who wants to fly Russian aeroplanes, when even in Russia people choose to fly on a Boeing or Airbus? But these huge industries still exist, resembling Frankenstein’s monsters of Soviet industrial might, brought to life by heavy injections of oil money and created by businesses that ultimately cannot produce a competitive product.

It goes against almost every aspect of economic, market-oriented logic, but it has nothing to do with the economy, because it aims to keep the workforce loyal to the government and project an image of a neo-Soviet industrial power. So is securing votes at the cost of your country’s economic development today a strategy worthy of someone who is going to lead the European economy in seventeen years? Is the strategy even smart?

Back in the world of hard facts and statistics, Russian car production was at 2.0 million units in 2011 (increasing by a further 15% in 2012) compared to 1.2 million units in 2000. Many foreign automakers have moved manufacturing into Russia, but that one presupposes is a good thing; that indigenous Russian brands haven’t done as well doesn’t mean much (which British brands are doing well apart from Rolls Royce?). There are few countries in which automobiles are a major export staple – incidentally, China with which Ryvkin incessantly compares Russia with isn’t one of them – and there is no good reason to expect Russia to become a major exporter of cars under any government, be it Putin’s or “even [a 10-year-old] (as long as he was smart enough not to stop the flow of oil and gas).”

That is because hydrocarbons are Russia’s comparative advantage, a concept which likewise explains why say Australia and Norway do not export much manufactured goods either. Ironically, the surest way to solve this “resource dependency” would be to get Ryvkin’s 10 year old President to ACTUALLY stop the flow of oil and gas.

That is also the reason why Ryvkin doesn’t work as an analyst at PwC but writes articles for the Guardian.

* Actually latest estimates show that 2012 had a deficit of 0.02% of GDP, but that’s of course basically a rounding error.

** Where to even begin here? For a start, consider the fact that the HQ’s of all the major Chinese companies have a “red machine” with a telephone link to Party functionaries

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I really did think it was getting better there under Joshu Yaffa, certainly it’s not typical of him to write such vitriolic but more importantly factually inaccurate articles. Let’s hope the world’s sleaziest magazine was getting one of their old-timers to file for him that day, instead of representing the start of a new descent into Lucasian raving.

As usual, I will ignore the emotive and hyperbolic language which starts from the get go with the title “Herod’s Law“. Though I would note from the outset that The Economist would never in a million years use similar terms to describe, say, the child victims of the US drone wars. That is because its main function is to serve as a mouthpiece of the Western ruling class.

So here is the list of its lapses in journalistic integrity:

(1) Citing only anti-Kremlin figures: Alexei Venediktov (of Echo of Moscow), an opposition deputy, and an organization headed by Kudrin. No honest attempt is made to question the (57% of) Russians who support the law.

(2) Extremely and almost certainly willfully misleading usage of statistics:

Over the past 20 years American families adopted 60,000 Russian children with 19 recorded deaths among them. Adoption in Russia is relatively rare. Even so, in the same period 1,500 adopted children died in Russian families.

Thanks to Charles Clover, the 1,500 figure very likely originated from a release by the Public Chamber of the RF that argued against the idea that foreign adoption is dangerous. But the Economist did not see it fit to give the full quote (my bold for emphasis):

According to data from Russian experts, in the past 20 years US citizens adopted nearly 60,000 Russian children; during this period, 19 children died by the fault of their adopted parents. In the same period, in the families of Russian citizen adopters, there died nearly 1,500 children.

See what they did there? Needless to say, the numbers of children dying by the “fault of their adopted parents” vs. the numbers who just died (by other murderers; by house fires, traffic accidents, medical complications, etc) are IN NO WAY COMPARABLE! And yet the Economist misleading treats them as the same.

In addition, it is subtly implied that per capita risk may be even greater than the impression generated by the absolute numbers. In reality as I already pointed out adoptions by Russians with the exception of two years have always exceeded foreign adoptions (of which Americans account for one third):

What’s more, the 19 recorded cases mentioned may well be – indeed, are quite likely to be – underestimates, because tracking mechanisms for Russian adoptees in the US are poorly developed (indeed, this was one of the main issues of contention between Russia and the US on adoptions).

(3) Internal contradictions: This is literally one of the most hilarious, keep-your-head-in-a-vise texts I’ve read this week:

Having acquired considerable wealth and freedom of movement, Mr Putin’s elite is growing increasingly tired of his rule. Whereas before he offered wealth and impunity in exchange for loyalty, he now demands that they take sides in the Magnitsky case, a sacrifice that could yet jeopardise their position in the West. Instead of uniting the elite behind him, this could turn more people against him.

So “more people” (57% of whom, BTW, support the Dima Yakovlev Law) are going to turn away from Putin… because his actions threaten the yachts and villas of “Putin’s elite” in the West??

The reaction would be just the opposite because that “elite” is loathed and despised, whereas Putin has overwhelming popular approval. Only a moment’s thought would reveal the absurdity of The Economist’s statement, however I suppose there is no time for reflection when there is a propaganda hit piece to be written.

(4) Edit – this is a new addition. This is the photograph the Economist uses to demonstrate this “Herod’s Law.”

It is captioned “One of the victims of a shameful law.” Thing is, however, that there is a WAITING LIST for adopting children under the age of 3 by Russian citizens. As such using this photo of a toddler to illustrate the piece together with the caption is nothing more than blatant and cynical emotional manipulation.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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1. For Russian orphans life is much more dangerous in Russia than in America. Let’s agree to disregard the hidden subtext which implies that any country ought to give over its orphans to foreign nationals should it be ranked safer for children. Let’s first examine if the claim that Russia is 39 times more dangerous for adoptees than the US is even true.

This number most prominently featured in a March 2012 article at the liberal website Ttolk, perhaps (probably?) it originated there. It then spread to the rest of the Internet via Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina at the Moscow Times

According to official government statistics, a child adopted by Russian parents is 39 times more likely to die than one adopted by parents in the West.

… and Victor Davidoff at the St. Petersburg Times.

It is also well-known that the chances a child will die after being adopted by a family in Russia are almost 40 times higher than if adopted by a family in the West.

While it’s no great secret that Western countries are safer than Russia, the differential struck me as absurdly high. Especially when I checked mortality rates, according to which on average Russian children have approximately twice the risk of death as do their American counterparts (or the same as the US in 1980). This is pretty much as to be expected, as Russian healthcare despite intensive modernization in the past decade still lags developed country standards.

So we have a paradox: While Russian children are on average are “only” 2x as likely to die as American ones, adoptees in particular are supposedly 39x more at risk. The differential between the two groups is simply too high to be credible.

Thankfully one gelievna had already done most of the work. Here is what the article in Ttolk wrote:

Already for several years semi-official documents cite the following number: Since 1991 to 2006, i.e. over 15 years, there died 1,220 children who had been adopted by Russian citizens. Of them 12 were killed by their own adopters.

