Thursday, May 23, 2019

Utah Mormon Republican Comes Out as Gay: He "Could Not Continue to Live a Lie”

Nathan Ivie — Photo: Facebook
Those of us of older generations and/or raised in anti-gay religious traditions often struggle for years trying to "pray away the gay" or even undergoing fraudulent "conversion therapy" in order to meet family or religious denomination expectations.  Having undergone this struggle myself for decades, I can assure straight readers that it is a living hell filled with self-hate and self-loathing and, at least in my own case, constant thoughts of suicide which eventually lead to two serious attempts which landed me in the hospital.  Eventually many of us - unless one is Rick Santorum or Ken Cuccinelli - reach a point where we simply no longer have the strength to continue to live a lie and live our lives as actors on a stage playing an assigned role. To say that it is exhausting and soul killing is an understatement.

This is not to say that those of us who married spouses of the opposite gender did not love that other person as much as a gay can romantically love an  opposite gender spouse.  I/we did love them, yet felt guilt because in our heart we could not be what they deserved. This damage to both the gay spouse and the straight spouse is the direct fruit of right wing Christians' - and Muslims' - rejection of modern medical and mental health knowledge on sexual orientation.  Rather than admit that their cherished religious dogma is wrong, these fundamentalist prefer to ruin countless lives. 

As Metro Weekly is reporting, a Mormon Republican  from the state of Utah finally reached the point I reached 18 years ago where he simply could no longer live the lie.  Here are article excerpts:
A Republican lawmaker in Utah has come out as gay after working with families who lost their LGBTQ children to suicide.  Nathan Ivie, a Utah County Commissioner, posted a four-minute video to his Facebook page saying that he had been fighting his sexuality since age 9.
The forty-year-old also detailed a suicide attempt in his early 20s, and said he wanted to help struggling LGBTQ youth know that life is worth living.
“There’s no easy way to say this, I might as well just jump up and say it — I’m gay,” Ivie, who is also Mormon, said. “That’s my reality and that’s what I need to talk to you about today.” Ivie said he had spent “decades…wrestling with who I really am,” and that accepting his sexuality had “not been easy.”
“I understand the impact my discoveries have had and will have on others, yet I’m still the same person I’ve always been,” he said. “I hope, to you, this part of my life doesn’t become my defining trait.”
Ivie said that, when he first realized his sexuality at age 9, he “believed there was something wrong with me.”  “I fought from the beginning to find some way to change myself,” Ivie said. “That battle resulted in a failed suicide attempt when I was 22 years old.”
After recovering from what he called a “near tragedy,” Ivie said he “tried to live the life that was expected of me.” “The truth is, I never felt comfortable in my own skin,” he continued. “I felt I was living someone else’s life rather than my own.”
Ivie said that while he was “as committed today as I have ever been to my faith, family and freedom,” he realized he “could not continue to live a lie. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right for anyone.”
The politician noted that he and his wife had separated, but that she remains his best friend and they have discussed at length how to “move forward as a different kind of family to fulfill the responsibilities we took on together to our two amazing children.”
Ivie said he was aware that some would neither understand nor accept his announcement, but that he would “continue to serve my county as Utah County commissioner with all of my heart. I know there are haters in every area of our lives, but we cannot let that be what defines us as a community.”
Ivie said his decision to come out was inspired by working with families who have lost LGBTQ children to suicide.  “That really makes you reevaluate your life, and what you’re doing as a leader to prevent that kind of stuff,” he said.
He added that he wanted young LGBTQ people to know that “it’s OK to be different, it’s OK to live authentically. You can be gay and a Republican…. You need to trust that people will love you for who you really are.”
Speaking to the Salt Lake Tribune, he noted that “somewhere out there” is a younger version of him, who is contemplating taking their own life, and that he wants them to know that it’s worth continuing to live.  “They need to know that it is,” Ivie said. “They need to know they’re valued, they’re loved.”
Tanner Ainge, who serves alongside Ivie on the Utah County Commission, tweeted his support for Ivie’s announcement.
“My instinct is just to embrace [Nathan],” he tweeted. “Today I stand with him as a friend, valued colleague, and fellow Republican. His story will provide strength and hope to those feeling the lonely despair that almost took his life and has taken too many in our community.”

