Democracy for Dummies

Uncle Volodya says, "Go vertical on THIS!!"

“…your sons and your daughters are beyond your command/Your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one, if you can’t lend your hand/For the times they are a’ changin’…”

Bob Dylan knew a thing or two about democracy, even if the world was a very different place when he wrote, “The Times They Are a’Changin'”. What was Bob Dylan’s America like, in that brave summer of 1964? President Lyndon Johnson declared the “war on poverty”, and introduced Medicare. The first of many American military forces launched attacks on Vietnam. The first lung transplant was successfully performed. The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” was tearing up the movie theaters, and “The Outer Limits” was a favourite on television. In Russia, Nikita Krushchev fell from power, to be ultimately replaced by Leonid Brezhnev. Russia was most assuredly not a democracy.

Is it now? That’s what we’re going to talk about. The Power Vertical – predictably – says it is not.  History says it is. How could The Power Vertical be so confused? Let’s take a closer look.

Well, right out of the gate, I can see a problem. Whether it’s a deliberate misconstruction or an honest misunderstanding caused by the inability to maintain concentration over the space of two sentences, the author has begun with “standards” and turned them into a “definition”. Unveiled by Mr. Medvedev were standards he believes a country ought to be able to achieve and maintain in order to call itself a democracy with any credibility. The Power Vertical believes this constitutes Mr. Medvedev’s definition of democracy.

Flag of the Democracy of the Russian Federation

It’s not necessary for Mr. Medvedev to define democracy; luckily, that’s already been done for him, and for everyone who thinks it’s open to interpretation. “A form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or their elected agents under a free electoral system”.

Let’s go back for a minute, to March 2008. There was an election. The outcome of the election was decided by popular vote. The voting was by ballots, which were counted and recorded. Dmitri Medvedev won this election with better than 70 percent of the vote. There was some complaint by European monitors that there were “irregularities” in voting. I’ve noted a certain disrespect for European views in American writing, but apparently that doesn’t apply when the Europeans say what America wants to hear. In any case, “voting irregularities” certainly did not extend to sufficient numbers that the next closest candidate (Gennady Zyuganov) might have won with less than 18 percent of the vote. I’ve noticed that complaints by the opposition of “voting irregularities” seem to follow elections that they lose, everywhere in the world.

Pardon this digression, but I feel obliged to mention that even Zyuganov’s piffling 18 percent was double what the Liberal Democrats’ Vladimir Zhirinovsky polled. Let’s be sure we understand – The Power Vertical would have preferred the new Russian government be formed by the Communist Party?

Well, what was international reaction like? An emailed statement from Gordon Johndroe, Bush’s White House spokesman, said, “The Bush administration looks forward to working with Mr. Medvedev”. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said his government “looked forward to improving the relationship” with Russia and “improving areas of cooperation”. Only German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who apparently also wanted the Communists to win) said “…there were incidents and situations which caused us to determine that democratic and constitutional principles weren’t permanently complied with.”

Oddly enough, polls before the election suggested Medvedev would win with better than 70 percent of the vote, which is just about exactly what he did get. Well, I guess all that voting irregularity was unnecessary! Opposition candidates complained they couldn’t get equal airtime to Medvedev because they couldn’t match his resources. So? Whose fault is that? Does democracy carry a requirement that candidates receive free advertising if they can’t pay for it? If so, I can think of a few democratic elections whose results should be overturned. Russophobes certainly seemed overjoyed with Saakashvili’s re-election, in which he outspent his next-closest rival by a factor of 20 to 1, but was hailed as having achieved “blinding, awe-inspiring victory”. Typically, Americans have a name for the candidate who doesn’t win and complains that victory was stolen from him by cheating, and it isn’t “democratic hero”. It starts with “sore” and ends with “loser”. Unless, of course, it happens in another country and the one who loses is the one they wanted to win.

It seems, then, that what sticks in The Power Vertical’s throat regarding Russia’s claim to democracy is that the Kremlin manipulates the electorate, suppresses the free vote and brushes off accountability. That about cover it? We’re agreed, then, that a country which manipulates the electorate, suppresses the free vote and refuses accountability is not a democracy? Let’s take a look at one that falsely claims the qualification.

