World news was understandably distracted by the events in France the last few days. It overshadowed a surprise election upset in Sri Lanka last night. Its been a few years since this blog discussed the authoritarian President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka who has spent the years following the end of the civil war suppressing dissent and trying to create a political dynasty. In the triumphalism that followed the destruction of the LTTE, Rajapaksa spent almost no time in healing the divided nation and chose to ignore the reasons the war started in the first place. The last few years Sri Lanka has been approaching pariah status, with Rajapaksa unwanted at international summits.
Yet even with his corrupt nepotistic despotism he remained very popular with the Sinhalese majority and called early elections in November expecting to win. It seemed the plan would work until his former health minister entered the race, challenged the despot and won. Rajapaksa has gracefully admitted defeat, ceding the stage to the new President Maithripala Sirisena.
Sirisena appears to have cannily capitalized on resentment among Sri Lanka’s minority groups and people turned off by the Rajapaksa clan taking control of all parts of government. Yet, it is not clear whether he will bring any relief to Sri Lanka’s struggling minority groups. Ethnic tension on the divided island could flare up allowing for a return of Rajapaka back to power, like Daniel Ortega did in Nicaragua. Hopefully Sirisena bridges the gap that proved to be a chasm to far for Rajapaksa to leap – from politician to statesman.
The Month Python star explains how stupid people are too stupid to realize they are stupid. Video below:
Cable news continues to be unwatchable. At a time when we face an Ebola epidemic in Africa, the threat of ISIS in the Middle East, a do-nothing Congress that will do nothing till the mid terms are done (and then thanks to the Republicans precious little after that). However, cable news was fixated by the faux scandal of the President stepping off a plane with a coffee cup in his hand. It gave the usual suspects an opportunity to vent their outrage on Barack Obama. It also gave Jon Stewart the opportunity for an epic rant. Video below:
Many people are dumb (note the other idiot in the video who does not pull his hand out after seeing what happens to his neighbor)
Indian mythology is full of folk tales of mongooses taking on and killing cobras. None of the stories has them taking on a pride of lions and living to tell the tale. Enjoy the video below. (Hat tip to iflscience)
If there is a picture that sums up the bullshit Faux News spews on a daily basis, this is it (hat tip to to Daily Kos).
The editor who typed up the script to the right is correct. But, why let facts come in the way of a good Obama bashing rant?
The capture of Russian paratroopers 20 miles inside Ukrainian territory is the latest expose of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine. Russia laughably claimed that the soldiers happened to get lost and just happened to stumble across the border.
— Canada at NATO (@CanadaNATO) August 27, 2014
However, reports indicate the Russian military has started military operations in Ukraine attacking Ukrainian forces closing in on Donetsk in the rear. The downing of Flight MH-17 by his thugs had briefly backed the Russian despot into a corner, but with domestic pressure rising and Ukrainian forces on the brink of victory Putin appears to have decided to send direct military aid. The half empty aid convoy last week appears to have been a distraction for the real invasion.
This happens as the Putin met the president of Ukraine in Minsk to discuss peace, even while he engages in bald faced lies about his invasion.
The problem for Ukraine is that Putin cares more about Ukraine than either the United States or Europe. The other problem is that the economic tools at America’s disposal are limited since Russia is a minor trading partner. Europe stuck in a long recession exacerbated by German demands for austerity is unwilling to risk further harm to its economy.
The result is Tsar Vlad is merrily annexing land from a neighbor with impunity.
The 2014 FIFA world cup starts this week. Much of the world (including yours truly) will be captivated by the spectacle that comes once every four years. Soccer (or Football as the world outside the United States accurately calls it) is by far the most popular sport in the world. Football crazy Brazil is hosting the world cup this year.
Yet the last year has seen the spectacle tarnished by controversy. Brazilians have been publicly protesting the waste of resources to build brand new stadiums at the cost of other social spending. The 2022 world cup awarded to Qatar has deservedly come for its share of abuse – from the idiocy of playing football in the desert in summer, to the slavery like labor practices in the oil rich Gulf countries and now allegations of corruption that have swirled around awarding the cup to Qatar in the first place.
FIFA like almost every multinational “non-profit” sports body is notoriously corrupt. The blatant waste of resources is now affecting the 2022 Winter Olympics with almost every potential bidder based in a democracy withdrawing their bids.
