Streetwise Professor

December 4, 2010

So Long From Wrigley Field, Ron

Filed under: Sports — The Professor @ 5:10 pm

Ron Santo passed away yesterday at age 70.  He was an excellent ballplayer and an inspirational man.

My memories of Santo are anchored in the magical yet ultimately painful 1969 season.  I was at opening day at Wrigley in ’69, and followed the team to the bitter–very bitter–end.  The opening day game seemed an omen.  Ernie Banks hit two homers for the Cubs, only to be answered by two from the Phillies’ Don Money.   The game went into extra innings (the 12th, if memory serves): in the bottom of the last frame, pinch hitter Willie Smith drove a ball to the opposite field–left field.  I was sitting with my mom in the box seats near the Cubs’ bullpen, and watched Smith’s ball sail right past me into the left field bleachers.  This was a feat, because Smith never, ever, hit the ball the other way.  That seemed to portend something special.

Many of my other vivid visual memories of 1969 revolve around Santo.  As the Cubs won in May, June, and July, Santo was ecstatic.  He would click his heels while returning to the clubhouse after every Cubs win.  He was in the on deck circle when the Mets’ fan loosed the black cat onto the field at Shea Stadium.  I remember clearly him screaming in the dugout at hapless Cub centerfielder (there was no other kind in that era) Don Young after Young dropped a routine fly ball in a crucial game–again at Shea Stadium.

Santo should have made the Hall of Fame, but he was denied, year after year.  He was a perennial All Star.  He was a four tool player.  He hit for decent average, he hit for power (averaging 26 homers and 100 RBIs in an eight season stretch during which pitching was dominant), and he was a sparkling fielder with good range and an excellent arm: he won five Gold Gloves.  He lacked speed, to be sure: whenever  any two of Cub players Santo, Banks, or Hickman were on base together, my dad would say, ironically: “Thunder and lightning on the basepaths.”  But third base is a power position, not a speed position.

Yeah, I know the rap against Santo: he didn’t perform at a high level for long enough.  But please, the reason that he didn’t is all the more cause to admit him to the Hall.  Santo suffered from diabetes, diagnosed in 1959.  This at a time when the treatment of diabetes was not highly advanced.  For a guy to perform at such a high level for a decade with such a serious disease–a disease that cost him both his legs later in life–is admirable, and should have been taken into account by Hall voters.

This was also a time when physical conditioning was not nearly as advanced as today.  Now players making huge dollars have their own trainers and nutritionists; and a few years back,  in the cases of sleazes like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and all the rest, their own performance enhancing chemists.

That wasn’t the case in Santo’s day.  Not by a long shot.  When I was a kid I saw Santo during the offseason working out in an exercise class with ordinary hoi polloi at the Leaning Tower YMCA on Touhy Avenue in Chicago.   There was Santo, in a white t-shirt and baggy gray gym shorts, doing jumping jacks and leg lifts with the usual assortment of Y members.  Yeah, like you’d see that today.

Despite his chronic and devastating physical problems (he had bladder cancer, which eventually killed him, in addition to his diabetes), Santo was an incurable optimist.  If you ever feel sorry for yourself, think of Ron Santo and how he dealt with his adversity and you’ll be a better person.

He also suffered insults with grace.  I remember watching a Fox baseball broadcast of a Cubs-Cards game a few years back.  Santo did a brief appearance with the appalling and annoying Joe Buck, who needled and insulted Santo and the Cubs repeatedly.  Classy performance there, putz.  (Did I mention I despise Joe Buck?  Can you tell?)  But Santo graciously overlooked Buck’s barbs, and focused on the positives of his career and the Cubs’ history.  (Yes, Santo had a temper: he once choked Leo Durocher in an argument in the Cubs’ clubhouse.  Knowing Leo, he probably asked for it.  Buck certainly did, but a mellower Santo restrained himself.)

Santo also endured the annual disappointment of failing election to the Hall of Fame with class.

It’s always sad to see the passing of someone who evokes such vivid memories from one’s youth.  It’s especially sad when that person is a true mensch, which Santo was.  Not to sound all old and curmudgeonly and like one of the Four Yorkshiremen, but there were few of his like in professional sports in his day, and even fewer today.  Santo gave all he had to baseball; would that Major League Baseball had done the same in return.

