About 150 men armed with baseball bats and steel rods attacked 40 guards and employees in an office building in central Moscow, while police officers at a nearby police station locked themselves in to avoid being injured, media reported.
Seventeen people were hospitalized, five in serious condition, and 70 others were arrested by OMON riot police, who arrived about an hour after the fight began.
The attack was part of an ownership dispute over the Razvitiye construction firm, which owns the office building next door to the South African Embassy at 1A Granatny Pereulok...
Monday, June 27, 2005
Friday, June 24, 2005
And I haven’t been stopped for anything in the car either. They tend to have these random checks of motorists here for paperwork or other things--maybe even because they broke a traffic rule-- by the militsia. Most of these seem to me to happen on the weekends. The law-abiding person in me says that it is to arrest the drunk drivers who are out in force then. We tend to avoid driving all that much on the weekend because I think the drunks make it more dangerous.
But the cynic in me would say that the militsia is out in force on the weekends stopping cars to increase their salary. They do this during the week too, I know, and maybe I just happen to see them in greater numbers in the areas I drive in on the weekends or at least where I have driven on the weekends. This cynical view would say that these officers converge on an area of town where the possibilities are greater. (We used to live in a more affluent area of the city.) So they converge. But that is the extremely cynical me. I don’t really know this to be the case. I only extrapolate from the fact that they do extort money from drivers and they do take up positions to do it. We would call it a speed trap but speed is not the issue in any way.
In the last place we lived, there was a militsia officer who lived in the next building over. We watched him drive in one day. He was driving a late model Mercedes. It wasn't a brand new Mercedes but it was new enough. It would have cost at least around $40 or $50k, an amount that would have been hard for him to come up with on his police officer’s pay. (It wouldn’t be all that much more than $300 a month.) He could have sold a dacha or an old apartment to get the money but that wouldn’t have covered it either. The people here will tell you where he got the money. They have jokes about it.
Anyway, we were going out to the village to my in-laws this past Friday. Their village lies about 100 kilometers south of here and we end up on country roads to get there. It’s a nice, scenic drive, relaxing for people who live in the city and have to put up with it all the time. So I like to go and find the drive pleasing.
On one of these country roads, we have seen militsia. They have usually taken up a position across the intersection of the road we need to turn on to get out to the village. And we usually haven’t had any problems. We come up to the intersection and turn left in front of the patrol car. No fuss. Of course, they can stop us for anything even to look at our papers so we aren’t necessarily Scot free if we obey the rules but we usually don’t have any problems.
On this day though I ended up thinking that the turning lane was on the right not the left. There was no dashed line like you would get in the US but a solid line that would indicate that there was two-way traffic on the road. I didn’t remember how it was I had turned before and hadn’t slept all that much the night before to really be fresh enough to decide the issue clearly. So I ended up in the right lane of what I thought was two-way traffic signaling for a left turn.
There was a militsia patrol car parked across the intersection just as before. One officer was outside talking to someone in the passenger seat through the window. He saw our car and immediately went around the front of the patrol car with his baton and stood there watching our car. It looked to me like something was up and I waited for him to do something, to signal me over some way. He didn’t do anything but just stood there watching our car.
He didn’t do anything so I pulled out and began to turn. At that point he signaled me with his baton to pull over. This is what we did and, when we stopped, he came over to my side of the car. “Did you know that you turned illegally over there?” He pointed across the road. “No, it was two-way traffic there. The line was solid,” I responded. “Well, it’s not two-way and you turned from the wrong lane. There’s a sign back there that tells you,” he said. My thought was that no one would see the sign—I didn’t see it—and that that sign, wherever it was, was only there to make the stop legitimate. But I said, “It looks like two-way traffic to me. Look at that truck,” and I pointed to a truck that was making the turn from the same lane I turned from, “He’s doing the same thing.” The officer took his baton, stepped out and signaled that truck to pull over too. He came back to me.
“I want to see your license and your registration.” I pulled out my Utah license and handed it over to him. He looked at it and turned it over and couldn’t understand any of it. It did have my picture on it and I think he understood that it was a license. But my handing that license over to him seemed to embarrass him a bit. Maybe that meant he couldn’t control the whole situation like he could with others, I don’t know. My registration seemed to be in order though.
My wife piped in and vouched for how good a driver I was. The guy was discomfited a bit and just told me that I needed to be careful about what I was doing. “I am going to let you go with a warning,” he said. “Would any police in the US let you go for making a wrong turn like this?” I said, no, that they wouldn’t, but I lied. I knew that police in the US would be likely to give a warning to a tourist who made a wrong turn—tourism is a vital industry in every state. But I thought it was best to stoke his ego a bit by giving him credit for something great that even police in the US wouldn’t do. He seemed to like that answer and told me to remember that. He waved us on and went over to talk to the poor truck driver.
So what was really going on? My cynical self says that this was a trap that allows the militsia to get motorists there and extract their toll charge. They are stopped and then begins the negotiation on price. He didn’t want to spend all that much time on us because it would have been more difficult to get us to pay any money. We were, as far as he knew, just tourists and don’t know that you need to pay the militsia to let you go. To take any more time with us would cut down on the numbers of other cars—and opportunities—that would come along. And he already had a better candidate in that truck driver he stopped.
That is the cynical me. That he would take money is a highly likely thing. That he might be out actually enforcing the law is possible but not very likely. But our little daughter and some other family members thought he was a very nice and kind man. Maybe they saw something I didn’t.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
There is something kind of nice and quaint about it. Couldn't happen in the US.
UPDATE 6/27: My wife informs me that it was a baiyan. She says that most people would call it a harmoshka, as King called it in the comments, but it is technically a baiyan, a larger instrument.
