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”.

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.

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.

Corporate Sponsors, the Olympics and Human Rights

Today is Tuesday, January 21, 2014.

We are only about two weeks from the Sochi Winter Olympics and I’m wondering about the silence of the corporate sponsors and NBC, who has the contract to televise the Games in the States, in regards to the pernicious law against ‘gay propaganda’ in Russia. State run television in Russia has recently launched a disgusting campaign against gay people, especially on their popular program, ‘Special Correspondent’, which has contributed to the climate of fear and hate. The program’s moderator, Arkady Mamontov, referred to gay people as ‘perverts’ and ‘sodomites’, and claimed Europe and America are trying to ‘infiltrate’ Russia to get Russia’s perverts to protest against the State and the Russian people. Europe, especially, is allegedly part of a ‘Western expansion of sin in Russia.’  The show used excerpts from a meeting between international human rights activists and Russian LGBT leaders in St. Petersburg. Apparently, that meeting was under government surveillance and they took language out of context and constructed a conspiracy against the Russian culture, then aired that conspiracy on State television.

This last week, Putin gave a press conference, in which he said gays and lesbians coming to the Games will have no problems. He claimed there is no persecution of homosexuals, for example, gay clubs and bars are completely legal. Same-gender sex is not illegal. But then he ended his comments with the disgusting remark, ‘Just leave our kids alone.’ It is just so hard to comprehend how at this point in time an otherwise intelligent man could make such an offensive, stupid statement. But in Russia, in part because of the growing power of the Orthodox Church and the apparently still quite ignorant public, a despot like Putin, who has created a cult-like following for himself, can manipulate and cajole as much as he wants. His homophobic statement regarding ‘kids’ makes for a pretty empty promise that ‘all is well’ for gay people at the Olympic Games.

In order for Russia to have been awarded the Games, they had to sign off on respect for international norms when it comes to human rights. That is a key component of the Olympic Charter. Russia also signed the European Commission on Human Rights Agreement, which lays out quite clearly the standards for dealing with sexual minorities. Russia currently is in violation of both. Yet, the Russian Foreign Ministry recently put out a propaganda ‘report’ criticizing the UN and the EU for their position on homosexuality and their efforts to force countries like Russia, that have a ‘traditional culture and moral standard regarding homosexuality’, to change and adopt the decadence of the ‘West.’  This is how primitive the Russian government really is under Putin.

The current laws in Russia make freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly a mockery of their constitution. Gay people have none of these constitutionally guaranteed freedoms anymore, and are subject to arrest and fines for even talking about their lives or their relationships in public. Under these circumstances, does anyone really think Gays and Lesbians will have no problems in Sochi?

Coca-Cola, Visa, Panasonic, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, and NBC should all stand up and condemn the anti-gay law, the current homophobic climate on State television, and Putin’s outrageous statement about gay people. They should publicly condemn the human rights violations against gay people in Russia. And they should demand guarantees that there will be no violations of international standards in the treatment of sexual minorities. But they are all silent. In this situation, silence = approval, and I, for one, will be watching carefully how these corporations conduct themselves between now and the end of the Games.  You all should, too.

What is unique and special about Portland, OR?

Today is Tuesday, January 7, 2014.

I’ve been more or less on holiday through December and early January. Now I’m home, family and friends are gone, Christmas tree and holiday decorations are gone…now it’s back to my normal routine, if I have such.

I’ve been reading and listening to people on Facebook about the cities they like, live in, have lived in, and what they don’t like about places, etc. I thought I would write a little blog on what I like about Portland OR, where I currently live. I’ve lived in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Olympia, Boston, Washington, DC, Atlanta, the San Francisco Area, Bismarck and Halliday, North Dakota, Riverton, Lander and Casper, Wyoming. I’ve spent time in most of the large American cities, although I’ve never been in Detroit, Tampa or Miami, Wichita KS, or Virginia Beach/Portsmouth/Newport News.  But otherwise, I’ve spent time in all of America’s major cities.

I moved to Portland OR twenty three years ago and it was a revelation. I had no idea about Portland at that time. I had spent nearly thirty years in the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia area and consider that area my ‘hometown’, but Portland quickly grew on me, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else at this point.

