Hey, Baby – We’re Still Here

Uncle Volodya says, "Rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated"

What with writing on a variety of sources that I typically do not, guest posts and the like, it’s been some time since I visited my old friend and muse La Russophobe. I’ve slowly come round to the viewpoint that the material featured there is mostly just harmless nonsense, but I thought I’d drop by for old times sake and see what the day’s fare offered. Predictably, it relies strongly on rehashed garbage and hysterical hyperbole for a base the way McDonalds relies on ground beef, but a theme I found worthy of comment is yet another repetition of her prediction that Russia will collapse, any moment now.  This installment is entitled “Putin’s Russia, Fading Fast”.

I’ve indicated this is a recurring theme, but I’m not sure if I’ve conveyed adequately how frequently and longingly La Russophobe has forecast the iminent demise of Russia. To gain a little perspective, let’s browse the archives. Plug in the word “doomed”, and you’ll get “Economic Innovation Doomed in Russia” (2006), “Employment and Small Business Drowning, Economy Doomed” (2006), “With Friends Like These, Russia is Doomed For Sure” (2006), “Even Putin Admits That Siberia is Doomed” (2006), “On Russia’s Doomed Media Establishment” (2007), “The End of Foreign Investment in Russia” (2007), “Russia”s Illusion of Stability” (2007), “Putin’s Energy Schemes, Imploding Like the USSR” (2007), “Russia, Doomed to Barbarism?” (2008), “The Russian Market is Doomed” (2008), “Medvedev Says Russian Far East is Doomed” (2008), “The End of Russia?” (2009), “Putin’s Russia is Collapsing” (2009), “Russia’s Economy is doomed” (2009), “Russia is Doomed in the Caucasus” (2010), “Why Putin’s Russia is Doomed to Fail” (2010), and to the recent entry where Russia is fading fast.

I won’t bore you with the results of subsequent searches using “collapsing” and “sinking”. Suffice it to say that here we have an individual who has confidently predicted the end of Russia an average of once a month for the past four years. Considering Russia is still very much alive, that’s a pretty dismal record, unless the intent was to amuse readers rather than actually predict an event.

However, just to underscore how emphatically Russia is not collapsing and shows no evidence of being doomed anytime soon, let’s take a look at how Russia performed under Putin’s leadership. I know LaRussophobe doesn’t have a lot of time for “numbers” or “statistics” or “facts”, preferring instead to rely on the Voices In Her Head, but let’s see what economists and mathematicians say about how it’s going in Russia – what’s the harm?

According to this graph, nominal GDP doubled under Putin: the economy gained an average of 7% per year. A few more figures – during Putin’s 8 years as President, industry advanced by 75%, investments increased by 125%, real incomes more than doubled and average salary increased eightfold. There was a sevenfold increase in the proportion of the population designated “middle class”, and not many of those were wealthy people on their way down. Actually, none. The proportion of the population living below the poverty line was reduced by more than half. Yes, indeed; there’s a leader you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Detractors love to hammer on the point that the economy is heavily dependent on oil. So? If Russia has large supplies of oil, should it diversify into walnuts and sour cream? If a country has large reserves of gold, which is also a volatile commodity, do pundits suggest the country is too dependent on gold for the strength of its economy? Not so I noticed. I didn’t hear any such criticism of South Africa, which was overtaken by China only in 2007 as world’s largest producer of gold. Speaking of China, western critics were so concerned that China was too reliant on manufacturing for its economic strength that they handed over all their manufacturing…to China. 

In 2004, the Russian government established the Stabilization Fund of the Russian Federation. This fiscal safety net is collected as a percentage of GDP from the export duty on oil. Designed to be used – as the name implies – to stabilize the nation in the event of a crisis, it protects the federal budget, and can only be used to offset other expenses when the balance on hand exceeds 500 Billion rubles. Do you think a similar tithe on American banks when they were making money like they had a license to print their own might have been a good idea? I’ll bet everyone except bankers thinks so now.

The Russian economy took a bit of a dive in 2008 – maybe that was the onset of Russian collapse!! Oh, wait – that was the whole world, almost collapsing. Since then Russia has stabilized at pre-crisis figures for unemployment; 6.8%. What’s the unemployment figure today in the USA? Officially, 9.5%, although some argue the rate is being kept artificially low.

