Sunday, August 31, 2014

Putin makes a fool of the West again

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin continues to make a fool out of the West. Is anyone familiar with the old saying “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”? Obviously Putin knows that the West has no shame. First he invaded Georgia in the Caucasus region, supposedly in support of a breakaway “republic.” He dared the U.S. and the West to do something about it; a lot of hot air came Putin’s way, and little else. He reportedly told representatives of the Georgian government that they could only “trust” him, not the West—meaning, of course that they could “count” on him interfering with their internal affairs, and they could “trust” that no help from the West could possibly stop him. 

The intervention in Georgia turned out to be a dress rehearsal for bigger schemes. Putin and his military chaffed at losing its principle “warm water” naval base, the Sevastopol complex in the Crimea, which is part of Ukrainian territory. How to retrieve and hold on to it? By stirring-up the Russian majority in eastern Ukraine against the legal government.  The eastern provinces would take time to sufficiently foment rebellion by Russian agents and military “advisors,” but the Crimea was attached by only a small strip of land to the mainland, and could be easily detached from Ukrainian control with a sufficient show of force against the weakly-armed national force by secretly-inserted Russian military. 

What was the West going to do? Send in NATO aircraft and bomb separatist positions? Russia is not Iraq or Libya, who had no forces capable of providing a credible deterrent. The European Union—particularly Germany—feared losing oil and natural gas shipments from Russia, and chose the rather pathetic “option” of discomfiting rich oligarchs close to Putin in the “hope” that they would put pressure on him; but something tells me that he is probably paying them off to offset the owie. The UN as usual is a lot of talk and little else, and with Russia and its “new” ally, China, with veto power on the Security Council, there seems little that it can do. The U.S. is of course capable of more concerted  punishment, but even Republicans seem incapable of doing more than attacking Obama’s response, which to be honest seems to be little more than a lot of expressive outrage and pinpricks.

When Dictator Putin finally got around to eastern Ukraine, he likely knew that nothing was going stop him. Bald-faced lies about direct Russian intervention have been told and retold with impunity. Nobody believes them, but then again, the former KGB and FSB agent can’t help but tell lies and disseminate misinformation; that was, after all, part of his training. Russians might believe it, but even pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine can’t help but brag about all the of the direct Russian assistance in troops and equipment they are receiving. 

The lies even encompass the outrage that was the shooting down of a Malaysian civilian airliner by Russian separatists with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. The separatists have been bragging about shooting down Ukrainian aircraft, and soon after the shooting down of the airliner they could be heard boasting about shooting down a “large” plane—apparently the Malaysian aircraft. Hundreds were killed, and Putin appeared to believe that merely calling Obama about the tragedy would “absolve” him of blame. Again, nobody is being fooled; the problem is that no one is shamed enough by previous inaction to actually do something about it.

After Ukrainian forces made some slight headway against the separatists, Putin’s impatience was such that he decided he couldn’t wait any longer, and has sent in columns of Russian tanks and troops to conquer a corridor from Rostov to the Crimea. Again, Putin is lying when he claims that there is no Russian troop movement, or the fact that there are 20,000 Russian troops are massed on the eastern Ukrainian border—even though it is obvious that the Ukrainian military is no threat to Russia. And again, the West seems helpless to stop him. As far as the European Union is concerned, it is a Russian “concern” and none of theirs—while they continue to lose all credibility in the eyes of those under threat of Russian imperialism. Meanwhile, Russia’s oil and gas deal with China has shown that Putin has an “eastern” rather than a Western mindset, meaning anti-democratic authority and control. 

Putin is arrogant enough to believe he has “fooled” the world time and time again. Nobody has been fooled, but what does that mean? The West has “fooled” itself by believing that a few insignificant “sanctions” would change Putin’s behavior, but Russia’s oil revenues have cushioned all evidence of any discomfit, even among his rich allies. The relative impotence of the West in the face of blatant Russian intervention into supposedly independent former Soviet “republics” has made it the “shameful” party in this ship of fools.

