Shining a Light on Whataboutism

Uncle Volodya says, "I could make you look like a fool - but why should I take all the credit?"

I had a good look around to see if I could sniff out an actual definition of “whataboutism” and perhaps attribution of the term’s inventor, but I couldn’t find anything firm. I did find the suggestion, on a blog called “The Democrat’s Diary” (see the posting, “Gaza, Sri Lanka and ‘Whataboutism'”) that it is ” a propaganda tactic pioneered by the Soviet Union. You’d challenge a Kremlin official with the abuses carried out by the Red Army in Afghanistan, for example, and he’d pause for a moment, shuffle uncomfortably, and then say…”what about what the Americans are doing in Nicaragua?”

Still, since Russians are generally uncomfortable with compound words in English that are essentially invented – like “scandalicious” and “Californication” – I doubt if Russians made it up. More likely, it was developed by a western journalist or blogger to describe his or her impression of how Russian officials react to criticism. All I could find in the way of attribution was that The Economist, Ed Lucas and the Streetwise Professor absolutely adore the term, and seek to inject it into the debate wherever opportunity allows.

In any case, the accusation of “whataboutism” serves several purposes. For one, it’s supposed to restrict you very narrowly to the subject of discussion. Let’s assume you are engaged in disagreement with someone, on an issue you perceive to be unfair or Russophobic (or both). If you suggest the problem at the root of the discussion exists in equal or greater measure in the Russophobe’s country, you are likely to be accused of whataboutism. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong; it means you were supposed to simply argue the problem from the point of view of its existence in Russia – yes or no. If you divert from those parameters, the accusation of whataboutism is meant to suggest your purpose is to distract other parties from the issue being argued – even if you continue to discuss the same issue, but point out that it exists elsewhere.

Let’s look at an example. In this post, the Power Vertical was riffing off of a Moscow Times article which reported engineers at an assembly plant – belonging to aviation company Sukhoi – had obtained fake university diplomas in order to justify pay raises, or to secure their jobs, or something of that nature. The diplomas advertised them as having achieved qualifications they had not earned. The Power Vertical author Robert Coalson (who has since moved on to other efforts) was having a high old time pouring withering criticism on the country, because the company refused to fire the engineers in question when the paper exposed their guilt.

I pointed out that diploma forgery was not only common in the USA, but that cushy jobs acquired through lying about one’s level of education – substantiated with a fake diploma – extended all the way into the U.S. government, major defense contractors, even an auditor whose job it was to verify the credentials of independent colleges and schools. I also pointed out that the USA is far and away the leader in the business of generating fake diplomas, and that no laws prohibit the practice of selling fake diplomas in most states. Federal and state law-enforcement had offered their support for legislation that would make selling fake diplomas illegal – but the government declined to act.

My purpose in doing this was not to pretend the ethical abuses in Russia had never happened, or to deny that there is a problem in Russia with phony qualifications. It also was not an effort to distract Mr. Coalson and get him off the subject, as we remained involved in discussion of fake diplomas. I specifically chose the United States only because Robert Coalson is an American; it makes little sense to argue that Russia is burning if you’re speaking from the middle of a pillar of fire yourself. Surprisingly, Mr. Coalson responded personally – to tell me….you guessed it. That I was engaged in “a tour de force of whataboutism”. Furthermore, he informed me, it was not his intention to suggest the problem did not occur elsewhere, but that “the current government in Russia has systematically eliminated all mechanisms for holding itself accountable before the public”.

Which, I thought, was another way of saying the Russian government would not acknowledge that using fake diplomas to get a job or to obtain a raise in pay is illegal. As far as that goes, if you are caught doing it in the USA, you probably will be fired. However, the practice of selling fake diplomas is not illegal, and the traffic in them is conservatively estimated at 100,000 per year in the USA alone. You can’t tell me 100,000 people get fired in the U.S. every year for using fake educational qualifications. There were – at the time the article was written – 134 fake-diploma mills just in California. There are only 159 real universities and colleges in California, counting every such institution that fits the description, including Bible Colleges and specialized facilities such as Culinary Schools.

This, then, led me to the impression that Mr. Coalson was upset because reporters and advocates from the United States had told Russia what it should do, and Russia had not obeyed.

Since there appears to be no established definition for “whataboutism”, I therefore propose it be understood as ” a tactic used by one side of an argument in order to limit the options available to an opponent to conduct a rebuttal to the best of his/her ability”. All in favour, raise your right hand. Opposed? Carried.

In fact, what I was trying to express to Mr. Coalson – and anyone else reading the post – was my objection not to his characterization of the behavior as unethical, but to the hypocrisy evident in his castigation of it while his own country hosts an even worse problem of precisely the same nature.

Another timeworn cliché suggests that when confronted by a westerner on the issue of lawlessness in Russia, Russians and Russophiles alike reply, “but you lynch negroes”. This is just another trope, a tired jape trotted out in the hope that you, the reader, will fall for it and abandon your argument. If you were talking about banking irregularities and your opponent suggested it was an endemic problem in Russia, using “but you lynch negroes” would be a stupid argument, wouldn’t it? Lynching of negroes has nothing to do with banking. If you, however, were able to substantiate that banking irregularities were as or more prevalent in your opponent’s country, while receiving the same studied disregard on the part of the law, that is most certainly a valid argument.

Yes, America once did lynch negroes. Presumably that would be a valid argument if the subject were human rights violations that took place from the late 18th century to the early 1960’s, but that would be as far as it goes. You couldn’t use, “but you lynch negroes” as a defense if you were discussing mail fraud. And as far as I can see, nobody does – but still the treasured defense reflexes of “whataboutism” and “but you lynch negroes” persist. Russophobes are content to let you go down in flames if you are losing the argument, but if you appear to be holding your own, expect the accusation of whataboutism to come out. It is, therefore, a tactic used to prevent you from successfully defending your viewpoint.

Let’s look at another example of a valid human-rights argument that need not involve a defense of negro-lynching. In 2006, U.S. Senator Bill Frist said in a news conference following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the United States would have reservations about recommending Russia for membership in the WTO owing to Russia’s “disregard for the rule of law, human rights violations and anti-democratic tendencies”.

Let’s take a look at each of those. Rule of law? In 2006, the U.S. government began tracking computer users’ web browsing by implanting bugs on their web browsers that would track their online visits to any and all sites, without their knowledge. Against the law? You bet. When called on it, the Pentagon claimed to be unaware its systems were tracking users across the web. Before you accept that explanation, pretend it happened in Russia and the Kremlin’s position was, “Gee; we didn’t know”. Rule of law? Check.

Let’s look at the human rights accusation. I’m not sure what Mr. Frist was referring to, because he didn’t elaborate, but I’d guess it was either the murder of journalists or issues in the Caucasus. Anyway, this one was my favourite, because only two months before Mr. Frist’s accusation, the second wave of photos and records chronicling horrific abuse of Iraqi detainees (most of whom had done nothing wrong, since they were subsequently released) at Abu Ghraib, some of it by CIA agents, was published. The Pentagon’s response to the disclosure was to accuse Salon magazine of damaging national security. Again, imagine this is the Kremlin, suggesting the Moscow Times should have covered up evidence of torture conducted by FSB personnel in the interests of national security. You can imagine how that would fly in the western press. Uh huh. Human rights? Check.

That brings us to “anti-democratic tendencies”. Well, how about this? In 2006, Congress fast-tracked legislation that would grant President Bush the authority to declare any citizen an “enemy combatant”, even if he or she had never left the United States. If the subject had contributed to a Midddle Eastern charity, he or she could be detained in a military prision indefinitely, and face a military tribunal without the constitutional protections afforded in a criminal trial. I imagine Mr. Putin could have designated any Russian an enemy combatant, too, if he really wanted to – but I have a hard time believing you could find a Republican senator who would describe it as democratic. Or this; U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who had discretion over awarding of federal contracts, withdrew one that had already been awarded because the contractor said he didn’t like President Bush. No, I’m not kidding. Imagine if his counterpart in Russia did the same thing, based on a criticism of Putin. Anti-democratic tendencies? Check.

See, that wasn’t hard! Stay in context and, if you can, stay in the same timeframe. You know how much you hate it when opponents say, “Stalin butchered millions, ” and “Stalin did this” and “Stalin did that” – quite apart from the fact that Stalin wasn’t even a Russian, he has been dead a long, long time, and his activities then have little relevance to the way Russia is governed today. That’s a “but you lynch negroes” argument, and you should avoid citing activities in the target government or country that happened years and years ago, unless the disagreement is historical in nature.

I’d love to do another one, but I don’t have time right now. How about if you do it yourself, as a practical exercise, just for fun? Let’s assume your Russophobic opponent is arguing that such-and-such event in Russia was “stage-managed” by the Kremlin; that it was deliberately faked in order to create a specific impression for the public, and the actual circumstances were nothing like what it portrayed. Let’s further assume this event took place in Russia in 2003.

A good place for you to start would be to google “Jessica Lynch”. Have fun.

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120 Responses to Shining a Light on Whataboutism

  1. Tim Newman says:

    I usually get the impression that those who engage in whataboutism rank form a lot higher than degree, often to the point that only the former matters.

