“Wouldn’t it be great if no one ever got offended; wouldn’t it be great to say what’s really on your mind?”
Regular readers will know that I often like to lead in with the working man’s poetry – music. Today we’re listening to Newfoundland hedonists Great Big Sea. If you’re not familiar with the music of Newfoundland, even most of the contemporary stuff has a distinct Celtic flavour, and often borrows from the traditional in both rhythm and instruments. For me, it’s a poignant reminder of creeping down those jagged, rocky coastlines aboard a steam destroyer, in fog so thick that when the vertical adamantine spike of Signal Hill and the narrows leading to St-Johns harbour thrust out of the grey curtain, it always looked like they sprang from the sea itself. The pedal-to-the-metal revelry of a Saturday night in NewfieJohn in the days of my misspent youth is always just a Great Big Sea song away; in memory, at least.
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. By way of Sean Guillory of the legendary Sean’s Russia Blog, I received this interesting link. So what we’re here to talk about -bookended nicely by Great Big Sea’s rollicking ode to deliberate irresponsibility – is the deliberate irresponsibility of those who run their chins when they have no idea what they’re talking about, preferring instead to draw upon what they would like to be true. The worst Great Big Sea is trying to duck is a hangover and a large economy-size portion of Catholic guilt. Ms. Knight is chain-lettering manifest nonsense and, as Sean correctly suggested, she should know it is nonsense. Consequences? Ha, ha; of course not. The russophobes who already swallow this rubbish like mother’s milk will continue to do so, while those who know better will sigh in exasperation.
In, “Putting the Watch on Putin” (“Watch”; get it? No? You will), Amy Knight has tracked down Vladimir Putin’s fingerprints on the cash drawer of the state. He must of a necessity be corrupt as hell, because (a) he’s not a millionaire, and (b) he wears a $60,000.00 watch.
A more imaginative man might tire of rising to this stupid bait over and over. But nobody ever accused me of being imaginative. So let’s start by dispensing with the tired trope that the price of Mr. Putin’s Patek-Phillipe wristwatch is more than his annual salary. As recently disclosed, Mr. Putin actually makes almost three times that amount; $178,000.00. I can’t blame Ms. Knight for not knowing that, even though it is easily obtainable information in the public domain, because many sites – including some that specialize in luxury watch statistics – list the bogus figure of $60,000.00. So for all you lazy tools who think the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation actually works for less than a meteorologist makes in the USA, you’re mistaken. But if you were correct, it’d leave Mr. Putin with a surplus of $118,000.00 that he could blow on watches to his heart’s content – so I guess he can afford Patek-Phillipes without having to steal from orphanages or raise taxes, right?
That said, I doubt Mr. Putin pays for them himself. I’d guess – and this is only a guess – that they are gifts from wealthy friends, or that the state purchases them for him, owing to his well-publicized penchant for giving them away . In the case cited here, it was a $10,000.00 Blancpain just like the one featured in Ms. Knight’s post. He also presented a Patek-Phillipe to Cherkessian jockey Magomet Kappushev for the recognition his achievements in racing have brought Russia. Another Blancpain went to the son of a Siberian shepherd in the Tuva republic. If the state is paying for them, it’s money well spent in terms of Public Relations.
But let’s not leave the subject of expensive watches worn by state leaders just yet – I’m intrigued as to why Ms. Knight’s Eagle Eye of Sanctimonious Righteousness has not ranged further afield. Why hasn’t it fallen with justifiable contempt upon, say, Sylvio Berlusconi? Beloved American ally and near-octegenarian pussychaser Berlusconi sports a custom Constantin Vacheron that cost $540,000.00. Is that whataboutism? It certainly isn’t – Vladimir Putin is being criticised for wearing an expensive wristwatch which his detractors insist he can’t afford, so he must be stealing the money to support his watch habit, right? Yet average wages in Russia have risen steadily during Putin’s time in government while interest rates just as steadily declined. Italy? Not so much. There’s no minimum wage in Italy; the lowest wage workers can be paid is negotiated by collective bargaining, as it is in a number of other countries – but Italy is in the bottom 16%. Under Berlusconi’s leadership, Italy had the largest increase in income inequality across all 30 OECD countries, with the bottom 10% of Italy’s poorest earning average annual incomes of $5000.00 in purchasing-power parity – below the OECD average of $7000.00. How’d the top 10% make out? Considerably better. The top 10% earn above the OECD average, and control 42% of net worth as well as 28% of all disposable income.
I’m sure Berlusconi didn’t actually steal the money to pay for his watch – he’s a very wealthy man, and can easily afford it. But which of the two looks more inappropriate: Putin with his $60,000.00 Patek-Phillipe, or Berlusconi with his half-million-plus obscenity?
