The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>
 Russian Reaction Blog / USATeasers

I know Preet Bharara for two things:

bout-time(1) Prosecuting Viktor Bout, who didn’t do nothing wrong. He was an equal opportunity arms’ trader who sold to everyone, even to the US in support of its Middle East misadventures. Then he made one “sale” to the wrong people, was arrested in the US puppet state Thailand, and extradited, where a US kangaroo court convicted him of a “crime” that happened outside US jurisdiction. Bharara was the main guy behind this political repression against Russian entrepeneurship.

(2) Cracked down on online poker in 2011, an illegitimate assault on Internet freedoms, which incidentally happened to be making me some money back then. This put my carefully cultivated NEET lyfe in temporary peril, which I consider to be a gross violation of my human rights.

So all things considered I am very happy that Trump has had that freedom hater fired.

He was no doubt plotting against him anyway.

Don’t want to overburden Trump at this point, but it would be nice if he could engineer a pardon for Bout. (There have been claims that Bout was a Russian intelligence services, but coming as they did from the usual Russophobe/neocon quarters, plus the lack of significant Russian efforts to negotiate his release as would happen with real spies, that is implausible. He was just an entrepreneur maligned by racist SJWs who think that Africans and Arabs shouldn’t to buy weaponry. From non-Western sources, anyway).

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, USA 

Up until very recently, Russia was viewed more favorably by the Liberals/Left than conservatives in the US.

Many of the conservatives were people who had grown up at the height of the Cold War, saw the letters KGB in Putin’s eyes like McCain, and tended to suffer from a bad case of your brain on Judeo-Christian values.

All things considered, the Liberals/Left were a bit… less unhinged.

russia-friend-or-foe

But in the past year, the situation has cardinally reversed itself.

Now, a more recent NBC News poll confirms this trend:

approval-russia-democrats-vs-republicans

There are several possible reasons for this:

(1) There is the direct influence of Trump himself, who is exceptionally pro-Russian – in the American political context, one is almost tempted to say irrationally (as he himself recognizes: “I know politically it’s probably not good for me“).

(2) I suspect that the blatant Trump Derangement Syndrome of the mainstream media has perhaps made some more introspective conservatives ask just how fair their media has been to Russia all these years. It helps, of course, that Putin Derangement Syndrome is closely associated with TDS, if not approaching outright convergence with it, as Patrick Armstrong suggests:

Since Trump was inaugurated on 20 January, I have noticed that Putin Derangement Syndrome is being pushed aside in the punditry by a crescendo of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Just as Putin has been diagnosed at a distance, so has he: “Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill? 3 Professors Of Psychiatry Ask President Obama To Conduct ‘A Full Medical And Neuropsychiatric Evaluation’” and his signature gives cause for concern. “As Trump prepares his kissy face for Putin, a glimpse into the dictator’s soul“. PDS is replete with such remote sensing of Putin’s inner self. The student of PDS will recognise the magazine covers about Trump of which the standout is Der Spiegel’s (no small purveyor of PDS itself) showing Trump decapitating Lady Liberty à la Daesh. Since under-estimating Trump was so successful, why not continue to? Some writer thinks he’s just a puppet of Steve Bannon. But maybe they’re converging: “Manchurian Presidency: Why Angry White America Fell for Putin“. But the most beautiful example of convergence, one that brings everything together is: “The Russian ‘philosopher’ who links Putin, Bannon, Turkey: Alexander Dugin“!

(3) Russia itself has become markedly more conservative since 2012, if more in official rhetoric than reality. Then again, it’s not like young Trumpists are particularly hardcore social conservatives either. Which brings us to the last point:

(4) Most interestingly, and this is a new finding, the NBC poll reveals that there is a YUGE gap in attitudes towards Russia between young and old Republicans – that is, between the New Right/”Alt Right” (e.g. at /r/The_Donald) and the crusty Cold Warriors.

An amazing 73% of 18-29 year old Republicans view Russia as friendly or an ally, whereas almost the exact same number – 69% – view it as unfriendly or an enemy amongst 65+ year old Republicans.

approval-russia-republican-generations

But the crusty Cold Warriors are steadily dying off, and as this happens, we are returning to the more stable and traditional pattern of Western attitudes towards Russia after the abberation of the Soviet period.

For if you take the long historical view it is the Liberals/Left who have historically been far less enamored ofRussia.

Who talked of the “gendarme of Europe” and “prison of peoples” in 19th century political discourse? Socialists, not conservatives. Marx had very little good to say about Russia and Eastern Europe in general, the idea being that the advanced Western nations were the only ones of interest from a Communist revolutionary perspective. (Though he did modify this view somewhat towards the end of his life).

Early Russian Eurasianist philosopher Nikolay Trubetzkoy makes the same point.

In stark contrast to the situation even just a few years ago, the Russophobia/Russophilia spectrum now runs from the “militant cosmopolitanism” of European socialism (which today is homosexualist neocon SJWism of the Kirchick sort), to the outright Russophilia of a large part of the Alt Right and neoreaction.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, Republicans, Russia, Russophobes, USA 

us-mortality-compared-1999-2013

Since the release of the paper by Anne Case and Angus Deaton showing that mortality rates amongst middle-aged White American males increased from 1999-2013, there has been a lot of anguished hand-wringing about the sorts of further regression or even collapses that it might portend. Comparisons have been made to the Soviet Union, which also saw an (alcohol-fuelled) spike in mortality since the 1960s, which reached its apogee in the 1990s.

This self-criticism, seen both on alternative media outlets like the Unz Review as well as higher profile venues such as The New York Times (Paul Krugman I see also made a limited Soviet comparison), is a perfectly health reaction to a problem which although quite severe by developed world standards is nowhere near the scale of that which afflicted the Soviet Union (where until the late 1980s discussion of adverse demographic trends was silenced by the Communist regime). This is something I stressed in my own post on this:

Nonetheless, regardless of the fact that the US mortality crisis is far less severe in absolute terms, and didn’t undergo the catastrophic “spike” that post-Soviet Russia experienced, the similarities – a major demographic group experiencing a sustained deterioration in its mortality prospects over a period of decades in an industrialized country – are otherwise quite remarkable.

Here are a couple of graphs that should prevent Americans falling into unreasonable pessimism. The figures for mortality rates / 100,000 for 50 year olds are drawn from mortality.org, which hosts one of the most detailed databases on mortality rates for a variety of OECD and ex-USSR countries. (I used it extensively to compile my forecasts of Russia’s 21st century demographics). And the blunt fact of the matter is that relative to what happened in the late USSR not to even mention the 1990s, when the Russian state lost its monopoly on vodka production, there is simply no comparison in absolute terms to the limited meth/painkiller epidemic that is currently suppressing life expectancy in some of the poorer US White communities. (Although this graph shows mortality for all 50 year Americans, do note that that age group is still very much predominantly White, so the all-American figures will to a very large extent be merely parallel to White American trends. For Whites specifically, just imagine the very marginal decline from 1990 to today as a flat line instead).

