Monday, October 26, 2009

CNN's Non-News Polling Unchanged in Twenty Years

Alongside the news that newspaper circulation has dropped 10% we learned today that CNN, the originator of the Cable 24-news model has sunk by 50% year on year. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this, and as someone who has done CNN no favors in the ratings department for many years, I'm not especially qualified to name them all. Nonetheless, thanks to my new job I'm now watching more CNN in years, and I can identify one problem, the persistence of the non-news poll that ostensibly provides an insight into how Americans understand the world, but in fact offers no insight, and worse obscures information that might actually increase Americans' understanding of the world.

Back when CNN was the only 24 News network in town, these polls were one of the least appealing aspects of the format, and having moved on myself long ago, I had forgotten just how damaging they are to the concept of news until I was reminded early last Tuesday morning when CNN announced that some 80% or so Americans believed Iran was seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. I don't doubt the veracity of the data, I'm sure an overwhelming number of Americans do believe Iran is actively working to obtain nuclear weapons and to be honest, I would probably have to count myself one of them. Nonetheless, it is not like the vast majority of Americans are experts either on nuclear proliferation or Iran, and hence what we think tells us little about the intentions of Iran's leadership. Worse, given that there has been next to no reporting on Iran's nuclear program that has not relied in some way on U.S. government sources that have made the case that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons, all this poll tells us is that most Americans seem to believe what the government is telling them, at least on that issue, leaving the question of what Iranians hope to achieve by having nuclear weapons completely obscured. So while the assumption that Iranians chief concern is Israel is treated as axiomatic, the fact that Iran has a direct border with Pakistan, the only completely declared nuclear power in the middle East where as it would happen there is a strong current of anti-Shia violence. That fact, so easily ignored in all the handwringing about Iran's nuclear plans, would be far more useful information to the tens of thousands of CNN viewers, because it would have actually provided insight that many Americans have not gotten, and reporting like that would begin to renew and strengthen respect for CNN's coverage for more than a poll that can only be understood as a product and reflection of Washington's echo chamber.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The bizarre meaning of "choice" in American political rhetoric

Americans love the idea of choice.  It seems to embody the freedom that we value.  We elect, or choose our presidents, and when we go to the store we see the variety of toothpaste or dish detergents as a emblematic of our deeper political freedoms.  Politicians discovered this long ago, and it is hard to find a domestic issue that some do not attempt to frame in terms of choice on once side and government dictates, or lack of choice, on the other.  Often as not those who succeed in framing a political position in terms of choice wins the day, especially when that position fits well with the right-wing agenda.  But even when the left has successfully focused on choice, it has been relatively successful.  Had it not been, the abortion debate unending as it may be would long ago have been won by anti-abortion activists because so many people, including this reader can't get away from the awkwardness of what abortion means, the ending of a life.

Why the right is more successful in shaping debates in terms where they are the supporters of choice is something of a mystery, though I think one reason is that with the exception of the abortion debate, politicians on the left seem not to think of it as theirs, while the right treats it as their birthright  In so doing they have allowed, if not implicitly abetted a narrow consumerist understanding of choice that seems to focus more on enabling corporations than to enable Americans as individuals to make choices as they see fit.  This is perhaps best exemplified by the way cable companies have succeeded in winning approval for a most limited system of cable options, in which the vast majority of Americans end up paying for with a multitude of cable channels they rarely watch just so they can have access to the handful they do.   But it is in the healthcare debate that the concern about choice is talked about has its deepest and most perverse affects.

. During the campaign for health care reform in the 1990s the battle cry among opponents was the need to be able to choose one's physician, and on that point they have won for the most part, except for those of us who cannot necessarily access the doctor we would like because of our health insurance plan.  Yet, if being able to choose one's physician makes sense, and fits in well with the American understanding of freedom to choose.  After all we all want to have a doctor we feel is competent and seems to understand us and is preferably reasonably easy to access, and when we need a specialist that we can if needs be in the hands of the best qualified to deal with our problems.  Yet, as the healthcare debate has unfolded this year, we have not heard much about choosing our doctors, the issue of choice has been focused on the choice of health insurance provider, and whether the planned reforms will somehow curtail the existing choice, or leave the existing choice limited to private health insurers, which according to reform advocates will prevent the real reform by keeping the huge bureaucracies that determine eligibility intact.

There are a number of problems with this.  First, legitimate as anger at health insurers is, they are hardly the only ones at fault for our current mess. Indeed for a very different perspective from the one that has been at the center of the mainstream media narrative, I heartily urge people to listen to the two "This American Life" programs about America's healthcare system, sector is, especially chapter 3 of the second, where healthcare economist Uwe Reinhardt makes the case that the crux of our current crisis is the weakness of insurance company's vis-a-vis hospitals, not insurance company's near monopoly hold in many markets. Beyond the hospitals, the doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and even us and our demand for top care whenever and however much it costs. But at the heart of all this is fact that health care simply does not fit the normal assumptions of a economics, and focusing on choice, beyond the personal decisions we make to see a doctor we trust when we need to, will not solve the problem. 

Unfortunately, the last thirty years have made it very difficult to talk about that, thanks to the Milton Friedman and triumph of the Chicago school because they got licking inflation right and because the choice they proclaimed the solution seemed diametrically opposed to the failure of communism.   The notion that markets do not solve everything is so far out of the mainstream for most people, who are not already far to the left. Meanwhile, under the spell of Friedman's mentor F. A. Hayek the right has become so allergic to the notion that state involvement even when the importance of markets is a mantra that they are unable to process the contrary to Hayek's predictions the Western European social welfare state has not descended into Communism, and has remained thriving innovative economies.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Karzai Opens the Way for Early Withdraw of Western Forces

This week's news that the vote in Afghanistan was close and that Karzai or at least some of his supporters were involved in ballot rigging set the chattering classes a buzz, with most concerned that Karzai might lose.  When people talking about Afghanistan weren't talking about that they were noting that Obama appeared to be ready to okay an expected increase for more troops from the responsible generals, even as George Will was joining those on the left in suggesting that it was time to start pulling the troops out.  Right now there appears little reason to believe Obama will buck the request for more troops. If Obama did the Republicans who are currently beginning to talk dovishly will change their tune and start talking about Obama not giving the generals what they asked for.  But if Obama was looking for an excuse to show that he's not entirely beholden to the generals, Karzai, or his allies, have provided him a legitimate justification, and if the runoff election is as tainted as this election appears to be, then perhaps the best step Obama could take no matter what the costs is start withdrawing the troops, although keeping, if not extending other forms of aid.  For while winning the war in Afghanistan maybe impossible, we should not make the mistake that happened after the Soviets withdrew and decide because the troops are out that there is no further reason for engagement. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Prospects for Containing Hiler

Given recent comments by Russian President Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin’s comments yesterday marking the observation of the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II were a welcome step back from what was becoming an uniquely Russian view of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  In the coming days and months we will find out, if Putin’s words today mark the first step in a more honest Russian reassessment of Stalin’s role in making World War II possible, or if the differences were simply part of a Russian good cop-bad cop routine.  

