Russia and its “Danger Games”

Cynics on Russia though we may be, not even we dared to dream that Russia could humiliate itself so badly in the conduct of the Winter Olympics before the Games ever even started.  We always thought the event itself might collapse in failure, both on the playing field and off, but we never imagined Russia could drag the games into such a miasma of failure during the mere preparations.

Over on the powerful and influential American Thinker blog, LR publisher and founder Kim Zigfeld has all the horrifying details.  All the terror you possibly could ask for, just in time for Halloween (which, by the way, Russia is now trying to ban).

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Russia, G-8 Pariah

Kim Zigfeld’s latest article on the American Thinker website showed how Russia fails to measure up to the performance of its G-8 peers when measured on criteria such as slavery and university performance.

How does Russia do economically? The latest World Bank study of “Ease of Doing Business” shows that Russia’s performance is just as wretched. Here are the rankings:

USA #4
UK #10
Canada #19
Germany #21
Japan #27
France #38
Italy #65
Russia #92

Russia is one of only two G-8 nations not in the world’s top 40 for ease of doing business, and is the only G–8 nation not in the top 75 countries on that list.  Just as is the case when compared on slavery or university performance, Italy and Russia are keeping company together at the bottom of the list. No wonder there’s an infamous bromance between Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi!

Latynina Drops a Clanger

Writing for Novaya Gazeta (Russian-language link), Yulia Latynina makes a scathing attack on Greenpeace. But her comments about the arrest of Greenpeace activists in Miami in April 2002 are extremely misleading.

Latynina wrote:

Greenpeace carefully chooses the places where it stages its attacks. No one has heard about Greenpeace in the Persian Gulf or China. Moreover, there is another country where the Greenpeace is not doesn’t dare to provoke legal action very often. This country is called the United States.

The fact is, the United States is a country which is very serious about private property. And while the activists of Greenpeace in Australia got probation for their destruction of genetically modified crops have received probation, in the United States for the same offense a girl named Mary Mason got ten months in prison.

The last time Greenpeace took action in U.S. waters was on a ship in 2003.  The ship was carrying mahogany from Brazil. After that, they were all arrested, and the U.S. government filed charges against the Greenpeace. Charges against the organization as a whole.

The law chosen to support the charges by the American prosecutor is very interesting. They were able to find the old law from the 19th Century century, a law which prohibits unauthorized boarding of a vessel by salesmen.

Latynina leaves out quite a few facts from her discussion.

In regard to the Brazilian mahogany protest and arrest in Miami, Greenpeace reports on its website: “The atmosphere was calm and friendly, and the Coast Guard officers permitted the Greenpeace crew to order pizza (although they declined offers to share a slice).”  After that, Greenpeace got a tip from inside the U.S. government about the intentions of the ship’s captain, and was able to get him fired before the ship could offload most of its cargo, which was then impounded. The Greenpeace team was given bail, and then when they appeared in court “after the prosecution had rested its case, Greenpeace lawyers filed a motion for a judgement of acquittal. After a short deliberation Judge Jordan granted the motion, acquitting Greenpeace of all federal charges.”  Latynina doesn’t give the correct date for the arrest, which was 2002 not 2003. The trial was in 2003.

U.S. government action against Greenpeace in Miami differs markedly from the Russian government’s action against Greenpeace in Murmansk.  In Miami, only 14 Greenpeace activists who actually boarded inflatable boats and actually approached the vessel were arrested. In Murmansk, the Kremlin also boarded the Greenpeace mother ship and arrested those who never approached the vessel, taking 30 activists in total.  In Miami, the ship in question was in U.S. waters, not international waters like the Russian oil rig that was approached in Murmansk,  In Miami the arrest environment was totally different from that in Murmansk, and ultimately all charges against the activists were thrown out.  Part of the U.S. government actually assisted Greenpeace, and the organization achieved its goal of blocking the delivery of protected timber.  No such things happened in Russia.

In regard to Mary Mason, she was even not a member of Greenpeace at all, but rather was a member of the Earth Liberation Front.  Mason is currently serving two decades in prison for numerous acts of arson to which she admitted and which caused millions of dollars in damages.  Mason has apologized for the terror her actions caused among her victims.   It’s impossible to know what incident in Australia Latynina is referring to since she gives so few details about it, but typically actions by Greenpeace involving modified food don’t involve any property damage whatsoever.

