Voters in eastern Ukraine head to the polls Sunday to cast ballots in a contested sovereignty referendum that could peel away more territory and move it closer to Moscow. Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, who have engaged in deadly gun battles with Ukrainian security forces in recent weeks, insisted on holding the vote despite objections from international observers. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin last week called for the referendum to be postponed due to concerns about its legitimacy.
Early reports say there are long lines and chaotic scenes at some polling stations, with armed men in military fatigues spooking locals into voting. There have also been scattered reports of possible election fraud. ABC News snapped an image of a woman appearing to cast two ballots at once, while the BBC reported that a man not registered to vote at a polling place was allowed to do so anyway.
Regardless of the outcome, the U.S. has already said it will not honor the results. Jon Terbush
China's communist government is pointing to President Donald Trump's inauguration as an example of how democracy is a failed political system, Bloomberg Politics reports:
Democracy has reached its limits, and deterioration is the inevitable future of capitalism, according to the People's Daily, the flagship paper of China's Communist Party. It devoted an entire page on Sunday to critiquing Western democracies, quoting former Chairman Mao Zedong's 1949 poem asking people to "range far your eyes over long vistas" and saying the ultimate defeat of capitalism would enable Communism to emerge victorious.
The unusual series of commentaries in the People's Daily mirrors Soviet efforts to promote an alternative political and economic system during the Cold War. The rise of anti-establishment, protectionist politicians like Trump, amid populist winds on several continents, has sent political parties scurrying to shore up their support, helping China to portray itself as relatively steady. [Bloomberg Politics]
One article, for example, declared "Western-style democracy used to be a recognized power in history to drive social development. But now it has reached its limits. Democracy is already kidnapped by the capitals and has become the weapon for capitalists to chase profits."
"China's rising wealth has brought greater global presence, but that's not enough," explained political science professor Zhang Ming to Bloomberg Politics. "The Communist leaders want that someday China will matter globally for the nature of its political system and create its own universal values." Jeva Lange
Newt Gingrich thinks Madonna should be arrested for saying she considered 'blowing up the White House'
During a Monday morning interview on Fox & Friends, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) suggested Madonna should be arrested for her comments over the weekend about "blowing up the White House." While speaking at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday, Madonna admitted to the crowd that she was "angry" and "outraged" over the current state of affairs and had "thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House." "But I know that this won't change anything," Madonna said. "We cannot fall into despair."
Gingrich took the statement — which he said wasn't really about destroying the White House but instead about a "yellow purple banana," whatever that may be — as further evidence that there is an "emerging left-wing fascism." And Madonna, Gingrich claimed, is "part of it." "Frankly ... I mean the truth is, she ought to be arrested," Gingrich said.
Watch Gingrich take on Madonna's remarks below. Becca Stanek
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) January 23, 2017
This zany viral 'Japanese commercial' predicted what the world would look like if Trump was elected president
If you're just tuning in, "President Donald Trump" is no longer a CGI fantasy — but it once was. In June 2016, a month before the Republican National Convention, a video called "Japanese Donald Trump commercial" went viral for its zany prediction of what life would look like after Trump is elected "world president":
Director Mike Diva made the video, and in it he envisions a kaleidoscopic planet where Trump "is everywhere," ABC News reports, "on the trees, on the head of an alpaca, as a military leader, and as a dancer." Trump also turns into a robot and destroys the planet, but the video is apparently intentionally ambiguous on if it supports Trump or is made against him.
No matter what its exact intention, the "commercial" is certainly entertaining — especially now that, in some form or another, it could actually become reality. Learn more about Diva and his motivation for making the commercial here. Jeva Lange
The most popular petition on the Trump White House's "We the People" petition page is a demand that President Trump release his tax returns, so Americans can judge whether he's complying with the Constitution — so far it has 260,000 signatories. After 100,000 signers, the White House has to issue an official response, George Stephanopoulos reminded Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway on Sunday's This Week. "The White House response is that he's not going to release his tax returns," Conway said. "We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him, and let me make this very clear: Most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like."
— ABC News (@ABC) January 23, 2017
According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 74 percent of Americans — including 49 percent of Trump supporters — want Trump to release his tax returns. In a Pew poll, 60 percent of respondents said Trump has an obligation to release his returns. Conway, notably, did not bring up the unpersuasive excuse that Trump's returns are under audit. Conway also told Stephanopoulos that "President Trump and his family are complying with all the ethical rules, everything they need to do to step away from his businesses and be a full-time president." According to ProPublica, there is no record that Trump has handed over control of his companies, as promised. Peter Weber
A "team of mules" would likely be unable to drag Hillary and Bill Clinton into ever running for office again, according to former Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), but that hardly means they're done with politics.
"Many Democratic politicians have been personally influenced or share direct ties to President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, or both," Bill Clinton's first White House chief of staff told Politico. "That history goes back decades. And despite the grave disappointment, resilience is in the Clintons' DNA. So, while I certainly don't expect to see them trying to assert their authority, I think there will be natural and welcome opportunities for them to engage."
Hillary Clinton, for one, is reportedly studying up on where her 2016 presidential campaign stumbled, both in its polling errors but also the parts of the electorate that she lost. Neither Clinton is likely to try to rework the Democratic Party — a position now unofficially reserved for former President Barack Obama — but both Clintons could be involved in fundraising and campaigning by the 2018 midterms. Their entrance back into politics could come even sooner, too, with the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia in 2017.
Interim DNC chair Donna Brazile stressed that keeping Hillary Clinton around is important, even if the party is actively looking for new, young blood. To not count on Clinton would be "like taking your running back and placing them on the sideline just because you lost the season," Brazile told Politico. "As Democrats, we need to keep everyone on the roster — to recruit, raise funds, and more — even if they are no longer part of the starting lineup." Jeva Lange
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote on President Donald Trump's secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, on Monday. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could potentially upset a smooth nomination process if he decides to vote "no" on Tillerson; while Rubio's no vote wouldn't concretely stop Tillerson from being confirmed, it would send him to the Senate floor without a positive recommendation, an "embarrassing rebuke to Trump just as his presidency gets underway," Time writes.
Rubio stood up to Tillerson on the issue of Russia and human rights earlier this month, but other top Republican senators, including John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), have, after some deliberation, announced their support of the former ExxonMobil executive. Jeva Lange
President Donald Trump has a "busy week planned with a heavy focus on jobs and national security," he tweeted Monday morning. Much of that will entail reaching out to potential allies: Trump meets with business leaders in a "listening session" Monday to discuss manufacturing jobs, followed by a meeting with union leaders and workers in the afternoon, lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, and his first meeting as president with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Trump is also expected to sign executive orders Monday morning on topics possibly ranging "from immigration to Israel to the economy, including what he called a re-working of the North American Free Trade Agreement," USA Today writes.
Trump's team will especially be aiming for a smooth first week after such a bumpy inaugural weekend. "They got off to a very rocky start because they see everyone as adversaries," Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, a Trump friend who talks with him often, told Politico. Jeva Lange