Category Archives: Uncategorized

Link

Today is Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It is well-known that countries like Uganda, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe have recently passed anti-gay legislation, criminalizing homosexuality, while the Americas and Europe are moving to integrate gay people into the fabric of society. The situation in Uganda is especially bad because of the law that was signed on February 14, 2014 that has mandatory prison sentences for being gay. This has led to a serious wave of violence against gay people in Uganda as well as their complete isolation, segregation or removal from all social life in the country–no jobs, no legal place to live, thrown out of families, etc. The law resulted in a wave of refugees from Uganda across borders, mostly into Kenya. But that hasn’t solved their problems. Here is a blog-link that graphically presents the situation. It is heart-wrenching…

http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2014/06/16/ugandan-gays-in-kenya-desperate-sick-and-fear-death/

 

Who’s Responsible for the Debacle in Iraq?

Today is Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Watching the events unfold in Iraq over the last week, I began to ask myself who exactly is responsible for this situation? How did it come to this that a radical splinter group of Al Qaeda should succeed in laying siege to Mosul and Tikrit with plans to march on Baghdad? The easy answer, which I think is the wrong answer, is that the Obama and Bush administrations share the fault. If Bush hadn’t gone into Iraq in the first place…if Obama had agreed to arm the moderates in Syria against Assad…if Obama hadn’t ended US boots on the ground in 2011, this couldn’t have happened.  These are over-simplified answers to my question and I think, in the end, wrong answers.

In reading and examining the crisis, it is clear to me that both Turkey and Maliki, President of Iraq, are at fault. This debacle could have been avoided if the Turkish government had been paying attention and had responded to clearly articulated threats from ISIS well before their 4000-man ‘army’ invaded northern Iraq. Turkish policy in the region is a dismal failure and the result is more than a dozen of their embassy personnel are now being held hostage. ISIS let Turkey know they were coming into Mosul and that the embassy would be attacked if the embassy personnel were not evacuated. Turkey did not respond and, apparently, even as late as June 6, when ISIS was already in Mosul, the government said there was no credible threat. Something is rotten in Ankara. Turkish defenses could have been there to meet ISIS as it came across the border, if they had taken the threats seriously and responded appropriately.

In addition to Turkey, President Maliki, himself, has not put any effort at all into integrating Sunnis, Shias and Kurds into the new national Iraqi system. He has not created a welcoming, diverse government or Iraqi social and political culture. This has alienated everyone in the country and continues the age old denominational and sectional rivalries in the region. The result is many Iraqis in the northern part of the country welcomed ISIS coming in and taking over. The coming civil war, and I think that’s where this is leading, could result in a radical Islamic caliphate that is extreme in its religiosity and desire for a theocracy. Their underlying objectives include eliminating Western influences from the social and political culture and returning the system to a traditional, medieval theocratic society. Ultimately, the current situation is a direct result of 19th century and early 20th century European imperialism in the region which set up the borders as we now know them in the Middle East in 1916, completely ignoring the realities in the sand regarding tribal relationships, religious affiliations and ethnic sensibilities.

There is also the problem of the Iraqi military. Some units were given orders to withdraw from any conflict with ISIS, which on the surface looks like a conspiracy within the Iraqi military leadership to allow ISIS into the country.

We can argue all we want as to whether Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq was right or wrong. The reality now is there was a democratic process put in place for national elections, Maliki won, and he has not done well as President. You can say Obama’s policies in the Middle East have failed, and you might be right when it comes to Syria, but in all other respects this isn’t about current US policy in the region. Obama is considering strikes against ISIS, but has made it clear that troops on the ground will not happen. Hawks in congress are complaining that military action should still be on the table for consideration. I don’t think the American people have any stomach for putting more resources into Iraq. To what end? No country in the West can hope to resolve the problems that are endemic in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. This is now an Iraqi problem…a problem for the democratically elected President Maliki to sort out. The US has done enough and there’s no hope for any kind of real stability unless Maliki makes the right overtures to the minorities in the country and genuinely welcomes them into the system and encourages diversity in representation and participation in the government.

The best thing Obama can do is put pressure on Maliki to create a full representative government that includes all minority groups. If the people of Iraq feel enfranchised, they’ll resist the radical theocrats like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Maliki has to act quickly or Iraq could collapse under the current crisis.

 

Does the Crisis in the Ukraine Indicate an End to Global Norms?