50-year-old-mortality-</p><br />
<p>usa-vs-eastern-europe

As we can see above, the American trends in the past two decades – characterized by stagnation – are qualitatively different from what afflicted the USSR and its successor states from 1965 to 1985, let alone the turmoil of the post-Soviet transition – characterized as they were by very significant outright increases in mortality followed by a sharp mortality spike in the 1990s. Even Poland, a country with some of the lowest prediclections towards vodka bingeing in Eastern Europe – though that, admittedly, is not exactly the highest of bars – has only recently just about finished recovering the sort of middle-aged mortality rates that it had half a century ago. In contrast, American middle-aged men – primarily thanks to medical advances – now enjoy mortality rates less than half of those that prevailed before the advent of advanced modern medicine in the 1960s.

50-year-old-mortality-</p><br />
<p>usa-vs-developed-world

The US health profile isn’t anywhere near as good relative to other countries in the developed world, but it should be noted that this has pretty much always been the case (though of course the burden of that difference has shifted in relative terms from US Blacks to Whites). As seen from the graph above, as of the early 2010s, the US had a significantly higher than middle-aged male mortality rate than the European country with the shortest life expectancy, Denmark, as well as the longest-lived Latin American country, Chile. Moreover, the US were from being around the highest end of the developed country range in the early 1990s, to something close to an outlier by the early 2010s.

This merits concern. Furthermore, whereas in my Soviet Fishtown post I posited that the cause of this US mortality lag might have been due to a vicious symbiosis of loose pharma advertising rules and obesity, the example of New Zealand – which has seen very strong and consistent reductions in mortality – puts a big question mark over that thesis. That is because as pointed out by the commentator Chuck, New Zealand was the only country in the world – alongside the US – to legalize direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs; and New Zealand, too, has a fairly rotund obesity problem of its own. Nonetheless, it has not experienced the mortality stagnation that the US has.

Note however that New Zealand doesn’t exactly support “Leftist” explanations of the US White exception to First World middle-aged mortality declines either. That is because New Zealand too had a distinct “neoliberal” revolution – and one that hasn’t generally been judged to have been successful. Nonetheless, contrary to Leftist conventional wisdom, New Zealand in fact saw very rapid reductions in mortality – including middle-aged male mortality, as seen in the graph above – during the late 1980s and early 1990s, to the extent that it basically halved in overall terms.

Two meager conclusions follow:

(1) Don’t rush to assign overly “ideological” explanations to adverse trends, such as the stagnation in middle-aged US White male mortality. Neither the “Leftist” one of neoliberal reform, nor the “Rightist” one of increasing immigration and White demoralization (which most of Europe saw as well), nor even quasi-HBD one I posited in my “Soviet Fishtown” post (combination of easily prescriptiond drugs, obesity, and White melancholy) work very well.

(2) Although there is ample cause of concern, overly direct comparisons with what happened in 1990s Russia – or even the 1970s-1980s USSR – are as yet overwrought. And in any case, with medical technology continuing to advance, there might be a good chance that the last 25 years of stagnation in US White middle-aged mortality might end up being a temporary affair before the resumption of progress.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Demographics, Mortality, USA 

I have managed to find 3 polls querying people on their attitudes towards radical life extension. By far the most comprehensive one is PEW’s August 2013 Living to 120 and Beyond project. The other two are a poll of CARP members, a Canadian pro-elderly advocacy group, and by Russia’s Levada Center. While PEW and Levada polled a representative sample of their respective populations, the average age of the CARP respondents was about 70 years.

On the surface, public opinion is not supportive of life extension. 38% of Americans want to live decades longer, to at least 120, while 56% are opposed; 51% think that radical life extension will be a bad thing for society. Only 19% of CARP responents would like to take advantage of these treatments, and 55% think they are bad for society. Though a somewhat higher percentage of Russians, at 32%, want to live either “several times longer” or “be immortal” – as opposed to 64% who only want to live a natural lifespan – their question is phrased more positively, noting that “youth and health” would be preserved under such a scenario.

For now, these figures are a curiosity. But should radical life extension cease being largely speculative and move into the realm of practical plausibility – Aubrey de Grey predicts it will happen as soon as middle-aged mice are rejuvenated so as to extent their lifespans by a few factors – public opinion will start playing a vital role. It would be exceedingly frustrating – literally lethal, even – should the first promising waves of life extension break upon the rocks of politicians pandering to the peanut gallery. This is a real danger in a democracy.

Still, there are three or four strong arguments for optimism in those same polls:

First, while people may not want to live much longer themselves, their pro-death sentiment isn’t as strong towards relatives; 44% of Russians want their family members to live factors longer, versus only 32% for themselves. Americans and Canadians both assume that while they might not want radical life extension for themselves, the majority of their countrymen would. And there is widespread support for research. 63% of Americans agree that “medical advances that prolong life are generally good”; there is no identifiable line that separates those advances from radical life extension itself. 45% of Russians would support a social movement advocating for radical life extension, whereas only 33% wouldn’t.

Second, the younger demographics appear to be more supportive of radical life extension. While 48% of American 18-29 year olds think treatments to extend life by decades would be a good thing for society, the sentiment is shared by only 31% of 65+ year olds. Though the gap in personal preferences for radical life extension is much lower – 40% for 18-29 year olds versus 31% for 65+ year olds – this could partially be a reflection of young people in their 20′s thinking that they are virtually immortal anyway. This is of relevance because by the time we can feasibly approach actuarial escape velocity, the vast majority of present day 65+ year olds will likely be already dead. So their fatalism, you can say, is not an irrational sentiment. (Unless they make arrangements for cryopreservation, but this is a digression).

Third, it appears that a significant chunk of the opposition is motivated by mistaken ideas of what radical life extension is about. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the term. It gives some the impression that they’d continue aging indefinitely, slowly becoming a withered, creaking husk of their former selves. Like in those countless tales and fables where an immortality wish is granted, only for its recipient to become a ghost, or a crazy evil old man, or a metal statue. The reality is that radical life extension, in practice, means rejuvenation, or at least “freezing” the patient at one specific age. Ironically, eking out a few more years of substandard life is what the bulk of modern medical research is about. Medical research that the vast majority of people everywhere approve of. Radical life extension research, to the contrary, is mostly about identifying the aging processes, actively repairing the damage, and eventually mitigating them through genomic interventions. This is a very important distinction that was only made in the Russian poll. In contrast, one of the big two worries of elderly Canadians – apart from resource shortages and overcrowding – was that they would outlive their savings of human life was to be radically extended. This entire point is moot because if and when we pass the actuarial event horizon, the human clock will start ticking backwards and there would no longer be any need for pensions.

Finally, Americans who heart a lot or a little about radical life extension were more likely, at 45%, to say they would undergo such treatments than were people who hadn’t heard anything about it, at 32%. However, this point is weaker than the others, because presumably people who have at some point idly wondered if they could live forever would have been more likely to go Googling and stumbled across all that SENS and H+ stuff in the first place.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

So apparently an Ambassadorship costs $1.8 million per post in the US.

In virtually any other country, even where the situation with corruption is quite dismal, such arrangements would be seen as unquestionably corrupt. And yet the US scores an entirely respectable 73/100 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), leagues above say Italy which gets 42/100.