Since Mr. Medvedev took over, Russia’s IT sector has enjoyed a record year of growth, and Russia has moved up to third in the world as a destination for software outsourcing (behind India and China). More recently, Russia overcame the final objections of the U.S. against its acsension to the World Trade Organization (WTO). This doesn’t automatically presuppose membership, but it is acknowledged as the final stumbling block, and there have to be champagne corks popping in major Russian cities this month. 

So, let’s summarize; Russia currently has the lowest national debt in the G20. To give you an idea what the difference looks like between running a surplus and running a deficit, have a look at this chart, which uses 2005 figures (the latest public data, at least for this source), and puts Russia at world number 2 and the USA at world number 98. The discrepancy has certainly not improved since 2005. Every major economic indicator in Russia improved under Mr. Putin’s leadership, and since Mr. Medvedev took over Russia has stabilized following a world economic crisis, and shows stronger signs of recovery than most of the world. Russia relies heavily on energy for its economic development, but sensibly puts energy dollars in the bank for a rainy day. The unemployment rate is lower than that of the world’s largest economy. Russian acceptance by the WTO looks certain, which should bring it expanded market share of energy sales as well as increased confidence in its business practices.

Just before I close; I can’t believe LaRussophobe had the audacity to suggest Mr. Putin “negated the election” of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzkhov, thus “disenfranchising the people of Russia”. He was personally fired by Medvedev after he more or less dared him to do it, and refused various “depart with dignity” proposals, and while Luzkhov’s municipal administration rallied around him, a strong majority of Muscovites supported Luzkhov being kicked to the curb. Where’s your usual yells of support for the will of the people? He’s married to the richest woman in Russia when LaRussophobe regularly attacks every wealthy Russian as a bloodsucking oligarch – except for Boris Nemtsov, of course. Having a memory lapse, Ms. Zigfeld? Let me refresh it – as recently as July you denounced Baturina as “…the embodiment of the rich, corrupt woman, whose husband’s fortune is registered under her name.” Spare us your crocodile tears for Luzkhov and his squeeze.

Incoming message for LaRussophobe: Russia is still very much alive, and is not going to collapse in your lifetime.

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34 Responses to Hey, Baby – We’re Still Here

  1. Misha says:

    Unlike the arguably greater possibility of some others.

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Unless someone provides Kim Zigfeld with free schizophrenia drugs, Obama’s health care reform is doomed to fail…

    • marknesop says:

      Zhenya, you are a natural comic. That’s funny. As far as the material goes, I get weary of printing the same stuff over and over – Russia is not collapsing, it’s actually doing better by the day, and the way to bring genuine reform is to encourage it and offer to help, rather than snickering and pointing and making things up in order to miscast the situation as being worse than it actually is. I can’t fathom what it is about Russia that inspires such relentless hate; the only countries I can think of to match it are the United States (usually just as unfounded) and Israel.

      • Eugene Ivanov says:

        Mark,

        Your calling me by my home name made my day. Really. Thanks.

        Well, all 3 countries you mention have what I’d call name recognition. As for why Russia inspires such a relentless hate, my answer is simple: the Cold War is still on. And continuing the war analogy: you still must return shots even if it’s already boring after awhile.

        • marknesop says:

          Are there people who hate Serbia? Well, I mean, a lot of them?

          • Misha says:

            IMO and that of some others, Serbia definitely ranks as a nation that’s disproportionately more loathed than most nations.

            Overall, RFE/RL’s coverage of Serbia and Serbs is more biased than its coverage of Russia and Russians.

            Bigger powers tend to have their positions acknowledged and respected to a greater degree, as opposed to small countries in a similar bind.

            Consider the diktat at Rambouillet (more like Shambouillet) in the lead-up to the hypocritical bombing of Yugoslavia in support of the KLA in 1999. (Note that KLA positions weren’t sought after by NATO.) Any number of countries could’ve been bombed on the same premise.

            I suspect that Leos and Natalie from your blog list will concur with the gist of this note.

