Managed Democracy in Russia: Unmasking the Magic

Uncle Volodya says, "Know the difference between a misfortune and a calamity? Well, if Kasyanov fell into the Neva, that'd be a misfortune. If somebody pulled him out....that'd be a calamity""

Did you follow the events in Libya via the international media, through the imposition of the no-fly zone right to the messy conclusion? How about the frequent reports of Assad’s thugs mowing down protesters in Syria; a deliberate provocation to get NATO involved in another revolution there? A commenter on Anatoly’s blog who appeared quite knowledgeable on the subject suggested the latter intervention was a non-starter based on the relative superiority of Syrian air defence, as compared with that of Ghaddafi. I’m not sure how that will be affected as fighter aircraft edge closer and closer to unmanned vehicles – but that’s a subject for another day.

Something the two situations have in common are the use of a desired end-state (removal of the leader) as a starting point, and shoring up of the subsequent process with a blitz of media bulletins – nearly all of which relied on sources who had a direct interest in the outcome. Time after time, media reported anti-Ghaddafi forces initiating another assault in terms that expressed no doubt they would take the objective, and time and again they were hurled back until NATO bombing ahead of the advancing rebels began to turn the tide. Whenever the Ghaddafi administration offered journalists tours of Tripoli, the resulting reports complained that they “only saw what Ghaddafi wanted them to see”, and managed conveniently to overlook a pro-Ghaddafi demonstration that drew more than a million supporters. Simply put, everything Ghaddafi told reporters was a lie, while everything the rebels said was the unvarnished truth. Similarly, every report I’ve seen that details Assad’s vicious suppression of dissent is followed by, “according to activists”.

Since this blog deals mostly with Russian issues, of course there’s a Russian connection. The criminally awful coverage of Russian politics, immigration, economics and policy results almost exclusively from people who are not Russian and do not live in Russia as a part of Russian society, but have a special interest in pushing a narrative and repeating it until it assumes the appearance of truth. Kathy Lally. Ed Lucas. Leon Aron. Anne Applebaum, as well as many others you know well, all respected in the west as scholars, academics, experts….and all painters of journalistic masterpieces on Russia rendered in subtle variations of purest horseshit.

I can offer you something different. An insider’s unbiased view of the cut and thrust of Russian politics, the effect of domestic and foreign policy on the nation’s people and a candid appraisal of current events in Russia from a Russian viewpoint. I’m not talking about myself, of course – I don’t live in Russia, and have never lived there as a resident. I’m talking about kovane, whom I managed to drag out of semiretirement with the threat of a pay cut. Without further ado…..

Managed Democracy in Russia: Unmasking the Magic

The question if there is democracy in Russia long ago turned into something akin to the question if there is life on Mars. Some people are positive that there is, others are dead set that there isn’t, but the majority doesn’t care that much. Quite characteristically, as opposed to the riddle about Mars, both groups are right in a sense. The former are just looking at the standard definition of democracy – do citizens elect representatives? Check. Is there evidence of mass-falsifying these elections? No, the results largely match polls conducted by a plethora of organisations, both independent and state-owned. Well, democracy it is. The latter camp, on the other hand, try to compare Russia with a spherical model of democracy in a vacuum, where branches of power are completely independent, freedom of speech is not influenced by corporate interests and the influence of separate power brokers on the political process is  negligible.

So, who is closer to the truth? While there is hardly a country that matches the Procrustean bed of preconditions proposed by the purists, one thing is undeniable – there are so many hidden terms in the equation of the political process that it places Russia very far from the said ideal. Much farther than a whole number of countries, it’s safe to say. In fact, as we will see below, the Kremlin holds so much sway over the political process that it would take a significant amount of dissent to push the situation out of control. And provided how nimble the Kremlin has been in the handling of it – mostly with reasonable concessions, but not shying away from using force if necessary – it would be a very unlikely scenario.

The foundations of  Russia’s modern political system were laid in 1993 with the adoption of the new Constitution. The circumstances of its adoption were tragic, as it was preceded by bloody conflict between the president and the Congress of People’s Deputies. According to the then-current Constitution, the Congress had supreme power – something that didn’t sit well with Yeltsin. The long pent-up hostilities broke out into violence, which resulted in the shelling of the building of the Congress with tanks – definitely not an act from any Constitution. Yeltsin won and, on the tide of his success, voted through a new version of Constitution, effectively turning Russia in a presidential republic: with the balance of power tipped heavily in favour of the president, at that.

During Yeltsin’s term the Constitution and main legislations regulating Russia’s political life largely remained unchanged (save for amendments regarding regions’ name changes), so Vladimir Putin inherited the same core set of laws in 2000. Nevertheless, its prior implementation showed a wide variety of predicaments that pestered the country and impeded its development: wilfulness and separatism of regions that Yeltsin initially supported; the sweep of organised crime that became a major power in many regions capable of deciding elections, and the bacchanalia of oligarchs who had whole ministries on their payroll and owned major TV stations.

All these problems became evident to Putin shortly after the beginning of his first term, in the aftermath of the submarine Kursk catastrophe. The ORT TV Channel (now First Channel), controlled at the time by oligarch Boris Berezovsky, launched a media attack against Putin. But he clearly showed that such methods would not be tolerated, and that the house rules were about to change. After three months the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that a criminal case had been opened against Berezovsky, who preferred to not return in Russia and sold his shares of ORT to Abramovich, an oligarch who is much more loyal to the Kremlin’s cause. Thus began Putin’s campaign for reshaping the political landscape of Russia.

Enter Vladislav Surkov. He was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to the President of the Russian Federation in 1999, and now is considered the demiurge and ideologue of Russia’s political system as well as one of the most notable thorns in the side of the liberal opposition and its sympathizers – demands for his resignations are second most popular, right after “Putin must go”. It’s remarkable that Surkov has held his post all these years and through Medvedev’s presidency, adding the title of Presidential Aide in 2004. Unfortunately, he is quite a private person, and there are very few interviews with him, which certainly aids his demonising – most recently the oligarch Prokhorov, who unsuccessfully dabbled in politics, called him a “puppet-master”. Quite ironically, Surkov’s first wife is the creator of a puppet museum.

So, what did the process of gathering uncontrolled pieces of power look like? Mass media proved its enormous strength back in 1996, when it actually revived a political corpse; Boris Yeltsin had a single digit approval rating before the election, but managed to win it after an aggressive media campaign, sponsored by a consortium of oligarchs. So Putin had to get control of such a powerful weapon, which could be directed against him. After ORT another channel, NTV – controlled by another oligarch, Gusinsky  –  followed. Finally, in 2002, the last independent channel (TV6) was closed.

Today of all federal channels covering news and politics only one, Ren-TV, is private; others are under state ownership. But the independence of Ren-TV is very relative: the Kremlin has more than enough measures to ensure that it toes the line. It’s no secret that Surkov stays in contact with producers of major channels and coordinates the presentation of important events. Also, there’s a practice called stop-lists – an enumeration of political figures whose appearance on TV is highly undesirable. The lists are flexible – for example, Boris Nemtsov can grace some programmes, provided that he is chaperoned by a right person; but major channels seem to be completely off-limits for Kasparov and Limonov.

But the Kremlin’s oversight is actually not the most decisive factor in limiting the freedom of press: self-censorship is. Media producers who control cash flow from advertising are so unwilling to risk losing their lucrative positions that they cut the most innocent episodes that might be interpreted as a violation. Thus, recently, First channel cut out a sketch from the humour TV show KVN mocking Medvedev’s clumsy dance moves. After some derision from Internet users they reinserted the number in a rerun. While Surkov’s deviousness is not to be underestimated, surely he doesn’t preoccupy himself with such minutiae.

But actually Russian television is not that bad. It’s certainly complicit in the sins to which all media is prone: lies by omission, presenting a limited spectrum of opinions and generously seasoning news with spin. Basically, it’s no different from any western media network; the problem is that there are other competing networks that would be quick to point out lies and inconsistencies. In Russia, only peripheral media can do that along with Internet users; so these arguments often escape the scrutiny of the general public.  Another advantage of television to which the Kremlin occasionally resorts is short but vicious media campaigns against certain individuals, pressure on whom is expedient to the moment. So far the most notable victims are Luzhkov, Lukashenko and, most lately, Evgeny Roizman.

While the Kremlin reserves television as the most influential media to itself (according to this poll, TV is the most important source of information for 80% of Russians), it is much more liberal with other sources of information: newspapers, radio stations and the Internet. Moreover, having learnt the hard way the lesson of the USSR, the Kremlin strives to provide opposition with controlled media platforms for venting their righteous anger. Thus, the most popular opposition radio station “Echo of Moscow”, whose guests and hosts seem to hate Gazprom’s guts – judging by their words at least – is actually owned by none other than Gazprom’s subsidiary. And the Pravda of the opposition, “Novaya Gazeta”, is owned by former KGB spy and billionaire Alexander Lebedev. While he is no toady of Putin, there is plenty of leverage to keep him in check. But the audience of these media outlets is quite sparse – commensurate with the percentage of people who support opposition. The Internet is completely free, and because of that, gives shelter to most radical and fringe groups. Generally, the rule of thumb with media in Russia is the more influence, the firmer the Kremlin’s control.

Media control is only one side of the story. It would hardly be so important without thorough control of the political process. In the beginning of the 90’s, Russia was swept by a kind of euphoria of freedom in politics – there were dozens of different parties, sometimes with indistinguishable slogans. In the elections of 1993 the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LPDR) triumphed, whose leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky preached weapons-grade populism; in the 1996 elections The Beer Lovers Party got 0.6 percent of the votes, participating along with 42 other parties. Parliamentary sessions were spiced with fights, mutual insults and all manner of buffoonery. In other words, Russia’s political life was as disorderly as it gets.

The elections of 1999 were probably the first occasion big business turned its eyes to Parliament – if before laws had meant much less than the person who executed them, times were changing, and the ability to set the rules became a valuable prize. Two new contenders were “Fatherland – All Russia” – led by Primakov, Luzhkov and Shaimiev – and the Unity party, supported by Yeltsin and Berezovsky. Fatherland initially supported Primakov’s (or maybe Luzhkov’s) bid for the coming presidential election, while Unity was created to back then-prime-minister Putin’s bid. The 1999 campaign was marked by an unprecedented war of black PR. Berezovsky-owned  ORT clashed with Gusinsky’s NTV, who supported Luzkov, in what later became known as “The War of the TV-killers”.

The results of the election came as a bit of surprise: being a firm favourite as late as the summer of 1999, in December Fatherland came only third, with half the votes of Unity, created only months before the election. To a large extent that was a result of the smear campaign in the media – which Berezovsky won handily – and the recently started second campaign in Chechnya, which rallied the country around Putin. Including MPs elected from constituencies, the Communist party (KPRF) held 88 seats out of 450, Unity – 83, Fatherland – 47, the Union of Right Forces (SPS) – 32, Yabloko – 21, and Zhirinovsky’s bloc – 16. Besides, independent MPs formed their own parliamentary unions. Thus, no party had even a simple majority on its own.

So Putin came into a rather precarious state of affairs. He could only rely on Unity for passing required laws. In order to do that, any law should have been approved by a simple majority of the Parliament at first, and then by the Council of the Federation. Considering that the Council was comprised of regional governors and heads of assemblies, who amassed great independence and economic strength during Yeltsin’s terms, the Kremlin had little leeway in changing the legal system. Many regions wrote their own legislations contradicting federal laws; Tatarstan, Bashkiria and Yakutia decided to pay only 1 percent of the income in the federal budget instead of 10%. So naturally, curbing these dangerous tendencies became a top priority.

The first attack was launched in 2000, with new administrative reform. The Institute of Federal Districts was created, and governors received the President’s special representatives to watch them. Later, Putin proposed a reform of the Council of the Federation: appoint two representatives from each region – one by the governor, the other by the region assembly – instead of the old system. The proposal was met with approval – after all, governors spent most of their time in Moscow, so finding time to actually govern their regions came only as a second priority. The problem was that governors themselves had to approve this law, basically stripping themselves of power and – more importantly – immunity from criminal prosecution. And after the tumultuous 90’s, when the fight for assets in the regions was accompanied by all kinds of violence and crime, most of them sure as hell could use it. The other way was to override the Council decision with a constitutional majority (2/3 of votes) in the Parliament, but it was equally difficult. It’s hard to imagine what kind of coercing and appeasement it took, but the Council of Federation passed the bill.

By 2001, Unity and Fatherland bridged their differences and decided to join forces, forming a new party – the present day behemoth “United Russia”. Along with several independent parliamentary groups, the new party provided a stable platform for effective law-making – the coalition held 235 seats out of 450. That made it possible for the Kremlin to continue with core reforms. In July of 2011 the law “About political parties” was passed, obliging all parties to undergo registration at the Ministry of Justice. That gave the Kremlin an effective tool to control emergence of new parties. Today, only 7 are afloat, and several parties have been denied registration which was accompanied by public scandals. Among them liberal ParNaS, left Rodina – Common Sense and Limonov’s NBP.

Any party wishing to be registered should apply its political programme and charter and meet the following requirements (according to the latest edition of the law): it must have more than 45000 members and have regional branches in more than half the subjects of Russia. But the real trick is hidden in the possible grounds for denial: the Ministry of Justice can turn a party down if its chapter contradicts any minor law, or, more importantly, if the information it applied is incorrect. That gives the Ministry a huge field for cavilling at details. For example, a classic version of denial looks something like this: the Ministry finds some discrepancy in the charter and incorrect information in the members list. And if a dozen of the members out of 50000 suddenly issue a statement that they actually don’t have anything to do with the party, or another dozen happen to not exist – that’s reason enough. Picking on the charter is even more preposterous – in 2007 the Ministry found fault with the charter of Rogozin’s party “Great Russia”, despite the fact that it was a word-for-word copy of the charter of an already registered party. The same scenario was used against ParNaS.

With the high starting demands for a new party, the Kremlin ensures that it can be only created with serious financial backing. Therefore, the number of those who can foot the bill is limited, and they are more or less in the open. Besides, without access to media, the efficiency of money spent on a new party would be very low (in terms of boosting popularity).  For the especially stubborn, the Ministry of Justice is always there to keep any undesirable party out of the official political scene. The bottom line is no party can reach the Parliament without the Kremlin’s direct consent.

