Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ukraine, Russia, and President Obama #2

The White House has announced that President Obama held a 90 minute telephone conversation with President Putin today.    He reminded him of the various treaties and international law that he is violating and called on him to withdraw his forces back to the Russian base in Crimea.

He told Putin that continued violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia's standing in the international community.    President Obama will be consulting with the United Nations Security Council and several other international groups, and he will suspend any further preliminary talk for the upcoming G-8 Summit meeting.

There was nothing said in the announcement about Putin's reaction.   Presumably he was not persuaded.   My understanding is that his justification, whether valid or not, is that he is protecting the Russian citizens who live in Ukraine under what he considers an illegal takeover of the Ukraine government.

This is a tense, very bad situation.   This is not the time for John McCain and Lindsey Graham to be mouthing off about taking a more aggressive military approach.   They may disagree with his measured, diplomacy-first handling of the situation;   but he is the elected Commander in Chief.     As former military officers, McCain and Graham should know that the middle of a crisis is not the time to be undermining the commander's leadership.


Unintended consequences as a battle plan

The business community's swift backlash against Arizona's "religious freedom" bill raises the possibility for a new tactic in fighting back against the Republicans' attempt to sneak bad policy bills through disguised as good things.

This tactic arises from the "unintended consequences" -- the "discrimination is bad for business" meme that was so skillfully employed in Arizona.  It was effective not only in stopping the AZ bill -- but, overnight, similar bills in five or six other states, including Georgia's, suddenly got put on hold or dropped altogether.

So here's another tactic, along those lines, suggested by a letter to the editor from Fred Dikeman in Friday's AJC.    The idea is to use the proposed law in a way that has unintended consequences that hurt those pushing the law.
Here's the proposal:   As a business owner, claim your right to refuse service to gun owners on the basis of your religious beliefs, and cite the Ten Commandments' mandate: "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

But, you say, you don't intend to killyou just keep a gun for protection.   In other words, you're just being a gun owner, not necessarily a gun shooter.   So as long as you don't shoot your gun, I have no right to object to your being a gun owner?

Let's apply that logic to the gay wedding thing.  The photographer who refused to take pictures of a gay couple's commitment ceremony did so because the idea of their being gay offended him;   it was not that he was asked to film them having sex.

Why is it not then comparable to say that, it's the very idea of a person being a gun owner that I find offensive to my religious beliefs?   It's not that I have to actually serve him while he is shooting his gun.   No, I can object just on the grounds that he possesses a gun and will shoot it at some other time and place.

I'm looking at the comparable "being" vs "behaving" in the two situations.  "Being a gun owner" and "being gay" are similar in that they are states of being, while "having gay sex" and "shooting your gun" are similar in that they are behaviors.

It's a question of "being" or "behaving."  So if a photographer can refuse to take pictures of a ceremony that is about "being gay," shouldn't I be able to refuse service to someone who is simply "being a gun owner"? 


Friday, February 28, 2014

Ukraine, Russia, and President Obama

My view of the situation in Ukraine is that the people should be allowed to work out their government without interference from the outside, as long as there is no evidence that the rights of the people are being infringed.

Russia's militant posturing is threatening to further destabilize the country at a delicate time.  Naturally Russia has trade and economic, as well as cultural, interests in Ukraine.  But the citizens should be allowed to make their own decisions.   

This populist revolt that ousted Yanukovich arose because he suddenly turned away from closer ties to Europe and the EU in favor of Russia.  Putin does not own Ukraine.   It is a sovereign nation and should be left to make its own decisions about such matters.

President Obama's statement today was a stern warning to Putin not to intervene militarily or violate Ukraine's sovereign territory.
"It would be a clear violence of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws. And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine."
This last point may be the most important to Putin.   Having a successful Olympic Games in Russia and being able to showcase Russia to the world was immensely important to Putin.  To be reminded that he is about to destroy the good will he gained just a few days later should be persuasive.


And now for a light-hearted change of pace

For those readers who may be tired of reading about the terrible Republicans and about marriage equality, here's a change of pace.

Some startling factoids about the time-line of our lives that may surprise you, as they did me.  Thanks to Todd Van Luling of The Huffington Post.

1.  Bettie White is older than sliced bread.  
      (White born in 1922;  sliced bread, 1928)

2.  Harvard University was founded before calculus was invented.
      (Harvard, 1636;  calculus, 1684)

3.  The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, the Ottoman Empire still existed.     (1908/1922)

4.  The pyramids of Giza were built in the time of wooly mammals.
      (pyramids 4000 years old;  woolies died out around 1700 BCE)

5.  Tyffany & Co. was founded before Italy was a country.
      (Tyffany originated in 1837;  Italy became unified into one country in 1861).

6.  France was still using the guillotine when "Star Wars" came out.
      (SW released in 1977, a few months before the last execution by guillotine)

Interesting realizations about how easily our sense of time gets warped.  Still, the most impressive realization about time lines and the pace of progress was Ronald Reagen's observation that: 
"In the course of my lifetime, man has first flown in an airplane . . . and walked on the moon."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

When money talks . . . politicians listen

Republican political operatives seem to have a bottomless pit of ingenuity when it comes to finding new ways to pander to the fears and hatreds of its ultra-right-wing base.  They tried to disguise this latest evocation of anti-gay sentiments by calling this a "Protect Our Religious Freedom" bill.

