Saturday, November 25, 2017
Back in June, 216, Donald Trump met with so-called evangelical Christian "leaders" - many head up hate groups that parade as "family values" organizations - and promised them a wish list that included not only an offensive against LGBT rights (something Trump and Jeff Sessions have already been delivering on) but a promise to allow churches, especially, right wing churches, to engage in political endorsements and other activities banned under the so-called Johnson Amendment that prohibits tax-exempt "charities" - a term I personally think should not apply to churches - from political activities. Now, in the Republican tax bill - which has much to dislike and oppose - seeks to deliver on this promise to Christofascists. If enacted, this would give a double gift to right wing plutocrats as well as hate merchants who wrap themselves in religion: donors can take a charitable deduction for the "gift" to the church and then the church can engage in political activities against candidates who oppose the Christofascists' divisive, often racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic agenda. A piece in Salon looks at this insidious effort. Here are highlights:
There's no doubt that the main purpose of the Republican tax bill, in both its House and Senate forms, is to slash taxes for corporations and the rich while making the rest of the country pay for it. But Republicans are also stuffing a wish list of right-wing goals into the bill. One provision of the House legislation that has gotten relatively little media attention has the potential to drastically remake our campaign finance system, and tilt the already unfair playing field even further toward the Republicans.Ever since 1954, a legislative add-on known as the Johnson Amendment has prevented charities, social welfare organizations and, perhaps most importantly, churches from endorsing candidates. Such institutions may lose their tax-exempt status if they engage in electioneering. The House bill would functionally dismantle the Johnson Amendment, thereby opening the door to pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpits and for charities large and small -- even the Red Cross or Salvation Army -- to openly support political candidates or causes in the course of their official charitable work.
“The tax bill threatens the integrity of our elections and all of our tax-exempt organizations," Maggie Garrett, the legislative director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in an emailed statement.
This provision, Adam Bozzi of End Citizens United explained to Salon, would create "a gaping loophole in our campaign finance system." Bozzi explained it could "allow a big political donor who wants to make a contribution through the back door to give to a church, which could then endorse a candidate and engage in electioneering."
To make it even worse, the tax-exempt status of churches and charities means that any millionaire or billionaire who funneled political spending through such a group could then turn around and claim that donation as a tax writeoff. Money given to a pastor in order to buy his endorsement wouldn't look any different on paper than money given to a church for its charitable work or other legitimate purposes. Republicans are creating a loophole that will allow rich people to shelter political donations from taxes while influencing election campaigns in total secrecy.
"Faith leaders are called to speak truth to power, and we cannot do so if we are merely cogs in partisan political machines," explains a letter signed by more than 4,000 religious leaders in support of the Johnson Amendment. "Current law respects this independence and strikes the right balance: houses of worship that enjoy favored tax-exempt status may engage in advocacy to address moral and political issues, but they cannot tell people who to vote for or against."
More than 5,500 nonprofit groups have signed a similar letter supporting the Johnson Amendment, noting that current law "protects the integrity and independence of charitable nonprofits and foundations" and "screens out doubts and suspicions regarding ulterior partisan motives of charitable organizations."
What makes this whole debate especially strange is that in the era before Donald Trump's presidential campaign, there really wasn't much controversy over the Johnson Amendment. Some right-wing pastors grumbled about it, but it wasn't a major agenda item for the Christian right or anyone else. But as a candidate, Trump began talking up the idea of repealing the Johnson Amendment as an easy way to pander to the religious right. Now this idea — which was once considered the fringe of the fringe — has made its way into the House tax bill.
Of course, it's easy to understand why Republicans were quick to grab this particular Trumpian idea and inject it into the mainstream GOP agenda. Creating this loophole in our campaign finance system would almost certainly benefit Republicans exponentially more than Democrats. While Democrats certainly have their billionaires who would like to spend a lot of money on elections, Republicans have far more dark-money donors who might be willing to buy up churches and charities and turn them into political lobbies and money funnels.
This effect would most be most likely to have an impact on local and state elections, where it would be ridiculously easy for anonymous but wealthy "benefactors" to make huge donations to churches and charities in exchange for endorsements for their preferred candidates. Already, the loosening of campaign finance laws has opened the door to massive amounts of dark money that has an outsized impact on these kinds of elections. Ending the Johnson Amendment would drastically increase the flow of dark money, turning the idea of electoral fairness into more of a joke than it is already.
If this provision becomes law, expect "family values" hate groups to rake in money from right wing donors and then push for candidates who would intertwine their toxic religious beliefs in the civil law. Local elections would be particularly at risk. I can fully imagine Pat Robertson, extremists at Liberty University and The Family Foundation targeting school board and other local elections to fill positions with like minded extremists.
Call your U.S. Senators and member of the House of Representatives and demand that they vote "No" on the GOP tax bills.
In the wake of the previous post's rant, there is encouraging news in Virginia which, if the nation is lucky, can be replicated in other states. What is it? Young voter turn out which helped put the Democrat statewide ticket over the top in the elections earlier this month. Between pandering to religious extremists, racists and misogynists in general, and in pushing policies that are anathema to younger voters, the Republican Party has pretty much burned all bridges with the significant majority of younger voters. Meanwhile, with attacks on Medicare, the same may happen with senior voters. I truly cannot comprehend how a major political party seemingly has no long term plan to remain viable beyond the next decade at most. A piece in the Washington Post looks at the GOP's apparent suicide pact. Here are highlights:
As bad as the overall outcome of Virginia’s recent election was for Republicans, there was one facet of the vote that raises special alarm for the party’s future.