Domestic violence propaganda ensnares NFL

Will someone please answer this question for me: Is domestic violence wrong for whoever is guilty of it, or is just wrong when men do it?  I think we all know the answer to that one by now. When the Center For Disease Control report on intimate partner violence in 2011 was released, the media focused entirely on its findings on sexual assault—noticeably lower than the figures that were commonly put out by propagandists, but still the closest thing to an “accurate” accounting; interestingly, the report left the issue of whether males were “raped” as a “not applicable” to purpose of the study.

What was entirely ignored by the media (and of course by the propagandists) was the revelation that there was near parity in the number (if not always in the severity) of acts of domestic violence by both men and women. It also revealed a disturbing trend—men were increasingly reporting more incidents of domestic violence committed against them than the number of incidents women reported, in fact 25 percent more incidents in the year prior. 

While it is certainly true that a man engaging in an act of physical violence can be a frightening thing to whoever is the target of it, people tend not to differentiate between the intention to hurt, and that involving self-defense. The reality is that domestic violence incidents are usually instigated first by some petty issue leading to argument , and once someone doesn’t receive sufficient “satisfaction” that the hurt or guilt intended isn’t apparent felt, this can go beyond the simple argument phase if the will and opportunity is present, and this applies to women perhaps more so than men. I’ve encountered too many women with “attitude” who I sense are difficult people to live with.

Domestic violence is clearly a two-way street in most cases; how can it be legislated out of existence if one side—women and their advocates—feel that their “participation” is not domestic violence, but merely the weakness of woman that must be tolerated by men—even when it involves being physically assaulted? To defend oneself is to fall accused and ostracized. 

I’m not going to claim that there are not violent men out there who can just barely keep themselves under control. There are, plenty of them, and I’ve “met” some of them. And many of them are the husbands and partners of women who—to be perfectly frank—prefer such “strong” men because they like being “taken care of” rather than look after themselves. These men pretend to love their women, but they are also the ones I would be most fearful of. I saw one of these men on the bus the other day, and I will write a post soon describing it.

Yet there are also women who just imagining being locked-up in the same room with them for five minutes amounts to domestic violence. Six days after the shooting at that Kent Wendy’s/convenience store, I happened to be there when another potentially violent scene erupted. I was in the restroom, and when I heard the commotion, I decided to lock myself in the stall, just in case some violence did occur. A man seemed to be “calmly” requesting that a woman, presumably his girlfriend, return a cellphone to him. The woman, however, was screaming ferociously, threatening to call the police if he didn’t leave. He kept asking her, for whatever reason, to return his phone, but she refused and continued to shriek not in an aspect of fear, but of threat. Finally the two were “persuaded” to leave the premises, and from what I could tell the police were not involved. But having heard and not seen what had transpired, I was more disturbed by the violence in the woman’s behavior.

Yet this information has gone unreported by the media, and “unknown” to the general public. To state that women who instigate and engage in domestic violence (afterwards to pose as “passive victims”) actually exist is simply not acceptable. People won’t believe it or don’t want to. Or worse yet, it doesn’t matter. For activists and propagandists, to admit as much is to bring the whole edifice of their victim myths to come crumbling down. 

Public figures who are accused are typical fodder for propagandists, but athletes seem to be more the object of outrage, at least in the opinion of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Supposedly “outrage” from every corner of the country—especially from the half of the fan base who are (supposedly) women—concerning the “light” two-game suspension without pay of the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice after an incident in an elevator with his then fiancĂ© (and now wife). 

Admittedly the evidence of security cameras looked grim; it appears that Rice is dragging his apparently unconscious fiancĂ© out of the elevator. He and his wife claim that they had an argument in the elevator, that she altercated with him, and in “self-defense” he “accidently” caused her head to be struck against the side of the elevator. One can speculate that this is the truth or not; perhaps Rice’s wife didn’t want to ruin his career and lose most of year’s salary, which would not be helpful to her lifestyle or subsequent divorce settlement. But whatever the story was, Goodell initially found it to be “credible” and warranting the lighter “sentence.”

