Saturday, July 30, 2005

More on root causes of terrorism

When the theory conflicts with the facts, what do you do? Terror's Global Ambition. Jettison the facts.

By a week ago the prevalent view according to the British media was that the attacks were carried out by young men "angry about British involvement in Iraq."

This created the illusion of a rational cause-and-effect. The London daily The Independent put it starkly: Osama bin Laden had warned that if "we bomb his cities in Iraq" he would bomb "our cities" in the West.

The London daily did not bother with such uncomfortable questions as why, if Iraq
were the motive, no Iraqis were involved in the attacks. Nor did it stop to wonder why Iraq should belong to bin Laden, who has never even seen the place except on a secret visit in 1999, and not to the Iraqi people. Needless to say it also did not mention that the terrorists who are killing Iraqis in their cities belong to the same ideological family as those who attacked London.

At any rate, most Britons, having paid attention to their media and read reports of an analysis by the Royal Institute for Foreign Affairs, a think-tank which also claimed that London was attacked because Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad, were about to go away convinced that they knew why Britain had been targeted.

Then came news of several terrorist operations thousands of miles away. These included explosions in three Algerian cities, in the Pakistani city of Quetta, in the Lebanese capital Beirut and, the deadliest of them all, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The same media that had wrapped things up by identifying the liberation of Iraq as the reason for attacks on London began to wonder if other reasons may have been involved.

That, in turn, led to the revival of the classical explanations for the latest attacks.

One explanation was poverty. Those who massacred innocents in Sharm el-Sheikh were angry about poverty, one pundit observed with a straight face.

The truth, however, is that most of the 90 or so people who died in Sharm el-Sheikh were poor people who had just found jobs in the tourist industry and were beginning to build a modest life for their families.

The attacks against Sharm el-Sheikh will not only not help alleviate poverty in Egypt but are sure to increase it dramatically. If tourism, the flagship of the Egyptian economy, is hurt it will plunge the country into recession, threatening over 100,000 jobs, according to official estimates.

Another explanation, by an American pundit, was that young Muslims were angry with the loss of their identity and were trying to revive their traditions. This, however, assumes that car bombs and random killing of people in public transport constitute part of the Islamic identity and tradition.

There's more of course.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Banned in China

I have a friend who just wrote me that he could not get this blog right now in China. He has tried but it won't come up. Getting access to it is not a problem for him in Thailand but he can't get it in China.

I find that to be a real compliment. To be blacklisted and banned by the Chinese government has to be one of the greatest honors I can think of. I will have to put it on my resume.

It has to do with my coverage of the revolution--it has to be. In fact, I would think it has to do with the word "revolution." That one would come up quite a bit in a search of this site. And that word is not something the Chinese government would be all that, umm, comfortable with.

Now I wonder if they would deny me a visa?

I would though hope that it is on the Chinese side and not Blogger doing it on this side

Bureaucracy, title and the rule of law

This story illustrates four problems here, rule of law, title, powerful monied interests and a bureaucracy to give them what they want--Kyiv Weekly.

Six families with 17 members live in tents next to a former dormitory in the village of Chabany not far outside of Kyiv. These people were ousted from their rooms after they were privatized together with the KyivSilMash plant. Then the rooms were renovated and sold to new owners.

The evicted claim that they were literally driven out of their rooms. Initially there was a complete blackout in the building and then the gas and water were cut off. Unidentified people crashed the doors of the building and broke the windowpanes.

A vandal caught by former residents explained that he was hired by builders and was preparing the windows for renovation. Now, those who were evicted from their rooms cannot access them. Residents saw through the windows how the hired builders gathered their belongings and covered them up with protective sheet. The worst part of the story is that the owners of these belongings were not even admitted to take them away. In addition to that, the builders welded the door of
the main entrance shut and pass construction materials through the windows.

There's more of course and it is illustrative.

