Merry Sodding Orthodox Christmas
And to celebrate, why not check out a rather good round-up of how Vladimir Putin seems to be following in the fine tradition of psychotic Russian despots?
Then why not follow up with a bit more on Andrei Illarionov, the brave Presidential aide and economic advisor who risked going public with his concerns about Putin's policies - especially regarding the Yukos scam - and was sacked for his pains? (And will he soon disappear for re-education like other critics of the regime or be silenced by other methods, one wonders?)
Meanwhile, Yukos is left at a loss over how to get out of this one - as Illarionov rightly pointed out, "This entire affair regrettably demonstrates that any of the official or semiofficial explanations given to the public regarding the Yukos affair do not have a leg to stand on". The same could be said about official Russian proclamations on pretty much any aspect of society.
Putin's style of government is becoming increasingly reminiscent of the tactics of the Soviets under which he first made a name for himself. Perhaps the best Christmas present the West could offer ordinary Russians is finally to condemn Putin for what he is - a thoroughly unpleasant bastard. I mean, hey - we got rid of Saddam because he was a tyrant - why not the equally undemocratic and autocratic Putin?
But then again, we really, really can't risk pissing him off...
Ukrainian crisis - the aftermath
Discoshaman provides a roundup of recent developments, including the news that "Yanukovych has brought a fifth complaint to the Supreme Court, hoping to overturn the elections. Even his own spokesman doesn't sound hopeful. The Court will consider his complaint tomorrow. The Central Election Commission head has decided not to certify the results until hearing from the Court."
Over at Yorkshire Ranter, Alex has an interesting piece dissecting some of the more stupid commentaries on the Ukrainian election crisis. Specifically, the opinions of Jonathan Steele in the Guardian. He does, it must be admitted, have a tendency to spout nonsense - the Ranter's piece, however, is a great dismissal of Steele's take on events, and well worth a read for anyone who has been following the Ukrainian situation.
Meanwhile, Foreign Notes has a good piece on Ukraine's blossoming economy, although how this will be affected by the new natural gas deal with Turkmenistan (necessitated after the Turkmens cut off the vital supply to Ukraine on New Year's Eve to force a new contract) remains to be seen.
And two of the major outside influences on the election now have to ponder what to learn from the experience, as Russia wonders what went wrong, and some in the US wonder whether America's alliance with Russia is more important than helping democracy in former soviet states.
The Ukraine crisis will likely have major repercussions - it remains too early to tell what form they may take, but it seems likely that the major changes will be seen not within the country's borders, but in the attitudes of other states with a stake in the region.
Whether these changes will be for the benefit of the inhabitants or of outside influences I have no idea, but I can't say I'm too hopeful that the wishes of the Ukrainian people will remain on the minds of observers from further afield for too much longer... I'll try and keep intermittently on the case, but it seems most people's interests have shifted elsewhere - natural disasters have a tendency of drawing attention to themselves, after all.
Hey - chuck enough money at a problem, it'll go away eventually
Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that people are donating in their droves - and that various countries are continuing to up their pledges as a result. It looks like since Colin Powell's visit (it'll be a real shame when he's gone) the US may up its donation again, so we can but hope that some real impact can be made.
But as aeuropean rightly says, money won't solve everything - in the early days they were calling for heavy lifting equipment, now doctors, soon (I hope) they'll need builders, carpenters and the like to help rebuild. Quite what practical help any of us can be, so many miles away, I have no idea - but every little counts.
Not that I've actually helped at all - just moaned like the typical whinging bastard that I am. Nothing's ever going to be good enough, because the scale of the problem - and not just in the tsunami-affected areas but around the world, as I have pointed out in another post - is overwhelming.
That, of course, doesn't mean we shouldn't try - but I'm still rather worried about the motivations of certain governments when it comes to this particular tragedy:
- The UK is (almost certainly) in an election year and the Labour government don't want to be seen to be stingy
- US President Bush is entering his second term, and seems to see placating the largely Muslim Indonesia as a good PR move which may help prove to those sympathetic to those evil terrorists that America isn't the Great Satan after all
- Most disgracefully of all of these is the fact that India has rejected foreign aid entirely - largely because it wants a place on the UN Security Council, and so wants to prove it can cope on its own
: This is a repeat - with a few hastily added links - of a comment I made to one of my earlier posts on the tsunami aftermath
(By the way, to follow up on one of the other comments to that post regarding the relative scale of aid, has anyone else noticed that the United States' second pledge of $350 million to the tsunami-hit regions is but a tenth of the controversial $3 billion aid promised to that staunch ally in the war on terror (and military dictatorship), Pakistan?)
