The Political Breakdown

Mar 12

US President Barack Obama has welcomed Ukraine’s interim prime minister to the White House and pledged to “stand with Ukraine” in its dispute with Russia. He warned Russian President Vladimir Putin the international community “will be forced to apply costs” if Russia does not remove its troops from Crimea. Earlier, leaders of the G7 group of nations issued a similar threat.

Ukraine PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaking after meeting Mr Obama, said Ukraine “will never surrender” to Russia.

"It is absolutely unacceptable to have Russian boots on the Ukrainian ground in the 21st century, violating all international deals and treaties," he said.

The diplomatic appeals to Moscow come ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, in which citizens will be asked if they want to stay with Ukraine or join Russia.

The Russian military and pro-Russian armed men moved in to seize key sites in Crimea - an autonomous region of Ukraine whose population is mainly ethnic Russian - in late February after the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The interim government in Ukraine and its Western allies say the vote violates Ukraine’s constitution and will not be lawful. Russia says it will respect the outcome of the referendum.

” —

BBC News - U.S. President Obama pledges to stand with Ukraine.

According to Clausewitz, interest is defined as power. Russia has succinctly shown that in an anarchic international system, laws are fine and good but power is the ultimate decision-maker. Let’s just Ukraine’s backbone and the international community will be enough to keep them from carving up a country simply because it didn’t behave the way they wanted it to.

Mar 06

Senate rejects bid to change how military handles sexual assault -

reuters:

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted down a bid to overhaul the way the U.S. military handles cases of sexual assault by removing prosecution from the military chain of command.Senators

Disgusted. I’ve been following this on and off for a while. Many articles, a variety of awful anecdotes, and several NPR stories have convinced me we need a serious change in how military cases of sexual assault are handled.

And the Senate decided not to. Expect a breakdown in the coming weeks.

Mar 05

Welcome!

I got some positive comments and a handful of new followers off yesterday’s breakdown of the Ukrainian protests and the current invasion of Crimea by Russia. Hello to my handful of new followers! Just wanted to let you know that while I’ll post quotes and thoughts, usually of a political nature, this blog revolves around breakdowns: articles where I try to summarize the complex political issues of the day in concise, easy to understand terms. If there’s something you’ve been hearing about on the news or the radio and really want to know what’s going on, feel free to request a breakdown. Just send me an “Ask” message.

Take care and happy blogging,

-TPB

Mar 04

Breakdown: The Crisis in Ukraine

This is a breakdown article, in which I try to make sense of a complicated political issue in a fairly easy to understand manner. The point is for everyone to be educated and knowledgeable about what’s going on in the world around them.

Right now I’m attempting to explain the crisis in Ukraine: what has happened so far, how we got there, and what we can expect. You could write a book on Ukraine and what’s led up to the current situation, so this is going to be a true breakdown: an overview article meant to give you a solid idea of what’s going on and link you to resources for further reading. I’ve pieced this together in the little free time I’ve had in the last several days - please forgive any typos or grammatical errors.

Read. Educate yourselves. Let’s get started.

Can you give me a brief background on Ukraine?

Sure. Ukraine is an Eastern European country that borders Russia to the east. It was part of the Soviet Union until its collapse, and since it has been an independent nation. It is a diverse ethnic blend of ethnic Russians, Belarusians, Tatars (a muslim minority) and Belarusians. Kiev is its capital.

Why did the riots start in the first place?

On November 21st, Ukraine rejected a trade deal with the European Union in favor of keeping close ties with the Russian government. This deal, in the works for years, would have allowed Ukraine citizens to travel through the EU without visas; in exchange, Ukraine would have initiated hundreds of new laws and regulations. This choice by the Ukrainian government to side with Russia over the EU infuriated many. Thousands of Ukrainian citizens responded by taking to the streets in peaceful protest. The protestors flocked to Maidan Nezalezhnosti,  known as Maidan, the central square of Kiev, capital city of Ukraine. It means Independence Square, and was named so after Ukraine declared its independence from the falling Soviet Union in 1991.