Reminds me of the problem we had here when some people in our apartment building, a new building, wanted to create a home owner's association. There was an anti- meeting out on the playground. Lots of people and lots of loud talk. One lady, wanting to make her case--suspiciously, she didn't own an apartment here; there are reasons why she would be interested and not any of them good-- took out a legal paper and read a decision of a court giving an apartment block back to the city in the face of a home owner's association. That was open and shut for her and she had a look of triumph on her face when she finished reading. (The murmur that went from one person to another was, "She's an attorney! She's an attorney!" A hush descended over the crowd...or something like that.)

I thought to myself, What a joke. If you get to the right people you can get the verdict you want. If I researched it enough, I could probably come up with a score of contradictory verdicts on the same issue. What is it, the facts were different, the law was different? No, the people who had the connections were different.

So what does this say to potential investors? Probably not much more than they already knew. The returns here are high and the risk is high too. But we have found ways to deal with the problems here so we can note it, complain about it and get to work solving problems for clients.

The thing that most people do not understand is that there was much the same sort of system during Soviet times. And there was much the same sort of system prior to Soviet times. As a matter of fact, there has been much the same sort of system in place for centuries. Not much has changed.

Local administrative measures

More administrative measures from government--Kyiv Weekly.

The purchasing price of milk in the Sumy oblast has been falling since the middle of spring. Milk processing plants offered local farmers Hr 0.80 and sometimes even Hr 0.75 for a liter of milk. Such an understated price clearly irritaated dairy farmers, who a month ago tried getting the attention of the government by writing several letters of petition.

When they did not receive a response from Kyiv, dairy farmers from several counties of the oblast refused to sell milk to the processing plants. The provincial government detected such cases in the Nedryhailiv, Romny, Sumy and Krasnopillya counties.

Deputy Governor of the Sumy Oblast Volodymyr Sapsai told KW that “unorganized milk strikes” had broken out in several other counties of the oblast. Meanwhile, the governor of the oblast briefed the Ukrainian president on the situation during the latter’s visit to the region and requested that he take measures to prevent potentially uncontrollable processes from breaking out in the villages.”

On its part, the provincial government recommended milk processing plants to raise
their purchasing price to Hr 1 per liter of milk. The Head of the Oblast Department on for Issues in the Processing Industry Hryhoriy Nehreba stressed in conversation with a KW journalist: “This price takes into account the interests of producers as well. Besides that, the Ministry of Agricultural Policy recommends processors to purchase milk for Hr 1.2 per liter.”

This is no doubt traceable to Kiev. More of the same.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More middleman talk

This is a big part of the problem--Kyiv Weekly:

Meanwhile, Ukraine's premier has her own opinion on the subject. Yulia Tymoshenko stated that 2005 harvest grain will be exported by state traders " State Reserve Committee and JSC Khlib Ukrainy. The objective of this is to minimize involvement of intermediaries who buy grain from farmers at very low prices and sell it at world prices. "The government is not looking to pressure grain traders," added Economy Minister Serhiy Teryokhin. "We are simply creating a system that will not allow a number of major grain traders to dictate prices to producers." On this issue, Tymoshenko and Teryokhin have the same position as the Agrarian Policy minister, Socialist Party member Oleksandr Baranivskiy, who has recently had serious arguments on other issues with the two officials. SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz also insists on holding the price through the state acquisitions: "If the government does that, the grain traders will not lower the prices lower than the state. Farmers should be given an opportunity to sell grain to the state at the price they like."

I wonder how it is they think they can have any real economy and any real jobs without any middlemen, only producers and consumers. It is stunning just how much of the Soviet style there is in this. Middlemen as enemies of the state.

The real problem here is the populism of Tymoshenko. She interferes in the economy with administrative measures and that interference causes shortages but her popularity goes up because she sticks it to the Russians and the new kulaks--the middlemen. The real fear is that Yuschenko gets the blame for any downturn that happens but Tymoshenko ends up the hero of the people and head of state. If that happens any liberalization of government and the economy will, at the very least, be on hiatus.

The people will probably be all for it which is their right as bad as that might be. Reminds me of the line in the Fellowship of the Ring:

"In the place of a dark lord, you would have a queen!"

Much more pretty of course but would there be any real difference? That is the question.

