29 oct 2015 editorials

prepared by ashok sharma

The hindu: October 29, 2015 00:24 IST An apology from Mr. Blair

By offering an apology that side-stepped personal accountability for his role in leading the United Kingdom into the war against Iraq in 2003, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has once again sought to whitewash a history of lies, dissimulation and concealment that marked the lead-up to that  most unjust of invasions by the United States-led Coalition of the Willing. In an interview to CNN host Fareed Zakaria, what Mr. Blair offered was an apology with a dodge, followed by a no-apology. "I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong… for some of the mistakes in planning and certainly our mistake in understanding what would happen once you remove the regime," he said, adding, "But I find it hard for apologising for removing Saddam... It is better that he is not there than he is there." His apology, such as it is, comes 12 years and over half a million tragic and unnecessary civilian deaths too late. His 'sorry' has been criticised as an attempt at spin, and to pre-empt the conclusions in the much-delayed report by the Iraq inquiry committee headed by Sir John Chilcot, to be submitted next year.

Mr. Blair's personal zeal and urgency in pushing for the U.K. to sign up to the invasion of Iraq in contravention of international law and a clear United Nations mandate, is well-documented. The latest evidence of this is a secret White House memo contained in the secret e-mails that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was forced to disclose on the order of U.S. courts, and published by the Daily Mail on Sunday. Sent from Secretary of State Colin Powell to President George Bush, and written on March 28, 2002, just a week before the famous summit between Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair at the former's Crawford ranch in Texas, the memo reveals that Mr. Blair had agreed to come on board a year before the invasion — well before receiving sanction for it from the British Parliament or Cabinet. This new evidence has prompted calls for the Chilcot committee to reopen proceedings to admit this vital piece of new evidence. Mr. Blair will also have to take the primary responsibility for the September Dossier, a document published on September 24, 2002 by his government, which contained allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was building a nuclear programme. Mr. Blair used the contents of the document to win support from Parliament to invade Iraq. Every allegation in it has since been proven to be false. The clock cannot be turned back on the devastation, dislocation and chaos that the western invasion wrought in Iraq and subsequently across the region. Today, the fallout of that conflict has reached Europe, where refugees seeking a safe haven from the war in West Asia are fleeing. Mr. Blair's tepid apology has refocused public attention on what became a turning point in contemporary geopolitics — including his own role in that historic injustice

·        dis·sim·u·la·tion
Concealment of one's thoughts, feelings, or character; pretense.

·        con·ceal·ment
The action of hiding something or preventing it from being known.

·        flee
Run away from a place or situation of danger

·        tep·id
(especially of a liquid) only slightly warm; lukewarm.

·        wrought
(of metals) beaten out or shaped by hammering.
made or fashioned in the specified way.
"well-wrought pop music"

The Hindu: October 29, 2015 00:24 IST
Easing business blues

The finding made in the World Bank's 'Doing Business 2016' report that improvements in the regulatory environment helped lift India's ranking four places higher will serve as a shot in the arm for the government, given Prime Minister Narendra Modi's avowed focus on economic development. The overall 'ease of doing business' ranking has climbed to 130 from a recalculated 134 last year following a change in methodology. And the distance-to-frontier score – which measures the absolute level of regulatory performance in an economy and the extent of improvement over time – has also advanced by two percentage points. Significantly, the Bank has found that it is easier now to both start an enterprise and get an electricity connection in Mumbai and Delhi, the two cities chosen for the study. The observations by Augusto Lopez-Claros, director of the Bank's Global Indicators Group, pointing to a concerted effort by authorities to improve the business environment, should also offer encouragement. And his comment that a continuation of the process is likely to yield substantial progress in the coming year serves as vindication that the government is on the right track. Still, a closer look at the areas that need further loosening of regulations shows that Mr. Modi's government has its task cut out. For instance, access to credit for a business has become marginally more difficult over the past 12 months, resulting in the ranking dropping six places. More worrying for policymakers are the stubbornly low distance-to-frontier scores for the two measures of enforcing contracts and dealing with construction permits. Only Bangladesh fares worse than India among the eight South Asian countries in the 189 nations on the list in resolving commercial disputes. And the region's largest economy, by a distance, ranks a lowly seventh above war-torn Afghanistan on the ease of obtaining the approvals necessary to build.