The 2003 elections were the next step in establishing full control over political life. Capitalising on Putin’s popularity and through generous use of state-controlled media, United Russia improved on the previous results: it got 37.5% of the votes. But the true miracle took place in regions, where United Russia won an overwhelming majority of elections in constituencies. That brought the total count of UR’s seats to 220 – almost a simple majority. For the first time both liberal parties – SPS and Yabloko – failed to pass the election threshold. Parliament finally fell under the Kremlin’s control, as United Russia could easily press other parties in order to get a constitutional majority. All that was needed to launch the most cardinal reforms was a good excuse.

Which followed shortly. In 2004, after the terrible terrorist attack on Beslan, Putin brought forward a law repealing governor elections, allegedly as a measure in the war on terror. Needless to say, Parliament found no objection to that, and the law was approved without a hitch. It stirred a wave of protest among the opposition (KPRF and SPS in particular), and to this day remains one of the most anti-democratic reforms of Putin. On the other hand, it certainly quashed any remnants of chaos in regions and restrained local barons. Thereafter, by the terms of the new law, governors have been appointed from candidates proposed by local assemblies. Considering that the latter were dominated by UR representatives, most governors preferred to join the party or were replaced. Also a campaign for ousting governors that held the post for too prolonged a period was started, finishing only in 2010.

After that the framework of the new system was largely finished. Only small touches remained, and by the 2007 elections laws were passed raising the election threshold from 5 to 7%, cancelling the option “Against Everyone” on ballot papers and repealing elections in constituencies. Those measures almost completely eradicate any chance that random people can get into Parliament and effectively hide the last legal way to displaydiscontent. It goes without saying that the 2007 elections resulted in a tremendous win by UR with 64% of the votes.

The present-day political system displays all kinds of duality: it’s democratic by formal indications, but in reality every step is controlled by the Kremlin; the opportunities for the opposition are severely restricted, but there’s no true support for it among the general public, while the Kremlin enjoys genuine popularity. All of the numerous restrictions that exist are completely legal and were adopted after due deliberations, but they to a great extent contradict the spirit of the Constitution. For all that, the Kremlin continuously shows real effort to tune the political system to real demands among the public and seems to use data from polls. For example, while liberal parties flopped on the last two elections, Surkov tried to bring to life the idea of a liberal party under the Kremlin’s wing, or at least that was the pretence.

One frequently raised issue by the Kremlin’s critics is if elections are rigged or not. While the opposition regularly bemoans a welter of violations, and watchdogs from the OSCE wag their finger, nobody presents viable evidence supporting the allegation of mass falsifications. Moreover, the question why the results of elections almost precisely match exit-polls and party ratings remains unanswered. On the Internet, stories about falsifications often surface, some of them stating that poll stations were throwing in ballot papers, but for all participants proportionally. For United Russia the main enemy now is not any other party, but the apathy of voters, so polishing the turnout numbers is important. All the aforesaid applies only to federal elections, local ones are still the subject of much more manipulation.

While it’s fun to have a Beer Lovers party in Parliament or skimp on HBO and watch great fights in its sessions, the need for a more mature political system was understood and supported by many. And it was anticipated that these changes might be taken too far. Some figures associated with the Kremlin hinted that the tight regulations might be eased in the future – thus, Medvedev promised to lower the election threshold, and the Minister of Justice supported the repealing of the mandatory party registration. The artificial conditions created for United Russia are certainly harmful for political life in general, and the party itself above all. Adding to natural weariness from the party, the pressure and discontent will only grow, and the authorities will be forced to react and compromise.

Here, and in many Western publications, the terms “the Kremlin”,  “the state” and “Putin’s regime” are a bit overused, and no explanation as to what is behind those vague descriptions is provided. Though it’s hard to make out the true disposition of forces that participate in the power struggle under the carpet, the main architects of the described political reforms are Putin and Surkov. That endeavour was evidently supported by the group known in the West as “siloviki”. The integrity of pro-Kremlin forces shouldn’t be overestimated – for example, Medvedev, the closest ally of Putin, made several critical statements about the present political system and is of moderately liberal leanings.

Looking back at where Putin started, and comparing it with his present position, some self-evident observations can be made – he is a brilliant politician. And the meaning of “politician” here is someone who seeks personal or partisan gain, often by scheming and manoeuvring. The political system he created and the popularity he commands allow him to pursuit any policy he pleases.  His critics often emphasize that Putin has done very little for the country and he has been just lucky, using growing energy prices. There’s certainly a grain of truth here – he used simple and obvious measures: stabilising the financial system, reining in oligarchs and regional barons, putting the tax system in relative order. The impression of simplicity should not fool anyone – their implementation was extremely difficult. But even those measures were enough for the country to bounce back from what seemed at the time a free-fall. Now the country faces very different problems, and their solutions are not as evident. Will Putin be able to prove himself a great statesman as well?

We have at least 6 years to see.

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156 Responses to Managed Democracy in Russia: Unmasking the Magic

  1. kievite says:

    We need to understand the context in which Putin came to power. I think the foundations of Russia’s modern political system are partially the result of an immune reaction of the society to the way West treated Russia after the dissolution of the USSR and the true nature of neo-liberal revolution that Russia experienced (often called “economic rape of Russia”).

    I think the among other things the collapse of the USSR was racially related to the efforts to install the neo-liberal regime from above by corrupting and brainwashing part of nomenclature (Gaidar, Yakovlev, etc). So in a way the collapse was a neo-liberal revolution from above.

    At this time neo-liberalism became a dominant ideology of the West. The expanding financial markets, equipped with all necessary hard- and software, were in urgent need of new play- grounds.

    “Shock therapy” privatization, hyperinflation and brainwashing followed. Results are well known.
    First of all international financial oligarchy imposed certain conditions to those poor folks who happened to live is say Ekaterinburg or Norilisk. The rules of the game were to get as much assets as possible for pennies on dollar using the fifth column inside Russia and to bring labor cost close to zero (while destroying general living conditions) as well as to neutralize those who disagree. This local fifth column — global financial oligarchy link was fundamental to the success and the scheme was polished in many third-world countries.

    Much like anywhere else neoliberal revolutions produced weak state with unstable and unbalanced economic growth (“banana republic”). For the substantial part of the population, especially less educated part, it led to increased poverty, confiscation of savings due to hyperinflation, social oppression backed by the police, intense social, moral and geographical dislocation, the establishment in power of corrupt and unproductive comprador elites, and severe damage to the environment. Some tiny percent of labor for that has skills valued at West prospered. Many of them immigrated. Programmers and technical scientists with advanced degrees were one such category (“brain drain”), sex workers another.
    Like Anatol Lieven noted the Yeltsin regime closest historical analogy might be the “cacique” system of Spain and much of Latin America in the later 19th and early 20th Centuries – a system admittedly with certain analogies to a kind of ” feudalism”, but without any traditional mutual obligations between lord and serfs typical for feudalism. Such governments never ceased to trumpet their allegiance to constitutionalism, law, and progress, but real power on the ground was held by corrupt local political chieftains (cacique comes from the Caribbean Indian word for a chief) who distributed patronage and government contracts, fixed or “made” elections on behalf of their patrons, and occasionally killed inconvenient political opponents, critical journalists, trade union activists. Such system can generate economic growth but tends to be plagued by very high levels of organized crime, personal insecurity, high level of sexual exploitation of women and children, atrocious public health, bad public education, rampant corruption of state bureaucracy and law enforcement, and vicious exploitation of the poor (the majority of the population) and the environment. At the end of 90th Russia was close to total Latin American style collapse including collapse of state services — a classic “banana” state.
    The problem of fifth column of compradors while typical has “Russian specific” due to which from the very beginning they were extremely criminalized. Forming of them started under Gorbachev with the conversion of Komsomol infrastructure into private sector and emergence of the private banking system. The “Komsomol bankers” got their starts in business with money they stole from state so it is accurate to call all of them crooks and the new political system under Yeltsin semi-criminal.

    Other then that there was not much new about the way in which Russian public property was grabbed by powers that be in the course of “neoliberal privatization” which was performed for the benefits of the international financial oligarchy and with help and under direction of Harvard mafia. No wonder that the net result was mass stealing of existing state property by Yeltsin cronies and increased exploitation of existing resources rather than new investment, and general economic stagnation under Yeltsin regime. It is exactly what has always happened during neoliberal revolutions, which are prepared to justify almost anything in the name of “progress” and “democracy” (aka fast money for foreign banks). Post-Soviet Russia probably suffered an added hit because of the totally comprador nature Yeltsin regime with strong ethnic component among new “oligarchs”.

    So it is important to understand that after neoliberal revolution the only realistic alternative to the current, demostratably imperfect, political system would be rule of compradors or like let’s call them “Khodorkovski & Berezovski”, the total colonization of the country and impoverishment of the population, not any real form of democracy.
    I think that talking about democracy in a weak, burdened by debt country with decimated infrastructure and industrial base in the condition of existence of global financial oligarchy is an extreme form of political naivety. In a way I see authoritarism as a defense, imperfect but somewhat effective defense against subversive role of international capital after neoliberal revolution and the danger of total colonization of the country in best Latin American traditions.

    All that said we should not forget that Putin himself also represents this new neoliberal regime, a specific version with overtones that we can call “neoliberalism with human face”😉

    • kovane says:

      the foundations of Russia’s modern political system are partially the result of an immune reaction of the society to the way West treated Russia after the dissolution of the USSR

      I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the West for what happened to Russia. After all, most of the top bureaucracy became far better off after the liberal reforms. So, if they were deceived by the West, it’s how Pushkin put it: “There’s no need to fool me, I’m glad to be fooled myself”. Just compare what, say, a member of Politburo had, and what lifestyle some mediocre official enjoys now.

      For the substantial part of the population, especially less educated part, it led to increased poverty

      Quite the contrary, I think. If people who were skilled in some kind of manual labour always had opportunities to eke out a living, it were minor scientists and teachers who suffered most.

      global financial oligarchy link was fundamental to the success

      Not to that extent. Yes, they lent money, Khodorkovsky was one of the most notable recipients, and tried to influence the situation as best as they can (providing consultants, proposing reforms). But amidst the chaos of the 90s Russia, oligarchs double-crossed anyone and did as they pleased. Just look at the adventures of Soros in Russia, when he tried to buy Svyazinvest.

      I think that talking about democracy in a weak, burdened by debt country with decimated infrastructure and industrial base in the condition of existence of global financial oligarchy is an extreme form of political naivety.

      Another extreme form of political naivety is to think that the more authoritarianism the better. Russia needs technologies and markets of the West, and there’s more productive way of cooperating with the Western financial elites. But giving them free rein would be very foolish indeed.

    • yalensis says:

      @kievite: Excellent analysis. Respekt!

      • kievite says:

        Thanks yalensis.

        I just think that the key for understanding democracy in Russia is understanding mechanic of neoliberalism as global system or neo-colonialism via sophisticated use of the financial system instead of old fashioned direct colonial rule. In this scheme Russian is assigned a certain role and it is not very enviable role. And sliding county into this unenviable position is achieved first and foremost by integration of country financial system into global financial system and conversion of owners of local financial institutions into key elements of comprador class.

        Some important effects of neo-liberalism on the country are (See Washington concensus in Wikipedia and elsewhere):

        1. Growth in international trade and cross-border capital flows (which in essence means free access of foreign capital to country financial system and its subordination to international monetary system with its good and bad effects)

        2. Elimination of trade barriers (while open talk is about goods, the key here are financial products — elimination of barriers for financial products aka “Hello gentlemen from Goldman Sacks”)

        3. Cutbacks in public sector employment (especially in agencies regulating and monitoring financial capital)

        4. The privatization of previously public-owned enterprises (and first and foremost bank system including Central Bank under the disguise of independence from the government and via pre-selection of its presidents by financial sector).

        5. The transfer of the lion share of countries’ economic wealth to the top economic percentiles of the population (which naturally transfer it abroad as it does not feel secure in its own country)

        If a country wants to limit those effects without complete isolation it needs to create a strong state which can serve as sand in the wheels of financial liberalization. And that instantly will be declared undemocratic and viciously attacked by various elements of fifth column of neo-liberalism including first and foremost Western media and its agents within the country. That means that in pervert way “more democracy” drive serves a Trojan horse for establishing compete dominance of foreign capital in the country (which essentially means colonization of the country and chronic powerty of its population — look at Ukraine as a good example).

        I think that’s why democrats are called “dermocrats” in Russia — on intuitive level people understand what will happen if they come to power and fear that Yeltsin years will return with vengeance (with new incarnation of Berezovski, Gusinski, Khodorkovski, Guidar, Chiubaytis, Jeffrey Sacks and so on and so forth). In other words, they are afraid of another round of shock therapy which is the essence of “disaster capitalism” (see THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, by Naomi Klein )

        That does not mean that those who want “more democracy in Russia” are all tools of financial capital (fifth column). Some are but many are just kind of “useful idiots” (the term which was used for Soviet sympathizers in Western countries but is pretty much applicable here). Like in old proverb “Roads to hell are paved with good intentions”. I might exaggerate a little bit but at least ny analisys suggests that situation is very tricky and far from black and white “more democracy is good — less democracy is bad” and its natural generalization “All pigs are equal but some (financial pigs) are more equal then others”🙂. Because one interesting question is “Democracy for whom?” and if answer is “for Goldman Sacks” that the value of such democracy is very suspect.

        I think that the key problem for the country is not “more democracy” (which in any case is limited to elite including comprador part of the elite) but creation of a system of self-defense against unrelenting assault of foreign financial capital, to the extent that is possible within already “neo-liberalized” country. In a way the country condition is not a good one for implementing “more democracy”. And if comprador part of the elite can be somehow neutralized (first of all by cutting oxygen — restricting its access to TV and newspapers) I think less democracy is not so bad and might help to increase well-being of country population as less wealth will end in the coffers of foreign banks. But this might well be impossible in a long run with Putin or without. After all the role of personality in history is a limited one. He can just serve as a catalyst or inhibitor for something that has already has independent “right for existence” on a historical scene.

