Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mikhail Kalashnikov, Creator of AK-47, Dies at 94

By C. J. CHIVERS
Source: The New York Times

Lt. Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the arms designer credited by the Soviet Union with creating the AK-47, the first in a series of rifles and machine guns that would indelibly associate his name with modern war and become the most abundant firearms ever made, died on Monday in Izhevsk, the capital of the Russian republic of Udmurtia, where he lived. He was 94.

Viktor Chulkov, a spokesman for the republic’s president, confirmed the death, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Born a peasant on the southern Siberian steppe, General Kalashnikov had little formal education and claimed to be a self-taught tinkerer who combined innate mechanical skills with the study of weapons to conceive of a rifle that achieved battlefield ubiquity.

His role in the rifle’s creation, and the attention showered on him by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, carried him from conscription in the Red Army to senior positions in the Soviet arms-manufacturing bureaucracy and ultimately to six terms on the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union’s legislative body.

Tens of millions of Kalashnikov rifles have been manufactured. Their short barrels, steep front-sight posts and curved magazines made them a marker of conflict that has endured for decades. The weapons also became both Soviet and revolutionary symbols and widespread instruments of terrorism, child-soldiering and crime.

The general, who sometimes lamented the weapons’ unchecked distribution but took pride in having invented them and in their reputation for reliability, weathered the collapse of the Soviet Union to assume a public role as a folk hero and unequivocal Russian patriot.

A Soviet nostalgist, he also served as the unofficial arms ambassador of the revived Russian state. He used public appearances to try to cast the AK-47’s checkered legacy in a positive way and to complain that knockoffs were being manufactured illegally by former Soviet allies and cutting into Russian sales.

The weapon, he said, was designed to protect his motherland, not to be used by terrorists or thugs. “This is a weapon of defense,” he said. “It is not a weapon for offense.”

General Kalashnikov’s public life resulted from a secret competition to develop the Soviet infantry rifle for the Cold War. The result was the AK-47 — an abbreviation for “the automatic by Kalashnikov” followed by the year the competition ended.

General Kalashnikov, a senior sergeant at the time who had been injured in battle against German tanks, was credited with leading the design bureau that produced the AK-47 prototype. The Soviet Union began issuing a mass-produced version in 1949.

The true AK-47 was short-lived. It was followed in the 1950s by a modernized version, the A.K.M., which retained its predecessor’s underlying design while reducing its weight and manufacturing time.

 

Shorter than traditional infantry rifles and firing a cartridge midway between the power of a pistol and the standard rifle cartridges of the day, the Kalashnikov line was initially dismissed by American ordnance experts as a weapon of small consequence. It was not particularly accurate or well made, they said, and it lacked range and stopping power.

It cemented its place in martial history in the 1960s in Vietnam. There, a new American rifle, the M-16, experienced problems with corrosion and jamming in the jungles, while Kalashnikovs, carried by Vietcong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers, worked almost flawlessly.

By this time, in an effort to standardize infantry weapons among potential allies, the Soviet Union had exported the rifle’s specifications and its manufacturing technology to China, Egypt, North Korea and Warsaw Pact nations. Communist engineers would eventually share the manufacturing technology with other countries, including Iraq.

The design was incorporated into arms manufactured in Finland, Israel, South Africa and other nations. The result was a long line of derivatives and copies.

Because Kalashnikov rifles were principally made by secretive governments and often changed hands in nontransparent transfers, it is not known how many have been manufactured. Common estimates put production at 70 million to 100 million; either number would dwarf the production of any other gun.

The rifles eventually filled armories throughout Eastern Europe and Asia and spread from war to war, passing to Soviet allies and proxies, and to terrorists and criminals, aided by intelligence agencies and gray- and black-market sales. The United States became an active purchaser, arming anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s and indigenous Afghan and Iraqi forces in recent years.

General Kalashnikov’s bureau also used the A.K.M. design to develop machine guns for infantry squads, helicopter crews and vehicles. By the 1970s, the rifle’s design had become the basis for a new Soviet rifle, known as the AK-74, that fired a smaller and faster cartridge similar to that of the M-16. That rifle remains the standard weapon of the Russian Army.

The general often claimed that he never realized any profit from his work. But in his last years he urged interviewers not to portray him as poor, noting that he had a sizable apartment, a good car and a comfortable dacha on a lake near the factory where he had worked for decades.

Work and loyalty to country, he often suggested, were their own rewards. “I am told sometimes, ‘If you had lived in the West you would have been a multimillionaire long ago,’ ” he said. “There are other values.”

