Saturday, December 27, 2014

Did the GOP Actually Learn From Kansas' Disastrous Tax Cuts?

Outside of the GOP, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback - who came close to losing his reelection bid - is a far right nut case.  But seemingly, even some in the GOP have learned a lesson from Kansas' extreme tax cuts which down graded the state's credit rating and left no money for many essential services and state functions.   How long the lesson will be remembered will remain to be seen.  A piece in Politico looks at the GOP reaction to the "Brownback effect."  Here are highlights:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich will roll out “responsible” tax plans that protect against revenue gaps. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Arizona’s new Republican governor are delaying big dreams of nixing the income tax as they face budget shortfalls. And Missouri Republicans, once jealous of their neighbor Kansas’ massive cuts, are thankful they trimmed less.

Call it the Brownback effect.

Republicans once idolized Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as a tax cutting superstar — now he’s a lesson in what not to do.

“It’s a cautionary tale on a national scale … Many of us felt that [Kansas] had been too aggressive,” said Indiana Senate Majority Leader and tax committee chairman Brandt Hershman, who helped GOP Gov. Mike Pence cut corporate taxes last spring. “We all like low taxes … but we have to ensure the stability of a revenue stream to provide basic services that our citizens expect.”
It’s a major turnaround from two years ago, when Brownback was considered a Republican trailblazer for conservatives around the nation who dreamed of phasing out their state income tax.

Now, Republicans are rethinking how aggressive they can be on taxes in light of the projected $279 million revenue gap that’s plaguing Kansas this year — shortfalls that resulted in the state’s credit rating being downgraded and nearly booted the Republican from office in a state that bleeds red.

Although income taxes composed almost half of Kansas’ general fund, Brownback said the cuts would grow the economy and attract new business, so that revenue would spring back quickly, essentially paying for the cuts. He had Reagan-era tax guru Arthur Laffer at his back supporting him.
But his plan didn’t pan out. Revenues are way down, and job growth remains below the national average. His own budget director says they may have to stop some of the tax cuts from going into effect, according to a New York Times interview.

Republicans say they learned another lesson from Brownback: Don’t over promise that tax cuts are going to spur job and revenue growth right away — be realistic.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

New York City 2014 - Day Two

We have truly lucked out weather wise on this trip.  Yesterday was sunny and beautiful and today is headed in the same direction.  After a lazy morning - not have dogs that want to go out at 6:00AM makes a difference - we headed up to the Theater District and bought tickets to Phantom of the Opera.  I have never seen the stage version and we will be going to a matinee today.  That was followed by lunch at Roxy's Deli and then more window shopping and visits to our favorite vintage clothing shops just to the north of the West Village.

For dinner before seeing Beautiful we went to Chez Josephine which is owned by the son of the legendary Josephine Baker who took Paris by storm in the 1920's as a dancer, singer, and actress, and who came to be known in various circles as the "Black Pearl," "Bronze Venus" and even the "Creole Goddess".  The restaurant is elegant and a virtual museum to Baker.  The food was wonderful and we treated ourselves to champagne and French 75's - a drink originating in Paris in 1915 which was said (quite accurately) to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field guns of WWI.  The image at top is of the door to the men's room and another scene is below.

Beautiful was wonderful - especially for those of us who grew up with Carole King's music - and our seats compliments of the husband's clients could not have been better.  As a crazy coincidence, during intermission, I ran into a friend from Virginia Beach who was at the show as part of his amazing wife's birthday weekend. 

After Beautiful, we opted not to go to a dance club on West 42nd Street and instead ended up at the Monster Bar (less than a block from the apartment) where we used a bit more discretion on the cocktails than had been the case the evening before. 

One thing is certain - the city is thronged with tourists and, as usual, beautiful men are seemingly everywhere.  It will be a harsh reality to return to Hampton Roads which seems at times so distant from the cultural and social universe that is New York City. 

Non-Traditional Families Are The New Normal

Despite the strenuous efforts of the far right in the GOP and the Christofascists to return America to the 1950's - a time that may have been the "good old days" for some in society but an ugly time for many others - a new study shows that the "traditional family" of a mother, father and children locked in a nuclear family no matter how dysfunctional that so worshiped by these folks is no longer the norm.  Indeed, the non-traditional has become the norm for the majority of families.  Whether this is a good thing or not lies in the eye of the beholder, but either way, society and social programs needs to recognize and adjust to the new reality.  Here are some highlights from Slate:

A new study by the Pew Research Center shows that the majority of American kids under 18 are not being raised in a “traditional” family, defined as two parents in their first marriage. Only 46 percent of kids have the Leave It To Beaver lifestyle; the rest are being raised by single parents, cohabitating parents, stepparents, or even grandparents. That's down from 73 percent in 1960.

Defining the nuclear family as “traditional” is somewhat misleading, as report author Gretchen Livingston told Jessica Goldstein of ThinkProgress. “In a lot of ways the 1950s and 1960s were an anomaly in family structure; the birth rate was uncommonly high, people married young,” she explained. “So even though people think of that as the traditional image of the family … it was actually [an] anomaly.”

The takeaway is that the image of a “traditional” family is a figment. Family life is always changing in response to economic and social change. 