But as noted, “outrage” came from feminist commentators in the media and out, and domestic violence advocates; I use the term “advocates” deliberately, since it accurately describes the indifference to the holistic view of the problem, thus insuring its continuation as a propaganda tool to justify their existence as propagators of various female victim myths. 

Responding to accusations that he wasn’t taking domestic violence among players seriously, Goodell released a new policy statement that unfortunately incorporates the weaknesses of all other “remedies” for domestic violence:

First, we will continue our work with leading experts to expand the scope of our education on domestic violence and sexual assault for all NFL personnel -- players and non-players. This will include enhanced training for entering players through the Rookie Symposium and Rookie Success Program, as well as new programs designed for veteran players and other NFL personnel. All NFL personnel -- players and non-players -- will receive information about available league resources and local support and advocacy groups in their community.

Again, what is to be gained by receiving “training” from advocacy groups and so-called researchers who ignore the reality of interpersonal conflict? If a player is confronted by an abusive spouse or girlfriend, is he being told how to respond to it? Is he being told that he isn’t always to blame, that sometimes it is the wife or partner who might need help so that he doesn’t find himself arrested and imprisoned?

 Second, our club Player Engagement Directors, Human Resource Executives, and other appropriate team personnel will undergo comprehensive training to help them understand and identify risk factors associated with domestic violence and sexual assault. Any person identified as being at risk will be afforded private, confidential assistance. Persons who decline this assistance will be held accountable for that decision in determining discipline for any subsequent act of domestic violence or sexual assault. This is a complicated matter and must be approached with care. We will work with experts to identify strategies based on the most reliable research, recognizing that violence can and does take different forms but generally involves a pattern of coercive behavior.

Again, broad assumptions are being made here. Does a “risk factor” include being with a domestic partner who tends to instigate conflict, thus raising the possibility of actions deemed to be “domestic violence” if that is what the offending partner chooses to call it once she goes too far and assumes the “passive victim” role? What “strategy” has any chance of working if it doesn’t take into consideration the active role of women in many of these incidents?

The letter goes on with similar hypocrisy, and then this:

We will address these issues fairly and thoughtfully, respecting the rights of all involved and giving proper deference to law enforcement and the courts. If someone is charged with domestic violence or sexual assault, there will be a mandatory evaluation and, where professionally indicated, counseling or other specialized services. Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant. Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child. A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL; while an individual may petition for reinstatement after one year, there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted. These disciplinary standards will apply to all NFL personnel.

Where does “fairly” and “thoughtfully” enter into this draconian policy that ignores the reality of domestic violence? First offense six days without pay? Does this cover everything from speaking “intimidatingly” to domestic partner, which is one of the criteria that advocacy groups claim constitutes “domestic violence”? Does an act of self-defense constitute domestic violence that warrants six games or more without pay? If a player has a particularly abusive, self-involved wife who promises not to engage in actions that possibly lead to a physical confrontation after she causes him to be charged (because that is what police and the courts do, regardless of who the true guilty party is) for the first offense, and continues to do so anyhow, and an incident simply cannot be avoided in the heat of moment, and she refuses to take responsibility for her own actions, then what? Why must the player lose his career because he chose the wrong “life” partner?

I despise hypocrisy, and this is simply another example of it. I have said this time and time again: In most cases, incidents of domestic violence don’t occur in a vacuum, and men are just as often the victim of it. Caving into the hypocrisy of advocacy groups with draconian punishments not only harm men who may be only guilty of defending themselves against an abusive spouse, but continue the vicious cycle of denial that only promises that domestic violence remains an on-going issue. Only when women are held accountable for their own actions will domestic violence become a “solvable” problem.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Who won the Yankees-Mariners game of bluff in 2012? Still hard to tell

I don’t follow baseball much anymore, but the latest “incident” involving half the “blockbuster” trade between the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees in 2011 brings to mind a simple truth: Trying to con your partner only works if he isn’t trying to “con” you too. 