Uncomfortable as it was for many other participants, and problematic as the comparisons between the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact with other questionable acts committed by other states in the run up to the war, I am glad Putin brought them up.  For one of the most important facts about the path leading to World War II is that Hitler posed a peculiar challenge to European diplomacy, one that as Richard Overy has just shown old school diplomats used to the idea of balance of power had no experience with, so mistakes were bound to be made.  Thus the real lesson of the path of World War II is the need for diplomats to be aware that the existing diplomatic order is not always the aim of all parties, and more controversially when a party shows an unhealthy readiness to go to war frustrating efforts to go to war with anyone should take precedence over any one state’s short term interest in peace.  

Even if we accept that Stalin sincerely believed that the only way to buy time was to reach an non-aggression pact with Hitler, we should note that unlike other negotiations with Hitler, which were aimed at preventing war, the deal the Stalin had Molotov make implicitly opened the way for Hitler to go to war.  In short, Stalin finally gave Hitler what he wanted the chance to use outright military force, and what is worse used the result of that war to annex Polish territory.  (While this is close to what the Poles did in regard to Tešen Cieszyń from Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement, it was not quite the same and is a diversion.  True the Polish government opportunistically, and in hindsight foolishly, played into the hands of Nazi diplomacy by ratifying the notion that the borders created by Versailles and associated treaties were illegitimate and subject to change by force or the threat of force.)  The key is that Stalin’s cooperation with Hitler, both prior to the Pact, and with the pact made the war possible, and all the brutality that followed, and this gets to the great thought experiment every future diplomat should engage in, what happens if Hitler is not given the opportunity to go to war.  While we can be sure that Hitler would have continued to seek to provoke the Polish government and work to keep his main potential allies from formulating a coherent strategy, had Stalin lent support to Poland in 1939 by joining France and Poland in declaring their readiness to go to war if Poland were invaded both  those aims would have been made much more difficult.  Furthermore, we might add it would have been a setback to Hitler, who up to that point could point to all his previous diplomatic ploys had gone his way, something that would have bolstered the hands of influential figures who had their doubts about Hitler. And just so we are perfectly clear on the significance of this, each day Hitler desire to go to war is a day that the circumstances that made the Holocaust possible would have been delayed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How Not to Deal with the Birthers

For the past two days this clip of David Shuster interviewing Orly Taitz, the leading figure in the campaign to convince Americans that Obama is ineligible to be president, has been available on a number of web sites including the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo.  It is a train wreck and the web-sites advertise it as such, but while many may delight in seeing their contempt for Orly Taitz confirmed, this is exactly the wrong way to deal with the so-called birthers.  For while polls show that the number of people who believe Obama was not born in the U.S is too big to ignore, confrontational interviews will not resolve the issue it all.  Rather they will confirm the birthers'  belief that they are being shut out of the debate, while giving them enough of a platform to make sure the controversy won't go away.

Sadly, I fear that American 24 hour news programing does not provide the kind of atmosphere that will work, but here are some thoughts.  First, let's start listening to the birthers in a way that gives them the sense that they are being heard.   If and when you watch this clip watch how Orly Taitz gives a plausible explanation for why without any assumptions about Obama's future life path his mother might have not felt it advantageous to want Obama's birth to be recorded as happening in Hawaii.  Yet, rather than follow up on that, David Shuster immediately poses a question intended to highlight the ex-post facto reasoning that is central to this, and most other conspiracy theories.    As such Dr. Taitz was entirely correct in saying she was not being allowed to make her argument.   Far better would be to have quietly asked about the claims that the current form of the birther conspiracy takes that assume that Obama's mother took a trip to Kenya which lasted so long that she had to remain there to give birth.  From there the interviewer can patiently ask about the evidence that Obama's mother took this alleged trip based on journalistic research about ideas about traveling pregnant circa 1960, etc..  Slow and steady wins the race, and any news show that was ready to sacrifice their 7 minute block programing could give this story its proper due without necessarily lending support to the birther conspiracy.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Matter Very Close to Home: Bottle returns in NYC

Before coming out to New York City, I spent much of the 1990s living in Michigan, land of the ten cent bottle and can deposit.  Being a frugal sort I've never been one to let spare money slip through my hands, especially when it adds up as quickly as it does in Michigan, and I brought that habit with me when I moved back east, even if the payout was half what it was in Michigan.  

Even in Michigan I generally preferred to let a few six packs accumulate so that I got a couple of dollars back, but it soon became apparent that this was the only way for it to make sense in my neighborhood here in NY.  Our main local store only accepts bottles during the week, and like everybody else in NYC has limited space, which bottles fill up quickly.  What is more when the bottle station is open there is a line of can and bottle people who have scoured the neighborhood and filled up one or sometimes two carts with bottles and cans. A bit further afield there is a somewhat larger supermarket with a battery of machines that accept plastic bottles, cans, and glass bottles.     Here too there is often a line and when the machine fills up it can take quite a while for the supermarket employee  to empty it.  Nonetheless, for these near ten years in New York I have put up with a growing pile of beer bottles until my wife could take no more and then going through the ritual of taking the bottles to the machines and hoping the line wasn't too bad.  

