Friday, December 31, 2004

Yanukovich Bows Out

And the good guys throw one last shindig on Independence Square.

Take a visit to Disco's blog for pictures of this year's biggest (well, most meaningful) New Year's celebration.

Me and the wife are just back from the Russian grocery in the Northeast, with all kinds of smoked fish, Russian salads, bread, cheeses, olives, and some sparkling white wine from the Columbia Valley (take that Frenchies!!).

We'll be watching horrible Russian music on NTV to ring in 2005. The things I do for love.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

On Berlin and Urban Planning

Reason's Dave Copeland decries the effects of too much government in the recent development of Berlin. As one who spent some time there in 2001, I can attest to the truth of his central thesis. At the time, there was nothing but cranes as far as the eye could see, and yet there was the sense that these were sterile buildings, being constructed at locations off the beaten track for no particular inhabitants.

Particularly resonant to me was this passage:

In Mitte, a district in the east that has been left relatively untouched, trendy restaurants jostle for space with student-dominated bars, while back streets offer small cafés and one-of-a-kind apartments. With five major thoroughfares crashing into each other at a central square, it is an urban planner’s nightmare—gritty, chaotic, and full of businesses ranging from coffee shops to Thai restaurants. The major difference between it and Potsdamer Platz: It’s crowded with a healthy mix of tourists and locals, as well as small, one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants.

Of course, I spent the great majority of my time here, in the "chaotic", "unplanned" central district of the former DDR. This was the Berlin that I found vibrant and exciting, the Berlin that I would like to revisit. Certainly not the sterile, unpoplated government creation that is Potsdamer Platz.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, I'm gonna use this post to let Outside the Beltway act as my tutor regarding "trackbacks". One day, I swear, I'm gonna be blog savvy...

Just Remember... you read this, that 300,000,000+ confiscated American dollars go to this organization every year.

and, as
the good pirate points out:

Of course the greatest concern of the UN about the whole issues doesn't seem to be stopping their peacekeepers from ravaging the local population but rather,

The prospect of the pornographic videos and photographs — now on sale in Congo — becoming public worries senior UN officials, who fear a UN version of the scandal at the American-run Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq. “It would be a pretty big problem for the UN if these pictures come out,” one senior official said.

and these people have the nerve to criticize us?

Prescription Drugs and the Nanny State

Thomas Sowell illustrates the government acting as an overbearing parent over adult citizens with regard to the risks of prescription drugs. Always remember, you are incapable of cost-benefit analysis. The purpose of our federal government is to make these decisions for you.

"We the entrenched bureacrats of the United States of America, in order to protect our idiot citizens from their own faulty decision-making..."

A Modest Proposal

In reading about the efforts to aid tsunami victims, I run accross this quote:

Egeland, the UN's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, has called for a major international response -- and went so far as to call the U.S. government and others "stingy" on foreign aid in general.

"If, actually, the foreign assistance of many countries now is 0.1 or 0.2 percent of the gross national income, I think that is stingy, really," he said. "I don't think that is very generous.

"We need rich countries, rich individuals, even only those of us who are reasonably affluent to respond generously," Egeland said.

God that gets under my skin. If I met this guy on a street corner... well, I wouldn't know who the hell he is... but if I did know - I'd slug the sonofabitch. Who the hell are you to claim dominion over the product of my labor? Am I your slave?

At the same time, it's hard not to see the need for generousity here, and the enormous resources that will be required to assist the people devastated in this catastrophe. And certainly America CAN help. Yet, arrogant, pompous, self-important bastards like this should be foraging berries and living in a straw hut in the north of their home countries, wrapped in a bearskin shawl and boiling tree bark for tea. So how to accomplish the seemingly opposing goals of putting this jackass and his gang of anti-American, anti-capitalist, one world government thugs in their place while helping the relief efforts in Asia?

Well, our contribution to the UN in the year 2003 was $341 million. Since I share in Mr. Egeland's concern for the welfare of the victims of the disaster along the rim of the Indian Ocean, I would like to see the money allocated in this misguided effort at an international police force for the fiscal year 2005 redirected immediately to relief efforts in affected countries. They certainly will find much better use there, and are less likely to find their way into the pockets of murderous dictators and anti-American bureaucrats.

Just Watched an Hour of Tsunami Coverage

on CNN.

What is there to say? How can one begin to address such devestation? I have no particular insight into this kind of catastrophe. No frame of reference with which to comprehend it. I simply have nothing in my experience that approaches this. 23,500 40,000 50,000 dead... 1.5 million homeless in sri lanka alone...

I consider 9/11/01 traumatic - and rightfully so. The scope of this thing dwarfs that "most horrible event of my lifetime".

Watching the many tourist videos, and the changing reactions of those operating the cameras as they slowly realize the scope of what they are witnessing put a huge weight in my stomach. Uggh...

