Thursday, September 29, 2005

Some themes

Some of the themes I have seen in articles and my response to them:

1. Yuschenko resurrected Yanukovych. This was mentioned in some articles and was a question asked by an anonymous poster to the website. As a question, it is a good one. As a statement of fact, it is not incontrovertible.

Does it give Yanukovych more status than he had? It may in the minds of people but Yanukovych had no status prior to that agreement. He was a no show as the opposition. You would hear some sniping from the trees by people like Chernovil (his last campaign manager) but it was petty stuff, not the campaign on a broad front that it should be by a serious candidate representing the opposition. (“This government isn’t professional!” said Chernovil. Not a very original statement and not much of an opposition campaign. As an opening salvo, fine. But if that constitutes the whole broadside, pitiful. And that was it.) The agreement showed everyone that Yanukovych was still alive. That may be something to know but it doesn’t go very far in making him formidable opposition. At least, not considering where he has been.

And that agreement is really not much of anything anyway. I said that it can be repudiated and it can. The charge would be opportunism but that is the charge right now. Does that charge help Yanukovych?

The funny thing is that Yanukovych was called in to the prosecutor’s office to answer questions a day or two ago. His supporters said it violated the memorandum. It may have but it just goes to show that Yuschenko has the power so he has he advantage.

The real argument is that it somehow rehabilitates Yanukovych in the minds of the people or that it grants some sort of legitimacy to him. I think it does neither. For rehabilitation, that would mean that an agreement signed by Yuschenko served to change the minds of the people regarding Yanukovych. “He is a bandit but since Yuschenko dealt with him maybe not.” Those ardently for the Orange Revolution were ardently against Yanukovych. The tone of the responses to the memo by those supporters is one of betrayal by Yuschenko not of reconciliation with Yanukovych.

Legitimacy would be a weaker benefit for Yanukovych but it suffers from the same problems: He is a bandit to the supporters. Could it affect any swing voters? I don’t know that there are any. People already have their opinions formed on Yanukovych. In the West, see the first sentence. In the East, he has a lot of support; some of it may be a little soft. But he represents the interests of the eastern part of the country and they just put up with anything else. Who else represents the interests of the East especially after the Orange Revolution? It does a government and a people no good to write off half a country.

Then there’s the idea that Yanukovych could remain a protest vote option, a kind of “devil-we-know.” That is something that is hard to gauge but he would have been that anyway. The memo doesn’t make that any more likely than it was before. There isn’t anyone in Ukraine now who doesn’t know who he is. If his name were on the ballot they would know it--he has name recognition galore. The question would be: Would they vote for him if they were disillusioned by all other parties? I doubt it, but I guess it’s possible. The disillusionment would have to be complete and I don’t see that as being all that likely.

I do have to issue a caveat here. This is based on what Yanukovych has done since the Revolution. It might be that an effective opposition could be mounted by him—the targets of opportunity are all over the place. (Military types would call it a “target-rich environment.”) We heard today that some of the Russian “political technologists”—spin doctors—are making there way back here again. They have learned their lesson according to the report and won’t make the same mistakes again (they said in all lack of humility.) That remains to be seen. It's hard to be effective when you see your adversary as a backwoods hick who stares out in wide-eyed astonishment at the high sophistication of the tailored suits from Moscow. That they see Ukraine as beneath them is the lesson they should have learned. Did they learn it? It’s possible but I doubt it.

But if some kind of effective campaign can be launched for Yanukovych, his stock could go up with some voters. “We had 12% growth when I was PM. Gasoline was cheaper and so was chicken, pork and everything else. Was there corruption? Yes, there was. And the man responsible for it, the man who also worked to take the vote away from the people, is no longer in government. He is out and well he should be. But he is running around loose when he should have been arrested and prosecuted. Why hasn’t he been arrested and prosecuted? He worked to steal the election from the people for his own purposes unknown to me at the time. But he runs now at large, scoffing at the people he sought to defraud, untouched by the law. Why is that? Ask Yuschenko why. I suppose the answer is that if he got something from Yuschenko, Yuschenko must have gotten something from him….” Or something like that.

Anyway, if he comes up with an effective campaign, he could end up with some more legitimacy—it remains to be seen how much more. But that depends on him and his organization, not on the memorandum. And to date, there has been not much of anything coming from his camp.

To be continued…

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I talk to my brother-in-law

I was talking to my brother-in-law last night. He was one who was down on the square most every day during the Orange Revolution. In fact, I was with him at Maidan on the night of the first election, November 21st, I think it was, when the protests started. That was a Sunday night, described here.

It was kind of funny because when we met at the subway that night, he seemed to be filled out a bit more than I had remembered. He had on a winter coat but that coat was not thick enough to account for the extra bulk he seemed to have. I didn’t mention it at the time—I thought I might not have judged it right-- and just let it go.

Later, my wife was talking to my sister-in-law and she said that that Saturday before we went, the day before, she thought she heard her husband sawing wood in another part of their apartment. She went to look for him and when she found him, he was sawing wood. When she asked him what he was doing, he hemmed and hawed a bit before he told her that he was putting together some protection—some wood on the front like a breastplate and wood on the back-- in case he went down to Maidan the next day. Wood was the only thing he had to do it with, and the only thing it would stop would have been a knife or blows from a truncheon. It wouldn’t have stopped any bullets from any caliber carried by the police or the military. He knew this but thought that most of the problem would come from crowd dispersion measures rather than from a wholesale gunning-down by the military. He did though accept that as a possibility and something he risked because later that week, when he had been down on the square for a couple of days, he asked me to take care of his wife in case he was killed or imprisoned. The way he put was, “If I don’t come back.”

