Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. NATO East Europe report: Romanian politics in 2017

 

The Romanian legislative elections of December 2016: A disaster for decent people, a bitter victory for the anguished majority deprived of a sense of its dignity, a season of fearful Socialism to come, and an opportunity for American grand strategy. Though the picture is bleak, this is what NATO-Eastern Europe will have to work with in the coming years. Before I attempt to write something worthwhile about Poland, the other country of some importance in Eastern Europe, let me wrap up the series I started on the political situation in my native Romania with a report about the anti-government protests. I’ll tell you how this new government got into office which in one month managed to create the scandal I’ve already covered for Ricochet.

We have to talk foreign affairs, the less urgent half of politics, but the one concerned with war and the threat of war. Conservatives now run America’s foreign policy and that seems rather providential, because the world stage is bleak and unfriendly, and conservatives are the less likely party to believe in a fairy tale peace. Foreign affairs, after all, means dealing with America’s enemies and the threat of war. The oldest and most openly bellicose of America’s three major enemies is Russia, and therefore Americans who are interested in politics should care to an extent about Eastern Europe, where lies my unhappy native country, Romania.

On the one hand, Romania needs international help, as it always has, to keep some unity of democratic politics and good governance. On the other hand, if Russia is a problem for the US, keeping it at bay through NATO seems like the easiest way to deal with the problem, at least provisionally. So I hope to appeal, in all-American fashion, both to your moral sense of indignation against oligarchic corruption and to your self-interest in keeping the NATO peace without war becoming necessary.

Romania is a country of some 20 million people, with several more million spread out in Western Europe, who speak a Romance language and whose forebears professed the Orthodox Christian faith. Romania is a natural American ally. It is a democratic people with reasonably stable institutions of representative government. It is neither a Slavic culture nor happy about having been conquered by the Soviets. It is part of the EU and NATO: it hosts a significant American military base, participates in America’s European missile shield system, offers good access to the Black Sea, and has participated loyally in America’s Middle Eastern wars. It certainly does not share in the anti-Americanism of Western Europe. And, finally, the massively urbanized economy and popular culture favor the English language, IT, and the fashions and fantasies of latter-day American popular culture. But the country is now undergoing political troubles that may weaken it and reduce its utility to NATO.

Sunday, December 11, 2016, a large majority of Romanians failed to bother to go vote for the national legislature, the bicameral Parliament where the majority creates the government and, therefore, wields power under the Constitution

Turnout was just under 40%, a bit more than 7.2 million people voted. Slightly more men than women voted, which is slightly unusual. Old people voted at twice the rate of the young, which is sadly the democratic normal–this may be prudent in a democracy, but not in a new democracy with a tyrannic past. There were significantly more urban than rural voters (about 4 to 3), which is surprising for Romania, and depressive: the future of Romania as a free democracy depends on urban voters, but this time they elected the Socialists. The Socialists, who have reverted to an older name, PSD, the Social-Democrat Party, won an unsurprising, but depressive victory, and the country with the greatest GDP growth in Europe, 4% last year, is changing the currently technocratic, Liberal-backed government for a socialist one elected on a promise to increase welfare and transfer payments to the poor.

The facts of the recent legislative election

The Socialists have won just over 45% of the votes cast for both chambers of Parliament. This is just below the numbers necessary to win an outright majority of seats under the strange schemes of proportional representation used in Romania. They have 221 of the 464 seats in the two chambers of the new quadrennial Parliament (154 Deputies and 67 Senators). They are now running the government in a coalition with a small party. They have won their most brilliant victory on a vaguely nationalist, emphatically populist platform, promising their electorate cheap healthcare and some kind of financial relief, a mix of increases in salaries (minimum wage, likely the wages for public sector employees, too) and tax cuts, while decrying foreign influences.

