Tensions with Moscow test Latvia’s welcome for Russian media exiles | Big Indy News
Connect with us


Tensions with Moscow test Latvia’s welcome for Russian media exiles



In July, TV Rain, Russia’s only independent news channel, resumed broadcasting from Latvia after a five-month hiatus. But soon afterwards, the reporters realised not everyone in the Baltic state was happy to have them there.

Latvia’s security services warned that some of the hundreds of Russian reporters in the country, who fled Russia after it banned critical coverage of its invasion of Ukraine, could be undercover spies. Riga has also led calls to ban all Russians from obtaining EU tourist visas, leaving media workers facing an even more uncertain future.

The backlash has paused Latvia’s effort to make Riga a hub for Russia’s independent journalists and illustrated the difficulties for Kremlin opponents of operating in a country with bitter memories of Soviet occupation.

“It’s inevitable. There’s a war and so many other sore moments between Latvia and Russia,” said Tikhon Dzyadko, TV Rain’s editor. “I’m not surprised by the harsh reception; I’m just sad that some people aren’t even watching what we put out. But we won’t change anything that we do.”

TV Rain’s broadcasts to its growing audience, including 3.3mn subscribers on its YouTube channel, offer a radically different picture of the Ukraine conflict to Russian state television, which does not call the campaign a “war” or “invasion”.

The channel has run several exposés and even interviewed a Ukrainian official who spoke of the pleasure he got from “watching videos of dead Russian soldiers”.

Dzyadko said he would not return to Russia “until it becomes a normal country again” and wanted TV Rain to “do what we can to make that moment happen sooner”.

TV Rain’s editor Tikhon Dzyadko: ‘I’m not surprised by the harsh reception . . . But we won’t change anything that we do’ © Denis Kaminev/AP

After a brief stint in Georgia, Dzyadko and the channel’s founder Natalia Sindeyeva sought a safer home in the EU and opened a new headquarters in Latvia.

The government is helping them with the legal and financial small print. Latvia has admitted 247 Russian journalists since the start of the war and 200 of their family members, a foreign ministry representative told parliament this month. (The Financial Times has also temporarily moved some of its Russian correspondents to Riga.)

“The Latvian government made a clear political decision,” said Kirill Martynov, who edits a new edition of newspaper Novaya Gazeta in Latvia after its Russian edition suspended publication under government pressure in March. “The idea is that Riga is going to fight for freedom of speech.”

Riga also hopes the effort to boost Russian independent media will sway the country’s large ethnic Russian community, which is about a quarter of its 2mn total population, towards its pro-Ukraine stance. Regulators took down local broadcasts of Russia’s two main state TV channels last year and banned the remaining 80 Russian entertainment channels in June.

The large Russian-speaking minority, some of whom harbour pro-Moscow sentiment, has long been a source of tension with the Kremlin, which accuses Latvia of oppressing them.

In May, hundreds of people left flowers at a monument celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in the second world war, an event the Kremlin has used to boost support for its invasion of Ukraine. The incident prompted lawmakers to speed up plans to remove 69 Soviet monuments across Latvia.

Tension over the monuments, which also came to the fore in Estonia this week, “is a crucial story” for TV Rain as Latvia prepares for elections in October, said Dzyadko. “It’s about Russian speakers and non-Russian speakers, sentiment about the [second world] war and how Russia has been manipulating those feelings for decades.”

But it has made the channel the focus of criticism from coalition lawmakers who want Latvia, a Nato member, to go further in reducing Russians’ presence. Jānis Dombrava, an MP from the National Alliance party, said he saw no benefit for Latvia in “stimulating the Russian community with journalists who are going to teach us not to take the monument down”.

When anchor Ekaterina Kotrikadze challenged Riga’s mayor, Mārtiņš Staķis, about the monuments, the interview drew a furious reaction. Riga theatre director Alvis Hermanis wrote on Facebook that it now “seems their goal is to destroy our country from the inside”.

In other broadcasts Kotrikadze has spoken out about EU sanctions and visa restrictions that have made it harder for the anti-Putin Russians who watch the channel to relocate to Europe. That has led to accusations from prominent Latvians that TV Rain is trying to undermine western support for Ukraine.