That’s the performance of young voters, who came out in historic numbers and overwhelmingly cast their ballots for the Democratic candidate for governor, Ralph Northam.
While Republicans have been wrestling with an aging demographic for some time, analysts say the unpopular actions of President Trump are pushing away a new generation.
“One of the biggest challenges facing the Republican Party in Virginia and nationwide is that the Republican Party has become toxic to a lot of young voters,” said Bob Holsworth, a longtime Virginia political scientist. “I think Trump has exacerbated a trend that was emerging, and it has become very problematic.”
Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie by an overall margin of 54 percent to 45 percent, as certified this week by the state Board of Elections. Young voters — who are often among the least-engaged, especially in a nonpresidential election — had a turnout rate of 34 percent, according to an analysis of exit polling by a group at the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. That’s up from 26 percent in the 2013 governor’s race and double the youth turnout in 2009. And that surge of millennials was a windfall for Democrats: Sixty-nine percent of those voters supported Northam, vs. 30 percent for Gillespie.
The same trend held when measured in different ways. In precincts adjacent to college campuses, turnout was up 8 points over 2013 and Northam won 72 percent of the vote, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
In precincts not adjacent to colleges but where voters age 40 and younger make up more than 60 percent of the population, turnout was up 7 points and Northam won more than 81 percent of the vote, the VPAP analysis found.
Virginia’s results suggest that the rise of young voters is a serious problem for Republicans nationwide. Recent studies by the Pew Research Center found that millennials — generally defined as those age 18 to 35 in 2016 — are fast becoming the largest single bloc in the electorate. By 2020, there will be more millennial and Gen X voters than baby boomers. And millennials have routinely polled as more left-leaning than other segments of the population.
The only other statewide election this year was in New Jersey, where Democrat Phil Murphy was a prohibitive favorite for governor. Young voters didn’t surge in New Jersey . . . . but 73 percent of them voted for the Democrat, according to the Tufts analysis.
“Young people have increasingly moved away from the Republican Party, given its perceived status as being the anti-immigrant party and not being tolerant of alternative lifestyles,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. . . . “As long as the Republican Party is seen as not embracing or accepting people as they are, be they gay, transgender, immigrants and the like, that’s a big turnoff to young voters these days.”
The Virginia results, he said, are “a wake-up call to the Republican Party about the way things are going to go for them next year” in congressional races across the country. Some Republicans get the message. . . . I’ll summarize that with one word for the GOP: trouble.” . . . Ramadan has long warned that his party has a problem wooing minority voters. “But this election shows that it’s not just a minority problem, it’s a youth problem” — and even broader than that, he added. Those problems were accelerated this year by “the Trump effect,” he said.
“Unless Republicans get back to mainstream issues instead of sanctuary cities and Confederate statues, we’re going to lose elections,” he said.
Republican pollster Gene Ulm said he was most concerned about “young suburbanites” in the Virginia results. “We basically had 300,000 people show up who don’t normally vote in a gubernatorial election,” he said. “We won 85,000 of them and lost the other 215,000.”
But the overall trend of young, white and suburban voters is a bad sign for the party going into next year’s congressional races, he said. “That affects certainly Barbara Comstock,” he said, referring to the Northern Virginia congresswoman, a Republican whose district went for Northam. “But there’s a lot of other districts in America where that’s going to play a role,” Ulm said.
There are a host of progressive and grass-roots groups aiming specifically to get a large turnout of young voters for Democratic candidates, . . . . If anger at Donald Trump and the GOP continues to drive turnout up through the 2018 election cycle, when young people will be the largest bloc of eligible voters, we could be looking at a progressive wave powered by millennial voters.”
"Half these new delegates [in the Virginia House of Delegates] are probably millennials,” he said. “The impact of the millennial generation on the electorate is going to be pretty profound, and Democratic candidates tend to be the beneficiary of this far more than Republicans are.”
A piece in Gay Star News reveals that Virginia Republicans for the most part learned nothing from the election results as the Republican House of Delegates leadership is going out of its way to find a method to avoid referring to Delegate elect Danica Roem as female.
Yesterday began the United States release of the movie "Call Me By Your Name" which has received rave reviews and Oscar buzz ever since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year. Outlets as diverse as the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wall Street Journal, Variety, The Independent, New York Times, Rotten Tomatoes, etc., have all lauded the movie and its actors and directors. All of which, of course, means it is NOT showing in Hampton Roads and cannot be found among any of the "coming soon" information" although it appears to be coming to Richmond next week. With a strong gay romance theme, my fear is that other than the Naro Theater in Norfolk, few theaters in the region may show this movie that likes to view itself as "world class" and sophisticated - Virginia Beach perhaps laughably is trying to court Amazon for a major headquarters facility - yet has a huge Regent University/Pat Robertson display at Norfolk International Airport (which has no international flights). Talk about telling visitors the area is not sophisticated or accepting!
The irony to me, of course is that places like Hampton Roads - Southwest Virginia even more so - need to see this movie and perhaps have their parochial eyes opened to the reality that love is love (reading the book which the movie is based on, which I have done, would be equally good). In many ways the husband and I have a very nice life in Hampton Roads, but this is yet another occasion where I am reminded that this is not where I really would prefer to live. There is a reason why all of our vacations are to truly progressive cities and/or foreign countries (Ft. Lauderdale in a month, Key West in March, and London and Paris next September).