The Socialist leader, Mr. Dragnea, is a convicted felon or criminal: definitively condemned by the courts for abuse of power, and sentenced to two years in prison. Although the sentence was suspended, this means he cannot become Prime Minister under the laws. The protests now bringing tens of thousands of us into the streets have to do with the attempt of the government he runs from the Parliament to help out oligarchic criminals, whether condemned, accused, or as yet free; and to prepare for legal changes that would allow, by amnesty, for the convicted politician to ascend to the position of PM. He offers Romania yet another bracing show of the remarkable powers of corruption. The previous Socialist PM, Mr. Ponta, is, of course, under investigation, unsurprisingly, for corruption. His mentor, the socialist PM before him, Mr. Nastase, has recently seen the inside of a prison, convicted on corruption charges. And yet the ship sails on.

The opposition to the Socialists is now organized around two parties which campaigned without any alliance or fusion

There are three obvious reasons for this costly mistake, to do with the electorate, the parties, and the political doctrine. We who form the anti-Socialist, pro-capitalist electorate are, as middle class people, hopelessly ignorant of politics. The mood in the middle classes just now can be reduced to the opinion that the majority of the people are too base or ignorant to understand they’ve just voted for an economic catastrophe. A desire to punish those who did not vote–though turnout was the usual–or those who did not vote for capitalism is hiding in plain sight. Only those afflicted by these dark passions fail to recognize them and the partisanship they create at the precisely wrong time–when our social classes should be seeking an alliance to form a majority. Of course, we also are powerless to punish those with whose electoral choices we disagree. The ugly truth is, we’re bad at building institutions and coalitions, and are taking it out on other people.

Next, our politicians are incompetent to the extent that electoral victories as much as defeats destroy parties–this has been the rule with non-Socialist governments since 1989, of which only one lasted through a full term, or at least got close. The parties, as I will explain below, are a shambles and do much to instill fatalism and disgust in the very people who embody the possibility of a capitalist democratic future. There is reason to believe that the last men to lead non-Socialist parties to victory ran their parties such as to destroy other ambitions, which left the parties both somewhat hollow and very headless when those politicians themselves ended their careers, usually without any glory and no little ignominy.

Finally, nobody cared to organize to make a reality of the only hope for electoral victory: trying to get an enormous upsurge in the under-45 vote. Romania is new to democracy and depends on the attachment of the youth to democracy for its future. No one is doing very much to organize for that purpose; the youth is reasonably, if dangerously, ambivalent or indifferent to democracy. Not that they want to change democracy or believe any other system is better–they are merely cynical or indifferent. That’s a social failure on a large scale. It’s hard to find better evidence that the anti-Socialist and non-Socialist politicians who talk about changing politics and society in a more democratic direction–the anti-corruption message–and at the same time a more successful direction–the administrative reform and pro-growth messages–cannot persuade the young, the voters most interested in such a future.

The Romanian opposition to Socialism today

The party with some hope to form the core of a future opposition and maybe even a future majority coalition is called USR and did not exist last year. Now, it has won 9% of the votes. It has recently supported the technocratic, Liberal-backed, outgoing government which has administered a vibrant economy. The politicians now associated with this USR party have supported the Liberal-backed president, Mr. Iohannis, in his successful run for office in 2014, which managed to keep one important office out of the hands of the Socialists. The president has now proved to be the only officeholder willing to legitimize the public protests aiming to defend the criminal code and the magistracy from the self-interest of Parliamentary oligarchs. This much is good about USR.

USR stands for ‘the Save Romania Union’–Romanians who form parties have a fondness, common in Eastern Europe, for impossibly pompous names. This is done to compensate for the corruption of public life and the popular despair of ever effecting change in the direction of justice. Such names are, unfortunately, a very indifferent substitute for politicians and publicly influential men of education. The party is vaguely middle-class in outlook and address, with a hipster appeal, vaguely left-of-center, and relies on an urban, pro-EU electorate. Aside from the crazy fights within the party typical of Romania, USR is about sensible policies with a bias to modernizing Romanian administration and society. It has little to recommend it beyond its anti-Socialist partisanship, but that is enough for now. The real test of its character is mere survival until and through the next elections, in 2020.

