Archives for posts with tag: corruption

coruptia ucide

Every 25 years or so Romania startles the rest of the world.

In 1989 we had to pass through the bloodiest Revolution in the Eastern Block in order to get rid of the most unreasonable communist dictator in Europe, bar Stalin of course.
In 2015 we had to be awaken by a disastrous fire in a night club to oust a prime minister who is currently under investigation for alleged corruption.

What’s going on here?

Some history first.

For the last 2000 years the Carpathian mountains have been the first obstacle that had to be negotiated by the migratory peoples that came to Europe from the depth of Asia.
Since for the first 1000 years on the plains where now lie Northern Poland and Northern Germany there was nothing to be plundered while the Northern shores of the Sea of Marmara were harboring a very rich city – Byzantium – most of those tribes transformed the area between the Carpathians and the Black Sea into a sort of highway. That’s why whatever forms of political structures the local population – the proto-Romanians – were trying to set had very short lives. They usually were fleeting fiefdoms run by chieftains from the migratory tribes whose authority survived only till the next, and more powerful, tribe arrived in the region.
After the huge Russian plains have been somewhat stabilized by the establishment of the Crimean Khanate the situation became even more complicated. The area was a battle ground for Bulgarians, Turks, Tartars, Hungarians and later Austrians and Russians. Besides the constant political instability this situation included the fact that very seldom the people who were in charge with running the place had a strong connection with the people they were leading. If any at all.
This had very insidious consequences, the most important being a huge distrust of authority. The present days libertarians would argue that this is a good thing… Well, think again.

If the people do not, not at all that is, trust those who happen to be in power and those in power do not care at all about those under their patronage you have the ‘perfect’ set of circumstances for the onset of an all pervasive corruption.

During the last five centuries the Western Europe has slowly evolved from Feudalism – the rule of he who happened to be powerful enough, tamed by some traditions inspired by religion, to what is now known as ‘The Rule of Law’. Meanwhile, in the European provinces occupied by the Ottoman Empire people lived in an almost schizophrenic manner. They passionately hated their rulers – and did their best to cheat them when ever they could, while developing a very strong respect for traditions, the only thing that kept the people together.
By the way, this is also the explanation for what has happened in the former Yugoslavia, where strong ethnic and religious allegiances were played upon by callous political adventurers.

This constant distrust/disdain between the rulers/administration and the general public has only deepened during the Soviet imposed communist rule and produced a real chasm between these two social strata. And it’s exactly this divide that is the reason for which all dictatorial regimes fail abysmally, sooner or later.
A convincing explanation for this was provided, long ago, by Pareto: ‘whenever the circulation of the elites (social mobility) is hindered, the society where this is happening is in great danger’.
Another way of explaining the unfailing demise of any dictatorship is corruption. When ever the rulers do not care about anything else but their very short term interests and the ruled do their best to cheat the system the corruption becomes so pervasive as to clog the entire social mechanism.

If left to itself this cancer can lead to implosion. The Roman Empire, for instance, didn’t fell because it was mortally wounded by the barbarous migrant tribes. It had became so weak because of wide spread corruption as to allow the barbarians to provide him with the fatal blow… Just consider what Caligula used to do for fun… The Soviet Empire did almost the same thing.
Now that I’ve reached this point I’ll have to remind you that corruption does not always have to be about money but covers all instances when people misuse, intentionally, their power.

You see, people make mistakes.
There is no way of avoiding this.
And the main difference between a corrupt society and one which is more or less ‘normal’ is that in a normal society he who notices a mistake has at his disposal enough means to report that mistake to the relevant authorities while having a decent chance to survive the attempts of the ‘perpetrator’ to ‘cover his tracks’.

The fire that started the current uprising in Romania was nothing but the final straw that broke the camel’s back. People have witnessed, individually, so many instances of corruption that had become fed up with it. But each of them wasn’t quite sure about what the guy next door was going to say/do about it. Meanwhile the authorities were more a part of the problem than providing a solution.

When this tragedy struck a lot of people have finally understood that this has to stop. And took their grief to the street.