Sugar, the WTO and discipline

A few months back, we thought it would be a good thing to stock up on sugar. Ukrainians like to can and my wife is no exception and since the price of sugar tends to go up in the summer, we thought we could save a little by buying it then and buying in bulk.

So we bought two sacks of 50 kilos each. The price was about 125 hryvna per sack or about $25. We got a bit of a break by buying bulk so we saved some over the price at that time.

Today, however, that same sack of sugar costs 250 hryvna. That’s $50 American. So the price has doubled in about three months. That’s a steep rise in the price of sugar. Why such a steep rise? What’s going on here in the sugar market?

There’s a shortage of sugar on the market right now and producers aren’t producing more; they’re at capacity they say. Some of it has to be the canning season. Women are buying sugar to make sure they can preserve their strawberries, cherries, currants, etc. But we have never seen as steep a price rise as this in the past.

So I don’t really know what is behind it. I suspect that production capacity is part of it. It might be that consumption is increasing too. Wages are up here and people are buying more. That means they are buying what might be considered more discretionary items like candies and other sweets. So that could be a part of it too. It is too steep a rise to be accounted for by inflation alone so it can’t be that. This kind of price rise in such a short period of time would seem to be only possible with supply limits of some kind.

The thing is that some of the candy factories are hurting right now because of the price. One in particular had to shut down production because they couldn’t get the sugar they needed. The biggest maker of candies says they will have to increase their price by 20% because of this. I find it hard to believe though that a sophisticated company like that company is would get caught flatfooted like this. I suspect that they have the supplies to tide them over and that the price hike on their products is opportunism, but who knows. All companies are going to have to increase their prices by about that same percentage—20%--they say. And some do export products so that will make their exports less competitive at that price.

But the problem is really the fact that Ukraine protects its sugar industry. Sugar beets are what are processed to make sugar here and that crop is not the most efficient at sugar production. Sugar cane is better but that means imports and the importation of sugar is not going to happen. There was some talk about it the past couple of weeks by the government but the decision was no. They felt that there were sufficient stocks in the country to tide them over but I think that they really didn’t want to uncork the bottle and let the genie out. It might be hard to put him back in when the people see the price of sugar decline dramatically.

Sugar of course is protected in the US because of a small group of well connected producers in the south. They have been able to prevent competition from foreign sugar for a long time. And they continue to be able to do it. This means that people in the US pay about twice what is being paid internationally. But this constitutes a tax on the people of the US and it is a tax on the people here too. Businesses do not pay the increased costs; consumers always do.

There is though the argument that Ukraine needs to go slow, that it cannot completely open up its markets because that will cause a lot of economic dislocation. The point is that people would lose jobs and there would be a lot of them out of work if the doors were thrown open. This is true. The only question would be in what numbers this would happen. So there is a lot to be said for that position. The problem though is that it is going to have to happen some time in all markets here. To say they need to go slow should not be a cover for really not wanting to do it. It will have to happen. If they keep saying no for every industry it just means not that they are going slow, but that they are not going at all.

That is why WTO entry looks appealing. First of all, it tends to give some structure to the governments policies, something that the government is lacking right now. It also gives those policies a coherence that is also lacking right now. Focusing on the WTO gives them just that, focus.

Secondly, it commits the government, the whole government, to a policy of liberalization, not only of the economy but of institutions. It hasn’t been clear whether the government was for liberalization or not. There have been a number of people speaking with a number of voices on the subject so it has been difficult to tell. Commitment to WTO entry signals government intentions to liberalize.

Thirdly, there is a stick that goes with the carrot. If the country does not join the WTO, they cannot get trade privileges. No trade privileges means an inability to compete internationally in the end. And if Ukraine enters the WTO and fails to keep its commitments there, sanctions would result. This would provide a discipline for the government in economic and trade matters that it might not be able to generate on its own.

These are reasons why it looks so appealing.

A conservative responds to the shooting

A conservative reacts to the shooting in London---Telegraph Opinion Don't wait for a marksman - get stuck in.