            Ditto the gentleman who hosts this blog:

            http://grayfalcon.blogspot.com/

            • marknesop says:

              Thanks for the great link, Mike; on a quick scan it looks very interesting, and my knowledge of current affairs in the Balkans is weak. I’ll add this to my blogroll, and study it in greater detail. I’ve never read RFE/RL for anything except coverage of Russia, but I’ll try to expand my view in future. As I said, my knowledge of what goes on in the Balkans is weak, and I’d have to be a good deal more comfortable with it before I felt qualified to comment.

              • Misha says:

                Very good of you Mark and appreciated.

                Tacking onto to what I said, consider how in 1992, Yugoslavia (then consisting of predominately Slavic Orthodox Christian Serbia and Montenegro) was banned from the 1992 summer Olympics.

                Why!?

                The USSR, US and others weren’t banned from the Olympics, when they were either directly or indirectly involved in war. At the 1992 summer Olympics, “rump” Yugoslavia had the second best men’s basketball team in the world. The gold medal game featured the US playing Croatia. At the time, in addition to having other negative issues, Croatia had a president who openly sympathized with the WW II era, pro-Nazi Croat Ustasha regime, which carried out gruesome acts, like running the concentration camp at Jasenovac.

                The current American vice president is on record for making remarks reasonably considered as intolerant (as in bigoted) against Serbs.
                On the kind of bias that has been evident, here’s an article from several years ago by someone who for a long time has been affiliated with Freedom House:

                http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9908/opinion/karatnycky.html

                From what I’ve seen, I find this to be his most agreeable commentary.

                On my RFE/RL comparison, I frequently engage in so-called “whataboutism,” otherwise referred to as comparitive politics. The “whataboutism” term appears to have been popularized by folks known for (put mildly) not being among the most Russia friendly.

                For me, “whataboutism” should be applied when bringing up matter that isn’t really comparitive to the issue under discussion. In contrast, comparative politics ideally attempts to gauge a situation relative to what has been understood.

                Some make a negative connection with Serbia in relation to its historic and cultural ties with Russia.

                Of possible interest:

                http://www.russiablog.org/2006/11/how_kosovo_factors_into_russoa.php

                • marknesop says:

                  To me, as I’ve suggested elsewhere (in response to Robert Coalson, if memory serves), whataboutism is “But you lynch negroes”. That’s not comparitive politics, it’s resorting to a tired trope in the hope that it will shame the other side into discontinuing the argument. Responding to a specific criticism by citing instances in which the same practice was tolerated or encouraged in the proponent’s own country is not whataboutism, it’s an exposure of hypocrisy. You might reasonably call it whataboutism if I just picked a country that was worse off at random, such as “Yes, the municipal roads and sidewalks are in terrible shape in Vladivostok – but look at Burkina Faso!!” However, the great majority of Russia critics are westerners, and the majorirty of them Americans.

                  One of my most successful examples of that kind of comparitive politics was in response to Julia Ioffe’s sneering rant about how expensive the new road from Sochi to the Olympic sites is costing, which included a sarcastic subsection on the variety of substances it could be paved with – including caviar and Louis Vuitton handbags – for that price. I was able to show that the project known as the “Big Dig” in downtown Boston cost a great deal more for a section of roadway that was much shorter. In this I was greatly assisted by Anatoly of Sublime Oblivion, who pointed out that the Sochi road is not just a road; it includes a parallel railway, and requires a number of bridges, tunnels and overpasses through some extremely rough terrain. Saying “your own country tolerates much greater expense for significantly less return on investment” is not whataboutism. Whataboutism is a claim the other side uses when it is losing the argument and cannot see how to regain momentum. Sometimes the claim is legitimate, usually not.

                • Misha says:

                  Determining whataboutism over comparitive politics can depend on the given slant making the assessment.

                  I don’t think that the Belaeff piece I recently forwarded to you is “whataboutism.”

                  Likewise with what I do.

                  Seeing how this thread has dealt with economics, I note this piece in today’s Counterpunch on Latvia:

                  http://counterpunch.org/sommers10062010.html

                  Perhaps a whataboutism link that some will nevertheless find of interest.

