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The End of Da Russophile

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Flying away.

I feel the time has come to bid a dignified farewell to this blog that I have lovingly labored on for many a year.

Between the dopamine-fueled attractions of 140 character quickfire tweets, and the chronic lack of time for writing the far more detailed posts demanded as part and parcel of writing not one but two blogs in an era of accelerated historical change, I have come to the conclusion that continuing with Da Russophile is unrealistic. It’s pointless to go seven months without posting and still pretend you are blogging. With the failure to give Da Russophile a new lease of life by inviting in guest authors – exclusively due to my own lack of energy for such a reorganization – I believe it’s time to put the final capstone on what has hitherto been a major part of my intellectual life.

Commentators – on the whole, you’ve been absolutely great. You were indispensable in creating, feeding, and grooming this little critter for the seven glorious years of its existence. If not for your support and feedback, I’d have been done with Russia blogging within my first seven weeks. Thank you for all the time and mindpower you invested into the discussions here.

No doubt you will have many questions of me at this point. I will try to answer them as best I can.

Is the blog going to remain online?

Of course! I have spent far too much time on Da Russophile to just throw it all away, and far too many people appreciate having the old posts around for me to deprive them of it in good consciousness.

Moreover, I have spent the past two evenings compiling a comprehensive, thematically organized archive of all the better posts ever published on this blog: START HERE.

Will there be any new posts?

As a matter of fact, yes. About three. In the next few days, I will publish a much-requested Russia demographic update; a compilation of my Ukraine coverage as the conflict there moved from a standoff in the Crimea to war in the Donbass; and an overall “summing up” post dealing with how well (or poorly) Russia has performed since I first started started to challenge the Western consensus on Russia as a “weak,” “dying,” and “finished” country.

After that, Da Russophile will enter “archive mode.” There might be a few new posts, but only to inform anyone still following of major new updates, e.g. if I ever finally finish writing and publish Dark Lord of the Kremlin.

What’s the plan with Dark Lord, anyway?

It was just about 40% done, at least the first draft, but history began to move too fast this year for the pen to keep pace. Between this and real life demands, I feel that shelving it until the next round of Russia’s Presidential elections is the most prudent course of action.

What happened with the The Russian Spectrum, that site you had for English translations from the Russian media?

It was always only going to be sustainable if it could attract funding to support a sizable group of translators. Suffice to say, funding was not forthcoming despite my best efforts, and running it is beyond one person, even if he had the privilege to do it as a full-time hobby. Which I don’t.

Of course I have no intention of bringing to naught the labor of the amateur translators who extended their own time and energy to contribute to this project, so I have migrated all the posts at The Russian Spectrum to this blog together with their appropriate author attributions. These posts from The Russian Spectrum now constitute an eponymous “special series” within the general category of “Translations,” and a few dozen of the best translations are listed here.

Will you continue writing about Russia?

Yes, just not here.

I will continue blogging at my main website, AKarlin.comon the various topics that interest me: World history, transhumanism, evolutionary psychology, psychometrics, geopolitics, and… and… Russia.

And I will continue pursuing journalistic or even academic projects relating to Russia as opportunities arise. As I said, if there are major new developments on this front, I will post an update here as well as at the AKarlin blog and on my social media accounts.

Speaking of which… feel free to follow @akarlin88 on Twitter, and Subscribe to me on Facebook (nothing personal… but please don’t Friend me unless I know you).

Which Russia watchers should I follow now?

I will be brief, since too many suggestions can quickly become counterproductive.

1) Russia Resources – One of my key arguments has always been that statistics and opinion polls – constituting as they do massive aggregations of useful and generally reliable data – are far more useful for understanding social and political phenomena than the opinionated and fallible Bildungsphilister that you see quacking in the MSM. So you could do a lot worse than spending some time at Rosstat and the Levada Center. Ideally, they would be complemented by something like The Russian Spectrum, to give you a detailed insight into the state of public debate in Russia, but this was not to be.