Monday, June 20, 2005
It seems that France, too, has “red states” and “blue states.”
Paris and its posh suburbs are blue: They voted for the proposed European Union
constitution, a document that promised to bring together the diverse peoples of 25 European nations under a single political and economic system.
By contrast, color red the factory towns of northern France, the high-unemployment Mediterranean south and this mostly rural south-western region, where voters overwhelmingly rejected the plans proposed by France's elites.
The non voters prevailed by a wide margin. The elites have responded by calling them ignorant, fearful -- even racist. Perhaps some are. But when I asked people
around these parts why they voted as they did, their answers sounded sensible.
“We're not against Europe,” explained Michel Guilloteau, who grows grapes for use in wines and cognacs. “We're for Europe. But why go so fast? There are differences between France and other countries. Why pretend there are not?”...
And on the EU
About a decade ago, I was among a group of journalists invited to visit key continental capitals to learn about “the European project.” I was skeptical that so many old and distinct nations were genuinely prepared to give up a large measure of their sovereignty, doubtful that people from Portugal to Poland were ready to think of themselves as Europeans first and accept a one-size-fits-all government.
Not to worry, my colleagues and I were told -- a new, united Europe would be based on “subsidiarity,” the principle that every decision should be made at the lowest possible level of government. What can be decided by the people of Cognac for the people of Cognac was not to be decided by bureaucrats at EU headquarters in Brussels. It has not turned out that way. On the contrary, the power of the “Eurocrats” has increased year after year. What is called the “democracy deficit” has been growing. The proposed constitution would have both endorsed and reinforced this trend...
France has been cursed recently with systems men for leaders. For them staying in power is the only issue-- the rest be damned.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
It is the granddaddy of street scams in Moscow. An unsuspecting tourist is wandering the streets sightseeing when suddenly a man walking in front of him drops a wad of cash and continues on his way, apparently unaware that he has lost his money.
Another man picks up the cash in front of the tourist and with gestures, should there be a language barrier, signals to the visitor that they should split the money. After the tourist agrees and the wealth is divvied up, the man who dropped the wallet returns and demands the money back.
When the tourist agrees and hands over the money, the man claims some of the money is missing and demands, often threatening physical violence, to be reimbursed in full. The unwitting tourist often empties out his wallet, thus failing his first test in Street Scams 101.
Isn't the person caught by his own greed? Another variation that is innocent is a dropped wallet which the tourist picks up to give back to the person who dropped it. That wallet is empty but the guy accuses the tourist of taking the money that was in it. The person is badgered about it and threatened with the police, so he takes out his wallet to make good and the wallet is stolen.
The point is, and the article here says it, that you shouldn't pick up the wallet.
There are other scams used and other ways to be relieved of your wallet. I have had mine stolen a couple of times in a "fool me twice" kind of way. (I was too careless both times.) I ought to write up the incidents here as an alert to others about it. Maybe I will. (Like all the other things you are intending to write about?)
I will though say that if you are out in public and feel someone close to you, that is a sure sign that your wallet is in jeopardy. The pressure is there to direct your attention away from where your wallet is. And it is effective in doing that. I push the person away from me when that happens or move away. (I mostly try to move away.) If it is in a crowded area like a subway car and I can't move, I put my hand in the pocket with the wallet.
One other way they do it is to station someone in front of the victim on an escalator and one behind. At the end when the person is set to get off, the guy in front stops and bends down as if to pick up something. That means the one behind crashes in and that allows the guy to lift the wallet fairly easily.
What do you do in that case? Push through the guy in front. But that is a rude thing to do and most Americans won't do it.
What I do when we ride the subway, which is fairly infrequent these days, is to pause before we get on the escalator and note who is behind. You can tell who is after you by doing this. You can tell by their eyes. They are looking at you but trying to avoid it, if you know what I mean. We stopped once before getting on an escalator going down to the subway platform and looked behind us. There were two guys there who diverted their eyes when we looked. One of them glanced at me on the way past, looking at me but trying not to. We let those guys go obviously and gave it a bit of time before we got on. And we kept an eye out for them when we got down to the platform. They were not anywhere around fortunately.
Most people say that you shouldn't carry the wallet in an outside pocket. The problem is that wallets can be lifted from an inside pocket also. A zippered pocket is pretty good or a pocket that is hidden is better. Those pouches that you can hang around the neck under the shirt are a good way to carry money too. But getting the money out when you need it can direct a lot of attention your way which isn't a good thing. It's not hard to figure out what you're doing.
I had my wife sew into my pants some hidden pockets with zippers. (They are pockets within the pockets.) I carry anything of value there. They work very well.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
What do you think about the possibilities of investments into Ukrainian economy after the Orange Revolution?There's more and it's pretty hard to disagree with.
A few months ago, they were extremely bright. Now they are looking grim. There are three reasons for this.
First, the Kuchma regime was a system of power. In its cynical and deeply unsatisfactory way, it was predictable. President Yushchenko has not yet created a system of power — or, in democratic language, a system of authority underpinned by a coherent set of policies. The state leadership and government now comprise divergent forces with divergent ideological premises, and they are pulling in divergent directions. On top of this, personal agendas and power struggles seem, once again, to be taking precedence over compelling and urgent national interests. More puzzling still, the President has not used his authority to bring these forces to heal and put a like-minded team of reformers in place. He has been an inspiration, but I am not sure that he has been a leader. Inspiration is a remote and otherworldly quality. Leadership is a direct and practical quality, and it has not been in evidence. So, the considerable number of potential investors — not to say political decision makers and analysts like myself — who hoped that Yushchenko’s first 100 days would be like the first 100 days in Poland in 1989 have become disappointed, worried and disorientated. People do not invest when they are disorientated.