My one concession over the years is that I stopped storing large beer bottles that I occasionally bought and dropped them off in our apartments recycling bins as a gift to the local bottle scavengers, but as of Friday, I give up.  The scavengers will start getting all my bottles, because my experience Friday demonstrated that returning bottles here just isn't profitable unless you even when surviving on a very restricted income.  On Friday, it took me over two hours and visits to both the above mentioned supermarkets to get rid of about thirty bottles, and still left me with about 12 bottles the machines would not accept and the other store had refused because they had no room.  The net result $3.50 -- the extra fifty cents coming from a guy who lived one block away from the supermarket, who had given up on getting rid of the bottles himself long ago.  So do the math, $1.50 an hour plus fifty cents in tips and a heck of a lot of waiting and frustration.  It's just not worth it, and I'll just have to accept that my weekly six pack of beer is thirty cents more expensive than I've been reckoning comfortable knowing that I'm actually employing a local bottle scavenger with that surcharge.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Hope that Survives in Ukraine

I'm getting to this late, thanks to a plateful of activities, but in the July 11 edition of the Financial Times Chrystia Friedland had a most interesting article about the migration of veteran Russian reporters of the Glastnost/ Perestroika, and then Yeltsin years, to Ukraine, where they are enjoying and contributing to the open atmosphere in Ukraine.  Coming at a time when there is a great deal of cynicism both within and outside Ukraine regarding the three main political factions' ability to govern in the interests of the country this story, which has been largely overlooked in the west, is a welcome tonic.  

 For all its muddling through over its near 18 years of independence, and there is much to be dissatisfied about, the most intriguing aspect of how history has unfolded is that Ukrainian has remained more pluralistic than any other non-Baltic former Soviet Republic.  What is more, the Putin dominated efforts to draw Ukrainians back into the fold have generally had the opposite affect, as witnessed by Moscow's harsh reaction to the 300th anniversary of the Mazepa Uprising, which in eighteenth century Europe was a cause that carried comparable significance to the Tibet today.

Not long after Ukraine became independent I was speaking with an old college friend, who by then was making himself known as an important scholar of Pre=Petrine Russia. He was in disbelief about the prospects for Ukrainian independence, likening it to our U.S. state of Georgia suddenly breaking away.  (Texas would actually have been a better analogy)  A  few years later,  he was still shaking his head at what had happened.  Perhaps even now he still does from time to time.  To be fair to him, the autonomy of the early modern autonomous Cossack state, or Hetmanate, lasted over a hundred years, even if Russian interference after Mazepa's rebellion grew steadily, so in the long run there is ample time for Russia to reassert dominance, if not outright political control of Ukraine.  Still each passing year the number of Ukrainians who have known no other state grows, and with them the likelihood that Ukrainians will willingly return to Moscow dims.

That said, while some Ukrainians may place primacy on the maintenance of independence over the survival of a democratic order in Ukraine, the real hope for Ukraine lies not in its independence, but in its development as a state with more than one locus of power in which different factions negotiate rather than seek total domination.  This is what makes Friedland's story so interesting.  It was not that long ago when people saw Putin as the force that would finally enforce something akin to the state of law, and now important journalists who worked in and believed in the values of a free press etc. have had to leave, and Ukraine is offering an alternative.  This is something Putin certainly doesn't like.  The existence of a democratizing East Slavic state on Russia's southwestern frontier undermines his own implicit view that Russians do not value Democracy -- though it was interesting to note that at least one of the journalists Friedland talked to still commutes to Kiev from Moscow, and did not suggest that his activities in Ukraine have caused him problems.  But if there is hope in Ukraine, it must remain for Ukraine first.  Apart from offering a potential sanctuary for those dissatisfied with political life in Russia, it can do little to affect real change in Russia.  Indeed, the very freedoms that Ukraine's newest journalists find exhilarating, appall many Russians.  Until Russians en masse decide to rethink how they look at politics, and the economic power becomes more diffuse the hope that Ukraine inspires applies to Ukraine alone. 

 's effortscitizens are as a whole more comfortable with independence than they are with a revival of the Soviet Unionnot to mention the huge inequities between rich and poor, the most intriguing aspect of Ukraine has been how the divide between East and West has ended up having a stabilizing affect 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Not a Color Revolution

We are told that the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad camp has spent much time and worry about the possibility that they might be toppled in a so-called color revolution, as happened in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.  I have to say so far having watched how Khamenei and his supporters have dealt with the challenge posed by the protests over the elections, they appear to have done their homework.  The bloodiness of encounters towards the end of last week and again on Sunday had no precedent in those revolutions, and we can be sure that the Basiji and Revolutionary Guard will be out in force again tomorrow and the day after that, and as such the neither the suddenness and quick-passed drama that marked the overthrow of Milosevic in Serbia, Shevardnadze in Georgia, and the Tulip revolution that overthrew Akayev in Kyrgyzstan or the sustained non-violent demonstrations in Kyiv that led to the re-run of the 2004 elections in Ukraine.  

Nonetheless, that preparation and anxiety about counter-revolution also reflects a rather narrow understanding of those revolutions on the part of Khameni, Ahmadinejad and the Republican Guards,  Judging from what we have heard they seem to have interpreted those events as the primarily driven by outside meddling i.e. the CIA.   Indeed, George Soros's Open Society Institute famously did provide opposition groups with logistical support, but dwelling on that is to miss the salient feature of the main color revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine (though not in Kyrgyzstan) all had well developed opposition movements with increasing popular support thanks to quasi-open political systems that far exceeded that in Iran, where the Guardian Council has systematically prevented opposition movements from coalescing around key personalities capable of broad support.  Of course that still didn't prevent Iranians from rallying behind Mousavi which gave recent events the look and feel of a color revolution.  Yet, until now the Iranian reformers have regularly been a step behind the opposition.  In the last election, they failed to anticipate the possibility that the Revolutionary Guard might resort to electoral fraud.  This time Iranians were prepared for that, they were not prepared for the brutality with which their protests were met.  Thrilling as it was to see how creative Iranians were in circumventing restrictions to organize, that organization was impromptu and the lines of communication between Mousavi and Kourobi and their supporters not nearly as well developed as necessary to confront as determined and entrenched an enemy as the Republican Guard and Khamenei have demonstrated themselves to be.  At this point though I think reformers are at last under no illusions about what has become of the Islamic Republic.  In short if we have not seen the beginnings of a successful revolution in the past few weeks,  we have at the very least seen a clarification in the minds of Iranians about what they are up against.  Just as 1968 exposed the inability of Soviet communism to reform itself, a reformed Islamic Republic no longer seems intellectually plausible, something that now seems to be an essential realization in order for Iranians to confront the current regime. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Walking Back from the Brink -- The Old Magic isn't Working

The news in today that Iranian State television has broadcast that the Guardian Council has admitted that there are instances in 50 cities where the number of votes reported exceeded the number of eligible voters.   This along with the announcement that Rafsanjani's daughter has been released suggests that the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad  camp is quietly backing down from what seemed yesterday seemed like a commitment to brave out the challenge posed by the Green Movement and Mousavi.  