* After finishing this post, I came across this Chicago Tribune article listing the top 10 Santo memories–which include all of the ones I related above; the heel clicking, the black cat, Don Young, and the Leo choking incident.

The FCC Won’t Let Me Be

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 3:29 pm

For the past several years, there has been a debate raging over “net neutrality,” whereby the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would regulate the terms of access to the networks of internet service providers (ISPs).  In particular, the FCC’s original proposal on net neutrality (unveiled in October, 2009) would have prohibited ISPs from charging those supplying content, services, or applications different prices to access their networks.  That is, net neutrality would have imposed a form of price control on the operators of networks. (Interestingly, the proposal would have permitted ISPs to charge downstream users different prices for different services.)

Several things about net neutrality raise alarm bells.  The first is that anything that has an advertising-like, slogan-esque moniker that only a curmudgeon could take objection to is probably the product of a well-designed (not to say Orwellian) marketing campaign intended to advance a very specific interest.  The association of major corporate interests, notably Google, with this endeavor only strengthens that suspicion.

The second, and more substantive, concern is that price controls are almost always a very bad idea.  Even if there is a colorable theoretical justification for a particular price control, its practical application by a government regulator subject to political pressure and interest influence is usually a disaster, and quite frequently works in a way that is diametrically opposed to the original intent (e.g,. the ICC regulation of railroad rates). Thus, a plausible economic case for an ideal price control implemented by an omniscient and benevolent regulator is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to proceed with the imposition of a control by a flawed, human one–and the “F” in “FCC” could stand for Flawed (cf. Coase, 1959).  (It could stand for other things, but I’m trying to keep this clean.)

In the case of the internet, there is not even a colorable case.  One rationale is market power by ISPs.  But a resounding majority of Americans have access to multiple broadband providers, including cable, DSL, and mobile broadband from several suppliers (e.g., Verizon, ATT, Sprint).  Indeed, to the extent that there is a market power problem, it is the product of local grants of monopoly cable franchises.  Nor is there any reliable empirical evidence that market power is a major problem in the market for internet access.

There are other speculative rationales for regulation, based on network effects, but the gap between theory and practice is so wide here that it would be outrageous to utilize a protean (though interesting) economic literature as the basis for a vast expansion of regulation.  This literature can help conceptualize, but it is virtually useless as a guide to practical policy.  “Died of a Theory” (h/t Jefferson Davis) would be a tragic epitaph for a vibrant internet.

Yes, I understand that network industries face a variety of competitive challenges.  In fact, my next book is about network effects in financial markets and the regulatory and competitive conundrums they create.  (It’s always been a mystery to me why financial economists have largely ignored the similarities between financial markets and other network industries, and as a result have largely ignored the vast literature on other network industries and their regulation, especially telecoms and electricity transmission: one objective of the book is to redress that problem.)  One paper that will be the basis for a chapter in the book (from the JLEO, 2002) frames exchange regulation in terms of access to a network–exactly the same issue that is at the root of the net neutrality debate.

But since Nirvana is still just a band, the choice is not between an imperfect market and perfect regulation.  The potential for regulatory mischief inherent in net neutrality is great.  Indeed, the mom-and-apple-pie “non-discrimination” concept is anything but benign.  (“Non-discrimination” is another one of those soothing, seemingly unobjectionable terms that is routinely used to camouflage some malign policy initiative.)  In fact, efficient pricing requires pricing differentials when there are cost differentials–which almost certainly exist for different kinds of content delivered over the internet (e.g., bandwidth eating video content is far more costly than routine web page loading or email).

As Peltzman showed in his seminal 1975 paper on regulation, one motive for rent seeking manipulation is to suppress cost-based price differentials in order to benefit a politically powerful constituency.  Given the names of the big supporters of NN, that seems exactly what’s going on here.

The FCC’s original neutrality NOPR came out when the Obama administration was still riding high and still drunk on its pretensions of intellectual superiority and political invincibility.  Those now lie in tatters.  As a result, a divided FCC, under the guidance of the execrable Chairman Julius Genachowski, has floated a scaled down version that eschews the objectionable price controls.  This has dampened opposition from ISPs like Comcast and AT&T.

But watch out.  As Tom Hazlett of George Mason University points out, there is Trojan malware lurking in the new proposal.  Implicit in the proposed rule is the proposition that the FCC has the power to regulate the internet, a proposition that has been decisively rejected by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.  This lot may beat tactical retreats, but they will relentlessly attempt to expand their powers when the opportunity arises in the future. Once FCC power over the internet is recognized and established in principle, it will be difficult to prevent it from being employed far more expansively–and destructively–in the future.