2) Russia News – RT, RIA, Voice of Russia for the “official” Russian line. David Johnson at the JRL goes out of his way to make sure both sides of the story are represented in his news selections (so much so that he pissed off the folks at Buzzfeed). Finally, it is well worth checking out Charles Bausmann’s new project Russia Insider. Its style, for the most part, is more emotive than cerebral, but on the plus side, many of your favorite Russia pundits like Alexander Mercouris, Eric Kraus, and Patrick Armstrong are actively involved with it.

3) Russia Blogs – Leos Tomicek; Mark Chapman; Sean Guillory; Mark Adomanis; Andras Toth-Czifra; The Vineyard of the Saker; Slavyangrad; and, if you understand French, Alexandre Latsa. On the chance that you read Russian, I recommend Sergey Zhuravlev, Maxim Kononenko, Colonel Cassad.

4) Forums – Though I’d really like to recommend The Russia Debate, the forum that I created and Jose Moreira was kind enough to take over, it appears to be pretty much dead at this point. Feel free to try to revive it, if not… some good discussions can be had on /r/russia and /r/UkrainianConflict.

5) Russia Watchers – In today’s world of interconnected social media, news is fast moving from the realm of big vertical providers to a much more personalistic and horizontal level. On Twitter and/or Facebook, these people/accounts are well worth following: Alexander Mercouris, Graham Phillips, Eric Kraus, Jon Hellevig, Patrick Armstrong, Ben Aris, Mark Sleboda, Alexander Dugin, Vladimir Suchan, Mark Adomanis, Leos Tomicek, Sean Guillory, Dmitry Trenin, Jake Rudnitsky, Mark Schrad, Alec Luhn, Dmitry Linnik, Bryan McDonald, Gleb Bazov, Egor Prosvirnin, Maxim Kononenko, Natalia Antonova, Maxim Eristavi, Simon Ostrovsky, @southfronteng, @euromaidan, @noclador, @anti_maydan, @IndependentKrym, @UkrToday… and your own humble servant, @akarlin88. This is just a solid, #FF-style list to get you started and is in no way meant to be comprehensive; some of them are, for that matter, actively anti-Russian, on the logic that it’s well worth hearing what the “enemy” has to say in any case. The beauty of such an approach is that you can quickly start building your own information network.

The Russian Cross Becomes A Hexagon

One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.

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But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”

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This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

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A Meeting With A Demographer

Today I had the pleasure of meeting up with Nick Eberstadt, an analyst at the AEI who specializes in Korea and Russian demography. He was dropping by SF and we had drinks at the excellent Samovar Tea Lounge.

As readers will know, we do obviously have many disagreements on Russia demography, with Eberstadt representing the “pessimistic” side and myself, the more optimistic one; and his assumptions and methods have at times been objects of criticism at this blog. If I may be so bold, recent data – population growth since 2008, and perhaps even a natural increase this year – has, at least thus far, favored the “optimistic” variants more than the “pessimistic” ones (though one can validly argue that the “echo effect” of the 1990’s baby bust has yet to make its play).

Nonetheless, I should emphasize that he is a deeply knowledgeable and conscientious scholar, who is receptive to new data and convincing counter-arguments, and a very interesting and entertaining conversationalist in person. It would be good for Russia watchers in general to meet up more often, as online interaction just isn’t the same thing. If you’re ever passing by the Bay Area, feel free to drop me a line.

The Best of Da Russophile (2008-2014)

This page is a structured archive of some of the more significant posts from the Da Russophile blog from 2008-2014.

The material falls into four major sections, which will be covered sequentially below:

You can also explore this blog via:

  • The Archives page, which provides the full list of posts here by chronological order;
  • The sidebar, which contains lists of Categories, Tags, and Authors;
  • The lower header menu, which lists the most popular Categories, as well as a list of Special Series;
  • A search engine, either the one at the top right of the header, or an outside engine like Google;

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Their Thesis: the Western media tells us Russia is in a death spiral,
its economy is one giant oil bubble, suffers from endemic corruption,
inequality and lawlessness and is presided over by a KGB kleptocrat
dead-set on resurrecting the USSR and launching Cold War II.

