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Obamacare is an important issue and it seems everyone has an opinion. But to my knowledge no one has written about it, Lithuania, and baksheesh.

Baksheesh is defined as a payment (as a tip or bribe) to expedite service. Note that it expedites service and may not exactly be quid pro quo – it can be like a tip, or a gift. But in the Western world, such payments constitute bribery.

Baksheesh drives Lithuania’s medical system. Lithuania had been occupied by the Soviet Union from World War II until 1990. It has something like universal health care, which it inherited from the Soviets.

Health care is free. There is a system of clinics: there is no limit to the number of times a person can use them. If one needs a specialist, one gets sent to one. All free.

Except it isn’t. It isn’t free. Baksheesh is required. Of young and old. To the doctors and other health workers.

Oh, no one extorts the bribe, per se. If, however, you don’t pay it, you are treated completely differently. No care is taken. Your operation is not scheduled. And you won’t see the specialist again, let alone a good one. (One gets to see the good ones only by using clout – and a bribe.)

I recently spoke with an eighty year old woman about this. She said she paid a bribe to her doctors. I asked why. She said, leaning forward, because they treat you completely differently. Meaning that they actually take care, instead of going through the motions.

Baksheesh is an unavoidable consequence of limited resources

Bribery of one’s physicians is so ingrained that … the Civil Code, as adopted in 2001, contained provisions specifically devoted to this and seeking to legitimize and even legalize it. (The code section — 6.470 (4) — was repealed only in 2006.) (Interestingly, the usual documents accompanying a repeal are unavailable.) It seems the general opinion is that the repeal facilitates bribery by removing any restriction, although interestingly it is not considered bribery as such. Baksheesh, rather. Something natural.

The point is that if Obamacare is not repealed, legitimate choices are going to decline – and unlawful activity (such as accepting patients off the books) will be encouraged and legitimized. It is likely to bankrupt the insurance companies and equally likely to demand a bailout – resulting in even more government control of health care. Similar to Lithuania. Very natural.

Baksheesh is only natural, too.

 

 

 

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The Nov. 11, 2013 issue of Kauno Diena contains a front page article on a young man who, when he was 18 but yet in high school, retaliated (allegedly) against a young woman classmate who he claims had verbally abused him on numerous occasions.

The young man with an accomplice crushed a couple of raw eggs and rubbed them into the head and hair of the young woman, or so it is reported. This occurred in a public place, not at school.

He was brought to trial for this: a criminal prosecution. The judge apparently arranged for what is provided for in the law in LT: a settlement. Instead of receiving a jail term (or, again, so it is reported), the young man was to pay 3000 Lt to the woman.

(Just to put it in perspective: that sum is more than the take-home salary of most attorneys in Lithuania.)

Apparently the young man had never been in trouble with the law before.

I don’t have too much trouble with that result, although I do feel sympathy for the young man. Verbal abuse, including slander, can be very, very painful. More painful than a punch in the nose. I’ve been punched in the nose – in karate class, by mistake. It hurts, but it’s nothing, because there was no intent to harm; indeed, the puncher was very much concerned about all the red stuff coming out of my nostrils. Way more so than me, actually, as I had grown used to it! But about the young man and high school: one can’t get away. One is trapped at school. A punch in the nose or eggs in the hair is an assault. But meanness, especially if repeated, is not so easily reachable, yet does as much if not more harm.

But the situation has a few more facts. The young man alleges that the girl’s father came to his home and hit him in the face with his fist, then went outside and damaged the young man’s motorbike. This allegedly occurred right after the egg incident.

The young man is described in the paper as being upset that the police are not prosecuting the young woman’s father.

And here is where it gets dicey. And juicy. The police are described as saying that this kind of thing is why there is something called a private prosecution.

A private prosecution is a strange legal device by which one puts forth documentation and pleadings as if one were the prosecutor, who is not involved. It is a criminal prosecution, yet carried out privately.

