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Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

It’s been a few months now since Yuri Luzhkov, the gay-bashing, Ukraine-baiting, environment-hating corrupt loser who had been Moscow’s mayor since 1992, was sacked. He was quickly replaced by an undistinguished Kremlin apparatchik called Sergei Sobyanin. Sobyanin took one of his first independent strides last week when he decided to close down and cart off a huge number of Moscow’s small galaxy of street kiosks. Apparently, he visited a metro station and decided that kiosks were blocking his view of a monument. So with the stroke of a pen, this functionary of the supposedly democratic Russian state took the sort of anti-human authoritarian destructive action his forebears have been taking for centuries, just that they were more open in their intentions as they styled themselves monarchists and communists.

It was a happy day for me when I read just a few days later that some of the kiosk owners had protested and upon further examination, it turned out that Sobyanin’s suggested interpretation of the law was far too broad, so the kiosks will be allowed to return.

This happiness was short-lived, though. What of the vendors who had their kiosks torn down and carted off? What of the vendors who lost a few days of prime business as the holidays approach? And what of the reality that it will be incredibly easy for the apparatchiki running Moscow to draft a new, properly extensive version of this law and ban the kiosks again in a matter of days or months?

These kiosks were causing no one any harm. They were on public property. As our reader Joe pointed out in response to the Fred Phelps controversy, this is one of the reasons why it would be nice to get rid of public property–so that private property owners would have full control over what and who to allow to use their land. But in the conditions  in which we live, these people were just trying to eke out a living and the state came in and crushed them just so they could have a better view of a monument.

And if you think this is a Russian phenomenon, I would just like to ask you to explain eminent domain to me.

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Well, it’s been too long again, dear readers. I return to coverage with another large accumulation of internet curiosities to share with you.

