Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Why Won’t McCain Take on Trump?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

John McCain and Donald Trump ... no love lost

John McCain and Donald Trump … no love lost

What will it take for John McCain to finally go after Donald Trump?

Clearly, there can be no love lost between the Arizona senator and the befuddled president. Nor is it likely there is any mutual respect.

During the presidential campaign Trump insulted McCain as ‘’no hero’’ for his service as a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. Trump, who did not serve in the military, said he didn’t regard people who were taken prisoner as heroes. McCain’s plane was shot down over Vietnam. He was held prisoner for five-and-a-half years and was tortured by the North Vietnamese.

More recently, McCain called Trump up short by insisting that the United States does not torture prisoners, despite the president’s comments to the contrary. McCain also went out of his way to call the prime minister of Australia to let him know that the United States still regards his country as a close ally, despite Trump’s rude phone call with him. In response to this, Trump called McCain, who was the Republican candidate for president in 2008, a ‘’loser.’’

McCain also questioned the wisdom and success of the recent U.S. raid in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL was killed along with several civilians, including children. In response, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said anyone who questioned the success of the raid was doing a disservice to the memory of the SEAL. Another shot at McCain.

McCain responded: “Many years ago when I was imprisoned in North Vietnam, there was an attempt to rescue the POWs. Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated. But the brave men who took on that mission and risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes. Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive. Mr. Spicer should know that story.”

There are a lot of things Spicer should know, but there are many more important things that his boss should know and doesn’t. And McCain surely knows that. Trump’s bumbling through foreign affairs would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so serious. But the mysteriously tangled relationship between Trump and Russia dwarfs all of Trump’s miscues thus far in its potential for serious damage.

McCain, as a senior member of the Republican leadership in the Senate, is well-position to demand an independent inquiry into Trump’s Russian ties. Another Republican veteran in the Senate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has also been critical of Trump and often stands with McCain on issues. The two men have standing within their party and on the other side of the aisle for their long years of service as well as their willingness to occasionally tell the truth as they see it, rather than as their party leaders would have us see it

The question is how long McCain can stand by, apparently in the name of party loyalty, and offer occasional criticism while Trump makes a mockery of the Constitution, tarnishes the presidency, and erodes America’s credibility as a world leader. As a former presidential candidate for his party, McCain should be livid with Republicans’ current representative in the White House. Maybe he is.

The senator shows more and more signs of losing his patience with Trump. In a speech McCain gave recently at a security conference in Munich, he basically shredded Trump’s foreign policy, his position on immigrants, his critical statements about NATO and his penchant for making things up. As for Trump seeing no difference between Russian and American behavior, McCain had this to say: “ I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries. I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the West, and I believe we must always, always stand up for it, for if we do not, who will?’’

Strong words, and he never mentioned Trump by name. Still, by not challenging Trump with actions as well as words, McCain leaves himself open to criticism that, while he may be prone to occasional flashes of anger, he’s not willing to risk losing whatever standing, power, and influence he may have within his party by engaging in an all-out fight with the president based on principle.

A willingness to set aside his principles in a search for power was evident in McCain’s presidential campaign when he sold his soul to the religious right at Liberty University and followed that up by losing his mind and picking Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Queen, as his running mate. He will never live that decision down, but he can make up for it.

Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan show no sign they are willing to do their jobs and hold the president accountable. Their behavior is beyond cowardly. It’s an insult to the concept of leadership. McCain can fill this vacuum. In fact, it’s almost made for him. And it’s not as if he has anything to lose at this point in his career. He’s 80-years-old and was just elected to another six-year term In the Senate. This could well be his last rodeo, so why not make it a worthwhile ride and break a bull who’s been turned loose in the White House?

 

Tom Wolfe, LSD, Orange Hair and Me

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

By Bob Gaydoskool-aid-book

I have been in a funk since Nov. 9. That’s the day I woke up with the realization that millions of Americans had lost their minds, if not their souls, and elected a man who is morally, psychologically, intellectually and spiritually unfit to be their president. The dumbest thing that has happened in my lifetime.

I stopped writing.

Finally, in desperation for inspiration, I turned to sports and that great philosopher, Reggie Miller (older Knicks fans can boo now.) For younger fans of the National Basketball Association, think Steph Curry. Shooters. Scorers. What do great shooters do when they are in a shooting funk, when everything seems to clang off the back rim or fall inches short of the basket? They keep shooting. They don’t pass the ball to someone else. They shoot themselves out of the funk.

Swish!

Now, I am not saying I am in the same class as a writer as Reggie and Steph are as shooters, but I have been writing for a long time and I think I have some skills so I figured the instincts would kick in once I started.