As a result, even this more benign version of internet regulation needs to be stopped.  For all the (Orwellian) pro-competition, pro-innovation rhetoric emanating from people like Genachowski, and many predecessors at the FCC, the Commission’s effect on competition has been almost uniformly negative: it’s one of the poster children for the ironic quip: “I’m from the government and here to help you.”  (Sadly, it’s just one of many: for this proposition, there are more poster candidates than Jerry’s Kids.)  The internet has done just fine without the FCC, thank you.  So it can continue to do just fine, the FCC should be kept out, today and forever more.

The Presentness of (Russian) History: State Department Edition

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:15 pm

I have very mixed emotions–believe me–to learn that State Department cables on Russia often read like SWP posts.  (Or is it vice versa?)  This cable from Wikileaks (h/t Sean’s Russia Blog) in particular resonates: it describes the intensity, the presentness, of history and its interpretation in Russia.  I have written, only half in jest, that when I want to juice the comments, all I have to do is write a post on Russian history, and away we–or I should say, you–go.  And where you go is completely unpredictable.

The cable even has a section heading using a quote that I’ve used before, Faulkner’s line: “The past is not dead; it is not even past.”

This bit made me chuckle:

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX said he suspected that at least some of the pro-Kremlin bloggers who participate in these historical debates were professionals in the pay of the GOR (and perhaps special services).

All right, anybody feel in a confessional mood?  Come on now, fess up.  Ha!  No, I am sure that all of you are arguing in your spare time (at the 3:39 mark).  Which gives me a greater sense of personal satisfaction, actually.

Actually the main thrust of the cable is pretty optimistic.  Its conclusion is along the lines of the old Soviet joke, “they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work.”  The conclusion could be phrased as: “They pretend to crack down, we pretend to obey”:

9. (C) The fact that Russia currently lacks such a “historical propaganda” institution has thus far prevented any widespread attacks on academic freedom in the name of “anti-falsification.” XXXXXXXXXXXX, told us October 27 that he had heard no reports from any of his MGU colleagues of any pressure on them to present teaching materials or name names in order to ferret out “falsification.” He attributed this at least in part to the fact that, in contrast to neighboring Belarus, Russia has no Ideological Department which examines all teaching materials in schools and universities. XXXXXXXXXXXX also cautioned against leaping to Orwellian conclusions, reminding us not to “underestimate the cynicism” involved in administrative requests like the one at RAN. “Everyone knows how to take such requests,” she said; the request from the government is “ugly,” but unlike in Soviet times, when professors all depended upon the government for their currently there is no way to enforce such decrees. As a result, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX, “people wink”; the administrators, while passing along the government’s request, make it clear to their subordinates that they themselves do not support it. XXXXXXXXXXXX pointed out that many historians may be outraged at the government’s heavy-handedness and its “real falsification of history,” but they don’t see themselves as a unified force. The simplest response is to use the power of inertia, and to stonewall passively.

The analysis argues that the main purpose of these falsification campaigns is to serve as boob bait for internal political consumption:

Goal of GOR rhetoric: score political points at home

10. (C) For the GOR’s part, it held a session of its Commission during the summer, and its director claimed that participants were “not here to censor, but simply to oppose” perceived attempts by other countries to gain at Russia’s expense on the geopolitical scene. Although the stated focus is on international disputes, the GOR’s primary audience for its hardline stance is domestic. Rhetoric defending Russia’s honor on the international stage scores easy political points for the GOR at home.

That said, the report does cite at least one disturbing instance of a crackdown:

More recently, on October 14, the Moscow Times reported that the German government had written a letter to President Medvedev complaining about an investigation into an Arkhangelsk historian, Mikhail Suprun, for “violating privacy rights” by researching deportations of Soviet Germans under Stalin. The police official who gave Suprun access to the archives is also accused of “abuse of office,” while Suprun could receive up to four years in prison, and has had what he called “a lifetime’s work” on computers and research data confiscated by the Federal Security Service (FSB).

It is well known that the imposition of a large punishment with a small probability can be an efficient means of deterrence.  So making of an example of a Suprun and his police collaborator can be a far more effective way of achieving the goal of limiting dissent and heterodoxy than a broad, Soviet-style crackdown: it is hard to measure the extent of self-censorship that occurs as a result of the prospect of playing, historical Russian roulette with “GOR.”

