Foreign Policy

Ukrainian President Yanukovych on the Run

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has been indicted for mass murder today because of his government’s response to demonstrations in Kiev last week. Yanukovych fled the country over the weekend by helicopter, which took him to the disputed region of Crimea. From there, he was apparently unable to leave the country. Since then, he has been added to the Ukraine’s “most wanted” list:

“An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened,” Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, referring to the shooting by police marksmen of many of the 82 people killed in two days of bloodshed in Kiev last week.

“Yanukovich and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted,” he added.

Avakov was named acting head of the interior ministry after its prior head was ousted for being at the helm of the over-the-top response to demonstrators last week.

Yanukovch’s chief rival Yulia Tymoshenko was recently released from a “prison hospital”, where she was serving time for public corruption. Of course, with the corruption that has now been exposed under Yanukovych, it is no stretch to imagine that charges against rival politicians may have been, shall we say, exaggerated.


Sweet Dreams 2/21/2014

– More on President Obama’s budget this year. Like I said before, I know it’s a purely political document that will never get a vote in either house, but I think it’s important heading into campaign season. Jonathan Chait has a great piece for NY Mag, “Obama’s Budget Not Pretending to Believe in Grand Bargain“:

In reality, the fundamentals of the situation have not changed at all. Last year, Obama was willing to adopt C-CPI in return for concessions Republicans would never, ever make. This year, Obama is still willing to adopt C-CPI in return for concessions Republicans would never, ever make. Putting the compromise in his budget was merely Obama’s way of locating the blame for the reality that Republicans in Congress will never, ever, ever strike a fiscal deal with him. The disappointed deficit scolds sitting just to Obama’s right, and the joyous progressives just to his left, are committing the same fallacy. They are mistaking a step premised on an impossibility for a semblance of reality.

– And Paul Waldman for The Prospect on Rand Paul’s recent surprising tweet, “Ted Nugent’s derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize.”:

Genius. Paul obviously understands that nothing gets attention like criticizing someone on your own side, even if it’s someone on the fringe. So what’s his reward? Fulsome praise from people on all sides of the aisle! Oodles of good press! Even liberals will write blog posts lauding him! Like the very one you’re reading. All of a sudden he looks like the reasonable one, and just look at the results. Here’sa piece about him in the Washington PostHere’s an article on PoliticoHere’s the Huffington PostHere’s the Washington Times. You get the idea.

– An Arizona pizzeria is banning anti-gay lawmakers from their store. On Thursday of this week, lawmakers in the state passed a bill that was aimed at allowing businesses to deny services to same-sex couples, but in reality allows almost any sort of discrimination, as long as it is done in the name of religion. Arizona continues to lead the nation in attention-grabbing, bigoted, hateful laws under its Governor Jan Brewer.

I’ve never mentioned Jan Brewer on this blog before, so I’m going to take the opportunity to post this video of Brewer, pausing during the intro portion of a debate, and not speaking for at least 30 seconds, and then continuing on as if nothing happened. HI-LARIOUS.

– The Obama Administration welcomed the deal struck in Ukraine today as a step towards peace and Democracy. Press Secretary Jay Carney said the deal was, “consistent with what we have advocated in calling for a de-escalation of the violence, constitutional change, a coalition government, and early elections.”

In today’s agreed-upon deal, elections will be moved up to this year, from the planned March 2015 and the constitution will revert back to its 2004 form, which will give Parliament more power to name government officials,  up to and including the Prime Minister.

Chris Christie and the Obama Administration did not get along today. First, Politico breathlessly reports that, in a matter of life and death where million upon millions of people could be affected, Christie will skip a planned dinner with President Obama. Christie is opting to skip the annual National Governors Association meeting to head home early and do more damage control.

Somehow getting less coverage is the story that will actually affect thousands of families in New Jersey in real life. Today, New Jersey lost $7.67 million of free, no-strings-attached Federal dollars because the Christie Administration accepted the grant to build its own Obamacare exchange, decided not to actually implement their own exchange, but to let the Feds do it, THEN started planning ways to spend the money, and couldn’t come up with any ways that met ACA regulations on how the money must be spent.

– Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas is finally starting to see his numbers sink from the story coming out that he doesn’t actually live in Kansas, pays constituents $300 per week to let him crash on the couch when he’s in town, and drives a car with a Virginia license plate. Roberts’ favorabilities have basically flipped upside down since the last time he was polled. Previously he was at 31-28, already pretty bad for a U.S. Senator. Now, it’s at 29-38, which at -9 and only a 29%(!) approval is strait up horrible, especially for a conservative Republican in deep-red Kansas.