Second, the dominant tendency of economic policy is socialist, often crudely socialist — not necessarily in its intent, but in its content and consequences. If the President confuses leadership with inspiration, it is becoming more and more plain that the Prime Minister confuses leadership with control. And the appetite for control is visible not only in the macro economy, it is extending to the micro economy, with controls on prices of oil, electricity, meat and (to judge by the cumbersome and punitive tax regime) the way people decide to spend their money. If there is to be private (i.e. voluntary) investment in Ukraine, there have to be market incentives, along with the stable framework that makes these incentives meaningful. That means, first and foremost, respect for contracts and property rights, a predictable and impartial legal system and a uniform and enlightened tax code. With regard to every one of these essentials, the government is moving in exactly the wrong direction.
Third, politics — especially the March 2006 parliamentary elections — is trumping sound economics. It encourages populist measures, such as price controls and financially disastrous increases in social spending. These measures are counterproductive even in the short term, because it takes little time for ordinary citizens to discover that the consequence of ‘just’ prices is shortages (not to say black markets and corruption), and well before March 2006, they will also see that their higher pensions and wages are being eaten up by inflation. Politics also inhibits the President from intervening, because he fears that he needs Tymoshenko as an ally before these elections and possibly after them. Hence, some speculate that he is deliberately staying aloof so that she can fail — and so that she, rather than he, will be blamed. I hope these speculations are wrong, because this would be a cynical, not to say risky strategy, and it would not surprise me if the Party of Regions, rather than People’s Union Nasha Ukraina ended up being the beneficiary of it. And why has this happened? After the Orange Revolution, President Yushchenko had the authority to do exactly what he thought was right. Why has he not used it? However this question is answered, the message to investors appears to be: nothing will be decided before March 2006, so don’t invest now. Can the country really afford this?
Arkady Yevstafyev resigned earlier this month as the head of Mosenergo, the capital's main supplier of heat and electricity, after the release of a report prepared by the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Supervision on the blackout that struck Moscow in late May.
The report soon landed on the desk of President Vladimir Putin, and the president was outraged. Mosenergo's top executives were selling property in the center of Moscow to offshore companies rather than taking care of business. "And all they
had to do was repair four transformers at a cost of 180,000 rubles each," Putin said.
Energy industry professionals are still coming to grips with the depth of the government's probe into the Moscow blackout, which, as it turns out, was caused by multiple factors: four transformers. At $6,400 a pop.
But the real story here is Putin, not the electric grid. At no time since that memorable press conference last December, when he declared that the acquisition of Yuganskneftegaz by a shell company, Baikal Finance Group, was an example of the state "pursuing its interests" using "absolutely legal market mechanisms," has the president looked more like a puppet caught up in the schemes of his own inner circle...
There's more of course.
I think there's a lot to this. Why would Putin say he wasn't going to dismantle Yukos and then go about doing that very thing? Some would say its his old KGB ways, disinformation in the face of his real objective. That seems just to pat to me. The other argument is that he is simply going retrograde, taking Russia back to the good old Soviet days. That is too simplistic for me too. Both of these depend too much on an underlying ideology to be of any use today to explain things. But the machinations of staff seems to me to reflect more what has been going on in Russia (and to a large extent here) for some time. Work your own interests through the power you wield as a part of the state or through your own contacts.
It's a good article.
AS THE DUST SETTLES after the explosive referenda at the heart of the European Union, interested parties from all sides are peering nervously into the crater, trying to figure out what remains of the European "project." E.U. heads of government will meet next weekend to map an immediate route out of the debris. In the Brussels bunker, of course, the familiar instinct has kicked in--pretend nothing has happened. Incredibly, the official plan is that the other E.U. countries should simply carry on ratifying the constitutional treaty that was essentially detonated by the French and Dutch voters.
In the real world, whose characteristics are not readily recognizable to the inhabitants of the bureaucratic fantasy theme park that is the European Commission, serious reconstruction work must now begin. The "No" votes should in fact provide a real opportunity for Europe to revisit the very purpose and meaning of its union. Whatever else they have shown, the popular rejections ought surely to prompt a serious effort both to devolve power from an overweening Brussels and to reconnect the E.U. with the voters of Europe. All that is a question for the Europeans themselves to decide.
The United States, however, has always had a vital national interest in the direction Europe takes, and the events of the last month provide an opportunity for much needed reflection in Washington about the transatlantic relationship. Many of the countries of Europe have been reliable allies over the last 50 years or more. A healthy functioning relationship with this other pole of Western civilization, with its similar values and objectives, remains important to the United States. But it is time for Washington to reevaluate the best way of bringing that about...
The author does call any talk about Europe collapsing into internecine strife nonsense. It all depends on how you define what internecine strife is. Another European war would be incredible, but other kinds of rivalry would not be.
Acknowledging international concerns, the United States will revamp its biometric passport requirements to make it easier for foreign travelers from friendly nations to enter the country without a visa, The Associated Press has learned.
The new passport standards — requiring digital photographs to match with a person's unique physical characteristics by October and an embedded identification chip later — would be similar to international biometric guidelines already in place.
The standards take a step back from what the U.S. initially envisioned for biometric passports, but a Homeland Security Department official said Tuesday they represent an "acceptable milestone for now."
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the standards have not yet been announced, said Homeland Security still plans to require expanded biometric data in passports in the future.
But without the revision, visitors from so-called visa-waiver nations that could not meet the stricter standards potentially faced being barred from entering the United
States this fall. The Homeland Security official said the department was expected to unveil the new standards soon.
