Thursday, December 23, 2004

Russia: a hint of ape-shit mental

Following the confirmation that Russia is not a free country after ongoing rumours of dodgy dealings in the run-up to the Russian presidential election, allegations of cover-ups to prevent knowledge of the true nature of the Beslan tragedy spreading, and suggestions that Russian troops were present in Ukraine to help enforce fraudulent election results last month, now it seems Putin is turning his beady, ex-KGB eyes on the economy.

Russia's second-largest oil company, Yukos, has been in trouble for a while now, and was finally declared bankrupt a couple of months ago. Its troubles began in October 2003, when its multi-billionaire owner (and harsh critic of Putin), Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested onboard his private jet by masked members of the Russian security forces - he has been held in gaol ever since. His crime? Well, there are allegations of fraud (quite likely to be true in post-Soviet Russia), but many feel his biggest crime was buying up an anti-Putin newspaper and then using it to attack the government. But hey, Russia's all for freedom of the press... that CAN'T be true, can it?

Over the last week, Russia has started to sell of chunks of Yukos, despite court injunctions, and looks set to be by far the biggest beneficiary - it has just emerged that the state-owned oil firm Rosneft (which has one of the most brilliantly futuro-fascist corporate flash sites I've ever seen) has bought a sizable chunk of its erstwhile rival at a knock-down price. So the state has caused the bankruptcy of a company, and then bought up some of the assets. Lovely...

Oh, and lest I forget, should you be Russian and wish to elect a representative to the Duma who shares your views, tough. Today it is likely that Putin's plan to remove the right to vote for candidates will be rubber-stamped, leaving Russians the choice of voting for parties only. Sound familiar?

What to learn from all this? Simple - don't fuck with Putin, he's a vicious bastard. Yes, we knew that already, but this is just another prime example that Yeltsin knew very well what he was doing when he promoted Putin from nowhere to head the largest country in the world. This man is ideal dictator material - cold, calculating, ruthless, and with a hint of ape-shit mental about him.

After a lifetime of fascination with Russian culture (and the near inevitable off-shoot of political and historical interest), from Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Checkov through Solzhenitsyn, Eisenstein and the harsh beauty of Soviet propaganda posters, it seems that despite the end of the Cold War the closest I am likely to get to visiting is flying over St Petersberg at 30,000 feet on my way to Japan (see pic). Russia is right up there with Iraq and Zimbabwe on my "places not to visit in 2005" list.

For more reasons to be scared and depressed about Russia, try Siberian Light's superb weekly news round-ups.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More on ID

(Geddit? More on - "Moron"? God, I crack me up...)

Following yesterday's post, there have been a few more responses to the government's attempts to peer into every aspect of our lives. This will, after all, be dragging on for ages...

DoctorVee reckons I've lost all sense of proportion and got a few things wrong, while The Yorkshire Ranter confirms my suspicions that I don't in a piece that looks into the practicalities of the things a bit more.

In the real world, Labour are soaring ahead in the polls despite (because of?) all this - although Dead Men Left notes that poll support for ID cards is misleading; stripped of its "war on terror" rhetoric, and with the cost of the scheme laid out, it disappears entirely.

Meanwhile, to keep loyalists onside, the rumours start that the Tories may drop their support for ID cards after the election - Guido notes that nearly half the parliamentary Conservative party abstained... Our own blogging Tory, Boris, was one of those who had more pressing engagements - he promises an explanation on Thursday. And during the confusion, UKIP again try to gain more Tory votes.

Where next? Well, if it carries on like this, somewhere warm and sunny overseas is sounding increasingly appealing... As for the kerfuffle over ID - God alone knows. Although I'm increasingly beginning to suspect that the government is suggesting the worst so that we'll all be massively relieved when these things are finally introduced in a watered-down version.

And for those who aren't convinced by any of the anti-ID arguments, my main problem with the thing is that I know how crap I am at remembering things. I've lost ten cigarette lighters in the last two months - those only cost 50p to replace; no matter how much ID cards will be, I know I'll be losing the bloody things all the time and object to the introduction of what is - for me - effectively a tax on the absent-minded.

The fact that the government will have a handy database of most of the contents of that mind, as well as the ability to retrace my steps for me to discover the last time I used the thing, just freaks me out.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The problem(s) with ID cards

Everyone I've spoken to recently has been doing the same old "if you've done nothing wrong..." arguments, usually followed by the "so what's the big deal?" line. Normally, after a five minute rant, I manage to convince them that this is one of the most intrusive and unpleasantly fascistic laws this country has yet seen, that it's the first step down the slippery slope to genetic databases and every dystopia ever envisaged.

But usually what gets them is "what? I'll have to pay eighty-five quid for this thing?"

For those wanting a few more details, check the ever-enraged No2ID campaign (an organisation I would happily promote via a banner on this site were it not for their use of the number two to replace the perfectly good word "to") and, via Martin Stabe, a point-by-point demolition of the ID cards bill by the people behind Spyblog, who have a wealth of ID information.