So instead of writing, I started reading. Tom Wolfe. Purely happenstance. I picked up some used books at the library because my son, Max, was looking for reading material. Short stories. He wasn’t interested in Wolfe’s “Hooking Up” and I had never read it, but had really enjoyed his “Bonfire of the Vanities.” So I ventured in. I quickly remembered why I liked him.

Then happenstance melded into serendipity. My partner and I watched “The Right Stuff,” the movie based on Wolfe’s book. Enjoyed it. There’s more. The last essay in “Hooking Up” detailed Wolfe’s assignment, with Jimmy Breslin, as the first writers/reporters for the Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine, New York.

My favorite newspaper as a teenager and my favorite magazine. I grew up reading Breslin and, as it turns out, Wolfe. After a brief, there’s-no-way-in-the-world-I-want-to-do-this-the-rest-of-my-life flirtation with engineering, I started writing. In more than 50 years, I have only stopped for brief intervals. Going with the universal flow, I went back to the library and picked up a couple more used Wolfe books, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “A Man in Full.”

By the way, this is by way of answering those sympathetic friends who have asked me what I’ve been doing since The Dumb Event. For one thing, I’m trying to do things that make me feel better, things I can control.

… But let me digress.

To all those who pooh-pooh the Russian election connection, who doubt the Kremlin hacked into Democrats’ e-mails and released them in an organized effort to elect You Know Who and who further doubt that Vladimir Putin had anything to do with it, I turn again to sports and the biggest story that got lost in the election — Russia’s decades-long government-sponsored program to cover up the use of performance-enhancing drugs by virtually all its Olympic athletes.

A report recently released by a Canadian lawyer, Richard H. McClaren, who works for the World Anti-Doping Agency, confirmed it all. McClaren and his team made short shrift of Russian denials. Medals were repossessed. Athletes were banned. A Russian official involved in the program said the direction came from the top. In Russia, there is only one top. This is the Russian way, or at least the Putin way. Of course he knew about the steroids. Of course he knew about the hacking. No Russian would dare do either without his approval. Not if he didn’t want to wind up with poison in his vodka.

… So where was I? Right, reading.

I’m learning much more about Ken Kesey and the acid/pot/speed hippie freaks of the ‘60s than I ever intended to. The meaning of life on LSD.  It’s a good read. I found it especially interesting how Kesey came to write “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Nothing like first-hand experience. I just started the book, so there will likely be more on this later.

What else? I started looking for local issues I might be able to help out with since I believe change starts close to home. I’ve also recommitted to my off-and-on interest in photography. Living in an especially scenic area of the Hudson Valley, it works well with my inclination to report on what’s going on around me. On my travels the other day, a farmer walked his cow across the road right in front of me, casual as could be. Nonchalantly, I missed the shot. But I know where he lives. Gotta keep shooting.

… Speaking of nukes, Putin recently said he wanted to beef up Russia’s nuclear weapons capability. Our soon-to-be Twitter-in-chief knee-jerkedly responded that he planned to do the same with the United States’ nuclear armaments and that no one would be able to keep up with the U.S. in a nuclear arms race. Be still my patriotic, tax-paying heart. Robert Reich, a voice of sanity on social media, reported the above and asked, “What do you think?”

Robert, I think Putin is playing his puppet for the fool he knows him to be. I think all the Republican officials who applaud every time their “king” says something insane are shameless toadies. I think Putin is setting Orange Hair up to act like a big hero at a summit conference in which Russia and the U.S. decide to stop the war of nuclear words and de-escalate, rather than escalate, the nuclear arms race. In exchange, of course, for U.S. concessions. Drop those sanctions for grabbing Crimea. Hold back support for NATO countries that don’t pull their own weight. Let Russia handle things in Syria. Buy some Russian goods (whatever that might be). Don’t retaliate for Russia’s hacking. Stop criticizing Putin’s treatment of dissidents. Give him the respect, he deserves. “Da da, you understand that, my presidential friend, I’m sure.”

I think Putin wants to increase Russian influence over the world, not destroy it. He knows he can do that by pushing buttons and pulling strings.

I also think it would be beneficial to Americans if Ivanka revoked Daddy’s Twitter privileges and read some history to him every day and tested him on it the next day.