                • marknesop says:

                  No, I agree. That’s what I’m saying – as soon as you’re winning the argument on its merits, using comparitive politics, the other side complains that you’re resorting to “whataboutism”, as if you couldn’t win without using dirty tricks.

                • Misha says:

                  On a somewhat related note, I received this from an admirer:

                  Re manners – of course I never thought to imply that you were in any way lacking, just made some ridiculous examples of what can be said. In the comments section on some threads, I saw absolutely gross, uncivilized behavior among those who attacked you, while you kept your cool… as they say = they first one to blow his cool has lost the argument.

                  ****

                  I’ve been made aware of some secret society like chatter about me, which is inaccurately negative.

                  I take this as good news, seeing the kind of folks making such comments, versus those who appreciate my input.

                  On the former grouping, I’m willing to conider some who’re simply misinformed, versus carrying on in a calculated manner.

                  Nuff said.

  3. Evgeny says:

    Mark,

    That’s about the nominal GDP. If you make allowance for U.S. dollar inflation, the picture will look differently:

    http://evagen.livejournal.com/16797.html#cutid1

    (That’s based on World Bank data.)

    • marknesop says:

      That’s true, but the World Bank data is calibrated in constant 2005 dollars. The U.S. Dollar has taken a hammering since 2005, although it wasn’t particularly strong then compared with its lifetime value. The WB data tends to flatten the curve a little, but my point is that it would be difficult to argue that Putin has been bad for Russia, when quite the reverse is evident and substantiated by hard numbers.

      • Evgeny says:

        Putin was not bad. But his two terms were essentially about regaining positions lost in 1990s — wherever possible.

        While other countries were developing their economies, we were regaining what we once had. Overall, that makes the 1990-2000s the lost time.

        The catch is — yes, anti-Putin propaganda is ugly, hilarious and inefficient. Yet, that doesn’t mean the reverse is true. The binary logics doesn’t work there well.

        • marknesop says:

          It’s entirely possible Obama’s term – or terms, if he’s so lucky as to survive his first one through a storm of Republican obstruction – will be later regarded in a similar light; simply restoring the balance after a slide caused by his predecessor.

          • Evgeny says:

            Do you believe Obama will make it?

            • marknesop says:

              I devoutly hope so, because I am convinced his aim is to make the United States better for all Americans while restoring its image in international eyes as a great power. There are those who say U.S. policymaking is engineered by a secretive cabal totally outside of government – if that’s so, I certainly don’t know about it, or it wouldn’t be much of a secret, would it? But if it happens to be accurate, there’s no real hope of the United States surviving in its present form anyway. For the most part they are a good neighbour, and that aside, our biggest trading partner by far. In return, we are their largest foreign oil supplier, and our fates are intertwined. I firmly believe if the Republicans regain power before Obama has had a chance to complete some badly-needed repairs, the U.S. collapse will return with a vengeance, and this time irrecoverably. I base this on publicly-aired Republican plans and stated policies, which include making tax cuts for the wealthy permanent and repealing the Affordable Health Care Act. There’s just no way policies like that could result in prosperity, short of a major war to spur the economy. That’s out of the question in the short term, assuming the intent would be to win.

              • kovane says:

                He-he, I’ll try to make an intrusion on foreign field. In many ways I agree with Taibbi’s cynical point of view. Obama’s campaign was financed by the same participants, and he hired a lot of former Clinton’s people. Having a majority in the Senate, the Democrats failed to pass a single significant legislature without it being shredded to pieces by the Republicans. Now, when the majority is doomed, Obama’s hands will be tied even more. I agree that he seems to be a great guy, I enjoy listening to his speeches very much, eloquence is definitely his strong suit. But that’s no substitute for independence in decisions and bulldog’s grip on political opponents.

                Feel free to mock my ignorance🙂

              • Evgeny says:

                Of course, it would be preferred to see all of the countries afloat, especially the United States. The demise of the U.S. might mean a technological disaster for the rest of us, what’s unwanted.

                Speaking of a possibility of a major war, it would be essential for all of us to retain our senses, and not to get involved under any sort of pretext imaginable. There’s a big difference between a genuine world war, and a war of one fringe group against the other fringes, even if the fringes in question are such mighty and powerful states as the United States and the Iran.