Yes, Virginia is set for another four years of progressive Democrat leadership under Ralph Northam, Mark Herring and Justin Fairfax which hopefully will improve things over all - an employment non-discrimination law protecting LGBT Virginians would be a nice start. But socially and culturally, Virginia still has a very long way to go. As shocking as the concept might be to Virginia Republicans who daily prostitute themselves to right wing religious extremists best embodied by The Family Foundation, it takes more than low taxes to attract world class, progressive businesses. Meanwhile, the husband and I will persist in doing our part to open minds in this area even though it gets exhausting at times.
Friday, November 24, 2017
With the holiday season upon us and "peace on earth and good will toward mankind" purportedly in the minds of most citizens, it is time to recommit to those values. It is also time to recommit to resisting those who are anathema to such values. In particular, it means recommitting to resisting the toxicity and indecency of the Trump/Pence regime and its Republican enablers and hate filled, Pharisee like evangelical Christian supporters. A column in the New York Times looks at this need for re-commitment and reminds us of all that is abhorrent about the Trump/Pence regime. Here are column highlights:
Last Thanksgiving I wrote a column titled, “No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along,” in which I committed myself to resisting this travesty of a man, proclaiming, “I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.”I made this promise: “As long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.” I have kept that promise, not because it was a personal challenge, but because this is a national crisis.
Donald Trump, I thought that your presidency would be a disaster. It’s worse than a disaster. I wasn’t sure that resistance to your weakening of the republic, your coarsening of the culture, your assault on truth and honesty, your erosion of our protocols, would feel as urgent today as it felt last year. But if anything, that resistance now feels more urgent.
Nothing about you has changed for the better. You are still a sexist, bigoted, bullying, self-important simpleton. But now all of the worst of you has the force of the American presidency.
The legitimacy of your presidency is in question. The corruption of your administration is not. You are a national stain and an international embarrassment. You are anti-intellectual and pro-impulse. The same fingers with which you compulsively tweet are dangerously close to the nuclear codes. You are historically unpopular and history will not be kind to you. It is all so dizzyingly distressing.
But what irks me most is your targeted attacks on historically marginalized populations as a political ploy to secure the support of the racists, misogynists and homophobes. . . . Your hostility toward minorities and your courting and coddling of the people who hate them has become a standard practice of your presidency.
We see it in the way that you attack N.F.L. players protesting police violence, while you encourage police officers to be more violent. We see this in the way that your Justice Department is moving to return to rigid, racially skewed drug policies that helped to fuel our unconscionable level of mass incarceration, a phenomenon Michelle Alexander calls “the new Jim Crow,” while also returning to a reliance on private prisons.
We see this in the devastating contrast between the ways you have talked about and treated hurricane victims in Texas versus in Puerto Rico.
Trump is clearly, blatantly, virulently hostile to people who are not white and non-Christian. That is not a statement of opinion, but a statement of demonstrated fact.
[I]t is Trump who is proving to be a threat to the L.G.B.T. community, particularly to transgender Americans, with his ban on trans people in the military, his rescinding of federal protections for trans students, and his Justice Department’s reversal of a policy protecting trans workers.
[T]he “Access Hollywood” tape was released on which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. And women came out in droves to personally accuse him of sexually inappropriate behavior, the kinds of accusations that people are now losing jobs over.
To add insult to injury, Trump the Groper has just thrown the weight and word of the presidency behind Roy Moore the Alleged Pedophile, choosing the claim of a single horrible man, even aside from the allegations, over nine women who seem to have nothing to gain by coming forward. Trump not only doesn’t respect women, he doesn’t even hear women.
This man is a pathological liar. He commends and conforms to anyone who pretends to love him, whether they are Russians or racists. He is inherently a patriarchal white supremacist and it seeps out in all sorts of ways, but it is most pronounced in the way that he attacks people who are not white and male.
When you accept those truths, everything else makes sense. But accepting the truth is not the same as accepting the liar. Trump is unacceptable in every possible way, and must continue to be met at every turn with the strong arm of defiance. That is why today I recommit myself to resistance, and so should you.
And lest we forget the full Trump/Pence?GOP agenda, a second column reminds of the hideous aspects of that agenda. Here's a short excerpt:
Meanwhile, everything this president and this Congress are doing on economic policy seems designed, not just to widen the gap between the wealthy and everyone else, but to lock in plutocrats’ advantages, making it easier to ensure that their heirs remain on top and the rest stay down.
It’s unclear whether the terrible tax bills being advanced by Trump and his allies will go through Congress; but environmental policy is largely set by administrative action, and this administration has been moving with stunning speed to get poisons back into our air and water. Not to mention the growing odds of climate catastrophe.
White supremacists are, of course, making a big comeback thanks to encouragement from the top. (They are, after all, “very fine people.”) So are anti-Semites, which is really no surprise to those who remember their history.
Even as old prejudices return, we’ve clearly entered a new age of politically potent anti-intellectualism. America built its world pre-eminence largely on the strength of its educational system. But according to Pew, 58 percent of Republicans now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, versus only 36 percent who see a positive effect.
And I don’t believe for a minute that this turn against education is a reaction to political correctness. It’s about the nasty habit scholarship has of telling you things you don’t want to hear, like the fact that climate change is real.
