Wednesday, June 20, 2018

House GOP Seeks to Cut Medicare, Social Security to Balance Budget After Massive Tax Cuts for Wealthy

While much of the American public is focused on the horrors and deliberate cruelty taking place on America's southwest border, House Republicans are conspiring to unleash cruelty on those who rely on Medicare and Social Security to survive.  The pretense for harming countless lives?  The need to cut the federal budget deficit which is hemorrhaging red ink in the wake of the $1.5 trillion (yes, trillion with a "T") tax cuts for the very wealthy and large, rapacious corporations.  It has been Paul Ryan's sick and morally bankrupt dream to destroy the social safety net for years, and now the massive give away voted in by Republicans is being grotesquely used to harm the poor and the elderly.  While Catholic bishops are condemning the Trump/Pence family separation policy, they might also want to bar Ryan from the sacraments given his utter disregard for the poor, the hungry and the sick. Trump cruel border policy did not arise out of thin air.  The GOP has been pushing a cruel agenda for many years.   A piece in the Washington Post looks ate the GOP's manufactured crisis and those whom they seek to harm.  Here are excerpts:
House Republicans released a proposal Tuesday that would balance the budget in nine years — but only by making large cuts to entitlement programs, including Medicare and Social Security, . . . .
The House Budget Committee is aiming to pass the blueprint this week, but that may be as far as it goes this midterm election year. It is not clear that GOP leaders will put the document on the House floor for a vote, and even if it were to pass the House, the budget would have little impact on actual spending levels.
Nonetheless the budget serves as an expression of Republicans’ priorities at a time of rapidly rising deficits and debt. Although the nation’s growing indebtedness has been exacerbated by the GOP’s own policy decisions — including the new tax law, which most analyses say will add at least $1 trillion to the debt — Republicans on the Budget Committee said they felt a responsibility to put the nation on a sounder fiscal trajectory.
Democrats have little interest in addressing it except as part of a larger deal including tax increases — the sort of “Grand Bargain” that eluded President Barack Obama.
The House Republican budget, titled “A Brighter American Future,” would remake Medicare by giving seniors the option of enrolling in private plans that compete with traditional Medicare, a system of competition designed to keep costs down but dismissed by critics as an effort to privatize the program. Along with other changes, the budget proposes to squeeze $537 billion out of Medicare over the next decade.
The budget would transform Medicaid, the federal-state health-care program for the poor, by limiting per capita payments or allowing states to turn it into a block-grant program — the same approach House Republicans took in their legislation that passed last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act (the repeal effort died in the Senate, but the GOP budget assumes that the repeal takes place).  It also proposes adding work requirements for certain adults enrolled in Medicaid. Changes to Medicaid and other health programs would account for $1.5 trillion in savings.
Social Security comes in for more modest cuts of $4 billion over the decade, which the budget projects could be reached by eliminating concurrent receipt of unemployment benefits and Social Security disability insurance. . . . And the budget proposes $230 billion in cuts from education and training programs, including consolidating student loan programs and reducing Pell Grant awards.
The budget also relies on rosy economic-growth projections . . .
Democrats were quick to criticize the GOP proposal while contending that Republicans were opening themselves up to election-year attacks by releasing it at all.
“The 2019 Republican budget scraps any sense of responsibility to the American people and any obligation to being honest,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee. “Its repeal of the Affordable Care Act and extreme cuts to health care, retirement security, anti-poverty programs, education, infrastructure, and other critical investments are real and will inflict serious harm on American families.”
The farce is that the GOP pretends to be the party of "family values" and "Christian values" yet other than slavishly prostituting itself to hate-filled anti-abortion, anti-gay Christofascists, NOTHING in the GOP agenda is family friendly or remotely in keeping with the Gospel's social message.   