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People glimpse fragments from the surrounding reality and then use their newly found understanding to gradually change it.
They do this in three, successive, steps.
The first has a lot to do with happenstance – the right man at the right place, the second involves a lot of ‘due diligence’ and the third depends very much on how those who end up in command of the new understating relate to the rest of the people.
Sometimes some of the people who ‘happen’ to ‘stumble’ on new information/experience something really new feel the urge to communicate to others what has happened to them.
Usually the information gleaned/sentiments experienced during this first step are so new that there are no socially sanctioned symbols that can represent them faithfully so the individual trying to communicate the entire experience has to find a novel way to make it understandable for those around him. This is art.
The second step has less to do with actual discovery and is more about systematization of information already at our disposal. Something like charting a newly discovered territory. Even if we have to adapt our existing tools to the new task – some of them had been discovered during the first step but that means they are already here when we start the second one, here the job to be done is more about reason than inspiration. This is science.
And now, that new information is available – even before it was widely disseminated – people start to use it. Some of it is used straight away/as it is/honestly while some other is used to keep ‘the others’ in the dark or to alter their perceptions in order to fit the goals of the ‘user’/’entrepreneur’/spin doctor.
Usually this last way of using newly found understanding has perverse consequences. The ‘user’ becomes arrogant and starts to believe he has somehow become a (demi)God while the people kept in the dark/unwittingly exploited sooner or later become aware of what is going on – and sometimes express that in artistic ways.
At some point the equilibrium is regained, either through  a  a series of oscillations that ’embrace’ it – a revolution – or through small steps in the right direction – evolution.
(Usually, as the distance between a given state of facts and the perceived point of equilibrium becomes wider then people gradually loose hope in evolution and start to consider more revolutionary methods.)

I don’t think the American Dream is in anyway toxic.
The real problem arises from what those who have fulfilled their dreams choose to do afterwards…
It’s one thing that if from some point on the ‘winners’ start helping others to fulfill their dreams and quite another if they keep fulfilling (gorging on) they own dream long past the ‘waking hour’…

Most probably Michael Clark is right, things started to go South from the moment the American Dream had been corrupted from ‘I dream to make it out’ to ‘I’ll stop at nothing in my quest to the top and nothing else matters’.

And no, I’m no fan of Big government.
If the urge to help doesn’t come from within it doesn’t help any if an outside agent keeps pestering you. It doesn’t matter who is ‘number one’, private or government, it’s the very fact that we, as a species, still have the obsession to reach that position that’s dragging us down.

Clark, Michael, “Is the American Dream toxic?“: http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/428250-michael-clark/882441-is-the-american-dream-toxic
Dolmanian Sarchis, “Why keep wasting money on toothless constitutional monarchies?“: https://nicichiarasa.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/why-keep-wasting-money-on-toothless-constitutional-monarchies/

Bill Gates Alex Wong Getty Images

Bill Gates disapproves of Thomas Piketty’s method of leveling the play-field – levying a capital tax – and proposes a different tack: a progressive tax on consumption.

While I agree with both Gates and Piketty that extreme economic imbalances are bad for the society I profoundly disagree with both about how we should deal with them.
First things first. Extreme economic imbalances being bad has nothing to do with morals and very little to the fact that the poor feel bad when exposed to the excesses of the ‘filthy rich’.
They are bad simply because the dirt poor cannot express their creative potential and because the rich end up concentrating too much of the decision power. The society as a whole – including the super rich – looses, specially on the long run.
Taking the decision power from the hands of the super rich and giving it to the governments, through increased taxation, would only complicate matters. Not to mention the byzantine mechanism needed to enforce Bill Gates’ consumption tax.
Encouraging the rich to donate more would somewhat alleviate the problem but not much since until the money were distributed, if ever, the decision power would still remain too concentrated for our own collective good.
How about those same very rich people, now that enough of them have understood the perils associated with extreme economic imbalances, simply setting an example and start calculating wages using a completely different principle than is used today?
What if instead of ‘as low as the market allows’ they would ‘compensate’ their employees, all of them, as generously as their businesses can reasonably afford to? Somewhat in line with what Ford did back at the start of the XX-Th century, with more than excellent results for both sides? And does again now!

And how about the same rich and powerful individuals using their ‘political muscle’ and insisting on better governance? After all if their businesses and trust funds would have been run as most governments are run today they would have gone under a very long time ago…
And then, after the governments would have been ‘fixed’, and tax money not wasted anymore, how about the very same 1% start paying in earnest their ‘normal’ taxes, like the rest of us?