Staķis said the criticism of TV Rain was “unfair” and praised Kotrikadze for not giving him “a pat on the head”.

“TV Rain is a huge possibility for Latvia — we need to treat it like that.”

The backlash has meant Russian journalists are not exempt from a ban introduced at the start of August on issuing new visas, except for attending funerals. And this week Latvia’s prime minister Krišjānis Kariņš said the coalition would introduce legislation that would prevent Russians from renewing residence permits.

A spokesperson for Kariņš told the FT the government had “no plans to change our policy regarding those Russian independent journalists already working from Latvia”.

But the reporters may face more stringent attention from Latvia’s intelligence services, which have voiced concerns Russia could use them as pawns.

“The activity launched by the Russian independent media in Latvia, which is directed against Putin’s regime, will force the Russian authorities to pay more attention to our country,” said the VDD, Latvia’s counter-intelligence service. “It cannot be ruled out that certain media outlets that started operating in Latvia or their representatives have links with the Russian intelligence and security services.”

Martynov dismissed the idea that there were spies among the exiled reporters. “Most of these people left Russia because they could have been sent to prison there,” he said.

TV Rain’s journalists feel caught in a bind, but they are determined to continue their work. Dzyadko, who is married to Kotrikadze, said the channel was trying to find a way to balance its growing audience’s differing expectations amid the pressure on Russians in Latvia.

“One of the main questions is how to find the right tone of conversation,” he said. “What’s happening is a catastrophe. Ukraine’s been destroyed and Russia is degrading. Everyone’s on edge. We need to work out the right way to talk about it.”

Read the full article here


Sister Patricia Daly, 66, Dies; Took On Corporate Giants on Social Justice



For years, Sister Pat and other environmentalists had urged ExxonMobil to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations and products. In 2007, she proposed a resolution that called on that energy giant to set a firm date to report on its progress.

“We’re the most profitable company in the history of the planet,” she told Rex Tillerson, then the company’s chief executive (and later secretary of state in the Trump administration), at the company’s annual meeting, “but what will be our long-term health when we are really faced with the regulatory and other challenges around global warming?”

She added: “We are now, this company and every single one of us, challenged by one of the most profound moral concerns. And we have the wherewithal to respond to that.”

The proposal won 31 percent of the ballots, or about 1.4 billion shares, the largest tally for an ExxonMobil climate-change resolution. If not an outright victory, it was a page in a decades-long narrative that led ExxonMobil to put a climate scientist on its board in 2017. Three executives who recognized the urgency to address climate change joined the company’s board in 2021, nominated by a tiny activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1.

“The arc of her work led us to those victories by working from the inside and the outside,” John Passacantando, the founder of Ozone Action, an anti-global warming group, and a former executive director of Greenpeace, said in a phone interview.

In 1999, Vanity Fair named her to its Hall of Fame, applauding her as one who “translates belief into commitment and never backs down from a fight.”

Mary Beth Gallagher, who replaced Sister Pat as executive director of the Tri-State Coalition in 2017, said Sister Pat had not become frustrated when her resolutions were routinely voted down.

“She lived in hope,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We never talked about winning or losing. It was about raising consciousness and educating. If we’re not asking these questions, who will?”

Read the full article here

Continue Reading


Families can make a tax-free rollover from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts starting in 2024



Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images

Americans who save for college in 529 plans will soon have a way to rescue unused funds while keeping their tax benefits intact.

A $1.7 trillion government funding package has a provision that lets savers roll money from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts free of income tax or tax penalties.

related investing news


The House passed the measure Friday and the Senate did so Thursday. The bill heads to President Biden, who’s expected to sign it into law.

More from Personal Finance:
10 ways to avoid the early withdrawal penalty for IRAs
Retirement savers with lower incomes may be getting a federal ‘match’
‘Best’ ways to maximize your tax deduction for charitable gifts

The rollover measure — which takes effect in 2024 — has some limitations. Among the largest: There’s a $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.