During this same period, from 1991 to 2006, there died 18 Russian children in adopting families in the West. Knowing the number of adoptees there and in Russia (92,000 and 158,000, respectively) we can calculate the relative danger of adoption in these two worlds. It turns out that there is one dead child per 5,103 foreign families, whereas in Russian families this ratio is at one dead child to every 130 families. This means that adoptees in Russian families are in 39 times more danger than in foreign ones.

Well isn’t that shocking? Surely a humanitarian intervention is called for to rescue Russia’s children and place them in American homes. The only problem is that the 1,220 figure doesn’t refer to deaths at all. Here is what the original source, a 2005 report, actually said:

In 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science gathered preliminary statistics for the past 5 years on cases of death and incidences of ill treatment of orphans, adopted by Russians or taken into guardianship or a foster family, according to which:

Out of 1220 children, 12 died by the fault of the adopters and guardians;

Out of 116 children, whose health was for various causes subjected to heavy harm, 23 suffered by the fault of the adopters and guardians

So the article at Ttolk is basically comparing apples and oranges, i.e. the numbers of Russian adoptees who died in foreign countries vs. the numbers of Russian adoptees that were ill treated in Russia. Of course the latter figure is always going to be much, much higher.

What concrete findings we have (assuming the rest of the article is accurate) is that 18 Russian adoptees died in foreign countries (of those we know! there is no systemic tracking) during 1991-2006 vs. 12 Russian adoptees died by the fault of their foster parents specifically during 1999-2004 or so.

So while an exact comparison remains elusive we can know be fairly certain that in fact the risk of murder is broadly similar for a Russian adoptee in both Russia and the US. Basically it is (thankfully) extremely rare in both countries. I would also point out that this is far from a “Russophile” or “Russian chauvinist” conclusion, knowing that a lot of Russians harp on about the supposedly everyday shooting rampages in schools all over America. In reality this is just the usual anti-guns hysteria mixed in with Americanophobia, American schools are actually extremely safe with only 1-1.5% of all violent deaths of children occurring on school premises in any single year. (Even a very “catastrophic” event like the Newtown shooting would only raise this by about one percentage point).

This whole episode strongly reminds me of similar cases in the past when some wild figure was misquoted, spread in Russian liberal circles, and then transferred to the West. E.g. an imaginary spike of abortions in the wake of the economic crisis. Or the wild exaggeration of Russian emigration figures.

2. It was a cynical and pre-planned ploy to “punish” the US for the Magnitsky Act. Mercouris has already very elegantly demonstrated why this is the wrong way to look at it so one can do worse than quote him in extenso:

“I gather the Federation Council has now voted unanimously to support the adoption ban. This is a direct result of the campaign against it.

The adoption ban looks to me like an emotional response not just to the Magnitsky law but also to the way in which the original Dima Yakovlev law was first formulated. This very wisely limited sanctions to US officials who have violated the human rights of Russians. By doing so Russia has avoided the ridiculous situation created by the Magnitsky law by not extending its jurisdiction to US citizens whose actions have nothing to do with Russia. Understandably enough someone decided to name the law after Dima Yakovlev, who is not a Russian whose rights were violated but who as a child makes the ideal poster boy for this sort of law. However by naming the law after Dima Yakovlev the whole subject of the mistreatment of Russian children in the US was opened up and someone (Putin?, Russia’s Children’s Ombudsman?, someone within United Russia?) in what was surely an emotional response decided to tack on an adoption ban to the original Dima Yakovlev law. That this was not pre planned is shown by the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry was until recently busy negotiating the agreement with the State Department to protect Russian children that I discussed previously. I gather this agreement was reached as recently as last month i.e. November not September as I said in my previous comment. It is scarcely likely that the Russian government negotiated an agreement it planned to cancel, which shows that the adoption ban must have been an emotional afterthought.

Since the adoption ban was almost certainly an emotional afterthought that almost certainly had not been properly thought through the best way to defeat it would have been to try to reason the Russian parliament and government and Russian public opinion out of it. The point could have been made that adoption is a private matter, that the number of Russian children abused by their US adoptive parents is microscopically small, that it is unfair on other intended US adopted parents to discriminate against them because of the bad behavior of a very few bad US adoptive parents and that the problems involving Russian children with the US authorities and with the US courts have hopefully been addressed by the agreement with the US State Department, which should be given a chance to work. It could also have been pointed out that the adoption ban sits uneasily with the rest of the Dima Yakovlev law, which is intended to hit out at US officials who violate the rights of Russian citizens and not at innocent US citizens who want to adopt Russian children.

All of these arguments have been lost by the hysterical and hyperbolic reaction to the adoption ban. Thus critics of the law have accused Russian legislators of cynically acting contrary to the interests of children, which unnecessarily offends those Russian legislators who may genuinely have thought that by supporting the adoption ban they were trying to protect Russian children. They have also all but said that Russia is incapable of looking after its own orphaned children, which must offend patriotically minded people generally. They have even come close to insinuating that Russian children are better off being brought up in the US than in Russia, which must offend patriotically minded people even more. For its part the US has behaved equally crassly by using the Magnitsky law to threaten Russian legislators in a matter that has nothing to do with either human rights or with Magnitsky and by apparently saying that the adoption ban violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is doubtful but which is also crass if it is true as I have heard that unlike Russia the US is one of the two or three countries which have not ratified it.

The totally predictable result is that the adoption ban has not only been overwhelmingly supported by the parliament and is now certain to become law but Russian public opinion has consolidated behind it.”

3. The law meets fierce population opposition within Russia. Here is what the Guardian writes:

But inside Russia the bill has been criticised by opposition figures as “cannibalistic”, with a petition against the act being signed by more than 100,000 people.

The Western media has spread the idea there is huge grassroots opposition to the Dima Yakovlev law. In addition there has been coverage of a petition floating around the White House to place Duma deputies who voted for the adoptions ban to be placed on the Magnitsky list as “human rights abusers” and denied entry to the US.

This image is however almost entirely false.

Laurie Penny hints at it in the Guardian:

Not all the adopted children thrived, as the populations “back home” are painfully aware. In 2008 Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler adopted by Americans, died after being left in a sweltering car for hours. His adopted parents were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Russia’s new bill is named after Dima Yakovlev.

Max Fisher in the Washington Post spells it out clearly:

As it turns out, the ban on American adoptions is remarkably popular in Russia. A new Russian survey finds that 56 percent support the ban and 21 percent oppose, a ratio of almost three-to-one. The support seems to stem from a belief that American families are dangerous, cruel, and at times violent to their adoptive Russian children.

Here is the link to the FOM poll. What’s especially noticeable is that a majority of all major social groups support it: 44% of Prokhorov voters; 50% of young people; 48% of people with a higher education; etc.