Today is Sunday, April 13, 2014

I was originally thinking I would wait until the end of this month to see what develops in the Ukraine before I wrote another blog. However, the situation this weekend has begun to change rapidly from the lull of last week. I am struck by the similarity of the current situation in Eastern Ukraine to last month’s events in Crimea. Once again we see fascist-dressed, heavily armed, paramilitary terrorists taking over public buildings in the cities, ‘protesting’ the government in Kiev and demanding independence from the Ukraine, ostensibly to create an Anschluss with Russia. This is not a spontaneous, grassroots pro-Russian movement that has arisen from the people. The coordination, the weapons, the unmarked uniforms, the strategies, etc., make it clear to me this is being coordinated by the Russians. They have amassed 35,000 to 40,000 troops along the border and mobilized tank units and fighter jet squadrons. it won’t be long now and Russia will invade Eastern Ukraine just like they did Crimea. And if the government in Kiev and the Ukrainian people don’t resist, like they really didn’t resist what happened in Crimea, there won’t be much international support for their objections to Russia’s actions, or at least, the response will be relatively luke warm.

What is mysterious to me is the lack of international response to the crisis. China has made it clear they support the sovereignty of the Ukraine, but they haven’t condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Israel is the most pro-American country in the world, yet, they haven’t condemned Russia’s actions. India, the largest democracy in the world, has refused to comment on the crisis. When you look more closely at each of these countries’ relationship to Russia, you find relationships that are crucial to each. Their national interests, at this point, would not be served by condemning Russia. Yet, in each case, Russia also presents a potentially serious threat. Russia supports many of the Arab countries and groups, including Syria and Hezbollah, both more than willing to see Israel pushed into the Mediterranean Sea. India has border issues with China and it seems it would be better served by siding with the U.S. on the crisis in the Ukraine. If Russia is allowed to annex territories from a neighboring sovereign nation, it sets a precedent for China to do the same in India. China also has a long, extensive border with Russia and has had conflicts over border territories before. If Russia gets away with the Ukraine, this could be a signal that China’s border could also be vulnerable, if history is any lesson.

This concerns me. Since 1945 and the end of WWII, international norms have been in place that make it unacceptable to annex territory from another sovereign nation. These rules were put in place in response to the violations and land grabs of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Aside from the little ‘hot wars’ of the Cold War that followed, these international norms helped maintain a standard for international peace in the latter part of the 20th century. Israel’s land grab and settlements in the West Bank have been condemned by almost everybody, but China, India and Israel itself haven’t condemned Russia. I have to ask myself, what does this mean for the 21st century? This is the first serious crisis of the new century and, if global norms regarding sovereignty and secure national borders are ignored or abandoned, we are risking a peaceful world and another world war in the relatively near future.  So, from my point of view, Russia needs to be stopped in order to protect these standards and norms of international behavior that have existed for the last seventy years.

The cult of personality around Putin, his clear desire for a new fascist imperial Russia, his rather naive sense that he can hold Europe hostage with gas and oil, in fact, his push over the last decade to recreate the Russian economy based almost exclusively on oil and gas, his forced take-over of the Russian media, which included the assassination of journalists who criticized him, and now his push into the Ukraine, all lead me to believe the weak democracy that developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union has been lost and Putin has replaced the process with a permanent ‘presidency’ in order to bring Russia forcefully back to a position of oppositional power to the U.S. and the E.U. This does not bode well for the 21st Century. Once again, reactionary fascist forces will oppose and compete with the democracies of the world seriously threatening them. Ironically, this time it will be one of the victims of the last fascist efforts to dominate the world, Russia, that itself is turning fascist. WWII for the Russians is called ‘The War of Survival’ and their war with Nazi Germany killed 22,000,000 Russians. I can’t believe their collective memory is that short, but their actions in the Ukraine and the demise of their democracy under Putin suggest they are not making the right connections to their history. The Soviets under Stalin killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1920s and 1930s in their take-over of the region and the forced collectivization of the agricultural sector in the then new Soviet Union, and the western Ukrainians have not forgotten that fact. In part, this is a reason for Kiev’s hatred for Moscow. It is just tragic that Russia has apparently forgotten its history and is now about to repeat one of the most catastrophic periods in all of Russian history, and in the process destroy global norms of behavior, which will threaten world peace.

 

 

 

Russian Reactions to the Crimean Crisis

Today is Sunday, March 23, 2014

I was waiting for the week after the Full Moon of March 16 to see what would happen in Crimea. True to form, within a week of the lunation, Putin annexed Crimea. In a previous post, I suggested we would get a foreshadowing of what was to come shortly after the Full Moon, and I think we have. The increased amassing of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border has caused alarm even inside Russia where the state-controlled media haven’t reported objectively on the situation. We are getting information, however, that the Russian people have a sense of impending aggression towards the Ukraine, and there was a mass demonstration in Moscow with more than 50,000 people in the streets demanding Putin keep his “hands off the Ukraine”.  http://rufabula.com/articles/2014/03/16/moscow-said-no-to-war

I still think the real crisis will come in the last two weeks of April as the fall out from the annexation of Crimea and the military intimidation the Russians are now demonstrating give the rest of the world time to formulate a unified reaction. Interestingly, and synchronistically, there will be a Solar Eclipse during that time triggering what political astrologers of the world refer to as the grand cardinal cross with stressful planetary alignments in the region. I am in contact with some of these astrologers in Russia and the Ukraine as well as in other Slavic speaking countries, and they are worried. We here in the States can sit back objectively, somewhat dispassionately, and worry just a little, but we will not have the same direct experience as these on-line friends in the region.