These are the sorts of numbers that tend to get conservative hands a-wringing over the supposed problem of “out-of-wedlock” births, which have been rising alongside the number of kids being raised outside of nuclear families. As the report notes, “the share of children born outside of marriage now stands at 41%, up from just 5% in 1960.” But if you dig into the numbers a little, it becomes clear that the supposed scourge of bastardy isn't the primary reason for this shift. Only 34 percent of kids are being raised by single parents, many of whom were once married but are now divorced.

Not that these realities will quell conservative lectures about the near-magical properties of giving birth with a wedding ring on your finger. Younger women who give birth while single tend to be less powerful and less Republican than divorced people are, making them an easier scapegoat. But for the rest of us, this research is a bit of cheer before the holiday. If your family has a second Christmas at Dad's house, or you’re fretting about the etiquette of stepparent gifts, or you live in a family where “Santa” is not mom but grandma, don't despair. You're not weird, as it turns out. In fact, you're the new normal.
 Yes, the far right will rant and rave that society is going to Hell.  What's really gone to Hell is the ability of white Christians - especially fundamentalists and evangelicals - to dictate to others what is "acceptable."   But don't expect their whining to end any time soon.  There's way too much money to be made by the professional Christian class by making money begs to help them battles the evils of society.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Columbia Journalism School to Scrutinize Rolling Stone Rape Article

The November Rolling Stone article painting the University of Virginia as a campus plagued by a rape culture has become synonymous with bad and biased journalism.  After issuing apologies and damage control statements, Rolling Stone now finds itself subject to further scrutiny as the Columia School of Journalism is, at Rolling Stone's request, going to scrutinize the story and how such an irresponsible article ever was published.  Here are highlights from the New York Times on this development:

Rolling Stone magazine said Monday that it had asked the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to conduct a review of a widely disputed article about a gang rape at the University of Virginia.

In an editor’s note that will appear in the magazine’s next issue, Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s editor and publisher, said that the review would be led by Steve Coll, the journalism school’s dean, and Sheila Coronel, the dean of academic affairs, and that it would evaluate “the editorial process that led to the publication of the story.” The report will be published unedited and in its entirety on Rolling Stone’s website, and excerpts will appear in the magazine.

The review may do little to quell the debate that has erupted over the story. The 9,000-word article, published last month, detailed the experience of a student identified only as Jackie, who described being raped by seven men at a fraternity party. The explosive account led the university to suspend the fraternity’s operations and helped drive a discussion about the failure to address sexual violence on college campuses.

But two weeks after the story was published, the narrative started to crumble. The magazine acknowledged that the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, had relied almost entirely on Jackie’s account and never contacted the accused rapists. Other key details have been debunked or questioned by The Washington Post and other news media organizations.

In the wake of those revelations, the magazine has acknowledged that its editorial process was flawed and that it, too, had doubts about the veracity of the account. Critics have written that Rolling Stone’s editors acted irresponsibly, and women’s rights advocates have said the controversy will discourage rape victims from coming forward.

Besides UVA, the losers in this sad affair are true rape victims who may be afraid to come forward or not be taken seriously.  

New York City 2014 - Day One

Yesterday turned out to be a wonderful Christmas Day.  After viewing the beautiful store displays on 5th Avenue - a window at Saks and the Harry Winston store are shown above - we stopped at the Old King Cole Bar of the St. Regis Hotel where we had cocktails and a light lunch.  The bar has a wonderful, elegant atmosphere and is where the Bloody Mary cocktail originated.  The bar is dominated by a huge painting done by Maxwell Parrish after he and John Jacob Astor made a bet while playing cards:  Astor challenged Parrish to "paint a fart."  The wager was $10,000 in turn of the 20th century dollars.  Parrish won the bet and Astor paid up.  

The facial expressions of King Cole's subjects are humorous to say the least.

Dinner at my brother's home was amazing and my niece out did herself cooking.  We stuffed ourselves and drank way too much wine.  We ended the evening with a night cap at The Monster Bar located just up the block from our apartment.  We will be off hitting some favor stores today and enjoying a gorgeous sunny day in the City.  We see "Beautiful" tonight.

Religious Based Bigotry Causes Real Harm

Some readers think I am too hard on the Christofascists and too dismissive of their "deeply held" religious beliefs.  I would argue that I am in no way too hard on these people - people who cling to what is little more than myth and superstition and who, in the process inflict very real harm on others through the discrimination and bigotry they help keep alive.  In contrast, my criticism merely points (i) the errors and falsity of the Bible and (ii) the hypocrisy that is synonymous with conservative Christians.  As for the harm done to others, a piece in Youth Health looks at the health and mental health harm done to LGBT teens because of bullying, social stigma and discrimination they face.  Here are some highlights:

It revealed that nearly half of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) teenagers had considered killing themselves or suicide in the past 12 months. This rate is alarming because it is four times higher than among heterosexual or straight students.

LGB students were twice as likely as heterosexual respondents to be bullied in school and in the community in the last 12 months or one year.

"It's important to note the health challenges experienced by Colorado's LBG youth are not due directly to their sexual orientation or gender identity, but rather the bullying, societal stigma and unfair barriers they face each and every day."

Hence, LGB students need counselling and someone to talk to in school or in their homes for them to feel safe. The most surprising finding for Nickels had something to do with bullying. "It turns out that 6% of heterosexual students reported they'd been bullied by people who thought they were gay, reminding us this affects all kids and this pattern of behavior makes people feel unsafe."