 

How essential the general was to creation of the Kalashnikov line has been subject to dispute. A post-Soviet account in the newspaper Pravda challenged his central role, asserting that two supervisors modified his weapon during field trials.

An amiable personality with a biography ideal for proletarian fable, he was given credit for their work, the newspaper claimed. The general disputed suggestions that the design was guided by others, but also said the rifle was the result of the collective that labored beside him.

The Kremlin embraced his version, although a careful reading of the official histories and General Kalashnikov’s many statements and memoirs shows that his accounts of his life, combat service and work repeatedly changed, raising questions about the veracity of the conventional accounts.

Mikhail Timofeyovich Kalashnikov was born in Kurya on Nov. 10, 1919. He was married twice, the second time to Ekaterina Kalashnikova, a technician in his design bureau. He is survived by a son from his first marriage, Viktor Kalashnikov, who is also an arms designer; a daughter from his second marriage, Elena Krasnovskaya; a stepdaughter, Nelya; and several grandchildren.

Later in life, he disapproved of anyone who he thought had hastened the Soviet Union’s downfall, or who had been unable to control the political and economic turbulence that followed. In memoirs and interviews, he was harshly critical of Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Boris N. Yeltsin.

To the end he was loyal to what he called Socialist ideals and the leaders who gave them shape, and seemed untroubled by the hardships endured by his family during the early years of Soviet rule. His family’s land and home had been seized during collectivization, and when he was a child the family was deported into the Siberian wilderness. His father died during their first Siberian winter, and one of his brothers labored for seven years as a prisoner digging the White Sea canal.

Still, General Kalashnikov spoke of his great respect for Lenin and Stalin alike. “I never knew him personally,” he said of Stalin, “and I regret this.”

 

 

 

Statement by Bureau of Committee on Exercise of Inalienable Rights of Palestinian People on Situation in Gaza Strip

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People issued the following statement today, 16 November:

 

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the deadly military attacks perpetrated by Israel in the Gaza Strip that have reportedly killed at least 21 Palestinians, many of them civilians, including a pregnant woman and seven children, and wounded more than 250 other Palestinians.

 

The Bureau of the Committee also strongly condemns the killing of three Israeli civilians and the wounding of others as a result of rocket fire into Israel, which intensified after Israel’s assassination of a Hamas leader on 14 November 2012.  The Committee has consistently denounced rocket firing by Palestinian militants indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians and called for its cessation.

 

The Bureau of the Committee demands that Israel, the occupying Power, end, immediately and unconditionally, its military campaign in the Gaza Strip.  It considers that the policy and practice of extrajudicial killings are inadmissible under international law.  Nothing can justify this deadly military operation that Israel is carrying out, gravely endangering the Palestinian civilian population and spreading fear and trauma among the population.  The occupying Power should be held accountable for the killing and wounding of the innocent civilians in Gaza.  All these actions are not only in flagrant violation of norms of international law but also are bound to spur further violence, casualties and mistrust.

 

The Bureau of the Committee emphasizes that the Fourth Geneva Convention obligates an occupying Power to protect the civilian population under its occupation, including through the provision of basic services, such as food and medicines.  The applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, has been repeatedly affirmed by its High Contracting Parties, as well as by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.  We call on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to take urgent and decisive action to uphold their obligation, under article 1, to “respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances”.

 

The Bureau of the Committee also considers that it is incumbent upon the Security Council to exercise its responsibilities under the United Nations Charter and engage itself fully with a view to defusing the crisis and saving civilian lives.  The Council should take immediate and concrete steps to demand that the bloodshed is brought to an end, that Israel stop its military attacks against the Gaza Strip and that the civilian population is protected.  The Council must also insist that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza, in accordance with its resolution 1860 (2009) and allow for Gaza’s long-overdue recovery, reconstruction and long-term economic growth.

http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2012/gapal1247.doc.htm

A Featured Article In Honor of International Day for Eradication of Poverty 17 October

From The Economist’s Special Report:

FOR RICHER, FOR POORER

Growing inequality is one of the biggest social, economic and political challenges of our time. But it is not inevitable, says Zanny Minton Beddoes

Oct 13th 2012 | from the print edition

 

IN 1889, AT the height of America’s first Gilded Age, George Vanderbilt II, grandson of the original railway magnate, set out to build a country estate in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. He hired the most prominent architect of the time, toured the chateaux of the Loire for inspiration, laid a railway to bring in limestone from Indiana and employed more than 1,000 labourers. Six years later “Biltmore” was completed. With 250 rooms spread over 175,000 square feet (16,000 square metres), the mansion was 300 times bigger than the average dwelling of its day. It had central heating, an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, lifts and an intercom system at a time when most American homes had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing.