They are telling me that Putin is forcing statements from cultural leaders to support Russian expansion and nationalism. They will comply because their existence and financial support depend on following the party line. Russia’s theater, film and music industries are supported by the government and they have their super stars like any country. These super stars of popular culture are under pressure to announce their support for Putin, his politics, and his actions. There has been a noticeable drop off of facebook postings by the gay activist community in Russia since the Crimean crisis began, and what they are posting is a relatively mumbled approval of Putin and an unconvincing criticism of the Ukrainian government and people. In general, the propaganda coming out of Russia paints the Ukrainians and their new government as ‘fascist,’ when in reality, like any country, there is a spectrum of political view points from extreme right to the extreme left…from those who are adamantly against Russia and Russian influence in Ukrainian affairs to those who are completely for Russia being their political and cultural model.

This week, the Ukrainians went ahead with a new agreement with the EU to be ‘closer’ and to work on developing further their trade and cultural relations. At the same time, Putin sent thousands more troops to the Ukrainian border in an obvious attempt at intimidation. In addition, Putin has recently publicly suggested the ethnic Russians in the Baltic States are a concern of his. I don’t think he’s bluffing. I think we’ll see exactly what he has in mind next month.

What is Putin Risking?

Today is Monday, March 10, 2014.

I’ve been thinking about what happens next should Crimea be returned to Russian territory after the coming referendum. What impact will that actually have? If the world, and especially the E.U. and the U.S. don’t stop it, is it tantamount to ‘appeasement’? After all, we’ve seen Putin march into Georgia, and the world more or less let it happen without much push back. Did that embolden Putin? Now he’s trying to take the Crimea. What’s next? All of the Ukraine? Belarus? The Baltic States? There are voices from many corners of the international political scene who are suggesting that Putin has to be punished on some level, if for no other reason but to let him know this will have serious repercussions for Russia in the future.

But what repercussions? Just what is Putin risking by moving into Crimea? Russia’s economy is not that large or stable given the size of the population. It has only been 22 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic infrastructure for existing and thriving in a global capitalist economy is not quite complete. Should the U.S., the E.U. and others put economic sanctions on Russia, it will have a long term negative effect on the domestic economy. Putin has made it clear that he supports a Eurasian Economic Union as a next phase of globalization in that part of the world. Russia stands to benefit enormously from such an economic union, and without it, Russia’s economy will develop much more slowly. His move into Georgia was bad enough, but now the situation in Crimea, which is in complete violation of Russia’s international obligations, which Putin and Medvedev signed off on, creates an atmosphere of distrust. If Russia can so easily turn its back on its international agreements, who, in their right mind, will still want to put their investments into such a country? The world markets are sensitive to perceptions, feelings and emotions, and right now, the markets will not be happy with Russia if they take over Crimea. Any resulting sanctions against Russia will have a serious impact on the Russian people and the overall domestic economy.  There may be an initial positive nationalistic response–a rallying around the Russian flag, so to speak–but it won’t take long for dissatisfaction to set in, if their economy sputters–and it will.

Although I think Putin’s military response here was an emotional and rash reaction to the February 21st agreement in Kiev and Yanukovich’s ouster, the move was predictable given Putin’s larger agenda in Eastern Europe. If Putin ever believed, though, that he could separate Russia’s economic development in a globalized world economy from what I think is a necessary resulting global geopolitical culture, he will certainly suffer from the consequences of that belief after this Spring. He can’t continue to believe that he can keep Russia’s political culture from Western influences. He defiantly stands against the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights regarding gay issues in Russia, for example. He criticizes American and European social culture and stands behind the ‘traditional’ social culture of Russia. The politics of this situation has created a large-scale international critique of Russia’s ‘backwards’ ways. This irritates Putin to no end. Now, unfortunately for Putin, this move into Crimea ultimately isolates Russia geopolitically, threatens future investments in the country, and makes Russia too much of a risk for most countries and leaders to have serious, close relations. The situation has consequences much farther reaching than the international criticism over gay rights.