    • marknesop says:

      I’m afraid I didn’t understand at all what you meant by that.

      To me, being accused of “whataboutism” when I am only defending my argument – remaining in context and timeframe – is little different than you dropping me in it by mentioning that I was late for work this morning (in front of the boss) when you were late yesterday, but it went unremarked. When I start to say, “but…but you, only yesterday.. “, you cut in and say, “We’re not talking about me, we’re talking about you”.

      When I am using a comparison in rebuttal, I try to stick to the subject (human rights, for example), the timeframe and to use the host country of the accuser for an example. Of course it wouldn’t be a constructive argument to say, “Okay, human rights problems exist in Russia, but what about Zimbabwe??” unless the accuser is from Zimbabwe. Typically most popular Russia critics are from the USA, with some from the UK and at least one virulent one (Oksana Bashuk-Hepburn, pointed out to me by Mike) who is not only Canadian, but was once an adviser to the government. In such cases, I maintain it is perfectly valid to criticize such abuses as exist in that country, because the accuser is assuming the moral high ground and lecturing from the perspective of superiority.

      • peter says:

        When I am using a comparison in rebuttal, I try to stick to the subject (human rights, for example), the timeframe and to use the host country of the accuser for an example…

        That’s certainly not the impression I got from our little debate the other day.

        • marknesop says:

          I’m afraid I don’t see where you’re going with that. Are you talking about the McCain reference? McCain himself is largely irrelevant in that; the principle I am rebutting is that politics is supposed to be fair, and that opponents should not use a perceived advantage to win elections.

          • peter says:

            Are you talking about the McCain reference?

            Yes, among other things. It’s kovane, though, who wins the “Whatabout of the Month” award, hands down.

            • marknesop says:

              Whoa; I thought we were talking about you and me. What does Kovane have to do with it? Isn’t that whataboutism?

              If McCain’s being an American is the issue, I’m quite sure I could find a British example. Normally I don’t like to mention where commentors are from if they have not chosen to reveal it themselves, but if you insist on my using an example from your home country, I have little choice. I’m assuming you are from the UK since you have a UK address, although that might not be so. Would you like a British example of unscrupulous influence exercised in the process of electioneering?

              • marknesop says:

                Say, how do you do that, anyway? Isolate just a comment, and create a link to it? Normally I would reference the whole article, and specify that the relevant part is in the comments. I’ve seen others do it, too (Anatoly, for one), but I don’t know how.

                • peter says:

                  What does Kovane have to do with it? Isn’t that whataboutism?

                  It’s the same thread. Kovane tried to help you with your whatabouting and this is how you thank him?

                  I’m assuming you are from the UK…

                  No I’m not.

                  Say, how do you do that, anyway? Isolate just a comment, and create a link to it?

                  Right-click on the date/time, “copy link address”, paste.

                • marknesop says:

                  Oh, come now. If I tried to use “It’s the same thread” as a defense against an accusation of whataboutism, you and others would be all over me like Goering on bratwurst. It’s impossible to restrict debate of a point to “I say the new road to Sochi, being built for the Olympics, is ridiculously overexpensive and riddled with corruption; do you agree? Yes or no, and no examples outside this specific case are permitted”. People attempting to defend the project would always have to agree with you, because it is horribly expensive and corruption likely has a good deal to do with the price tag. But between Anatoly and I (this is a real example, and I’d be happy to cite it for you if you like), we were able to cite several mitigating factors that put the question in its proper perspective. Using the defense of whataboutism is merely a tool to restrict debate, effectively confining the respondent to a yes/no answer. If I were to argue that the road in Sochi was horribly expensive, but I knew of a road project in Kaliningrad that was based on a reasonable budget and appeared corruption-free, that’d still leave me open to charges of whataboutism, because we were only talking about Sochi. Therefore, my rebuttal is restricted to comparing Sochi with….Sochi.

                  Although I suppose I could say, “I heard about a road project in Boston that cost many times as much as Sochi, and in which there were several proven examples of corruption”. Just as long as I did it in the same thread.

                  Thanks for the explanation for copying a comment!

                • peter says:

                  Oh come on, Mark, it’s all fun and games. Every middle-aged Russian knows this “What about the LDP of Japan?” thing from his Komsomol years, I just couldn’t miss the chance to mock kovane for it.

                • marknesop says:

                  Okay, fair enough. I suppose if Kovane really takes offense, he’ll send some goons around to lump you up.

              • Tim Newman says:

                Would you like a British example of unscrupulous influence exercised in the process of electioneering?

                That’s pretty much the point I was making earlier when I said most whataboutism is long on form, short on degree.

                Yes, you could find examples of electioneering in the UK or even Norway. Nobody is denying that. What is key in any sensible discussion is the degree to which such-and-such occurs, not the mere fact that it does. Almost every sensible discussion I have had with people about the difficulties of, say, doing business in Russia is the degree to which obstacles are placed in your path. Sure, there are bureaucrats and approvals processes in every country, but in Russia the degree to which they exist is far more of an obstacle than they are in the West.

                That most whataboutism I’ve come across seems to emphasise form and ignore degree makes it look as though the person deploying it is more interested in deflecting criticism than comparing two countries.

                • peter says:

                  That most whataboutism I’ve come across seems to emphasise form and ignore degree makes it look as though the person deploying it is more interested in deflecting criticism than comparing two countries.

                  I’d give the Whatabouters some benefit of the doubt and put the characteristic superficiality of their arguments down to ignorance rather than ill intent. Indeed, if we exclude paid propagandists, your typical Whatabouter is either a Russian поцреот or a Western useful idiot — you just can’t expect a meaningful comparative argument from someone with no first-hand knowledge of at least one (but often both) sides of the attempted comparison.

                  Yes, you could find examples of electioneering in the UK or even Norway.

                  Still, I’d challenge Mark to find anything quite like this 2007 Duma elections billboard.

                • marknesop says:

                  Gee; that’s big of you, Peter, thanks for giving me an out. If I won’t stipulate to your viewpoint because I don’t agree with it, it’s because I’m ignorant, or a paid lackey. I could find condescending bigheaded swill like that at La Russophobe; perhaps you should stop by to see if they have some space on the roster in the pipe-smoking, elbow-patches know-it-all department. Naturally it’s impossible that you could be wrong for any reason, you having first-hand knowledge of everything and all.

                  It always seemed to me the pretense to virtue that one – or one’s country – does not exhibit; rather, exhibits an example of the opposite, was the very definition of hypocrisy. And I be go to hell, so it is, according to the dictionary. Therefore and directly relevant, if you as a Russophobic American journalist or public figure say that “the Russian financial system is a mess, nobody should invest there” when your own deficit is about to hit $1.5 Trillion and Russia’s is the lowest in the G-20, you are pretending to be an example of fiscal prudence based on first-hand knowledge, when you are in fact the very worst sort of example. You can call pointing that out “whataboutism”, you can call it Sarah if you like. You have not invalidated it by personalizing it with a smug nickname.

                  Elections billboards? Sure. How’s this for an attempt to narrow the electorate’s choice? Almost turns the election into a referendum, doesn’t it? Let me know when Medvedev/Putin start putting up billboards that depict Nemtsov french-kissing western politicians.

                • marknesop says:

                  The offer to find a British example was based on an assumption that Peter was from the UK, as he seemed annoyed when I used John McCain as an example of a point. In fact, I believe he specifically asked what John Mccain had to do with it. John McCain was largely irrelevant to the issue – I just didn’t want to say, “some guy” when I had a specific example. This was all part of the apparently endless argument with Peter on the point of “turning elections into referendums”, and the larger issue (for Peter) that the Russian government (more specifically, Putin, the mention of whose name seems to make Peter bristle all over and walk stiff-legged) allegedly removes all choice in elections and makes it impossible to vote for anyone else. This – at least to me – appears to be nonsense based on the fact that other parties get votes (although not enough to win) and the results often fit the pre-election polling forecast like a glove. If you ask before the election, “Who do you plan to vote for?” and 70% say “Medvedev”, and Medvedev gets 70% of the vote, it’d be difficult to act surprised.

                  Anyway, in a desperate effort to make a long story short, McCain was mentioned because the Bush campaign started a smear against him that, while unfounded, cost him the state of Arizona, his home state. He might have countered it, but he didn’t have the money. Therefore, the organization that had all the funds and connections won the state by unethical means, since they knew the story to be a lie. The whole point of all this was that influence and manipulation of electoral decision-making appears unremarkable as long as its conducted in what purports to be the original democracy. Any attempt to influence the electorate in favour of the incumbent in Russia appears to be blatant fraud. The two do not square well, and it isn’t whataboutism.

                  I maintain it is not whataboutism if it can substantiate hypocrisy; like Britain lecturing Russia for horrible fiscal policies when Britain has just adopted the strictest austerity measures – by necessity rather than choice – since WWll owing to poor fiscal policy choices, to use a completely hypothetical example.

