Saturday, December 15, 2018

Governors Ralph Northam and Larry Hogan: States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change

Ralph Northam being sworn in as Governor of Virginia.

With the Trump/Pence regime openly attacking environmental regulations and seeking to undo decades of clean water and clean air policies that have greatly reduced water and air pollution, states are increasingly seeking to step in and protect their own environments and the well being of their citizens.  Indeed, 17 governors are now members of the U.S. Climate Alliance which aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris agreement.  A joint editorial by Governors Ralph Northam and Larry Hogan of Virginia and Maryland (one Democrat and one Republican), respectively lays out efforts states can take to blunt the damage being done by the rogue Trump/Pence regime and to protect the air and water quality of their states.  Here are column highlights from the Virginian Pilot:  
THE TRUMP administration’s pursuit of policies to reverse or supplant environmental laws that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions has made combating climate change difficult. But where the federal government refuses to lead, state governments will.
For the sake of our future and the future of our children, it is time to put aside partisan interests and get to work.
Today, nations from around the world are in Poland working on a common set of rules that will govern the implementation of the Paris climate agreement and report on their progress. The residents of Virginia and Maryland, as well as all those of other states across the country, have a stake in ensuring that the agreement succeeds.
That is why we support the elected officials and leaders from cities, tribes, businesses, universities, hospitals and churches who represent U.S. support for the Paris climate agreement. Together, this delegation of leaders will make it clear to the world that we are doing our part to keep the United States on track to fulfill the promise it made in Paris.
We are already experiencing the negative effects of climate change, as the recent National Climate Assessment from 13 federal agencies made painfully clear. . . . . This new report from the federal government confirms what we already know: Climate change can hurt public health and cripple our economy.
Our most important job as governors is ensuring the safety of our constituents. So when we face a threat to people’s livelihoods and way of life, showing leadership means acknowledging the risks and addressing them.
This is why a bipartisan group of governors joined to form the U.S. Climate Alliance. After starting with three governors, the alliance has now grown to 17 state leaders who have committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris agreement. We are united in our belief that smart, coordinated state action can ensure that the United States continues to contribute to the global effort to address climate change. Together, we are taking action to implement a range of climate policies — such as lowering the cost of renewable energy and promoting the use of electric vehicles.
In our home states of Maryland and Virginia, we are experiencing rising seas, more extreme weather events, regular high-tide flooding and a changing Chesapeake Bay. That’s why Maryland has become a leader in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and passed a law to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent, creating a model for others to follow. Maryland also has an active, bipartisan Commission on Climate Change and is a leader in climate resilience and preparedness, as well as in championing green infrastructure, open spaces, and a climate academy for local officials and citizens. Recently, the state has announced its intention to ban the manufacture and use of hydrofluorocarbons, a super-polluting greenhouse gas.
And just to the south, Virginia has begun the process to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030 and recently announced its intention to significantly reduce emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas that is more than 80 times more damaging than carbon dioxide in the short term. Virginia also issued an executive order last month detailing steps to address extreme weather, including the creation of a Coastal Resilience Master Plan to protect private property and critical public assets, using nature-based infrastructure whenever possible.
[W]e will make plans to adapt and protect our residents and our coastlines. These steps will help slow climate change, but we need help. We call on leaders of all political persuasions to get to work and cooperate across aisles and across borders — both national and international — to meet the challenge of climate change.
Elections have consequences.  Had Northam not won in 2017, there is little doubt that Ed Gillespie would be taking a very different approach and joining in with the Trump/Pence regime and hastening the willful degradation the environment. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Lists of Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse Are Spilling Out Across the Country


In a prior post I noted how organized religion has been the worse purveyor of anti-LGBT abuse and hatred for centuries.  No part of organized religion has done more to make life a living hell for LGBT people than the Roman Catholic Church which still labels gays as "inherently disordered" and "inclined towards evil" even as the Church is being increasingly shown to be full of predator clergy and defined by rank hypocrisy.  Rather than admit that the Church's rampant sex abuse problem stems from its warped dogma on sex and sexuality and the Church's quest for power and control over others, Pope Francis is joining the chorus that blames the enter problem on gays within the ranks of the clergy.  This lame and disingenuous scapegoating ignores the cover ups and all too often aiding and abetting of predator priests throughout bishoprics literally all across the globe.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the lists (which are said by many to be woefully incomplete) of predatory priests being belatedly released by some bishops as they seek to stem the hemorrhaging of parishioners who are finally walking away in disgust. As the piece notes, it will likely take federal and state prosecutors to ever secure a full accounting of the true numbers of child rapists and molesters the Church has sheltered.  Here are article highlights (the piece begins by referencing a list released by the Diocese of Syracuse where I was raised through high school): 