The protests continued until late February, growing increasingly violent. In late November police brutally attacked a group of protests. On the 30th of November, protestors seized Kiev City Hall. Tension held the nation.

How and why did things escalate?

What started as a peaceful protest escalated slowly over the ensuing months. News of police attacking protestors and abducting activists only fanned the flames of revolution. The first deaths occurred on January 22nd, as two protesters were shot and killed by police.

Despite the deaths, by mid February peace seemed possible. An amnesty deal was reached that would have given amnesty to arrested protesters, and new rules limiting presidential powers were being strongly considered by the Ukrainian parliament. But it was not to be.

On February 18th the Parliament rejected debate on changing the constitution to limit presidential power. This news infuriated protesters; clashes on the same day left twenty-six dead and hundreds injured. And the worst was yet to come: the protests were shocked to a higher level of full-on revolution when government snipers apparently shot protesters in two days of violence beginning on February 20th. Between the snipers and the police-protester violence, at least 77 people were killed and more than 600 were wounded, according to the health ministry of Kiev.

Let it be noted that neither the police nor the protesters are blameless. Police were part of this death toll, and no one knows who cast the first stone that began this violence.

Shortly thereafter, under extreme pressure from the EU, Yanukovych signed a deal to transfer his presidential powers to the Ukrainian parliament and hold early elections. However, by the next day he had left the capital (it was later found out that Yanukovych had fled to Russia). This dealt a death stroke to his administration, which effectively ceased to be.

One of the protest leaders, Oleksander Turchyknov, stepped into the power vacuum as interim president. Arseniy Yatsenyuk joined as the interim prime minister. On February 24th, Ukraine’s parliament voted to hold early elections on May 25th.

Sounds like things were getting better..so what’s up with Russia and Crimea? Just what happened?

Things did seem to be looking up, until Russia got involved and everything went to hell.

Crimea is an autonomous region within Ukraine. It is governed by its own constitution, but must ultimately follow Ukrainian laws. Crimea is majority ethnic Russian, and has close but extremely complicated ties to Russia. From 1921 to the fall of the Soviet Union Crimea was a part of the Soviet Union. It was the scene of famine (including the devastating Holodomor) during the 20s and 30s and of ethnic cleansing during the 1940s. In 1954 Ukraine was given the devastated region, though it meant little until the USSR fell. Upon the fall of the Soviet Union it eventually became a part of Ukraine (after briefly declaring itself independent). The extremely short version is that Crimea’s integration with Ukraine has always been tense, and its close ties with Russia have led Russia to attempt to exert its influence in Crimea in the past.

It can be factually stated the Russian government does not support the protests in Ukraine (they said so many times, and quite strongly) and does not wish to see a change of government. The Yanukovych administration is on very close terms with Russia (if you’ll recall, that’s how this whole mess started) while the more liberal nascent government of the protest is far more liberal and western-oriented. With the Russian majority in Crimea providing an excellent excuse to move militarily into the region, Russia struck.

All that background is all fine and good but just what happened??

Okay, okay. Geez. Pushy.

So if you’ll recall, by late February Yanukovych had fled, an interim government had set itself up in Ukraine, and the Parliament had scheduled elections in May. Vox Populi, right? On the 28th of February Russia moved forces into Ukraine, ostensibly to protect the Russian speaking people there. They took over two airports and much of Crimea’s infrastructure, including the regional parliament, state television, and telecommunications hubs (BBC News). Though there was some confusion at first - some Russian troops were wearing unmarked uniforms - the Russian government soon admitted to its mobilization into Crimea. Russia has stated that it has a right to protect the Russian speaking population in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Since, thousands of Russian troops have poured into the Crimean region.

Note that second part - that’s where things get exceptionally worrisome. On March 1st,  the Russian parliament approved troop deployment in Ukraine. Not just Crimea, but Ukraine. There are worries Russia could move further into Ukraine. On the 3rd of March, the Russian government claimed that ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych had asked for troops to enter Ukraine, which gave them legitimacy.