Initially, the United States considered requiring fingerprinting or iris identification features in biometric passports, making the documents virtually impossible to counterfeit. A 2002 law required visitors from 27 allied nations that are not required to apply for a U.S. visa to carry the high-tech passports.
But the visa-waiver nations, mostly in Europe, failed to meet the October 2004 deadline, prompting U.S. officials to revamp their requirements.
The article is not all that clear but the upshot seems to be that it looks like the US will not be requiring these kinds of biometric passports from visa-waiver nations and probably not from any of the others either because no one has been able to meet those standards yet. There were threats of retaliation by other countries who said they would start requiring visas from Americans if the standards weren't relaxed. There was no reason to rile people up and make it a whole lot less easier for Americans to travel if it could be helped. Better to save the bitter confrontations for geopolitical matters--bigger things.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin sparked uproar yesterday by saying Africans had a history of CANNIBALISM.
He lashed out at the continent’s past after being challenged about his human rights’ record.
In an astonishing outburst, Mr Putin said: “We all know that African countries used to have a tradition of eating their own adversaries.
“We don’t have such a tradition or process or culture and I believe the comparison between Africa and Russia is not quite just.”
Tony Blair, who had just finished talks with Mr Putin, was left squirming with embarrassment as the former KGB boss let rip.
On relations with the US, he claims
But despite the threat from Burns [US undersecretary of state and former NATO ambassador], common sense says that the United States is not going to get what it wants, a submissive European Union. The Europeans are divided on the issue, of course, but perhaps less than Washington thinks.
The "force" - so to speak - is with the people who want an autonomous Europe, a counterweight to the United States. This is because they are acting from the primordial impulse of a society to affirm identity and independence.
Otherwise known as nationalism, this impulse is the one that in France and the Netherlands defeated an expansion that would put an end to the European possibility to act independently.
One would imagine that ultimately the force will prevail.
But nationalism towards one's own country does not necessarily translate into nationalism towards the EU. The EU has nothing capable of capturing the loyalty of the different cultures of Europe, outside an economic claim which has not amounted to too much in recent years. (Europe, at least old Europe, has suffered economic stagnation for the past few years.) There are historical animosities that still remain in Europe that have been papered over by the cobbling together of the EU. To put it bluntly, the French are not necessarily "appreciated" in Europe either. And France raised the spector of the Polish plumber--it wasn't foreign plumbers--coming in to take jobs from the natives in run-up to the vote on the constitution.
The collapse of the constitution could expose these old animosities and rivalries. These sorts of things do not down so easily.
That of course would not be a good thing.
Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada (parliament) on Tuesday, May 31, 2005, once again voted down, by a narrow margin, a package of amendments to Ukraine's intellectual property rights laws that would have brought Ukraine into compliance with widely accepted international standards.
The amendments, if adopted, would have allowed the government of Ukraine to move forward to finalize the completion of several major international business and economic agreements including several with the United States and those needed for possible accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in late 2005.
Ukraine again failed to legally protect intellectual property rights, which many experts believe will jeopardize Ukraine's efforts to join WTO, its efforts to get rid of economic sanctions imposed by the United States, undermine its efforts to substantially increase its trade and investment levels and its program to improve the image of its overall business environment.
Several top U.S. government officials involved in economic and trade agreements indicated last week in Washington they were very disappointed in the parliament's failure to pass the needed amendments. They felt this action was a huge blow to Ukraine and do not see much chance now for Ukraine to meet the requirements needed for WTO membership by late 2005.
Reports from Kyiv indicate the Yushchenko/Tymoshenko government did not do an adequate job of informing parliament members about the international and domestic importance to Ukraine of passing the intellectual property rights amendments. Also a considerable number of Our Ukraine members in the parliament did not vote for the intellectual property rights amendments and several key Our Ukraine bloc members were not even in Kyiv the day the vote was taken. Passage of the amendments would have provided substantial benefits to Ukraine.
The failure of the Our Ukraine bloc in the Parliament to strongly support Ukraine's rapid movement towards major international economic and trade agreements has been alarming to many private business and government leaders around the world... Action Ukraine Report 5001, #1.
This has been a particular sore spot with the US and it may affect the removal of Jackson-Vannick, which is a great pity all by itself. But it will also affect Ukraine's entry into the WTO, another pity. It will delay it at the very least. Unless the government is cut some slack, it could also be taken as a lack of any serious commitment by Ukraine to meet the requirements for entry.
It is also some more evidence that the government does not look like it is altogether ready for prime time. I said in another posting that they need a Karl Rove. This was not to show my conservative credentials, though many in my extended family would dispute any conservative credentials. I said this because that is exactly what is needed. Someone has to bring some discipline to the government. They have to focus on what is at hand and work from the same page. If there is any legislation up that is important for the country, that is what the government has to work on at the time.
This was a golden opportunity to show not only the US that Ukraine is looking westward but, what many here think is more important, it was an opportunity to show Europe that Ukraine was looking west. And they did not get it done.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Currently, the most important aspect... is clearly high unemployment. Anyone who examines its origins will see that it is only in the smallest part due to any failings in the EU, in no way due to the euro and hardly at all to globalization, but rather to failures within the member states. That applies for employment-market and wage policies, for some extravagances in welfare and social policy, and for economic overregulation. Member states themselves need to get their unhealthy budgets into better order...
The EU is not the source of the problem, so the EU is not the solution either:
The EU institutions cannot heal the social and economic ills of the member states. And the Union cannot even remotely help new members financially as it once did Ireland, Spain or Greece. Instead, all the member states must identify their own ailments and draw their own consequences.