That’s just some background.

Talking to him last night, he was of the opinion that Tymoshenko hadn’t had enough time to do what she needed to do; she was fired before she could make things better. I think that is the opinion of a lot of Ukrainian supporters of the OR. They think that Tymoshenko was working to reform the system and was sacked before she could finish.

One of the things he mentioned was pensions and government wages. He said that now she was out there would be no increases in pensions and government wages. Though he isn’t affected by either of these—he works in the private sector—increasing both of these is seen by a lot of people as a measure of government effectiveness and even justice. The fact is that pensions have been rather low for a long time, since the economic collapse in the later 90s. The hryvna was devalued and wages and pensions were caught in that devaluation. To make that up is a kind of test of government effectiveness for some people. Tymoshenko resonates with that.

He also told me that a couple of guys at his work had said that Yuschenko was now in with that “bandit” Yanukovych. He proved it by signing that memorandum. My brother-in-law didn’t say if he agreed with that assessment. I think he isn’t settled about that right now. Out of respect for Yuschenko, his mind isn’t made up on that point, at least not yet. This I think is good news for Yuschenko if it is widespread and I think it is. (Others we know say things like, “I don’t know who to believe!” Shows their minds are not made up.) I don’t think people have made up their minds yet about it because they have a lot invested in Yuschenko. But he does have to communicate with them more. I think people are looking for Yuschenko to come and tell them what he has done and why he had to do it. He hasn’t done that yet. He needs to do it.

A new poll out says that Yuschenko has about 20% approval. That doesn’t contradict what I have said. People are upset with him but that doesn’t necessarily mean this is their final position about him. I think they are registering their dissatisfaction. And they ought to.

The interesting thing is that although Tymoshenko polled better than Yuschenko, she was only a couple of points better. Her approval rating is at around 22%. Not good news.

It might be that disapproval of Yuschenko will translate into bad poll numbers for anyone involved with him in the OR. Show Tymoshenko suffers. If Yuschenko builds his case separate from Tymoshenko, she will be left with the worst of both worlds. And there is some argument that she has made a number of mistakes on her own that leave her in a weakened position. That is the argument here. (Need to read it carefully, the translation is a little rough.)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Bothered by it all

I can’t read any of the commentary anymore. I am sitting here just disgusted with it all. If all the Orange Revolution meant to people here was a shot at taking down those on the opposite side, then it was no better than the revolution of 1917. “I get my people in and deal with the people who opposed me.” Then they get their people in by coup or by "legitimate" means and deal with your side. Then you get yours in and do it again and it goes on and on and nauseatingly on. And Ukraine remains some backwater, third world, basket case, with a few people controlling the wealth, the land, and everything else. But the people will have their pound of flesh, while the structures around them crumble to the dust. With the people distracted this way to what are small matters in the end, the oligarchs can just sit and grin as they watch their portfolios get fatter and fatter and fatter.

What should have been bought on Maidan was getting off that kind of ride. Rule of law, discussions held and decisions taken in the open, solid institutions which cannot be bought by someone with the most money or influence. In other words, what should have been bought on Maidan was the ability for what has happened over and over again in Ukraine to never happen again. Ever. If that is not what was paid for, then Ukrainians got nothing. But that is what it looks like. People want someone to pay and they will have it and stagnation, poverty and corruption will remain.

I will put this plainly and it will tick off a lot of Ukrainians (most of whom long ago abandoned this site): Tymoshenko was a disaster for Ukraine. She is a capable woman and gets things done and was instrumental in the Orange Revolution, but she was a disaster for Ukraine. Why is this? Prices are rising steeply on most everything and a lot of investment, investment that should be Ukrainian by right, is passing over this country for places like Romania. Let that sink in for a minute. Romania. If there is a country worse off than Ukraine it has got to be Romania (and the rump state Moldova) but they are getting more investment than Ukraine right now.

A lot of goodwill was generated by the Orange Revolution and companies and investors that couldn’t have told you where Ukraine was in the world before, suddenly found it. And all were charmed, I repeat this, all were charmed by the sight of people out in the streets trying to reclaim their rights. Investment would have come in from that fact alone but Tymoshenko immediately began to talk about revising all privatization deals and only settled on 3000 when pushed. You tell me what a company or investor is going to do when faced with the prospect that any company they might join forces with or any building they might buy or any asset they might purchase here could be swept up in a revision of privatizations from years back. They held back and in honor of the revolution, they waited to see what would happen. But these things don’t wait long. Doors open but they also shut.

There is no way around this. Ukraine needs investment to grow and for the people to better their lives. People don’t leave Ukraine for Europe because of the politics or the way of life or for the European social safety net. They leave Ukraine because they see more opportunities there to provide for their families than are present in Ukraine. And regardless of the troubles that Europe faces right now, there are more opportunities there than there are here for Ukrainians. And that is true in economically stagnant places like Germany. (0.6% growth last year.) There are more opportunities in Germany with its economic stagnation and high unemployment rate, than there are here in Ukraine. That is scandalous.

If Ukraine is going to reverse that, it can only be done with outside investment. And there needs to be a lot of it.