“It’s a good provision for people who have [529 accounts] and the money hasn’t been used,” said Ed Slott, a certified public accountant and IRA expert based in Rockville Centre, New York.

That might happen if a beneficiary — such as a child or grandchild — doesn’t attend a college, university, vocational or private K-12 school, or other qualifying institution, for example. Or, a student may receive scholarships that mean some 529 funds are left over.

Millions of 529 accounts hold billions in savings

There were nearly 15 million 529 accounts at the end of last year, holding a total $480 billion, according to the Investment Company Institute. That’s an average of about $30,600 per account.

529 plans carry tax advantages for college savers. Namely, investment earnings on account contributions grow tax-free and aren’t taxable if used for qualifying education expenses like tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Retirement plan changes in the omnibus spending bill

However, that investment growth is generally subject to income tax and a 10% tax penalty if used for an ineligible expense.

This is where rollovers to a Roth IRA can benefit savers with stranded 529 money. A transfer would skirt income tax and penalties; investments would keep growing tax-free in a Roth account, and future retirement withdrawals would also be tax-free.  

Some think it’s a handout for the rich

However, some critics think the rollover policy largely amounts to a tax handout to wealthier families.

“You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

A 2012 analysis conducted by the Government Accountability Office found the typical American with a 529 account had “much more wealth” than someone without: $413,500 in total wealth for the median person, about 25 times the amount of a non-accountholder.

You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save.

Steve Rosenthal

senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

Further, the typical owner had a roughly $142,000 annual income versus $45,000 for other families, the GAO report said. Almost half, 47%, had incomes over $150,000.

The new 529-to-Roth IRA transfer provision doesn’t carry income limits.

Limitations on 529-to-IRA transfers

While the new tax break primarily benefits wealthier families, there are “pretty significant” limitations on the rollovers that reduce the financial benefit, Jeffrey Levine, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant based in St. Louis, said in a tweet.

The restrictions include:

  • A $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.
  • Rollovers are subject to the annual Roth IRA contribution limit. (The limit is $6,500 in 2023.)
  • The rollover can only be made to the beneficiary’s Roth IRA — not that of the account owner. (In other words, a 529 owned by a parent with the child as beneficiary would need to be rolled into the child’s IRA, not the parent’s.)
  • The 529 account must have been open for at least 15 years. (It seems changing account beneficiaries may restart that 15-year clock, Levine said.)
  • Accountholders can’t roll over contributions, or earnings on those contributions, made in the last five years.

In a summary document, the Senate Finance Committee said current 529 tax rules have “led to hesitating, delaying, or declining to fund 529s to levels needed to pay for the rising costs of education.”

“Families who sacrifice and save in 529 accounts should not be punished with tax and penalty years later if the beneficiary has found an alternative way to pay for their education,” it said.

Are 529 plans already flexible enough?

Some education savings experts think 529 accounts have adequate flexibility so as not to deter families from using them.

For example, owners with leftover account funds can change beneficiaries to another qualifying family member — thereby helping avoid a tax penalty for non-qualified withdrawals. Aside from a kid or grandkid, that family member might be you; a spouse; a son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother-in-law; sibling or step-sibling; first cousin or their spouse; a niece, nephew or their spouse; or aunt and uncle, among others.

Owners can also keep funds in an account for a beneficiary’s graduate schooling or the education of a future grandchild, according to Savingforcollege.com. Funds can also be used to make up to $10,000 of student loan payments.

The tax penalty may also not be quite as bad as some think, according to education expert Mark Kantrowitz. For example, taxes are assessed at the beneficiary’s income-tax rate, which is generally lower than the parent’s tax rate by at least 10 percentage points.

In that case, the parent “is no worse off than they would have been had they saved in a taxable account,” depending on their tax rates on long-term capital gains, he said.

Read the full article here

Continue Reading


Goldman grumbling grows for banking giant to sack CEO David Solomon



The knives are out for Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, and this time the people brandishing them aren’t the usual suspects — his junior staffers annoyed that they have to work late or come into the office several times a week.

Solomon’s problems are more serious and existential, I am told, and how he handles what can best be described as a revolt in some quarters of Goldman’s middle and upper management ranks could determine how much longer he stays in his job.