Pro-sports in the United States are a continuing scam where billionaire owners shake downs cities, counties and states for brand new arenas on the public dime under the threat of leaving down. The Atlanta Braves are the latest to pull off this con. Makes you wonder and hope that the 2022 Winter Olympics are the first sign that people have had enough.
But even then what is a football fan to do. Love the game, hate the corrupt bastards? It is not an easy conflict to resolve.
John Oliver delivered a comprehensive takedown of FIFA yesterday night, while admitting his own inner conflict. Enjoy the video below:
It is hard to overemphasize how the promise of the Arab Spring has turned into the depressing of an Arab Winter. Other than Tunisia, the hopes of democratization in the region have fallen by the wayside. Libya an artificial welding together of three Ottoman tribal vilayets under a flag has lapsed into chaos. Yemen is a failed state rapidly running out of water. Saudi Arabia has crushed the democracy movement in Bahrain (because it was Shiite). At the same time it has projected itself as the patron of the Sunni rebels against the Alawite Baath regime in Syria. Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war and a rapid exodus of population.
And then there is Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world which was once its cultural heart. Hosni Mubarak, the deposed
Pharoah President, was sentenced to jail for embezzlement last week along with his sons. In the aftermath of Mubarak’s fall, Egypt actually had a free and fair election. Unfortunately the Muslim Brotherhood which won the elections did not understand, that successful democracy requires the ability to respect institutions. Mohamed Morsi showed some autocratic tendencies that aroused the ire of the secular portions of the country. However, he was still the freely and fairly elected leader of Egypt. Morsi’s incompetence paved the way for the thugs who backed the Mubarak regime to launch a coup.
For some reason, the corrupt, brutal and inefficient Egyptian Army is still popular in Egypt. The Egyptian Army has not engaged in massacres like the Baath regimes of Syria and Egypt – but it is every bit as ruthless. The fall of Morsi was followed by a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood and the brutal suppression of their street protests. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a supporter of democracy. However, they are quick to note that they won a democratic election and it was stolen from them by force. The result will be the inevitable radicalization of its hard core supporters who see no reason to engage within the parameters of the Egyptian constitution. For now, the Brotherhood is on the run.
Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi the head of the Egyptian army then anointed himself as the new man to save Egypt. Spooked by the Muslim Brotherhood, much of Egypt’s secular element has allowed itself to being co-opted by the elements that used to support Hosni Mubarak – the very elements that had brought protesting mobs into Tahrir Square.
The election of el-Sissi was a foregone conclusion. He faced no real rivals and the government was portraying him as Egypt’s only savior for the last 10 months. There of course has been no real substance as to how the savior will work his miracles.
The result was the expected landslide for el-Sissi. Yet the anointment turned into a farce. The government wanted to show a turnout of 80% to demonstrate the deep reservoirs of support for the new Pharaoh.
The turnout ranged from 38-44% well below the 52% turnout in the election that elected Morsi. The panicked government kept the polls open for two more days in a desperate effort to get more voters before announcing the results.
It did not help that the result was a foregone conclusions or that the Islamists who turned out to elect Morsi largely stayed at home. The vote also probably reflects a deep ambivalence (his run for the presidency was greeted by a twitter hash tag that translates to “Vote for the Pimp“) about the self-proclaimed savior who has not identified any real program of reform (other than stomping the Brotherhood). Egypt now faces the real possibility of reversion to the malaise of the Hosni Mubarak era for the sake of “security.” The current government is essentially old wine in new bottles.
Hosni Mubarak may be headed to jail, but his clone has now ascended as the new Pharaoh. What a waste.
The European project has brought an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity to Western Europe. When it was conceived in the ash heaps of World War II, the extent of its success could hardly be imagined. After 1,000 years of hostility France and Germany would work to build a new Europe. Yet over the past 20 years it is hard to avoid the impression that Europes elites are losing the argument with their own people.
The elitism has been on display since the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union. It took Denmark two referendums to approve the treaty. The French approved it with the support of barely 51% of voters. Yet the elites soldiered on. Later treaties amending the Maastricht Treaty (the Treaty of Nice and the Treaty of Lisbon) were generally kept safe from the vagaries of the voting public, after the Irish voters rejected each treaty in their first referendums necessitating a second referendum to approve the treaty.
Rather than the voters, parliaments would approve the treaty. This is not uncommon in representative democracies. The problem is that other than the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom almost every mainstream party in Europe is pro-Europe. This short circuited the debates over increasing tensions over the loss of national sovereignty, the effect of unrestricted immigration and the effect of binding together the continent in a currency union via the Euro without the fiscal and banking unions to make it work.