If one believes that only the scum of the earth like Putin could write the Dima Yakovlev Law, then it would be incongruent not to extend the hatred towards ordinary Russians. La Russophobe is one of the few who gets points for consistency.

4. The Russian government was very enthusiastic about the Dima Yakovlev Law. No, it wasn’t. As Mercouris wrote above, it basically torpedoed months of negotiations with the Americans for Russian officials to get more information about the status of Russian orphans in the US. That is presumably why FM Lavrov was against it as were at least two other Ministers. It was the Duma taking the initiative.

In a further irony, I found an article at the Communist Party website that criticized United Russia for not supporting a similar law back in 2010.

NOTE: The following points are taken pretty much directly from the very разоблачительная article “Orphans Q&A” by gloriaputina.

5. Russia has an inordinately huge number of orphans. The number is 654,355 as of end-2011, however the vast majority are so-called “social orphans” (their parents have been found incapable of parenting). Furthermore, even if a social orphan is adopted, he still remains in the social orphan category. The analogous figure for the US is 3 MILLION.

Ironically, as argued by the blogger, there is an inverse correlation between the rate of orphans and children’s safety. Basically when the state makes children into orphans, the numbers of deaths of children falls (presumably because they are taken away from violent and/or abusive parents). Now yes of course this is not positively good, sometimes there are ridiculous cases, but in Russia at least he is correct in that there is a correlation: As the numbers of parents who had children taken away climbed from 31,000 in 1995 to 53,000 in 2000 and 74,000 in 2008, overall child mortality has plummeted throughout the period (although of course other factors like better healthcare and less alcohol consumption would also play major roles).

Very few Russians abandon their children. They account for 1% of the total number of orphans, vs. 4% both of whose parents died, and 95% “social orphans”.

6. Russians don’t adopt, if there are no kind Americans to take up some of the slack, Russian orphans will be condemned to slow death in state orphanages.

It’s not so much a matter of Russians and Americans not adopting as few people anywhere being interested in adopting children over the age of three. Here is a graph.

In the above graph green represents adoption by Russian citizens, blue by foreign citizens, in 2009. In state orphanages, 90% of children are older than 11 years; 70-80% are older than 14 years. There is a waiting list for adopting children under the age of 3.

7. The majority of Russian orphans have to live in orphanages. Wrong, and this apparently has never been the case.

The yellow bars represent children who are transferred to foster parents (which I think is distinct from “adopted” as in the US), the blue bars represent the numbers of children who are housed in state institutions at any one year. The ratio between the two is steadily increasing and converging to the typical Western model, in which almost all children are taken in by foster parents.

7. Russians only adopt healthy children, while only kind foreigners take those with disabilities. Again, wrong.

30% of the children in the federal database are children with some registered physical disability; the vast majority of them are living with families, only 5% of their numbers live in child institutions.

Now since 1995 about 10% of Russian children adopted by both foreigners in general and Americans in particular were registered as having a disability. In 2011, the US adopted 44 children with disabilities, whereas Russians adopted 188 children with disabilities. In 2009-2011 more than 20,000 orphaned (0-6 age range) children left Russia, whereas as of January 2012, the waiting list for them in Russia was 12,900 long.

8. Russia is alone in being a nasty country that (now) bans American adoptions of children.

Guatemala

Romania

In any case adoptions from Russia had been dropping rapidly since 2004 anyway, constituting less than 1,000 by 2011.

There are in fact quite a number of countries that make foreign adoptions very difficult stopping short of outright bans including many in the ECE area. Russia’s ban is the only one the Western media decides to politicize however (although in fairness it’s a two way street given the absurd association on Russia’s part to portray it as a response to the Magnitsky Act).

9. I think that the Dima Yakovlev Law is a good idea. No, I don’t, I’m just clearing up major misconceptions in this post. While there may be valid grounds to much more stringently regulate foreign adoptions (e.g. ensuring all Russians wishing to adopt have the chance to, and ensure children don’t fall into the hands of pimps/organ traders/etc), the decision to only target Americans and to present it as a response to the Magnitsky Act is crude and idiotic, and just one of the many examples of the Russian government shooting itself in the foot PR-wise.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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The latest US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel focused on an assessment of Putin’s historical legacy, on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Here I try to answer whether history will see Putin as the “founder of a modern and successful Russia”, or as a tragic figure who threw away his chance of greatness to the “delusion of indispensability”:

While there are several criticisms one can make of Putin’s practice of democracy, his prolonged stay in power isn’t one of them.

As Evgeny Minchenko pointed out, there are many Western examples of very long, but non-authoritarian rule. Canadian PM Jean Chrétien ruled for 20 years, the Federal Chancellor of the FRG Helmut Kohl – for 16 years. Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has been in power from 1996 to the present day (nobody even bothered challenging him in 2000 and 2008). Charles de Gaulle, one of the figures Putin quotes as his inspiration, ruled for 11 years; the student protests against him in 1968, ironically, only ended up increasing support for him. Another of Putin’s heroes, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was US President from 1933 until his death in 1945, and remains a political colossus in the American imagination.

Nor is there anything particularly anti-Constitutional about what Putin did. Unlike in Georgia, where Saakashvili planned to retain power by moving powers to the Prime Ministership (but was foiled in this by an oligarchic coup), or for that matter in the “new democracy” of Hungary, where the ruling Fidesz Party headed by Viktor Orbán recently rewrote electoral law to cement its dominance for what may be many decades to come, Putin has strictly abided by the letter of the Constitution. United Russia did not use its Constitutional majority to extend the number of allowed Presidential terms, transform Russia into a parliamentary republic, or tweaking electoral law away from proportional representation towards majoritarianism (this would have a far bigger effect in consolidating United Russia’s power than low-level electoral fraud – and be much less politically damaging besides).

While one might argue that Putin went against the “spirit of the Constitution” by seeking a third term, that is an inescapably vague and ambiguous concept, one suited only for rhetoric. If we are going to consider the “spirit” of things, would it not then be against the “spirit of democracy” to condemn Putin for returning to the Presidency when he remains by far Russia’s most popular politician, enjoying a 10% lead over Medvedev even during the latter’s heyday?

In 2004, Putin said, “Our aims are absolutely clear: They are a high living standard in the country and a secure, free and comfortable life.” This is not the place to cite reams of statistics, but on practically any socio-economic indicator one cares to mention – economic, demographic, crime, etc. – the Russia of 2012 is unrecognizable from the Russia of 1999. It’s simply another world. To find historical precedents, one needs to look far, far back. To another Putin hero, Stolypin? But the saplings he planted didn’t survive the Bolshevik winter. Both Peter the Great and Stalin transformed Russia, but in ways that were many orders of magnitude crueller and more bloodthirsty than all but the most deranged of Putin’s critics would accuse him of. Alien ideologies were impressed on Russia in these “revolutions from above”, leading to social stresses and upheaval; Putin, to the contrary, is profoundly a-ideological (and that is surely for the better, no matter the hand-wringing by some over Russia’s no longer having a “national idea” – fact of the matter is, “national ideas” have rarely led it to anywhere good).

