Weapons of Mass Destruction Redux

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

That’s what I’d say to the Western governments currently planning an invasion of Syria under the pretense that Bashar al-Assad is readying the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War.

The Telegraph reports:

NBC News quoted an unnamed US official as saying there was evidence that the bombs, loaded with the chemical weapon, could be dropped on the Syrian people from fighter planes once president Basah al-Assad gives the order.

If it proves to be true, the move would be a dramatic escalation in the conflict in Syria, which could lead to US involvement.

Earlier this week, US officials said the regime had begun mixing the chemicals to make the deadly sarin gas.

Sarin, used in two terrorist attacks in Japan in the 1990s, is a man-made nerve agent which can cause convulsions, respiratory failure and death.

The Syrian regime has never overtly admitted having chemical weapons, though it is believed by western analysts to have the biggest stocks in the Middle East. It has also denied it would ever use chemical weapons against its own people.

Western intelligence agencies never had to publicly display their evidence for the invasion or Iraq — their wrong claims that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction which could be deployed against Western countries at 45 minutes notice.

And now they expect us to take it at face value that they have evidence that Syria is ready to use chemical weapons? Talk about the boy that cried wolf.

Want to commit blood and treasure to fight another middle eastern war? (Even though the most recent interventions have all ended in Islamists and even groups affiliated with al-Qaeda coming to power)

To be taken seriously, Western intelligence agencies need to prove these claims with hard evidence open to public scrutiny. If the claims are based on second-hand reports, circumstantial evidence and bad guesswork (as was the case in Iraq) then Western taxpayers deserve to know the truth.

But they won’t. Governments are already massing armies to intervene. The politicians and bureaucrats making these decisions won’t have to pay for it. They will leave that up to taxpayers.

CostofWar

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Why I Still Fear Inflation

Paul Krugman wonders why others worry about inflation when he sees no evidence of inflationary trends:

Joe Wiesenthal makes the well-known point that aside from certain euro area countries, yields on sovereign debt have plunged since 2007; investors are rushing to buy sovereign debt, not fleeing it. I was a bit surprised by his description of this insight as being non-”mainstream”; I guess it depends on your definition of mainstream. But surely the notion that what we have is largely a process of private-sector deleveraging, with government deficits the consequence of this process, and interest rates low because we have an excess of desired saving, is pretty widespread (and backed by a lot of empirical evidence).

And there’s also a lot of discussion, which I’m ambivalent about, concerning the supposed shortage of safe assets; this is coming from bank research departments as well as academics, it’s a frequent topic on FT Alphaville, and so on. So Joe didn’t seem to me to be saying anything radical.

But those comments! It’s not just that the commenters disagree; they seem to regard Joe as some kind of space alien (or, for those who had the misfortune to see me on Squawk Box, a unicorn); they consider it just crazy and laughable to suggest that we aren’t facing an immense crisis of public deficits with Zimbabwe-style inflation just around the corner.

Krugman, of course, thinks it crazy and laughable that in the face of years of decreasing interest rates that anyone would believe that inflation could still be a menace. In fact, Krugman has made the point multiple times that more inflation would be a good thing, by decreasing the value of debt and thus allowing the private sector to deleverage a little quicker.

I remain convinced — even having watched Peter Schiff and Gonzalo Lira make incorrect inflationary projections — that there is exists the potential of significant inflationary problems in the medium and long term. Indeed, I believe elevated inflation is one of three roads out of where we are right now — the deleveraging trap.

In my worldview, this depression — although a multi-dimensional thing — has one cause above all others: too much total debt. Debt-as-a-percentage of GDP has grown significantly faster than productivity:

The deleveraging trap begins with the boom years: credit is created above and beyond the economy’s productive capacity. Incomes rise and prices rise above the rate of underlying productivity. And as the total debt level increases, more and more income that was once used for investment and consumption goes toward paying down debt and interest. This means that inflated asset prices become less and less sustainable, making the economy more and more susceptible to a downturn — wherein asset prices deflate, and the value of debt (relative to income) increases further. Under a non-interventionist regime, once the downturn occurs, this would result in credit freeze, mass default and liquidation, as occurred in 1907.