And these figures only cover LGBT teens.  Add data on homeless LGBT youth and the job and housing discrimination that LGBT adults face all too often and the amount of harm mushrooms.  Real lives harmed or in some case ruined - all so that Christofascists can feel smugly superior and continue their embrace  of ignorance.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Will GOP "Law and Order" Stance Alienate Voters?

As part of the GOP's "Southern Strategy" launched under Richard Nixon, Republicans have routinely used "law and order" talking points to court racists and white supremacists.  Now, with whites headed toward minority status nationwide and minorities increasingly wise to the GOP's race baiting tactics, some in the GOP are waking up to the reality that close alliances with police organizations and support for horrific miscarriages of justice by a flawed criminal justice system could be a road map to extinction.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the disagreements within the GOP.  Here are excerpts:

Since the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965, generations of Republicans from Richard M. Nixon to the first George Bush deftly capitalized on the anxiety of white voters over crime and urban unrest, winning elections with appeals for law and order and unbending support of the police.

But in recent years, with crime plummeting and the party struggling among minority voters, some Republicans have turned away from the tough talk and embraced efforts to reduce the number of black men in prison and overhaul the criminal justice system.

Now the violence and protests after two grand juries declined to prosecute white police officers who killed black men, as well as the killings of two New York City police officers, have angered some of the party’s most ardent defenders of the police. Republicans find themselves debating how to maintain their traditional embrace of law enforcement while not alienating minority voters or ignoring systemic criminal justice issues.

The divisions have spilled out on television in recent days. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York declared on Fox News that the protests were leading to violence and that “all lead to a conclusion: The police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.”

Representative Peter T. King of New York said his fellow Republicans cannot be timid about criticizing activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who Mr. King said used racially charged terms to portray the killings of African-Americans by the police in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island.
What makes this moment more complex for Republicans, however, is that Mr. Sharpton is not the only one who has criticized police mistreatment of minorities and the broader justice system: Leading Republicans, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, governors and Christian conservatives, have been rethinking issues ranging from the militarization of the police to sentencing guidelines.

The question now is whether the racially tinged unrest, occurring at the outset of a highly competitive presidential nominating contest, will resurrect old resentments and stymie Republican efforts to reach out to African-Americans and grapple with the justice system issues.
After years of instinctively siding with the police — with Ronald Reagan railing against “arson and murder in Watts” in his 1966 campaign for governor and Mr. Bush using Willie Horton’s furlough to defeat Michael S. Dukakis — Republicans are now more divided when it comes to crime and law enforcement. This is in part because of raw politics: The country is increasingly diverse, and the party can no longer win presidential elections without making inroads among minority voters.
But there are also deeper tensions between the Republicans’ traditional tough-on-crime approach and a rising skepticism about government power among conservatives and libertarians in the party.

Conservatives beyond Mr. Paul were disturbed by the military-style tactics and equipment of the Ferguson police during the protests in the weeks after Mr. Brown’s death.

There was also wide outrage on the right when the New York City officer depicted on videotape choking Eric Garner to death on Staten Island was not indicted. Some conservatives, believing that there are too many laws on the books, were particularly incensed that Mr. Garner was targeted as a criminal simply for selling individual cigarettes.

Strong support on the right for the police has continued even after the deaths in Ferguson and on Staten Island: A Gallup poll this month showed that 66 percent of Republicans rated the honesty and ethical standards of the police as “very high” or “high” while only 36 percent of Democrats said the same.

Read the rest of the piece.  The take away?  The GOP will have to decide whether it wants to continue to pander to a shrinking white supremacist/Christofascist base or expand the party's appeal to other voters.

Christmas Male Beauty

Christmas in New York!!

After much delayed travel, the husband and I arrived in New York City where we will spend the holiday weekend.  One of the husband's brothers is staying at our home and dog sitting the two Chihuahuas, so all is safe on the home front.  We are staying at a friend's apartment on Christopher Street in the West Village (he uses it two nights a week and we have the place to ourselves). The location is wonderful and is just down the block from the Stonewall Inn and The Monster Bar.

This afternoon we are having Christmas dinner with my brother and one of my nieces and one of my nephews and possibly some of their friends at my brother's place near 48th and Third Avenue.  On our way over, the husband wants to hit Rockefeller Center and some of the beautifully decorated stores.   Tomorrow evening we are going to "Beautiful" compliments of some of the husband's amazing clients who bought us tickets when they were in the City earlier this month.  Saturday night we will be going to the new restaurant where my niece is a chef which should be great fun too.   The rest of the weekend, we will visit out usual haunts and some wonderful vintage clothing shops on Greenwich Avenue and 14th Street.

As for my children, we had a wonderful Christmas Eve eve dinner with my daughters and their families and did an early gift exchange (the grandson and granddaughter are below).  My son is in Olympia, Washington and hopefully received his FedEx package on time for today. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

German Group Files War Crimes Against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld And Other CIA Officials

After World War II the victorious allies sought to punish the leaders of Germany's Third Reich and Imperial Japan for war crimes.  The trials were justified to ensure that "never again" would torture and atrocities be directed by civil and military leaders.  It's a concept lost on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  Hence why there is more than a little that a German organization has filed documents seeking indictments of Bush and Cheney and some of their henchmen for war crimes.  Addicting Info has details.  Here are highlights:
If President Obama won’t do it, someone else will. Thankfully, a human rights group in Berlin, The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, has begun the process of indicting members of the Bush Administration by filing criminal complaints against the architects of the Admin’s torture program.