  • Glenn Greenwald: Meet Jacob Appelbaum, the Free Bradley Manning advocate who was stopped at customs on his return from Mexico and had all of his electronics confiscated. He wouldn’t give up the encryption keys, but the bottom line is that thousands of dollars in property have not been returned to him in more than four months. All because he visited Bradley Manning in jail. But hey, this isn’t a police state, guys!
  • The Vienna Review: Vienna’s famous and beloved coffee shops are under assault thanks to Austria’s adherence to EU-wide anti-smoking directives. Fascism is worse on national level than a local level, worse on a transnational level than a national level, and worst on a global level. We’re already to the transnational point. How long until we reach the global one? It is repulsive to see private property owners told how they can define owner-client relationships based on mutual consent, but even more sickening when it involves beloved cultural institutions.
  • Jacob Sullum at Reason: The FDA is proposing to mandate the addition of graphic illustrations of cancer patients to cigarette packaging. Burn in hell, you losers! Even if you hate smoking, you should hate even more the spectacle of a bunch of useless bureaucrats trying to make themselves relevant by thinking up new ways to punish private corporations that sell products to adults.
  • Via LewRockwell.com, Orlando Sentinel: It’s an old story at this point, but Orlando cops decided to “protect and serve” by arresting barbers at unlicensed shops. In one case, 14 armed thugs raided one shop. Does that make you feel tough, you bullies? They arrested 37 barbers in all. I guess it is nice that the state decided to be so blatant in playing their role in their symbiotic relationship with the licensed barber cartel.
  • NYT: God, I wish this was a joke–Britain is now going to require the recording of all conversations conducted on the work cellphones of investment bankers and traders. This is like if the Stasi moved to modern-day Britain and wanted to monitor phone calls, but they were too lazy so they subcontracted the work out to the employers of the relevant people. Predictably, people aren’t up in arms because they hate bankers that much. The bad news is this is a gross extension of the surveillance state. The good news is that it will be laughably easy to circumvent. Stupid statists, always a step too slow.
  • NYT: A Michigan town is seeking donations to its budget from non-profits in its jurisdiction. I like that they are at least not being coercive about it, but here’s a better idea for how to balance your city  budget: fire people! Lots of them. In fact, fire all of them.
  • Via Andrew Sullivan, StopTheDrugWar.org: A couple had their newborn taken away by protective services goons for five days because the mother submitted a positive drug test. A lot of people are angry because she tested positive due to a poppy seed bagel. I’m angry that mothers are getting children taking away for drug test results at all! Do you really think smoking a bowl makes someone a bad parent? If yes, this is the wrong blog for you.
  • NYT: I didn’t even read this story about NATO deciding to extend their stay in Afghanistan until at least 2014. I began seething as soon as I saw the photo of a beaming Karzai sitting across a table from the gleeful warmongers Obama and Petraeus. Of course Karzai is smiling! He is now guaranteed four more years as the mayor of Kabul, four more years of secret cash from Iran, four more years of secret cash being stored in Dubai, four more years of protection for his dope-baron half-brother in Kandahar. And for Obama and Petraeus, well, they get to continue to see American teenagers killed and killing innocents in a foreign land. What could make an imperialist happier?
  • William Grigg: Grigg always does the best police brutality write-ups–“the city’s most violent street gang —  the El Paso Police Department.” In this case, an El Paso cop, sirens off, cut off a man who wrecked his motorcycle into him. The man was grievously injured and also got charged with evading arrest. The cop served a brief paid administrative leave and is now up for promotion. It’s their country, we just live in it.
  • The Globe & Mail: Poor Canadian PM Stephen Harper said he “didn’t really want to do it, but felt compelled to bend” and keep Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan beyond his original deadline. Poor Steve! This spineless coward should be embarrassed to even spout such intelligence-insulting muck. What we are doing in Afghanistan is wrong. Shame on Harper for going along with it, whether it’s because he’s a lapdog of American imperialism or because he wanted to coopt soft imperialist liberal interventionist Michael Ignatieff’s position.
  • The Globe & Mail: Canadian resident Saeed Malekpour is being held on a death sentence in Iran…for allegedly running a porn site. “Allegedly” is key–his confession was coerced. He’s already been in jail since October 2008. He could yet be killed for something that, at worst, was an expression of free speech and, at best, he didn’t even do.
  • NYT: Briton Paul Chambers was found guilty of causing a “menace” and fined $4,800 for a joke he made on Twitter. He made the mistake of joking about bombing an airport. That might be a stupid thing to do, but it’s an expression of free speech that only a bunch of terrorist-obsessed loony tunes like the Anglo-American governments would bother to violate. And don’t even think of mentioning Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. or I might vomit.
  • St. Petersburg Times: In late summer, Russia banned the once-ubiquitous currency exchange booths. It made me angry at the time, so I am glad to see that the entrepreneurs behind the booths basically just found a loophole and spit in the state’s eye. Good for them!
  • Der Spiegel: Earlier reports were that Namibian airport officials had found a luggage bomb sent from Germany. Nope! Turns out that it was one of the state’s own test bombs. Part of me wants to laugh at the ineptitude of these fools, but a much larger part of me is angry because I know that it was the first headline that mattered, not the later correction. People have been scared again, lost rights will probably follow.
  • Jacob Sullum at Reason: My new home state of Washington banned the caffeinated beer drink Four Loko recently. Basically, some kids got sick at a party and annoying public health bullies talked about how dangerous the drink was, so now an entire state of people won’t have the option of buying this beverage because three old hags on our state’s Liquor Control Board decided it was dangerous. I hate these kneejerkers who just think they are giving the people what they want. Stand up for freedom, you scum!
  • Pat Buchanan: Taking on Helicopter Ben’s massive campaign of inflation Quantitative Easing II. It’s too bad Buchanan quotes Sarah Palin, but he did have this one really great section–

    But “sit on cash” is a definition of saving. Is saving bad? Once, Americans were taught that saving was a good thing.

    Not to Krugman. He wants to panic the public into believing the money they have put into savings accounts and CDs will be rapidly eaten up by Fed-created inflation, so they will run out and spend that money now to get the economy moving again.

    Whatever the economics of this, the morality of it is appalling.

  • Glenn Greenwald: Vintage Greenwald–if giving terrorists civilian trials was about restoring the Constitution and getting rid of the Bush legacy, does Obama’s recent decision to put off indefinitely Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s civilian trial mean he is violating the Constitution? It’s pretty appalling to see how the Left went from being totally anti-torture under Bush to pro-torture, pro-naked scanners, pro-everything under Obama. This isn’t a partisan issue.
  • St. Petersburg Times: Just ignore the title (“Russia Could Have Been China”–like being a corporate fascist state would be a good thing) and this is a great piece. It’s a debunking of all the people who say dumb things like, “Oh, what Stalin did was horrible, but it was the only way to get Russia over the hump and into modernity.” Did Stalin kill a ton of slave laborers in building things like the Moscow Metro, the dam at Dnipropetrovsk, and the Belomorkanal? Yeah, and those things did get built. But was that the only way they could have been built? Hell no. Late imperial Russia was actually one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

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As promised, here’s the links I owed you from last night.