However, under an interventionist regime — like the modern Federal Reserve, or the Bank of Japan — the central bank steps in to lower rates and print money to support asset prices and bail out failed companies. This prevents the credit freeze, mass default, drastic deflation and liquidation. Unfortunately, it also sustains the debt load — following 2008, total debt remains over 350% of GDP. The easy money leads to a short cycle of expansion and growth, but the continued existence of the debt load means that consumers and businesses will still have to set aside a large part of their incomes to pay down debt. This means that any expansion will be short lived, and once the easy money begins to dry up, asset prices will again begin to deflate. The downward pressure on prices, spending and investment from the excessive debt load is huge, and requires sustained and significant central bank intervention to support asset prices and credit availability. The economy is put on life-support. Debt-as-a percentage of GDP may gradually fall (although in the Japanese example, this has not been the case) but progress is slow, and the debt load remains unsustainable.

A fundamental mistake is identifying the problem as one of aggregate demand, and not debt. Lowered aggregate demand is a symptom of the deleveraging trap caused by excessive debt and unsustainable asset prices. The Fed — and advocates of greater Fed interventionism to support aggregate demand, like Krugman — are mostly advocating the treatment of symptoms, not causes. And the treatment in this case may make the underlying causes worse — quantitative easing and low-interest rates are debt-additive policies; while supporting assets prices and GDP, they encourage the addition of debt. 

There are three routes out of the deleveraging trap; liquidation (destroying the debt via mass default), debt forgiveness (destroying the debt via systematically cancelling it), and inflating the debt away. Liquidation in a managed economy with a central bank is politically impossible. Debt forgiveness is politically difficult, although perhaps the most realistic effective bet. And inflating the debt away at a moderate rate of inflation would seem to be a slow and laborious process — the widely-advocated suggestion of a 4% inflation target would only eat slowly (if at all) into the 350%+ total debt-as-a-percentage-of-GDP load.

All three exit routes seem blocked. So the reality that we are staring at — and have been staring at for the last four years — has been remaining in the deleveraging trap.

So why in a deflationary environment like the deleveraging trap would I fear high inflation? Surely this is an absurd and unfounded fear?

Well,  Japan shows that nations can remain stuck in a deleveraging trap for a long, long time — although Japan has had to take to increasingly authoritarian measures such as mandating the purchase of treasury debt to keep rates low and so to keep the debt rolling. But eventually nations stuck in a deleveraging trap will have to take one of the routes out. While central banks refuse to consider the possibility of a debt jubilee, and refuse to consider the possibility of allowing markets to liquidate, the only route out remains inflation. 

Yet the big inflation that would be required to eject the United States from the deleveraging trap makes creditors — the sovereign states from which the US imports huge quantities of resources, energy, components, and finished goods — increasingly jittery.

According to Xinhua:

The U.S. has long been facing the same problem: living beyond its means. At present, the country has debts as high as 55 trillion U.S. dollars, including more than 14 trillion U.S. dollars of treasury bonds.

And last October:

Economists agree that as the United States’ largest foreign creditor, China should contemplate ways to pull itself out of the “dollar trap,” as the U.S. economy is faltering with its debt piling up and its currency on the brink to depreciate.

China must make fuller use of the non-financial assets in its foreign reserves, as well as speed up the diversification of investing channels to resist a possible long-term weakening of the dollar, said Xia Bing, director of the Finance Research Institutes of the Development Research Center under the State Council.

Zheng Xinli, permanent vice chairman of China Center for International Economic Exchanges, has suggested that Chinese companies boost overseas investment as a way to absorb trade surpluses and fend off the dollar risk.

And it’s not like America’s Eurasian creditors are doing nothing about this. As I wrote earlier this month:

If the exporter nations feel as if they are getting screwed, they are only more likely to escalate via the only real means they have — trade war. And having a monopoly on various resources including rare earth minerals (as well as various components and types of finished goods) gives them considerable leverage.

More and more Asian nations — led by China and Russia — have ditched the dollar for bilateral trade (out of fear of dollar instability). Tension rises between the United States and Asia over Syria and Iran. The Asian nations throw more and more abrasive rhetoric around — including war rhetoric.

And on the other hand, both Obama and Romney — as well as Hillary Clinton — seem dead-set on ramping up the tense rhetoric. Romney seems extremely keen to brand China a currency manipulator.

The Fed is caught between a rock and a hard place. If they inflate, they risk the danger of initiating a damaging and deleterious trade war with creditors who do not want to take an inflationary haircut. If they don’t inflate, they remain stuck in a deleveraging trap resulting in weak fundamentals, and large increases in government debt, also rattling creditors. 