Fearful that this will brand Arizona and hurt them economically, there is widespread business opposition (Chamber of Congress, American, Delta, Southwest, and USAIR;  Apple, American Express, Intel, Pet Smart, several, hotel chains).  Some are even saying it will cost jobs and divert new businesses from locating there.   One convention has already cancelled, and the Superbowl Host Committee was watching closely and considering relocating next year's game.

What's different here in 2014 is that the backlash was swift, and it came from those in power instead of the victims of discrimination and activist protesters.   Gail Collins puts it so well in today's New York Times: 
Maybe we have reached a critical historical juncture. Struggles for human rights always begin with brave men and women who stand up, isolated, against the forces of oppression. But, in the United States, victory really arrives on the glorious day when the people with money decide discrimination is bad for business.
Yes . . . but.     Gail Collins makes a great point about where we have arrived.   But we should not forget how we got here.
Let me remind us all that people with money did not decide discrimination was bad for business until those courageous individuals, and then groups, stood up and demanded their rights.    They are the ones who changed the cultural climate and American attitudes so that discrimination became bad for business.

"Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination."

Here's how Gov. Jan Brewer explained her veto of SB 1062: 

"Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value.  
So is non-discrimination."

Gov. Brewer did the right thing, and I respect her for it -- even though it had become politically unfeasible to sign the bill.   Still, I have to respect the thoughtful and succinct statement she made.   Here, in part.
Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona.  I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.

To the supporters of this legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes, however, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want. 

Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination. Going forward, let's turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate Bill 1062 into a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among all Arizona and Americans.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Veto watch #2

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has just announced that she has vetoed the bill that has caused so much backlash from the business community, rights activists, and even Republican politicians.

Also an update on the Georgia bill:   According to what I heard on the news this afternoon, the senate bill is still alive, although the house put its bill on hold.   

The important thing I learned from this account was that the Georgia bill differs from the Arizona one in an important way:   It only addresses religious exemptions from governmental regulations and laws (such as the contraceptive-covering insurance mandate);  it does not apply to private businesses operations.


Texas gay marriage ban ruled unconstitutional

The parade continues.   A federal district court has ruled that the Texas law that bans same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The ruling will be stayed pending appeal.  It follows similar rulings by federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia.   So far, since the U. S. Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, no federal judge has upheld a state law banning gay marriage.   Each one adds more weight for SCOTUS to make a definitive ruling, sooner rather than later.


Ex-VP says Obama chooses foodstamps over a strong military

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has revealed that his defense budget request will mark a departure from the past.   Troop levels will be reduced to the lowest since before World War II, and the U.S. will no longer plan to deploy large troops for long periods of time in troubled spots in the world.    Without saying the words, he seems to be declaring that we will no longer try to be the the police force for the world.

I, along with many liberals, applaud this.   For too long, we have let domestic needs go wanting while we spent more on defense than all other nations combined.

Former Veep Dick Cheney said on Fox News that the cuts are "just devastating."
“I have not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama. But this really is over the top. It does enormous long-term damage to our military. . . .  They act as though it is like highway spending and you can turn it on and off. The fact of the matter is he is having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise.”
Cheney later added:
"[Obama] would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.”
Of course, the little remarked fact is that the proposed budget gives more to the military than the current amount it has under the sequester.   So it would actually increase defense spending from its current level.

Well, another way of putting that would be that President Obama is re-balancing a budget that has been out of whack for years, where congress has insisted on keeping weapons systems that are no longer needed and that the military didn't even request but that bring money to the congressmen's districts.

The whole concept of war in the modern world is changing.   We don't need Cold War era weapons.   It is time to adapt to what makes sense -- and to take care of our own citizens in need.

President Obama's priorities are far preferable to those of Dick Cheney who, like most Republicans, never met a weapons system or a defense contractor that he didn't like.


PS:   Here's a little fact that I just found out.   Maybe His Exaltedness doesn't know about it:  Families of military veterans relied on food stamps and redeemed $100 million worth at base commisaries in 2013.    The Veep wants to cut those? 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Veto watch . . . as pressure mounts

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer returned today from the Republican Governors Convention in Washington.   Awaiting her is the "religious freedom" bill -- an anti-gay bill in (attempted) disguise that is generating a groundswell of opposition.   She has until Saturday to sign it or veto it.

There's almost a desperate feeling coming from a wide range of constituents that this must be stopped because of the unintended consequences.   Arizona will be the subject of intense backlash and economic loss.

So far, both Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have called on Gov. Brewer to veto the bill.   So has the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Superbowl Committee, a couple of airlines and hotel chains.   Even three Republican legislators who voted for the bill now want it to be vetoed.

Reportedly several businesses that were considering expanding into Arizona have cancelled plans.   Tourists are deciding not to go the Grand Canyon.  The opposition is really starting to snowball.