Cigarette and Coffee Breakfast, 2/21/2014

– As I discussed yesterday, even if the Scott Walker (R) emails that revealed widespread secret and illegal use of state funds to help the candidate become the Governor don’t turn up a smoking gun that Walker knew what was going on, this scandal has all the chances of being the deathblow to the Governor’s White House hopes. University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry C. Burden said, “I think it’s damaging, not because there was a lot of new information in the emails that were released, but because it put the story back on the front pages and it’s really displaced the other things that the governor would prefer to talk about in an re-election year”.

– Delightful news for Democrats: the Club for Growth is airing an ad in Missouri to attack Republican incumbent Senator Thad McCotter for voting “20 times” to raise the debt ceiling, and for having been in Washington for “42 years”. Listen, I’m no fan of McCotter, but since when did being good enough to get elected to the United States Senate by your people multiple times, and being experienced in how Washington works, become a bad thing? The answer, of course, is ever since the first person ran an “outsider” campaign, attacking Washington to get themself elected. But it’s still annoying, and it’s annoying when Democrats do it too.

– Michigan Democratic Rep John Conyers, who has been in Congress since 1965 (25 terms!), is facing a primary challenge from Rev. Horace Sheffield III. No word yet on whether Sheffield’s primary will be from the right or the left, but with the mettle that Conyers has shown national Democrats during the Obama administration, it’s hard not to see him getting the backing of outside groups. According to DailyKos, “Sheffield is pretty explicit about the 84-year-old Conyers’ age being an issue, saying the incumbent is ‘not capable anymore of providing the energetic leadership”.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has declared that another truce is in force in Kiev this morning, here’s hoping it goes better than the last one, which devolved into some of the worst violence yet seen in the strife-torn nation. Yanukovych, after being chastened by his a Parliament his party controlled, which voted yesterday for law enforcement officers to return to their barracks and stop shooting dissidents, has vowed to form a “unity government”. Additionally, Yanukovych promised early elections, which is a far cry from the people in the street demanding his immediate resignation for. Yanukovych offered this statement on his website, “There are no steps that we should not take to restore peace in Ukraine, I announce that I am initiating early elections.”

– A truce has been reached in Ukraine, and President Viktor Yanukovych, along with dissident leaders, have signed a deal calling for early elections and a return to the constitution as it was in 2004, taking powers from the presidency and giving them to Parliament. Officially, there are at least 77 dead in the fighting of this week, with many hundreds more injured. As always with these things, official numbers tend to change, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that. Some protesters, such as former Heavyweight boxer and Mike Tyson rival Vitali Klitschko, say that, while they will sign the agreement, more discussions will have to take place to end the protests.

– John Boehner seems to have forgotten how politics works in 2014. You see, here in 2014, one of the most important things any elected politician can do is, even if they want to kill legislation that is broadly popular with Americans, like raising the minimum wage, or extending unemployment benefits, first you say you support the initiative, then you blame Obama for not cooperating on passage, and then you call it a day. Boehner has done a masterful job doing exactly this on immigration reform!

What you certainly don’t do, though, is to have your buddies out there saying things like, “Boehner has ‘always believed that it’s a job killer’, and ‘John and House Republicans right now see ObamaCare and the economy as being the No. 1 issues…I think it would be very, very difficult, if not impossible, for John to schedule a clean up-or-down vote on a minimum wage bill'”. Because, for low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet, getting a raise from 7 or 8 dollars an hour to $10.10 wouldn’t help THEIR personal economies at all, I can see how that would be a popular message with them.

Oh, and then there’s THIS:

Speaker John Boehner is so against raising the minimum wage that he once said he would rather commit suicide than vote for a “clean” increase.

Sweet Dreams 2/20/2014

– Zachary Goldfarb at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog has a great take on the implications of President Obama dropping “chained CPI” from this year’s budget. According to Goldfarb, the more “no holds barred”, small-bore proposals of this year’s budget are less likely to actually pass, but hopeful to at least move political debate in the right direction. That’s a far cry from actually passing positive legislation:

It’s possible that by proposing a narrow set of policies, Obama can move Congress in his direction. But while the president is still open to compromise, he is no longer actively seeking it. And so, better to at least get your ideas out there, even if they’re not likely to be passed

– Finally, a Republican coming out against Ted Nugent calling the President a “Mongoloid”, instead of campaigning with him and it’s… Rick Perry? Perry told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer today:

“He shouldn’t have said something like that about the president of the United States. I would suggest to you that the job situation in Texas and what a Republican leadership has done there and Greg Abbott will continue to do is what people really care about”.

