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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘politics

[LINK] “It’s a Scary Time to Be Super-Rich in Ukraine”

Carol Matlack’s Bloomberg BusinessWeek article talking about the position of Ukrainian oligarchs in post-revolutionary Ukraine is worth noting, not least because an alliance between them and the new government would go a long way towardss cementing the country’s unity.

Other oligarchs could play an important role in Ukraine’s future—if for no other reason than that they control, by some estimates, more than one-fifth of the country’s gross national product. Take Rinat Akhmetov: Ukraine’s richest man holds an estimated $12.9 billion fortune that includes control of half Ukraine’s steel, coal, and electricity production. “He controls hundreds of thousands of jobs” and is immensely popular in his home region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, says Matthew Rojansky of the Wilson Center in Washington. “He’s not going anywhere.”

Most of the oligarchs started building their empires under previous governments, and many enjoy good relations with opposition parties. Billionaire financier Igor Kolomoyski, for example, helped bankroll past campaigns by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed by Yanukovych but now looks set for a comeback. “Each of the major oligarchs has got several dozen votes they control” in the national parliament, including some from opposition parties, Rojansky says.

Some business leaders began openly criticizing the government last year, after Yanukovych touched off the protests by spurning a trade agreement with the European Union. They included Akhmetov, media tycoon Dmitry Firtash, industrialist and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk, and confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko.

These oligarchs supported the trade deal “because they want to export to Europe,” Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote in a commentary for the BBC published in December. “Most of all,” he added, “they desire legal protection against raids by the Yanukovych ‘family.’”

[. . .]

Most of the oligarchs haven’t said much since Yanukovych’s ouster. “They’re trying to stay as neutral as possible, conserve their wealth,” says economist Tim Ash of Standard Bank in London. “They want European integration, but they don’t want to piss the Russians off, either.”

Written by Randy McDonald

March 18, 2014 at 7:34 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Beyond the Beyond’s Bruce Sterling shares a United Nations reaction to a United States human rights report.
  • The Dragon’s Tales observes one model for the climate of the ancient Earth and notes that, on the basis of ancient DNA, ancient Europeans were not uniformly white.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes studies of the galactic habitable zones of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies.
  • Eastern Approaches reacts to the recent Crimean vote.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Perelstvaig shares a post about Irish cuisine over time.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the recent visit paid by American evangelist Michael Brown to Peru to try to spread anti-gay ideology.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, the argument is made that the Democratic Party really has shifted left.
  • James Nicoll, at More Words, Deeper Hole, notes the racism of environmentalist Garret Hardin.
  • The New APPS Blog tackles the question of the extent to which the anti-Semitism and Naziism of Heidegger informed his philosophy.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy is unimpressed by the Crimean referendum.
  • Window on Eurasia shares the warning of Andrei Ilarionov that Russia plans on annexing and dominating far more of Ukraine than Crimea.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Anders Sandberg of Andart links to a paper suggesting that mind emulations–uploaded human minds–are likely to arrive not too late after 2050.
  • Cody Delistraty wonders why writers are so often depressed and in bad relationship.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that analyses of the atmospheres of five hot Jupiters.
  • The Dragon’s Tale observes evidence that First Nations in British Columbia practiced mariculture.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog observes that Euroskepticism and hostility towards the Euro is growing in Italy.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money takes note of Paul Ryan’s tone-deaf statement about inner-city men.
  • Marginal Revolution argues that, at least in the United States, large amounts of property are held by governments which don’t make use of them.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wades into the question of just how many constitutions Argentina actually has had.
  • Towleroad links to Stephen Colbert’s interview with former Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl.
  • The Way the Future Blogs shares an old Frederik Pohl article from 1988 describing his experiences on a book tour.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that apparently more Russians don’t believe Ukraine is a nation and think Russia has legitimate claims on Ukrainian territory, and shares an article written by one man who thinks this threatens Russia’s future.

[URBAN NOTE] On the growing likelihood of Toronto mayor Olivia Chow

Surprising absolutely no one, former Toronto city councillor and (until yesterday) NDP MP for the riding of Trinity-Spadina Olivia Chow announced that she was leaving Parliament to run as a candidate in this year’s mayoral election. CBC:

Olivia Chow officially launched her campaign to be Toronto’s next mayor, saying that “it’s time for change” in Toronto, promising to take the city in a new direction from the “failed” leadership of incumbent Rob Ford.