I hate to appear formulaic, but the reason I choose America as comparative model is that so many russophobic critics of Russia’s government are Americans. If you offer a criticism but no apparent intent to be part of the solution, you must obviously believe that where you came from offers a much better – if not the ideal – model. You don’t need to propose a solution, because the actions of your country speak for you.

That being the case, let’s take a look at American elections through Angela Merkel’s eyes, looking for “irregularities”. Each time, let’s imagine that Putin and Medvedev are doing it to Boris Nemtsov during an election in which Medvedev and Nemtsov are competing: I’d like to do it from a semi-scientific standpoint, to sample whether it would or would not inspire objection from sites like The Power Vertical. But if you’d like to imagine the actual shrieks of horror, we’ll just put it down to your not having my self-discipline. Let’s start with the phone jamming scheme – remember that? Republican operative Allen Raymond masterminded a scheme to jam the phone lines of the Democrats in New Hampshire – nominally a “Blue” or traditionally Democratic state – on election day in 2002. This was accomplished by flooding those phone lines with hundreds of bogus calls. Voters who wanted a ride to the polls, or just to clarify the candidate’s position on an issue before casting their ballot, were not able to get through. Raymond was paid for his work by Republican officials, and was convicted of a criminal offense. He later wrote a book entitled, “How to Rig an Election; Confessions of a Republican Operative”. Smell test? Medvedev’s buddies doing it to Nemtsov? Angela doesn’t like it, folks. Let’s move on. E-mail messages exchanged between Republican strategists leading up to the 2004 presidential election detail how the party planned to disenfranchise thousands of low-income voters, using a scheme known as “vote caging”. How does it work? Party operatives get hold of the list of individuals who failed to return their Confirmation of Address letter (registered mail) and use it to suggest those voters are engaged in fraud because they may not be properly registered to vote. Low-income people are the disproportionate victims of vote caging because they change addresses much more frequently, and they traditionally vote Democrat.  It should be pointed out here that despite reliable Republican efforts to stir up the electorate with leaked news of massive voter fraud, only a handful of people have ever been convicted of voter fraud in the United States. Many of the working poor vote by absentee ballot because they don’t have transportation, so the effort focuses on disqualifying large swaths of absentee ballots. The voters who cast them would never know their vote was invalidated. Smell test? Angela doesn’t like it, folks. How about circulating false information; such as in Philadelphia, where a flyer was circulated which said the police would be using the election as an opportunity to arrest individuals with outstanding warrants and unpaid parking tickets. The police said they didn’t put it out, and had no such intentions. Remember, we don’t care which party did it (although the obvious beneficiary of this one would be Republicans), only that it’s undemocratic. Smell test? Angela doesn’t like it. Similarly, the McCain campaign sent out a mailer to Wisconsin voters which advised them where they could obtain absentee ballots, and stamped with the address of a local clerk. This mailer went to hundreds of thousands of voters, most of whom would have had their votes disqualified because they were not eligible to vote in the district to which the absentee ballot would have corresponded, and all would have found out too late to do anything about it. The McCain campaign said it was a mistake. Angela? Assuming this had happened to Nemtsov in a way that favoured Medvedev, Angela finds that hard to believe. In Michigan, the Chairman of the Republican party said he planned to use a list of foreclosed homes to prevent those homeowners from voting, although losing your home in no way makes you ineligible to vote. What a low-down hound, says Angela. Alabama and Georgia improperly used Social Security information to screen new voter registrations. The commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Michael Astrue, sent letters of protest to election officials in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio, saying to interviewers, “It is absolutely essential that people entitled to register to vote are allowed to do so”.  Louisiana illegally removed thousands of voters from the rolls after the deadline for such action. In Colorado, the president of Colorado College received a memo that claimed out-of-state students who still claimed dependent status on their tax forms would be ineligible to vote. This is incorrect. Hey, anybody mind if Angela takes a break? She says she needs to lie down, she feels a little queasy.

We don’t need her for this next bit anyway, because it’s technical. Let’s talk for a minute about those Diebold voting machines. Princeton computer professor Edward Felten and two graduate students demonstrated, using a typical Diebold machine, how anyone who gained unsupervised access to the machine for less than two minutes could install undetectable vote-stealing software that would delete itself at the end of the voting day, leaving the bogus votes to be recorded. I’m not going to bother Angela on this one, because Russia uses actual ballots that can be counted and reexamined if necessary, but I think she’d agree it takes ballot-box stuffing to a whole new level. Hey, let’s ask Power Vertical; would you be comfortable knowing this technology was used in the hypothetical Russian presidential election, knowing its vulnerabilities and assuming Nemtsov wailed that he was cheated?