It was a list Charles L. Bailey Jr. had wanted to see for years: the names of the priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. . . . on Dec. 3, Mr. Bailey got a call from a local reporter. It was up, on the diocesan website. Fifty-seven priests. None were still in ministry and most were deceased, including, there on Page 4, the priest who had repeatedly raped Mr. Bailey when he was not yet a teenager.
As the Catholic Church faces a wave of federal and state attorney general investigations into its handling of sex abuse, bishops around the country have struggled with how to react. Some have locked down defensively. Others are waiting on guidance from the Vatican, which instructed American bishops last month to wait on taking any collective action until the new year.
But dozens of bishops have decided to take action by releasing lists of the priests in their dioceses who were credibly accused of abuse. And they are being released at an unprecedented pace.
The disclosures have trickled out week by week — 10 names in Gaylord, Mich.; 28 in Las Cruces, N.M.; 28 in Ogdensburg, N.Y.; 15 in Atlanta; 34 in San Bernardino, Calif., among many others. All 15 dioceses in Texas have agreed to release lists. Last week, the leaders of two major Jesuit provinces, covering nearly half of the states, released the names of more than 150 members of the order “with credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”
Many of the priests named on the lists are dead, but not all. Many had already been known as abusers, but scores of names are new, even to activists who have been closely following the church abuse scandals for years. Among the known allegations, many of the cases date back generations.
Some victims, as they comb through the lists, say there are names missing. Others see reason for distrust in the fact that the church had names to release at all, nearly two decades after claiming the sexual abuse scandals introduced a new era of transparency.
The lists are coming in the wake of an explosive grand jury report released in August by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, detailing at grim length the abuse of over 1,000 people by hundreds of priests. Investigations have followed in more than a dozen states.
The scope of the federal investigation remains unclear. Last month, William M. McSwain, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, sent a request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the United States not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse.
Still, if releasing the lists was meant to defuse the anger of the church’s critics, there is little evidence it has done that.
In Syracuse, Mr. Bailey said that he had already received calls from victims who said their abusers were not on the list. The name of the priest who had raped Mr. Bailey was listed in a section for clergy who “were deceased at the time of the reporting of the allegation,” a claim he said was contradicted by some of the priest’s abuse victims.Among a laity distrustful of the church’s handling of sex abuse, there is a widespread sentiment that the only way to get the truth is through the subpoena power of law enforcement.
“The civil court system, that’s the new way the Holy Spirit moves,” said Patrick Wall, a former priest and canon lawyer who now works on behalf of abuse victims.
Advocacy groups suggest that bishops could invite the authorities to pore through all of a diocese’s files. Or the authorities could come in uninvited, as was the case when dozens of federal and local agents conducted a surprise search of the offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston last month.
The mistrust underlying all this was earned, Bishop Coyne said. The bishops had proven over the last two decades that they had not been able to police themselves. But given the current atmosphere, self-policing might not be an option any more.
“Now I have a reason,” Bishop Coyne said of pushing for the publication of a list. “The list is going to get published anyway.”
Given the complete moral bankruptcy of the Church hierarchy, I remain amazed how otherwise decent people can remain a part of and continue to fund what might well be called a criminal enterprise, especially now that the third highest official at the Vatican has been convicted of child molestation. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Organized Religion: The Worse Bully of LGBT People

Now, in the midst of the Christmas holiday season, many LGBT individuals across America and so-called Christian areas of the world find themselves disconnected from any religious aspect of the season.  Why?  Very simple: through out much of its history - at least since the 1100's - Christianity has been one of the worse tormentors and enemies of LGBT people. Much of this mistreatment of LGBT individuals traces back to the ignorant writings of the Hebrew Old Testament - ignorance which was sadly also picked up by Islam.  Add to the poison of a few passages in Leviticus the sick need of many to fell superior to others and to have some target for abuse as "other", and organized religion has been a toxic evil to so many LGBT people throughout history since the rise of Christianity and the dissemination of the message of hate by Christian missionaries.  A piece in The Advocate looks at this sad truth.  Here are excerpts:
As a gay youth, I attended church like I attempted suicide: half-heartedly, with a lack of conviction, and pretty sure it wasn’t for me. That makes me one of the lucky ones.
Growing up in Wilmington, Del., in the 1970s and 1980s, I had no idea how lucky I was to be brought up in a hodge-podge of faith traditions. My parents were raised in different Protestant traditions, but my mother had converted to Catholicism to marry (and shortly divorce) her first husband. They had an ethical and moral basis in the teachings of Christianity, but neither was particularly connected to the trappings of any specific tradition.  They were married in the Episcopal Church, the best option for a divorced woman in 1971. Early on, and because of that choice, they were part of a congregation that was less judgmental of difference. 
Additionally, since my parents had met onstage in community theatre, they had many friends who were gay and this was the world into which I was born. I went to Sunday school for a few years and went to services on Christmas Eve and on Easter Sunday.
It wasn’t until I came out to them in the late '80s that the subtle insidiousness of church teachings reared its head. Despite having gay friends in the theatre, in their social groups and even in our living room on a regular basis, having a gay son was not an option my mother wanted to consider. I was told I could never bring a boyfriend home, and she openly confessed to worrying what people would think of her. She worried that people would think she was a bad mother and that she’d done something wrong when they found out she had a gay son.
This was not the reaction I expected. Nowhere in her secular life was I given any clue that she would feel any differently about a gay son. Years later, as I reflected on this painful (and thankfully, brief) period, I came to understand that it must have been feelings ingrained by her own religious upbringing.
Like most LGBTQ+ youth, when I started feeling different and out of place (Steven Carrington on Dynasty was the only significant LGBTQ+ character on TV in those days), I was confused. I was depressed. I was anxious. I’d been the subject of bullying for most of my life,  . . . . In the absence of other factors and in the presence of other LGBTQ+ people in her social circles leads me to believe that the religion of her upbringing had coded these feelings deep into her subconscious, and that is where religion became an issue for me.
For too many LGBTQ+ teens, though, religion IS the issue. According to data from a 2011 study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium , gay and lesbian youth who reported that religion was important to them were 38 percent more likely to have had recent suicidal thoughts.  . . . Only 5 percent of the heterosexual youth surveyed had considered suicide.
No person, no matter their sexual or affectional orientation, their gender, their class, their beliefs or their interests should be made to feel inferior, particularly in a community that is meant to provide support and love. Religious bullying, whether direct, or in my mother’s case, subconscious, can serve as one of the most destructive forms of bullying and more has to be done to prevent it.
Religious-based bullying of  LGBTQ+ people is insidious. It can lead to isolation, disrespect, and exclusion. According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, nearly 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+, and many of them are likely homeless because their families’ faith could not accept them for who they are. Worse, it is killing LGBTQ+ young people.
[W]e have a moral obligation to embrace each other’s differences: true faith doesn’t bully. It is about love and support. I’m proud to have recently joined the team at the Tyler Clementi Foundation, where our “True Faith Doesn’t Bully” campaign is working to provide tailored resources to help faith communities affirm the value of the lives of every single individual, no matter their identity. . . . We all deserve that.
I have more or less walked away from Christianity in any organized form.  Like many of their generation, my children are now "Nones" despite having been raised Catholic, and my grandchildren, thankfully, are being spared from Christian indoctrination and all of the self-hate and judgment of others that it sadly embodies.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Pelosi’s Radical Impeachment Strategy