Russia has alleged that there is a threat to ethnic Russians in Ukraine which forced their hand, but this is largely seen as a thinly veiled excuse. Interim President Yatsenyuk has said that ethnic Russians are not in danger; UK Ambassador Mark Grant stated that ethnic Russians were not threatened and that such claims had been fabricated for Russian justification.

Most of the international community has decried Russia’s de facto annexation of Crimea and its posturing for further action. Things aren’t entirely black and white though. Due to those close cultural ties there have been Pro-Russia rallies and demonstrations in cities near Crimea. Many of Crimea and Ukraine’s ethnic Russians support Russia’s movement into the country.

John Kerry, in a visit to Ukraine on the 4th, stated he did not believe ethnic Russians to be in danger. On the same day President Obama urged Russia to pull back.

What happens now?

Some fear the situation could boil over into all out war in the region if Russia does not leave Ukraine. Tomorrow - March 5th - there is to be a NATO member meeting that Moscow has agree to attend. Now, we wait.

Sources

Timeline of key events in Ukraine protests." Yahoo News.

Russian forces expand control of Crimea." The Washington Post.

Ukraine’s Yanukovych asked for troops." BBC News.

An FAQ roundup on the Crisis in Ukraine and Crimea." Slate Magazine.

Russian parliament approves troop deployment in Ukraine." BBC News.

Ukraine Crisis: Obama urges Russia pullback." BBC News.

Ukraine crisis deepens with pro-Russia riots in Crimea region." The Denver Post.

Ukraine”. Wikipedia.com.

Mar 02

runrivers asked: You should do a political breakdown of what's going on in Ukraine (I can't believe what's going on w/ Crimea).

Working on it now. Wow, what a mess. Hard to boil down such a complex situation but I’ll see what I can do!

Anonymous asked: Breakdown of either Venezuela or the Ukraine?

Good idea.

Feb 26

Hey guys.

Yes, you awesome followers.

Curious about some political issue but have found the time to figure out what exactly is going on? Make me carve out some time to blog by requesting a breakdown article.

Do it.

Feb 02

So my friends and I told everyone we were watching the Super Bowl but decided we’d binge Sherlock season 3 instead. Complete with Super Bowl snacks.

Don’t judge us.

So my friends and I told everyone we were watching the Super Bowl but decided we’d binge Sherlock season 3 instead. Complete with Super Bowl snacks.

Don’t judge us.

Jan 31

Net Neutrality Petition -

If you guys read and agree with the conclusion of the net neutrality breakdown article I wrote last week, I encourage you to sign the net neutrality petition. Save the interblags everyone!

Jan 25

Breakdown: The Controversy over Network Neutrality.

Network neutrality. This term has been flying around the internet in the past week. Petitions are making the rounds, people are raving on blogs, the radio, the TV. Just what’s going on here, and why are people so adamant, one way or the other, about network neutrality? Let’s find out.

Just what is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the belief that broadband network providers (your Internet Service Provider like Comcast, Verizon, or one distant beautiful day, Google Fiber) must treat all data equally, and cannot discriminate or prioritize one piece of data over another. The idea of net neutrality led to a set of rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010 called the Open Internet Order. The gist of the Order was this:

1. Broadband providers have to disclose information about their network management and practices.
2. They may not block lawful content, applications, or websites.
3. They may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband.

What does that mean?

This means that an ISP must provide equal internet service to all content, whether you’re reading scholarly articles, streaming por Netflix, or playing video games. Even if the ISP doesn’t like what you’re viewing or doing, they can not alter your service. Neither can they alter their service to promote their own product or dissuade you from using another.

ISP’s never liked this. Verizon sued the FCC over the 2010 rules mentioned above. They argued that this was a matter of free-enterprise, and that they should be able to decide how to deliver and charge for that service. They claim this will restrict their ability to offer innovative new services.

Back up. How did we get here?

It’s kind of a convoluted story, so bear with me.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the authority to oversee utilities and (you guessed it) communications. The FCC is granted authority through the Federal Communications Act of 1934. It has a lot of power to regulate Title I: Critical Communications (telephone, cable) services, and some authority to regulate Title II: Information Services.