The U.S. and E.U. will have to bail out the Ukraine, because if they don’t, it will give Putin reason enough to stabilize the situation there with his military. Yet, such a Russian response will only destabilize the entire Eastern European region and create a political and economic earthquake for the E.U. and then, of course, for Russia as well. I can only hope that Putin is not so blinded by his nationalism and emotionalism that he can’t see the seriousness of the larger picture here. He could be risking Russia’s entire future as well as any lasting, positive legacy of his administration. At this point, he has refused to back down from his position in Crimea. His actions are seriously threatening Russia’s reputation and future role in the world of the 21st Century.

The U.S., E.U., Russia and the Ukraine

Today is Friday, March 7, 2014

The crisis continues in the Ukraine and it seems, based on media reports, op-eds and the many, many social media comments I’ve read, Americans are rather confused about the situation there. People are worried this could lead to an international war, with the U.S. and Russia as the two prime antagonists. Others, a little less paranoid, believe we are rapidly moving into another Cold War. Conservatives are blasting the Obama Administration’s ‘weak’ response–as if a ‘strong’ (i.e., military?) response would make Putin less aggressive. I don’t know if that’s cynicism or just stupidity. There are questions from Conservatives about the competence of our intelligence agencies, suggesting this was a surprise to Obama. That’s patently absurd. There have been reports from the beginning of the crisis, that the U.S. knew at least by February 21st, that Putin was amassing his army along the Ukrainian border. This was not a surprise.

Putin has made it clear for a decade now that he would not accept any country bordering Russia joining NATO. Yet, many of those countries, Ukraine and Georgia included, want to join NATO, and in the case of Ukraine, even become a full-fledged member of the E.U. Putin’s Cold War mentality rejects that possibility and, when Kiev began negotiations with the E.U. for a more involved economic and trade relationship, Putin became alarmed, basically bribed then President Yanukovich with a $15 Billion deal, and Yanukovich stopped the negotiations with the E.U. This led to violent demonstrations against the Yanukovich Administration by the pro-European population, and Putin clearly decided to put an end to the problem himself. He simply cannot accept a westward leaning Ukraine, not with his military bases and warm-water ports in Crimea. Russia appears determined to separate Crimea from the Ukraine and return it to Russian territory, no matter how illegitimate that is. What happens now is really up to Kiev. They will have to determine which steps to take next. What the E.U. and the U.S. will advise Kiev is being worked out in the diplomatic back-channels.

There’s a lot being made of the Russian/Ukrainian split within the Ukraine itself and how that’s part of this dynamic situation. There’s a misconception about this, though. Southeastern Ukraine does have a majority Russian ethnic population, however, everyone in Ukraine speaks both Russian and Ukrainian. The problem is more a generational one. The younger generation, who has never known a Soviet Ukraine, identify themselves as Ukrainian whether they are ethnic Russians or not. Most of the older generation who lived under the Soviet system, whether Ukrainian or Russian, see themselves as Russians. The biggest contention is with Crimea, itself. Since Crimea was Russian until 1954, and is completely tied to Russia in so many ways, there will now be a referendum in nine days to see whether the Crimeans want to remain in the Ukraine or be returned to Russia. However, there is no constitutional framework within either Russian or Ukrainian law for this kind of secession from Kiev or anschluss with Moscow. The government in Kiev is calling the referendum an act of treason. This is serious business and in the timing of things, we should see the first repercussions by March 17-18 and, by April 20, we will know if there is going to be a serious confrontation over Crimea.

The U.S. and the E.U. are trying hard through diplomatic negotiations to diffuse the tension, but as long as Putin feels that the West is unduly influential in Kiev, this tug-of-war will continue. If the West offers guarantees that the Ukraine will not become a member of NATO, Putin might well calm down. The Ukrainians may not like such a move, but they may not be in a position to protest too loudly. I seriously doubt the West will want to see a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, because it could so easily lead to an escalation of military violence and the possibility of war. However, if Putin really wanted to take over the Ukraine, he would have done it last week with a surprise invasion with his entire military force sitting on the border. But even with Crimea, should it be returned to Russia, Putin will not accept the Ukraine turning to the West. I don’t think the world has much choice in this matter. I don’t see Putin backing down from his position. He has maintained his entire political life that the greatest catastrophe in the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union and he is quite transparent about his nationalistic desire for a new Russian empire in Eastern Europe–not that these countries would be absorbed again into the Russian Federation, but certainly as independent nations, he wants them to be under Moscow’s influence and direction.

I think the West’s only real option here is to tell Kiev, sorry, you can’t be in the E.U. and you can’t be in NATO, not if it it threatens world peace and the sovereignty of Eastern Europe. Ukraine in  both the E.U. and NATO would force Putin (in his mind) to reinforce his borders with other Eastern European countries which would put Belarus and the Baltic states in jeopardy. As long as Putin is in power and has no interest himself in moving Russia more towards Europe, but rather, again, developing Russia as a separate counter-culture and political power to the West, there is little the West can do to dissuade him. Putin will accept globalization only in economic terms and he absolutely rejects a global geopolitical culture. The world will have to live with that and figure out policies that make it work.