This seems to be good news, and seems to suggest that Khamenei has been forced to recognize that he is up against more than he had reckoned with.  This is not to say we know where we are going.  Khamenei, Ahmadinejad et. al are now bereft of support.  The continued readiness of the Basij to beat up protestors is a reminder of another key difference with the revolutions of 1989, where the riot police knew they had little in the way of public support. Nor should it go unnoticed that earlier today the protestors were called terrorists, no report on whether that continues to be used, but I suspect that will continue.  For while whatever negotiations go on behind closed doors, the authorities will still do whatever they can to frighten the demonstrators.

Yet, some of the actions taken yesterday by the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad camp suggests that they are not adapting well to the changing political environment, and are playing trumps that would have been held in reserve by more confidentplayers .  The alleged suicide bombing at the Khomenei Mausoleum the deliberate mistranslation of Obama's speech regarding the Iranian election, and the arrest of Rafsanjani's daughter all seemed pretty extreme, and more importantly quite risky steps.   At least according to one observer who saw the Iranian Television report (See 1:19 pm)there was no sign of serious damage of the kind that would have been caused by a suicide bombing that killed two people, not even any blood.  Thus if viewed by an audience with any skepticism doubts were going to surge, especially when seen in light of other suspect information aired in recent days.  Nor did it have the desired effect of leading enough Green movement supporters to stay at home to suggest that a further crackdown would frighten still more --even Mousavi braved the risk of being explicitly linked to the demonstration.  

Similarly, while English is not as widely known as in much of Europe, there are plenty of English speakers, so playing games with what Obama or any other English speaking person strikes me as risky.  Now whether Iranian State Television tried to do the same for domestic television is something I haven't heard, but it seems likely they would.  In so doing the press and authorities will open themselves to further charges of lying, because well connected Mousavi supporters will make sure the accurate version of what Obama said gets out.  That is hardly going to help Khamenei and his supporters regain the upper hand in the p.r. war.   Indeed these manipulations may well be the nail in the coffin.  The old magic of linking dissent to terrorism and outside intervention is not working anymore.  

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran's Revolution Enters a New Stage

When I first began commenting on the Iranian election I  argued that the Polish experience in 1980-1 and then 1988-9 offered a useful comparison.  That was already getting doubtful yesterday, but is most definitely true after the violence reported today.  Today's crackdown appears to have been bloodier than anything that happened when Jaruzelski declared martial law.  Nor does it seem likely that Mousavi and Khamenei will be able to sit down at a round table and work things out.  All that remains applicable is that Iran's economy is a mess and cannot be used as a basis for buying off the people as part of a post crackdown normalization process.  Interestingly as this was beginning to become clear, Andrew Sullivan posted a comment drawing parallels with the Revolution that ousted Slobodan Milosevic.  When I first began considering possible comparisons, I did think of that Serbian Revolution, but dismissed it for reasons that seemed good at the time, but do not now.  I will say though that the apparatus behind the Iranian Revolution is much deeper than it was in Serbia, where once Milosevic was toppled the infrastructure that had supported him fell apart fairly quickly.  That does not seem to be happening in Iran.  Indeed the resistance put up by the regime is a reminder that it has considerable support to draw on, though whether that support is sufficient to keep Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in power seems doubtful though how long the battle of wills that has now come into the open will last is an open question.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Will this Revolution in Iran be Self-Limiting?

Revolutions all too often get out of hand, and for those who see them as necessary for change, but wish to avoid the extremism that so often takes hold the desire to limit the revolution's goals has been always been strong.  In the 1970s, Adam Michnik articulated this idea most directly, when he proposed that any revolution that took place in Poland would have to be self-limiting in order not to provoke a Soviet invasion.  (This was a reason why the Solidarity agreement of August 1980 explicitly acknowledged the leading role of the Polish United Worker's Party for example.)  Remarkably, even when the threat of a Soviet invasion disappeared, all the European revolutions of 1989 did not get out of hand.  (Even in Romania, where things turned violent, the revolution was more or less ended with the removal and subsequent execution of the Ceaucescus from power, though arguably for less noble reasons than the faith Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Hungarians put in liberal democracy.) The so-called color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia have likewise managed to avoid the trap of revolutionary radicalization.  The question now is whether those who have joined the Green movement behind Mousavi will be satisfied with a rerun election, providing its  clearly and accurately reflects the sense of the electorate that Ahmadinejad could not have won last Friday's poll and now given his intransigence, the removal of Ayatollah Khamenei as Supreme leader.  

The limited original goals of the Mousavi campaign, and his strong credentials as a supporter of the revolution, as well as several leading supporters were clearly aimed to promote reform rather revolution.  Even now the call for a fair vote embarrassing as it is to those in power is in line with the demands of other recent revolutions.  Nonetheless, the situation is already precarious, and every move Khamenei makes seems to make the complete rethinking of Iran's constitution plausible.  Consider that for the past several days we have been told that Rasfanjani has been lobbying other members of the Council of Experts, who choose the Supreme Leader, to revoke Khamenei's mandate and choose someone more in line with the people.  Yet let us assume that this is true, and that Rasfanjani is successful.  Nothing Khamenei has done so far has suggested he would acknowledge and act on the Council's decision.  Thus,  the Council would lose credibility as a source of power.  By the same token, deciding not to act  is hardly going to endear the Council to supporters of the the Green movement. (Indeed, though I am no Iran hand, it seems quite likely that this calculation can explain the hard-line tone of  Khamenei's speech at Friday's prayers today, especially when one considers the soft line taken towards Rasfanjani (Hat-tip Nico at the Huffington Post.).   