And you can spare me the “resources belong to the people and should be used for their benefit” crap. Those resources are in the hands of a very few right now, much as the resources in any Latin American back water are in the hands of a very few. That is the way it has always been here. These very few now hold them in the name of capitalism. Those same resources were once held in the name of the people. But the results were very much the same. A small group of people enjoyed (enjoy) the benefits of those resources and the rest of the people be damned, or killed, or exiled, whichever is the flavor of the day. Exile is now out and killing is not on the scale it once was, not anywhere near, but I am not so sure that people here are eating like they should—they can’t afford to. So suffering and death may still be very real.

Some blame the oligarchs and argue that the government needs to retain the power to fight these oligarchs who control the resources. They argue that Tymoshenko was the one to do it and she was on her way to doing it until dismissed by Yuschenko.

That she was doing things is true. That she was confronting some of the oligarchs is also true. But what she was really doing economically was redistributing wealth using state power. And the result was greater inflation, rising prices and a people who cannot afford to live.

In her television interview, Tymoshenko said that any rise in prices was offset by the increases her government made in wages and pensions. That was disingenuous. The wage increases don’t track with the price increases and not all are tied to the government—there is commerce and industry here that hasn’t seen much of any wage increase.

We know of people who are living on 300 hryvna a month. That is $60 to live on for the month and these are government employees. A lot of the prices for food are at US levels right now. To buy a chicken, a single, whole chicken, for instance, costs one-tenth that salary. (The increase on chicken has been about 30% in the past 6 months.) And the same thing is true on other items. My wife and I think there are a lot of people who can’t be eating all that well right now. They don’t have the money to.

I’ve got news for everyone, it is not the power of the government that will deal with entrenched oligarchic power. It will be the reforms of government, dealing with corruption and opening things up to competition that will do it.

One thing here is a real type of the attitude of the people in government and most everywhere else. It is the closed door. If you go to any building here, any hospital or government agency or store, you will find a full set of doors across the front to get in just like in any entranceway in any building in the US. The difference here is that only one of those doors will be open. (You will find some exceptions to this--usually Western companies like a McDonalds--but very few.)

If people want to know what is wrong and how to set it right I will just say, “Open up the doors!” Open up for investment and competition--open everything up-- and see the oligarchs wither away and die. And see the people better off than they have been, ever.

I do have something to say about the “Yuschenko is as much responsible for this as Tymoshenko” argument but I have other things I need to do right now.

Friday, September 23, 2005

What was given up

According to this / World / Europe - Yushchenko overcomes crisis in Ukraine--this was given up in the vote for PM:

Mr Yushchenko and Mr Yanukovich jointly pledged to ensure fair parliamentary elections in March and to adopt an amnesty for all people suspected of forging votes in last year's elections, in which Mr Yanukovich was initially declared the winner until Mr Yushchenko convinced the Supreme Court that the voting had been rigged and a re-run was held which Mr Yushchenko won.

In other words, the only thing that could be considered new would be the amnesty. The rest he was sorta, kinda obligated to do anyway.

Of course, there was some talk he would repudiate the amendments giving the PM and Parliament the major power. If that was the case, you could argue that he gave that up with the agreement. But, really, this agreement doesn't obligate him to do anything in the end. If he repudiated it, people would accuse him of opportunism. That wouldn't be anything more than he will be charged with now anyway. But if it serves a larger purpose, he could and should do it down the road if he needs to.

The real problem is that something needs to get done. There needs to be some real reform and quick in the next few months. The past eight months or so have been a total waste in terms of what has been done compared with what should have been done and could have been done, the squandered opportunities. Get something done and all of this will have been justified.

And he needs to get out and tell the people about it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Yekhanurov is in

According to the radio, Yuschenko resubmitted Yekhanurov to the Rada and he was confirmed. I don't know the vote count right now but it will be interesting to see how close it was.

I wonder how much if anything was given up.

More on New Orleans violence

Here's a bit more on the kinds of crimes and violence that occurred in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina--Katrina highlights Big Easy's violence.

After the storm came the carjackers and burglars. Then came the shootouts and the chemical explosions that shook the restored Victorian houses in New Orleans' Algiers Point neighborhood.

"The hurricane was a breeze compared with the crime and terror that followed," said Gregg Harris, a psychotherapist who lives in the battered area.

And they all just did it for the food.

More hurricanes

First Katrina and now Rita. According to reports, Rita is bearing down on the Gulf Coast of Texas. I didn't get when they thought landfall would be but there is evacuation going on in Houston and Galveston is apparently a ghost town right now. Everyone, or most everyone, is gone. Can't believe it.

I grew up in Texas and remember hurricane Beulah, 1967 it was, and Celia in 1970. Beulah is the one I remember most. Lots of rain and flooding up in San Antonio where we lived, high winds, though not hurricane force, and tornadoes. We of course were 120 miles away from the coast so we wouldn't have gotten the hurricane force winds. What we did get though was quite a bit. But it was a real big deal further down near Corpus Christi and that area.

I was in grade school at the time and I remember walking home and seeing some fish along the fence line of the school grounds. I thought that the hurricane had sucked up fish from the Gulf of Mexico and had dropped them over San Antonio, with some ending up by the school fence. That made the hurricane a very impressive thing to me. The problem with my theory is that I only found fish in that one spot so, thinking about it now, someone probably just dumped some fish there from their trip to the lake to get rid of them. Someone was always making a trip to the lake--can't remember the lake there now-- or to the coast and cleaning out their boat in their driveway or alongside the road.