      • Evgeny says:

        Overall, the Russian history of the last 20 years is the farcical repeat of the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages in Europe.

        Absolutely meaningless waste of 140 million people x 20 years = approx. 3 billion man-years.

        • marknesop says:

          Perhaps – I don’t have the academic chops to say one way or the other. But if Russia is the last great storehouse of natural resources and previously-undiscovered riches – as it may well be, given its population and size, it would behoove the rest of the world to put its shoulder to the wheel and help Russia become the prosperous, thriving contributor to world trade reliable analysis suggests it could be. To date, nothing like that has happened: instead, the great powers have obstructed Russia’s progress whenever and wherever they could, and mocked Russia when it tried to achieve progress unassisted. I don’t count here the large loan by the U.S. to Russia when the bottom fell out of everything, as I believe it was repaid in full. In so many other ways, Russians could be hardly otherwise than cynical and suspicious of outsiders, considering how they’ve been treated by the world in word and deed. There have been many opportunities for rapprochement, but they have been spurned time and again. This leads, as I suggested, to cynicism and disillusionment.

          • Evgeny says:

            How should I respond to that?

            Go crying and say like, yes, we are so good but nobody appreciates us? Don’t you think it’s rather immature?

            Of course, all of us are not bad. All of us are ready to help our neighbours in hard days. But each of us acts on limited money and resources, so all of us have to care about ourselves first and foremost. That means essentially, that everybody has to rely on oneself.

            • marknesop says:

              Well, I wouldn’t recommend choice number one, because yes – it would be immature. I don’t think I said anything that would direct anybody to that conclusion. My position is that if the rest of the world is not interested in constructive, mutually beneficial agreements, it should stop pretending it is by proposing them and then reneging on its side of the agreement. My position is that Russian skepticism is not simply a product of a brooding and humorless people; it is a product of repeated broken deals.

              If the rest of the world doesn’t want to promote trade deals with Russia for things it has that the rest of the world wants, it should at least not oppose and ridicule Russia when it tries to get its own house in order.

  4. Yalensis says:

    Welcome, bet365! We have another regular Italian commentator, Giuseppe. I agree with you, Mark has a great blog, we talk about a lot of interesting stuff.

  5. marknesop says:

    Kovane @ 6:48 PM – this would have been the last nested comment in that thread, leaving you no room for a response, and we were running out of room anyway. Your view is certainly not ignorant, and I wouldn’t be one to know if it were, as I paid almost no attention to U.S. politics prior to the black abyss that was known as the George W. Bush presidency. However, there are a number of ways in which Obama’s policies bring him nothing but derision and mockery when in reality he’s just trying to fairly play a game in which the rules keep changing. Somehow now it’s a rule that even the most mundane legislation must pass by a supermajority (60 votes) rather than a simple majority, and the Democrats can never achieve the required 60 votes unless they gut their plan to a hollow shell in order to win grudging Republican approval – because Republicans vote the straight party line; all opposed. Most or all of these initiatives could pass via reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority: but Obama won’t do it and his party won’t press him, because it wouldn’t be bipartisan. The electorate plays along as if it doesn’t notice that bipartisanship is hopeless with the current unprecedented level of obstructionism by the opposition. Just for the sake of amusing nostalgia, that party is supposed to be known as “The Loyal Opposition”: as the name implies, they’re supposed to facilitate the passage of legislation that is clearly in the national interest, without regard for their personal feelings about the party in power.

    Recently the “loyal opposition” has shot down legislation that would raise the minimum wage, and fought tooth and nail against allowing the Bush tax cuts for the middle class to be extended unless the tax breaks for the wealthy (who manifestly don’t need them) were extended also, which would add billions to the deficit. A bill extending tax credits for small businesses was held up for so long that some of those businesses collapsed, because they were afraid to commit to new hires until they were sure they could afford them, and fell off the competitive racetrack. Republicans fought fiercely against the stimulus, which non-partisan agencies credit with saving the U.S. from a depression, then took stimulus funds for their states, showed up for ribbon-cutting ceremonies and bragged how they had wrestled funds out of the government practically single-handed for their constituents. That happened so often it became barely worthy of comment.