The likeliest route from here remains that the Fed will continue to baffle the Krugmanites by pursuing relatively restrained inflationism (i.e. Operation Twist, restrained QE, no NGDP targeting, no debt jubilee, etc) to keep the economy ticking along while minimising creditor irritation. The problem with this is that the economy remains caught in the deleveraging trap. And while the economy is depressed tax revenues remain depressed, meaning that deficits will grow, further irritating creditors (who unlike bond-flipping hedge funds must eat the very low yields instead of passing off treasuries to a greater fool for a profit) who may pursue trade war and currency war strategies and gradually (or suddenly) desert US treasuries and dollars.

Geopolitical tension would spike commodity prices. And as more dollars end up back in the United States (there are currently $5+ trillion floating around Asia), there will be more inflation still. The reduced global demand for dollar-denominated assets would put pressure on the Fed to print to buy more treasuries.

Amusingly, this kind of scenario was predicted in 2003 by Krugman himself!:

The crisis won’t come immediately. For a few years, America will still be able to borrow freely, simply because lenders assume that things will somehow work out.

But at a certain point we’ll have a Wile E. Coyote moment. For those not familiar with the Road Runner cartoons, Mr. Coyote had a habit of running off cliffs and taking several steps on thin air before noticing that there was nothing underneath his feet. Only then would he plunge.

What will that plunge look like? It will certainly involve a sharp fall in the dollar and a sharp rise in interest rates. In the worst-case scenario, the government’s access to borrowing will be cut off, creating a cash crisis that throws the nation into chaos.

This is not a Zimbabwe-style scenario, but it is a potentially unpleasant one involving a sharp depreciation of the dollar, and a significant change in the shape of the American economy (and geopolitical reality). It includes the risk of costly geopolitical escalation, including proxy war or war.

However, American primary and secondary industries would look significantly more competitive, and significant inflation — while penalising savers — would cut down the debt. Such a crisis would be painful and scary, but — so long as there is no escalation — largely beneficial.

“Russia and China Will Pay a Price”

Hillary Clinton just made a very memorable statement.

I do not believe that Russia and China are paying any price at all – nothing at all – for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime.  The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price

So — exactly what price must Russia and China pay? Should the United States stop buying the debt they issue to support bloated welfare states and fiscal irresponsibility? Should the United States stop exporting consumer goods that fill their stores, and keep their people fat and happy? No — I do not think it is Russia and China who would “pay” in the case of increased mutual antagonism. I think the United States will pay the greater price.

In any case, Russia denies the premise of her argument.

From RT:

Russia rejects in the strongest possible terms allegations that it supports President Assad in the Syrian conflict. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Moscow and Beijing must ‘pay a price’ for backing Assad.

While I think Russia and China are the thing standing between Syria and another Iraq-style “democratisation”, I do not necessarily think Russia and China are doing the wrong thing. While the Assad regime is certainly inhumane and brutal, the rebels that Clinton seems so urgent to support seem little better — at least judging by their attempt to get British journalists killed in the name of propaganda, and their well-known affiliation with global jihadism.

As I noted back in February:

Can we honestly say that committing guns, blood and money to deposing Assad will guarantee peace and stability? Can we honestly say that the next regime might not be worse? I do not believe we can — especially considering that almost every nation involved in the “Arab Spring” has since elected Islamists to power.

Even with the support of the Arab league, is getting entangled into another messy and open-ended conflict in Russia and China’s backyard really a good idea?  Some voices in China are already rumbling that they would be willing to go to war to prevent an American takeover of Iran.

If avoiding nuclear proliferation is our goal, intervention is certainly a bad idea. Qaddafi’s deposition — in stark contrast to nuclear-armed North Korea — was a signpost to rogue regimes that the only way to ensure their survival is to pursue nuclear armaments.

The real question though, is what Hillary Clinton thinks she can achieve through throwing unveiled threats around and destabilising the fragile global system? Is she so fervently committed to expensive and bloody foreign interventionism that she is willing to risk creating a global diplomatic and political crisis in order to get what she wants? How far will she go to force the American agenda? Regional war? Global trade war? World war?

My guess is that her threats are completely hollow.

The Diminishing Chances of an Israeli Strike

From Haaretz:

At 8:58 P.M. on Tuesday, Israel’s 2012 war against Iran came to a quiet end. The capricious plans for a huge aerial attack were returned to the deep recesses of safes and hearts. The war may not have been canceled but it has certainly been postponed. For a while, at least, we can sound the all clear: It won’t happen this year. Until further notice, Israel Air Force Flight 007 will not be taking off.

