Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Yesterday's blog...

Orson Wells acting out his famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast
Yesterday was crazy here. We broke every record in the book according to the stat checker. I think this is both because of Belarus being on the front page, because of my...ehem...timely coverage of the Transneft shutoffs over on the BHTimes, and because of "Allegory". This last is going to turn out to be like my own personal Orson Wells "War of the Worlds". I received many letter and calls telling me how evil I was for butchering Egor for a lousy $40 in rent.

Dear Mr Goodman,
Over the past few months, I have been reading your blog. OK! Great work, an American settling into the true culture of Belarus. Showing them that there is such a thing as an American who is not Anti-Russian etc.

However, this last article which you wrote, concerning your son "Egor", both shocked and disgusted me. How is it possible for a seemingly sane, sensible, even NORMAL human being to even suggest to his adopted 12 year old son that he has to pay rent or leave his home!!!!

First of all, when you married your wife, she came to you with her son, and they accepted you as part of the family. Your wife for obvious reasons is emotionally attached to her son. She feels the responsibility which all normal parents should and do feel - the necessity to provide for their children, bring them up, educate and generally look after them until they are ready to leave home - at whatever age that maybe!

The primary purpose of an adult human, is to have children and like we explained, to educate them. To give them the stability and warmth which will provide them with the necessary tools to take them throughout the rest of their lives. To give them the confidence of a home, to take with them when and only when they are ready to leave.

In my opinion as an experienced child physchologist and family counsellor, I would say that your future happiness as a family and your future with your wife, is in serious danger. Personally, if my wife/husband suggested such a course of action, I would take the child and walk out!!!

As an admirer and reader of your blog, I respect you immensely, but on this point I beg to differ.

Orson would have been proud...

Yesterday's piece I wrote was an ALLEGORY in reference to these events. It portrayed the news events of the moment in a different way so that people could see the greed for what it is and to portray how Belarusians feel at this moment over how they have been treated by Russia. This is not a simple economic deal; it is a blow to their soul. I just tried to make the point by showing the events in a more personal, intimate light so they could better understand what is happening here from a local perspective.

The Russians raised the price of natural gas and the contract was signed over New Years. It was in all of the papers. The Belarusians countered by putting a tax on oil going through the country and then, actually stopped oil going through to Europe to make a point that both the tax was valid and that they would take their money in oil if it was not paid. The Russians then stopped sending oil through Belarus entirely which also meant that it consequently stopped sending it to Europe as well. And equally important, and this is what most westerners really cannot seem to fathom, the Belarusian argument that there is and should have been a special relationship between Russia and Belarus was not begging, it was real. Everybody here knows what this means. I mean, during the time of communism here, people really and truly were communists.

When I read her the draft of "Allegoy", Tanya had advised me told me to actually write the words that I was alluding to the Transneft deal because for sure some people would miss the point and think I was actually going to throw Egor out for not paying me rent. But in my mind my readership is pretty smart and would understand that the piece was, as titled, an allegory and related to the Belarusian headline news going on at that very moment.

I mean, do you really think I hardballed an eleven-year-old to find money to pay me for his room?

However, for those of you who might feel "you've been had". I both apologise and take a bow.


Have been talking to Mike Miller about the absolute effects of this gas deal. I mentioned to him that the stated increase in the gas will be all of $1 a month. To this he replied that maybe this was not all that bad and perhaps this whole thing might be a bit easier to manage than was first thought. I answered to this that this $1 is what they said it would be, and the truth remained to be seen as to how people would have to shoulder the burden.

Well, another piece of that puzzle came over the TV two days ago. Tanya listened to a article on ONT that said that the cost in general for apartments was to go up some percentage this year. The cost of the apartments in Belarus is figured as being the general maintenance for the square meters an individual would use in his or her apartment, plus the cost of water and the hot water that goes through the radiators in the winter. The electricity is another charge, the phone is another and the cost of the natural gas is another. This last item can come in either the form of a tank which must be delivered to the house when the old one is empty, as is our case, or in city gas as some newer places have.

The rise in the cost of the housing will come, of course as a result of the rise in the cost of the heating. As of the moment, we pay something like $24 or $30 a month in maintenance for the house and in the winters, it goes up to perhaps $50 when they turn on the hot water. However, according to this article, we will be looking at perhaps $60- 70 a month for a cold winter.

Now I know that at first many, many of you readers from Europe or America might be bursting your sides laughing at an apartment which only costs $50 a month. Maybe you can do the math yourselves this time rather than going over it again...