First reaction, color me shocked that Rick Perry, the owner of Niggarhead ranch, was the first major elected republican to stand up to racist language towards the President. Second reaction, is it me, or does Rick Perry still have ideas about running in ’16? Call me jaded, but it looks like Perry might be trying to fill the Responsible Establishment Republican void left by Chris Christie and (possibly) Scott Walker’s implosion.

Oh, and he’s making an appearance in Iowa next week, so that settles that, he’s running.

– Oh, no big deal, just the third spill of toxic chemicals or oil in six weeks in West Virginia today. Apparently, runoff from melting snow caused a spill at a site that had abandoned after, you guessed it, a major spill caused it to be shut down. It’s pretty amazing that regulators in West Virginia allowed an abandoned site to have materials that could be spilled by something as mundane as melting snow, but I suppose it’s not surprising. According to authorities, no drinking water was contaminated, but we’ve seen West Virginia “authorities” be wrong several times of late.

– Here’s John McCain doing his level best to be positive and constructive on the Ukraine situation, which still has thousands of people in harms way and fires raging at this moment:

“This is the most naive president in history,” he said on Phoenix radio station KFYI, according to Politico. “The naiveté of Barack Obama and John Kerry is stunning.”

“He may try — and I emphasize may — try to have some partition of … Ukraine,” McCain said. “He is committed to keeping Ukraine as part of Russia.”

McCain said that Putin has “played us so incredibly.”

I could go with the whole, “you know who was naive, the President who was deceived by his decrepit Vice President into invading a country to get its WMD and stop Al Quaeda, even though that country never had WMD or Al Quaeda- until we got there”, but I’m going to stay away from that one.

What I find ridiculous is how blatantly wrong McCain is. You can say that Obama is naive and weak until you’re blue in the face, as McCain literally has been doing since about 2007, but that just doesn’t make it true.

In this world, under President Obama, there have been some policy hiccups, and a large portion of the world still hates America, as we are all too often reminded, but it cannot be denied that turning away from McCain’s brand of bellicose Neocon foreign policy has seen this country’s stature on the international stage shoot through the roof. When the last Neocon, George W. Bush, left office, America was stuck, reeling in two quagmire wars, with our own allies afraid to call us friends and our enemies never more emboldened. Now, Iran has been brought to the table thanks to international sanctions made possible by our allies in the EU, North Korea and China are as isolated as ever, and old allies like England and France regularly talk of the “exceptional level of closeness and confidence” in relations under Obama.

Just STOP John McCain. You are so wrong. You ran for President twice on this type of Neocon foreign policy, you lost both times, once to another Republican, once to the very naive President you criticize today. Even worse, the country know’s you’re wrong, and the last thing it wants is another Neocon in office to bring us the next disaster like Iraq or Afghanistan, both of which 52 percent of Americans believe to have been failures, according to Pew.

– Governor Chris Christie held a town hall meeting today at a VFW hall in Monmouth county, New Jersey. The 105 minute session, which supposedly did not have pre-screened questions, might as well have in this heavily Republican district. According to Politico:

There were no questions about the federal or state legislative investigations into Bridgegate, the infamous traffic jam heard ’round the country that a handful of his aides set in motion in Fort Lee, N.J., last year.”

Yea, just a random group of 300 people that had the opportunity to ask the Governor anything, and not one of the mentioned Bridgegate, any of the other various “gates”, MSNBC persecution of the Governor, or anything! That seems likely.

Ukraine Latest: EU Sanctions Declared, Interior Ministry Voted to Barracks by Parliament

– As I reported earlier, yesterday’s truce ended in massacre, with as many as 100 civilians shot and killed by police in the chaos that ended the fragile truce. Western parts of the country remain in “open rebellion”, while much of the east remains strongly pro-Russia and President Viktor Yanukovych.

– Unbelievably, demonstrators were seen, “leading policemen with hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev — Ukraine’s Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all. They are being held in Kiev’s occupied city hall.”

– The European Union has imposed sanctions on those, “responsible for violence and excessive force” that include,”travel bans and asset freezes imposed on those deemed responsible for the fatal escalation of violence in Ukraine.”

– Respective Foreign Ministers Laurent Fabius of France, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland are holding talks with both sides in Kiev to discuss a “roadmap” to peace.