Monday, December 27, 2004

Uh... What's Going On?


BBC World News stated that Kirpa is said to have arranged trainloads of voters to vote repeatedly at various locations for Yanukovich, although their article here makes no mention of this allegation.

In some ways, I'm jealous of the excitement and energy the past couple of months must have generated within the hearts of the Ukrainian people. In other ways, I'm glad politics are a little more boring on this side of the pond.


Tell me this chick doesn't rock:

Check out all of Orangeukraine's pics


My attempt at a New York Post-style awful pun of a headline.

I have never had such high hopes or expectations for any politician anywhere, ever. (No Pressure, right?) Yushchenko has one hell of a battle on his hands. There's an entire societal order in need of an overhaul and a whole lot of inertia to overcome to do that.

Let's not underestimate what he has accomplished so far, however. He has rallied the will of the people behind him, he has won the seat of power from the powers that be in what was not only a bloodless, but indeed a democratic revolution, and he has the powers that be were nervously making concessions and looking to position themselves favorably in the new society of open competition.

I didn't intend for the Ukraine to become a central issue on this blog, but with the excitement of an emerging democracy, and my intended trip there this coming summer, I'll be watching closely for signs that the excitement and electricity of the Orange Revolution are indeed resulting in the emergence of a free and prosperous nation in the easternmost stretches of Europe. Here's to hoping that some of that Orange Spirit spills accross the northern border.

Philly Unions to Kill City's Biggest Airline

"With flight attendant sick calls almost three times higher than normal and abnormally high sick calls from ramp workers at Philadelphia, our network ground to a halt," US Airways chief executive officer Bruce R. Lakefield said in a recorded telephone message on a company hotline. "... So we canceled hundreds of flights, delayed thousands of bags, and irritated our passengers."


In a truly adorable show of naivety, Virginia Postrel writes:

If you hate your boss or just don't want to go to work, find another job. Don't deliberately ruin other people's holiday travel.

She just doesn't know how Philly unions work, does she? I can't wait to hear the whining about how tough it is on the working folk when USAirways finally DOES go belly up.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Signs that Things May Be Going Well

Well, first of all, no tanks pouring accross the Russian border...

Second, there's this:

At polling station #11, (territorial election commission # 200), in Zolotonosha, Cherkaska region, two observers from the CIS arrived. They conducted an “edifying” conversation with the head of the polling station.

They expressed their disappointment in the following:

1. Too few people are voting with absentee ballots.
2. Not enough people vote at home.
3. The observers do not nap in the corners of the hall, but actively observe all aspects of the election process.

again, from Maidan

Two-bit Dictator Throws Hissy Fit

About 80 persons were arrested today in Minsk, Belarus. Later in the evening these persons were to travel to Kiev as the international observers at the presidential elections in the Ukraine.

from Maidan

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Election Eve in Ukraine

No posts in a while, 'cause it's been a waiting game for this day. Not pleased about the last second court decision which seems custom-made to throw the results into doubt. Here's to hoping it ain't close enough to matter.

There are very few days when you can be absolutely sure that something of monumental historical significance will be taking place. Today is that kind of day.

Oh, and on hockey... the owners have killed their cash cow. Sure, they'll get cost guarantees like they want... they'll be guaranteed arena football status for the foreseeable future. Hockey is becoming the sport I just play, just as football and baseball are sports I only watch. Sad, but I'm getting along without the Flyers.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

NHL Players Have Given the Owners an Out

Lost in real world drama, I have failed to comment on Thursday's NHL meetings. Lest I allow any small matter of global politics or the freedom of 40 million people distract from what REALLY matters, I will address it here.

It looks to me like the players have given the owners a reprieve from their poor business decisions. What other industry, much less professional sport, would have it's employees say, "Look, we understand you are in a bind because you overpaid for our services in a period of temporary prosperity (huge ESPN TV contract, expansion fees) and we understand that our salaries are not in line with future revenues. Therefore, we offer an accross the board 24% salary reduction."?

Now, it's completely on the owners to determine if they can be reasonable. Will they stick to their demand of a hard salary cap, in essence saying "We are too undisciplined as business owners to keep our personnel expenses in line with our revenues, and must be constrained by rules to protect us from our own incompetence.", or will they see compromise and opportunity where it is, and make an agreement that's in everyone's interests.

Hockey in North America isn't strong enough to stomach much more of this stoppage. I think it's already lost some prestige relative to the european leagues, and I'm betting a fair percentage of these guys never come back across the pond.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Minsk is Watching

"Today Ukraine, Tommorrow Us"

sign at a busy intersection in Minsk.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Well, maybe it really IS victory.

