Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kyrgyzstan and Coal

Since I was in Kyrgyzstan less than two years ago, I was most interested in the swift change of government that is occurring there. It appears to be something of a coup--starting with protests against price increases by an increasingly authoritarian government. Then this morning I heard a correspondent who had been there recently express the view that this shake-up had the Russians' hands all over it.

First I had been skeptical of the U.S., when our spokesman there merely expressed the view that people should restrain violence and proceed peacefully. Difficult to do when guns and major forces are being dispatched and used. I'm heading for a panel discussion this noon hour on the future of the Millenium Challenge Corporation. This is the government-funded entity that supported the project on which I was involved in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, back in late 2008.

The whole situation is starting to look like a late episode of Cold War strategizing: the radio correspondent took the position that the Cold War never has ended. The Russians would like the U.S. out of Central Asia; the U.S. needs the base in Kyrgyzstan for support of Afghanistan operations. Before we start criticizing the Russians, remember how we reacted when they sought to extend their influence to our backyards in Cuba and Central America.

Kyrgyzstan is a poor country, with some mineral resources (being mined mostly by a Canadian outfit), that has little going for it except Asian mountain tourism in the Hindu Kush and other high mountain places. It has not flourished since the breakup of the Soviet Union--unlike neighboring Kazakhstan, it has no oil. It is located quite far in the east of Central Asia and could well become closer to its eastern neighbor, China.

The government that appears to be on the way out has not been very good for the people but our role should be to encourage positive behavior on the part of the new regime. If it really will seek to improve conditions, the U.S. can be quite helpful if we think beyond Afghanistan. If this is a Russian ploy, we need to call it for what it is.

Speaking of good for the people, the coal disaster in West Virginia has the media being very careful in assessing blame, despite the hordes of violations of safety regulations. The last time I noticed this guy Blankenship was when he bought the West Virginia Supreme Court election and the 5-4 Supreme Court threw out his case where his bought judge provided the majority in his case. No one seems to have made a big deal out of the fact that one reason he has gotten away with poor compliance is the non-union status of his mines. Nobody wants a union until the proverbial stuff hits the fan and management is happy to meet all day and night to hold families' hands so they don't scream bloody murder to the media.

It's a shame that too many people today have never heard of the man who was once America's best-known labor leader, John Llewellyn Lewis, who led the coal miners. John L. would not have missed a beat in letting the world know whose fault this "tragedy" was: coal-owning corporate types like Blankenship who will sweat every dime out of the miners' hides.

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