The reason I mention Italy is that I was once discussing the question of corruption in different countries with an Italian. He said that what in the US is known as “political lobbying” would be treated as a criminal activity in Italy, and indeed in most of the rest of Europe. Hence why in the Med countries you get far more cases of corruption in the form of cash in envelopes. In the US that’s against the law, but that’s not such a big deal, because the law – or rather the absence of it – allows for the same thing, just in indirect formats (expensive dinners, contributions, astronomic speaking fees, stock performances superior to those of corporate insiders, etc). But that kind of corruption is “deniable” and hence respectable, whereas the direct kind is crude and distasteful, a defining feature of disorganized Third World countries.

In Italy, regulations against corruption and weaselly dealings in general are stringent. Now because Italians tend to corruption in general, either by nature or nurture, this means that the high incidence of such endlessly knocks against their corruption ratings. In the US, however, the factual “legalization” of much of what passes for corruption in Europe allows it to remain relatively unscathed in such international assessments.

There are many other such examples. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is insanely corrupt if you think rulers siphoning off billions of dollars off the oil budget is fundamentally illegitimate (as is alleged but never evidenced for Russia’s “mafia state” and Putin’s Swiss bank accounts). But it’s all quite legal there, which is why – hard as it is to believe – Saudi Arabia scores higher than not only Russia, but even Italy in the CPI.

So the solution is simple. Just legalize your corruption, and move up to the top in both the World Bank’s Doing Business ratings and soon enough in the Corruption Perceptions Index. Don’t forget to be slavishly pro-American in your foreign policy. Investors will love you for it. Well, maybe not, at least once said investors get to know you a bit better, but at least you’ll get glowing reviews from the Wall Street Journal and Transparency International. That’s how you become a made country in Davos World.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

This June I had the pleasure of once again attending and speaking at the World Russia Forum. The event now happens twice a year, in Washington DC and Moscow, and is intended to draw together Russian and American experts, academics, journalists, and policy-makers in an effort to improve relations between these two nations. An account of it, and the subsequent reception at the Russian Embassy to mark Russia Day, follows below:

1 - me in DC

It was raining with near monsoonal intensity when I disembarked off the train*. I have no complaints; these downpours dispel the sultry oppressiveness inherent to a city originally built on swampland, so far as I was concerned the more rain the merrier.

2 - al jazeera bus

The Qataris sure know how to get their message out!

3 - hotel gathering

Four of the WRF’s speakers in the hotel dining room. From left to right: Pamela (Patrick’s wife); Martin Sieff; Patrick Armstrong; William Dunkerley; your humble servant.

4 - wrf 2013

From farther to nearest: Patrick Armstrong, Martin Sieff, Edward Lozansky, Nicolai Petro, and William Dunkerley (plus Sergey Markedonov, but he was absent when the photo above was taken). Lozansky, the organizer and financier of the World Russia Forums, is giving the keynote speech.

Each of us gave a 5-10 minute presentation on what we saw as the problems of – and possible solutions to – strained relations between Russia and the US. Common themes included the malevolent roles of aggrieved oligarchs (like Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky); the lack of economic ties making Russia a convenient punch-bug (can’t offend your Chinese bankers or Saudi oilmen too much); the weakness and lethargy of the Kremlin’s PR, as expressed in its slow – and at times, non-existent – response to media stories that portray it in a bad light.

Then we talked about possible solutions. Patrick Armstrong, for instance, has long pushed for creating a list of “Russia memes” that are commonly accepted as fact in the media but have no factual basis (e.g. Putin’s billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts, that sort of thing). Martin Sieff stresses that responses have to be very quick, since a rule of thumb in the media is that as soon as the first 30 minutes pass, the story becomes set, no matter its truth value. It would be a good idea to combine these two points in the form of a PR team checking stories in the Western media against a handbook of these “Russia memes” and sending out corrections, complaints, letters to the editor, etc. as appropriate.

The main problem is, of course, implementation. Both Nicolai Petro and William Dunkerley raised this issue, as an academic and a media expert, respectively. Contrary to what has been scribbled about this group in some corners of the Internet, it is not affiliated with the Kremlin nor does it even have its official support; it is the product of a private American citizen’s personal initiative and enthusiasm. This translates into a frustrating reality in which a lot of good ideas are generated in these meetings but all too many of them are never followed through for a lack of official coordination, financial, or official support. This is why I can only laugh when the likes of Lucas start raving about Kremlin-paid “agents of influence” hiding beneath every bed and whatnot. The banal reality is that Russia is not very competent at PR (unlike Israel or Saakashvili’s Georgia), and what money it does give out typically goes to big, disinterested firms like Ketchum that eke out a couple of “pro-Russian” articles for The Huffington Post in exchange for millions of dollars.

My own speech, naturally, focused on The Russian Spectrum. I have already explained why that project is a great idea for improving Russia’s image, so I won’t bother doing so again.

5 - wrf 2013

William Dunkerley had the funniest and most interactive presentation.

After that there were questions from the audience and lively discussions. Here are a few observations:

Tons of journalists from Voice of America, some from Voice of Russia including its new US bureau chief. None from RIA (there might have been a couple but I didn’t run into them). Some representatives of Russia/America business forums, PR and “knowledge transfer agencies,” etc.

A former bureaucrat who mentioned that there is already a program that translates foreign media into English. (Those of you subscribing to the JRL will have come across some of their translations). The only problem with it? Unlike Russia’s Inosmi, which is free, only certain government employees and private businesses willing to fork over many thousands of dollars per year can have access to it – even though it’s funded by the American taxpayer. He said he’d inquire about opening it up to the general public, but the chances of success are minimal for obvious reasons. If the bureaucracies that be were interested in public access, then the public would already have access.

A senior editor at The American Conservative. Knows Ron Unz, pro-Ron Paul, libertarian, White Russian – also anti-Putin, and supports Magnitsky Act, but otherwise doesn’t want confrontation with Russia specifically. If China and Saudi Arabia aren’t being confronted, both states with far worse human rights records, then why on earth should Russia be confronted? This outlook I suppose is all quite consistent with libertarian, minimal state/constitutional rights/isolationist principles).

A senior member of a family values organization from the Mid-West. Described how he went from thinking of Russia as an atheist evil empire type of place to viewing it as the modern equivalent of the kingdom of Prester John (I do exaggerate, of course, but that’s the gist of it), to the extent that the next major summit of his organization is going to be taking place in Moscow. This stands to reason, as conservatives in the American heartland are increasingly discovering that in many if not all respects ordinary Russians and even the Russian government shares their values.

One lady sewed together some peace rugs for the UN and treated us all to a 15 monologue about it. Absolutely fascinating. :|

6 - newseum

After that I visited the Newseum, a museum about the news. Although its basically a shrine to the Mainstream, and got anodyne at times, there were nonetheless a lot of fun things to see there. My favorite section was the one with the ancient books and historical articles/editorials/ads (“Spanish Indian woman that can do all sorts of of Houshold Work with her Boy about half a Year old: To be sold Inquire of Mr. William ManBrasier in Dock-square, Boston” – yes, the world sure has changed quite a bit).