The other opposition party has a past, having been part of Romanian politics since 1989, and not much future. This is the Liberal party, which won only 20% of the vote. Their last politician to form a majority coalition and become PM, which happened not ten years back, is now an enemy of the party and has the support of the Socialists, who suffer him to be President of the Senate. The party, on the other hand, supported the current president, Mr. Iohannis, so that’s one political success. Unfortunately, the presidency is constitutionally a non-partisan office in Romania and does not hold real power, which is concentrated in the PM. The recent technocratic PM, unelected and now thrown out by the electorate, was actually backed by the Liberals and was competent. But as a consequence of their political incompetence, the Liberals found themselves in a position of running the legislative election campaign of 2016 on a fairly impressive record and on the utterly mismanaged promise of improvement, should they win sufficient seats to form a governing coalition. This was stupid–it is difficult and dangerous to run as the party in government in Romania. This is so much so that the major party in Parliament, the Socialists, preferred to run as an opposition party, for which masquerade the electorate rewarded them with their greatest victory in a dozen years or more.

The Liberals have turned their party into a catastrophe and it is not impossible that the party will soon collapse. The only reason to keep it going is that a party is a money-making machine in various ways. They have managed to lose about 40% of the electorate who supported them in the statistically comparable previous local elections. They lost especially in the places where they run the local mayoralties and therefore could get out the vote much better (by means legal and illegal, and mostly immoral). In short, the mayors betrayed the central party to take revenge. The central party organized a catastrophic campaign fronted by non-entities who happened to be party leaders. The only seasoned–if unsuccessful–recent party leader resigned, during the campaign, on account of a corruption investigation… Everything went wrong and they themselves did everything wrong. The leadership resigned, which is fitting: the collapse of the campaign and the incredibly disappointing defeat were to a large extent the result of a lack of serious, attractive politicians to make the case for the party with the electorate. But the new leadership seems like no improvement.

Romanian politics

Romania is a country where the people think they’re part of a democracy, but fear that the country is run by an oligarchy. They are right on both counts and this wisdom somehow paralyzes them. Romania is an incredibly peaceful country, mostly bereft of social protests. Crime rates, too, are very low and the capital, Bucharest, is the safest in the EU, likely the safest big city, too. These facts are probably related. The people mostly acquiesce in a form of rule they detest.

Romanians vote in large numbers only in presidential elections: turnout was 53% and 64% in the two rounds of voting in 2014, but the president, who is directly elected, has very little power. In short, the people’s experience of democracy as consent of the governed turns out to have no connection to the constitutional organization of political power. This is because the Constitution was written by the people who conspired to run the country after ’89, who resolved conflicts among themselves by paramilitary attacks on Bucharest…

The Parliament, where authority is lodged by the Constitution, functions both as a means to get wealth illegally and as a means to defend illegally obtained wealth from criminal charges. Both political and apolitical corruption meet in the halls of representation… In the outgoing Parliament, 80 out 588 legislators were condemned (16 definitively, 11 pending appeal), on trial (20), or under investigation (33). The Socialist-dominated Parliament is now trying to change the criminal code through government decree, without laws, to protect such criminals and suspected, accused or tried, MPs, as well as past and future generations of the same.

The political immunity offered legislators as a condition for the functioning of representative regimes with a partisan government is intended to be a defense of the minority from the wrath or lawless self-interest of the majority. In Romania, as well as all other countries with strong corruption, political immunity is the self-defense of the minions of oligarchy from the courts of law that might be run by the democracy or at least run to its advantage. Practically, the democracy has only two kinds of agents, the largely powerless president and the magistrates in the Ministry of Justice who have recently started bringing politicians, including the most powerful, into the courts of law, where they are sometimes condemned and sent to prison. This democratic form of punitive justice was unimaginable not ten years back; it has recently become a fact. The regime in Romania is now more democratic than it was. The reaction of the oligarchy after its legislative victory through the Socialist party is to attempt to cripple the rule of law.