NATO clearly has an interest in the stability of the region and Kiev may want to benefit from what NATO has to offer, but it may have to be as something less than a full-fledged NATO member. I don’t see this as ‘acquiescing’ to Russia or being ‘weak’ in the face of Russian aggression. It is, to be sure, a form of Real Politik. But as long as Putin holds to his nationalism and lack of interest in participating in a globally shared geopolitical culture, the West has no other option but to accept it, transform our relationship and policies, and move on. Yet, now, in the short term, levels of sanctions will be set against Russia, some unilateral from the U.S., probably some minor sanctions will come from the E.U. as well. Russia has its own non-military arsenal, e.g., shutting off the gas pipelines to and through the Ukraine. Putin is already threatening to do that, if the Ukraine can’t pay its $5 Billion debt. This would, of course, severely impact Europe, particularly Germany who is very dependent on Russian natural gas. But, in the end, although there are plenty of non-military options to throw at Russia, it doesn’t look like, especially in the E.U., there’s much interest in putting that much pressure on Russia, realizing that Putin is not interested in invading the Ukraine. Obama will have to include that reality in his calculus.

The Crisis in the Ukraine

Today is Friday, February 28, 2014.

So we woke up this morning to reports that apparently Russian troops are, indeed, on the ground in Crimea allegedly surrounding the airport and taking down telecommunications to the outside world. Initial estimates from U.S. and European intelligence agencies say there are about 2,000 ‘unidentified’ troops, dressed in civilian and military clothing. Those armed military personnel are masked, have no names, no insignia, and are driving unmarked and unlicensed vehicles. Reporters on the ground have got no response from direct questions to these ‘soldiers’ about who they are and where they’re from.

President Putin of Russia and his foreign minister have suggested that this is completely within the framework of a bilateral agreement with the Ukraine regarding a military presence within the peninsula. That is a strange claim, since 1994 at the Budapest Conference, Russia agreed that the borders of the Ukraine were firm and the country was protected as a completely sovereign nation. Russia, in fact, has been a world leader in promoting national sovereignty, especially as it relates, for example, to Syria. If Russia has ‘invaded’ the Crimean peninsula, Putin has undermined his position regarding national sovereignty as a universal principle.

Crimea was originally part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, but was ‘given’ to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. As I said above, the national borders of the Ukraine were confirmed and approved by Russia in 1994, and that included Crimea. The people there are almost all ethnic Russians with only a few Ukrainians. The peninsula is culturally, economically, linguistically, and militarily tied to Moscow, and I would assume that is the reason for Putin’s response to the crisis in the Ukraine. It’s no secret that ethnic Ukrainians have no love for Russia–there’s been a history of hegemonic control, mass murder and starvation at the hands of Russia. The stress of living next to powerful Russia has been a historical nightmare for Ukrainians. Today we have another example of why the Ukrainians wanted guarantees from Russia back in ’94 to honor their sovereign borders.

Russia has much economic leverage over the Ukraine, though. If Russia shut off the valve for natural gas, it would mean as much as a $5 Billion loss for the Ukraine. Their economy is already on the ropes and will clearly need as much economic support from the U.S. and the E.U. as possible in order to keep their economy afloat. The Russian military is already amassed on the eastern border of the Ukraine and there are fleets of tanks and also helicopters flying over Ukrainian territory today. This is ostensibly because of Russian troops stationed at the base in Crimea who will need protection from radical Ukrainian elements that might want to attack any Russian soldiers in the country. There’s also the long-standing agricultural trade between the two countries. Russia plays a very important role in the sustainability of the Ukraine as a nation. This is part of the problem, since the Ukrainians generally would like to see the country turn westward to develop their economic and agricultural trade potential with the E.U. They want to ‘modernize and liberalize’, and they see that possibility only with Western Europe.

So, how will Europe and the U.S. respond to this crisis? Well, clearly they are taking the situation very seriously. There will be no military action, I’m sure, but there are ways to get at Putin and create difficulties for him. For example, the E.U. and the U.S. could step in economically and provide the billions necessary to keep the country afloat. This would make it difficult for Russia as the Ukraine’s largest trade partner and most important country in its economic situation. The U.S. and the E.U. are threatening not to participate in the G-8 Conference to be held in June in Sochi. This would be an embarrassment to Putin, since he has put huge amounts of money into developing the site for this G-8 Conference that he has been planning now for years. NATO could decide to accept Georgia, which would put a NATO country on Russia’s southern border–something completely unacceptable to Russia, and something the U.S. has, for diplomatic reasons, not supported. This situation, however, could change the U.S. position regarding Georgia, which would surely enrage Putin.