Surprise, surprise…

The real dangers of extreme economic imbalances: https://nicichiarasa.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/extreme-fragility-dead-ahead/
Why Ford increased wages back then: http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/03/04/the-story-of-henry-fords-5-a-day-wages-its-not-what-you-think/
Ford increases wages now: http://www.wsj.com/articles/ford-to-move-hundreds-of-entry-level-workers-to-higher-pay-rate-1423026005

taking a leak

As I was strolling by I was wondering ‘why on Earth is that boulder still standing there?’
Rather dangerous, less than a foot away from the endline… didn’t make much sense, did it?
Until this guy started to relieve himself…

taking a leak 2

What’s happening to this world? What’s the point of building a soccer field in the middle of a village if you’re not going to make it safe, and decent, to use?

While the facts remain – there was a thinly clad teenager shivering in the middle of Manhattan and a lot of people passed by without offering any assistance – the whole incident raises some fresh issues besides those flagged by the ‘pranksters’ who staged the whole thing.
The person starring in the so called experiment was almost certainly underage. Exposing him to such temperature for so long is cruel. To do such thing in order to demonstrate the obvious – that we, the inhabitants of larger cities, have become rather insensitive – is rather… you name it!
Self serving callousness, to say the least?
It doesn’t matter that the authors purportedly want to promote a good cause. That’s no way of winning somebody to your side.

What’s the connection? Besides the obvious tank, of course…

How about both being extreme alpha males who display a comprehensive disdain towards what the rest of us considers to be common courtesy?

Then how come both of them enjoy the unflagging support of millions of fans?

“James May and Richard Hammond – who have refused to work without him despite the former calling him “a knob” – might be expected to stand up for their co-star and (presumably) friend. But even the Prime Minister has called him “a friend” and “a huge talent”. Meanwhile, a petition to “Bring Back Clarkson” now has more than one million signatures.
Maybe it’s because he (Jeremy Clarkson) represents a particular group in society: financially middling white people who feel under assault from wider issues which they do not understand and who are happy to buy into the scapegoats of immigration, human rights and health and safety. These are the people who are most likely to complain about “PC gone mad”, and in Clarkson they have someone who appears to rail against all of that which constrains them. As one signatory commented: “Jeremy is a bastion of light in a dark PC world.” Of course, it is hard to work out what they aren’t actually allowed to say, given the headlines the Daily Mail gets away with every day, and the police officers who walk free after asking their black colleagues about eating bananas. (Judith Wanga, The Telegraph)

Simetrically:

“I have lost count of how many nations my country has bombed in just the last few years. We bombed Afghanistan and the result is chaos. We bombed Iraq and the result is chaos. We bombed Libya and the result is chaos. We almost bombed Syria, but your President, Vladimir Putin, helped save us from that madness. Our policy seems to be that if we kill enough Muslims the survivors will believe in Jeffersonian democracy and wear bikinis.
I know it is tempting to think that the rulers of my country are evil, but they are not evil. It would be better if they were evil because it would be easier to unmask them and replace them. No, they genuinely believe that they are bringing enlightenment, modernity, freedom, and happiness to the world.
Of course, the United States government is not the same as the American people. There are many Americans, like me, who are dismayed by the arrogance and blindness of our government. Our voices are seldom heard, but we are there. And we support a strong and sovereign Russia that defends its traditions against all attacks. We support a Europe of nations and of regions, each with its own wonderful, irreplaceable traditions.” (Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, speaking before the Russian Conservative Forum, Sankt Petersburg, March 23, 2015)

So how come BBC dropped Clarkson despite Top Gear bringing in some 50 million pounds each year while Putin is still at the helm of the second most powerful nation, from the military point of view at least, in spite of the heavy economic hardships the Russian population has to endure as a result of Putin’s antics?

First of all BBC is a not for profit organization. So money is important but there are limits. “For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.” (Tony Hall, BBC’s director general, the Independent). Besides that the wider public has sanctioned promptly Clarkson’s previous ‘slips’, preparing the ground for what had just happened.

Meanwhile ‘Russia’ is a country, not a company, so there is no such thing as a ‘wider public’. More over it is operated on a completely different set of principles:
““Even in its current inefficient form, Russia’s economy is sustainable as long as the citizenry is willing to live with hardship and lost opportunity,” Sucher points out. “History suggests that one should not underestimate the capacity of the Russian people to endure the unendurable.”
Russians’ presumed endurance, combined with their capability to put up with hard times and losses, are among the reasons why some experts don’t believe that social protests will happen in the foreseeable future. 
However, the problem appears to be more complicated than it does at first glance. Even though Russians might have stamina to deal with economic hardships, will they trust the authorities in the future?
Trust in the government and the president remains crucial for maintaining a country’s social capital, as Ngaire Woods, dean at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Public Diplomacy, and her counterpart from China’s Tsinghua University, Xue Lan, agreed during the Gaidar Forum. So far, Russian President Vladimir Putin approval ratings are robust. But it remains to be seen if that will be the case in two to three years….
.
After all, some of Russia’s prominent sociologists and historians believe that the Kremlin manipulates the mentality of Russians to legitimize its regime. For example, Lev Gudkov, director of Russia’s Levada Center for public opinion polling, points out that Russians are experiencing a deep inferiority complex and a sort of psychological trauma after the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of which makes them easier to manipulate.” (Pavel Koshkin in Russia Direct, relating about what has been discussed at the Gaidar Economic Forum in January 2015)