Indeed, a herculean task lies ahead to achieve the government's goal of breaking into the top 50 rankings in order to make the country a favoured investment destination for foreign capital and spur domestic enterprise. The strife-torn Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank and Gaza still rank one place above India, with both registering property and paying taxes far easier in the combined territories than in Asia's third-largest economy. Even the smaller Asian and South Asian economies of Indonesia and Sri Lanka significantly outscore India on several parameters, showing why businesses find it easier to invest in these countries. In this context, the Income Tax Department's move to set up a panel of experts to simplify direct tax laws has come not a day too early. With several key bills to broaden economic reforms — including the centrepiece Act to create a common market through the much-delayed Goods and Services Tax — stuck in a legislative logjam, Mr. Modi and his parliamentary managers will need all their political nous if the 'Make in India' campaign is to succeed.
·        a·vowed
That has been asserted, admitted, or stated publicly.

·        vin·di·cate
Clear (someone) of blame or suspicion.

·        have one's work cut out for (one)
Fig. to have a large and difficult task prepared for one. They sure have their work cut out for them, and it's going to be hard. There is a lot for Bob to do. He has his work cut out for him.

·        spur
>a thing that prompts or encourages someone; an incentive.
"wars act as a spur to practical invention"

·        logjam
a crowded mass of logs blocking a river.
a situation that seems irresolvable.
"the president can use his power to break the logjam over this issue"

Business Standard
From 130 to 50

The World Bank's Doing Business 2016 report, which evaluates the ease of doing business across the world, has said that India is the 130th toughest nation in the world in which to do business. This is four ranks higher than it was in 2015, in which its rank has been recalculated to be 134 instead of 142. The Narendra Modi-led government's stated aim, to drag India into the top 50 before its term is over, at present, looks distant. Even this improvement underlines, in fact, how deep and wide-ranging reform will have to be just to improve on paper, let alone in fact and in the eyes of entrepreneurs and investors. The improvement in the national ranking comes from, essentially, a few procedural changes in how Delhi's power distribution company BSES gets new connections to customers in south, east and west Delhi. The number of inspectors has been reduced from two to one and the number of steps to the process reduced. And, the reason why India has jumped many steps in the new  method of evaluating ranks is because "reliability" of power supply is now a criterion, which it wasn't in the old method used till 2015. Of course, power supply in Delhi and Mumbai, the only locations the World Bank considers, is reliable - but, in the rest of the country, that is not always the case. Far deeper and broader reform will be needed, and it would be risky to be content with such improvements.

Coincidentally, the government has also announced a committee, led by a retired judge, to look into how to redraft the income-tax law. This is a valuable effort; by making the language clearer and less ambiguous, the number of disputes between the taxman and companies or individuals could theoretically be reduced. The number of tax cases has gone up in the past decade, and several thousands of complex legal cases block up India's courts. Of course a well-drafted law might conceivably help settle cases quicker. But without a better-administered income-tax department, one that is not incentivised to chase down targets, a well-drafted law will make only a limited impact in tackling the current problems. Nor will a better-drafted law help settle outstanding or frivolous cases quicker in the absence of judicial capacity at every level.

Finally, the quality of drafting of the tax law is not its only constraint on the ease of doing business - India ranked 157th in the world in terms of the ease of paying taxes. According to the report, 243 hours a year are devoted by business to paying taxes, which they have to do as many as 33 times, at an effective tax rate of close to 60 per cent of profits. In other words, the tax system needs to be overhauled not just in terms of legal but also economic effectiveness. And this is not a difficult task either. The finance ministry has in its possession a series of reports on taxation reforms, which have outlined a detailed action plan on how to make India's tax system less adversarial, more friendly to the tax-payer and less prone to litigation. It is time the ministry took a closer look at those recommendations for overhauling the tax system. A shallow effort will not work.

·        con·tent
In a state of peaceful happiness.

. ambiguous
vague, hazy, not clear 

·        tack·le
Make determined efforts to deal with (a problem or difficult task).

