Friday, January 17, 2020

More Friday Male Beauty

Trump Unveils More Anti-LGBTQ 'License to Discriminate' Plans

The Trump/Pence regime is continuing its attacks on the LGBT community and moving to grant a license to discriminate to religious - mostly conservative "Christian" - organizations that receive taxpayer funded support.  The goal is to (i) solidify evangelical support in advance of the 2020 presidential election, and (ii) prop up religious organizations that cannot survive financially without government funding, their respective denominations no longer being able to support their operations.  The Trump/Pence rule making is targeted to allow discrimination against not only LGBT individuals, but also those of other religions or no religion.  Stated another way, it is an effort to have a stated supported religion - conservative Christianity - in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  A piece in The Advocate looks at this very dangerous and discriminatory agenda.  Here are excerpts:

Donald Trump’s administration has made yet another move to enable discrimination, including anti-LGBTQ discrimination, in the name of “religious freedom.”
On Thursday, National Religious Freedom Day, Trump announced his administration is issuing nine proposed rules that govern how faith-based nonprofits with government contracts interact with their clients, reversing regulations put in place under President Barack Obama.
Under the Obama-era regulations, these contractors “need to give beneficiaries notice of the providers’ religious character and the right to get services elsewhere,” The Washington Post reports. “The providers also have to make reasonable efforts to refer beneficiaries to another provider if the person receiving services is uncomfortable.” The Trump administration says these rules are unfair to faith-based providers because they don’t apply to secular organizations.
The newly proposed rules, which are subject to public comment before becoming final, would apply to organizations that provide a wide range of services through contracts with the departments of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Labor, Agriculture, Education, Justice, Homeland Security, and International Development. Services offered by these contractors include substance abuse treatment, adoption and foster care placements, refugee resettlement, and much more.
[W]e are talking about government grants to the tune of millions and millions of dollars,” she explained. “And increasingly, they are excluding members of the public from receiving services based on who they are.”
The rules would indeed enable faith-based contractors to turn away people who are LGBTQ or follow a different religion, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “We will keep saying this as long as we have to: Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but it does not confer a license to discriminate,” said Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, in a press release. “Government-funded programs, including those operated by faith-based organizations, should not be able to discriminate against vulnerable people seeking help.
“The right to believe and to exercise one’s faith is a core American value. The right to discriminate with taxpayer dollars is not. These regulations would dismantle meaningful protections for beneficiaries of these federally funded programs and strip away basic notice requirements designed to ensure that beneficiaries know their rights to be free from discrimination and their right to an alternative, nonreligious provider. Taxpayer funds should not be used to allow discrimination.”
Today’s announcement comes on top of many other efforts by the Trump administration to establish a right to discriminate in the name of religion. In November, for National Adoption Month, HHS announced a new rule that would allow adoption agencies and other programs that receive HHS grants to reject same-sex couples and rainbow families on the basis of religious freedom. Other programs that stand to be affected include elder services, Head Start, refugee resettlement, HIV services, and programs for runaway and homeless youth.
The administration has finalized a so-called conscience protection rule allowing health care providers to opt out of procedures that offend their religious beliefs, but court challenges have kept the rule from going into effect. It also wants to eliminate provisions of the Affordable Care Act that ban anti-transgender discrimination and even allow homeless shelters to discriminate against trans clients.

Anyone who is not an evangelical "Christian" extremist should be very, very worried.  Yes, I have the word Christian in quotation marks because, in my view, the members of Trump's base are Christian in name only.  Look at Christ's social gospel message, and these people are the antithesis to that message.  Indeed, the make the Biblical Pharisees seem like good, upstanding people.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