So, while Clarkson – no matter how brazen he is as a person or adulated as a TV personality – is not high enough above the rest of the world to be impervious to the effects of his own deeds, Putin stands, at least for the moment, atop a very tall pedestal. So tall, in fact, that I’m afraid he no longer sees clearly what’s going on at the street level.
Only this pedestal is made of the flimsiest of construction materials – popular sentiment. When the Russians will finally understand that ‘the emperor is naked’…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frTBy4My9Qc
http://persephonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/clarkson-bird.gif
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2M5l__vCwo
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/11482655/In-Jeremy-Clarkson-BBC-bosses-have-created-a-monster.-Now-its-their-job-to-slay-him.html
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/176f7c04-d2f9-11e4-a792-00144feab7de.html#axzz3VUKcO3GQ
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/clarkson-sacked-piers-morgan-writes-open-letter-to-extop-gear-presenter-10134437.html
http://www.russia-direct.org/analysis/here%E2%80%99s-why-russia%E2%80%99s-economic-problems-won%E2%80%99t-lead-social-protests

Bloody Caesar

 

Did you know this maxim was attributed to Philip II of Macedonia and was heavily used by both Caesar and Napoleon?

Also, did you know that it covers a lot more than ‘divide and conquer’?

For instance, a rather successful computer game and a problem solving methodology  that recommends the original problem be divided into smaller, and hence easier to manage, sub-problems.

Going back to the original meaning I must admit that both the ancient Macedonians and the ancient Romans made ‘good’ use of it. Alexandre the Great had conquered everything between Greece and India while the Ancient Rome had been, for a while, the most powerful empire known to man.

In more modern times the same strategy had been used by Germany, among others. Again, with relative success. During WWI the Kaiser had facilitated Lenin’s access to Russia and by doing so he had split the coalition he was trying to defeat – as a result of this manoeuvre Russia had asked for a separate peace treaty, eventually signed at Brest Litovsk. During WWII Hitler took great care to keep Russia at bay while he conquered the Western part of Europe.

Now the same strategy is being used by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the current Czar of Russia.

On Sunday, March 22, 2015, Sankt Petersburg – Putin’s birth place and political trampoline – hosted the Russian Conservative Forum. It was attended by a “a motley crew of representatives of fringe right-wing political organizations in Europe and the United States” which “including Hitler apologists, Holocaust deniers, apartheid fans, and a Russian skinhead who once decapitated a puppy as a publicity stunt, gave it an air of dark surrealism. Speakers condemned the U.S. as the enslaver of Europe and sang the praises of Russian President Vladimir Putin, holding up Russia as the last fortress of Christendom in the war waged on it by liberalism and multiculturalism.
“In the West, we are brainwashed to hate Vladimir Putin,” said British anti-abortion-rights campaigner Jim Dowson. He went on to say that Russia is blessed to be ruled by “a real man” while the U.S. is led by the “feminized” Barack Obama.”

On Tuesday, March 24, “The UN General Assembly’s budget committee … rejected a proposal submitted by Russia that called for withdrawing a July 2014 administrative ruling by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He ordered the world body to recognize same-sex unions of any of its 60,000 global staff who wed in countries that legally recognize such partnerships.
The dispute turned an internal UN personnel policy into a microcosm of the differences that pit the U.S. and EU nations against more socially conservative countries over recognizing rights of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

If we put two and two together and then add the result to what has already become evident – that the Russian (more exactly Putin’s) Propaganda machine has been revved up in a massive way for quite a while now – the pattern becomes visible.
Putin is ‘doing his worst’ to convince those uncomfortable with the spread of ‘liberal values’/globalization that if they want to ‘preserve their national traditions’ they have to ‘unite closely around’ the only leader that can save them from being engulfed by the ‘decadence of the West’. Around him, that is.