The great recession has laid bare the fundamental flaws in the half-assed approach to creating a United States of Europe without political and fiscal union. Stuck in the Eurozone, Southern Europe no longer has the flexibility to devalue its currency. Germany the primary creditor to Southern Europe caught up in its historical nightmares of hyperinflation (and also benefiting from a stronger Euro) will not let the Euro devalue. Even worse, it has insisted on insane fiscal austerity that has turned recessions into depressions.
Economic malaise haunts the Eurozone. Xenophobic parties are on the rise across Europe. Last week came the first signs that political retribution may be at hand.
The United Kingdom Independence Party has long been dismissed as a bunch of racist kooks. The UKIP won a surprising victory in local elections held across England, which will send a shiver down the spine of the main three political parties in the UK. They followed that up by winning the most seats in the European Parliament elections. It must be noted that the British government has also reacted to the recession by double dip recession inducing austerity.
Europe’s elites ignore this resentment at their own peril. It is troubling that the elites in Brussels are still in denial about the real pain their policies have caused outside their ivory towers and attribute it to a failure of “national will.”
While, the UKIP and the National Front still poll under 30% of the national vote and it is unlikely they will actually seize power in either country they have tapped into a rich vein of resentment at the way the European Project has been hurtling across to union without taking into account the sentiments of the countries involved. The rise of economic immigration from Eastern Europe into countries that are not immigrant societies has aggravated ethnic tensions that allows xenophobes to flourish. The debates between the UKIP’s Nigel Farrage and the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg were a demonstration that the elites were losing the argument with the public. The election results have confirmed that.
It is time for Europe’s elites to engage in some introspection before economic turmoil puts the European project into jeopardy.
Rousseau’s Confessions refers to a “great princess” who when told that the peasants had no bread responded: “Let them eat brioche.” The contempt for the modern iteration of the Republican party for the poor is ill concealed – from their last Presidential standard bearer tagging 47% of the country as moochers to Congressmen waxing nostalgically of property requirements to vote.
The brazen cynicism seems to know no limits. The last few years Congressional Republicans have tried hard to cut food assistance to the poorest Americans. Yesterday Talking Points Memo flagged a recent House Republican Bill that pared back a modest food assistance bill to exclude urban areas and limit it to rural areas only. Rural areas of course tend to vote Republican.
Meanwhile in New Jersey alleged fiscal Chris Christie, having blown up his state budget to fund tax cuts for the rich is now trying to pay for the shortfall by raiding public employee pension funds thereby jeopardizing his own plan to fix public pensions. Christie is not the only Republican governor seduced by the tax cut fairy to believe that tax cuts magically boost growth enough to make up for revenue shortfalls (which has not happened under Reagan or Bush or anywhere else since).
Kansas, home of the oligarchs Koch, adopted their tax cut wet dreams. The result has been a state starved of revenue that lags the national growth rate whose schools and public services are being slashed.
Then there are all the Republican governors who will cut off the nose of their poor to spite their face. Obamacare derangement syndrome means that their states are rejecting federal money that for now covers 100% of expenses to expand Medicaid. Instead of following the Arizona model where the state accepts the funds only so long as the federal government pays for it, they would rather have their poor clog medical emergency rooms instead of getting health care.
They truly have no shame.
India’s month long election process finally came to an end last Friday. Everyone expected the ruling coalition led by the Congress to lose and the Bharatiya Janata Party coalition to win or become the largest grouping in the new parliament. The actual margin of victory was unclear.
After 10 years in power the Congress government was drifting aimlessly. Corruption scandals had sapped its credibility. Economic growth had slowed down, and the government was unable to offer up a meaningful economic program short of blatant populism.
Meanwhile, the BJP had anointed the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its standard bearer. Even though he was tainted by the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, Modi was able to point to the stellar economic performance of Gujarat on his watch and his acumen as an administrator. In contrast, all the Congress Party had to offer was a hapless bumbling dynastic scion, Rahul Gandhi. As the Congress declined in the last few years, the BJP and regional parties had stepped into the void.
Then there was the newest player in the political scene, the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party. The 2014 elections came too soon for the party to take advantage of a population tired of the coruption that permeates all parts of Indian life. And as it turned out, the AAP would be a bit player in the emerging “Tsunamo”.