        • marknesop says:

          Russia will have zero growth – or very low – without foreign investment, and the conference on the regions will hammer on that theme, so it’s well recognized that some foreign capital is necessary. The rest is just sparring for advantage, with Russia trying to give away the minimum of control while foreign industries struggle to gain a controlling interest in the company. We talked about that awhile ago, with Browder as the example, using a variety of tricks to try and acquire more stock in GAZPROM than it is permissible for a foreigner to own. Russia says, “we can’t allow foreign control of state energy industries because our economy is dependent upon them, therefore such control is a matter of state security” while foreigners look hurt and say “you can trust us – you’re just afraid of western business practices and you want our business but you won’t let us make any money”. There would be no foreign investment unless the possibility of significant profits existed, because foreign investors generally are short on altruism.

          But messing in national politics, courting activists among the population and encouraging dissent are all tried-and-true staples of the western democratizing toolbox. For some reason, Russia is still perceived as an existential enemy (while China, orders of magnitude more powerful and dangerous, is not), and western participation in the Russian economy has more of the hostile takeover about it than partnership. Russia is wise to watch its back.

          • rkka says:

            “For some reason, Russia is still perceived as an existential enemy (while China, orders of magnitude more powerful and dangerous, is not)”

            China lives by overseas trade, and must import vital natural resources over seas the US Navy controls. The Anglosphere has a firm hand on China’s windpipe. The Anglosphere likes that a great deal.

            Russia is the only major power that is able to sustain its economy and way of life without importing vital things over seas the Anglosphere controls.

            The Anglosphere, and the Globalist bankster overlords running it that “a” speaks for really hate that, and therefore, Russia.

            • marknesop says:

              That’s a good point, but it’s all the more reason China may consider Mr. Putin’s proposal with interest. There’s not much the west could supply China that Russia could not, and there are some things Russia can offer that the west cannot – energy and energy security.

              • yalensis says:

                These are very good points. China’s Achilles Heel is its geographical isolation on Pacific Ocean, which is a very large ocean controlled by USA.

            • kardon says:

              Are you f-ing crazy? I’d like to see Russia try to “sustain its economy and way of life” without exporting oil and gas. A lot good it’d do sitting in the ground…

              Also, Russia has to import a lot of food.

              The whole world is interconnected. Russia too.

              • marknesop says:

                That’s what they say about Saudi Arabia, too – all it’s got is oil. For some reason, it’s never phrased as a criticism. In Libya, the western oil giants can’t wait to make the Libyan people totally dependent on oil revenues, and they make it sound like they should be grateful for such a priceless opportunity. Curiously, when oil is present in large amounts on the territory of a western ally or a newly-acquired western stepchild, it’s a virtue. In Russia, it’s a curse that prevents people from being truly free and independent, because they’re slaves to gas prices. Equally curious, Russians don’t seem to take it seriously.

                The west could crush Russia’s ambitions for national greatness overnight. All it need do is stop using oil. They seem not to want that in any meaningful way, as consumption trends steadily upward.

                • kardon says:

                  Uh, you do understand the concept of a comment thread, right? How each one refers to the previous? As in when rkka says that, unlike China, Russia is self-sufficient, and I reply that Russia is in fact just as firmly tied to the international system? So your response regarding Saudi Arabia is a non-sequitur. Every country is tied in, including the U.S. and definitely including Russia. Cutting off a major country’s trade as rkka presents it would be very damaging to everyone. This has nothing to do with being a virtue; it’s a fact of life.

                • marknesop says:

                  I understand I’m wasting my time being polite. Comments viewed in the “comments” pane on the blog itself are in order of the time they were received, rather than immediately below the comment to which they refer. Besides, I was not aware we had some unspecified obligation to adhere to comment rules in which you get to designate the respondent. And if you were under the impression that being a surly prick conferred some sort of advantage, let me disabuse you of that notion.

                  “I’d like to see Russia try to “sustain its economy and way of life” without exporting oil and gas. A lot good it’d do sitting in the ground…” Since that nyah-nyah-nyah couplet appeared above your signature, I assumed you were the originator. That being the case, Saudi Arabia – another nation which relies exclusively on oil and gas – is in no way a non sequitur. I’d like to see Saudi Arabia try to sustain its economy and way of life without exporting oil and gas. A lot of good it’d do sitting in the ground. But rkka’s point was that transport of those resources is often vulnerable to sea control by another nation. Russia’s is not, and therefore there would be no reason for Russia’s assets to sit in the ground; China would buy every drop Russia could export, and not one of those drops would have to go by sea. Russia is indeed interconnected to the world, as you say. But less so than you seem to think, in terms of dependence.

              • rkka says:

                Russia needs little trade by sea, and therefore the US Navy cannot blockade and economically strangle Russia, like it can China.

                • cartman says:

                  Russia and the US have an almost negligible trade relationship, so almost all the growth of the past decades comes from trade with German and Chinese investors.

                  Don’t underestimate the importance of sea routes. I think the purpose of Russia’s naval base in Syria is to keep Turkey from closing the Bosporus, which is a very busy sea route. (Although I doubt there is much danger for Russia to lose that base since it is in Alawite territory which has long had aspirations for independence.) The United States wants Japan to have the Kurils because their possession would effectively close off the far east to Russia (like China is because of the Taiwan issue). The Arctic is the only coast that is totally free, but it is covered with too much ice.

                  So Russia could do better to access Iran’s ports through Central Asia. The infrastructure is already there, and the Volga-Caspian route is one of Russia’s oldest trade routes. Another is across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro (these countries are good candidates for the Eurasia union).

        • yalensis says:

          @kievite: Again, an excellent analysis. Internal democracy is important to a country, and yes, I would love to see nice multi-party parliamentary democracy in Russia with many progressive and socialist-minded parties, also lots more fluffy puppies and adorable kittens. But even more important is basic sovereignty, and I swear I would vote for Lucifer himself along with his repulsive zombie army if he could protect Russia against international finance capital.
          Globalization is inevitable process and cannot be stopped, but should be slowed down and resisted as much as possible. Also, monetized Russian assets should NOT be stored in American or European banks. Among other reasons, Iraq/Libya war shows that Americans/Europeans have no compunctions about freezing accounts of nation whose leader they hate (and, believe me, they DO hate Putin), and then help themselves to this $$$ to help pay for war to overthrow disliked “tyrant” and install new “democratic” puppet regime more to their liking. In Libya, they have installed an actual honest-to-god Al Qaeda puppet regime, and then tried to sell this off in their media as “Arab Spring” and “forces of democracy”. Just five years ago, nobody would have even believed such a thing (a NATO/Al Qaeda military alliance) was possible, but there you have it, and nobody in mainstream media even blinks an eye, or shows any signs of cognitive dissonance. [Well, Orwell, predicted this, after all. One moment the crowds are chanting: “Down with Country A”, then Big Brother appears on the screen and tells them Country A is the good guy, and now they should hate Country B, so without missing a beat, they start chanting “Down with Country B!”]
          In Russia international capitalsts would prefer to install somebody “nice” like Nemtsov or Navalny, but they would settle for bearded jihadists, if that was all they had. They would install a ham sandwich, if that was all they had. Their goal is to have all nations completely open and vulnerable to unprotected rapings by their financial instruments, and they simply do not care any more what they have to do to achieve that goal. As Lenin would say, they have completely tossed aside the flimsy figleaf!

  2. Anonymous says:

    “A commenter… suggested the latter intervention was a non-starter based on the relative superiority of Syrian air defence, as compared with that of Ghaddafi.”

    Syrian air defense won’t make much of a difference. Air defense systems aren’t magic, they eventually run out of missiles, get overwhelmed by numerous targets, can be affected by electronic countermeasures and so forth.

    A good air defense will make the attack more expensive, more complex, will require more time and resources to be spent by the attacker, but that’s about it. Eventually, the air defense system will crumble.

    • hoct says:

      Except for the fact that NATO is not willing to incur losses. Therefore even modestly capable air defense is a significant deterrent to attack.

      • marknesop says:

        Wish I had noticed your comment before I replied. Obviously, I agree completely.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Except for the fact that NATO is not willing to incur losses.”

        What losses? Shooting cruise missiles at targets isn’t a loss, it’s an expense. One can even see it as an economy stimulation program. Keep shooting missiles until the air defense is exhausted and/or enough important targets are hit. After that you can send regular attack planes to finish the job.

        • marknesop says:

          Well, we were actually talking about manned aircraft – using cruise missiles to “protect civilians” or enforce a no-fly zone is stretching their role envelope just a little. So far as I’m aware, cruise missiles have never been used when it was not an act of war and the aim was to paralyze enemy communications centres and selected military targets. Using cruise missiles in Libya certainly would saturate air defences, but the missiles would have to go somewhere after that, and it’s kind of hard to sell that as being careful of civilians.NATO was careful to say that it was not at war with Libya and was only taking measures to safeguard civilian lives while the rebels dealt with Ghaddafi. That gradually evolved to NATO flying direct support missions for the rebels, but that’s another argument.

          • Anonymous says:

            You keep using those words like they mean something. “Protecting civilians” means pretty much whatever the US wants it to mean.

            More than 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles struck over 20 targets inside Libya today in the opening phase of an international military operation the Pentagon said was aimed at stopping attacks led by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and enforcing a U.N.-backed no-fly zone. President Obama, speaking from Brazil shortly after he authorized the missile attacks, said they were part of a “limited military action” to protect the Libyan people.

      • yalensis says:

        A lot of people on the pro-Libya blogs that I read are claiming that NATO are cowards and will only attack defenseless countries, etc. I think some of this is wishful thinking on the part of people who are extremely upset and outraged to see what this recent NATO/Al Qaeda alliance has done to Libya. Someone like me who regards NATO as an enemy – still, I think it is necessary to give the enemy his due and recognize that they are NOT cowards. Obviously they prefer an easier fight, unmanned bombing missions when possible, but it is necessary to see that they will also go in and fight the hard wars too. They will take many losses if they have to. These people have a project plan and are quite ruthless in following it. Fortunately, they suffered a much-needed setback when Russia/China vetoed the Western-sponsored resolution against Syria. This shows that if Russia/China can grow a spine and ally with other outcasts like Venezuela, then maybe they can slow down this relentless American/European crusade to re-colonize Third World.

    • marknesop says:

      That’s quite true, but countries with plenty of cash – such as Libya – have been shown to be able to afford amazing stockpiles of things like missiles, and nobody wants to fly into a cloud of them. Knowing a serious capability confronts you is a pretty good deterrent, and NATO generally favours situations in which it can establish air superiority virtually or completely unchallenged. Shot-down aircraft and captured pilots – especially alive – are very bad PR.

      Ghaddafi’s concentration on land forces and relative disinterest in air defence were well-known before the big push for a no-fly zone. By contrast, Iranian employment of the F-14 Tomcat during the Iran-Iraq war proved of tremendous psychological value, and records show an entire formation of Iraqi aircraft would break off the attack and sometimes not return for more than a week if even one AWG-9 (F-14 Tomcat radar) was detected over the target. They were afraid of it, and they were right to be. Similarly, detection of a missile radar in the acquisition phase while you are still far, far from the point where you could launch your own airborne attack provides a warning that might be effective even if the launcher was unarmed. Who wants to find out?

      It’s true that throwing everything you have at a target will likely mean at least half your air assets will get through – but is NATO prepared to incur that sort of losses to pursue another unpopular colour revolution whose base of support is far from certain? Some day, maybe, but not now.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      A good air defense will make the attack more expensive, more complex, will require more time and resources to be spent by the attacker, but that’s about it.
      This is the aim of any defence, and any defence system will crumble under enough pressure. The point is to make the attack prohibitively expensive for your enemy.

  3. “a great statesmen”

    Also, not sure you meant to use “pretence” instead of “pretense”.

    • kovane says:

      thanks, I’ve corrected the typo. Aren’t “pretense” and “pretence” respectively the American and English spellings?

    • marknesop says:

      Sorry about that – I had trouble with the formatting when trying to insert kovane’s post, and although I corrected that “statesmen” mistake at least 4 times, I must have deleted and reinserted the text 5 times.

  4. DimitriT says:

    This is a very good history and explanation of the managed democracy in Russia and how it has become more management and less democracy over the past few years. I would like to think that United Russia could police itself and loosen control over the political parties and campaigns, free debate, and elections, but in fact, they have demonstrated in the past few weeks that they wish to exercise more control (evidenced by the treatment of Prokhorov and Kudrin.) Clearly Surkov is the mastermind here and he is doing a good job of protecting United Russia. However, the rest of the world, and thanks to the Internet, many Russians themselves, are beginning to see the results of this. Democratic freedoms are being revoked, progressive ideas are being stifled, and an entire generation of Russians is leaving for better opportunities in countries with more freedom and better chances to build new business. Meanwhile, Russia’s economy relies almost solely on oil prices for survival and has nothing new to offer to foreign investment. And why should foreigners invest in Russia when the political system is moving closer to autocracy and away from true democracy? These things are contributing to a general dissatisfaction among the Russian people, despite what the polls say, and it will not be long before the liberals see that they must join forces under a charismatic, capable, and credible leader who can offer real competition to Putin et al. The only candidate who has a chance is Prokhorov, if and when he decides to return.

    • kovane says:

      Well, thanks for the compliment, Dimitri.

      evidenced by the treatment of Prokhorov and Kudrin

      I have to politely disagree with you on the subject of Prokhorov and Kudrin. Prokhorov made every mistake there is to make, and showed himself an ignorant and conceited boob. Unfortunately, that’s often the case with people who have much money – it must be hard to keep a cool head. Nobody forced Kudrin to make statements he did in America, but after that, there was no nice way out of it. Either he got sick and tired of his post or that’s part of some grandiose political scheme of Putin. In any case, I don’t see how any of that is evidence of the Kremlin exerting more control.

      progressive ideas are being stifled

      What exactly progressive ideas have been stifled? Like the 60-hours work week proposed by Prokhorov? Or maybe Nemtsov or Kasparov are holding back some super progressive idea how to turn Russia in a prosperous paradise, and the only reason why they keep silence is that they are effectively unelectable? Even a better breed of the opposition, like Navalny, despite all the fuss, has notably few fresh ideas beside “Let’s all stop thieving”.

      an entire generation of Russians is leaving for better opportunities in countries with more freedom and better chances to build new business.