In fact this is exactly what the ’emperors of old’ I mentioned at the beginning of the post used to recommend. Instil as much fear in your opponents, individually, as you can and try to rekindle the smallest differences that ever existed between them.

There is a small problem though with this line of thinking.
No matter how much we respect/admire some of them or hate/despise the others none of those who had used this strategy ended up in a ‘comfortable’ manner.
And all of them had brought great misery to the people under their rule. Including Caesar. A civil war is no small thing, not now, not then!

While we ponder what to do in order to counter this nefarious propaganda, we need to keep in mind that Russia is not Putin and that the Russian people has never had a taste of what real democracy feels like. Blaming the entire people, wholesale, for what Putin does in their name ‘is worse than a crime, it’s a mistake’.

PS. Same counter-strategy should be applied to all would be ‘dividers’ who try to become ’emperors’.

http://scarlet.unl.edu/scarlet/archive/2008/02/28/story9.html
http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royinterface/12/104/20141335.full.pdf
http://history.stackexchange.com/questions/14608/did-the-germans-purposefully-arrange-to-send-lenin-to-russia-to-start-a-revoluti
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/treaty_of_brest-litovsk.htm
http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/a-hateful-sort-of-love
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/world/europe/right-wing-groups-find-a-haven-for-a-day-in-russia.html?ref=europe
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-23/is-russia-against-fascism-or-isn-t-it-
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-24/russian-bid-to-block-same-sex-benefits-for-un-workers-rejected
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/17/crimea-crisis-russia-propaganda-media
http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/caesars-civil-war.php

I started to comment on “The reason the economy crashed and has been slow to rebound is because of government intervention, not the market mechanism” by Nick Sorrentino and got carried away. So I transformed the comment into a post of my own.

I fully agree with your conclusion “I prefer an open sourced economy to one which is manipulated by programmers writing in a language which is full of bugs and which brings the system down periodically.” but I find your initial assumption to be too vague.
The current situation was indeed heavily influenced by government decisions. And yes, they were completely out of touch with reality – central planning never works.
But here is where our ways depart.
The solution for the current situation is not at all ‘less’ government. Or, god forbid, ‘no government’!.
Free market is the most efficient way of running an economy only it has two limitations. It is populated by people and the total amount of trade-able goods is limited. Hence the market is never really free. We do need a free market only the natural evolution of any limited system is to gradually loose it’s freedom. So it is us who have to guard the freedom of the market.
And this is what ‘government’ business should really be. Not to tell us what to do – to plan for all of us – but to make sure that nobody becomes so powerful as to be able to dictate to others what to do.

Some of you might wonder “Why should we not accept any monopoly if it has been ‘lifted to power by the free market'”?
I mentioned earlier that there is no such thing as a really free market.
OK, you might disagree with that, after all we both advocate freedom and I’ll use a reason we both agree upon: “central planning doesn’t work“. Ever! So why do you think that a private monopoly would be able to function any better than a public one? Just because it’s private? I assure you that Lenin saw the entire Russia as his back yard and that didn’t stop him from messing that country so big that it’s still reeling under the consequences. King George saw the American colonies as his private possessions and that didn’t make the early Americans any happier.
So what we have to implement is a completely different kind of government, not a weaker one. Blaming ‘the (notion of) government’ instead of specific government decisions only induces the impression that ‘government’ as a whole is useless/despicable and that drives people away from (the concept of) government.

What we really need, that different kind of government I was speaking about, is a government that is closely watched by the people and who jealously defends both the political and economic freedom of the individuals, not either notion of ‘central planning’ or ‘vested interests’ – which, in the end, are uncannily similar.

http://www.againstcronycapitalism.org/2015/01/the-reason-the-economy-crashed-and-has-been-slow-to-rebound-is-because-of-government-intervention-not-the-market-mechanism/

Vaccines work.
OK, there are exceptions. Some batches are botched, some people develop allergies, some viruses mutate so fast that in those cases vaccination isn’t very effective.
But as a principle vaccination works as intended.

Despite all that, some people choose to deny their children the protection offered by vaccines, without any specific reason – such as an allergy or something similar. Just because they have heard that vaccination may cause autism. Or other equivalent baloney. Against advice vehemently pressed by most doctors.

As a consequence, people have re-started to die. After contracting perfectly preventable diseases.

vaccination

I have a rather ambivalent attitude towards Ayn Rand. I admire her razor sharp mind yet I find her a little too callous for my liking.

But sometimes it’s exactly this combination of traits that helps her pin point the essence of a situation:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/the-new-measles/384738/

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