Perhaps a more appropriate comparison is to Catherine the Great, who expanded Russia’s borders, made legal reforms, and removed internal barriers to trade. But serfdom was also further entrenched, and Russia kept slipping backwards relative to the developed world; in contrast, under Putin, Russia has gone from being the poor man of Europe to being a country where salaries and personal consumption are now converging with those of the poorer (original) EU members like Greece or Portugal. Maybe his true predecessor is none other than Yaroslavl the Wise, under whom Kievan Rus’ became unified, established links with Western Europe (which is today East Asia), formally codified Russian laws, and ushered in a golden age of culture and civilization. Although one should be careful of making parallels with developments a millennium ago, there are undeniable similarities between Yaroslavl’s achievements and Putin’s project: Consolidating the state, and now moving towards a Eurasian Union; legal reforms that supplanted late-Soviet “understandings” and Yeltsinite chaos; and the ongoing (re)integration into the world economy.

Regardless of the historians’ final verdict, it is now hard to see what Putin can possible do now to compromise the “father of the nation” status he has already gained in the popular consciousness – a status that should survive, based on comparable figures like De Gaulle or Park Chung-hee, even as the “dissatisfied urbanites” and “hamsters” – much like the Parisian student protesters against De Gaulle in 1968 – are relegated to the margins of history. The “democratic journalists” and other Putin Derangement Syndrome sufferers who portray this Goethe-quoting patriot and conservative restorer as a mafiosi thug or neo-Stalinist dictator will be in for endless disappointments as future Russians, just as today’s Russians, will continue to reject their bleak, screed-like denunciations of Putin’s legacy.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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And the final results are:

Putin Derangement Syndrome 14
Dark Lord of the Kremlin 27
No preference / can’t decide which I hate more 13

Surprised to see such a clear lead for DLK… thought it’d be closer to a tie. But it’s my favorite too, so Dark Lord of the Kremlin it will be.

Thanks to all for participating in the polls to decide on the name of the book.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Feel free to suggest the appropriate title/subtitle combination for the book, or to propose new ones.

EDIT 9/11: And the final results are:

Putinophobia 3
Putin Derangement Syndrome 10
Through Western Eyes 7
When the Truth Doesn’t Matter 7
Kremlin Maligned 0
False Truths 1
Potemkin Russia 2
Manufactured Russophobia 4
If It’s About Russia, It’s True 8
Black-Washing Russia 4
Russia NOT for Dummies 5
Dark Lord of the Kremlin 11
Other 4

And for the subtitle:

Western Discourse on Putin’s Russia and the New Cold War 6
How The Western Media Fuels A New Cold War With Russia 20
Russia in the Press 2
Putin Derangement Syndrome and the American Press 4
How The Western Media Misrepresents Putin’s Russia 10
The Western Media’s War Against Putin’s Russia 14
Other 1

Thanks for all the suggestions, and voting.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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It’s already a pretty big list, so I won’t be taking nominations for more. I hope to write reviews of all of them as they’re (re)read.

  • The Return (Daniel Treisman) – the best Russian politics books out there. 5/5
  • Armageddon Averted (Stephen Kotkin) – TBR (to be read)
  • Putin (Chris Hutchins, Alexander Korobko) – TBR, but has to be good as it quotes me.
  • Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives (Stephen Cohen) – 5/5
  • Virtual Politics (Andrew Wilson) – too much PoMo, but solid. 4/5
  • Drug, Sex and Libel in the New Moscow (Mark Ames, Matt Taibbi, Edward Limonov) – TBR, for the lulz.
  • From the First Person (Putin) – all Western journalists would benefit from reading this series of telling interviews. 5/5
  • The Oligarchs (David E. Hoffman) – TBR
  • Popular literature with satires of politics/economics including Metro 2033 and works by Pelevin.
  • The New Cold War (Edward Lucas) – to remind myself of hack enemy talking points. 1/5
  • Vekhi (anthology) – key book from 1909 that informs current Kremlin ideology.
  • Putin’s Comeback (Chen Xiaomeng) – TBR, can’t say I’ll read all or even most of it, as it exists only in Chinese and my Chinese isn’t that good, but it will sure make a refreshing change from Western harping.

Obviously these are just the books, I’ll be looking over tons of papers and news articles too.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I feel that my blogging in terms of influencing the discourse on Russia has leveled off into something resembling a plateau. I now write the occasional op-ed; appear every so often in magazines, research articles, and even books; and the blog itself attracts about 500 daily visitors. But truth is I am barely making a dint relative to the likes of Harding or Lucas.

To this end I am embarking on two big projects that will consume the bulk of my creative efforts for at least the next year.

(1) I am writing a book with the preliminary title PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME: How Western Journalists Are Fueling A New Cold War Against Russia. (I’m not 100% happy with it and will welcome alternate suggestions).

As I have argued for close to 5 years now, Western media coverage of Russia tends to be woefully biased, frequently malicious, and – most unforgivably – factually wrong. This does not mean there is nothing to criticize about Russia and Russians and I will not refrain from doing so in the book. However, said criticisms must be grounded in statistical data, an appreciation of the viewpoints of ordinary Russians, and a judicious comparative perspective (which is NOT equivalent to “moral relativism” or “whataboutism” as many hardcore Russophobes claim).

In 1926, Will Rogers said, “Russia is a country that no matter what you say about it, it’s true.” It is high time to make this way of thinking obsolete.

The book will be divided into about a dozen chapters, covering all aspects of Russia which are either heavily misrepresented, or around which there exist powerful misconceptions. Here is a short sample list of such “Russia tropes”:

  • “Dying Russia”
  • The Manichean view of Russian politics
  • “If This Happened in Russia”
  • Putin the fascist, Stalinist, neo-Tsarist, kleptocratic mafia thug
  • Stagnation
  • Pariah state
  • The strange obsession with “Kremlin TV”, i.e. Russia Today
  • How big bad Russia raped plucky democratic Georgia

In addition to my own original work, the book will also feature guest articles from various political and legal experts, as well as original translations from the “unfree” Russian media. By revealing the lies and misrepresentations on which so much Western commentary on Russia is rooted, the book will hopefully serve as a catalyst for rethinking and concrete change. Ведь так больше жить нельзя.

(2) As blog readers will recall, back in May I attended a Washington conference, chaired by Edward Lozansky, devoted to brainstorming ways to improve Russia’s dismal image abroad. Several fruitful suggestions came out of the meeting, one of which has already been brought into being: The site US-Russia.org.