If the defence of what happened to Mr de Menezes is that it was the right treatment but the wrong patient and we'd better get used to it, perhaps the British Tourist Board could post signs at Terminal Four: "BIENVENUE A LONDRES! WE SHOOT TO KILL!" On the other hand, the day before the Met inaugurated its new policy, three suicide bombers managed to escape through Tube stations full of people. At Mr de Menezes's station, Stockwell, according to passenger James Boampong, "an olive-skinned man" mumbled a final prayer and then attempted to self-detonate on the Northern line. It was, fortunately, a damp squib. But he left his smoking backpack on the floor and fled at the Oval, up the down escalator and out to the street. Three passengers and the flower seller outside the station attempted to stop him but failed. Where was everyone else? Were they, like Tube drivers on the Bakerloo later that morning, downing tools and withholding their labour?

"Defiance" has to be more than just the latest disposable cliché of the headline writers. It would have been better had the "olive-skinned man" been caught and Mr de Menezes had been allowed to go to his electrical job. To do that you need not killer cops but an alert citizenry that understands, when you're on a train underground and something funny starts, there's unlikely to be any elite marksmen down there to take care of it. It's up to you.

And in the broader sense, the pathetic public execution of an innocent man on July 22 joins the events of July 21 and July 7 as a reminder of why a narrow, reactive law-enforcement approach to terrorism will always penalise the populace more than the terrorists. You win this war militarily (in the badlands of Pakistan and elsewhere) and culturally (which is a much tougher battle). Shoot-outs on the Tube aren't going to be much help - though, if they advance from Brazilians at Stockwell to theatregoers at Leicester Square, overcrowding at the Olympics isn't likely to be a problem.

He's right. The problem is that I think this will end up defining a new reality for a lot of people. If the bombings don't end, everyone will clamor for it.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Man shot by British cops not terrorist

This is a real shocker. Man shot by British cops not terrorist. (It looks like I do regret it.)

British police hunting London bombers yesterday admitted killing a Brazilian electrician by mistake -- a blunder that dealt a blow to their efforts to track down militants they fear could strike again...

Police expressed regret for having killed the Brazilian man a day earlier and identified the victim as Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old electrician who had been living in London for three years.

I guess he thought Immigration was after him when he took off. Looks like this is what is given up. You'd think police had more on the guy than it looks like they had. In fact, it looks like they had nothing.

What a terrible thing.

UPDATE 7/26: Contrary to what I posted, it looks like he was there legally. As to why he would run, someone has suggested that being followed by men who end up brandishing weapons would make anybody run.

Someone once said that if it is a choice between stability and freedom, societies will choose stability. [Originally wrote "freedom" but that was not what I meant.] We in the West may think that people fundamentally desire freedom. That may be true to some extent in the West because the West has been so stable for years. But it is not really true. Others not of the West would just as soon have stability. They have seen what freedom can do and what change can do and they don't like it. And even in the West what will people think about freedom if the bombs keep going off, in the malls, the stores, at public gatherings, at any place we go to as part of our lives? If it is a choice between this or giving up freedom, I think society will choose giving up freedom every time.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

One London terror suspect shot

One terrorist suspect has been shot in London--London bombs terror attack The Times and Sunday Times Times Online.

Three officers had followed him to Stockwell station after he emerged from a nearby house that police believed to be connected with Thursday's attempted bombings.

The suspect, described as being of Asian appearance and wearing a thick, bulky jacket, vaulted over a ticket barrier when challenged by police and ran down the escalator and along the platform of the Northern Line.

When the armed officers reached the platform with their guns drawn, they shouted at everyone to get down. As waiting passengers and those already on a train that had pulled into the station dived to the floor, the suspect jumped on the train. Two witnesses said that as he entered the train he tripped, ending up half in and half out of the carriage, on all fours. Within seconds, as the clock tower outside the station chimed 10am, the officers caught up with the man and pushed him hard to the floor. Witnesses said that they then fired up to five bullets into him at close range, killing him instantly.

I know this is a terribly rude thing to say and I will probably regret it but it seems so fitting: "MIND THE GAAAP!"

