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Here’s what the results of the Russian election mean and for whom

Russia’s parliamentary elections show a contented and stable country, but one where was an intense intellectual discussion between the two main opposition parties – the Communist Party and the Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party – over Russia’s future direction.

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I’d like to begin my piece with a new entry to the increasingly valuable Duran Lexicon. Dull election = Peaceful exercise of democracy.

That’s what Sunday’s election was. But do not be fooled by the calm, the results are significant.

Whilst the four parties that dominated the Duma after the previous election in 2011 remain the parties of power, the shift in the particular balance of power represents an intellectual referendum on the state of Russian affairs over the last 5 years, more than it represents changing feelings towards particular parties.

With over 97% of votes now counted, United Russia have increased their percentage of the vote from 49.3% in 2011 to 54% in 2016.

That United Russia were going to win the election was an assured assumption. In a country that is broadly contented with its government and exceptionally contented with its President who supports the party of government, it is only natural for such a party to win and win big.

Whilst some early indications pointed to United Russia getting a bit of a bloody nose due to general ‘success fatigue’ as well as regional allegations of corruption, this didn’t pan out. The status quo won and won convincingly.

The most interesting race of the evening was the race for second place, the race for the official opposition party.

Contrary to western claims, Russia has vibrant, strong, respected and respectable opposition parties, the leaders of which are household names.

To many in Western media a Russian opposition leader is a failed, corrupt ex-pat businessman hiding his failures behind a half-arsed hatred for the government and shareholders to whom he owes money.

When this doesn’t pan out, it often seems as though western media wait with camera in hand by the exit door of a regional lunatic asylum. They then shove the microphone into the face of the first person they see and presto…instant opposition leader.

The reality is completely different.  Russia does have real, diverse and respected opposition parties.

The fact of the matter is that since 2003 the official opposition has been the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Last night’s early results however indicated that this might change as the LDPR was set to come in second. However after a long night and early morning, the democratic dog fight between the Communists and the LDPR was won by the Communists, but with only around 0.2 of a percentage point.

I said earlier that the race for second was going to be close and important, but this was closer than most commentators had imagined.

To put things in perspective, in respect of the notion of an ‘intellectual referendum’ a Communist vote was a referendum on the notion that with the West’s economic warfare against Russia showing no signs of stopping, the Communists had been right all along in saying that Russia must be increasingly self-sufficient in industry and agriculture, and must form fraternal trading bonds with Russia’s true friends, rather than strike what appear to be short term economic deals with unreliable western partners.

A general downturn in the world economy has also vindicated many traditional Communist polices.

Demographically, older individuals tend to vote Communist, though this should not be thought of as a negative statement the way it is in the West. The West’s glorification of the vanity and stupidity of youth is not much of a social phenomenon in Russia, with society there on the contrary still tending to respect and value the contribution of those with life experience.

Whilst the strong-willed and tough Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov would never ape western politicians like Tony Blair and speak in the guttural slang of misguided youths, the Communists did run advertisements designed to show that a Marxist-Leninist government could be a thing of the future rather than a reminder of the past. When further demographic information on voter trends becomes available, it will be interesting to see if these ads were effective.

If a Communist vote was an ‘x’ next to ‘economic self-sufficiency’ in the intellectual referendum, a vote for the LDPR was an ‘x’ next to the ‘Zhirinovsky was right about foreign affairs after all’ box.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the founder and leader of the LDPR, the second official party in both the USSR and Russian Federation (after the Communists), is a deeply misunderstood figure.

Contrary to what one might read in the Western media, Zhirinovsky is amongst the most historically and geo-politically informed politicians in the world.  He is deeply educated, multi-lingual and understands the delicate nature of culture, nations, religions and ideologies better than most.

For years he has warned that the West’s ultimate goal was to encircle Russia with NATO and its political proxy the EU. This has become reality.  He has also warned that the West would ignite Ukraine and would turn what should be a brotherly and friendly country into an enemy. This too has become reality.  He has said that Russia should extend itself to the Arab world and help stable regimes there combat extremism. This is now official Russian policy.

Zhirinovsky has also said that Russia’s friends lie in the east and south, not in the west and north. This is now a proven fact.