Utah has one of the highest youth suicide rates in America - in my view probably in no small part due the the Mormon Church's historic homophobia.  In my own case, I think I knew from around age 12 that I was gay, but my Catholic upbringing in then conservative Central New York  and family expectations - not to mention the fact that homosexuality was at the time classified as a mental illness - made accepting my true self impossible.  Suicide seemed a far better solution to my problem. Kudos to Ivie for coming out and striving to stop LGBT youth suicides. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

The Far Right's Effort to Eliminate the Establishment Clause

In addition to guaranteeing freedom of religion, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  It's a provision increasingly ignored by the far right and the political whores in the Republican Party who seemingly have no limits on how far they will go in seeking to force far right Christian dogma on the entire nation and all of its citizens.  Between red state anti-abortion laws and the Trump/Pence regime's new "conscience rule" that exempts right wing Christians from the state and federal non-discrimination laws, America has a de facto established religion.  Worse yet, due to the tax-exempt status granted to churches and the plethora of  "ministries" so loved by Christofascists, all of us are underwriting this de facto established religion.  All of this would shock the Founding Fathers who knew well the evil of an established church.  A column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon which violates the U.S. Constitution and puts the religious freedom of everyone else at risk.  Here are highlights:
It’s almost exactly a year since Irish voters, by an overwhelming two-thirds majority, threw off the shackles of the Roman Catholic Church and repealed the country’s constitutional provision banning abortion. On Friday, voters are expected to defy the bishops again and repeal the provision that requires at least four years of living apart before a couple can apply for a divorce. (Ireland legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote back in 2015.)
Back in Alabama, the state’s governor, Kay Ivey, issued this official statement when she signed the abortion ban into law: “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”
I lack the social science expertise to explain the opposite trajectories of our two countries: Ireland marching proudly into the future, while the United States is reconfiguring itself into a theocracy that would have appalled our Founding Fathers. (Abortion, by the way, was legal at the nation’s founding, and for much of a century afterward.)
But I do know something about the United States Constitution. If the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause means anything, it has to mean that God’s will cannot be a constitutional justification for a law that erases an individual right.
[I]t’s past time for the rest of us to step back and consider the impact of religion’s current grip on public policy — not only on the right to abortion, but on the availability of insurance coverage for contraception in employer-sponsored health plans and on the right of gay and transgender individuals to obtain medical services without encountering discrimination.
The Establishment Clause says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” But we don’t hear much about it these days. It has shrunk noticeably at the hands of the current Supreme Court, in contrast to the First Amendment’s other religion clause, the Free Exercise clause, much in favor with today’s majority.
The only Supreme Court justice who ever linked abortion and the Establishment Clause was John Paul Stevens, now nine years into retirement and, at age 99, author of a new memoir.
Thirty years ago, in a case called Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the court considered a Missouri law that placed several restrictions on access to abortion. The law contained a preamble declaring it to be a “finding” of the state legislature that “the life of each human being begins at conception.”
Justice Stevens, alone, disagreed. The preamble was “an unequivocal endorsement of a religious tenet of some but by no means all Christian faiths,” he wrote in his separate opinion. It “serves no identifiable secular purpose,” he continued, adding, “That fact alone compels a conclusion that the statute violates the Establishment Clause.”
Stevens explained: “Bolstering my conclusion that the preamble violates the First Amendment is the fact that the intensely divisive character of much of the national debate over the abortion issue reflects the deeply held religious convictions of many participants in the debate.” He concluded, “the Missouri legislature may not inject its endorsement of a particular religious tradition into this debate.”
The court will face another Establishment Clause test, which it will predictably fail, in a year or so when it confronts the Trump administration’s Religious Exemption Rule. This rule grants employers who have religious objections to birth control an opt-out from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover contraception in the employee health plan. The rule represents a metastasis from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in 2014, . . . the Trump rule offers no such workaround. Women with the misfortune to work for anti-contraception employers will become second-class citizens, their statutory right to full health care benefits sacrificed to protect the boss from complicity in the sin of birth control.
In the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 14 leading scholars of the Constitution’s religion clauses have filed a brief arguing that the rule manifests unconstitutional “religious favoritism,” an “unyielding preference for religious interests over any conceivable secular interest,” while shifting “serious burdens to third parties.”
This month, the administration issued an expanded “conscience rule” to permit health care workers, down to the level of receptionist, to opt out of involvement with procedures to which they have moral or religious objections. Another new rule to be issued shortly would limit protections for transgender patients seeking even ordinary health care by expanding opt-outs for providers who have religious objections to treating them. These new measures, carrying out [Trump's] the president’s pledge to serve the interests of his allies on the religious right, will undoubtedly be the subject of lawsuits.
[B]efore the end of the current term, we will have a better idea of whether there’s anything left of the Establishment Clause when the court decides the pending case on the constitutionality of a 40-foot cross on public land in Maryland. Lurking in the background of this case is the argument that the Establishment Clause permits any religious favoritism short of actual coercion of non-adherents. You don’t like the public display of sectarian symbols? No problem — no one’s making you look at them.
It took Ireland many years and much pain to claim the secular freedom its people now enjoy. It’s taking us just a few years of disingenuous politics to hurl us backward to a place many of us never imagined.
Be very afraid.  The far right, especially the Christofascists represent a clear and present danger to constitutional government.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Trump Mulls Appointment of Zealot Ken Cuccinelli to Home Land Security