“We need a new mayor for a better city and I’m here to apply for the job,” Chow said.

Speaking of her humble beginnings in a struggling immigrant family, Chow told the crowd in St. James Town — the neighbourhood where she grew up — that she learned not to spend what you don’t have, to work hard for what you want and how that has shaped her view of Toronto and what the city needs to thrive.

[. . .]

“In the last four years we have paid more and more and got less and less. We are paying more to take the TTC, but we’re waiting longer for buses and packed into them like sardines,” Chow said, also speaking of the unemployment rate and the vulnerable younger generation.

Although Chow made no direct mention of Ford’s admission that he smoked crack cocaine and bought illegal drugs while mayor, nor his videotaped booze-fuelled rants, she emphasized how disappointing he has been and how he is not someone who could ever be a role model for children.

“The current mayor’s disappointing leadership has let us down over and over again. He has failed to make the critical investments our city needs to stay competitive … the current mayor is failing at his job and he is no role model for my granddaughters,” she said.

The major candidates that have declared their intention to run for mayor have so far been right-leaning, fiscal conservatives. Chow, a notable New Democrat, has already tried to contrast comments about left-wing overspending her rivals have spoken about.

Chow, appearing on CBC News Network later Thursday afternoon, noted she was on the city’s budget committee, under then-mayor Mel Lastman, for five years, during which time the books
were balanced.

blogTO and Torontoist both commented yesterday on the near-certainty that Chow would run. Combing through my archives, I find a note from last March on the possibility that, according to various polls, Olivia Chow would beat Rob Ford in a direct mayoral run, and another on her admission that she was considering a run. These, incidentally, preceded news of Ford’s crack tape and the various ridiculous sequelae.

Chow has a solid political record behind her, like most of the candidates announced so far. Chow’s advantage? Metro Toronto‘s Matt Elliott had earlier suggested that, given that three of the four highest-profile candidates (Rob Ford, John Tory, Karen Stintz) were on the right, Olivia Chow was the only candidate running from the left. If she was unopposed by any high-profile candidates, presumably she would have a considerable advantage over others.

Plus, it’s time for a mayor from the downtown again. (Amalgamated Toronto, as my friend Leeman pointed out to me earlier, seems to alternate between left-leaning mayors from the downtown and right-leaning mayors from the suburbs.)

Will I be voting for Chow? Unless something changes, I will. I suspect I won’t be alone in doing so. Having someone more ideologically sympathetic to me in office who isn’t prone to doing any number of ethically problematic and potentially criminal acts is something I’d enjoy. At the very, very worst, if there ever did turn out to be an Olivia Chow crack tape, I’m sure it would be a tasteful crack tape.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 14, 2014 at 1:55 am

[URBAN NOTE] “Ford Nation a lot smaller on YouTube”

NOW Toronto‘s Ben Spurr notes that Ford Nation, the official YouTube channel of Toronto mayor Rob and his councillor brother Doug Ford, hasn’t had the following of either their radio show or their single episode on SUN TV last year. This, I suppose, isn’t exactly a big shocker. Right?

The first episode, posted on February 4, did well, averaging 23,289.3 viewers* for its four segments. But since then it’s been downhill. The second episode reached an average of 9,337 people for each of its six videos, and the third and latest instalment, released on February 26, garnered an average of only 5,346 viewers over its three segments.

[. . .]

By conservative estimates the City, the radio show they hosted on CFRB Newstalk 1010 for almost two years, was broadcasting to upwards of 80,000 people every week by the time it was cancelled last fall, with huge spikes on Sundays after new developments in the mayor’s crack scandal.

When they moved to TV as the scandal roiled in mid November, their single episode on the Sun News Network nabbed 155,000 viewers, which the channel’s vice president Korey Teneycke said at the time made it “biggest night ever for Sun News by a country mile.”

[. . .]

One reason is simply the demographics of the internet, according to David Bray, creative director at Bray & Partners and an expert on the radio market. The people who listened to the Fords’ radio show are unlikely to watch the YouTube series, he says.

“CFRB listeners are somewhat older,” says Bray. “It does appeal largely to the 55-plus crowd… Would that same constituency move over to online? Very unlikely, because clearly that demographic isn’t as active online.”