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How to Respond to Those Supporting Trump's Cruelty to Children

Like many I suspect, I continue to struggle to get my head around the mindset of Trump/Pence supporters who see nothing wrong with the forced family separation policy currently in effect along America's southwest border.  A policy that is based on a lie by Trump and which treats brown skinned children in some regards as little better than animals and certainly displays a sinister effort to dehumanize them and undocumented immigrants in general.  Beyond this, there is the issue of how does one try to have discourse with individuals who seemingly are incapable of seeing common humanity in others.  One of my cousins, Jess Charles, from the far north of New York State wrote a Facebook post that to me is remarkable in how it addresses these issues.  Here it is in its entirety:

I try really hard to be open-minded and tolerant of views that are different from mine, but I cannot stay silent on this immigration issue any longer. I am saddened, angered and shocked at the ignorance and lack of compassion so many of my acquaintances have recently shown. Since I don’t have endless hours to debate this topic, I’m going to try to summarize my thoughts in this post. Let me preface it by saying: if you don’t like what I have to say, you have a few options: scroll on, unfollow me or unfriend me. I don’t need comments negating or debating me.

First. For those saying that if you are a legal US resident and commit a crime, you’ll be separated from your children and immigrants are no different, I say this. In the majority of the US citizen cases, children are kept with their families, and if they aren’t, generally CPS keeps the family informed of where their children are. Most/generally, not always. And up until the current administration, immigrant families were NOT separated.

Second. Committing a crime (let’s say possession of heroin with intent to use) is mighty different than fleeing a country because you are in ABSOLUTE fear for your safety and the safety of your family. Some crimes are committed out of necessity, I understand that, and again, GENERALLY, the system will try to work with people (like petty larceny for diapers, again doing what you need to do for your family). I ask so many of you who sit in the comfort of your own home what you would do if your neighborhoods became drug dens, filled with slaughter and you were too afraid to walk out the door or even go to sleep. What would you do to escape that? I know I would do anything to protect my son.

Third. Unless you are 100% Native American, who are YOU to turn your back on someone from another country?! Almost every single person I know, with very few exceptions, is a descendant of someone who immigrated here. Imagine if your great-great grandparents had come over on a boat, their families ripped apart the moment they stepped foot on the soil, and then they were just shipped back?

Fourth. I suggest you study the origins of The Holocaust. Many of us learned of it in junior high or early high school and seem to forget the basis of how it came to be. Once you visit a Nazi concentration camp, you will be forever changed. Study that period of time, and the ignorance and indifference that people displayed. Then take a look around and ask what is so different today from that time period.

Fifth. Let’s take a look at the Declaration of Independence. Direct excerpt: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Or how about this one: “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.” Let that sink in for a moment.

I honestly could go on, but chances are if you are reading this, you are someone like-minded who I have already had conversations with, or someone who wholly disagrees with me and is already fuming and not willing to discuss things rationally. So again, I will say, if you don’t like what I have to say: scroll on, unfollow me or unfriend me.

Sprinkle kindness everywhere, people, and don’t limit it to only those who are US citizens. Pray for those less fortunate, fleeing from terrors we are lucky enough to never know. Donate your time, energy, patience, whatever you can to make the WORLD a better place, not just your backyard.

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Fall of the American Empire; the GOP's New Katrina