Boot Russia out of the G-8!

Over on the powerful and influential American Thinker blog, LR publisher and founder Kim Zigfeld reviews Russia’s qualifications for membership in the G-8 and, to say the least, finds them wanting.

Whenever Russia is compared to its fellow G-8 members, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It looks, quite simply, like a barbaric tribe rather than a civilized society. There is no legitimate basis for Russia to be a G-8 member. It should be out.

Meanwhile, over on Pajamas Media, Zigfeld takes the GOP to task for failing to stand up for American civil rights where Russia is concerned.

Republican betrayal of the core values of Ronald Reagan clearly accounts for the party’s dismal recent performance in national elections. If the party doesn’t come to its senses soon, it may find itself on the scrap heap of history along with the USSR.

Yet Another Horrifying New Low for Russia

Remember the Proton rocket? You know, the one that routinely bursts into flames and explodes?

Well, the factory that makes those rockets was selected by the Putin administration to make Russia’s Olympic torches.

And now, guess what has started happening to those torches!

That’s right, they’ve started bursting into flames and exploding!

Remember when you thought it was a horrific embarrassment to Russia how the Olympic flame went out and over and over and over again during the torch relay? That was nothing! Those were the good old days! Now the flame has started exploding, and in the hands of a young girl no less, giving her a nasty burn.

Despite spending more on the games than any other nation in history, Russia cut corners on the torch, Britain spent £495 on each torch, but Russia spent only $400.

Is this really the country the world has chosen to trust with the lives of its athletes and spectators, permitting it to stage the Winter Olympics smack in the middle of one of the world’s worst hotbeds of terrorism?  Really? Or is this all just a crazy nightmare from which we will soon awaken?

For its next trick, the Putin regime will send the exploding torch into space on the exploding rocket.

Putin’s Electronic Crackdown, Part II

Is there a bigger hypocrite on planet Earth than Edward Snowden? Or a more logical place for him to live than Russia, a nation of hypocrites?

No sooner had Snowden arrived in Moscow than Vladimir Putin had embarked on a massive surveillance campaign aimed at Olympic athletes and visitors.  Yet Snowden does not have a word to say about this campaign.  Has this man no shame at all? He’s silent, of course, because he cares nothing about the values of freedom, he cares about attacking the United States. When a country that hates the United States uses surveillance, that’s just fine with Snowden.  The notion that Snowden is some kind of freedom fighter is absolute hogwash.

Over on the powerful and influential American Thinker website, LR founder and publisher Kim Zigfeld offers a second installment in her overview of Russia’s neo-Soviet crackdown on freedom of expression. Last week, her AT piece focused on Putin’s effort to take over the Internet through establishing of propaganda websites; this week she takes a look at Putin’s efforts to subvert Internet searching and electronically monitor all Russian citizens, using the Olympic games as a test case.

Putin and his Oligarchy

When Credit Suisse published its blockbuster report last week revealing that just 110 people control 35% of the wealth in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it was predictable that there would be a frenzied, desperate effort to impugn the bank’s research. What’s surprising, however, is that the first such effort would come from Putin critic Leonid Bershidsky.

Bershidsky claims that Credit Suisse got it wrong because the bank didn’t pay enough attention to the value of Russian homes.  Bershidsky claims, without citing any source material, that there are millions of Russians in Moscow who own apartments given to them free when the USSR collapsed, and that the value of these apartments isn’t properly reflected in the Credit Suisse data. If it were, he opines, the 35% figure would drop significantly. He also claims that the GINI figure for Russia published by the CIA shows Russia’s income inequality figure isn’t that bad.  Finally, he claims it’s very hard to get good data on wealth distribution in the opaque, corrupt quagmire that is Putin’s Russia.

Bershidsky completely misses two major points in his analysis.

First, it’s somewhat ironic that while pointing out the complexities of measuring wealth in Russia that he says could have misled Credit Suisse, Bershidsky makes no effort to ask whether those complexities might affect his own analysis of the issue, including the GINI numbers he provides from the CIA, as well as those of Credit Suisse.