Calls for an immediate investigation by the German human rights group was started after outrage ensued on the case of a German citizen, Khalid El-Masri, who had been captured by CIA agents in 2004  because of a mistaken identity mix-up and was tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan.

Wolfgang Kaleck, the general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said:
“By investigating members of the Bush administration, Germany can help to ensure that those responsible for abduction, abuse and illegal detention do not go unpunished.”
In an interview with “Democracy Now,” Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said that he believes Cheney, among others, have no defense for torturous actions and should be indicted:
“I strongly disagree that Bush, Cheney, et al., would have a defense. This wasn’t like these memos just appeared independently from the Justice Department. These memos were facilitated by the very people — Cheney, etc. — who we believe should be indicted. This was part of a conspiracy so they could get away with torture. But that’s not the subject here now.”

“Secondly, whatever we think of those memos, they’re of uselessness in Europe. Europe doesn’t accept this, quote, ‘golden shield’ of a legal defense. Either it’s torture or it’s not. Either you did it or you didn’t. And that’s one of the reasons, among others, why we’re going to Europe and why we went to Europe to bring these cases through the European Center.”
Ratner then hit the nail on the head regarding America’s dangerous exceptionalism path down the road:
“But, of course, you know, Cheney just showed us exactly why you have to — have to prosecute torture. Because if you don’t prosecute it, the next guy down the line is going to torture again. And that’s what Cheney said: ‘I would do it again.'”
Khalid El-Masri was on vacation in Skopje, in Macedonia, when he was pulled off of a bus by government agents, sodomized with a drug, and taken to the secret base that was identified only as Cobalt in the CIA torture report. After four months, and after the United States learned of the mistaken identity, they left him there and continued to torture him. They held him further because the U.S. realized they had been torturing the wrong man. Afterwards, they released him, dropping him off somewhere to resume his life.

Bush, Cheney, et al, need to stand trial.  Plain and simple.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Assessing the GOP Presidential Election Field

With Jeb Bush making noises that he will enter the GOP presidential candidate clown car, it's appropriate to consider the rest of the GOP candidate field which compared to the Republicans that I knew growing up and during my years in the GOP is nothing less than a freak show.  Given the Christofascist and Tea Party (generally a bunch of Christofacists hiding under a different name along with white supremacists), don't expect much sanity in the nominating process.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the GOP field which ought to frighten sane Americans.  Here are highlights:
When it comes to products, sports or politics, matchups matter. There is a premium for quality, but whom you are selling to or competing against often affects outcomes.

That is a useful framework for assessing the 2016 Republican presidential contest at this early stage. If, as all signals suggest, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother and son of presidents, is about to get in, the race quickly intensifies.

To oversimplify, there are two distinct candidate types: the mainstream conservatives and the movement conservatives. There really are no moderates.

Establishment conservatives are the favorites of Wall Street, big business and traditional Republicans. Movement candidates are embraced by the Tea Party, social and cultural conservatives, and the populist right.

Jeb Bush is a conservative; he is also the quintessential establishment Republican.

On the movement side, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is in. And the more Senator Ted Cruz of Texas alienates official Washington, the more popular he is with the grass-roots right. The retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson has surprisingly impressive poll showings and fervent followers. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, once the darling of the social right, is contemplating a last run.  These mays and maybes matter.

“It is not just who rises to the occasion,” said Fred Davis, a leading Republican media strategist. “It’s what is in that mix.” That was evident in 2012. Mr. Romney controlled the center-right; the only competition was former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah, whose candidacy never lived up to his credentials. The right-wing candidates divided votes, enabling Mr. Romney to score well  . . . .

Polls by Bloomberg Politics this fall in New Hampshire and Iowa underscored this point. In both instances, in aggregate, mainstream candidates were almost even with movement conservatives; a winnowed field on either side would matter.

Money, the mother’s milk of American politics, will. On the establishment side, Mr. Bush and Mr. Christie tap some of the same resources, but the New Jersey governor probably has sufficient support from rich Garden State and Wall Street Republicans to run, too. Money is a challenge for other center-right hopefuls.

On the movement side, the Paul network taps into lots of grass-roots resources. It is less clear elsewhere. For example, is there enough Texas money for both Gov. Rick Perry and Mr. Cruz? Over the long haul, the only shot for Mr. Huckabee, a notoriously poor fund-raiser, or Mr. Santorum would be support from a donor with deep pockets.

All of these men — no women yet — are testing the waters with the understanding that running means at least a yearlong grueling grind. There are incentives, though: The losers often get lucrative speaking and TV punditry contracts, or write books or produce videos.
In short, it's not a field that should instill confidence.   Add in the pandering that will be needed to win Christofascist/Tea Party voters and the coming two years will offer much insanity. 