      Oh, please. In order to do something positive, the first step is to part with old myths and lies. That one is so stale that I don’t know how you can repeat it. 1, 2

      And why should foreigners invest in Russia when the political system is moving closer to autocracy and away from true democracy

      Another myths, even more stale that the one about mass-emigration. Investors don’t give a damn about the political system; all they care is (in order of importance): 1)the safety of their investment. 2) profit. You won’t say that China’s political system is more democratic than Russia’s, right? The hard truth is that there are many places that are more attractive for investors than Russia, with lower wages, better climate and a more flexible law system. Russia has to carry out a state economic policy in order to step away from the current oil-dependent economy. Any economic liberalisation will only make the present model take root even more.

      despite what the polls say

      And how is that?

      The only candidate who has a chance is Prokhorov

      Well, I can tell you that: despite my deep hatred of traveling and my love for Russia I would seriously consider emigrating if he became the president.🙂

      • marknesop says:

        I was struck by something I read the other day on Tim Newman’s blog, White Sun of the Desert. Regulars will know Tim was a regular feature here at one time, and we used to have some spirited discussions centering around economics and the energy industry. The post was on the recent riots in Britain, and one conceptual phrase stood out for me – if you subsidize something, you get more of it.

        Russia, we are told, needs nothing so much as it needs progressive ideas and a liberalizing influence, originating with a new leader. But Russia is supposed to be incredibly corrupt, almost to the point you have to slip the magazinchik a couple of hundred rubles before she’ll sell you cigarettes. Remember, broad-based application of legislation affects everyone – the gentle rain of liberalism falls upon the corrupt and the decent alike. What would be the immediate effect on corruption of significant deregulation and relaxation of state control, and the leader running around with his face painted blue and white and yelling about FREEDOM!!! like Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”? Would corruption be likely to just wilt and blow away in the face of this deluge of freedom from authority? I sincerely hope you don’t think so.

        Is a liberal or an authoritarian model more likely to have the most beneficial effect on a corrupt system, do you think? Let’s ask the UK – and few would disagree a system that sees unemployed youths running around in expensive clothes and sporting pricey toys they customarily obtained by theft, all the while the law enables their behavior, is corrupt. Just maybe not the style of corruption you’re used to. More and ever more freedom is having no noticeable arresting effect on this behavior, and it appears to be gaining in strength. Few would disagree also, I think, that a sterner government line and a firmer hand in the UK would be just the ticket – bearing in mind that it affects the decent and the criminal alike.

        What would be the likely effect, given the current situation in Russia, of a Prokhorov government broadly relaxing state control of business, and letting business owners exercise a heretofore-unseen level of personal discretion over their affairs in a free-market atmosphere that says devil take the hindmost? Less corruption, or more? Take your time.

        A strange duality exists here – Russia is horribly corrupt, but it needs the state to stop meddling and just let people be free to do as they like in pursuit of a happy life and a good standard of living. These two conditions cannot coexist. Either Russia needs firm state control over enterprise, or Russia is nowhere near the corrupt world delinquent the western press likes to suggest it is.

        • Foppe says:

          Well, I think one thing to keep in mind is that “corruption” is something that is simply another word for a “cost of business”, and that it is basically a way to supplement bureaucratic wages. The problem with bureaucratic corruption is that it makes it harder for ‘normal’ people to get heard, since they have to be able to pay the fees (though from what I understand many such officials sometimes require bribes according to ability). As such, if you want a society where people have access to the system, you would want to raise wages in order to make it less necessary for the officials to be corrupt (and crack down on the corruption after, but it’s important to keep in mind that the latter is unrealistic without the former).
          Anyway, the ‘sterner line’ in Britain is just a way to demonize the poor — while it may be that the poor display criminal behavior, who cares? City bankers have stolen and/or destroyed tens or even hundreds of billions in wealth, and they don’t get punished either. The problem the poor have is one of PR — white collar crime is never felt to be as threatening as street crime, even though it causes damage that is orders of magnitude greater than that street crime. Bill Black (Savings & Loan investigator) explains its importance quite nicely here (but note that he is, of course, entirely ignored by TPTB, since the Federal Reserve still believes that fraud did not play a large role in the crisis).

      • europaviews says:

        Great post, thank you very much for it. Barriers for political parties. Who controls TV. In which circumstances Putin came to State power. Who is Vladislav Surkov. How Parliament fell under the Kremlin’s control. These are the themes which are silent. And moreover it’s ineresting to read such articles written by a person, who doesn’t live in Russia.

        Well, I’m Russian; I just leave outside Russia, so probably can judge from aside. What I would like to add about the situation with Prokhorov.
        Democracy, managed by Surkov in Russia will work badly. According to the polls, a lot of people in Russia have basic liberal-democratic values. The matter of fact is that lot of people in Russia would rather support Prokhorov, and would follow him, if he stays in politics. These people are further generation, middle class (40 of population of Moscow and 30% of the other cities), business class, intellectuals. Prokhorov’s ideas were not crystal, but the point is, that people share these ideas. A lot of people are not satisfied with the situation, when they are neglected. The recent interview of Dmitry Peskov with “explanations” why Putin – Brezhnev is not so bad – it’s just a rotten excuse (we call such things in Russia), all his words are lame arguments. Putin wins even if nobody comes to these elections. The other parties are looking like yesterday’s trash. It’s not even an opportunity to choose between two. It’s like in Kazakhstan, where I lived, where a lifelong president Nursultan Nazarbaev – a “Führer” of a sovereign nation of Kazakhstan. But the times are changing rapidly.
        You said “Prokhorov made every mistake there is to make, and showed himself an ignorant and conceited boob”. Well, he was professional enough to manage deals he did well in business (and innovation, I saw the auto, it’s much better  that Lada Kalina, I had the honor to travel wit. They still insist on auto-industry in Russia – absurd), and courageous enough not to stay controlled by Surkov and to call things by their proper names at the end. Let alone the money he had.
        What concerns money, probably the term “saw up” is well known not only in Russia – blogger Navaly writes about this phenomenon, and I wonder how could people, who still watch TV, blame oligarchs and respect Putin&Co.

        The present-day political system displays all kinds of duality: it’s democratic by formal indications, but in reality every step is controlled by the Kremlin; the opportunities for the opposition are severely restricted, but there’s no true support for it among the general public, while the Kremlin enjoys genuine popularity. For United Russia the main enemy now is not any other party, but the apathy of voters, so polishing the turnout numbers is important.
        So, your analysis worth reading by mass.

        • apc27 says:

          “According to the polls, a lot of people in Russia have basic liberal-democratic values”

          Please do give us a link to these polls, as they seem to go completely against the conventional wisdom that Russia is a fairly conservative country with Putin being more liberal than most of it population.

          “The matter of fact is that lot of people in Russia would rather support Prokhorov”

          Huh??? Right…maybe in another 40-60 years, when most of those who remember what the oligarchs did to their country will be in their graves, a descendent of an oligarch might, just might stand a chance of gathering any significant result, but not any sooner.

          Overall, yours and several other posts here provide a clear illustration why those opposed to Putin are such complete screw-ups (which undermines, a bit, kovane’s argument that Putin is a brilliant politician, after all, how brilliant does one have to be to outsmart an opposition as dumb as that). Kovane gave you on a platter a whole set of relevant measured facts which could potentially be used as basis for a substantial real criticism of Putin and his system, but what do you choose to do with that? That is besides moaning, exaggerating, spouting cliсhes and lying? Do you offer even one concrete proposal which would have been more beneficial to Russia, than any of Putin’s actions so well described by kovane?

          • kovane says:

            Actually, I didn’t laud Putin’s victories over the opposition (like Nemtsov and Kasparov), but his clashes in the beginning of the 2000s with oligarchs and regional barons. That was much harder, I think🙂

        • kovane says:

          First of all, thank you for your kind words, but I’m Russian and I live in Russia.

          You say that many people support basic liberal values, but the interpretation of the term can be very broad. Speaking of poll, here’s one. According to it, 10 percents support liberal values, 24% democratic values. But the interesting thing is that they consider Putin and Medvedev main bearers of these values.

          I’m sure Prokhorov is a great businessman, but that doesn’t automatically make him a great concert pianist, writer or politician for that matter. Moreover, some qualities that helped him to succeed in business can be a serious obstacle in politics. Regarding his foray into auto-making, it’s not very hard to produce a car better that Lada Kalina, the chief concern is to keep costs down, and and this department everything is not so shiny, I’ve heard. So I wouldn’t chalk up this endeavour as a great success.

          Peskov defended not the idea of turning Putin into Brezhnev, but Brezhnev alone.

  5. Huh? says:

    “These things are contributing to a general dissatisfaction among the Russian people, despite what the polls say,”

    Who gave you the authority to speak on behalf of the Russian people?

  6. hoct says:

    There is no actual democracy anywhere. If the public had greater influence on state policy in Russia there would actually be more Russian economic nationalism as well as a more hard-line foreign policy. Fetishization of democracy is laughable and tiresome. Russia is either stepping in place or liberalizing slightly, but the US is clearly becoming more and more illiberal. Finally if it were not democracy it would be something else.

    The fault of Russia is not that it is not democratic enough, but that it is independent. Unlike (virtually) all the other Eastern European countries it is not interested in Western tutelage, but acts with the self-confidence befitting a bearer of a distinct (sub-)civilization and is therefore content to carve its own path. No wonder then this should fill the minds of Western intellectual types with terror, when in their mindset the role of Eastern Europe is as the internal foil to the refined, rational and developed West. Any Eastern European country that does not accept to copy the West is therefore doing something primitive, wild and barbarian by default.

    Hysteria of the Western press isn’t about democracy in Russia. It is about the need of Westerners for constant self-congratulation. At present this need demands they believe three things. One, they have democracy. Two, democracy is better than having hot steaming sex with Carmen Electra and more important than eating your breakfast. Three, the Russians (barbarians) don’t have democracy. They’re obviously wrong on at least two of their points, but you can’t argue with articles of faith.

    • kovane says:

      Yes, I agree here. The fetish of democracy exists. If before that role was assumed by religion – Christian nations against heathens, crusades, relations with the Pope – now it is all about democracy. The backdrop is different, but the gist is surprisingly the same. Democratic nations against authoritarian regimes, humanitarian bombings, relations with the citadel of democracy.

      Anyone who has studied history would know that Russia was perceived as an alien body long before the democracy bandwagon. I recommend reading up on the demonisation campaign in England before the Crimean war. Nothing ever changes. The main problem of Russia is that it is too big, and therefore, a potential competitor, and secondly, it is very weakly integrated into the world economy. That makes it a perfect target for turning into a scarecrow. The additional feeling of self-gratification is a pleasant bonus.

      • cartman says:

        Slavic untermensch – especially Orthodox Christian ones – must be destroyed. Catholic Slavs are much easier to control. Witness that Poland has the presidency of the EU at the same time Merkel is giving ultimatums to the Serbs and German soldier are once again shooting Serbs at the border checkpoints (which are illegal under UNSC 1244). No matter what they say, it is totally irrelevant as a power.

    • marknesop says:

      What’s it gonna be, boys? Democracy…..or Carmen Electra? Democracy… Carmen Electra? You don’t have to make up your mind right now, but don’t think about it too long….you can’t have boooootttthhhh…..

      Sorry, I don’t mean to make light of a great comment, and a great comment it was. Would you be interested in doing a guest post sometime? You seem very much on solid ground with this theme, and I’m sure something embodying the stubborn focus established in your third paragraph will offer itself. I like your style.

    • kievite says:

      IMHO you are going a little bit too far both in regard of the value of Russian independence and existence of democracy.

      As for independence. nobody cares too much about Russian independence as long as most oligarchs have London real estate, keep money in Western banks, teach children abroad in best colleges, etc.
      As for democracy it does exists, but only for a tiny fraction of population — the elite and upper middle class. And this is nothing new. Historically democracy always existed mostly for the members of ruling class. For Greece that was class of slave-owners. Nothing essentially changed. This dream of “perfect democracy” is just a propaganda trick. And here you are right: “perfect democracy”, “mass democracy” or “democracy for everybody” does not exist and never existed. Some strata of population and first of all low income strata historically were always excluded and marginalized. A simple question is: Does democracy exists if a party accepts $100K contributions?
      But situation is more subtle. If the people’s ability to vote candidates in and out of office has no meaningful influence on the decisions they make while in office, does democracy exist? The second important question is: “How much civil liberty and protection against government abuse remains in the system?”
      In view of those arguments I think it is more correct to say that what in most cases what is sold under the marketing brand of “democracy” should be more properly be called “inverted totalitarism”. Like with totalitarism the net effect is marginalization of citizens to control the direction of the nation through the political process. But unlike classic totalitarian states which rely on mobilization around charismatic leader, here a passive populace is preferred (famous “Go shopping” recommendation by Bush II after 9/11).
      Barriers to participation like “management” of elections using two party system and by preselection of candidates by party machine are used as more subtle and effective means of control. Formally officials purport to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution. In reality manipulation the levers of power excludes everybody but a tiny percentage of the population (oligarchy).
      Like in classic totalitarism propaganda dispensed by schools and the media, not to mention the entertainment. The stress is on eliminating the audience for anybody who does not support the regime. Ideology is supported by powerful research institutions (aka “think tanks”) and is adapted to modern realities by well paid “intellectual agents”. Milton Friedman is a classic example. The goal is the same as in classic totalitarism: the dominance of official ideology, especially in schools and universities. But this is achieved without violent suppression of opposing views, mainly by bribing and ostracizing instead of the key ingredient of classical totalitarism — violence toward opponents.

  7. The part about media self-censorship is at least every bit as prevalent in “free” societies such as the US as in Russia. Noam Chomsky’s concept of the propaganda mode cannot be mentioned enough. The latest example is how The Guardian and NYT – and remember, print newspapers everywhere are more sophisticated than TV – colluded in with-holding from publication many Wikileaks cables that cast a bad light on the power elites.

    Another question is ask is, which of these countries has the most democracy – one where many policy decisions are based on the wishes of corporate lobbyists; and one where many policy decisions are made as per opinion polls and the interests of the “overwhelming majority.” Much of the “free” West is in the former category; Russia and China are in the latter.

    • kievite says:

      AK: “Noam Chomsky’s concept of the propaganda mode cannot be mentioned enough”

      I think the right term is “Manufactured Consent”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Political_Economy_of_the_Mass_Media

      It describes five editorially-distorting filters applied to news reporting in mass media:

      1. Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: The dominant mass-media outlets are large firms which are run for profit. Therefore they must cater to the financial interest of their owners – often corporations or particular controlling investors. The size of the firms is a necessary consequence of the capital requirements for the technology to reach a mass audience.