While we still don't know what the Mueller investigation will reveal, it is safe to say at this point that with the Cohen plea, sentencing and continued cooperation, the non-prosecution agreement entered into by the parent of the National Inquirer, and the possible bombshells Maria Butina may drop, Donald Trump is facing significant legal liability.  Some view the offences as impeachable and holding the specter of impeachment over Trump has a certain utility while the results of the Mueller investigation continues to come forth. Yet, barring truly damaging proof of worse crimes or a documented conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, some believe that House Democrats will hold off on actually impeaching Trump.  Why?  Because keeping him in office and allowing a steady drip of criminal offenses to trickle out may prove more damaging to Republicans in the long run and make Trump unelectable in 2020 (at least outside on moronic evangelical circles).  Further, it avoids the possibility of Pence replacing Trump were Trump to be driven from office.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at this impeachment strategy.  Here are highlights:
The argument for impeaching Trump has been straightforward: when a U.S. president has committed high crimes, justice and the rule of law call for the ultimate sanction. You cannot uphold the pillars of the Constitution if you look the other way in favor of expediency. “Electoral politics don’t matter,” tweeted Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce. “‘Optics’ don’t matter. Sean Hannity doesn’t matter. The House now has an unavoidable constitutional obligation to open an impeachment inquiry. If it declines, the constitutional provision is nothing more than what Jefferson called it: a scarecrow.” Perhaps a bubbling up in such arguments is why one analyst, Greg Valliere of Horizon Investments, places the odds of impeachment at 55 percent.
There are many reasons Democrats will steer clear of impeachment, and expedience is only one of them.
While expedience is always a powerful force in political life, it’s not the biggest barrier to impeachment. Certainly, older Democrats remember the midterms of 1998, the year that Republicans set the impeachment train going against Bill Clinton. To general surprise, Republicans wound up losing a few seats in the House, a setback that was widely interpreted as a rebuke of impeachment zealotry. But Clinton’s approval ratings were reaching 70 percent as impeachment got underway, whereas Trump’s struggle to stay above 40.
High-mindedness, in this case, matters more. Democrats like Nancy Pelosi sincerely believe that impeachment is terrible for the country. At best, you get a crippled head of state and a political system in quiet turmoil. At worst, you cause a constitutional crisis. Also, every time you misuse impeachment, you cheapen it. The very idea of impeachment is far less frightening to a president today than it was 20 years ago, because Clinton showed it could be an unpleasant but temporary ordeal, like a stay in the hospital. Poor judgment by Republicans made it into a paper tiger.
Related to the high-mindedness is another comforting reality: there is a base level of goodwill between the two parties in the House. . . . . What infuriates either side is a breach in implicit boundaries, such as when Newt Gingrich deployed a new brand of attack rhetoric in the 1980s and 1990s, or when Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay held a vote open for three hours. Currently, though, despite all tensions over policy, House Republicans have played fair enough to mollify House Democrats, and the two sides get along better than you’d think. When Pelosi asserts that truly impeachment-worthy crimes would get Republican buy-in for action, she means it.
Impeachment is like yelling, “Fire!” Unless everyone can see the flames, as opposed to your side alone, you lose credibility, with serious repercussions in all directions. That’s what happened to Republicans in 1998, and this, just as much as midterm setbacks, is what many Democrats take as the crucial lesson.
If Pelosi understands anything better than nearly anyone else, it’s the workings of consensus. Impeachment is the breakdown of consensus, and if you’re using it in the hopes of getting a president booted out of office, then you’re doing it wrong.
If the crimes are indisputably heinous, however, then, as Pelosi sees it, impeachment never happens. Instead, the leaders of the House and Senate pay a visit to the Oval Office and say, “Mr. President, we have the votes to impeach and convict you. The jig is up.” Then the president, as Nixon did, resigns. The circus is averted.
There’s a final dirty truth about why Democrats aren’t going to impeach Trump: they don’t think he’s that bad. Oh, sure, they despise him. (No angry e-mails, please.) Pelosi thinks he’s a coarse and erratic buffoon. But she doesn’t think he’s a Hitler or Mussolini or Pinochet or Franco or Erdoğan or even Orbán. She remembers scandals from previous presidencies.
Anti-Trump passions have therefore presented Democrats like Pelosi with a tricky balance to strike. They value the outrage and voter mobilization, and they’re willing to stoke the fire, but they want a controlled burn. That means tamping down impeachment talk. They’re happy to accuse Trump of crimes and suggest that impeachment would be merited, but then they pull back from the brink. The offenses outlined in recent filings concerning Trump’s payoff to porn actress Daniels are “impeachable,” noted Jerrold Nadler, the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, but “whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question.” A weakened and infuriated Trump is an ideal foil for a party looking to retake the White House, and so is the party covering for him. If Trump were gone, Mike Pence would clean the slate and exhibit far more self-control. So why get in the way of a good, or at least not-all-bad, thing? 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty


Maria Butina’s Boyfriend Claimed he Set up Trump-Russia NRA “Conduit”

Russian spy, Maria Butina, with the NRA's Wayne LaPierre.