And finally, I think maybe I’m feeling a tad better, but the funk is not defunct. Sorry, Reggie, I may have scored a couple of points, but I think I have to keep on shooting.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

  

 

The Kremlin and the Death of the GOP

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

People walk past a mural on a restaurant wall depicting Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting each other with an passionate kiss in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP - Getty Images

People walk past a mural on a restaurant wall depicting Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a passionate kiss in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP – Getty Images

That’s all. I’ve had it. I am through with writing about what a sick, repugnant human being Donald Trump is and then watching him reach a new low. Those who know about recovery from addiction, a subject on which I write regularly, say that every bottom has a trapdoor. Trump is living proof of that. Yet, with each new bottom, every poll seems to find 40 percent of those surveyed favoring him for president.

A few days ago, I thought maybe it would be a good idea to give people a reason to vote for Hillary Clinton, rather than against Trump. I stopped writing in mid-column because it seemed to be a waste of time. Who was I going to convince?

Here’s as far as I got …

There I was, having breakfast and rummaging around in my mind to find an angle for this presidential campaign other than don’t vote for Donald Trump because he’s an ignorant, racist, bigoted, misogynistic, cruel, vindictive, vile, narcissistic, xenophobic, quick-tempered, undisciplined, untrustworthy, uninformed, unspeakably crude sexual pervert and birther, who lies as naturally as he breathes.

Somehow, writing that message week after week (me and plenty of others) still hadn’t convinced a lot of people that the only vote that makes sense on Nov. 8 is one for Hillary Clinton. You don’t have to like her, folks, just know that that the future of this nation may well depend on voting for her.

Deaf ears. “Yeah, Trump may be all those things,” comes the unconvincing shrug, “but I can’t vote for her.” I have given up asking for reasons why. You know, reasons based on actual facts that would outweigh the choice at hand.

I set aside a newspaper article about how Trump had managed to actually make insulting comments about Clinton’s body as part of his defense against multiple charges that he is a sexual predator. Instead, I tried to focus on my egg white omelette (Swiss cheese and tomatoes). Then, as fate (or my excellent hearing) would have it, the angle was delivered to me from a nearby table. A reason to vote for Hillary … not that it was presented that way.

“DId you hear that Putin said if Clinton is elected, be prepared for war?”

The point the gentleman was making to his friend was that voting for Clinton would be dangerous because it could mean getting into a war with Russia. This was delivered in all seriousness because Vladimir Putin had said so and, as we know, he always speaks the truth and never has any nefarious plot in mind because that’s the way former heads of the KGB comport themselves when they get elected president of Russia.

The further point would be that voting for Trump would be smart because Putin says nice things about him. And Trump says he’d like to work with Putin.

So there you have it, America, the Republican candidate for president of the United States is now being touted as the better choice because the president of Russia doesn’t like the other candidate. Does this seem backwards to anyone else? When did being pals with Putin all of a sudden become more important than standing up to the Kremlin? When Trump launched his campaign based on lies and fear, that’s when.

Trump, of course, has said that he has met Putin. He has also said that he has not met Putin. You can be sure that Clinton and Putin know each other well. And he apparently does hate her guts. (I’m liking this reason for voting for her even more now.) That’s because, as secretary of state, she publicly called him out on stealing his election, something which Trump has accused Clinton of trying to do. She stood up to Putin. Meanwhile, Trump wants to do business with the man who grabbed Crimea from Ukraine and whose political opponents have a way of ending up dead.

It used to be that Republicans automatically voted for the candidate who was tough on Russia. They wanted someone the Kremlin would have to talk to and would do so with respect. Someone experienced in  diplomacy whose word could be counted on by friend and foe alike. That would be Hillary, not Donald. Donald, who doesn’t know Crimea from Korea, wants to sell out NATO and maybe get a hotel deal in the bargain. Putin has played him — and his followers — perfectly, from the hacked Clinton e-mails to the threat of war. Trump’s entire campaign is based on fear. That’s no way for America to negotiate with Putin, or any other world leader. …

I stopped there, wondering whether to go on. Then Trump said in the last debate that he wouldn’t necessarily accept the results of the election if he lost. That’s when I threw in the towel. For a man who has promoted violence at his rallies and some of whose supporters have openly espoused rebelling against any defeat, this is as unacceptable, unpatriotic, indefensible, possibly treasonous a statement as a candidate for president can make.

But that’s Trump — a new bottom every day. His fans cheered. I do not blame him for being who he is; I simply detest him. In truth, I’m sick of him. I do, however, blame the Republican Party for infecting American society (not just politics) with this utterly degrading election campaign. I mean every elected Republican official, from Speaker Paul Ryan to every governor, senator, congressperson, state legislator, county executive, county legislator, mayor, supervisor, councilman who has stood silently by and let Trump make a mockery of our democratic system and lay waste to any sense of decency or decorum in selection of the most powerful political leader on the planet.