If such brinksmanship convinces Rasfanjani and the other currently dissident leadership that carrying on with protests is too risky he has won an important battle.  Yet, he will not necessarily have won the war even if the current unrest fades away.  At that point, though few thinking critics of the current regime will believe in the possibility of reforming the Islamic Republic.  From that point on all efforts will be put on a complete overthrow of the existing regime, and thus a far more radical revolution sometime down the road.   If Rafsanani, Mousavi, Karoubi, Khatami and others stand firm though it seems less and less clear to me whether the main institutions of the Islamic Republic will survive even long enough for alternative permanent or quasi-permanent structures are created to replace them.  Everyday Khamenei continues to support Ahmadinejad the question of how much change will satisfy the desires and interests of those who are currently lining up behind Mousavi grows more complicated.  A quick disavowal of the originally proclaimed Ahmadinejad victory a couple of days ago would have kept that question fairly simple and could conceivably even been sufficient that Khamenei remained in his current position.  Now the answers to the question of how much change is enough is growing by the day, creating the key phenomenon that creates radicalization -- hundreds of thousands of people united in what they are against, but not necessarily in agreement about the solution.   This will reach its most extreme conditions if Khamenei and his allies successfully repression of the current challenge by brute force. 

Andrew Sullivan still sees the events in Iran as leading to a limited revolution that ends tyranny because the demands are still limited and grounded in the existing traditions of the Islamic Republic.  For the sake of minimal chaos, I hope that optimism is borne out as Khamenei refuses to budge.  There are some real reasons to worry though.  First, Mousavi may be an effective governor, but he is, at least in Gary Sick's knowledgeable view lacking in charisma, something I have heard about Karoubi as well.  In short, if and when Khamenei and his allies are pushed out of power, they may not last long in the post-revolutionary environment, especially if charismatic figures emerge during the coming struggle, as may well happen.  Another sign of the growing options that seem to be opening up in the minds of Iranians is a return to secularism.  Yesterday a secular patriotic song "Ey Iran" was song publicly see Nico at The Huffington Post 6/19 12:21 AM).

None of this means that protestors won't be satisfied with a more limited agenda, or that even if the revolution takes a more radical turn it will not still create more flexible political structures that help maintain political stability.

Finally, coming back to my post of two days ago, I note that the eminent journalist Robert Fisk seemed to make it clear today that he does not think what has happened so far is a revolution, though it seems to go against his headline yesterday that fear was gone from the streets. Conceivably his assessment today is right, especially if now that tomorrow's planned demonstration has been not been granted permission to go ahead, and hence will be illegal, only a small number of die-hard Mousavi supporters show up.  Frankly though from what I have observed so far from my admittedly distant perch in New York I am doubtful that will happen.  As Juan Cole notes today, Khamenei and his allies do not appear to have gotten their head around the fact that this is a bottom up movement rather than one directed by Mousavi and Karoubi.  There are already martyrs to the cause of greater freedom, and they will be remembered again in a month's time and then at 40 days too.  Sadly, there I fear there will likely be more tomorrow.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No Matter the Outcome there is a Revolution Going on in Iran.What they are: a Revolution

Scholars and journalists are not ones to use the word revolution lightly.  There are good reasons for this.  There are numerous examples of uprisings that come to naught and are two small to warrant the name, and calling something a revolution when it proves not to be is not going to win a scholar many brownie points.   So there is a temptation to adopt the word only after there has been a clear triumph of the revolutionaries.  Yet, at the beginning of the age of revolutions, people were far less cautious even though the idea of a revolution was arguably far less a part of people's understanding of the world than it is today.  Within a couple of days after the storming of the Bastille, people in Europe were speaking of events in Paris as a revolution, and that was nearly a month before the Revolution's most important event, the renunciation of traditional group rites by the nobility and the clergy.

In the Iranian case I think it is fair to take that step for several reasons.  First, there can be no doubt that the movement supporting Mousavi is widespread across the country and cuts across class lines as Juan Cole made clear a couple of days ago, and a report by another scholar who specializes in rural Iran has also criticized the much referred to urban-rural split.  Second, Mousavi and his allies have clearly risen to the occasion and shown himself ready to go head to toe against the Supreme Leader Khamenei and Ahmadinejad by making the complete annulment of the election his main demand, and today has made mourning of people killed part of the plan, as was key to protests against the Shah in 1979.  Gary Sick and Juan Cole both doubted this would happen. As Cole reasonably put it in his post of 13 June:  

My own guess is that you have to get a leadership born after the revolution, who does not remember it and its sanguinary aftermath, before you get people willing to push back hard against the rightwingers.

At this point for Mousavi and his allies to back down may still be theoretically possible, but it might even bring about the end of the protests after significant government suppression. Yet, in the long-term the effect would be counter-productive by reinforcing the illegitimacy of the entire Islamic Republican order in the eyes of the millions of people protesting in favor of Mousavi.   Under that scenario, which I think is increasingly unlikely, the Green Revolution would go down in history as a failed revolution that continues to resonate in the way that the revolutions of 1848 did in Europe, and more recently 1956 in Hungary. 1968 in Czechoslovakia and the 1980-81 Solidarity period in Poland.   

As I suggested a couple of days ago, I think the Polish analogy is especially useful.  While Martial Law would never have been conceivable without the threat of a Soviet invasion, it was nonetheless an internal affair as anything that happens in Iran will be.  More importantly, Iran's economy is not in the kind of shape that a reinforced Islamic regime could buy off the majority of the people with consumer goods.  This was a serious problem for the Jaruzelski, especially since the economic grievances that had given birth to Solidarity had been precipitated by Gierek's efforts to buy off Polish workers during the 70s -- I can't tell you how many times I heard my Polish university student friends lament that in 1985-86 that there was a generation growing up that had not tasted a banana.  By contrast, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and more recently China all had the economic where-with-all to keep people materially satisfied.  Iran's economic problems have to be dealt with, and keeping Ahmadinejad in power will only make them worse.  The money he has to buy off people now may well not be there in 5 years, even if oil prices do go up as the world economy picks up. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Culture War on our Cars

The culture wars are waged on many fronts.    One of the oldest is our cars, since the first spate of this phenomenon happened at the beginning of the 1970s when so many of the issues that defined the culture wars emerged. It is also one of the most insidious because even at this time when there is a relative lull the extremes live on on our cars.  Moreover, and most destructively they reinforce an us them view of the world that while providing virtually no means to promote dialogue between people of different viewpoints.  In fact, even when witty they actually encourage the tribalism that undercuts the fabric that allows people with different beliefs to recognize our common bonds as members of the same nation, or more broadly humans.  