Excluding right wing "Christian" organizations, in my view perhaps the most toxic element in American politics is the National Rifle Association ("NRA") which has long put gun manufacturer profits ahead of the safety of American citizens through its opposition to any form of common sense gun control.  No lie or deception has proven too great for the NRA and its henchmen.  Thus, it is wonderful to learn that the NRA may be about to be exposed as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Putin's Russia.  That at least is what Russian spy Maria Butina's "boyfriend" (more likely her stooge who was played by her) claimed in email communications. Butinia has apparently worked a plea deal with Robert Mueller's team - something very unusual for a Russia operative - and could well provide documentation that links the NRA to a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign aimed at flipping the 2016 presidential election to Trump by an influx of Russian funds for pro-Trump campaign ads.  If documented, this could well be the beginning of the end of the NRA, home of so many false patriots if they were accomplices in election interference.  Here are highlights from a piece in Salon (note how the organizers of the so-called National Prayer Breakfast were also trolled):
Admitted Russian spy Maria Butina’s Republican operative boyfriend wrote in private communications that he was involved in setting up a “very private line of communication” between Russia and the Trump campaign using the National Rifle Association as a “conduit.”
Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist, worked for years to cultivate relationships within Republican and NRA circles. She was charged with working as an agent of the Russian government earlier this year and on Monday agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges and cooperate with prosecutors.
In her plea deal, Butina admitted that she and “US Person 1,” who is longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official,” whose description matches Russian banker and close Putin ally Alexander Torshin, for Butina to “act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General,” ABC News reported.
According to ABC News, federal prosecutors have notified Erickson, who had a romantic relationship with Butina, that he is now a target in the ongoing investigation.
According to her agreement, Butina admitted that with Erickson’s help she drafted a proposal called “Description of the Diplomacy Project” in March of 2015 in which she wrote that she had “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.”
According to prosecutors, Erickson “worked with Butina to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics,” including the NRA and the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast.
Erickson appears to have known about Butina’s work and was helping her establish connections.
Erickson wrote in October 2016, in an email to an acquaintance now in possession of the FBI, “I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [unnamed political party] leaders through, of all conduits, the [unnamed gun-rights organization].”
FBI investigators raided Erickson's South Dakota home and found a note in which he mused, “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” The FSB is Russia’s intelligence agency and the successor to the infamous KGB.
Butina continued to attend “friendship dinners” with prominent conservatives and later arranged for a group of Russians to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in February of 2017.  In an email to Erickson, Butina wrote that the Russians were coming to the breakfast “to establish a back channel of communication,” The Daily Beast reported.
As these efforts were ongoing, the NRA was breaking spending records with sums of cash never before seen from the group.
The NRA, relying on an arm of the group that is not required to disclose its donors, spent more than $30 million to elect President Donald Trump, nearly triple the $12.5 million they spent to help Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. They spent $54 million in total to elect Republicans in 2016.  Since the 2016 election, the NRA has cut its spending drastically.
But the NRA didn’t just spend a lot of money to help Trump win. Watchdog groups filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the NRA and the Trump campaign of illegally coordinating ads to influence the 2016 election. According to The Trace, both the NRA and Trump campaign illegally coordinated to the point where their ad buys were authorized by the same person at the National Media Research firm.
After Trump’s election win, Butina wrote to Torshin, “I am ready for further orders.” She was arrested earlier this year and has now agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Erickson appears to be facing the threat of prosecution himself. And Torshin? He appears to have been forced into retirement.
Butina’s cooperation will also likely lead to charges against Erickson, whose relationship with Butina is not entirely clear.  Prosecutors claimed that Butina “appear[ed] to treat [her relationship with Erickson] as simply a necessary aspect of her activities” and privately expressed “disdain” for having to live with him.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Cardinal George Pell Convicted on Charges of Sexually Abusing Choir Boys