The voters know this and it is why the LDPR came within inches of becoming the official opposition (aka second party).

Many in the west call Zhirinovsky an extremist or a clown. This is simply not true.

Zhirinovsky came to public attention at a time when Russian democracy was very young. Even in a mature democracy, one often needs to court attention in order to get one’s message across whether it be an intellectual message or otherwise.

As an undeniably clever man, Zhirinovsky knows that he often needs to be hyperbolic, humorous or outrageous in order to capture public attention over issues that few would otherwise have the time to pay attention to.

This is a fact of democracy. One has to make the intricate exciting and the serious entertaining.

It also doesn’t help that much of Zhirinovsky’s sarcasm is translated as straight speech, and that much of his humour is lost on Western audiences who take his poetic sentiments far too literally.

Another misconception is that the LDPR is ‘far right’.

‘Far right’ ought to be a term reserved for parties which bring matters of race, ethnicity and religion into the public debate, and which seek to exclude or discriminate against people on that basis.

For Zhirinovsky, the understanding of Russianness is a civic rather than ethnic term, and he is the first to condemn the actual far right if one is patient enough to listen to his speeches. Take for example the LDRP’s condemnation of Rodina, a truly extremist far-right party, and one that has little popularity anywhere in Russia.

Finally, one has A Just Russia (sometimes translated as A Fair Russia) who fell behind the LDPR to become the fourth and last of the major parties.

A Just Russia prides itself as being the socialist conscience of United Russia, often proposing more equitable solutions to government proposals whilst claiming that it is less corrupt than United Russia. However, A Fair Russia, due to its rather lacklustre campaign, did not really have an easily defined place in the intellectual referendum, and it lost votes as a consequence.

Finally, one must discuss the mechanics and logistics of the election. Because the Duma elections implemented a single member ‘first past the post system’ in addition to the traditional party list proportional representation system.

Once the final votes come in this means that there is a possibility that some independents or members of smaller parties will have some Duma seats. The effectiveness of this however remains to be seen.

Many observers are commenting on the low voter turn-out of around 48%.

Turnout in the UK election of 2001, which was generally seen as a contest between a competent but disliked party versus an incompetent and disliked party, was 59%. Barack Obama won his election campaign in 2012 with a voter turnout of just under 54%. Turnout in the 2012 French Parliamentary elections was 55%.

Bearing this in mind, the Russian voter turnout isn’t radically different from that in recent elections in many other countries. It is again symptomatic of contentment rather than frustration.

The election was calm, free and fair. The most interesting battle may have been the intellectual struggle between the Communists and LDRP,  but ultimately, the entire election was a referendum on the fact that most Russians are happy with the way Russia is run, and they are the only people whose opinion matters.

To say otherwise would be undemocratic, and the West wouldn’t want that now would they?

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Photos of new Iskander base near Ukrainian border creates media hype

But research into the photos and cross-checking of news reports reveals only the standard anti-Russian narrative that has gone on for years.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News obtained satellite photos that claim that Russia has recently installed new Iskander missile batteries, one of them “near” to the Ukrainian border. However, what the Fox article does not say is left for the reader to discover: that in regards to Ukraine, these missiles are probably not that significant, unless the missiles are much longer range than reported:

The intelligence report provided to Fox by Imagesat International showed the new deployment in Krasnodar, 270 miles from the Ukrainian border. In the images is visible what appears to be an Iskander compound, with a few bunkers and another compound of hangars. There is a second new installation that was discovered by satellite photos, but this one is much farther to the east, in the region relatively near to Ulan-Ude, a city relatively close to the Mongolian border.

Both Ukraine and Mongolia are nations that have good relations with the West, but Mongolia has good relations with both its immediate neighbors, Russia and China, and in fact participated with both countries in the massive Vostok-2018 military war-games earlier this year.

Fox News provided these photos of the Iskander emplacement near Krasnodar:

Imagesat International

Fox annotated this photo in this way:

Near the launcher, there is a transloader vehicle which enables quick reloading of the missiles into the launcher. One of the bunker’s door is open, and another reloading vehicle is seen exiting from it.