The ongoing non-verbal shouting match between people with Christian fish on their cars and evolution salamanders is exemplifies this problem.  It began innocently enough when Christians revived the fish symbol and began putting it on their cars.  Now I don't know many people inclined to put a Christian fish on their cars, while my understanding is that this symbol has become especially popular with Evangelists and Fundamentalists, but I can well imagine that some of those people have no big problems with evolution.  Nonetheless a few years later, I think the mid-1990s, the Christian fish evolving into a salamander began to appear.  To my mind this was rather clever,  and I personally think it is entirely possible to be a Christian and put that on one's car, though one of course need not be one.  

Now for several years a response has come in the form of a big Christian fish eating up the salamander, and in a variant I saw last week the fish has the word TRUTH on it.  It too is clever, but unlike the other two, there is no plausible ambiguity about what a person with that on their car thinks about.  Indeed true to life as such a picture of a big fish eating a salamander may be, the image strikes me as quite aggressive, and as such not in the spirit of loving one's enemy that is so central to Jesus' teaching.   To be sure, it is also clear that someone with this image on their car has found the fish into salamander image no less aggressive, which is unfortunate, but of course neither person has probably ever had the chance to talk to the other about what they believe and why.  

Whether such a dialogue would immediately resolve the issue is another matter -- I know it won't.  Still as it stands right now, as people drive down the road and see any of those images, they do not see other human beings or co-nationals so much as those who are their kind or not their kind.  I don't expect miracles, but if we were all to consider the value of making such statements of identity on our cars, or our clothing we might help tone down the tensions elsewhere.   

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Returning to Ryszard Kapuściński's _Shah of Shahs_

Ryszard Kapuściński, who died last year, was an extraordinarily 
gifted journalists. So much so that he became known in the 
West for his coverage of events, especially in Africa, even 
though he was (until 1981) a member of the Polish United 
Workers' Party and reported under the strictures of the Polish 
Press Agency (PAP).  

His specialty was revolutions, and in 1979 the revolution of the moment was in Iran, which he recounted in his book The Shah 
of Shahs (1983), which again seems pertinent given what is 
going on in Iran right now, not just because it is about Iran, but 
because it gets at the anatomy of revolutions more effectively 
than any book I know. For example he reminds us that a 
revolution is not just a large political event it is one experienced by individuals, who when faced with the threat of the violence 
by authorities suddenly change their standard behavior by not 
being afraid.  At the same time, even as revolutions are about 
high ideals, individual expectations about the meaning of change are also far more mundane, like an expectation of a better job or new shoes.  Finally, he points out that when revolutions succeed there is all too often a lack of practical vision, or helplessness 
among the supporters, which makes revolutions vulnerable to 
suppression by the powers that be on the one hand and hijacking by zealots acting in the name of the new revolutionary order on 
the other.  (My paraphrases do not do justice to Kapuściński's 
presentation of these points, so if you haven't check out the 

In as much as Kapuściński was writing about a successful 
revolution, the explicit story is how the Iranian Revolution 
came about, and more obliquely how how the Islamic 
radicals ended up taking power. Yet implicit throughout the 
book is a story of what happened in Poland in the 1970s that 
led to the Solidarity revolution of 1980-81, and the 
disorganization among Solidarity's supporters (though I hasten 
to add, not necessarily its more realistic leadership) that created
conditions that made the proclamation of Martial Law possible 
without widespread active resistance.

As I write, it is very much unclear whether supporters of reform 
in Iran have the power to turn anger at the stolen election, for 
which a very knowledgeable observer has shown there is ample 
empirical evidence, can be turned into a successful revolution.  
Juan Cole (link above) seems to think Mousavi's experience of 
the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution makes him unlikely to be 
ready and willing to lead an outright rebellion. At the same 
time, the hard-liners who are backing Khamenei cannot shut 
down cell phones and internet access for very long without 
disrupting the lives of their supporters. What is more the
prospect of a serious and organized rebellion once 
communications blackouts are lifted may yet lead more 
pragmatic conservatives to find dealing with Mousavi preferable 
to continuing to back Mousavi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah 
Khamenei. That result would then be akin to the Polish 
roundtable talks which were provoked by the Polish Communist 
leaders' decision that talking to Walesa and Co. was better than 
facing the radical leaders of the wave of strikes in the Spring of 
1988. At the same time, Mousavi should not be confused with 
Walesa, who lead a reform movement from the outside. If there 
is a comparable figure, it is probably Alexander Dubcek, who 
had been an insider and leader, but as a link to the reform
movement of Prague Spring was useful to the leaders of the 
Velvet Revolution, but then easily discarded, a fate that could
befall Mousavi if his opponents hold off on dealing with him
too long. But that is the optimists scenario, at least for those 
on the west. The alternative is the path chosen by the Chinese 
in 1989, hoping that support in the countryside and relative 
lack of awareness of what supporters of Mousavi really want 
will allow a the crackdown to be successful, but then 
Ahmadinejad and Khamenei do not have the same positive 
record on economic development to fall back on.

Lands Far Away... Relaunch

People who have checked into this blog over the past several months have noted that it had become moribund.   I am now going to try again.  At the time I began the blog, I deliberately decided to focus rather narrowly on Central and Eastern Europe because it is something I know a great deal about, and as I mentioned in my original blog launch, it is a part of the world that Americans do not know know as much about, and which has a history that can like the history of any other place offer insights into our own world.  Unfortunately, it became apparent over the past several months that my model was flawed.   Requiring that every post relate to Central and Eastern Europe in some way was restricting.  While I have definite views on what is going on in the region, I don't always have something that has to be said.   

Based as I am in New York, more often than not, I do not have the on the ground perspective about events in that part of the world to keep blog posts coming regularly, and that cannot be made up for be keeping tabs on the press in the region.  For those who want more, my blog roll, small as it is, offers some links to other bloggers more clued in on the ground.  Besides, much as I love Central and Eastern Europe I have other things to say about things closer to home, and on a number of occasions I decided not to pursue ideas or did only preliminary writing on them because they fell out of the framework I had set for this blog.  As a result, I got out of the habit of checking in and making an entry even when there was something relevant to say about Central and Eastern Europe.   