How high up in the Vatican do charges of sexual abuse of minors go?  Very high it appears.  A jury in an Australian court unanimously convicted Cardinal George Pell - the No. 3 figure in the Vatican hierarchy and former Archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne - of sexual molesting two choir boys.  That's right it was a unanimous verdict. Details are scarce since the court had imposed a gag order in the case to prevent details from leaking out and potentially impacting the trial and jury.  Pell had been on a "leave of absence" from his Vatican posts and now, albeit belatedly, Pope Francis has dropped him like a hot potato and removed Pell from Francis' informal cabinet (a Chilean cardinal implicated in sex abuse cover ups has likewise been dropped).  As a former gay Catholic, I now wonder why I ever allowed myself to be filled with guilt and self-hate by the dictates of what is now so clearly a morally bankrupt and corrupt Church hierarchy.  The Daily Beast has details on the trial and jury verdict:
The Vatican’s third most powerful official has been convicted in Australia on all charges he sexually abused two choir boys there in the late '90s, according to two sources with knowledge of the case.
A unanimous jury returned its verdict for Cardinal George Pell on Tuesday (Australian time) after more than three days of deliberations, the sources said, in a trial conducted under a gag order by the judge that prevented any details of the trial being made public.
Pell, the Vatican’s finance chief and the highest Vatican official to ever go on trial for sex abuse, left Rome in June 2017 to stand trial in Melbourne.
As that trial was about to get underway in June, a judge placed a suppression order on all press coverage in Australia, according to the order reviewed by The Daily Beast. Prosecutors applied for the order and it was granted to “prevent a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice.” That order remains in place in Australia.
That trial, known as “the cathedral trial,” was declared a mistrial earlier this year after a hung jury, the sources say. A retrial began immediately and ended this week with the unanimous verdict.
Pell was accused by two former choir boys of sexual abuse while he was archbishop of Melbourne in the '90s. The boys sang in the choir at St. Patrick's cathedral and were allegedly abused by Pell in a room in the confines of the church. Pell’s office told The Guardian in 2017 he “repeats his vehement and consistent denials of any and all such accusations.”
A second trial known as “the swimmers trial” is due to get underway early next year, according to sources familiar with the case. That trial is expected to hear evidence that Pell “sexually offended” two men when they were boys playing games in a swimming pool in Ballarat, Victoria.
Sadly, Pell is likely to be far from a lone predator in light of the resignations of two former archbishops of Washington, D.C., one of whom was credibly accused of sexual abuse of seminarians and others, and the other of whom was implicated in cover ups of sexual abuse. The Sydney Morning Herald looks at Francis dropping Pell like a hot potato.  Here are excerpts:
Pope Francis has removed two cardinals from his informal cabinet amid the Catholic Church's sex abuse and cover-up scandal, shedding embarrassing advisers ahead of a high-stakes Vatican summit on abuse early next year.
The Vatican said on Wednesday that Francis in October had written to Cardinal George Pell and Chilean Cardinal Javier Errazuriz thanking them for their five years of service on the so-called Group of Nine, or C-9.
Their continued presence on the C-9 had been a source of scandal for Francis, given the explosion of the abuse and cover-up crisis this year. Francis himself was implicated in the scandal after he strongly defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up for the country's most notorious predator priest - a position he took apparently on the advice of Errazuriz.
Though he has been away from Rome since announcing his leave of absence in June 2017, Pell technically remains prefect of the Vatican's economy secretariat.
No doubt right wing extreme Catholics will continue to scapegoat gays as the root cause of the sex abuse by Catholic clergy rather than admit that the real roots of the problem are : (i) the Roman rite priestly celibacy requirement , (ii) the Church's warped and ignorant 12th century dogma on sex and human sexuality, and (iii) the Church's unhealthy structure of seminary high schools and seminaries that have long guaranteed abnormal psycho-sexual development of candidates for the priesthood.

If one is a decent, moral Catholic, the only option is to leave the Catholic Church until such time as(A) a thorough house cleaning is done of all implicated bishops and cardinals, and (B) the Church discards its warped (and anti-woman) dogma on sex and sexuality.  The Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America offer wonderful alternatives that have a Catholic like liturgy and are free from the corrupt, feudal  Catholic Church hierarchy.

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Americans Should Fear What America is Becoming Under Trump/Pence

Refugee children being warehoused compliments of Trump/Pence.
One of America's shameful episodes - one of many that include genocide of Native Americans and slavery and then Jim Crow - is the manner in which Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Germany and areas it had conquered were refused admission to the United States.  Many went back to Europe to their deaths in death camps or other forms of mass murder.  Why were they refused entry?  Simple.  They were Jewish and "different."  Fast forward to today and a similar cruelty is taking place along the U.S./Mexico border.  Some who have been refused entry or deported have returned to their home countries and, like European Jews before them, have met their deaths - precisely what they said would happen to them and why they sought asylum in this country.  Der Trumpenführer depicts them all as terrorists and criminals, a claim that like most things flowing from his mouth, is a lie.  America and Americans are losing their souls and decent moral people (sorry, but that excludes evangelicals) should be very upset.  A column at NBC News looks at the steady loss of America's soul.  Here are highlights:  
A bleak irony is emerging in Tijuana's border zone. For all the raging conservative rhetoric about how Central American migrants are lawbreakers who refuse to just “get in line” and enter the “legal” way, the asylum seekers are actually "getting in line” — or what passes for a line — by forming an ad hoc queue that Mexican authorities have improvised to maintain some social order.
Every day, migrants line up to be “processed” with a black number scrawled onto their arms — an informal label used to secure a “spot” on a theoretical waiting list. Yet, as they wait indefinitely for their number to be called, the basic institutions of due process they hope to invoke are disintegrating in a dysfunctional, backlogged immigration court system.
The White House remains hell bent on keeping them out, however, and the plan appears to be to warehouse asylum seekers in Mexico with the underlying aim of discouraging them from trying to cross at all. So a ragged encampment in Tijuana is slowly sinking into chaos as heavily militarized American border authorities block and repel refugees.
The situation is not “immigration enforcement” in any meaningful sense. Instead, it's a reprise of historical pattern of exclusion, displacement and oppression that has always surrounded the nation’s southern boundary — lines of class, race, gender and culture are deliberately drawn to police a social gateway to the country. And to President Trump, these refugees are the wrong kind of people.
Whether or not the migrants are ultimately admitted, the crisis at the border is not about who is coming, but who we are; their transgression of an arbitrarily-drawn border is dwarfed by the savagery the U.S. government commits in the name of “security.” The plight of asylum seekers reflects the flagging promise of America as a land of refuge; their suffering is our own self-sabotage.
[M]igrant rights advocates on the other side of the border see a side of crisis that Trump seems incapable understanding: They are desperate families fleeing for safety, they are survivors, they are refugees of social catastrophe. And Trump is right that they're unstoppable, but only because they are following international law and the basic moral principles enshrined in the constitution.
[R]ights advocates say this is a crisis of Trump’s own making.  Michelle Brané, an advocate with the Women’s Refugee Commission, notes that, compared to Mexico, the U.S. asylum system has adequate resources for dealing with the influx of Central American migrants, but refuses to honor its obligations under domestic and international law to process their claims in U.S. courts.
Migrant women and youth are often the most excluded. Women are typically vulnerable to sexual violence, human trafficking, and other forms of gendered coercion and violence. So-called “unaccompanied minors” — young people who migrate alone — are exposed to gang violence and trafficking. Now Brané worries that desperate asylum seekers might eventually be forced to pay bribes, or to trade sex to secure a slot in line, and youth could get roped into trafficking rings.
Though they have narrowly escaped their hells to seek refuge at the border, Trump’s answer to their humanitarian appeal is to make America as inhumane as possible. The migrants escaping Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are not only connected to diaspora communities in the U.S. but, in many ways, their mass exodus stems from generations of U.S. military and political intervention. From Cold War-era political domination, to destabilizing “free trade” deals, to the violent policies of the War on Drugs, social disruption, fueled in large part by U.S. policy, has unraveled Central American societies, unleashing economic deprivation, crime, corruption and gender-based violence. And now Trump is actively deploying state brutality as a deterrence tactic, imprisoning migrants in detention centers, and even systematically ripping children from their parents and leaving countless families traumatized. The administration has argued that systematic violence against women and children is a mere private “misfortune,” too personal to merit humanitarian reprieve. Foreclosing those claims would keep countless women and youth from invoking well-established legal precedents for granting humanitarian protection.

