Archive for September, 2013

Putin on Gays: A Russian Fable

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos 

Russian President Vladimir Putin ... some of his favorite Russians were gay.

Russian President Vladimir Putin … some of his favorite Russians were gay.

There’s an old Russian proverb that goes something like this: “How do you know when the president (prime minister, czar, party chief) is lying? His lips are moving.”

OK, so it’s not an old Russian proverb, but you get the gist. Today, it means if Russian President Vladimir Putin is speaking, the words emanating from his mouth are subject to change at any moment according to whatever he thinks will best suit his ultimate goal. That goal seems to be to consolidate his grip on power through whatever repressive measures he can get away with while pretending to support democratic principles of government.

So when Putin says, for example, that there is no discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia — despite recent passage by the Duma of a law banning any public mention of homosexuality that could be construed as propaganda supporting it — one can assume it’s a lie. One can further assume that he thinks he has a good reason for making what common sense declares to be a bunch of bull.

That reason, of course, is the looming presence of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort city of Sochi and Putin‘s desire to avoid a boycott of the games and/or worldwide condemnation of the Russian law and measures that might be taken to register protest against it. There are hundreds of millions of rubles at stake and Russia can ill afford to lose any of them. So don’t worry, folks, in keeping with the Olympic spirit that forbids discrimination of any kind, there will be no discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia during the Olympics, Putin says,

Afterwards? Well, that’s another matter.

And that’s what needs to be remembered. In Russia, Putin faces no serious challenge to his words from a free, vigorous press (he’s worked hard at squelching that) and, in this case, most likely has the support of a majority of Russians. In a country with a poor history of tolerance for minorities, few are going to point out any inconsistencies between his words and actions regarding homosexuality in Russia, during and after the Olympics.

President Obama, angry that Putin granted temporary asylum in Russia to Edwin Snowden, who made public voluminous files on the U.S. government’s efforts to spy on ordinary Americans and also upset that Putin has resisted taking military action against Syria for use of chemical weapons against its own people, canceled a meeting with Putin in Russia during this week’s G20 summit. Instead, Obama met with gay activists in Russia, a double insult.

No sweat for Putin. He softened his stance on Syria and said some of his favorite Russians –Tchaikovsky, for example — were homosexuals and yet are still loved by Russians. Whatever suits his need at the time, the former KGB chief will say, usually with a smile.

The anti-gay law has led to calls to boycott the Sochi Games, but such actions always hurt far more than their intended target. In this case, thousands of athletes — including countless gay athletes — who have worked for four years for this honor would be denied what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion and an outspoken Russian critic of Putin, says there are other ways to protest. In an interview with Huffington Post, he says the protest are not about the athletes, but rather “about Putin and his repressive regime.” He says world leaders (presidents, diplomats, royalty, etc.) should boycott the games, denying Putin their implied support for his policies and perhaps weakening his resolve to pursue similar ones.

Kasparov also thinks Olympic sponsors such as Coke, McDonald’s, Visa and other major companies should recognize the views of their main customers and express opposition to the Russian law by adorning their products with rainbow flags or other symbols of support for gays. And he says NBC and other broadcasters of the Games should use their freedom and their platform to do stories about, not only the anti-gay law, but other repressive measures taken by Putin. A little press freedom in Russia would not be such a bad idea.

Admittedly, a boycott of the games would be dramatic, but would likely only stiffen Putin’s us-against-the-world resolve and not sway Russian citizens, a difficult task under any circumstances. Moving the games from Sochi (now under martial law) is impractical given time constraints. That leaves broad public condemnation of Putin and education of the Russian public — by previously mentioned means and the use of social media — as the most effective way to make Putin eat his words. It may also wake up the Russians and make him less likely to pursue future oppressive measures.

There’s another old Russian proverb. Something about sleeping dogs and lying. OK, it’s not Russian, but you get the gist.


Knee-Deep in the Big Muddy

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

For a moment, I gave Sarah Palin credit for voicing one of the cleverer observations about the sound of war drums in Washington.

 “So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria?” she said. “And I’m the idiot?” 

So it’s like this. President Obama is outraged at Bashar al-Assad’s murderous use of chemical weapons against the easiest target of all – his own people. These would include subversive 4-year olds and other enemies of the regime, such as the rest of Syria’s children plus their mothers, fathers and grandparents, brothers and sisters.

In going after them, Assad has proved himself to be a very special kind of monster. No one on record – prince, president or prime minister – has done what he has done. Which is to say no national leader has ever given the order to assassinate his people with nerve gas, a substance hard to avoid once it’s deployed and one that produces a particularly nasty death.

But Obama has been unable to find many allies. Britain won’t join him – France will – and once again the United States is searching for a coalition, which is something you do long before you order the Navy into Middle Eastern waters. Who knows? Maybe Andorra will send a couple of soldiers to assist America. Or maybe Lichtenstein. Or Honduras. Maybe one of these days, there’s going to be a need for a worldwide response to some atrocity and some outraged nation, other than the U.S., will take the first step.

Obama is out there all by himself. In polling, the Pew Research Center found that 48 percent of those polled were opposed to U.S. military action in Syria. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 60 percent against war, and an amazing 73 percent of Move On members – Obama’s base – say no to action in Syria.

But to paraphrase Pete Seeger about a different president in a different adventure in a different time, we could use our might against Assad and quickly find ourselves neck deep in the big muddy [or big sandy] while the big fool says to push on.

The official American position: Assad’s a thug. We hate Assad. Assad’s regime is opposed by “Syrian rebel fighters” – whoever they are – so let’s cozy up to them and hope for the best. But who knows? The “best” may have appeared on Page 1 of The New York Times yesterday, Sept. 5. See the seven prone Assad soldiers, their arms bound, their faces in the dirt. See the eight “Syrian rebel fighters” standing over them, seven with automatic rifles and one with a handgun. The event was the summary executions of the soldiers by people we’d in bed with, at least as far as our mutual loathing of Assad is concerned. You can see a video of the last moment in the soldiers’ lives at The Times’ web site. It is difficult to watch.

And the big fool says to push on.

The specific goal of an American military strike against Syria hasn’t been fully articulated yet, but one must suppose that destruction of Assad’s chemical plants and storage facilities must be high on the target list. But you never know what will happen when you play with gas. Hit a chemical factory or storage site the wrong way and things get very ugly very quickly.

Here’s a quick story about the uncertainties of gas warfare; this one is almost humorous. On a hot summer day at Fort Dix in 1964, Tango Company went for gas training. We were ordered to put our gas masks on and then file into a small hut whose air had been contaminated with chlorine gas. Then, one by one, we had to stand before the instructor, remove the mask, count to 10, salute, and leave the building. Most of us weren’t fast enough and inhaled some of the gas. We didn’t merely vomit, which is what chlorine gas is supposed to make you do, but we retched to a degree that felt like someone was ripping out our throats.

Here’s gas’ unpredictability. Our sergeants, who never carried backpacks or gas masks, were sitting under a tree, smoking cigarettes and getting a kick out of the sight of us rushing out of the gas house, choking and gasping for clear air.

And then, the gentle August breeze changed direction and some of the gas residue escaping from the hut fell on the sergeants, who bolted. We laughed – from our side of the rest area.

Has anyone figured out the potential damage to Syria’s children and other noncombatants if we bomb Syria’s gas facilities?