America is Failing at Child Care

It has been a long time since most American families could afford to have one spouse work and the other be the full time child care provider. Now, both spouses must work full time simply in order to make ends meet financially.  The losers in this are the vast majority of America's children, those not born to wealth who find themselves shuffled from various child care scenarios as their parents work. And this doesn't even factor in America's abysmal record on maternity leave compared to every other advanced nation - and even some not considered advanced. Why does America spend relatively lavishly on senior citizens yet begrudge spending on children.  Sadly, part of the reason is racial - a false perception that "those people" receive childcare benefits whereas "real Americans" (meaning whites) do not. Republican propaganda has fueled this lie for decades.  This belief is a fallacy, of course, as countless white working mothers struggle to work and provide child care for their children.  With two working daughters I see it daily in their juggling act.  A column in the New York Times looks at America's failed treatment of children which is literally harming the nation's future.   Here are highlights:
The other day a correspondent asked me a good question: What important issue aren’t we talking about? My answer, after some reflection, is the state of America’s children.
But policy toward children has attracted far less media attention than the debate over “Medicare for all,” which won’t become reality anytime soon — let alone the so-called Warren-Sanders “spat.” And my guess is that even well-informed voters have little sense of the grim exceptionalism of America’s child-oriented policies, which are Dickensian compared with those of every other advanced country.
A few numbers may be in order here.
Every advanced country mandates some form of paid leave for new mothers, typically three or four months — every country, that is, except America, which offers no maternity leave at all.
Most advanced countries devote substantial sums to benefits for families with children; in Europe these benefits average between 2 and 3 percent of G.D.P. The corresponding number for the United States is 0.6 percent of G.D.P.
Even where the United States does help children, the quality of that help tends to be poor. There have been many comparisons between French and American school lunches: French schoolchildren are taught to eat healthy meals; American children are basically treated as a disposal site for farm surpluses.
What’s especially striking is the contrast between the way we treat our children and the way we treat our senior citizens. Social Security isn’t all that generous — there’s a good case for expanding it — but it doesn’t compare too badly with other countries’ retirement systems. Medicare actually spends lavishly compared with single-payer systems elsewhere.
So America’s refusal to help children isn’t part of a broad opposition to government programs; we single out children for especially harsh treatment. Why?
The answer, I’d suggest, goes beyond the fact that children can’t vote, while seniors can and do. There has also been a poisonous interaction between racial antagonism and bad social analysis.
These days, political support for programs that aid children is surely hurt by the fact that less than half the population under 15 is non-Hispanic white. But even before immigration transformed America’s ethnic landscape, there was a widespread perception that programs like Aid to Families With Dependent Children basically helped Those People — you know, the bums on welfare, the welfare queens driving Cadillacs.
This perception undermined support for spending on children. And it went along with a widespread belief that aid to poor families was creating a culture of dependency, which in turn was the culprit behind social collapse in America’s inner cities.
The result was a decline in assistance for the poor children who needed it most.
At this point, however, we know that cultural explanations of social collapse were all wrong. The sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that social dysfunction in big cities was caused, not by culture, but by the disappearance of good jobs. And he has been vindicated by what happened to much of the American heartland, which suffered a similar disappearance of good jobs and a similar surge in social dysfunction.
[W]e’ve established a basically vicious system under which children can’t get the help they need unless their parents find jobs that don’t exist. And a growing body of evidence says that this system is destructive as well as cruel.
Multiple studies have found that safety-net programs for children have big long-term consequences. Children who receive adequate nutrition and health care grow up to become healthier, more productive adults. And in addition to the humanitarian side of these benefits, there’s a monetary payoff: Healthier adults are less likely to need public aid and are likely to pay more in taxes.
It’s probably too much to claim that helping children pays for itself. But it surely comes a lot closer to doing so than tax cuts for the rich.
So we should be talking a lot more about helping America’s children. Why aren’t we?
At least part of the blame rests with Bernie Sanders, who made Medicare for All both a progressive purity test and a bright shiny object chased by the news media at the expense of other policies that could greatly improve American lives, and are far more likely to become law. But it’s not too late to refocus.
Whoever becomes the Democratic nominee, I hope he or she will give our nation’s shameful treatment of children the attention it deserves.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty

Court Rejects Gun-Rights Fringe Effort to Thwart Gun Ban

While overshadowed by the likely kangaroo court in the U.S. Senate on the impeachment of Donald Trump, Virginians are arguably witnessing precisely why common sense gun control laws are needed in the Commonwealth of Virginia after 26 years of Republicans pandering to every conceivable gun fanatic including allowing so-called "open carry" of weapons of war. Faced with probably cause to anticipate neo-Nazis and white supremacists and other out of state groups descending on Richmond - some hoping to spark a race war - the Governor of Virginia banned all guns from the Virginia Capitol grounds (Indeed, the FBI arrested some scary types - one with experience in explosives - who were headed to Richmond). Rather than put public safety first as the Governor had done, extreme gun rights groups - the misnamed Virginia Citizens Defense League and Guns for America, Inc. - filed a lawsuit today seeking to have the Governor's ban set aside.  Thankfully, the court rejected the extremists bid and upheld the Governor's gun ban.  All of this shows the lack of sane thinking on the part of the gun fetish crowd.  As one friend noted:
"arguing that a well armed society is a polite society while literally threatening death and violence isn’t very productive...maybe just the opposite. No doubt any associated legislation [before the legislature] will trigger (I’m so sorry) court cases...which is the appropriate path of challenging laws in our system of checks and balances."