And so it is that Jesus Montero—acquired in that trade from the Yankees—while on “rehab” assignment with the Mariners’ minor league Everett Aqua Sox, was being heckled about his weight—not by fans in the stands, but by one of the team scouts. Montero does have weight issues, and has been suspended for performance-enhancing drug use (obviously it didn’t work), and after less than expected power numbers in his only full season with the team, has been relegated to “assignment” in the minors to improve his bat for most of the past seasons. 

Unfortunately his bat (or catching skills) hasn’t improved enough to qualify him for the majors yet, and his underachievement obviously frustrates some people. Apparently the scout thought that a applying a little shaming would persuade Montero to put more effort into his game; Montero tolerated the ribbing, but when scout had someone send him an ice cream sandwich (perhaps to see if he had the “willpower” not add to his fat), Montero decided he had enough of the belittling and was preparing to take his bat to the scout’s head as a baseball to see if his “game” impressed him then. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the scout kept his head.

Montero can’t be blamed entirely. He is part of the Mariners’ on-going failure to find players  who can off-set the mistake that is the dimensions of Safeco Field, a too pitcher-friendly park that has been the graveyard of many a player with alleged “pop” in their bat for other teams, only to experience severe power outages once they arrived in Seattle. Speed and precise hitting, not homerun power, is the key to scoring runs at Safeco, but fans like homeruns, so there is a never-ending quest to find that elusive “power” hitter. Robinson Cano—a free agent acquisition late of  theYankees—is having a fine year, but he is no dinger. 

Yet time and again, that heavily-built (not necessarily heavily-muscled) player like Montero is acquired who the organization hopes will provide fans with balls in the stands that were not sent there by the other team. Montero played in 135 games in 2012, and hit all of 15 homeruns—and he was still one of the team “leaders” in that department. In the past two seasons, he has played just 35 games for the Mariners, hitting just four homeruns and driving in 11 runs.

One might suppose that Yankee management is snickering about how they pulled one over on the Mariners in the swap for pitcher Michael Pineda, who was a hot, young trade prospect in 2011for teams looking for pitching. In 2011, he pitched 171 innings, striking out 173 batters, and had a respectable 9-10 record for a team that won only 67 that year. There were of course, questions about his endurance; after a fast start winning six of his first eight decisions, his arm seemed to die in stretches, barely making it to five innings. By the final months, he missed several starts, and was clearly being “saved” for some other purpose.

But then again, if the Yankees had done their homework, they would have discovered that Pineda spent much of his five years in the minors on the disabled list, which is exactly where spring training found him after he arrived in New York. A tear in his shoulder meant he was lost for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Pineda did manage to make the team as its fifth starter this year, but after just a month he was back on disability. He returned this month, and managed to win just his third game since leaving the Mariners last week. 

So who won this game of bluff? Both the Mariners and Yankees gambled that the other team would be fooled just enough to trade their “top” prospect with caveats only they knew about, for someone who was a future All-Star. It would appear that the joke is on both teams, having acquired little more than an “expectation” that went awry. But they should have known better than to trust what the other doing, as in most trades involving “hope” rather than reality.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Libya and the never-ever changing world of the Middle East

Remember when the “Arab Spring” or Summer or whatever it was first erupted in Tunisia and spread elsewhere in the Middle East, and how this was represented as a “positive” development? How it was being spearheaded by citizens thirsting for “democracy”—government by the will of the people rather than autocrats and dictators? Creating an Islamic that finally joined the “modern” world?

Instead we see turmoil  and indications of a return of dictatorships—or worse, countries overrun by anti-West Islamist extremists; one gets the creeping suspicion that the West would  prefer to see the likes of former dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi in power again, if only to close and reseal the Pandora’s Box of Islamic  insurgency and the refueling of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda which they support.

