Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Time For Another Russian Revolution?


Who's the richest person on earth? It's not a spoiler to say it's a ruthless crook, right? How's this for a spoiler-- the runner-ups, according to Forbes? Jack Ma ($39 billion), Mukesh Ambani ($40.1 billion), Ma Huateng ($45.3 billion), Alice Walton ($46 billion), Rob Walton ($46.2 billion), Jim Walton ($46.4 billion), Sergey Brin ($47.5 billion), Larry Page ($48.8 billion), Michael Bloomberg, currently up at Bohemian Grove bragging that he's running for president ($50 billion), Larry Ellison ($58.5 billion), David Koch ($60 billion), Charlies Koch ($60 billion), Carlos Slim ($67.1 billion), Amancio Ortega ($70 billion), Mark Zuckerberg ($71 billion), Bernard Arnault ($72 billion), Warren Buffett ($84 billion), Bill Gates ($90 billion)... and, according to Forbes, number uno is Jeff Bezos ($112 billion). OK, but where are the "royal" families that own countries? And where's the Russian mafia that pillaged the collapsing Soviet Union? Modest about reporting their loot. Leonid Blavatnik, who bought Warner Bros Music to launder Russian money claims to be worth a mere $20.8 billion. Alexexy Kordashov, a steel oligarch, claims he's worth about the same as Blavatnik. Vladamir Potanin, who stole a lot of everything says he's worth about the same as the other two criminals. But what about... ssshhhhh. Well, it's a secret, but "everybody" knows Putin is the richest person on earth (i.e., the man who stole the most). Fortune asserted last year that Putin is worth more than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos combined-- something like $200 billion. No wonder Trump, who aspires to be on these lists, licks Putin's ass.

Putin was born in Leningrad (once again, St. Petersburg) in 1952, son of a naval conscript (a submariner) and a factory worker. He studied law, graduated in 1975 and then worked as a KGB officer for 16 years, first in counter intelligence and then spying on foreigners. You've heard of kompromat, right? That was his thing. He says he was a Lieutenant Colonel when he retired in 1991, just as the coup d'├ętat against Mikhail Gorbachev began. Putin was clear that it was anti-Communist which he saw as a dead end. In 1996 he moved to Moscow. In 1998 Boris Yeltsin first appointed him head of the FSB, the new KGB, and then Prime Minister. A year later he gently pushed Boris Yeltsin aside and took over the presidency, immediately dropping corruption charges that Yeltsin and his family were certainly guilt of. So when did Putin have the time to accumulate more wealth than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos combined?

And how? After the Soviet Union collapsed it dawned on everyone-- including Wall Street-- that the government owned virtually everything-- and certainly everything big. The decades of accumulated state wealth was quickly privatized-- by a criminal gang: Vladimir Putin and his ruthless cronies, although mostly Vladimir Putin. Oligarchy? Kleptocracy? Plutocracy? Kakistocracy? All that and more... and everything that Trump longs for.

Forbes had a funny headline yesterday: Russian Commies Try Staging A Comeback. Well, not exactly... but just what a Forbes headline writer would get a woody over. You heard about how Putin is trying to redistribute the wealth of Russia even further upward by raising the retirement age, right. People-- poor people-- have been flipping out all during July. It doesn't really have that much to do with the Communist Party, a Putin house pet... it's pretty organic.
If there is one thing you can bet the house on, it's the fact that people will take to the streets if you change the rules of retirement. A politician or a party that messes with social security is destined to lose popularity.

Over the weekend, the Russian Communist Party staged their anti-pension reform protest, something that has been in the works since the celebratory grand finale of the FIFA World Cup on July 15. The no. 2 party in Russia filed their paperwork for an organized street rally, keeping the rules in mind, and got a few thousand people to show up.

They had help from Vladimir Putin's new Public Enemy No. 1, Alexei Navalny, who got his followers out with ease. "A trillion in savings will come from pension reform, but guess where that trillion in savings will go?" he told his followers on social media. "Yes, you guessed right." Navalny thinks the money will be squandered and used by the ruling United Russia party to pad their pockets.

He's probably right. Russian GDP has fallen by over $1 trillion between 2013 and 2016, more than any of its BRICS counterparts.

Navaly ended up in jail last night following another day of protests. He has since been released.

"Pension reform should come as no surpise," says Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's Prime Minister.  "We are approaching this just now because conditions have been met for life expectancy within the framework of the 80+ program," he said, about the official policy to care for aging Russians.

While Navalny was the rockstar of the protest, as always, it was the old Communist Party that took this movement as their own. Or at least wants to. The public is largely against pension reform. The new changes would mainly increase the retirement age. The Communist Party is the biggest party in Russia after United Russia, led by Putin. And if they can galvanize support from people who hate the "R" word-- reform-- they might be able to become a real opposition when Putin fatique sets in.
That's silly... but perfect for Forbes-- and for Putin. A recent poll shows that 90% of Russians oppose the "reform" and an online petition opposing it attracted 3 million signatures. 6,000 people showed up for the rally on Sunday, where people opposing the raising of the retiring age held signs saying "stop stealing our future," not "workers of the world unite" nor "no war but class war," "capitalism kills," "socialism or barbasism" (let alone "the only church that enlightens us is the church that burns"). What Putin wants to do is raise the retirement age, to 65 from 60 for men and to 63 from 55 for women, even though Putin promised to never raise the retirement age while he was campaigning for president.

Because the stolen wealth of the oligarchs-- including Putin, of course, is untaxed, there is a strain on public finance and the oligarch-owned government says it can't afford the pensions. Sound familiar? Putin, sounding very Republican: "The moment will come relatively soon when the number of workers will equal the number of retirees and will then continue to decline. And then either the pension system will burst or the budget of the reserve fund used to finance the deficit in the pension system will blow up." No chance of taxing the stolen trillions?

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At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Behind all great fortunes are unpunished crimes.

At 7:32 PM, Blogger Skeptical Partisan said...

It isn't the nominal 'economic system'; it's concentrated power. The Russians switched from power concentrated in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to a oligarchic class. Western democracies are ruled by the economic elites.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We (Chicago school boys) taught them the pluto-oligarchic system. Yeltsin was solely greedy and chronically boiled, so he was no good at it. He skimmed but neglected the people (empty supermarkets and looooong lines for bread, etc.). Putin knew that if the proles had food, heat and clothing, they'd get behind his kleptocratic regime.

At 6:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the latest Russian revolution, like the latest American revolution, occurred right in front of and with total cooperation of their "respective" populations.

The Russian public was very used to waste, fraud, abuse and corruption under their authoritarian regime for 80 years, so I can give them a little slack.

But the American public fucking VOTED for theirs from 1980 until present. No excuses. We deserve all the blame.


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