      2. The Advertising License to Do Business: Since the majority of the revenue of major media outlets derives from advertising (not from sales or subscriptions), advertisers have acquired a “de-facto licensing authority”.[1] Media outlets are not commercially viable without the support of advertisers. News media must therefore cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers. This has weakened the working-class press, for example, and also helps explain the attrition in the number of newspapers.

      3. Sourcing Mass Media News: Herman and Chomsky argue that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access [to the news], by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring […] and producing, news. The large entities that provide this subsidy become ‘routine’ news sources and have privileged access to the gates. Non-routine sources must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision of the gatekeepers.”[2]

      4. Flak and the Enforcers: “Flak” refers to negative responses to a media statement or program (e.g. letters, complaints, lawsuits, or legislative actions). Flak can be expensive to the media, either due to loss of advertising revenue, or due to the costs of legal defense or defense of the media outlet’s public image. Flak can be organized by powerful, private influence groups (e.g. think tanks). The prospect of eliciting flak can be a deterrent to the reporting of certain kinds of facts or opinions.[2]

      5. Anti-Communism: This was included as a filter in the original 1988 edition of the book, but Chomsky argues that since the end of the Cold War (1945–91), anticommunism was replaced by the “War on Terror”, as the major social control mechanism.[3][4

    • kovane says:

      I agree, Anatoly. Western media networks have a wide variety of opinions on a limited number of issues only, and sing in startling unison on the some other extremely important matters. Wikileaks is a great example, the policy on Israel in the US is another.

      The real difficulty of politics is making weighted decisions that would be beneficial for the future of the country, listening both to lobbyist and the popular opinion. And mistakes can be made on both extremes. In retrospection, few would argue that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act in the US was made under significant pressure of financial lobby and it seriously contributed to the 2008 meltdown. But populism is equally dangerous, as it is evidenced by Greece. Adopting policies only because they are popular, without considering the long term effect, can be a ruin of any country. Keeping a right balance between these two approaches is the key.

  8. grafomanka says:

    ‘Managed democracy’ is a front, and I would say it’s kind of refreshing that we can stop living this hypocrisy now. And it’s not because of Prokhorov and Kudrin, but because of bizzaro way in which Putin and Medvedev announced that they decided ‘years ago'(!) about the job swap. And not even United Russia knew what was going on. What does it make United Russia then?

    • kovane says:

      A party that supports the bid of the most viable candidate?

      • grafomanka says:

        I’m sure they would have rather voted for Putin. That’s not the point.

        • kovane says:

          So let’s get things straight. Putin is the most popular politician in Russia at the moment. So popular that his endorsement was enough to elect Medvedev president. The goal of the party is to support a candidate with best chances to be elected. Medvedev decided not to run, and his decision is quite understandable – his term was rather controversial. So UR supported Putin’s bid. What’s so undemocratic about that? And what’s your point?

          • grafomanka says:

            OK so, Putin and Medvedev decided years ago in the back room that Putin will be the next prez candidate. And their party (of which Putin is not a member last time I checked) along with everybody else was kept in the dark about it. And this is democratic.

            • kovane says:

              They could agree on who would be running for president back in kindergarten for all we know, that’s their personal choice. And their party (whose goal is to elect their candidate – regardless of who, Putin or Medvedev – I repeat) supports whomever is running. In this case – Putin, who is the party chairman last time I checked. Or maybe the true sign of a vibrant democracy is that every member of every party provides it with his schedule of presidential campaigns for 20 years ahead? I wonder what’s all the comedy with Chris Christie in the US means then…

              • grafomanka says:

                So democracy – public discussions, consultations among the elites etc. is reduced to what two guys decided on 4 years ago or “back in kindergarten”. And this is still democracy?
                I could maybe compare it to Gordon Brown succeeding Tony Blair, but their party was booted out of office for this kind of stuff.

                • kovane says:

                  Democracy, first and foremost, is about the wishes of the voters. Putin can run all he wants, but if he doesn’t get elected, their decision will be worth as much as my decision to run, for instance. And that’s democracy and all that matters. By the way, why do you conclude that since Putin and Medvedev simply announced their decision, there were no consultations, etc?

    • yalensis says:

      @grafomanka: I don’t think the main problem is what goes on within United Russia and how they internally pick their candidate. It is the job of any political party to nomiate their best candidate who, in this case is obviously Putin. The real problem is that they are the ONLY viable political party. So, Russia is effectively a one-party system now. True democracy requires multi-party system.

      • grafomanka says:

        Yes, basically….

      • kievite says:

        “True democracy requires multi-party system.”
        You are mixing apples and oranges. Democracy requires that citizens are equal before the law and have equal voting rights. By extension it leads to such thing as “tyranny of majority” which is inevitable (that’s why Hegel prefer monarchy). Democracy also presuppose that alternative parties are not banned.

        But representation is completely another thing. If you are representing 3% of population and to get to Parliament requires 5% you are f*cked absolutely legitimately within this framework and can do nothing without undermining the notion of democracy as expressed.

        Also you can have an illusory alternative parties system like the USA two party system with “winner takes all” provisions in each state which make success of the third party extremely unlikely. My impression is that the existing two party system in the USA is just an improved version of one party system that existed in the USSR with the only difference that that two wings of the same party (let’s say that one that represents mainly Wall Street but is friendly to military-industrial and Energy complex and that other the represents mainly Military-industrial and Energy complex but also is quite friendly to Wall Street) are staging the theatrical battles to amuse the electorate.

        I hope you are not proposing special anti-democratic regime of affirmative action to change that situation (as you might remember from Okudzhva song “A pryanikov sladkih vsegda ne hvataet na vseh”).

        • grafomanka says:

          Two party system is just like ‘upgraded’ one party system. Right. But in one political change is possible, in the other it isn’t.

        • yalensis says:

          Ha ha! No, I do not believe USA 2-party system is true democracy. How can there be any democracy when 1% of the population owns 99% of all the wealth? Is ridiculous situation.

  9. grafomanka says:

    @kovane

    They certainly pretended that there were consultations for the last 4 years, with Medvedev not ruling out that he’s going to run, with the talk about some kind of modernizing fraction in the Kremlin. Now it turned out that none of this was for real. I have more respect for Putin, at least he chose not to violate Russian constitution.
    And about wishes of the votes, please. I read that opposition ads in some Russian regions were banned from state TV. Let’s not pretend this is a democracy.

    • kovane says:

      So you suppose that if “elites” (that’s a very democratic term, straight from the Constitution) were unanimously opposed to Putin’s nomination, he would be running anyway? Just because he and Medvedev allegedly made the decision 4 years ago?

      Yes, if Nemtsov’s talking head was on every channel 24/7 then the opposition would have every chance to win the election. The Muslim Brothers in Egypt were banned altogether, let alone the access to media, but that didn’t stop them from being the most popular movement. So let’s not pretend that isn’t a democracy, having own TV network is not one of the God-given rights last time I checked.

      • grafomanka says:

        If you didn’t mean consultations within the elites then what consultations did you have in mind?
        TV coverage is crucially important, because as Kremlin PR masters know right TV coverage can add as much as 15-20% support to a party/candidate. And they have no competition. TV is used for black PR all the time. I don’t think Egypt is the fair example, for many reasons, religious etc.

        Putin is popular and quite probably Putin is what Russia needs now. It doesn’t make Russia a democracy. Democracy is run on institutions, fair competition, public discussion….

        • kovane says:

          I meant exactly consultations within elites, though “consultations” is a very unsuitable term. Maneuvering and falling behind the right candidate, that’s how I would put it.

          TV coverage is crucially important
          That’s what I wrote in the piece. And that’s why the Kremlin controls TV so zealously.

          Democracy is run on institutions, fair competition, public discussion

          That’s not democracy, that’s a spherical model of democracy. Let’s talk about two countries that are usually presented as model democracies, the UK and US. Does anybody discuss the policy on Israel in the US media? Did they discuss if the US should get into the war on Iraq? Bailout of the big banks in 2008? Or any major problem for that matter. And by being discussed I mean not presenting 1001 reason why it should be done. The UK mass media is even more pitiable in that regard. So, please, get off your high horse and stop gluing labels.

          • grafomanka says:

            I don’t want to go into ‘In America they…’ If Russia is a democracy then where are the mechanisms for political change? They are technically there but in reality the Kremlin makes sure that they are useless. I certainly don’t see anything democratic about how politics is handled.

          • kovane says:

            Oh, no, you’re not going to reduce it to lynching Negroes. The mechanism for political change is present in Russia, and you know it. When the citizens become dissatisfied with the government UR will be forced to make some changes. In many respect the Russian system is more responsive to negative tendencies in public sentiment, because UR can’t shift blame on Democrats or Republicans or the Labour party. Whatever happens, everyone knows that’s UR’s fault.

            • grafomanka says:

              Seen this?

              And you thinks this party is ‘more responsive to negative tendencies in public sentiment’ than it would be, had it to worry about losing their comfy seats SOON? Bees against honey? The changes will be cosmetic, and stuff like this will not be shown on TV.

              By the way, there are people in United Russia that really want to changes something, but it will be very difficult for them to try to change the party from within. It’s like asking bees to be against honey.

              • grafomanka says:

                Ouch, I’m repeating myself, sorry.

              • yalensis says:

                Well, this is how it is with artists, they experience everything in a vivid emotional manner and are not always rational thinkers. The good news is: Bondarchuk DID show up for work the following day (ergo, he was not whisked away to death star for torture by Putin). I like his rant, I like the way he talks. But I am still scratching my head: what specific policy changes is he asking for? If he decides to build his own faction within United Russia, then he will need a platform of proposed policies. Is not enough to show: “Look how brilliantly I am expressing my emotions! I should be the next Hamlet!”

              • kovane says:

                By the way, since you’re obviously such a great fan of Bondarchuk, I’m little surprised that you chose such a mild display of his supreme political reasoning. Here’s a much more deep reflection: “Bondarchuk: Russia is sliding into a totalitarian ass” I think we should urgently get him elected: the guy obviously knows how to make Russia better.

                • yalensis says:

                  Yeah, Bondarchuk needs to be elected Prez, he will put an end to disgusting internet onanism:

                  …стране нужны такие герои, как Максим и Гай, а не расплывчатые личности, занимающиеся онанизмом в Интернете.

                  This is important issue.

                • grafomanka says:

                  pfft, my point wasn’t about electing Bondarchuk into anything (artists make lousy presidents), but about rare dissent in United Russia.
                  “Russia is sliding into totalitarian ass” – I like how you translated this🙂

                • kovane says:

                  Sorry, it’s just that I persistently dislike Bondarchuk, so I came a bit too strongly on a sarcastic side. Your comment obviously didn’t deserve such a response. My point was that positive political changes won’t come from a TV broadcast of Bondarchuk’s convulsions. Dropping support for UR will bring it, and it’s inevitable in a sense. And some level of dissent in UR is natural – it’s quite big and, after all, the only place with no dissent at all is a morgue.

                  artists make lousy presidents

                  You take that back!🙂 Or Reagan’s apparition will haunt your sleep for years.

                  I like how you translated this

                  As if! That’s his direct quote If I remember correctly, but later he disowned saying it – turns out that it’s not only hard to be a god, but a member of UR while saying such blasphemy as well🙂

                  PS And I’m offended that you leaved out Volochkova’s rant against UR, at least she can dance, as opposed to Bondarchuk’s directing skills.

            • kovane says:

              O, yes, Bondarchuk’s wrath is an ominous sign. Probably means that Russia is doomed.

              So governors in Russia don’t get fired because their ratings drop too low? Ministers who fail don’t lose their chairs? And you consider Bondarchuk’s rant something that’s even remotely constructive and able to bring about positive changes?

              • grafomanka says:

                I think Bondarchuk’s frustration pretty much encapsulated what desire for change you normally get in United Russia. Hopefully Medvevev will display some drive for change when he’s completing his new cabinet.

              • grafomanka says:

                You take that back!🙂 Or Reagan’s apparition will haunt your sleep for years.#

                well… ekhm… there was also an actor president in Poland, and a PM, twins in fact

                By the way, your post is very good. Didn’t necessarily agree with the title because I see the flop of Just Russia and Правое дело as a failure of ‘managed democracy’.

              • kovane says:

                You consider Kachinsky an example of a good president? I have to admit, I’m not that conversant with Polish politics, but that’s not the impression I have. Reagan, on the other hand, is an iconic president for the right in America. I realise that the term “good presdent” is more than simply vague, though.🙂

                Thanks for the compliment. The flop of Just Cause is Prokhorov’s failure, not that of “Managed Democracy”. Who could’ve thought that he would turn out such a headache and muddler. Besides, you can’t fault Surkov for not trying to create a legitimate right party. It’s the thought that counts! I’m sure that he will succeed in that ultimately. The quintessence of Managed Democracy is to soak up public sentiment by artificially created parties, after all.

                • grafomanka says:

                  Kaczynski is certainly an iconic president for the right in Poland, but only since he died. Ironic.

        • apc27 says:

          That desire for a “public discussion” is a common criticism of the way Putin makes decisions, as he seems to prefer to keep his cards close to his chest. Some “discussion” is necessary, but all too often there is that annoying Russian delusion that “any housewife can run a country”, that dictates peoples’ desire to discuss things, rather than any practical considerations.
          The decision as to who will run for a president may have huge implications, but at the end of the day, it is a deeply personal one. What good would our uninformed discussions could have done, besides rocking the boat and setting the power elites on the course for a direct confrontation? Plus, its not as if people’s opinions are not considered. There plenty of polls and, of course, the elections themselves where Russians can have their say.
          People often use US as an example of the way democracy should work, but what they themselves do not appreciate is that only in US can such polarising and all encompassing “discussions” NOT lead to chaos and ruin.

          • marknesop says:

            The impression that running a country is little more complicated than baking a cake or changing a tire is common to a great deal wider group than Russians. Please don’t think I’m endorsing politicians, but politics and government are their business and they typically have some educational background that suits them to the purpose. The notion that a farmer who spends 70% of his waking hours running a farm and doesn’t have time to watch more than the local news can engage at an international level and make decisions that will affect complicated relationships of which he is not even aware is beyond silly. But people insist on the right to be involved with the political process without exercising their own due diligence of informing themselves on the issues, and persist with the fiction that anyone could do the job just as well. Anyone who thinks mistakes in that respect are of little consequence, and any damages caused by a foolish choice based on sloganeering and jingoism are easily repaired should review the G.W. Bush and Yeltsin presidencies.