If the U.S. and the E.U. could convince the interim government in the Ukraine to include ethnic Russians from the eastern and southern areas of the country in the new government, it would go a long way in showing the world they are ‘one country’ and Russia has no business flexing their muscles in order to ‘protect’ Russians inside the Ukraine. In fact, I believe, this is essential in order to diffuse the situation. It would be a sort of geopolitical checkmate against Russia and it would make it very difficult for Russia to escalate their military involvement.

The U.N. won’t be weighing in on this situation, because Russia is on the Security Council with veto power. This forces the U.S., the E.U. and perhaps China to step up on their own and with one voice to keep Russia from invading. Yet, today, the Ukrainian government has already claimed that Russia has launched an invasion. This is probably a bit overstated, but it creates a crisis that the whole world has to respond to.

This is another event that strains the relationship between Russia and the West. Russians did not respond well to the U.S. and European political leaders not coming to the Olympics. They were, by all accounts, insulted and couldn’t understand the protest against their ‘gay propaganda’ law. For the West  once again diplomatically to put Russia on the ropes over the crisis in the Ukraine, further strains the relationship between the two geopolitical regions, because the Russians, in a recent fit of nationalism, generally believe the Crimea belongs to them anyway and if they take it back, it’s no one’s business if they do.

If Russia launches a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, there will be a serious international crisis that will prove that Putin plans to rebuild a Russian empire and develop a clear hegemony over Eastern Europe. Europe, Asia and the Americas will have to do something to counter such a move. I doubt it will include military action, but it will mean everything short of the military will be thrown at Russia.

 

Speak Out Against Inhumane, Anti-Gay Laws in Russia and Africa! Show Your Solidarity And Join the International Protest on March 7, 2014!

Today is Sunday, February 16, 2014.

The world has been enjoying watching the Sochi Olympics, but the world is also mindful of the situation for LGBT people in Russia. Gay activists in Russia have filed numerous discrimination claims with the European Court of Human Rights as well as this last week a major complaint has been filed with the Russian Supreme Court. It remains to be seen if the Russian Supreme Court will go against Putin’s obvious and vocal anti-Gay stance. In spite of the world-wide negative reaction to last June’s ‘gay propaganda’ law, Putin pushed through a new anti-gay law just this week–no more adoption of Russian orphans by gay couples from other countries. This includes no adoption by single men and women who are ‘perceived as gay.’ Gay people from Spain and France, particularly, have often over the last decade adopted Russian children. Putin has signed this new law which puts and end to such adoptions.

It’s pathetic and morally twisted to pass such an obviously discriminatory law. But it is not the only unreasonable law to codify such bigotry and hatred. Last December the Ugandan parliament passed an anti-gay law that was originally called the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill. Under international pressure, the Ugandan President, Museveni, dropped the death penalty, but life imprisonment is still the punishment for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ (whatever the hell that means) and ‘repeat offenders.’  Museveni will apparently sign the law into effect this week. He already signed a separate directive telling the courts to eliminate all potential for bail if same-gender sex is the charge. There MUST be a major, international outcry and uproar against this monstrous law, Museveni and the evil-minded Ugandan parliament members who voted for this. From reports, many gay Ugandans are fleeing the country for fear of their lives.

There is another such bill in Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan quietly and surreptitiously signed the bill into law, ostensibly to avoid international attention and criticism. I can’t imagine he could be that stupid to think the world would not find out. The sad situation has resulted in mob violence and inhumane persecution of the LGBT community in Nigeria and there has been a call for an international day of solidarity for African gays set for March 7, 2014. There must be an all out effort in the U.S. and Europe to raise our voices very loudly at these inhumane laws and horrible treatment of gay people.

In Malawi, the current penalty for same-gender sex is a maximum fourteen years, but the Muslim community is advocating the death penalty, although no bill has yet been proposed to the parliament. There has to be pressure put on the Malawi government to stop any further erosion of human rights when it comes to their LGBT community.

In Kansas this last week, the state Senate thankfully rejected a new law passed by the House that would reinstitute a kind of Jim Crow, this time aimed at the LGBT Community. The law would have made it legal to discriminate against gay couples in restaurants, hotels, theaters, stores, etc. The proponents maintained it was only to allow people to exercise ‘religious conscience’ when faced with a gay couple seeking services–it was really only about gay marriage and gay civil-unions. The law, however, would have forced a separation of gay people and straight people in all areas of Kansas society, where gay people would only be allowed to go to those services that cater to their community. Governor Brownback, openly hostile to the gay community and a so-called fundamentalist Christian, said he would sign the bill.  Fortunately, there was no support for the law within the Senate.