I have to say here that I think there are two very ‘bad’ things about this story. One is that there could be a ‘settlement’ in which a fine is paid not to the government, but to the other party. That is the realm of civil law. (And in a civil case, it would have been easy for the young man to counter-claim for damages done both to him physically and to his motorbike.) Obviously, the settlement did not aim to settle the entire panoply of issues deriving from the incident (which again could be done more readily in the civil setting).

The second point is more or less a reiteration of the first from another perspective. I do not think the criminal justice system is the place which should handle the young man’s potential suit against the young woman’s father. Justice, I think, will not be well-served. The alleged actions of the father are much more of a private nature than of a public one (especially given that significant time has elapsed since their alleged occurrence).

In short, I think the possibility of dropped charges in relation to a monetary settlement is not a good idea and should not be part of the criminal process, and I think private prosecution similarly should not exist. These legal ‘institutes’ are too prone to producing very strange results.

The Spartacus and Game of Thrones TV series are spectacular. I can’t help but admit that they are wonderfully well-made. Indeed, I am a fan of both.

They are both bleak.Unreservedly so and without hope.

Spartacus has to be. We know the ending. While it is not clear what they were actually seeking, it is known the slave revolt failed. The slaves were brutally crushed – indeed, thousands were crucified.

Thrones is bleak as well. But here lies the rub. Its author, the gifted Martin, has stated that the idea of it was to portray what is essentially Europe in the Middle Ages, but with the intention of depicting its cruelty. Readers of the book, especially, know that Martin is true to his stated purpose.

The “rub” lies here: the real Middle Ages, while cruel, also were extremely enlightened. Indeed, it was a time when enlightenment took on cruelty and made great strides.

Why? Because of Christianity.

This was the time of the great hospitalers,  the orders who originally ran hospitals – a Christian invention.

This was the time of thousands and thousands of monasteries. Organized and sharing knowledge, mostly of practical sciences and agriculture.

This was a time, for instance, when poor women could have hope. Take a walk in the University of Leuven, for example: while I forget the name of the order, there were thousands of women given the means to support themselves. The order organized, trained, and gave them shelter. The numerous buildings remain for all to see.

Universities were begun: starting from cathedral schools, which were literally schools run by the side of the great cathedrals.

Hope was given to mankind by the Good News. The best that could be achieved otherwise was a kind of reserved detachment.

Spartacus cannot have a leavening of hope, really, because the setting is the time before the Christian era. Thrones does not because its author chooses not to put it in. Martin apparently has a skewed view of the time he is portraying.

Now, Martin’s work to me is excellent – but there is no one to root for. I suppose Jon Snow and Daenerys are the two most sympathetic. Would you really like to live under even their rule? And what of their heirs? Remember who followed the remarkable Marcus Aurelius: his despicable son.

No, me, I’ll stay right here.

George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder. Most pundits and indeed most of the main-stream press agree, it seems, that race was not an issue in the trial. Yet, curiously, so many have fixed upon race in the context of the case.

Many explain this puzzling situation as being caused by those for whom “racism” is an industry. This explanation is not far from the truth, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  It is not racism or, rather, the need to maintain racism (or charges of racism) as a cause, a cause celebre,  in a post-racial nation, that is the driving force, both for the shameful indictment and the equally shameful cries of racism regarding the verdict. Why? There is something else, something worse, going on.

I began to suspect something else (and worse) was going on because, simply, there were too many people upset with the case for it to be merely a problem of racism, especially since  the facts of the case just don’t support a finding of racism whatsoever. Then there was that weird, inexplicable, fetishism going on about the so-called ‘stand your ground’ doctrine, which is totally inapplicable to the case. There had to be, it seemed to me, something that was causing people angst.

And then it struck me.

People, many people, don’t like … self-defense. These persons don’t like the norm expressed by the privilege of self-defense, and they don’t like the essentially religious (dare I say Christian?) mores expressed by it.

