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Putin's Political Moves

Over the past two weeks, the international community has seen the situation in Ukraine move from bad to worse as it devolves into violence and chaos. Russian-supported separatists are pitted against the European backed interim government in what seems to be rapidly escalating into a civil war that threatens to tear the country apart.

This violence easily overshadowed two crucial political moves Putin made that clearly signaled his intent to solidify Crimea as a Russian entity and reassert Russia's power over Ukraine. The first was his trip to Crimea on Friday, May 9th, which is Victory Day in Russia. Victory Day pays tribute to the Soviet defeat of the Nazis during WWII and is the single biggest holiday in Russia – the whole country celebrates and glorifies Russian power and strength. Putin purposefully chose to observe this holiday in Crimea to show that it is undoubtedly an integral part of Russia and that the referendum of March 16th was valid.

His second move was minting a new commemorative coin as part of a series naming himself “The Gatherer of Russian Lands.” This coin showed his face on the front and Crimea on the back, labeled as the Russian Federation’s Republic of Crimea. This coin will forever serve as a commemoration of the Russian adoption of the republic and as a symbol of their ownership of Crimea.

Ukraine: What Future for “Self Rule”?

In a previous blog post, I asked the question “Ukraine: A Federalist Future?”  At the time, there had been proposals to link a referendum on the structure of the Ukrainian state with the planned 25 May election for President and Parliament. Even 25 May would have been a short time to discuss the structures of the state in a country with sharp tensions and in which different factions were not speaking to each other.

Unfortunately (in my view), factions in Eastern Ukraine decided to hold a referendum on Sunday 11 May in a hastily organized way, with little if any public debate on the consequences of the referendum and strong pressure to vote “yes” on the only option presented. The central government, the European Union and the US have all indicated that they considered the referendum and its results invalid − in fact, illegal.

President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation had suggested on the eve of the referendum that it be postponed or cancelled. However, after the referendum, the Russian government indicated that the referendum showed the “will of the people” and that Russia would abide by the results.

Thus, we can ask: what was the subject of the referendum? What are its immediate implications? What role should outside institutions play--Russia, the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the US?

The Battle to Convince the GOP to Address Climate Change

Then Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before signing the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative in 2007 calling for a cap to greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo: AP)

The midterm elections and the 2016 presidential election are going to have profound effects on how America responds to the threat of climate change. GOP candidates in many senate races deny climate change is happening or that humans have any impact on the issue.

Likley GOP presidential contenders like Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) believe climate change is a hoax created by progressives. Other GOP leaders deny the certainty of the scientific community on climate change or are strongly opposed to restricting the fossil fuel industry.

I don’t think it’s outlandish to predict that if Republicans control both the House and Senate, little to no new government policies will be adopted to reduce man’s effect on global warming.

Many have predicted that Republicans will make significant gains in the number of seats they hold in Congress this year. For that reason, it is important that supporters of addressing climate change find Republicans that are willing to join their cause, or at least acknowledge their valid concerns. Some Republicans that have already shown a willingness to address climate change include Gov. Schwarzenegger (R-CA), former Gov. Huntsman (R-UT), Senator Snow (R-ME), Senator Collins (R-ME), Rep. Smith (R-NJ), and Gov. Pawlenty (R-MN). Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), a very likely candidate for President in 2016, has also stated he defers his judgment on the matter to the experts. Though beyond that, Christie has avoided the topic.

The Peace of Westphalia?

The Peace of Westphalia?

This month, nearly 300 young girls are still missing in Nigeria where they were kidnapped nearly a month ago by a murderous group of extremists calling themselves Boko Haram. They have claimed credit for this crime and intend to sell the young girls as sex slaves to help pay for future murders and crimes.

There are many contributing factors to this mass kidnapping but there primary reason these girls were not rescued immediately or shortly thereafter is the world's persistence acceptance of 'national sovereignty' as the dominant paradigm of global governance.

In other words, humanity still accepts the right of every national government, to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants to whomever it wants within its own borders. This barbaric paradigm was established nearly 400 years ago by the Treaty of Westphalia and remains today as the primary agreement between nations.

President Obama recently claimed there is nothing we can do about this crime against humanity because Nigeria is a Sovereign state. We offered some help once that government responded to our diplomatic cries, but that took weeks. Now it will be infinitely harder to find these girls and return those that are still alive to their grieving mothers.

The mind numbing reality is that even if the UN had decided to take action immediately it couldn't have without first getting a decision by the UN Security Council. And, even with it, the UN has no established police force or swat team with a mandate or the capacity to protect innocent lives on short notice. National governments, including the US has made sure of that.That is how strongly we still believe in the supremacy of nation's sovereignty.

The Revocation of Nationality: Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Most of us take our citizenship for granted, thinking the world belongs to people of one nation or another, but imagine being stripped of it completely.

In a world run by nation-states, there is no universal form of citizenship or birth registration. There are only those recognized by national governments that can and do revoke it for various political motives. The estimated number to date by the UNHCR of stateless persons, families and communities who have no nation to legally call home is 10 million.

The most recent of these tragedies occurred in September, when the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic passed a ruling which de-nationalized an estimated 210,000 Haitian citizens by denying them citizenship and the right to an official ID. This simple act by courts, which has deeply affected the lives of nearly 7 percent of the country’s population either directly or indirectly, receives an overwhelming 83 percent of support from Dominicans.

Having your citizenship taken away can deal a powerful blow to your wellbeing. As one rights activist featured in an Aljazeera piece states, “It’s not that I feel Dominican. I am Dominican. I was born here in the Dominican Republic, and all my documents are from here… I have never been in another country.”

Climate Change: Let’s Speak the Opposition’s Language

Heat and drought lead to cascading impacts among sectors including agriculture, water, and energy.