A bit over a century later, America’s second Gilded Age has nothing quite like the Vanderbilt extravaganza. Bill Gates’s home near Seattle is full of high-tech gizmos, but, at 66,000 square feet, it is a mere 30 times bigger than the average modern American home. Disparities in wealth are less visible in Americans’ everyday lives today than they were a century ago. Even poor people have televisions, air conditioners and cars.

But appearances deceive. The democratisation of living standards has masked a dramatic concentration of incomes over the past 30 years, on a scale that matches, or even exceeds, the first Gilded Age. Including capital gains, the share of national income going to the richest 1% of Americans has doubled since 1980, from 10% to 20%, roughly where it was a century ago. Even more striking, the share going to the top 0.01%—some 16,000 families with an average income of $24m—has quadrupled, from just over 1% to almost 5%. That is a bigger slice of the national pie than the top 0.01% received 100 years ago.

This is an extraordinary development, and it is not confined to America. Many countries, including Britain, Canada, China, India and even egalitarian Sweden, have seen a rise in the share of national income taken by the top 1%. The numbers of the ultra-wealthy have soared around the globe. According toForbes magazine’s rich list, America has some 421 billionaires, Russia 96, China 95 and India 48. The world’s richest man is a Mexican (Carlos Slim, worth some $69 billion). The world’s largest new house belongs to an Indian. Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey skyscraper in Mumbai occupies 400,000 square feet, making it 1,300 times bigger than the average shack in the slums that surround it.

The concentration of wealth at the very top is part of a much broader rise in disparities all along the income distribution. The best-known way of measuring inequality is the Gini coefficient, named after an Italian statistician called Corrado Gini. It aggregates the gaps between people’s incomes into a single measure. If everyone in a group has the same income, the Gini coefficient is 0; if all income goes to one person, it is 1.

The level of inequality differs widely around the world. Emerging economies are more unequal than rich ones. Scandinavian countries have the smallest income disparities, with a Gini coefficient for disposable income of around 0.25. At the other end of the spectrum the world’s most unequal, such as South Africa, register Ginis of around 0.6. (Because of the way the scale is constructed, a modest-sounding difference in the Gini ratio implies a big difference in inequality.)

 

 

Income gaps have also changed to varying degrees. America’s Gini for disposable income is up by almost 30% since 1980, to 0.39. Sweden’s is up by a quarter, to 0.24. China’s has risen by around 50% to 0.42 (and by some measures to 0.48). The biggest exception to the general upward trend is Latin America, long the world’s most unequal continent, where Gini coefficients have fallen sharply over the past ten years. But the majority of the people on the planet live in countries where income disparities are bigger than they were a generation ago.

That does not mean the world as a whole has become more unequal. Global inequality—the income gaps between all people on the planet—has begun to fall as poorer countries catch up with richer ones. Two French economists, François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson, have calculated a “global Gini” that measures the scale of income disparities among everyone in the world. Their index shows that global inequality rose in the 19th and 20th centuries because richer economies, on average, grew faster than poorer ones. Recently that pattern has reversed and global inequality has started to fall even as inequality within many countries has risen. By that measure, the planet as a whole is becoming a fairer place. But in a world of nation states it is inequality within countries that has political salience, and this special report will focus on that.

 

 

From U to N

The widening of income gaps is a reversal of the pattern in much of the 20th century, when inequality narrowed in many countries. That narrowing seemed so inevitable that Simon Kuznets, a Belarusian-born Harvard economist, in 1955 famously described the relationship between inequality and prosperity as an upside-down U. According to the “Kuznets curve”, inequality rises in the early stages of industrialisation as people leave the land, become more productive and earn more in factories. Once industrialisation is complete and better-educated citizens demand redistribution from their government, it declines again.

Until 1980 this prediction appeared to have been vindicated. But the past 30 years have put paid to the Kuznets curve, at least in advanced economies. These days the inverted U has turned into something closer to an italicised N, with the final stroke pointing menacingly upwards.

Although inequality has been on the rise for three decades, its political prominence is newer. During the go-go years before the financial crisis, growing disparities were hardly at the top of politicians’ to-do list. One reason was that asset bubbles and cheap credit eased life for everyone. Financiers were growing fabulously wealthy in the early 2000s, but others could also borrow ever more against the value of their home.