Before I continue, remember: an open, network neutral internet is an internet regulated by the FCC. An internet where ISPs can do what they want is an unregulated internet (meaning there are no regulations that keep ISPs from altering service based on content). If you are for network neutrality, you are for internet regulation.

Okay, with that in mind - in the beginning the FCC and ISPs were on the same page. Both wanted the internet to be unregulated. Back in 2002, the FCC classified broadband as an information service, not a telecommunications service. In 2005, in the “Brand X” case, the Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s ruling that cable modem service is an information service. In that same year the FCC changed the classification of DSL from a common carrier service to an information service as well. It followed these decisions with a policy statement saying that the internet should be open and uncontrolled by ISPs, but this statement had zero regulatory power. So back in 2005, the FCC and cable providers were in agreement, in opposition to others who wanted cable to be required to open its network to competitors (Public Knowledge).

Now here’s where it gets tricky. In 2008, something change. The FCC decided it wanted authority to regulate internet access after all. Why’d the FCC change it’s mind? It seems to have been a number of things. For starters, there was some culture shift within the FCC. President Obama ran in 2008 on a platform of net neutrality and appointed a number of new leaders to the FCC. Secondly, Comcast pushed too far. Comcast began throttling the internet access of users using bitTorrent clients. Free Press and Public Knowledge filed a complaint, which the FCC began to investigate. FCC Commissioner Robert McDowel wrote in the Washington Post in July 2008 that collaboration with ISPs was better than regulation, but that if collaborative groups couldn’t agree, “the government could examine the situation and act accordingly”. It appears that the FCC put far too much trust in the good intentions of ISP companies. In July of 2008, the FCC issued an order commanding Comcast to stop throttling the internet of bitTorrent users.

Unfortunately, in April 2010 the D.C. Circuit court rejected the FCC’s use of Title I (Information Service) authority in punishing Comcast and said it did not have the authority to demand net neutrality. The FCC considered attempting to reclassify internet as a utility (like it should have done in 2002 and 2005), but instead issued the Open Internet Order on September 23rd, 2010. What exactly their thought process was after having their first attempt shot down, I can’t be sure of. But apparently they revised their rules, found some different method of presenting the regulation, and tried again. Unfortunately, Verizon sued the hell out of them a week later.

That takes us to the present, where after years of deliberation the courts once again decided the FCC did not have the authority to enforce the Open Internet Rules it released in 2010. The court agreed the FCC had the right to promote the promulgation of internet technology but again declared that as long as internet access is classified as a Title I Information Service, it cannot be regulated like a Title II Telecommunications service.

Will this affect me?

Possibly. The fear is that ISPs will start discriminating against content using their services; for instance, charging content providers (i.e. Netflix) extra money for their internet-clogging traffic. That extra cost may be passed on to the users. ISPs could also do more subtle yet more nefarious things, such as discriminate against competitors, limit content, or favor services that pay them better. For the record, ISPs have stated they don’t immediately intend to do so. But that may not be terribly reassuring.

What happens now?

It’s hard to say. Though it would be a political nightmare the FCC may attempt to (once and for all) reclassify internet service under a Title I Telecommunications service. Or, they may appeal the court’s decision. They’ve hinted that they may appeal, but only time will tell how the FCC will choose to respond.

Conclusion

Net neutrality is a big deal with very real, very possible consequences. Personally, I highly encourage you to support net neutrality and work toward its adoption. Write your congressmen. Educate your peers. The internet may be the greatest resource humans have ever created, and having it choked or controlled by service providers out for their own gain would be tragic at best, and catastrophic at worst.

Sources:

Court Favors Comcast in F.C.C. ‘Net Neutrality’ Ruling." New York Times.

Net Neutrality: Definition." University of California, Berkeley.

FCC Classifies Cable Modem Service as ‘Information Service’”. Federal Communications Commission.

How net neutrality fight may change your internet." CNN.

In the Know - August 24, 2005”. Public Knowledge.

The FCC Network Neutrality Order”. Public Knowledge.