Here during the Christmas season, the irony is that as evangelicals blather about the "war on Christmas," the real war on the values of Christmas and the gospel message is being waged by a foul regime that evangelicals strongly support (and, indeed, put in office).  All they see is brown skin and refuse to see common humanity.  Meanwhile, the real Jesus, if he existed, was a brown skinned man from Palestine, not the white Jesus of the evangelicals. America is losing its soul and the loss is being spearheaded by the false pious "godly folk" and the politicians they support.   

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Signs the Foundation of Trump's Coalition is Cracking


New analysis of the 2018 midterm election results indicate that cracks may be developing in the coalition that thanks to a failure on the part of Electoral College electors put Trump in the White House.  The results of the new analysis also underscores the reality that evangelicals are the principal pestilence in both America's political and social discourse.  Evangelicals reflectively vote Republican and support policies harmful to the poor, the elderly, the sick, and which are decidedly racist and anti-black and anti-Hispanic (the term modern day Pharisees is too kind, in my view).  Meanwhile, the splintering of non-evangelical, non-college educated whites from the Trump coalition could provide an opening for Democrats in 2020 both at the presidential election level and at the Congressional level.  Here are lengthy highlights from a long piece at CNN that looks at this new analysis:

Cracks have emerged in Donald Trump's hold on his core constituency of white working class voters, new data from the 2018 election reveal.
Though Republican candidates almost everywhere registered large margins among white voters without a college degree, Democrats ran much more competitively among the roughly half of that group who are not evangelical Christians, according to previously unpublished results from the 2018 exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool, a consortium of media organizations including CNN. Democrats, the analysis found, ran particularly well this year among white working-class women who are not evangelicals, a group that also displayed substantial disenchantment in the exit poll with Trump's performance. Those women could be a key constituency for Democrats in 2020 in pivotal Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where relatively fewer blue-collar whites are also evangelical Christians. Nationwide, nearly three-fifths of blue-collar white women who are not evangelicals voted Democratic in last month's House races, while an equal number said they disapproved of Trump's performance in office, the analysis of exit poll results found.
 "It's another overlay to the conclusion that there are some parts of the white non-college population that are open to Democrats and can be moved a few points in your direction," says Ruy Teixeira, a long-time Democratic analyst of voting trends who now serves as a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress. Though these distinctions sound like fodder for a cocktail hour argument at a political science faculty lounge, they actually inform a backstage debate simmering among Democratic strategists about 2020. This debate has clear implications for the message the party develops over the next two years and the kind of nominee it chooses against Trump in the next presidential election. At issue is how much emphasis the party should place on trying to recapture white working-class voters as opposed to maximizing turnout among its new base of minority, millennial and college-educated white voters, especially women and those in urban areas. Strategists in this camp argue it would be a mistake for the party to downplay outreach to white working-class voters who are not evangelicals, especially the women in that group.
This bubbling private debate has given rise to a new and improbable acronym that some Democrats see as a potentially pivotal group for 2020: WNCNEW, as in white non-college, non-evangelical women.
 "WNCNEW is the group Democrats should care about," one Democratic strategist insisted in an email. Those women represented about one in nine voters nationally this year and an even larger share in key Rust Belt battlegrounds. In practical terms, the party and its presidential nominee in 2020 inevitably will try to turn out its new base and to regain blue-collar voters of both genders from Trump: the decision facing the party is not either/or. But Democrats will face a genuine choice of emphasis. The detailed exit poll results provided to CNN show clear openings for Democrats with some groups of white working-class voters. But they also indicate that Democrats still face significant headwinds with most of those blue-collar whites and that white evangelical Christians look increasingly monolithic in their support for Republicans. That's a big challenge for Democrats in many southern states, where half or more of working-class whites are also evangelical Christians. To illuminate these subtle but critical distinctions, Edison Research analyzed results from the 2018 exit poll in its national sample and in seven states where voters were asked whether they are evangelical Christians.
 Nationwide, the exit poll found that evangelical Christians this year comprised fully 45% of all white voters without a college degree, a substantial portion of the total electorate. By contrast, evangelicals represented only one-fourth of college-educated white voters. At least 77% of white evangelicals without a college degree voted against the Democratic Senate candidates in Florida, Missouri and Tennessee, while 72% opposed defeated Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly in Indiana, the exit polls found. In the Georgia governor's race, a breathtaking 89% of non-college white evangelicals voted for Republican Brian Kemp over African-American Democrat Stacey Abrams; 84% of those voters picked Ted Cruz over O'Rourke in Texas. Only Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia ran competitively, losing those voters by a narrow 52% to 46% margin. In House races, the exit polls found that exactly three-fourths of white evangelicals without a college degree voted Republican, while only about one-fifth supported Democrats. . . . . The picture wasn't appreciably better among white evangelicals with a college degree.
 The collapse of any meaningful distinctions among evangelicals reflects both their hardening loyalty to the GOP and the contraction of their overall numbers, says Robert P. Jones, chief executive officer of the Public Religion Research Institute, a non partisan group that studies religion, values and politics. In PRRI surveys, he notes, evangelical Christians have declined from about 21% of the total population in 2008 to 15% this year. That erosion, Jones says, has been "asymmetrical," with younger and better-educated members becoming the most likely to leave the faith. That's left behind a group that is older and more uniformly conservative. But if the 2018 election results highlight the solidifying uniformity of white evangelicals — male and female, college-educated or not — the findings simultaneously illuminate pressing reasons for Republican concern about white voters who are not evangelicals, both those with and without college degrees. Democrats carried fully two-thirds of college-educated whites that are not evangelical Christians. That included not only a head-turning 71% of college educated white women who are not evangelicals but also 59% of the equivalent men. The shares that said they disapproved of Trump's performance were even higher in both groups: 74% of the women and 63% of the men.
Democrats carried about three-fifths of these non-evangelical white-collar whites in the Florida Senate race and about two-thirds of them in Indiana, Tennessee and Missouri. Even in Texas, O'Rourke carried 61% of them, while Abrams won 55% of them in the Georgia governor's race. Those geographically dispersed results testify to the breadth of the recoil from the Trump-era GOP among these well-educated white voters that Republicans in an earlier generation considered part of their base. In the national House exit poll, Democrats actually carried a slim 52% to 46% majority among non-college whites who are not evangelicals, though with a significant gender gap. While Democrats won the blue-collar women who are not evangelicals by 16 percentage points, Republicans won the equivalent men by 9 points. And while 56% of those non-evangelical blue-collar men said they approved of Trump's performance in office, 58% of the equivalent women said they disapproved. Those are the so-called WNCNEW that some Democrats see as an essential target for 2020. [T]he 2018 exit polls showed that among both working-class white men and women who are not evangelicals, Democratic House candidates won a measurably higher share of the vote than Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 presidential race. In the heavily blue-collar Rust Belt states that tipped the 2016 election to Trump — particularly Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — even small improvements might be enough to tilt the result the other way. As Teixeira says, when trying to reverse Trump's narrow margin of victory in the decisive states, "it all counts."