It might appear that I pounded pretty hard on the Republicans and John McCain, but John McCain could tell you himself what it felt like to be on the end of political and thoroughly undemocratic dirty tricks. During the 2000 South Carolina primary, a smear campaign initiated against him by the George W. Bush organization circulated rumors that his wife was a drug addict, and that his Bangladeshi adopted daughter (who joined him in campaign appearances) was a black child McCain had fathered out of wedlock. Although he was the favourite to win the state, he did not have the money or the resources to respond, and he lost to Bush. You know the rest. Remember how we decided the world of politics doesn’t owe everyone equal representation if they don’t have the money or the resources? Well, this is exactly the same thing.

Should somebody be allowed to win an election using tactics like that? Regardless what you might think, the world democracy that is most anxious to export its system to the world sees nothing sufficiently wrong in it to declare it illegal. However, it may have something to do with that country’s declining status in international influence and force of personal example.

Russia is a democracy. Putin and Medvedev – as his successor – are popular because the country has prospered under their leadership. The minimum wage has steadily gone up while interest rates have steadily gone down, and the national debt is the lowest in the G-20. Things aren’t perfect, but the only country that can currently claim perfection is Finland, sitting at number 1. If every time Medvedev announces he’s going to have another crack at changing things for the better, you just piss all over it and snicker and nudge each other, you’re making your opinion look pretty partisan, don’t you think?

Sing us out, will you, Bob? “Come writers and critics/who prophesize with your pen/And keep your eyes wide/the chance won’t come again/And don’t speak too soon/for the wheel’s still in spin/And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’/For the loser now/will be later to win/For the times, they are a’changin’…”


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39 Responses to Democracy for Dummies

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  6. Igor, AU says:

    Interesting information, Mark . (I think you are more than ready fro RT 🙂

  7. carpenter117 says:

    1) Wow. How you;re doing that? I mean, that witty remarks, irony and sarkasm?! It’s awesome!

    2) “Dummy” right here got another couple of questions:
    – Who are those mighty and wise beings responsible for worldwide destribution\definition of the Democracy? (+Who the frag appointed them here?)
    – A tough one. Just for a moment imagine 40-s – WWII precisely. The wast majority of westerners still picture that time as: “Western Democracies (USA + UK) temoprally allied with totalitarian Russia (USSR, to be precisely) waged war against Axis Powers (Fascism in Italy and Germany, aggressive militarists in Japan + their satellites )”. Ok, so USA and UK at that time were, probably, the only democracies in the entire world? Againd, most of them are positive about that. But what about the horrific state of “human rights record” in both countries? At that time, they got segregation, discriminations of all possible kind, nothing “political correct” at all and many other violations of MODERN principles of what constitutes democracy, personal freedom and free state. Double standarts, again?

    • marknesop says:

      Hi, Carpenter! I’ll try to answer your questions: One, the parties involved with the export of democracy are a diverse group; some are agencies like the old Peace Corps, who are genuinely invested in helping and supporting the population to achieve a better standard of living and a voice in their own affairs, some are “think tanks” who are interested in destabilizing the governments of particular countries by sowing discord and unrest in the population and by funding protest movements. If the latter agencies can inspire a backlash against democratic reform in the region, they get a double bonus – the government is unstable and on the defensive, while legitimate democracy advocates in the region ruefully report that the government is just too authoritarian for them to achieve any measurable success. Democracy is a superior political operating system in countries in which the electorate is politically aware and engaged, and keeps the national interest foremost. It starts to break down in countries in which the population has become lazy, spoiled and inattentive because the electorate is easily manipulated by message control, and convinced to support initiatives that are against the national interest while they disproportionately favour an elite group. Democracy is effective, but you have to remember it’s important work that you can’t leave to others, and that you have to pay attention to what’s going on.