As the image below shows, the results were breathtaking.
The BJP won…and it won Big. For the first time since 1984 a single party won a majority in Parliament. For the first time since 1984, a pre-election coalition won over 300 seats. The once mighty Congress party was reduced to less than 50 seats, which due to a constitutional quirk requiring 10% of seats to recognize a leader of the opposition means that the position will stay vacant for the first time since 1989.
The map shows how the BJP reached victory by winning close to 100% of the seats in its base states. While it won relatively few seats along the eastern seaboard, the BJP made deep inroads in the vote count that should unsettle the ruling regional parties.
Yet the results in Punjab, show the potential pitfalls for the BJP if it fails to deliver. Punjab is ruled by a coalition of the BJP and a Sikh party the Shiromani Akali Dal. The incompetent Akalis are unpopular and so is the Congress. As a result, the fledgling Akali Dal won its only 4 seats in Punjab – a sign for the AAP that should it gets its act together, there is political space to for the party to grow.
For the ruling Congress, the results could be a death knell. Reliant on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the party has been allergic to any other politicians with mass appeal. Yet the unimpressive scions on offer leave them little hope but to pray for the BJP to stumble.
When he takes office this week (likely on Wednesday), Narendra Modi will become the first Prime Minister of India born after independence. He will also be the first non-Septuagenarian/non-Octogenarian to hold the office in 18 years. India’s youth bought into his promise of change and getting India working again and with a comfortable majority in Parliament he will have all the opportunity to succeed. Yet, his party does not hold a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, whose consent is needed on certain legislation. Many of the problems facing India also fall under the power of the states. In Gujarat, Modi operated as a one man show. He will now have to learn to play nice with others.
Modi brings with him a feeling of euphoria in the aftermath of a national election not seen in decades. His personal story of rising to the top from an economically disadvantaged background makes his thumping of India’s most enduring dynasty even more compelling. India’s stock markets have shown their excitement by jumping to new peaks.
Congratulations Mr. Modi. Good luck as you get to work. Don’t eff it up.
The last few weeks my Facebook feed has been filled with parents complaining about their Frozen obsessed kids (generally daughters) driving them batty with repeated renditions of the songs. The good folk at HISHE have an alternative ending…which would of course have meant a much shorter movie. Enjoy the video below:
The last week has been a fascinating exercise to watch the Republican Party demonstrate its compassion for the poor and discriminated. It started with alleged policy wonk Paul Ryan misquoting a story to advance his opposition to free school lunches because the kid at the other end would rather have a home made lunch in a brown paper bag. This in typical Paul Ryan style ignored the possibility that the brown paper lunch bag from home could be empty.
Ryan then followed it up by following the vintage GOP racial dog whistle on urban poverty, ignoring rural poverty. As Jamelle Blue notes that after decades of pandering to racial resentment the GOP should not be surprised at such a backlash. However to give Ryan credit he did backtrack on his comments in a fashion few in his party would do.
Then over last week the GOP has trotted out female representatives to explain why we don’t need statutes to mandate equal pay for women. Now the extent of the gender pay gap can be debated, but there have been many cases like WalMart where women were paid less for the same work.
However according to Cari Christman, executive director of the Red State Women PAC, a Texas based group that is backing Greg Abbott, the current state Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor women are “too busy” for equal pay laws. Watch below:
Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Texas Republican Party, followed that up by recommending that “instead of pursuing the courts for action, [women should] become better negotiators.”
According to Minnesota state Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R) legislation to address equal pay and sick leave does not actually help women in the workplace, but makes them look like “whiners.” Listen below:
In an ideal fantasy world like the one State Sen. Phil Jensen (R-S.D.) inhabits, we would not need discrimination statutes. The ugly reality is that we are correcting centuries of gender and race discrimination and these attitudes still persist. Laws that mandate equal treatment based on gender or race are not “special rights.”. But the GOP seems to think it is still 1964. So much for the vaunted Republican outreach to women and minorities.
