Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Are You Now, or Have You Ever …

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

By Bob Gaydos

Jeanine Pirro ... asked the question

Jeanine Pirro
… asked the question

It was at once the most astounding and easiest to answer question ever posed to an American president: “Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?”

That’s a yes or no answer, with “no” being the preferred option. Unless you’re Donald Trump, in which case you say, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written. And if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing.”

“They” was a reference to The New York Times which published an article reporting that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey. The article said the secret investigation was passed on to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed in the wake of Comey’s firing.

Back to the question. It was posed not in a challenging way and not by an antagonistic interviewer. Rather, it came from someone Trump picked himself, “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, who is not only his most vocal supporter at Fox News, but someone who gives the impression she would satisfy pretty much any favors the Donald would like in return for a position in his cabinet. Say attorney general. Even solicitor general.

But in his eagerness to defend himself and insult the sources of the question, to engage in his usual deflection, Trump never just said the obvious: “No.” He got around to that a day later (“I never worked for Russia,” he said.) after virtually everyone on Twitter and some White House aides who have not been furloughed because he shut the government down pointed out the glaring omission.

And so here we are. A TV commentator has, on the air, asked the president of the United States — a phrase I reluctantly attach to Trump for the sake of accuracy — if he is, in effect, a traitor.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that is extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is that virtually no one in his political party seems to have an opinion on this — at least not publicly — and two days later the big story was Trump serving fast food burgers and fries at the White House to the national college football champions from Clemson University, because apparently that’s what he thinks finely tuned athletes, whose diets are monitored, eat routinely. Never mind the insult.

I write this, not in the hopes of convincing any suddenly awakening Trump supporters of the unrelenting awfulness of the man, never mind being the only president to ever be asked if he is a traitor. That time has passed. No, this is selfish. If it’s true that nothing ever disappears from the Internet, I want future browsers and historians to know that some of us saw what was going on and spoke out about it while others buried their heads in the sands of delusion or lined their pockets with the bitter fruits of enabling (Republicans) and exploitation (evangelicals).

I also want the Greater Consciousness to know I did my part in promoting peace, love and understanding. And yes, I know it knows, but I somehow feel better putting it in writing.

And, covering all bets, I want the Kirk Cameron “Left Behind” evangelicals waiting for the Rapture to know that my version of it has the guy with the MAGA bumper sticker who tosses beer cans on my lawn one day noticing a pile of clothes — wrinkled jeans, a black hoodie and a gray knit cap — lying in the driveway while I enjoy another balmy day in Heaven, watching reruns of the Trump impeachment hearings, eating tacos and listening to Sinatra.

Finally, it seems fitting to me if, many millennia from now, the dominant beings, whatever they might be, discover this ancient form of communication, decipher it, and conclude, “Once upon a time, a species known as human beings ruled Earth when it was abundant with riches. For some reason, they chose the most ignorant, ill-equipped, amoral person to be their leader. They were difficult times. Ugliness abounded. Only the persistent efforts of some outspoken humans saved the planet.”

I may be angry and astounded, but I still prefer happy endings.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Let the Games (and Diplomacy) Begin

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

South  Korean and North Korean women are playing on the same hockey team at the 2018 WInter Olympics.

South Korean and North Korean women are playing on the same hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Thank Zeus for the Olympics. Every two years they offer an opportunity for a world gone mad to take a breather and at least pretend to pay homage to the Olympic Creed: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Yes, Russia is barred from participating officially in the 2018 Winter Games, which began this weekend, because it tried to steal the 2014 Games in Sochi by pumping its athletes full of steroids. But Russians who did not cheat will compete, albeit without the flag or anthem of Mother Russia.

More significantly, with the Games taking place in South Korea, North Korean athletes are participating. Better yet, athletes from North and South Korea marched in together under one symbolic flag and the women’s hockey team includes members from both nations. There were no 38th Parallel issues for people who have been sharing a divided peninsula since the end of World War II and for nearly 65 years have endured a tense truce that halted the Korean War. And. thankfully, there was no tweeting about whose nuclear button was bigger and badder.

A lot of so-called experts are calling the Olympic dance by the two Koreas mere window dressing or a charm offensive by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Somehow, charming is not a word that comes to mind when I think of Kim.

But the overture to come “take part” was made by South Korean President, Moon Jae-In, who pledged to work for better relationships with fellow Koreans in the north when he ran for president last year. One could consider this an example of a leader making good on his promise — and a politically risky one at that — rather than looking for excuses or people to blame for not following through.

Donald Trump sent Mike Pence, his tight-lipped, see-no-evil shadow, to represent the United States at the opening ceremonies. There was no acknowledgement of President Moon’s diplomatic initiative, but again, at least no saber-rattling on Twitter.

Supposedly — again, this is the experts talking — Kim has gone along with this brief softening of tensions and shared Olympic spirit in the hopes of having economic and diplomatic sanctions on North Korea reduced. OK, so what? Who can blame him for that?

But who can blame Moon for thinking that maybe even a small thing like a shared women’s hockey team team is better for all Koreans than constant talk about missiles and nuclear weapons? Diplomacy takes many forms and, yes, sometimes it is imperative to be forceful and consistent when dealing with a difficult foe. It is also true that sometimes the simplest gesture can have unexpected results.