·        friv·o·lous
Not having any serious purpose or value.

·        o·ver·haul
Take apart (a piece of machinery or equipment) in order to examine it and repair it if necessary.

·        lit·i·ga·tion
The process of taking legal action.

·        shal·low
Of little depth.

Indian Express
Moveable feasts

In the popular imagination, Lord Gulam Noon will be remembered for replacing Yorkshire pudding with chicken tikka masala as the national dish of Britain. He never claimed to have invented this distressingly pink dish, which is unknown in India but comfort food for Britons of all classes, from yobs to peers. But he did popularise and democratise the dish by populating the shelves of Sainsburys and Tesco with it. Born on Mumbai's Mohammed Ali Road, he took over his family's sweetshop while in his teens and turned it around before migrating to the UK via the US. There, he sensed an opportunity in supermarkets, which had deodorised, de-tropicalised and de-glamorised ready to eat Indian food until it was as domesticated as boiled beef. The rest was history.
Noon was not a votary of the simple life. Elevated to the peerage, he became collateral damage in the cash-for-peerage scandal that brought disrepute to Tony Blair's government. He backed Labour strongly but pooh-poohed the idea of a multicultural Britain, insisting that immigrants must integrate.  And he was a strong voice against fundamentalism in the UK. He also maintained links with India. Indeed, he was a high-value survivor of the 2008 attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.
Noon was the last of the innovators who took Indian cuisine to Britain and made a killing. It is an illustrious line that goes back to Dean Mahomet, the man from Patna who took kebabs to London and Brighton in the Victorian era. The last to bow out, before Noon, was Lakhubai Pathak, who made a generation of immigrants at home in London with his pickles, and made the P.V. Narasimha Rao government back home mighty uncomfortable. Noon was the last man standing of the daring lot who internationalised Indian cuisine.

·        feast
A large meal, typically one in celebration of something.

·        pud·ding
A dessert with a creamy consistency.

·        de·o·dor·ize
Remove or conceal an unpleasant smell in

·        tropicalised
The tropics is a region of the Earth surrounding the Equator. It is limited in latitude by the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere at 23° 26′ 16″ N and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere at 23° 26′ 16″ S; these latitudes correspond to the axial tilt of the Earth.

·        vo·ta·ry
A person, such as a monk or nun, who has made vows of dedication to religious service.

·        peer·age
The title and rank of peer or peeress.

Oct 29 2015 : The Times of India (Ahmedabad)
Jaitley's Gambit

Piecemeal tax reforms only act as a palliative, it's time to revive direct tax code
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has constituted a committee of experts to suggest changes to income tax law with the aim of simplifying it, providing a stable environment and reducing the incidence of litigation through removal of ambiguities. The aims are unexceptionable but the approach is puzzling. During his budget speech, Jaitley said he saw no merit in pursuing a new direct tax law.But controversies since then over the law's interpretation forced him to engage in firefighting, which has now culminated in the expert committee. India needs a new direct tax code underpinned by an integrated approach to reform, rather than piecemeal change.
The last six years have seen three finance ministers struggle to reform the direct tax code. The first draft in 2009 was the most comprehensive attempt to change the code, but it wasn't fully implemented. In the interim, problems multiplied as the law was not in sync with structural changes in the economy . Litigation has grown. At the end of 2013-14, Rs 2.59 trillion of direct taxes claimed was under dispute.Problems aren't going away as the recent controversy over MAT on foreign portfolio investors showed.

Jaitley should restart the exercise of a comprehensive new direct tax code. Experience suggests that piecemeal reform merely works as a palliative. Not long after an effort at piecemeal reform, a controversy erupts and the fallout spills over to other areas of the economy . The only way for Jaitley to avoid frequent bouts of crisis management is to completely overhaul the existing law. Blueprints of earlier attempts make it easier to get started and exclusive central control of direct tax means that the legislative process for a new law will be easier.

·        gam·bit
(in chess) an opening in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of some compensating advantage.

·        fire·fight·ing
The action or process of extinguishing fires, as a person's job.

·        cul·mi·nate
Reach a climax or point of highest development.