So I am starting again with a larger brief of going where my mind takes me on a regular basis, which undoubtedly will still mean forays into Central and Eastern European affairs, but will go in other directions as well.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Names, Multiculturalism and Nationalism

I've been quiet here much longer than intended.  Plenty has been happening in Central and East Central Europe.  I don't have currently have access to the kind of information that would give me special insight into the effects of the world financial crisis on various countries in the region beyond what can be gathered elsewhere. So I have not felt the need to clutter cyberspace on those points.  Besides as I have said before this blog was never intended as a purely current events blog. There is so much more to Central and East Central Europe than this or that crisis, which is why I turn now to an issue that recently sparked the most traffic on HABSBURG, the H-Net list dedicated to those regions. -- the problem of name choice when writing in English about places in the region that are known by different names depending on what language one is using.

The multiplicity of names for this or that city and they disputes they pointed to was one of the things that intrigued me about East Central Europe, and enhanced my sense of the region's exoticism.  the Italian writer Claudio Magris touched on this briefly in his delightful book Danube as his narrative reaches the Slovak Capital Bratislava:

Bratislava, the Slovak name, Pressburg, the German one, or Poszony, the Hungarian name derived from Posonium, the ancient Roman outpost on the Danube.  The fascination of the three names bestowed a special glamour on a composite, multinational history, and someone's preference for one or the other was, in a childish way, a basic stance taken towards the Weltgeist.  That is to say, we had to choose between the instinctive celebration of great, powerful cultures such as the German, the ones that make history, or our romantic admiration for the exploits of rebelliousn, chivalrous and adventurous peoples such as the Magyars, or else our fellow-feeling for what is more subdued and hidden, for the small peoples such as the Slovaks, who remain for a long time a patient, unregarded substratum, a humble, fertile soil waiting centuries for the moment of its flowering. (p.220)

For the most part Europeans tend to accept the coexistence of these names.  While the use of Danzig on official documents or the postal addresses is deemed unacceptable by the Polish government, it has not sought to curb unofficial use of the German name in the public sphere.  Even more remarkably Ukrainians raise absolutely no objections when Poles use the conventional name of Lwow for the main city in what is now Western Ukraine and which Ukrainians call Lviv, even though possession of the city was contested until fairly recently.  But woe to an English speaker who uses the wrong name in the wrong context.

So why is the choice of name in English so contentious?  The great problem for English is that with the exception of a few of the most important citie, there are no generally accepted English names for the towns, and yet in the twentieth and now twentieth-first centuries English has been a world language, so the choice of name has been seen as legitimizing a nation's claim to that city.  Thus during the negotiation of the Polish-German border after World War I Polish and German delegations would not even begin to discuss the fate of Danzig/Gdansk until the archaic English name for the city Dantsick was deemed acceptable.  The problem became even more acute after World War II with the border changes that were not universally recognized as legitimate, at least not at the time.  Nor is this problem unique to Eastern Europe.  Indeed, one of the key steps in undermining the use of customary English names came when some Americans rejecting the long-standing name Peking for Peping, because that was the form used by Chiang Kai-Shek.  Now, however, at the insistence of the Chinese government English language newspapers are reuired to use the form Beijing, and today about the only time one still encounters Peking is on Chinese restaurant menus.

Back to East European names, there too the general tendency has been for people to use the English name that best approximates the name as heard in the official language of the state within the boundaries of which a city now finds itself.  It is not a bad solution for the most part, even seeming to encourage instability in a part of the world that suffered so much during the twentieth century just to make a point by using a different name just does not seem right.  Still, even if there is no way to go back to a time when the choice of names were not so clearly determined by poliics, if should not go unremarked that the sense of security this policy provides also covers up a complexity not contained in any single name.  Indeed while this development is completely in tune with our modern world view, which even in its multi-cultural variant remains shaped by nationalism, as English speakers accept that change, we are losing a little bit of the diversity that was a part of our post-tower of Babel world when peoples lived side by side speaking different langauges.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sunset of Russian Influence in Ukraine?

Tuesday's Financial Times included a very short news item noting that the Russian government has decided to build a new base for its Black Sea fleet in the Abkhazian port of . 
It is difficult to know what to make of such announcements.  Eight years is far enough away that anything could happen.  Still, a timetable of eight years to build a huge military complex in ... certainly seems reasonable to suggest that Russia is seriously considering the prospect that it will be easier to evacuate Sevastopol than negotiate with Ukraine to continue using the Crimean seaport as the base for the Black Sea fleet after 2017.  

Undoubtedly, the announcement will spur anxiety in Crimea, where many jobs are dependent on the Russian base, and where nostalgia for the Soviet times is strongest.  That may indeed be what Russia wants, having already stirred up the waters by offering to grant Russian citizenship to Crimeans and create anxiety in Kyiv and Lviv, as well as among the professional worriers about resurgent Russia.  Yet, if this announcement is serious and building begins in ... then we will have to greet this as the Putin circle's first timid and grudging step towards recognizing the reality that they are gradually losing the ability to influence Ukrainian affairs, and further grounds to be skeptical of those who seem to that Russia under Putin is an inexorable force at least within the boundaries of the former Soviet Union.  Furthermore, we may want to consider if it is a coincidence that the announcement was made a week after the new Naftogaz-Gazprom agreement ended Ukraine's dependence on subsidized gas and Russia's good will. 

Still, the thought that Russia is even considering the possibility that   into into If work has begun on site, it only involves the most preliminary tasks, though that is unlikely at this time of year.  So time will only tell how serious this talk is.  Right now it is just as plausible that this is another game of cat and mouse with Georgia.  Yet, if this is more than bluster, Work surely hasn't yet begun on site, and time will only tell if it does.   As such it may simply be part of 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Remembering the Revolutions of 1989

It seems hard to believe, but we are approaching 20 years since the end of Communism in East Central Europe.   Here is a link to a flickr slideshow primarily of Berlin, but with a few contributions from Poland and Hungary that may refresh memories and give those who don't remember it some sense of what went down.  (Hat-tip Daniel Antal)

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Russian-Ukrainian Gas Settlement

And now the dispute is over, as we knew it would be.  At first glance the deal looks pretty good to me, although some I've not seen reference to some important details, most notably what will happen to transit fees in 2010, after the 20% reduction for keeping the transit fees at 2008 levels concludes.