Mr Yanukovich expressed fury with the result. "An orange plague has spread over the nation and lawlessness rules over the land," he said. "I will not be able to do my work."


If Yanukovich is upset, I guess I should be happy. Especially since in a vacuum, I tend to be in favor of decentralized power, and weak presidencies. Perhaps it slows down the pace of reform in the Ukraine in the short term, but over time, as the political scene changes, the wrong type of president won't be able to just roll back whatever reforms do take place with a wave of his hand.

Andrew Sullivan Understands Federalism

The whole point of federalism is that different states can have different public policies on matters of burning controversy - and that this is okay. Actually, better than okay. The constitution of the United States was devised not as a means to avoid social and cultural polarization, but to manage it without splitting the country apart. And it says a huge amount about our contemporary amnesia about the benefits of federalism that this should now be seen as some sort of revelation.

Amen, brother.


Discoshaman is calling it that.

I'm not convinced. The orange revolution has secured some reforms that they feel will lead to a more honest vote tally on the 26th, and a Yushchenko presidency. In exchange, however, they have agreed to weaken his powers.

Looks to me like the beautiful and fiery Yulia Tymoshenko is the one with the gonads around here, though:

Yuliya Tymoshenko, the blonde billionaire who has been at Mr Yuschenko's side throughout the crisis and had been a candidate for prime minister, slammed the compromise as a capitulation. "This is a victory for Kuchma," she said. "This vote helps reduce the powers of a president Yushchenko... We could have won without it."

Here's your link to the story.

Of course, it's easy for me to criticize. I'm sitting here in Philly, where our biggest issue of the moment is another SEPTA meltdown. I'm not the one parked out on a frozen Ukraine street for half of December, and I'm not the one who'd be sitting on the verge of civil war, refusing to compromise.

Still, my sense of justice is bothered by the fact that the powerful cheated, and now will get some positive gain out of it. I'm probably way too hardheaded.

The election is now slated for December 26th. We'll see if these reforms have the desired effect then.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Intrigue... Intrigue... Intrigue...

Well, I'm becoming more and more convinced of the truth behind the speculation that Yushchenko was poisoned. In addition to this article, I was listening to local AM blab station (WPHT) this morning, and a medical resident who ran around his hospital, showing "before" and "after" pics to various (blissfully unaware) doctors got the same "dioxin poisoning" diagnosis from the lot of them. Anecdotal? Yes. But combined with the Austrian clinic's information, I'm convinced.

As a follow up to the "Yanukovich may drop off the ticket" strategy from yesterday,
Discoshaman (am I just reposting his blog at this point?) points out that he may not really want to do that, but his erstwhile backers (Kuchma and yes, Putin) may be wanting to jettison what has become dead weight. Effectively, they may be working against each other at this point.

And, my opinion of Vladimir Putin is declining precipitously. In an irony of ironies,
he's accusing the US of meddling in the Ukrainian elections. And he's resorted to not-so-veiled threats at obstructionism in ragards to Iraq as retaliation:

Mr Putin broadened the dispute yesterday by telling Ayad Allawi, the visiting Iraqi interim Prime Minister, that he could not foresee how Iraqi elections could be held on January 30.
“I cannot imagine how it is possible to organise elections under the conditions of occupation by foreign forces,” he said at a meeting in the Kremlin.

Vlad is clearly still governing in the 1970s and hoping he can rebuild his position into what Kruschev had in the sixties. Clearly the ruling elites haven't learned the lesson that eventually freedom prevails.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Reaffirming my Pessimistic View

is someone who evidently knows a hell of a lot more about the situation than I do:

Kataryna Wolczuk, a Ukraine analyst at Britain's University of Birmingham, says the opposition faces a dilemma.

"This is really a no-win situation for the opposition because either they will get the guarantees [that will ensure a clean vote] but the presidency will be significantly weakened and power will be shifted to the parliament and prime minister, or they won't have the guarantees and they won't be reassured that what happened on 21 November won't be repeated on 26 December," Wolczuk said.

Under Ukraine's current constitution, it is up to the president to nominate members of the election commission, for parliament's approval. Without Kuchma's cooperation, Wolczuk says that Yushchenko risks going into the election facing the same rigged process that defeated him the last time.

The whole article is a worthwhile read as a summary of the situation as it currently stands. It's also the first I have seen in the "real media" of the suggestion that Yanukovich may drop out, thus forcing Yushchenko to gather a majority (50%+) rather than simply the plurality of the votes in the revote December 26th. Something I first heard about from Discoshaman. So for now, I remain convinced that the powers of "status quo" have the upper hand. Not a stranglehold, mind you, but still the upper hand.

On another note, I am bidding on this here painting on ebay:

Feel free to outbid me (if you are quick) - the proceeds go to Maidan's efforts.