    Check out some of the radical positions staked out by Republicans running for positions in American lawmaking as Senators, such as Sue Lowden (AKA “Chicken Sue”), who proposed not long ago returning America to the barter system, in which you could, you know, “bring a chicken to the doctor”. Or Sharron Angle, who said that developing jobs in her home state was “not her job as a Senator”, and that the Federal Department of Education should be eliminated because it is unconstitutional. Or Christine O’Donnell, an anti-masturbation crusader who admitted to have “dabbled in witchcraft” when she was in high school. Those people want to be in a position where they can directly influence American policy and lawmaking bodies such as The U.S. Supreme Court. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

    Basically, Obama keeps trying to be seen as a fair leader who gives the opposition a fair chance to contribute to the legislative process, while that opposition has drawn a line in the sand that says they will permit nothing authored by his government to pass.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      After reading the part about Lowden, Angle and O’Donnell I couldn’t understand if you were dead serious or you were jocking, but regardless of your intentions I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a comical crescendo from “chicken Sue” to anti-masturbation crusader O’Donnell. If O’Donnell will ever learn about Berlusconi and his masturbation-inspiring showgirls-turned-politicians, she’ll propose to bomb Italy.
      On a more serious note, I too don’t believe in a cabal. What’s going on in the US and other countries is all too clear if one looks at it. There is a political class and a public opinion too much engaged in demagoguery, petty self-serving interests and plain idiocy like witchcraft. And those who seem to have a grasp of the current problems as a whole, like Obama, are too weak to enforce a solution. One case in point is the bailout program: after bailing out major financial institutions a new set of rules was needed to avoid the same mistakes and a similar outcome. But from what I’ve read the financial reform was watered down and it’ll probably rolled back in the near future.

      • marknesop says:

        Sadly, I am not joking at all. I think I’ve mentioned before my favourite political site for American news stories, the Washington Monthly, with Steve Benen –

        http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/

        If you scroll to the bottom so you can see the “Search” bar and plug in any of those names, you’ll get a selection of stories (with original links to where they appeared) describing the incidents I mentioned. Or you can probably find a selection from the U.S. news site of your choice. I like the Washington Monthly because it’s a progressive site, and the things that annoy me tend to annoy him.

        It’s not so much that Obama is weak – he still has almost all the powers George Bush had. He just keeps wasting time trying for bipartisanship, and the longer it goes on, the bolder the Republicans and the crazy Tea Partiers get. He could easily lay down the law, direct the passage of important bills using reconciliation, force the Republicans to commit to bad bills and then veto them after getting the maximum PR value from their stubbornness, or let bills that are crap pass and then append a signing statement asserting his right to disregard them as he sees fit, like Bush did. But those are all examples of bully governance, and they’re not the way to run a country. Republicans have their own television network to spread their propaganda, and I suppose he worries they’d make political hay with forceful decisions, but the sorry fact is that if it doesn’t happen the way they want, they just make it up anyway. I think he keeps hoping the electorate will see how the Republicans are holding the country hostage to their agenda, which is a return to business as usual where corporations and lobbyists write the laws. But they won’t, because the electorate is lazy and uninformed, and casts its vote based on superficial, meaningless qualities such as hearty backslapping and a firm handshake. It mistrusts candidates that appear too intellectual (elitists!!!), and is a sucker every time for the slick businessman who portrays himself/herself as a populist.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          Mark,
          I didn’t mean to imply that you made up the stories about Lowden, Angle and O’Donnell, just that you organized them in such a way to obtain a comic effect. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, perhaps my english is not good enough.
          I’ve read about these three GOP candidates in the Washington Monthly and on Wikipedia. O’Donnell seems to be a petty crook, besides being a nut.
          I realize that I need to learn more about US legislative procedures, I did know about the veto, but haven’t heard about reconciliation and the Senate supermajority (I thought the Senate had 120 members when I heard that Democrats needed 61 votes to pass the healthcare reform).
          One of my preferred US news source is Rick Newman which looks quite neutral to me. I’ve read one article by this author about the healthcare reform approval, and noticed that many votes in the Senate, including the Democratic ones, had to be bought with some legislative concessions to the constituencies of the Senators. Perhaps Obama tries to be bipartisan because he knows that he hasn’t the full support of his own party.