[Fox:] The Iskander ballistic missile has a range up to 310 miles, and can carry both unconventional as well as nuclear warheads, putting most of America’s NATO allies at risk. The second deployment is near the border with Mongolia, in Ulan-Ude in Sothern Russia, where there are four launchers and another reloading vehicle.

[Fox:] Earlier this week, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said authorities of the former Soviet republic are being “controlled” by the West, warning it stands to lose its independence and identity as a consequence. “The continuation of such policy by the Kiev authorities can contribute to the loss of Ukraine’s statehood,” Mr Patrushev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, according to Russian news agency TASS.

This situation was placed by Fox in context with the Kerch Strait incident, in which three Ukrainian vessels and twenty-four crew and soldiers were fired upon by Russian coast guard ships as they manuevered in the Kerch Strait without permission from Russian authorities based in Crimea. There are many indications that this incident was a deliberate attempt on the part of Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, to create a sensational incident, possibly to bolster his flagging re-election campaign. After the incident, the President blustered and set ten provinces in Ukraine under martial law for 30 days, insisting to the world, and especially to the United States, that Russia was “preparing to invade” his country.

Russia expressed no such sentiment in any way, but they are holding the soldiers until the end of January. However, on January 17th, a Moscow court extended the detention of eight of these captured Ukrainian sailors despite protests from Kyiv and Washington.

In addition to the tensions in Ukraine, the other significant point of disagreement between the Russian Federation and the US is the US’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russia sees this treaty as extremely important, but the US point of view expressed by John Bolton, National Security Adviser, is that the treaty is useless because it does not include any other parties that have intermediate range nukes or the capability for them, such as Iran, North Korea, and China. This is an unsolved problem, and it is possible that the moves of the Iskander batteries is a subtle warning from the Russians that they really would rather the US stay in the treaty.

Discussions on this matter at public levels between the Russian government and the US have been very difficult because of the fierce anti-Russia and anti-Trump campaigns in the media and political establishments of the United States. President Putin and President Trump have both expressed the desire to meet, but complications like the Kerch Strait Incident conveniently arise, and have repeatedly disrupted the attempts for these two leaders to meet.

Where Fox News appears to get it wrong shows in a few places:

First, the known range for Iskander missiles maxes at about 310 miles. The placement of the battery near Krasnodar is 270 miles from the eastern Ukrainian border, but the eastern part of Ukraine is Russian-friendly and two provinces, Donetsk and Lugansk, are breakaway provinces acting as independent republics. The battery appears to be no threat to Kyiv or to that part of Ukraine which is aligned with the West. Although the missiles could reach into US ally Georgia, Krasnodar is 376 miles from Tbilisi, and so again it seems that there is no significant target for these missiles. (This is assuming the location given is accurate.)

Second, the location shown in the photo is (44,47,29.440N at 39,13,04.754E). The date on the “Krasnodar” photo is January 17, 2019. However, a photo of the region taken July 24, 2018 reveals a different layout. It takes a moment or two to study this, but there is not much of an exact match here:

Third, Fox News reported of “further Russian troops deployment and S-400 Surface to air missile days after the escalation started, hinting Russia might have orchestrated the naval incident.”

It may be true that Russia deployed weapons to this base area in Crimea, but this is now Russian territory. S-400s can be used offensively, but their primary purpose is defensive. Troops on the Crimean Peninsula, especially at this location far to the north of the area, are not in a position strategically to invade Kherson Oblast (a pushback would probably corner such forces on the Crimean peninsula with nowhere to go except the Black Sea). However, this does look like a possible defense installation should Ukraine’s forces try to invade or bomb Crimea.

Fox has this wrong, but it is no great surprise, because the American stance about Ukraine and Russia is similar – Russia can do no right, and Ukraine can do no wrong. Fox News is not monolithic on this point of view, of course, with anchors and journalists such as Tucker Carlson, who seem willing to acknowledge the US propaganda about the region. However, there are a lot of hawks as well. While photos in the articles about the S-400s and the Russian troops are accurately located, it does appear that the one about Iskanders is not, and that the folks behind this original article are guessing that the photos will not be questioned. After all, no one in the US knows where anything is in Russia and Ukraine, anyway, right?

That there is an issue here is likely. But is it appears that there is strong evidence that it is opposite what Fox reported here, it leaves much to be questioned.