Tyrants Hate It

When the people they are oppressing get a chance to see how the free world lives:

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ordered on 17 November that any foreign trip offered to Belarusian children by NGOs, be it for recuperation or adoption, should be authorized by the education minister. "Don't you see what children come back from abroad?" Lukashenka told government officials on 17 November ... "That 'consumeristic' way of life, as people used to say in the Soviet era, has already engulfed all the youth in the country. Children return from abroad doubly infused with consumerism. We do not need such upbringing."


Monday, December 06, 2004

Yushchenko Speaks

Short BBC interview here.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

This Should Get a Big "Well DUH!!"

Tom Nugent's explanation should really be unnecessary.

But, evidently, there are a number of folks, particularly in the media, who don't get it.

So, here goes:

This chart arrays the states by their economic-freedom rankings, and then color-codes the states either red if won by President Bush or blue if won by John Kerry. The chart makes clear that states with the highest level of economic freedom voted for George Bush by a wide margin, while states offering a low level of economic freedom went heavily for Senator Kerry. Across all 50 states, there is strong evidence to support the theory that people who believe in economic freedom have voted with their feet and migrated to states where economic freedom is high. On the other hand, states that have cultivated low economic freedom as defined by the Pacific Research Institute voted for the candidate that best espoused their principles (i.e., less economic freedom).

Those of us who live in red states certainly have a lot to be thankful for. As for those who relish economic freedom but live in blue states, there is an option: They can vote with their feet and move to a red state.

In the meanwhile, the next time you’re told why the red states went red and the blue states blue, you’ll know the real answer.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Putin's Getting Rattled

Putin's behavior would seem to support Orange Ukraine's analysis of Russian involvement in the Ukranian situation (previous post here). Looks like he's firing a shot over the the U.S. bow.

Putin said he was worried by mounting violence and loss of life linked to operations by U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, and said these may disrupt plans to hold elections now scheduled for Jan. 30, 2005.

Again the Russian leader was not specific, but he appeared to be referring to the U.S. operation to crush die-hard insurgents in the Iraqi city of Falluja.

"This may put a question mark over holding of fair and democratic elections in Iraq early next year," he said.

In Russian, I believe that sounds more like "Any tricks you pull in the Ukraine now can be duplicated in Iraq come late January."

All this, of course, on the heels of the Supreme Court of the Ukraine deciding that there will be a revote - and the two candidate runoff that Yushchenko was seeking - by the end of December. I'm not nearly as excited by this prospect as the orange-clad folks partying in the streets of Kiev seem to be. I fail to see what prevents the Kuchma-Putin-Yanukovich power brokers from repeating the sins of two weeks ago.

I'm hoping there's something more that I don't understand.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

And during the 1990s, only Mississippi outpaced Pennsylvania in real per capita state government spending growth. Pennsylvania’s state and local governments will spend more than $100 billion combined this fiscal year. That’s more than $8,200 for every man, woman, and child in the commonwealth—up from nearly $4,400 in 1991.


Is Yanukovich So Horrible?

I mean, I stated in a pre-election post, I thought his rhetoric was pretty mild. And some of the things he stands for seem fairly rational - slow integration into the EU, dual Ukranian-Russian citizenship, Russian as an official second language...

So why the power grab? Why the falsification of elections? And why the disproportionately intense interest of Putin's Russia (with rumors of Russian troops being carted in by the trainload)?

Orange Ukraine (who has joined Yushchenko's team) explains:

Why does the Russian government love Yanukovych so much?

Because they are for style over substance. Yanukovych's style of suppressing the media and the opposition, his disconnect from economic policy relative to power politics, even his very unpopularity in western and central Ukraine is "safer" to the Russian government. The Russian government prefers Yanukovych because he is an illiberal strongman, like it preferred Shevardnadze and supports Lukashenko. Economically-rational and democratic countries will turn to the west because that's where the money and stable democracy is. This is basic self-interest, not a massive propaganda drive by the West against Russia. The Russian government prefers Ukraine to be ruled by a strongman, the more illiberal the better, because it is illiberal and the vast majority of its people poor and oppressed, and each friend that becomes otherwise is a friend it eventually loses touch with, and a dangerous example to ordinary Russians.

That is what is ultimately meant when it is said that Yanukovych is the "Eastern" candidate and Yushchenko the "Western" one. Eastern here means illiberal, economically irrational, and against the interests of ordinary Ukrainians. Ukraine should choose rational economics, improved democracy, and its leaders should act in the people's best interest. Calling that "Western" is a misnomer.

I had feared Yushchenko was Going Soft

but I find this statement heartening.

"If after the supreme court decision, a date for the runoff vote is not fixed, we will take adequate measures against the government," said Yushchenko.


The talk of a Kuchma/Putin backed "compromise" which takes months and sidelines Yushchenko has me worried.