      I wouldn’t say the human rights records of the U.S. and U.K were horrific in the 40’s. Not comparatively speaking. The First World War collapsed the class system in Britain, which was really the last impediment to social advancement and equality, and by the 40’s Britain was quite progressive. The USA still had a serious race problem, but there was a sense that national will was uniting behind its resolution, and that the old way of doing business was no longer acceptable. It’s all about image, and the image of the USA was of a juggernaut that nothing could stop once the Amercan people had made up their minds. Americans don’t like to have the right thing to do pointed out to them, but that doesn’t mean they won’t put their shoulder to it once they’ve made up their own minds. Once it was the most envied and respected country in the world, and all that potential for goodness and leadership is still there. Unfortunately, the national interest has been usurped by a relatively small group of loudmouths who feel it is America’s destiny to rule the world by force. The electorate is lazy and distracted, and far more interested in bread and circuses than in national priorities. These are trying times for America, and we should all hope she comes through them.

      Above all, nobody should be mocking anyone else’s efforts to perfect their own democracy. Systems that are inherently authoritarian need little encouragement to slide backward.

      • carpenter117 says:

        Sorry my sloppy English. No, I was talking more about fantastic assumption:
        Suppose, UK (with its colonies, mandate territories and stuff) and US of A (with its segregation, racial\gender\sexual\political discrimination), military occupaing Japan and western Germany survived intact (as they were in 1946), without any changes to this day – to 2010. Just imagine. In mid XX-th centuary they were considered (first of all, by themselves) as paragons of democracy and freedom. Would they be considered democracies now?

        • marknesop says:

          Ahhh….I see what you mean. That’s an interesting question. I suppose if they had survived as empires without any changes, they would be considered much less democratic from a social point of view. But that presupposes that the rest of the world also survived unchanged to this point. We’re a lot more demanding of democracy now, than the world was in the 1940’s. Britain’s empire was certainly repressive and exploitational of local populations, and the USA certainly stayed on in military bases and stations in places where it was unwanted, even hated. But at the root, racial, sexual and gender politics have nothing to do with democracy. As long as the full electorate is able to vote without fear of reprisal, in a manner in which the public can be honestly said to select its leaders by election, the society is democratic. They are linked only inasmuch as race, gender and sexual orientation are often targets used to suppress the vote. The whole country could be gay, and as long as they all voted to choose their leaders and the vote was fair, it’d be a gay democracy.

          It’s hard to hypothesize about what the world would look like today if you suppose that the British Empire and U.S. protectorates did not change, but the rest of the world did, because our perceptions would be coloured by our increased knowledge and expectations for democracy. Those countries have been democracies for a long time, while Russia is a relatively new one. All things considered, Russia hasn’t done badly. Its chief sin is that it continues to think about and speak of itself unapologetically as a great power, and some institutions of the U.S. find that intolerable. If Russians would only stop being visibly proud of their country, and learn to say, “How I love America – how I wish we could be just like you”, those institutions would consider you properly humble, and move on to someone else; China, perhaps.

      • Igor, AU says:

        I can offer a slightly 🙂 different view on the ideal conditions for democracy: democracy actually works best (or even only) with disinterested and disengaged electorate. Only in this case the minority will accept the “democratic” majority decisions. The elections will be decided by the active part of the population (eg. businessmen buying disinterested votes) and the disinterested part will be happy because it does not care. But if (when) the active part crosses the line and what they do (have done) starts to touch the previously inactive population core interests , the situation changes and usually becomes not very democratic.

        Eg. quick link National Guard against US citizens & their opinion was an unlikely democratic tool. In this case -temporarily. If I remember correctly, Bolsheviks in 1917 had less than 20% of popular support – in this case the democracy did not survive at all. I already mention Kyrgyzstan. and you can add Iraq etc as the IMHO examples where democracy is not possible (but the appearance of it , of course, may exist)

        • marknesop says:

          That’s an interesting view, and I suppose it could be accurate, depending on the goal. If the goal is to subvert the national interest in favour of a personal agenda while steering financial and influential benefits to a selected group, then yes; a disinterested and disengaged electorate is best. One has to assume an engaged and aware electorate would not support that goal, so if the goal is to make sound decisions that reflect the national interest, an aware and engaged electorate is best. Often politicians come from a legal or business background (particularly in the west), and don’t know much more than the average fairly-bright citizen on what might be in the national interest – they listen to foreign-policy experts; who brief them, and frequently impart their own advice. The average citizen who pays attention to the news and does a bit of online research, for example, would have known the American invasion of Iraq was a bad idea and that there was little international support for it.