A lot of these people went to Cleveland to vote for Trump. Then they stayed mute for months as he … okay, I said I’m not doing that anymore. The world knows what he has done. If you know all that and can still support him, words actually fail me. The same goes for those who say Hillary is just as bad. Not even close. You people need to get serious.

Republicans, Trump is not one of you. He is Trump. Period. You created him. Your hypocrisy and cowardice have emboldened him and his ilk. He has sullied us all. And he has destroyed you.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

The Incivility of Any Civil War

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

A brutal civil war is being fought in Ukraine.

A brutal civil war is being fought in Ukraine.

The Ukraine people look haunted in the newspaper photos. Some want to stay with their country, some want to separate and join Russia. We tend to think of them as non-overlapping groups. My experience this past weekend on a trip to Washington, D.C., led me to think about the matter differently.

Our own Civil War divided our country in ways hard to fathom. I know little about the Civil War beyond the Ken Burns series and what I gleaned in high school and college. I have heard that books about Lincoln sell better than anything else, and given that, I am hesitant to put forward any views at all to readers who may be much more knowledgeable than I. But there must be some who don’t know all the things I learned this weekend.

First, I went to hear a concert at the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington. An attractive church with great stained glass and excellent acoustics, it is pre-Civil War and housed wounded Union soldiers during the fighting. According to the historical poster outside, Washington as a whole was essentially a southern, secessionist city, and that was especially true for the area of the city around the church. Most of the members were for secession. Jefferson Davis was a member with his own pew until conflict with the minister, who was strongly pro-Union, led to his departure. The poster mentioned that Mary Todd Lincoln had a brother and three half-brothers who fought for the Confederacy. Two of them were killed and one was wounded.

The next day we (I, my brother and sister-in-law) went to Arlington National Cemetery. I’d been before, but the lines after lines of white gravestones, stretching off in all directions, still made me gasp. These dead are from all our wars, of course, not just the Civil War, but there were three quarters of a million deaths in that war, the most costly of our history.

We climbed a steep hill to the former home of Robert E. Lee. Arlington Cemetery was built on his property just over the line in Virginia. It was  confiscated by the Union early in the war as a sort of statement: “See what you’ve done.” When you look out from the front porch, you see a bridge crossing the Potomac and right at the end of the bridge, the Lincoln Memorial. The two men seem enmeshed, or at least their differences bridged. I knew from Ken Burns that Lincoln had asked Lee to head the Union Army, and with great difficulty Lee had refused.

I didn’t know that Lee had released all his own slaves five years before the Emancipation Proclamation. I didn’t know that his wife returned to the house after the war ended and died five days later, apparently of a heart attack brought on by the level of destruction. Few of the articles in the house today are original, except for furniture or dishes or pictures that have been returned by some descendant of a Union soldier who stole them. Now the site is a National Monument, and rightly so, for Lee was a remarkable man. After the war, he became president of Washington and Lee College, and tried to help heal the divisions in the country.

Another thing I learned, not this weekend but when doing research on the 1692 witch trials for The Book of Maggie Bradstreet, was that my ancestors in Massachusetts had slaves. They were called servants, but they were slaves. Tituba, who set off the whole Salem witch hysteria, was a slave from the West Indies. Northerners didn’t need slave labor the way the plantations needed it, but that didn’t prevent them from using it when they could.

It’s a kind of cliché, “brother against brother,” but the ways the Union and Confederacy were linked and divided were so complicated, they can’t possibly be reduced to “good vs. bad” or “right vs. wrong,” the way we learn in high school to think about it.

When we see the division in Ukraine, or in Syria, or earlier, in North and South Korea, and North and South Vietnam, we could reflect more on our own experience. People suffer, for such a long time and in such complicated ways, from a Civil War.

 

The Fruits of Obama’s Syria ‘Defeat’

Thursday, September 19th, 2013
President Obama ... his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

President Obama … his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

By Bob Gaydos

In the category of Things Are Never Quite the Way They Appear (especially in international diplomacy), I give you what many “pundits” regard as President Barack Obama’s humiliating defeat in getting Syrian President Bashar Assad to: 1. Admit that his country, contrary to all his previous claims, has a stockpile of outlawed chemical weapons; 2. Agree to promptly provide an inventory of those weapons and 3. Turn the weapons over to a United Nations delegation for the purpose of destroying them all by next year..

This humanitarian feat, which will save countless thousands of lives, was accomplished without firing one missile in righteous anger or placing one set of American GI boots on the ground in the midst of Syria’s brutal civil war. Stay out of Syria is what a solid majority of Americans said they wanted ever since Obama broached the subject of a punishing strike against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people. It is also what most Republicans in Congress insisted they wanted, contrary to their usual position on military intervention, but consistent with their policy of opposing anything Obama proposes. In this case, to the president, Republican motives didn’t matter; end results did.