More Tuesday Male Beauty


The Myth that Google Searches are Biased Against "Conservatives"

What do you do when those with an education who are not detached from objective reality, who reject your Bronze Age religious beliefs, overt racism and overall embrace of ignorance, find your party and its agenda repugnant?  Blame your unpopularity on the news media which - excluding Fox News and right wing outlets that are the actual purveyors of fake news - are accused of reporting fake news and also blame the Internet search engines for being biased against "conservatives."  Truth be told, the majority of the nation's population are not buying what the GOP, white supremacists, and Christian extremists are peddling and, as a result, no one should be shocked that the search engines follow the majority's interests and outlook, framed in part by Internet searchers' search questions. Yet, one hears ad nausea from the right that they are victims and subject to discrimination, if not persecution, merely because ultimately the majority of Americans find the so-called conservative agenda anathema to their sense of morality and decency.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the deliberate and disingenuous claims of anti-conservative bias.  Here are column highlights: 
[O]n Tuesday, Republicans in the [GOP controlled] House summoned the company’s [Google] chief executive, Sundar Pichai, to Washington so he could answer the burning question of whether its search results are biased against conservatives:
In an unusual move, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy kicked off the hearing — despite not sitting on the committee — by cautioning the tech mogul against letting political bias color its services. The lawmaker, who’s been a leading voice among the prominent Republicans accusing top tech firms in Silicon Valley of censoring conservative speech, said he hoped Pichai could reassure the committee that “any political bias within Google’s workforce does not creep into its search products.”
Every public congressional hearing is a performance, and McCarthy was signaling something important by coming to this one to make this claim. He was applying an old technique to a new phantom problem, a technique sometimes referred to as “working the refs.” It has worked effectively for conservatives for decades in their confrontations with the news media, so why not try to use it against Internet companies, too?
It's pretty simple. Conservatives make unceasing, angry accusations of liberal bias, no matter what the content of news (or Google searches) actually is. . . . . the accusation never changes.
It serves two functions, which are best understood on the news media side. First, constantly attacking reporters for having liberal bias makes them bend over backward to show that they’re being objective, often by treating Democrats harshly.
The second target of the “liberal bias” attack is conservatives themselves. By convincing them that everything they read in the newspaper or see on the network news is a lie concocted by liberals to distort their view of the world, you not only drive them toward conservative media alternatives but also make them far more susceptible to your own propaganda. So when, say, the New York Times publishes an exhaustively documented investigation showing that Donald Trump and his family committed an absolutely epic degree of tax fraud worth hundreds of millions of dollars, it doesn’t penetrate the conservative bubble. Most rank-and-file conservatives won’t hear about it, and the ones who do will dismiss it out of hand, because it comes from the liberal media and therefore must be bogus.
Attacking Google (or Facebook or Twitter or any other Internet company) for supposed liberal bias serves the same two functions. For “evidence,” conservatives look to analyses such as this one from PJ Media, which shows that Google searches on things such as the president are more likely to produce results from supposedly liberal news organizations such as CNN or The Post than they are to feature sources such as the Daily Caller or World Net Daily. How could there possibly be any other explanation than liberal bias?
You might think that you'd have to be some kind of paranoid halfwit to actually believe that Google's search algorithm is intentionally built to make the right look bad, but some people do believe it. . . . .
Even if this kind of attack isn’t going to get Google to change its search algorithm, the second function of the charge is still being served. More than ever before, in the Trump era the right needs rank-and-file conservatives to distrust any information they receive from non-conservative sources, so they’ll believe whatever outlandish thing the president tells them. It’s also important to keep the GOP base feeling aggrieved and resentful, like they are society’s only true victims.
Even if on a personal basis most of the people who work for Google are indeed liberal, its broader goals — such as maximizing profits and avoiding antitrust regulation — usually aren’t. But that won’t stop conservatives from insisting that the company’s search results are biased against them. It’s a strategy that has yielded far too much to ever abandon.