My Antithesis: Russia is a normal country with a booming non-hydrocarbons
economy underpinned by a well-educated and secular workforce.
The Putin administration has affirmed democratic values, worked to improve
human rights and pursued Russia’s national interests abroad.

Your Synthesis: ?

 

Blog Posts about Russia

This section contains all the better blog posts about Russia on this blog; arranged thematically, they are otherwise organized by chronological order.

Da Russophile, and my blogging career in general, began on January 9, 2008 at the height of the so-called “New Cold War.”

I was incited to it by what I perceived as a yawning discrepancy between Western media rhetoric about Russia, swinging between portraying it as a “weak,” “dying,” and “finished” country and doom-mongering about the fascist Dark Lord Putler’s plans to subjugate Middle-Earth, and its rather mundane and mediocre reality.

As Will Rogers once said, “Russia is a country that no matter what you say about it, it’s true.” Today, this is truer than ever, a state of affairs enabled by an uninformed public, lazy journalistic cliques, and agenda-driven Russophobes. I decided to tackle the problem at its root, demolishing Western myths about Russia through a focus on translations of Russian language sources, verifiable statistics and opinion polls, and the application of a judicious comparative perspective (otherwise maligned as “whataboutism”).

One of my greatest successes was modeling and correctly predicting Russia’s demographic turnaround as early as 2008, when holding such a position made one a prime candidate for psychiatric institutionalization. I likewise presented a more realistic – or at the very least, data-informed – perspective on Russia’s comparative performance on human rightscorruption, and the economy.

My articles on Russia have appeared at Al Jazeera and many other Western and Russian media outlets.

But for all the epithets hurled at me as a “Russophile cretin,” “neo-Soviet reptile,” “and my personal favorite, “ein strammer Putinsoldat,” in those (majority of) cases where the data tended to portray Russia in a better than expected light, the fact of the matter is that I have never shied from posting material that didn’t work out in Russia’s favor. For instance, I wrote what remains probably the the most comprehensive roundup of statistical evidence of electoral fraud in the 2011 Russian elections in the English language (that post was later cited by that famous Chekist front Freedom House). Despite Da Russophile’s tongue in cheek credo, it was never a PR project for Putin; I take seriously the Guardian’s adage that “comment is free, but facts are sacred,” even if its current incarnation has all but forgotten about that.

I closed down Da Russophile in 2014 to take up blogging under the “Russian Reaction” banner at The Unz Review.

In 2015, I merger Da Russophile’s archives with the current website.

 

KGB 101 (Core Articles)

 

Mafia State (Politics, Democracy, Whataboutism)

 

Dying Bear (Demography)

 

Potemkin Russia (Economy)

 

Nigeria with Snow (Corruption)

 

Democratic Journalists (Kompromat)

 

Hero Dissidents (Liberal Opposition)

 

Crimes of the Regime (Litvinenko, Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot, etc)

 

Neo-Soviet Revanchism (Foreign Policy)

 

Vatnik Galore (2014 Ukraine Crisis)

 

Stalin Worship (History)

 

The Russian Slave Soul (Semi-Mystical Musings)

 

Icons and Cockroaches (Russian Society & Culture)

 

Kremlin Mole (Anti-Kremlin, “Russophobe” Posts)

 

Special Series on Da Russophile

 Occasionally, Da Russophile blog posts were organized into thematic series, which are listed below.