Finally, we’re now ruled by people who have no interest in letting hard thinking get in the way of whatever policies they want to follow.
|"Family values" hate merchants|
I have tracked the activities of the so-called religious right's "family values" groups since the 1990's - well be fore I came out and while I was active in the Republican Party. From the beginning, my impression was that these groups' main focus was (i) denigrating others, including gays, blacks, other minorities, and independent minded women, (ii) gaining and then maintaining political power, (iii) inflicting their toxic religious beliefs on all of society through any means necessary, including lying incessantly and displaying stunning hypocrisy in the process, and (iv) supporting a Republican agenda that sought to harm the poor, the homeless, the sick and the hungry and anyone else they deemed as "other." Typically, these groups are headed by chauvinistic men thirsting for power - James Dobson and Tony Perkins are two prime examples - who care nothing about basic morality. Other than ranting against gays, abortion, rejecting responsible sex education, and restoring mandatory school prayer, true morality is absent from their agenda. Now, with society displaying revulsion toward sexual harassment as embodied by Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstien, and Donald Trump, these Pharisee like men are not only failing to call out sexual predators, but in many cases are actively supporting the perpetrators so long as they are not "liberals." A column in the Washington Post by a former George W. Bush White House staffer calls out the moral bankruptcy of these toxic men and their followers. Indeed, if one believes in true morality, look for it anywhere except among the "godly folk." Here are column excerpts:
Even in a political season of routine marvels, few developments are more spectacularly incongruous than this: The United States has seen a swift, dramatic shift in attitudes toward sexual harassment with Donald Trump as president.
It is sometimes assumed (including by me) that the presidency sets a moral tone for the nation, influencing what society considers normal and acceptable in a kind of trickle-down ethics. But the sexual harassment revolution emerged from society in spite of — or even in defiance of — a president who has boasted of exploiting women and who stands accused of harassing more than a dozen.
It is a sign of hope that moral and ethical standards can assert themselves largely unaided by political, entertainment and media leaders — except when they serve as cautionary tales of egregious behavior. We are seeing an example of how social change often (and increasingly) takes place. Advocates of a cause can push for a long time with little apparent effect. Then, in a historical blink, what seemed incredible becomes inevitable. Over a period of years, this is what happened with the same-sex marriage movement. A type of inclusion that initially appeared radical and frightening became an obvious form of fairness to a majority of Americans. Politicians, including President Barack Obama, were left catching up to the new social consensus.
Over a period of weeks, this is the story of the revolt against sexual harassment. What seemed for generations the prerogative of powerful men has been fully revealed as a pernicious form of dehumanization. . . . An ethical light switch was flipped. Moral outrage — the appropriate response — now seems obvious.
On sexual harassment, our country is now in a much better ethical place. And how we got here is instructive. Conservatives have sometimes predicted that moral relativism would render Americans broadly incapable of moral judgment. But people, at some deep level, know that rules and norms are needed.
And where did this urgent assertion of moral principle come from? Not from the advocates of “family values.” On the contrary, James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family (now under much better management), chose to side with GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama against his highly credible accusers. “I have been dismayed and troubled,” Dobson said, “about the way he and his wife Kayla have been personally attacked by the Washington establishment.”It is as if Dobson set out to justify every feminist critique of the religious right. Instead of standing against injustice and exploitation — as the Christian gospel demands — Dobson sided with patriarchal oppression in the cause of political power. This is beyond hypocrisy. It is the solidarity of scary, judgmental old men. It is the ideology of white male dominance dressed up as religion.
Conservatives need to be clear and honest in this circumstance. The strong, moral commitment to the dignity of women and children recently asserting itself in our common life has mainly come from feminism, not the “family values” movement. In this case, religious conservatives have largely been bystanders or obstacles. This indicates a group of people for whom the dignity of girls and women has become secondary to other political goals.
We are a nation with vast resources of moral renewal. It is a shame and a scandal that so many religious conservatives have made themselves irrelevant to that task.
If the nation is lucky, the larger society will learn that if one wants a truly moral society the last place it will come from is evangelical and fundamentalist Christians who are in most cases devoid of compassion, concern for others, and basic decency. Hatred and condemnation of others and false piety are their true hallmarks.
Thursday, November 23, 2017
It is Thanksgiving Day - a day for family and friends and hopefully a little bit of love for one's fellow citizens. Yet even as families gather, Congressional Republicans are taking only a brief respite from the effort to harm countless middle and working class families and the elderly through a tax plan that benefits the very wealthy and large corporations. Most Americans oppose the plan and groups like AARP - which represents the most dependable voters - are condemning the savaging of Medicare and other social programs. Der Trumpenführer - who estimates show might enjoy a billion dollar benefit - is of course supporting the effort and is supporting alleged child molester Roy Moore because Moore's vote is "needed for the tax bill." A lengthy piece in Newsweek raises the question of whether Trump is leading the GOP to a slaughter. I for one, hope that such is the case. When I left the GOP as the Christofascists (and the white supremacy they brought with them) were ascendant I concluded that only the ruin of the party could excise the cancer. Here are article highlights:
The prophet led the faithful into the jungle, where he promised they would find salvation. . . . That place was called Jonestown, a village hacked out of the jungle of Guyana. The Reverend Jim Jones did not manage to turn the settlement into the earthly paradise he’d promised his parishioners. In 1978, after a shootout that left visiting U.S. Representative Leo Ryan and four other members of a visiting delegation dead, Jones ordered his followers to perpetuate one of the most grotesque acts of mass murder in American history. “How very much I've tried my best to give you a good life,” he opened his final sermon, laden with dark grievance, as 900 people prepared for their deaths. “But in spite of all of my trying, a handful of our people, with their lies, have made our lives impossible.”