[Added later:   Even Fox News is now expressing serious doubts about the Arizona bill, escalating the outcry by suggesting gay people could even be denied medical treatments under this law.]

Meanwhile, back in Georgia, the senate may vote as early as tomorrow on a very similar bill, and at least eight other states have bills in various stages of consideration.

One view of this, expressed tonight by Rachel Maddow, is that this is just the latest version of the Republicans using gay issues as a political wedge to bring out their voters in an elections year.   

It's bad enough if they are trying to pass such a bill out of belief that it is right -- but if it is nothing more than a cynical manipulation of the election process, that is beneath despicable.


Veto the bill, Gov. Brewer

The Arizona legislature passed SB 1062, whose author says that it does nothing more than affirm "that the religious views of all Arizonans must be respected."   It gives any business the right to refuse service to anyone if doing so would violate the business owner's or the server's religious beliefs.

They tried to sneak this through as a religious protection law.  This fools no one.   It is a blatant anti-gay law that is intended to allow those in the wedding industry to refuse their services to gay and lesbian couples.   The bill was introduced in response to an incident in New Mexico in the state supreme court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to photograph their commitment ceremony.   In Colorado, a court ruled against a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple. The grounds, of course, is that anyone who offers services to the public is subject to anti-discrimination laws.

Arizona legislatures wanted to have a law that would protect such businesses from being sued for discrimination against gays.   This was clearly the subject of the support for the bill during the hearings.

What are these people thinking?   It's not just gay weddings.   This bill would allow restaurants to refuse to serve gay people, taxis to refuse to transport gay people, hotels to refuse accommodations, and apartments to refuse to rent to gay couples.    This bill would open the door to the past and make blatant discrimination acceptable.

There has been such an unanticipated national outcry against Arizona, even calls for the future SuperBowl to be relocated from Phoenix.   Both Arizona U. S. senators have called on Gov. Brewer to veto the bill.  Petitions are quickly being assembled.

And now, in the latest development, three state senators who voted for the law have written to the governor asking her to veto the bill.    One of this trio, the state senate president, was interviewed by Chris Hayes on MSNBC.   He says they had not seen it as discriminatory, that the passage had been rushed through, nobody realized it would cause such a backlash.

OK.   So, Gov. Brewer.   Once again it's up to you to save your state from disgrace by vetoing a bill your legislature has unwisely passed.   There's a good chance she will.  After all, she vetoed virtually the same bill when it was presented to her last year.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Putin's scorecard #3

Russian wound up with the most medals (13 gold, 11 silver, 9 bronze = total 33), with the U. S. in second place with 28 (9 + 7 + 12).

There were no terrorists attacks directly related to the Olympics, and no scandals involving athletes or visitors being mistreated by police.

The games all got done with no major malfunctions, and the main complaint seemed to be the fault of Mother Nature:   melting snow on the ski slopes due to higher temperatures.

So Putin can claim a victory -- even though their men's hocky team got knocked out before the semi-finals.

As the NBC host summarized:  "There was a lot of uncertainty about what was going to happen here . . . .  but they pulled it off."

However, the increased exposure has led to -- and will lead to more -- articles critical of the cost over-runs (suggesting massive corrupt profits going to a favored few) and an increasingly totalitarian government.

Exhibit #1:   A long cover story in the February 12th edition of The New Republic, titled:  "The Loneliness of Vladimir PutinHe Crushed His Opposition and Has Nothing to Show For It But a Country That Is Falling Apart."

Worth reading, if you care about what's happening in Russia.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Putin's scorecard #2

Bob Costas is the overall host of NBC's broadcast of the Sachi Olympics.  Until yesterday, he had mostly avoided commenting on any political questions or criticisms of Russia.

Here's an excerpt from the Associated Press' David Bauder's report:
The NBC host noted how Ukrainian athletes at the games were showing their concern for their country's political unrest, and tied what was going on there to Vladimir Putin's Russia. Costas said the Sochi Olympics had gone off better than many people feared going in, "all of which is truly wonderful, but should not serve to obscure a harsher or more lasting truth. This is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria — and that's just a partial list." While the games may burnish Putin's reputation in some eyes, "no amount of Olympic glory can mask these realities," he said.
Harsh words -- but nothing more nor less than the stark truth.   It does bring to mind the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.   Consider these words from the online "History Learning Site" commentary about those 1936 games:
The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games had been handed to Berlin before the Nazis came to power but now it was the perfect opportunity for Hitler to demonstrate to the world, how efficient the Nazi Germany was,  It was also the perfect opportunity for the Nazis to prove to the world the reality of the Master Race. The Berlin Olympic Games gave the Nazis  an opportunity to show off to the world.
Of course, any nation hosting the Olympics will want to show off their nation, their people, and their athletes.  Nothing wrong with that.  It's what goes on behind the public image and what they may be trying to hide.

Putin is not HitlerStill, the ominous similarity is in the repressive forces and the discriminatory attitude toward human rights for all in the country outside the Olympic walls.