Above is a photo of a Nezavisimaya Gazeta editorial or op-ed or whatever from immediately after the abortive 1991 coup attempt: “The bloody political dealings of these “S.O.B.’s were just going on and on. We got tired of being afraid. This is why the coup failed.” No-holds barred approach of the hero journalist!

6.5 - hero journalist

Speaking of “hero journalists“… Now THAT is a hero journalist! Yulia Latynina? I’m afraid having a crazy hairdo and the hots for our favorite Georgian tie-muncher doesn’t qualify.

7 - embassy invite

JUST WHAT IS THIS?! I suppose it will now be impossible for me to deny being a Kremlin flunky ever again.

8 - democratic protesters

Protests at the Embassy. One of the guys had the placard, “Putin eats babies.” Supporters of Pussy Riot chanted slogans next to a burqa-covered woman with a Syrian flag. Most unlikely allies…

The Embassy itself was a big, square, solid, monumental structure. Apparently it was built by Soviet laborers specifically imported for the task so that the NSA people wouldn’t get a chance to lay any bugs. They did try to remedy the situation by digging a tunnel under the Embassy, but the plan was foiled thanks to FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen.

9 - russian embassy

They sure know how to throw a party. The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Sergey Kislyak gave the keynote speech. As expected with such events, the focus was mostly on networking – and the big businessmen, professional politicos, and military attaches who were generously represented there were out of my league as far as practical matters are concerned. Still, I had a lot of fun there, along with the other Forum members invited to the reception.

* Yes, you read that right. I took a train all the way to DC from San Francisco, and stopped by at many of the cities in between. I will be posting an account of this journey at the other blog.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

My latest for Experts Panel/Voice of Russia:

The Panel states, “On future occasions, Russia might well require Washington to cooperate in similar circumstances; and if such is the case, its handling of the Snowden affair could prove decisive as to how Washington chooses to respond.”

Well, let’s imagine this scenario. One fine day, an FSB contractor named Eduard Snegirev takes a flight out to Dulles International Airport and proceeds to spill the beans – though as with PRISM and Boundless Informant, it’s pretty much an open secret anyway – on SORM-2 and how the Russian state spies on its hapless citizens. Would Immigration and Customs Enforcement turn him away? Would the FBI rush to honor a Russian extradition request on the basis of his violating Article 275 of the Criminal Code “On State Treason”? It is impossible to even ask this question without a smirk on one’s face.

Don’t get me wrong. It is entirely reasonable to agree to and honor extradition treaties covering “universal” crimes such as murder, rape, or – shock horror! – financial fraud (even if official London would beg to differ). But this approach breaks down when we get to “crimes” such as those of the real Snowden or the hypothetical Snegirev because it is not universal, but asymmetric and relational: Asymmetric because a traitor in one country is a hero (or at least a useful asset) in another, and relational because a traitor to some people is a whistle-blower to others.

Sergey Tretyakov, otherwise known as “Comrade J,” betrayed his sources and fellow agents in the SVR when he defected to the US in 2000. Yet on his death, many of the people discussing his life at the blog of Pete Early, his official biographer, called him a “patriot.” Not just an American patriot, mind you, but a Russian one as well – as if he had done his motherland a favor. They are free to think that but it will not change the fact that in his homeland about 98% of the population really would think of him as a traitor through and through. Or take Vasily Mitrokhin. In the West, he is overwhelmingly considered as a heroic whistle-blower, risking his life to chronicle the crimes committed by the KGB abroad. But he neither concealed the identities of Soviet sources and existing agents – unlike Snowden or Assange, nor did he reveal his documents to the entire world – opting instead to give them wholemeal to MI6. Nonetheless, demanding the repatriation of either one would be inherently ridiculous and only make Russia into a laughing stock – which is why it never even thought of doing so. No use crying over spilt (or should that be leaked?) milk.

The US, too, was usually reasonable about such matters, quietly accepting that their espionage laws have no weight outside their own territory and the territory of their closest allies – as has always been the case in all times and for all states since times immemorial. This is why the hysterics this time round are so… strange. While John “I see the letters K-G-B in Putin’s eyes” McCain is a clinical case, it’s considerably more puzzling to see similar fiery rhetoric from the likes of Chuck Schumer or John Kerry (although the latter soon moderated his tone). Such attitudes probably proceed from official America’s tendency to view itself as a global empire, not beholden to the normal laws and conventions of international politics. Now while its closest allies (or clients) might humor it in such delusions, even its “third-class” allies like Germany do not* – not to mention sovereign Great Powers such as China and, yes, Russia.

In any case, as far as the Kremlin concerned, it is now almost politically impossible to extradite Snowden even if it so wishes. Though they have been no official opinion polls on the matter, online surveys indicate that Russians are overwhelmingly against expelling Snowden. 98% of the readers of Vzglyad (a pro-Putin resource), and even 50% of Echo of Moscow’s readers and listeners (one of the shrillest anti-Putin outlets), support giving him political asylum. Apart from that, it would also destroy Russia’s incipient reputation as a sanctuary for Western dissidents – a great propaganda boon against the legions of Western commentators who vilify it every day as a ruthless autocracy.

To his credit, Obama seems to more or less realize this: He knows that he can’t issue orders to Russia or even Ecuador, and that it is not worth threatening sanctions or “scrambling jets” just to “get a 29-year-old hacker.” While the neocons and “American exceptionalists” will get their 15 minutes of blowing hard on TV and the op-ed pages, the episode is – and has been from the get go – likely to end in just one way: A quiet and untrumpeted retirement for Snowden in Quito, Caracas, or Barvikha.

* So what on Earth’s up with that anyway? Here is the most worrying theory I’ve been able to come up with:They actually take George Friedman seriously.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

Hard as it is to believe, but in the wake of the Boston Bombings, many Western commentators actively trying to find the roots of the Tsarnaev brothers’ rage in Russia’s “aggression” or even “genocide” of Chechnya.

This is not to deny that Chechens did not have an exceptionally hard time of it in the 1990s. That said, what strikes one is the pathological one-sidedness of some of the commentary, such as this vomit-inducing screed by Thor Halvorssen, a self-imagined human rights promoter from Norway. In their world, it is a simple morality tale of small, plucky Chechnya being repeatedly ravaged by the big, bad Russian imperialist – and it is one that many people, conditioned in appropriate ways for two decades by the Western media, swallow hook, line, and sinker.

It’s not that simple. But rather than (re)dredging up many words and sources, let’s just suffice with one of the most telling graphs on the matter: The population graph of Chechnya since 1989.

chechnya-population-by-ethnicity-to-2010

Some people are certainly getting ethnically cleansed there alright, but it’s not who you might think it is. So this, essentially, is what the Russian “genocide” of Chechens boils down to: 715,306 Chechens & 269,130 Russians in 1989; 1,206,551 Chechens & 24,382 Russians in 2010. Russians almost entirely gone from there, even though the lands north of the Terek River – that is, about a third of Chechnya – were first settled by Cossacks during the 16th century and had never been Chechen until the 20th century. Those Russians (and other minority ethnicities) were terrorized out of Chechnya during the rule of “moderate nationalists” Maskhadov and Zakayev, whom the likes of Halvorssen describe as the “legitimate government of Chechnya,” with several thousand of them murdered outright. This ethnic cleansing continued unimpeded into the 2000s with the complicit silence of the “nationalist” Putin regime.

