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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Chernobyl Check: Is FOX News into Fahrenheit 9/11?,2933,191721,00.html

Your editorial on Chernobyl simply attempts to swing the scales of history in your favor. Marketed as an attempt to redress the balance, it pokes fun at the fiction just as it fools around with the fact. By recycling research on a faraway country you hardly know — in a one-sided fashion and through the prism of your domestic debate — you treat your audience to a distorted view.

So what’s the big deal?
With its biased “X-ray scan,” your editorial effectively puts a clean bill of health on a festering wound of a disaster, a disaster that has affected thousands of lives in ways unmatched by your exposure to it.

By showcasing a catalogue of overblown projections of Chernobyl’s global impact, produced by Western academia and activists, your op-ed sidetracks the issue of Chernobyl’s local legacy. Does it offer interviews with the victims and their families? Does it address the scope of day-to-day problems experienced by contaminated communities in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia? Unfortunately, no. The article lacks a first-hand field-trip dimension.

Staying on guard against The Guardian and UN-lie-teralism
Instead the article provides an introduction to self-compromising freakonomics practiced by Ukrainian officials. Their ballpark estimates ring a nasty bell, don’t they? Bottom line: Perceived as a mouthpiece of Greenpeace, Ukraine immediately qualifies for “most-unfavored-nation” status in the eyes of Americans. One can only guess at the number of conservative Americans influenced by word of mouth. Except for the countless Ukrainian Americans among them. They may have a better grasp of things.

Capitalizing on The Guardian as an intellectually impeccable guide on Ukraine may lead you up another blind alley. This well-established stronghold of the anti-American media has repeatedly traced the Orange Revolution to CIA payrolls. If you accept their side of the story at face value, please tell Director Goss that I want my $10,000 paycheck now, interest included — lol.

Your op-ed proudly quotes a UN report that portrays Chernobyl as something to be taken down a peg in the hall of self-martyrdom. Of course, the prong of your argument is invested in an organization that boasts so much credibility on the Activist Street. However gladly embraced by the media, that intimate relationship does not guarantee instant gratification in terms of foolproof fact-finding.

Do you believe that a bunch of fly-by-night UN bureaucrats, with vast resources and vague responsibilities, made a good faith effort to read my country? These guys, who drive around in caravans of tinted-window SUVs, talk about a “dependency culture.” Dependency on what? Monthly disability benefits of 60 bucks? Well, on Ukraine’s cost-of-living calculator, that doesn’t even cover the bare necessities, let alone medical bills, of which there are many. Alas, UN personnel salaries run a hundred times over what they assume to be dependency-generating. If there were an award for “Best Bureaucracy with Reverse Clientitis,” the UN would get it.

The strategy behind the UN calculus
Casualty-cutting meets cost-cutting, as simple as that. The 50 adults/9 children death toll produces a mixed reaction among stakeholders. It strikes a high note with the haves on the East River, who only heard about Chernobyl on the news and would hate to be on the “rip-off” list. In contrast, it strikes a low note with the have-nots on the Prypyat River, who bore the brunt of Chernobyl and would hate to be on the “write-off” list. Since the plant’s shutdown in 2000, the international community has repeatedly softpedaled its pledge of financial support for the badly needed sarcophagus changeover.

Let there be no doubt: Keeping a tight lid on Chernobyl’s nuclear powder barrel concerns all humanity. That’s why keeping tabs on its status presents the worst of occasions for the UN to be open to political bias.

How do Ukrainians feel about it? Emotionally speaking, the UN report amounts to claiming that only a hundred people died in the September 11 attacks, and the rest were cured. Rationally speaking, it raises a lot of technical questions.

Background: In the wake of the accident, clean-up crews had been called up from all over the USSR. Questions: Did the UN report follow the life of every “volunteer” who had shoveled the hellishly radioactive debris off the reactor’s roof so the wind could not carry it all over the world? How many are still alive? Since the USSR no longer exists, is there a real-time cross-country database of all children and adults who have died of leukemia, thyroid cancer, and related illnesses since April 26, 1986? This may sound tactless, but does it include Raisa Gorbachev, who died of thyroid cancer in 2000? How many are struggling for their lives?

Lessons learned
Chernobyl is not a case study of Greenpeace gone bad. It’s a case study of Gulag gone bad. From the Kremlin’s point of view, building a four-reactor power plant within eighty miles of the third-largest city was a good idea. In a country where life was a cheap commodity, management’s disregard for safety was the hallmark of corporate culture.

