The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

On the ground in Kyiv

My friend in Ukraine gave me an update overnight:

It's not the opposition that has taken over president's residence; [Yanukovich] has abandoned it, and it was available for public to see. The Maidan guys are actually guarding it so it does not get burnt down.

The Opposition is not "controlling" the city. We have a fully-legitimate parliament that is working, and yes, patrols from Maidan are around to prevent crime as thousands of "titushkies" (thugs) are in Kiev, paid by the government.

Another very important point: the opposition for us is basically three guys who have their own political agenda. When it was starting peacefully back in November, they had their political rallies next door to Maidan, which is the main place. Soon they agreed to join efforts if they each of them stopped individually using the "Maidan," as the place represents every party. The protests were first for EU, and then changed into anti-Yanukovich issues once students's blood was shed in November. So our "opposition" is not the driving force. It's a bit of a façade. But they're not the power, and they get kicked by Maidan, too.

But the guys who were the majority of the Parliament, the Party of Regions, are gradually leaving the party. So there is no one "controlling" the parliament. They are simply scared for their future, so they change colors, and they vote vote vote with the majority.

The capital is quieter today, and Russia, preoccupied with the closing ceremonies in Sochi, haven't turned their attention back to their old province. That, I expect, will happen tomorrow.

Look everyone, Yulia's back. Great.

It's coming up on midnight in Ukraine, and former prime minister (and convicted felon) Yulia Tymoshenko is out of jail, addressing the crowds. The Beeb and Times are reporting that she's surrounded by ecstatic crowds, but other sources, including my friend in Kyiv, are not so enthusiastic. As political as Tymoshenko's trial was, there was enough truth to it that Ukrainians believe she deserved jail. I haven't got a strong opinion on that if for no other reason than Illinois' last governor is also in jail for corruption.

In fact, the exact phrase my friend used was "на воды СРОЧНО," which translates roughly to "get thee to a nunnery." She reports further that Ukrainians have moved past both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich, and are ready for a real government now, thank you. Tymoshenko is a modern-day Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, shouting "there go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."

Yanukovich, for his part, has fled the capital, though without actually reading the histories of Louis XVI or Nicolae Ceaușescu. So he got caught, and now he appears to be in the eastern city of Kharkiv, waiting desperately for the Olympics to finish so he can once again get Russian help. Only, like Ceaușescu before him, it looks unlikely Russia will do anything at all as long as Ukraine doesn't slip into total chaos.

Wait, let me revise and extend those comments. My non-expert bet would be that Russia announces new sanctions against Ukraine on Monday, and then shuts off their gas. Europe simply doesn't have enough to send east to Ukraine, so I expect people in Kyiv will be awfully cold for a few weeks.

Still, Yanukovich's plight brings Oscar Wilde's Lady Bricknell to mind: "To lose one's country to a popular uprising, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose it twice looks like carelessness."

Update, Sunday, 10:49am: Julia Ioffe agrees.

From Russia with loathing

While things go from scary to stunning in Ukraine, the New Republic's Julia Ioffe has kept me riveted with her series of posts about Russia.

Yesterday, for example. "The Kremlin, the Russian Liberals, and the West All See What They Want to See in Ukraine:"

[T]he battle unfolding in the streets of Kiev today is proving to be yet another geopolitical blank slate, projected onto the shields and helmets and backs of the scurrying warriors on both sides. The storming of the Maidan of Independence, the rapidly mounting casualties, the guns, the bullets—all are subject to highly politicized debate. Because the details matter, and, flipped this way or that, plucked this way or that, totally change the story, and the message. And through the people on the streets, everyone else, near and far, is fighting their own fight.

The Russian Government: Most of the coverage coming from Kremlin-controlled media in Russia is about the mounting casualties ... among police officers.

Tuesday: "Russian Team Eliminated in Hockey, Surprising Only the Russians."

Monday: "What's Happening in Kiev Right Now Is Vladimir Putin's Worst Nightmare."

According to her Facebook page, she's in Kyiv right now. I'm looking forward to her dispatches.

What the hell just happened in Ukraine?

NPR reported earlier this morning that Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich has fled Kyiv and his supporters in Parliament have started resigning. Things are changing quickly on the ground, however. Here's the New York Times half an hour ago:

An opposition unit took control of the presidential palace outside Kiev on Saturday, as leaders in Parliament said Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, had fled the capital a day after a deal was reached aimed at ending the country’s spiral of violence.