Even so Beulah was a big deal and it impressed me enough to remember it.

I do hope for the best for Texas. I was born there and lived a lot of my life there.

One thing I can say though with a lot of confidence: Texans will not permit looting and lawlessness. They take that sort of thing personal.

Enough votes now?

Looks like it was a matter of poor "get out the vote" efforts and vote counting. According to this article--Kyiv Post. Yushchenko to resubmit Yekhanurov; rejects Tymoshenko�s offer--they've got the votes now.

[Yuschenko spokewoman, Irina Gerashchenko] said Yushchenko believes Yekhanurov, whose candidacy was rejected Sept. 20, now has the necessary backing to win the 226 votes he needs.

Yushchenko's decision came after a four-hour meeting with parliamentary faction leaders, which also included Tymoshenko and last year's losing presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, whose party had abstained from the Sept. 20 vote. Tymoshenko had proposed earlier in the day that Yushchenko form an alliance with her that would give her back the prime minister's job.

Petro Symonenko, the leader of the Communist Party, told Ukraine's Channel 5 that Yushchenko hadn't convinced any new factions to support Yekhanurov, but would pick up votes from some groups whose members had split during the Sept. 20 ballot.

They have to learn what Morgan Williams, editor of the Action Ukraine Report, says the experts were saying in Washington yesterday: A non vote is better than a no vote. A no vote is a defeat and a defeat is not a good thing. It means weakness and in politics when weakness is sensed, the politicos gather for a piece of the hide. Makes negotiations tough. "Why give up something when I can wait for the demise and take it myself?"

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tapping files with his finger

Tapping files and saying, "I have the evidence right here!" is a familiar thing to Americans. But it ain't the same thing as evidence--Ukrainian Journal .

Now kompromat is the tactic? Central control of the economy, orders to governors to bring in higher agricultural yields, state control over oil refineries, and now kompromat. Could it be simply a case of nostalgia, a longing for the good old days?

In response to Turchynov's claim, reported here, that there was no evidence he had been poisoned, Yuschenko responded

"That's rubbish," Yushchenko said in New York where he is attending a U.N. General Assembly session. "The SBU didn't have enough time for the investigation
because it had been busy spying on friends."

That says it all doesn't it? And it's a good start. Yuschenko should beat them over the head with those files. All this effort to get a government in place and Tymoshenko and allies give press conferences tapping files with the evidence, well, er, inside of course.

Some of this might be Yuschenko's fault though. He should have been a bit more circumspect in what he alleged about Tymoshenko. But he said she was busy trying to get the debts of her company canceled as PM. Who knows if it is true, but it is an allegation of something big and highly damaging and it is not easily proven. It is natural for people to want some evidence of it rather than a statement that it was done. Without that evidence forthcoming, it is susceptible to the claim that it is just nasty politicking. And it opens up the gate to tit for tat.

He needs better advice than he seems to be getting.

Anyway, just one more reason why Yuschenko needs to come out and make his case to the people.

Yekhanurov Rejected as Premier

OK, this isn't good but I still think that it's a matter of horse trading--Yekhanurov Rejected as Premier.

It all could go to pot here I don't mean to sound like I am minimizing that possibility at all. But I don't think we're there yet even with this result. He only fell three votes short and knowing their history of getting out the vote, this isn't all that big a defeat. It might end up that way but I don't think it is necessarily. It might be more of a botched job of it.

That Yanukovych didn't vote along with his party was no surprise though I think that Yuschenko's meeting with him was a good thing all told. That it might not look good to the people is a different matter and that is a real possibility. But the real problem is not that Yuschenko does these things so much as it is that he doesn't tell the people what he is doing. Yanukovych wants things to go to smash because he believes the people or the powers that be will call on him to pick up the pieces and form a new government. My gut feeling is to say "Not bloody likely even in a crisis" but I guess there is always a way that could happen. I will say that with the people he has and the way he has managed things after the election it isn't all that probable. He's become a marginal political character notwithstanding what the commentators have made of him. That he lost an election that should have been his with hundreds of millions of dollars pouring in to fix it just puts a mark on the guy.

It could have been different and with maybe another crew it could still be. He can argue that things were prosperous under his watch. "Where were the price increases? Where were the central bank manipulations of the dollar?" and etc. Could be effective right now but still nothing from his camp.

The article makes the claim that the Parliament, the Rada, is pushing Yuschenko to adopt the amendments to the constitution on presidential power early. That puts the power for selecting the Prime Minister into the hands of the deputies and most all of the significant powers of government devolve to the PM. Since the Parliament still represents the old guard, the state of affairs under Kuchma, the old guard would have significant power. And Russia is still active around here. There is some evidence that they pulled strings in the WTO vote of a couple of months ago and got some deputies to vote no. The reason for this is that if they get into the WTO first, Ukraine will have to deal with them to get in. (If Ukraine gets in first, Russia will have to deal with Ukraine to get in. That's like your "go-get-the-coffee-grunt" assistant suddenly becoming CEO.)

Ironically, the interests of Russia might just be with Yuschenko on this one. Chernomyrdin (sp) came out in support of Yuschenko the other day in the government dismissal and any hope of having business as usual is more likely with Yuschenko than with Tymoshenko. But they might argue they could get more working behind the scenes with some sort of intrigue than by working more diplomatically. They might be thinking like Yanukovych: If things go to smash Russia will be there to help put the pieces together once more. What will Russia do? Probably the latter because diplomacy is something that is had between equals and this Kremlin isn't all that sane when it comes to Ukraine.