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US Christians move to protect Christians in the Middle East

It is very good to stand up for Christians in places where they are persecuted in the world. We ought to start with the US and Europe.

Seraphim Hanisch

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ISIS represents the single most prominent national or pseudo national entity that makes the persecution of Christians a central part of its activity. The would-be Islamic Caliphate is widely understood to be on its last legs, having been destroyed or driven out of most of the Syrian territory and Iraq, which it had gained in surprisingly swift conquests during the administration of US President Barack Obama. However, ISIS is not the only persecutor of followers of Jesus Christ. In fact, Christianity is by far the most widely persecuted religion on earth, with the last 100 years seeing more martyrdoms than in the entire history of Christianity before.

In this video, released by Fox Entertainment, Dede Laugesen discusses the activity of Christians in the US moving to help those abroad. The video is well worth watching, but with additional considerations.

Persecution of Christians has many forces, and although this piece largely concerns itself with causing the physical death of Christian believers, it also makes a point of “exclusion from civil society, loss of property, and many other things.”

This may or may not be code for the other type of persecution that has taken place against Christians, that being in what we might call “First World” countries, like the United States itself, England and others in Europe.

During President Obama’s terms, for example, Christians were actively persecuted through the Affordable Care Act’s provisions of (at first) trying to get one dollar of  everyone’s health insurance policy premiums to go towards providing abortifacients or contraceptives to anyone who needed them. This was a violation of American First Amendment rights (Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…) and the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops in the US spoke out against it strongly. The answer from the Administration was basically a shell game – insurance companies were thus mandated to provide such services for no charge at all.

Of course, the insurance companies are not about to lose money, so the original idea of a dollar per premium payment essentially survived; it was just slightly more hidden.

In 2015 and 2016, American Christians began to notice in very widespread fashion that they and those believing in a traditional understanding of family life and marriage, were now considered “hateful, bigoted, homophobic” and other pejorative labels. Some were driven out of business, like the cake backers in Oregon and Colorado. Homosexuality, a lifestyle that has been condemned by all Abrahamic faith traditions since recorded history began, was made legal by Supreme Court fiat in the United States. Now parents have to deal with the reality of lesbian or gay hero characters being portrayed by the likes of Marvel and DC productions on TV at home, and some public schools are insistent upon teaching children about “my two dads” or “my two moms” and so forth.

As Tucker Carlson noted in his own video presentation about two weeks ago, the attack against traditional family values for the sake of economic gain has caused unbelievable destruction in American society. The legalization of cannabis has accelerated this.

With all this is probably the most powerful attack yet devised against Christian believers. That attack says something like this:

Christianity? Sure, it’s okay if you want to be Christian. We do not mind. But keep your faith in Church. Be nice to the rest of us who do not believe like you do. Your faith is yours to keep but it offends us. Jesus said to love everyone, but when you talk about your beliefs (that we disagree with) you are being a bad Christian because you are being hateful to people who are different than you.

Many Christians have silently buckled to this argument. And why?

It is in our nature as Christians to strive for compassion and kindness to others. In America, a large part of our church upbringing talked about being nice to others whether they deserved it or not.

But being “nice” is not the same as being honest. There are still a lot of great parents that know that being too nice to their children will kill them. Being honest, strong, disciplined… these are also measures of what Christian love is.

Christian love is rooted in reality. The reality of God, of who we are, our ability to do either good or evil to ourselves and those around us, and far more than being nice to others, facing the Lord at the last moment in life or at the Last Judgement. To survive and make it through that session means that we have to make decisions that may not look nice. They may look harsh, unkind, or hateful. But every sane adult probably remembers times his or her parents put their foot down and did not let them do something. At the time it seemed wrong. But later it proved lifesaving.

We are under an attack as severe as ISIS’ attacks on Christians in those other parts of the world. If the seculars of our culture can render our faith as irrelevant, then they have won, and we all suffer.

 

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The Pences: defenders of Christian values in the White House

Article about Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen views Christian life as weird, showing nature of Christian persecution in the US.