Members of an opposition group from Lviv called the 31st Hundred — carrying clubs and some of them wearing masks — were in control of the entryways to the palace Saturday morning. And Vitali Klitschko, one of three opposition leaders who signed the deal to end the violence, said that Mr. Yanukovych had “left the capital” but his whereabouts were unknown, with members of the opposition speculating that he had gone to Kharkiv, in the northeast part of Ukraine.

The BBC has a different story as of 10 minutes ago:

Ukrainian President Yanukovych has said he has no intention of quitting and has described events in the capital Kiev events as a "coup".

The opposition is effectively in control of the city and parliament.

NPR, just now:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who has reportedly left the capital Kiev, was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying events in the country amounted to a coup.

"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d'etat," he was quoted as saying.

If true, it may constitute a coup, which is troubling. But the Parliament—now in control of the opposition—appears to be trying to keep the institutions of government functioning, with elections apparently scheduled for May 25th.

I'm hedging, because obviously no one knows what's going on there. My friend in Kyiv is still online, but doesn't have a direct view of the Maidan at the moment.

I'll be watching this closely today.

The State of the Union

"Mister Speaker, the President of the United States."

21:00 EST: I switched to CNN because Paul Krugman said he'd be on. He is not in evidence. Over to NPR, because the CNN commentators are so annoying.

21:03: I love NPR, and Mara Liasson in particular, but wow. Nobody knows anything.

21:05: The Republicans have had training on how to talk to women. That says everything you need to know about American politics these days. Fortunately, only men who own property can vote, so it doesn't really matter in November.

21:14: Is Boehner already drunk?

21:15: Education! Fuck yeah!

21:16: I can't even watch CNN video, it's too far behind the radio. I mean, what, they've got him on a delay? Seriously, CNN is 8 seconds behind NPR.

21:17: "It is you who make the state of the Union strong." My ruling on drinking games: this is semantically equivalent to "The state of the Union is strong."

21:18: China, already? Must be a mid-term year.

21:20: What un-american person would shut down the government? Commies. That's who.

21:21: "Inequality has deepened. ... Too many Americans are working too hard just to get ahead, and too many aren't working at all. ... Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation...." I mean, I like this guy, and I'm frustrated by Republican intransigence, as happy as I am about recognizing inequality, I'm not happy about strengthening the executive.

21:25: "The son of a barkeep is the Speaker of the House." Thank you, thank you, don't forget to tip your bartenders.

21:26: "Both Democrats and Republicans have complained that our tax code is riddled with loopholes..." Yes, but we complain about different loopholes. Middle-class wage earners aren't exercised about the mortgage interest deduction; they're pissed about capital gains exclusions. This is non-trivial. And when I say President Obama—who I've supported in two presidential races and two U.S. Senate races—when I say this guy is a Republican, this is what I mean. If only the Republican Party could accept this.

21:31: Energy independence isn't possible in the U.S., not until we cut consumption by 40%. But he has to say this. And the Republicans have to sit on their hands, because they're in thrall to the energy companies. Wow, I wish we had an opposition party instead of a fringe group.

21:32: A friend just texted that her phone kept auto-correcting "Boehner" to "Bieber." Oddly, despite Bieber being a foreign national and citizen, I would be OK with the switch.

21:34: Sigh. Our children's children might say things to us, but we X-ers are getting married and reproducing so late in life, it's odds-against that we'll survive to see our grandchildren.

21:36: Immigration, fuck yeah! If only because, you know, 99.8% 100% of all Americans are descended from immigrants. (Seriously, what kind of hypocrite opposes immigration reform?)

21:38: "This Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million Americans." YES. How can people actually oppose people having food, shelter, and health care?

21:43: Again, how can anyone oppose these things? Well, if you believe that partisan politics is more important than policy, it's natural. But if you get your head out of your ass, it's really hard to disagree.

21:46: Oh, no, the 77c fallacy. I mean, you read my blog, you know where I stand, but seriously. Our problem is parental leave, not "a Mad Men episode." Do we really have to make the same arguments we've been making for 60 years? I guess so, just in case some women might vote Republican in November. Comments, please: doesn't this sound patronizing already?

21:50: A $10.10 minimum wage may not even be enough. But it's a good step. My state's is $8.25, which isn't enough. Again, how do people oppose this?

21:54: WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU 50 MINUTES INTO THE SPEECH AND ONLY NOW TALKING ABOUT HOW GREAT THE ACA IS? This is simply the biggest accomplishment of his first term. Let me repeat that: THE ACA IS THE BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE PRESIDENT'S FIRST TERM. "Let's not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of people." I mean, shit, talk about burying the lede...