Cuccinelli - a full time extremist..
Other than Christofascists and white supremacists - the two are fairly interchangeable - the majority of Virginians remember former Virginia Attorney General and failed gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinnelli as an ultra-far right extremist who (i) bordered on near hysteria in his opposition to LGBT rights and (ii) his animus towards U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants.  On the first issue, my view is that Cuccinelli, like Rick Santorum, is a closeted gay who is deeply psychologically damaged from his Catholic upbringing - both Cuccinelli and Santorum fathered seven children in their quest to "pray away the gay" only to discover it did not turn them straight - who cannot tolerate gays who have accepted the fact that homosexuality is not a mental illness and not a sin.  

On the issue of immigrants, Cuccinelli has long been in bed figuratively speaking with The Family Foundation, Virginia's leading hate groups that traces its antecedents to white supremacists who backed "Massive Resistance" to school desegregation. Cuccinelli is a perfect fit for the Trump/Pence regime's war on both gays and immigrants (and effort to pander to Christian extremists), but should be viewed as a frightening figure by sane and rational Americans.  

A piece in Politico looks at Cuccinelli - often called Kookinelli in Virginia - and his potential elevation to a position where he would be positioned to reinforce abuse of undocumented immigrants.  Here are article excerpts:
Many Trump allies have never forgotten the chaos on the 2016 convention’s first day. So some of them were surprised to learn that [Trump] a president notorious for holding grudges is likely to tap [Ken] Cuccinelli to help oversee the administration’s immigration policy, a core issue of Trump’s presidency.
“Trump doesn’t dwell on stuff like that,” said a Republican close to the White House. “That’s what he has supporters for.” A White House spokesman did not respond to requests for comment about how the president views Cuccinelli’s actions at the convention and his role on the Cruz campaign.
White House officials said Trump was planning to tap Cuccinelli for a senior position at the Department of Homeland Security, though his exact responsibilities and title remain unclear, raising questions about how he’ll fit into the White House’s decision-making process on immigration policy.
Whatever the precise role, tapping Cuccinelli would seem to underscore Trump’s continued impatience with his administration’s progress on implementing hardline immigration policies that led to the recent ouster of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other senior DHS officials.
Despite his theatrical convention protest before the television cameras, Cuccinelli distanced himself from the “Never Trumpers” at the convention, insisting his call for a vote on the rules was not about bringing down.
But there’s no better way to redeem oneself in Trump’s eyes than through public flattery, and Cuccinelli is a cable news regular who defends [Trump] the president at every turn.
“He’s said positive things about Trump on CNN for two years, so I don’t really think it’s an issue,” former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg said when asked about Cuccinelli’s past.
Cuccinelli’s pending hiring is intended in part to reassure White House and DHS officials concerned that acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan isn't aggressive enough to address an ongoing border migration crisis, according to another person familiar with the situation. . . . What is unclear is what kind of authority Cuccinelli will have," the person said.
Cuccinelli served as Virginia’s attorney general from 2010 to 2014, gaining national attention for suing the Obama administration over the constitutionality of its federal health care overhaul. After losing Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, he subsequently became a cable news regular.
As attorney general, Cuccinelli took a series of controversial actions, including advising public colleges that they didn't have to adopt nondiscrimination policies protecting gay people and accusing a climate science of fraud.
As a member of the Virginia legislature previously, Cuccinelli pushed to revoke citizenship rights for children of illegal immigrants who are born in the U.S. and protected employers who fire employees for not speaking English.
The country does not need a racist homophobe like Cuccinelli in any senior position in the federal government much less one where he can push racist policies to harm refugees seeking asylum, some of whom are LGBT.