Frankly, the more I see of the gun crowd, the tighter I want the gun control laws to be.  These people are dangerous and put their wants and whims - and need to bolster their inadequate manhood - ahead of the general public.   A piece in the Virginian Pilot looks at the Court's rejection of the gun extremists lawsuit. Here are article excerpts (read the whole article and note how Republicans' sole concern was kissing the asses of gun extremists):
A Richmond judge rejected a bid by gun-rights groups and residents Thursday to block Gov. Ralph Northam’s temporary ban on guns in Capitol Square.
The temporary injunction request, filed in Richmond Circuit Court, says Northam doesn’t have the authority to issue such a ban, and the ban violates Second Amendment rights and possibly the First Amendment.
[A]fter a hearing, Judge Joi Taylor denied the request, saying the governor has the authority to issue such an order under a state emergency services law and that the court should show deference to the executive on the issue.
Taylor wrote that the governor has the authority to enact the ban because he oversees the Department of General Services, an executive branch agency that controls Capitol Square. She cited a state code section that said he also had the authority to take "action from time to time” during emergencies to ensure safety.
On Wednesday, Northam announced the ban and state of emergency — which goes into effect Friday and ends Tuesday — saying intelligence officials had heard credible threats of violence expected Monday, when the Virginia Citizens Defense League holds its annual lobby day and rally to protect gun rights.
Those who filed the injunction request — Gun Owners of America, the Virginia Citizens Defense League and three Fairfax residents who are concealed carry permit holders and say the ban would violate their rights — can appeal the judge’s ruling, but Friday and Monday are state holidays, and courts will be closed. David Browne, the lawyer arguing for the injunction an hour after it was filed Thursday, said carrying a gun was a form of speech, and that people had a “right to peacefully assemble in the manner they see fit.” Toby Heytens, the state’s solicitor general, pointed to the credible threats of violence Northam said police received, and said the temporary ban was a way to prevent another event like Charlottesville, where in 2017 violence erupted from hate groups and a woman was killed.
He cited a New York Times article published Thursday that reported FBI officials arrested three suspected members of a neo-Nazi hate group amid allegations they planned to travel to the rally Monday.
Heytens argued the ban didn’t prevent anyone from assembling, speaking or petitioning their government, and argued simply carrying a gun isn’t considered free speech. While the hearing was going on Thursday, the Senate narrowly passed three of Northam’s proposed gun control measures: universal background checks on gun sales, allowing localities to regulate firearms in government buildings and parks, and limiting handgun sales to one a month.

It's time for sane Virginians to tell their legislators that they want sane and strict gun control laws. No more arming dangerous elements and putting the lives of the majority at risk. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Afghan War Plagued by "Mendacity" and "Lies"

With the Trump/Pence regimes relying on lies to try to take America to war with Iran, it is perhaps timely that the truth about the Afghan War is finally coming out and that truth is ugly: Americans have been repeatedly and deliberately lied to both senior members of the military and by politicians. Meanwhile, Americans died and were grievously wounded, some bearing the physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives.  Afghanistan has been called the "graveyard of empires" and with good reason to anyone with a knowledge of history.  It turns out that America, despite its hubris and misguided (and false) sense of exceptionalism has done no better that would be conquerors of the past. Belatedly recognizing this will not bring back the dead, heal the forever wounded or restore the squanders taxpayer dollars. It should, however, educate the American public to refuse to be played for fools again by the military and/or hawkish politicians.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the trail of lies and wasted taxpayer money.  The takeaway, in my view, is that if Afghanistan was unwinnable, Iran would be an even larger disaster.  Here are excerpts:
The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction told Congress Wednesday that U.S. officials have routinely lied to the public during the 18-year war by exaggerating progress reports and inflating statistics to create a false appearance of success.
“There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue . . . mendacity and hubris,” John F. Sopko said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.”
As an example, Sopko said U.S. officials have lied in the past about the number of Afghan children enrolled in schools — a key marker of progress touted by the Obama administration — even though they “knew the data was bad.” He also said U.S. officials falsely claimed major gains in Afghan life expectancy that were statistically impossible to achieve.
In addition, Sopko criticized the Trump administration for classifying information that shows the war is going badly, including data on Afghan troop casualties and assessments of the Taliban’s strength. . . . . “It turns out that everything that is bad news has been classified for the last few years.”
Since 2001, the United States has spent more than $132 billion to modernize the country — more than it spent, adjusted for inflation, to rebuild Europe after World War II.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee summoned Sopko to testify in response to a series of articles published last month in The Washington Post that revealed how senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the conflict had become unwinnable.
The inspector general had drawn on the interviews to publish seven reports — called “Lessons Learned” — about policy failures in Afghanistan. But the reports left out the harshest and most frank criticisms and omitted the names of more than 90 percent of the people who were interviewed for the project.
The Post obtained about 2,000 pages of unpublished notes and transcripts from the interviews under the Freedom of Information Act, but had to sue SIGAR in federal court — twice — to force it to release the records.
Several lawmakers said they were shocked by revelations in The Afghanistan Papers, including blunt admissions from generals, ambassadors and White House officials that they didn’t know what they were doing in Afghanistan and that the war strategy was fundamentally flawed.
Sopko defended his agency’s attempts to withhold the documents, saying he had an obligation to protect the identities of people who criticized the war and wanted to remain anonymous.
“These people who spoke to us risked a lot,” he said. “You know what this town is like, you know what it’s like if somebody bad-mouths their old boss or ­whatever.”

