Wednesday, February 12, 2014

All Cozy in Sochi?


Published on Alternet (

By Alex Kane [2]


10 Reasons Russia Is a Much Crueler Place Than the Cuddly Snowy Image It's Projecting at Sochi

February 11, 2014 |

The Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia was supposed to be the country’s moment in the sun, an opportunity for strongman President Vladimir Putin to bask in the glory of having the world’s eyes on his country.

“This is, without a doubt not only a recognition of Russia’s achievements in sports, it is, there is no doubt, an assessment of our country,” Putin said in 2007, [3] in the aftermath of the International Olympic Committee’s choice to hold the games in Sochi. “This is an acknowledgment of its growing capabilities, first and foremost in the economic and social spheres.”

The world’s eyes are certainly on Russia, as hundreds of athletes from around the world travel there to compete in sports ranging from freestyle skiing to ice hockey to figure skating. But instead of acknowledging Russia’s achievements, the Sochi games have sparked a deluge of negative press aimed at Putin’s regime. (The U.S. is only somewhat better on gay rights and other issues than Russia. As Ian Ayres and William Eskridge wrote in the Washington Post [4], eight U.S. states have provisions similar to Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law.) From virulently anti-gay laws and corruption to crackdowns on dissent, Putin’s Russia is a dark place for many of its citizens. Here are 10 of the worst things to come out of Russia recently.

1. Gay Propaganda Law

Russia’s brutal targeting of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population has attracted the lion’s share of press coverage and activist initiatives around the world related to the Olympics. The first anti-gay law passed in the Russian legislature last year and was signed by Putin on June 30. The bill bans “propaganda” about “non-traditional” sexual relations around children. It is written so broadly that it effectively bars any positive discussion of gay rights or any action labeled as gay around children. The legislation imposes fines of up to $156 for an individual and $31,000 for media organizations, and could also lead to the arrests of LGBT people.

The law also applies to foreigners. If non-Russians are seen as spreading pro-gay messages, they could be fined and detained for up to 14 days and then expelled from the country. On July 22, the first foreigners were taken into custody for violating the bill [5]. Four Dutch citizens were arrested for filming a documentary and interviewing Russian youth on gay rights.

As Jeff Sharlet wrote in a GQ magazine cover story this month [6], the bill is a way of bolstering Putin’s populist credentials. The Putin-backed initiative is as much about gays as it is about “the unstable price of oil and Putin's eroding popular support...The less prosperity Putin can deliver, the more he speaks of holy Russian empire, language to which the Russian Orthodox Church thrills,” wrote Sharlet.

2. Russian Adoption Law

On July 3, Putin signed into law a bill barring gay couples from adopting Russian-born children. In addition, the legislation bans the adoption of Russian children by any parents who live in a country where marriage equality is the law. In a statement released [7] after the bill was passed, the Kremlin said: “The measure is aimed at guaranteeing a harmonious and full upbringing for children in adoptive families.” The legislation was supported by right-wing American evangelicals [8] like the National Organization for Marriage president.

3. Foreign Agents Law

In 2012, a law was passed targeting non-governmental organizations that receive money from abroad. It forces NGOs in Russia working on issues ranging from LGBT rights to corruption to register as “foreign agents” with the government. Since its passage, Russian authorities have investigated thousands of nonprofits suspected of being “foreign agents.” Some organizations have suffered hefty fines. A few groups that could not withstand the fines were forced to shut down over the law.

“The 'foreign agents law' was designed to stigmatize and discredit NGOs engaged in human rights, election monitoring and other critical work,” Amnesty International’s John Dalhuisen said in a statement last year [9]. “It is providing a perfect pretext for fining and closing critical organizations and will cut often vital funding streams."

4. Anti-Gay Violence

The anti-gay laws have contributed to an environment in Russia where being gay is seen as a crime. The legislation has institutionalized homophobia, and LGBT activists say the bills are encouraging violence against gays. In September 2013, the Guardian reported [10] that activists told the newspaper, “the legislation has emboldened rightwing groups who use social media to ‘ambush’ gay people, luring them to meetings and then humiliating them on camera—sometimes pouring urine on them.” Gay teenagers have been particularly targeted.

5. Environmental Destruction

The building of the Sochi Olympic village has thrown a spotlight on the deleterious effects to the environment that often come with large-scale projects. Forget Russia’s claims that the Olympics would be “green.” The Russian Olympic Village, the accommodation center for the Olympics, has led to the loss of wetlands that were home to 65 species of birds. Parts of the national park in Sochi, known for its diverse animal and plant life, has been destroyed. A large forest [11] was completely wrecked.