Thousands dying in Puerto Rico due to the Trump/Pence regime's failure to provide adequate hurricane relief seemingly failed to force far too many Americans to recognize the monster who had been elevated to the White House.  Thankfully, now - although at horrible human cost - the hideous force family separations going on at the nation's southwest border (Trump plans to double down on the barbarism) seem to be belatedly forcing recognize that Trump's election has triggered a national emergency while at the same time showing once and for all that the Republican Party is the party of cruelty and racial hatred.  The irony is that Trump's mind dead, racist and religious extremist base believes Trump is "making America great again" even as he destroys the country's moral standing in the world and is unraveling trade policies and alliances which will only diminish America economically.  One can only hope and pray - if one still believes in prayer - that the daily horrors will convince decent moral Americans and Hispanics in particular that they must turn out as never before and vote to defeat Republicans at every level come November 2018. While removing Trump and Pence from office may be difficult, the cancer they represent can be controlled. Two pieces are worthy of note.  One in Politico looks at how the cruelty on display may harm the GOP.  Here are excerpts:
Republicans want to talk about tax cuts. Instead, they’re talking about kids in cages.
Rather than touting lower taxes and a steady job market, House and Senate Republicans are being forced to answer for President Donald Trump’s contentious immigration policies — whether it’s separating migrant kids from their parents, removing DACA protections or building a border wall. And that’s likely bad news heading into November.
[A]s the White House blames Congress for the crisis at the border, GOP lawmakers are struggling to craft a proposal that unites their own party, let alone one that can win bipartisan support and become law. And with no congressional solution in sight, Hill Republicans worry that Trump’s immigration crackdown could swamp their success on the economy and overshadow all the things they want to run on in the midterm elections.
And the renewed focus on immigration is almost all self-inflicted, from Trump’s decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to his relentless focus on the border wall to his “zero tolerance” policy for border-crossers, which has already led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents.
Hugh Hewitt, a leading conservative media voice, raised the prospect that the family separation crisis could become “the Republicans’ new Katrina and the president’s new Katrina” in an interview with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on Monday.
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that 66 percent of Americans who participated in the survey oppose Trump’s move to separate migrant kids from their parents. But 55 percent of Republicans back the action.
A column in the Washington Post notes in part (take the time to view the picture and see what is being done in the name of every American citizen):
John Moore may have lost the midterm elections for the Republican Party and badly damaged the reelection prospects of President TrumpMoore is the Getty Images photographer who snapped a viral picture of a crying 2-year-old Honduran girl at the U.S.-Mexico border. 
A picture is worth a thousand words, the saying goes. But this one is worth a million tweets. In political consequence, it is like the one taken of President George W. Bush surveying the devastation of Hurricane Katrina— by peering out the window of Air Force One. As Bush himself later acknowledged, the photo made him look “detached and uncaring.” It reinforced his frat-boy image. 
Of course, Trump is nowhere near the crying Honduran girl. But his fingerprints are all over the picture. . . . Moore’s picture is of a very special category — the pain of innocent children. It is reminiscent of the one Nick Ut of the Associated Press took of a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack in 1972.  
But back to the Politico piece.  Yes, you read the quote correctly: 55% of Republicans support Trump's horrific and cruel policy.  55% of Republicans support this!  Remember this on election day in November.  

As bad as the forced separation policy may be, the larger damage being done to America by the Trump/Pence regime and its Republican enablers is even more pervasive and seems intended to end the pax Americana that has existed for 70 some years.  All so Trump can appear "tough" and "winning" to his morally bankrupt base. Here are excerpts from a column in the New York Times:
The U.S. government is, as a matter of policy, literally ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in fenced enclosures (which officials insist aren’t cages, oh no). The U.S. president is demanding that law enforcement stop investigating his associates and go after his political enemies instead. He has been insulting democratic allies while praising murderous dictators. And a global trade war seems increasingly likely.
What do these stories have in common? Obviously they’re all tied to the character of the man occupying the White House, surely the worst human being ever to hold his position. But there’s also a larger context, and it’s not just about Donald Trump. What we’re witnessing is a systematic rejection of longstanding American values — the values that actually made America great.
America has long been a powerful nation. In particular, we emerged from World War II with a level of both economic and military dominance not seen since the heyday of ancient Rome. But our role in the world was always about more than money and guns. It was also about ideals: America stood for something larger than itself — for freedom, human rights and the rule of law as universal principles.
By the end of World War II, we and our British allies had in effect conquered a large part of the world. We could have become permanent occupiers, and/or installed subservient puppet governments, the way the Soviet Union did in Eastern Europe. And yes, we did do that in some developing countries; our history with, say, Iran is not at all pretty.
But what we mainly did instead was help defeated enemies get back on their feet, establishing democratic regimes that shared our core values and became allies in protecting those values.
The Pax Americana was a sort of empire; certainly America was for a long time very much first among equals. But it was by historical standards a remarkably benign empire, held together by soft power and respect rather than force. (There are actually some parallels with the ancient Pax Romana, but that’s another story.) 
[T]he modern world trading system was largely the brainchild not of economists or business interests, but of Cordell Hull, F.D.R.’s long-serving secretary of state, who believed that “prosperous trade among nations” was an essential element in building an “enduring peace.” So you want to think of the postwar creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as part of the same strategy that more or less simultaneously gave rise to the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO.
So all the things happening now are of a piece. Committing atrocities at the border, attacking the domestic rule of law, insulting democratic leaders while praising thugs, and breaking up trade agreements are all about ending American exceptionalism, turning our back on the ideals that made us different from other powerful nations.
And rejecting our ideals won’t make us stronger; it will make us weaker. We were the leader of the free world, a moral as well as financial and military force. But we’re throwing all that away. . . . Trump isn’t making America great again; he’s trashing the things that made us great, turning us into just another bully — one whose bullying will be far less effective than he imagines.