He suggests some possible outcomes:
A variety of further developments are conceivable. It is possible that the additional expansions currently under way may have to cease. It is unfortunately possible that the EU may shrink into an institutionally enriched free-trade zone; the British would certainly be happy with that. It is possible that the European Parliament may force at least the urgently needed parliamentarization of all Brussels decisions, even without a constitution. But it is also possible that in a few years time, negotiations could lead to the formation of an inner core of Europe from several governments and their nations.
The euro is the essential cause of Europe’s “democratic deficit” because it prevents different countries adopting the variety of social and business models that voters demand. A currency is to national economic management what a border is to political sovereignty: with floating currencies each country can choose its own style of economic and social organisation; with fixed currencies they can’t.
If France or Italy wants a generous social safety net, it can keep its business costs down by devaluing its currency. Of course, devaluation may lower living standards for consumers, but if people want to pay this price to preserve their social traditions, that is what democracy is for. It is only when a country with high social costs loses control of its currency that the burden becomes intolerable, destroying jobs and decimating investment.
This is exactly what has happened in the eurozone since 2001. After 9/11 and the Iraq war the euro began to rise for essentially non-economic reasons. Unable to
control this currency upsurge, national politicians had only two other options: either to dismantle their costly social provision (a concept which French voters have clearly rejected) or to cut hourly wages (a policy which Germany has attempted, with beneficial results for profits but disastrous effects on consumer confidence and the Government’s popularity).
If the euro did not exist, European politicians would not be driven to such desperate, even suicidal, measures. Each country could make its decisions about the balance between social protection, wages and currency strength.
Since European voters are unwilling to accept wage cuts or abandon their social model, the rational choice is for the eurozone as a whole to adopt the policies that worked so successfully for Britain (and to a lesser extent in Italy) after White
Wednesday: to devalue the euro and stimulate growth by slashing interest rates
to 1 per cent or less.
I don't think a weakened Europe is the best thing. But it looks like the idea that Europe is stable has been mostly assumed.
In his marbled office overlooking the Piazza Colonna, Roberto Calderoli, Italy's minister of welfare, held up a €20 note and cheerfully tore it in half. "If you like, I will put it through the shredder," he said.
He briefly contemplated setting fire to the note before concluding that this might be against Italian law. There could be no doubt about his feelings towards the euro.
Mr Calderoli's views would have been heresy at the start of 2002, when Italy enthusiastically embraced the single currency as interest rates halved and a boom was ushered in. Yet at the Campo de' Fiori market a few streets away, where the former monk Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for contending that the universe had no centre, hatred of the euro is a new orthodoxy.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
As Teryokhin pointed out, the following issues remain unregulated: changing the system of taxation for agricultural enterprises, abolition of mandatory export
from Ukraine of sugar produced from imported raw sugar, revision of import duties on scrap metal and ferrous metal waste, and curtailing the list of commodities subject to mandatory certification. In the event the parliament adopts the related laws, the Ukrainian enterprises in a number of industries will face serious competition from foreign companies on the domestic market.
The WTO considers such sectors in the Ukrainian economy as agriculture, machine engineering, the defense-industrial complex, pharmaceuticals and chemicals to be the most vulnerable. Enterprises in these industries still operate in the so-called ÂgreenhouseÂ conditions. To be sure, the Ukrainian government sheltered them from foreign competitors by imposing duties and other protectionist measures, like Âelements of economic force majeureÂ.
According to WTO membership requirements, these measures will have to be canceled. Therefore, the country will end up having to pay for the benefits for the economy on the whole from WTO accession through curtailing production volumes in several domestic industries.
Meanwhile, opening the Ukrainian market of sugar cane would undermine the operation of Ukrainian sugar mills. In fact, the rate of closure of sugar mills has been quite high in recent years. Indeed, according to a number of experts, UkraineÂs accession to the WTO will lead to the closure of at least 20 sugar mills. The same could be said about the agricultural machine engineering industry, which might seize to exist altogether without government support.
My take on this:
1. It is hard to know if the whole government is on board with all of this. The article cites Moros as saying that Ukraine is not ready for the WTO right yet so he isn't it looks like. But the major players are Yuschenko and Tymoshenko. I think I know where Yuschenko standa on WTO entry, but what about Tymoshenko? She has been a populist in what she has said and done. What if certain segments of the Ukraine economy are going to be threatened, which they will, what will her response be? Protect the industries? If she does, she will require a lot of power to do it especially in the face of close economies that are more market oriented. To be able to really make a go of it, she would be forced to look to Russia, something I think she could not do. The result would be more and more power in the hands of government, more centralized power, no decrease in corruption--power's dutiful little lackey, administrative measures to control the economy, and nowhere to look for support, neither north nor west. And there would be no oil to cover over the systemic problems as there is in Russia or Venezuela.
I frankly don't know what her position is.
2. This has been coming but business here hasn't prepared for it. I had a series of training courses outlined for businesses to help get them get up to speed on Western business practices. I took these to one company before the Orange Revolution, a major training company here, to see if we couldn't come together, pool our resources (they had the client list and facilities--I had the expertise) and train businesses the way shouldl be trained.
I was met with, "What company is going to pay for this?" "Well, any company that is going to need to do business in the West," I responded, "which will end up being every company here in the near future." "But they wont' pay for this now, "was the reply. "They may not pay for it now, but if Yuschenko gets elected,"--a little bit of discomfort was detected at this point; they had Yanukovych material all over their office, I think for safety's sake (tax police)--"these companies are going to have to know how to deal in the West. They need to get prepared for it." "Well, they are aren't going to pay for it now," they insisted. I then made the argument that they should consider this to be an R&D program for a time in the not-so-distant future when it will be needed. They were unconvinced and nothing ever came of it.