The modern state is supposed to be neutral to any of the people who attain to elected or appointed office. In Romania, the institutions of the state are the venue for a war between agents of democracy and agents of oligarchy. It is a rare, but revealing event that an incredibly wealthy man should seek to cling to his political office in the legislature in order to prevent the prosecutors from bringing him to court. This means the various parties in the legislature have to take sides on the question of whether to revoke the political immunity in order to allow the justice system to do its work. At the same time, a significant part of the economy, including the energy-production system, is nationalized, one of the catastrophic inheritances of the previous, Communist regime, so the opportunities for corruption are enormous. This also means that any political attempt to reform administration and to privatize such state corporations opens up another front in the war between the oligarchy and the democracy.

I will offer you a simple, but not misleading partisan identification of this conflict about the character of the regime: socialism equals oligarchy. The people do defend democracy in the only way they can institutionally, by keeping the presidency out of the hands of the Socialists in the last three elections. At the same time, the people have voted in a referendum for the basic anti-oligarchic statement that the Parliament should be limited to 300 people, but this act of the people’s will has been ignored by Parliament with impunity. This Parliament is, of course, safely in the hands of the Socialists. So the two political branches of the government are at an impasse which will not be solved until the basic problem of organizing a majority coalition is solved: forming parties that take their doctrine seriously so as not to collapse with every new election.

Romania matters to NATO

I have presented Romanian politics without prettifying it in order to earn your trust when I make the case that American conservatives should pay some attention to Romania. I cannot speak about American public diplomacy without speaking ill of it, so I will keep silent about the matter. I will speak instead of strategic concerns.

Romania has been an important part of American foreign policy concerning Russia. This was reflected in the NATO Summit organized in Bucharest in 2008. A reversal of America’s Obama-Clinton Russia policy, which would seem to be sanctioned by the recent election and not merely by GOP and conservative foreign affairs doctrine, would require strengthening alliances in Eastern Europe. America’s reputation is not difficult to improve in the region, but it is threatened by Russia’s recent successes at every level from buying energy companies to invading countries, occuppying territories, and militarizing borders.

Two countries are important in Eastern Europe, both NATO and EU members, Poland and Romania, bordering on the Baltic and Black Seas on the Northern and Southern extremities of the continent. They are useful allies to America and though Romania is the smaller of the two, it is instrumental in any future Russia policy that seeks to preserve Eastern Europe as a buffer between the wealthy Western democracies and a bellicose Russia.

Of course, a prudent American policy would not seek nation building or compulsive democratization in Romania. Instead, it would encourage democratic and lawful developments in accordance with American interest in order to stabilize the country’s partisan conflicts within certain boundaries set by the consensus around NATO and the EU, whose Treaties Romania accepted voluntarily.

Truth to tell, Romania is almost ideal for American interest: it has no Russian border and is therefore less of an international flashpoint, while being fully invested in participating in an American alliance. Investing politically would be very cheap for America, given the small size and population of the country, in a situation where the country already is significantly invested in IT work for America. And being that Romania is neither internally unstable nor internationally involved in any conflicts with any of its neighbors, it is about the best chance America has to show what benefits it can bestow on loyal allies.

Romania has weathered the recent world financial crisis without any political or economic crisis and is still committed to both NATO and the EU, and therefore to capitalist democracy and the West. But it is unrealistic to expect that a continuation of recent American foreign policy in Eastern Europe would not endanger the American alliance or dispirit America’s friends. It is also unrealistic to expect that American disinterest would be matched by Russia and that she would not intervene more in Romanian partisan conflicts. Eastern European countries have been baffled, dispirited, and recently scared by the shift in American-Russian relations. This is an ideal moment to mark a change and the beginning of a long commitment that would weaken Russia’s prestige and preempt its near-abroad foreign policy without military provocation. Romania would be a great place to begin that change.

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There are 23 comments.

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  1. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Fascinating piece. You say “The ugly truth is, we’re [the middle class] bad at building institutions and coalitions, and are taking it out on other people.” Who do you think are the best targets with whom to build a coalition? What would it take, apart from non-corruption, for an anti-socialist coalition to survive in office if it were successful in winning an election?