Pope Francis: Same-Sex Families Deserve No Recognition

Since his rise to the throne of St. Peter I have founding it beyond annoying to see Catholic gays who cannot let go of their internalized homophobia and walk away from Catholicism gush and swoon over Pope Francis.  Indeed, these individuals cling to unofficial comments made by Francis to try to convince themselves that Francis might be less extreme than his two predecessors.  In the process, of course, they strive to ignore the reality that Francis has done NOTHING to change official Catholic Church dogma that condemns every LGBT individual.  Now, perhaps statements made by Pope Francis at an event for Catholic families in Italy will wake these individuals and Francis apologists to the reality that the Church is incapable of change - at least absent massive defections of members and plummeting parishioner collection revenues.  What did Francis say?  That same sex headed families  - and by extension, their children - deserve no recognition.  Only heterosexual headed families and their children merit recognition and support.  Metro Weekly looks at Francis' revelation of his true deep seated animus towards LGBT individuals and their families. Here are excerpts:
Pope Francis has condemned same-sex families, saying they do not deserve to be recognized in the Catholic Church.
Francis made the comments at an event for Catholic families in Italy, saying that opposite-sex parent families are the only partnerships that should be recognized by the church.
“It is painful to say this today: People speak of varied families, of various kinds of family [but] the family [as] man and woman in the image of God is the only one,” he said, according to ANSA News Agency, who published the remarks on Saturday.
Francis apparently also said that abortion should be considered the modern-day Holocaust.  “In the last century, the entire world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to ensure the purity of the race,” he said. “Today we do the same, but with white gloves.”
The Pope even praised spouses who stay with partners that are unfaithful, saying that it’s more holy to wait for them to stop cheating rather than seek a divorce. “Many women — but even men sometimes do it — wait in silence, looking the other way, waiting for their husband to become faithful again,” he said, adding that it was “the sanctity that forgives all out of love.”
[L]ast month, the Pope warned Italian Bishops to monitor for any gay applicants trying to join the priesthood and to not allow them into the church.
And in 2015, he said that conservative Christians should be allowed to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if doing so violates their personal religious beliefs. That same year, he said that the institution of marriage was threatened by redefining sexuality.
Remember this: Francis could change this within a matter of minutes if he chose to issue a reversal of the Church's poisonous doctrine while speaking "ex cathedra."  He chooses not to and, thus, if one is gay and unfortunate enough to have been born into a Catholic family, there truly is only one solution: walk away and convince as many family members and friends as possible to walk away with you.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Deliberate Cruelty of Trump’s Child-Migrant Camps