Bermuda 2019 - Days 3 and 4

I never finished blogging about the remainder of our Bermuda trip due to the hectic day we had on Saturday and then or departure on Sunday which involved a lengthy wait in Philadelphia which ended our plan to be home early in the evening. To say the wedding was over the top would be an understatement, beginning with the ceremony on the beach officiated by a former Prime Minister of the island country, to a cocktail party on the stunning terrace of the Coral Beach and Tennis Club, to a amazing tented dinner and dancing on the club's lush grounds. 
cocktail party venue.
Us in "Bermuda formal"
Dinner venue
The first dance
I also cannot say enough positive things about our stay at the St. Helier guesthouse which can be booked through AirBnB or Bermuda Rentals.  The proprietors, Sallie and Scott are wonderful hosts and provide great breakfasts and hospitality, are a treasure trove of information and very LGBT friendly. The house and grounds are very nice.
Front of the house.

Beautiful pool area.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Virginia and Two Dozen States/Municipalities Suing to Block Trump Licence to Discriminate

Trump and Pence with Christofascist leaders.
As often noted in this blog, evangelical Christians have remained Donald Trump's strongest base of support notwithstanding the fact that Trump is the antithesis to what ought to be Christian behavior and morals.  One way that Trump has retained the loyalty of evangelicals has been through (i) his racist agenda - many evangelical organizations such as The Family Foundation here in Virginia and denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention trace their roots to white supremacy efforts - and (ii) his efforts to exempt them from the restriction  of non-discrimination laws most recently embodied in his regime's "conscience rule" allowing health care providers to use real or feigned religious belief to refuse to treat or care for those their dislike.  Now, Virginia and two dozen states and municipalities have sued to block this insidious and dangerous move to please hate motivated evangelicals and "professional Christians" such as Jerry Falwell, Jr., and James Dobson.  Here are highlights from a piece in the Washington Post:

A group of mostly Democratic states filed lawsuits against the Trump administration on Tuesday, challenging a new federal rule that gives health-care providers, insurers and employers greater latitude to refuse to provide or pay for medical services that they say violate their religious or moral beliefs.
A lawsuit by a coalition of nearly two dozen states and cities, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleges that the rule illegally favors the personal views of health-care workers over the needs of patients — “at a dangerous price” of hobbling the ability of state-run health-care facilities to provide effective care.
A separate suit, brought by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, alleges that the rule “impedes access to basic care” and “encourages discrimination against vulnerable patients,” including women and LGBTQ individuals.
The suits, . . .  seek to block the rule, announced by President Trump early this month and published Tuesday in the Federal Register. It allows individuals and entities to refrain from delivering or paying for services such as abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide if they have a religious or moral objection to them. The 440-page rule also grants parents rights to refuse several specific types of care for their children.
The lawsuits are part of a spate of federal litigation challenging various ways the Trump administration has been rewriting health-care policies.
The “conscience protections,” as their advocates call them, are among actions taken by the Department of Health and Human Services that appeal to Christian conservatives, a constituency that is part of Trump’s political base. The rule is due to take effect in late July.
The multistate lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that the rule puts at risk billions of dollars in federal funds if the states participating in the case do not comply.
The 80-page complaint says the rule also will harm teaching hospitals and other health-care facilities run by some of the states and cities, undermining their effectiveness and forcing them to hire extra staff in case some workers refuse care that patients need. The rule also risks “undermining longstanding efforts by those institutions to build trust with the patient communities they serve,” the suit says.
The suit further alleges that the rule violates several federal laws, including those governing Medicare and Medicaid, civil rights statutes, and a statute requiring hospitals to provide emergency care.
In addition to New York, the plaintiffs are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin, plus the cities of Chicago and New York; Cook County, Ill.; and the District.
Trump and evangelicals are a clear and present evil that threaten the rule of law and constitutional government. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Trump/Pence Regime Wages War Against Children of Gays