·        un·der·pin
Support (a building or other structure) from below by laying a solid foundation below ground level or by substituting stronger for weaker materials.

·        in·ter·im
The intervening time.

·        pal·li·a·tive
(of a treatment or medicine) relieving pain or alleviating a problem without dealing with the underlying cause.

·        bout
A short period of intense activity of a specified kind.

Oct 29 2015 : The Economic Times (Mumbai)
Taxation Must Take in Globalisation

The Direct Taxes Code is a good starting point
An expert panel to review the nearly five-and-a-half-decade-old Income-Tax (I-T) Act to avoid disputes and improve the ease of doing business is welcome. As India rapidly globalises, it provides an opportunity to orchestrate domestic tax policies to keep pace with global business, and also to support enterprise. Already , as part of its drive to end base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS), India has joined the global pact on automatic tax information sharing. It also plans to adopt the OECD's set of rules to end aggressive tax planning by multinational companies. These companies will be taxed in countries where the economic activity takes place and where value is created, implying that MNCs have to pay their share of taxes in the markets where they make profits. Ending BEPS will allow India to lower tax rates. So, the domestic law should be in sync with the global rules. The drafting must be clear. Investors need clarity, stability and certainty in tax laws to avoid disputes.
A good starting point would be the Direct Taxes Code proposed by former finance minister P Chidambaram to replace the cumbersome I-T law with a clean new law, and to embody the principle of keeping tax rates low and removing exemptions. The goal should be to double the current tax GDP ratio of 16% (combined states and Centre) to close in on the average for OECD members. As India opens up further, import duty rates will come down. The mainstay of tax collections will be a goods and services tax (GST) and tax on the incomes of companies and individuals. India's tax treaties will need to be renegotiated and a treaty override provision would be appropriate.

Recommendations such as the exempt-exempt-tax (EET) method for savings should also be accepted as the principle -that no saving asset would be taxed, but only income from the asset would be taxed -is sound. Low direct tax rates will complement the adoption of GST that will create a unified base of potential taxpayers that can be tapped into. Together, they will usher in equity in the country's tax policy .

·        or·ches·trate
Arrange or score (music) for orchestral performance.

·        cum·ber·some
Large or heavy and therefore difficult to carry or use; unwieldy.

·        ush·er
A person who shows people to their seats, especially in a theater or at a wedding.

The Guardian
view on the UK's Norway option: No say. Still pay. No way

ew are the parts of Britain's political culture that can long resist the siren allure of the Nordic model. Social democrats gaze across the North Sea and view the Nordic lands as bastions of a benevolent cradle-to-grave welfare state they wish we could have too. Liberals meanwhile invoke them as rationalist oases of justice, tolerance and internationalism and ask why we can't be like that as well. Scottish nationalists idealise them as economically successful and socially cohesive proof that small is beautiful and dream of Scotland joining their club. Last but not least, Tory Eurosceptics imagine Viking nations that proudly cherish their sovereignty while plundering the best of both worlds in trade with an otherwise spurned and nannying European Union.

All this is a tribute to the special status that the Nordic countries have always enjoyed in the British imagination from Hamlet to Borgen. Sooner or later, however, all these visions have had to confront the more complex realities of the Nordic nations. The Scandinavian welfare state is not, after all, the modern utopia that its admirers wish. The Nordic record on community relations and justice turns out to have blemishes of its own. And small nations face hard choices in a globalised economy much as large ones do. Although they can certainly teach us much on many fronts – Britain remains depressingly insular in its thinking about policy – the Nordics have not in fact solved the problems of the modern world as conclusively as their admirers sometimes like to imagine.

The latest wake-up call came on Wednesday in Iceland when David Cameron finally delivered a reality check to Tory Eurosceptics about their dream of Britain leaving the EU and adopting a so-called Norway option instead. Speaking in Reykjavik at a meeting of the Northern Future Forum, Mr Cameron could hardly have been clearer in his conclusion that Norway, which has twice voted narrowly against joining the EU, was a highly problematic model for a post-EU Britain to seek to emulate.