The problem is that a lot of companies here are not prepared for the competition. They have spent their time cultivating status which has been the way business has been done and money made. But competition is a whole different universe from this.
3. Government needs to prepare people for the eventuality of both competition and the inevitable economic dislocation that will come from it. They should be making the case out in public to help get people prepared for it. There is only silence on the subject. The big problem will come when the people see what it is they end up having to do, and they see the foreign companies coming in and making money with what they consider to be the country's assets. (Poland saw a lot of this and it may not be sitting well right now.) And when they see people losing their jobs because of it all that will make for a lot of disillusionment for many people. They may end up thinking they were sold a bill of goods. It won't make them think fondly of democracy. But telling them what they will be faced with, allowing them to understand what will happen in the future but making the case why it is necessary will go a long way toward preventing that. If they have to maintain a stage downtown at the Square and have someone come down there every week to make the case, that ought to be done.
The problem is that things right now are being imposed from the top much as they have always been. That will not serve them very well at all.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Anchor: Alexander Isayevich, but the situation in the CIS countries, in the republics surrounding Russia is still more complicated. Perhaps this may account for the fact that Russia suddenly found itself ringed by "orange revolutions"? How do you account for this? Are these processes controlled from without? And there are some other who say that Russia is reaping the fruits of its own shortsighted policy in the Commonwealth countries?
Solzhenitsyn: There are two concepts involved, two questions, I'll stick to two, okay. The first question is the state of the CIS. I am not suggesting that things are better in the CIS. When they announced the creation of oriental dictatorships in the CIS, the West promptly wrote: democracy is assured. Central Asia and Kazakhstan are awash in democracy. Turkmenistan -- that's a democracy. Yes, they were in a hurry to recognize. Yes, the situation in the CIS countries is still more complex.
But it is no longer any of our business to educate the CIS countries. We have drifted apart, we are separate, we would be lucky if we manage to preserve a common economic space. I am sure that Ukraine will ruin the common economic space of the four countries. But let us try to preserve it if we can. For the rest, our relationships with the CIS should boil down to this: to be the best so that they should envy us. To run this country in a way that everybody would look at us and say: Ah, how wonderful, we wish we could learn from Russia.
As it is, who can respect Russia if they see that Russians can be trampled underfoot in any national republics without Russia ever stepping in to defend them. It fails to interfere, it provides no consular protection. That alone rules out any respect for Russia. Thinking about the relations with the CIS, I think we should first of all try to cure ourselves. And let the CIS cure itself. The common economic space may be saved. You speak about "orange revolutions". Strangely, I myself marveled when the orange revolution occurred. The methods are reminiscent of our revolution in February 1917.
It's difficult to imagine, it's a different era. But the methods are the same. Great rifts within society, the public is dead against the government. Secondly, discontent, economic discontent at the bottom. Third, the behavior of the educated classes. When Petersburg had no brown bread, but an abundance of white bread and the shops were chock-full of all sort of products, students and the bourgeois public took to the streets, surrounded public buildings and squares and shouted: "We want bread!" It was not bread that they wanted, they wanted more rioting.
Of course, disturbances on such a scale couldn't have started without financial assistance from abroad. There was assistance. Now at last we have dug up all these facts, everything is known. In fact, it has been known all along, but it finally sank in to our public. German money, German money went through Scandinavia reaching the Bolsheviks and not only them.
Those who staged demonstrations received money. But the opportunities then were limited. At that time money could be transferred in little suitcases and in small remittances. Now world financial channels are open to billions. There is mutual information through the Internet, all types of communications. You can ask for aid instantly and you will get what you need.
The "orange revolutions" do not represent any new discovery. Given internal discord, and contrast between the public and the authorities, if the opposition
gets help from outside, an orange revolution is sure to take place. And orange revolutions have happened everywhere, well, not yet everywhere, there are different versions in different places.
Anchor: So, there are two factors, you think, the internal and the external?
Solzhenitsyn: By all means, nothing can be accomplished without the internal factors. But if the internal factors are in place, they need money, they need help. The Ukrainian and Georgian revolutions got more than enough money. They got loads of money.
Johnson's Russia List 9174, #1. (It is supposed to be archived at www.fednews.ru but I can't find it there.)
Solzhenitsyn is a hero to a lot of Ukrainians. That might change.
Update: In case anyone might think differently, I have a great amount of respect for Solzhenitsyn. How could anyone not have based on his history and work? And I think he has diagnosed some of the problems of Russia today and all there would be better off to listen to him right about now.
But I do think he is wrong about what happened here. That though still leaves a very high batting average.
A highly classified intelligence report produced for the new director of national intelligence concludes that U.S. spy agencies failed to recognize several key military developments in China in the past decade, The Washington Times has learned.
The report was created by several current and former intelligence officials and concludes that U.S. agencies missed more than a dozen Chinese military developments, according to officials familiar with the report.
The report blames excessive secrecy on China's part for the failures, but critics say intelligence specialists are to blame for playing down or dismissing evidence of growing Chinese military capabilities.
That they didn't blame the analysts might be a case of not wanting to blame some of their own. But it is a fact that intelligence is not an exact science. Things are going to be missed because not everything can be seen or accessed. That is the nature of the beast and needs to be factored for.
There is another problem though and one that interests me from a thinking point of view. That problem is the fact that people do not tend to see what they don't expect to see. Put without the negatives, people tend to see what they expect to see. The point is that everyone sees the world through a construct of reality. And people tend to fit what they see into the context of that construct. The honest analysts will tell you that they use a template to understand the intelligence. That is the same sort of idea.
