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Dial D for Democracy: How Russia is far more democratic than many realise

Russia is actually becoming a more democratic society than is true of many states in the West.

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Democracy is to a politically curious man or woman what sex is to a young adolescent. They have all heard the word, they are intrigued by the concept, but only have a cursory idea of what it actually is.  The latter is generally resolved through a natural process of biological and psycho-sexual maturity.

The former is only solved through education, no matter how old the particular student is. I’d like to explore some of the many manifestations of democracy throughout the world,  paying close attention to the modern democratic process in the Russian Federation, a country which is vastly more democratic than many have been led to believe it is.

What is Democracy?

The English word democracy is derived from the ancient Greek word demokratia, itself a word which combined demos (the populace/people) with kratos (rule/strength). At the time this term came about there was no unified Hellenic state but rather multiple city states amongst the Hellenic peoples. Some, though not all were considered democracies, Athens being the most powerful and hence the best remembered. 

Ancient Athens pioneered something called direct democracy whereby citizens actively participate in the construction, amendment and implementation of laws. It wasn’t always like that, the classical Athenian democracy only developed under the reforms of Solon who took power away from the ancient council of elders, the Areopagus and placed power in the Ecclesia, a popular council open to all male Athenian citizens, though women and non-citizens living in Athens were excluded.

Before moving on to more contemporary variants of democracy, it is necessary to clarify some terms.

Direct Democracy: The full participation of citizens in the making, amending and enforcing of laws. In such a system there are no professional politicians.

Suffrage: This simply means the right to vote. It does not mean one has the right to make law, overturn law and crucially it does not mean democracy. One can have suffrage in a non-democratic fashion (when one votes in a non-binding referendum for example).

Universal Suffrage: Many societies throughout history have allowed certain people to vote although the idea that all citizens have an automatic right to vote is historically speaking, a rather recent phenomenon.  Certain qualifications for the eligibility to vote have traditionally applied, the most common being, wealth, property ownership, one’s sex and in more limited cases education and aptitude. Universal Suffrage is the idea that all citizens or in some cases all residents of a state should have the unqualified right to vote.

Petition: Prior to the 18th and 19th centuries, Petition was the most sacred and common expression of democracy. Although petitions to the throne existed in Imperial China, the most well known example is that of England and later all of Britain. The process was affirmed in the Magna Carta of 1215. A petition is when a subject, citizen or group thereof write their grievance to the sovereign and propose how the issue ought to be redressed.    

Representative democracy (sometimes known as Parliamentary Democracy): This is the most common form of democracy in the world today. It involves citizens using their right to the franchise (suffrage) to elected representatives to a legislative body (or bodies).

Referendum: A referendum is a tool of direct democracy. Here those with the right to vote get to decide on pieces of legislation irrespective of the wishes of professional politicians. There is however a caveat to this, some countries have non-binding referenda, whereby those with the right to vote can express their views but these views can be overruled by professional politicians or in some cases judges.

Initiatives: In an initiative, a group of citizens propose a piece of legislation and if it meets certain qualifications (the amount of citizens proposing the legislation, constitutionality etc) it will then be put to all voters in a referendum.

Demonstration: The right to demonstrate is a legal right of citizens to publically assemble, allowing their views to be unmistakably head by a state’s leadership. It is the vocal version of a petition in many ways, though in most cases doesn’t carry the same legal standing.

Social Contract/Will of the People: This is the idea that there is an uncodified law demanding that the leaders of government have a duty to represent the will, desires and needs of the populace without necessitating any form of suffrage. This harkens to the Platonic/Socratic idea of ‘philosopher kings’, a group of esteemed individuals who earn their right to rule through intellect and merit rather than through direct elections or approval.   

Peace: Peace is the antithesis of war and obviously war the antithesis of peace. In no dictionary or language is democracy the antithesis of war. The concepts are not intellectually related. Whether democracy helps create peace is up for debate. I’ll simply mention some popular theories. Plato would say democracy is more likely to lead to war due to the ‘mob mentality’ he associated with it and his fear of demagoguery whipping up a population against a foreign power. Two popular counter arguments state that if people feel they have a direct say in government they will not resort to civil war. Also, if people have the right to participate in either a demonstration, petition or initiate against a government’s desire to go to war, that it may be effective. Of course, the 1 million people demonstrating against Tony Blair and his government’s desire to invade Iraq in 2003 proved ineffective.