Ironically, Gorby’s failure to go public right after the accident — to keep the folks off the streets in the midst of May Day celebrations — would accelerate the glasnost-perestroika movement to the point of no return. Along with the war in Afghanistan and the earthquake in Armenia, Chernobyl counts among those moments of truth of the 80s that consigned the mammoth of Soviet bureaucracy to the dustbin of history.

Despite the quest for renewables, urged by President Bush in his State of the Union address, humanity will hardly get by without nuclear energy in the near term.

That’s why safety and accountability matter so much. Nuclear energy has no failsafe future in a world that fails to confront the past. Suppose the Ukrainian government put the 30-kilometer area surrounding Chernobyl, with its majestic forests and wildlife, on eBay for $1. How many would send their kids and grandkids here on summer vacation? How many would come over here to play golf?

One cannot blow the mask off self-serving liberalism with the winds of self-serving conservatism, and vice versa.

At the end of the day, America’s irritation-infatuation with Greenpeace can hardly compare to Ukraine’s involvement with Chernobyl. While the liberals and conservatives of America keep pointing fingers at each other, we the people of Ukraine are left holding the bag.

Thank you, VOA, RFE/RL, BBC
You guys did a great job. You operated the kind of scaremongering machine that scared Big Brother into extinction.

While out of town on weekends, many Soviet folks tuned their radios to these channels, jammed as they were by the KGB. With their ears sharp and cutting through all the noise, these freedom-seeking folks flocked for a dose of freedom of information. That’s how they learned about Chernobyl and the health hazards it posed. They learned it from the US and British governments, run by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

I do hope that Fox News has more than a dose of freedom of information to offer twenty years since then. And I do believe that America’s freedom gene has not mutated.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

We’re Almost There: Fishing for a Coalition Nears Completion

As they grapple with the election results that spell a dramatic seesaw of power between them, the “Orange Orchestra” finally seem to be getting their act together. To discuss the shape of things to come, the leaders of all five incoming parliamentary factions met with President Yushchenko in his executive suite on Bankova Street. Afterwards, they moved outdoors and issued statements, the most notable of which was Yuliya Tymoshenko’s. The Lady of Maidan unveiled her vision of a tripartite BYT-NSNU-SPU coalition, whose launch she estimated to be a matter of days. She minced no words when she added that the opposition could expect to chair several Rada committees and the Oversight Board. Trying to maintain an air of self-confidence, yet scrambling for words, Yanukovych expressed his readiness to assume an opposition role.

Three weeks have passed since the Ukrainians took to the polls to decide which parties best represent their interests in legislatures of all levels. When handed four separate ballot sheets — populated by more than thirty parties apiece — voters had their attention span strained as never before. The forces of democratic Darwinism unleashed by these papyruses have spared only five chariots at the national level. Known by their Ukrainian acronyms, they scored as follows:

PRU — 32.14, or 186 seats
BYT — 22.29, or 129 seats
NSNU — 13.95, or 81 seats
CPU — 5.69, or 33 seats
KPU — 3.66, or 21 seats

They will be proud entrants into the pyramid of Ukrainian parliamentarism. As for the also-rans, few of them will experience a political afterlife. With all due respect, or lack of it, as the case may be, outparliament mummification will be their most likely lot.

No matter how vocal the claims of fraud and demands for vote recounts, the litmus test for the Ukrainian democracy came out pretty clean. Even the Kremlin alchemists found themselves undersupplied on the public relations clout with which to attack the results. After all, their coachee has carried the Rust and Sun Belts, chalking up a plurality of votes nationwide.

Ironically, NSNU, the core party behind the Orange Revolution, which had given Ukraine the wings of democracy, made a belly landing in this election. Caught in the turbulence of scandals that shook its reputation, NSNU lost millions of voters, who switched to BYT, making it the most powerful Orange party. No wonder, with a meager 13.95 percent of the vote, compared to BYT’s 22.29 percent, NSNU top brass called in sick for a few days. In this shameful boost-bust scene, Tymoshenko starred as the centerfold of the election, while Yushchenko posed as the emperor with no clothes.