James Derek Mize, left, and his husband, Jonathan Gregg, are both American citizens. Under a State Department policy, their daughter, who was born abroad, did not qualify for citizenship.
Sickeningly, there seem to be few lengths the Trump?pence regime will not go to in its quest to limit the rights of LGBT Americans in order to win the cult like following of American Christofascists and evangelicals. On top of rolling back Obama era policies protecting transgender Americans and filing briefs arguing in favor of an employer's right to fire LGBT employees, the regime has now taken its attacks to the children of gays born abroad to surrogates.  Singling our gay couples, the Trump/Pence regime is taking the position that such children do not qualify for U.S. citizenship even though both fathers are U.S. Citizens. Anything to please the Christofascists and make life more difficult for married same-sex couple gay Americans.  While evangelicals claim to support "family values," this policy shows the lie of that claim.  The true value that they and their cult leader in the White House support id hate, discrimination and the abuse of others who do not share their toxic beliefs.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this insidious agenda,  Here are article highlights:
James Derek Mize is an American citizen, born and raised in the United States. His husband, who was born in Britain to an American mother, is a United States citizen, too. But the couple’s infant daughter isn’t, according to the State Department.
“It’s shocking,” said Mr. Mize, 38, a former lawyer who lives in Atlanta with his husband, Jonathan Gregg, a management consultant. The couple received a letter denying their daughter’s citizenship last month. “We’re both Americans; we’re married,” Mr. Mize said. “We just found it really hard to believe that we could have a child that wouldn’t be able to be in our country.”
Their case illustrates the latest complication facing some families who use assisted reproductive technology, like surrogacy and in vitro fertilization, to have children.
At issue is a State Department policy, based on immigration law, that requires a child born abroad to have a biological connection to an American parent in order to receive citizenship at birth. That is generally not a problem when couples have babies the traditional way, but can prove tricky when only one spouse is the genetic parent.
The policy has come under intense scrutiny in recent months amid lawsuits arguing that the State Department discriminates against same-sex couples and their children by failing to recognize their marriages. Under the policy, the department classifies certain children born through assisted reproductive technology as “out of wedlock,” which triggers a higher bar for citizenship, even if the parents are legally married.
In one instance, a married Israeli-American gay couple had twin sons in Canada using sperm from each of the fathers. The biological son of the American received citizenship, but his brother, the biological son of the Israeli, did not. In February, a federal judge sided with the couple, calling the State Department’s interpretation of the immigration law “strained.” The department is appealing.
The government is also fighting a similar suit from a lesbian couple in London, who did not use a surrogate. One is American and one is Italian. They took turns conceiving and carrying their two children. Only the child born to the American mother was granted citizenship. Last week, a federal judge allowed the case to proceed, calling the family’s predicament “terrible” and “outrageous.”
“Proof of the biological connection is necessary so that the born-abroad citizenship route is not susceptible to fraud by people claiming they are children of United States citizens when, in fact, they are not,” said John C. Eastman, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank in California.
The interpretation has led the State Department to regard births from assisted reproductive technology as “out of wedlock,” if the source of the sperm and the egg do not match married parents. Such a designation comes with extra requirements for transmitting citizenship, including showing that a biological parent is an American citizen who has spent at least five years in the United States.
[T]wo men in a marriage don’t have that option. “A same-sex male couple cannot conceive a child where both of them are a parent under this definition,” Professor Titshaw said.
Relatively few families go abroad to have children through assisted reproductive technology, but there can be financial or personal reasons for doing so.
Mr. Mize and Mr. Gregg, who met at a swim team practice in New York in 2014 and married the next year, worked with a close friend, who is British, to serve as their surrogate. Their daughter, Simone, was born at a British hospital last year.
Mr. Gregg, who had lived in Britain for most of his life before moving to the United States to be with Mr. Mize, did not have enough years in America, according to a letter from the United States embassy in London. “It’s a psychological trauma,” Mr. Mize said.
“When we went to the embassy and they said, ‘You’re not a family, you’re not married and, Derek, you’re not her father,” he recalled, “it was just like a flood of every emotion I’ve ever had since I was first called a faggot came rushing into my body.”
In court filings, the State Department said that officers are expected to carefully investigate all assisted reproductive technology cases, “irrespective of the sex or sexual orientation of the legal parents.” And there have been cases where different-sex parents were asked for biological evidence, lawyers in the field said.
But in practice, advocates say the policy has a particular impact on same-sex couples.
“The State Department is effectively saying our marriage doesn’t count,” said Adiel Kiviti, 40, another father who said that his child’s citizenship was recently called into question. “If you aren’t going to afford us the benefits of a married couple, what’s the point of giving us the right to marry?”
Adiel and his husband, Roee Kiviti, were born in Israel and later naturalized, they said. The men, whose interview with The Daily Beast drew renewed attention to the policy last week, have two children, each born with the help of a surrogate in Canada.
“Where are they going to deport our child to?” said Roee, who works as a television journalist. His husband runs a media production business in Washington. “We live in America.”
Mr. Mize, whose daughter is now 11 months old and learning to walk, feels a similar stress. He said he had been traveling back and forth to Britain with Simone, who has a tourist visa. He worries about disrupting her development at such a young age, and fears what could happen if her legal status is not resolved.
“This is where our life is. This is where our jobs are,” he said. “Our daughter can’t be here, but she has no one else to care for her.”