The quality of life for residents in Sochi has decreased, with some 2,000 families forced to resettle. The dumping of construction waste and building of power lines have caused landslides, and in one village, drinking wells were destroyed. Pollution and construction have damaged the Mzymta, Sochi’s largest river. On top of all that, there’s the usual negative impact from travel, massive construction and hospitality services.

The Sochi Olympics are no anomaly: Russia’s general environmental record is nothing to praise. Oil and gas development in the Arctic [12] have threatened indigenous people and contaminated rivers. Russia’s air is thoroughly polluted, much of it due to factories.

6. Corruption

Corruption, including bribes, vote-rigging and abuses of power, is a major problem in Russia. Its rank on the Corruption Index [13], published by Transparency International, is 127, out of 175 countries ranked. Bribery is the main form of corruption in Russia. Businesses pay extra cash to the government to grease the wheels for their projects. Bribes are also used to stave off the inquiries of the government. Individual Russians are forced to bribe higher-ups to get into universities, shoo away cops or obtain passports.

The Sochi Olympics process has been laden with corruption. In January, Gian Franco Kasper, a member of the International Olympic Committee, estimated [14] that a third of the $50 billion spent on Sochi has been siphoned off. A former Russian government official estimated that between $20-$30 billion went to embezzlement and kickbacks. Oligarchs close to Putin have received government contracts [15] to build facilities like the ice rink and journalist center.

7. Targeting Journalists

Russia is no haven for the press. Since Vladimir Putin assumed power in 2000, dozens of journalists have lost their lives on the job. Many were slain by contract killers, and the Russian police and judiciary have done a poor job at catching the culprits. Since 1992, at least 56 journalists have been killed.

Beyond the killings is the general harsh climate for the press in the country. Opposition bloggers have been arrested. Journalists fear gathering information from organizations the government dislikes. Visas have been denied to journalists critical of Putin.

Thousands of journalists have traveled to Sochi to cover the Olympics, but they are confronting a government bent on obstructing the press. A presidential decree made clear that “journalists will be central targets of the extensive surveillance program introduced by Russian authorities in Sochi,” as the Committee to Protect Journalists notes. [16] Local Russian journalists “prefer to cover Sochi the way they would cover a deceased man: in a positive light or not at all... both official repression and self-censorship have restricted coverage of sensitive issues in the run-up to Sochi,” the committee reports. [17]

8. Crackdown on Dissent

The jailings of members of the band Pussy Riot and Greenpeace activists have made international headlines over the past year. Both cases highlight Russia’s relentless crackdown on activism and dissent. The recent release of Pussy Riot members, Greenpeace activists and the tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, widely thought to be moves made to improve Russia’s image before Sochi, are deviations from the norm.

In June 2013, Putin signed a law mandating prison time for anybody who “insults” the feelings of religious people. Protesters who participated in a 2012 demonstration in Moscow have been targeted for jail. In the run-up to Sochi, Human Rights Watch [18] said Russian authorities have intimidated and harassed “organizations, individuals, and journalists who criticized the local government.”

9. Abusing Migrants

Since 2009, thousands of migrant workers from Central Asia and other countries have traveled to Sochi to assist in the building of facilities for the Olympics. But hundreds of them have been denied pay [19] and were expelled back to their countries after they finished their construction jobs. Bosses cheated workers out of their money by underpaying them. Employers also required migrant workers to work long hours with few days off, and took away passports and work permits.

The abuse of migrant workers is part of a larger crackdown. In July 2013, authorities in Moscow started detaining people who looked non-Slavic. Thousands of people were taken into custody. Some were expelled, while others were held in prisons under inhumane conditions.

10. Russia’s War on Terror

For over a decade, Russia has been engaged in its own war on terror against separatists in Chechnya and Dagestan, two mostly Muslim federal subdivisions of the country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, separatists in Chechnya renewed their struggle for independence. Violent attacks on Russia have become an inseparable part of that struggle. The roots of their grievances lie in attempts by Russia to incorporate the republics, which are ethnically and religiously distinct from much of the country.

The first Russian war on Chechnya against separatists lasted for two years. Though the first war ended in 1996, the conflict was transformed into one between Islamist militants and Russia. The second war in Chechnya, which eventually encompassed Dagestan, was also brutal. Thousands of people, many of them Chechen civilians, were killed. Russian security forces’ conduct has been characterized by torture, executions and forced disappearances.

The large-scale wars are over for now, but Dagestan and other Northern Caucasus regions still have active Islamist groups operating, which have carried out attacks on Russia. In response, Russian authorities continue to deploy a heavy hand, especially in the run-up to Sochi.



Sunday, February 9, 2014

When it hits home...