December 3, 2010

Forget Anna Chapman: Here’s the Real Deal

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:50 am

During the summer spy saga, I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something more.  This Bill Gertz story, if accurate, would confirm that suspicion:

The National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting a counterintelligence probe at its Fort Meade, Md., headquarters in a top-secret hunt for a Russian agent, according to a former intelligence official close to the agency.

The former official said the probe grew out of the case of 10 Russian “illegals,” or deep-cover spies, who were uncovered last summer and sent back to Moscow after the defection of Col. Alexander Poteyev, a former SVR foreign intelligence officer who reportedly fled to the U.S. shortly before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited here in June.

Col. Poteyev is believed to be the source who disclosed the U.S.-based agent network.

NSA counterintelligence officials suspect that members of the illegals network were used by Russia’s SVR spy agency to communicate with one or more agents inside the agency, which conducts electronic intelligence gathering and code-breaking.

Poteyev (who was originally identified as a Colonel Shcherbakov in a Kommersant story) would be a much more important figure if he really outed a mole or moles in NSA (and others who knows where else), than just rolled on the “illegals” arrested and swapped in July.

Which brings up one unsettling aspect of the Gertz story.  If the illegals were really couriers and cutouts linking the SVR with the moles inside the Agency, they were much, much more important than the original reporting would suggested.   In that case, letting them go so precipitously, without adequate time to extract additional information from them, seems like a major, major mistake.  (I know that this was the opinion of some former intelligence people even before the newest revelation: one can only imagine what they think now.)

But that also raises some other questions that could either discredit Gertz’s reporting or the earlier reporting.  The earlier reporting indicated that the Russian illegals had long been under surveillance.  If so, it seems remarkable that any contacts with NSA personnel would have gone undetected.  So, it seems unlikely, though not impossible, that (a) the illegals were in contact with NSA moles, and (b) the illegals were under close surveillance for a long period of time.  If (a) and (b) are both true, that raises uncomfortable questions.

In any event, this casts the whole SVR spy story in a whole new light.  It will be interesting to see what develops going forward, though given the extreme sensitivity of the issue, and of the NSA, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever get even a shadow of the full story.

And it also means that the rather cavalier and dismissive commentary regarding the SVR illegals that was the norm at the height of the story, both in the US and Russia, was ignorant and superficial.  The surface appearances in espionage stories are almost always deceiving.  Hopefully people will remember this next time, and be a little more circumspect with the levity.  This is serious business.

Thanks for Making My Point, In Real Time

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:27 am

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that Putin had insisted that the EU consult with Russia on internal EU legislation, but that he was notoriously touchy to the merest suggestion by any outsider relating to any internal Russian legislative, legal, or policy matter.  And right on cue, here’s what Putin said on Larry King Live the very night that I wrote that post:

When we are talking with our American friends and tell them there are systematic problems” in the U.S., “we can hear from them, ‘Don’t interfere in our affairs,’” Putin said. “To our colleagues I would also like to advise you, don’t interfere either with the sovereign choice of the Russian people.”

December 2, 2010

The Contagion of Careless Use of the Word “Contagion”

Filed under: Economics,Financial crisis,Politics — The Professor @ 10:10 pm

“Contagion” is one of the most carelessly employed words in this era of financial turmoil.  It is a medical metaphor, applied to economics.  It invokes a situation in which an unhealthy individual infects other, otherwise healthy individuals.  In an economic/financial context, the insolvency of one institution (a country, a firm, a bank) causes the insolvency of another, or others.

This can occur, of course.  The failure of a financial institution imposes losses on its counterparties, and these losses may jeopardize their solvency.  But the term is often used to describe any situation in which multiple institutions get into trouble simultaneously even though this can occur without contagion proper.  Many institutions can be subjected to a common shock that causes several of them to become insolvent, or teeter on insolvency.  That’s not really contagion.

For instance, during the Great Depression, many banks failed even though most of these banks did not have any transactions with one another; they failed because of a common macro shock that hit the entire banking sector, and the entire economy for that matter.  Similarly, during the S&L crisis many thrifts who basically dealt only with their borrowers failed simultaneously because they engaged in similar activities and were hit by a common shock (primarily, they lent long term at fixed rates, borrowed short term at floating rates, and got hammered by inflation and rising interest rates).