            Putin is largely respected and trusted by the Russian people because his policies have generally brought Russia success, and under his guidance Russia has prospered while avoiding most of the stumbling-blocks placed in its path. They believe he can continue this record of success, and they believe it more than they believe Boris Nemtsov could achieve a similar level of success. Nemtsov was a Deputy Prime Minister – it is unrealistic to imagine there is a significant group of voters who do not know who he is and his name on the ballot would be instantly recognizable to nearly all voters. Voting in Boris Nemtsov, or Kasyanov or Kasparov just to prove the validity of the multiparty system would have consequences far beyond the immediate.

            Just once, I wish the government would not mess with Nemtsov – would allow him all the free advertising time he wanted and access to the voters as he pleased. Of course the government could not let him just blather and make shit up the way he does in his egregious “white papers”, but rebuttal should be confined to calm, reasoned ripostes that do not attempt to overpower his message, rather offering citizens the opportunity to fact-check his claims. When Nemtsov still lost by a wide margin, as I’m sure he would, he would have to confront the fact that he has nothing to offer Russians but a big ego, a big aggreived pout and an inflated sense of self-worth.

          • yalensis says:

            Why cannot a housewife run the country? Was Katherine the Great not a housewife before she became Emperess? Most historians agree she was pretty good ruler, except for that unpleasant business surrounding Pugachev uprising.

            • marknesop says:

              I assume you were joking, but ruling – as a member of the nobility – in days gone by is quite a bit different than ruling in the superpower age when all is comprised of alliances, “what have you done for me lately?” expectations and constant jockeying for advantage. Resolving international conflicts is unlikely to be brought about by challenging the enemy to a pie-making contest, winner take all. The more you don’t possess any background knowledge in – political science, international affairs, foreign policy, trade….the more you must rely on advisors: and then, not only is the resulting policy not your own, you don’t even understand it well enough to know if you’ve been sold a bag of shit that will have serious negative effects on the country.

              George W. Bush is an excellent example of the radical pursuit of a narrow ideology that can result when someone is elected on his folksy charm and his devoutness, and not much else. He relied on a tight, like-minded circle of advisors to coalesce his opinions for him, decided things based on “gut feeling” rather than analysis and was not well-read in any subject except baseball despite having had the benefits of an excellent education. And he was a member of the political class!

              While some modest, ordinary citizens might make excellent leaders on a community scale or with a simple problem in a subject with which they are acquainted, international politics are generally beyond them and they are not prepared for the infighting among their own political system that will make it difficult to get anything constructive done. I’m not suggesting ordinary citizens are too stupid to be politicians – merely that their life experiences have not prepared them for the political arena and I don’t understand why anyone would invest their formative years in preparing for such a career (except that you can make quite a lot of money for doing little but talking and voting).

              • Foppe says:

                You cheeky anarchist, you. But yes, I agree. Consensus conferences are splendid affairs, though they take rather a lot of work organizing them, especially when it comes to finding decent (non-ideological) sources of relevant information/viewpoints.

                • Foppe says:

                  (excuse grammar)

                • marknesop says:

                  Sorry if I sound a little disillusioned with politics and politicians right now, but I’m still steaming after watching this video from Leos Tomicek’s Austere Insomniac, which shows members of the European Parliament showing up at 7:00 AM just to enregister for the day – and pocket their 284-Euro allowance for doing so – and then buggering off for the weekend: many of them have their suitcases with them. I’m not sure what the language is, but it sounds like German and the film takes pains to point out EU Parliamentarians can earn more than Chancellor Merkel for basically doing dick-all. The reporter who is filming this gets kicked out by EU Parliament security.

        • marknesop says:

          “Democracy is run on institutions, fair competition, public discussion….”

          Please provide an example of somewhere that occurs absent influence or interference by the party currently in power.

    • marknesop says:

      This is the crux of the argument for me – let’s not pretend this is a democracy, but while we’re caught up in the tide of refreshing honesty, let’s stop pretending there is real democracy anywhere. In that light, Russia is no better and no worse than anywhere else, so let’s stop with the finger-pointing and the self-righteous pontificating. I’m not opposed to criticism of Russia, provided it is not hypocritical or unfair.

      The Italian papers wouldn’t run a toothpaste ad without consulting their guidelines, because Berlusconi owns the media – but nobody suggests Italy isn’t a democracy or is a managed democracy. In every country that exercises a simple vote and is not a monarchy, the leaders maneuver behind the scenes to gather more power for themselves and reduce or eliminate the possibility of successful challenge by opposition – by control of media outlets, by manufactured scandal and by inflation or fabrication of their own accomplishments. When everyone drops the pretense that they’re a real democracy, the accusation that this country or that country oppresses its citizens by unduly and unfairly influencing their exercise of a free vote will lose its sting altogether. Hey, you, you’re a crook – say, fellow crook; like to get together for a drink after work, and compare notes?

      On the opposite pole of the argument are the voters, who don’t know shit about governance or running a country, much less the nuances of international relationships and alliances, but are ready to vote for the leader with the best hair or the most affable public-speaking style. Let’s not pretend that’s democracy, either.

      • grafomanka says:

        If we think that there’s no democracy anywhere then there’s no point to this discussion🙂
        But I can’t say this with a straight face, tho the bulk of Russian government can. Medvedev comes to mind when he remarked that he’s like Hilary Clinton to Putin’s Obama.

        • marknesop says:

          There is no democracy anywhere – and hasn’t been for a long time – like the idealized model you describe. I know you don’t want to get involved in a Russia-vs-the USA discussion, but the USA sets itself up for just such a comparison by regularly expounding that American-style democracy is so wonderful they simply must export it to others, and by virtue of the fact that most of Russia’s harshest critics are Americans or products of American agencies.

          Russia is not an ideal democracy, as kovane already pointed out, in that not all parties have equal access to media and the ruling party has extensive control over both voting mechanisms and the rulebook for viability of new parties. However, the USA is similarly deficient in democratic values in that it uses gerrymandering, redistricting and voter disenfranchisement to manipulate the popular vote, and the current opposition seems perfectly willing to use the filibuster to crash the economy so that its chances of regaining power are improved. That’s manifestly not what the electorate wants, since polls regularly reveal jobs and the economy as its biggest concerns. Granted, that’s the opposite problem to Russia – in that the opposition has too much power and can highjack every economic initiative by misusing the supermajority rule – but it ushers in what some analysts describe as “the normalization of extortion politics“, and is plainly not democracy because party discipline supersedes loyalty to the constituent. “Tame” media outlets like Fox News regularly report outright falsehoods, misstate the qualifications of their guests and frequently push made-up narratives as if they were real news – is that democracy?

          • grafomanka says:

            Mark, in America Democrats and Republicans are locked in constant battle, and of course it has negative effects like extortion policies and Fox News. Maybe It’s even too extreme and bad for the country. Quite probably Chinese with their 5-year plans will turn out to be more effective in governing because they’re not locked in constant competition battle. But America is democracy and China isn’t. Americans don’t have it ideal, half of the country alienated when Bush became president. But it is democracy, power shifts, you can watch the daily show which takes a piss out of Fox News.

            • Foppe says:

              However nice TDS may be, it still behaves as though there are important differences between the two parties when, when it comes to (all-important) economic policy, there really isn’t. Both parties encourage outsourcing, both give huge subsidies to industries while cutting back on redistributive programs, neither party is willing to regulate and prosecute corrupt businesses/behavior (Cheney).. Certainly they differ a bit in the area of abortion/gay rights/etc., but they’re doing as little as possible while still seeming distinct.

              • grafomanka says:

                They differ economically too, but both pander to big businesses, yes. I think if Russia had more diversified economy and more different big businesses maybe politics would be a different story. But when big business in the country are oil and gas, why wouldn’t the elites collude instead of competing? Collusion makes more sense to them.

                About ‘made-up narratives’ I think Americans arrived at the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what you say as long as it evokes emotional response. In the end it’s emotions that win elections, not rational thinking. That’s why Sarah Palin, Fox News, etc feel that they can spawn any bullshit.

                • marknesop says:

                  Again with the “Russia needs a more diversified economy”. I’ll buy that it would be an improvement, because having all your eggs in one basket is never wise, but Russia has loads of raw materials and could easily be a major player in steel, forestry products and a number of mineral markets. Oil and gas are the big ones, but they’re only two out of the top ten.

                  Besides, going big or going home when you have oil is exactly the right thing to do. Who says so? The UK says so – you know, the USA’s “special friend” and sometime second banana in the “let’s make fun of Russia for having nothing but oil” chorus. They must have a different kind of oil in Libya, because according to the BBC, “Libya’s long-term prosperity depends on one thing above all others”. Spoiler alert – it’s not logging. Nope, it’s oil; “Libya’s oil industry, therefore, holds the key to the success of Libya’s fledgling regime and the wealth of its people.” Not in Russia, though – their oil is a big risk, because the bottom is going to fall out of crude any day now and Putin is going to be left holding a huge deficit. In fact, Libya having some kind of magic oil is pretty much the only explanation – why yes, yes, it does: Libya produces a very fine crude that needs little refining (coincidentally, so does Iraq, although they weren’t mentioned). We’re told that the whole world has a stake in the Majors getting into Libya as quickly as possible and getting that crude flowing again. Not Russia, though. Russia is stupid to depend on oil, because….well, just because. But Libya is encouraged to depend on oil, and the western oil giants are anxious to help them. But the war was absolutely not about oil.

                  And the fierce battle for Sirte has nothing to do with most of the pipelines being located there, in the Sirte Basin.

  10. yalensis says:

    @kovane: I just wanted to comment that this was an excellent post. Very well written and logically reasoned, lots of interesting and well-researched facts. Good job!

  11. yalensis says:

    A bit off-topic, but I promise there is a Russian angle:
    Update on news about the supposed Heritage Oil deal with Libya. As you recall, this company, which is based on the London stock exchange, has many oil acquisitions going on all over the world, but primarily in Africa and Russia.
    Anyhow, a few days ago they announced the acquisition of Benghazi-based Sahara Oil Services. But today, Libya’s National Oil Council (NOC) claims to have vetoed the deal

    The NOC has traditionally controlled Libya’s oil industry, awarding exploration licences and producing about half of the oil itself. Ahmed Al-Taghdi, the director of international cooperation of NOC, said: “I have been instructed to deny these reports [of the Sahara deal]. We have put it on our website that it is not true.”
    Heritage reacted angrily to the NOC’s comments, saying it had no control over the deal and dismissing its comments as irrelevant.
    Heritage said that the group had not sought permission from the National Transitional Council (NTC), the NOC, or any other party other than Sahara, because it did not need it.

    Did not need it?? I guess Heritage is used to simply taking what they want at the point of a gun.
    Research reveals that Heritage CEO is a rather dodgy character named Anthony Leslie Rowland (Tony) Buckingham, who has a shady past running mercs in Africa:

    Buckingham is a former partner of the mercenary provider or private military company Executive Outcomes.[1] He has had no involvement with such organizations since 1999 and has focused his time on running Heritage.

    Now dear little Tony is apparently very ticked off that the Libyan NOC has dissed him and refuses to hand over their oil. Tony’s company has been losing money two years in a row. So Tony had a big come-back planned: he would grab the Libyan oil, re-sell it on the stock exchange, swap it for derivatives or whatever these guys do, and pocket the cash!

  12. kovane says:

    Good news, everyone: today, the State Duma lowered the election threshold back to 5%; and another law, making the process of party registration as simple as just notification, is being prepared.

  13. sinotibetan says:

    Thanks kovane! I enjoyed your post! Too bad nowadays I’m too busy to comment….but I agree with Foppe’s post regarding ‘democracy’ as the ‘new Gospel’ of the West replacing the old ‘Christian’ one. Western criticism on Russia is because of Western FRUSTRATION of their inability to subdue Russia into a semi-independent vassal that is of smaller size(maybe just confined to ‘European Russia’ – Siberia can be ‘donated’ to China as long as the West has a free hand in raping its natural resources) in which the political elites are under the tutelage of the wise ones in Washington, London and Brussels. Putin is a PERSONIFICATION of this Western failure and thus the object of complete hatred by the Western political elites. Western ‘attacks’ on Putin(or otthers like him) will never stop unless Russia becomes what these elites imagine it should be – a vassal ‘incorporated’ into the West.

    sinotibetan

    • Foppe says:

      That reply was also from kovane😉

    • kovane says:

      thank, sinotibetan, my pleasure. Although I’m still kind of mad at you – because I haven’t forgotten how you ignored my address to you in almost perfect Chinese earlier.🙂

      I wouldn’t sing hosannas to Putin for his alleged adamant stand against the West, he actually made more than enough concessions. Let’s not forget that a lion share of Russia’s reserves is invested in treasuries, and his closest allies are basking under the bright sun of Londongrad with their tight purses handy. But he is definitely trying to dance his own jig, which is something to be respected. His next term (if he get elected, ha-ha) is crucial in many respects, let’s hope he won’t blow it.

      • marknesop says:

        Interestingly on the reserves point, I read elsewhere that Kudrin offered to commit Russia’s reserves to buying up European debt.

        The origin is a little flaky, as Lyndon Larouche is something of a nutbar, but the source of his information is frequently reliable and this is suggested as not the first time Kudrin has made such an offer. Had you heard this before? It sounds incredibly risky to me, and quite a few “old” European countries must be feeling buyer’s remorse as regards the EU concept. By the way, the UK wouldn’t be one of them as they are lost in their own misery; the austerity budget thus far has proved a disaster and is merely strangling growth.

        • kovane says:

          Yes, this story hanged around in the headlines recently, but it’s hard to discern what is behind it so far. It could be a standard diplomatic curtsy, like “Of course we’re ready to participate in the saving of the EU” and then buying exactly 1 euro of the debt. Or actually unloading tons of money into a very dubious enterprise at best. Besides, Kudrin is kinda old news.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          The offer to buy European debt made by Kudrin is true. I commented about it on Anatoly’s blog link.