I really wish all the (non-Chechen) “Free Chechnya!” people could be reborn as minorities in 1990′s Chechnya in their next lives so that the likes of Halvorssen can experience firsthand the extent to which Chechens “share the democratic values of a Western civilization.”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

Is discussed at the other blog.

To add a couple of things that are Russia specific:

(1) We now learn that the FBI had interviewed the older brother at the bequest of an unspecific foreign government – almost certainly Russia. Tamerlan had visited it for 6 months in 2011. I wonder if he established links with some of the Caucasus Emirate Wahhabi types while there – and if so, whether US suspicions about Russia’s “assaults” on human rights in Chechnya made them drop their guard on a man who, it is now clear, was by then fast becoming an Islamist radical. The one silver lining to this horrible event is that it will become even more obvious that the Chechen rebellion has now been completely subsumed into the global Islamist struggle – and by extension, it will encourage the West to take a closer look at its “friends” in Syria.

(2) The reactions of Russian liberals has as always been as hilarious as it is nauseating. They seriously believe that the FSB is behind this.

Vasily Gatov, state news agency RIA employee: “I am watching three TV channels and listening to the radio, and reading the Boston Globe, and I gather that the main task of the FBI is to take the suspect alive. There is a drama brewing between Watertown, Washington, Moscow, and Grozny… And who knows which other cities. But I’m sure that the greatest fear is felt in Grozny. Which is why he will be taken alive.

Self-hating random Echo of Moscow commentator: “I will not be surprised if it turns out that the Tsarnaev brothers where recruited by Russian special forces for the execution of this terrorist act, because Russia will benefit from it. Why? Because this terrorist act will change American and Western public opinion – and hence, that of their politicians – towards Chechnya. If before the Western public supported the Chechens’ independence struggle, it is now more likely that they will support the Russian government’s policy on the Caucasus. And this means that the Kremlin KGBists will be able to use still crueler and more barbaric methods to fight separatism on the part of the Caucasus peoples. In other words, this terrorist act will untie the hands of the Kremlin in its war against the peoples of the Caucasus.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

Make of this what you will.

(1) The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, never adjusted to life in the US. “I don’t have a single American friend,” he said. His younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had an understanding of US teen hood / SWPL culture. He was a 9/11 “truther.” That’s from the Twitter account. That said, he wasn’t too down with America either.

(2) I’m not sure if beta male rage had anything to do with this. On the one hand, he does not seem to have been a social recluse. He wrestled. He is darkly handsome, and he has the self-assured gaze of a confident man on his photos. And most tellingly, and to his credit, he went down with guns blazing. On the other hand:

(3) Dzhokhar was a Chechen patriot, but not a raving/rabid one.

Tamerlan’s Amazon wish list included a Chechen phrasebook, “The Lone Wolf And the Bear: Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule,” and “Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, New Edition.”

Obviously, they did not like Russian domination of Chechnya and wanted it to be truly independent, but their lives do not seem to have been dominated by it.

(4) Dzhokhar says he knows English, Russia, and Chechen on his Vkontakte page. In reality, considering that even his older brother had a Chechen dictionary on his to-buy list, it’s unlikely that he knew it to any significant extent. His Russian was fluent in speech, but not in writing (he makes basic spelling errors):

(5) He has a sense of humor (mixed with bitterness). From his Vkontakte page:

In school they give us a puzzle. There is a car. In the car there is a Dagestani, a Chechen, and an Ingush. Question – who’s driving the car? Maga answers: A policeman.

(6) He was into Islam (he listed it as his “worldview” on Vkontakte), supported Palestine, etc., but it seems to have a fairly liberal variety. His last entry on Twitter was an RT of a kumbaya-type mufti who now lives in Zimbabwe:

But he definitely was religious, and visited the mosque.

His brother seems to have been a much more hardcore Islamist. His YouTube account was divided between “Islam” and “Terrorism,” and Russian rap songs.

(7) There’s a few references and hints at trouble sleeping. A sign of mild to moderate depression?

And when he did fall asleep, the dreams seem to be violent (see also the zombie apocalypse one above) and tortured.

(8) It also emerges that the FBI had interviewed the older brother at the bequest of an unspecific foreign government – almost certainly Russia. Tamerlan had visited it for 6 months in 2011. I wonder if he established links with some of the Caucasus Emirate Wahhabi types while there – and if so, whether US suspicions about Russia’s “assaults” on human rights in Chechnya made them drop their guard on a man who, it is now clear, was by then fast becoming an Islamist radical.

(9) Some tweets were funny, some were ironic in light of what was to come. There are even a few pearls of wisdom there:

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

My latest for VoR and US-Russia.org on Russia’s recent Foreign Policy Concept:

The new foreign-policy concept is a long-overdue adjustment to international realities. There can be no meaningful “strategic partnership” between Russia and the US or indeed Russia and the West in general, when their respective core values have diverged from each other so much.

Ironically, this divergence has occurred at a period in history when Russia has retreated from ideology; it now embraces a doctrine of national sovereignty and moderate social conservatism that a generation ago would have made it part of the European mainstream. But today it has been “left behind” as the West has moved on to democracy fetishism and pushing concepts such as gender feminism and criticisms of “heteronormativity” that sound alien to most Russians. Hence the disconnect between Russia and the West on a whole host of issues, from the Arab Spring to the Pussy Riot affair.

So even as Russia converged with Western civilization of the 1970′s, the West – in particular its Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Gallic constituent parts – has “transcended” itself, and we are again left with a gulf of mutual incomprehension as deep as in Soviet times. As such, the best that can be realistically hoped for, at least in the medium term, is mutually beneficial economic relations (i.e., oil and gas in exchange for machines and modernization). Anything “deeper” or more heart-felt will require cultural concessions on the part of either Russia or the West, and it is unclear how that could be made to happen even were it to be acknowledged as desirable in and of itself.

Given these cultural clashes, it is probably a good thing for relations to become more defined by markets, which peace theorists believe have a moderating effect on animosity and inter-state conflict. Fortunately, prospects in this sphere are good, the specter of the Great Recession notwithstanding. Russia’s GDP per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms is now well above half the EU average and close to convergence with the likes of Portugal and Greece. Russia has joined the WTO, and will probably join the OECD in another year or two. De Gaulle’s vision of a unified space – at least in the economic sphere – from Lisbon to Vladivostok has a real chance of coming into being within the next decade.