There was apparently a vocal reaction to the law from the GOP itself, warning Kansas that passing such a law would make them a laughing-stock and virtually end any chance of Republican success in ’14 and ’16. If the GOP ever wanted anyone under the age of 40 to join the party or even vote for their candidates, they couldn’t have this discriminatory law passed by Republicans in Kansas. Well, let’s hear it for a rational response from the GOP! But many are saying the bad national press about the Kansas situation has further damaged the party’s reputation.

So, as gay people in America and Europe further integrate into the civil society-at-large, and gain more rights to equal treatment under the law, there is an equally long step backwards in Russia and Africa. Although same-gender sex is not illegal in Russia, gay people have lost their freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association and assembly and have lost their inalienable right to life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness. The Russian government has pushed them all back into the closet and locked the door. They are not allowed to be visible in Russian society anymore. Gays can live their lives in the shadows without much interference as long as they don’t have parades, wave rainbow flags, or create organizations, clubs, political groups, or make political speeches for gay rights. And President Putin stands at the forefront of this anti-gay movement. And now in Uganda and NIgeria, gay people are threatened with arrest, prosecution, persecution and imprisonment, and they would be executed as well if the international community hadn’t stepped in and put a stop to it.

So, MARCH 7, 2014!! Please, on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or whatever social media you use, make a statement in support of the gay community in Russia and Africa. Change your profile photo to something that shows your support. Make a noise! Let this be just the start of a solidarity with gay Russians and gay Africans!

 

Obama Should Fulfill His Promise to Address Global Warming

Today is Tuesday, January 28, 2014.

As we await the State of the Union Address, I have been thinking about Obama’s campaign promises and whether or not he has been able to fulfill them. Global Warming was on his campaign agenda and so far I haven’t seen the government address the problem with any commitment. Yes, there is resistance in Congress to deal with global warming because of the perceived impact on economic growth and development. It is disappointing that we have the science and yet we don’t have the political will to do anything about it. Obama is aware of and understands the science and thus far he also hasn’t really committed himself to take reasonable action. I want him to do that before the end of this presidential term, even if it takes executive order to by-pass the Know Nothings in Congress.

I realize that we have just experienced something called the arctic vortex and, even today, the freezing cold has descended as far south as the panhandle of Florida and it is snowing in Georgia and the Carolinas. This event isn’t related to the ‘vortex’ but somehow it seems to be its doppelganger. But it IS winter in the northern hemisphere and I don’t think global warming eliminates winter weather.  For those who are geographically challenged, it is summer in the southern hemisphere and places like Australia and Africa are experiencing record-breaking heat waves. 2013 was the hottest summer on record for Australia.

The reality is, the nine warmest years on record have occurred since 2002. 2013 was either the 4th warmest or the 7th warmest year on record, depending on the source: NASA or NOAA. They use slightly different metrics and extrapolations therefore vary. But they both agree that the global climate is warming. Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the use of fossil fuels there has been a 40% increase in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. Conventional science says that if current levels continue, we can expect an increase of 1.5-5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, if I understand it correctly. Until recently, scientists couldn’t explain the discrepancy between 1.5-5 degrees in the forty three models they study. A recent study published in Nature on January 2, 2014, suggests the degree differential in climate sensitivity is due to atmospheric convective mixing and that the global temperature averages could, in fact, be 3 degrees at the low end, not 1.5. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v505/n7481/full/nature12829.html.

This is rather unsettling news. In this study, the spread is between 3-7 degrees indicating global temperatures could rise 7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out the impact–equatorial regions will be unlivable because of the heat; droughts will occur in many places; wild fires will increase; there will be more violent and extreme weather; sea levels will rise threatening coastal areas; the entire global economic and political system will be disrupted.

The U.S. needs to take the lead in making the leap to a more sustainable energy policy and fewer carbon emissions. Russia and China will not ‘mess’ with their economic growth, so there is no expectation that they will develop a rational policy regarding global warming. Someone has to start somewhere and any historical efforts have been too little too late. I am afraid that in the last quarter of the 21st century, the world will wake up to the reality of global warming and everyone will be scrambling to develop programs to counter the effects, but it just might be too late. Someone needs to start now in a serious way. Obama should be that someone. The United States should take the lead in hopes the rest of the world will see the wisdom of it and follow suit.

My Advice to the Republicans for the Next Election Cycle

There was an anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C. last week that drew about 25,000 people who stood in extremely cold weather to hear the organizer, James Dodson of Focus on the Family, rail against Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. Initially, I thought, wow, 25,000? That sounds like a lot, but after a little research, I discovered such rallies in the past brought hundreds of thousands. In fact, this ‘little’ rally turned into an embarrassment. Placards and signs remained in stacks and some of the schedules speakers didn’t even show up.