      • sinotibetan says:

        Dear kovane,
        “Although I’m still kind of mad at you – because I haven’t forgotten how you ignored my address to you in almost perfect Chinese earlier. ”
        I am truly sorry for that. It’s totally unintended. As I’ve said in Anatoly’s blog, I am not a Chinese from China but from Malaysia and I don’t really READ Chinese well, although I speak Mandarin. BTW, did you address me in Chinese here or in Sublime Oblivion? I think you and Anatoly’s written Mandarin has probably far surpassed mine.😦
        [language is never my forte]

        Regarding Putin and investment in treasuries…..well, I think it’s very difficult for any leader – be they occasionally antagonistic towards Washington – to shun the West entirely(nor should this be made into a policy!) and especially when the whole global economic system is Western-dominated and construct. I do agree with you that Putin is not without defects. As I’ve said some time in the past, Russia needs more political leaders who are CREDIBLE challengers to current ones(i.e. Putin predominantly) – certainly not the Nemtsov-type! I think that is one real challenge indeed(and it’s not specifically a Russian problem, I think it’s a problem in almost every nation).

        (something addressed to grafomanka as well)
        As to WHETHER Russia is a democracy or not – well, my opinion is Russia is indeed a democracy. Just like my country is one also. ‘Imperfect’ ones, though. But there are NO perfect democracies anywhere in the world and certainly not even the US can claim ‘democratic perfection’ or even the ‘best democratic model’ as she often does. One difference between Western democracies and so-called ‘undemocratic’ non-Western democracies , in my opinion, is the ‘subtlety’ in ‘managing the democracy’- to even think that Western politicians are lovable, innocent, dove-like pristine democrats while other non-Western politicians are dirty, corrupted pseudo-democrats would be plain naivete. I’d think that Western politicians do their lying(when some of them do so, that is) and politicking with greater finesse and subtlety, having grown accustomed with the ‘democratic process’. Authoritarian China would certainly appear crude and their obstruction to certain personal and political freedoms of Chinese citizens would appear (and are)repressive. ‘New democracies’ like Russia would have a Putin diving for a too-clean looking ‘artefact’ — in the West, they’d probably made sure those antiques really look ‘antiquated’ with some quip from a prominent academic or more likely such a ‘crude’ publicity would not be thought of at all!For example, I’d see my personal freedoms in Malaysia as not too bad compared to an average American(except with regards to racism being a Malaysian government policy and the lack of freedom of religion/beliefs – i.e. I cannot preach Christianity to Muslims but the reverse is encouraged, for example) and even in terms of ‘political freedoms’, I’d think an average American would always think that they actually have more political freedom than we poor Malaysians living in a ‘pseudo-democracy’. However, the latter is an ‘illusion’, in my opinion. Most of the opposing parties in Western nations are like two sides of the same coin. Eg. Democrats and Republicans – I agree they differ in some areas but in practical matters – whether foreign or domestic, they are pretty close. I’m not American nor have I ever been to the USA – but this is my observation as an outsider. Thus, Americans are luckier than the Chinese in China in having political choices(and thus remind them they live in a democratic nation) but I think those two choices aren’t great choices.

        Sorry for this rambling but what I’m trying to get at is that “American democracy” may not be so different from non-Western ‘pseudo-democracies’ and that electoral choices in Western nations may not be ‘greater’ than that of struggling nascent democracies like most Western media want many to believe. My opinion.

        sinotibetan

        • kovane says:

          sinotibetan,

          I was joking of course🙂 That was at True/slant, back when it was afloat.

          Can’t agree more on the real need for political competition.

  14. sinotibetan says:

    Anyway, any comments on Putin’s recent proposal of a ‘Eurasian Union’ – perhaps an EU-like organization?

    http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64282

    Sorry for my lack of comments nowadays. Very busy. Take care.

    sinotibetan

    • kievite says:

      I am not a specialist but I think that creation of this economic union is very difficult as nobody wants to play fair and due to this it can be costly for Russia and personally to Putin.

      This stage of development of the xUSSR space is dominated by rabid nationalist forces that are by definition strongly anti-Russian. This is often disguised as “search for national identity” and “anti-colonial sentiments” but the essence is the same: “Russians go home”.

      So I think there need to be a higher level of separation before some form of economic cooperation became politically possible. Now the specter of the “new USSR” dooms the efforts.

      Deepening of the current economic crisis might speed up the process. But most countries now realized that there is a possibility to balance pro-Kremlin moves with pro-Washington and pro-China moves to get some concessions from each player (althouth in case of Washington it proved to be pretty difficult; the USA played those republics like a master chess player) and you get the picture.

      Some former republics might be more cooperative that others. Kazakhstan might be one althouth anti-Russian feelings are widespread too and there is an islamist party that wants to exclude Russians from the republic. Some are close to lost case. For example Georgia under Saakashvili is one.

      Azerbaijan might be close to the lost case too as it fought with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh region, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagorno-Karabakh_War ), Armenia ia a Russian ally and althouth Russia was neutral in the conflict bad feelings exists.

      Turkmenistan also has distinct anti-Russian position and discriminates Russian ethnic minority access to education.

      The number of ethnic Russians who are forced to leave those republics annually due to nationalism is estimated to be around 10K. Might be much higher.

      Ukraine for all practical purposes is a Western colony with crushing debt so it does not have an independent foreign policy. Also significant percentage of Western Ukrainians wants Russians to be deported from the country (5-7% I think). In this respect Western Ukraine is closer to Baltic countries. As the same time large number of Ukrainians, including Western Ukrainians work in Russia and Ukraine strongly depends on money they bring to the country.

      One positive in this respect development is growing realistic assessment of the West and the USA and growing understanding that cut of economic ties with Russia dooms many of the remaining industrial facilities. But how effective this line of thinking can be for economic integration remains to be seen.

      • sinotibetan says:

        @kievite

        Thanks for your comments. Just some thoughts:-
        1. With the current difficulties engulfing the EU, why is Putin keen on an organization similar to it? I think EU is unworkable unless it devolves into a loose association of European nations OR European nations within EU cease to be sovereign states.
        2. I think Putin ,on the near term, is more interested in Ukraine joining the Customs Union and ultimately the Eurasian Union for mostly strategic reasons. Does the imprisonment of Tymoshenko present Russia with this opportunity?
        3. I think Kazakhstan has less anti-Russian sentiments compared to most Central Asian states and I think most Kazakhs are not in favour of Islamism. That said, why do you think Kazakhstan joined the Customs Union? Kazakh opposition leaders are against that union.
        4. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are said to be keen to join the Customs Union.
        http://en.trend.az/regions/casia/kyrgyzstan/1944379.html

        sinotibetan

  15. Evgeny says:

    I’ve read this blog post. Thanks to the both of you, Mark and kovane.

  16. yalensis says:

    Here is something truly interesting: Here is Ivan Marovic, leader of Serbian OTPOR movement (color-coded “revolutionary”) addressing the well-meaning hippie crowd occuping Wall Street. These naive anti-capitalist American youths obviously have no clue who this guy is and the fact that he is a paid agent of that very same Wall Street. Fortunately, many angry Serbs hopped onto the comment page of this you-tube video to unmask this imperialist double-agent. My Serbian is a little rusty now, but good enough to comprehend such comments as:

    IVANE IVANE,SISO SMRDLJIVA,I TU SU TE POSTAVILI DA LAZES I VARAS!!JEBEM TI MAMU IZDAJNICKU SLUGO MASONSKA!!ZNAMO BAGRO ZA KOGA RADIS!!!

    “Jebem ti mamu izdajnicku” — hey, Serbian is a lot like Russian!
    Here is another comment, this one in English:

    I am se SERBIAN and i was in OTPOR in 1990is,OTPOR is an CIA organisation!We were fighting for freedom for SERBIA but OTPOR brought us CORPORATION NEW WORLD ORDER MAFIA and CHEMTRAILS!

    DONT TRUST THEM,they now have best jobs in SERBIA and are propagating NATAO and EU!!They are HIJACKING every movement for REVOLUTION!They were in UKRAINE,GEORGIA,SERBIA,TUNESIA­,EGIPT , SYRIA,NOW IN US!

    ITS AN JESUIT ZIONIST MASONIC ORGANISATION!

    The FIST in the CIRCEL means that you will be FUCKED IN THE ASS!!

    Hmm… well, I doubt if OTPOR is either Jesuit, Zionist, or Masonic. But aside from that, everything else is true, including the bit about the fist in the circle…

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Soros expressed his sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street protesters. It’ll be a very big fist.

      • yalensis says:

        So, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a Soros project? I am shocked! I thought this was a spontaneous eruption of alienated American youth. But then I am a gullible type – when Tunisia revolution first started, I also thought that was spontaneous, but then turns out it was OTPOR all along. Same deal with Egypt. Same deal with Libya. And when I watched “Sixth Sense”, I was really surprised by the twist at the end when I learned that Bruce Willis was a ghost.
        What is Soros’ angle in OWS, I wonder? I am trying to figure this out, and it kind of doesn’t make sense. But I have 2 theories:
        (1) to help Obama re-election? [Not sure about this theory; American voters not usually influenced by hippie street mobs, but maybe Soros doesn’t realize that, he is a European, and they are more tolerant towards rebellious youth.]
        (2) some kind of power play against a Soros banking rival? [Not sure about this one either…]
        Either way, there must be some devious plot going on, because where there is OTPOR, there is Soros, and where there is Soros, trouble is sure to follow…

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          I can’t say that it is a Soros project, or if he is just trying to hijack it. US conservative media are sure about the former option, i.e. that OWS is not grassroots but “limousine liberal” astroturfing, see this as an example. Just like the progressive media are sure that the Tea Parties are conservative astroturfing.
          Either way, the fact that US elites are resorting to grassroots movements/astroturfing for their infighting is an ominous sign that things aren’t going well.

          • hoct says:

            Two original and well laid out views of the demonstrations:

            One

            Two

            • Giuseppe Flavio says:

              Thanks, interesting readings. It looks like that the OWS movement is made by middle class left-leaning people that feel they’re sliding into poverty. Just like the Tea Parties, with the difference that these are made by right-leaning people. I think that, like the Tea Parties were absorbed by the Republican party, making it more extreme, the OWS will be absorbed by the Democratic party, with similar results.
              What strikes me the most about the Tea Parties/OWS people, is their refusal to talk to each other. “Brainwashed idiot” and “Socialist scrounger” is what they think about each other.

            • yalensis says:

              Thanks for the info and links. I’m starting to get a clearer picture of this curious OWS phenomenon. The right-wing Tea-baggers are idiots, of course, but their intuition that this whole thing is a puppet show orchestrated by Obama is probably correct. It fits in with his fake populism and acts as safety valve to let off steam and prevent explosion by the forces whom the oligarchs truly fear: labor, poor people, unemployed African Americans.
              If these narcissistic middle-class youth down on Wall Street really want to change the world and build themselves a society in which they have guaranteed jobs and a debt-free college education, then: They need to break away from Democratic Party, become true steely-eyed communists and, for starters, demand nationalization of the banks. I have a feeling they won’t do that, especially if Soros/OTPOR are financing them.
              Their call for taxing of millionaires is silly, and just mimics Obama’s proposed “Warren Buffett” law. Sure, millionaries should be taxed to within an inch of their lives, no argument there. But it won’t raise that much money, in the scheme of things, and is a lame substitute for real structural changes.
              Like I said, demand to “nationalize the banks”, and then I will start to take you seriously, damn hippies!

            • Foppe says:

              Sorry, but that is simply ideological crap (Spiked is run by a bunch of right-wing libertarians.). See, e.g. this post by Glenn Greenwald for a generic rebuttal.
              If you want to know what OWS stands for, better to read this op/ed by David Graeber (he’s part of the movement, afaik) in the Guardian (UK), or “OWS is a church of dissent, not a protest” and “Welcome to the Police State: NYC Cops Mace Peaceful Protestors Against Wall Street“.
              This has some background on the anti-hierarchical consensual deliberative processes they’re using, this is a decent column by Krugman which has some more info, and this is a nice speech by Naomi Klein that should give you a further hint as to what’s going on.
              One of the more interesting things about OWS is that they have so far refused to put out a list of “demands”, and this has flummoxed most of the media types. As a result, the media keeps calling for the “maturation” of the movement, as though this must happen before it can be taken seriously.. Never mind that they’re getting huge amounts of attention already, and never mind that it is quite obvious what at least some of the issues might be. But once they would do make a list, then the bargaining would have to start, whereas now, everyone is trying to appease them, which gives them a far stronger position that they would have if they behaved in “the proper way”.

              • Foppe says:

                Or “Why #OccupyWallStreet Doesn’t Support Obama: His “Nothing to See Here” Stance on Bank Looting

                Despite the efforts of some liberal pundits and organizers (and by extension, the Democratic party hackocracy) to lay claim to OccupyWallStreet, the nascent movement is having none of it. Participants are critical of the President’s bank-coddling ways and Obama gave a remarkably bald-face confirmation of their dim views.
                As Dave Dayen recounts, Obama was cornered into explaining why his Administration has been soft of bank malfeasance. His defense amounted to “They’re savvy businessmen”: “Banks are in the business of making money, and they find loopholes.”
                Is breaking IRS rules a “loophole”? How about making repeated false certifications in SEC filings? Or as Dayen points out, fabricating documents? Or making wrongful foreclosures, aka stealing houses?

                Their chief target is Wall Street, but many of the demonstrators in New York and across the U.S. also are thoroughly disgusted with Washington, blaming politicians of both major parties for policies they say protect corporate America at the expense of the middle class.
                “At this point I don’t see any difference between George Bush and Obama. The middle class is a lot worse than when Obama was elected,” said John Penley, an unemployed legal worker from Brooklyn.
                The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began last month with a small number of young people pitching a tent in front of the New York Stock Exchange, has expanded nationally and drawn a wide variety of activists, including union members and laid-off workers. Demonstrators marched Thursday in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Anchorage, Alaska, carrying signs with slogans such as “Get money out of politics” and “I can’t afford a lobbyist.”

                • marknesop says:

                  It is part (maybe all) of the Republican strategy to make the electorate disgusted with Washington, in the hope of once again seizing power on a wave of “throw the bums out”. This is achieved through lockstep obstruction of every single initiative brought to the floor, even if a win would not be tactically significant or if allowing the bill to pass would be of immediate benefit to ordinary Americans including – especially – the enraged middle class. It is a simple and verifiable fact that the slide in lost jobs stopped as soon as Obama took over, and slowly began to reverse. It is now back in positive territory, although a country with a population the size of America’s needs a hundred thousand new jobs every month just to stay even. But the suggestion the middle class is worse off is just plain wrong, although such quotes probably make the Republicans rub their hands together with glee.