    • #1
    • January 23, 2017, at 2:53 PM PST
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  2. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Gumby Mark (View Comment):
    Fascinating piece. You say “The ugly truth is, we’re [the middle class] bad at building institutions and coalitions, and are taking it out on other people.” Who do you think are the best targets with whom to build a coalition? What would it take, apart from non-corruption, for an anti-socialist coalition to survive in office if it were successful in winning an election?

    Thanks, kindly!

    So justice is an issue in Romania, but it’s not going to make a coalition–it might break one…–or win an election. (I’m not sure the protests now will even be organized with the minimum common sense of trying to reach as many Romanians to tell them a simple truth: They should be outraged at the notion of the Bernie Madoff’s of Romania being set free.)

    As for what the coalition would have to be, it would have to be primarily urban & it would have to rely on convincing young voters to come out & vote in unusual numbers. Romania is an old country, not merely an ageing one, so far as demographics are concerned. The only thing new is democracy. Social media-organized events to get young people to care about a few basic things & to show them that there is dignity in thinking of themselves as citizens might be essential, unlike most other places, where you can rely on older people to defend democracy.

    • #2
    • January 23, 2017, at 3:07 PM PST
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  3. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    A lot of the coalition, on the other hand, would have to be an alliance with lower classes. Those people really have reasons to fear that economic success in Romania is going to be success for some people, but not for the majority.

    There are certain present concerns & certain future concerns that matter here. The future ones are health & education. Making reasonable, believable promises about improving these systems–their run from Bucharest, from Ministries…–for the majority is the minimum condition of asking people to keep suffering now.

    But that’s not enough. Something more has to be done for the lower classes to give them real opportunities. It’s not clear what can be done in the near term & what could be promised electorally. Making it easier to hire employees from a financial point of view would help with the economy.

    Administrative reform that would deal with some of the humiliations & corruption in public services would make it worth people’s while. It would add some dignity to everyday life.

    But what would move people to elect a non-Socialist coalition is ultimately going to be some persuasive politicians. All sorts of institutions & policies are necessary, but they would not suffice. & Romania is not investing in a political press, in institutions that can organize influence publicly, in politicians. Not even the parties are working. A bit of a miracle is required. It’s happened once. It might again. There is some room for ambition to grow in a crisis…

    • #3
    • January 23, 2017, at 3:13 PM PST
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  4. Front Seat Cat Member

    There’s a lot to read here Titus – and I want to give it full attention as time permits – first thoughts:

    I watched Rick Steves, the travel guide on Public TV just now – it was a repeat, but ironically, on Romania and I watched it again because the country is so beautiful. They said it is furiously traditional – it showed the countryside, funny little straw hats worn by men, and intricately carved doors that are a hallmark of Romanian culture. They said it borders Ukraine, my dad’s heritage.

    There is no anti-Americanism of Western Europe – on the contrary. There is a love affair with Western Europe, just not some of the decisions by Brussels and Merkel. I don’t find it surprising that many did not turn out to vote, yet the elderly and rural did – remind you of anything? I was surprised by the hook, line and sinker grab-fest of our millennials and snowflakes of the Bernie Sanders version of Socialism. Socialism is socialism and it leads to Venezuela.

    Good for you and your countryman to take to the streets and let the world know what is going on. Keep it up. Trump, unlike Obama, is not deaf. His foreign policy team is example #1.

    Have hope. Go back to your Christian Romanian roots and traditions. There are generations still alive to share it. Keep posting and God bless.

    • #4
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:14 PM PST
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  5. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    How did Romania view Obama, and how are they viewing Trump with regards to security. I saw last week that Putin was making some vaguely threatening diplomatic gestures with Moldova, who seems to be just another Russian proxy.