Key points:
1) Rosukrenergo is out of the picture. In short, transparency, which is a good thing, and if Kyiv Post's information is correct that Yushchenko got backing from the Rosukrenergo oligarchs, then another sign that Yushchenko is on his way to oblivion 
2) Gazprom conceded flexibility regarding the market rate rather than trying to lock in today's current price around 450 per 1000 cubic meters for the entire year, as it had appeared to be angling to for even though all expectations are that gas prices are set to drop markedly to about the $250 per 1000 cubic meters that Tymoshenko had been talking about earlier.
3) The deal lasts for ten years, a time frame that is likely to help reassure customers in the rest of Europe that Russia and Ukraine can be reliable.

Winners and Losers:

I think Tymoshenko is the big winner here, and her reputation as a reformer who has used her previous experience getting rich in the gas trade to use for the good of the country.  As mentioned above she appears to have managed to weaken Yushchenko further, while showing it is possible to deal with Russia realistically without following Moscow's line as Yanukovych ultimately did.  And in the sphere of presidential politics nothing succeeds like success, so there is little incentive for those like the Litvin bloc and the growing renegades from Our Ukraine (hat-tip Taras Kuzio) to look around for someone other than Tymoshenko to lead the opposition do battle against Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.  

True the new gas prices will be proportionately quite high and in the current state of the Ukrainian economy will likely create some real stress.  That said, since decline for steel is already declining, the effects on steel producers will not be quite as great as they might have been. The situation might also finally create conditions that would lead Akhmatov and other big in steel production to develop more efficient smelters and such.  

The biggest loser here though is Gazprom and Putin.  Only the willfully blind (i.e. Gerhard Schroeder) can now hide from the notion that Gazprom is being used as a vehicle for Russian foreign policy and is not a normal company.  But perhaps more important is the fact that Tymoshenko and Naftogaz successfully avoided falling into the traps Gazprom hoped they would fall into.  

In my earlier entry, I expressed some doubts about the wisdom of Tymoshenko denying that any gas had been "stolen". Not knowing as much about gas and the gas pipelines as I wish, I remain a bit skeptical about that.  Indeed the decision not to let the so-called "test-run" of gas run through an alternative route using because it could not be done without cutting off Ukrainian supplies seems to be an admission that there are inconsistencies in many pipelines, if not the druzhba pipeline itself.  Yet, in so doing Naftogaz preserved Ukraine's and Tymoshenko's reputation, and further showed to the world the extent to which Russia was prepared to do anything to push the blame for the stoppage onto Ukraine, when the decisionto cut Europe off had come from Moscow.  

To be sure, Putin, Gazprom, Tymoshenko, and even Yanukovych, if not Yushchenko will all live to fight again, so the dispute will not radically changed the playing field in the short term.  The question now is whether the new transparency in the Ukrainian gas business will provide an impetus for similar trends that will enhance the rule of law within Ukraine.  If that happens, it could help se the stage for a new Russian revolution that refocuses on democracy and the rule of law.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Gas Dispute Solution 0.5

The agreement to have European representatives monitor the flow of gas through Ukraine seems a step in the right direction.  If nothing else it sets up a means to create greater transparency in the gas trade which is the key to weakening the dynamics that allow this crisis to recur.  Although in as much these representatives will only be present as long as the negotiations over gas transfer fees Ukraine will receive from Gasprom and the price charged Ukraine for its gas, so if Gasprom succeeds in keeping RosUkrEnergo alive that transparency will disappear quickly. 

Still, even if the European delegation is only temporary it could at last help pin down some of the holes in the network that local officials have carved out to benefit themselves and their local business long ago during the corruption of the Brezhnev era.  My own small insight into that problem comes from my first apartment in Lviv, which was heated by gas, but had no meter to measure gas usage.   Thus, while I think Yushchenko and Tymoshenko are being sincere when they say that Ukraine is not stealing gas, at least systematically, I suspect they are likely to be embarrassed by issuing such blanket denials.  Of course, I think it is just as likely that the folks at Gasprom are also going to have to finally acknowledge the holes in the gas pipelines within Russia.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Russian-Ukrainian Gas Dispute Again

I had not initially thought I would make a post about the gas dispute.  It has become a predictable event and the outcome that a deal will be reached probably sooner than the apparent intransigence of both parties suggests.  Moreover, it has become something of a truism that this dispute is an effort by Russia and Putin to use gas as a weapon to keep Ukraine as much a part of the "near abroad" as possible.  It is heartening therefore to see an op-ed article by Jerome Guillet and John Evans published in today's Financial Times.  Guillet, who on the internet goes by the name Jerome a Paris, is probably the most knowledgeable expert on Gasprom -- his comments posted at Daily Kos during the 2005 crisis were eyeopening -- and his point in that piece is that the real issue is not so Russian and Ukrainian relations as it is the continued influence of oligarchs in Russia and Ukraine.  That point gets to the ugly truth about post-Soviet states that is so easily obscured when we people try to dig up old geopolitical models some dating back to the nineteenth century and the "Great Game."  Indeed every time people write about Putin creating a new energy based superpower that will allow the Kremlin to wield incredible power over its neighbors, they are helping Putin retain his popularity.  A more democratic Russia depends on Russians understanding that the ability to be a player and stability are not one and the same thing.  Indeed, the current economic crisis is closer to revealing the extent that Putin's Russia is close to being a giant Potemkin village. 

By the same token, treating Ukraine as a fragile state that will soon be brought to its knees by Putin's maneuvering  distracts from the truth that however lacking it may be compared to its western neighbors, let alone western democracies, Ukraine continues to be better positioned to become more democratic and more stable than Russia in the mid-term.  But it can only do that if the Ukrainian state's ability to enforce and insist on the rule of law in the economic sphere increases.  In this light, the great question is what happens to RosUkrEnergo.  If as Tymoshenko has called for RosUkrEnergo's role as transfer agent is curbed and the gas transfer becomes more transparent.  If it continues to become the conduit then Ukraine will be held back, which will of course help Putin, because it will help keep Russians from asking the questions they might ask if they see a more transparent economic and political system emerge in Ukraine.

In short this dispute matters, but if European states would look beyond the immediate interests of needing energy, they will see that a deal at any price that allows RosUkrEnergo to continue to act as an intermediary will only insure that further crises will occur down the line.  If they come out on the side of transparency, it will be a step towards providing greater energy security for all of Europe than any additional pipeline routes.