So, what is it that enthralls me about Portland? First on my list is the fact that there is very little ‘corporate’ presence in the city limits. Most corporations pulled out into the suburbs or to another city completely. Germany’s Adidas and Freightliner still have a corporate presence, and there are corporate insurance companies downtown, but for the most part, Portland’s business community is focused on small, entrepreneurial storefronts that are located in the various ‘urban villages’ within the Portland Metro Area. The result is there are very few tall skyscrapers built to edify corporate egos. The skyline is is not as dramatic as most American cities its size. City blocks are also a lot smaller, with every twenty blocks equaling one mile. In Seattle, every fifteen blocks equals one mile, and in many American cities, every twelve blocks equals a mile. So, Portland is unique in this respect. This means that downtown streets are narrow, blocks are short, buildings can’t have the large ‘footprint’ they can have in most cities, so they can’t be that large, and bicycles and pedestrians have the right of way as a result–not automobiles. Approximately 75,000 commuters ride bikes every day in Portland. I like all of this about Portland.

I love the ‘urban village’ concept here, where each neighborhood within the city limits has its own business district. Some of my favorites are: Overlook/Killingsworth, Kenton, Alberta St., Mississippi Ave., Hollywood, Belmont, Hawthorne, Clinton St., St. John, NEPO 42nd Ave.,  Beaumont, Northwest, and Multnomah Village. Part of this urban planning includes the very first ‘Urban Growth Boundary’ in America in order to preserve the farmland and green spaces outside of the dense urban area, and increase densities within the city limits. In my opinion, it works like a charm in this city. Each neighborhood has its own character and unique shops, restaurants, cafes, boutiques, etc. Portland is not one of those cities where everything looks and feels the same with identical corporate restaurants and stores everywhere–Other than Starbucks and Subway, for some weird reason, They seem to be everywhere. But even though they seem to dominate the urban landscape, Portland has its own home-grown sandwich shops and coffee roasters that provide better quality products.

City transportation is also unique here. I really like the MAX light rail and the street car system. I can walk out of my house, walk 7 minutes to the light rail station, and in 10 minutes I am at the Rose Quarter, in 15 minutes I am downtown. The red line also goes to the airport, and it drops me off inside the Portland Int’l Airport for $2.50. The system has Red, Yellow, Blue and Green lines and a new Orange line will open soon out to the Southeast suburb of Milwaukie. I can take the MAX to Washington Park and the zoo, to LLoyd Center and Clackamas Towncenter malls, the Expo center, etc. The Blue line is almost 40 miles long from Hillsboro in the western suburbs to Gresham on the eastside. And if I want to go to the southern suburbs, like Wilsonville, I just transfer at Beaverton and take the commuter train.

PDX Airport is another reason I like this city. It’s the most amazing airport I have ever been in. It’s nicely designed, well-organized, easy to get through security, and it has the best bars, restaurants and shopping bar none. AND! the Port of Portland that runs the place has a rule that no vender can charge more inside the airport than they charge in the community at-large. Thus, a Laurewood micro-brew in Terminal A still only costs $4.50, and not $6-8, as most beers cost in most airports. The restaurants and wine bars, brew pubs and cafes, fast food and shopping, plus the Cascade Station shopping area near the long term parking, all contribute to a model airport that other cities should really try to emulate.

I also really like the culture in Portland. Theater, for example. There’s a lot of it. Here’s a partial list of the live theater companies in town:  Artist’s Repertory Theater, Portland Center Stage, Lakewood Theater Company, Broadway Rose, Northwest Children’s Theater, Oregon Children’s Theater, Miracle, Imago, Bag & Baggage, Third Rail, Profile, and Portland Playhouse. Then there’s the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is world famous as an homage to the Bard. As a result, the theater community is actually quite large for a moderately sized city.

Music venues–Portland is wild for its Indie Music scene. I looked not long ago in the Willamette Week, and there were more than 200 music venues performing on any given night. Of course, the city has its Symphony, Ballet, and theater for traveling Broadway shows as well. There’s also the ‘Schnitz’, which is a performance venue downtown that hosts traveling lecturers, musical shows, etc. Portland is a very ‘crafty’ city as well, with quilters, canners, creative gardeners, bicycle builders, and artisans of all kinds who show their wares at the Saturday Market or the weekend Farmer’s Market at Portland State University.

The professional creative community is also quite large because of the advertising and marketing firms here–the largest is influential Wyden & Kennedy. Designers and graphic artists seem to flock here for work in advertising or for one of the many clothing firms like Adidas, Nike, Jantzen, Columbia Sportswear and Pendleton Woolens. Creative computer types who design games and websites, etc, also have opportunity here in the city and in the westside ‘silicon forest.’  These people add to the creative verve and overall culture and tone of the city.

