I Appear on Al-Jazeera

Here‘s the video. My section begins at 8:02.

Why was my speech not exactly on-topic?

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The People Speak: Poll #1 Results, US Presidential Candidates

These are the results of our first poll (running from January 11 to March 19).

I am pleased to see that the number of people thinking it’s brilliant decisively outnumber those who think it should be deleted. (So I’ll remain on the blogosphere.) Otherwise, don’t bother with digressions, aesthetics or more features, but concentrate more on regular news and editorials. Well, I’ll try. I’m not really the kind of person who loves pumping out stuff at constant intervals, but I’ll have a go at making updates more frequent (and posts smaller). As for Core Articles – well, we have a juicy one coming up tomorrow – Top 10 Russophobe Myths, as well as a finished News 19 March.

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News 19 Mar: It Takes 2 (or 3) to Tango in Human Rights

The US State Department has released its latest human rights report – as usual, a veritable list of America’s bugbears (North Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan are the ‘top ten’). It is true that the majority of the above are pretty odious regimes, with the partial exception of Belarus and Cuba.

Nonetheless, the State Department shoots itself in the foot – the hypocrisy is revealed immediately by thinking Belarus; Kazakhstan; Saudi Arabia. Obviously, having lots of oil and being friendly to the superpower has highly democratizing effects…

The fact that China was dropped from The List didn’t stop them from issuing a Human Rights Record of the US in 2007, which cites an increase in violent crime, police brutality and unaccountability, world beating prison population, racism, sexism, increasing socio-economic stratification and huge HR abuses abroad and calls on Americans to finish with double standards and ‘reflect on their own issues’. Russia wasn’t much impressed either.

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Education as the Elixir of Growth

What are the reasons behind the wealth and poverty of nations? Since this question has exercised the minds of thinkers from Adam Smith to David Landes, Jared Diamond and Richard Lynn, I decided to take a look at it myself. I came to the conclusion that while geography, macroeconomic policies, resource windfalls and the microeconomic environment do play important roles, by far the most important factor is the state of a country’s human capital – things like literacy rates, school life expectancy and performance on international student assessments.

This is not a new idea. A Goldman Sachs report, Dreaming with BRICs, noted that:

Many cross-country studies have found positive and statistically significant correlations between schooling and growth rates of per capita GDP—on the order of 0.3% faster annual growth over a 30-year period from an additional one year of schooling.

However, I think education is much more central to this. The problem with using years of schooling as a yardstick is that in many middle-income countries, like Argentina, Turkey or Brazil, the amount of schooling is converging to that of the developed world, but the quality isn’t. This is attested to by their performance on international student assessments like PISA. For instance, in the 2006 PISA Science assessment, only 15.2% of Brazilians were at Level 3 or higher (the threshold for moving beyond purely linear problem-solving), compared with 47.6% of Russian, 51.3% of American and 66.9% of Australian students. Is it really then surprising to discover that from 1997 to 2007 purchasing power GDP per capita in Brazil and Russia, both medium-income countries, has grown at 1.3% and 6.0%, respectively, i.e., that Russia is playing the game of economic catch-up much more successfully?

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Flotsam and Jetsam: Election Entertainment

Some 47% of Russians watched the pre-election debates between Zyuganov (Communists), Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democrats, i.e. nationalists) and Bogdanov (Democratic). (Medvedev decided against participating). Here’s a scene from when they thought they were off-camera, in which the ever colorful Zhirinovsky shows us how to debate properly.

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Annals of Media Madness – The Trouble with the Economist

This is how the Economist celebrates Russia’s presidential election – the Trouble with Russia’s Economy, represented by a bear gorging itself on oil (i.e. invoking the Myth of the Russian Oil Curse, which we have debunked far too many times to count on this blog). Guess we’ll have to do it again.

Never mind that organizations like the the World Bank, academic econometricians and even their own Economist Intelligence Unit disagrees, and that there is also OECD academic work that argues that ‘the resource curse – if it exists – is at least no fatalité’.

But whatever. Let’s analyse the article on what it says..

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News 2 Mar

The most important development has been Medvedev’s election to the Presidency with 70.2% of the vote. While it has not been squeaky clean (and as such, no different from any other Russian election under either Yeltsin or Putin), the more hystryonic claims of voter intimidation are to be treated with a pinch of salt – for a start, it’s a secret ballot, and as such authorities can have no control over how people vote in the booth. Even Nigel Evans, a British parliamentarian and member of PACE’s monitoring team, admitted “There does not seem to be any voter intimidation“.