Seraphim Hanisch

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A companion article noted that Christian believers in the US are seeking to help stand for those Christians in far off lands who are being martyred and persecuted for their faith at the hands of ISIS and other cruel religious and secular forces. But we also noted that this problem is extremely fierce in the Western “Christian” world, but the attacks try to bring Christian life to irrelevance and “shame it out of existence.”

An example of this in action came from Yahoo.com, carrying a news piece from AFP. Here is that piece; we have added emphases to focus on our point:

On page 11 of an application to work at a private Christian school in Virginia, teachers are bluntly asked to pledge to “maintain a lifestyle based on biblical standards of moral conduct.” It goes on to say banned conduct includes, but is not limited, to: “heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g. premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity” or “any other violation of the unique roles of male and female.”

Students at the Immanuel Christian School — who range in age from five to 14 — are also banned from engaging in “homosexual or bi-sexual activity,” according to an agreement parents must sign before enrollment. Vice President Mike Pence’s wife Karen is once again teaching art at the school in Washington’s suburbs — sparking anger from gay rights advocates who say it sends the wrong message from the inner circles of US power. “We’ll let the critics roll off our backs,” Pence said in an interview with Catholic television network EWTN. But he added: “The criticism of Christian education in America should stop.”

Of course, the Pence family’s brand of religious conservatism is exactly why Donald Trump chose him as a running mate in July 2016.

– Pro-prayer, anti-abortion –

At that time, Pence was the governor of Indiana and a former congressman with a low national profile. He had a few crowning achievements to boast of — a state anti-abortion law and a “religious freedom law” that said individuals and companies wishing not to serve gay and lesbian customers could cite a “substantial burden” on their religious beliefs as a reason.

An amendment was eventually passed to provide protections for LGBT citizens.

The anti-abortion law added limits to access, banning those motivated by the fetus’s race, gender or disability. But it was eventually blocked in the courts. Nevertheless, the two initiatives had burnished Pence’s reputation as a champion of the religious right. Since taking office as vice president, the 59-year-old Pence — who seems to make it his business not to make waves — regularly appears alongside the 45th president of the United States.

In meetings, he often takes a back seat, his lips sealed and his head nodding in approval. When he speaks in public, he never misses a chance to voice his admiration for the man who brought him back to Washington.

On the face of it, they could not be more different — Trump is brash, twice divorced, vocal about his sexual conquests and doesn’t seem to have a tight grasp on biblical passages. Pence meanwhile said last year: “I do try and start every day reading the Bible. My wife and I try to have a prayer together before I leave the house every morning.” On Thursday, the vice president was set to host a roundtable for pro-abortion rights activists on the eve of the March for Life, a major annual anti-abortion rally in Washington. Pence was the first vice president to speak at the march in 2017.

“We will not rest, until we restore a culture of life in America for ourselves and our posterity,” Pence told the crowd.

– The fight continues –

Mike and Karen Pence met at church — an evangelical Protestant congregation. One in four Americans associates with the movement. Today, they are often seen holding hands when they are together in public. Pence often begins his tweets by saying, “Karen and I are praying for…”

They are reportedly inseparable — a fact that sometimes sparks mockery. In 2002, Mike Pence, then a lawmaker, infamously told The Hill that he never ate alone with a woman other than Karen, and that he would not accept an invitation to an event where alcohol was being served if she were not there. “If there’s alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me,” Pence told the Washington paper.

While he has often joked about his traditional views of coupledom, he has never denied them. Karen Pence, 62, shares her husband’s conservative beliefs. In 1991, she wrote to The Indianapolis Star newspaper to complain about an article that, she claimed, encouraged children to think they were gay or lesbian, according to a copy of the letter released by The Washington Post. Since that time, gay marriage has become the law of the land — legal across the country. But there is no explicit federal ban on discriminating against someone for their sexual orientation, which allows employers like the Immanual Christian School to maintain its rules against “sexual immorality.”

For the Pences, as for other evangelicals, the battle continues.

The thing that is stunning about this news piece is that it casts what are traditionally Christian values and a traditionally good Christian family in a negative light. For AFP and Yahoo, the Pences are an anomaly, a throwback that needs to be thrown back. The contemporary reader is more likely to mock the “backwardness” of Family Pence rather than see their lifestyles as honorable.

This is the nature of the attack against Christianity in our country.

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