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NYT:

About 7.5 percent of Estonia’s 1.35 million people are stateless. Their “alien’s passports” allow them to enter many European countries without visas, just like Estonian citizens, though they tend to face more bureaucratic hurdles. In Estonia, they cannot vote in federal elections or hold some jobs.

And why are they stateless? The vast majority are ethnic Russians who didn’t leave Estonia when the USSR crumbled and haven’t passed Estonian language and citizenship tests. Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language and not an especially easy one to tackle for speakers of Indo-European tongues like English or Russian, but I’d agree with the ethnic Estonians that a lot of the ethnic Russians haven’t given it much of a good faith effort, either because they are too old or because they’re too stuck in a one-way “our older brother Russia” bilingualism that predominated in the Soviet Union.

But the idea that Estonia finds it productive to keep nearly 10% of its permanent residents disenfranchised and carrying stateless passports two decades on seems ridiculous.

So how does this apply in the American context? Imagine that the stateless ethnic Russians in Estonia are the children of illegal immigrants born in this country if Lindsey Graham has his way and gets rid of birthright citizenship. Is it going to benefit the U.S. when 10% of our population consists of people carrying Mexican passports by birth who have never even set foot in Mexico, or people who don’t have a state at all? Will they riot like the Russians do in Estonia or will they just be unable to participate in society and sit around and rot?

Estonia could stand to incorporate its Russian citizens better, but no matter what, let its example of convoluted citizenship laws serve as a lesson to those who would seek to get rid of a constitutionally-protected system that works here in America.

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  • Juan Cole: the good doctor picks up the absurd story of congressmen trying to freeze aid to Lebanon because of alleged military links to Hezbollah and just shreds it. It turns out that the allegedly Hezbollah-friendly Lebanese army is in large part run by Maronite Christians and is in fact helping counteract Hezbollah in the Lebanese south. But hey, blocking aid to Lebanon over one dead Israeli soldier whilst not blocking aid to Israel over invading and bombing the whole of Lebanon makes perfect sense.
  • NYT: Air Force looks to use DADT to get rid of a Lt. Col. with twenty years of service who was outed by a false sexual assault charge. Even if this guy was a first-year recruit who couldn’t do ten pushups, DADT would still be a ridiculously stupid violation of civil rights. That he is as decorated as he is makes it seem even dumber. Let’s all pretend like the Obama administration isn’t dragging their feet over chucking DADT. Oh, and NYT writer James Dao–I saw what you did there, putting the guy’s quote about “wanting to get back in the cockpit” as your punny conclusion.
  • The Western Standard: mocking the pro-processed nanny state recommendations of Health Canada. I love when the state arbitrarily decides that raw milk (consumed for all of human history) is evil and dangerous, yet frankenfoods genetically modified in a lab and raised on a factory farm are good for us. I wonder if it has anything to do with the big money and power of the factory farm lobby versus the utter lack of power of small farmers.
  • NYT: Ohio farmers reach an agreement with animal rights’ groups over animal living conditions on factory farms. I think this is a great story because it didn’t even have to come down to legislation. Sure, there was a threat of legislation, but both groups realized it was in their interest to work together to find a compromise. It’s a shame that the agreement won’t ban already-existing cramped caging situations and some measures won’t come into effect for years, but at least it’s a state compulsion-free attempt at reaching a better solution.
  • The Independent: David Cameron utilizes Thaler-Sunstein nudge theory. Ugh. Protip: the words “libertarian” and “paternalism” don’t belong together. I love that the example of a nudge they give in this piece is fake flies in the urinal at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and how it improved aim. I’m ok with that sort of nudge because it doesn’t take my money to show me the way to make choices. What I’m not ok with is jacking the cost of cigarettes past $10/pack in NYC because it’s for our own good, and that’s the sort of nudge that Cameron and other do-gooders care about.
  • The Moscow Times: Prosecutor General’s Office admits that 90% of Russian prisoners are sick. Maybe it’s because more than half of prison medical equipment “is obsolete.” Maybe it’s the fact that the gulag has been replaced by the zona in name only. The American penal system is the scourge of the first world, but the Russian system is bad enough to make ours look decent by comparison. Of course, that doesn’t mean we have any plans to stop shackling pregnant inmates during childbirth.
  • NYT: home equity loan delinquency rate is the highest of all American commercial loan categories. I love this one property speculator quoted in the story: “I was taught in real estate that you use your leverage to grow. I never dreamed the properties would go from $265,000 to $65,000.” Maybe that was your problem, pal–you didn’t consider the potentially negative consequences of your actions.
  • The Globe & Mail: great news out of British Columbia, where the anti-harmonized sales tax (HST) movement has just been informed they gathered enough signatures to force a legislative re-vote or referendum. It might not seem like a big deal to combine a 5% sales tax with a 7% sales tax to create one 12% tax, but the reality is that BC’s government was beyond underhanded in how they handled the whole situation and the HST applies to a much wider range of goods and services. Already, July witnessed a 10% drop in newly-taxed restaurant revenues. Now I just hope the anti-HST petitioners make good on their pledge to start pursuing recalls against individual MLAs who supported the tax.
  • The Globe & Mail: headline–“How the Geneva Conventions are changing.” I wish the sub-headline had been something like “Investigating how the U.S. government is eviscerating them.” The money quote is this painfully simple explanation of one of the debates that has been plaguing the American chattering classes for the past few years:

    How do the conventions apply in a place like Guantanamo Bay?

    That’s a good example of how the conventions have evolved. The Bush administration [in 2006] asserted that because the Taliban and al-Qaeda don’t follow the rules of the Geneva Conventions, they don’t get any of their protections.

    And activists would assert that’s not fair.

    Yes. The Bush administration claimed that there’s a new category called unlawful enemy combatants, which gets none of the benefits of being a combatant and gets none of the benefits of being a civilian, therefore you can do whatever you want to them. The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to say ‘No, everyone falls under something in the Geneva Conventions. You’re either a civilian or a combatant.’ So the people in Guantanamo Bay either are civilians who shouldn’t have been fighting and can be punished for that, but as civilians they get human rights. Or they’re combatants who were breaking some rules, but they still get prisoner of war status.

    You have to love the Bushies for their shameless creativity, non? “Hey guys, if they have rules for civilians and combatants, let’s create a fake new class called ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ so we can make our own rules!” God, how I hope one of those soulless crooks tries to go to Europe again and they succeed in arresting him where they failed with Rumsfeld.

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This summer is the hottest since Russia began keeping records in the 19th century. It’s already come with disastrous consequences, such as the thousands of people who have drowned whilst trying to keep out of the heat and the super drought ravaging Russian agricultural production, both of which were discussed already by The Country Estate here. Things have continued to deteriorate this week–at least 48 people have died in forest fires, not to mention the untold damage to property.

The Russian leadership hasn’t responded too well to the crisis. NYT covers Putin’s knee-jerk decision to ban grain exports today. This silly little bit of nationalist economics pushed world grain prices higher. Hooray for world hunger! Der Spiegel did a much wider-ranging piece with real feedback from Russians on the crisis, too. The best analytical bit of Der Spiegel’s article:

However, the Russian government shares at least some of the blame for allowing the fires to spread so quickly. During Vladmir Putin’s presidency, the forestry service was practically dismantled. The 70,000 forest rangers who might have registered the fires and even been able to put them out had all been let go.

And the fire-fighting infrastructure has also been scandalously neglected. There are only 22,000 professional fire fighters in the whole of Russia, compared to more than 27,000 in Germany, a far smaller country. And there is nothing like the system of volunteer fire fighters, such as the one in Germany that encompasses 1 million people. In addition, Russia’s fire-fighting vehicles and equipment are often outmoded. Many people in Russia’s provinces have had to defend their villages and homes against the flames on their own, at times using their bare hands.

There’s money enough to wage wars in Georgia and support stupidly inefficient spy rings in America, but not enough to keep up to snuff a fire-fighting force charged with protecting the biggest and (occasionally) most beautiful country in the world. Fantastic work, Putin.

More than anything, I’m just hoping the temperature returns to normal and the rain clouds roll in ASAP. Russians have suffered far too much in their history. This sort of natural disaster is the last thing they need.

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