Right now the c-word is being used repeatedly in conjunction with the European financial crisis.  Yes, there are some interconnections that are exacerbating the crisis, but this isn’t really a contagion, properly understood.

Greece and Ireland and Portugal and Spain and perhaps soon Italy and Belgium are facing catastrophic financial and fiscal situations.  That’s because they all made the same mistakes and are suffering from the same economic problems.  All borrowed profligately.  Ireland and Spain in particular had housing booms that went bust.  All (with the exception perhaps of the Irish) have uncompetitive economies.  So they are all suffering financial crises together.  But in the first instance, the crisis of one is not causing the crisis of the others.  The fact that somebody in Las Vegas borrowed a huge amount to buy a house that has plummeted in value is not the cause of the financial distress of another somebody in Florida how borrowed a huge amount to buy a house that plummeted in value: they just made the same borrowing decisions, were hit by the same economic shock, and hence are in the soup at the same time.  Nor is, for the most part, the fact that Greeks borrowed in excess the cause of Irish financial woes: those woes are due to the fact that the Irish borrowed too much too.

If tomorrow the Irish discovered all of the leprechaun gold, would that help the Greeks or the Portuguese?  Some, but not much.  Yes, the Irish could pay off their loans and they would be free of their financial crisis.  But the Portuguese and Greeks and Spaniards and Italians would still be groaning under the weight of their past borrowing excesses. If the problem were contagion, properly understood, the leprechaun gold would benefit the Greeks, et al, not just the Irish.

There are interconnections, to be sure.  Spanish banks have bought Portuguese government bonds, for instance, and Portuguese banks have bought Greek bonds.  So a Portuguese default would hurt Spain, and a Greek default would hurt Portugal.  But the fact remains that if the Greek banks had only bought Greek bonds and the Spanish banks had only bought Spanish bonds and the Portuguese banks had only bought Portuguese bonds they would all still be feeling the big hurt.  Regardless of whether they bought each others’ crap, or just their own, they would all be in crisis due to the fact that all of these economies are overleveraged and have poor growth prospects.

Perhaps the more interesting case is that the French and the British and the Germans are net buyers of PIIGS debt.  This means that the travails of the Irish, et al, hurt the banks and other investors in the more financially sound countries.  Indeed, these losses may be big enough to put some major German or French or British banks at risk of failure.  That would be more like contagion, but that’s not usually the way the word is used in stories about the situation: it’s more often said that the Irish crisis is putting Portugal or Spain or Italy under stress.

The problem with bad metaphors (mental models/framing) is that it can lead to incorrect diagnoses, and incorrect policies in response to the problems.  As I wrote back in March, during the previous spasm of the crisis (its Greek phase), if the real contagion problem is German or French banks, its better to deal with those problems directly rather than via elaborate money laundering schemes.  That’s especially true since these schemes risk perpetuating the moral hazards that were the primary source of the problem in the first place: it is rather amazing to see the Germans and Merkel get blasted for suggesting that bondholders must take haircuts as part of any relief plan.  If going forward bondholders figure they can offload their problems to taxpayers when things go bad, the overleveraging will never end.

The brute fact is that the amount that the PIIGS (and probably Belgium too) have borrowed far more than they can afford to pay.  Somebody has to eat the loss.  Deciding who will be an ugly, ugly process.  But the ugliness will recur unless the borrowers and the lenders bear the brunt.

So a word to the wise.  Be on alert when you hear the word contagion used.  More often than not it is used sloppily; encourages sloppy thinking; and leads to sloppy actions.

December 1, 2010

Stopping START

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:49 pm

With all the focus on Wikileaks, there are other, old fashioned, non-wiki leaks that are quite fascinating.  The first was the story that Russia has redeployed some tactical nuclear weapons to within miles of Russia’s border with NATO countries.  The second is that the US had engaged in secret negotiations with the Russians over missile defense–negotiations that SecState Clinton and SecDef Gates denied in sworn testimony before Congress had been undertaken.

Leaks don’t happen by accident.  They have a purpose.  And here the purpose is to undermine support for the START treaty.

And, perhaps unintentionally, Putin and Medvedev are lending a hand.  Both gave speeches threatening that Russia would develop new offensive weapons unless Russia was included in a joint missile defense program with the US.