            • kovane says:

              peter, you come off as a petty liar, I just asked you a question then, without making any statement. I tried to learn about your opinion on that subject. But it seems that baseless accusations are your thing, like your comments to my Magnitsky article, for example.

  2. Misha says:

    “Whataboutism” is often a subjective matter of where someone is leaning. The whataboutism examples given in the first two links at this thread aren’t so off base IMO. As Mark picked up on and notes, life is frequently based on assessments/decisions based on comparison. Biases aside, I think there’s still a relatively objective enough way to determine the more valid of comparisons.

    Timothy Snyder’s stresses the matter of comparisons regarding attitudes towards the Nazis and Soviets in the 1930s and 1940s:

    http://www.c-spanvideo.org/videoLibrary/event.php?id=189785&timeline

    The talk he gave was at the NY locale of the Ukrainian Institute in America:

    http://www.ukrainianinstitute.org/index.php

    Snyder makes it a point to note how many people between the RSFSR (Russia) and Germany were at one time or another caught between wondering what was better between Nazi Germany and the USSR? He acknowledges that for good reason, many chose the latter. Snyder was firm in acknowledging that some of the earlier thought claims of Soviet involved deaths were exaggerated from what was reality. He attributes the differential on better access to Soviet archives in the post-Soviet period – while saying that the Soviets were much better at certain types of record keeping than the Nazis.

    Adding onto what Snyder said at the aforementioned talk, the Nazis and Soviets found a good share of multiethnic support – which was at times was quite enthusiastic. For example, some Germans wrote with horror on how the Croat Ustasha carried on. Concerning “whatboutism” and WW II era Yugosaliva, it’s a stretch (put mildly) to equate the Chetniks with the Ustasha. The accounts of Jews include those noting plenty of non-German and non-Russian WW II period brutality

    In general: unlike the position of Germans in Nazi Germany, Russians weren’t given considerably better treatment at the expense of others in the USSR. Snyder made it a point to observe how the Nazis propagated the idea of a Jewish run USSR. Likewise, it’s wrong to generally assert that the USSR was created and carried on for the benefit of Russians at the expense of others. Some of the Nazi propaganda played on that idea as well.

    Snyder measures his comments about non-Russian Soviet WW II suffering with an emphasis on the suffering caused by the Nazi siege of Leningrad – adding the notion that in the event of a Nazi victory, Leningrad served as a base for Finland. Other parts of Russia suffered considerably during WW II as well.

    He didn’t get into the (what for some especially) is the touchy issue of collaboration in in one form or another. On comparisons, there’re differences between Vlasov’s Russian Army of Liberation and the Bandera led UPA. The former wasn’t involved in the noticeable large scale killing of civilians and assisted in the liberation of Prague (the last scene of WW II area fighting) against the Nazis. For much of its existence, Vlasov’s army was restricted on account of Vlasov’s stance which some Nazis took note of. Vlasov’s stated intent was the overthrow of Stalin for the purpose of having an improved Russia. This isn’t what the Nazis had in mind. On the sbject of Vlasov’s army, I’m in the prcoess of trying to find out more about instances where some of his pers9innel were able to arrange a cease-fire understanding with Soviet allied Partisans.

    Touching on the issue of “whataboutism,” is how post-Soviet Ukraine during Yushchenko’s presidency had the arbitrary issuing of a “Hero” designation to Bandera. In contrast, post-Soviet Russia hasn’t (at least to my knowledge) seen government issued “Hero” designations to historical figures (Communist and non-Communist alike) who conjure up a noticeable degree of negativity. This comparison gets downplayed in some circles when highlighting nationalist trends in the former Communist bloc.

  3. Misha says:

    Pardon the misspells. Been a long day.

  4. I wrote my 2 cents on whataboutism here.

    “Whataboutism” Argument

    Your arguments are a classic example of whataboutism – deny the problem and insist it’s worse in the West anyway.

    And what about it?

    This is a childish and circular argument at best; at worst, the squeal of the exposed hypocrite.

    I agree that this argument should not be used to deflect genuine criticism from (many) Russian shortcomings. However, as soon as the focus shifts to scoring cheap political points – and that is the modus operandi of almost everyone accusing their opponents of whataboutism – using this rebuttal becomes fair game.

    • peter says:

      This is a childish and circular argument at best…

      Err, how exactly is it circular?

    • peter says:

      Never mind, SO, I figured it out already: you must’ve confused the circular argument with the go-round-in-circles argument. Perhaps you should retake your Logic 101.

  5. Yalensis says:

    Very good points, Mark. It’s all about correct debating technique, IMO. It’s also about hypocrisy, which is a behavior universally condemned by all human societies. For example, if a politician pontificates about sexual morality and “the sanctity of marriage”, it is quite appropriate to point out if he is having an affair with his young male intern, because his own behavior has invalidated his right to lecture others. So, when Frist told Lavrov that he can’t join the WTO because he violates human rights, I agree it would have been incorrect for Lavrov to shoot back: “Yes, but you lynch negroes…”. On the other hand, I think it would have been valid for Lavrov to retort: “Yes, but your jails are full of Negro males, most of whom did not even commit violent crimes… Therefore [voice rising in righteous indignation] HOW DARE YOU LECTURE ME on human rights, you hypocrite!”

    • Misha says:

      Re – http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=22931

      Excerpt:

      While U.S. legal experts feverishly try to trump up charges they can use to demand extradition of Assange to the United States, to be duly punished for discomfiting the empire, U.S. State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley piously reacted to the Council of Europe allegations by declaring that the United States will continue to work with Thaci since “any individual anywhere in the world is innocent until proven otherwise”.

  6. kovane says:

    Regarding the subject of so-called ‘whataboutism’, this label is just a cheap attempt to disparage the correct method of putting everything in context, provided that the context is applied accurately (unlike with the ‘lynching negroes’ example). Besides, Jesus Christ himself pioneered this method, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” And who are we to question His words?

    • Misha says:

      Concerning the discussion on whataboutism and the related points of hypocrisy and valid versus not as valid comparisons:

      http://trueslant.com/juliaioffe/2010/03/23/hillary-clinton-gets-the-russian-larry-king-treatment/

      Excerpt –

      “There were also Pozner’s amazingly Russian questions. Like, how is Kosovo different from Abkhazia or South Ossetia? (No mention, of course, of Chechnya.)”

      ****

      Biases are to be found among every slant on a given issue. For clarity sake, effort should be made to be as objective as possible, while maintaining a given position on an issue.

      The above excerpted comments on disputed former Communist territories generally fit well at leading Western mass media outlets. At such venues, it would be “courageous” (politically incorrect) to challenge how Kosovo has better human rights and historical claims than some if not all of the other disputed former Communist bloc territories. (BTW: several years ago, a referendum result in Chechnya supports that republic’s continued existence within the Russian Federation. Although the process of that referendum has been questioned, the appeal of Chechen separatism has noticeably declined from its greatest level of popularity for a period in the 1990s.)

      The discussion of disputed former Communist bloc territories brings to mind this show:

      http://rt.com/programs/crosstalk/kosovo-nato-criminal-state/

      Aired on December 22, this show could’ve and should’ve been at least a two part series.

      Analyst Misha Gavrilovic highlighted the inaccuracy of the claim that Milosevic changed the status of Kosovo. As a follow-up, the tense situation in Kosovo before that late 1980s status change wasn’t dwelled on. Instead, the emphasis was on what happened thereafter.

      To put the Kosovo dispute in greater perspective and in relation to Albanian ambassador Zef Mazi’s pro-NATO intervention comments, one could contrast Serb activity in Kosovo to what NATO member Turkey did to combat Kurdish anti-Turkish government forces in eastern Turkey. Such a comparison reveals harsher activity on the part of Turkey. In either instance, it’s an oversight to gloss over the terrorism committed by some Albanians and Kurds in the respective conflicts.

      Towards the end of the show, Alan Kuperman touched on a “grand deal” to see a joint international recognition of Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the idea of consistency. IMO, this is an oversimplification. Note that Nagorno-Karabakh and Pridnestrovie (Transnistria) weren’t brought up.

      Dr. Kuperman stresses the 72 nations recognizing Kosovo’s independence, while not highlighting the majority of countries opposed to that territory’s independence claim. Omitted from the discussion is how the recognition of disputed territories doesn’t always appear so well based on which contested land has the best claim. From a human rights and historical prism, Kosovo doesn’t have a better independence claim than Pridnestrovie. The issue of how big powers influence independence recognition is downplayed.

      There’s no rule saying that independence recognition can’t be withdrawn because a significant minority of nations recognize a given disputed territory.

      United Nations Security Resolution 1244 (still a matter of record) serves as a basis to lead the major powers (EU, Russia and the US), to encourage the Serbs and Albanians to accept Kosovo becoming an irrevocably autonomous republic within Serbia, with it’s own UN and IOC delegations. (There’re precedents in support of this kind of arrangement.)

      Upon the Soviet breakup, Georgia could’ve shown greater interest in a loose former Georgian SSR federation of autonomous republics in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

      The preceding suggestions could’ve been more easily achieved prior to the limited independence recognition. Such settlements are now more difficult to achieve, given how the involved disputed territories feel that a major hurdle has been passed (some independence recognition), with no going back. At the same time, the history of limited independence recognition has seen changes, albeit under different circumstances. (Consider some of the states recognized by the Axis Powers during WW II.)