My own modest contribution was a site devoted to translating the Russian media into English, a reverse-Inosmi if you will. Its preliminary name is RUSSIA VOICES.

There are several core structural features that make Western coverage of Russia as bad as it is. One of these is that there are more questions than can be answered; as argued by Patrick Armstrong, it takes 10x longer to write a rebuttal to a lying article, than the lying article itself (and claims of Kremlin-paid bloggers to the contrary, – I wish! – we don’t have a hundredth of either the resources or the media exposure of the Lucas and Harding types). Other such features include the “propaganda model” and exiled oligarch funding of anti-Putin kompromat. These are systemic forces that need a systemic response.

Should it become a significant feature of the media landscape, RUSSIA VOICES will accomplish three major things:

  1. Improve perceptions of Russian media in general (i.e., not Zimbabwe).
  2. Improve perceptions of Russia in general (i.e., complex array of liberal, Kremlin, statist, patriot, nationalist, & leftist forces; NOT a Manichean struggle between Padawan Navalny and Darth Putler).
  3. Publicize Russian voices on global affairs (e.g. Syria).

After all, what would YOU, as a media consumer, rather read about: Top Russian sci-fi novelist Sergey Lukyanenko’s thoughts on the Russian elections, or Miriam Elder on how Putin stole her dry-cleaning ticket?

Exactly. And I am sure the same goes for many academics, students, expats, businesspeople, and intelligent open-minded laymen. RUSSIA VOICES will translate from all sides of the ideological spectrum, be they pro-Kremlin or anti-Kremlin; Western media consumers will then have the freedom to independently judge exactly how “unfree” is the Russian media (and Russia in general) for themselves.

The only problem is that unlike the book, RUSSIA VOICES will require not insubstantial funding to get off the ground. Translators gotta be paid. I will be working on this issue in the next several months.

Blogging here will not come to a stop, nor at the other site. But intensity probably will fall off a bit.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Imagine a respected American financial newspaper such as the WSJ writes an article investigating elections fraud in favor of the Democrats. To illustrate the rightness of their point, they include a photo of a ballot for the Republicans that – they allege – wasn’t tallied by the dodgy Solyndra machines rolled out for use in California in 2012. The ballot has “Obama, Go Fuck Yourself!” written out in big red letters. The captions below read: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” A few days later, the newspaper’s owner fires a high-ranking editor and a CEO at the paper, noting that the publication of that photo “bordered on petty hooliganism.” The paper then apologizes to its readers and advertising partners. The Russian business paper Vedomosti titles its account of this episode “Washington Editor Fired Over Election Coverage”, while Russia Today does a documentary on the retreat of press freedoms in America without even bothering to mention the source of the controversy. You’d think this was a case of severe journalistic bias and incompetence in Russia, no?

I’m glad you do, because this is basically the saga of Kommersant Vlast’s publication of its investigation on falsifications in the Russian legislative elections. It has not been removed from the Internet, to the contrary you can still read it on their site and comment on it. It is an extensive work, titled “United Stuffers” (a play on United Russia) featuring a collection of twelve articles. The only part of it that was subject to “censorship” – and the reason given by its tycoon owner Alisher Usmanov for the dismissal of the editor who approved it – is the photograph below:

“PUTIN, GO FUCK YOURSELF.”

The literal translation is different, it sounds something along the lines of “Putin go to the cock” but the meaning is as above. Okay, you might think this is edgy, controversial stuff; perhaps grounds for a warning, but probably not a firing. But then consider the caption: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” If you think this is anything but a double entendre used by an editor to spell out his feelings for Putin, I have a bridge to sell you to Russky Island. Needless to say, whatever your personal feelings about swearwords, there is no doubt that this would be completely unacceptable in a major newspapers in reference to any Western political leader. This is the Russian version of the NYT we’re talking about, not The eXile.

What this would have looked like in the US… How long would the editor who approved the photo to the right keep his job? Hmm… a few minutes?

It is telling that even in the comments to the article (which was left unchanged apart from the removal of the offending photo) most readers – and Kommersant’s readers tend to be relatively liberal – agree that it was unacceptable.

And now you can’t find Putin’s cock on Kommersant! (Yes, the file was literally called that)

Incidentally, this particular article itself was about the voting in London. It was pretty interesting. Our good man Andrei Sidelnikov, the Strategy-31 Abroad organizer whom I’ve written about here, makes an appearance. There were clear violations of the electoral law (e.g. anti-United Russia political campaign materials close to the polling station). The ballot with big orange letters “addressed personally to the Prime Minister” (as the writer calls the ballot that is the subject of this post) was marked spoiled, which apparently is “in contradiction of the law” because, despite its defacement, there was nonetheless a clear cross next to Yabloko. Nonetheless, that one “stolen” vote didn’t stop Yabloko from voting 43% of the vote in that station, followed by 21% for the Communists, 16% for Fair Russia, and 10% for United Russia. Pretty much what one can expect of Londongrad.

Courtesy of our Strategy-31 Abroad friends and great champions of free elections like Berezovsky.

In reality, this entire ridiculous episode was made out to be like Putin’s oligarch henchmen clamping down on Russian criticism of the elections (which in reality has been widespread and with no serious consequences for the journalists involved to date).

Possibly the most dishonest reporting of this came via The Telegraph (Russian media tycoon Alisher Usmanov fires two after reporting election fraud), which implies that journalists were fired for fulfilling their journalistic duties whereas the actual facts of the matter is that it was a senior editor and business manager getting the boot for things like breaking Kommersant’s own code of conduct. The other photo that The Telegraph alleges the Kremlin / Usmanov took a dislike to – “another photograph from London of a spray-painted image of Putin with the slogan in English “Public Enemy No. 1″” – was unaffected and remains online.

A recent analogue in Western coverage of the Russian media’s “persecution” is the case of the translator who left Inosmi because – according to him – they forbade him from translating “harsh stories” about Putin and United Russia (or to least not feature those stories on the front page). His case was likewise championed in the Western media as evidence of the endless and permanent disintegration of media freedoms in Russia. My guess is that he thought his job sucked and decided to go out with a bang. Whatever the case, a single visit to Inosmi and use of Google Translate will reveal thus story for the absurdity it is; Inosmi not only posts regularly anti-UR and anti-Putin material but positively delights in doing so as it provokes the most voluminous and salacious responses from its varied audience.

Now that’s a wise and tasteful vote.

There are two further points I want to make.

First, Kommersant is privately owned, and theoretically Usmanov can hire and fire pretty much as he pleases. Though parts of his career are shady to say the least, his claims that he does not interfere in Kommersant’s editorial policy are valid, as evidenced by the fact that they had some of the best and most critical coverage of the elections and falsifications. But weren’t the Western commentariat claiming that all Russian media is Kremlin-controlled anyway? Ah, but Usmanov is an oligarch who serves the Kremlin, so there’s no difference. Not unlike our free and independent watchdog press. (To appreciate the scorn in that last reference just read any Glenn Greenwald article on the Western media).