If I were Yuschenko, I would have gone right down to Maidan and made a speech to the people about the results of that vote yesterday. He could have talked about the old guard making their play, about their support for Tymoshenko now, about any recalcitrance on Tymoshenko's part in not supporting the new government. ("She says she is for the people but look who is supporting her now?") I'd hammer them over the head with their own vote and even use the word "coup," a strong word but quite true in these circumstances. They want to supplant the power of a democratically elected president with the power of a crony based, corrupt Parliament.

I don't think Yuschenko will do this though. He has a lot of qualities that serve him well as a good man but may not serve him well as a president. The one big one is that I think he wants people to get along. I called it a desire for harmony. There might be a better word for it; I haven't thought about it enough to come up with one. But that expresses it. Sometimes though you've got to be Machiavellian in government, at least a little bit. And now's the time for that little bit I'm afraid. Hammer them for their vote.

The problem is that a lot may be given away in any revote. I hope not.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ten days?

I see it's been ten days since the lasts post. Where did it go? I have been busy is the reason. There is a lot more to say about the government dismissal and some of the commentary about it. And I will be posting some more on it-- hopefully. Seems like for some in the media it is either full speed ahead or collapse, nothing in between. Maybe nuance doesn't sell papers and get you air time but it is sometimes very necessary.

Automated comments?

Dont' know what is going on but I just posted something new and immediately I had one of those "Thank you for letting me post to your site. For weddings..." Are there such things as automated programs that wait for a post and place a comment?

Yushchenko Struggles to Win Support for Yekhanurov Vote

This doesn't sound good--Yushchenko Struggles to Win Support for Yekhanurov Vote.

President Viktor Yushchenko scrambled Monday to secure the necessary support or his candidate for prime minister amid growing signs that the Ukrainian parliament would block his choice.

Failure to approve acting Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's candidacy would lunge Ukraine into another crisis after the dramatic sacking of popular Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, as Yushchenko needs to get a new government in place.

Yekhanurov must win 226 votes to be named prime minister by the 450-member parliament. But as of Monday evening, he had only 199 promised votes and little room to maneuver, with opposition parties either opposing him on principle or as a show of loyalty to Tymoshenko.

Yushchenko planned a series of meetings with faction leaders in a last-ditch effort. He even met with losing presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych for the first time since their heated presidential battle last year. Yanukovych heads the Party of the Regions, which has a bloc of 52 deputies that had said it would abstain.

I bet the author was out of breath when finished. Then I see it's the AP. Not known for complete accuracy recently. "Scrambling," "growing signs," "plunge," "last ditch"? I wonder how you measure these kinds of things. The article says that some of the other factions won't vote for Yekhanurov out of loyalty to Tymoshenko. Rada deputies working from what looks like a principled position? Could be but I don't think so. It would be a bit, umm, uncharacteristic. That they might be trying to curry favor(s) with (from) Tymoshenko would be a little closer to the truth. But Yuschenko has the power right now even if he is working a little harder to get his government picks through Parliament. I suspect a hold out for some of that power--the standard reason. I don't know what they would get if Yekhanurov is not confirmed. Tymoshenko again? They stand to get something now for that vote.

No, I think this is just old fashioned horse trading with pols who sense an ability to get something.

The article mentions Yanukovych and meetings with him. This might raise suspicions in some quarters but I don't think it should. His party shouldn't be marginalized; he does represent the east after all. Bringing them into the government in some way is not a bad idea just like the rapprochement that is happening some with Russia is not a bad idea either. You can't write off a whole region of Ukraine and it's deputies and you cannot write off a whole country that is a major trading partner with historic ties to the country. It's just not smart. Pragmatism should be the rule. Principles which we should have and to which we should refer often to get our bearings, when applied rigorously, however, can cause a lot of misery.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The PM speaks

Notwithstanding the article lede BBC NEWS World Europe Ukrainian ex-PM slams dismissal, this was more in line with what I heard last night:

But on Friday Ms Tymoshenko distanced herself from Mr Yushchenko, who has pledged to root out corruption.

"Today we are two different teams," she said. "I think these two teams will go their own way.

"I will not go to the elections with those people who have discredited Ukraine so much. I do not mean the president, but his closest circle," she said.

She of course did say that Yuschenko had

"practically ruined our unity, our future, the future of the country," and added: "I think this step is absolutely illogical."

But most of what I heard was more conciliatory than that. She said that they were two different teams but that they would be moving in the same direction. Nothing I heard would put her in the opposition against Yuschenko. I suspect she is, but she is not firing the broadsides some of the articles say she is. She was measured and seemed to me to want to put together some kind of vision for Ukraine-- the vision thing. The campaign started last night.

But there was really no attack on Yuschenko that I could see. She will probably be drawn into it later but for now it looks like no.

One thing I have read that is simply not the case is that she was the one who drew the crowds to the square. What brought people down there is a complex thing. Pora was involved initially and word of mouth drew thousands downtown. The immediate cause was the stolen election. What caused them to stay downtown was a combination of a lot of things which included Tymoshenko. But I would not underlvalue what Yuschenko brought and the influence he had on the crowds. That influence was real some of which I noted here. And I think it was his measured response and a certain magnanimity he showed toward those who came to support Yanukovych that helped to prevent any bloodshed and to save people's lives. That set the tone for the revolution.