      A plausible former Moldavian SSR settlement is one of a union state of republics which aren’t technically part of each other, while being in the same nation – much like the status of American states with each other and the relationship between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as part of the UK.

      The difficult dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh might be best resolved by a unique process, which makes that territory a simultaneous part of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

  7. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    On many issues “whataboutism” is implicit from the start of the discussion. If I write “Russia is a corrupt country” every person which is not an idiot interpret it as “the level of corruption in Russia is higher than the acceptable level/the average level in developed countries”. The other possible interpretation “there is corruption in Russia” is actually meaningless, because in every country there is corruption. It’s like saying that every country has a head of the state.
    So, the “Russia is a corrupt country” and similar arguments must be countered by drawing comparisons between Russia and other countries, more precisely those countries that are
    That is not the only case where a comparison with other countries is needed in the discussion. The argument “event X proves that country Y has drawback Z”, like “the loss of the last 3 Glonass satellites in December proves that Putin’s Russia is a dying country where nothing works”, is countered by mentioning an event like X for another country and asking if the conclusions are the same, like “so, does the loss of two NASA shuttles with their crews proves that the USA is a dead country where nothing works?”.

    • marknesop says:

      Word, Giuseppe; I couldn’t have said it better myself, although I did try. And I couldn’t have said it at all in Italian.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Sorry for the missing part in “those countries that are…”, it should have been “those countries that are assumed to be the touchstone for the subject being discussed”.

  8. Leos Tomicek says:

    Whataboutism is disliked by certain well known individuals because it puts their moral standing into question. It is that: “Who are you to lecture us?” kind of question.

    Be aware that most of these freaks are convinced about the moral superiority of the West. Putting that into question is blasphemy in their eyes…

    • marknesop says:

      Quite true in the case of those who fancy themselves on a superior intellectual plane compared with us proletarian nosepickers: also true in the case of the drooling disturbed – such as La Russophobe, where you will simply be banned from commenting if “whataboutism” appears to be gaining you the upper hand.

      I don’t get that sense from Peter; I think he just likes to argue. I had a friend once – I suppose I still do, although I haven’t seen him in a long time – who so loved to argue that, if you were to say, “Gee, you know, you’re right – I hadn’t looked at it that way”, he would blink a couple of times, then resume the conversation by arguing for your previous viewpoint. He just loved the argument. And it sharpens your wits, especially if the other person is a capable adversary.

      As far as western superiority goes, too many make a connection between material success and moral purity that does not exist. The American dream is predicated on the notion, backed up by a few actual examples, that you can come there with nothing and end up king of the hill. It’s certainly possible, because it’s been done, but it is far from common and should be on a plane with pointing out that it’s possible to become the world’s 16th richest person in Russia…but it’s certainly not the normal circumstance. Be careful before suggesting, “Sure, it’s possible, but Khodorkovsky is a crook; anyone can get rich if you’re a criminal”, because quite a few in the west (land of moral purity) do not consider Khodorkovsky to be a crook. It’s enough that he’s a businessman, and rich. Nobody cares how he got that way.

  9. marknesop says:

    I read on Natalia Antonova’s blog that a Russian playwright she knew was killed at Domodedovo.

  10. Yalensis says:

    Ria Novosti today: “The identity of the terrorist or terrorists who carried out the blast has not yet been officially confirmed, with conflicting reports suggesting the attack was carried out by a female Black Widow suicide bomber accompanied by a man, or a man on his own.”
    Sounds like they haven’t yet started to crack the case. Some reports say it was a woman, some say it was a man. In the metro bombings last year, the terrorists had 2 women blow themselves up in separate locations, but in each case the woman was accompanied by a male escort who got her to the designated location and then bailed at the last minute. Usually the escorts themselves detonate the bombs remotely from a safe distance, so the females have no chance of chickening out. Don’t know if this is the case here, I am just speculating because no one seems to know anything yet… Presumably the police are studying the surveillance tapes and so on. If they see a man escorting a woman into the baggage area and then dashing off, that would probably be the one.

    • Yalensis says:

      P.S. Just saw this in INOSMI here is link to English-language version:
      http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/MA26Ag01.html

      Summary of article: author believes Al Qaeda is experiencing a renaissance in Afghanistan and Pakistan, having successfully adapted their tactics in the last couple of years after initial defeat of Taliban. After defeating U.S. army (which seems inevitable, unfortunately) and consolidating their hold over Afghanistan-Pakistan, Al Qaeda plans to move more forcefully into Central Asia and on into North Caucasuses. Author points out that Al Qaeda has been very successful in recruiting local cadres in every area they move into. We are not just talking Chechens here, but also Uzbeks, Tadjiks, even Chinese, many other ethnic groups. Al Qaeda has perfected tactic of using local recruits as human suicide bombers, and this tactic is extremely effective, even against regular armies.
      My own comment: I firmly believe that Russia can take these guys on and successfully defend their citizens in North Caucasuses. However, whatever they do, Russians should not go along with any American plans. Americans have blundered this whole war very badly, starting with their interference in Afghanistan in the late 1970’s, and continuing with their inappropriate response to the 9/11 terrorist attack. Everything Americans try to do, it seems the result turns out the opposite of what they intended. So, Russia should NEVER get caught up in such follies. Instead, follow own path, form own alliances, etc.

  11. Tim Newman says:

    Therefore and directly relevant, if you as a Russophobic American journalist or public figure say that “the Russian financial system is a mess, nobody should invest there” when your own deficit is about to hit $1.5 Trillion and Russia’s is the lowest in the G-20…

    If he said that, the American journalist would not have been referring to government finances, he was referring to the private capital system. Any attempt to point the finger at US government debt would be as good an example of whataboutism as any.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      To be fair toward the US government current financial mess, it’s the consequence of bailing out the private financial system from the mess created by the latter. The problem is that the private system is still a mess.

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, that’s correct, but it’s not what I said. I said the country’s federal trade deficit. Russia’s deficit – as opposed to its government debt. The Russian deficit is predicted by Goldman Sachs (Ooooo…caution! Sometimes I wouldn’t believe them if they said their name was Goldman-Sachs, based on observed judgment, but they are supposed to know something about finance) to bottom to zero this year, four years ahead of schedule. The Russian government itself was not as optimistic (the report was from 2010), and it looks like they were right, but comparison of the deficit situation in the two countries would make the USA look decidedly hypocritical.

      Not just on a balance-to-balance comparison, either; quoting from the print edition of Foreign Affairs, December 2008; James Grant, After the Crash – ” The economy over which the next president is probably already losing sleep is a rarity in world history. In the long run, nations consume and produce in roughly equal measure; they have no choice. The united States is the rare exception. It is privileged to consume much more than it produces (a difference measured by the current account deficit) and to have done so virtually year in and year out for the past quarter century. This wonderful feat is possible because the dollar is the preeminent monetary brand – the world’s “reserve currency”. The United States’ creditors willingly accept it. And, accepting it, they turn around and invest it back into the obligations of the United States. There can be few items higher on the to-do list of the incoming administration than to freshen and strengthen the dollar brand.

      The next president would do well to brush up on the history of the monetary arrangements created in the aftermath of World War II. Under the system known as Bretton Woods, the dollar could be exchanged for gold at the rate of $35.00 to the ounce. If another government’s monetary authority decided that the U.S. Federal Reserve was overcranking the press, that government could convert its greenbacks into bullion at the statutory rate. By the late 1960’s, however, there was not enough gold in U.S. hands to satisfy all the worried overseas dollar holders. The U.S. Treasury knew this as well as the creditors did. On August 15th, 1971, the Nixon administration slammed shut the door to the national gold vault and decreed that the dollar was henceforth backed by the government’s good intentions alone. So it is today: the U.S. currency, like every other, is faith based.”

      Faith-based currency. In a year when austerity measures are the watchword of many western budgets, and in which the U.S. had to up its ceiling of allowable federal debt or face default. Not faith-inspiring, I submit. Over the last 10 years there have been at least two “scares” in which the Chinese got tired of being hectored to let the yuan float rather than pegging it to the dollar, and announced (or leaked) their intention to divest themselves of their dollars in favour of a basket of currencies probably denominated in the Euro. Both times, the Dow-Jones fell like a cliff diver. The Chinese hold enormous reserves of dollars, over which America has ceded control.

      It would be difficult to listen to any fiscal-policy lectures from an American source, during a criticism of Russia, without pointing out American weakness in that regard. Put another way, if I quoted a Russian source which unloaded on American “suppression of political dissent” for University of Colorado’s firing of Ward Churchill, would you have to bite your tongue to refrain from pointing out the Russian government’s jailing of Boris Nemtsov? Would you expect to be accused of “whataboutism” if you did?