– The White House has made Vice President Joe Biden the pointman with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The two had been in contacts for weeks already, and Biden had come out in support of the Ukrainian dissidents in early December, so he’s been on this beat for a while.

– Interesting developments on the political front in Parliament, according to The Telegraph:

The Ukrainian parliament is seeking to reign in the executive branch. Ukrainian MPs have voted to an effective end to the “anti-terrorist operation” declared by the Interior Ministry and security services in Ukraine. In a late night parliamentary session to which few ruling party members attended, 236 members of the 442-seat chamber voted to return interior ministry troops to barracks, ban them from using firearms, and implement a ceasefire in Kiev. The chamber was almost half empty – only 238 MPs showed up – the majority is significant because the opposition has failed to secure majorities throughout the three-month political crisis.

– There are widespread reports that the police are using snipers, and foreign journalists have reported seeing multiple bodies lying in the street with single gun-shot wounds to the head.

– Ukrainian Skier Bogdana Matsotska has withdrawn from Russia’s Olympic games, telling reporters, “I don’t want to participate when in my country people die”. Matsotska, 24, will miss the slalom, her best event. She hoped to head home and join protesters in Kiev’s independence square, but flights are not available. Even though she is stuck in Sochi, “I am in Maidan but just with my soul” the skier said, but she didn’t pull any punches, believing that Yanukovych, “has to be jailed, and for a long time,” Matsotska said. “For all the lives that he took, for all the lives of innocent people that came peacefully to stand for their opinion”. Powerful, but dangerous, things to say, mired in the heart of Putin’s Russia.

Truce Declared, Forgotten in Chaotic Ukraine

Earlier today, protesters and the Ukrainian regime reached a fragile truce, so that negotiations could take place, but the truce seems to have gone up in flames. Protesters, wary that police would use the truce to move in on their positions and not allow them back, started tossing Molotov cocktails and more at the police, who responded with live fire.

Early estimates, admittedly from a medic working with the protesters, has up to 100 dead and many more wounded. According to the AP:

Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or planks of wood.

One of the wounded, volunteer medic Olesya Zhukovskaya, sent out a brief Twitter message — “I’m dying” — after being shot in the neck.

Protesters are believed to have somehow captured at least 67 police officers, who were seen being led by their captors to occupied city hall, where they are being held.

With today’s heavy tolls, at least 101 people have been killed so far this week in the country of 46 million. Today, the Western region of Lviv, situated closest to Europe, declared independence from Ukraine and its President Victor Yanukovich.

For those just noticing the escalating violence in the Eastern European country of Ukraine, protesters began in earnest several weeks ago, when Yanukovich spurned a $50 billion trade deal with the European Union, and instead renewed a trace pact with the country’s historic patron, Russia. Many in Ukraine, especially in Western regions, feel their country should integrate with the European Union and the West in General, while others remain loyal to Russia and President Yanukovich.

As always, this situation is developing extremely quickly, so stay tuned.

Sweet Dreams 2/19/2014

– Despite reports to the contrary, Scott Brown has renewed his contract with Fox News, indicating that he may have been scared away from running in his new-old home state of New Hampshire. When we last left him, conservative groups in the state were preparing ads to “dissuade” the former Massachusetts Senator from running one state to the north.

– As predicted, the 27,000 pages of emails, texts, and more surrounding an investigation of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) have started to harvest some interesting material thanks to reporters who have, no doubt, been reading for hours. Of note: the investigation that spawned these 27,000 pages of documents was actually much wider than expected, as a local judge expanded the search to four of the Governor’s aides from the original one.

Possibly most damagingly, Walker aide Tom Nardelli, who since resigned his “$90,000 per year position” just days after taking it, sent an email that read:

“Say it isn’t so!!! I can handle being a black, disabled, one armed, drug-addicted, Jewish homosexual on a pacemaker who is HIV positive, bald, orphaned, unemployed, lives in a slum, and has a Mexican boyfriend, but please, Oh dear God, please don’t tell me I’m a Democrat.”

Yeesh, tough to imagine a message like that having much appeal to independents that want to see less venom in politics if Walker ever decides to run for some national office or something…

– Texas Gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is getting a lot of grief, even from some on the center-right, for campaigning with unhinged right-wing nutjob Ted Nugent today. The belief that rhetoric like Nugent’s, such as “Subhuman Mongrel”, is what the Republican voters of Texas want to hear, is depressing. Abbott apparently believes Nugent is there to talk about the second amendment, not as an anti-Obama dog whistle to the right, “Sen. Davis knows she is suffering with voters because of her flipping and flopping on 2nd Amendment gun laws, and she knows that Ted Nugent calls her out on her disregard for Second Amendment rights”.