Portland is also a college town. This is a list of four-year colleges and universities in the metro area:  Reed College, Lewis and Clark College, Linfield College, George Fox University, Pacific University, Warner Pacific College, Portland State University, University of Portland, Marylhurst University, Multnomah University, Oregon Health & Sciences University, University of Western States, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, and Washington State University-Vancouver.  There is also a branch campus for the University of Oregon in Old Town and for the Oregon Institute of Technology in Wilsonville. I also really like the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and their science education program. These colleges and universities add a vibe and feeling to the city that is both intellectual and fun-loving. Without their presence in the city, you couldn’t have the largest independent bookstore in the English speaking world, Powell’s City of Books. If you’re ever in Portland, it is an absolute must.

Part of that ‘fun’ in that ‘fun-loving’ is the beer, wine and food culture, which is amazing in Portland. It is the largest producer and consumer of craft beers in the world, has an outstanding and growing distilling industry; there are over 200 wineries within a two hour drive from downtown. and according to TripAdvisor, there are 3,487 restaurants in the city. close to 500 bars and pubs, and well over 60 breweries in the city limits, more than any city in the world. Portland also has the most ‘food carts’ than any other city in the world. Being someone who loves food, beer and wine, I’m in heaven here.

Portland also has a number of amazing parks, including the largest and smallest urban park in the U.S. I particularly like Mt. Tabor and the Chinese Gardens. The Rose Test Gardens are exquisite in the summer as well.

Sports are important to some people–there’s no pro Baseball or Football teams here, but there are still the Portland Timbers (MLS), Portland Thorns (women’s soccer, current U.S. national champions) and the Portland Trailblazers (NBA), and the semi-pro ice hockey, Winterhawks.  Other than that you have small college sports of all kinds, although the Univ of Portland Pilots are Division I in basketball and soccer, both men’s and women’s. I like going to see the Timbers play as well as the Portland State University Viking’s football games.

In addition to these cultural facets of life in Portland. I happen to like the weather. It’s dry and warm from late spring through mid-Fall, then it’s cloudy and wet as we reach the rainy season of winter. But as the rest of the country right now is sitting in a deep freeze, today was 43 degrees F with a light drizzle. You can have your extremely hot summers and arctic cold winters in the Midwest and East. You can have your hot, humid summers and cool to warm humid winters in the South. I like the four seasons here in Portland, although winter usually doesn’t bring much snow, and if at all, then mostly a light dusting. Sometimes there’s a little frost on the windshield, but so far this winter, that’s only happened on one day at my house. Another reason, I like living in Portland–the weather is generally very moderate.

The geography is also pretty amazing in that you can drive an hour east to the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Hood for winter sports or an hour and a half west to the Pacific Ocean. Or you can drive into the Columbia Gorge to Hood River or The Dalles and explore the fruit orchards, wineries, breweries, windsurfing, white water rafting, hiking, hot springs and spas, and so much more.

So, what’s not to like about Portland? It’s a moderately large city with about 605,000 in the city limits, 2.3 million in the census-identified Metropolitan Statistical Area and 2.99 million in the Combined Statistical Area (all of the extended suburbs and exurbs and close commutable cities). The area ranks as the 19th largest urban area in the U.S. It’s one of America’s best cities. It’s liberal and open; there are a lot of LGBT people here, yet it’s only about 9% African-American. There is a much higher concentration of Asian and Hispanic people than African-Americans with a total minority population just over 25%, much lower than most major American cities. So, I wish there were a little more diversity in the city.

But in spite of my past, I am now an Oregonian and Portlander. I’ve given up on my Washington State and Seattle identities and really can’t imagine ever living up there again. This is home now for all of the above reasons–and I love it here! I don’t think it’s all that ‘weird’ like people try to make it out to be. I mean, it has its quirkiness and strange people, but I don’t think it’s too much–the television show ‘Portlandia’ notwithstanding! Now, that show is weird; I think much weirder than the city itself.  Does Portland seem weird and goofy compared to a mid-western or southern city? Probably, but that’s why I would never live in those parts of the country. Portland is home for me and my husband. As a married gay couple of nearly eighteen years, we are ‘normal’ here. We don’t have to immerse ourselves in the gay community and eschew the ‘straight’ world outside. It’s all the same here. We don’t have to go to a gay establishment to feel comfortable showing affection, to hold hands or even to kiss. Our circle of friends is both gay and straight and it’s wonderful. When we go out, no one looks weirdly at us or stares like they’ve never seen a gay couple before. We’re just part of the overall fabric of the city and its people. Portland is open, free, accepting, and liberal, and with all of it’s urban amenities and culture, it’s just the ideal city to call home.