Virginia GOP Hit With Major Blow in Gerrymandering Case


One of the ways in which the Virginia Republican Party has managed to retain control of the Virginia House of Delegates is through deliberate gerrymandering of districts.  Now, in a case that has been pending for a few years, the courts appear poised to order the redrawing of up to 26 districts due to their illegal, racially motivated design.  With the entire General Assembly up for reelection in November, 2019, the outcome of the case could be devastating to Virginia Republicans if 26 gerrymandered districts are redrawn.  Rather than push policies that win a majority of voters' support, the Virginia GOP has increasingly tried to suppress minority votes and when all else fails, gerrymander districts to maintain control  As a piece in Think Progress notes, that game plan may be about to totally unravel.  Here are article highlights:
Virginia’s House of Delegates is one of the most gerrymandered bodies in the country. In 2017, Democrats won the statewide popular vote in Virginia’s legislative races by over nine percentage points. Nevertheless, Republicans still held a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates, thanks to gerrymandering.
But Virginia Democrats may actually get to compete in something approximating free and fair elections next year, thanks to a pair of documents handed down by a federal court on Friday.
Both documents arise from a case entitled Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections. This case, which was originally filed in 2014, alleges that 12 of the state’s House of Delegates districts are unlawful racial gerrymanders. . . . two members of a three-judge panel eventually concluded that 11 of the state’s districts are, indeed, illegal gerrymanders.
The case is currently pending before the Supreme Court, but the Court appears mostly interested in a tangential question regarding whether the Republican-controlled House of Delegates is allowed to appeal the case. Notably, the Supreme Court did not stay lower court proceedings that will redraw Virginia’s gerrymandered maps.
In the first of the two documents handed down on Friday, the three-judge panel considering Virginia’s gerrymander also refused to stay its map-drawing proceedings.
The second document is a report by Bernard Grofman, a University of California, Irvine political scientist that the court charged with devising plans to redraw Virginia’s maps. Grofman’s report is 131-pages long, goes into considerable detail about the state’s districts, and offers a few alternative plans. The punchline, however, is that Grofman anticipates that the court will need to redraw between 21 and 26 of the state’s House of Delegates districts.
So it appears likely that a significant chunk of Virginia’s maps will look quite different in 2019 than it did in 2017. That’s likely to be good news for Democrats. While it remains to be seen what the final maps will look like, the current maps are so egregiously gerrymandered than any alterations are likely to benefit the Democratic Party.
And that, in turn, raises the possibility that the increasingly blue state of Virginia could become a haven for progressive ideas. Virginia has a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, but Northam has thus far been hobbled by a Republican legislature. If Democrats perform as well in 2019 as they did in 2017, but with slightly less gerrymandered maps, Northam could soon find up himself with a much friendlier state legislature.


Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, December 10, 2018

Wishful Thinking, or Will Mike Pence Be Indicted?


As much as I want Donald Trump out of the White House, I do not want him replaced by Mike Pence.  All that would accomplish is replacing a mentally unstable crook with a mentally unstable religious zealot.  Both need to go down in the Russiagate probe.  A piece in The Advocate looks at whether it is merely a liberal dream that Pence will end up indicted or whether just perhaps Pence is up to his eyeballs in lying to Congress and the FBI like Michel Flynn.  Throughout my years involved in politics and monitoring right wing "Christian" organizations, I have learned one thing:  No one - other than perhaps Trump - lies more often that the falsely pious "godly folk" like Pence.  Here are article highlights:

It could be wishful thinking — but a few liberal pundits and activists are predicting that virulently anti-LGBTQ Vice President Mike Pence will be charged with wrongdoing in connection with the 2016 presidential election. 
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating Russian interference in the election and possible collusion by Donald Trump’s campaign, released a heavily redacted sentencing memo Tuesday regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. “The memo clearly states that the Trump transition team was heavily involved in Flynn’s illegal dealings with Russia,” writes PoliticusUSA commentator Leo Vidal. “And, as everyone now remembers, the person in charge of that transition team was none other than vice president-elect Mike Pence.”
“Michael Flynn committed numerous crimes, and Mike Pence did everything possible to cover up those crimes, possibly because he was implicated in them also,” Vidal continues. “In fact, Pence could face the same criminal charges that Mueller brought against Flynn.” Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russian officials and is cooperating with Mueller in the investigation.
Pence, Vidal writes, lied while defending Flynn to the public, and also probably lied to law enforcement. “It is very likely that the redacted portions of Mueller’s memo mention the name Mike Pence, and not in a good way,” he says.
Jon Cooper, chairman of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, also predicts Pence will face criminal charges, as he expressed in a recent tweet.
[N]o one on the outside really knows what’s going to come out of Mueller’s probe. Documents Mueller’s team released Friday concerning former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and lawyer Michael Cohen allege that both lied about Russia contacts, The Washington Post reports. Also, Cohen has implicated the president in campaign finance violations regarding a payment made to keep adult-film star Stormy Daniels silent about a sexual encounter with Trump. “The plot thickened for Trump just a little bit,” the Post notes.
If it’s thickened for Trump, it may likewise thicken for Pence. . . . . . the Mueller investigation has been full of surprises, none of them good for Trump and his inner circle. We’ll be eagerly waiting for the next shoe to drop.