When nuclear warfare is apparently being discussed seriously and frequently in the Oval Office it is reassuring to know that the heads of the two nations that live face-to-face with the threat of war every day can agree to break bread and march together and, who knows, maybe agree to stay in touch when the skating and skiing is done.

I am under no delusion that the Orange Dotard (a name charmingly assigned by Kim) understands diplomacy, the perils of nuclear war or the importance of allowing subtle forces to influence the course of events. It is all bombast and buffoonery all the time. Just look back at some recent news stories emanating from the White House:

  • The State of the Union speech. A joke.
  • The Republican FBI memo. A bust and maybe illegal.
  • The opioid crisis team: Run by a PR specialist and a 23-year-old former campaign worker (since resigned).
  • The infrastructure plan … uh, sorry, wrong list. There still isn’t one.
  • The sanctions against Russia. Dotard won’t do what Congress said.
  • The Mueller investigation: Trump’s lawyers don’t trust him to testify in person.
  • The federal government. Shut down a second time. Trump actually rooted for this one.
  • The Wall: Build it or no deal for the Dreamers. Too many lies to keep up with in this saga. Naked bigotry.
  • The parade. THE PARADE. A flippin’ no-holds-barred military parade a la every dictator you ever heard of. He wants one; the military doesn’t. No one does. But as Sun Tzu said in “The Art of War,’’ it’s what weak leaders do to appear strong.

The Chinese military strategist and philosopher also wrote: “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

And: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Like maybe starting with South and North Korean women playing a little hockey together against women from other nations. Change the dynamics.

Trump and Kim are always ready and eager to hurl insults and threats. And maybe missiles. South Korea’s President Moon is trying to ease the tension and maybe open the door to more civilized dialogue. In the spirit of the Olympics, it’s an effort well worth making and supporting.

Meanwhile, maybe one of his aides — a general, perhaps — can read Sun Tzu to you know who.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Facebook Has an Algorithm Problem

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

facebook thumb downAlgorithms are cool. I get it. I mean, I get that they’re cool, not how they work. I like to think that, if I had to, I could probably work really hard to understand them, but I dropped out of engineering school to do this. No regrets.

In fact, writing about life in all its complexities has given me an appreciation for what people — real people, not some numbers-crunched algorithm people — have to deal with on a daily basis. It has exposed me to the value of compassion, compromise and common sense.

Our universal dictionary, Wikipedia, defines an algorithm as “an unambiguous specification of how to solve a class of problems. Algorithms can perform calculation, data processing and automated reasoning tasks.”

But they can’t, obviously, do ambiguous.

I’m thinking about algorithms because Facebook, an Internet empire built on them, recently said it was going to hire 1,000 people to review ads in response to the embarrassing revelation that users’ news feeds during the 2016 U.S. presidential election were awash in political ads run by Russians, undoubtedly using their own algorithms to target various groups in an effort to influence the outcome. Facebook said Russians bought about $100,000 in ads — with rubles — but apparently the social media giant’s algorithms detected no ambiguity afoot with Russians arguing to protect Americans’ Second Amendment rights or stirring up anti-gay feelings, not in Moscow, but in the American heartland.

Congress is investigating. That’s good. It should do something this year. But Facebook has more than a Russia problem. It has become the major source of news for millions of Americans, yet its news feeds have been shown to be awash in fake news. Lots of really fake news, not Trump “fake news,” which is real news.

Facebook — actually Mark Zuckerberg — is talking about becoming a more responsible source of reliable news information and hiring “content moderators” to review, well, content, and a lot of additional people to look out for violent content on the site. Swell. 

If you will permit me a self-serving observation, he’s talking about hiring people to exercise judgment over what appears publicly on Facebook because: (1) algorithms can’t think or feel like people and (2) this is how responsible newspapers have operated forever. Just saying.

In the interests of full disclosure, I also will say I have had my own personal experiences with Facebook algorithms. Recently, I received an e-mail telling me that an ad I wanted to run boosting a column on a Facebook page I administer was rejected because it had too much copy. It didn’t say the copy was boring or poorly written or even offensive. Just too much of it.

OK, I’ve had editors tell me the same thing, but I was also never prepared to give an editor ten bucks just to run the column. Oh yeah, the ad in question was proposed in July. I got the rejection e-mail on Halloween.

Then there’s the friendly way Facebook greets me every day with news of the weather in Phillipsport. “Rain is in the forecast today, Robert.” Thank you. If I Iived in Phillipsport it would matter a lot more, but it’s a half hour drive and there’s a big mountain range between us and my page unambiguously says where I live. Can’t the algorithm read?

But the incident that really convinced me that Facebook had an algorithm problem was its response to a complaint I filed regarding a post that was being sarcastic about the dotard-in-chief. I am guilty as charged of leveling (much-deserved) sarcasm at the Trump, but this cartoon had him in a coffin with a bystander saying to Melania, “‘Sorry about the assassination, Mrs.Trump, but he knew what he signed up for.”