    • #5
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:21 PM PST
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  6. Front Seat Cat Member

    This story was also interesting – my sister said she read that Hungary wants to get rid of Soros – as in booting him out!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-4147614/Hungarys-Orban-praises-Trumps-end-multilateralism.html

    • #6
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:28 PM PST
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  7. Trink Coolidge
    TrinkJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    There’s a lot to read here Titus – and I want to give it full attention as time permits – first thoughts:

    I watched Rick Steves, the travel guide on Public TV just now – it was a repeat, but ironically, on Romania and I watched it again because the country is so beautiful. They said it is furiously traditional – it showed the countryside, funny little straw hats worn by men, and intricately carved doors that are a hallmark of Romanian culture. They said it borders Ukraine, my dad’s heritage.

    There is no anti-Americanism of Western Europe – on the contrary. There is a love affair with Western Europe, just not some of the decisions by Brussels and Merkel. I don’t find it surprising that many did not turn out to vote, yet the elderly and rural did – remind you of anything? I was surprised by the hook, line and sinker grab-fest of our millennials and snowflakes of the Bernie Sanders version of Socialism. Socialism is socialism and it leads to Venezuela.

    Good for you and your countryman to take to the streets and let the world know what is going on. Keep it up. Trump, unlike Obama, is not deaf. His foreign policy team is example #1.

    Have hope. Go back to your Christian Romanian roots and traditions. There are generations still alive to share it. Keep posting and God bless.

    FSC. This comment impressed me with its thoughtful insight and encouragement. If only there were more Titus’s to move things forward. This comment of his is rather sobering yet hopeful: “Not even the parties are working. A bit of a miracle is required. It’s happened once. It might again.”

    • #7
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:36 PM PST
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  8. Hypatia Inactive

    Thank you for this piece! I’m very interested since I was in Bucharest a year or 2 ago, and before that, in 1984.

    What a transformation! My main impression was that the government-backed immigration of the population from rural to urban life had been very traumatic. I read about what was happening with the recent protests, but I didn’t think I had much hope of figuring out what was happening there–until I read your very clear and detailed article.

    Im still not sure what we can DO–but I wish your country well.

    • #8
    • January 23, 2017, at 5:43 PM PST
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  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Titus, suppose American policymakers are inspired by this piece to encourage democratic and lawful developments in Romania to stabilize the country’s partisan conflicts. In, say, ten steps — you know how our policymakers love lists of steps — what would you counsel them to do precisely? And because it can’t hurt to spell it out explicitly, what would you counsel them not to do?

    • #9
    • January 23, 2017, at 7:19 PM PST
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  10. The Reticulator Member

    So there is corruption, but the economy works. I always find it interesting where that takes place (e.g. Chicago). I wish I understood it better.

    Maybe 5 years ago I was spending time with an internet map game whose name I can’t remember right now. Basically you were plopped down in a portion of the globe where there was Google Street View photography, and had to figure out where you were. You got more points the closer you guessed, if you didn’t have patience to do it without guessing, which was often the case. So I would cruise up and down streets of Russian cities (using Street View) and try to read the signs. I was struck by all the banks that were advertising to attract business (among other types of businesses). And they must have been succeeding, otherwise why bother to advertise? I mentioned this to a Ukrainian grad student from the Russian-speaking part of the country, and told him I was surprised, because I thought the banking business was all corrupt in Russia. He said, “It is, but you’ll get your money back.”

    But corruption is used as the explanation for why economies are completely crippled in other parts of the world.

    So there must be some limits on the corruption in the more functional places. But how does that work?

    • #10
    • January 23, 2017, at 10:02 PM PST
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  11. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Maybe 5 years ago I was spending time with an internet map game whose name I can’t remember right now.

    I think it’s called geoguessing, or something similar. I had a couple friends who spent a decent amount of time on it.

    • #11
    • January 23, 2017, at 10:07 PM PST
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  12. The Reticulator Member

    Matt Balzer (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Maybe 5 years ago I was spending time with an internet map game whose name I can’t remember right now.

    I think it’s called geoguessing, or something similar. I had a couple friends who spent a decent amount of time on it.