For the last few weeks Vladimir Putin has been mocking the intelligence of the world by denying the Russian invasion of the Crimea. Even if the laughable interpretation that the soldiers taking over the peninsula were “local self-defense units,” the Russians had no explanation for the Russian tanks patrolling the streets. Then this weekend came the mockery of a referendum on the fate of Crimea. The status quo was not an option on the ballot. Resentful Crimean Tatars boycotted the referendum. Support for unifying with Russia which measured in the 40s somehow manifested in a Soviet style 97% majority (aided by voting miracles like the votes cast in Sevastopol exceeding the voting population). Fresh off this mockery, Putin then proclaimed that Crimea had “always” been a part of Russia (even though it did not become a part of any Russian state till the late 18th century and the current Russian majority is the product of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing). The mask is off and Putin has now openly annexed the Crimea.
What happens next is where the danger lies. Russia is now pushing for the Finlandization of Ukraine – demanding it remain non-aligned and drastically federalize its constitution to meet Russian diktats. In the last few weeks Putin has asserted the right to intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians beyond his borders – a statement that probably sends a chill down the spines of his neighbors.
Yet in the long run Putin’s embrace of the Chinese model of making friends and influencing people belies a deep weakness – the KGB thug has been unable to steer his most valuable neighbor into his embrace with carrots and now tries the stick. This model has not worked well for China, which counts on rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea as its ally. Burma’s junta scared by a future as a Chinese colony choose to release Aung San Suu Kyi and cautiously democratized. ASEAN countries and Japan scared by Chinese saber rattling have run back to Uncle Sam’s embrace.
This is the future for Russia. Even if Putin detaches parts of Eastern Ukraine, he now has an extremely resentful neighbor on his western front. And the reward for this is Crimea – a province that relies on Ukraine for its water and electricity and is currently unreachable from Russian territory by road. He has ensured Russian expulsion from the G8 (not that Russia belonged there to begin with) and has sent alarm bells ringing in Russia’s former Warsaw Pact prisoners and the Baltic States. All this because for the second time in a decade Ukraine would not be ruled by Russia’s anointed leader.
Russia has the ability to cause mischief (notably in Iran and Syria) but barring miscalculations that lead to war in Ukraine, not much more.
The reaction in the United States has been typical. The Republicans agree with President Obama’s plans in substance (other than the silly desire to put missiles in the Czech Republic) but want more effective posturing. Mitt Romney not realizing his 15 minutes are up showed up to predictably bash the President but had no real substance to add in terms of solutions. The Obama administration’s hands are tied by the reality that its sanctions can have limited effect on Russia. The substance has to come from Europe, where the United Kingdom has been cheerfully accepting the wealth of Russian oligarchs and Germany is worried about the economic fallout. The next week will be critical to see if the Russians spend their time digesting the Crimea of proceed with the dismemberment of Ukraine.
This blog discussed the desperate attempts to gin up support for Obamacare last week. The oligarchs Koch have been running a series of mendacious sob stories about sympathetic victims losing health coverage. Cancer patient Julie Boonstra starred in one of the first commercials. As soon as the advertisement aired people smelled a rat and asked the Koch front group for supporting material for their assertions.
The group ran ads with Boonstra claiming that identifying factual inaccuracies was an attempt to “silence here.” However, when confronted with information from her insurer that she would actually save money, Boonstra retorted she did not believe it was true. Such is the legacy of Republican misinformation of the act. It must also be noted that Boonstra is the ex-wife of former country Republican party chairman. But of course that is just a “coincidence.” The mendacity will continue
Asif Mandvi dismantles another tedious right wing talking point about Obamacare – that it will destroy “the best healthcare system in the world.” Of course the WHO has ranked our system 37th- but why should facts interfere with a talking point. The reality also is that many people cannot afford our health care. The speechless look on Fox Business commentator Todd Wilemon who cheerfully opined that the solution for poverty was that the poor should “just stop being poor” is priceless. Video below:
The Russian invasion of the Crimea is grist of the Obama derangement syndrome mill. It is truly impressive how the right can fit their view of President Obama for any point of view. He is the tyrant, the dictator, the man taking away all of your freedoms. But now he is weak, feckless and wears mommy jeans. Coupled with their contempt for the President is the odd fascination with former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (whose stock rose in certain circles after Russia passed statutes restricting the rights of homosexuals.
Putin of course is not the strongman of their wet dreams. He heads a corrupt oligarchy funded by Russian oil and natural gas. Russia is a decaying country facing demographic disaster and Putin’s long tenure has not even begun to stem the rot. Even the invasion of Ukraine occurred from a position of weakness. Putin’s patsy in Kiev was abruptly toppled and the demonstrators in the Western part of the country indicated that their future is in Europe not in Putin’s corrupt oligarchic embrace.