In what appears to be a clear-cut case of “you’re OK, I’m not OK,” NSNU did the most backpedaling, providing a major reason why the “Orange Orchestra” has failed to dovetail, thus far. The BYT-NSNU-SPU coalition went off to a series of false starts. Each side claimed being taken advantage of. Sensing the situation, the Regionalists started giving NU the glad eye, despite the oceans of bad blood between them.

Rumors of marriage by arrangement between PRU and NSNU sent shock waves among grassroots Yushchenko supporters. For Yushchenko, the lofty ambition of “uniting” Ukraine would hardly yield any political dividends in the Rust and Sun Belts. But it would definitely amount to a harakiri in the Grain and Brain Belts, NSNU’s home base. Terrified by the prospect of such bloody bedfellowship, which would condemn her to the outskirts of the parliamentary powerstruggle, the desperate amazon moved into action. She bearded the lion in his den with a revelation-packed bombing campaign, attempting to beat him into coalition.
It worked. By now it appears that NSNU has turned down a back vocals gig in the "Blue Band" and turned its face toward the "Orange Orchestra." The coveted PM post remains the main bone of contention in the coalition talks, though. Tymoshenko, who would take a backseat to no one, has insisted on the “first-come, first-served” mandate. She argues that her claim on the PM post mirrors the voting results, as she came first of all three would-be coalition partners. Unlike the SPU, who raised no objections, NSNU counteroffered with a “first-goals, then-roles” philosophy.

Yushchenko calls for a straight talk on goals. To avoid a repeat of dysfunctional debris, the team should hold a jamming session and make sure they see eye to eye on the economy.

Of course, this approach to coalition fishing will not discharge Tymoshenko from casting her net over the PM post. No coalition will come into being without her being the PM. But once she gets appointed, she must read the signs. She must vaccinate herself with the awareness that they are in the same boat. And in her capacity as conductor, she must always exercise her baton to help the "Orange Orchestra" wrap their talents around team play. She must carry an awareness-tuning fork with which to keep them on the same wavelength.

It’s never OK to have no conflicts. All successful teams run into conflicts. But rather than duck and stockpile them — until they explode — successful teams confront and resolve them.

The "Orange Orchestra" are on a mission to strike the right chords with this country. It means netting a better GDP without letting democracy and the social contract slip away.

Yanukovych rates your coalition as short-lived. If he turns out to be right, he’ll storm you off stage before you know it. Don’t let him be right.

Monday, April 10, 2006

European Commission Unmoved by Europarliament’s Suggestion of Associate Membership for Ukraine

Impressed by Ukraine’s stride for democracy, the Europarliament has petitioned the European Commission to open talks with Ukraine on associate membership. To no avail, so far: The European Commission nixed the initiative.

The counties of the so-called New Europe, Poland and the Baltics especially, have been the most enthusiastic observers of Ukraine’s ideological exodus from Putinese Russia. They have witnessed the difference democracy makes on the other side of the EU curtain. Alas, their ugly duckling neighbor Ukraine equips itself with checks-and-balances avionics and takes wing as a benchmark democracy in the non-EU airspace of the former Soviet Union.

That’s why the rookies in the Europarliament have been steadfast in cheerleading for Ukraine. They never stopped persuading the European Commission, dominated by apparatchiks from the Old Europe, to keep the door open on Ukraine. Undoubtedly, Ukraine deserves a little bonus for its “Le Bourget act,” not the blind eye it has been getting from the European Commission. A little change of heart from countries like France and Germany — the heart of the Old Europe — would mean a lot.

Now that Schroeder has shriveled out of sight and Berlusconi bombed out, Putin’s “Old Europosse” will no longer dog Ukraine with the knee-jerk intensity they used to. Prodi hardly counts among the fans of Ukraine, but he no longer presides over the European Commission. And his intellectual capacity leaves room for hope. Is there a disconnect between the Ukrainian Dream and the European value system? Not really, if we scan the younger cohorts. When it comes to the social contract, French youths never hesitate to stage their own version of Maidan.

Europe has a vast array of burning issues: the welfare state, immigration, demographics, etc. Of course, it will take years for the EU to absorb new members and for Ukraine to be considered for full membership. Still, the Old Europe should not confuse Ukraine’s “values voyage” with a mere “vacation.” We’ve come a long way and we’re in for the long haul. So please don’t try to leave us out in the cold. Don’t “good neighbor” us. Let’s build a Europe that is not embalmed with Euro-euphemisms.