          As bad combinations go, hyperpatriotism and ignorance are second only to monkeys and crystal stemware. Hyperpatriotic societies, even democratic ones, tend to believe what the government tells them, and hyperpatriots who don’t bother to question proposals that have national consequences are a recipe for disaster. If the good of the country is the goal and the government intends to pursue only that, then an authoritarian model is best when you have a lazy and ignorant electorate.

          The case you cite is an unusual one, in that James Meredith underwent a complete reversal of his political philosophy, from a very liberal individual who was willing to endure any amount of humiliation to force the adoption of human-rights policies that reflect a democratic society, to a hardcore conservative Republican. It supports your theory, but must go outside normal behavior to do it (if that’s the link you meant to cite, rather than the Kent State university shootings).

          • Igor, AU says:

            your attempt to counter “disengaged electorate = democracy” thesis is so far the best I saw – you are a treasure 🙂 AFAIK the idea originates in TLC and is supported by most current CFR members, so you are on target suggesting whose purposes it serves [this should be read as “whose purposes a modern form of democracy usually serves” or even “where the evolution of traditional democracy leads to” – and then going further and starting to discuss the idea of constitutional separation of business and government 🙂 ]

            However, IMHO, you somewhat diffused the problem.
            Authoritarian government can work only if it is headed by a God. A mere human will be making mistakes & there will be no mechanism to correct them. This is not to mention that a politician, who gets to the top, is not getting there alone and/or purely by himself – there are human connections, past obligations, fallibility and normal human limitations and emotional (not rational) decisions. And again – mistakes. For which others have to pay. Or solutions which are not solutions, but a landslide of problems in other areas. Markelov, Estemirova and Politkovskaya are the unintended victims of one such “solution”. And that is why (and not for the fact that they were killed in Russia) they are so well known.

            So, instead of playing God, the best is to permit the society (i.e. not only the businessmen) to optimize as many solutions as possible, with the Government being in the feedback loop of the everage goals of the whole society (rather than of its one particular group). The current best know forms of such feedback are relatively frequent democratic elections at all levels, open and free public demonstrations, real freedom of speech etc. BTW, I already expressed my opinion elsewhere that it is possible to disengage the electorate by regularly beating them on the head with police sticks each time they try to go out and tell something to the government (and that this is also the best way to breed & popularize extremism).

            • marknesop says:

              There’s certainly something in what you say, and every form of government can point to catastrophic failures inspired by its leader. Communism failed largely because it was structured for a selfless society that built no defenses against corruption among the leadership – there wasn’t supposed to be any corruption. You’re correct that it would take some sort of saint to lead a country in which he or she essentially controls everything, without submitting to the temptation to use that power for his or her own ends. Not so much being a God, as playing God.

              The greatest inspiration of confidence in a leader is the knowledge on the part of the public that he or she can be removed at the public’s pleasure for due cause. Therefore, frequent democratic elections at all levels are a must, as you say. Unfortunately, real freedom of speech and free, unregulated demonstration are often hijacked, in mature democracies, by special-interest groups or the opposition – or both – who buy or otherwise cajole the discontented into creating the appearance of mass unrest: which is then used by those groups to place themselves or their chosen representative in power, to the detriment of the social order. Another feature of mature democracies is the tendency to expect government to solve all minor, even personal problems, while squalling that government is too meddlesome and interfering.

              If you could trust the governed to come to government for help only when there was a serious or potentially serious problem, to use demonstration and censure only to address honest concerns that could be shown to be the fault of the government and to refrain from lies and distortions in order to influence public opinion leading up to an election, democracy would be so popular that it wouldn’t need aggressive selling.

              • Igor, AU says:

                Mark, IMHO – discounting for the agendas, we are surprisingly on the same tune. You are a very worthy собеседник
                (~interlocutor) . All these issues are exactly what I tried to discuss in my Medvedev’s Amendment post. So far I see a possible solution (optimal government) in “redundancy” – that’s the most common approach by “God” (=nature) in eg. swarm biological systems. In more conventional human terms it would be Madisson’s “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition” -i.e. competition inside the government as an additional measure to keep things in check. The key is to make it pure “ambition” and block the profit maximization (=private business interests). I am sure we will return to this topic later.