Jon Stewart has a nice rundown of the derangement infecting the right. Video below:
The Republican party was often tagged as the party of the rich. The last few years they have barely concealed their contempt for the poor. The poor in this world view are the “takers”… leeches who live off the bounty graciously provided by the 1%. Poverty is always due to some inherent character failing… rather than due to unfortunate circumstances.
Such a world view sees no need for a social safety net and any such net must be eviscerated to give tax breaks to the worthy. It does not matter if you once benefited from the safety net… A dynamic that surfaced last week in Arkansas where a Republican state legislator alive today because of Medicaid was opposed to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare to cover the mooches (he of course was not one).
Alleged policy wonk Paul Ryan resurfaced this week with a policy paper claiming the war on poverty was a failure… though in typical fraudulent fashion the studies he cited did not support his assertions.
Jon Stewart lit into some of the babblers on Faux News and their ilk for the nonsense they spouted on food stamps. Video below:
Yes there is some fraud in any entitlement or social service program and it must be stopped. But the contempt these people have for the poor and disadvantaged is truly despicable.
Republicans appear to have convinced themselves that Obamacare is a disaster. Horror stories are repeatedly trotted out only to wither in the gaze of scrutiny. In most of these cases the alleged victim ends up getting better coverage for less money or was not aware of better coverage options (often due to deliberate misinformation spread by the Republican party). If Obamacare was such a disaster surely there would be more victims available.
This brings back memories of the desperate Republican attempts a decade ago to identify the hallowed family farm that would be lost due to estate taxes. They failed to find one… Probably because American agriculture is dominated by corporate farms and the yeoman farmer is increasingly a relic of history.
The video below shows Stephen Colbert mocking the desperate Republican attempts (now funded by the oligarchs Koch) to identify Obamacare horror stories.
Colbert followed that up with a hilarious satire with Patrick Stewart playing an Obamacare hating Louisiana workman on a fake anti-Obamacare ad. Video below:
Paul Krugman postulated recently that part of the problem is that the few losers are likely to be people in the 1% paying more taxes or healthy young men forced off minimalist policies. These obviously are not likely to draw much sympathy.
This brings up another point. Almost 4 years since Obamacare became law the Republicans have yet to unveil their oft promised viable replacement. Part of the problem always has been the fact that Obamacare was a Republican idea that somehow got tainted because President Obama embraced it. The other problem is that almost every Republican alternative diminishes consumer protections and would be far more disruptive to the healthcare industry.
As a result it is just easier to peddle faux Obamacare horror stories. The mendacity (like attacking Democrats for Medicare “cuts”that were part of the Paul Ryan budget) will continue.
The Russian ambassador to the United Nations read a purported letter today from the impeached ex-President of the Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych where the corrupt oligarch calls for the use of Russian troops “to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.” If genuine it constitutes a major departure from Yanukovych’s press conference last week where he stated the use of military force was unacceptable.
It also indicates Putin is relying on his quisling to find a justification for the invasion of Crimea. Yanukovych’s letter also claims there have been acts of terror requiring foreign intervention. Even though parts of the Maidan movement are xenophobic and fascistic, the Crimea is ruled by an autonomous republic dominated by ethnic Russians. No actual cases of these atrocities in the Crimea have yet come to light.
Putin’s government at present is reduced to talking out of both sides of its mouth, claiming that their quisling is the legitimate president of Ukraine bit acknowledging that restoring his kleptocratic regime to power is not possible.
The concern now is preventing the escalation to a shooting war. Russia denies that it gave ships of the Ukrainian navy an ultimatum to surrender. We will find out tomorrow.
This blog obviously is not a fan of Tsar Vlad and his invasion of the Crimea. However it does feel that the cheerleaders and supporters of the Bush administrations Iraq war in the media and in office (a list that includes Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator Grumpy and Senator Lumpy) should desist from pontificating that such invasions are unacceptable. Russia has long held that American policy has been hypocritical and here we continue to bear the brunt of the Bush administration’s frittering away American credibility abroad.
On a related note Peter Beinart has a column worth reading about the Russian sense of an ever expanding America after the United States reneged on its agreements not to expand NATO east after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Libya exposed the European components of NATO as paper tigers. However, some level of Putin’s paranoia does stem from an alliance that was conceived as a bulwark against Russia expanding to Russia’s borders. The United States has been hostile to similar expansions in its backyard (Cuba, Grenada, Nicaragua etc.). Russia has also previously justified its recognition of the separatist Georgian republics based on the Western recognition of Kosovo.