      • Yalensis says:

        “Faith-based currency” — that’s a pretty good description. You could also call American financial system a “tinker-bell” type system: i.e., it only lives if you believe in it.
        Sidebar: some analysts of U.S. invasion of Iraq (2003) believe a big contributing factor was when Saddam floated idea of switching from American dollar to Euro for use as currency in determining Iraqi national oil prices. So, American government had to punish him and keep Iraqi oil prices pegged to dollar. Just something I read somewhere. Not sure exactly how the currency thing works in the arena of international oil. Maybe Tim will chime in and lecture me on my ignorance…

        • marknesop says:

          I hadn’t read that about Saddam, although I did read it about Ahmedinijiad, more than a year ago. Iran was positively committed to an oil bourse denominated in foreign currencies, but based on the Euro. I remember it caused quite a stir at the time and was definitely not popular in the U.S., but I didn’t follow it further and I don’t know if they ever did it.

          • Yalensis says:

            Well, back in 2003 the euro looked to be a viable currency. Now it hardly seems any stronger than the U.S. dollar. So, I wonder if Iran wouldn’t do better to tie their oil bourse to the Chinese yuan or Russian ruble? I will try to do more research and see if I can find out what happened in Iranian oil situation.

      • Misha says:

        The Ward Churchill reference brings to mind Andreas Umland’s relatively high profile (at openDemocracy and Russia Profile) commentary on Alexander Dugin, which suggestively second guesses Moscow University for having Dugin as a professor. The issue being academics with views deemed by some to be in the controversial to questionable ranges.

        Umland like commentary on such matter is comparatively mute in such instances in the US, including Harvard and Rutgers utilizing Edyta Bojonowska, whose suggestions on Gogol are questionable.

        This relatively high profile selectivity presents the image of a Russia propping suspect standards – as if such a matter doesn’t exist elsewhere. There’s alos the notion of an academic experience involving diverse views. Dugin doesn’t appear to have a monopoly at Moscow University and other Russian schools.

        The particular regarding Gogol was touched on at another thread:

        http://marknesop.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/the-khodorkovsky-conviction-dont-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-ass-on-the-way-in/#comment-2204

        On academics with views that have fallen in the controversial to questionable ranges, Leonard Jeffries is another American based academic who comes to mind.

  12. Tim Newman says:

    I maintain it is not whataboutism if it can substantiate hypocrisy; like Britain lecturing Russia for horrible fiscal policies …

    I agree, that would be a hoot!

    • marknesop says:

      It would be, but it shouldn’t take away from the fact that Russia’s financial system is fundamentally unsound in many respects, and it only hurts the credibility of the argument to be a bad example oneself . A British article admonishing Russia which began, “Recognizing Britain’s past and present economic mistakes, considerable expertise in economics remains in the country, and it is from that perspective that I recommend…” would meet with no complaint, at least from me, and I’d laugh at any Russian who suggested he was being baited – the obvious intent is to help, rather than indulge in finger-pointing, one-upmanship and juvenile snickering. It’s all in the way you say it.

  13. peter says:

    Gee; that’s big of you, Peter, thanks for giving me an out.

    Don’t flatter yourself, Mark, it’s not about you. To become a true useful idiot one must totally rid himself of any sense of humor, you’re clearly not there yet.

    Elections billboards? Sure…

    Hint.

    Putin, the mention of whose name seems to make Peter bristle all over and walk stiff-legged

    Владимира Владимировича Путина ненавидятъ только рьяные любители лжи и лютые враги Истины.

    • marknesop says:

      Man – what is it with you and Putin? Did your governess who looked like Putin used to slather your nappies with jalapeño jelly when you were just a suckling, or what? I get that you really, really hate him, but I don’t get why. Please don’t tell me you’re a Boris Nemtsov groupie, or there will go my respect for you. But anyone objective would have to look at where Russia was headed when Putin took over, and where it is now, and acknowledge significant progress in nearly every assessment factor. The average wage increased pretty much every year Putin was in charge, while inflation steadily declined. Money spent on social benefits such as health care has gone up instead of down. Russians broadly approve of the job he did as leader, and decisively rejected would-be replacements. As far as I know, democracy means the electorate gets to pick its leaders, and not foreign commenters who have a grudge against Putin because of nappie-burn. People from western democracies certainly don’t give a rip who Russian commenters think should be their president, or prime minister or whatever.

      Even position papers prepared for the U.S. National Intelligence Council – which appears to despise Putin as much as you do – grudgingly acknowledge he pulled Russia back from the brink of disaster, and got it headed in the right direction again. They don’t like everything about him, of course, and point out (a) the country still doesn’t have legally enforceable property rights or a firm dividing line between public and private, (b) continuation of these practices presents an impediment to economic development, and (c) most Russians are suspicious of foreign investment in their country, and fear the disorder many believe would result from a more open, pluralistic system. That’s a U.S. government employee analysis, so I’ll take it with a grain of salt – especially the part about what most Russians fear or are suspicious of, since no empirical data support it – but it’s fair. Vladimir Vladimirovich needs to burn the midnight oil on property law. Given a choice between having that problem, and begging the EU for a massive bailout so I didn’t have to stand in line at the border for a bowl of soup and some hand-me-down socks, I’d stipulate to the leader being useless at property law. That’s fixable.

      I don’t get what you’re trying to say with your attachments. A bunch of rambling about roosters and homosexuals (yes, yes; rooster = cock, I know, I know; sidesplitting, I’m sure) and a poster that implies those who don’t like Putin can’t handle the truth add up to your devilish deep wit eluding me once again.

      • peter says:

        I don’t get what you’re trying to say with your attachments…

        Firstly, that the “Петушки” billboard is funny in more ways than one, especially in the light of the latest Наши’s креатифф.

        Secondly, that my further participation in the discussion about Владимир Владимирович is going to be limited to posting funny pictures. I do enjoy trolling Putin’s faithful from time to time, but don’t expect me to get too excited over some circular nonsense like “Putin is clever. If what he said appears stupid, you’re probably not in the target group. But I’d bet it appeals to someone, and he probably calculated it would do him more good than damage. That’s how clever he is!”

        I’ve already said all I care to say about Putin, if you want more you need to come up with something more original than the tired cum hoc ergo propter hoc song about growing wages and approval ratings.

        • grafomanka says:

          I don’t find those billboards etc funny at all, just homophobic, just disgusting.
          I guess I’ve got no sense of humor.

          • peter says:

            No, you just got it wrong. The funny thing about the “Петушки” billboard is that it isn’t a joke, it’s a genuine pic of a real pro-Putin billboard. The Наши thing, on the other hand, is as tasteless as they come, no two ways about it.

            • grafomanka says:

              I know, this is probably the name of some unfortunate village or town.
              Nashi are tasteless idiots, Nemtsov is not much better (from what i know the gay bashing was mutual).

        • marknesop says:

          OK, Peter; thanks for the cryptic holiday snaps and the deadly Latin innuendoes. I’m not one of “Putin’s faithful”; I just think he’s better than the alternatives. I have no idea if he’s clever; I don’t know him professionally or socially. I do know he’s done a great deal for Russia while the most popular (with westerners) Russian president ever – the overweight booze recycling system Boris Yeltsin – had made a pretty good start at wrecking it. I’ve substantiated that view with facts, while you have opted for edgy photos that apparently have secret mesages on them in invisible ink.

          And the cum hoc ergo propter hoc “song” wasn’t tired when you were using it. I look forward to more rolling in the aisles over circular arguments and latin signature phrases.

          • peter says:

            … edgy photos that apparently have secret mesages on them in invisible ink.

            Well, jokes aside, the billboard photo is actually meant to illustrate the referendum vs election point we’ve been arguing all along. If it’s a Duma election, why does the billboard say “выборы национального лидера России” and urge to vote for Putin who isn’t running for a seat and isn’t even a member of any party?

            • marknesop says:

              Yes, Peter; I understand perfectly that it is a real billboard, and I can read that it is exhorting voters of the unfortunate town to vote the way Putin wants them to vote. I accept that. But I maintain that it is just politics, and can’t understand why it is shocking or implies a referendum. At least not (steeling myself for shouts of “whataboutism!!!”) any more than President George W. Bush “stumping” for GOP candidates in the 2002 Congressional elections, by way of example. Bush, as President, was not a candidate, and his reelection was still 2 years away; he had no personal stake in the election, just as Putin has no personal stake in Duma elections. As does Putin in Russia, Bush wielded tremendous power and influence, and he demonstrably told voters – in person, not on a billboard – to vote the way he wanted them to vote. I quote; ” The best person running for the United States Senate is Jim Talent. I need him in the Senate to work with him…The Senate has been lousy when it comes to my judges…They’re holding up the nominees. … You need to have a U.S. senator like Jim Talent who won’t play shameless politics with the judges I put forward.” I’m sure I could find hundreds of examples, from various countries, and use of the national leader’s personal charisma and cachet to hedge one’s own electoral bet is tiresomely commonplace. Bush just happened to come up first, because I used 2002 as a search term.

              Shrieks of outrage over this shameless and direct exercise of undue and inappropriate influence of voters? Zip. Crickets chirping. Please tell me – absent the obvious physical location and nationality differences – how Putin’s moves to influence the vote are shameful while those of other leaders to do exactly the same thing, when their own candidacy is not an issue, is not.