This appears at first glance like the sort of thing that you might expect from a third world country. When I was in Venezuela a few years back, there was a hold up at a bank, I think it was. (It was a hold up. Whether it was a bank is the memory problem.) The police got to the scene fairly quickly and chased them down. One of the criminals was downed by a shot early on. When the officers passed him on the sidewalk, they pumped more bullets into him. Due process, at least in the sense that they thought he was due it.

But this is only superficially like that shooting. This guy was supposed to have wires hanging out of his coat, at least that is what some reported. That he didn't have a bomb or that he might not have had wires in fact running out of his coat in the end, doesn't really change the risks the situation presented to the officers and to those others on the subway car. If he had had a bomb and could have set it off, there would have been casualties, possibly lots of them. To shoot him would be the lesser of two evils. It also may end up defining a new reality.

This may be unsatisfactory to some. But I would ask what the alternative is to it? Even those who might be crying out against such an outrage--"he didn't have a bomb!"-- would themselves demand it if they were faced with the constant threat of bombs going off in all areas of London, week after week after week. The point is that due process tends to become nothing more than a procedural nicety when a society is under attack.

But maybe something will be lost with that in the long run. I don't really know.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Is Islam to blame?

Here's another interesting commentary on the why of terrorism--Is Islam to blame?.

A lot of people won't agree and will say his is a racist explanation. This case is kind of hard to make here; he's a Muslim. They will insist that it is poverty or Palestine or some other root cause. But for a civilization that holds multiculturalism as something on the order of the Ten Commandments, this is being guilty of seeing everything through our own Western eyes.

Among other interesting things, the author says:

Even now, the Muslim Council of Britain adamantly insists that Islam has nothing
to do with the London attacks. It cites other motives "segregation" and "alienation," for instance. Although I don't deny that living on the margins can make a vulnerable lad gravitate to radical messages of instant belonging, it takes more than that to make him detonate himself and innocent others. To blow yourself up, you need conviction. Secular society doesn't compete well on this score. Who gets deathly passionate over tuition subsidies and a summer job?

Reminds me of what Orwell said: "At the time of another war, George Orwell made this point: "The Western democracies [the US and Western Europe], he observed, had come to think that 'human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain.' Whatever else could be said about it, fascism was 'psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic concept of life.' Hitler knew that men and women wanted more than 'comfort, safety, short working hours, hygiene, birth control.' 'Whereas socialism and even capitalism have said to people "I offer you a good time, "Hitler has said to them, "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result, a whole nation flings itself to his feet." The True and Only Heaven, Christopher Lasche, p. 79."

We don't understand this. It doesn't register with us. But you can't understand the appeal until you understand this fact.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Grain exports burdened

And this isn't even because of corruption--FirsTnews / Articles. Unless, of course, bureacracy is corruption.

“We have reached the moment when it [grain export] is completely unprofitable if traders don’t receive refunds of the value added tax. If you look back for several years, there were thousands of traders. Only a relatively few remain; famous companies are disappearing before our eyes,” Volodymyr Klymenko, executive director of the Ukrainian Grain Association (UGA), said in remarks delivered at the meeting.

However, this year promises to be a good grain harvest, and exporting continues to be the most profitable option, agriculture minister officials claimed.

“According to our forecast the export potential consists of more than 9 million tons of grain. Of that, wheat represents about 6 million tons. This potential represents the opportunity to earn money and to have income,” the First Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy Ivan Demchak said.

Talk of potential income brings ironic smiles to the faces of grain traders. In Ukraine, delivering grain from a producer to a ship’s cargo hold is a complicated system in which every step requires a payment. Klymenko provided information that he said shows the expensive process of delivering grain from elevators to ships with traders required to make 22 different payments for services related to the transfer.

“All costs, which are born by those who take the product from an elevator inside the country and deliver it to a ship, add up to more than $40 in Ukraine. In Europe this sum would be $20,” Klymenko said in an interview with FirsTnews.