Special Series: List

  • US-Russia.com Expert Panels – Project by Edward Lozansky’s US-Russia.org to solicit weekly articles from Anglophone Russia watchers that were reprinted by Voice of Russia. The project is still ongoing, but I’m not longer part of it.
  • The Kremlin Clans – Beginning with my translation of Vladimir Pribylovsky’s analysis of Russian clan politics as of 2010, this coalesced into an attempt to chart the shifting influence of the various security and oligarchic groups around Putin.
  • Interviews – A series of interviews with some of the leading Russia watchers of the early 2010s such as Kevin Rothrock, Peter Lavelle, and Mark Chapman, as well as two interviews of myself – including one very amusing one with La Russophobe, the onetime enfant terrible of the Russia watching world.
  • National Comparisons – Systematic comparison of life, media, politics, and traditions in Russia, Britain, and the US (hosted at my main blog).
  • Patrick Armstrong’s RF Sitreps – Six of Patrick’s well-know RF sitreps, produced during the short-lived attempt to make Da Russophile into a self-sustained group blog. The great historical bulk of Patrick’s Russia Sitreps are at ROPV, but most new ones will be appearing at Russia Insider.
  • New Year Predictions – I used to do New Year Predictions – and discussions of the outcomes of previous ones – on both Russia and the wider world. Are located at my main blog, but somewhat relevant to Russia.
  • Wikileaks Cables – Discussions of the State Department cables released by Wikileaks in late 2010. Three posts there are relevant to Russia: A Caucasus WeddingRussia Arming The Rest, and Chechnya, A Once And Future War?

 

Russophile Cabal (US-Russia.org Expert Panels)

 

Kremlinological Tea Leaves (The Kremlin Clans)

 

Putin Trolls (Interviews)

 

Whataboutism (National Comparisons)

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Anatoly Karlin’s Writings about Russia Elsewhere

My Russia journalism outside Da Russophile.

 

Mouth of Sauron (My Russia Journalism)

Apart from these, most of my Expert Panel contributions were reprinted by Voice of Russia, and about a dozen of my Russia articles have been published by the major Russian translation website Inosmi.

Blog & social media:

  • AKarlin.com – Anything non-journalistic/academic I write in the future about Russia will appear at my personal website, where I additionally blog about my various other interests such as world history, transhumanism, evolutionary psychology, and psychometrics.
  • Facebook – Follow my updates on Russia. Unless you know me personally or have at least had substantial online communications with me, please Subscribe instead of Friending me (I don’t accept Friend requests from unknown people).
  • @akarlin88 – Follow me on Twitter. I regularly tweet about Russia, geopolitics, history, evolutionary psychology, etc.
  • YouTube – My YouTube channel.

Author profiles at MSM websites:

Individual articles, interviews:

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The Russian Spectrum

I launched The Russian Spectrum in May 2013 with the aim of making translations from the Russian press available to audiences in the West; a kind of English-language Inosmi, if you will.

One of the things I came to realize in my Russia blogging career is that many Western journalists have a structurally skewed outlook on Russia. They hang with English-speaking liberals in Moscow, and come to see the messy and complex realities of Russian politics as a Manichean battle between Darth Putin and Padawan Navalny. And this is what they end up reporting to their Western audiences.

As a result, the opinions of the 60%+ of Russians who support Putin tend to be glossed over, when they are not dismissed as the delusions of “sovok” troglodytes; meanwhile, worldviews that are perpendicular to pro-Western “liberalism” and pro-Kremlin “patriotism,” such as Communist and nationalist currents, might as well not exist as far as the Western media is concerned. The ultimate result is that Western journalists end up portraying Russian politics as a morality fairytale that, on the whole, fails to reflect the true scope, creative flair, and ideological diversity of public Russian debates.

I realized that one of the easiest and most cost effective methods for making these alternate views accessible to Anglophones is to simply translate articles from the Russian media, which is far more diverse and combative than it is generally given credit for. This is where The Russian Spectrum comes in.

I first raised the idea at the World Russia Forum in Washington DC in May 2012, and later expounded upon at at this blog. Soon afterwards, I began The Russian Spectrum, a project aimed at providing a broad and ideologically representative sample of translations from the Russian media and blogosphere into English. This way, Anglophone readers could decide for themselves the true state of the Russian political debate for themselves – not to mention answer the subsidiary question of whether the Russian media really is as “unfree” as in Zimbabwe, as Freedom House claims.

