V&V Oversimplified Explanation Theater: What the hell is going on in Ukraine?

A new series, where we try to give a short, easy, way-oversimplified background and history to a story that could use at least a hint of explanation, but really needs like a massive book or several.

So, what the hell is going on in Ukraine? There’s these protests, people are mad, it’s gotten violent, and at least 25 people have died just between yesterday and today.

Let’s start at the beginning:

  • Ukraine lies at the intersection of Russia’s and the European Union’s interests.
  • It also lies at the intersection of the Russian world and the European world.
  • The E.U. would like closer diplomatic, cultural and economic ties with Ukraine.
  • Russia sees Ukraine as a lost province that just needs to find its way home.
  • (There’s a ton of natural gas involved in this too.)
  • Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is from the eastern part of the country, which is far closer to Russia than Europe.
  • He’s pretty much seen as wicked corrupt.
  • He was also a major figure the last time there were major protests in Ukraine.
  • In November 2013, he rejected a trade deal with the E.U.
  • And that’s when the protests began.
  • In an effort to quell the protest, parliament passes a draconian law outlawing them on January 16.
  • Doesn’t stop them, in fact, the first casualties occur just six days later.
  • As pressure mounts, on January 28, the prime minister quits and parliament annuls the anti-protest law.
  • There are about 25,000 protesters in Independence Square.
  • Yesterday, riot police attached the square, and at least 25 people died in the violence.
  • Today, the E.U. and U.S. are considering imposing sanctions.
  • Update: Lawmakers in the Lviv region (to the west bordering on Poland) have declared independence from the Yanukovych government.

Make sense? That’s what I thought.

This has been the first installment of V&V Oversimplified Explanation Theater.

Majority of Americans want better relations with Cuba, and so do I

A poll by the Atlantic Council found that 56% of Americans favor a more direct engagement, or even normalized relations with our neighbors off the coast of Florida. What’s more:

The poll offered even greater evidence that a political tide has turned with its finding that two critical domestic political constituencies favor renewed ties to Cuba by even larger majorities than the nation at large. Survey respondents from the US Hispanic community supported broader Cuban relations by 62 to 30 percent. And voting-age residents of Florida, a decisive swing state in recent presidential elections, back a policy change by 63 to 30 percent.

It’s such a bizarre accident of history and ethnicity that we treat Cuba the way we do. It’s supposed to be because Communism, but who seriously believes that? We trade freely with China, Vietnam—hell, pretty much every other “communist” country. The U.S. has instituted and defended dictatorships far more inhumane and despotic than the Castros. It’s a shame we never truly embraced the island when we had the chance, and instead turned it into a playpen for the corrupt, which of course spurred a revolution.

So, maybe this poll is good news that can at least begin a process of not even necessary embracing our southern neighbors. Of course, probably not with this congress, but maybe this administration. I just want to be able to freely fly to Havana and try a fresh Cuban with my mojito.

 

As an aside, apparently when President Kennedy instituted the embargo, they tried to exempt cigars:

We tried to exempt cigars,” John Kennedy told me in early 1961 when I brought him the order that imposed an embargo on trade with Cuba, ”but the cigar manufacturers in Tampa objected. I guess we’re out of luck.”

 

Two random North Korea-related stories of note

Just two random interesting things I came across today:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea apparently can’t get enough South Korea’s Choco Pies. In a country where the best jobs pay $63-100 a month, “the snacks are viewed as exotic, highly prized treats, selling on North Korea’s black markets for as much as $10.”

In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, meth is offered as casually as a cup of tea.

Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen probably hammered right now

CC Photo by Flickr user The Green Party

Breaking News: The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland gets drunk. Quite a bit. In fact, he’s probably rat-arsed right now. According, at least, to an alarming exposé by none other than that bastion of journalistic excellence, the Daily Mail:

But a review of Mr Cowen’s public behaviour and his own admissions, coupled with extensive interviews of people who have witnessed the Taoiseach’s excessive consumption, reveals a habit of drinking that has been well known in Leinster House for more than a decade.

This is a man who has designated Wednesday nights as ‘drinking nights’ – when he is able to imbibe heavily because he does not go into the Dáil on Thursdays.

And while Mr Cowen has struggled to avoid being seen inebriated in public, he has the unlimited use of the Dáil’s private bar – making it easy to conceal the true and worrying extent of his consumption.

It is an open secret in the Dáil that at Leader’s Questions, Opposition spokesmen tailor their questions according to whether or not the Taoiseach is hungover. If he has had a particularly heavy night, they try to bait him – leading to the sort of angry outburst from Mr Cowen that they know will guarantee them television exposure.