According to a war simulation conducted by the U.S. Central Command, the Iranians could kill 200 Americans with a single missile response to an Israeli attack. An investigative committee would not spare any admiral or general, minister or president. The meaning of this U.S. scenario is that the blood of these 200 would be on Israel’s head.

Yeah. But I don’t really think that there was any real chance of a strike, even before that, and I haven’t for a long time.

As I wrote in January:

The real threat to Israel and America is not inaction on Iran, but excessive force. Iran poses little threat, but military intervention to effect regime change in Tehran runs the risk of huge and widespread blowback throughout the Muslim world: terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and deeper intergovernmental hostility, a breakdown of regional trade, and even a wider land war involving Eurasian nations who wish to protect Iran, including China and Russia.

The curious thing is that if the critical wargame was one involving a retaliatory Iranian missile strike, perhaps the people at the Pentagon would be wiser to allocate their not inconsiderable resources to a closure of the Strait of Hormuz, instead? After all, the economic damage of destabilising global trade seems a much greater danger to global, American and Israeli security than an Iranian retaliation.

From the Huffington Post:

Blocking the Strait of Hormuz would create an international and economic calamity of unprecedented severity. Here are the crude realities. America uses approximately 19 to 20 million barrels of oil per day, almost half of which is imported. If we lose just 1 million barrels per day, or suffer the type of damage sustained from Hurricane Katrina, our government will open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which offers a mere six- to eight-week supply of unrefined crude oil. If we lose 1.5 million barrels per day, or approximately 7.5 percent, we will ask our allies in the 28-member International Energy Agency to open their SPRs and otherwise assist. If we lose 2 million barrels per day, or 10 percent, for a protracted period, government crisis monitors say the chaos will be so catastrophic, they cannot even model it. One government oil crisis source recently told me: “We cannot put a price tag on it. If it happens, just cash in your 401(k).”

Of course, there are plenty of examples of nations enacting policies that end up damaging their own interests, not least America’s costly, destructive and illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. But given the deep and serious opposition that Netanyahu faces from within the Israeli establishment (e.g. Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief), it seems unlikely that they will at any point engage in such a strike. The rhetoric appears to be mostly designed stir up resistance to the Iranian regime (although frankly this appears to have had the opposite effect — galvanising the Iranian people to rally around a relatively unpopular regime).

The Shape of Eurasia

Western journalists might denounce it as stump rhetoric. But I don’t think Vladimir Putin is beating a drum or rattling a sabre. I think he is deadly serious: what’s more, I think he is in a position of strength, not weakness.

From Bloomberg:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is stepping up rhetoric against the U.S. as his campaign for the March 4 presidential election intensifies after the biggest protests against his rule.

The U.S. “wants to control everything” and takes decisions unilaterally on key questions, Putin said on a campaign stop yesterday in the Siberian city of Tomsk, 3,100 kilometers (1,900 miles) east of Moscow. “Sometimes I get the impression the U.S. doesn’t need allies, it needs vassals.”

Putin, 59, is seeking a new term in the Kremlin amid the biggest challenge to his 12-year rule after fraud allegations at parliamentary polls sparked mass protests. The Russian leader, who has repeatedly accused the U.S. of interfering in other countries’ affairs, said last week that reports by a state-owned Moscow radio station supported American interests.

“The No. 1 reason Putin is doing this is elections,” Jan Techau, director of the European Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels, said yesterday in a phone interview. ‘‘It’s pre-election saber-rattling. This is vintage Putin.’’

Alas, it is all about context. This isn’t 1992; the end of history is finished. America is not an invincible hegemon, but instead has been taxed and weakened by two big wars and a myriad of small ones, a huge financial blowup, and the fallout of losing a huge hunk of its manufacturing sector to Asia. America’s monopoly over the global oil trade — and its ability to acquire oil and components with newly-printed dollars — is threatened by the current shape of Eurasia, where a coterie of authoritarian leaders, united by their shared anti-Americanism is moving to displace the dollar as the global reserve currency.

Vladimir Putin was very explicit about this.

From Rianovosti:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the US of hooliganism on Monday [July 2011] over the US government’s efforts to ease its financial problems by injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy.

