Exciting times in the Ukraine

ukraine Suppose you were a citizen of the Ukraine. Which way would you rather turn: to Europe or Russia? The answer is so obvious its hardly worth asking the question.

Now suppose you’re the rather thuggish Prez of the Ukraine, and that part of turning towards Europe involves cracking down on your own corruption, not to mention being forced to free the previous Prez PM, who you’ve banged up on spurious charges. Whereas Russia, in the person of Putin, doesn’t give a toss about civil rights or corruption.

And so the scene is set for an exciting clash. Just like in Syria, just like in Uganda, the interests of the people are different from the interests of the leadership. Hopefully the people will win. Hopefully and likely this won’t turn into a civil war. That would be a bad result. See Hobbes, or Brian on Syria or even me on Syria sort of.

Note that blue and yellow are the colours of the Ukrainian flag, so the armband in the pic is their colours, as well as by a happy coincidence those of the EU. The EU flag in the pic is the EU flag, of course. I don’t know what the white flag with the red horizontal stripe is – ideas? [Update: its the political party Batkivshchyna, led by the imprisoned Yulia Tymoshenko; so that makes sense. The white-with-red-cross-and-crosses visible in some other pics is Georgia, another victim of Russia.]

Astonishingly, there’s not a word about this on R4 news tonight. They’re rubbish: leads are some unimportant helicopter crash in Scotland and a similarly unimportant train crash in the USA.

Refs

* Ukraine pro-EU protests: Police forced to flee as 100,000 demonstrators take over central Kiev – Indie
* Clashes amid huge Ukraine protest against U-turn on EU – Aunty
* Ukraine police and protesters clash in Kiev – in pictures – Graun
* Ukraine sees biggest anti-government protests since Orange Revolution – Torygraph

Snowden

20130810_WWD000 Yeah yeah, yet more opinion.

So, Snowden has asylum in Russia. Naturally, he’s delighted to be out of his tedious airport, saying

in the end the law is winning.

But is it? Because the interesting thing is who is making the decisions: Putin. As the Graun says the decision was “almost certainly taken personally by President Vladimir Putin”. In Russia, that would be entirely natural: Russia is his persona fiefdom, and there is no rule of law – the law is whatever Putin happens to want it to be that day (Snowden also said I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations but that is, I think, just self-serving lies; so much for him as champion of truth). So why is Snowden, self-declared champion of freedum-n-mocracy, running to those two noted bastions of such, China and Russia? And the answer is obvious: because he doesn’t want to face the rule of law. Personally, I wouldn’t want to hand myself over to Putin as a pawn; that seems like a really dumb decision to me. But I suppose Snowden is desperate and will collaborate with anyone, no matter how shady, who can keep him out of the US.

But what do the Russians think they’re playing at? Putin gets to piss off the USA, which is always a really good idea as so many people have discovered in the past. In return for what? Some of Snowden’s cache of secrets? A bit of cheap publicity? It seems very odd to me.

Meanwhile, I hear you cry, what about the boost to democratic accountability from the secrets that Snowden has disclosed, thus permitting informed public debate? I’m glad you asked. Because in the Beeb article about the asylum, we find the same old disinformation we had at the start:

The systems analyst also disclosed that the NSA had tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to track online communication in a surveillance programme known as Prism.

We know this is wrong. We’ve known that is wrong for ages – since about a day after Snowden first said it. But we won’t get that disinformation out of people’s heads.

I’m ranting too much, I’ll start to sound like the Daily Mail if I’m not careful. Feel free to tell me so in the comments.

[Update: I have a couple of rather childish comments along the lines of “What exactly does the ‘rule of law’ have to do with the U.S.?” The US law certainly isn’t perfect, and they can be thuggish at times – for example, their attacks on BP after the gulf oil spill – but these comments are coming from people in the US who unthinkingly accept the protection of US law -W]

Refs

* PRISM: any substance?
* Let’s hope that Snowden doesn’t like Bloodhound gang (I do). Someone needs to tell the Russian prosecutors that they don’t own the Ukraine any more although perhaps such niceties are beyond them.

Wonga is “morally wrong”?

Non-beardy says “I’ve met the head of Wonga and I’ve had a very good conversation and I said to him quite bluntly we’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we’re trying to compete you out of existence” (see-also the Gruan). When I first heard this while driving into work I mis-heard it (or slightly more accurately, at that point the news was new, and exactly what he meant by this wasn’t clear): I thought the CofE were intending to actually loan out money, on a commercial-but-nicer basis. Thankfully they aren’t going to do that: it would most certainly have been a total disaster (remember the Church Commissioners financial ineptitude). In principle I applaud his stated intent of out-competing rather than out-legislating them; that would be, in principle, the way to demonstrate that your system is better. But I think that while he might actually do some good, overall he is doomed.