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Russia's Ongoing Effort to Sow Racial Discord — and Violence — in the U.S.

If one wonders where Donald Trump and many on the far right - e.g., those who sabotaged Virginia Democrats in early February using race - who are fanning racial division in America got their agenda from, look no farther than Vladimir Putin's Russia. NBC News reports on newly reviewed documents connected to some of the Russian operatives indicted by Robert Mueller that indicate fanning racial discord - and even violence - was part of the 2016 Russian game plan to elect Trump and that the agenda , in fact continues and could be a problem in 2020.  In addition to causing division and racial hatred, a goal is to suppress the black vote and thereby help Republicans, namely Trump.  It's something blacks mentioned in a prior post ought to be conscious of as they wring their hands over Pete Buttigieg's "whiteness" (his gayness will likely also be targeted by the ever conniving Russian operatives who likely recognize the ease with which black pastors can be played).  Here are article highlights that ought to make thinking individuals of all races think twice before falling for Russia originated efforts at division and discord:

LONDON — Russians who were linked to interference in the 2016 U.S. election discussed ambitious plans to stoke unrest and even violence inside the U.S. as recently as 2018, according to documents reviewed by NBC News.
The documents — communications between associates of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked oligarch indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for previous influence operations against the U.S. — laid out a new plot to manipulate and radicalize African-Americans. The plans show that Prigozhin’s circle has sought to exploit racial tensions well beyond Russia’s social media and misinformation efforts tied to the 2016 election.
The documents were obtained through the Dossier Center, a London-based investigative project funded by Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky. NBC News has not independently verified the materials, but forensic analysis by the Dossier Center appeared to substantiate the communications.
One document said that President Donald Trump’s election had “deepened conflicts in American society” and suggested that, if successful, the influence project would “undermine the country’s territorial integrity and military and economic potential.”
The revelations come as U.S. intelligence agencies have warned of probable Russian meddling in the 2020 election.
The documents contained proposals for several ways to further exacerbate racial discord in the future, including a suggestion to recruit African-Americans and transport them to camps in Africa “for combat prep and training in sabotage.” Those recruits would then be sent back to America to foment violence . . . There is no indication that the plan — which is light on details — was ever put into action, but it offers a fresh example of the mindset around Russian efforts to sow discord in the U.S.
The blueprint, entitled “Development Strategy of a Pan-African State on U.S. Territory,” floated the idea of enlisting poor, formerly incarcerated African-Americans “who have experience in organized crime groups” as well as members of “radical black movements for participation in civil disobedience actions.”
The goal was to “destabilize the internal situation in the U.S.”
Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI and an NBC News contributor, who reviewed the documents, said that they offer a warning to the U.S. . . . “The unfortunate reality is that we’re seeing an adversary that will consider virtually anything to get what it wants, and if it means violence or splitting America along racial lines or eroding our trust in institutions, they’ll do it.”
Some of the documents appear to have been sent by Dzheykhun “Jay” Aslanov, an employee of the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll farm that played a key role in the 2016 Russian meddling campaign. Aslanov was one of 13 Russians indicted by Mueller in February 2018 for his role with the IRA.
The plan was shared with Mikhail Potepkin, a Russian businessman, who then circulated it more widely, according to communications reviewed by NBC News.
Both Aslanov and Potepkin have been linked to Prigozhin, a Russian catering magnate often described as “Putin’s chef.” Prigozhin was also indicted by Mueller for funding the IRA. Widely perceived as a Kremlin operative, he has been connected to a shadowy mercenary outfit known as the Wagner Group, whose guns-for-hire are reported to have been involved in Russian military operations in Syria and Eastern Ukraine, according to U.S. military officials.
The Mueller report exposed how Russian trolls, employed by associates of Prigozhin, deliberately inflamed racial tensions by spreading false and incendiary stories to African-Americans via social media. Among the objectives was to suppress black turnout in the 2016 U.S. election.
“Russia understands how critical the African American vote is to determining the outcome of elections,” said Demings, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “And because we have not effectively dealt with racism as a country ourselves, I believe we've made ourselves vulnerable to foreign powers like Russia to continue to try to undermine.”
The documents also discuss how to expand Russia’s clout on the African continent and win business there, from arms sales to mining contracts. They outline propaganda efforts to target Africans and stir up negative opinions about Europe and the U.S.
“Even though these kinds of initiatives from the Russians aren’t new to us, what is new is the rapidity with which they can get this message out on social media and saturate the American consumer with these kinds of thoughts,” said Figliuzzi, the former FBI official. “That puts the Russian initiative on steroids and should scare all of us.”


