Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The celebration

Looks like the rumor was wrong. There was lots of orange down on the square last night.

Some of the speakers who were passionate during the revolution up there on the stage last night seemed to have lost a lot of the fire they had back then. Were they reacting to what they think the people think? Or have they just lost it? Don't know which it is.

Tymoshenko hasn't lost it. She made her case last night though I didn't listen much to it. When Yuschenko spoke, she stood behind him with what looked like tears in her eyes.

Yuschenko gave a laundry list speech at first. It was a "this is what we have done" kind of beginning. A bit boring and didn't really speak to the mood in the country right now. After that was over, he went on to an explanation about his motivations for picking the people he did and what happened when he dismissed them. I thought it was heartfelt and should have been where he started. By the time he got there, I think he lost a lot of people who compared the positive gains he says the country has made to their own lives and found the difference to be telling.

I know that they have listened to the Clinton spin people recently. I think a lot of what was done in that administration to make the president's case was a wreckless slashing and burning on all sides without much regard to the effect it had on the institutions of government and on the people.

But to have someone here talking to Yuschenko that could help shape his message and approach is a good idea no matter where it comes from. Yuschenko needs that and he needs some discipline too to get him to control his outbursts. Last night for example, when he got on the stage, some in the crowd chanted, "Yulia! Yulia! Yulia!" He responded with, "You can continue and I'll listen. When you finish, I'll begin." It is what he felt but it won't help to make him any new friends.

That is the same thing he did in that affair about his son. Talking that way to a news organization that supported him during the revolution didn't serve him well. That that news organization now says it is in opposition to the Ysuchenko government should be laid entirely at the feet of Yuschenko. It didn't need to happen.

He said something else that was on a par. He may feel it, but he's gotta control saying something about it. That may be impossible because to suppress it might seem dishonest. He needs friends and that is hard to do when you are in their faces for what are petty things.

I do though think he set the right tone later in the speech. He was forthright and candid I think about the government and what happened. And he ended up the speech with a reemphasis on the direction the country needed to take. It was much of what was stated in the revolution last year.

Those who listened to it I think would have to come away from it thinking that Yuschenko is still sincerely engaged in trying to correct the problems of the country. That he doesn't have more to show for the time he has been involved is a very real and a very bad problem. And it is all to be laid up to his mistakes. But I think the mistakes came from trying to do the right thing. He vacillated between government unity and making the right decisions. His hand was forced and unity was the casualty. It should have been but much, much earlier.

My wife thought he was the only speaker who sounded like he did last year on the square. I think he did too. We'll see what effect it has.

We listened to the speech with people who are disenchanted with Yuschenko. That might be the majority of Ukrainians, I don't know. Their lives haven't changed much and things have gotten more expensive. For this they blame not primarily Tymoshenko, though she is getting it too, but Yuschenko. These particular people, the ones we had over, still support Tymoshenko because they saw her as getting something done.

I think I may not have been the best host last night. (They were at our place.) In a bit of heat, I kept saying to them, "Ask Tymoshenko where the investment went." That she was doing something is true but it amounted to nothing better than rearranging the deck chairs on that big sinking ship. Investment is needed for the pie to grow here and for people's lives to get better. But she with her careless populism scared a lot of it away. And her statist managing of the economy got them all shortages and inflation as a bonus. A pure disaster.

There is irony there too. She blamed the Russians for a number of the problems of the Ukrainian economy. But it is the Russians who are the only ones who can stomach the perceived risks in the Ukrainian economy. (Like I have said before, a lot of the risks are only perception. We think they have been vastly overstated.) So she blamed the Russians for it all and then instituted polices that made it inevitable that the Russians would take a significant role in the economy. But now Russia isn't the problem anymore for her I guess. She went there and saw how wonderful it all was there for herself.

A lot of people say that corruption hasn't changed at all and that that was the major pledge of Yuschenko on Maidan last year. And that is the truth on both counts. The problem is that corruption was never as much a problem of systems and structure as it was one of culture. What this means is that there was only so much that could be done by Yuschenko in the first place. And some of it has been done, to his credit. The rest of it has to come from a change in the culture.