The online show’s content is also a problem. While the Ford brothers appeared to maintain a high degree of control over their radio show, they did usually take phone calls from listeners or had guests on. There was at least the potential for unscripted moments.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 13, 2014 at 9:35 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Charlie Stross speculates about the recent tragic crash of Malaysian Airline’s flight MH370 off the Vietnamese coast. Does the fradulent use of passports indicate terrorism?
  • The Dragon’s Gaze suggests that Beta Pictoris has another exoplanet in addition to Beta Pictoris b, which is photographed.
  • The Dragon’s Tale, meanwhile, notes that China is not supportive of Russia’s move into Crimea.
  • At the Everyday Sociology Blog, Peter Kaufman shares his experience of Crimea, attending a multinational youth camp in the late Soviet period.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Alex Harrowell notes that the balance of soft power in Ukraine has been tilted towards the West and the European Union, not Russia, and is becoming even more West-leaning.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Perelstvaig traces the complex language and human geography of Ukraine.
  • Joe. My. God. links to the Pet Shop Boys’ remix of Irish drag queen Panti Bliss’ speech about gay rights.
  • Language Log notes a study suggesting that elephants apparently have warning signals for human beings.
  • Marginal Revolution links to an article exploring the Dutch construction of an online site for journalism akin to iTunes, and notes Ukraine’s very weak post-Soviet economic growth.
  • Registan’s Nathan Barrick analyses Ukraine’s situation, suggesting that some deal with Russia will be necessary and worring about civil society elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
  • Towleroad describes how Neil Patrick Harris has become a popular gay icon.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy links to a claim by a former worker at a left-leaning American think tank, the Center for American Progress, that it was censoring itself in order to avoid offending Obama.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Centauri Dreams notes that some astronomers have come up with methods for measuring the densities of the atmospheres of difference exoplanets.
  • Crooked Timber’s Chris Bertram thinks that the state of the migration debate in the United Kingdom is grim, given what he thinks is the toughness of even a liberal proposal.
  • Eastern Approaches notes that the Czech Republic and Slovakia aren’t as vocal in their support of Ukraine against Russia as Poland.
  • At the Everyday Sociology Blog, Karen Sternheimer explores the role of justifications and excuses in culture.
  • Far Outliers notes that, on the eve of the First World War, Germany lacked settler colonies.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog worries that Croatia might not be able to make effective use of European Union funds.
  • Language Hat notes that Western-style romance novels were popular samizdat in the Soviet Union.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair argues that, between influence from foreign languages and technology, the Chinese language is evolving rapidly.
  • Marginal Revolution notes an argument that state-formation in Europe might have been driven by economics not military affairs.
  • Towleroad notes the recent progressive court ruling on gay sex in Lebanon.

[LINK] Various links on the Russia of Putin as a global conservative power

Over on Facebook, my friend Andrew joked that Putin was the president that Republicans wished the United States had: a man who persecuted non-heterosexuals, who waved the Red White and Blue, who was backed by the Church, who invaded foreign countries.

The thing is, it wasn’t a joke. Putin’s Russia really has been mounting a very visible effort to promote itself as a global standard-bearer for conservative values. In a December essay, no less a person than Patrick Buchanan identified Putin as a supporter of the paleoconservative brand of right-wing thought. Writing at The Atlantic, Brian Whitmore outlined what was afoot.

The Kremlin leader’s full-throated defense of Russia’s “traditional values” and his derision of the West’s “genderless and infertile” liberalism in his annual state-of-the-nation address last week was just the latest example of Putin attempting to place himself at the vanguard of a new “Conservative International.”

The speech came on the heels of the appointment of Dmitry Kiselyov—the television anchor who has said the hearts of gays and lesbians who die should be buried or burned—as head of the new Kremlin-run media conglomerate Rossia Segodnya.

And just days before Putin’s address, the Center for Strategic Communications, an influential Kremlin-connected think tank, held a press conference in Moscow to announce its latest report. The title: “Putin: World Conservatism’s New Leader.”

According to excerpts from the report cited in the media, most people yearn for stability and security, favor traditional family values over feminism and gay rights, and prefer nation-based states rather than multicultural melting pots. Putin, the report says, stands for these values while “ideological populism of the left” in the West “is dividing society.”

[. . .]

The Kremlin apparently believes it has found the ultimate wedge issue to unite its supporters and divide its opponents, both in Russia and the West, and garner support in the developing world. They seem to believe they have found the ideology that will return Russia to its rightful place as a great power with a messianic mission and the ability to win hearts and minds globally.