If the information coming in does not fit into that template/construct, it will be discarded out of hand. Why is that? Because it will be considered just so much static or, as the scientists say, a lot of anomalous data. (Kuhn would say that it does not support the paradigm so it is dismissed.)
Thomas Kuhn, in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, cites a study that shows this. The color of some of the suits on some cards of a deck were changed--a red six of spades and a black four of hearts for instance-- to make them different than what was expected, to make them anomalous. These cards were placed in a deck and shuffled. With some exposure, people identified all the cards with little effort but they identified the anomalous cards as being the regular unchanged card associated with the suit. Kuhn says, "Without any awareness of trouble, it was immediately fitted into one of the conceptual categories prepared by prior experience." (Kuhn p.63.) When they were exposed to the cards a longer time, the people began to be aware that something was wrong. Some would be exposed to the red six of spades, identify it as a six of spades but say that something was wrong with it like a red border or something. Increasing the exposure to the cards only increased the confusion until some sort of tipping point was reached for some. They would identify the problems with the anomalous cards and were able to do it for all the cards after having recognized the problem with one.
But some of the people could not make the shift. Even after repeated exposure they still could not identify what was the problem and experienced "acute personal distress. One of them exclaimed, 'I can't make the suit out, whatever it is. It didn't even look like a card that time. I don't know what color it is now or whether it's a spade or a heart. I'm not sure now what a spade looks like...'" (Kuhn pp. 63,64.)
The other problem is that that construct defines what is reasonable. If an analyst comes up with something that does not fit the construct, it is ipso facto unreasonable. No analyst will send up a report that does not sound reasonable. Could affect his job.
(These are the same problems that affect business information too. But that is for another time.)
What to do about both of these problems is the big issue. I think that their work product needs to be considered tentative--it's the best hypothesis that they can come up with under the circumstances. That means that contingency planning ought to be the rule, "if...then..." But no one I know in any organization wants to have their work considered tentative or a mere hypothesis. "We are professionals, thank you." They want people to rely on what they produce and not many of them would want to be secondguessed on any of it. And that means we might be stuck with this sort of thing.
He called it fantasy.
Somebody though ordered the troops to Kiev on the 28th of November one week after the protests began. They were watched in real time by Western intelligence agencies as they made their way in. Smeshko, the ex-head of the SBU along with others say that a flurry of calls by people who were with him stopped it. The new head of the SBU does not deny this though he says that not everyone in that little claque did their duty.
(Some dismiss this as self-serving on Smeshko's part. I think it rings true though possibly exaggerated as the SBU head would say for that very reason. Smeshko says he was involved because he despised Yanukovych. This is just the sort of personal thing that has a realistic ring to it. If he had wanted to ingratiate himself with the opposition, wouldn't he have made the better case that he was with Yuschenko all along?)
Others of the opposition now say the military was prevented from coming to Kiev because taxis clogged the streets into the city stopping them. That might explain why they stopped, something noted by intelligence agencies, but it does not explain why they turned back. (It is a bit difficult for me that military men, men who moved on the order in the first place, would just throw up their hands in frustration when they saw the way blocked by taxis.)
Anyway, the final story on this has not been written either.
The church had sought -- and thought it received -- permission to hold a weeklong demonstration across from City Hall over the loss of land that it had hoped to use to build a house of worship.
But on May 30 and June 1, police and OMON special forces violently broke up the demonstrations, throwing women and children to the ground and swearing at them, parishioners said. One of them, Marina Karandayeva, raised her sleeve to show an ugly ring of bruises around her arm.
For Emmanuel's believers, it was the latest indignity in a decade-long struggle to build a church for their 1,000-member Moscow parish. For some religious liberty organizations, it was further evidence of a mounting, and in some cases violent, trend to persecute Protestant religious minorities.
Other religions have been having problems too. The Jehovah's Witnesses were disincorporated in Moscow city a year or so back. They were found to not be promoting Russian values or something like that. They tend to be persistent and obnoxious and are not well liked even in the US. But it is hard to maintain that a society is free when it can proscribe certain beliefs even ones that are not liked by a lot of people. It is really only a short distance from this to mandating what has been determined to be acceptable thinking.
More people ought to be up in arms over this. But since it is religion and certain minority religions at that, I won't be holding my breathe until they do.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Asked who was ahead in the process, Adrian said: "At the moment, I would say Ukraine is ahead of Russia."
Ukraine has reached more bilateral agreements on goods and services, approximately 30 signed, and has another dozen or more to go. Bilateral deals must be struck with any of the WTO's 148 members who demand one.
So the end of the year might be too early but Ukraine is well along the way to entry. Good news.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
And this analysis does depend on the assumption that people are rational. But people aren't really that rational and there are historical animosities among European countries that are supposed to have evaporated away in the light of the new EU system, all based on self interest. But as I have said, these things don't down so easily and the EU may find that this no vote brings all of this back to the surface once again.
I hope it doesn't personally. It is not in the US's interests to have a weak Europe for one. And I think that wishing problems on other people is not a good thing either and a period of national rivalry in Europe would not be a good thing for the people.
And for Ukraine, having a strong Europe to lean toward is a must too.
It is tempting to say that the French did us in so they deserve anything they get. But there may be a big difference between the "French" and Jacques Chirac. In the run-up to the war with Iraq, many French conservatives who supported the US position said that the Bush administration didn't give them a chance to make their case in France. To have been able to do so might have strengthened their hand at home. Maybe he couldn't give them that chance for military reasons but it does show that not everyone is lock step with Chirac.