The Globe and Mail is Canada's most widely read newspaper and it is now carrying editorials that condemn the horrors being done to undocumented immigrant families by the Trump/Pence regime which is lying desperately to blame the policy on Democrats even though the policy originated with Trump, Pence and the always evil Jeff Sessions.  Similar anti-American, anti-Trump sentiments are being published by legitimate news outlets around the civilized world. While many Americans (I would hope a majority) are horrified by the Trump/Pence policy, the Trump base is applauding the horrors.  Trump supporter Tony Perkins - a man with documented white supremacist ties and currently the president of Family Research Council, a certified hate group - is but one example of Trump's racist cheerleaders.  As noted in previous posts, silence and inaction is not an option if one wants to avoid complicity in deliberate cruelty.  Some like former First Lady Laura Bush spoke out in an op-ed in the Washington Post condemning the Trump/Pence regime cruelty.  Here are some excerpts:
I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; . . . . it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.
Imagine how America's image in the world is being devastated.  I dread the questions the husband and I will face when traveling in France and the United Kingdom in the fall.   A piece in the Globe and Mail gives us an idea of what other civilized nations are hearing and thinking.  Here are highlights:

Under the direction of Donald Trump and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, the U.S. government has snatched roughly 2,000 children of asylum seekers from their parents – including an infant girl who was taken from her wailing mother while breastfeeding – and put them in detention camps. They are there for the crime of existing, as migrant children fleeing foreign violence and oppression, in Mr. Trump’s United States.
We’re told by Mr. Trump’s backers to feel good about the conditions of the camp – to cheer that migrants have TV and snacks and video games instead of mothers or fathers or siblings.
The older children scream for their parents, while the babies simply scream. The littlest ones cannot even tell us who they are. They don’t yet have words. And so we try, in the United States, to find the words for them. To find the words to describe this level of evil, which was both preventable and proclaimed.
This is the platform Mr. Trump ran on, after all: a platform of xenophobia and corruption. This is the culmination of the dictatorial ambitions and dehumanization of immigrants that smug journalists and officials told people to take seriously – but not literally. For Latino immigrants, demonized from the very day Mr. Trump launched his campaign, it was always literally.
The last 17 months have been a test of how far the administration could push the boundaries of morality and law before an atrocity was mainstreamed. . . . The sickness is not just caused by Mr. Trump; it also stems from a collective failure of the most powerful, whether elected or not, to call a lie a lie, to label abuse as abuse. Those tasked to check atrocities instead chose to enable them.
“This is not America,” Republican politicians like to say about the imprisoned children, “this is not who we are.” These statements ignore U.S. history – this was the United States for Indigenous children torn from their parents and sent to boarding schools, for African children sold into slavery, for Japanese families held in internment camps. One answer to “it can’t happen here” is “it already happened here” – children have been imprisoned in the United States, albeit selectively, through autocratic policies imposed over centuries by powerful white men upon the non-white and vulnerable.
Another answer to “it can’t happen here” is, of course, “make it stop happening” – an option the GOP can choose to enact, by holding Mr. Trump and officials, who have flagrantly broken the law, accountable for their crimes and striking down their policies. They refuse to do so.
In 2003, journalist Anna Politkovskaya described the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s rapidly changing Russia, its toxic mix of brutality and lies. . . . . A hit was ordered on Ms. Politkovskaya and she was killed in 2006 for speaking out. Her words stopped but the sentiment lingers.
Today, we live under an aspiring autocrat who locks up babies who literally cannot speak for themselves. We are confronted with an assault against children so horrifying it is hard to find the words to describe it. But whatever our feelings, they are nothing compared to what migrant children and parents must be going through. Use your words and fight – for families to be reunited, for their rights and for their freedom, for this nation’s blighted soul.
America - if it ever had one given some of its horrific history - is losing its soul.  While Trump and his white supremacist/Christofascist base revel in the cruelty being unleashed, the rest of us must demand these evils cease.  We also need to get out and vote en mass come November and vote Republicans at EVERY level out.  Let's change Congress so that it can stop and/or remove Trump.  Better yet, send Trump to prison (and not a VIP one) for the rest of is life. 