China doesn’t see eye to eye with the West either culturally or geo-politically, but it too is rapidly converging with the developed world; wages in its manufacturing sector have recently surpassed Mexico’s. It is now for all intents and purposes a middle-income country, and its GDP in terms of PPP may already have overtaken America’s. Opting for a closer relation with China is a wise play on Russia’s part. Its economic dominance in one or two more decades is all but assured, and with an (economistic, non-ideological) exploitation of high-speed trains and the melting Northern Sea Route, Russia can make a fair bit of money by being a “bridge” to the Orient.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

No matter how you look at it, he is a traitor. He violated the UCMJ. Although he is free to make ethical arguments as to why he leaked Collateral Murder and the US Embassy cables, the US is fully within its rights to prosecute him.

I’m quite consistent about this: Treason is a punishable offense, no matter where and why it happens. I do not have an issue with the US executing the Rosenbergs or the USSR executing Western spies during the Cold War either. It’s part of the risk you take when you choose to sell out your country for a few shekels. This likewise applies when you do it not for money but for “idealistic” reasons.

I agree that in a perfect world, the fact of Manning (1) releasing it out of ethical, not monetary convictions and (2) giving the entire world access to it, as opposed to foreign hostile intelligence services – unlike, for instance, the Russian KGB traitor, Vasily Mitrokhin – should be a mitigating factor. However, as a sovereign nation, the US has no obligation to take that or international left/liberal opinion into account.

The Assange case is completely different. Here the US is trying to extend its jurisdiction to the entire world, so that an Australian citizen can now be found guilty of “espionage” against the US even if he’d never stepped foot inside it. This is called imperialism, and we are opposed to it. What’s more, the methods used to do it are particularly nauseating and underhanded. The probable plan is to extradite Assange to Sweden, from whence he can be quietly renditioned to the US. All based on incredible and patently false rape accusations, questioning which is going to get you blacklisted and smeared by legions of Guardianistas, PC brigades, concern trolls, and sundry useful idiots of imperialism. It would be infinitely more respectable for the US to just whack him.

That is why I support Assange to the hilt, but don’t care for Manning. It’s a very logical and consistent position, I think, but many don’t see it that way. They view it as anti-American, misogynist, and reactionary. I think it is pro-American, anti-imperialist, and pro-rule of law.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

It’s not just the gopniks who are withering away; so are racist skinheads. According to the SOVA Center – an NGO which is about as anti-Kremlin as it gets, so no point in speculating that it cooks the figures for PR purposes – racist attacks in Russia have plummeted from their peak levels in 2007-2008, back when newspapers carried headlines such as “Moscow foreign students told to stay in as racist attacks rise over Hitler’s birthday.” (h/t Maksim for pointing it out to me)

racist-attacks-russia-sova

This is, of course, unquestionably a good thing. Obviously so for for non-White foreigners or immigrants, and likewise so for Russia in general. Whatever one’s views on the cost-to-benefit ratio of mass immigration, it’s hopefully clear to all that arbitrary violence shouldn’t be part of the discussion.

Of course even 18 racially motivated murders is a lot, as the annual average for the US is about 2 in recent years (the US has twice the population but half the background homicide rate). But it’s a lot better than the peak of 109 reached in 2008.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

Continuing from my previous post (which focused mostly on trends), this one focuses exclusively on international comparisons as per the results of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer survey of 2010-11. The graphs represent affirmative answers to the question of whether the respondent had paid a bribe in the past 12 months to each of 9 institutions if he had come into contact with them.

Is Russia the most corrupt of the BRICs?

This is the conventional wisdom, both as per the widely cited CPI as well as numerous pundits. Is it correct? Well, going by the best possibly objective measure of corruption – asking people whether they (or a member of their household) paid bribes in the past year – no, it isn’t. The honor goes to India. China is modestly less corrupt than Russia, while Brazil is basically a First World country in this respect.

brics-corruption-chart-institutions

Is Russia especially corrupt by Central-East European standards?

No, it isn’t. While it’s certainly more corrupt than average, that particular honor has to go to Azerbaijan. The Ukraine is systemically more corrupt than Russia, with a higher percentage of respondents reporting bribing all nine institutions. Even Lithuania is, on average, more corrupt than Russia. (So much for the pro-Western democracy automatically leading to cleanliness and transparency thesis).

cee-corruption-institutions

On the other hand, for the sake of honesty and consistency, one has to acknowledge that Saakashvili’s campaign against corruption in Georgia was a genuine and astoundingly successful achievement. In fact, if these polls are perfectly accurate, Georgia now has less “everyday” corruption than the US!

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

Here it is in Russian: Вверх-вниз по рейтингу свободы. This translation here is of a longer version at my Russian language blog.

A version of it also appears on Voice of Russia: Press freedom – on both sides of the Information Curtain.

press-freedom-voice-of-russia

Thanks to Alexei Pankin (who is a regular at Komsomolskaya) for making it happen – and for the title!, and to Alexander Mercouris for proving a couple of ideas and nice turns of phrase.

Up and down the freedom index

Recently the French human rights organization Reporters Without Borders unveiled new press freedom ratings, which showed Russia sinking to 148th place globally. This finding is consistent with the yearly ratings of the American organization Freedom House, which deems the Russian media to be “not free.” In contrast, Western countries, as we might expect, are the world’s freest and most democratic and ahead of everyone else.

Does this correlate to reality? As a regular reader of the mass media from both sides of the Information Curtain, I have long been under the strong impression that the Western public intelligentsia – including the creators of all these ratings – often consider that the only “free” and “independent” media outlets in Russia are those which support their own ideas and prejudices. At the same time, those Russian media outlets that take a pro-Kremlin or even neutral position are inevitably painted as Kremlin stooges – disregarding that the majority of the Russian mass media audience approve of Putin.

(By the way, those approval ratings are created by polling ordinary Russians, whereas the ratings of organizations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders are compiled using opaque methodologies by anonymous “experts.”)

As evidence of their position, their argue that Russia apparently has no freedom of speech, and that the “bloody regime” crushes the voices of “democratic journalists.” Yes, these things sometimes happen. For instance, after the Presidential elections, Kommersant Vlast printed a photograph of a election ballot saying, “Putin, go fuck yourself.” The paper’s editors cheekily captioned it thus: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” The paper’s owner Alisher Usmanov quickly fired them.

Harsh? Maybe, but there is a wealth of similar examples in the West. For insulting Romney, accidentally caught on open mic, the journalist David Chalian was fired from Yahoo News. One can compile an entire list of journalists who were fired for criticizing the state of Israel: Sunni Khalid, Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr, etc. Likewise there is another substantial list of journalists fired for attending Occupy Wall Street protests. The most famous journalist-whistleblower in the world, Julian Assange, today lives in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London to avoid arrest the moment he walks out onto the street.

Regardless of all this, “professors of democracy” continue to harangue us with the idea that the Russian media are controlled and toe the Kremlin line. These claims would seem absurd to any Russian who cares to leaf through the pages of Vedomosti, Novaya Gazeta, Echo of Moscow, or an array of other publications. If you wish to find a glaring example of mass media parroting a single narrative, one need look no further than Western coverage of the 2008 war in South Ossetia. In that fairytale, evil Russian orcs cravenly attacked flourishing, democratic Georgia, ushering in all kinds of savagery and destruction in their wake. At the same time, the American news channel FOX interrupted its interview with an Ossetian-American schoolgirl, at the time resident in Tskhinvali, when it became clear that her account did not square with Washington’s party line. The Polish journalist Wiktor Bater was fired after he started saying “politically incorrect” facts about the Georgian bombing of Tskhinvali and Saakashvili’s lies. Needless to say, these episodes did not in the slightest impact the press freedom ratings of either the US or Poland.