Anyway, as things stand now, a soft toned Tymoshenko, Yuschenko re-grouping but actually looking stronger, the dollar up slightly against the hryvna, the sun still shining over Ukraine, or at least until a few minutes ago and the press milking this around the world with headlines that suggest reversal, collapse and/or doom. Some things new and some old.

Friday, September 09, 2005

More on Yushchenko firing his government

This is interesting, Yushchenko Fires His Government, especially this part:

"I have spent the last three nights thinking about how to keep together that which has already separated. ... The key issue was the issue of trust," he said. "If there had been a possibility to preserve team spirit, to remain together, it would have been the best answer. We had such an agreement and during the night it was changed, but not by me."

If you had asked me yesterday why Yuschenko dismissed his government, I would have said that he didn't want to but had to. I was thinking earlier on before I found out about it that he might end up trying to patch up holes in his administration and try to make them work with what he's got. I think this statement confirms that. But doing this would have been disastrous for him and for the country. It would not only have reinforced a reputation he has acquired for indecisiveness but it would also have left him with a weaker government as a result.

Why did I think he would do this? I thought he would because Yuschenko has this tendency to want to create harmony. He did it during the Orange Revolution by agreeing with Yanukovych in those idiotic EU brokered negotiations. And it about split the revolution right down the middle. It was at this time you heard the "well-the-revolution-isn't-about-Yuschenko" philosophy showing up. Would have been disastrous if it had happened.

But he is wiping the slate clean and I think it makes him stronger (and makes him look more decisive) notwithstanding what other analysts say. He may seem isolated, but I think that serves him much better than to be linked with Poroshenko and Tymoshenko. This allows him to make his case to the people alone, a case which he has been successful at making in the past. I remember hearing reports of the first rally down on Maidan before the elections where Yuschenko spoke. The crowds were not like those during the OR, but they were still large. When Yuschenko showed up, the crowd parted to let him pass. That was impressive.

And I remember standing down on the square during the OR and hearing the news pass along the crowd "Yuschenko's going to speak!" They would make their way closer to the stage at the news. I was not unaffected by it. That was also impressive. And I think he can do it again. People trust him or at least they want to trust him though more may be wondering about it right now. He needs to get out and make his case more to the people, something he really hasn't done yet much at all. If he does, I think the people will respond.

Will Poroshenko and Tymoshenko campaign against the government? Let's take Poroshenko first. He has lots of money but little popular support. Maybe his money can translate into more support in the end, but it is not as easy now as it once was. He would be left making his case in paid forums (I know, "fora") and his would not be the only voice people heard. And if he were critical of the government and of Yuschenko, it is not clear that that would translate into support for him. It might mean more support for Tymoshenko. The corruption allegations will dog him too.

What about Tymoshenko? She is very popular here. On this morning's call-in show on Radio Era, most of the callers were angry supporters of Yulia. She was the one doing things in the government and doing things that were popular. Prices are going up here and she was trying to stop that from happening (and make the Russians and the privateers behind it all pay for their actions.) Social justice is compelling. It may be reckless economically, but you cannot argue that it is not compelling.

Will she come out against Yuschenko? Maybe, but it would be interesting to see how she does it if so. She was linked with him during the OR but has had a forum all her own as PM. She has been able to distinguish herself there by being the one who is out doing things. (Some Polish somebody or other said she is the one in government making things happen. And that is true, she did make them happen. Whether they should have happened is another matter.) So she can distinguish herself from Yuschenko on those grounds. "I was out there for you, to make the government work for you. I ask you, was I not? Did I not force the Russians to stop raising gasoline prices until I was stopped? Did I not order the governors to come in with higher pork production in a time when there were shortages, until I was stopped? Did I not work to provide relief when sugar almost doubled in price? Is it now double in price? (No, the price has gone back down.) So I ask you, have I not been working for you, working to make sure that the money you bring home is not taken by those who profiteer at your expense?

"But I was stopped in all of this. I was told to back down when I stood up to the Russians. I was told that my methods were interfering too much in the economy, an economy that is eating away at your ability to provide the basics for your family, for your children. I was told that my efforts were hampering the economic well-being of the country. But are you more able now to provide for your families? I ask you are you more able now to do it?

"Who was it that stopped me? Who was it that prevented me from taking action to save the people of Ukraine from the privateers and from Russian interference? Who was it that prevented me from making sure that you can feed your family? I will tell you who it was and you will not like it. You will not like waht it is I have to say because it means betrayal, a betrayal of those who stood out in the cold and snow..."

Would she do this kind of thing? I don't know. She doesn't have to. She could ignore any conflict and try to build a positive case for herself based on the vision thing. But it will be hard to resist contrasting herself with the government in some way if the appeal is populist.

If she did force some kind of showdown pitting her directly against Yuschenko, it would be scorched earth and I don't think it is all that clear she would win. (Making Poroshenko the culprit gets her nothing really.) People like her decisiveness, but I think they trust Yuschenko more or at least they want to trust him. I could be wrong about this, of course, but I think it is true. As in everything else, though, we shall see.

She has a press conference this evening. Ought to be interesting.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Man, this is not a good week for Yuschenko. First, Zinchenko resigns saying corruption is rife in the new government and singles out Poroshenko and one other as part of the corrupt cabal. Then Lytvyn piles on with a "the-corruption-is-as-bad-as during-Kuchma's-time" press conference and says Ukraine is weaker now than before. Of course, even a soft authoritarian administration is stronger than a democratic administration any democratic administration, so what is he really saying? He is saying, "Vote for my bloc not Yuschenko's" that is what he is saying. I take back what I said about him during the OR.