    GeoGuessr! Thanks for reminding me. I was spending an hour a night on it for a while.

    • #12
    • January 23, 2017, at 10:23 PM PST
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  13. RightAngles Member

    The Liberals have turned their party into a catastrophe …

    Hmm, where have I heard that before? I know! America! What a great analysis, Titus. As to the low voter turnout there, what a shame. I believe New York City can thank low turnout for their socialistic Mayor Bill (Look at me! I have black children!) DeBlasio.

    • #13
    • January 23, 2017, at 10:41 PM PST
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  14. The Reticulator Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    GeoGuessr! Thanks for reminding me. I was spending an hour a night on it for a while.

    And as a caution from learning too much about a country from looking at billboards, I remarked to a couple of different Russian acquaintances that there must be a big home construction boom in Siberian cities, to judge by the amount of billboard advertising for home building and improvement supplies. They didn’t think so, and didn’t have an explanation for the ads. One does see some residential development in Street View, though. It’s interesting that it appears more disorderly in a country with a history of central planning, and more orderly and planned in our own country of free enterprise.

    Another caution is that Google’s Street View imagery is getting old, in comparison to the satellite imagery, which is quite up to date. I’ve been finding more township hall locations in our region of the U.S. and putting them in a QGIS database so I’m ready to go on bicycle rides. It is surprising to see the number of old, picturesque township halls that have been torn down over the past 8 years or thereabouts. They are still visible on Street View but are gone and replaced by newer structures in satellite view.

    Maybe I should spend more time with Street View in Romania to see what wrong impressions I can form of the country.

    • #14
    • January 24, 2017, at 1:27 AM PST
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  15. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    The Reticulator (View Comment):It’s interesting that it appears more disorderly in a country with a history of central planning, and more orderly and planned in our own country of free enterprise.

    America is designed with tough rules & lots of freedom in-between those boundaries. It’s not necessarily worth your while to flout laws; it’s not often necessary, either–well, regulations have changed that some… Central planning means you don’t have much freedom & law-breaking ends up being the same as breathing. & the authorities are not above corruption…

    In a civilized place, you get more justice out of people the less humiliating, intrusive, & exorbitant the obedience & compliance demands you make.

    Another caution is that Google’s Street View imagery is getting old, in comparison to the satellite imagery, which is quite up to date. I’ve been finding more township hall locations in our region of the U.S. and putting them in a QGIS database so I’m ready to go on bicycle rides. It is surprising to see the number of old, picturesque township halls that have been torn down over the past 8 years or thereabouts. They are still visible on Street View but are gone and replaced by newer structures in satellite view.

    That’s slightly haunting.

    Maybe I should spend more time with Street View in Romania to see what wrong impressions I can form of the country.

    Well, you might have fun & at least you can get a local opinion….

    • #15
    • January 24, 2017, at 1:36 AM PST
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  16. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    So there is corruption, but the economy works. I always find it interesting where that takes place (e.g. Chicago). I wish I understood it better.

    But corruption is used as the explanation for why economies are completely crippled in other parts of the world.

    So there must be some limits on the corruption in the more functional places. But how does that work?

    Glad you asked. Corruption is a problem if property rights are not predictable. Corruption is a great asset if there’s civil war or such going on–although these days there are enough meddling idealists in rich countries who want to stop the corruption there, not realizing it’s the only civilizing influence, because commerce tames savagery some.

    In countries with a stable regime & reasonable property rights, corruption does not slow down the economy in noticeable ways. It is not always distinguishable from the kinds of influence of legislation, administration agencies, & executives practiced in the civilized world…

    Corruption becomes inevitable whenever changes in society & economics outpace political changes, which is far more likely in a world with global commerce than it ever was before, although ports have a bad reputation since antiquity as places were novelties are introduced; diseases, too, I imagine. Corruption sometimes make such situations workable; sometimes it make them unworkable, if it leads to political conflicts that tend toward civil war, between old authorities & new ways of influencing people.

    Successful corruption is also a way to keep ambition unbloody.