America’s questionable behavior is still no justification for Russia’s invasion of the Crimea under the spurious guise of protecting its compatriots. However, the pontificators in the United States would be wise to exercise self awareness and avoid easy charges of hypocrisy.
It has become an article of faith among American conservatives that Vladimir Putin is a Machiavellian maestro running circles around the United States. The reality is the Russian despot rules over a petrostate with nukes that is gradually morphing into the stereotypical “Oriental” despotism. Putin earned plaudits at home by improving on the inebriated Boris Yeltsin and “pacifying” Chechnya in a manner that brings to mind the famous quote attributed by Tacitus to the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus regarding Pax Romana:
Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.
The Russian Federation may not be in a state of anarchy of the Yeltsin years but it is a profoundly diseased state. Putin has grasped on the sinews of power but has fundamentally failed to regenerate the institutions of the state that create great leaders. Wealth is concentrated with the oligarchs so long as they remain loyal to the Kremlin. Public dissent is not tolerated and public protests require permits. Journalists have been killed and opposition leaders have been locked up on spurious charges. The last round of elections in Russia and the blatant rigging of the results underscored a deep dissatisfaction with the path Putin’s Russia has taken. Yet with no rivals visible and with any threats snuffed out, Tsar Vlad continues to rule. Oil, nukes and size ensure that for now Russia will not be a basket case like the next door (Russian subsidized) despotism in Belarus.
Yet Tsar Vlad is deeply paranoid. The color revolutions over the past decade (Green in Iran, Rose in Georgia and Orange in Ukraine in 2004), even if they were not all successful, have evidently create a determination that Putin’s creaky aristocracy will not be next. The fall of his patsy Viktor Yanukovych, even though he distrusted him, was an unwelcome slap in the face that eliminated the buzz from the Sochi Olympics.
The trigger for the protests that brought down Yanukovych was his backtracking on an agreement with the European Union in favor of a Russian led customs union. Over the course of the crisis Putin dangled the bait for the 15 billion dollar loan Ukraine desperately needed and at times withheld funds when Yanukovych showed signs of wobbling to the protesters in the Maidan. All of this was to no avail. His fellow kelptocrat fled Kiev and the despised opposition took over in Kiev.
Ukraine is a divided country with a large Russian speaking population. It desperately needs Russian natural gas and financial help. Putin could have disavowed Yanukovych as a corrupt incompetent and made the desperate Ukrainian regime the type of offer that wins friends. That would have been the act of a statesman.
But Tsar Putin has never been confused with a statesman. The man who felt the fall of the Soviet Union was a tragedy has over the years been obsessed with restoring Russian prestige in the near abroad. So the wounded Tsar chose to flex his muscles by invading the Crimea under the shield of a laughable subterfuge.
In the finest Russian tradition of acting to protect its compatriots – who never were really in any danger – Russia sent soldiers in camouflage into the Crimea in violation of a 1994 agreement to respect Ukraine’s borders. The Crimea has always been a sore sport for Russia since Nikita Khrushchev arbitrarily gifted to Ukraine in the 1950s. With a majority Russian population it has long seethed at ties to Kiev. Yet for the last 20 years it has internationally been recognized as a part of Ukraine and has had its own autonomous sub-republic. More worryingly Tsar Vlad declared a right to interfere on behalf of Russian minorities anywhere which sent chills down the spines of Russia’s neighbors.
The intervention leaves the United States with few options. Military intervention is unthinkable and Ukraine is not a NATO member. The United States needs Russian cooperation in Syria and Iran. Yet the usual suspects have gone to the TV shows bleating about this being due to American “weakness.” Senator Grumpy already proclaimed that “we [were] all Ukrainians,” a reminder of his similar dumb comment during the 2008 Russian war with Georgia. Senator Lumpy excoriated President Obama’s weaknesses for encouraging the Russians. Senator Rubio desperate to regain his conservative bonafides in time for the 2016 Presidential primaries proclaimed that “Russia has a government of liars.”
None of this is immediately helpful for solutions on what the United States should do with Tsar Vlad’s petulant invasion. Senator Grumpy in his continuing efforts to get us into another war wants the United States to bring Georgia into NATO. The immediate aftermath will be a cancellation of the impending G-8 meeting in Sochi. Russia which never really belonged in the group will likely be suspended from the organization. The primary weapon will likely be some type of targeted economic retaliation – even though sanctions have had limited effects on countries in the past. Hopefully the solution includes a generous economic assistance package to the wobbly Ukrainian government (hopefully without the German depression inducing austerity prescriptions).