It's just a lot of bureaucracy and they set the prices according to which, transparent governmental policy, economic forces or administrative needs? Take a guess.

Bribery Soars to $319 Billion Per Year--Russia

This is a real drag on business and a tax on the people--Study: Bribery Soars to $319 Billion Per Year--though there appears to be good news here.

Bribery is on the rise, with businesses and individuals forking out $319 billion per year to bureaucrats, police, educators and doctors, according to a study released Wednesday.

However, people are gradually growing more reluctant to pay bribes, it said.

Bureaucrats and other state-paid employees are putting increasing pressure on people to pay bribes, despite well-publicized efforts by the Kremlin to crack down on corruption, according to the two-year study by Indem, an anti-corruption think tank, and Romir Monitoring.

"The stable growth of corruption is provided by the extra pressure that the authorities are putting on ordinary people to make them pay bribes," Indem president Georgy Satarov said at a news conference.

"However, ordinary people have appeared to become more reluctant to pay bureaucrats, finding other ways of solving their problems, and this a very positive effect," he said.

Ukraine is on a par with this at least if you factor in the number of people. A lot of experts say that bribery hasn't stopped under Yuschenko even with the efforts made and despite his own personal pleas. And some say it has actually increased. (It has increased, they say, because the risks to the bribe-takers have increased--they have to charge more and get more to cover their risks. That might be good news.)

What a shame this is. What kind of real uses could that money be put to to increase the standard of living of Ukrainians and Russians? That amount in Russia is larger than the oil hedge fund they have. What a real waste.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ukrainian Traffic Police to be Disbanded?

This is a good thing--Ukrainian Traffic Police Officers Confused.

Ukraine's traffic police were confused about their fate Tuesday, a day after President Viktor Yushchenko said he wanted to disband the 23,000-member traffic police department because of widespread corruption.

I have written about this before. It is a fact that the traffic police are corrupt. And I can't see any bad result from not having 23,000 traffic police on the road. It couldn't cause havoc in the streets because there is already havoc in the streets with 23,000 traffic police on duty.

Ukrainians are some of the worst drivers in the world. As a matter of fact, I can't think of any worse. (I used to think Utah drivers were the worst until I visited New York. But drivers in Venezuela are worse than that and topped my list until my stint here.) Traffic rules are violated with impunity and the higher priced the model, the more you can expect that the rules will be broken. Could it be that the people who drive the Mercedes' and BMWs think they can get out of any problem when stopped? The answer is "yes," by paying money which they would have enough of. But everyone does it.

There is no such thing as a driving lane, for one. You find cars all over the place even on roads where the lanes are marked. Some drivers appear to be using their hood ornament for positioning; they put it right on the line.

A few weeks back, we took the family out of town. To get to where we live to where we wanted to go, we had to cross one of the bridges that span the Dnieper River.

When we got to the bridge, traffic was backed up. There had been an accident upfront we later learned. The road had six lanes, three to a direction but there were five lanes that were backed up. How could there be five you ask? Wouldn't it be all six or just three? That is what would happen in the US but not here. Some enterprising drivers moved over to two of the opposing lanes to get some advantage. That left one lane for traffic going in the opposite direction. This happens all the time. It may seem clever or at least practical but my question is, What do they do when they come to a hill? The traffic going in the the opposite direction is not backed up and is going the speed limit--or higher. (Mostly higher.) It is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

And I have seen cars forced off onto the shoulder by cars passing slower traffic going in the opposite direction. It has happened to us, as a matter of fact. (Again, the more expensive models are the worst culprits. It seems that they feel it is an entitlement.) They just get the idea to go and anyone coming up from the other direction has to get out of the way. It creates all sorts of risks and is frankly really stupid but it happens all the time. When we go out of town and travel on a two lane road, I crowd the shoulder to keep out of the way. And I have to pay attention to avoid problems.

So I don't think that disbanding the traffic police will change anything. People now flaunt the traffic rules with impunity with all these police on the beat. How could it be worse?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Population decline in Ukraine

This problem has been brewing for a long time---:: In 20 years there will 10 million fewer Ukrainians :: Ukrayinska Pravda.