But the ship of idealism foundered upon the shoals of reality. In its conception, the Russian Spectrum was a full-time undertaking, requiring a group of permanent translators to produce a comprehensive daily range of translations. Unsuccessful at securing funding, I eventually had to pull the plug on The Russian Spectrum. All its posts were moved to Da Russophile, of which the best are listed below; at least a sliver of its vision – access to a certain strand of the Russian political debate during the transitory 2012-13 period – can live on.

Voice of Propaganda (Translations from The Russian Spectrum)

Note that infographics and English-language analysis originally produced for The Russian Spectrum is in the sections above.

 

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The Russia Debate forum aimed to provide a central hub for Russia watchers from all over the political spectrum to engage in intelligent and mutually civil discussions about Russia today, its past, and its future prospects.

The Russian Debate continues under the stewardship of Jose Moreira, but has long been inactive.

Russia’s Demographic Crisis Has Ended

I will have a much longer and detailed post on this in the future, with new projections, but this breaking news (at least as far as it comes with dry demographic statistics) so I can’t refrain from writing a preliminary post on the matter.

For all intents and purposes, Russia’s demographic crisis – the infamous “death spiral” afflicting it for much of the post-Soviet period – is at an end.

Here is a summary of the preliminary data for 2011:

1. The population increased by 189,000. The rate of natural decrease, deaths minus births, is now at a mere 131,000; for comparison, it was consistently within the 700,000 to 1,000,000 range from 1993 to 2006. This was more than balanced by an uptick in net immigration, which rose to 320,000 this year. (This has not stopped the hackish Western media from slobbering on about Russia’s “brain drain” at just the precise moment in time that it finally came to a complete halt).

[Read more…]

Russia Demographic Update VII

It is now increasingly evident that Russia’s population has settled on a small but decidedly firm upwards growth trend. I have been vindicated.

According to the latest data, in the first eight months of the year births fell by 1.4% (12.5/1000 to 12.3/1000) and deaths fell by 6.2% (from 14.6/1000 to 13.7/1000) relative to the same period last year. The rate of natural population decrease eased from -198,3000 to -128,800. The big fall in the death rate is due to two factors: (1) the continuing secular increase in life expectancy, due to decreasing alcohol consumption and more healthcare spending; (2) specific to 2011, the “high base” effect of the mortality spike during the Great Russian Heatwave last year.

This natural decrease was more than compensated for by 200,255 net migrants during the same period, making for a population increase of 71,500 this year to August. This more than cancels out the population decrease of 48,300 for the whole of 2010, and let it be reminded that it rose by 23,300 in 2009. In other words, in stark contrast to the avalanche of doom-mongering articles that continue to be written in the Western press about “dying Russia” – of which two of the most egregious examples are this and this – the reality is that today in net terms Russia’s population is now larger than it was in 2009.

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The Russophobes Were Right… (About The Wrong Country)

After peaking in 2007 at the height of its oil boom, the Russian economy slid off the rails, with GDP collapsing by 25% from peak to trough. Attempts to stem the decline by arresting pessimistic economists failed. Its image as a tiger economy, heavily promoted by Kremlin ideologues, was revealed to be a sham. Though anemic, growth returned this year; but little of it trickles down to ordinary Russians. Unemployment is over 16%, birth rates have collapsed, and millions of citizens are voting with their feet and migrating to work as laborers in affluent Western Europe.