21:58: "Citizenship means everyone's right to vote." It's really sad that the President has to point this out to Congress. "It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank accounts, that drives our democracy."

22:02: "America's longest war could be over." America's longest war. Yeah, 13 years already. Except for the war on drugs, the war on poverty, and the war on metaphor, none of which we've ended. (Sorry, too snarky?)

22:05: "America must move off a permanent war footing." Sigh. Such a plain-English statement, with which I agree completely, but will it come to pass? Please, in the next 22 months, please help us not be Rome.

22:06: Closing Guantanamo? Because Constitution? Don't lie to me Barry. Don't lie to me.

22:07: "America's diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated." It's sad he has to mention our threat of force. But we live in the era of MURICA FUCK YEAH so, you know, baby steps.

22:10: "If Congress sends me a bill [that fucks with our diplomatic efforts with Iran], I will veto it." We have the chance to come to rapprochement with Iran. We are this close. Congress is now on notice not to start a war.

22:12: Shout out to Ukrainian democracy.

22:13: Seriously, the President mentions the Olympics, and you start a "U-S-A" chant? How insecure are you children?

21:17: I respect everyone who serves, or who has served, in our armed forces. But my dog, I hate props. Google these terms: argumentum ad populi. Argumentum ad misericordiam. Argumentum ad vericundiam. Circulus in probandum. Petitio principii. Let me suggest, with no irony, that these things named in Latin argue for their universality.

21:20: This is my President. I voted for him six times*. I get the job he has to do tonight. And in today's political climate, I continue to support him. But, wow, my Eisenhower-Republican grandparents would be perfectly happy with tonight's speech.

That's where we are today. President Obama just gave a perfectly competent, perfectly good sixth-year speech. I agree with just about all of it—but (a) how could you not? except (b) he argued for more executive power, in an era of unprecedented executive power.

Even though I've been live-blogging with ample assistance from the most excellent Anti-Hero IPA, I need to think about this speech. I think it's reasonable, living in a democracy, to make compromises; to accept that the leader of your party has to make public pronouncements for politics that you disagree with; to support the person that gets shit done in the general direction you want. And I recognize that my party's challenge in the next 10 months is to hold on to the U.S. Senate, especially since we've blown up the filibuster.

21:33: Oh, dog. The Republican response, from representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers from eastern Washington, is making my stomach churn.

Yes, folks. Here's the distinction. You can have policy, or you can have pabulum. "A vision...that champions the people, not the government...."

Bible...200th woman in Congress...Work hard, help others, and always, always dream for more...married a Navy guy...Down's syndrome...gift from God...we are not bound by what we come from...the gap between where you are, and where you want to be...securing our borders...her premiums were going up $700 a month**...you can find coverage, and a doctor who will treat you...we advance these plans every day...the true state of the union lies*** in your heart...with the guidance of God, we may prove ourselves worthy...may God guide you and our President...

tl;dr: our policies are hurting you, because you're an infidel, but the President is in a different party, so blame him, not us.

All right. Here's my wish. I want a strong, progressive party in the majority, and a strong, rational opposition. I see neither of those things right now. And I am frustrated.

* 2004 U.S. Senate primary, 2004 U.S. Senate general, 2008 presidential primary, 2008 general, 2012 presidential primary, 2012 presidential general.

** This result is actually not possible under the ACA unless she radically expanded her coverage.

*** Her word, not mine. I sincerely hope the state of the union never lies to you. I hope you listen carefully, and listen with reason.

The pain in Ukraine falls mainly on the plain

Via Sullivan, Washington Post staffer Max Fisher explains how Ukraine's divisions are about more than one politician:

Ukrainian is the majority and official language of Ukraine. But, as a legacy of of the country's subjugation by Russia, many Ukrainians speak Russian, which is the native language for about one-third of the population. The Russian speakers are clustered in the south and east. A significant chunk of them are ethnic Russian, as well. In some regions, more than three-quarters of the population speaks Russian as their primary language.

Heavily Russian-speaking regions can tend to be more sympathetic (or at least less hostile) to policies that bring their country closer to Russia, as Yanukovych has been doing. But the Ukrainian-speaking regions have historically sought a Ukrainian national identity that is less Russia-facing and more European. So this is about politics, yes, but it's also about identity, about the question of what it means to be Ukrainian.

