Tag Archives: Russia

“And all for a lie”

For him personally there could be no assimilation; he had known that after the first five years. By then he had learned fluent Russian, written and spoken, but he still retained a remarkable English accent. Apart from that, he had come to hate the society. It was a completely, irreversibly and unalterably alien society.

That was not the worst of it: within seven years of arriving he had lost his last political illusions. It was all a lie, and he had been smart enough to see through it. He had spent his youth and manhood serving a lie, lying for the lie, betraying for the lie, abandoning that ‘green and pleasant land’, and all for a lie.

Frederick Forsyth, The Fourth Protocol

Ego, Ayodhya, pirates etc

Some people enjoy thinking about ways to spend other people’s money, the men who eat other people’s cabbages, as Ernest Benn described them. Mukesh Ambani spending his money on his house irks such people. Why didn’t he donate the money to charity? How dare he build a home worth a billion dollars plus in Mumbai when half the city dwellers live in slums? Etc etc etc. The most galling comment comes from Praful Bidwai, who said this in ’07: “Mr. Ambani is building an edifice to his own ego. It will not go down well with the public and there is a growing tide of anger about such absurd spending.” Mr. Bidwai, apparently, is a very humble person who isn’t full of it and therefore doesn’t comment on the affairs of others. As for those who are angry about such “absurd spending,” they can start venting their anger by kicking politicians out of their multi-million dollar taxpayer-financed properties in Delhi—why can’t presidents and prime ministers live in 1-bhk apartments when most Indians, who finance their expenses, don’t even have that kind of luxury—or they can go screw themselves. Ambani isn’t helping himself, though, when he makes statements like this: “We cannot have islands of prosperity surrounded by oceans of poverty.” Which is what his palace literally is.

Mukul Kesavan, writing in The Guardian

The supreme court is the likely place where this matter will be resolved. Indians who take the secular guarantees of the constitution seriously must hope it reverses the high court’s judgment. If the supreme court were to uphold the high court’s verdict, India will look the same the morning after, but the common sense of the republic will have shifted. It will begin to seem reasonable to Indians that those counted in the majority have a right to have their sensibilities respected, to have their beliefs deferred to by others. Invisibly, we shall have become some other country.

But isn’t that what democracy is all about? Majoritarianism? A constitution that does not protect individual rights, and hence does not respect individualism, has no business talking about secularism.

US tech companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo have been embarrassed in the past due to their actions in China, in terms of censorship and help provided to the Chinese government on the search and email front. Microsoft faced another problem when police states started raiding NGOs under the guise of combating software piracy, like in Russia. It has started making amends

[Microsoft] plans to provide free software licenses to more than 500,000 advocacy groups, independent media outlets and other nonprofit organizations in 12 countries with tightly controlled governments, including Russia and China.

[…]

Software piracy is widespread in the 12 countries covered by the new program, and Microsoft has long urged governments to curb it. But in Russia, officials used the intellectual property laws against dissenters.

The security services in Russia have confiscated computers from dozens of advocacy organizations in recent years under the guise of antipiracy inquiries. Some of these groups did have illegal software, and the authorities have said they are carrying out legitimate efforts to curtail software piracy. But they almost never investigate organizations allied with the government.

Microsoft had long rejected requests from human-rights groups that it refrain from taking part in such cases, saying it was merely complying with Russian law.

[…]

[The new policy] essentially bars the company’s lawyers from assisting the police in piracy inquiries against the groups.

Though that may not necessarily curb the crackdown on dissent: “[China-based experts] pointed out that if the security services wanted to hound or close advocacy groups, they had many other ways of doing so.” Exactly. Still, it’s better to forgo some revenue than have the blood of innocents on one’s conscience.

A pack of wolves

Russia has always been a dangerous place for dissidents and people who are not “patriots.” So this is not a surprise-

A row that started with a joke about an “anti-Soviet” kebab shop has spiralled into a full-scale intimidation case in which a Russian journalist has been forced into hiding by young nationalists.

Alexander Podrabinek, the Russia correspondent for a French radio station and a veteran Soviet-era dissident, had his home picketed and was threatened with legal action by a pro-Kremlin youth group after he wrote an article criticising the censorship of the name of a restaurant in a northern suburb of Moscow. He claims he and his family have also received death threats from the youth group, called Nashi.

[…]

[W]hen members of Nashi, the organisation set up by Kremlin ideologues during Vladimir Putin’s tenure as President, saw the article, they went on the attack. The group, which critics have likened to the Hitler Youth, said it would take Mr Podrabinek to court and vowed to make his life hell unless he apologised.