This demographic free fall threatens to dash any remaining hopes of Russia ever converging to European living standards. Birth rates have fallen by 25% since the post-Soviet era peak in 2008, and the total fertility rate – the average number of children a woman can be expected to have over her lifetime – is now one of the lowest in the world, surpassed only by a few small, rich Asian states like Taiwan and Singapore. And with young professionals rushing for the exits, this situation is unlikely to be reversed any time soon. Last year, half a million people out of Russia’s 143 million population left for greener pastures; this figure has already been exceeded in the first half of this year. Already falling at an alarming 840,000 in 2009, population decrease further rose to 1,220,000 in 2010 and on current trends will approach 2 million this year. This demographic death spiral is the epitome of Putinism’s failure. The Leon Arons and Nicholas Eberstadts of this world were correct all along. Having been a Russophile shill all these years, it is time for me, like Johann Hari, to admit to my failures, apologize to the readers I misled, and go back to journalism school.

Oh wait, I almost forgot. I was actually talking about Latvia.

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Russia Demographic Update VI

As we’re now approaching mid-2011, I suppose its time to give my traditional update on Russia’s demography. So here’s the lay-down:

1. In February, I predicted a population decline of c. 50,000 in 2010 (after a 23,000 rise in 2009). This was due to the excess deaths of the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010, and a substantial fall in immigration. The latest figures confirm it: population declined by 48,300. As of January 2011, it stood at 142,914,136 people (this is by the new Census estimates).

2. Three years ago, I predicted – going against 90%+ of “experts” – that the medium-term future of Russia’s demography is stagnation or small increase. In late 2009, I wrote that even under undemanding assumptions, “the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.” To give an example, the 2008 World Population Prospects of the UN Population Division predicted Russia’s population would fall to 132.3mn in 2025 and 116.1mn in 2050. As of their 2010 Revision, Russia’s population is projected to be 139.0mn in 2025 and 126.2mn in 2050 (High: 144.5mn in 2025; 145.3mn in 2050). What a difference two years make! In any case, “official” predictions are now beginning to converge with my own (not to mention Rosstat’s).

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The Kremlinologist Catechism

This is a reprint of my article for the Sep/Oct 2010 issue of Russian Life magazine. It is a condensed version of Rosstat and Levada are Russophobia’s Bane. Enjoy!

There is a Catechism that dominates American discourse on Russia today. Just flip through The Washington Post’s editorials, peruse American political science journals or listen (cringe) to a Joe Biden interview. It goes something like this:

In the past decade, Putin’s Russia has forsaken Western values and returned to its authoritarian past. Ordinary Russians, bribed by the Kremlim’s oil largesse and misled by its controlled media, expressed only apathy at this development. Granted, the regime may enjoy superficial support (given Putin’s strangely stratospheric approval ratings), but the accelerating population decline proves that Russians are discounting the nation’s future with their loins. And so should we, for what’s the point of taking a “Potemkin country” ruled by a “kleptocratic thugocracy” seriously?

There’s only one problem – many of the underlying assumptions of this Catechism are unsupported by any facts, figures or statistics.

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Russia’s Demographic Resilience IV

Russia’s demographic situation continued improving this year: according to the H1 2010 data released by Rosstat, relative to the same period last year, the number of births increased by 2.3% from 12.1‰ to 12.4‰ and deaths fell by 1.8% from 14.6‰ to 14.4‰. This means that once net migration is factored in, Russia is set to register its second consecutive year of positive population growth. This should come as no surprise to S/O readers, given that both my and Sergey Slobodyan‘s projections indicated this would be the case (but the same cannot be said of those who read Mark Steyn or Nicholas Eberstadt).

This means that Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR) is likely to rise to around 1.60 children per woman this year (2009 – 1.56, 2008 – 1.49), which is similar to Canada and Estonia. These trends can be compared with those in other E. European countries, e.g. Ukraine‘s 5% fall in births during Jan-May 2010, Belarus‘ stagnation in H1 2010 and Latvia‘s remarkable 21% decrease in births in H1 2010 relative to H1 2008 (the Baltic country’s TFR will now be around 1.15-1.20, the lowest in Europe). On the mortality side, Russia’s life expectancy will likely regain or slightly exceed its Soviet-era maximum of 70 years. Guest writer Sergey Slobodyan summarizes these developments in the light of his September 2009 forecasts and February 2010 updates.

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