If the UK left Europe and tried to replicate Norway's relationship with the EU, the prime minister said, it would face some sobering decisions. It would still have to implement many EU rules in a Norway-type association, while having no say in drawing them up, might still have to allow free movement of peoples from the EU, would be liable to contribute to the EU budget, would lose the advantages of existing EU trade deals and would still have to persuade 31 European governments and parliaments to accept such a pick-and-mix relationship.

It is a daunting list of objections. Yet, if anything, it understated the severity of the problems. As a member of the European Economic Area – alongside Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein – the UK could indeed negotiate full access to the single market, just as Nigel Farage has said it should. Yet membership of the EEA would not be automatic or straightforward. The quid pro quo for joining EEA access to the EU single market would be the maintenance of most of the regulations that Eurosceptics pretend they could dispense with, as well as the acceptance of new ones. Norway, for instance, now implements 93 of the 100 costliest EU regulations. The UK would also have to pay for its access. Norway is currently the 10th largest financial contributor to the EU, despite not being a member.

Nor would membership of the EEA achieve the migrant-free nirvana that some advocates of withdrawal fantasise about. All the EEA nations are members of the passport-free Schengen zone and EEA countries have a higher rate of immigration per head than the UK. In short, not only would the UK be faced with a very close regulatory relationship with the EU if it tried to be like Norway, but the UK cannot assume either that it would be greeted with open arms by the EEA if it tried to join.

Mr Cameron's speech on Wednesday was a welcome sign. It is reportedly the start of an intensification of his wish to make the case for Britain to stay in a reformed Europe. On past experience, it is likely to boost public support for staying in. But Mr Cameron has flattered to deceive before. He may do so again. Now that he has begun to climb off the fence, he must not scurry back on to it if his MPs make his life difficult. More than anything, though, Mr Cameron needs to go beyond the case for not leaving. He must set out a more positive case for the kind of Europe, and Britain's role within it, that he seeks. He has to take the fight to the Eurosceptics. Wednesday was a good start. But bigger battles must now be fought and won.

·        re·sist
Withstand the action or effect of.

·        al·lure
The quality of being powerfully and mysteriously attractive or fascinating.

·        Nor·dic
Of or relating to Scandinavia, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands.

·        bas·tion
A projecting part of a fortification built at an angle to the line of a wall, so as to allow defensive fire in several directions

·        extending throughout one's life, from birth to death: a cradle-to-grave system of health care.
·        co·he·sive
Characterized by or causing cohesion.

·        plun·der
Steal goods from (a place or person), typically using force and in a time of war or civil disorder.

·        spurn
Reject with disdain or contempt.

·        nan·ny
Be overprotective toward.

·        blem·ish
A small mark or flaw that spoils the appearance of something.

·        in·su·lar
Ignorant of or uninterested in cultures, ideas, or peoples outside one's own experience.

·        em·u·late
Match or surpass (a person or achievement), typically by imitation

·        so·ber
Make or become sober after drinking alcohol.

·        daunt·ing
Seeming difficult to deal with in anticipation; intimidating.

·        quid pro quo
>a favour or advantage granted in return for something.
"the pardon was a quid pro quo for their help in releasing hostages"

·        flat·ter
Lavish insincere praise and compliments upon (someone), especially to further one's own interests.

The NewYork Times
The Military Escalation in Iraq and Syria

Frustrated by the resilience of the Islamic State terrorist organization, the Obama administration is taking steps to expand a military campaign that remains untethered to any coherent strategy. Instead of challenging an escalation of American military forces in the Syrian war, several prominent members of Congress are irresponsibly demanding even more hawkish approaches.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, called the administration's new strategy the "three R's" plan. The first two R's are Raqqa and Ramadi, cities in Syria and Iraq from which the United States hopes to dislodge the Islamic State. To do so, the administration is considering deploying American ground troops to support local forces that are expected to do the bulk of the fighting and call in airstrikes. The third R stands for "raids," which will be used to capture and kill Islamic State leaders.

The Pentagon continues to call the military campaign in Syria and Iraq an "advise and assist" mission, a characterization that was misleading when the campaign began and is now absurd. By incrementally increasing its combat role in a vast, complicated battleground, the United States is being sucked into a new Middle East war. Each step in that direction can only breed the desire to do more. Commanders will want to build on battlefield successes when things go their way, and they will be driven to retaliate when they don't.