                • marknesop says:

                  Madisson might have been talking about the loyal opposition. They’re supposed to keep the party in power in check by poking holes in their policies (where actual shortcomings exist, not just for the fun of it) and suggesting adjustments to priorities when they perceive waste or patronage. I don’t really know much about the opposition in Russia, except for Nemtsov and his handful of liberasts, but you could hardly call that an opposition. Ideally, the opposition should be only slightly less powerful than the government. There would have been no end of right-leaning laws passed here if Stephen Harper had a majority, but he hasn’t. Consequently, although I’m not normally a fan of the conservative party, I can find little to complain about in Harper’s governance. The country came out of the recession better than anyone else on the planet, and has prospered for the most part.

                  In the USA, the opposition is fixated on getting the president out of office by whatever means may accomplish that end. There’s no loyalty, there is even open disloyalty. If the Republicans return to power in the midterms, Obama will likely be impeached, or at a minimum be so hamstrung by constant delays and bickering that he’ll be unable to get anything done. If the next president is a Republican, especially if it’s someone stupid and crazy like Sarah Palin, I don’t think the country will recover.

              • Igor, AU says:


                “God” is impartial, knows The Truth and does not make mistakes. A saint can only belive that he knows A truth and, being, human, certainly errs. Human-defined “good” intentions are not a protection from a disaster.

                My other comment, it seems, rests in your spam filter.


  8. Misha says:

    Thanks Mark.

    The main issues you bring up reminds me of this recent one:

    Par for the course from that venue, which Andrei Zoltov (on his RIA Novosti show) referred to as a very respectable London based internet magazine.

    Oy, yoy, yoy!

  9. Leos Tomicek says:

    This one goes into my bookmarks 😉

  10. Natalie says:

    I hate to appear formulaic, but the reason I choose America as comparative model is that so many russophobic critics of Russia’s government are Americans.

    To be fair, there are loads of Western European Russophobes as well, in addition to Eastern Europeans (depending on what country).

    So many people just cannot seem to grasp the concept that due to what he has done for Russia, Putin is actually a very well-liked politician. If you take the time to learn about him, what he’s done, and what was going on before he was president, it is not surprising that he is so popular.

    • Yalensis says:

      Putin will certainly go down in Russian history as a great national leader and politician on the level of, say, a Franklin Roosevelt in the U.S. On a more emotional note, he will go down in history as the national hero who saved Russia from the ruination that was being prepared for it by his its enemies. (Sounds paranoid, but is true.) Whereas most of Putin’s critics will barely be a footnote in the history books! And Putin managed to achieve this using pretty much “democratic” mechanisms, not resorting to military coup or dictatorship. (Again, despite what his unimportant critics say!) Putin maintains his popularity among Russians and could handily win any election he chose to participate in, without having to resort to rigging it. I haven’t exactly been his biggest fan over the years, but, hey, you gotta respect the guy!

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, Natalie, that’s probably true; but since I’m fairly new to the blogging scene, I don’t know who they are. I imagine I will learn over the weeks to come. Mike sent a good one, included in this thread, that I intend to take a hard look at as soon as I have the time.

      Yes, I completely agree that Putin has been good to and good for Russia. That’s probably why Russophobes loathe him – they loved Yeltsin, because he was the kind of politician they could understand: brought to power by business tycoons, and largely listened to their advice as post-Communist Russia was carved up. I believe Putin’s support and cult of personality are genuine.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      One thing that many russophobes share, regardless of their home country, is a sheer admiration for USA, that they take as their ideal model. Or, more precisely, a sheer admiration for what they imagine the USA is. This is especially true for Russian russophobes like Latynina.
      So, I think Mark’s choice of USA as comparative model is the right one.

  11. Yalensis says:

    Mark: I think you are giving too much weight to “elections” in your definition of democracy. I don’t dispute parliamentary-type elections are crucial to any advanced society, and the technology of holding elections, counting votes, etc., is extremely important and should be perfected. Having said that, real democracy is SO much more than that. The work that trade unionists and community organizers do (making sure people can’t be fired unfairly, can get affordable housing, loans, etc.) is just as important, if not more so, than electing some sleazy politician.