Putin made a similar threat last year, by the way.

Russia can’t afford another arms race.  Indeed, one of the main virtues of START to Russia is that it caps US weaponry, and thereby relieves Russia of pressure to increase its strategic weapons expenditures to keep up.  With START it can keep a rough parity without breaking the bank.

Which means that the tandem’s threat is completely incredible; especially given the huge expenditures committed to the restructuring of Russia’s conventional military, and a sputtering economy, Russia cannot afford an arms race: given its travails with Bulava, moreover, there is room to doubt that it could run the race if it tried.  But these threats, combined with the revelation of information that calls into question Russian intentions and other information that calls into question the administration’s honesty, damage the prospects for the passage of START, particularly during the lame duck session.  A vote for start could look like submission to bullying, and acquiescence to administration dishonesty.

Obama has put tremendous emphasis on START, in an effort to get something, anything, that can be portrayed as an accomplishment in the aftermath of an electoral debacle.  The Russians aren’t doing him any favors in their words and deeds, and the leaks that just occurred, and the ones that are likely to come (leaky faucets don’t usually drip just twice) are inflicting even more damage.  Which means that the prospects for START are fading.

It’s Not Utah

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:08 pm

Or Torino, or Lillehammer,or Nagano, or Vancouver.  But it’s where the 2014 Winter Olympics are supposed to be: Sochi, Krasnodar Krai, Russia.

And the crucial difference between Sochi and environs and Utah in is not a lack of Mormons in the former. It is that Krasnodar is a violent place where large swaths of territory are ruled by criminals.

The Krai was the scene of a violent incident that horrified all of Russia.  That bears repeating: it was the scene of a violent incident that appalled all of Russia.  And that’s saying something.

Here are some of the details:

The Krasnodar Territory earlier this month shook the whole of Russia with the appalling mass murder of 12 people, including four children, in the village of Kushchevskaya, in what appears to be gangland killings. Six local gangsters, including one rumored to be the ringleader, were promptly arrested in a rapid 12-day investigation, which is not yet over. In the early hours of this morning, a ninth suspect – Igor Cherny, aka “Amur” – was also arrested.

But for many in Kuban, the expanse along the Kuban River which flows into the Sea of Azov, the mass murder is just one tragedy linked with corruption in the region that was not simply shunned by the rest of Russia. “The tragedy in the village of Kushevskaya is an open abscess on this region’s body, but it is just one single case that has received widespread social publicity and provoked some sort of reaction,” said Galina Konovalova, who claimed that her and her husband’s business is being openly stolen from them, at a press conference in Moscow.

And it’s not just Kushchevskaya.  It’s the whole damn place:

Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov recently acknowledged that every district of his region has criminal gangs similar to the one that massacred a dozen people in the village of Kushchyovskaya on Nov. 5. “Unfortunately,” he said, “such gangs exist to varying degrees in every city in the region. Some have more of them, some have fewer, but they’re present … and their lines of support stretch up to the regional level.” That’s a rare admission from a governor, but it would be naive to believe that other regions do not have the same problem.

. . . .

The gang operating in Kushchyovskaya was large, it owned property, and one of its leaders was even a deputy in the local legislature. And it should come as no surprise that the gang continued to use violent methods, since the current leadership has not made public safety a priority. Strong-arm methods not only work well in modern Russia; they inspire others to adopt the same tactics and become criminals.*

Not to mention that Krasnodar is hard upon the chaotic and violent Caucasian republics of Russia.

This is not to mention the corruption and inefficiencies in building an Olympic facility from scratch in an area completely lacking in the necessary infrastructure.

I’m sure everything will turn out swell, particularly with given the fact that distinguishing between “law enforcement” and the organized criminal elements in the region is impossible.

The Vedemosti editorial quoted above (second quote) tries to muster a note of optimism:

It is entirely possible for criminal businesses to evolve — to grow in scope, to acquire new property, and to come to the realization that it is more advantageous to make money legally. That’s exactly what happened to some of the businesses that got their start during “the wild ’90s.” In a normally developing society, the overall presence of legal business grows, criminal businesses become marginalized, and the use of gangland-style methods to resolve disputes gradually becomes ineffective.

Well, maybe.  But not in three years.  And maybe not in three centuries, or three centuries beyond that: see, for instance, Sicily.

This will be an Olympics to remember.  One shudders to think for what.

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