Climate change is one of the most divisive issues in Congress today. Nearly any vote related to climate change, energy policy, or conservation is split along party lines, which is well documented by Global Solutions' 2014 Congressional Report Card. Mitch McConnell’s floor statement on May 6th is representative of this partisanship. He belittles the entire issue by stating the President will “talk about the weather at the White House” and "lecture everybody...about low-flow toilets.”

This is the kind of talk that needs to stop. Senator McConnell is not an un-educated man. He cannot seriously equate climate change to everyday weather. He does this purposefully as a political move that panders to the extreme right: the Tea Party.

McConnell also boils down the proposed policy changes to a single punitive tax on energy. However, it’s not that simple, and he knows it. In recent years many Representatives and Senators have proposed laws that would help combat climate change without new taxes. Ending big oil tax breaks, funding renewable energy, and yes, taxing carbon pollution would all have significant impacts on reducing the speed of increasing global temperatures, but these are not the only options.

It's Time to Act: Visit our Indiegogo Campaign

People underestimate the negative effects that not ratifying treaties can have on our lives. It can limit the rights of women or people with disabilities. Non-ratification also limits the influence that the US has in international decision-making. By not being part of the Law of the Sea treaty, the US loses opportunities to have a voice in decisions that govern the world’s oceans; this is a major issue for the US as the country with one of the largest coast lines.

Shouldn’t we embrace women’s rights and rights of the disabled? How can we end conflicts like the Syrian war without an arms trade agreement? The opposition wholeheartedly contests all treaties, while most proponents will advocate only for one. That needs to end. We CAN fight back, but we need to do it together, through broad support for treaty ratification.

The War on International Law is gaining traction, and we need to work harder to stop it. GlobalSolutions.org recently launched a project on Indiegogo, a crowd funding site, to raise money for our campaign. We need to bring attention to the Arms Trade Treaty, the Women’s Equality Treaty (CEDAW), the Disability Treaty, the Law of the Sea Treaty, and many others. The US has not ratified any of these crucial agreements, which has significant negative consequences for the US role in the world and for US citizens.

Our goals are simple: expose the opposition, identify the costs of this negative policy, and build a robust network of support that crosses traditional issue silos inside and outside the Beltway to reengage the US in adopting international law. We need your support in order to make this campaign a success.

Conflict is Not the Way Forward

The Washington Post recently published an article entitled “In the long run, wars make us safer and richer” by Ian Morris. In the article, Morris argues that through “10,000 years of conflict, humanity has created larger, more organized societies,” greatly increasing human safety and promoting economic growth.

In the Stone Age, 10-20% of all humans died at the hands of other people. By contrast, in the past 100 years, only 1-2% of the world’s population died violently. Similarly, prosperity has increased, with life expectancy more than doubling (from 30 to 67) and average income rising from $2 to $25 per day. According to Morris, all of this happened because “war made states, and states made peace.” While he admits that war “may well be the worst way imaginable to create larger, more peaceful societies,” Morris asserts that it is the only way.

This argument, however, assumes that pacification and suppression of dissent equals peace. It does not. Violent conflict merely creates the illusion of peace, which is broken as soon as those who have been suppressed garner the strength to rise up against those who beat them down. If violent conflict had really created peace through pacification, it would have ended after the first war. Instead, the cycle of conflict continues.

A very obvious example is World War II. Hitler was able to rise to power on the wave of support he gathered by speaking out against the allies and reparations that bankrupted Germany after the first World War. If peace rather than revenge had been sought in the wake of WWII, Hitler would have had no platform from which to acquire power.

Polio’s Resurgence and the Globalization of Disease

A health volunteer vaccinates a one year old boy against polio in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2009 (UN Photo/Jawad Jalali)

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global health emergency stating that polio is rapidly re-emerging as a threat – its expansion in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Cameroon is truly concerning despite the disease being nearly eradicated in the last few years. The emergency status used includes requirements that people cannot travel from affected countries without evidence of vaccination, and each country is taking additional steps where possible to step up its anti-polio programs.

It didn’t have to be this way. While polio is a devastating illness that paralyzes and sometimes kills its victims, vaccination usually prevents the disease from taking hold. The problem isn’t just that these states have remote or tribal areas that are difficult to reach with vaccines – many states have remote regions and have been able to reach them with state-, UN-, or donor-operated vaccination programs.

Human Rights Battle: US v. North Korea

Last Monday, North Korea released its own human rights report aimed at the US. This report, a direct response to the critical UN report on North Korea published in February, called the US “the world’s worst human rights abuser.” It also labeled the US as “a living hell, as elementary rights to existence are ruthlessly violated.”

As evidence to these harsh claims, the report cites US poverty statistics, the luxurious life of the president, and the racial discrimination and injustice surrounding Trayvon Martin’s murder. While these cases do hold weight, the facts have been distorted to paint our nation as a human rights abuser on par with North Korea itself. For example, the report rightfully cites Trayvon Martin’s case as an example of racial inequality, but incorrectly labels his killer as a white cop, blurring the line between fact and fiction.

I will be the first to say that the US still has a long way to go to make equality and human rights a reality for all people. However, this report is a bit too much of the pot calling the kettle black. Pointing to North Korea and saying, ‘well at least we’re not as bad as them,’ is no justification for our own problems--but neither is it for them.

North Korea has a terrible human rights record, and just because we cannot get into the country to see it does not mean it doesn’t exist. Pointing the finger back at the US only serves to perpetuate the conversation around North Korea’s own record, effectively defeating the purpose of the report.

With this report Kim Jung-un might be saying, "Hey US, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones." But then again, neither should you, North Korea.