– Both the House and Senate are already considering sanction votes against the Ukraine in response to clashes in the country that killed at least 25 in the last two days. On the Senate side, Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and John McCain of Arizona of the European Affairs Subpanel said:

“We have begun working together on legislation that would impose targeted sanctions on government officials and other persons who have committed, ordered, or materially supported acts of violence against peaceful citizens in Ukraine, or who are complicit in the rollback of Ukraine’s democracy,” McCain and Murphy said in a statement Wednesday. “These sanctions should not, and will not, target the people or the country of Ukraine as a whole. Instead, they will be narrowly focused on those individuals who must be held accountable for violating human rights and undermining democracy. We remain in contact with the Administration and look forward to working together on this legislation.”

Meanwhile, President Obama has promised “consequences” for those who “step over the line” in Ukraine, but no word yet on what that means, or if economic sanctions are on the table.


Ukraine Erupts With Violence, Protests

For at least three months, there has been a simmering showdown in the Ukraine (which is not weak!) between activists seeking to chart a new, more European, course for their country, and those loyal to the current regime and its leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

In the last two days, those simmering protests have erupted into wide scale violence across the country. Last night, as I watched the evening news here in America, I saw the country’s capital city, Kiev, alight with massive rows of fire, Molotov cocktails flying through the air in a hellish scene, all at around 4:30 in the morning Kiev time.

At last count, as a result of the violence of the last two days, at least 25 people have been killed and over 250 wounded. As of today, the countries embattled president named a new head of the Armed Forces to try and quell the “terrorist” uprising.

Of course, with protest movements as diverse and disparate as this one, listing grievances can be difficult, but in general, this situation boils down to the direction the country is headed. All of those protesters in the street would like to see Ukraine become more a part of the West and the European Union, and President Yanukovych, largely considered a puppet of Russian President Vladamir Putin, would seemingly like to remain, as they have been since the fall of the USSR, a satellite state of Russia.

The situation finally came to a head when Yanukovych turned down a $50 billion dollar trade pact with the European Union which Putin had been publicly critical of, and instead re-upped their $15 billion trade pact with Russia.

According to the European Commission, this is a partial list of things the Ukraine turned down in deciding to reject the European Union trade deal:

– “An eventual free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU would save the country $670 million annually because of reduced EU import taxes. Ukraine would lose around $538 million in import duties coming from the EU.”

– “Ukraine’s agriculture sector would have benefited from cuts in duties: $45 million for agriculture products and $72 million for processed agriculture products. In addition, new market opportunities in the EU and higher production standards would help investment, stimulate the modernization of agriculture and improve labor conditions. Agriculture makes up 10 percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product, a much higher share than in the major Western economies (in the U.S. it’s 2 percent).”

– “The industrial sector would have also benefited from the reduction of taxes on machinery and appliances by at least $103 million. Ukraine would also be able to cut duties on vehicles by $161 million.”

But what’s a billion dollars here or there when you get to have a good buddy like Putin?

Russia’s Faux Democracy on Display

There was a nice write up in the Boston Globe (which continues to favor Boston College over the University of Massachusetts in its sports coverage-but that’s a story for another day) today on the state of dissent in Sochi, Russia for the Olympic Games today. As the article explains, “In a departure from the Soviet era, when the Communist Party could declare anyone who bucked the system an enemy of the state, the new Russia has all the trappings of democracy — elections, protections, the right to protest. But elections are suspect, protections are routinely ignored, laws are used to harass and detain people who try to speak up”.

Russian President Vladamir Putin, in a move to assuage the West about the state of Democracy in his country, recently rescinded an order dissallowing any protests at the Winter Games, and a park has been set up to house all demonstraters. The result? In a word, typical:

Tatyana Katanidi, who said she is involved in the permitting process, said the pro-Putin demonstrator was only the second person to use the legal protest area since the Games began. Katanidi said someone else had staged a solo protest, but she could not remember what he wanted. A third group applied but was turned down because it had too many people, she said, and no one else has asked permission.

A local human rights lawyer, Alexander Popkov, said he knew why: Several activists he defends, who might have staged rallies, are behind bars on what he called trumped-up charges. And that makes people worry that protest is not just futile; it’s dangerous.

Yes, a third demonstration was turned down because it had “too many people”. Because having a large number of people isn’t the entire point of protests, or anything. The rest of the people that might have protested? Yea, they’re all in jail. Great.