When the world’s economy is in decline and your nation, run by a network of cartoonish oligarchs, is flexing its muscles more than Arnold Schwarzenegger–and you are Russian–there is always a solid response available: more vodka please!
What better way to pacify your people than to keep them drunk? Apparently the Russian government is fully aware of the benefits of alcohol as a substitute for actual social and political progress, and as a result has prescribed a dramatic reduction in the tax on vodka in these troubled times.
Part of this tax is aimed at curbing the growing trend for Russians to circumvent the tax altogether by making their own alcohols and buying contraband alcohol, a game of (dare I say?) Russian roulette with each bottle that has resulted in “dozens” of deaths across the state.
Now I will not delve deep into psycho-analysis on this point, but I think that there are a few obvious polite “suggestions” that might be made to a government that needs to keep its people drunk to be happy.
Edit (1/27/09): Maybe getting them drunk will also help them to not notice you are killing off your political enemies too. This is getting ridiculous.
Another story out of Russia of particular interest to me (because of my current residence in London) is the purchase of the Evening Standard by russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev. Anyone else have £1 lying around to buy a major newspaper?
Though I bring it up mainly to draw your attention to it, I think it is an interesting occurrence when major media outlets became controlled by foreign actors. People talk about the “fourth branch of government” in the United States (particularly the press), and how exactly would this branch stand up if its editorial policy were to become influenced by another state?
Of course, though the principle still stands, this probably wouldn’t be such a big deal if the purchaser were not from the Russian oligarchical class of former KGB agents. Those of us inclined to see a pattern in Russia’s recent behavior might hop on the conspiracy theory bandwagon and view the cynical motives for such a move.
In my experience here in London, it seems that such editorial controls would be useful–and not frowned upon. There are several major papers competing for circulation in the UK and particularly in London, and everyone will be able to tell you which one leans which direction. In perusing their papers, it seems that the idea of “objectivity” is not so heavily valued here as it is in the states; papers have an ideological perspective, and they don’t care if their slang terms for the opposing party and relative placement of opponents’ arguments at the end of each article expose this.
In addition, Londoners are big on public transportation: I met a woman from the states who has lived here for three years and–because its more convenient–does not own a car. This leads to a large opportunity for newspapers, as everyone on the way to work seems to be perusing the day’s news in one form or another. Evening Standard booths stand guard outside of every tube station, offering free umbrellas with purchase when it is raining or free coffee mugs or something of that sort–the exact thing to be sure that thousands of Londoners every day will read each paper in circulation.
The purchase of the Evening Standard could just be a business decision–but it makes for a better blog to think about the alternatives!
The final piece of news that I want to highlight this week is the introduction of national healthcare in China. Interestingly, China has gone for the Massachusetts approach (home state of my college, Boston College), providing basic insurance coverage (rather than a state-administered health program as in western Europe) to all Chinese people. The administration they plan to set up sounds a lot more like the Commonwealth Connector than the UK’s National Health Service.
This turn of events will prove an interesting experiment for those wishing that the same be done for the U.S. One of Mitt Romney’s killer flops was his disavowal of the system he put in place in MA; and while it is true that Massachusetts has seen rising enrollment that has exceeded the prescribed budget (and put the state in a squeeze in these tough times), people seem to the happy with the idea. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.