As the West becomes increasingly multicultural, less patriarchal and traditional, and more open to gay rights, Russia will be a lodestone for the multitudes who oppose this trajectory. Just as the Communist International, or Comintern, and what Soviet ideologists called the “correlation of forces” sought to unite progressive elements around the globe behind Moscow, the world’s traditionalists will now line up behind Putin.

Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic provided a bit of background for this.

All the way back in 1946, with Nazi Germany defeated and the cold war commencing, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on James Burnham. The author of The Managerial Revolution and a leading political philosopher, Burnham was a frequent contributor to the young National Review, and, more broadly, a leading voice of postwar American conservatism.

What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”

Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.

This variety of pessimism did not end with Burnham, unfortunately. During the nearly 50 year Cold War, Americans were informed time and again by rightwingers that the Soviet Union did not allow dissent, and could therefore pursue its desired policies without protest. While the Soviets were single-minded, we were, yes, decadent. Soviet leaders could fight wars as they pleased, but freedom-loving presidents like Ronald Reagan had to put up with what Charles Krauthammer laughably called an “imperial Congress.” (Some of the same type of commentary shows up about today’s China: look how quickly the Chinese can build bridges! And, as Thomas Friedman proves, it isn’t coming solely from the right.) But more unique among conservatives is the desire for a tough leader who will dispense with niceties and embrace power.

The reason for all this ancient history is the situation today in Ukraine, where an autocratic Russian leader who exudes manly vibes has ordered his armed forces into Crimea. It is unclear whether this move on Russia’s part will prove successful, but, amidst uncertaintly among western leaders over what to do, there has arisen a new strain of the Burnham syndrome. Conservatives don’t just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin’s bullying. “There is something odd,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “about commentators who denounce Putin in the strongest terms and yet pine for a more Putin-like figure in the White House.”

I’ve seen bits of this myself, people commenting at right-wing blogs about their preference for Putin over Obama, based largely on their stance on cultural issues. Russia doesn’t have gay marriage, therefore Russia is better.

Writing at The Federalist, David Ernst made the point that the effort at outreach is global, Europe particularly being a focus.

Putin’s appeal to right in Europe is far more serious. In his speech to the Duma in June of last year French rightwing geostrategist Aymeric Chauprade claimed to address Russia “as a French Patriot” who sees “Russia as a historical ally.” He decried the color revolutions, the legalization of gay marriage in his home country, the Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN, and the willful sacrilege of pussy riot. He characterized these unwelcome developments as the result of “the alliance of Western globalism with anarchist nihilism” which persist courtesy of American financial and military might. In what undoubtedly flattered the Kremlin’s elite, Chauprade concluded with the bold declaration that the world’s true patriots “now turn their attention to Moscow.” For most Americans it is likely tempting to dismiss Chauprade as a crank: a representative of a loud fringe element that lacks any real political influence. Recent polling data, projections for the EU elections this May, and the Hungarian government’s recent solicitation of a 14 billion dollar loan from Moscow, however, suggest that Putin’s right turn coincides with widespread European disenchantment with the EU. Indeed, European trust in the government in Brussels is at an all time low. Moreover, as the British academic Matthew Goodwin pointed out, the stubborn persistence of the Eurozone crisis will likely yield many voters who will go to the polls to vent their frustrations.

Russia’s growing influence in European affairs begs the question, how can policymakers in Brussels counter Putin’s charms? More specifically, how can they address the grievances that many Europeans have against the EU, and indeed the transatlantic alliance itself? The dispiriting answer increasingly appears to be that they cannot; the only electoral trump card that the EU bureaucrats can play against Euroskeptics and the European radical right is the promise of continued economic growth, and the survival of Europe’s generous social programs. Other essential elements of the human condition: religious faith, national identity and a spiritual sense of purpose have no place in their discourse, or indeed in the EU’s very reason for existing. Putin has shrewdly chosen a debate over hearts and minds with an opponent who is entirely ill equipped to respond.

All this fits into the geopolitical doctrine of Eurasianism that seems to have been adopted by the Russian government, one that seeks to hold the Anglo-American powers (and China) at bay while consolidating the ex-Soviet periphery into Russia. Russia has tried to discourage its neighbours from entering into closer ties with the European Union by emphasizing the supposedly malign influence of European culture–Armenia, for one, may have opted for the Eurasian Union over the European Union because of this.

In the American Conservative, Leon Hadar cautioned against some American conservatives’ fondness as a basic misreading of the Russian situation.