Second, it is especially ironic to see these criticisms coming from American media, where many journalists have been dismissed for far more circumspect criticism of Israel (i.e. not using schoolyard insults) or trying to consider Arab or Islamist viewpoints (not endorse them; just consider them on their own merits). As a general rule the mass media is subservient to the taboos established by power in all societies, but I would venture to say that in 2011 the Russian media, especially print media, has proven to be a much better watchdog of freedoms – as evidenced by the generally excellent coverage of the elections and protests – than has been the case in the US (and much of the West) for years. Which reminds me. Shouldn’t outlets like the WSJ or NYT be covering shit like this as opposed to Russian editors losing their jobs for acting like teenagers?

I guess not. A Russian editors’ obsession with Putin’s cock is far more important.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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On reading Western commentary on the upcoming Russian Duma elections, I realized that they can’t decide between two narratives: either the popularity of United Russia is sinking faster than Herman Cain’s following his sex abuse scandals, thus meaning that it will manipulate the votes to get its desired majority; or Russian elections are complete shams anyway (as we all know) and thus irrelevant, which does away with the inconvenient fact that for all the liberals’ harping about United Russia being the “party of crooks and thieves” consistently more than 50% of Russians still insist on voting for it.

The reality is quite a bit simpler than these convoluted attempts to discredit Russian democracy (thought some are quite simple and transparent in their propaganda: given the data from opinion polls, it is hard to believe Miriam Elder, who wrote in the Guardian that when she asked a classroom of 22 students whether they would vote against United Russia, “every single student raises their hand”). As I wrote back in July, opinion polls of voter preferences closely correlate to election results. And unfortunately for some it just so happens that the “decline” of United Russia’s popularity is really little more than the product of fevered imaginations: as you can see from the list of opinion polls on Wikipedia, United Russia’s share of the vote (excluding the undecided and those who won’t vote) has stayed largely steady and well ahead of all the other parties.

As you can see from the graph of Levada polls above, United Russia remains head and shoulders above the KPRF (Communists) and LDPR (populists). The only major change of recent months – far surpassing the largely insignificant fluctuations in UR’s dominant support levels – is that Fair Russia looks that it will overcome the 7% barrier. Before its 5-10% point fall in popularity, UR looked like it would retain a slight constitutional majority, from today’s 70%, to something like 67%, by virtue of Fair Russia not getting in due to its low support levels. However, the late night (and unexpected) increase in Fair Russia’s popularity means that it is increasingly likely that it WILL clear the 7% barrier and get into the Duma again, meaning that United Russia will be left with with something like 55% of the seats. I.e., a reduction from 315/450 seats to 253/450 seats, which means a loss of its current constitutional majority. It will remain comfortably dominant, just not quite as overweeningly so as before. The two liberal parties remain irrelevant: Yabloko for being pathetic (their unstinting support for Euro-integration especially doesn’t look good now on the background of the current Euro crisis), and Right Cause are neoliberal ideologues who’ve Russians already had a lifetime of in the 1990′s.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAv54E-zrC4?rel=0]

Fun tidbit: UR has a good sense of humor, as shown in its campaign video above (h/t A Good Treaty). Proudly embracing Navalny’s “party of crooks and thieves” accolade to “demonstrate” its inclusiveness and the envy it arouses within lazy malcontents: ballsy, and effective.

Will there be cheating? Obviously, there will be some violations and falsifications. There ALWAYS are in practically any democracy. It’s fairly predictable (based on past history) that many Western journalists and election will cry foul regardless, because they suffer from Putin Derangement Syndrome, believe that anybody who doesn’t put Western interests before their own country’s must necessarily be a dictator and a kleptocrat, and thus disparage UR as an authoritarian party that stuffs ballots as the only way to retain power against all those Russians who earn for the kind of true democracy enjoyed by Libya and Egypt. But these are dishonest and mendacious arguments as long as election results remain in line with opinion polls – which, on past experience, they will be. Bearing in mind that voting intentions for United Russia have fluctuated from 49% to 60% in the past two months – and for the entire past year, for that matter – as long as its election result remains in the 50%’s, it will be very hard to build a credible case that it did electoral rigging. If it scores SIGNIFICANTLY more than 60%, say 65% or more, only then could it be said with some certainty that there was systemic manipulation (I will also acknowledge that and burn the Putin portrait on my wall). Likewise if it polls significantly less than 50%, say 45%, one can then say: WTF? Is the Kremlin rigging votes against itself?

The eternal question of whether Russia’s elections are fair (they are quite obviously free as far as such things realistically go in most of the world) is a bit too for this post. The article on whether Russian elections are rigged quoted in this piece has many good comments on that topic.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Alas and alack, there's only so many grants for foreign "intelligents" at Western think-tanks.

Alas and alack, there’s only so many grants for foreign “intelligents” at Western think-tanks.

If I had a cent for every Russia story from the past week that featured the (conclusively debunked) “sixth wave of emigration” meme…

And if wishes were fishes. Still, the coverage of Russian reactions to Putin’s return does demonstrate the venality and general fecklessness of the Western MSM. As Adomanis correctly noted, it is “negative value added” – you come away from reading them understanding less than you did before.

But let’s for a moment ignore that all the demographic statistics indicate that emigration is currently at very low levels, having flattened out in the late 2000′s and stayed down since. Let us ignore the much bigger levels of immigration – and not only from Central Asia or the Caucasus, but the fact that the migration balance even with many “developed countries” is beginning to turn positive.

Instead, let’s ask ourselves two different questions: what kinds of Russians are actually willing to migrate, and where would they go?

Putin Derangement Syndrome

Well, an inkling of the answer to the first question can be gleaned just from reading the comments of emigres to be, and the places where they discuss it. For instance, here is one comment – not at all atypical – from this post “What did Putin do to me?” at Snob.ru (a social network for wealthy Russians that, unlike Facebook, you actually have to pay for):

I began to go to Russia regularly, 2-3 times a year in 1994. I liked everything. How the country was changing, becoming a part of the modern world, how the people, my friends, were waking up from the lethargic, swamp-like stagnation of the Soviet era and opening their eyes to the modern world. I liked the informality and disorder of the Russian government: the Russian state was always far too powerful, and its weakening could only be welcomed. Other power centers appeared. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for instance, opened a fund called “Open Russia.” The name itself was priceless.

On returning to NY from Moscow and sharing my observations… Elderly Russian Jews shook their heads in dismissal and answered my youthful enthusiasm thus: “Remember, nothing good will ever come out of that country.”