Solomon, 60, took the job in 2018 and was always somewhat of an odd choice to run the white-shoe investment bank that usually cultivated its leaders from within. He cut his teeth at a decidedly un-Goldman-like venue: the scrappy investment bank Bear Stearns (ultimately one of the causalities of the 2008 financial crisis).

He joined Goldman in 1999, as a partner, no less, because his deal-making chops allowed him to skip layers of management.

In other words, Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture. He has a quirky side gig as a DJ in the summer Hamptons party circuit. He’s also not one for small talk, and doesn’t consult with a lot of people before handing down his edicts. 

“He doesn’t breed a lot of love,” said one former Goldman executive who knows Solomon well.

Lots of people at Goldman don’t like him, and they’re letting their views be heard both internally and with pals at rival firms.

Solomon as a DJ
Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture.
David Solomon/Instagram

For the record: I’ve met Solomon and like him for his no-BS style. And until pretty recently, the numbers show him doing a great job. Goldman was running on all cylinders in deals and trading. Even as the market corrects, shares are up about 60% since Solomon took over as CEO in 2018 compared to around a 44% rise in the S&P during that time.

Goldman is still the top M&A shop, even widening its market share over rivals in that important business line. Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.

Still, the grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class. High-priced Wall Street talent don’t call all the shots at any firm, of course. But Goldman’s MDs and partners have historically been a powerful force when the board decides the fate of current management, which makes Solomon’s hold on his job increasingly precarious as more and more of them defect from his camp.

David Solomon as a DJ
Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.
David Solomon/Instagram

Here’s how they’re building a case against him: Goldman’s longtime archrival investment bank Morgan Stanley now easily dwarfs Goldman in market value, $144 billion to $116 billion, continuing a trend that predates Solomon. That comes amid a slowdown in banking deals, Goldman’s bread-and-butter business, and Solomon’s home turf.

Morgan’s CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues. Solomon’s effort to diversify was an overindulgence in something called Marcus, a digital retail bank launched by his predecessor Lloyd Bankfein that Solomon made his baby. So far, it’s been a disaster, so much so that Solomon has been forced to scale back, possibly on the way to winding it down.

Goldman, meanwhile, has missed targets in its recent earnings announcements, and more downward surprises could be in store as markets continue to wobble. Bonuses are down, in some places cut in half, albeit from the nosebleed levels of 2021.

Goldman Sachs headquarters
The grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class.
AFP via Getty Images

Traders did well in 2022 because Goldman’s are particularly adept in profiting off turbulence, but part of their pool is being diverted to bankers to keep them in-house until the deal slowdown ends.

Since Solomon is a banker, he’s also being accused of favoritism, which in truth is a pretty lame charge, since bankers often subsidize trader bonuses when the markets aren’t profitable. Still, the Goldman trading department is powerful and can spark management change, as it has done in the past.

There’s also a question about Solomon’s allegiance to Goldman’s stand-alone culture. In its 153-year existence, Goldman has operated on the assumption that it would be the acquirer in any major strategic acquisition. Solomon’s experience at Bear, then one of the most transactional places on Wall Street, means he could be looking for a deal and not one that keeps Goldman in charge.

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
AFP via Getty Images

At a time when most Goldman insiders believe he needs to do a “transformational deal,” i.e., something big that allows it to better compete against Morgan Stanley and super banks like JP Morgan, there is speculation that Solomon might allow Goldman to be swallowed whole by, say, a big asset manager or bank if the price was right.

As best I can tell, this grumbling, though real, doesn’t immediately threaten Solomon’s job. Then again, there is something to be said for keeping your producers happy.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch
Jack Welch was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.
Getty Images

“Jack could chew your ass, then put his arm around you and make you feel great,” one of his longtime executives, Bob Nardelli, once told me.

It’s why so many other talented execs chose to stay around under Welch, abuse and all, and left when his successor took over, watching GE implode from the outside.

Maybe it’s a good time for Solomon to take a page from Welch and start hugging it out.

Read the full article here

Continue Reading