                  If Americans fall for the old bait and switch again and elect a Republican government, they will be sorry. For one thing, the Republicans have no jobs plan. At all. For another,. even a tax on millionaires will not happen, because they are part of the Republican sugar tit that keeps them fat and sassy and able to say “We know how you feel” without laughing when they talk to the middle class even though none of them are actually part of it.

                  A study reported in the New York Times, conducted by a reputable researcher, compared Republican administrations and Democratic administrations from 1948 to 2007, over 26 years of Democratic rule against 34 Republican. It concluded that growth averaged out at almost double under Democrats what it was under Republicans, and that the difference over 8 years would equate to a 9.3% difference in average income. Nobody except the very, very rich saw anything close to that from Bush’s tax cuts.

                  Although Obama supported the bank bailout, the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) was actually signed into law by Bush.

                  Obama gets little to no credit for anything he achieves because of the barrage from the noise machine. History will reveal him as a pretty good and relatively progressive president whose agenda was shamelessly sandbagged by the Republicans. It’s hard to say what state America will be in by the time it realizes this, because I doubt it’ll survive another Republican administration. Their plans are for more of the same – more tax cuts, more alienation of the rest of the world and more throwing their weight around. And there’s only so much money, so there’s only so long they could keep it up. And sticking a thumb in Russia’s eye will only make oil prices go up.

              • hoct says:

                Foppe, I know who Spiked is run by, I read it every day. The fact it is ran by a “bunch of libertarians” is hardly going to make me turn on my heels and run away in disgust, I am a libertarian myself. Spiked is a magnificent outlet that regularly produces absolute classics like The rise of the laptop bombardier or Face it, the FSB is just not that into you . Especially important for me is their informed and courageous coverage of issues relating to former Yugoslavia. In fact its precursor magazine was shut down by British courts for exposing the fake Bosnia death camp photo.

                I’ll be sure to check out the Glenn Greenwald piece as I value his opinion, just as sure as I I’m going to skip the Guardian op/ed, I have very little interest in reading an outlet that was in the absolute forefront of the campaign to satanize and bomb Yugoslavia.

                • Foppe says:

                  That is up to you, of course. It may well be that they can report decently on issues that happened in Yugoslavia; I am, however, unimpressed with their coverage of stuff happening closer to home.
                  Let me qualify my earlier statement, though, as I did not make it clear before that my suggestion that these articles are “ideological crap” does not come simply from the fact that they were published in Spiked. I did read the articles first; it is just that I then became interested in answering the question why they are so utterly misleading when it comes to describing the mind-set of the protestors.
                  Having said that, even if you ignore the piece published in the Guardian (which strikes me as rather silly, as Graeber is about as far from an ‘establishment liberal’ as they get), this still leaves a number of other links that are all quite worth reading. I would encourage you to read them, before dismissing OccupyWallStreet as being organized by petulant or spoiled children.

                • hoct says:

                  What is silly is how you were trying to scare me and others away from the Spiked pieces in a veritable ‘aaarg-there-be-right-wingers’ panic mode, but then suggested something from an outlet that was instrumental in bombing my people. Classic!

                  I’d qualify my statement, but I need to keep this civil.

                • Foppe says:

                  Yes, I should’ve simply focused on the fact that the articles you linked to offered incorrect information; however, I had encountered a spiked article once before (about British politics), and it too was crap, hence my assumption it has something to do with the ideological leanings of the authors/editors. It may well be that they are more accurate when writing about government abuse in foreign countries (since they presumably dislike their own governments), but it seems that they are quite dishonest when writing about stuff happening closer to home.

                • yalensis says:

                  I have noticed a curious phenomenon that some right-wing sources (that I wouldn’t agree with otherwise on any other issue) have been consistently CORRECT and PRINCIPLED about Yugoslavia. In fact, they opposed the Clinton-Kosovo thing from the very beginning. They made a movie called “Wag the Dog” which satirized the Clinton-liberal war in Kosovo. Anybody have any theories why they can so wrong about other stuff, but so right about Serbia?
                  P.S. (hoct + Foppe) please be friends, I like both of you, you both have very good comments.

                • hoct says:

                  Yalensis, that is hard for me to say without you providing a specific example from among these sources. It is for example conceivable they are right about other things as well, and it is you who is in the wrong.

                  Secondly, what made you think of this now? I hope it is understood that just because I am not arguing with Foppe on it does not mean I concede the point that Spiked is crap on issues other than Yugoslavia. On the contrary, I find it excellent on most things.

                  Also, it doesn’t come close to being right-wing. I let that characterization stand because it did not matter to the subject at hand, but in reality it is run by former members of the now defunct Revolutionary Communist Party (UK), traces its lineage to Living Marxism Magazine and specifically opposes Capitalism. Normally good libertarians are neither left, nor right wing, but that’s certainly not true for the devoted leftists editing Spiked.

  17. cartman says:

    Reuters declares that Medvedev is echoing Stalin in a speech to United Russia. Stalin!

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/08/us-russia-medvedev-party-idUSTRE7971GM20111008

    Or maybe he was inspired by a motivational poster. Hang in there, baby!

    • yalensis says:

      In related news, Angela Merkel called on the German people to work hard to re-elect herself and her party: “Arbeiten fur die Partie! Arbeiten fur ihren Fuhrer! Arbeiten! Arbeiten” thus evoking still-raw memories of Adolph Hitler.

  18. yalensis says:

    Continuing hoct/Foppe thread on OWS movement with some thoughts of my own:
    Many of the OWS protesters are obviously great people, some even with great ideas. And I regard Naomi Klein as one of the good guys, no doubt about that. I wonder if she knows who OTPOR is, and with whom she is sharing the stage?
    In my reading of American history, the only time a mass student movement did NOT become coopted into Democratic Party was toward end of 1960’s. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), started off in early 60’s as a liberal-left (mostly) white student movement. One of their major issues was Vietnam War and draft. Later, they also formed alliances with African-American civil rights movements. Towards end of 1960’s, under leadership of Mike Klonsky, there was a moment when a reporter approached Klonsky and asked him, very timidly, if he was aware that “communists” had infiltrated SDS. Klonsky replied: “What you talkin’ about, dude, we’re ALL communists here. So quit your shuckin’ and jivin’…” Indeed, SDS had split into 3 major factions, all self-identified communist (with a small “c”). Mostly Maoist, actually, with several smaller factions self-identified as Trotskyist or even Stalinist Classic. When they marched against Vietnam war, they waved red flags with hammer and sickle and openly called for victory of North Vietnam over American army, chanting: “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, NLF is gonna win!”
    Openly communistic leanings of movement, plus SDS alliance with black-panther party, saved them from becoming a wing of the Democratic Party. Dems did not want to have anything to do with them, and viciously suppressed them at 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, with all possible police brutality.
    Based on this history, OWS can go in one of two directions: (1) they can become community organizers for Obama’s re-election campaign, or (2) they could get truly radical and start to demand, e.g., nationalization of banks and government buying up their personal debt. They then could start reading Marx and chanting communist slogans. Would be fun to watch look of horror on Soros’ face.
    Either way, I am betting money that there will be factional split in this movement very shortly. History shows that ALL movements based on “consensus” and “lack of hierarchy” inevitably split into factions. Also inevitably the most “libertarian” and “consensus”-based faction always ends up coming under the control of a charismatic leader.

    • Foppe says:

      Given that they’ve (OWS anyway) already indicated they think Obama is a snake oil salesman, I doubt (1) will come to pass, unless the movement indeed is hijacked. But basically, time is their friend, in that the slower they grow, the bigger the chance that a coherent core set of ideas will start to circulate, which is not dependent for its input on the news being peddled by the MSM.

      • marknesop says:

        Say, folks; our hit-counter took a jump this morning on searches for “Tymoshenko”. You can probably guess why – the verdict is in: guilty. Tymoshenko was found guilty by the Pechersky court of exceeding her authority (which she most certainly did if the allegation is true – as apparently it is – that she forced a subordinate to sign the deal after the Verkhovna Rada refused to support it) and of costing the country 1.5 Billion Hryvnia.

        This has implications far beyond the immediate, although she could get 10 years. More importantly, as a convicted felon, she cannot stand for election next year. Of course, her supporters shout that this was the whole motivation for the trial, as if she did nothing wrong. Also, it will have a direct – and likely negative – impact on Ukraine’s bid for EU association.

        • Foppe says:

          Yeah, our equivalent of the nyt already called her “The Ukrainian gasprincess” today, though the article is fairly ambiguous (muddled presentation) and lacking a lot of background information.

        • yalensis says:

          My darling Yulichka… my blonde-braided goddess… that brute Yanukovich is is going to put her in a CAGE?

          • Seven years… ouch.

            Though, talking of cages, as a Facebook friend pointed out, the silver lining are the inevitable hot prison fantasies related to Tymoshenko.

            • yalensis says:

              Yeah! They will make a movie called “HOT UKRAINIAN GIRLS GO WILD IN PRISON!” There will be some hair-pulling cat-fights, a prison riot, ass-kicking kung fu, and also a lot of snuggling in bunk beds. Yulichka must have her golden tresses braided every morning by her special “bunk-girl”.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          There is an interesting analysis on RIA Novosti about Tymoshenko’s verdict. According to the author, it is a kind of “Khodorkovsky’s arrest” moment for Ukraine. He reports that “Over the last year and a half, criminal charges were brought against 78 members of the former government” (78!) and that according to a recent poll “46% of respondents see the charges against Tymoshenko as justified, while 34% think that the trial is politically motivated. Only 13% were prepared to protest in support of Tymoshenko” and actually only 2000 supporters protested outside the courthouse.

          • yalensis says:

            Yeh, if this is a “Khodorkovsky” moment for Ukraine, then European outrage might well push Yanukovich back into arms of Kremlin. Heh heh heh! Those idiot Europeans don’t know how to treat Slavic leaders with respect. They already alienated Lukashenko, they could have had him at “hello”, but instead insisted on berating and insulting him.
            If I were Yanukovich’s advisor, I would advise him: “Orient back towards Russia, but bargain hard. Putin wants you more than you want him. Offer him recognition of Ossetia/Abkhazia in return for cheap gas.”

            • Giuseppe Flavio says:

              I agree that ideological idiocy plays a big part in such decision, but I would add that there are economic reasons as well. A country like Ukraine in the EU would add a lot of expenses in aids to the underdeveloped regions, with the added risk of getting a bigger version of Greece. There are already open talks about jettisoning the PIIGS out of the Eurozone, so the idea to add Ukraine could only be considered in a distant future.
              Re. cheap gas, to my knowledge the condition has been already given: enter the Custom Union along with Belarus and Kazakistan.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Given that they’ve (OWS anyway) already indicated they think Obama is a snake oil salesman, I doubt (1) will come to pass
        Foppe, protesters like these made much more radical statements during the ’68 “rebellion”, claiming to be Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyist/Maoist/etc. but, besides a few that really remained true to their words, they lived comfortable middle-class lifes and their bosses entered the “bourgeois political establishment”, often with right wing parties.

        • Foppe says:

          that is, of course, true.

        • kievite says:

          Actually Former Trotskyites played important role in the revitalization of Republican Party.

          Particularly James Burnham, brought a strong tendency towards viewing all political national questions purely in ideological terms and rejected the idea of fair play. The idea of ‘export of democracy’ is a modification of Trotsky original idea of “exporting revolution” using bayonets. Michael Lind in the New Statesman from April 2004 wrote that, “…neoconservative defense intellectuals…call their revolutionary ideology ‘Wilsonianism’ (after President Woodrow Wilson), but it is really Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism”.

          They also introdued the new level of understanding of political struggle and first of all the preeminent importance of total control of media and courts.

          James Burnham in his book, The Machiavellians, argued and developed his theory that the emerging new élite would better serve its own interests if it retained some democratic trappings — some weakened opposition, illusion of “free press” and a controlled “circulation of the elites.”

          From National Review:

          “…..This path had been pioneered much earlier by two Trotskyists: James Burnham, who became a founder of National Review, and Irving Kristol, who worked on Encounter magazine. Burnham was joined at NR by Suzanne LaFollette, who, piquantly enough, retained some copyrights to Trotskyist material until her death. But they were not the only people on the right who remained, in some degree, sentimental about their left-wing past. Willmoore Kendall, for example, was, as I recall, a lifelong contributor to relief for Spanish radical leftist refugees living in France. Above all, Burnham and Kristol, in a certain sense, did not renounce their pasts. They acknowledged that they had evolved quite dramatically away from their earlier enthusiasms. But they did not apologize, did not grovel, did not crawl and beg forgiveness for having, at one time, been stirred by the figure of Trotsky……”

          • yalensis says:

            Okay (sighing wearily), I gotta stand up for Trotsky again. Trotsky had his issues, but really should not be blamed for the treachery of some of his ex-followers like Burnham, people who switched sides in the class war from supporting proletariat to supporting bourgeoisie. Any more than it would fair to blame Stalin for subsequent careers of analogous renegades, who made the same evolution. (For example, Browder, among others…)
            I would concede that ex-Trotskyists make more effective imperialists than ex-Stalinists, because Trotskyists are generally more intelligent and have a clearer view of political/economic relationships. Stalinists tend to be lower-IQ people who think in more simplistic black/white terms and cannot handle shades of gray. When a Stalinist flips, he becomes a petty crook out to make a buck by selling his past. When a Trotskyist flips, he becomes a formidable opponent to oppressed masses of the world.
            I would go further and say that ANY kind of Marxist intellectual training, however rudimentary, can be a devastating weapon if placed in the wrong hands. Christopher Hitchens said the same thing once in an interview: He said that his early training as a Marxist (which he no longer is, as he now roots for international imperialism) helps him correctly analyze objective forces and relationships in the world in a way that, say, your typical anti-intellectual capitalist propagandist is incapable of doing.

      • yalensis says:

        @Foppe: I hope you are right, that OWS movement realizes Obama is “snake oil salesman.” If they are tempted to join his campaign organizers, they should remember how he stabbed Acorn in the back: He used this African-American community organization (=Acorn) to bring out the vote for him in 2008, and then abruptly disbanded them later, after a fake scandal.

  19. yalensis says:

    Julian Assange interview with RT some interesting thoughts on Libya war:

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