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01/10/2014

Road rage and revenge: from U.S. to Ukraine

Chris christie blog
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went to Fort Lee Thursday to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich, insisting he had no idea staffers had engineered traffic jams to get back at the Democratic mayor. Photo: AP/Richard Drew)

Sometimes you just gotta say “whoa” to politics.

It happened too late for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The Republican presidential hopeful was forced to backtrack when leaked messages showed that his senior staffers engineered a teeth-grinding gridlock on one of America’s busiest bridges out of spite against a local mayor who failed to back his last election bid.

The tangled tale involved requests for lane closures to Christie appointees in the Port Authority by some of the governor’s closest aides, and apparently gleeful messages when the four-day jam was underway in the mayor’s town of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Now Christie is facing road rage from citizens, political opponents and the media. The politician who hoped to ride on his reputation as the bipartisan hero who stood by President Barack Obama during Superstorm Sandy – and castigated his Republican colleagues for initially refusing an aid package – is now labeled a bully and vindictive boor. The wheels are rapidly falling off his presidential campaign.

By world standards, though, Christie’s political payback is tricycle class.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin seized his most threatening critic, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and shipped him to Siberia for 10 years on fraud charges. (Khodorkovsky’s recent “pardon” meant that he would never do politics in Russia again.)  Other political foes have been imprisoned, repressed and kept off the streets and the media.

In Ukraine, now-derided President Viktor Yanukovych also put his competition behind prison bars. Former PM Yulia Tymoshenko has been jailed for the last two years, and has five more to serve on abuse of power charges.

But at least she didn’t meet the fate of Yanukovych’s earlier rival, Viktor Yushchenko, whose dinner was poisoned with chemicals that left him permanently disfigured.

In Korea, the Great Successor, Kim Jong-un, (or Young Un to his elders) did away with his uppity uncle Jang Song Thaek after accusing him of disloyalty and treason. But rumors that he had Jang tossed to 120 hungry dogs are probably exaggerated. Maybe 100 dogs?

Burma’s military leadership famously locked down revered democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for about 20 years under house arrest for the crime of winning an election. It was two decades before they realized their mistake.

In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, the elegant face of the pro-democracy movement, was terminated with extreme prejudice during a political campaign. Her longtime rival Gen. Pervez Musharraf is now in the dock facing murder charges.

But Rwanda surely takes the Infamy Award for the most horrific and far-reaching political revenge in recent memory. It brought down the plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, setting in motion one of the world’s worst genocides.

Olivia Ward has covered politics, conflicts and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and United States, winning national and international awards.

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