This is not to idealize the state of Russian press freedoms, which has a huge number of its own problems. For instance, writing about Putin’s private life (but not his policies!) is something of a taboo in Russia, just as is criticism of Israel in the US. And the situation as regards unsolved murders of journalists is far worse than in the West, albeit in statistical terms it is comparable to or even better than in many widely acknowledged democracies such as Brazil, Mexico, India, Colombia, and Turkey.

That said, there are some things Russia can be “proud” of. American “dissidents” such as Hearst Newspapers journalist Helen Thomas and former professor Normal Finkelstein are not only fired, but also put on blacklists which complicate their chances of finding another job and getting access to high-ranking officials. Meanwhile, in stupid and naive Russia, the American journalist Masha Gessen can publish a book about Putin titled “The Man Without a Face” and get a personal interview with the Russian President as a reward. She is then free to repay his consideration by practically calling him an idiot in an account of their meeting in the journal Bolshoi Gorod – and to then go on to head the Russian service of Radio Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, headquartered minutes away from the walls of the Kremlin.

So in some sense Russia still has many, many steps still to climb up the stairs of the press freedom ratings…

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

I am back to writing for the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel, which since my hiatus has found an additional home at Voice of Russia. The latest topic was on whether Russia, China, and the West could find a common approach to the challenges of the Arab Spring. My response is pessimistic, as in my view Western actions are driven by a combination of ideological “democracy fetishism” and the imperative of improving their own geopolitical positions vis-à-vis Iran, Russia, and China. This makes it difficult to find any middle ground:

It is true that many Muslims in the Middle East want their aging strongman rulers out, and democracy in. Even Osama bin Laden, who purportedly “hates us for our freedom”, once mused that the reason Spain has a bigger economy than the entire Arab world combined was because “the ruler there is accountable.”

And this is also part of the reason why we should refrain from fetishizing “democracy” as the solution to all the region’s ills.

That is because liberal democracy as we know it in the West, with its separation of powers – in particular, that of the Church and state – isn’t at the top of most locals’ priority lists. It only really concerns the liberal youth who initially headed the revolt, while the other 95% of the population is concerned with more trivial things, like unemployment and food prices. As per the historical pattern with the French and Russian revolutions, the Arab Spring happened during a period of record high grain prices. And now as then, a revolution won’t magically create jobs or fill bellies.

In today’s Egypt, it is not foreign-residing technocrats like El Baradei, with his 2% approval ratings, who become President; nor is the cultural discourse set by young Cairo women who strip nude against patriarchy. Remove a secular, modernizing dictator from a country where 75% of the populations supports stoning for adultery, and sooner rather than later you get restrictive dress codes for women (de facto if not de jure), attacks against Christian minorities, and bearded Islamists worming their way into power.

As for Syria, the biggest practical difference is that the liberal minority in the opposition was sidelined even before the fall of the dictator, as it is the Islamists who are now taking the lead in the fighting against Assad.

Will the new regimes that emerge out of the Arab Spring be anywhere near as accommodating with the West as were the likes of Mubarak, or even Assad – who, as Putin reminded us, visited Paris more times that he did Moscow? Will religious fundamentalists be able, or even willing, to build up the (educational) human capital that is the most important component of sustained economic growth?wahh Will they even be able to regain control of their borders, or will they end up like Libya, an anarchic zone disgorging Wahhabi mujahedeen into neighboring countries that don’t really want them?

Western policy-makers do not seem all that eager to consider these questions. Maybe they think they can manipulate the Arab Spring to serve their own interests – after all, Assad’s Syria is an ally of Iran, supplies Hezbollah, and has security relations with Russia and China. They may be calculating that the geopolitical boon from removing the Alawites from power outweighs the costs of Islamists taking over in Damascus. Certainly there are grounds to doubt that genuine concern for democracy explains French, British, and American actions: After all, the two dictatorships friendliest to the West, Bahrain and Yemen, were actively supported in their crackdowns.

If the above interpretation is anywhere near true, there can be little hope for Russia and China finding common ground with the West. It would imply that the Middle East is a chessboard for Great Power games – and chess isn’t a game that you typically play to draw. The one thing everyone should bear in mind, though, is that no matter a man’s ideological leaning, he resents being a pawn. This is a life truism that was demonstrated in the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, that is being played out today in Mali, and that will continue to reverberate so long as the crusaders – for they are widely seen as such – remain in Dar Al-Islam.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

I just remembered I’d made some in 2012. It’s time to see how they went, plus make predictions for the coming year.

Of course I failed to predict the biggest thing of them all: The hacking that made me throw in the towel on Sublime Oblivion (remember that?), but with the silver lining that I could now split my blog between my interest in Russia and my interest in many other things. After all tying my criticism of the Western media on Russia with topics like climate change and futurism and HBD was never a very good fit. Overall I am very satisfied with the new arrangement.

Predictions For 2013

(1) Russia will see slight positive natural population growth (about 50,000) as well as significant overall population growth (about 400,000). Do bear in mind that this prediction was first made back in 2008 when a Kremlinologist who did the same would have been forced into a mental asylum.

(2) The life expectancy will reach 71.5 years, the total fertility rate will rise to 1.8. The birth rate will reach a local maximum at about 13.3-13.5 (it will then remain steady for a couple of years, and then begin to slowly decline) while the death rate will go down to about 13.0-13.2). Net immigration should remain at about 300,000.

(3) Putin will not be overthrown in a glorious democratic revolution. In fact, things will remain depressingly stable on the political front. As they should!

(4) Currently Russia is one of Europe’s most corrupt countries. While it’s certainly not at the level of Zimbabwe, as claimed in the Corruption Perceptions Index, it’s not like having the Philippines, Romania, or Greece for neighbors on an objective assessment is anything to write home about. I believe that Russia missed a great opportunity to undermine the rotten culture of official impunity that exists there by refraining from prosecuting former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov with his Montenegrin villa, billionaire wife, and his VP Mayor Resin who wore a $500,000 watch following his dismissal in 2010. Today a similar opportunity presents itself with blatant evidence of large-scale corruption on the part of former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his female hangers-on (see the comments threads here, here at the Kremlin Stooge for details). There are conflicting signals as to whether charges will extend to the very top, i.e. Serdyukov himself. Having incorrectly anticipated a Luzhkov prosecution, I am now once bitten, twice shy. So I’ll take the lame way out and call it a 50/50.