Time now for the necessary and obvious caveats. Jonestown was a horrific act of homicide. No matter how much you dislike Trump, he is not Jim Jones. His impolitic tweets at North Korean despot Kim Jong Un notwithstanding, he does not harbor a death wish, either for himself or for the country. He probably has more compassion than his critics are willing to concede. And yet his influence on the party he now leads may well prove the political equivalent of Jonestown. Having assumed control of the GOP, Trump may now destroy it: its national infrastructure, its fundraising capacity and, most of all, its support from the American public. A Gallup tracking poll in early October found that only 24 percent of respondents identified as Republicans. That’s the lowest level of affiliation for the party in two years, a lack of popularity that is especially remarkable because Republicans control both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. But whatever the case, the GOP appears to have made a fatal mistake in allowing itself to be seduced by his populism. All the glories of Trumpism will belong to Trump, while all the failures will be passed off to a hapless band he sometimes calls “the Republicans.” “Republican leaders have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump,” says Will Marshall, founder of the centrist organization New Democracy. . . . . Attempts by others to mimic his convictions have been pathetic, transparent and unsuccessful. In Virginia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, a creature of K Street boardrooms, ran a campaign of Southern racial grievance and anti-immigrant fearmongering. He lost by 9 points to Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam a few weeks ago. Many prominent Republicans believe their party has come to resemble the adherents of Jones, drifting ever further from reality. Trump, meanwhile, has shown no interest in reconciling the disparate factions of the GOP, hectoring leaders of his own party on Twitter as if they were obscure backbenchers . . . .
The GOP “will face obliteration in 2018,” says Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who served as chief strategist on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. When we spoke recently, Schmidt blamed the party’s fortunes on McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, a duo that he says “make Neville Chamberlain look like Churchill,” a reference to the British prime minister famous for capitulating to Adolf Hitler in the Munich Agreement of 1938. “You were given the choice between war and dishonor,” Churchill said in response to Chamberlain’s cowardice. “You chose dishonor, and you will have war.”
Bruce Bartlett, who served as a senior adviser to Ronald Reagan, told me he wishes there were a Republican who’d utter a basic truth: “Our party is being killed by these idiots” in the Trump administration. And a few have, including Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. They have both chosen to retire, however, aware that their anti-Trump positions would likely engender a ferocious primary battle.
Bartlett thinks fears of electoral defeat shouldn’t discourage critics. “It’s better for us to lose power for a generation than to continue this fraud.”
Many Americans dislike Trump’s vision for the nation, but they like the Republicans’ vision even less. Only 17 percent of Americans supported the Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. While the Republicans refuse to enact any tougher gun laws, Gallup finds that 60 percent of American support stricter gun laws. The vast majority of Americans rejected the Republican tax cut plan, with support as low as 25 percent in some polls. . . . It fell to Bartlett, the former Reagan adviser, to admit that correlations between tax cuts and economic growth were “a myth.” But once you’re in the jungle, the way out isn’t easy. The vacated Republican seats may entice Bannon-funded candidates who are true believers in Trumpism. That could turn the marriage of convenience between DJT and GOP into a suicide pact. Insurgent candidates such as former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore, who has been accused of child molestation and sexual misconduct, could prove far more devastating than establishment incumbents who may not share Bannon’s nationalist vision but will maintain Republican majorities in Congress.
Speaking last weekend in Arizona, unaware that a microphone had been turned on, Flake admitted to a fear shared by most of his establishment peers: “If we become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast.”
“It's increasingly hard to see how they recover from this,” says Charles Sykes, the onetime conservative radio host who has left the party and written about it in How the Right Lost Its Mind. “By pandering to the Trumpists, they have isolated themselves from the majority of voters. And this association with Roy Moore will be radioactive.”
Trump may do for conservatives what Stalin did for American radicals, forcing them to re-evaluate their convictions. The onetime eager socialists of City College in the century’s first decades became the neoconservatives who formed the backbone of the Republican Party through the George W. Bush presidency . . . . Trump may try to blame Democrats for this dour national mood, but voters aren’t likely to be fooled. “The Republican brand is shattered for the millennial generation and young people,” Schmidt told me. “It’s shattered for all time for Latinos, with African-Americans. And it’s shattered not because of Trump’s terrible behavior, but because of the absolute cowardice of the leaders of the Congress”. Richard Painter, who served as the ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, wrote on Twitter that he intends to remain part of the loyal opposition to Trump. “I am staying a Republican,” he wrote. “Will not let GOP be taken over by Russian collaborators, racists, pedophiles and outlaws. Will oppose all elected officials who do not stand up for the rule of law.”
In response to that tweet, someone replied with the image of a tombstone for the Republican Party. The cause of death, the doctored tombstone declared, was Donald Trump.
It has been ten years since my first Thanksgiving post. I want to say "Thank you" to my readers who have been along with me for all those years. Much has changed in the last decade. I met my husband, I reconciled with my children, I lost my parents (actually, my dad passed away eleven years ago), and I gained five grandchildren. I also have become fully comfortable with who I am. It seems with each passing Thanksgiving, however, that even as I remember all the good in my life I think more and more about those who are no longer with me: grandparents, parents, my sister, and many others - I learned this past week that a friend from my magical teen years at Brantingham Lake left us. The top image in a photo of a pencil drawing of my parents home of 30 years in Virginia Beach where we had so many Thanksgiving. It was a Christmas gift to them and was done by a local artist based on a photo that we gave her. When my mother passed away, the framed drawing came back to me. It now hangs adjacent to photos of my parents on their wedding day.