This is strictly my opinion. I have no special insight into White House strategy, no one leaking me information on the president’s intentions. Rather, I have my own version of common sense and what I believe is a willingness to judge events by outcomes rather than political bias.

One of the things I believe may not necessarily be as it appears — or as many critics would have it be — is the president’s intent. I do not believe Barack Obama is so dumb as to submit a proposal to Congress that he wants passed if he knows it will be defeated. He is a biracial man living in a racist country who earned degrees from two Ivy League schools — Columbia and Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Law Review. He got elected president. Twice. Having made history, he also has guided the country slowly out of a devastating, largely Republican-created recession and got a health care plan for all Americans through a Congress that can barely agree to meet. This is one smart man (although I think his “red line“ on chemical weapons was a tactical mistake).

So, I have serious doubts that the president ever intended to launch a military strike against Syria, precisely because of the opposition he knew existed among average, war-weary Americans, as well as entrenched anti-Obama, rank-and-file Republicans. He signaled that when, after days of threatening a strike, he agreed to ask Congress to debate and vote on the issue, without even asking members to cut short their vacation to do so. That made the proposal DOA, with even many Democrats opposed to U.S. involvement in Syria because of their constituents’ opposition to it.

Ironically, with the disarmament agreement now being finalized with Syria and Russia, Obama’s continued threat to use military force if Syria fails to comply with the agreement gains much more validity and support among Americans than his original threat. Assad has admitted he’s got the weapons. French, British and American experts, as well as Human Rights Watch, say, based on a United Nations report, that there is no doubt it was Assad’s troops, not rebel forces, that used them. The U.S. Navy’s continued presence in the Mediterranean Sea now takes on even greater import to Assad.

Then, of course, there is the disarmament agreement itself. Americans are strongly of two minds on this:

1. One group, that didn’t necessarily want to attack Syria, nonetheless thinks it is embarrassing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting credit for the plan and that he lectured Americans (in the New York Times no less) about thinking they had to act as morality policeman of the world.

2. Another group feels it is high time America stopped acting as morality policeman of the world, focused on domestic issues instead and enlisted other countries’ help in finding diplomatic, rather than military, solutions to international crises.

I don’t think Obama cares that Putin is getting most of the credit for the chemical weapons agreement. I also don’t think the agreement just sprang into Putin’s head in a dream one night. In fact, Russian officials have acknowledged such a plan was discussed months ago with American officials. Just as Obama is no clueless patsy in this, Putin is no hero. He is no champion of human rights and Americans shouldn’t really pay serious attention to what he has to say about life in the U.S.

In fact, Russia has been the main supplier of arms for the Syrian Army, enabling the civil war to drag on and produce more than 100,000 deaths and a flood of millions fleeing their country. But it is precisely for the link with Syria that Putin had to appear to be the primary force behind the non-military plan.

Of course, this helps Putin gain even more political stature at home. As mentioned previously, Obama has been elected president twice. He cannot run again. His place in history is forged and his future as a statesman guaranteed. But Putin has an Olympics coming to his country next year and has stirred worldwide condemnation for Russia’s anti-gay laws. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russian authorities were tolerant of demonstrations supporting gay rights next winter or if Barack Obama were among the world leaders being most vocal about demanding such behavior. And, while he won’t show it, I don’t think Putin will regard his apparent backing down on gay rights as a “humiliating defeat” on the international stage.

Meanwhile, a major store of chemical weapons will be destroyed, a potential threat to Middle Eastern neighbors of Syria will have been removed, rebel forces in Syria will know they don’t have to fear facing such weapons, not one American soldier will have set foot in Syria, not one Syrian citizen will have been listed as collateral damage in a strike by American “smart” missiles, the United States will have shown cynical countries that it really can use diplomacy, rather than military might, to resolve a crisis, Assad will have been shown to be a murderous liar, Putin will have had some of his Lone Ranger image stripped away in international diplomacy, President Obama, counter to his image in some corners as a reluctant warrior, will have appeared to be willing and eager to use U.S. military power, and Republicans will have emerged as a party opposed to war. By the way, the overwhelming majority of Americans support the non-military resolution of the Syrian crisis.

Humiliating defeat my ass..

bob@zestoforange.com

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.

 

Mr. Obama: No Proof, No Attack on Syria

Thursday, August 29th, 2013
President Obama needs to make an ironclad case to justify an attack on Syria.

President Obama needs to make an ironclad case to justify an attack on Syria.

By Bob Gaydos

Here we go again.