The GOP's Blindness to Objective Reality

Ever since Barack Obama's election in 2008 Republicans have done nothing but predict doom and gloom and then do all in their power, especially in Congress, to make the dire predictions come true regardless of the consequences inflicted on average Americans.  Behind much of it was the unspoken racism that motivates much of the Republican Party base, a base that is terrified of losing its white privilege and outraged that a non-white occupies the White House.  Yes, the economy needs to improve much more to benefit many Americans, but as a piece in Blue Virginia notes, things are far better now than when Barack Obama took office despite the constant GOP efforts at obstruction and economic sabotage.  What's most frightening is the blindness of many in the GOP due to their racism and bigotry.  Just think what could have been accomplished if the GOP had put the nation and average Americans ahead of destructive partisanship.  Here are some article excerpts:
[C]heck this out: six years into the presidency of Barack Obama, it turns out the U.S. economy is booming, the stock market is in record territory, wages are rising...etc. Or, as a headline today in the Washington Post put it: The boom is here: the economy just grew 5 percent, and it's not going to stop. Oh yeah, and let's not forget that we're in the midst of an energy boom, with falling gasoline prices, plummeting crude oil imports and booming wind and solar output. All this, by the way, just six years since the economy collapsed under President George W. Bush, and not even six years since President Obama inherited one of the worst economic situations since FDR took over from Herbert Hoover in 1932. 

For any observer not blinded by partisanship, right-wing ideology and/or animosity towards our nation's first African-American president, this is beyond impressive. It's also striking to consider the contrast between what Republicans predicted would happen and what actually happened. A few examples of the many ways in which Republicans have been (wildly) wrong the past 6 years include: 

*Republicans and Tea Partiers asserted, over and over and over again, that the Recovery Act of 2009 would not work. They were completely wrong. In fact, as it turns out, the Recovery Act ended up doing almost exactly what it was intended to do: provide classic Keynesian, counter-cyclical "stimulus" to an economy in desperate need of it. The only problem, frankly, was that it wasn't big enough, particularly in terms of aid to the states, and for that we have Republicans and a few conservadems to blame. If it weren't for them, we almost certainly would have come out of the recession earlier and stronger than we did. In short, the current economic recovery has come about in SPITE of Republicans (and a few conservadems). 

*Republicans and Tea Partiers called President Obama every name in the book, with "socialist" and even "communist" or "Marxist" being several of their favorites. Yet, just as in the case of Bill Clinton, the economy has boomed under this supposed "socialist," with the stock market - not exactly a bastion of "to each according to his need" types - now at record-high levels. 

*Repblicans and Tea Partiers claimed that the Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare," would be a disaster, the ruination of America, blah blah blah. In fact, it's been nothing of the sort. Instead, we're getting constant headlines like US uninsured rate heads toward new low and O-Care premiums stable nationwide and U.S. Experiences Unprecedented Slowdown In Health Care Spending. So much for Republicans predictions of doom on all those fronts. As for "Obamacare" being a "job killer," which we heard about a gazillion times from right wingnuts the past few years, let me simply refer you to the headlines and first couple paragraphs of this post, about the booming economy, soaring stock market, plummeting unemployment rate, etc.

*Republicans and Tea Partiers were also wildly wrong about the U.S. energy situation, from absurd claims that President Obama was causing higher gasoline prices to claims that he was stifling U.S. energy production. Instead, what we're seeing is an energy boom in the U.S. on all fronts, combined with low energy costs (including plunging costs for clean energy sources like solar and wind).

*Republicans and Tea Partiers ranted and raved about the deficit, ignoring a few important facts, like: a) President Obama inherited a deficit of $1.2 trillion from Bush/Cheney; and b) the deficit for 2014 was just $483 billion -- far less than half what President Obama inherited from Bush/Cheney. Of course, if Republicans really cared about the deficit, which they obviously don't based on their records when they were in the White House (see Reagan's and Bush's huge deficits, compare and contrast to Clinton's surpluses and Obama's sharp cuts in the deficit he inherited), they would have voted to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts. 

Just imagine how much more we could have made with a Republican party willing to work together for the good of the country, as opposed to working for President Obama to "fail?" It boggles the mind.

This list really could go on all day, getting into foreign policy as well (e.g., so much for right-wing claims that Vladimir Putin was kicking Obama's butt or whatever), but I think the point is clear by now. Bottom line: Republicans have been wrong on basically everything the past 6 years. Will they admit that they were wrong? Apologize for their overheated rhetoric and counterproductive actions during Barack Obama's presidency? Of course they won't!
When one considers the objective facts rather than being motivated by racism, bigotry and fear of others with different skin colors or sexual orientation, one has to wonder why anyone would vote Republican.  

The Cruelty of Anti-Gay Catholic Conservatives

Anti-gay bigot Austin Ruse
Conservative Christians - including far right Catholics - maintain that clinging to their ignorant, fiction book, and hypocritical anti-gay religious beliefs doesn't make them bigots.  Rather, they claim that they are merely exercising their right to "religious freedom," a term so broad that almost any kind of nastiness and horrible treatment of others can be sanctimoniously justified. Let's not forget that religion and the Bible were once used to justify slavery and segregation.  Or that ISIS is using religious belief and the Koran to justify atrocities in the Middle East.  A piece in The Week calls out conservative anti-gay Catholics for what they are;  cruel bigots.  Here are highlights:
This has been a year of clashes, sometimes quite fierce, between the Catholic Church and the rapidly expanding rights of gays. In a series of skirmishes throughout the spring and summer, Catholics made the case for their freedom to uphold traditionalist teachings about sex and marriage. Then, in the fall, the Vatican's synod on marriage and the family provoked outrage among Catholic conservatives for, among other things, proposing to treat homosexual desires and relationships with a modicum of dignity and respect.

Even though I support same-sex marriage, I have taken a strong stand in favor of religious freedom. I have also made the case that opposing gay marriage is not prima facie evidence of anti-gay bigotry. I still believe that — though a recent egregiously anti-gay article in the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis is enough to inspire some doubts.