On a happier note and looking forward, the husband and I are hosting one of his nieces and her husband (they have hosted us in the past) and four friends )the table is set as shown above. We will be joined by our niece's daughter and her husband and new baby for dessert along with another couple. I've already baked three pies - my grandmother's pumpkin pie recipe, pecan and an apple/raspberry pie. The husband has been busy as well. It should be a fun afternoon. On Saturday we will get together with my two daughter and the five grandchildren - it will be another fun time that we are looking forward to.
I wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all my Facebook friends and my readers who celebrate the holiday - thanks for visiting the blog. May all enjoy this special day of family and friends.
As a previous post noted, Jared Kushner has been called out by the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee for failing to turn over numerous emails between himself and Wikileaks and Russian contacts. Obviously, if the Senate Committee is aware of Kushner's attempts to hide information, it is a safe bet that Robert Mueller and his team are likewise on the trail. This, combined with Kushner's failure to disclose foreign contacts, add to the overall impression that Trump et al, are lying and seeking to cover up information. Basically, obstructing justice. Further adding to Kushner's angst is the fact that he has been removed from many of his assignments at the White House even as he may be facing the bankruptcy of one of his company's properties in New York City. A piece in Vanity Fair looks at Jared Kushner's situation. Here are highlights:
When Donald Trump appointed John Kelly as chief of staff in July, the four-star Marine general arrived with a mandate to bring order to a freewheeling West Wing. . . . The aide who has ceded the most influence in the Kelly era, these people said, is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. “Kelly has clipped his wings,” one high-level Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me.
It’s perhaps hard to remember now, but it wasn’t long ago when Trump handed Kushner a comically broad portfolio that included plans to reinvent government, reform the V.A., end the opioid epidemic, run point on China, and solve Middle East peace. But since his appointment, according to sources, Kelly has tried to shrink Kushner’s responsibilities to focus primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And even that brief appears to be creating tensions between Kushner and Kelly.
Where this all leaves Kushner in Trump’s ever-changing orbit is a topic that’s being discussed by Republicans close to the White House.
As Kushner’s Russia troubles mount—last Friday the Senate disclosed that he had not turned over e-mails about WikiLeaks, a claim his attorney, Abbe Lowell, denied—insiders are again speculating, as my colleague Emily Jane Fox reported last month, about how long Kushner and Ivanka Trump will remain in Washington. Despite Kushner’s efforts to project confidence about Robert Mueller’s probe, he expressed worry after the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates about how far the investigation could go. “Do you think they’ll get the president?” Kushner asked a friend, according to a person briefed on the conversation.
According to two Republicans who have spoken with Trump, the president has also been frustrated with Kushner’s political advice, including his encouragement to back losing Alabama G.O.P. candidate Luther Strange and to fire F.B.I. Director James Comey, which Kushner denies. (For what it’s worth, Kushner’s choice of Strange prevented Trump from the embarrassment of inadvertently supporting Roy Moore.) Trump, according to three people who’ve spoken to him, has advocated for Jared and Ivanka to return to New York in part because they are being damaged by negative press.
“He keeps pressuring them to go,” one source close to Kushner told me. But as bad as the Russia investigation may be, it’s not clear a New York homecoming would be much better for Kushner, given that his family’s debt-ridden office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue could be headed for bankruptcy.
Adding to the travails of the Trump/Pence regime is another Vanity Fair story that looks at what really happened during Trump's meeting with Russian Ambassador at the White House and the possible consequences:
In the secretive corridors of the American espionage community, the Israeli mission was praised by knowledgeable officials as a casebook example of a valued ally’s hard-won field intelligence being put to good, arguably even lifesaving, use.
Yet this triumph would be overshadowed by an astonishing conversation in the Oval Office in May, when an intemperate President Trump revealed details about the classified mission to Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and Sergey I. Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Along with the tempest of far-reaching geopolitical consequences that raged as a result of the president’s disclosure, fresh blood was spilled in his long-running combative relationship with the nation’s clandestine services. Israel—as well as America’s other allies—would rethink its willingness to share raw intelligence, and pretty much the entire Free World was left shaking its collective head in bewilderment as it wondered, not for the first time, what was going on with Trump and Russia. (In fact, Trump’s disturbing choice to hand over highly sensitive intelligence to the Russians is now a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s relationship with Russia, both before and after the election.)
Trump seemed not to notice, or feel restrained by, the unfortunate timing of his conversation with Russian officials who were quite possibly co-conspirators in a plot to undermine the U.S. electoral process. Instead, full of a chummy candor, the president turned to his Russian guests and blithely acknowledged the elephant lurking in the room. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” he said, according to a record of the meeting shared with The New York Times. “He was crazy, a real nut job.” With the sort of gruff pragmatism a Mafia don would use to justify the necessity of a hit, he further explained, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Yet that was only the morning’s perplexing prelude. What had been an unseemly conversation between the president and two high-ranking Russian officials soon turned into something more dangerous.
“I get great intel,” the president suddenly boasted, as prideful as if he were bragging about the amenities at one of his company’s hotels. “I have people brief me on great intel every day.” He quickly went on to share with representatives of a foreign adversary not only the broad outlines of the plot to turn laptop computers into airborne bombs but also at least one highly classified operational detail—the sort of sensitive, locked-in-the-vault intel that was not shared with even Congress or friendly governments.
