Daily Archives: February 11, 2009

February 13, 2009 — Contents

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 13 CONTENTS

(1)  EDITORIAL:  The Horror of  “Life” in Putin’s Russia

(2)  EDITORIAL: Russia’s Pension Elephant

(3)  EDITORIAL:  Talking Turkey about the Russian Economy

(4)  A Russophile Repents

(5)  Now, Even Russians Trash the Putin Economy

NOTE:  In her latest installment on Pajamas Media, LR founder and publisher Kim Zigfeld says that Barack Obama is “hopelessly adrift” on foreign policy where Russia is concerned. She’s too kind by half.

NOTE:  If we do say so ourselves, we have an extraordinarily rich coverage of the failure of the Putin economy in today’s issue. No thinking person can carefully read these items and still believe that Vladimir Putin has the slightest idea what he’s doing or that the people’s support of him in public opinion polls is even remotely rational.

NOTE:  Many happy (for us, not him) returns of the day to Russian “prime minister” Vladimir Putin and his goon-in-chief Dima Medvedev!

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EDITORIAL: The Horror of “Life” in Putin’s Russia

EDITORIAL

The Horror of “Life” in Putin’s Russia

National Public Radio reporter Anne Garrels has produced a multi-part report on the horror of life in an average Russian city in Vladimir Putin’s neo-Soviet Russia called Chelyabinsk:  Then and Now. It’s full of jaw-dropping little-known facts about a nation that is teetering once again on the brink of collapse.

She reports for instance that a doctor at a state hospital in the city earns $200 per month, $400 with overtime.  For a 50-hour work week, that’s a stunning $2/hour.  For a 40-hour week, it’s $1.25/hour.  For a doctor. Working in a hospital. With people’s lives in his hands.  And the doctor must work what one describes to Garrels as “mess, pressure and horrible conditions.”  What sort of “physician” would agree to work on these terms? What sort of “care” would he provide?

There are more abortions than live births, and this isn’t surprising the way one mother described the conditions surrounding her childbirth:

“Horrible, horrible. A room with 10 women in it. You have to go to a pharmacy and buy everything — stitching, cotton wool. Everything you need during the birth, you buy and pay for. We were told to bring our own sugar. If you are a patient in a hospital, you better have a friend who can bring you food.”

Garrels notes:  “Life expectancy for Russian men — 59 years — remains astonishingly low, and well below current levels in Pakistan and Bangladesh. That has combined with anemic fertility levels to cause a drop in population. According to United Nations predictions, Russia’s population could fall by 30 percent by the middle of the century.”

She also finds other pandemic social ills. Alcoholism is rampant, for example. She quotes one local resident:  “You see 12-, 13-year-olds sitting in the benches, just drinking beer like soda. So young. That’s a problem.”

And that’s only the beginning

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EDITORIAL: Russia’s Pension Elephant

EDITORIAL

Russia’s Pension Elephant

Last weekend, Russian “prime minister” Vladimir Putin stated:  “We understand that in real life inflation this year could be above the level we put in the budget. Then, in order for us to meet the declared goals, it would be necessary to increase the basic pension by more than 26.5%.”

At the end of next year, Russia’s old-age pension is scheduled to be increased by 26.5%, but Putin says that if inflation continues on its current pace that won’t be enough to keep pensioners’ heads above water.  He predicts it may be necessary to raise pensions by a whopping 30% at that point, and they are already scheduled to go up 8.7% in March of this year.

That means that in January 2010 the Kremlin may be paying nearly 40% more for old-age pensions than it is paying now because of Russia’s runaway consumer price inflation, which runs well above 20% on the tiny basket of staple products that ordinary Russians need to survive.

Where will the Kremlin get the money?

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EDITORIAL: Talking Russian Turkey

EDITORIAL

Talking Russian Turkey

Our lead editorial today contains a horrifying litany of failure by the Putin regime in Russia and suffering resulting on the part of the people of Russia. Our second editorial adds even more disturbing data. Sometimes such reporting can overwhelm the senses. Let’s counterbalance it with a very simple real-world example.

Suppose that you were a Russian in the summer of 2008 earning the average national wage of 100 rubles per hour.  You’d be paid in rubles, of course, the tidy sum of roughly 4,000 rubles per week for a full-time job.

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A Russophile Repents: Annals of Russian Barbarism

Russophile Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, writing on the BBC website, has a rude awakening because of the Markelov assassination.  We would point out that he states errantly: “As Anastasia [Baburova] tried to grab the killer he turned and shot her too.”  In fact, it’s now clear that there is no evidence to support this claim, since there were no witnesses and Baburova did not survive the attack.  The notion that Baburova provoked her own killing could easily be a Kremlin propaganda ploy to undercut outrage over the killing of a young woman (either because, as a Novaya Gazeta reporter, she had been targeted or because she needed to be liquidated as the only witness).  Now that time has passed, it’s shamefully irresponsible to repeat this unsubstantiated canard without questioning its origin.

Here is the text:

There is a tendency for many to resort to stereotypes when describing Russia.  The Fleet Street headline writers rarely resist an opportunity to declare the outbreak of a new Cold War.  This week there was much chortling in British newspapers at the story of a Russian airline pilot who had been forced off a plane because he was too drunk to make the safety announcement.  These Russians, many will have giggled, they will never change.

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Russians Condemn the Putin Economy

The Moscow Times offers readers a two-part review of the onset of serious academic criticism of the Putin economy.  How long this will be allowed to continue, and indeed how long these courageous academics have to live, is an open question.

First comes an op-ed from Sergei Guriev, rector of the New Economic School in Moscow, and Aleh Tsyvinski, professor of economics at Yale University:

Russia’s economy is collapsing, but the situation could be even worse. The global economic crisis has finally forced the government to adopt sensible policies, thereby staving off disaster — at least for now. Official forecasts for Russian gross domestic product growth in 2009 remain positive, but most analysts, including government officials, are bracing for a severe recession, which appears to have started in the fourth quarter of 2008. The stock market’s collapse — its 72 percent fall is the worst of all major emerging markets — is only the most visible sign of this.

Even Russia’s oligarchs are pawning their yachts and selling their private jets. Signs of political instability are mounting. The approval ratings for the country’s president and prime minister are heading south. Mass street protests have started, and they are led not by opposition political parties but by workers and middle-class families facing job losses and declining wages. More important, protesters are demanding that the government resign, which was unthinkable just a year ago.

With oil prices plummeting 70 percent from their peak, it is no surprise that the country is facing severe economic challenges. Growth is endangered, the ruble is weak, and the government budget is in deficit. Nevertheless, up to now, the government and private sector have weathered the storm reasonably well.

Critics of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s regime argue that the political system is too centralized and risks collapse in today’s economic storm. The regime’s ideology, after all, places the state and loyalty to the rulers ahead of private property and merit. When the crisis hits with full force, they argue that the government will nationalize major banks and companies, with the resulting inefficiency then burying the economy, just as it doomed the Soviet Union.

The government has, in fact, made serious mistakes in dealing with the crisis. Taxpayers’ money was spent to purchase corporate stocks in a failed attempt to support collapsing stock prices. The government is unlikely to recover its investment anytime soon.

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