So which modern state is the most democratic? That’s an easy one, Switzerland. Switzerland employs constitutional initiatives, popular referenda and indeed demands referenda on the most crucial matters of government. Switzerland’s form of government is the closet of any to a direct democracy.  I did say I would talk about Russia and I will. Russia is much less democratic than Switzerland, but it is quite a bit more democratic than Britain, The United States, Germany, France, Canada and Poland (to name but a few).

The Political System in Russia

The Russian Federation is a representative democracy in which all male and female citizens of adult age cast votes for a political party to represent them according to the proportional representation system of elections which is used throughout much of Europe. In Britain members of the Green Party, Liberal Democratic Party and UKIP have often proposed the implementation of proportional representation, as they feel the so-called ‘first past the post’ system in modern Britain is insufficiently democratic.

The proper way to measure the level of democracy in a representative democracy like Russia’s or for that matter like Britain’s or America’s is by analysing the diversity of opinion amongst the parties which people have elected to a legislative body. In this respect Russia is a clear winner. In what other democratic legislature can one find a party which is the successor to the once most powerful Communist Party in the world and on the other hand a party whose leader has called Lenin a terrorist and has publicly proscribed Communism in the Council of Europe?  It’s hard to frankly compete with such levels of political diversity. In order to better understand this, it is necessary to catalogue the four major parties of Russian politics beginning with the oldest.

Political Parties in Russia

The Communist Party of The Russian Federation: This is the successor party to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and has traditionally polled a strong second in most elections to the Duma as well as presidential elections. This is a traditional Marxist-Leninist party which under the lengthy leadership of  Gennady Zyuganov has repudiated both the de-Stalinisation of Khrushchev as well as the reforms of Gorbachev. Whilst strictly an atheistic party as the CPSU always had been, Zyuganov offers a conciliatory approach to religion constituting a divergence from early Stalinist views on religion.

The LDPR (formerly Liberal Democratic Party of Russia): This was the second officially registered party in the Soviet Union. Founded and still led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the party places a great deal of emphasis on Russia’s historical role in geo-politics as well as traditional Russian culture. Whilst often described as right-wing or even far-right, the domestic policies of the LDPR tend to be a mix of market capitalism and state regulation with an emphasis on the need for cooperation between free individuals and the need of government to facilitate industrial, agricultural and infrastructural development. In terms of overarching ideology it is stridently anti-fascist and anti-nationalist, whilst embracing a uniquely Russian sense of conservatism.  Zhirinovsky himself is a professional historian and a multi-lingual expert in world affairs. Known for a flamboyant and often adversarial rhetoric, his speeches on the importance of foreign affairs in the daily lives of individuals are an instructive viewing.

United Russia: Founded in 2001, United Russia remains the most powerful and politically active party in Russia. Whilst since the 2012 Presidential Election, Vladimir Putin hasn’t been an official member of the party, United Russia openly endorses Putin and is currently chaired by the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The party offers generally centrist policies but on the whole promotes the free market with some mixed economic elements. In foreign affairs United Russia is fully aligned with official Presidential policy.

A Just Russia: Led by Sergey Mironov, A Just Russia is the newest of Russia’s major parties. It is a social democratic party which campaigns on increased social welfare programmes, better treatment of pensioners and has been highly critical of the internal workings of United Russia, presenting itself as a more honest party. Mironov has campaigned for the votes of both United Russia supporters as well as those who traditionally vote Communist, promising the social interventions Communist favour with a more centrist and ‘modern’ approach that tends to appeal to United Russia voters. Although sprung from disorganised beginnings, it is now the third largest party in the State Duma.

Russia’s Duma is indeed diverse, far more so than those challenging Russia’s democratic credentials.

Comparing Democracy: Russia and the West

How could Russia improve its democracy? I would say the same way the United States could do, by allowing for referenda and initiatives at a national level. Apart from that, Russia’s election system is according to all international observers, free and fair, its parties represent diverse views and Russia’s president has a far higher popularity rating amongst his people than his equivalents in most representative democracies.

So if Russia is more rather than less democratic than many of its neighbours let alone its international detractors, why do many in Europe and North America not understand this? For this one must turn to the nature of the media. I would say Russian media offer a much wider breadth of debate than say the BBC or New York Times.

Take for example the recent events in Turkey. The Russian media have published and aired many alternative views, some anti-Ergodan and some pro with many not even willing to take a side at this early stage in what promises to be a season of political turmoil in Turkey.

By contrast, when Russian politics are discussed in western media it is almost always negative or defamatory. Parts of the western media remind me of something else Switzerland is famous for…not its admirable democracy but something filled with holes and when left out in the open for too long, it begins to stink

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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