Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Close to the Ends of the Earth"

On an NPR newscast this morning they had a crew beginning a trip down I-75. The point is to cover people's response to the current economic conditions. It just so happens that they were broadcasting from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I-75 starts. For those of you who don't know, many of my family reside in what they call the U.P. (you p).

They interviewed a lady, I loved how she described the UP: "We're close to the end of the earth here, you can see it from here". Loved it, had to laugh! Some Canadians know better in fact, but in feeling, sitting out there on the edge of Lake Superior? She hit it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What else? Obama

“Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” he said. “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

A great quote. First time since Carter a President has essentially lectured the American people to tell them that we need to buckle down and bite the bullet. And Carter's speech was VERY unpopular. The amazing thing, he said all that, and yet still managed to leave the audience with the taste of hope and opportunity. Remember what Teddy White said about what makes great Presidents? He summed it up in 1 word - opportunity. The greats had a vision of opportunity. 

It was a great inauguration, and I'm sure you've heard all about it!

Also see  for a sober look at the Presidential retoric. Now the rubber meets the road, and we will see. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More comments from my friends, and media attitudes

Another comment from a Russian friend.
"Regarding Ukraine, I do not want to argue with you, because I understand you trust your mass-media better than me. You think that we all are under pressure of Russian "Soviet Propaganda". ) ) I just want to tell you that you should not trust Uschenko at all. They certainly steal oil and try to show themselves to advantage. We know that USA support every country that is against Russia. If you are here now, I am sure you would agree with me, because you would know the situation from inside."

Actually, I do tend to agree. The media coverage, in the US, regarding Russia, generally seems to me to be biased and negative towards Russia. I believe the common attitude is to assume that the Ukrainians are right and the Russian government are being bullies. However, since I've been following events over the last couple of years, I would have to say that it seems to me that everybody is willing to piss on each other. Stop and think about this, and it isn't that surprising. It is only a little over 15 years since the Soviet collapsed, and not even 5 since Ukraine's Orange revolution. It is surprising to me that Russia has done as well as it has in the last decade. For a comparison, take a look at Poland. How many years has that been? Almost 20 since they installed a non-communist government. And how many times have they had a hard time keeping it going? Not so many years, and quite a few times. Solidarity, and Lech Walensa are no longer even on the political scene. Yet Poland has a much stronger history of being an independent country, unlike the Ukraine. And Poland has a stronger economic infrastructure than Ukraine. So, it is no surprise to me that there are difficulties and arguments.

At any rate, I hope they figure it all out, do so peacefully and to the satisfaction of their people.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A response to Russia vs Ukraine

I got a response from a Russian friend on the Ukraine and Russian gas dealings. Very cogent.

This is what I’ve read in RU net about Russia/Ukraine gas confusion.

* Ukraine owes Russia $2B for the gas delivered in 2008 and did not pay on time, but it certainly would, that is not the issue.

* Ukraine and Russia do not have agreement signed for gas delivery to Ukraine in 2009, while EU transit contract is ongoing.

* Political situation in Ukraine is ridiculous, there is confrontation between its President Juschenko and Prime Minister Timoshenko. Their battles are well-known, and now they are even more embittered as they are preparing for the next year election.

So, why gas? Gas is a big chunk of money when it goes to in-house distribution. Especially in current economic situation when Ukraines ’ metallurgical (leading) industry went deeply down.

In 2006 the same conflict was resolved by establishing a new agent company RosUkrEnergo which was between Russian supplier Gasprom and Ukraine distributor Naftagas. The biggest stakeholder of RosUkrEnergo from Russian side is Gasprom (50%), the biggest stakeholder from Ukrainian side is Dmytro Firtash – Ukranian citizen linked to President Juschenko

What happens now is that, yes, Russia offered $450 per 1000 m3 of gas to RosUkrEnergo, which is close to the going market rates, as Putin does not want to support anti Russian politics of President Juschenko. RosUkrEnergo refused to accept this. At the same time Gasprom made direct offer $250 per 1000 m3 of gas to Naftagas, which representative is Prime Minister Timoshenko, and she was ready to show up in Moscow on the 31st of December to sign the contract, but Juschenko banned the flight saying that Timoshenko is acting out of her responsibility. So, as I can see, this entire situation is just to put down President Juschenko.

What happened later was bizarre that Russian cutoff stopped all deliveries to Austria , the Czech Republic and Slovakia , following a halt in supplies to the Balkans and cuts to other countries. The shutdown came as the continent suffered temperatures as low as minus 27 degrees Celsius (minus 16 Fahrenheit)! That makes Russia look like unreliable supplier, destroys reputation of Gasprom and makes its business plans to participate in EU gas distribution system a pipe dream.