I laughed at them, dismissed them. They didn’t understand that today is different and everything is changing, and they answered: “Yes. Changing. But remember… nothing good will ever come out of that country.” I shook my head and stopped the pointless conversation with these stupid old people. I blame Putin most of all for now having to stand in shame before those (now mostly deceased) wise old Jews, and eat my hat.

One question: does this sound like someone representative of ordinary Russians? In contrast to twats flying in from NY, practically all Russians who actually lived there consider the 1990′s to have been utterly disastrous. In particular, 1994 saw the nadir of several indices – falling economic output, life expectancy, the beginning of a corrupt and unsuccessful war in Chechnya. And this freak – I’m afraid there’s no other word for him, gloating at government dysfunction which directly resulted in pensioners and state workers not being paid for months on end and criminal mafias ruling the street- paints this year as the high point of Russia’s development.

Needless to say, his views don’t represent about 99.99% of Russians.

A Spade is a Spade, and Liberals are Fascists

Because an unknown Euro blueblood is so much more legitimate than an elected President with 70% approval ratings.

Because an unknown Euro blueblood is so much more legitimate than an elected President with 70% approval ratings.

Now what about that Pora Valit website, featured by Western journalists as the voice of Russia’s liberal consciousness wanting to emigrate? (The name means “time to shove off”). That site is more representative of Russian liberal opinion – that is, the liberals who aren’t rootless cosmopolitans who subscribe to Snob, not because they don’t want to but because they’re too poor and crude for it. One of their posts describes how they would much rather live under a restored Prussian monarchy in a separatist Kaliningrad than under the Chekists.

[Kaliningrad] is suitable for an “Egyptian scenario” today. For not many want to live under Putinism, and ethnic Russians need their own state. The clever, educated and honest will go to live there.

The ideal legitimate decision after a revolt in Kaliningrad will be the introduction of a monarchic form of rule as in England. The best candidate for this is the Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, who belongs to the Russian dynasty and the historic Hohenzollern dynasty, which ruled these regions since the 13th century… The monarchy will be recognized by all the monarchs of Europe, and the Grand Duke will also retain his right to the Russian throne, which will enable him to become a real splinter in the eye of Putinism. Our very existence in the heart of Europe will tell Putin: You are an usurper! You are illegitimate!

Only a monarchy headed by representatives of the Russian and Prussian dynasties will allow us to guarantee that we will not return to a USSR-2. It will give us free development, democracy, and real lustrations – or even better, the expulsion of everyone with ties to the Putin regime. In principle all that’s left is to solve this question with the US and the EU…

But not only do these kinds of posts illustrate a flat out insanity and utter disconnection with mainstream Russian sentiment that cannot afflict anything more than a marginal percentage of a population where the numbers of people saying the country is “going in the right direction” actually ros e in the wake of the announcement of Putin’s return, the fact is that this talk of aristocracy and a state for ethnic Russians actually hints at the racism and nasty ethnocratic sentiment that passes for Russian “liberalism.”

There are more than hints of this at other places. For instance, in a post discussing what they actually DON’T like in the US, they cite itsexceedingly high tolerance and ass-licking of African-Americans, feminists, fags, etc.” I’m sure Troy Davis or the gay soldier booed at a Republican conference would beg to differ, but then again no doubt the liberals think that they actually got off TOO LIGHTLY, obsessed as they are with lustrations, ethnic cleansing and deporting anyone who disagrees with their sick ideology. But that doesn’t stop bastions of Western journalism like The New York Times and The Economist from prominently featuring and praising them.

If Russia is a Sinking Ship, then the West is the Titanic

Now that we have established who are the people who want to emigrate so much at all costs – and whether it is in the interests of any normal country to accept them, it is worthwhile to consider another key question left out by the Western media in its “sixth great wave of Russian emigration”-spiel: where would they actually go?

Where to go? Visa free travel for Russians.

Where to go? Visa free travel for Russians.

First, going anywhere in the First World (remember that the liberals, being very racist, tend to despise anything else) is unfortunately fairly hard for Russians. See the map above. Obviously there are ways to get into the EU and the US, such as paying for an education abroad, or getting a job with a company, but for that you actually need some set of skills, motivation and easy-going character – not qualities that every bitter Russia liberal has in spades.

But okay, assume it’s not a huge issue. What next? The problem is that the entire Western world is wracked by economic troubles, with the Great Recession now giving way to the Great Stagnation. US economic output is lower now than in 2007, median incomes have plummeted, and many Americans themselves cannot find jobs. Unless they have very specialized skills and a good command of English, what is a new Russian emigrant to do there? The same goes for the UK and most of the EU. Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing everywhere (and sorry to say but it doesn’t give a fuck whether you’re pro- or anti-Putin). If you are a foreigner who want to work in the West, you could scarcely have picked a worse time.

What about the future? As Golts claims, isn’t it a fact that “Russia’s fiscal ship is sinking”, about to go down as soon as unsustainably oil prices crash? Won’t there be hordes of Russians wanting out soon? But let’s look at the other countries, because in these matters everything is relative. The EU – average budget deficit at 6.5% and debt over 100% of GDP, with countries like Greece down and Spain, Italy, and Portugal close to the brink of fiscal insolvency. The US – budget deficit of 11% of GDP, debt at nearly 100% of GDP, its monetary firepower exhausted, and facing a new recession on top of it all. The UK is a smaller version of the US. In stark contrast, Russia’s debt is negligible, its foreign reserves substantial, and the budget is actually in SURPLUS at 3% of GDP for the first half of 2011. If this means Russia’s fiscal ship is sinking, then the West must be the Titanic.

Okay, now I’m sure that oil may fall for a long period, assuming a few conditions are met (e.g. massive new easily-accessible oil discoveries or a long depression in both the West and China, both of which there is approximately zero sign of), and in that case, Russia will be in quite a pickle. But this scenario kind of presupposes absolute economic apocalypse in the West, and since most normal non-ideological people make decisions on whether to emigrate or not on relative economic opportunities, exactly what grounds are there to expect a mass exodus out of Russia when the world outside is an economic wasteland?

Of course, there will be a few ideologues who will leave regardless because of their Putin Derangement Syndrome. This kind of reminds me of 2004 in the US. I’m sure a few dozen or so Americans left for Canada in the wake of Bush’s re-election. But they were a tiny, tiny fraction of the hordes of liberals loudly proclaiming they would leave the US. In the end analysis, 99% of them were just too lazy or demotivated to go through with it. Likewise in Russia.