              • peter says:

                At least not (steeling myself for shouts of “whataboutism!!!”) any more than President George W. Bush “stumping” for GOP candidates in the 2002 Congressional elections, by way of example.

                That’s big apples vs small oranges: a massive propaganda campaign led by national TV vs one-man stumping. Even if we assume everything else equal — and that’s already a lot of assumption — the scale (or degree as Tim puts it) is simply incomparable.

    • I’m afraid my real fault is not a lack of humor, but my inability to see how mocking other people’s names is funny.

      Which is just as well because I’d rather be a useful idiot than a козел like you.

      • Yalensis says:

        Yeah, and I’d rather be a USEFUL idiot than a USELESS idiot, which is what this Peter fellow seems to be. He obviously has a bone to pick, but, like a coward, he refuses to just come out and lay on us his actual political point of view, so that we can all discuss and debate it (in civilized manner, naturally)…. Instead, he resorts to innuendos like “useful idiot”, which, by the way, is the term used by the McCarthyites in the U.S. in 1950’s when they were hunting for commies in Hollywood.

      • peter says:

        Get lost, junior. You came to troll for attention, you got it, теперь иди поиграй со сверстниками.

  14. Tim Newman says:

    Yes, that’s correct, but it’s not what I said. I said the country’s federal trade deficit. Russia’s deficit – as opposed to its government debt.

    How would that have any bearing on whether to invest or not?

    • marknesop says:

      I don’t know – I’m not an investor on a grand scale. But if I were, I’d want to put my money in a country whose economy was in the black and steadily gaining, rather than one that’s blown through the red-ink barrier at escape velocity. Then again, maybe countries on the brink of financial failure are just what one looks for, and perhaps I’d never make any money.

      • Tim Newman says:

        But if I were, I’d want to put my money in a country whose economy was in the black and steadily gaining, rather than one that’s blown through the red-ink barrier at escape velocity.

        If you were told to put your life savings in a country tomorrow, would you seriously invest it in Chinese or Russian companies over US companies?

        • marknesop says:

          There’s a huge difference between trying to sweeten your bottom line a little, and an act of faith like throwing everything you have into a very narrow portfolio. I wouldn’t do that under any circumstances, regardless the country; not even this one, as an act of patriotism. No, I have faith that the U.S. economy will recover steadily, and generally speaking, U.S. investments are safe. That’s because of their laws, not because they are brilliant at business, and we’re agreed that Russia needs to improve the legal structure that protects investors.

          • Tim Newman says:

            There’s a huge difference between trying to sweeten your bottom line a little, and an act of faith like throwing everything you have into a very narrow portfolio.

            Indeed, and I invest quite a bit in Eastern Europe which is high-risk/high-returns. But the US will remain somwhat of a safe haven for quite a while yet, regardless of the financial performance of its government.

    • Because if the US fiscal position is unsustainable (which it is – in net terms, it’s worse off than the PIGS), then the prospects for returns from many of its companies, and certainly from long-term government bonds, aren’t very bright?

      • Tim Newman says:

        The returns from its government bonds are not very good, but I am unclear how this effects investing in private business. Has ExxonMobil or Apple stock suffered as a result of the US government being in debt?

        • kovane says:

          You’re a hell of an economist. Would you have invested in a private Russian company in 1997? Or Argentinian one in 2000? Maybe Icelandic one in 2007? That is not to say that the US is on the brink of default, of course.

          • Tim Newman says:

            You’re a hell of an economist.

            I see you dispute the notion that US stocks are largely independent of the levels of US government debt. It would take a hell of an economist to actually show that they are not.

            • kovane says:

              And I see that you should see an ophthalmologist to see if your sight is OK, if you see that I dispute that. US stocks are largely independent of the level of US government debt, but they practically hinge on the soundness of the US financial system which, in its turn, largely depends on the debt level.

              • Tim Newman says:

                US stocks are largely independent of the level of US government debt, but they practically hinge on the soundness of the US financial system which, in its turn, largely depends on the debt level.

                What’s the mechanism by which this dependency operates? Do you have any data to show that the US financial system has got more unstable as the government debt level has increased?

                • kovane says:

                  Because any perturbations in the financial system cripple economic ties through a credit crunch and cascades of bankruptcies. 2008 was an excellent example of that. As 1998 in Russia and 2001 in Argentina.

                  Do you have any data to show that the US financial system has got more unstable as the government debt level has increased

                  It’s not a matter of decreases/increases of the US debt, but a matter of debt sustainability. When the debt creeps up to dangerous levels, investors become worried and the financial system get destabilised. As it was in Greece.

            • Yalensis says:

              I would guess it’s not necessarily the indebtedness or bankruptcy of government that affects the private stock market; but rather the fact that government becomes too weak and fails to regulate the private financial sector. Isn’t that what caused the 2008 recession in USA? Not necessarily foreign debt or trade imbalance; but lack of regulation and Wall Street companies doing crazy things?

            • marknesop says:

              I’d agree they are largely independent of government debt, but if federal debt levels are transparent to investors, why does the U.S. makes such a big deal of “consumer confidence levels” and their effect on the market? Are they just trying to make a story where there is none, or does an impression of how solid the country’s economic footing is not affect the markets?

              • Tim Newman says:

                I think the concern is that the tax burden required to service such a debt would clobber businesses. Which is why there are a lot of people who don’t want to see taxes rise and want the government to start spending an awful lot less.

        • marknesop says:

          Not to the best of my knowledge, although I generally don’t follow the market closely, and would only notice if a special story item pointed it out. That’s a valid point, but I can’t believe it’s a wise policy to have so much debt owed to foreign nations with whom you’re not the best of friends; less so if one of the biggest creditors is in direct competition with you for superpower status. Alsio, the market is largely faith-based, and it has taken less than being in an uncomfortable financial position to make it slide dramatically in the past. But since you ask, no; in fact, I caught a quickie headline yesterday which mentioned the Dow had edged past 12,000.00, and it’s still there at the moment. Nobody would likely have forecast that a year ago.

          • Tim Newman says:

            That’s a valid point, but I can’t believe it’s a wise policy to have so much debt owed to foreign nations with whom you’re not the best of friends;

            I’d think it’s an even less wise policy to be owed enormous amounts of money by a country with whom you are nmot the best of friends.

            • marknesop says:

              No argument there. I assume the Chinese continued to lend money in the face of growing insolvency (based on the gold standard rather than the faith standard, since in the latter case there is apparently no such thing as insolvency) that taking an enormous financial loss (in the case of default) would be a small price to pay for breaking the world’s last superpower over their knee like a dry stick. But maybe there are much more pragmatic concerns in play of which I’m unaware.

              Still, to a point, the notion that you’re not in a bad way financially so long as you refuse to acknowledge it seems to be working so far, and as previously mentioned, there are solid signs of recovery. The collapse of the USA would be all the way across town from in Canada’s best interests, since better than 85% of our exports go there.

              • Tim Newman says:

                But maybe there are much more pragmatic concerns in play of which I’m unaware.

                I think it’s a case of “Where else do you put it?”, which is kinda why I asked you where you’d stick your life savings if you had to choose a country tomorrow.

                Where else is China supposed to invest? I am sure it has a diverse portfolio, but at the end of the day, it is of no surprise whatsoever that they have invested the bulk of their Yuan in USD. The Euro is wobbling all over the place, the GBP is hardly a great long-term prospect, the Yen might have been good 20 years ago, the Deutschmark no longer exists, the Aussie dollar is through the roof anyway and is backed by little more than BBQ pits and surf-bums, and they can’t invest at home because they have nothing to buy. Swiss Francs don’t come cheap and (as I know all too well) you can’t buy anything with them except cuckoo clocks and watches. Where do you put that sort of investment other than in the US? Russia?!!

                I think China needs the US as much as the US needs China, and insofar as China being able to break the US over its knee, the US could run the printing presses for a few days, wipe out the debt, and watch its own export businesses soar long before that would happen.

                • Easy. Directly buy up land and mineral resources in multiple countries (which is what China is doing right now).

                  The main point of China’s T-Bond buying, AFAIK, was to acquire the foreign currency to pay for resource imports, build up its industrial base, and acquire advanced technologies. It has now most accomplished the latter two objectives and so its interest in continuing subsidizing the US now seems to be flagging.

                • marknesop says:

                  The yellow devils!!! They sure be’s clever. This ties in nicely with the record numbers of Chinese foreign students attending at universities in the west who now return home immediately upon securing their degree, rather than job-hunting in the country where they completed their education – as was their previous custom. Their position is that China offers more and better opportunities, sufficient that they do not consider sacrificing in the west in order to facilitate immigration for other family members, as was once commonplace. You have to have a fair degree of confidence in the implication of your actions where the future of your parents and family members are concerned.

        • My analysis will be largely based on three factors: (1) Whether said company is overvalued or undervalued on technical criteria; (2) Future prospects in its sector; (3) Future prospects of the country(ies) it is most exposed to, and if it’s bad how quickly it can find markets elsewhere.