“Thank God, or unfortunately, we do not print a reserve currency but what are they doing? They are behaving like hooligans, switching on the printing press and tossing them around the whole world, forgetting their main obligations,” Putin told a meeting of economic experts at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Russian authorities have said they would like to see a basket of currencies including the ruble replacing the dollar as the main reserve currency, although most analysts have said a more realistic target for Russia would be if the ruble became a regional reserve currency for the CIS.

Regular readers will know that this is not just rhetoric. These Eurasian leaders are taking direct action to displace the dollar.

From Zero Hedge:

Yuan bonds have spread across the planet, China has dropped the dollar in bilateral trade with Russia, the ASEAN trading bloc has formed into a tight shell of export partners, and that is just the beginning. Two major announcements in 2011 have solidified my belief that a complete dump of the dollar by eastern interests is near…

First was the announcement that China was actively and openly pursuing the establishment of a central bank for the whole of ASEAN, with the Yuan utilized as the reserve currency instead of the dollar:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/27/us-china-asean-financial-idUST…

This news, of course, has barely been reported on in the mainstream. As I discussed at the beginning of this article, the terminology surrounding economic developments has been diluted and twisted. When China states that an ASEAN central bank is in the works, we need to point out what this really means; the ASEAN trading bloc is about to become the Asian Union. The only missing piece of the puzzle is something that I have been warning about for at least a couple years, ever since my days at Neithercorp (see “Migration Of The Black Swans” as a recent example). This key catalyst is the inclusion of Japan in ASEAN, something which many said would take five to ten years to unfold. News released this Christmas speaks otherwise:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-25/china-japan-to-promote-direct-trading-of-currencies-to-cut-company-costs.html

Japan has indeed entered into an agreement to drop the dollar in currency exchange with China and has expressed interest in melting into ASEAN. Japan has also struck somewhat similar though slightly more limited deals with India, South Korea, Indonesia, and the Philippines almost simultaneously:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-28/japan-india-seal-15-billion-currency-swap-arrangement-to-shore-up-rupee.html

This means that the two largest foreign holders of U.S. debt and Greenbacks will soon be in a position to tap into an export market far more profitable than that of America, and that all of this trade will be facilitated by currencies OTHER THAN THE DOLLAR. It means the end of the dollar as the world reserve and probably the end of the dollar as we know it.

America might well be expected to throw a wrench into the changing chape of the global system. A (messy, prolonged and expensive) war with Iran — to disrupt Eurasian co-operation and re-assert American hegemony — might suffice in the minds of hawks, but will in reality do more harm than good, perhaps driving Russia and China into explicitly and directly defending their ideological ally. Even if this was not the case, American military power runs thin on manpower, and is  funded not by American productivity, but by debt acquisition. More debt will just strain the status of the dollar as reserve currency even more.

Decoding Putin

I think it’s fair to say that Vladimir Putin is looking like a wounded animal.

While Putin’s tough-guy demeanour and braggadocio always smacked of deep and sheer insecurity, the optimistic and brazen protests in recent days — following on from elections that took Bush vs Gore to its logical conclusion — have left his regime teetering on the brink of farce.

From the Guardian:

The thing about harsh authoritarian regimes is it’s not laws, or courts, or the rigid government hierarchy that makes them run. It is fear. And once the fear is taken out of the equation – suddenly, for the vanishing of fear is always sudden – it becomes clear that these courts, laws and hierarchies do not work. Everything just starts falling apart.

That is what happened here 20 years ago: institutions just stopped taking orders from the Kremlin. The media stopped fearing the censors who still sat in their offices at every media outlet. The police stopped applying absurd regulations, enabling the birth of private enterprise. Ultimately, the heads of the Soviet Union’s 15 constituent republics lost their fear – and the empire fell apart, in what by history’s standards was the blink of an eye.

Right now Putin is scrambling, planting his own hardliners in key positions. He has appointed his old friend, the FSB general Sergei Ivanov, as chief of the president’s staff – even though Putin has not yet been officially re-elected president. He brought back Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s odiously aggressive nationalist envoy to Nato, to serve in his cabinet in Moscow. In the coming days, he is likely to make more appointments that will show that his is a harsh, nationalist, authoritarian government. He is doing this because he is scared – and he desperately wants to bring back the fear that has enabled his rule for the last 12 years.

But Putin’s own media is already failing him. Some of his closest aides are sending out friendly signals to the protesters. They have lost the fear, and that means the whole edifice will come tumbling down. That process is unstoppable.