‘Every year, more and more businesses are speaking out on how climate change is damaging their businesses. Insurance companies were in the lead on sounding the alarm on global warming. Just a few days ago, Coca-Cola’s vice president for environment and water resources, Jeffrey Seabright, told the New York Times that “increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years” were affecting the supply of sugar cane and sugar beets, “as well as citrus for [Coca-Cola’s] fruit juices.”  [ from ]I had already been reading about the hits that insurance companies were taking because of disasters like hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires. 

Walmart had said that it had no position on legislation to cut billions to food stamp program (SNAP), the name for food stamps,but now  their earnings are taking a hit. About 20 percent of Walmart’s customers use food stamps.   Now since cuts have taken place, their quarterly earnings are down.  And with additional cuts just passed in the farm bill of $1billion a year, they will be hurt even more.  From   ]  Poor things.  Even their own employees will be buying fewer groceries.  Can you imagine having to cut back on your own food budget by about $90 a month?  That is the average loss for families on food stamps.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Following are notes I made a few years ago when the Stupak Amendment was being debated in Congress.  I have made only a couple of modifications to these, and am prompted to post them here in response to current legislation before Congress, HR 7, No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure.

As such, it should be eligible for insurance coverage just as is any other legal medical procedure.

The same voices that warn about government interference with health care decisions would deny coverage for abortion.

The same voices that claim government would be deciding who would be covered, and what procedures would be covered, would deny coverage for abortion.

The same voices that decry government controlling or regulating insurance companies would deny private insurance companies, about 85% of which previously provided coverage for abortion, the right to provide abortion coverage in their policies if they participate in the exchange.

The same voices that say that people morally opposed to abortion should not have to pay taxes to cover abortion, do not say that people who are morally opposed to war should not have to pay taxes to cover war.

To deny a woman coverage for abortion is tantamount to the private insurance industry denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, or denying claims for services they don’t consider needful or appropriate.

Because woman is unique, she has unique medical needs.  It is discriminatory to deny her the right to make her own decisions about those needs.  It is even more egregiously discriminatory to deny coverage of this procedure to the poor, but not to the rich, who can easily pay for the procedure if they lack insurance.

Allowing insurance coverage for abortions is hardly equivalent to the government, or taxpayer dollars, funding abortions, because the insured will be paying premiums for this insurance, with only some of them requiring subsidies for partial payment of premiums.

The government does not exist to make moral judgments about private decisions.  Yet that is what they do if they deny insurance coverage for abortion.  The Ninth Amendment to the Constitution says it well:  “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

All of the Republicans and many of the Democrats who voted for the Stupak Amendment voted against the health reform bill anyway.   

What a price women have to pay for progress.




H. R 7

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue on H.R. 7 Floor Vote Today

WASHINGTON - January 28 - As H.R.7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, heads to the floor today, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue will be available to discuss this anti-woman measure and how, with this first action of 2014, GOP leadership continues to ignore the priorities of American voters.

“The majority of Americans are supportive of abortion rights and we have made clear that we’d like Congress to have a genuine conversation about economic opportunity. Yet, conservative politicians continue to focus almost single-mindedly on finding new ways to dictate the private, medical decisions of women and their families," said Ilyse Hogue. “By introducing a bill that breaks new ground in intertwining our tax code with reproductive decisions and meddling in the private insurance marketplace, extreme members of the GOP have put their cards on the table – they are willing to violate their own principles in order to make attacking women’s reproductive rights their first and foremost priority. The War On Women cost conservatives in 2012 and it will cost them again in the midterm elections and beyond."

During its recent winter meeting, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution affirming that their anti-choice politics are central to their party platform. At the same meeting, Gov. Mike Huckabee equated offering women birth control coverage to “Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government."

H.R.7 would do the following:

  • Revive the failed Stupak-Pitts amendment to the ACA, effectively banning abortion coverage in the new health system, even for women in state insurance exchanges who use their own, private funds to pay for their insurance. Experts have stated this could also jeopardize the availability of private insurance coverage of abortion for all women in all private health plans nationwide.

  • Impose tax penalties on small businesses that choose private health plans that cover abortion care, with the goal of driving consumers away from these plans. (Absent political interference, 87 percent of private plans cover abortion services.)

  • Permanently block abortion coverage for low-income women, civil servants, D.C. residents, and military women by recodifying anti-choice riders that reside elsewhere throughout federal law. Congress should be repealing these unfair and discriminatory abortion bans, not recodifying them.

The brand-new version of H.R.7, unveiled after committee mark-up last week, also adds these two new provisions:

  • Bans coverage of abortion services for women insured by multi-state health plans under the ACA—private health-insurance plans which offer consumers a uniform array of health benefits in every state in which they operate.

  • Mandates health plans to make biased, one-sided “disclosures” of abortion coverage and force plans to mislead consumers about the health-care law’s treatment of abortion coverage.