[Y]ou might think that Tushnet, Gonnerman, and other celibate gay Catholics would be treated as heroes or saints by conservative Catholics. Unlike the many who either denounce the church for its strictures against homosexuality or actively work to bring about liberalization and reform, here are gay Catholics who publicly affirm church teaching and actually live it.  . . . . Austin Ruse, author of the Crisis takedown, is not one of them.

Ruse's latest anti-gay rant was provoked by a positive profile of Tushnet and Gonnerman on the front page of the Washington Post's Style section. After some oddly nasty commentary on the photo that accompanied the Post story  . . . . , Ruse gets to the point. While Tushnet and Gonnerman — whom he dubs "the New Homophiles" — are "95 percent there when it comes to Church teaching," the "last 5 percent is a serious problem."

What exactly do they get wrong? First, they affirm a gay identity. Second, they think that this identity gives them distinctive spiritual gifts. Ruse thinks both assumptions are false, because they treat homosexuality as something fixed or given, and even as something positive in certain respects. The truth, for Ruse, is that homosexual desires are the problem — and they shouldn't be granted any from of validity. On the contrary, they should simply be overcome, transcended, cured. Like a disease.

As long as those who hold such starkly anti-gay views wield influence in the church, accommodation between Catholicism and homosexuality will be impossible. Gays will be faced with a stark choice: leave the church for good or somehow make their homosexual desires vanish. Exile or erasure.

This holds gay Catholics to an absurdly high standard — one far higher than any straight Catholic is ever expected to meet.  

Then there's the fact that Ruse's position blithely ignores a mountain of scientific evidence, not to mention a similarly vast testimonial literature by homosexual men and women, that same-sex desires are innate to certain individuals (across a range of species). They are not some temporary or imposed disorder that can be argued or prayed away. They are not a choice. They are not an excuse for perversion. They're real. Some people are just born with them.

In the end, the problem for Ruse and like-minded Catholic conservatives is that homosexuals refuse to disappear.

At one point in his essay, Ruse insinuates that in talking and writing about their experiences of coming out as gay, Tushnet and Gonnerman display narcissism. Perhaps so. But what about a man who sets himself up as the Grand Inquisitor, eagerly casting stones at people trying, however awkwardly, to abide by the extraordinarily demanding strictures of their church? I'd say that's a person so consumed by hatred of homosexuality that he's willing to risk looking like a complete jerk — and willing to make his church look like an institution deeply, almost existentially, devoted to cruelty.

Eve Tushnet, Joshua Gonnerman, and others like them show a different way. If the Catholic Church hopes to avoid seeing the gates of hell prevail against it, it will have to follow their example — and make abundantly clear who the real "bad Catholics" are."
Despite the schools and hospitals it runs, much of conservative Catholicism is based on cruelty.  Cruelty, judgment of others, hypocrisy and huge helpings of guilt and self-hatred for those of us born gay.  It took me several years of therapy - with an ordained Presbyterian minister with a Ph.D in psychology - to get over the psychological damage done to me by my Catholic upbringing.  Sadly, there are too many in the Church like Ruse and many of them are in the Vatican.  I chose exile from the Church and it was one of the best things I ever did.  I urge other gay Catholics and their families to do likewise - walk away. The Evangelical Lutheran Church and Episcopal Church offer wonderful alternatives for those who still want the liturgical experiences of a mass. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Scenes From Putin's Economic Meltdown

Throughout the centuries Russia has been plagued by horrific rulers.  Yes, there were moments of brilliance under tsars and tsarinas such as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander I or even Alexander II, but all too often the Russian people have paid the price of failed leadership.  Vladimir Putin is following in the footsteps of royal predecessors whose dynasty his communist party over through.  Politico looks at the current economic melt down facing Russia's economy due to the failed leadership of Putin who seems to view himself as some modern day mixture of Ivan the Terrible and Adolph Hitler.  One might even argue that Putin makes the ill-fated Nicholas II look better in hindsight (Note to Putin: starting a European war does NOT help once chances of staying in power long term).  Here are article highlights:
Whatever’s on your holiday shopping list—buy now, it may never be this cheap again! In a single day this past week, the ruble exchange rate dropped from 59 to 80 to the dollar, further eroding confidence in the Russian economy and ensuring a deep recession next year—but also briefly turning Moscow into the shopping capital of the world.

Although this past week’s currency crisis marked the worst fall for the ruble since Russia defaulted on its debt in 1998, no one was waiting in bread lines or starting a run on the bank. Instead, anyone with any cash at all went on a buying spree.

People were purchasing refrigerators, washing machines, cameras—anything that was less likely to lose its value as fast as the plummeting ruble. Cars in some dealerships were being sold at 30 percent to 50 percent above the recommended retail price, yet “people run and bring their last money,” one social network user wrote.

The ruble has lost over half its value this year as falling oil prices and Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis hit Russia’s energy-dependent economy. But a drop of 10 percent on Monday and another 10 percent on what has come to be known as “Black Tuesday” further shook consumers, undermined investor confidence and revealed divisions among the country’s elite on how to react. Nonetheless, Russians’ approval for President Vladimir Putin has remained sky-high.