While the basic idea of self-defense appears to have been around even from Hammurabi’s day (sec. 206 – although in primitive form), our notion of it was developed in the eleventh century by, of course, Christian theologians. It has to do with human acts: you are responsible, to varying degrees, for your acts; this comes out of the notion that God loves us and that therefore our acts have both meaning and a type of logic behind them.

“Moral acts are either good or bad. An action is morally good when the object, circumstances, and purpose of what is done are all good. An act is morally bad when either the object, circumstances, or purpose of an act are bad.” (John A Hardon, The Q and A Catholic Cathechism, sec. 504).

It can easily be seen how this kind of thinking leads to a concept of self-defense, and indeed to a concept wherein the purpose of an act defines it.

It also can easily be seen how this kind of thinking is not outcomes-based. Indeed, it is deeply individual. It is intention or motive-based.

The Enlightenment’s emphasis on individualism is, in reality, a development of those same ideas. It goes without saying that our American system is based on Enlightenment values.

Yet for many these are, increasingly, anathema.

In a way of thinking, if one wishes to depart from this world into another, a fantasy land, where, as in Communism, the worth of rules and decisions were all to be based on outcome and never principle, well, yes, such a set of mores as that which developed the American experiment are indeed anathema.

So is Christianity, by necessity. But that shall remain an aside for now.

This explains why many hate the idea of self-defense. It is an idea built on other ideas, and all of them are, well, beyond-the-pale for those who reject the fundamental principles upon which our society, especially American society, has been based.

Here I can pause and tell a story. A diplomat serving in Western Europe told me about her son. She  has a ten year old who was struck by another child at school. My friend’s son struck back — and was punished for it. The teacher wrote a note to my friend explaining that she had instructed the child to run away if attacked and that this was school policy. The teacher added that it was permissible to lift up one’s arms to block a blow …

Just a little aside. I know of no martial art wherein there are no offensive moves, only defensive. It doesn’t work.

Well, the law doesn’t stop at the doorstep of the school. Every human being has the right to self defense. But that school doesn’t tolerate it. And it does sound a lot like what many wish the USA to become: a nation of peasants, not citizens. A citizen has a right (technically, it’s a privilege) to protect himself. Peasants and zeks  do not; at best they can call the overlords. If they survive. (Note that the adjudication in such a scenario would not be on the basis of justice, but on the basis of convenience.)

Yet the same attitude as at the Western European school exists in many American schools as well. A typical one is here. Of course, this is wrong for a plenitude of reasons. The first reason: safety. The second: we need to instill a sense of fairness in children, not the reverse.

But it does illustrate much the same underlying motive as seen in the reaction to the Zimmerman acquittal.

Self-defense is difficult, as are many worthwhile things. It is easier, lazier, to punish everyone involved. In Soviet times, there could have been no neighborhood watches. Even the police were considered too risky as an institution and were militarized, formally.

As a result, years after independence, I go for a walk on a Sunday morning in one of the main Lithuanian cities. I see blood, not a giant amount, but considerable, on a wall. I walk on over to the police precinct and inform the man on duty. He was polite enough, but he said … no locals would ever walk in to tell the police a fact like that. Me, I felt it was my civic duty.

So the result of relegating defense to the authorities is not only dangerous to one personally, but it has the effect of changing one’s relation to the state, from its master to a dependent. Needless to say, however, some people are in favor of such a thing. It is in accord with their deepest sympathies.

(And there is something to be said for their position: after all, even Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor received a kiss – from Jesus, no less.)

It is not, however, in accord with American principles.

As you can read here, on 21 Dec. 2012 the Russian Parliament passed a law purportedly in response to an earlier law adopted by the USA.

The U.S. Magnitsky Act (signed into law on Dec. 14) will allow the USA to deny entry into the U.S. of Russian officials who are involved in human rights abuses.

The reality is that the Magnitsky Act is modeled upon the practice of the European Union, which routinely denies visas to those foreign government officials involved in human rights abuses. (I admit that  I’ve never heard of it being used vis a vis Russian officials – but plenty of Belorussian officials are denied visas.)