[N.b.: while everyone in the current version of this argument is using Wonga in the generic sense that “Hoover” means vaccuum cleaner, AFAIK they are just one of several such “pay-day lenders”.]

It fairly soon emerged that the CofE actually hold a stake in Wonga, albeit indirectly. That doesn’t directly affect the argument; but it would be a hint to the wise that modern finance is more complex that back in the good old days of clearing the moneylenders out of the temple.

I visited the CofE website to see if they’d laid out their plans carefully there, but they hadn’t. So I decided to use the FT to work out what they are proposing. First of all, there is some rhetoric, or perhaps scene-setting if you’re more generous:

Justin Welby, a former finance executive in the oil industry, has described lenders such as Wonga as “morally wrong” and has compared the industry to Old Testament usurers.

This, too, is a hint to the wise that they’re on the wrong path: traditionally the fight against usury has been a fight against reality. Even now the stricter bits of the Muslim world have absurd bits of financial engineering that dress up interest in order to pretend that it isn’t. But on to the plans:

Dr Welby has… laid out plans to help 500 financial co-operatives, which already provide small loans, to expand their reach by using the Church’s 16,000 premises. He said he was embarking on a “decade-long process” to make credit unions both more engaged in their communities and “much more professional”. He has already launched a new credit union for clergy and church staff at the General Synod in York earlier this month.

This might do some modest good. I have no personal experience of this stuff, but I can easily believe that there are a number of financially-pressed folk who could do with useful advice, and possibly some actual help.

However, I strongly suspect that there is also a block of people who have a reasonable understanding of what is going on, and simply need a loan, and no-one else is going to give it to them, which is why they go to the likes of Wonga. And if you’re making smallish loans to financially pressed people with little or no collateral, then you’re going to have high expenses and you need to make money to cover the inevitable default rate (see-also Timmy). I haven’t checked, but I rather doubt that Wonga is making ginormous profits. If it was, it wouldn’t be for long, as others would pile into the sector and margins would fall. If it isn’t making enormous profits, then its margins aren’t excessive. QED.

But I have to admit, Dr Welby is a model of sanity compared to idiot politicians such as:

Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who has campaigned for a cap on credit costs and a wider crackdown on payday lenders, welcomed Dr Welby’s intervention, but said: “It should not take divine intervention to deal with this problem. It is very easy to fix.”

You have to be a complete moron, or a complete liar, to assert that this problem is “very easy to fix”.

[Update: I’m pleased to say that the Tories, fed up with falling behind in the talking-utter-drivel stakes, have made a late – and, it looks to me, winning – entry in the “Oh good grief I really can’t believe that even a politician would be dumb enough to say that” competition:

Church should consider pulling money out of Google, government adviser says… Claire Perry, a Tory MP and David Cameron’s adviser on childhood, went a step further by urging the Church and other investors in Google to “put their money where their mouth is”.]

[Yes, I know. Another ill-advised foray into economics and politics. But at least you know what I think.]

Refs

* Timmy largely shares my views. But then again, I largely got them from him, though not about this story in particular.
* Wonga, in their own words

Syria: the West makes the usual mistake

I got wound up by this whilst reading news on my phone while sitting in a boring meeting. So I’ll vent here.

The usual scheme of things that we see so often is that bad things happen (the Assad regime in Syria); it goes on and on and people wring their hands, or ignore it, and anyway whilst bad the people are useful anti-commies or somesuch; and then it gets bad enough that the locals start revolting. At this point, its very much a “which way are you going to jump” issue for everyone in the country. Do they throw in their lot with a pile of untested rebels? Or do they sit on the fence quietly? Or do they take this as a chance to ingratiate themselves with the regime by demonstrating loyalty? If you’re such a person, what the international “community” is going to do matters a lot. If you expect the “community” to intervene actively on the side of Justice and Freedom, to vigourously hunt down war criminals and prosecute them and confiscate their assets, then you have a strong incentive to jump onto the rebel side. But if you expect the West to be a useless shower like usual you have an incentive to hang on in and loot the country for as long as possible, meanwhile doing your best to be as nasty as possible and polarise the fight in order to commit people onto your side, by making it impossible for them to live under a changed regime. After not very long it becomes clear that attempting to talk about regime change is a waste of time, and so the people on the rebel side that come to the forefront are those with the least to lose, those most deeply committed to violence – in short, we do our best to marginalise those who we’re pretending to favour. And pretty well inevitably this is a chance for the Al-Quaeda types to step in; at which point the idiots who argue for nothing but talks chirp up brightly with “see! We told you so! Violence just encourages Al Quaeda”. Whereas its really the do-nothing-but-talk people who are recruiting for Al Quaeda. And don’t get me started on the Russian govt, whose role in this is so utterly stinkingly amorally sadistic.