There is no question that containing the threat posed by the Islamic State will take a strong international response. The group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, remains firmly in control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria and has found allies in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.

But before contemplating a more forceful military plan, Congress and the administration must confront the fact that the current one, which includes airstrikes and support for select bands of rebels, lacks a legal framework and an attainable goal. The first problem could be fixed if the White House and congressional leaders were willing to work together to set clear limits on what the Pentagon is allowed to do. Preposterously, the military campaign that began more than a year ago, and has cost more than $4 billion, is still being waged under the authority of the congressional authorization passed to pursue the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.

With a few exceptions, lawmakers seem completely unconcerned that they are allowing a president to go to war without formal authorization from Congress. Instead, many are calling on the administration to take even bolder steps that range from establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria to using American firepower to oust Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. At least on these two tactics, the White House appears rightly skeptical.

A no-fly, or "buffer" zone, to protect civilians would take significant resources, and troops, to enforce. "To keep it safe would require fighting," Mr. Carter told senators on Tuesday. "You need to think in each case … who's in, who is kept out and how the enforcement of it is done."

Taking on Mr. Assad, a murderous leader who has lost all legitimacy, has obvious appeal in principle. But doing so would almost certainly be catastrophic because it would put the United States directly at war with Russia and Iran, which aid him militarily. Even if Washington were to prevail in forcing him from power, that could serve to embolden the Islamic State, which would only lead to more carnage.

·        re·sil·ience
The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

·        un·teth·er
Release or free from a tether

·        hawkish
Militant: disposed to warfare or hard-line policies; "militant nations"; "hawkish congressman"; "warlike policies"

·        dis·lodge
Knock or force out of position.

·        re·tal·i·ate
Make an attack or assault in return for a similar attack

·        cat·a·stroph·ic
Involving or causing sudden great damage or suffering.

·        em·bold·en
Give (someone) the courage or confidence to do something or to behave in a certain way.

·        car·nage
The killing of a large number of people.

The Moscow Times
Russians Are Blind to the Horror Around Them (Op-Ed)

A tragedy occurred in St. Petersburg in mid-October: Federal Migration Service employees detained a family of Tajik illegal immigrants in an abandoned house, including the young mother of a 5-month-old infant. The woman did not speak Russian.

During the time that migration officials and police carried out the necessary formalities for a court to issue a deportation order, the infant was kept separately from the mother, and for some as yet unexplained reason, other relatives were also denied access to the child. In the end, the infant required hospitalization and died in the hospital a few hours later — but, as the authorities hurried to claim, from a pre-existing illness.

Relatives are certain that the police and doctors are to blame for the infant's death, and that it could have been avoided if the authorities had simply allowed the mother to continue holding her child.

Russian society responded to the incident only after an approximately two-week delay.

The first to become agitated was the Tajik diaspora — upward of several hundred thousand people in large Russian cities who mostly came here before the current recession in hopes of finding a better life.

Then the Foreign Ministry responded, posting a strange note on the site of its Russian Embassy in Tajikistan. After expressing condolences for the child's death, it called on people not to "rock the boat" in the face of terrorism that poses a threat to the Tajik and Russian people alike.

We Russian journalists waited for the emergence of some clear and verifiable information of what happened. Almost two weeks later, when social networks were full of accounts of the incident, there was nothing left to do but begin reporting on the story in the media.

In this case, journalists followed the lead of society — or rather, that small part of society that actively proclaims its position on the issues and takes the news to heart. This segment of the population largely makes up the audience of Russia's print media, whose members are still trying to uphold their professional standards.

The vast majority of the people, those whose world view is informed by one or two state-controlled television channels, remained indifferent. A drama that in any Western country would have dominated headlines and television news, that would have led to the resignation of the guilty officials and to mass rallies expressing solidarity with the victims, went completely unnoticed in Russia for a full two weeks.

Now that leading newspapers have picked up the story of the child's death, it will probably appear on television screens as well — but with a delay of two weeks. By that time, the television news editor, who must stay in the Kremlin's good graces for his livelihood, will have formal grounds to tell his reporters: "We don't deal with two-week-old news."