Could Putin not have grasped that an anonymous and technocratic two-party-regime, offering subjects — I mean citizens — the illusion of choice, is far more effective at consolidating political power in the hands of an elite? Or does he just have a fetish for old-school demagogic Stalinist grandeur and the cult of personality? Whatever: it doesn’t really matter.

What actually matters are the dangers of a vindictive and nuclear-armed regime becoming besieged and crumbling into the sand. The danger is that Putin will now be far more willing to go to war in the middle east than before, as a war will give him the opportunity to force Russians to rally around the flag and adhere to his regime. It will give him the opportunity — just as it would give Obama — to curtail civil liberties, censor the internet and launch cyber-warfare against enemies around the globe. It will give the Russian economy a war-spending stimulus.

A little psychoanalysis: Putin believes the breakup of Soviet Union was the great geopolitical disaster of the 20th Century. He has gone out of his way to resurrect many of its institutions of governance, as well as to forge a new Eurasian geopolitical alliance to act as a counterweight to American hegemony. All of Putin’s posturing and sabre-rattling, his clinging to power, and his machismo suggest that he sees himself as a messianic figure — the saviour of Russia, and the saviour of Eurasia.

Putin’s attitude can be summed up in the words of Louis XIV:

I am the State

As a messianic figure, Putin will not be afraid to lay down the lives of Russians to defend and consolidate his regime and avoid another “catastrophic” breakdown of Russian autocracy. He will not be afraid to start new wars or proxy wars in the middle east. While it is obvious to us in the West that he is a wounded animal, scrabbling to save his regime, it is obvious to him that America — dependent on foreign oil and goods, bogged down in her role as global policeman, and massively indebted to her enemies — is wounded too.

In October, Putin noted:

They are living beyond their means and shifting a part of the weight of their problems to the world economy. They are living like parasites off the global economy and their monopoly of the dollar. If [in America] there is a systemic malfunction, this will affect everyone. Countries like Russia and China hold a significant part of their reserves in American securities. There should be other reserve currencies.

All of this said, I think the notion of a nuclear war is extremely unlikely. There are ways and means to fight a conventional war — even a conventional world war — without a wider nuclear holocaust. The only nation that is dangerous in that regard is North Korea — and their dependency on foreign food aid, and their new Western-educated leader placate this danger.

Even in Russia, there are military men who will do whatever they can — up to and including a coup — to prevent the reckless endangerment of global security. In America, Admiral Fox Fallon bravely fought off the Bush administration’s hunger for a war with Iran, knowing that such an action risked a global conflagration.

But to many the allure of war will be strong, even in the West. Failing economic policy, civil discontent and social inequality can be brushed beneath the edifice of nationalistic expansionism.

Hillary Clinton is a Hypocrite

From AP:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday the U.S. has “`serious concerns” about the conduct of Russia’s parliamentary elections.

She said “the Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. That means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.”

When it comes to deficits of democracy, and a lack of accountable leadership, Clinton would do better to look at America:

  1. Young people exercising their constitutional rights to protest against the disgusting, vile, anti-capitalist and unconstitutional bailouts of Wall Street financials are being pepper sprayed, beaten down to the ground and stamped on.
  2. The American Senate passed the NDAA — an act that authorises the military to arrest and indefinitely detain any citizen without trial, and that defines the entire United States as a battlefield.
  3. Banks and Washington insiders get pumped flush with cash while wider society remains in the throes of a devastating contractionary depression and crippling unemployment.
  4. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp remains open, almost three years after Obama pledged it would be closed.
  5. No Bush administration figure has been prosecuted for violating the Constitution and the Geneva Convention by authorising torture.
  6. Obama continues to renew the illiberal, reactionary, unconstitutional and widely-abused Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that mandates mass surveillance of Americans in violation of the 4th and 5th Amendments.

While it is impossible to hold up Russia under Putin as a paradigm of human rights and democracy, America today can hardly consider itself any better.

Of course, this isn’t really about democracy.

From the Guardian:

Vladimir Putin has accused the US of encouraging the protests over Russia‘s parliamentary election and warned of a wider crackdown on unrest.

The Russian prime minister said Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, “gave a signal” to Kremlin opponents by describing the country’s parliamentary election as rigged. “They heard this signal and with the support of the US state department began their active work,” he said.

Russia is a mineral- and resource-rich nation with the largest landmass in the world. Quite a prize.