And the French for all their touchiness--I found that bringing up the French Revolution is not good after dinner conversation-- do have this tendency to come up with something grand and magnanimous at times. One French observer in the Crimea gave his hat to a Ukrainian on his way to Maidan to join in on the protests because it wasn't right that the delegate, so to speak, from the Crimea, on his way to so important an event, would not be dressed enough for such an occasion. It's a small thing--there have been other bigger things--but revealing. It's a good reflection on their culture.
And I hear that French intelligence has cooperated as it always has in the war on terrorism and agents only smile and go about their business working with the US when French anti-Americanism is brought up. That's a professionalism you gotta respect.
Anyway, we'll see what happens with it.
Russian state-controlled companies tend to keep private shareholders in the dark on key investment issues, particularly if the lack of disclosure stands to benefit people connected to the government, said a scathing report released worldwide on Tuesday by ratings agency Standard & Poor's.
State-owned enterprises "tend to provide very little information regarding how the government's goals and policies influence corporate decision and operations," the report said. "Russian federal or regional authorities might be promoting political agendas through the actions of the firms."
The report -- which surveyed 11 state-controlled companies -- highlights a number of examples of corporate decisions motivated more by the political interests of the
government shareholder than by the long-term profitability of the company. This happens even in state-controlled companies with a significant number of private
investors, the report said.
The problem is not as acute in Western countries with government controlled companies as the article notes because transparency is more of a cultural norm.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Our car hasn’t been working right since last week. And it has been getting steadily worse. We finally took it in to have a mechanic take a look at it. I had changed the air filter and the spark plugs just to make sure about those, but after that it still bucked at low speeds. So we found a mechanic who worked on carburetors. I thought that was likely the problem.
He said that we needed to have our carburetor cleaned. That was fine with me so long as that fixed the problem. He thought it would, or at least fix most of it, but the real problem, he said, was that we had bought some bad gas. Bad gas? Where could we have gotten bad gas? We had bought it from a station just down the street from where this guy’s shop was. It was a nice, clean station, not some kind of back alley looking affair of a smelly mechanic’s shop with stacks of fifty gallon drums where the gas was siphoned out with a hose. You might get bad gas there but where we got it, that nice clean station? When we told him where we had gotten it, that convinced him. That station was selling bad gas, he said. And it wasn’t the only one that was or had been. According to this mechanic, over 90 percent of the cars that were coming in had problems caused by bad gas. All that gas wasn’t purchased at that same station. Others were in on it too.
A week before, I had read something about this in an article somewhere. The article said that people had bought bad gas because of the shortage and that their car had stalled after only a few miles. I may not have read it carefully enough but I had the impression that these people were getting their gas from other places—from some guy on the street with a truck-- not from legitimate, nice, clean filling stations. But it looks like I was wrong. We got had too.
It’s hard to know how they could have done it unless they just opened up the hatch on the tank at the station and poured in whatever it was they used to spike it. In a kind of short-term way of thinking you can see why they would do it. If you only got so much gas for the station and had to ration it car by car, cut in some cheaper stuff-- some really cheaper stuff--and let ‘em fill ‘er up. Anything over the ration amount sold is pure profit-- subtracting, of course, the stuff it was they used.
But for someone who would like to see companies concerned with building a brand—with their long-term interests--this is simply suicide where there is competition. And there is competition here in that market. We won’t go back to that station and anybody we talk with probably won’t go to it either. They are just cutting their throats, these people. It’s plain idiotic. But if you want to know the truth, that is the kind of thing you often see here, a “take it or leave it; makes little difference to me” kind of attitude.
The mechanic took out our carburetor, cleaned it and put it back in. Our car still bucks at low speeds but it doesn’t do it as much and I don’t have to keep my foot on the gas to keep it going at intersections, so that is something. The mechanic told us that we will have to just run through this tank and fill it up with better gas--TNK and Lukoil is the best we have been told. We’ll see. We have about three-quarters of a tank left before we can find out.
It is easy to issue orders but always hard to get them to be obeyed in a system where specific personalities and loyalties have been and continue to be the main issues. Hoarding what power you have and using it judiciously can preserve that power and even increase it. Lincoln is a good example of this.
Monday, June 06, 2005
This reminds me of a talk I heard on C-Span when I was in the US a while back. The fellow, whose name I cannot now remember, was arguing that the EU was a way of dealing with the rift between the Romanic (I know, I know, but I can't bring myself to write "Romantic;" seems too confusing) and Germanic peoples of Europe. It was the rivalry between the two, he says, that has created all the problems of Europe of the past centuries. The EU was meant to mend the rift. His problem with it though was that that mending took place on the basis of economic interests and was not cultural. In other words, the divide was to be bridge on the basis of self interest not on any cultural basis. He thought that they got it backwards. Work on a cultural union and then move to economics. That of course would be the hardest to do but he thought it would have been the only effective way to do it. That they based it on economics ultimately dooms the EU, he thinks.
The problem is that culture will not down so easily and that has a lot to say about what is happening with the war on terrorism or the fight against corruption in many governments around the world including here. Culture does not down so easily and it is typically a Western conceit to think that just paying someone more or getting them a TV set or a new car--to buy them off-- will somehow get them to submerge what is a cultural tendency to the good of the whole. The West says that that is all it takes. And a lot rides one whether it is right. I think it isn't.
We'll just have to see if anything else comes out about it. I don't think though the final chapter has been written on what the real risks were to the protestors on the square.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
We have sat here watching the dollar lose ground against both the euro and the hyrvna. Looks like the euro may not end up doing so well either. Maybe the hryvna will come out the winner? If the government comes to its senses, it might.