A brutal Arab regime, under fire from rebel forces, is accused of using chemical weapons against its own people, women and children included. This violates every rule of warfare and demands military intervention by the United States, to whom the role of defender of democracy and human decency has been assigned by other nations over the years. But like everything else in the Middle East, nothing about the war in Syria is that clear-cut.

The United Nations, established in part to unify and coordinate worldwide reaction to such atrocities, as usual, is paralyzed. Any effort by the U.S. and allies to get Security Council approval for missile or air strikes against the offending party will be blocked by Russia and China, who have veto power. They do not simply follow marching orders from the White House and are big enough to make that matter. That will probably require the U.S. to put together a coalition of enough nations to give the imprimatur of legitimacy, if not legality, for such a military action.

This will likely happen despite conflicting accounts as to who actually used the chemical weapons — the ruling Assad government or the rebels — and with the assurance that U.S. involvement will include only targeted air or missile strikes (remember smart bombs?) and no involvement of ground forces in Syria’s civil war. Apparently, it will also occur without a debate on the issue by the U.S. Congress, which is unfortunate since it is the only branch of government authorized to declare war. In addition, a clear majority of Americans, weary of fighting more than a decade of wars in the Middle East, are opposed to U.S. involvement in another war in the region.

Add to these complications the fact that there has still been no convincing proof given publicly that the Syrian military, not the rebels, employed the nerve gas. Rather, Americans have been reassured by a well-respected secretary of state that the White House is certain the weapons were used by Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s troops and that this is reason enough for U.S. involvement.

Sound familiar? Did anybody in the White House hear former Secretary of State Colin Powell — who made the case for attacking Iraq before the U.N. — recently call out former Vice President Dick Cheney for steamrolling President George W. Bush into attacking Iraq with similar justification and no solid evidence? Since that justifiable “moral” intervention lasted 10 years and cost tens of thousands of lives and destroyed a country, it would seem to behoove President Obama to present undeniable proof of guilt publicly before ordering any attack.

Obama, who has until now wisely resisted calls for U.S. military intervention in Syria, drew a red line in the sand to signal when the U.S. might actually get involved. That’s a risky diplomatic tool. His red line was the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. Having made such a declaration and now believing that Syria has, in fact, crossed that line, the president faces a difficult choice. If he follows the will of the American people, recent history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and the lack of publicly offered conclusive evidence on who used the chemical weapons, he would surely not order U.S. warplanes or ships to attack Syria.

However, if he ignores his own red line, other nations that have been given similar warnings about development of nuclear weapons — Iran and North Korea — might feel emboldened to move ahead, figuring Obama was not a man of his word. That the American president was all talk, as it were. Then there is the matter of this being a deplorable act that cannot be allowed to go unpunished.

The key questions to be answered are:

— Who used the nerve gas, the government or the rebels?

— What is an appropriate response?

Given the American public’s growing distrust of the Obama administration because of its widespread spying on American citizens and its vigorous efforts to prosecute whistleblowers — who might be able to answer the question of who used the chemical weapons — the president should insist on a full public debate on Syria by Congress. This would be wise especially if he’s certain he’s got the goods on Assad. This would also be wise given the extended U.S. military presences in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little obvious gain except to the corporations that provide the machinery of war. Obama should welcome a full and open discussion by Congress of the situation and the options.

There is no good choice here. Some party is using chemical weapons against the people of Syria to further its own interests. This is barbaric. Just look at the photos of the bodies of dead children lined up. A surgical air strike or ship-launched missiles, aimed at the guilty parties only and the machinery that allows them to use the weapons, would be a viable military option. But “surgical” air strikes have been notoriously imprecise in the past. Innocent people have been killed in the name of protecting innocent people.

The obvious preference would be for a diplomatic solution that spares lives. That would probably require Obama to somehow convince Russia and China, friendly with the Syrian government, to work with him on a peaceful solution. Assad leaving Syria would be one. If that is not possible and if the president can provide conclusive and independently verifiable (say, by United Nations inspectors) proof of guilt by the Syrian government, and if Congress is given the evidence and conducts a public debate, and if more nations than Syria’s immediate neighbors (Turkey and Jordan) as well as U.S. ally Great Britain, support the action, Obama would be justified in launching a limited military intervention in Syria.

That’s a lot of ifs, to be sure and war is seldom the answer. Still, there are no ifs, ands or buts that whoever inflicted chemical weapons on the children of Syria must be made to pay.

bob@zestoforange.com

Our Capacity for Abuse Appears Endless

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Boy Scouts of America logo

By Bob Gaydos

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my feelings about the Catholic Church and its continuing inability/unwillingness to come fully and honestly to terms with its scandal of priests sexually abusing young boys.