    • #16
    • January 24, 2017, at 1:43 AM PST
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  17. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):
    Titus, suppose American policymakers are inspired by this piece to encourage democratic and lawful developments in Romania to stabilize the country’s partisan conflicts. In, say, ten steps — you know how our policymakers love lists of steps — what would you counsel them to do precisely? And because it can’t hurt to spell it out explicitly, what would you counsel them not to do?

    I’m on it.

    • #17
    • January 24, 2017, at 1:43 AM PST
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  18. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    skipsul (View Comment):
    How did Romania view Obama, and how are they viewing Trump with regards to security. I saw last week that Putin was making some vaguely threatening diplomatic gestures with Moldova, who seems to be just another Russian proxy.

    So I don’t think most Romanians cared, because it didn’t really matter. I think Mr. W. Bush was respected, at least at first–the president at the time was very pro-America, pro-NATO, committed the country to the Middle Eastern wars, & the people were ok with that. (The soldiers themselves were more excited–it’s about the only real opportunity in the Romanian military, working with Americans; there’s also an American military base in the country, on the Black Sea; military exercises are sometimes organized…)

    Mr. Obama was loved by the social classes you’d expect; the majority was indifferent; he gradually came to disappoint, I think, but few repudiated him; it’s just that Obama’s America was such an object of indifference concerning foreign affairs. America had no policy & no vigor…

    Instead, America turned around to be about the crisis of the West, gradually civilization losing in face of the Chinese. There’s a sense that America can’t get anything done. It’s hard for people to believe in America now, because Americans are so incompetent about public diplomacy. The country’s reputation is in itself an influence–it should not be left to the vagaries of events…

    • #18
    • January 24, 2017, at 1:58 AM PST
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  19. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    I don’t know how Romanians think about Mr. Trump. Almost none understand the social or political phenomenon & have no idea about the gains of the GOP since 2010, so they only see the TV stuff.

    All decent people abhor him or shake their heads at a clown show. Romanians, the more educated they are, the more they are likely to take the view of European government through administration. Not because it works in Romania–it doesn’t–but because it’s the European way. The same people also frown on Brexit & think Britain’s in for it now. They really do not understand events, but they mean well, & are almost always for capitalist democracy.

    I suspect the majority would rather like him. He’s vulgar, he’s very third world in a sense–a caricature of success. Expensive clothes, tan, TV-pretty women, outrageous speeches, more-than-shameless about money, shocking taste in, well, everything he touches. That impresses people. Romanians do not have bitterness about having been property of empires & everyone’s white, so none of the world drama of vulgar colored people taking revenge on haughty colonial empires matters.

    • #19
    • January 24, 2017, at 2:03 AM PST
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  20. Zafar Member

    Bravo Titus!!

    • #20
    • January 24, 2017, at 2:46 AM PST
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  21. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Bravo Titus!!

    Thanks, monami!

    • #21
    • January 24, 2017, at 2:53 AM PST
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  22. Trink Coolidge
    TrinkJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    I suspect the majority would rather like him. He’s vulgar, he’s very third world in a sense–a caricature of success. Expensive clothes, tan, TV-pretty women, outrageous speeches, more-than-shameless about money, shocking taste in, well, everything he touches. That impresses people. Romanians do not have bitterness about having been property of empires & everyone’s white, so none of the world drama of vulgar colored people taking revenge on haughty colonial empires matters

    Wow! and Yes. Bravo!

    • #22
    • January 24, 2017, at 5:17 AM PST
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  23. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):
    Titus, suppose American policymakers are inspired by this piece to encourage democratic and lawful developments in Romania to stabilize the country’s partisan conflicts. In, say, ten steps — you know how our policymakers love lists of steps — what would you counsel them to do precisely? And because it can’t hurt to spell it out explicitly, what would you counsel them not to do?

    Miss Berlinski, folks, my new essay on US-NATO diplomacy & public diplomacy in Eastern Europe / Romania.

    • #23
    • January 24, 2017, at 12:02 PM PST
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