This two-week delay probably indicates that something is wrong with the emotional condition of Russian society. On one hand, the Russian people become euphoric over the annexation of Crimea, war in Ukraine, military operations in Syria and reports that President Vladimir Putin now enjoys a nearly 90 percent popularity rating. On the other hand, that same society cannot find the will to respond to news of an infant's tragic death in St. Petersburg.

Some observers suggest that the problem stems from the traditionally high level of xenophobia here and that Russians view migrants' problems as pertaining to them alone. However, a short Google search makes it clear to anyone who is interested that Russian infants also die when they are taken from their parents for legally obscure reasons.

The difference is that those Russian families are not part of a concerned diaspora, or a country that backs up that diaspora with all of its many resources. It turns out that Russian families that have been wronged might have even less hope of overcoming society's silent indifference than the Tajik migrant workers huddled in an abandoned house in St. Petersburg.

If we really see ourselves as the people of one country, then this collective "we" has a big problem. We are not a diaspora. We live in our own country. And yet we often cannot rely on that country. That country can even kill our children and then remain deaf to our grief. And I speak not only of the impersonal machinery of state, but of this collective "we" — if, in fact, it even exists in that sense.

It seems that Russians were just as emotionally deaf concerning reports of casualties in eastern Ukraine. Whether or not the Russian government admits to conducting military operations in the region, we citizens know that many of our countrymen are there, if only as volunteers.

And no matter what we think of their political choice to take up arms and go to the Donbass, or how we believe that decision will affect the Donbass, the soldiers themselves or the Russian people, they carry the same type of passport in their pockets as we do. Accordingly, we cannot but feel saddened to see a convoy of military trucks bearing coffins as it winds northward from Ukraine into the Rostov region.

That is a normal reaction to a person's death, regardless of the passport in his pocket, much less his political views. But Russians never displayed such a reaction. Television reports showed trucks carrying coffins almost all of last year, but the Russian people did not so much as mumble a response. The story that military graves of soldiers who had died in Ukraine were discovered near Pskov led only to the persecution of the people who uncovered the story, and not to any form of public reaction to the news.

The same seems to apply to the almost unverifiable reports of injuries and casualties among Russian troops serving in Syria. What should normally become the leading and most enduring news story — one that could undermine public support for the deployment of Russian troops to Syria — appears as an afterthought in news reports of inconsequential events.

It is difficult to escape the impression that Russians are suffering from some form of emotional abnormality.

There might be different explanations for it. For example, some might claim that this blunting of society's emotional responses is a natural result of several years of relentless state propaganda. Others might point to a quiet restoration of totalitarianism. According to theorists on the subject such as Hanna Arendt, this process leads to an elimination of individual emotional space and the fusion of all individuals into a unified, manageable and aggressive mass.

There is also a third possibility. Russian society's inability to mount an emotional response to troubling events might be similar to the way the pupils do not respond when a policeman shines his flashlight into their eyes of someone he suspects to be dead. Russian society's inability to respond in a timely manner to serious injustices, just like a pupil that does not respond to light, cannot mean anything good. Perhaps it is time to rouse ourselves from this stupor — that is, if we still have a choice.

·        ag·i·tat·ed
Feeling or appearing troubled or nervous.

·        rock the boat
>say or do something to disturb an existing situation and upset people.
"I don't want to rock the boat"

·        sol·i·dar·i·ty
Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.

·        eu·phor·ic
Characterized by or feeling intense excitement and happiness.

·        xen·o·pho·bi·a
Intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.

·        ob·scure
Not discovered or known about; uncertain.

Jews living outside Israel.

·        hud·dle
Crowd together; nestle closely.

·        con·voy
A group of ships or vehicles traveling together, typically accompanied by armed troops, warships, or other vehicles for protection.

·        mum·ble
Say something indistinctly and quietly, making it difficult for others to hear.

·        blunt
Make or become less sharp.

·        totalitarianism
Dictatorship: a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.)

·        mount
Climb up (stairs, a hill, or other rising surface).

·        stu·por
A state of near-unconsciousness or insensibility.

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