My List of Favorites in Portland

Today is Monday, December 16, 2013.

It’s the end of the year 2013 and I thought I’d go through my list of favorite places in Portland, Oregon. Different publications do this through polls, but I’m just going to tell you where I like to hang out; where I like to eat, drink and be merry.  I am lucky enough to live in what is often considered one of the top 10 best cities in the United States to live, work and have fun.

My favorite brewery:  Breakside in the NE Woodlawn District.

My favorite restaurant: Laurelhurst Market in Laurelhurst on E. Burnside

My favorite French Fries:  Pause (restaurant) in N. Portland at Interstate/Webster

My favorite burger:  Hop and Vine on N. Killingsworth.

My favorite non-food tavern/bar:  1856 at NE 15th/Prescott

My favorite restaurant/bar:  Hop and Vine, N. Killingsworth

My favorite Alt Beer:  Crazy Ludwig’s Alt, Lucky Lab

My favorite Pilsner/Lager:  Breakside Pilsner

My favorite Koelsch:  Occidental Koelsch

My favorite Pale Ale:  Breakside Woodlawn Pale

My favorite IPA:  Breakside Wanderlust

My favorite local winter ale:  HUB’s Abominable

My favorite non-local winter ale:  Anderson Valley Winter Solstice

My favorite German style Helles:  Occidental Helles

My favorite German style Dunkeles:  Occidental Dunkeles

My favorite Caesar Salad (w/ Chicken):  Pause, N. Portland

My favorite winery:  Maresh-Redbarn outside of Dundee

My favorite Riesling:  Maresh-Redbarn

My favorite Chardonnay:  Anam Cara (Newberg OR)

My favorite Pinot Noir:  Maresh-Redbarn

My favorite Cabernet Sauvignon:  Zerba (Walla Walla) but there’s a great tasting room in Dundee!

My favorite inexpensive red wine blend:  14 Hands Hot to Trot

My favorite place to relax:  Chinese Garden in Old Town/China Town

My favorite Italian Restaurant:  Mama Mia’s (downtown)

My favorite Thai Restaurant:  Beau Thai in NW

My favorite Chinese Restaurant:  Shan Dong in Hollywood

My favorite wine-tasting:  Magnolia’s Corner in Hollywood

My favorite local coffee roaster:  Stumptown

My favorite coffee house:  Pied Cow in the Belmont District

My favorite dessert restaurant:  Papa Haydn’s

My favorite cake:  Papa Haydn’s ‘St. Moritz’

My favorite artisan bread:  anything from Ken’s Artisan Bakery

My favorite donut:  Helen Bernhard’s, buttermilk old-fashioned, East Broadway

My favorite bakery/boulangerie:  Petite Provence

My favorite Portland clothing manufacturer:  Pendleton Woolens

My favorite local bourbon:  Monkey Puzzle from McMenemin’s

My favorite route to walk:  The Eastside Esplanade and Waterfront Park

My favorite park:  Mt. Tabor

My favorite view of the city:  from the Sellwood area on the bluff above Oaks Park.

Best place in the world to go roller skating:  Oaks Park Roller Rink

My favorite movie theater:  Progress Ridge Cinetopia

My favorite theater company:  ART

My favorite Portland band:  Pink Martini

My favorite bridge:  St. Johns

My favorite Mexican Restaurant:  none…everything I’ve ever found here in the Portland area is average to good, but I have no favorites. None compares to what I’ve had in San Diego!

My favorite bar food/Happy Hour:  15th Avenue Hop House

My favorite Portland musicians:  Jeff Donovan and Anne-Marie Sanderson

My favorite chocolatier:  Alma Chocolates, NE 28th ave

My favorite BBQ:  Russel Street

My favorite spaezle:  Widmer’s Gasthaus

My favorite German-style fondue:  Gustav’s

My favorite Schnitzel:  Widmer’s Gasthaus, pork

My favorite really expensive restaurant:  Paley’s

My favorite classic diner:  Overlook

My favorite breakfast place:  Gravy, N. Mississippi

My favorite neighborhood/urban village:  Alberta St.