If only that were the extent of it.

Last week, lawyers in Portland, Ore., won a landmark decision which resulted in a judge granting them access to the Boy Scouts Of America’s confidential “ineligible volunteer list.” It immediately became known as the “perversion list’ and when the lawyers posted it on the Internet, more than 200,000 hits in the first few hours caused it to crash. (It’s up and running today.)

The 14,500 files, organized by state, detail decades of abuse cases — proven and alleged — dating from the organization’s founding to today, most of which never became public knowledge. For the Scouts, like the church, the preferred method of dealing with sexual predators, was to fire them, ban them from Scouting, and otherwise ignore them. Out of sight, out of mind, except for the list, which did at least serve to warn some future potential employers who bothered to check references.

And the victims? Well, criminal charges or civil suits would only hurt the image of the Scouts, wouldn’t it? How could the organization continue to berate homosexuals and forbid non-god-fearing youngsters from membership if people knew some Scout leaders were sexually abusing young boys? In many cases, police authorities were apparently complicit in cover-ups, such is the misplaced reverence with which BSA was viewed. It’s beyond appalling.

If only that were the extent of it.

Tuesday’s New York Times carried a story about a top executive at the British Broadcasting Corporation resigning over his decision to kill a story detailing decades of abuse of young girls (about 200 reportedly, aged 12 and 13) by Jimmy Savile, a popular British TV personality and disc jockey, now deceased. The furor over killing the program prompted another BBC program to do a full report on it.

Again, protecting the predators’ reputation — in addition to being a popular entertainer, Savile also was a well-known philanthropist — was deemed to be more important than protecting other potential young victims. A wink and a nod and lots of rumors were the norm, just like with the priests and Scout leaders. Like the Scouts case, the Savile case has just gotten started in Britain, so more lurid details are bound to be revealed.

If only that were the extent of it.

The same edition of the Times carried a story about Russian politicians turning suddenly anti-American after years of softening their political rhetoric. The source of the comments was an extraordinary parliamentary hearing: “On Problems in the Observation of Human Rights by the United States of America.” Apparently tired of being criticized by Americans for all sorts of abuses, Russian legislators let loose with a a volley of attacks, pointing to water-boarding of prisoners, Ku Klux Klan lynchings and, the pertinent one here, abuse of adopted Russian children.

Witnesses said such abuse is common because Americans view Russian children as inferior. A telling comment from a jury verdict in the case of a 7-year-old adopted orphan, who died of brain trauma, made the Russians’ point: “The boy was born in Russia, the boy was an orphan who was brought up in an orphanage, he had bad genetics, because, in fact, all Russian orphans are genetically underdeveloped, have an inclination to drug addiction, stealing, self-harm. It turns out the boy beat himself to death on an iron stove.”

If only that were the extent of it.

Several months ago, a German newspaper reported that “bestiality brothels” were spreading across Germany. You read that right. Apparently, posting bestiality on the Internet is illegal in Germany, but actually having sex with animals is not, including in brothels set up for just that purpose. Some referred to it as a “life style” choice. Given that the dogs and other brothel animals are not consenting partners, don’t get paid and are discarded after being defiled, one assumes their life styles were not considered. This is one of the sickest kinds of abuse imaginable, yet Germany is only now working on changing the law to make it illegal.

And no, that’s not the extent of it. Husbands beat wives. Parents shake infants. Boys torture cats. Grown men abuse dogs. Women are sold as sex slaves, or simply treated as non-entities. We used to throw people to the lions.

There are many more examples, but you get the idea and I am weary of the effort. On these specific cases, I can offer only some specific, preferable responses: Report all suspected cases of sexual abuse of children to police; eliminate the statute of limitations for such charges (the victims’ pain lasts a lifetime); file criminal charges against those who cover up such abuse; pursue charges against all cases where still possible; place concern for victims, current and potential, above any desire to protect the reputation of the abuser or his employer; do a proper screening of foreign adoptions and make the general information available publicly; pass a law making bestiality illegal for god’s sake.

Still, I am left, ultimately, feeling unsatisfied and wondering if this need to abuse other, more vulnerable, living things is part of the human condition. Is evil in our wiring? Our rearing? Can we overcome it? How? All I have now are the questions. Perhaps some day we will have the will and wisdom to search for the answers.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

Of Winners (Aniston) & Losers (Putin)

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Jennifer Aniston ... hottest of them all?

By Bob Gaydos
OK, I know it’s Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa time, but the world refuses to stop turning and enjoy the moment and I feel compelled to comment on it.