Everyone seeking to cover their own asses and keeping their own jobs while Americans needlessly died and billions of dollars might just have well been set on fire and burned.   We must not be tricked by lies again when it comes to the Middle East.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty

Virginia Becomes the 38th State to Pass the Equal Rights Amendment

On a more positive note than the threat of gun extremist violence, Virginia is in the news for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment - yet another measure Republicans had blocked for many years. With Virginia's passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, the 3/4 of the states requirement has been met and the issue now becomes whether or not Congress' 10 year period for state ratification is binding.   Article V of the U.S. Constitution itself imposes no ratification deadline: 
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Expect litigation to be filed by progressive states to push for final adoption of this Amendment which would provide women much enhanced protections - much to the consternation of Republicans, male chauvinists, and  right wing Christian extremists who want women forever subordinate to men.   A piece in Mother Jones looks at Virginia's historic action:
Since Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, the proposal to enshrine gender equality in the Constitution has languished in state legislatures, failing to rack up the approvals in the three-quarters of states required of Constitutional amendments—until now. On Wednesday, Virginia became the 38th state to pass a resolution to ratify the ERA in its newly elected Democratic state legislature. 
The significance of the ERA lies in its power to strengthen existing anti-discrimination laws—on issues like pay equity, sexual violence, and pregnancy discrimination—by giving them the weight of a constitutional amendment that cannot easily be repealed, amended, or weakened in the courts, its proponents argue. 
The deadline for 38 states to ratify the amendment passed in 1982, and in the intervening years, five states have rescinded their earlier approvals. These complications mean that the ERA still faces significant hurdles before it could be added to the Constitution, including potential years of legal battles. [T]he old battles over the ERA have been revived in recent years as women’s groups have strategized to reenergize the older movement. Their efforts have been fruitful: In 2017, Nevada voted to ratify the amendment. In 2018, Illinois followed suit. Both were part of a modern “three-state strategy” to move the amendment forward.
Because it would have changed the Constitution, the proposal went to the states for ratification after Congress approved it. States had 10 years to pass the amendment, but conservatives and anti-feminist activists, led by the late activist Phyllis Schlafly—who claimed, among other things, that women would lose financial support from their husbands if the ERA was passed—fought fiercely against it. By the time the 1982 deadline rolled around, only 35 states had ratified—three short. The amendment was dead.
But the ERA’s demise never deterred women’s groups from trying to restart the conversation. At least 10 state legislatures, backed by the ERA Coalition (which counts Steinem as a board member) and smaller state groups like the Virginia-based Women Matter, have introduced bills to ratify the ERA in the years since it was first approved. They’ve focused on the so-called “three-state strategy”: if they can get three more states to pass the amendment, they’re hoping Congress will recognize the ratifications that occurred after 1982 as valid and let it pass.
Now, it may now be up to Congress to recognize the late ratifications and push the amendment process forward, according to Julie Suk, a professor at the City University of New York who is writing a book about the ERA.
“I think there’s a very strong political and moral argument,” Suk says. “It’s taken a generation 100 years to get the ERA because there are obvious challenges to getting equal rights when you don’t have equal rights. If Congress were to say ‘follow the rules, sorry you were late,’ I think they would be rejecting 100 years of effort by women.”

Sadly, with today's GOP, moral arguments mean nothing.  Thus, court battles may be what ultimately push the ERA over the finish line.