Ok, I will go over it again. Figure this money having to be paid NOT with a $2000 a month income (a $3000 income after taxes and insurance) Let's say for you, you have to pay out 50% of what is left for your living space, that still leaves you with $1000 to pay for food, clothes, the car, blah, blah, blah...

But in Belarus, let' say that the income for the house is say, the Belarusian Mean income of $250. Well, let's take out $70 for the house and what do you have left? 180 a month to cloth and feed and transport and entertain however many people have t live from that 180. What is that, $6 a day? Oh, and we Belarusians pay taxes too so let's make it $5 a day.

CAN you own a car? WOULD YOU pay another $30 a month for internet use from this?

So you see it is all relative. If they raise the gas in the house 10-15% because of this Gazprom deal, yes this will only mean another $10 a month to be added to the $1 a month directly added to the cost of buying a new gas tank every month, but this $10 is not .5% of a monthly income, but rather 4%, four cents of every dollar earned.

And I am sorry; you can't say that this will not be felt. And what is more, it is going to be worse each and every year for the next five years when the cost of the gas goes up and up and up until we are actually paying that European price.

So Ok, currently the gas deal hurts a little but is manageable and the deal that Belarus did manage to cut allows some time for people and the state to find the money to pay for this, or, as the interview with .... offered, to find other ways to cook their food.

Tatyana and I made a big mistake this last year when we replaced (after 35 years( grandma's old two burner gas stove with a new four burner model. The thought of going to an electric oven never occurred to us because at the time, we were under the impression that our house might be switched over to city gas which has been offered to people in Pinsk for basically 10-20% of the cost of buying tanks every month. Of course now we know that both the cost of that gas is going up, and will be going up and up. In hindsight it would have been a better investment to buy an electric stove instead. but of course, even with internet access and knowing that the cost of gas was at issue, I guess I had my head in the sand just as much as anybody. Or then again, maybe this was why the cost of the new gas stoves was so cheap.

A few more allegories…

But basically, and without any artsy fartsy verbiage, Belarus is looking at a potentially major economic catastrophe here. What has happened? Well, let me explain it this way:

I was a messenger in New York City. As you can imagine, being a messenger is tough bikes and of course the cost of having to fix and replace broken parts is a cost that is figured into the overall cost of doing business. Consequently one of the things I did was to make sure I had a wholesale parts deal and did all the mechanics myself. The math you see is simple: Let's say I break a rim. It happens. If I need a bike shop to do my work, and lots of messengers go this rout, I pay say $40 for the mechanic's time, $60 for a new rim- I am back on the road after spending $100 and all is good. I make say, $600 a week, $400 after taxes and this week, I have $300 because of the broken rim. But as I did my own work, I bought my rim for $30, put it on myself and then did the job for the biker who couldn't. For me, I make my $400 after taxes, I get $70 profit from replacing a friend's broken rim and I come out $40 ahead with a new rim to ride on myself.

Am I a thief for doing this? Is this low business? Or is this simply normal, heads up living?

What is going on with Russia though is this: They are the whole sale company and, hearing that I am making some money from their material, they go ahead and double the cost of my gear.

"Pay the market price." They say, "That rim to you is now $100 to buy."

"But why? I can't do this and stay in business."

"That," they answer, "s none of their concern."

Don't get it? This is the one (The last one today, I promise) I made up yesterday over breakfast: Let's say Tanya goes into the shirt making business. She buys material for $1 a square meter. A shirt costs her $1.10 in material, we value her time as zero just to makes things easier, and she sells her shirts on the market when she can for $7. She sells 50 shirts a month and has $295 in her pocket. She's not rich, but she gets by. But then one day the material factory calls and says: "Are you actually making money selling our material? We thought you were just using it for your home. If you are making money, we need a better cut. You need to pay the cost as of the material were already in shirt form, you need to pay $4 a meter! Now the fifty shirts cost her $220 and all she has in her pocket is $130…

This is the Russian Gas deal folks. There has been no subsidy, Belarus has simply been buying whole sale and the profits from these businesses have been coming back to the country in the form of a mildly better lifestyle than the absolute concentration camp poverty of the previous decade. What Russia, and believe me when I tell you that Belarus' argument about Russia being family was much. Much more truth than it was whining, what Russia has done, solely in the name of greed, is to put Belarus out of business and doomed her back to her dungeon.

Is Belarus fighting back? Yes she is. And good for her. Good for her!

More soon...