Corruption was not simply a problem of Kuchma or of Yanukovych or of the militsya who stopped the car looking for a bribe to let it go. It has always been a problem of the people of Ukraine. For every official who wants a bribe for something, there is someone willing to pay it. And these would include even those who stood out in the cold cheering on Yuschenko. They would be the first to condemn Yanukovych for paying officials to get votes. But when it comes to getting their children into the right school or to getting their child a degree or to selling their apartment at the time they need to or to getting that piece of paper that allows them to do something they want to do, everyone, everyone, is willing to pay what it takes to whomever it takes to get it done. But corruption something the other guy does, the bad guy, not me. My motives are pure. But it is all corruption and it is all a problem, all of it. It distorts policy and creates a drag on the economy. And it creates costs that all people are paying for now, costs that are keeping the lot of them in poverty and subjecting them to rule by the whims of stupid bureacrats who can't do anything other than manage paper but who have power and know how to use it for their own benefit. (OK, so they aren't stupid in that either.) And that means, in the end, government by the rich and for the rich.

But it's the other guys, not me.

There is more to say on this but I don't have more time. We are expecting a baby in the next couple of weeks and that means making the rounds to doctors and other places to get ready for it. Not much time left after all that.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Things at the Kremlin

Here's something interesting about the thinking of Kremlin officials. Another Massive Dose of Kremlin Diagnoses.

Maybe it is the natural tendency of any court to focus inward so that the reality for them becomes the reality of court life. It happened with Louis XIII and XIV. They are the great examples of it. Louis the XIV's court, for instance, had it in spades. Marie Antoinette is supposed to have said when informed the people were starving, "Let them eat cake!" But what she really said was something like they should try brioche which is a delicate type of bread or cake that she and the court ate. In other words, they should try eating what I eat when I am hungry. She lived in a complete fantasy world unrelated to any reality. And when things got bad and they tried to escape, the whole thing was treated as some sort of game they might play in the parlor rooms of the palace. They were recognized and their way blocked by revolutionaries. In the end, that fantasy world came butt up against the reality of the guillotine.

The same thing could be said for Nicholas' court. And this is not for tzars and tzarinas and sun kings only. The same thing happens in the administration of democratically elected presidents. The extreme example is Nixon, but then you have Kennedy's Bay of Pigs which was a response to the dynamics in the administration more than it was to the reality on the ground. And there are other examples.

But the same thing is true of big corporations. How much time is spent fighting the fires of office politics as opposed to doing the work of the company? Glen Reynolds makes this point:

...In a small organization, people deal mostly with customers and suppliers. They get ahead mostly by making both (but especially the customers) happy. In big organizations, people mostly deal with other people within the organization, and they get ahead mostly by making those people happy. Pleasing customers is a way to get ahead only to the extent that it also pleases the bosses, and if you have to choose whom to please, you're better off pleasing your boss than your customer.

So it happens everywhere. Does that fact let the Kremlin off the hook? No because the extent of the unreality suggests a certain willfulness about it. And the potential for real mischief is a lot greater than it is with others. To have the Soviet era paranoia like they do in an age when the evils of that system are clear, seems to have more to do with the fact that they prefer it rather than that they are forced to it by circumstances or that it reflects some sort of reality. It hearkens back to the good old days of empire. How satisfying that is.

Anyway, these things tend to come up against reality eventually. The question is what form will that eventually take?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Orange Revolution celebration

There's going to be a celebration of the Orange Revolution this next Monday and Tuesday down on the Maidan. There will be some of the same artists who performed during the revolution. There won't be any color orange though from what we hear. Maybe it's that it's too identified with Yuschenko and they don't want to identify it with him. Or maybe it's that they want to be all inclusive and reach out to the east, a West and East together kind of thing. Either way it will be funny--an Orange Revolution celebration without the color orange.

Maybe we'll see the return of those American made boots and drug filled oranges that filled the imaginations of people in the east, courtesy of Mrs. Yanukovych. Something like this:

I saw last night upon the Square
Some boots, spiked citrus that was not there.
They were not there again today,
Oh how I wish they'd go away!