So why? Why did a president who has time after volatile time railed against leakers, who has attacked Hillary Clinton for playing fast and loose with classified information, cozy up to a couple of Russian bigwigs in the Oval Office and breezily offer government secrets?
Any answer is at best conjecture. Yet in the search for an important truth, consider these hypotheses, each of which has its own supporters among past and current members of the U.S. intelligence community. . . . . there is also a more sinister way to connect all the dots. There are some petulant voices in official Washington who insist that the president’s treachery was deliberate, part of his longtime collaboration with the Russians. It is a true believer’s orthodoxy, one which predicts that the meeting will wind up being one more damning count in an indictment that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, will ultimately nail to the White House door.
“Trump betrayed us,” said a senior Israeli military official bluntly, his voice stern with reproach. “And if we can’t trust him, then we’re going to have to do what is necessary on our own if our back is up against the wall with Iran.” Yet while appalled governments are now forced to rethink their tactics in future dealings with a wayward president, there is also the dismaying possibility that a more tangible, and more lethal, consequence has already occurred.
What, then, was the fate of Israel’s agent in Syria? Was the operative exfiltrated to safety? Has he gone to ground in enemy territory? Or was he hunted down and killed? One former Mossad officer with knowledge of the operation and its aftermath will not say. Except to add pointedly, “Whatever happened to him, it’s a hell of price to pay for a president’s mistake.”
Personally, I agree with the Israelis - Trump betrayed them. As to why, count me as one of the "true believers" noted in the article.
When the Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to state (i) that there would be no established church - e.g., no government sponsored/preferred church - , and (ii) freedom of religion, that had concrete things in mind. Prior to American independence, in many of the American colonies, the Church of England was the state church which meant that EVERY taxpayer paid toward the maintenance of the Church of England and its properties and that for marriages to be legal, that had to be confirmed by the Church of England regardless of one's religious affiliation (such was the case in Virginia). Secondly, prior to independence, one could suffer legal repercussions and civil disabilities if one did not belong to the right denomination. These are the things the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent. Now, Christofascists are seeking to pervert this original intent and secure Christian extremists the right to ignore non-discrimination laws if the targets of their discrimination offend their "religious beliefs." Stated another way, these extremists want special rights to discriminate against others based on the targets' religious beliefs or failure to adhere to Christofascist dogma. It is an utter travesty. A piece in the New York Times looks at this perverse effort and some of its proponents, including the farcically named Alliance Defending Freedom which only wants rights and freedom for Christofascists. The Times piece fails to note that Alliance Defending Freedom is a certified hate group. Here are article excerpts:
The details were spare when the event appeared this summer on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s public schedule. He would speak on religious liberty to a group called Alliance Defending Freedom. No exact location was specified. No news media would be allowed in.
Only after an outcry over such secrecy — and the anti-gay rights positions of its sponsor — did a transcript of Mr. Sessions’s remarks emerge on a conservative website. “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack,” he told the gathering in Orange County, Calif. “The challenges our nation faces today concerning our historic First Amendment right to the ‘free exercise’ of our faith have become acute.”
Mr. Sessions’s focus was not an accident. The First Amendment has become the most powerful weapon of social conservatives fighting to limit the separation of church and state and to roll back laws on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Few groups have done more to advance this body of legal thinking than the Alliance Defending Freedom. It has a larger footprint than most, with more than 3,000 lawyers working on behalf of its causes around the world. And it is better financed, bringing in $51.5 million in revenue for the 2015-16 tax year, more than the American Civil Liberties Union.
[I]t hopes to carve out an even wider sphere of protected religious expression this term when the justices are to hear two more of its cases, one a challenge to a California law that requires “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are run by abortion opponents, to provide women with information on how to obtain an abortion, and another in which it represents a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.
[T]he Colorado baker’s case, which the court will hear next month, will test whether groups like the alliance can persuade the court to similarly blunt the sweep of Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that enshrined same-sex marriage into law, as well as the anti-discrimination laws protecting gay men and lesbians.
If there is a battle somewhere to restrict protections for gay men, lesbians or transgender people, chances are the alliance is there fighting it. . . . . It has tried to stop a Charlotte, N.C., law that gave transgender people the right to use the bathroom of their choice. It backed the failed attempt by the Arizona legislature in 2014 to allow businesses to cite religious freedom in turning away same-sex couples.
But civil liberties groups and gay rights advocates say that Alliance Defending Freedom’s arguments about religious liberty and free expression mask another motivation: a deep-seated belief that gay people are immoral and that no one should be forced to recognize them as ordinary members of society.
“They are a very powerful part of this broader movement, which is trying to bring a very particular biblical worldview into dominance at all levels of government and society,” said Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group.
“They’ve got some very big, very clear goals,” said Mr. Montgomery, who has studied Alliance Defending Freedom since the group’s founding in 1994. . . . One of those goals was to defend laws that criminalized gay and lesbian sexual conduct.
In a brief the alliance filed urging the Supreme Court not to overturn a Texas law that made homosexual activity illegal, its lawyers described gay men as diseased and as public health risks. The court decided 6 to 3 that the law was unconstitutional.
The United States is not the only place the group has been active. Before Belize’s highest court struck down a law last year that banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” the group sent activists there to work with local lawyers who were trying to keep the prohibition in place. In India, an Alliance Defending Freedom-affiliated lawyer was part of the legal team that has defended a similar law in the country’s Supreme Court.
