Putting An End to the Ukraine Conflict

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On Monday, as reported by the Associate Press, the Kremlin confirmed that President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama had talked on the phone agreeing that direct talks between warring parties in Ukraine is necessary to end the conflict. In addition, Putin emphasized the need to end the fighting and start direct talks between the parties involved in order to normalize the situation in eastern Ukraine. In an article entitled Obama and Putin Discuss Ukraine Crisis, the Associated Press explains that, “Putin has welcomed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s declaration of a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, but added it can only be viable if the Ukrainian government sits down for talks with insurgents, who have declared their border regions independent and fought government troops for two months.”

On Tuesday, the day after his talk with the POTUS, Putin cancelled his resolution to sanction the use of military force in Ukraine, according to Laura Mill’s article Putin withdraws request to use force in Ukraine. The announcement came after pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine said they would respect the cease fire declared by Ukraninan President Petro Poroshenko possibly ending the months of fighting that killed hundreds and driven thousands out of their homes. The Kremlin stated on their website that Putin asked the head of Russia’s upper house of parliament to cancel his March 1 request.  According to RIA Novosti, Russian parliament member Valery Shnyakin confirmed that the house would vote Wednesday on the issue. The news lead to a 1.6 percent gain for Russian markets on Tuesday reaching a four month high. The request was made, according to Mill, after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was ousted in February after months of protest and Russia annexed the Black Sea region of Crimea. However, Putin’s latest move shows an effort to de-escalate the situation ahead of his visit to Vienna Tuesday to meet with Organization for Security and Co-operation officials who have helped broker peace talks between Kiev and Moscow. Both Kiev and western governments in the past have accused Russia of supporting eastern rebels and amassing troops at the border to invade Ukraine, but the announcement by Putin Tuesday has led to praised from Poroshenko. The cease fire in eastern Ukraine has largely held up with some fighting occurring around the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk.

Unfortunately, on Tuesday an already shaky cease fire in Ukraine hit a snag when pro-Moscow separatists shot down a Ukrainian helicopter killing nine service men, according to the Associated Press. Ukraninan President Petro Poroshenko warned he would end the truce early. The attack itself happened only a day after the rebels promised to honor the cease fire which began last Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine to extend the true and sit down for talks with rebels. However, the cease fire has been broken by sporadic attacks and violated again Tuesday when rebels fired missiles that resulted in the downing of a helicopter in Slovyansk. Poroshenko states that the insurgency had fired on Unkranina positions 35 times since the announcement of a cease fire and instructed soldiers to fire back if attacked. The Associate Press reports that Poroshenko hopes that his phone call on Wednesday with Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande would lead to “practical steps by Russia to disarm and recall mercenaries from Ukraine and ensure the reliable protection of the border.” In Vienna, Putin explained that the Ukrainian demand for insurgents to lay down weapons in a week was unrealistic due to fears of government reprisal and urged Ukraine to extend the truce so that peace talks could begin. Speaking about the recent attack, Putin blamed Ukrainian forces claiming that they had launched an airborne raid in Slovyansk on Tuesday before the attack breaking the cease fire. Putin offered to facilitate peace talks with Ukraine, but added that Russia will defend and protect Russian speakers in Ukraine. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, demands Putin take actions to de-escalate the situation citing recent contradictory behavior such as the return of troops to the border, an increase flow of weapons and military equipment to separatists and Putin’s decision to put combat forces on alert, the Associate Press reports.

East Meets West: The Struggle for Peace and Compromise

Iraqi insurgents wave their flag. Courtesy of CNN.com

As the world seems to head into a downward spiral of blaming and shaming, the United States struggles to keep its grip on the rest of the world and hold on to the power and respect it may of once had. No one event can be pinpointed in its illustrious and not soon forgotten contemptible past as many countries if not all have committed crimes against their own people including these so called superpowers. As of lately though, the POTUS seems to be dealing with many volatile situation involving our not so friendly sometimes outright hostile neighbors from across the sea even the world. The conflicts of Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, Iraq and Russia are just a few that have made headlines in the past year, however this article will only discuss the most recent conflicts and the involvement. whether warranted or not, of the United States, U.N. and other so called aggressors. This year alone, Obama and let’s not forget a lackadaisical Congress have had to determine whether these crises and conflicts warrant the attention of the military or require a more gentle hand  in order to prevent a much bigger catastrophe some call a war. With increasing tension around the world between neighboring countries, it is more important than ever for not just the United States but the world to take note that the solutions are many and war should not be the first. Of course, these problems are not all rooted in this presidency but left overs from decades long ago.