As a “content moderator” for newspapers for several decades, I would never let such a tasteless, provocative, potentially dangerous item to be published. I told Facebook the same thing. I said they should delete it. It encouraged violence at a violent time in our history.

The algorithm replied that the post did not violate Facebook’s standard of, I don’t know: Acceptability? Appropriateness? Decency? Who sets this pathetic standard?

I use Facebook a lot. It has many wonderful benefits. But “automated reasoning” is not a substitute for good old, gut-instinct common sense. It’s the best way to connect people with people. Maybe people cost a little more than algorithms, but I think Zuck can afford it and there are a lot of laid off editors looking for work. If it’s not fake news that he’s serious about running for president some day, he’ll be glad he did it.

I’m also curious to know what Facebook says if I decide I want to pay to boost this post. I wonder if they’ll let me run a picture of Zuck. Can I even call him Zuck?

Stay tuned.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Syria Conspiracy: One I Can Believe

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump, Assad and Putin

Trump, Assad and Putin

I have never been a fan of conspiracy theories. The JFK assassination? No. The 9/11 building collapse? No. The DNC plotting against Bernie Sanders … Well, OK, two out of three.

To my thinking, most conspiracy theories require: 1) a predetermined attitude on the motive behind the conspiracy (“the government doesn’t want us to know because …”); 2) the willingness to disregard facts (or lack of facts); 3) the belief in the absolute commitment of lots of people over a long period of time to keep a secret; 4) the further belief that the people involved in the conspiracy are actually capable of pulling it off, or at least trying to.

So here’s my conspiracy theory: Trump, Putin and Assad set the whole thing up. The chemical attack, the missile attack, the denials, the warnings from Trump, the threats from Putin. All according to script. Yes, it’s a morbidly depressing theory and so, in some respects, I hope I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m right.

To hatch any sort of conspiracy, there must be something to gain for each of the conspirators. Each must also be able to lie with a straight face, over and over and over again. Being a pathological liar helps. Also, the conspirators must be willing and able to carry out whatever deeds, however unseemly, that are required to promote the fiction they are trying to sell. People will be hurt. Being self-absorbed and demonstrably unconcerned about the welfare of others is also a useful characteristic.

That sounds like Trump, Putin and Assad. In this case, it’s not even hard to believe, let alone conceive of such a chilling conspiracy.

Trump’s motive? Pick one:

  • He doesn’t how how to be president.
  • People think he stinks at the job and he can’t stand rejection.
  • He couldn’t close the deal on the health care plan.
  • People mock his tweets.
  • Judges keep rejecting his executive orders.
  • Even Republicans in Congress couldn’t avoid investigating links between a growing list of Trump campaign aides and Russian hackers to sway the election in his favor. It would be good to get people’s minds off that.
  • People think he’s Putin’s puppet.
  • He likes to act tough.
  • It sounded like a good idea at the time.

OK, so Trump is not the brains behind the plot. Putin is. To get Americans, especially American TV news outlets, to stop focusing on the FBI and CIA and Congress probing whether Trump and Putin are in bed together and, you know, maybe someone committed treason, have Trump order a military strike that has humanitarian justification written all over it, even though it probably won’t accomplish much militarily. A feel-good military action, like attacking someone who has just used chemical weapons against unarmed civilians.

Putin: “Whaddya say, Assad, are you willing to do it again? I know the press will be bad, but that’s nothing new for you. Trump will just mess up one of your airfields with a picturesque nighttime missile strike. TV will eat it up. You’ve got plenty of airfields and we can get your troops and mine out of harm’s way ahead of time. We’ll deny you did it. I’ll talk tough to Donald. He’ll talk tough to me, or better yet, have my buddy, Rex Tillerson, talk tough to me and you.

“Everyone will get nervous. I get to stay in Syria and help you keep your job and the world forgets about Ukraine. My people see me showing a tough Russian face. They can’t earn a decent living in Russia, but they like that image. Meanwhile, your people are even more frightened, convinced that you’re a maniac, willing to kill them in the most horrible ways to retain power. I admire that in you, by the way.

“Americans, of course, will see a bold, decisive president. When Rex comes to see me next week, it will be like old times, in more ways than one. Somehow, we will strike a diplomatic deal. Put down the knives, so to speak. Maybe talk about lifting sanctions in the future. I agree to focus more on fighting ISIS. You agree to a safe zone. ‘Well done!’ the headlines will say. A lot of Americans will believe that Trump has changed overnight from an uncaring, bumbling narcissist to a bold, compassionate leader.”

Assad: “You really think people will believe that about him?”

Putin: “Look, we have to help him. He’s too valuable an asset. Besides, they believed him when he said he’d make America great again. Launching missiles always sends that message.”

Far-fetched? I truly hope so, but all conspiracy theories worth entertaining are. All you need for such an outrageous plot to succeed is three men who have shown no compunction about harming people if it makes them feel more powerful, who have demonstrated a disregard for international law, who possess an uncanny ability to lie, and who have incredible power at their disposal. Also, a public eager to let the story line reinforce their view of how the world is supposed to work.  That is: The good guys win, and we’re the good guys.

Now let’s talk about those contrails.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

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.