Now some forms of emigration are looking increasingly attractive for Russians, namely “downshifting” which is already well-known in the West. This involves getting a Russian (preferably Moscow) salary, or other source of income (e.g. rent) which are nowadays fairly respectable by global standards, and living like a king in some cheap foreign place with lots of sunshine like Goa, the Philippines, Argentina, etc. The economics work out. For instance, renting out a Moscow apartment can net you $500 per month; an Internet job not tied to any physical location may yield another $1000 per month. This may not seem that much in the US or Europe, but it can go a long, long way in a place like Laos or Central America. This concept of exploiting differential international prices, called geoarbitrage, is a rational and fulfilling way to live life and becoming increasingly popular in Russia. But it is profoundly different from the apocalyptic connotations associated with Western coverage of emigration from Russia. First, only a small percentage of the population can exploit it – at least, not until most jobs because “dematerialized”. We can’t all rent out our flats and earn money from Internet businesses. Second, it is hardly a confirmation of backwardness. To the contrary, only relatively savvy and free-thinking individuals in relatively developed countries can partake of such a lifestyle.

Obviously, the Russian liberals have no interest in such a life. With their quasi-racist and colonialist complexes, they naturally prefer rainy Britain and its bourgeois dictatorship to places they think of as Third World sinkholes that are little better if at all than their own country that they hate and despise so much. They want to go West for its slogans and self-serving propaganda about its own supposed transparency and lack of corruption, its freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, etc. that are all absent under the Putin regime. Fortunately, these psychos are few in number, and they will not be missed by Russia. Скатертью вам дорога, друзья!

Conclusions

So here’s the summary:

1. Few Russians are leaving. Many are coming in. Many of those who do leave go for entirely respectable reasons such as education abroad or taking advantage of international price differentials that are par for the course in any developed nation.

2. Furthermore, far more people want to leave most of the developed countries whose journalists sneer at Russia than do Russians themselves.

3. A few, perhaps a few dozen per year, leave on ideological grounds – mostly involving some irrational fear or hatred of Putin (“Putin Derangement Syndrome”, the Russian equivalent of Bush Derangement Syndrome); hatred towards Muslim immigrants into Russia; and a ridiculously warped and rose-tinged view of the pureness and integrity of Western civilization.

4. Most Western countries are too preoccupied with their own economic problems to offer any promise to new Russian immigrants, utterly regardless of their philosophical and political mutterings.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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I have gone on record with the following odds on Russia’s next President: Medvedev – 70%, Putin – 25%, Other – 5%. The first betting site to offer odds on the Russian Presidential election has other ideas. As of June 2011, the British online gambling site Stan James is offering the following odds: Putin 4/7, Medvedev 11/8, Zyuganov 66/1, Zhirinovsky 80/1, Bogdanov 100/1*.

Converted into non-gambler terminology, this means that they view VVP as the clear favorite. Whereas a $100 investment into Putin will yield just $56, betting right on a second Medvedev Presidency will net you $138. All the other candidates are (rightly) considered to be insignificant fry – e.g., correctly betting $1 on a Zyuganov win will get you $66 (with the additional EV-lowering risk that it may be promptly confiscated as a product of speculation if you’re in Russia))). Or from the viewpoint of implied odds, you need to have >63.64% confidence that Putin will win OR >42.11% confidence that Medvedev will win to profitably bet on the respective candidates**. So if I had the opportunity I’d totally bet on DAM, but unfortunately that site is closed to US-based political gamblers.

Bookies structure their odds in such a way that they win most of the time; note that the total implied odds add up to nearly 110%. But you can still win despite the handicap, by having special insight or knowledge of the topic. Needless to say, most “Russia watchers” will no doubt claim they have those, at least implicitly (otherwise, what right do they have to their editorials, salaries, etc?). I have previously exposed the self-appointed Kremlinogist priesthood for being full of cranks hiding their fundamental ignorance behind credentials, citations, post hoc narratives, etc. Here is their chance to prove me wrong, all ye Leon Arons and Ariel Cohens and Loco Lucases of the world! And get fabulously rich into the bargain!!!

All social (so-called) scientists should be subjected to this “trial by casino.” As the price of holding publicly funded positions, economists should be forced into investing their money into their own predictions of GDP growth or unemployment; political scientists should use their unique insights to bet on political candidates, parties, and revolutions; etc. Think of this as an idea for an institutional safeguard against fraud, an antidote to the snake oil and two-bit experts polluting economic, social, and political discussions. Because when these “experts” fail, they experience no accountability – largely, by conjuring explanations for why they were wrong, or sweeping their old claims under the carpet altogether – while the common folks who pay for their sated and comfortable upkeep suffer the repercussions of their failed predictions. By subjecting the “experts” to the market discipline of the casino, the quacks will be exposed and bankrupted in a Darwinian struggle for (reputational, pecuniary, etc) survival, and thus cleaning up social sciences and benefiting productive society.

But for now I’ll limit this challenge to Kremlinologists, an especially odious, malign and mendacious strain even by social “science” standards. Come on, bet some of that money you leech off your readers and/or taxpayers. If you don’t, like the pathetic quackacademic you probably are, then consider yourself lower than the meanest bookie on the planet. He at least puts his money where his mouth is.

UPDATE 6/11: Two further things I want to mention. Patrick Armstrong kindly pointed me to this site, which is based on punters’ estimates (as opposed to bookies). There, as of today, the traded odds are that there is a 75% chance that Vladimir Putin will “announce he intends to run for Pres. of Russia before midnight ET 31 Aug 2011.” So betting here – i.e. selling shares – is even more profitable. Not only does it cut out the bookie and get one even better odds that from Stan James above, but that prediction also flies against the Kremlin tradition of announcing their candidate within a half-year of the elections (Yeltsin announced Putin as his preferred successor on Jan 1st, 2000; Putin did the same for Medvedev on Dec 10th, 2008).

Why on Earth could the odds be so tilted? First, this trade isn’t enjoying a lot of volume so lots of potential for skew. Second, the Western media coverage, which focuses on how DAM is a puppet of VVP and on how the master wants his old job back to reassert dictatorship or some such. As with the Russian stock market in the past decade, it offers an excellent opportunity, paraphrasing Eric Kraus, to profit off the difference between the media’s perceptions of Russia and reality.

PS. Speaking of prior elections… I noted that Sean Guillory posted about the Presidential odds in August 2007. Back then, the bookie consensus was that Sergey Ivanov – presumably because of his silovik background – was the favored successor with odds of 2.2/1 (45%), as opposed to DAM with 3.75/1 (27%).

PPS. Track the intrade.com odds below:

 

* I’d also be willing to take odds of c. 200/1 on figures like Igor Shuvalov or Sergey Naryshkin. They’re very unlikely, of course, but they are dark horse candidates and the payoff, in the event that they are nominated by the Kremlin – after which the chances of theirs winning will skyrocket to near 100% – would be huge.

** That is the reason I took 7/4 odds to bet on a Republican Presidency in 2012. The implied odds for that are 36.36%. My own assessment is that it’s basically a coin flip, because everything hinges on where the economy goes, which in turn depends on whether oil prices spike again between now and summer 2012. I view the odds of that as being significant, about break-even actually. Hence my bet.

EDIT: I was wrong.

(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.