Why did things go so “wrong”? What is happening in Libya these days explains everything. Remember when NATO decided to support the “rebels” after Qaddafi seemed to have the upper hand against them? How it sent in warplanes to bomb the hell out of government positions? How the dictator eventually fled Tripoli in “disguise” but was captured and killed on the spot—rather than stand trial like in a “civilized” country (remember it was U.S. troops who captured Saddam Hussein, and the U.S. made certain he received a “fair” trial). Remember all the “thanks” the West received for its assistance? How the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was burned down, and the  ambassador to Libya was murdered, likely “inspired” by Al-Qaeda  elements? 

The situation hasn’t improved in Libya, at least according to foreigners forced to flee the country everywhere in the past month or so due to ever escalating violence in Tripoli and elsewhere. In fact, things could only be worse if Islamists and their terrorist allies took complete control of the country, which is clearly their aim. The various militias that were never controlled by a “central” command, but by tribal strongmen with visions of personal power rather than the good of the country. Today, efforts to force the militias to disband have largely been unsuccessful, with the national “army” still a relative virgin at fighting. 

The struggle for power by Islamists and their opponents advanced to such extremities that a former Qaddafi general, Khalifa Hifter, attempted an anti-Islamist coup several months ago, following the military coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. Hifter continues to battle inconclusively against Islamists in the eastern portion of the country. Meanwhile, Arab countries that previously supported proxy elements in Libya are now providing “direct” aid. Qatar—which seems to have “good” relationships with various Islamist and terrorist groups—has provided military assistance to Islamist militias, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are said to providing direct (if "secret") assistance to the anti-Islamists. Recent secret airstrikes on Islamist positions have been blamed on the U.A.E. forces, although their effect on dampening the enthusiasm for war by Islamists have been unsuccessful so far, with a local anti-government group seizing control of Tripoli’s airport.

To be certain, there are genuine supporters of some form of democracy in Libya free from the restrictiveness of personal and political freedom sought by Islamists.  But to answer the earlier “why” question, the truth of the matter is that there was never any sort of “government-in-waiting” to take control of the country in case Qaddafi was successfully overthrown. Oh sure, there was a “council” of rebel representatives that provided a “united” front, but only in their efforts to overthrow Qaddafi. There was never any kind of “consensus” on what to do once the war was won. Differences between Islamist and anti-Islamist factions were subsumed for the “time being.” Some groups, like Al-Qaeda (remember when Qaddafi warned that the West’s support of rebels was hatching that egg in the country?), were already plotting what kind of government they were hoping to see. 

Chaos was the inevitable result.  Oh sure, there was sufficient responsibility on the part of some elements in Tripoli to form a “caretaker” government until an elected parliament could be formed, but its authority has largely been more surface than substance, with real power being in hands of local militia warlords who abide by government edicts only if it suits their interests. This is the result of all our meddling in Libya. Very little seems different than meddling in the affairs of Iraq and Syria.

When Gandhi was challenged by British authorities about how he and the nascent post-British government were going to deal with the problem of violence between Hindus and Muslims in India, he simply said that this was India’s problem, not that of the British—that is, don’t interfere. The Muslim-dominated portion of the country eventually broke away, becoming Pakistan.  We should have left well enough alone in Libya and elsewhere. Today there is far more violence and death in Libya than there ever was under Qaddafi. Under his regime, the Islamists and Al-Qaeda were at least kept on a leash. Qaddafi was not a “good” guy by any stretch of the imagination, but at least the West could keep an eye on him, and he was smart enough to avoid doing anything too antagonizing. 

But now that the bad genie is out of the bottle, or the conflagration out of the box, there is now only the “hope” that somehow sometime down the road that everything will “work out” in a way that isn’t a constant threat to the West. That may a forlorn hope, where once more the West didn’t learn from previous lessons. As Lord Palmerston, the British prime minister at the time of the American Civil War, once said, “To those who in quarrels interpose, will often receive a bloody nose.”