So … maybe it’s none of my business, but I don’t know one male — young, old or in the middle — who would put Jennifer Aniston at the top of his list of the 100 hottest women ever. Ever? As in even when there was no photography or TV or movies to flash images around the globe? That kind of ever?

Beyond the chutzpah of Men’s Health (Did anyone even know about that magazine before this?) putting together such a list, there is the absurdity of declaring it to be a list of the sexiest women of all time. Maybe it’s just me, but Delilah must have been pretty sexy to steal Samson’s locks and Cleopatra toyed with emperors. That’s pretty hot. And while I will give her cute and maybe even sexy, I can’t see Aniston ever playing the role of Helen of Troy. Or Matahari. Now, Angelina Jolie, that’s another story.

All you really need to know about the list is that Britney Spears and Madonna are in the top five (behind Raquel Welch and Marilyn Monroe, either of whom could claim number one) and Sophia Loren is number 47 — behind Paris Hilton! Sacre bleu! Brigitte Bardot is number 75.

The magazine, which I suspect was hoping for recognition of any kind, says it was going for a total package of beauty, brains and talent in making its choice. That’s probably why Kim Kardashian made the list, but Ingrid Bergman didn’t. (Yes, your thoughts on this are welcome.)

* * *

Now that I’ve got your attention, I can move on to other, more legitimate, as it were, news. Like the 45-year-old out-of-work textile worker, upset at receiving no unemployment benefits for a year, who threw his shoes at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a memorial service. Like the reporter who slung his footwear at
President George W. Bush in Baghdad in 2008, the guy missed. Since throwing shoes at someone is a sign of strong disrespect in Arab countries, the shoeing of Bush made sense. But Iran being a Persian nation, the botched assault can only be seen as a poor copycat attempt. The man was beaten and arrested for his efforts and one would assume he will have plenty of time in prison to work on his aim. And while it’s none of my business, it would seem that long-suffering people in the Middle East need a lot more practice in expressing their disappointments.

* * *

Speaking of public protests in unexpected places, what’s with all those angry Russians demonstrating about the results of their last election? Thousands actually gathered in Moscow demanding Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin step down because, they say, the recent parliamentary elections were rigged. A rigged vote in Russia? Really?

With a former KGB head running the country? Hard to believe, but not as hard to believe as the fact that tens of thousands of Russians objected publicly across the country and no one was arrested.

This would tend to support Time magazine’s pick of The Protestor as the person of the year (see how I wove those stories together), from the Arab spring to Occupy Wall Street and Red Square.

A bit of irony, however, in Russia. It seems that the great democratic hope of the Russian 99 percent is Mikhail D. Prokhorov, a billionaire industrialist and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Prokhorov says he plans to run against Putin for president next year. It’s none of my business, but as daunting as that may seem, Prokhorov would still seem to have a better shot at winning in Russia than in getting Dwight Howard to agree to leave Orlando and come play for the Nets.

* * *

OK, you knew I couldn’t ignore the Republicans and their ubiquitous campaign forever. In one of my favorites stories of the year, conservative radio host Michael Savage offered Newt Gingrich $1million to drop out of the Republican primary race.

Savage, who hosts the third-highest rated radio talk show in the country (scary, I know) said Mitt Romney was the only candidate capable of beating President Barack Obama. Savage further said Newt, patriot that he is, should drop out “for the sake of the nation.”

Why should Newt, who leads in the polls of those actually driving the GOP train, step down? Savage pointed to Gingrich’s serial marital infidelity, his performance as speaker of the House (including shutting down the government because he got a bad seat on Air Force One) and his lucrative and controversial involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sounding like a Keith Olbermann wannabe, Savage wrote that “compared to Obama” during presidential debates, Gingrich will “look like nothing more than what he is: a fat, old, white man.” None of my business, but that doesn’t leave much for Democrats to say about Newt.

* * *

And finally, what would a week be without a proclamation from Donald Trump? The Donald, who famously and ridiculously announced he would host and moderate his own GOP debate later this month, said Tuesday he was dropping out of his own debate. He said he was doing it so that he didn’t have to give up his right to “run as an independent candidate” if he didn’t like any of the remaining GOP candidates. Trump, who was a sort of quasi-candidate earlier this year, said Republican Party officials said he would have to agree to this if he wanted to moderate the debate. He didn’t mention that the only candidates who had agreed to show up for his show were Gingrich and Rick Santorum or that Jon Huntsman, Mr. One Percent in every GOP poll, in essence told him to pound salt. Maybe it’s none of my business, but tell me again why any self-respecting Republican puts up with this lunacy.

Until next news cycle …

bob@zestoforange.com