The Russian act on the other hand is, as always, out of proportion, to say the least.

  1. It bans all adoption by American parents of Russian children.
  2. As reported by Reuters, “The law also enables Russia to impose visa bans and asset freezes on U.S. citizens who have allegedly violated the rights of Russians abroad, and bars lobby and campaign groups from political activity if they receive U.S. funding.”

Russian children who live in state orphanages are in a world of hurt, but we can live with the ban: I never liked the idea, as it was just asking for trouble.

But the rest is, shall we say, par for the course. It is far, far more wide than the U.S. (and EU) laws: ANY U.S. citizens, and includes asset freezes, and also it will have , at the very least, a chilling effect upon all organizations working for change in Russia. “U.S. funding” will of course be understood as any money traceable to any U.S. source.

Note that anyone may act as an agent (and can be paid for it) of Russia or any other country in the USA. Thus, he may receive orders directly from a foreign government, and also may lobby, and it is all legal. He merely must register. (Some may remember when Pres. Carter’s brother got in trouble for this in re the Libyans.)

 

 

 

The Lithuanian constitution provides that the president receive the decision of the parliament in regard to who is to be in the posts of the various ministers. It does not stipulate that the appointments are to be made with the consent of the president (and cannot be made without his/her consent).

The president of Lithuania has stated that the party having received the most votes, the Labor Party (Darbo partija) is not gong to have any part in the “coalition,” which is really a divvying-up of the ministerial posts. You can read about it here.

It is wholly unclear whether the president can act in this way. The idea is that the president has to confirm the will of the parliament in this matter.

Which is just another example showing why the present constitution is so poorly written. If the idea is that the president has no discretion, then what use is it to require the president to confirm the decision of the  parliament? If the president has discretion, why is it not written in that way? (E.g., “ministers are appointed only with the consent of the president, which may be withheld for any reason at the discretion of the president.”) The president would then be the one with whom the parties would be debating to form a coalition.

But if so, why? The majority should rule. If a president were a right winger, and if the parliament were divided into three parties – center, right, and left, the president could always block the left. (Substitute left for right as you please.) Why? The voters have spoken, and the center has gone with, say, the left. Well, such a decision sounds like democracy to me.

The reason I am not for presidential discretion in this scenario is this: All in all, the more complications one adds, the less the tie between a citizen’s vote and the result. It is entirely unpredictable and as tenuous as a pipe dream or smoke therefrom.

It is true that the ostensible reason that the president has stated has to do with voter fraud – the Labor party has been accused of massive voter fraud. Ok. But this is a separate question. Certainly it is one which should be resolved ASAP. But then the emphasis must be upon the resolution of this matter with the greatest of speed. That is what the president should insist upon. As it is, the impression is that of lawlessness – on the part of, well, everyone.

There is no real voter registration system in Lithuania.

A voter’s registration system has a purpose of, well, registering voters. This has two sub-purposes: one, to determine the citizen’s voting district and, two, to enable authorities to check the signature of the voter in order to determine whether, for instance, a candidate seeking to be registered as such has gathered a sufficient number of supporting signatures.

As explained in an earlier post, Lithuania’s system does not involve either sub-purposes. They never check signatures against any registry. They don’t have a voter’s registration system.

That’s why I call that which they have an anti-system. It serves no reasonable, democratic, purpose.

What determines the geographical area in which a citizen is allowed to vote in Lithuania? A registry of inhabitants.

All inhabitants must be “registered” into a government-approved address. Obviously, there is no requirement to actually live there. Many live in so-called “sodai” (little houses built in the country-side in collectively owned Soviet era “clubs”), which are not capable of being used as official residences. The system, thus, has falsehood built into it. It is normal to have friends register one in their apartment whilst one lives wherever.

The inhabitant registration system has little utility. Nevertheless, it remains, somewhat as an “extra” appendix. There is a cost of upkeep, there are circumstances when it is troublesome, but in general, it has little meaning. One cannot state that in registering oneself one actually is stating that one is residing at the address given: it is more of a formal requirement.