Second, and more important, the whole point of Credit Suisse’s work was to show that such complexities might mean that the world vastly misunderstands the extent of economic polarization in Russia. One thing is perfectly clear: Russia has a shockingly high number of billionaires and they absolutely dominate the nation’s non-real-estate wealth. That is, its liquid, spendable wealth. People who received free apartments after the collapse of the USSR can’t sell them, it’s their only place to live. They can’t borrow on them, because they have extremely low income (average wage in Russia less than $5/hour) and cannot replay the balance. And these apartments are tiny, oppressive little closets. While they may have value on paper in places like Moscow where wealth has accumulated and housing construction is delinquent, they are far less valuable elsewhere, and you can’t eat paper value.  To give a practical example: The fact that you own an apartment in Moscow doesn’t mean you are able to give a political contribution to Alexey Navalny out of the apartment’s value.

Nothing in Bershidsky’s commentary challenges Credit Suisse’s finding that the real money in Russia, the money that can be spent to achieve power, is held mostly by a tiny class of oligarchs. Nothing changes the fact that Putin was brought to power supposedly to liquidate this class, and instead only liquidated members (Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky) who opposed his grab for power. Nothing challenges the widely held view that Putin himself reaps enormous financial benefits from this oligarchy, and indeed may be one of the richest men in the world (allowing him routinely gift watches worth tens of thousands of dollars to strange children).

Putin, losing Everwhere

In St, Petersburg, in Perm and in London, Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship has suffered serious legal setbacks.

In St. Petersburg and in Perm, two human rights groups defeated Putin’s effort to required them to declare themselves “foreign agents.”  And in London, William Browder defeated Putin’s proxy libel lawsuit.

This is to say nothing of the endless series of convictions for state-sponsored murder, kidnapping and torture that Russia has sustained year after year in the European Court for Human Rights.

Even Putin’s own courts find the extreme nature of his neo-Soviet crackdown to be unpalatable. Foreign courts can see only barbarism.

Exposing Putin’s Online Propaganda Machine

Over on the powerful and influential American Thinker website, LR founder and publisher Kim Zigfeld reveals how the Putin propaganda machine is switching into overdrive to deluge the world with lies about the Sochi Olympics.

There’s great need for these lies, of course, since the truth is so very painful.

Within the past few days alone, the world has gaped slack-jawed as the oafish Russians have repeatedly allowed the Olympic flame to flicker out, and Russia’s woeful efforts to complete the Olympic venues are equally laughable (despite reportedly costing as much as billion dollars, the central stadium is still not close to being ready).  Dozens of U.S. congressmen are openly calling for protests against Russia’s barbaric crackdown on homosexuals to occur at the games. In short, Russia’s attempt to host the games is an absurd fiasco, underlined by the total insanity of staging the games in a tropical beach resort that is surrounded by outraged terrorist groups.

Putin and his Paradise of Corruption

A staggering 35 percent of household wealth in Russia is owned by just 110 people, the highest level of inequality in the world barring a few small Caribbean islands, a report by a major investment bank says.  By contrast, billionaires worldwide account for just 1-2 percent of total wealth, Credit Suisse said in its report published Wednesday. Russia has one billionaire for every $11 billion in wealth while in the rest of the world there is one for every $170 billion.

The above report, from the Associated Press, lays bare the myth that Vladimir Putin is serving the interests of the people of Russia.  Instead, the report makes clear, Putin is serving the  interests of a tiny group of oligarchs, despite being brought to power to cleanse Russia of oligarchs.  When Putin attacked men like Berezovsky and Gusinsky, he was not doing so like Robin Hood to return looted billions to the Russian people. Rather, he was simply transferring assets to oligarchs who were more friendly to him and his desire to restore a neo-Soviet state in Russia. Putin’s Russia is not a nation, it is a Ponzi scheme.

And where has this paradise of corruption led Russia as a nation? It stands on the precipice of a double-dip recession, mired in neo-Soviet stagnation.  It does not innovate, and its level of production is a pathetic, laughable 40% of the average achieved by the Fortune 500 corporations.  Instead of weaning itself off dependence on oil, under Putin’s leadership Russia’s addict-like dependence has only become stronger.