But for now we watch and wait…and hope that Putin’s miscalculations and bluster do not trigger a civil war in Ukraine.
Over the last year it has become an article of faith among opponents of President Obama that Vladimir Putin has taken command over the world stage. The event of the last week confirm how ridiculous that view is. Putin’s corporatist state is essentially a oil producing state with nuclear weapons that struggles to keep control of its “near abroad.”
Since late last year the Ukrainian capital of Kiev has been subject to series of mass protests that would not die. The trigger appears to have been the sudden decision of President Yanukovych to abruptly abandon a deal with the European Union in favor of one with Putin’s Russia. The thought of being folded into Tsar Vladimir’s embrace was not a pleasant one for many in the western part of the country and they took to the streets.
Ukraine is a deeply divided country religiously, linguistically and politically. The western part tends to be Catholic, speak Ukrainian and wants closer ties to Europe. The East (and the Crimea) where Yanukovych drew his support tends to be Orthodox, speak Russian and favors closer ties to Russia. These are divisions Russia has eagerly played on over the last decade.
An attempt to rig the presidential elections in favor of Yanukovych in 2004 led to the so called Orange Revolution. Unfortunately the gains of the Orange Revolution were squandered by incompetence and squabbling allowing Yanukovych to gain power in the 2010 elections. However, once in power Yanukovych too squandered his victory. He tossed his election opponent Yulia Tymoshenko into prison on what appears to have been a trumped up charge. Along with his own coterie of oligarchs he spent his time enriching himself and mismanaging the Ukranian economy. By late last year Ukraine desperately needed foreign aid and the 15 billion dollars offered by Putin seemed tempting.
Late last year Yanukovych attempted to clear the protesters in the Maidan by force, a move that backfired. As time dragged on the protests became radicalized with many protesters engaging in violence against the police and starting to seize local city halls. Then last week Yanukovych appears to have unleashed snipers on the crowd leading to the specter of civil war.
The problem for Yanukovych was that his support base was brittle. His oligarch supporters appear to have wanted no part of a pariah state and when a final negotiated solution to share power fell through he abruptly fled.
Jubilant protesters stormed parliament and Yanukovych’s mansion outside the city and parliament promptly voted to impeach Yanukovych and revert to the 2004 constitution that weakened presidential powers. An arrest warrant has now been issued for Yanukovych’s arrest.
The pictures from his estate (complete with a private zoo with peacocks) display just how far Yanukovych went in feathering his nest.
— Euromaidan PR (@EuromaidanPR) February 22, 2014
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) February 22, 2014
— James Miller (@MillerMENA) February 22, 2014
— ЄВРОМАЙДАН (@euromaidan) February 22, 2014
— Myroslava Petsa (@myroslavapetsa) February 22, 2014
— Українська правда (@ukrpravda_news) February 22, 2014
Every President needs one of these pic.twitter.com/IpDyROISD8
— Matt Frei (@mattfrei) February 22, 2014
Yanukovych has so far refused to accept his deposition and there are rumors that he may have fled to the Crimea, the most intensely pro-Russian portion of Ukraine. Peeved at the deposition of his patsy and the abrupt pro-EU turn Ukraine has taken, Russia has withdrawn its ambassador from Kiev. The next step from Moscow is unclear. Russia has in the past cheerfully splintered some of the former Soviet Republics, a strategy that predates Putin – See Transnistria. The temptations to play such games in the East and particularly in the Crimea (home of Russia’s black sea fleet) will be strong. However, so far nobody in Ukraine seems to be discussing such an eventuality.
The challenges for Ukraine are grave. The country is an economic mess. Sections of the opposition are notoriously anti-Semitic and fascistic. Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison a martyr to Yanukovych’s regime but carries with her the baggage of unsavory business dealings from the 1990s and the squabbling in the aftermath of the Orange revolution. Yanukovych is gone but the core problems remain…added with the worries of a neighbor who controls the switch to Ukraine’s natural gas supply and has been known to use it for leverage.
Once the adrenaline rush from the dramatic fall of Viktor Yanukovych fades the bleak reality of digging out of the rubble lies ahead.