[Update: the NYT says that Syria is starting to break apart. The other classic mistake the West usually makes is to try to enforce territorial integrity of artificial borders. Iraq is a case in point – the obvious thing it to allow Kurdistan to break away. But that would make the Turks Really Very Sad. We shouldn’t listen to them -W]

[Further update, 2014/01/11: when I last looked, things were not looking rosy. And Syria has disappeared from the news, which suggests the long-drawn-out grinding to destruction continues. So I’ll add two further thoughts:

1. Hobbes says (somewhere, though this is from memory) that citizens are allowed to rebel, but only if they succeed. Or something like that. Which naturally you can’t know in advance. But the point is that civil war is such an evil that almost anything else is better. And also that the legitimacy of the Civil Sword depends on it being in power; if its not in power – if it doesn’t provide the protections that we gave up our freedoms for – then the obligation to submit vanishes. In a sense, its self-defining. I think, at this point, Hobbes would like say that his conditions were not met; that the good people of Syria should not have rebelled.

2. An opinion piece in a paper suggesting that the West made almost the opposite mistake to what I’m suggesting: that it encouraged the rebels with fake words promising fake help. And instead, it should have made clear that we’re useless. Though I would have thought experience would have said that much louder.]

[2015/07/11: The Economist agrees with me.]

Refs

* Boris in 2015
* The former president talked early and often about Syria, but wasted six years and countless lives with hand-wringing dithering – NYT from 2017.

Police and Thieves

p-and-t_crop You recognise the image, no doubt. And before I go any further I should say that both the image and the title are unfair. But they came irresistibly to my mind anyway.

The context is a link and comment I recently posted to facebook, viz:

Andrew Mitchell: the ‘toxic’ smears aimed at destroying my party and me [Torygraph]

Having the police federation forcing the Tory whip to resign was appalling (I don’t much like our politicians, but I’m absolutely opposed to the police getting to choose those they like). But at least there is starting to be some comeback http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9763005/Andrew-Mitchell-the-toxic-smears-aimed-at-destroying-my-party-and-me.html (I’d rather have quoted the Beeb but their website is still pussy-footing around on this).

That post wasn’t… ermm… universally popular, though several people agreed with me, one from the police. I think some people are so blinded by their dislike-verging-on-hatred of the Tory party that they can’t see the problem in the police conduct, or in the police federation’s campaign against Andrew Mitchell. Of course, he’s a (Tory) chief whip so he can’t complain about a bit of political rough and tumble. And indeed, thinking and looking back on this, I can see far more blame attaches to Cameron that I’d previously thought: in that Cameron’s clear duty was to stand up against the PF’s campaign, and he funked it (I see the Graun is pushing this line. They are anti-Cameron of course, but that doesn’t make the line wrong). But the principal blame, of course, attaches to the PF.

One good result of all this is a healthy rift between the Tories and the police, who have been too close for too long.

Congratulations to Obama

Obama wins.

obama

As election day drew closer it became clearer to me that, whatever Obama’s flaws, I did want him to win. You can’t have someone who habitually lies about his marathon times as vice-POTUS, and I agree fairly well with the Economist on Romney, and overall America could do better than Barack Obama; sadly, Mitt Romney does not fit the bill. I don’t get the impression that America deserves better than Obama, though: many of the obvious flaws in their politicking system derive directly from the laziness and self-deception of the electorate.

[Update: so, what about GW in the election? Hardly there at all, eh? Agreed. But why? Because neither candidate thought mentioning it was a good idea. Why not? Well, Romney must have known at heart that his position was insane, so keeping quiet makes sense. And Obama knew he was vulnerable to “well you haven’t done much, if this is supposed to be so important”, so quiet ditto. And both knew that the electorate wasn’t asking. So once again: leadership is nice, but this comes down to the People.]

Refs

* A Huge Victory for Science, Too – P3
* Trying to shoot the messenger – RC
* Plumbum