Now, there is a new party trying to get elected, and it has a good deal of support. Its leader is one Venckiene. She is from the Kaunas region, but she has chosen to run for office in the area where an arch-enemy, the present speaker of the parliament, is running. This is a voting district in Vilnius.

So – her supporters have been … re-registering themselves in the aforesaid Vilnius voting district!

Indeed, they have registered 1500 people into one apartment!

I love it! They are turning the system against itself. The authorities are having fits, but since the system is vestigial at best, there is little they can do about it.

The info can be found here (at the end of the news article) in Lithuanian.

Note: the stakes are high. If Venckiene beats the present speaker, she will at the least have gained even more moral authority.

This just in! The present speaker of the parliament has demanded that the voting commission stop the ongoing registration into the “ghost headquarters,” but the commission has replied that they are powerless to do so …

I suppose I should explain. When one has a normal voter’s registration law, obviously submitting false information, such as a false address, would and should be a punishable offense. One in that case has obviously tampered with the voting process, fraudulently.

BUT there is no voter’s registration in Lithuania. There is only the inhabitant – registration system I described above. It is not fraudulent to register oneself anywhere one likes. One must register, but that is it. One can register anywhere.

So, in this “system,” Lithuanian citizens can register as they please. They are not per se committing any fraud. It is not their fault that the “system” then uses this data to determine where the aforesaid citizen can vote.

Hilarious!

Well, I’ve  seen a few things in my day. This is a new one on me.

In order for a person to be a candidate, most systems require signatures to be collected. Here is a link to some requirements in the various U.S. states. The idea is that signatures are checked against those on voter registration cards or other records in order to eliminate fraud.

These are the basic requirements in normal jurisdictions:

  • “The signature must be of a registered voter, as established by comparing the name to that state’s list of registered voters.
  • The signature on the petition must match the signature on the voter registration card filed when that voter registered to vote.
  • The signature must not be a duplicate signature. This occurs when a voter signs the same petition more than once. If this happens, in some states, one signature counts and the other(s) don’t. In other states, if a voter signs more than once, none of his or her signatures count.” (From Ballotopedia, “Valid Signature.

Here we have a link to a news article about a potential candidate whose submitted paperwork did not match, allegedly, the signature requirements and who was therefore prevented from running for the Lithuanian parliament (elections are coming up in October of 2012).  That’s not really news, nor is it of much interest.

Except for one thing.

The authorities admit that they do not check signatures for authenticity; that is, for fraud. They claim they have nothing to check them against! (“Rašysenos ekspertė Jūratė Kurgonienė pabrėžė, kad ji netikrino parašų autentiškumo, nes neturėjo tų asmenų parašų pavyzdžių.”)

This has been the situation for years, and no one cares.

Yet – they do check to see if the circulator filled out the forms him or herself. THAT’s a no-no. Though how it impacts on fraud, if at all, is highly questionable. Similar requirements that add nothing to the equation have been invalidated in various U.S. states.

Again, the problem is that there is considerable formality, which impacts negatively on a citizen’s right to participate in the democratic process. The form to be filled out is difficult – it requires one’s governmental ID number, the registered address, and all in boxes. This is not easy for those who are older, have difficulties seeing, or simply have trouble writing, whether through injury or other infirmity.

So, again, we have the semblance of order, but no substance.

Or, to be more specific, we have a set of rules which are expedient  for the rule-maker. It is true that the rule in place would find certain unsophisticated forgers: the rule is that the petition signer himself must fill out the entire form, and therefore if a party fills out a number of forms, and forges the signatures thereon, the fraud might be easily discerned merely by comparing forms submitted for one candidate.

Thus, the rule is quite expedient for the government.

But it undoubtedly impinges upon the citizenry’s ability to participate in the voting process. It also punishes the innocent signature collector (and his candidate) who helped fill in a form for a person who had physical difficulty doing so.