The bottom line is that Putin is first and foremost an autocratic right-wing nationalist who not unlike the fascist-communist clique ruling Beijing could care less if other countries embrace his political model or not, as long as Russian interests—and his—are being served.

You could have probably said the same thing about the communists who ruled Russia in the last century. They enunciated their commitment to the idea of the international solidarity of the socialist parties, but at the end of the day, the national interests of Russia took precedence over any universal principles, just as they do now.

Putin, contrary to the fantasies of some paleoconservatives in the West, doesn’t even pretend to speak for the world’s conservatives, traditionalist or otherwise. Hence it was weird to hear Western critics of the European Union (EU) applaud Russia’s attempts to sabotage an agreement between Kiev and Brussels, suggesting that Putin was trying to defend the national sovereignty of Ukraine against the expanding power of the Eurocrats.

But it is ridiculous to portray Putin as an ally of the Euroskeptics battling the creation of European super-state, when what he really wants is to tie Ukraine to his own Eurasian economic community that will be ruled from Moscow by his own political apparatchiks instead of Brussels’. Putin’s super-state for poor people, if you will.

Will it really help them in the future? And will Russia’s appeal to the Atlantic right survive the current crisis?

Written by Randy McDonald

March 6, 2014 at 3:20 am

[NEWS] Four links on Ukraine, Russia, Crimea, Tatars, and the European Union

  • At Pando, veteran journalist Mark Ames has an article (“Everything you know about Ukraine is wrong”) arguing, from a generally pro-Maidan perspective, about the ongoing issues in Ukrainian (it’s a contest between factions backed by different oligarchies, fascism isn’t especially a Ukrainian issue, et cetera).
  • The Atlantic‘s William Schreiber writes in “The Hidden Costs of a Russian Statelet in Ukraine” about the economic costs of a protracted Russian occupation of Crimea. In other regions, like Abkhazia and Transnistria, Russia has found itself spending billions of dollars to prop up local economies. Crimea, with two million people, is much bigger than all of these unrecognized states combined.
  • Via Jussi Jalonen on Facebook, I found an Andrew Wilson Guardian article suggesting that Crimean Tatars are starting to mobilize against Russia. Crimean Tatars have, post-1991, strongly opposed Russian influence; militias are reportedly starting to form.
  • MacLean’s shares an Associated Press article suggesting that, if the European Union and Russia applied sanctions against each other, the effects could be significant. Russia, which depends on the EU as its major export market, would be hit disproportionately, but the European Union would also have to find alternate sources of gas.

[URBAN NOTE] “Toronto election: Which conservative mayor?”

Matt Elliott’s column in today’s Metro, about the way in which multiple right-leaning candidates in the upcoming Toronto mayoral elections, outlines Toronto’s situation. The election of left-leaning Olivia Chow is starting to seem like a done deal. (But what else will come?)

With both Karen Stintz and John Tory officially signing up to join Rob Ford and David Soknacki last week, there are now four major right-of-centre candidates in the race for Toronto’s top office. It’s a situation that already has some pundits worrying about vote-splitting, fearful that a fractured electorate will pretty much hand the mayor’s job to Olivia Chow in October.

[. . .]

They’re all taking a different approach. Stintz, for example, is positioning herself as Mayor Mom, talking up her ability to relate with tales of mortgages and her kids’ soccer games. The positive approach is good, but she sure risks coming off as pandering.

Tory, meanwhile, has taken a more business-oriented approach. His platform so far is limited to repeating the words “livable, affordable, functional.” The subtext there isn’t hard to read, especially with his emphasis on the word “functional.” If Ford’s 2010 campaign was about stopping David Miller’s gravy train, Tory’s is all about stopping Ford’s crazy train.

Speaking of Ford, he is — somehow — still in the race, and still talking up his free-wheeling brand of right-wing politics. It’s mostly based on discredited budget numbers, but Ford remains great at telling voters what they want to hear. He’ll promise low property taxes and improved services. He’ll rail against the evils of debt and revenue tools then vote to increase taxes and debt for a subway. For Ford, math is no obstacle.

Which contrasts him nicely with David Soknacki, who leans heavily on math that actually adds up. His approach is policy-heavy, nerdy and, well, boring. But it also harkens back to the days of pragmatic and sensibly efficient governments run by Progressive Conservatives like Bill Davis and David Crombie. They weren’t splashy, but they were effective.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 4, 2014 at 1:22 am

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