Let’s not stop yet – this is fun. What about that sawed-off elf-eared president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy? Sticking with the swanky-watch theme, Sarkozy has a dazzling collection, ranging from his el cheapo $5, 245.00 Breitling Navtimer through the lovely $32,500.00 Girard-Perregaux that even-lovelier wife Carla Bruni gave him for his 55th birthday (the model pictured in his collection is not the same as the full-calendar automatic he was given), all the way up to his $118,199.99 Breguet Classique Tourbillon. Sweet, Mr. President – you have impeccable taste, both in women and in watches. Unfortunately, since you were elected President in 2007, the country took a 20.43% jump in unemployment in 2009, and added another 4% last year. Probably due at least in part to your giving yourself a 140% pay raise while your people were struggling to keep food on the table, your popularity is at a record low – 22% – and only 15% of your people are optimistic that things will improve. Your national ombudsman describes the nation as “psychologically exhausted”. More bad news, I’m afraid – fully three-quarters of French citizens surveyed said they don’t want you re-elected next year. But look at all the free time you’ll have for watch-shopping!! Buck up, man: ce n’est pas si mal, eh?
“I want to be…consequence free; I want to be…where nothing needs to matter..”
Amy assures us that part of the dominance Vladimir Putin enjoys in the Russian political arena can be blamed on the electorate, owing to its “general political apathy”. This, she believes, also prevents liberal-leaning progressive opposition politicians from getting a foothold. Does anything actually support that viewpoint? She cites a recent survey, but doesn’t provide a link. I guess we’ll have to take her word for it. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out, though, that other statistics contradict her, and that Russia had a higher turnout in recent presidential elections than did the USA ( 68.6% to 67.4%). Both figures are quite respectable, given voter turnout has seen a general declining trend in established democracies since the 1960’s. The 67.4% who voted in the most recent U.S. presidential election, in fact, is the highest turnout seen in nearly a decade; voter turnout in 2000 and 2004 was 54.2% and 60.1% respectively. Even those are representative of a powerfully-engaged electorate when compared with turnout in the UK, where the figure has never gotten above 40% in the last 30 years, and in 1999 was an appalling 24%. That, Amy, is what political apathy looks like. The lowest recorded turnout for a Russian vote was 56.9%, in the 2003 Duma elections. I wonder if Amy will want to argue that relatively high voter turnout in Russia is due to manipulation, coercion and general electoral dirty tricks on the part of the “ruling party”. Between us, I sure hope so, because I’d love to compare such a proposal with techniques like recorded incidents of vote-caging, phone-jamming and voter disenfranchisement in recent U.S. elections.
I’m starting to feel a bit of skepticism for the premise that Russians are politically disengaged. Well, let’s see what Yalensis came up with. Hmmm….political analyst and Deputy Director of the Institute of Social Systems Dmitry Badovsky says United Russia increased its seats by 7% in recent regional elections, and suggests a gain of 700,000 votes “says a lot”. Oddly enough, when people are “resigned to their leadership”, that leadership customarily does not noticeably increase its hold on power in the vote: things usually stay more or less the same until everyone is thoroughly fed up (see Sarkozy, Nicolas). Elsewhere, Mr. Badovsky also predicts high turnout for the national Duma elections in December: speaking again here of the recent regional elections, he repeats his assessment that United Russia made significant gains despite what observers refer to as the “outrageous techniques” of opposition figures and citing “beatings of activists for the ruling party”. Wow – there’s a turn-up for the books, Amy. Since it’s no more specific than that, you can make of it what you will, but you might wonder if some people have a clear picture of what’s really going on there. Thanks, Yalensis.
From Gazeta.ru – certainly no Kremlin mouthpiece, and a frequent citation of russophobe twit Paul Goble – a poll of the readership which suggests 27% would like to see Vladimir Putin run as a presidential candidate, against 18% for Dmitry Medvedev. As Yalensis is careful to point out, that kind of poll is probably not very scientific – since it samples only Gazeta readers; however, such a gap is significant no matter how you look at it, assuming you believe Russians know what’s best for Russia. That seems pretty self-evident, but it’s more hotly contested than you might think.
“We wouldn’t have to worry..about approval or permission: we could slip off the edge, and never worry ’bout the fall….”
Amy seems to have slipped off the edge herself. But I doubt she’s worried about the fall, because there won’t be one. She said what was really on her mind, and perpetuating addled musings about Russia and its leadership that have no modern basis in fact is about as consequence-free as journalistic efforts get. It reminds once again that so many readers would rather see what supports their beliefs than what is true. That’s a legitimate basis on which to build one’s personal worldview, I guess.
But it’s a lousy basis on which to build a foreign policy. I hope you’ll remember that.