The falling ruble has launched a spate of jokes in the style of Russians’ notoriously dark humor. One from a few weeks ago—“What do Putin’s age, the ruble and the oil price have in common? They all hit 63 next year”—has already become a grim reality.
According to Marina Krasilnikova, head of quality of life research at the independent pollster Levada Center, while affluent areas like Moscow saw a buying spree on expensive products, most Russians are in fact hunkering down to weather the crisis with what little they have.
For centuries most of the Russian people have had to hunker down thanks to the misrule of their leaders.  Putin needs to go.  The only question is that of how long before the majority of Russians recognize this reality.

U.S. Kicks Gambia From Trade Agreement Over Anti-LGBT Crackdown

As noted many times on this blog, as the Christofascists have seen more and more defeats in America and Western Europe, they have been increasing their efforts to export anti-gay animus and bigotry to ignorant, uneducated corners of the world where the populous is literally to stupid and uneducated to realize that they are being sold a bogus bill of goods, often with the aid of corrupt and incompetent governments all too eager to distract local populations from the chronic miasma of government misrule.   A case in point is Gambia where a virtual jihad against gays is underway.  Thankfully, the U.S. government is using its trade powers to strike back at the anti-gay bigotry and has kicked Gambia from participation special trade status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000.  More actions like this need to be taken.  If nations want to act like reactionary extremists, then there needs to be a tangible cost attached to their bigotry.  Here are highlights from BuzzFeed:
The United States on Tuesday dropped the Gambia from a popular free trade agreement in response to a crackdown on LGBT rights and other human rights concerns. 

The decision to drop the small West African nation from special trade status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 came late Tuesday afternoon, just after media in the Gambia announced that three men would be put on trial for homosexuality. These are the first to face trial since police began arresting people on allegations of homosexuality in November. At least 16 more are known to be in detention, and Gambian human rights activists do not know if they are even still alive.

“The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has been monitoring the human rights situation in The Gambia for the past few years, with deepening concerns about the lack of progress with respect to human rights, rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House, in an email to BuzzFeed News. “In addition, in October, Gambian President Jammeh signed into law legislation that further restricts the rights of LGBT individuals, including life imprisonment for so-called ‘aggravated homosexuality.’ Reports have surfaced of arrests, detention, and torture of individuals because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

For the first time the gay community really is coming together to get equal consideration in U.S. foreign policy,” said Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality, which lobbies for LGBT rights in international affairs. Bromley said that only in recent years have LGBT groups been able to exert the kind of influence that certain religious or ethnic communities have exerted to focus the U.S.’s foreign policy when their counterparts in other countries are under threat.

The meeting that Gambian human rights activists held with White House officials earlier this month — which was facilitated in part by the Council for Global Equality — was the first time they say they had met with anyone above the level of a State Department desk officer to discuss Jammeh’s human rights record.

Expelling the Gambia from the special trade status was the first time that the U.S. had sent the kind of signal that Jammeh will take seriously in response to human rights abuses, Camara said.

“Jammeh [will] know that the US is really not joking not now,” Camara said. Until now, “he was really playing with them” and behaving as if there were no consequences for violating human rights protections. Among the dozens who have been killed or disappeared under his rule are two American citizens believed to have been abducted by Jammeh’s security forces in 2013.
As I said, it is far past time that corrupt tyrants like Jammeh be deprived of any and all deference as a head of state and that nations bear direct economic consequences for the human rights abuses of their leaders.   Indeed, if these leaders are going to act like animals, they needed to be treated like animals and their countrymen need to bear the consequences of embracing ignorance and bigotry.    

Oh, and the same goes for America which needs to put Bush, Cheney, et al, on trial for war crimes and punish them accordingly - why do the words "death penalty" spring to mind when i think of Cheney?  If America wants to punish those who are guilty of human rights abuses around the world, we need to start at home.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

How the Knights of Columbus Bankrolls Extremism

For the record, I am a former member of the Knights of Columbus ("K of C") and once was a member of its 4th Degree (the highest level).  That all changed when I came out and left the anti-gay Roman Catholic Church.  But what clinched my exiting from the K of C was the organization's refusal to demand that members of the Church hierarchy who aid and abetted predatory priests and who threatened and intimidated victims and their families be disciplined.  Rather, the K of C leadership had its collective nose so far up the ample asses of the hierarchy, its a wonder they did not smother.  All of this is in stark contrast to the goals and motivations that were behind the K of C's founding: to aid widows and families and to provide a social organizations for immigrants facing discrimination. Now, the K of C has gone on to bankroll discrimination and other right wing causes as examined by a piece in Think Progress.  Here are some article highlights:
In 1882, a group of Catholic men gathered together by New Haven, CT pastor Father Michael J. McGivney incorporated an organization to provide for the families of its deceased members. More than 125 years later, the Knights of Columbus boasts of more than 1.8 million members and of “donating more than $167.5 million to charitable needs and projects” in 2012. Among its members: presidential 2016 hopeful Jeb Bush (R), Speaker of the House John Boehner (R), and Justice Samuel Alito.

But while much of the Knights’ charitable efforts in recent years have supported purely altruistic causes such as the Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity, millions of their charitable dollars have funded a very socially conservative ideological agenda: opposing abortion, LGBT rights, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and pornography, while supporting public funding for religious organizations. 

The Knights also operate a legally-separate but affiliated charitable arm called the Knights of Columbus Charities Inc. That tax-exempt non-profit organization made about 57 percent of its annual grants in 2013 to efforts to “promote matters affective life family, marriage and similar priorities in building a culture of life.” More than $1 million of that went to support “Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” a network of facilities that dissuade women from choosing to terminate their pregnancies, often by sharing misinformation.