As long as Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the interruption of gas supplies through Ukraine to Europe , that is no more business, that is politics. And very stupid, I would say. But, if it is not politics and governments of two countries are involved in fraud on the gas deals, that is a crime, which is abound on the Post-Soviet space.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

South Korea - speaking of repression, and mob-baiting

And, speaking of repression, if you haven't heard about this:
then it is worth a read. If the article is gone due to time elapsed, search for "South Korea, Minerva, economic blogger forecast". You should come up with something.

The reason this struck me was that this is a major world democracy, acting pretty autocratically. After writing what I have about Russia becoming more autocratic, this pops up in the news.

And, on the other hand, if you read the article referred above, you will note that S Korea also has previously arrested people spreading some rather malicious rumors on the internet. I've certainly seen instances, and ugly ones, of mob-baiting, and I find it reprehensible. Shucks, we've had severe examples (and refined) of mob-baiting in the American presidential campaigns! But when it takes on tones of violence, it crosses a line.

Somehow, tho, I don't think a forecast of economic hardship has tones of violence.

Ukraine vs Russia, the gas confrontation

Some things to share on the Ukraine/EU gas shutoff by Russia.
* US media was mostly telling us only that Russia's reasoning was that Ukraine had "stolen" gas, a pretty unbelievable accusation that makes Russia look like a bully. It was finally mentioned that Russia was asking for Ukraine to pay the going market rates, not the deeply discounted rates they have been paying. I'm sure it is more complicated than all that, but asking to get paid the going market rate is not unreasonable.
* This conflict has been brewing for years, and is, to my knowledge, basically unchanged.
* The Ukraine and Georgia both sit on major oil and gas transportation routes for Russian oil and gas. A situation very likely to lead to conflict when the neighbors are generally unfriendly, as these three are. This has been obvious enough that US media forecast the conflict years ago.

Does this excuse Russia political brinkmanship? I don't think so, but it does make it look less menacing. Putin is playing for the long run, that much is obvious. That his long run doesn't include a strongly democratic government also seems obvious. My hope is that it doesn't become more overtly autocratic. So far what I see doesn't compare to the autocratic excesses of the 20th century (early 20th Fascism, National Socialism, and Communist excesses. Late 20th Latin & South America, Southeast Asia, Africa). I do see some evidence of repression, but it is of a low level. More akin to Jim Crow.

Comments and questions welcome. I can easily imagine some spirited responses to this post from some of my friends.

Once again, I believe the best indicator will be the level of economic opportunity available to the majority of the populace. The worsening economy will hamper that, but so long as economic pursuit is permitted, things will eventually come around.


A new snow came last night. The weather of this last week had everything icy and slick- thawing and then refreezing. The snow was well crusted over yesterday. I went for a walk, and quite a bit of it was crusty enough to walk on. But, it was an icy, slick crust. And, it often broke through underneath me, making it difficult to make progress.

I took the dogs, with Sara on leash, and letting Klinger run loose, once we reached the park area. I can trust Klinger to come, although he is young, and still a little exciteable.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Massachusetts weather

The winter weather in Massachusetts is, without a doubt, highly variable. And that description takes all the color out of going from weather that has snow like upper Michigan, to temperatures colder than where I was working in Siberia, to ice storms like the mid-south (U.S.), changing to temperatures more like winter temperatures where we used to live in central coastal California! We've just had a week of temperatures with several nights going down to 7-9 (-14 to -13 C). The daytime temps only got to the high teens (-9 to -7 C). It finally broke, and temps came back up to closer to freezing, in the mid-20's, which felt positively warm by comparison.

We started the winter with a significant ice storm, unusual in this area. Many trees were down, electricity failed, roads were treacherous. Fortunately, the ice started melting the very next day, although it took about a week with temperatures going above freezing during the day to get rid of most of the ice. What a mess that left behind! Limbs down all over.
A week or so later, the temperatures sank below freezing, and we got snow. In very close order, two major snowstorms came through, leaving close to 2 feet (60cm) of snow behind. That lasted a week or two, and then the weather turned warmer again. Temperatures rose above freezing, reaching as high as 50 or 60 one day (12 or 15C)!

Immediately following that warm spell, which had cleared the roads and the roofs nicely, the cold returned, this time with strength! Accompanied by snow and high winds, the temperatures dropped until it was colder here than in Kurgan, near were I worked in Siberia! For several days the temps went down to 7-9, (-14 to -12C), and days only got to the high teens (-9 to -7C)! There wasn't as much snow this time, but enough to cover the ground. Slowly the temps rose back to the mid 20's and 30's.

The nice thing about the cold temps is that I can actually get my cold weather gear - like my Russian hats - out and wear them! The Russian hats are just too warm when the temp is closer to freezing. My fur hat is too warm above about 15 (-9C), the sheephide is too warm above about 20 (-7C). It got cold enough to wear my down coat, too.

It's just amazing, though. I've never lived anywhere else that was so highly changeable! Kind of nice, in a way. Get a spot of winter, take a break. Get another spot of winter, take a break!