Now today, Poroshenko resigns saying that his resignation clears the deck for an inquiry into the corruption alleged by Zinchenko that is supposed to take place soon. That is the stated reason but surely it isn't the real reason. As to what that real reason is, who knows. But rumor is more resignations to follow so it looks like the little band is breaking up to make their own way probably to consolidate their own power in the upcoming elections, if they can. Leaves Yuschenko alone on the ship.

And then Tomenko from Humanitarian Affairs resigns saying he agrees with Zinchenko. He apparently talked with Tymoshenko before he did.

A bad set of days for Yuschenko.

The one who wins from all this is Tymoshenko, of course. Increases her power no end. While Yuschenko may end up floundering trying to stop up holes and prop up his credibility, Tymoshenko emerges popular and unscathed by it all. And the fact that her chief antagonist, Poroshenko is no longer around clears out one obstacle she has had to deal with. Only increases her power.

This may be good news to some who see her as a reformer and don't take seriously what she says she wants to do. But they ought to understand that she has done exactly what she has said she was going to do. They may see some social justice in it all, or even some liberal reforms if they are not looking closely enough, but it will end up in disaster for the country if it becomes state policy. And there will be no oil revenues to paper things over as there are in Russian and Venezuela. It may be popular and the people may rejoice to see it but you will end up with much the same system as before, corruption and all, even though Tymoshenko personally might be trying to stamp it out. If you interfere in the economy and put bureaucrats in charge of it, corruption follows. And economic stagnation follows, if you're lucky.

UPDATE as I write: We just heard on the news that Yuschenko has put someone in as Acting Prime Minister. Unless we heard wrong, does that mean Tymoshenko is out? Does that change anything? Run your own party in the elections and come back in on the shoulders of the people. In other words, not really.

But we shall see.

Another UPDATE as I write: Yuschenko apparently has told the Acting Prime Minister to form a new government. Bold move and the right thing to do under the circumstances. Makes it look like he's cleaning house. Makes it look like it because he is cleaning house.

Curiouser and Curiouser.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Get the story--New Orleans

Things like this just torque me--ABC News: Reporters' Blog: Raw Accounts from the Front Lines of Katrina.

We've got to stop and turn around," I said to cameraman Dan Holdren, who was behind the wheel. Next to a bus stop a frail elderly black woman sat in a wheelchair with a suitcase beside her. She looked as alone in the world as anyone I've ever seen.
In a heavy Southern drawl, Bobbi Sanchez told me she was waiting for a bus to take her to a shelter. "You're gonna die if you don't go," she told me, her glassy eyes ooking directly at me. "It's true."

Another elderly woman walked over to greet us. Bobbi was not there alone. Her sister, Lois Bass, was accompanying her on this exodus. They were heeding the mayor's call to evacuate New Orleans. But like so many of the city's black people they did not have the means to drive out of town or pay for a bus ticket or rent a hotel room on their fixed incomes — Bobbi lives on her disability benefit, Lois lives on Social Security. So they waited for the bus.

I have been thinking a lot about Bobbi and Lois these last few days. When I left them on Sunday I wished them safe passage and assumed they would be taken to the safety of the Superdome, New Orleans' shelter of last resort for those who simply couldn't afford to leave town.

I guess being an objective reporter means you take the story and leave the people. The urgent "we've got to stop and turn around" was not to save the woman but to get her story.

There have been reports from places like I-10 where people have congregated for days. These have come from reporters on the scene. These reporters had to get there some way. Why couldn't they pick up some of these people?

Another reporter from I can't remember where helped to save a man who was stranded with his dog, so it did happen. But I don't think I could live with myself to have phoned in a story, or whatever it is they did, about people I left to fend for themselves.

Friday, September 02, 2005

More on the looting

Some more on the looting going on in New Orleans here. Food and water are one thing, but this?

Days after all the looting that accompanied the Los Angeles riots (after the Rodney King police officer acquitals), some people came to their senses and felt the shame of it. A lot of them brought the stuff back. Maybe the same thing will happen here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Some questions asked

An anonymous commenter has asked some questions that ought to be talked about. He/she may have meant them to be rhetorical but they are important questions nonetheless.

Increased investment would be great as well as Ukraine being a member of WTO. That being said it does matter who eventually benefits from the investment and more foreign owners will generate jobs

- hopefully more people will stay in the country as more jobs are available

People will stay. The reasons they are leaving is for the money. Some of the advertising here takes advantage of this. One subway poster for a company that allows for wire transfers of money is split into two panels. On the left is a woman setting a table--a waitress? a domestic?-- with a smile on her face. On the right is a young fellow sitting in what is obviously a college class looking rather wistfully--or is his look uncertain? "will it get here in time?"--into the camera. It's all about the money.

The question though is whether the diasporists will come back when things begin to pick up. Maybe if it reaches European levels, maybe. But you have to figure that people get their lives oriented a certain way and get set somewhere and that has to make it difficult to come back.

The big elephant in the room in all this is the movement of people from the villages to the big cities. Ukraine is one of the most rural countries in the world. Lots of people live in villages and there is a kind of culture linked to it. Everyone in the big city has someone they are related to or know who lives in the village. That has been an advantage in allowing them to eat during the bad times because they have had access to the produce of the village from those links.