Of course, organizers blamed the lack of turn-out on the fickleness of Washington’s weather, which I really thought was amusing. It’s these same right-wing religious folks who blamed Hurricane Sandy on gay people–it was God’s retribution for extending them equal rights. Yet, sub-freezing temperatures and bad weather this week in D.C. was not God’s retribution against the intolerance, prejudice, regressive thinking and, I’ll just say it, ignorance of these people who are trying to limit personal freedoms in the name of God. No, it was the geography of Washington, D.C. Many of these right-wing religious groups have grabbed onto the coat-tails of the Tea Party movement, but they had previously found favor in the Bush Administration and thus made in-roads into the Republican Party. You know who they are when they open their mouths to speak and you hear things like ‘legitimate rape’ or calling gay people ‘pedophiles, sodomites and perverts.’ You know who they are when you hear a woman can’t get pregnant from rape unless she enjoyed it, or that Obama is the anti-Christ, or at least paving the way for the anti-Christ.

These people seriously hurt the Republican Party and threaten to make the GOP irrelevant. If mainstream Republicans can’t cut these ‘dominionists’ and other religious zealots from their ranks, they are risking their future. The GOP must cease and desist with their social agenda that appears to the world as a war on women, gay people and racial/ethnic minorities.

For example, in looking at the polling data on abortion, there is very little change in public attitude and opinion between 1975 and today. In 1975 75% of people thought abortion should be legal and available in some circumstances. Last year’s Gallup results showed 78% approved of abortion at least in some circumstances, so the numbers are trending upward and against more conservative positions. Yet, the GOP is still being forced by its members to push for the repeal of Roe v. Wade and the re-criminalization of abortion.

When it comes to gay rights, it’s clear that our judicial system supports individual liberty and equal protection under the law for homosexuals. Laws against same-sex marriages in various states may ultimately be ruled unconstitutional given that a federal court ruled Utah’s ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional. The state is appealing, so there is a stay on performing same-sex marriages, but I don’t hold much hope that the state of Utah will win the appeal. The Defense of Marriage Act was gutted by the Supreme Court last June and the remaining portion of it is under legal attack. I don’t think there’s any stopping the forward progress on gay rights. Congress just passed a new law making it illegal to fire someone for being gay. A few states that still have bans on same-sex marriage are moving to recognize all legal marriages from other states, including same-sex couples. Public opinion has gone through a tectonic shift in regards to gay people over the last decade and I don’t think religious zealotry and bigotry will be able to counter the change. In spite of some religious criticism aimed at gay people, homosexuality will be just another orientation to the world in the near future and that will include the right to marry. The GOP needs to get this into their heads and respond to the changes with forethought and intelligence and not with Biblical quotes.

When it comes to racial and ethnic minorities and immigration, some of the more conservative members of congress are now in support of a comprehensive immigration reform that streamlines the system and is less prejudicial in the path to citizenship. Yet, the GOP, as a party, is still not completely on-board because of the racist and xenophobic voices from an ignorant minority that, for some reason, has too much power to influence the party agenda and policy. The demographic shift in the U.S. that has resulted in a majority of ‘non-white’ citizens has changed politics forever–the GOP doesn’t seem to grasp that concept yet. Their anti-immigration stance is clearly based on the idea that more immigrants becoming citizens means fewer votes for the GOP. That is idiocy. The intelligent response would be to develop a political platform that speaks to all minorities. At this point in time, that doesn’t seem likely.

So, my advice to the GOP is to isolate these ignorant, bigoted, xenophobic, homophobic and misogynistic voices in their ranks, then put them on a path out of the party. They are, in fact, both anathema and anachronistic in the 21st century, and if the party wants to be a relevant political force in the country into the future, they have to change their tune–they have to be more inclusive, more intelligent, more open-minded and accepting of all citizens, not just white, Anglo-Saxon, straight, suburban Christian men. If they did this perhaps the ‘noise’ would stop and, we, the people, might be able to hear their message of smaller government and more rational economic policy. But as it stands right now, the cacophony of ignorant voices that come out of the party screaming about abortion, gay rights and immigration, makes it really hard for the country to hear their alleged core, mainstream conservative message.  The party would still be able to differentiate itself with its small government, fiscally responsible agenda and also gain some respect again. So, GOP, are you up to the challenge of corralling your mavericks so they don’t run amok over the next two years and threaten your chances for regaining the presidency?

UPDATE:  Since this article, Oregon and now Utah and Indiana have been forced by the Courts to accept marriage equality and remove the ban on same-sex marriage from their laws.