Radio Era reported the other day that there were roughly half the number of births as deaths for the first five months of the year in the country. That is part of the reason. There are not enough babies to take the place of those who die. There have been incentives to try and reverse that. The government makes a one times payment to parents of about $1600 on the birth of a child, for example. But we are hearing that there is a lot of paperwork that goes along with it--what here doesn't take paperwork and a lot of it--and it may not be all that easy to qualify for as it seemed originally.

The other problem is that Ukrainians aren't living as long either. Life expectancy in Ukraine (and in Russia for that matter) has declined since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For males the decline has been sharp--I think the figures now are 72 years for women and 60 for men.

A lot of that decline in male life expectancy may be linked to alcohol. It has been said that a significant percentage of men die drunk. That would make alcohol the other other problem. And it is a scourge here. More about that later--maybe.

Only Aiding the Terrorists

This can't be a good thing---Only Aiding the Terrorists.

...At the same time, powerful anti-American forces in Moscow have recently been doing their best to further subvert the already fragile anti-terrorism alliance. Airat Vakhitov, a Russian Muslim who was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and held in Guantanamo until March 2004, held a news conference in Moscow two weeks ago and decried the desecration of the Quran by U.S. solders. It later became known that Vakhitov did not see the desecration himself but was told about it by a fellow inmate at Guantanamo.

The news conference of this not very credible witness of U.S. abuse was organized by the pro-government RIA-Novosti news agency. Vakhitov's statement that the Quran was flushed down the toilet appeared all over Russian television and was repeated for days afterward by the state-owned Rossia channel.

A high-ranking Kremlin insider told me on condition of anonymity that Vakhitov's story was "a Soviet-style anti-American propaganda operation," organized by our intelligence services. The same source confirmed that the promotion of Vakhitov's tale was authorized at the highest level.

Moscow is undermining anti-terrorist solidarity in other ways as well. The Pentagon states that the main bases for terrorists operating in Iraq are Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran. Syria and Iran are the main sponsors and safe havens of Islamist terrorists and at the same time enjoy close political and military ties with Russia. Moscow is selling Syria modern anti-aircraft weapons that may be deployed to defend terrorist bases from U.S. air counterattacks. A deal is in the works to equip Russian-made Iranian Kilo submarines with supersonic Club-S anti-ship missiles, which could be used against the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf...

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A ghazava?

Here's an interesting perspective on why they are doing it, why the terrorist attacks---And this is why they did it--Times Online guest contributor's Opinion.

Moments after yesterday’s attacks my telephone was buzzing with requests for interviews with one recurring question: but what do they want? That reminded me of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film-maker, who was shot by an Islamist assassin on
his way to work in Amsterdam last November. According to witnesses, Van Gogh begged for mercy and tried to reason with his assailant. “Surely we can discuss this,” he kept saying as the shots kept coming. “Let us talk it over.”

Van Gogh, who had angered Islamists with his documentary about the mistreatment of women in Islam, was reacting like BBC reporters did yesterday, assuming that the man who was killing him may have some reasonable demands which could be discussed in a calm, democratic atmosphere.

But sorry, old chaps, you are dealing with an enemy that does not want anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger management or round-table discussions. Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you...

There's more of course and it is interesting.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London attacked

A terrible, terrible thing yesterday. I have only seen the pictures from news sites. We are without a television right now so we haven’t seen any of the footage. But the pictures are very familiar.

I love London. It is one of my favorite cities of the world. In 1998, I was there for a few weeks and got to know the “tube”-- the subway-- very well. I took it everywhere. I got to know it so well in fact that I could answer Londoner’s questions about how to get to there from “here.” (Some actually asked me.)

So I am familiar with some of the station names in the news yesterday and today. And I think it was Tavistock Square that I passed on my way to the British Museum when I was there. (I don’t have my maps here from that trip so I am not absolutely sure. But I did pass a square when I came to the museum from the north. See the map here.) That is the square near where the bomb went off on the double-decker bus.