The problem is that the villages are dying. There is no opportunity for the young people there, no business other than agriculture for them to be involved in. And the agriculture is monopolized by what are often no more than the old party bosses or the new capitalists that are indistinguishable from the old party bosses, who are farming the land non-productively and taking the cream for themselves. They just limp along providing nothing for the young to get involved in and no real economic benefit for the community.

And for those of us who are looking for ways to make the villages more productive, we are faced with three facts that stand in the way, booze, apathy and theft. A lot of village men spend a lot of time either drunk or looking for a drink. That gets in the way of doing something productive. In one village I am aware of, the men got together to set up a fishing business. They would stock a local pond with fish and charge for fishing. I was asked to invest but couldn't see how it would be an economic benefit for the community, how it would generate money and create jobs. The only people I could see who would want to fish there--at the equivalent of the local fishing hole--would be locals, the same people who need businesses to come in so they can have jobs to make money and provide opportunity for the young. This sort of arrangement didn't make the economic pie bigger, which is what is needed, it just rearranged it.

But they went ahead without me anyway and set it up. They sold their memberships to locals, about 72 of them representing most of the male population of the village. And they stocked the pond. Now, on a lot of days, you will find men getting up early to go fishing. They make their way down to the pond and fish?--no, they spend it drinking with a line dangling in the water. And they leave their wives home to work the land and harvest the crops.

Now I have heard that all the fish have died from some kind of a disease. It's hard not to say that it serves them right. But it does.

What will happen is that the young will leave for the big cities leaving the old for the villages. It is happening right now as a matter of fact. When these elderly villagers die off, that will be it. And the link between the village and the city, a link that saved many lives in Ukraine I am convinced, will be severed.

The cities will be hard pressed to deal with the influx of people. Where are they going to live? Housing prices in Kiev have skyrocketed the past couple of years making it unaffordable for a lot of people. They might be able to rent a room here or there but there will be a shortage of places to stay. In Latin America, the problem is solved with shantytowns, slums on the outskirts of town or up in the hills (Caracas.) Might be what Ukraine is faced with. I hope not.

Of course, the decline in the birthrate might solve some of this problem. But it will create another. Who will be around to generate the economic activity needed to take care of an aging population?

-but will the wages be livable?

They aren't livable now. The fortunate thing is that virtually no one is carrying a mortgage payment and energy rates are low and produce comes in from the village--the above linkage. But energy rates could rise to more European levels and that would affect a lot of people. One economist said that if that happened in Russia and mortgages became a much more accepted and common thing, people would be forced to mortgage their flats to pay for their energy consumption. It would put everything at risk. Something like this could happen here.

Western companies pay higher wages here and they provide better benefits on the whole. The low wages and poor working conditions have come on the Ukrainian watch. Incredible wealth has been amassed by a select few while the rest of the people have been scratching out some sort of existence at the wages offered by the companies of these moguls and "entrepreneurs." Looks like feudalism dies hard.

For Western companies, you can't oppress your workforce and end up with anything productive. That may be in their self-interest and nothing to canonize them about. But it does benefit the employee. And there is some conscience involved in this with some. Some people don't surrender their humanity just because they get involved in business.

and the owners will be the ones who ultimately benefit and will they invest in the country (spanning the spectrum from philanthropy to Gucci stores) or will it end up elsewhere?

Privatization in Russia and Ukraine meant capital flight and it still does to some extent. Most of the Western advisors promoted the idea that state companies should be in private hands-- any way they could get there was fine. The argument (and major assumption based on Western cultural perspectives, I might add) was that the owners would take care of those assets, invest profits back into them and lift all boats as a result. That didn't happen. The companies were stripped of profits and the money sent offshore. And the people were impoverished. Needless to say that that wasn't useful.

I think the economists had to invent a new stage of development to account for it. Milton Friedman said that he had been one of the loudest with, "Privatize, privatize, privatize!" He now says he was wrong, it should have been, "Rule of law, rule of law, rule of law!" He still has it wrong. It should have been, "Culture, culture, culture!"--a much different problem.

Western companies are profit focused. They will reinvest and that will improve things. Again, it is in their interest to do so, their long-term financial interests to do so.

what about taxes?

Taxes will be paid. It creates too much risk to not pay them and companies don't like that kind of risk.

The real problem is to make sure that the tax system, including collection, is transparent and fair. Tax inspectors here have had a lot of power and corruption is rife among them. It has been common to get a visit from an inspector who holds his hand out, so to speak, as he tells you that you owe more than you have paid. These arrears have a tendency to disappear when the hand is filled...or not if you are a political opponent or someone in the way of a powerful financial interest.

Businesses tend to understate profits to avoid the risks this presents. So they end up keeping two sets of books, one for the inspectors and one for the business itself.

Yuschenko has made tax policy a focus of his administration and rightly so. He wants to entice businesses back to paying their taxes by overhauling the tax administration and making taxes simpler and fairer. That will help a whole lot. He has done some things and is working on others and there is already evidence that what has been done is working--tax revenues are up.

Good questions.

Charities for hurricane victims

It is Thursday here and in response to Glenn Reynolds' request that we suggest a charity and link to his charity list, I propose Catholic Charities. They have a good reputation for getting things to the people who need it.

By the way, for some of us it has never been about red states and blue states but always about us as Americans.