          So for instance, you might find this surprising, but I wouldn’t be averse to buying BP stock at the moment because it is almost certainly undervalued (yes, I keep my politics and my capitalism separate).

          On the other hand, I wouldn’t invest into a US company like General Motors, because its cars are even now barely competitive on the US market and only survived with government bailouts (there won’t be any as the fiscal situation continues to deteriorate).

          If you were told to put your life savings in a country tomorrow, would you seriously invest it in Chinese or Russian companies over US companies?

          Like Mark, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, but this idea that China or even Russia can be expected to perform worse than the US in the longterm is quaint and outdated.

          If you did average on the Dow Jones since the peak of 1998, you’d be barely scraping even today. (Had you done the same with the Nikkei in Japan, you’d be FOUR times poorer than today). But had you invested in Russia or China you’d have made astounding returns. So it’s by no means the case that countries with less developed financial systems or property rights are automatically worse destinations for your money than high-growth emerging markets; quite the contrary in fact.

          Now considering that (1) many economists believe the US will be facing something like Japan’s Lost Decade in the next years, and even assuming its fiscal problems don’t spiral out of control, and (2) China has plenty of room left for growth, and so does Russia (partially because of the same China’s rising demand for energy and minerals), if this was an EITHER/OR proposition – yes, I’d bet on Chinese/Russian companies.

          • Tim Newman says:

            Like Mark, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, but this idea that China or even Russia can be expected to perform worse than the US in the longterm is quaint and outdated.

            I’ll hazard a guess that you don’t actually invest in China or Russia, do you? I’ve yet to see any investment vehicle which offers long-term growth in China or Russia, most of them offer quick returns for high risk, after which you should probably get your money out again. I doubt there are many who invest much more of a percentage of their portfolio in Russia above that which they can stand to lose. I know I don’t, and at least I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

            So it’s by no means the case that countries with less developed financial systems or property rights are automatically worse destinations for your money than high-growth emerging markets; quite the contrary in fact.

            Yes, I’ve already said that. Those high returns come with high risks.

            • 1) Losing 75% of your investments in the next two decades if the Dow Jones goes the way of the Nikkei in the next two decades is quite risky, no?

              2) I don’t invest full stop. I don’t have the capital for it.

              • Tim Newman says:

                1) Losing 75% of your investments in the next two decades if the Dow Jones goes the way of the Nikkei in the next two decades is quite risky, no?

                No, because you don’t invest for two decades without an option to get out at various points. The risk of losing the whole lot overnight is pretty slim, whereas in emerging markets it is a real risk.

                2) I don’t invest full stop. I don’t have the capital for it.

                I suspect that if you did you would not be following your own advice. It’s pretty easy to opine on where to invest if you’re not investing your own money, as soon as your own dough is on the table the mind sharpens somewhat and previously held prejudices tend to vanish.

          • Tim Newman says:

            China has plenty of room left for growth, and so does Russia

            Yes, because they are miles behind the development curve. Similarly, Africa has plenty of room left for growth. Developing nations can usually see 8-10% growth year on year, it is very hard for developed countries to see more than 3-5%.

  15. Tim Newman says:

    It would be difficult to listen to any fiscal-policy lectures from an American source, during a criticism of Russia, without pointing out American weakness in that regard.

    I agree, but the example you used was a journalist talking fairly obviously about the private financial climate, and was warning people not to invest there. Pointing to the state of the US government finances is changing the subject.

    • marknesop says:

      OK. My mistake. Pretend the “don’t invest” part was never there, and all he said was, “Russian fiscal policy is horrible”. The point I’m trying to make is that although Russian fiscal policy may well be horrible, the Russian current balance is a significant net positive while the American current account balance is deep in the Basement Of Negativity. Therefore, Russophobic American journalists are in no position to censure Russia on fiscal policy. I’m sure you get that.

      Of course, those who can point out faults without implying they’re somehow genetic, and that Russians will never succeed at anything because – duh – they’re Russians, are welcome to do so in a constructive manner.

      • Tim Newman says:

        OK. My mistake. Pretend the “don’t invest” part was never there, and all he said was, “Russian fiscal policy is horrible”.

        Okay, I’m not gonna flog this horse any more.

        BTW, I recently made a comment on your blog that I can’t see Russia and ExxonMobil doing any future deals. Today they announced an agreement to develop a deep water project in the Black Sea. Shows how much I know.

  16. Tim Newman says:

    A British article admonishing Russia which began,“Recognizing Britain’s past and present economic mistakes, considerable expertise in economics remains in the country, and it is from that perspective that I recommend…”

    Now hang on! If it was written by a member of the former or current British government, fair enough. But why should a British financial journalist writing about Russia have to start every piece by writing about Britain’s simply because he is British?

  17. Tim Newman says:

    Because any perturbations in the financial system cripple economic ties through a credit crunch and cascades of bankruptcies. 2008 was an excellent example of that. As 1998 in Russia and 2001 in Argentina.

    Yes, an outright default would be bad for investors. But the original argument from Sublime Oblivion was that:

    Because if the US fiscal position is unsustainable (which it is – in net terms, it’s worse off than the PIGS), then the prospects for returns from many of its companies, and certainly from long-term government bonds, aren’t very bright?

    to which I replied:

    The returns from its government bonds are not very good, but I am unclear how this effects investing in private business. Has ExxonMobil or Apple stock suffered as a result of the US government being in debt?

    At which point you sarcastically said I must be one hell of an economist, but were unable to say what you disagreed with. Now you’re left arguing that a default would be bad for investors which, as far as I am able to tell, nobody has contested.

    When the debt creeps up to dangerous levels, investors become worried and the financial system get destabilised. As it was in Greece.

    Well, if we take the Irish as an example, one would expect to see the Irish stock market plunging as the country nears default. But the graph shows only a dive when the financial crisis hit and little change even the dire state of the government finances became known and all the talks of the bailouts waxed and waned. There doesn’t seem to be very much evidence that a country which might possibly default makes a poor place to invest generally in private companies.

    • Futility says:

      Dude, c’mon. Are you serious? Compare that Irish index graph with any other stock market. Notice a difference? The 2008 market crash was just about apocalyptic in its proportions. Everyone else has recovered; Ireland has not. Want to hazard a guess as to why this is?

      Now, Ireland isn’t a very good example of what kovane is talking about for another reason: part of its malaise is not due to the possibility of default, but because it isn’t allowed to. It is likely that a default would be better for the country, though it would by no means be a picnic. Want a real comparison, look at Argentina or somesuch.

      • Tim Newman says:

        Dude, c’mon. Are you serious? Compare that Irish index graph with any other stock market. Notice a difference? The 2008 market crash was just about apocalyptic in its proportions. Everyone else has recovered; Ireland has not. Want to hazard a guess as to why this is?

        Fair point.

    • Or could it be that investors (interested in their money) clued in on Ireland’s apocalyptic figures well before the bureaucrats and mainstream pundits (interested in the status quo)?

      The very real risk of a black swan type fiscal-financial collapse (unpredictable in advance, but obvious in hindsight) in the US and the UK, in my view, makes longterm concentration there a losing proposition. While individual companies may be good for the long haul (mostly concentrated in energy and IT, IMO), I’d take the bulk of investments to commodities, BRICs, and the ARCS (my own acronym – Alaska, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia, which will benefit from the opening of the Arctic).

      • Tim Newman says:

        Alaska, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia, which will benefit from the opening of the Arctic

        How are Canada, Alaska, and Scandinavia going to benefit to such a degree from slightly greater access to their Artic regions that they are worth investing in for that reason alone?

        • marknesop says:

          For Canada’s part, there’s a great deal of interest in the opening of the Northwest Passage for year-round transit; the potential for this to actually happen is attributed to global warming. This would cut about 4000 miles off the commercial transit to Asia. Naturally we would like it recognized as a national asset, so that we could exercise power of veto over who gets to use it, rather than an international waterway, but that remains to be seen and the USA disputes it. Apart from that, the Arctic is expected to contain considerable mineral and energy wealth that would be prohibitively expensive to extract right now, although a warming climate might change that.

          I’ed agree that investors might want to wait until the legal wrangling is sorted out, but the energy potential might be great.

          • Tim Newman says:

            This would cut about 4000 miles off the commercial transit to Asia.

            And this is going to make Canada significantly richer? Being part of a shipping route? Has Panama got rich off the Panama Canal?

            Apart from that, the Arctic is expected to contain considerable mineral and energy wealth that would be prohibitively expensive to extract right now, although a warming climate might change that.

            Canada already has enormous mineral deposits, and those that are not being developed are not that way because they are in the Arctic. I’m not sure that adding a whole load more of what Canada already has in abundance will change much.

            • marknesop says:

              Any chance you’d be interested in accepting a position as Minister of Morale and Optimism?

              • Tim Newman says:

                Don’t get me wrong, I think Canada has a reasonably bright future. They could probably give their immigration policy an overhaul, though.