The Lords aren't going to let this through in its current form, don't worry. However, all that means these days is a two year delay before Uncle Tony forces the thing through. The government won't listen to us if we go on protest marches (cf. the million-person march against the war on Iraq), they won't listen to us if we present reasoned arguments (cf. the Law Lords declaring detention without trial to be illegal), they won't listen to us if we get violent (cf. the later stages of the campaign to protect hunting).

The only language politicians understand is VOTES, and the only thing they feel represents this is letters from constituents - but only if they are short, contain no exclamation marks, and don't sound overly emotional.

  • If you vote for a candidate who supports ID cards, you are voting to be turned into cattle.
  • If your MP is bound by a three-line whip, and so abstained yesterday rather than go against the party line, write to them. Remind them that it is their party which is in the wrong, so it is their duty to go against this most intrusive of pieces of legislation.
  • Especially if they are a Tory, remind them that this is going against three hundred years of tradition; point them in the direction of The 1952 Committee; remind them of Churchill winning the 1951 election on the basis of scrapping wartime ID; tell them this could have been their route back to office (OK, that's a lie, but it could massively have improved their chances)
Whatever you do, don't be fooled into thinking ID cards will help you or make you safer. Think about it for just a couple of seconds, read into it in more detail, and you'll see it's a nonsense. Not just any nonsense, but a truly dangerous one.

Oooh, those Russians

Russia reaches lowest state of 'freedom' since collapse of USSR. This is according to Freedom House - a non-profit, non-partisan body which has monitored global democracy for some sixty years. Their accompanying press release marks Russia as the only country to become 'not free' citing:

"[the] flawed nature of the country's parliamentary elections in December 2003 and presidential elections in 2004, the further consolidation of state control of the media, and the imposition of official curbs on opposition political parties and groups. Russia's retreat from freedom marks a low point not registered since 1989, when the country was part of the Soviet Union."

Monday, December 20, 2004

Only 93 MPs deserve our respect

That's how many voted against the ID card bill just now. Many more abstained - but let's face it, that simply isn't good enough.

Angry and afraid. More tomorrow, if time.

Trackback enabled

Assuming I haven't cocked it up - ta to Eulogist from Relections on European Democracy for pointing me in the right direction. Now if anyone can tell me how to get rid of the Haloscan comments and just leave the trackback thing, that'd be all great and stuff...

Oh... Sorry, this blog's meant to be about politics isn't it? So, have the worst headline from a think tank I can remember in a fair while, courtesy of an actually rather good article from the IPPR:

Human rights are a basic human right

Coming soon: Shock new finding - a tautological tautology is a tautology!

Edit: OK, bollocks - it's buggered everything up. If anyone can tell me how to stop all the comments from displaying on the main page, and how to get rid of the multiple comments sections it'd be much appreciated. I'll leave it like this for the time being, but if I can't work it out in the next day or so, I'm afraid trackback will have to be scrapped again.

Edit 2: Right, got rid of Haloscan comments (ta, DoctorVee), but the Blogger ones are still displaying in full, even though all I changed in the template was the addition of Haloscan. Anyone got any ideas? At all?

Yes, Nosemonkey is indeed rubbish.

This is why I shouldn't play with the internet...

Edit 3: Right. I think I've got it sorted. Finally. After two days... But no trackbacks are showing up even on posts I know have been linked to elsewhere. It's all very confusing... I'll leave it in place for a couple of weeks to see if I like it (and if it starts to work) .

Ukraine TV debate

So, Yuschenko and Yanukovych are going to slug it out on TV, are they?

I'm desperately trying to work out the point, as the whole rhetoric of the last few weeks seems to be made up almost exclusively of personal attacks, threats and accusations. Are these two bitterly opposed candidates really going to debate policy issues in the midst of ongoing mass protests, while desperate efforts are still going on to ready the country for the unprecedented re-run elections on Boxing Day?

I can't see it myself. If they stick to policy it'll only looked forced - unless the entire debate is about foreign policy, but then each candidate risks looking like a tool of either Moscow or Washington/Brussels. I can't see any way that Yushchenko's poisoning or the threats of certain regions in the east to split off from the rest of the country - let alone the on-going protests and the scenes of the tent city - could not be raised in a properly free discussion, so I can't see that it's in either candidate's interest to have a completely free debate. The events and accusations of the last few weeks are bound to dominate, not the things that should truly matter.

Especially at this late stage, what is the point of dialogue? The country is so polarised I really can't see there being any swing voters left. The thing to do is simply get the elections out the way as quickly and cleanly as possible and then set about rebuilding stability, not start more slanging matches.

A good summary of recent Ukrainian developments is here.

(Note: Blogging on Europhobia may be intermittent over the next couple of weeks - as I imagine is the same with many bloggers, what with this whole Christmas business and all. We'll try to get something up every day, but it may be tricky...)

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