The method relied upon also does not and cannot find the following type of fraudulent signature: the type in which the entire form and the signature are inauthentic but unique (they do not match the handwriting on other forms submitted by the same candidate).

Thus, we have the imitation of order, expedient for the election commission to administrate, but which is unjust. As always, in Lithuania, the fact that the process is unjust is irrelevant. Justice vs. expediency. Bet on expediency every time.

The reason why we think that the store clerk who defended himself against robbers and was fired for it got a raw deal (see the link here) is because the privilege of self-defense is derived from our (Western, Christian) conviction that we are worth something.

We are convinced we are worth something because Jesus Christ became man, and thus in a sense we were raised to the level of the divine. Around the eleventh century this gave rise to the creation of the doctrine of self-defense. Of course, many of us are now no longer Christians, but the idea lingers on.

Therefore, we think, that is, most of us think, that if a person exercises this privilege it is not right that he should be punished for it. It is a privilege, and it is has a centrality about it: it cannot be impinged upon without challenging that which we most deeply, indeed now even instinctively, feel.

Lithuania, in the person of the former EU commissioner who is now president of the country, went along with the pack in the ongoing Euro crisis. On television one could see Lithuania’s president enjoying the attention of France’s president Sarkozy and looking delighted with herself.

But there is no constitutional or even parliamentary authorization for her making the commitment. And some nations, such as Hungary, are already backing out.

The “Euro-Pact” was an agreement of sorts by 26 of 27 EU member-states to give up a great deal of control over their own nations to the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels in order to support (and, for those states which have not yet adopted the euro) to eventually adopt the euro as their official currency.

What is immensely interesting, and scary as can be, is that there is no up-side to adopting the euro. The crisis in the Eurozone, particularly in Greece and Italy, amply demonstrates the euro’s dangers.  (The danger is that some countries follow an inflationary path, whereas others do not; yet all eurozone countries have the same currency, meaning that it is quite possible for one country to cause grave fiscal difficulties in another.)

But the amazing part is that there is no economic upside. The euro has not increased trade.

There are political ‘benefits,’ however. The euro is an amazing device, operating on the theory of sunk-costs, which strongly militates toward increasing the power of the EU’s bureaucracy. Some, mostly the bureaucrats of various countries, have a nearly-religious belief that this is a good. Apparently the president of Lithuania does, too.

Now, however, would be the time for Lithuania to take a stand and to determine not to enter the eurozone (that is, to decide not to adopt the euro as its currency, displacing the litas). Indeed, it is high time that the Lithuanian litas be de-coupled from the euro.

What does that mean? At present, the litas is, by Lithuanian law, pegged to a certain price in euro currency. Thus it is not a floating currency, and events in the EU, including Greece, faraway Portugal, and exotic Cyprus, all have a distorting effect upon the Litas. Why would Lithuania need this?

Poland’s currency, by way of contrast, is a free-floating currency (the zloty). One would imagine that if the Poles can do it, the Lithuanians could.

But furthermore, Lithuania is surrounded by countries which are not in the Euro zone. Poland (zloty), Sweden (which owns all the large Lithuanian banks) (the Swedish krona), not to mention Russia and Latvia.

If the Lithuanian litas has to be linked to foreign currencies, Lithuania would be better served, one would think, to unhook it from that doubtful euro and set its price in regard to a ‘bundle’ of foreign currencies, such as the krona, the Danish krone, the Polish zloty, the U.S. dollar, the British pound sterling. This would give the Litas stability (in regard to speculation, if that is a legitimate fear) and it would tend to be less inflationary, or at least no more so than with its current status of being tied to the problematic euro.

Will this happen? No. It would take more guts than have been demonstrated. Let us remember that Lithuania was the first to vote in favor of the eventually-defeated EU Constitution – although based upon some rather decent insider information, no one had any real idea what they were voting for (the ‘constitution’ was a series of changes to various treaties, and it was immensely difficult to get a handle on what it all was to mean).

So it goes.