I visited Kyiv (Kiev) in 2009, a few months before Yanukovich's return to power. My host and I didn't talk about politics much, but she did show me where the protests that unseated him in 2004 had happened.

Kyiv has roughly equal populations of Ukrainian and Russian speakers, being the capital and all, though it's pretty firmly within the Ukrainian-speaking part of the country. I got the sense, from the few people I talked to, that Russia made everyone a little nervous. But it was spring, the weather was perfect, and I was really only there to see things like this:

My Ukrainian friends here and in Europe are scared for their country. Remember, it's only been independent for 23 years, after centuries of subjugation by others. (Sound familiar?) We'll see. There are a lot of angry people there right now.

Busy week, quiet blog

I've got outside meetings every day this week, and those tend to compress my days. So there might be more link lists like this one coming up:

Back to the mines.

Why people don't visit the U.S.

Andrew Sullivan, commenting on evidence that requiring visas keeps tourists away, explains why arriving in America generally sucks for most people:

This may seem trivial, but it isn’t with respect to American soft power. Most [of my readers] are American citizens, so they don’t fully see what it is like to enter the US as a non-citizen. It’s a grueling, off-putting, frightening, and often brutal process. Compared with entering a European country, it’s like entering a police state. When you add the sheer difficulty of getting a visa, the brusque, rude and contemptuous treatment you routinely get from immigration officials at the border, the sense that all visitors are criminals and potential terrorists unless proven otherwise, the US remains one of the most unpleasant places for anyone in the world to try and get access to.

And this, of course, is a function not only of a vast and all-powerful bureaucracy. It’s a function of this country’s paranoia and increasing insularity. It’s a thoroughly democratic decision to keep foreigners out as much as possible. And it’s getting worse and worse.

Even for returning U.S. citizens, our border can be a pain in the ass. This is why I am overjoyed to have a Global Entry endorsement. But even though I've seen the lines, I've never experienced coming here as a foreigner. My experiences in most other countries—Russia being the most memorable exception—have been completely benign. Plus, only a dozen or so countries require me to get a visa before arriving. Only Norwegians can visit more countries visa-free than we can.

Has anyone out there had a negative experience at our border?

While my nephew gently sleeps

Nephew #1 arrived yesterday evening while I sat a mile away talking with the manager of San Benito House and, apparently, challenging people to a Scrabble game later today. Nephew #1 is a much lighter sleeper than the rest of us, which causes him frustration, and when he gets frustrated he sets out to determine how much noise is required to make everyone exactly as light a sleeper as he.

Fortunately, I'm on Chicago time, so getting up at 5am PST (7am CST) does not bother me. And it gives me some time to read the articles that crossed my inbox overnight:

It's still an hour before dawn here, so I'm rocking out the nearly-empty Peet's, about to resume some client work. I promise another photo of the ocean before I return home tomorrow.

Right-wing dick swinging is universal

What is it about the right? I have difficulty imagining what it must be like to have such a constricted worldview that every provocation requires an escalation.

The latest example of right-wing anti-diplomacy comes not from a state representative somewhere in the southern U.S., nor from a local Chinese official, nor from Marine le Pen. No, this time it's serial dick-swinger Shinzo Abe, who decided to help diffuse the tense diplomatic situation in the Sea of Japan by poking his finger in China's and Korea's eyes:

At first I didn't believe the news this evening that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. I didn't believe it, because such a move would be guaranteed to make a delicate situation in East Asia far, far worse. So Abe wouldn't actually do it, right? 

It turns out that he has. For a Japanese leader to visit Yasukuni, in the midst of tensions with China, is not quite equivalent to a German chancellor visiting Auschwitz or Buchenwald in the midst of some disagreement with Israel. Or a white American politician visiting some lynching site knowing that the NAACP is watching. But it's close.

In short, there is almost nothing a Japanese prime minister could have done that would have inflamed tempers more along the Japan-China-South Korea-U.S. axis than to make this visit. And yet he went ahead. Last month, I said that China had taken a kind of anti-soft-power prize by needlessly creating its "ADIZ" and alarming many of its neighbors. It seems that I was wrong. The prize returns to Japan.

Really, this is the right-wing mindset. Aggression, nationalism, belligerence, and domestic policies that completely undermine foreign policies. Shinzo Abe, Binyamin Netanyahu, Recep Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Yanukovich...there sure is a lot of this going around recently.

Good thing none of those people has the power to start a major regional war that would suck the U.S. into someone else's crap.