When Samuel Johnson talked about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel, he wasn’t jesting.

Russian dissidents, artists, journalists etc have it good. They have to face but one group of thugs. Their Indian counterparts, on the other hand, are mauled day in day out by anybody who can gather ten people around his or her cause. Directors and song writers have to kiss and make up with queens and princes, fix their “gaffes,” or suffer huge losses while chief ministers living in Wonderland wonder “why the well-known film maker had to apologise to an individual at all,” and artists and writers, some of whom have been dead for years, have to take care not to hurt the “sentiments” of people who love being offended and are incapable of using a pen to respond. When they do use a pen, its either a poison pen, or a police complaint designed to harass the person in question. How else can one resort to one’s favorite activity—bullying.

Having multiple wolf packs running amok has a brighter side to it though—no single person can monopolize the intimidation business. Most of the world might have to deal with a single dictator, but, to borrow the title of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s short film, yahaan toh anekon hitler raj karte hain.

Too big to be saved

The global financial meltdown is getting stranger by the minute. Iceland is on the verge of going bankrupt (how can countries go bankrupt? Maybe next time), has nationalized some of its banks, has pegged its fiat currency – the krona – to the Euro (a peg that is not working) and is in talks with Russia for a 4 billion euro rescue package (putting Russian petro-dollars to work).

Swaminathan Aiyar writes about Europe’s hollow claims of superior regulation of financial markets. He refers to an FT op-ed by Daniel Gros and Stephan Micosi which says that Europe’s banks have become too big to be saved-

The crucial problem on this side of the Atlantic is that the largest European banks have become not only too big to fail, but also too big to be saved. For example, the total liabilities of Deutsche Bank (leverage ratio over 50!) amount to about €2,000bn (more than Fannie Mae) or more than 80 per cent of the gross domestic product of Germany. This is simply too much for the Bundesbank or even the German state, given that the German budget is bound by the rules of the European Union’s stability pact and the German government cannot order (unlike the US Treasury) its central bank to issue more currency. Similarly, the total liabilities of Barclays of around £1,300bn (leverage ratio 60!) are roughly equivalent to the GDP of the UK. Fortis bank has a leverage ratio of “only” 33, but its liabilities are three times the GDP of its home country of Belgium.

Aiyar writes further-

The supposed contrast between Anglo-Saxon free-marketeering and European welfare capitalism has turned out to be mostly hot air. The two models have more commonalties than differences. Higher regulation has not crisis-proofed Europe.

and warns that India should be prepared for the fallout.

Meanwhile Bradford DeLong writes about the high priests of finance-

Thus, as social democracy, government guideposts, and centralized planning waxed and waned elsewhere in the economy, social democracy in short-term finance went from strength to strength. First, central banks suspended the rules of the free market in liquidity squeezes. Then they set the price of liquidity as an administered price in normal times. Then they freed themselves of all but the lightest contact with their political masters: they became independent technocrats, a monetary priesthood that spoke in Delphic terms obscure to mere mortals.

The justification for this system was that it seemed to work well – or at least less badly than central banking that blindly adhered to the gold standard or no central banking at all. This island of central planning in the midst of the market economy was a strange and puzzling feature – all the more so because so few remarked how strange it was. There were no calls for a five-percent-growth-of-kilowatt-hours rule as there were calls for a five-percent-growth-of-M2 rule. There was no Federal Automobile Board to set the price of vehicles the way the Federal Reserve Board set the price of federal funds.

But now it appears that, despite all this, we still have not had enough central planning in finance. For, even as the central banking authority administered the price of liquidity, the price of risk was left to the tender mercies of the market. And it is the price of risk that is the source of our current distress.

So few remarked how strange it was? No comments.

The irony in the whole crisis is that politicians and bureaucrats who don’t know the ABCs of economics will now assume more control of economies that they systematically ran into the ground in the first place. The sad part is that the foolish aam aadmi – common man – will suffer the consequences.

Of pots and kettles and bargepoles

According to the Russians, Georgia is being headed by a “criminal regime”. It is trying to “punish Georgia” and in return, the US demands that NATO “punish Russia”. Well, at the moment Russia does seem to have the upper hand and is throwing all the adjectives that best describe it at its victim.

Russia is suffering from withdrawal symptoms. The world used to fear the USSR, and then the carpet got pulled from underneath its feet. Now that it is well placed financially, it wants the world to “respect” it. The reports say that some European countries are not willing to support Georgia to the hilt. A warning for them – if they back down, Russia will know where the chinks in the armor lie. And it will push the envelope further next time round.

Machiavelli had something to say on this – “From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both: but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” That is what Russia feels too.