    • marknesop says:

      It’s funny you should say that, because it isn’t so much me who is putting extra weight on a free vote – it’s The Power Vertical. I agree that the qualities you mention are of equal or greater importance, and it is those that Mr. Medvedev outlined in his standards for a democracy – which were never meant to be a definition. There is, for me, no doubt that Russia is a democracy, and the freedom to vote is underscored by the fact that some people choose not to. Rigged “elections” in countries that only pretend to be democratic (such as Iraq under Saddam) regularly posted voter turnout in the high-90 percent range. Even though Medvedev was elected in a landslide, I believe turnout was something less than 70 percent.

      I agree Putin will be remembered as a great leader, and his popularity is well-deserved. It is owing to his leadership that Russia managed to maintain its national pride through some very painful adjustment, and under a lesser leader the country might well have fallen apart in the global recession.

  12. carpenter117 says:

    I’m terribly sorry for starting total off-topic with this link, but look at it:

    To quote commenters:
    ” You know what you call “52 Journalists Killed through August?”
    A great start!
    Of all the “life forms on Earth”… journalists definitely rank at the bottom.
    Nothing more than “glorified gossip hounds or busy bodies”.”
    -Speedy, Palm Harbor, Florida, (2 users agree with him).

    But what is really important (at least, for me), that only 1 (one) journalist was so far repotred killed in Rusiian (not a word about Belorussia thoug…). It seems to me that this kind of official information somehow contradicts russophobic assumption, that in “Putin Land” you got Katyn like journalist massacres every sunday (all journalists and other freedom loving fellas are executed by V.(V for Victory!) Putin himsefl.

    … And that’s all I can tell about Nam (c) %)

    • marknesop says:

      Everybody in the world knows who Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova are. They wrote for small newspapers and periodicals, and only the intense clamor of Russophobes has kept their legend alive. This is not to suggest they deserved death – they certainly did not – or to impugn their motives in their reporting.

      Remember the two journalists who were killed in the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, when an American tank on a nearby bridge fired directly at their balcony? Quick – what were their names? I bet you couldn’t find one in a hundred Russophobes who could tell you. Taras Protsyuk and Jose Couso died when an American tank crew saw somebody with binoculars on a balcony, and thought they were an Iraqi spotter. They asked for and received permission to fire. Firing at a known media facility (and nearly every journalist in the region was staying at the Palestine Hotel) is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

      I don’t agree with the commenter that journalists are the lowest form of life, and if not for journalists we would often be unaware of war crimes or stupid mistakes that get people killed. Only weeks into the conflict described above, 10 journalists had been killed.

      The situation in Russia (exempting the Caucasus) is often such that journalists like Yevgeniya Albats have to demand of police that they be arrested, so they can scribble their tales of police brutality (as recorded at A Good Treaty).

    • Yalensis says:

      Don’t forget that after Putin kills his quota of 30,000 journalists every week, he then drinks their blood, and all that before breakfast!

  13. Vadim says:

    West problems consist that liberalism is not a personal freedom and not a society of free people in the sense of an abbreviation specified above “freedom”, and culture of the legalized permissiveness and dishonesty. It is a consequence of that the West a civilization of slaves, it is artificial created during realization of the bible project of enslavement of mankind on behalf of God. It also causes aversion of the western liberalism adherents of ideals of all other regional civilizations of a planet though inhabitants of the West of it don’t understand though Zantington and reminds them:
    «The West has won the world not because of the superiority of the ideas (it is allocated by us fat at citing: it is unique point on which Huntington and Fukuyama disagree), values or religion (into which a small amount of representatives of other civilizations has been turned only), but is faster the superiority in application of the organized violence. Inhabitants of the West often forget this fact; inhabitants non-West never won’t forget it»

    • marknesop says:

      Whenever I see a comment like this, I’m struck by how different an ideal “liberalism” is depending on where you live. Liberalism in Canada is much more popular as a political philosophy, and most agree a society that can easily afford to should take care of its elderly and disadvantaged. The chief contention traditional Conservatives have with this form of government is that it promotes laziness and reliance on the government to solve all problems – why should I work, when someone else will work in my place and give me some of his/her money?

      Liberalism in Russia means something much different, and a social contract with the Russian people would be a difficult thing to guarantee in an oil-dependent economy. However, the liberals in Russia would have little choice but to rely on the same economy, at least in the short term, and a major concern is that a liberal government would subordinate Russia’s national interests in favour of an international sell-off of Russia’s resources. In the meantime, the liberals are left to criticize what a horrible job Putin and Medvedev are doing, which is a tough sell when interest rates are falling and wages are rising.

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