Beyond just the “culture of life” initiatives, the Knights of Columbus have also spent a large sum of money on other controversial political issues. 

With at least $250,000 in contributions since 2010, the Knights of Columbus are among the most generous donors to Morality in Media, likely the nation’s loudest voice against adult pornography, and its efforts to curb “the ravages of the pornography pandemic in America.”

And since 2010, the Knights of Columbus have given at least $100,000 in support of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies — the nation’s leading force for a more conservative judiciary . . . 

[T]he Knights of Columbus also sent more than $625,000 to another conservative legal group, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. . . . . In addition to its work against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate and against LGBT rights, Becket has worked to erode the separation of church and state required by the First Amendment. This has included defending prayer at government functions, religious symbols in public spaces, and public funding for religious schools.

the group’s annual resolutions continue to endorse efforts to make sure governments at all levels embrace a “definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.”

And they followed their words with money. In 2012, the national organization sent $450,000 to the ballot committee pushing to block Maryland’s marriage equality legislation, $300,000 to block marriage equality in Washington, $100,000 to oppose same-sex marriage in Maine, and $250,000 to support a proposed constitutional ban in Minnesota. All four efforts were unsuccessful. The national group and local chapters also contributed more than $1.3 million in 2008 toward the passage of California’s Proposition 8, $100,000 to Arizona’s 2008 constitutional amendment, and $100,000 to Kansas’ 2005 amendment effort.

Although most Catholics in the United States support marriage equality,” it concluded, “the best known U. S. Catholic fraternal organization has used its considerable financial strength and its political connections to mount aggressive campaigns against legislation that would permit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be treated equally under the law.”

Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People For the American Way who follows the organization, told ThinkProgress the group is not being transparent about its aims: “Many Catholic parishioners who support the Knights of Columbus might be surprised and dismayed to know that the money they gave at the pancake breakfast is being used to deny equality to their LGBT friends and family,” he observed. “The Knights of Columbus do a lot of good work. Unfortunately, they also contribute millions to culture war battles against LGBT equality and reproductive choice.”

I suspect that today's K of C is not exactly what its founder had in mind back in 1882.

Is Jim Webb The Real Threat to Hillary Clinton?

While the Republican field of would be 2016 presidential nominees contains a plethora of clown car candidates (think Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, etc.), on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has few would be challengers.  Efforts to recruit Elizabeth Warren by the progressive wing of the Democrat Party continue to elicit statements that Warren is not running.  The only other would be contender is former Virginia Senator Jim Webb who, unlike Warren, has said he is contemplating a run for the presidential nomination.  A column in the New York Times maintains that Webb, not Warren, is the real threat to Hillary.  Here are column excerpts:

THE conventional wisdom is that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be almost impossible to dislodge from the Democratic presidential nomination and that even if she does encounter some hiccups, they will come from her left flank on economic policy. But if Mrs. Clinton runs, she may face a serious and very different threat: her own foreign policy record. While she can pretty much split the difference with any primary opponents on economic policy, the divisions over foreign affairs could be a lot harder to paper over for Mrs. Clinton, who has been tacking to the right on Iran, Syria and Russia in anticipation of Republican assaults during the general election.

This is why it isn’t really the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren who should worry the Clinton camp. It’s the former Virginia senator Jim Webb, a Vietnam War hero, former secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, novelist and opponent of endless wars in the Middle East. Late last month, Mr. Webb formed an exploratory committee.

[S]he would find him much more complex than dealing with liberals. He’s not a liberal, but a lot of what he says might appeal to liberals. He does not get carried away by humanitarian intervention.”

Mr. Webb’s attacks on free trade and economic elites, coupled with a call for America to come home again, might well prove a potent combination in the early primaries, attracting antiwar progressives as well as conservative-minded Southern white men whom he believes the party can win back. His credo is as simple as it is persuasive: Rather than squander its power and resources abroad, America should rebuild.

Unlike Mrs. Clinton, who continues to struggle to explain her vote for the Iraq war, Mr. Webb publicly attacked the George W. Bush administration in 2002, presciently asking, “Do we really want to occupy Iraq for the next 30 years?” As a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees he also castigated the Obama administration for its intervention in Libya in 2011. He was right. It’s a move that has boomeranged, creating further instability and emboldening jihadists across the region.

In contrast to Mrs. Clinton, who has gotten into hot water for trying to retroactively amend her views and record, Mr. Webb did not arrive at these beliefs casually or opportunistically. As his recent memoir, “I Heard My Country Calling,” makes clear, his opposition to ventures abroad is as much viscerally emotional as intellectual. Growing up as a self-described military brat, he spent his formative years in Britain, where he saw firsthand the effects of loss of empire and the devastation wrought by World War II. “Britain was bled out and spent out,” he writes. “They understood the great price of the recent wars in a much more sobering way than did most Americans.”

Whether Mr. Webb will attempt to begin a successful maverick campaign is an open question. But he is an eloquent and forthright speaker whose foreign policy experience would make it difficult for Mrs. Clinton to paint him as an isolationist or a novice who will leave America open to attack, as she attempted to do to Mr. Obama during the 2008 primaries. On the contrary, it’s Mrs. Clinton whose interventionist foreign policy record leaves her politically vulnerable.