          • marknesop says:

            Ha, ha! I wasn’t offended at all, and your English is excellent. When I say “sadly”, I mean that it is unfortunate that it’s true (because it’s so crazy), not that I’m sad that you doubt my word. There are many, many more crazies in the Republican party – those are just the most noticeably nutty.

            You’ve brought up one of the things about the Democrats that confounds me – Republicans never seem to have any trouble getting their members to vote in lockstep. Democrats; not so much. There’s a group known as the “Blue Dogs” who are Democrats, but regularly vote with Republicans because of ideology or as a threat so as to obtain more pork for their state. If those individuals were Republicans, they’d get a stern talking-to, to see if that would make them straighten up and fly right. If that didn’t work, the party would support a challenger in the next primary – somebody far to the right of the offender, and throw money at their campaign until they won and the offender was forced out. That’s exactly what happened to Charlie Crist in Florida.

  6. Evgeny says:

    Mark,

    Thank you for sharing your views about U.S.-Canada ties! Could I ask you to share your opinion on what are the most influential / insightful newspapers in Canada today? That would help all of us, Russia-based people interested in what happens in the world.

    • marknesop says:

      Good morning, Evgeny (or at least, it is here). I hate to admit that I am so absorbed with foreign affairs and U.S. politics that I don’t really pay much attention to what goes on in Canada. I really only notice big stories like train wrecks, or major legislative intiatiatives like new tax policies if they happen in Canada. By my own political philosophy, as most will have guessed, I am quite liberal and I live in a liberal province where such attitudes are common. The present government in Canada is Conservative; therefore, I’m opposed to them in principle, although I would have to acknowledge they have provided good governance for so long as they’ve been in power this time.

      There are a number of political parties in Canada, but only three that really have any hope of holding national power – the Liberals, the Conservatives and the New Democrats, or NDP. The NDP has never run the country, although they have run provinces. Liberals are more or less like American Democrats, Conservatives are quite a bit like American Republicans, and the NDP on most issues is to the left of both. Conservatives favour a strong military and an aggressive foreign policy, although less so than the U.S. in both cases. Liberals favour more social programs and don’t really care much for the military, although they’re fairly good at keeping that to themselves because they need the votes. The NDP (remember, this is my opinion) never met a social program it didn’t like, and despises the military. Canada came out of the financial crisis better-positioned than any other nation, thanks to strict banking and financial regulations that did not permit repackaging of questionable assets to conceal their liability. In general, Conservatives push the electorate for closer ties with the United States and for our regulations and policies to be more like theirs, Liberals try to stay neutral and avoid decision-making that will offend the Americans (although if they see an opportunity to score political points while not really hurting America’s feelings too much, they will take it), and the NDP makes a science out of proving how not-American we are.

      Canada is centrally-governed, from Ontario. Ontario and Quebec are the most densely-populated provinces, so whoever Ontario and Quebec want for Prime Minister is going to win even if everyone else votes against them – representative democracy just works that way. There are strong enough elements of both major parties (Liberal and Conservative) in both provinces to make it competitve. Quebec is French, and regularly threatens to separate and form its own nation if its Frenchness doesn’t receive more recognition. This would be a political rather than a violent revolutionary separation, if it ever happened, and I don’t forsee it in my lifetime. I’m opposed to it, because Quebec is a beautiful province and an enormous contributor to Canadian culture, and it’s not too much to ask that citizens be able to speak at least a little of two languages; Quebec generally does much better at making its citizens functional in English than the rest of the country does with French. That said, it’s stupid to have an exclusively Quebec political party (the Bloc Quebecois) recognized as a national party, with all the power that implies, when it fields candidates in only one province.

      Two of the most widely-read Canadian news sources are the Toronto Star (very Liberal in its politics), and the National Post (firmly Conservative). Together they represent a pretty good cross-section of what interests Canadians, a fairly accurate reflection of Canadian lifestyle and attitudes and a reasonably good International section. For those who read French, Le Devoir is a good one, highlighting the free-thinking and general flamboyance that is characteristic of French-Canadians.

  7. Evgeny says:

    Thank you much, Mark, for the interesting reply!

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