                • marknesop says:

                  The Panama Canal is probably not the best example, since the USA claimed it as well as adjacent land and ran it from its opening in 1914 until 2000. I don’t know how much money they made from it, but at traffic at handover of 14,000 ships a year, I daresay they recovered their investment. I doubt the Panamanians have grown rich from ownership, but they’ve only had it 10 years. Actually, that’s not even completely accurate, since a Hong Kong company controls the port facilities at each end. Besides, in the case of the Northwest Passage, I was looking at it more as a strategic asset than a monetary one, just as the Panama canal was for the USA.

                  Yes, Canadian immigration policy could use a major overhaul – it’s long overdue. Blending our immigration policies with the USA is not the answer, though, although some in government think it would be a fine idea.

        • I view myself as an “early adopter”. The region might look bleak and barren today, but the growth of opportunities in the Arctic will be exponential.

          But in any case, there are solid structural reasons to invest in the ARCS (as opposed to the US/UK, PIGS, France, etc). Not only do they all have plentiful resources and lots of potential living space, but they’re some of the most fiscally secure of the developed nations.

          Canada – balanced budget until crisis, and only modest deficit and debt now; reasonable GDP growth. Sweden, Norway – the fastest growth in high-income Europe (along with Germany) and excellent fiscal indicators. Alaska – doing far better than US average and no fiscal problems. Russia – solid growth over the past decade, modest budget deficit, almost no debt.

          I’m actually in the process of writing a post called “ARCS Of Progress” at my Arctic Progress blog. Check it out when it’s up.

          • Tim Newman says:

            The region might look bleak and barren today, but the growth of opportunities in the Arctic will be exponential.

            That didn’t answer my question. How are Canada, Alaska, and Scandinavia going to benefit to such a degree from slightly greater access to their Artic regions that they are worth investing in for that reason alone? Developed countries do not get wealthy on minierals and shipping.

            • Why “slightly” greater? Global warming is proceeding at a stunning pace in the Far North. For much of this January, temperatures in friggin’ NORTHERN GREENLAND were positive or near positive. We’re not only talking about shipping routes (and new ports, etc) that are twice shorter than the traditional Suez-Malacca route. We’re talking of much easier energy extraction (because building infrastructure and supporting populations there becomes easier), and the world’s grain baskets creeping north, and eventually entire cities appearing on the great Siberian rivers and teeming around Hudson Bay full of climate refugees from the collapsing south. OK, I may have run off with myself with that last point, but the shipping / minerals / agriculture (and associated services) bits are still valid. Plus, did you read the part after “but they’re some of the most fiscally secure of the developed nations”? It’s true. If you want a stable investment that can both guarantee growth (n/a to the US) and lessen short-term risk (n/a to Russia and most emerging markets), then Canada, Sweden and Norway are the places to invest in.

              • Tim Newman says:

                Global warming is proceeding at a stunning pace in the Far North. For much of this January, temperatures in friggin’ NORTHERN GREENLAND were positive or near positive.

                I mean slightly greater because it is their geographical remoteness which accounts more for their inaccessibility than their being in the Arctic.

                We’re not only talking about shipping routes (and new ports, etc) that are twice shorter than the traditional Suez-Malacca route.

                The whole world will benefit from this, but I can’t see having territorial control over a shipping lane making much difference to the GDP of Canada.

                We’re talking of much easier energy extraction (because building infrastructure and supporting populations there becomes easier)

                Ease of infrastructure and the ability to support populations are of negligible concern when developing an oilfield. For example, many of them are offshore.

                OK, I may have run off with myself with that last point, but the shipping / minerals / agriculture (and associated services) bits are still valid.

                How is Norway going to get significantly richer from more shipping and more oil? Their chief conceern is already they are too dependent on oil, and they are pretty big on shipping already. Adding more of the same is not going to help them much. As I said before, developed countries don’t get rich from mineral extraction and shipping. The exception might be Australia, which seems to do pretty well out of mineral extraction, but most people there think they should be doing something of far greater added value.

                then Canada, Sweden and Norway are the places to invest in.

                Have you considered the tax systems in Sweden and Norway? The reason why nobody invests there at the moment is because any money you make is taxed away.

                • The whole world will benefit from this, but I can’t see having territorial control over a shipping lane making much difference to the GDP of Canada.

                  About the GDP, it’s not even so much about the shipping route per se, but the strings of ports, depots, cities, etc., that will spring up to service the route.

                  Ease of infrastructure and the ability to support populations are of negligible concern when developing an oilfield.

                  Including in the vital area of costs? From what I’ve read, one of the major obstacles to development of Arctic oil sources is the lack of nearby infrastructure. Correct this if mistaken.

                  How is Norway going to get significantly richer from more shipping and more oil? Their chief conceern is already they are too dependent on oil, and they are pretty big on shipping already.

                  The reason Norway has the highest GDP / capita in Europe (after Norway) can be directly attributed to its high oil production per capita. It also allows it to keep its finances healthy.

                  Have you considered the tax systems in Sweden and Norway? The reason why nobody invests there at the moment is because any money you make is taxed away.

                  Why then was the investment rate as a share of GDP in the US at 12.8% in 2009, while it was 18.1% in Sweden and 18.6% in Norway?

            • Btw, Tim, if you’re still around here somewhere, the article I said I was writing is here:

              ARCS Of Progress – The Arctic World In 2050

  18. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    I disagree that investments in the US are safe because of their laws. Just look at what is still going on with the home loans. It has happened that banks haven’t been able to foreclose delinquent homeowner because they “lost” the mortgage note. I’m not talking about some small bank in the middle of nowhere, it happened to banks such as Deutsche Bank and BofA. Search for “produce the note” with Google, and you’ll get an idea of how things didn’t work. Yalensis is right in pointing out that the government failed to properly regulate the financial sector, and this is one of the causes of the crisis.
    Re. fiscal sustainability and stocks. To my knowledge, after Argentina defaulted the stock market in Buenos Aires raised to impressive level. This happened because the local currency devalued and people started buying whatever they could before inflation eroded their savings. But for a foreign investor the gains in the stock were wiped out by the exchange rate.
    Investing in the US stock exchange doesn’t imply that you are investing in the US economy. First, not all companies listed in New York are US companies, like not all companies listed in London are British (some are Russian). Secondly, most US companies don’t work just in the US, but in the entire world. Actually, US companies are moving outside of the USA, not just to sell their products, but the production itself, mainly toward emerging countries. The current crisis hasn’t stopped this tendency, instead it gained more steam.

    • marknesop says:

      All of what you say is true, but I’m not sure I’d conflate home loans, the mortgage crisis and foreign direct investment. Home loans and mortgages are domestic ventures, although they most certainly did involve the major banks. The disaster can be laid directly at the door of greed; some transactions featured buyers who had been given a home loan even though they had no assets and no steady income. Financial institutions knew they could “repackage” the bad loans with other financial instruments and resell them, in a colossal game of hot potato. I don’t mean to suggest that was common practice, and it must have been the exception rather than the rule – although I have no way of knowing – but (a) it should never happen, as banks depend on customer trust and confidence, and (b) some seized upon the crash of the housing market to press for more deregulation.

      A default on the USA’s part, which now appears unlikely, would not produce the temporary buoying of the market as it did in Argentina. What it would more likely start is a panic.

      This story does a good job of explaining the return of consumer uncertainty, which is based on the pessimistic numbers from the Central Budget Office. The deficit is, once again, headed in the wrong direction. However, as Mr. Benen accurately points out, no Republican who fought tooth and nail for the extension of the Bush tax cuts for a further two years should have been surprised; less revenue means higher deficits. The deficit did begin to turn around, but then the Republicans held the entire budget to ransom over extension of the tax cuts, while offering no revenue to pay for them. No mystery there.

  19. Tim Newman says:

    About the GDP, it’s not even so much about the shipping route per se, but the strings of ports, depots, cities, etc., that will spring up to service the route.

    Since when have remote ports and cities added to GDP? A string of Vladivostoks in the north of Canada would not make investing there any more attractive.


    Including in the vital area of costs? From what I’ve read, one of the major obstacles to development of Arctic oil sources is the lack of nearby infrastructure. Correct this if mistaken.

    Yes, you are mistaken. I have never heard of an oil or gas development project being decided by the presence, or lack of, local infrastructure.


    The reason Norway has the highest GDP / capita in Europe (after Norway) can be directly attributed to its high oil production per capita. It also allows it to keep its finances healthy.

    Yes, exactly. But it has acknowledged that it is dangerously dependent on its oil revenues, and does not maximise its production for that very reason. Adding a whole load more reserves is not going to help much.


    Why then was the investment rate as a share of GDP in the US at 12.8% in 2009, while it was 18.1% in Sweden and 18.6% in Norway?

    Firstly, because Norway and Sweden tend to invest in themselves. And secondly, because if we ignore the percentages and look at the absolute figures, investment in the USA dwarfs that of Norway and Sweden. If Norway and Sweden are such great investments, we should be seeing money flooding in from outside. The enormous trade deficit of the USA is proof enough that the capital account is in surplus, meaning people are investing money from overseas in the USA.

    • marknesop says:

      The USA retail sector is still cautiously expanding internationally, and Target just bought out Zellers in Canada. Last year electronics and video chain Future Shop was acquired by BestBuy, although Future Shop retained its Canadian name.

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