(Apologies to whoever wrote the original. "I saw last night upon the stair/A little man who was not there..." I think it was a physicist.)

Some of the people in the tent near the Presidential Admin building had a sense of humor. They had oranges and boots hanging around. One guy walked around with a boot on a stick. A real poke in Yanukovych's eye.

Those were the good old days.

Monday, November 14, 2005


A Ukrainian ship is being held for ransom right now. This article--SOS as pirate motherships take to the high seas seeking cargo and hostages - [Sunday Herald]--suggests piracy is bad right now and set to get worse.

Global piracy is now one of the biggest threats to world shipping, far eclipsing the risk from terrorism, and Somalia "a war-torn realm in almost complete anarchy" has fast become one of the world's pirate hot spots. Since March 15 this year, there have been 32 attacks off Somalia. In 2004, there were just two attacks, in 2003, three, and in 2002, six. In the first nine months of 2005, there were 205 pirate attacks worldwide. Murders by pirates are also rising. In 2004, 30 crew members were killed. In 2003, the figure was 21.

The favoured tactic of the Somali pirates is to capture the vessel and crew, take it to one of their safe havens around Mogadishu and hold the hostages for ransoms of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Today, some seven vessels and more than 100 sailors, from countries including Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Ukraine, are held captive by the pirates pending the ransom payment. When the ransom is received the ship, cargo and crew are all freed.

And there was a recent attack on a cruise ship. It was repelled when they used a sonic gun capable of damaging hearing at 300 yards. I guess they were a bit concerned they might not be able to use their iPods ever again so they beat it out of there.

I guess the sound was unpleasant enough for them but what if they had had ear plugs or were listening to some theme music while they rampaged? Sounds a bit too neutral a weapon to me. Maybe they'll develop something that fires asbestos into the air as the pirates approach. Concerned about cancer they will break off.

Andrew Linnington of the UK maritime union Numast said the waters off Somalia should be declared a war zone. "It's got to the stage where it's anarchy," he said.

The International Maritime Bureau has made a direct request to the Royal Navy to intervene in east African waters. The Ministry of Defence promised that if there were navy vessels in the area and intelligence of piracy then the Royal Navy "would undertake action in pursuit of pirates and help to deal with the problem."

UK shipping minister Stephen Ladyman is supporting a move by the International Maritime Organisation for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to deal with Somali piracy. UK ships are now under advice to keep a minimum of 150 nautical miles from the Somali coast.

If they Security Council votes a resolution and the Somali warlords violate it what then? I hear that violating a UN resolution is not a sufficient casus belli. But maybe I heard wrong.

I once used an example of pirates seizing a ship in my international business law class. I think the students thought it to be an anachronism. Looks like it wasn't.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bird flu

This doesn’t sound very good—Bird Flu Triggers Immune System “Storm.” (Hat tip: Glen Reynolds.)

As concern mounts over the potential spread of avian flu to humans, researchers believe they've discovered one reason why the infection can prove so deadly.

Experiments with human cells have found the H5N1 virus can trigger levels of inflammatory proteins called cytokines and chemokines that are more than 10 times higher than those that occur during a bout of the common flu.

This massive increase in cytokine and chemokine activity can inflame airways, making it hard to breathe. It also contributes to the unusual severity of the avian flu, which can result in life-threatening pneumonia and acute respiratory distress….

"This is basically a cytokine storm induced by this specific virus, which then leads to respiratory distress syndrome," Osterholm said. "This also makes sense of why you tend to see a preponderance of severe illness in those who tend to be the healthiest, because the ability to increase the production of cytokines is actually higher in those who are not immune-compromised. It's more likely in those who are otherwise healthy."

Basically, the healthier you are the sicker you become because of increased cytokine production. That turns things on its head. For other illnesses, being in good health lessens the effects. Not with bird flu it looks like.

This is not good.

Bird flu has been found within ten miles of Ukraine’s southern border in Romania. I kid with people in the US that we are eyeing the birds that land on our balcony suspiciously. Not any more, the kidding that is. This looks serious and we could be part of the initial surge of it, if it crosses the human threshold. But this doesn’t look good on that score.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Market economy status--EU

This is very, very good news. Commission Clears Ukraine for Improved Trade Relations.