Médecins sans frontières halts fundraising
Le Monde reports that major charity/aid agency MSF has decided to stop raising funds for tsunami victims, largely thanks to the overwhelming response. They have currently received over 41 million euros and, if they carry on fundraising, they'll apparently end up with more money than they can realistically put to good use.
It's very easy to start wondering how they can be so stupid as to refuse money - especially (as the same Le Monde article points out) when after the Iranian earthquake just over a year ago so few of the promised funds were actually delivered. Shouldn't MSF continue collecting - even if only to stash the cash in a high-interest account to be put to other good use later on or to pass the money on to other organisations working in the region? Better too much than too little, surely?
But the level of support for the tsunami victims is quite astonishing - almost unimaginable amounts of money have been pledged by governments and public alike. It is not hard to see aid agencies becoming overwhelmed.
However (as MSF and others have pointed out), it would be rather nice if - at the same time - there could be similar levels of support for other, less photogenically dramatic humanitarian crises in the forgotten corners of the globe.
The recent cover-version of the Band Aid single did well in the run-up to Christmas, but was so utterly dire many people couldn't bring themselves to buy it. Now the tsunami disaster has blotted out the on-going problems in Africa and elsewhere once again, just as the talentless but well-intentioned pop "stars" behind the charity record seemed about to raise the profile of those dying in Ethiopa and elsewhere once more.
Here's a thought - if you're planning to donate to help the tsunami victims, why not bunk a percentage of your planned donation towards the African famine sufferers, and help them out a bit as well?
Nosemonkey would now like to apologise for sounding even more self-righteous than usual.
Prodi ups the constitutional stakes
I just caught the start of this interview with ex-European Commission President Romano Prodi on the Today Programme this morning (needs RealPlayer), but what little I did hear seemed to threaten a mini-crisis for pro-Europeans.
There doesn't appear to be a transcript yet, so this isn't verbatim, but he said something along the lines of "any referendum on the European constitution is not just about the constitution - it is about the EU itself."
This is patently bollocks, but as there is a fairly good chance a referendum on this particular constitution may be lost (assuming the UK ever gets around to holding one - which considering how many other referenda have to be won in other member states before ours isn't that likely), should this be the case the anti-EU cause will instantly be bolstered far more than simply winning the referendum vote. They will also then have a former Commission President's words to back up their claim that a "no" vote on the constitution is a vote to withdraw from the EU.
We shouldn't read more into the potential rejection of this constitution than is necessary. If it isn't approved, a new (doubtless watered-down) version will be drawn up. Considering the complexity and confusion of the current document, this could well be the best thing for Europe.
I am largely pro-EU, and am one of the few people who doesn't HAVE to who has read the constitution all the way through (fun, fun, fun!), yet I'm still not entirely sure whether I would vote "yes" to ratify it were I offered the chance in a referendum.
Most people haven't read the whole thing and so will have to rely on biased (either pro or anti) summaries from the press; even if they do read the entire thing, most people are not well enough versed in European law or the language of diplomatic relations to make any sense of the thing.
It's not a simple push towards greater integration, no matter what the Eurosceptics may claim; equally, it is not simply a tidying up exercise, as the pro-EU camp has argued. Even if you are capable of reading and understanding the constitution in its current form, it's so bloody big and convoluted it's nearly impossible to tell what the hell it actually stands for - if, indeed, it actually stands for anything.
There's no doubt a witty comment about the constitution being a metaphor for the EU itself to be made here - after all, it's very hard to get agreement on what the EU stands for these days. This is precisely why we need a constitution - but why couldn't we simply have followed the American model?
Update: Both The Road to Euro Serfdom and Lose the Delusion have takes on this as well - not about Prodi's comments, but those of EU Secretary General Javier Solana who, while not going as far as Prodi, has stated the obvious fact that if the constitution is rejected there will be consequences for the EU relations of those member states whose citizens don't fancy it much. This will, of course, largely be because those states which do ratify it will be a tad pissed off that they can't go ahead and do what they want because people in other countries don't want to. In other words, the checks and balances of the EU system will be frustrating those who want greater integration, while those who don't will be able to carry on pretty much as before - the EU project will (for now, at least) progress only as quickly as its most reluctant members will allow.
Update 2: Via the ever-interesting Political Theory Daily Review, a good American summary of the proposed European constitution and its problems: "The document reads more like the by-laws of a very large corporation or a bureaucratic behemoth rather than like a constitution organizing the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government... It could thus seem that this entire proposed "Constitution for Europe" may be the first draft needed to grow the concept out of its initial amorphous neutered stage into an organized system of mature checks and balances... Let's hope so. A vigorous debate might just create the conditions needed to transfer the discussion from the "artful compromise" full of brilliant yet seemingly paralyzing definitions to the design of a practical fundamental law democratically determined by an in-formed electorate."