More Monday Male Beauty

Why Classical Liberals Are Making a Comeback

With the rise of Donald Trump and Trumpism - a mix of racism, religious extremism, and anti-free trade sentiments - and the hijacking of the Republican Party by what Hillary Clinton correctly described as "deplorables," many conservatives have found themselves politically and intellectually homeless.  To remain in the GOP requires one embrace a KKK mentality and seek a lobotomy. As a result, thinking conservatives are seeking a new intellectual home.  As a piece in Politico notes, some are embracing "classical liberalism" as a new home.  While "liberal" compared to Trumpism, classical liberalism differs from the "liberals" attacked by the knuckle draggers of the Trump base.  Here are highlights from Politico on the phenomenon:
The “classical liberal” label has until now mostly been the domain of libertarian types and conservatives on the never-Trump end of the spectrum, such as Bill Kristol and much of the National Review staff, who are eager to root themselves in a tradition that connects the Founding Fathers to conservative philosophical icon Edmund Burke. Its recent surge in popularity, however, has come from twin phenomena—those conservatives’ intensifying desire to distance themselves from a Trump-ified Republican Party, and the term’s discovery by that new clique of anti-PC voices placing themselves in opposition to the supposedly illiberal campus left.
To those not immersed in the wonky lexicon of the intellectual right, it may have sounded like a contradiction at best, heresy at worst. Don’t “liberals” drive hybrid cars, listen to Ed Sheeran, and nosh on organic arugula and locally sourced tofu?
The tradition of the use of the term “classical liberal” within conservative circles dates back to (and is largely because of) the movement’s youth. The movement conservatism that still flickers at the heart of the Trump-era Republican Party was born just within the last 70 years, roughly, whereas the tradition of liberalism as understood by most of the world outside America, and as embraced by these conservatives—unfettered free markets, the rule of law, civil liberties (with qualifications, frequently)—is defined by the work of 17th and 18th century heavyweights such as Thomas Hobbes and Adam Smith.

Adam Smith published “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776, a portentous year in more ways than the obvious. The Scot’s book, which formed the basis of the free-market capitalist system as we understand it today, also featured the most prominent use to its date of the newly coined modifier “liberal.” “Liberal” policies, in Smith’s conception and that of his contemporaneous predecessors, stemmed from the Enlightenment concept of “liberty”—"Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way,” as he wrote in “The Wealth of Nations.” The idea caught on. The debate, however, over to whom that liberty is extended or denied, and under what circumstances, was no less robust at the idea’s inception than it is today. They embrace the label, then, as a sort of “gotcha” to their critics, emblematic proof that they are the true defenders of intellectual freedom. It also serves as a useful differential from the popular conception of conservatism—while right-leaning in many ways, these newcomers to classical liberalism’s big tent are ill at ease with a movement that ostensibly includes the Mike Pences and Mike Huckabees of the world. [A] classical liberal can, or should, be spendthrift, hawkish on the social safety net, and willing to defend to the death the right to voice an unpopular opinion, whether they agree with it or not. . . . “The point of liberty, however, is not to offend the sensibilities of majorities, but to defend the right of people to live as they choose so long as they do not infringe on the equal rights of others. Classical liberals believe in liberty for all, not just for themselves.” “I’m hopeful that… if people want to call themselves classical liberals, and actually subscribe to real classical liberal ideological views, I hope they win the fight the way the neocons did, and pull the Republican Party back toward its modern tradition of limited government, free market, free speech,” Goldberg said. “If I had to pick a team, I would pick that team.” . . . In an era where those still faithful to old-fashioned, Goldwater-style movement conservatism have been relegated to the sidelines by Trump’s cannibalization of their party, that team may someday be their only option.

Personally, I deem the Republican Party past saving.  But perhaps a new party can emerge from its ashes.