How the alliance is approaching the case of the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, is an illustration of its evolving public relations strategy. Gone are the fiery denunciations of gay men and lesbians as sinners and reprobates. A sophisticated multimedia campaign, called “Justice for Jack,” portrays Mr. Phillips as the victim of heavy-handed state bureaucrats.
Gay rights advocates acknowledge what they are up against. “They know those are messages that work better, and they are no longer leading with the messages they used to, which are ‘gay people are pedophiles and we need to keep them away from our kids,’” said James Esseks, an A.C.L.U. lawyer who focuses on gender identity and sexual orientation issues. “It’s a very intentional shift, a very strategic shift.”
Back in Washington, the alliance’s close connections with Mr. Sessions’s Justice Department seem to be deepening. In September, the department filed a brief arguing that Mr. Phillips should not be forced to violate his faith. There is no clear line between his speech and his clients,’” it said. “He is giving effect to their message by crafting a unique product with his own two hands.”
Today the Christofascists are targeting gays. Tomorrow it could be Muslims, non-Christians in general, and, if the strong white supremacist element prevails, racial minorities. These efforts need to be stopped. One way of doing this is for the larger society to begin to understand that evangelical Christians are NOT nice, decent, moral people. They are motivated by hatred, they are self-centered, they lie incessantly in the political arena, and they seek to force their beliefs on all - just like the established church in pre-American Revolution days which the Founders sought to prevent in the new nation.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Lost to many in the daily media circus over Roy Moore, natural disasters and the lead up to the holidays is the frightening appointments that Donald Trump is making to the federal judiciary. These are lifetime appointments and Trump is appointing many who are unfit, totally lacking in experience, and/or are alt-right ideologues. Sadly, Republicans in the Senate seem only too happy to confirm those who only a few years ago would never have received a nomination to such important provisions. The danger this phenomenon posed makes it all the more urgent that Democrats retake the U.S. Senate in 2018, to prevent a further perversion of the federal judiciary. A piece in New York Magazine looks at the danger Trump and a feckless Republican Party pose to the rule of law. Here are excerpts:
Leo, after all, had a central role in advising first the Trump campaign and the Trump administration on judicial prospects, in conjunction with the Heritage Foundation. It’s a job he had spent many years preparing to perform as he helped build the Federalist Society from a group for conservative law students into a highly influential network of right-wing judges and law professors, bankrolled by the Koch Brothers and other wealthy interests concerned with reining in Big Government and inhibiting progressive cultural developments.
The guest speaker at this year’s Federalist Society bash was the American Beauty Rose of Leo’s careful judicial gardening effort: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Safely planted on the High Court, Gorsuch was able to dispense with the cautious non-partisan pieties of his confirmation hearings and acknowledge his deep kinship with Leo and the “originalist and textualist” thinkers who were busily working to reverse old liberal precedents and prevent others.
Even before Trump’s election enabled a new wave of carefully vetted conservative judges, the Republican Senate had ensured it would be enormous by systematically obstructing Barack Obama’s judicial appointments, particularly during the last year of his presidency (thwarted SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland was just one casualty). When Gorsuch was appointed, that same GOP majority made his confirmation easy by abolishing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Subsequently Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley sped up confirmation of Trump’s and Leo’s Court of Appeals and district court appointments by reversing his past position and junking the “blue slip” precedent letting individual senators hold up or veto judges from their states.
Yes, it’s a sweet moment for the Federalist Society and its beneficiaries, from social conservatives wanting to re-criminalize abortion to libertarians who view federal regulation of businesses as largely illegitimate. But there is a threat on the horizon that could grow much larger on December 12: the specter of a Democratic Senate.
With a Democratic wave election next year appearing more likely every day, and the GOP’s Roy Moore disaster in Alabama making Democrat Doug Jones the front-runner for Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat, there is now for the first time a plausible path to a Democratic majority next year. If Democrats win Alabama and the five 2018 Senate races that the Cook Political Report rates as toss-ups–not at all an unlikely scenario in a “wave” election–and don’t lose any of the races in which they are now favored, then they’ll enter the 116th Congress with 51 senators.
What would that mean for Trump’s judicial appointments and the Federalist Society’s agenda? There’s no way to know for sure, but with all 48 Democrats voting against the abolition of SCOTUS filibusters earlier this year, Democrats could bring back that great obstacle to a fifth Justice ready to overturn Roe v. Wade–the great prize conservative evangelical leaders hoped for in backing the heathenish Trump for president–right away.
Even if Republicans do hang on to the Senate in 2018, the road ahead would become very quickly rocky for conservatives. The Senate landscape in 2020 is unfavorable: Republicans will be defending 22 of the 33 seats up that year. And in a presidential election year, particularly if Donald Trump is running for reelection, Democratic turnout should be maximized.
Neil Gorsuch will likely be on the Supreme Court for many years, and every week brings new arch-conservative lifetime appointees to the bench at lower levels. But the Right’s conquest of the judiciary could come to a halt as early as a year from now, with Leonard Leo returning to his old digs as a power broker in exile.
Having been an attorney for over 40 years, I understand how serious the situation is. Many do not grasp how these right wing extremist appointments could effect their legal rights in ways ranging from the trashing of safety regulations, to restricting the rights of minorities, to literally aiding in the disenfranchisement of those who vote against Republicans. It is crucial that Democrats retake the Senate and stop this destruction of a competent and impartial judiciary.