(5) Needless to say, the economy remains as uncertain as ever, and contingent upon what happens in the EU and the world. In the PIGS the economic contraction is finally starting to slow down, but Greece is something of a disaster zone, and Spain is raiding its pension fund to keep afloat. If this becomes unsustainable this year then the EU member states will have to make some fundamental choices: Fiscal union? Or its division into a “Hanseatic” core and Mediterranean periphery? Which of these three things will happen I find impossible to even begin to foretell… As applied to Russia, under the first two scenarios, it will continue plodding along at a stolid but unremarkable pace of 3-4% or so GDP growth; if things come to a head (as they eventually must) and Germany decides to toss the Latins overboard, then the divorce I assume is going to be very, very messy, and we can expect Russia’s economy to fall into recession.

(6) No special insights on foreign policy. Ukraine may join the Customs Union; however, I suspect that’s more likely to happen in 2014 or 2015, as Yanukovych faces re-election and has to make a choice between continued prevarication between it and the EU, and encouraging his Russophone base. The creeping influence of the Eurasian Union will likely keep US-Russian relations cold; whatever the current disagreement that’s talked about (Magnitsky Act; Dima Yakovlev Law; Syria; Libya…) I lean to the “Stratfor”-like position that at heart the US just does not want what it sees as a “re-Sovietization” of the region – which the Eurasian Union is, in geopolitical terms, if under conditions much softer than was previously the case – and will thus be driven, almost by force of instinct, to oppose this trend.

How did I do for 2012?

Here is the link again. In short, this wasn’t the best year for my predictions.

1. “So that’s my prediction for March: Putin wins in the first round with 60%, followed by perennially second-place Zyuganov at 15%-20%, Zhirinovsky with 10%, and Sergey Mironov, Mikhail Prokhorov and Grigory Yavlinsky with a combined 10% or so.I later ended up refining this, and running a contest. My predictions for the five candidates were off by an aggregate error of 14%. The heroic winner was Andras Toth-Czifra (who has yet to get his T-Shirt – my profound apologies dude, it will be done…) Half a point.

2. “I will also go ahead and say that I do not expect the Meetings For Fair Elections to make headway.” Correct, although this was self-evident to anyone not afflicted with Putin Derangement Syndrome (which admittedly doesn’t include 90% of Western Russia journalists). Full point.

3. Here I made general points that I still think fully apply. That said, my own specific prediction turned out to be false. “But specifically for 2012, I expect Greece to drop out of the Eurozone (either voluntarily, or kicked out if it starts printing Euros independently, as the former Soviet republics did with rubles as Moscow’s central control dissipated).” Wrong! I am perhaps foolhardy to do so, but I repeat this prediction for this year. I really don’t know why the Greeks masochistically agree to keep on paying tribute to French and German banks when they know full well they have no hope of ever significantly bringing down their debt-to-GDP ratio without major concessions on the parts of their creditors. Zero points.

4. Last year I made no major predictions about the Russian economy; basically, unexciting but stable if things stay normal – a downswing if the EU goes down, albeit not on as big a scale as in 2008-2009. I was basically correct. One point.

5. “I expect 2012 will be the year in which Ukraine joins the Eurasian common economic space.” Nope. To activate their Russophone base, they decided to go with the language law. Zero points.

6. “Russia’s demography. I expect births to remain steady or fall slightly… Deaths will continue to fall quite rapidly, as excise taxes on vodka – the main contributor to Russia’s high mortality rates – are slated to rise sharply after the Presidential elections.” Too pessimistic on births, albeit understandably so because Russia’s cohort of women in their child-bearing age has now begun to decline rapidly (the echo effect). Although ironically enough however I am one of the most optimistic serious Russia demographers. In reality, as of the first 10 months of 2012, births have soared by a further 6.5% (which translates to a c.8% increase in the TFR, bringing it up from 1.61 in 2011 to about 1.74 this year – that’s about the level of Canada and the Netherlands – while deaths have fallen by 1.5%, implying a rise in life expectancy from 70.3 years in 2011 to about 71 years in 2012 (which is a record). Most remarkably the rate of natural population growth is now basically break-even, with birth rates and death rates both at about 13.3/1000; the so-called “Russian cross” has become a rhombus. Still, considering that my predictions were basically more optimistic than anyone else’s (even Mark Adomanis’), I still feel justified in calling this n my favor. One point.

So, that’s 3.5/6 for the Russia predictions. I will be very brief on the non-Russia related ones, as this is a Russia blog.

7. Wrong, Romney did not win LOL. Although later I did improve greatly, coming 12th out of 66 in a competition to predict the results of the US popular vote. I now owe a few bottles of whiskey to various people.

8. US did not attack Iran, but I gave it a 50% chance anyway. So, half point?

9. “But I will more or less confidently predict that global oil production in 2012 will be a definite decrease on this year.” Too early to tell.

10. “China will not see a hard landing.” Correct.

11. “Record low sea ice extent and volume. And perhaps 100 vessels will sail the Northern Sea Route this year.More like 46 vessels, and completely correct on extreme new sea ice lows.

12. “Tunisia is the only country of the “Arab Spring” that I expect to form a more or less moderate and secular government.” I think that’s basically correct.

13. Protests will not lead to any major changes outside the Arab world – yes.

14. “The world will, of course, end on December 21, 2012.” Correct, we’re now living in a simulation, the real world having ended as I predicted.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

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)
 

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)
 

At least if you take Michael Bohm’s arguments in his latest Moscow Times missive on how Russia Is Turning Into Iran to its logical conclusion.

Look, I’m not a fan of blasphemy laws. The First Amendment is a wonderful thing and something that makes the US truly great… even exceptional, to an extent. Although it should be noted that there are limits even in the US: Some quite appropriate in my opinion, others ridiculous such as the taboo on boobs on TV.

Still, if Russia’s moves to criminalize blasphemy brings it “another step closer to becoming like Iran and other Muslim theocracies”, then we have to admit that the likes of Germany, Poland, Israel, and Ireland are already long there – and contrary to what Bohm claims, it doesn’t seem that any of those countries have ended up in “chronic economic stagnation, decline and high poverty rates.”

Just look at the Wikipedia article. About half the Western world has blasphemy laws on the books. In Germany, a man was sentenced to one year in prison (suspended) in 2006 for insulting Islam. In Poland, the singer Doda was fined 5,000 złoty for the fairly innocuous comment, made well outside church, that the Bible was written by “people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”

Also back in 2006 in Germany, a Berlin man was imprisoned for 9 months for disrupting a church service – but unlike the case with Pussy Riot, nobody nominated the poor bloke for the Sakharov Peace Prize. Nor did The Guardian hire a German journalist to write an oped about how Germany was becoming a “Protestant Iran” (as did Oleg Kashin).

Yet no Western commentator thinks to compare those countries to Islamic societies where apostasy is punishable by death and mobs demand the deaths of 12 year old girls who (supposedly) burn the Koran. And quite rightly so. Regardless of one’s view on the precisely where the boundaries between free speech and protecting religious feelings and social order are, it is intuitively obvious there are stark and clear lines separating today’s Christian civilization from a large chunk of the Dar al-Islam.

Russia on the other hand has yet to even sign the blasphemy bills into law, but shills like Michael Bohm are already rushing in to bracket it in with Iran. If this isn’t double standards then I really don’t know what is.

PS. I am not even going to comment on Bohm’s bizarre and absolutely illiterate musings regarding GDP.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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.