Those who have spoken on the bombings have talked in terms of innocents. To the enemy they are not innocents at all but are part of Dar al-harb or that part of the world not under the sway of Islam that fundamentalist Islam is at war with. Those not under Islam are not innocent ac\cording to them. They are the enemy to be dealt with as enemy. To these fundamentalists, there is no such thing as non-combatants. All are combatants, all are the enemy, and that makes all guilty.

But that point of view is not limited to fundamentalist Islam, I’m afraid. We in the modern, tolerant West find whole classes of people to be guilty simply because of how they are classified. So people in the red states are dismissed as something less than human to be discarded at the first opportunity; the unborn constitute a threat; those who are religious are the real enemy; and so on and so on. And the hatreds of so tolerant a people thicken the air.

After the dust settles and the blood is all mopped up, you can expect that some in the tolerant West will actually argue that the people who were killed were not really so innocent after all. It has started already with the “if-these-people-weren’t-so-poor-they-wouldn’t-have-done- this” kind of talk. (Read: “If we weren’t so greedy in the West this wouldn’t have happened.” All are guilty of greed.) It will be said that these people who were killed and maimed were really a part of the oppressors who keep the rest of humanity down. They may not all say it—some things may still be beyond the pale, especially now—but what will be unstated is that they really did deserve what they got. Falwell, Robertson et al, will say these people deserved it because of wickedness. “But these guys are religious bigots. They would say that. Now give me the class struggle. That’s a entirely different thing altogether.”

Anyway, yesterday innocent people were targeted and killed. The only thing good to have come from that is that it could have been much, much worse. It may end up being called Britain’s 9/11 but it won’t have been on that kind of scale. That is not a criticism--it is something to be thankful for.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Lack of Trust Carries Heavy Toll--Russia

I think something like this is true in Ukraine too--Lack of Trust Carries Heavy Toll

Would you trust a stranger on a train to look after your bag while you run to the toilet?

Probably not if you're Russian. Seventy percent of people in Russia believe "you can't be too careful in dealing with people," while only a quarter agree that "generally most people can be trusted," according to a poll of 1,500 Russians conducted by the Bashkirova & Partners market research firm last month.

The lack of trust does not just translate into a greater air of suspicion, it also carries a heavy price that weighs down the entire economy.

In the absence of effective mechanisms that enforce contracts and protect property rights -- what economists broadly call "legal institutions" -- trust is left as one of the few informal pillars of economic activity.

Although the costs of mistrust are indirect and hard to quantify, they undeniably take a heavy toll on economic activity. Insecurity forces companies into unprofitable businesses to secure supplies, confines entrepreneurs to dealing only with close partners and deforms the whole structure of the economy.

There are ways of dealing with this, of getting around this we have found, but to not have real rule of law, or, to put it as one analyst does more accurately, to have rule of law except when it matters, affects the smooth and efficient functioning of the system. It means predicitiblity and that allows businesses to better plan.

But there are also personal costs involved with it. Uncertainty has been a part of Ukrainian life for centuries. It is not something started after the Revolution under the Bolsheviks. It was a way of life under the Czars. In the end, it might just be one of those things that has shaped the Ukrainian soul.

Friday, July 01, 2005

No visas for US citizens?

It was reported on Radio Era this morning that citizens of the US will no longer be required to get a visa for entry into Ukraine. They can stay for 90 days visa-free.

The Ukraine Embassy website still says that visas are required but that may mean that this is new and hasn't had time to trickle down through the bureaucracy yet.

The US Embassy here has reciprocated by lowering the fees for visas to the US. Not much but it is something.

Some may think this benefits Americans only. This is shortsighted. I have always wondered why the Ukrainian government would think that the fees generated by the visa requirement which make it difficult for people to come in to sightsee and vacation are worth more than the money that tourists would leave here. The money tourists leave creates jobs. Payments to the government do not.

Tourism is a plus for everyone here. Let them come in and spend. Its money that will help the economy.

UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: The Moscow Times says the same thing. Of course this will be good for attracting investment too. But tourism is a more immediate benefit.