The European Union is set to lower its defences against imports from Ukraine in a sign that Brussels is finally providing concrete help for Kiev after the Orange Revolution.

The European Commission has decided that Ukraine deserves the title of "market economy status" - a move that reduces Brussels' scope to levy hefty anti-dumping duties on Ukrainian imports. Such a classification has been one of Kiev's main objectives this year. The EU is Ukraine's biggest trading partner; annual bilateral trade stands at $22bn (€18.6bn, £12.6bn), ahead of the $20bn trade between Ukraine and Russia.

"Ukraine now fulfils all the criteria to be granted market economy status," says an internal Commission paper seen by the Financial Times. "This means that Ukraine will be treated as a full-fledged market economy in all trade defence investigations," once the measure has come into force. The Commission expects the process will be completed by the end of this year or early next year.

Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's president, has sought greater help from the EU to consolidate the country's democratic swing, but Brussels has been dismayed by disarray within the Ukrainian administration and has been reluctant to encourage
Ukrainian hopes for EU membership.

I am busy now so I don't have time to talk about this. I'll get back to it later. Score one for Yuschenko though.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Looting history

Looks like state owned assets aren't the only thing that has been looted in Ukraine. Historical sites and artifacts have been too--Black Earth, Black archeology, Black Times.

We have been to Chersones and it is impressive. A Greek city along the shores of the Black Sea in the Crimea. But pots and pieces of pottery sit out in the weather, in a chicken wire enclosure to prevent theft, I am sure. But they sit there with the paint or tint fading on them. There are other artifacts in the museum but it looked to me as if there is a lot of neglect.

And a lot of apathy. Make sure the museum is opened and closed on time and that the fee is paid, but that's about it. We saw no digs there and no one suggested anything like that was in the offing.

We wandered all over the ruins and could have dug a hole without anyone seeing us in the middle of the day (midwinter.) And you can get in along the beach from either side so, if a surreptitious dig is at night, it will be easy to get in, dig and get out without anyone seeing.

It is hard to know what can be done about it. Even if they hired guards, those guards could be coerced into letting them loot. Money or threats, the standard. No one's going to want to risk life or limb for any artifact, especially if he can be paid instead. So it's hard to see that as any solution.

So what is to be done?

Monday, November 07, 2005

The anniversary of the revolution

Today is the anniversary of the revolution of 1917, the most famous revolution around these parts prior to this past year.

There are some communists gathering on Maidan downtown right now to celebrate it. They say there are about 30,000 of them there. They apparently started out in Arsenalna, the place where the revolution started in Ukraine (or at least in Kiev.) They fired a few shots off in celebration—not from guns but with some large bore fireworks like they use at all times of the year. The problem is that they had no permission to gather there and do that so the police ran them off.

And I don’t think they have permission to gather in Maidan either so it might be fun to see what comes of that. Of course, for more than 70 years, they didn’t have to have permission to gather anywhere, the communists didn’t. Getting permission now just must seem to them to be a mite disrespectful of the movement. That’s dissing them.

But thirty thousand are a lot of people to just clear off with police, even riot police. So they’ll probably stay and have their rally and talk about the good old days when it all meant something. Then they can dream of their renaissance much like American southerners did. But, I am afraid, that kind of dream is going to end like the dream of those southerners. It ain’t gonna happen, no how, no way.

That is not to say that Ukraine has become immune to authoritarian systems of government. It hasn’t. If Yuschenko and the reformers don’t reform, there is a very real risk of a thug showing up and taking charge, especially if there is an economic downturn.  It’s just to say that it won’t be done in the name of communism. Communism is dead; thuggery as a governing principle is not.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

No noise

Pssst! Do you hear that? That's the sound of no cabinet arguments in public about government policy. There haven't been any since the cabinet shuffle and that is a good thing for Yuschenko. I guess you might say, paraphrasing what was said about a migration of a whole people, "Yuschenko dismissed his government of his own free will, because he had to." And it has at least worked to make the sounds issuing from government more unified. That is good.

Now he just needs to make his case. He has the time and the calm now to do it.