That changed after the crash. The bank rescues shone a spotlight on the unfairness of a system in which affluent bankers were bailed out whereas ordinary folk lost their houses and jobs. And in today’s sluggish economies, more inequality often means that people at the bottom and even in the middle of the income distribution are falling behind not just in relative but also in absolute terms.

The Occupy Wall Street campaign proved incoherent and ephemeral, but inequality and fairness have moved right up the political agenda. America’s presidential election is largely being fought over questions such as whether taxes should rise at the top, and how big a role government should play in helping the rest. In Europe France’s new president, François Hollande, wants a top income-tax rate of 75%. New surcharges on the richest are part of austerity programmes in Portugal and Spain.

Even in more buoyant emerging economies, inequality is a growing worry. India’s government is under fire for the lack of “inclusive growth” and for cronyism that has enriched insiders, evident from dubious mobile-phone-spectrum auctions and dodgy mining deals. China’s leaders fear that growing disparities will cause social unrest. Wen Jiabao, the outgoing prime minister, has long pushed for a “harmonious society”.

Many economists, too, now worry that widening income disparities may have damaging side-effects. In theory, inequality has an ambiguous relationship with prosperity. It can boost growth, because richer folk save and invest more and because people work harder in response to incentives. But big income gaps can also be inefficient, because they can bar talented poor people from access to education or feed resentment that results in growth-destroying populist policies.

The mainstream consensus has long been that a growing economy raises all boats, to much better effect than incentive-dulling redistribution. Robert Lucas, a Nobel prize-winner, epitomised the orthodoxy when he wrote in 2003 that “of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive and…poisonous is to focus on questions of distribution.”

But now the economics establishment has become concerned about who gets what. Research by economists at the IMF suggests that income inequality slows growth, causes financial crises and weakens demand. In a recent report the Asian Development Bank argued that if emerging Asia’s income distribution had not worsened over the past 20 years, the region’s rapid growth would have lifted an extra 240m people out of extreme poverty. More controversial studies purport to link widening income gaps with all manner of ills, from obesity to suicide.

The widening gaps within many countries are beginning to worry even the plutocrats. A survey for the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos pointed to inequality as the most pressing problem of the coming decade (alongside fiscal imbalances). In all sections of society, there is growing agreement that the world is becoming more unequal, and that today’s disparities and their likely trajectory are dangerous.

 

 

Not so fast

That is too simplistic. Inequality, as measured by Gini coefficients, is simply a snapshot of outcomes. It does not tell you why those gaps have opened up or what the trend is over time. And like any snapshot, the picture can be misleading. Income gaps can arise for good reasons (such as when people are rewarded for productive work) or for bad ones (if poorer children do not get the same opportunities as richer ones). Equally, inequality of outcomes might be acceptable if the gaps are between young people and older folk, so may shrink over time. But in societies without this sort of mobility a high Gini is troubling.

Some societies are more concerned about equality of opportunity, others more about equality of outcome. Europeans tend to be more egalitarian, believing that in a fair society there should be no big income gaps. Americans and Chinese put more emphasis on equality of opportunity. Provided people can move up the social ladder, they believe a society with wide income gaps can still be fair. Whatever people’s preferences, static measures of income gaps tell only half the story.

Despite the lack of nuance, today’s debate over inequality will have important consequences. The unstable history of Latin America, long the continent with the biggest income gaps, suggests that countries run by entrenched wealthy elites do not do very well. Yet the 20th century’s focus on redistribution brought its own problems. Too often high-tax welfare states turned out to be inefficient and unsustainable. Government cures for inequality have sometimes been worse than the disease itself.

This special report will explore how 21st-century capitalism should respond to the present challenge; it will examine the recent history of both inequality and social mobility; and it will offer four contemporary case studies: the United States, emerging Asia, Latin America and Sweden. Based on this evidence it will make three arguments. First, although the modern global economy is leading to wider gaps between the more and the less educated, a big driver of today’s income distributions is government policy. Second, a lot of today’s inequality is inefficient, particularly in the most unequal countries. It reflects market and government failures that also reduce growth. And where this is happening, bigger income gaps themselves are likely to reduce both social mobility and future prosperity.

Third, there is a reform agenda to reduce income disparities that makes sense whatever your attitude towards fairness. It is not about higher taxes and more handouts. Both in rich and emerging economies, it is about attacking cronyism and investing in the young. You could call it a “True Progressivism”.