Media coverage has been skewed towards Medvedev (who was a key government official – deputy prime minister – as well as election candidate), but this is not surprising in a country where opinion polling typically put his popularity at around 80%, in contrast to Zyuganov’s c.10%, Zhirinovsky’s c.10% and the ‘Liberals” c.1%. (This is also the reason Medvedev refused to participate in TV debates). The elections followed the polls, which heavily suggests that they were free. In fact, the major upset was Zyuganov, who managed to scrape 17.8% (well above what most polls predicted) to the detriment of Medvedev.

Now Russians do get coverage of the latters’ platforms and as such it is not surprising they are rejected – the Communists talk the talk but can’t walk the walk; the Liberal Democrats are too crudely clownish to have genuine popular appeal; and the ultra-low ratings of ‘liberals’ is largely of their own making. After all, the media reflects, as well as manufactures, consent.

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News 8 Feb

Bertelsmann Stiftung has released Who Rules the World?, a very interesting survey where people from different countries are asked: what are the Great Powers today?, what makes a country a Great Power? and which countries will be Great Powers in 2020?

Now the title of Great Power is something that is given to a country, although of course for it to be meaningful the country must possess certain pre-requisites, including but not limited to: a large population, a large, technologically-advanced economy, advanced and comprehensive armed forces and military-industrial complex, energy and mineral resources, strategic nuclear forces, geo-political position and soft power (international influence and cultural appeal). That people recognize a country to be a Great Power is both an accreditation, if you will, and a form of soft power in itself.

Thus it is encouraging that 39% of the people in the survey regard Russia as a World Power – in third place after the United States (81%) and China (50%). Furthermore, this is an increase of 12% points from their 2005 survey – the highest rate of increase amongst all other world powers. For comparison, much-hyped China and India increased by 5% and 3% respectively, while the US remained stagnant. 37% of respondents think that Russia will remain, or become, a World Power in 2020, compared with the US (61%), China (57%), EU and Japan (33%) and India (29%). Again, Russia has had the most significant increase (11%), compared with China (2%), India (5%) and the US (4%).

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News 31 Jan

The Western media has begun to whine about the Russian presidential elections five weeks in advance. Their beef is that Kasyanov was barred from running, ostensibly because above 5% of his required signatures were rigged, but actually to undercut the last independent candidate – Russia’s last and only hope of salvation from the ‘slippery slope to totalitarianism’ (according to Misha “Two Percent” Kasyanov, anyway).

Nonetheless, let’s apply some common sense. Kasyanov’s level of support is around 1% of the electorate, as even the BBC, grudgingly admits. This means around 1 million people. Are we supposed to believe, then, that below 5% of his supposed 2 million signatures were illegitimate? Or were they much higher than 5%, and much higher even than 13.36% (according to the Electoral Commission)? My opinion is that they simply only bothered discarding the most egregiously falsificated ones – enough to disqualify Kasyanov and reveal him for the corrupt, seditious fraud he is.

Perhaps Westerners may care to consider the reason ‘liberals’ lose in Russia has rather more to do with the liberals themselves rather than Stalin Reborn, aka Putin.

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News 25 Jan

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Russia, due to its strong macroeconomic fundamentals and relative isolation from the world economy, will weather the oncoming credit crisis well. In fact, Kudrin (the Finance Minister) suggested ‘Russia and other countries with large gold and currency reserves can…can support the global economy by flexing the financial might of their sovereign funds’, insisting that Russia remains a ‘haven’ of stability amid global financial crisis. This is a sentiment shared by Russia’s senior executives, 73% of whom are ‘very confident’ of revenue growth in 2008 (up from 35% last year). CEO’s from Brazil (63%), India (90%) and China (73%) also feel confident, in contrast to most Western businesspeople, e.g. the US (36%), Japan (31%) and Italy (19%) – who are much less confident than a year ago.

Flextronics and Peugeot plan to build plants in Russia, while Russia is going to build a railway in Saudi Arabia and a hydropower station in Tajikistan. The Russian search engine Yandex enters the world’s top ten, with 566 million searches, or 0.9% of the world’s search requests. Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus are to expand the role of the Eurasian Economic Community by signing nine treaties to draw up a regulatory framework for the Customs Union.

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