·         Musings 2014 1 16

Rep Darrell Issa is pursuing investigation of possibility of breach of security of ACA, even though to date no such breach has occurred, and he is ignoring the very real breach of security at Target stores, which has affected over 100 million people.

About TPP

·         Have you heard anyone talking about TPP and FTA, that is Trans Pacific Partnership and Fast Track Authority, besides Ed Schultz, Thom Hartman, and Amy Goodman?

·         Sen Max Baucus,(D-MT)  chair of the finance committee, has the same fervor for TPP that he had against Public Option in ACA.  Will he have the same success with this issue as with the ACA?  Still, he is going to be ambassador to China, I guess his stances pay off.

·         When Max Baucus convened the finance committee hearing into FTA, he had four witnesses, three who favored FTA, and one, a union leader, who opposed.

·         They are trotting out the same tired old arguments:  “Malaysia has a 40% tax on tires from USA, we don’t have any on theirs,” in 1994 it was “Mexico has a 20% tax on tires, we don’t have any on theirs.”


More on TPP

·         Someone just tweeted on the Ed show, “TPP stinks more than the water in WV.”

·         TPP—Take People’s Paychecks; Toilet Paper Politics; Terrible Public Policy;

·         New Balance is the last major athletic shoe manufacturer in the U.S. (though I have been told not all their production takes place in USA)

·         A tweet:  What is wrong with Obama?  Jesus Mary and Joseph help us all.

·         A tweet:  President Obama, please don’t break our hearts.

·         I love Rep DeFazio.   Not only is he a staunch progressive,  He is so sweet

·         I love Rep Delauro.  Beauty is as beauty does.  As plain a plain Jane as can be imagined, always dresses well, always speaks well, always on the right track.  Don’t you love that red streak in her hair?

·         This is the closest vote ever on a question posed by Ed Shultz.  Do you think the president will back down on TPP?  47% say yes. 53% say no.  So sad, that we should doubt our president.


Because we hear so much umbrage directed at that dictator Obama, for all his executive orders, please note:  Number of executive orders during first terms:  Reagan-213, HWBush-166, gwbush-173, Obama-147.  Obama had fewer executive orders during first term than any president in the last 100 years.

The Three “I’s”

There were three governors elected for the first time in 2009—of Guam, Virginia, and New Jersey.  Since then, One has been Impeached, one Indicted, and one is being Investigated.  What a year that was.

Gov Christie says he is going to run his state for the people who pay for it.  Does he mean the corporations who buy the govt, or does he mean the rich who pay taxes, thereby  demeaning those who are too poor to pay taxes.

Bill Press says “It’s cold as HELL.”  Yeah, right.

Notes on two women on msnbc:

Alex Wagner’s mother, Tin Swe Thant, is an immigrant from Rangoon, Burma.[1] Her father, Carl Wagner, is from Iowa and of German and Irish descent, and is a prominent Democratic Party political consultant who co-chaired Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign.[4] Wagner was raised Roman Catholic.[5]

Karen Finney, [with msnbc, of Disrupt, 4 p.m., Sat & Sun] who is African-American on her father's side, is also a "great, great, great, great niece" of Robert E. Lee on her mother's.

Someone’s quote:  “And remember, while not all conservatives are stupid, all stupid people are conservative.”

So, in the Ukraine, people are protesting new laws forbidding them to protest.

What would happen if the couple of million people who have had their unemployment insurance cut off were to do sit-ins at their local legislator’s offices during this ten-day paid vacation they, the legislators, are having?  Maybe also the half-a-billion people who have no health insurance because their states turned down Medicaid expansion program?  The workers who have had their food stamps cut?






I am figuring out why the Republicans, especially Republican governors and state legislatures—hate teachers.


·         ‘cause they’re mostly women

·         ‘cause they’re unionized

·         ‘cause women teachers get equal pay with men teachers

·         ‘cause they undermine conservative principles, by teaching science and equality

Friday, January 17, 2014


What does the fox [really] say?

Yum, yum, as she prowls the fence around the poultry yard, eyeing that flighty hen, that giddy guinea, that strutting tom.

Yum, yum as she slinks around the pond, eyeing those sitting ducks and silly geese.

I will admit, the fox is a beautiful animal, with those big ears and eyes, that rich red color, that bushy tail—you want to pick one up and bring it home to curl up on the hearth.

But—when you lose that perky little bantam Auracana hen, who would fly over the fence in the morning, and would stay out till the last minute in the evening (prime times for fox predation)…when you lose that handsome white Muscovy drake…and most of all, when you lose your precious Jizzy, it is more than you can bear to see one of those beautiful foxes skulking around.