Iraq Conflict: Sunni Militants Capture Northern Iraqi Town, Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra explains the deepening Iraqi crisis has lead to an all out war between the Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency across the country according to officials. Iran has decided to help the Iraqi government fight against the insurgency which is something unheard just a few weeks ago and with this the United States has decided to help as well. The United States will deploy 275 military troops to protect the U.S. Embassy and other American interests, however the White House insists that no more combat troops would be sent. The insurgents has seized the strategic city of Tal Afar never the Syrian border as part of its goal to link both sides of the Iraq and Syrian frontier. According to Iraqi officials, Tehran’s Quds Force commander, Iranian General Ghasem Soleimani, has been advising in Iraq on how to push back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaida breakaway group. The U.S. has been notified of his presence, but his presence in Iraq has led to Sunni suspicions about the Shiite led government’s close ties to Tehran, according to the Associate Press. Since the U.S. troops left in 2011, the Islamic State has vowed to march to Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf threatening the stability of Iraq. The Friday before this article was published, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, orginally from Iran, call on the people to defend the holy shrines. The call to arms has lead to armed Shiite militiamen parading on the streets and volunteers joining the security forces chanting Shiite religious slogans. This new mobilization has lead to further allegations of a sectarian slant adding to increased tensions before and after the incursions of this last week with thousands killed since late last year. Soleimani, a powerful figure in Iran’s security establishment, and his Quds Force a secretive branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard were also involved in the mid 2000s with organizing Shiite militias against U.S. troops in Iraq and more recently involved in helping Syrian President Bashar Assad against Sunni rebels, according to U.S. officials. His visit and subsequent training of the Shiite militias by his Quds Force means Iran could take a role similar to the one it played in Syria which has been crucial to the survival of Assad.

Party Like a Rockstar: Living Large on Taxpayer’s Tab

With the sequester and possible government shut down if Congress cannot get their act together, do we really need to worry about what happens after a president leaves office? Well it would be a good idea considering the taxpayers continue to pay their salary long after they leave office plus they keep a lot of the perks they had while in office. Who pays for all this? You guess it…the taxpayer. As the Associated Press reports being the leader of the free world can be an expensive proposition and doesn’t stop once you leave office as the government spent $3.7 million on former presidents in 2012 according to a report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The total includes pensions, compensation and benefits for office staff, and the cost for travel, office space and postage. The costliest former president last year was George W. Bush who racked up $1.3 million. Now all things consider, $3.7 million shelled out in 2012 by taxpayers is a drop in the bucket when you consider the country spends trillions of dollars each year, but the fact these men can command large sums for book deals, speaking engagement and the like the report raises the question should these ex leaders receive such generosity when the country is facing cut backs and cutting much needed programs.

Under the Former Presidents Act, previous presidents are given an annual pension equivalent to a Cabinet secretary’s salary of $200,000 last year plus $96,000 a year for a small office staff. Presidents on their way out also get a little extra help their first year after they leave office which is why Bush’s cost were higher than others in 2012 as he was granted $400,000 for 8,000 square feet of office space on Dallas plus $85,000 in telephone costs and $60,000 for travel. Bill Clinton came in second with just under $1 million and followed by George H.W. Bush at nearly $850,000. Clinton spent most of his government money on office space in New York’s Harlem neighborhood for his 8,300 square foot digs at a price of $442,000. The only other living president, Jimmy Carter, came in around $500,000. Of course the buck doesn’t stop there as former president’s windows are entitled to pensions of $20,000 except Nancy Reagan who waived her pension last year but did take $14,000 in postage. The costs do not include the protection that former presidents are entitled to as well as their spouses and children. These costs are part of a separate budget that is not public reports the Associate Press.

The funding of ex-presidents came under the Former Presidents Act back to 1958 when Congress created the program to help President Harry Truman post White House financial woes according to the Congressional Research Service. The goal was to maintain the dignity of the presidency and help with ongoing costs such as correspondence and scheduling requests. These days though many of the former president’s incomes come from speaking and writing as well as presidential centers and foundations who accept donations and facilitate many of their post presidential activities according to Associated Press. Why has no one challenged it? Saddest part is someone has. Rep. Jason Chaffetz from Utah has noted that none of the living presidents are poor so in response to this introduced a bill last year to limit the cost to $200,000 pension plus another $200,000 for discretionary spending and for every dollar made above $400,000 their annual allowance will be reduced by the same amount. Unfortunately, the bill died in committee. The government can’t agree on anything but what they can agree on is spending more… go figure. Washington needs to get its priorities straight as many people are suffering the consequences of their spending and especially cutting of necessary programs.