Monday, May 20, 2019

More Monday Morning Male Beauty

Buttigieg Creates A Media Moment as Far Left Whines That He's White and Male

Left to their own devices, part of me suspects that the far left of the Democrat Party would never pull of wining a general election.  Pragmatism is an unknown concept, identity politics and division run rampant, and policy minutia are a wet dream to this crowd.  At least, that is my read of things. As 2020 approaches, the number one task is finding a candidate that can win moderates and at the same time press progressive approaches that will address real needs of real people.  Then there is also the need to get behind a candidate who can adeptly use the media in a way to counter Donald Trump's media sucking narcissism and constant turmoil.   I am not say that ultimately Pete Buttigieg is the one who can meet these requirements, but he surely highlights the inability of other would be Democrat nominees to manage the media as will be needed during the 2020 general election campaign.  Former Republican and "Never Trumper" Jennifer Rubin looks at Buttigieg's tour de force on Fox News in a column in the Washington Post.  Here are column excerpts:
Pundits arguing that South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg simply cannot be president because his only civilian public service has been at the local level, or that he is heavy on values and persona but lighter on policy, seem not to have learned anything from 2016. President Trump won the Republican primary by stringing together media moments, dominating the airwaves and intensifying his audience’s emotions (anger, resentment, etc.). Buttigieg is testing the proposition that Democrats desperate to take back the White House may admire Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s policy parade but what they long for is someone who can beat Trump and reflect their longing to reassert their values (respect for intellect, empathy, tolerance).
Buttigieg, in appearing on Fox News Sunday night, helped his cause tremendously. Projecting the same calm, incisiveness and wit that have impressed other audiences, he won enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation. He created some viral moments that will echo around the mainstream media for days.
Buttigieg accomplished several things.  First, he showed how to defend progressive positions and dismantle the right-wing frame for discussing them. On abortion, he had this answer to recent abortion bans: I believe that the right of a woman to make her own decisions about her reproductive health and about her body is a national right. I believe it is an American freedom that should be enjoyed by women in every state. The next president needs to be ready to protect those rights.
The ability to defend Democrats’ values and views effectively, to avoid being cornered by right-wing talking points impresses — and delights — Democratic voters.
Second, going on Fox News, in contrast to Warren (D-Mass.) and others (who had perfectly acceptable moral reasons for shunning the propaganda machine,) reinforced the notion that his political instincts are superior to hers and other competitors. Instead of refusing to appear to denounce hate, Buttigieg used the airtime on Fox to denounce its hateful hosts.
Third, by going on Fox News and winning plaudits, he implicitly made the argument for his own electability. Hey, he can win those people over. Part of his argument is that a religious mayor from the heartland knows the secret sauce for breaking through to working- and middle-class voters in the Midwest. His appearance on Fox News will convince some Democrats that he can.
Fourth, Buttigieg recognized that, in a field of 23 Democratic candidates, holding the media’s attention for a sustained time is nearly impossible for those challenging front-runner Joe Biden. . . . Buttigieg’s answer: Use earned media to create viral moments. These cement in the public’s mind the image of a feisty, witty, super-smart candidate with a Zen-like ability to turn Trump’s anger back against him, making the president look small and childish.
Finally, Buttigieg debunks the notion that Democratic viewers want an angry candidate. They are angry at and about Trump. They pine for someone who can slice and dice him in a way Hillary Clinton never could.
Buttigieg, to be certain, has real challenges. Most importantly, he needs to find support among African American voters who are a critical part of the Democratic primary electorate. He’ll need to show he has some policy plans to avoid looking like a lightweight when he goes up against Warren, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and others who’ve presented (whether you like them or not) bold policy ideas. That said, he showed Sunday night just how formidable are his communication skills and political antenna.
Others can help you construct policy proposals, but that “it” factor (which Harris certainly has) is either there or it’s not. And, yes, Buttigieg has it.
Despite Buttigieg's triumph on Fox, the usual suspects are hard at work dividing the party and arguing that only someone with the right skin color or level a far left fervor can represent the Democrat Party and lead it to victory over Trump.  A piece in Politico looked at this all too predictable circular firing squad - the same one that allowed many Virginia Democrats to be played for fools by far right operatives in early February.  The piece also looks at the reality gays face daily: blacks expect gays to support and protect their civil rights, but blacks all too often do not reciprocate in kind much less in acceptance. Here in Virginia, time and time again white supremacist groups like The Family Foundation use religion to rally black pastors to oppose LGBT rights, playing them for fools in the process. Here are article highlights:
Joe Darby, a prominent pastor in Charleston, S.C., was discussing the Democratic presidential field with fellow clergymen when Pete Buttigieg’s name came up. A fellow pastor quickly interjected.
“Isn’t that the dude who kissed his husband on TV?” the person asked skeptically, according to Darby.
The exchange highlights a major obstacle for Buttigieg, who’s vaulted into the top tier of Democratic candidates without gaining traction among African Americans, according to recent surveys of national and South Carolina Democrats. But as the mayor of South Bend, Ind., devotes more effort to campaigning for black votes in the South and elsewhere, he will have to break down some resistance over his sexual orientation, particularly among older voters, according to interviews with more than a dozen African American activists, political strategists and clergy, as well as a review of public polling.
Buttigieg and his campaign are well aware of the issue. As he skips from sold-out fundraisers to overflowing rallies around the country, Buttigieg set aside time last week for a smaller gathering of black LGBTQ faith leaders and activists in Houston. Gathered around a glass coffee table, Buttigieg opened up to the group of a dozen about his record with African Americans as mayor in South Bend, Ind. — an area that has generated some criticism — as well as his agenda for black voters and his experience as an openly gay candidate for president, including the challenges he may face.
“He’s white, male and gay, all three of those things are going to create obstacles for various communities — specifically, I think, the white and the gay, for the black community, are definitely going to be obstacles for him,” said Harrison Guy, a Houston-based choreographer and LGBTQ activist who led the discussion with the mayor. “He’s very aware of that.”
American views on LGBTQ rights and issues have moved rapidly in the last decade, and black support for bedrock issues like same-sex marriage has also jumped to a narrow majority in recent polling. But those numbers lag behind the nation: 61 percent of adults (and an even higher share of Democrats) backed same-sex marriage in a recent Pew Research Center poll, compared to 51 percent of African Americans.
“It’s an obstacle in the minds of some. And for others, it’s an opportunity,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist and a 5th-generation member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “He has opportunity to educate and take the temperature here and chart a pathway forward, because I suspect he will not be the last [openly gay] candidate” to run for president.
“Are there implicit biases that women candidates have to face? Absolutely. Are there biases that a black candidate has to face? Is there implicit baggage that a gay candidate has to face? Absolutely,” Belcher said. “How you inoculate yourself from those biases goes back to how you define yourself and talk about yourself authentically.”
Some of that involves building relationships with individual African American activists and voters to break the ice, which the Buttigieg campaign did in their latest swing through South Carolina, setting up private meetings with black leaders.
Buttigieg’s regular invocation of his marriage and his husband, Chasten, on the campaign trail — usually in the context of his Christianity, “putting his faith on his sleeve” — is also an “excellent way to inoculate himself from that implicit bias about the gay community,” Belcher said.
It’s also a way to connect with those wary voters, and by casting his marriage through the lens of his faith “can bring in those Christians he’s trying to reach,” because “he can say to them, ‘I’m just like you,’ a married person of faith,” said Guy, the Houston activist who met with Buttigieg.
Buttigieg also used a recent speech before LGBTQ activists in Las Vegas to promote empathy between minority groups.
“What every gay person has in common with every excluded person of every kind is knowing what it’s like to see a wall between you and the rest of the world, and wonder what it’s like on the other side,” Buttigieg said at an event for the Human Rights Campaign.
Based on public polling, support for gay rights has grown dramatically in recent years. In 2006, 43 percent of Americans said they would feel enthusiastic or comfortable about a candidate who is gay or lesbian, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. In April, 70 percent said they’d be enthusiastic or comfortable with it, and Buttigieg and his husband appeared on the cover of Time magazine under the headline: “First Family.”
But as a group, black voters still lag compared to the party that gets most of their votes.  In particular, Democratic consultants emphasized that it could be a sticking point for older black voters. In 2017, 69 percent of African Americans aged 18 to 29 backed same-sex marriage, but just 40 percent of African Americans aged 65 and older did, according to a Public Religion Research Institute poll.
Buttigieg “understands there are barriers there, and that it’s something he’s going to have to get over,” Guy said. “He didn’t treat it like a photo-op. It was very much about relationship-building.”

One would hope that black voters would comprehend that ANY DEMOCRAT would be better for their rights and interests than allowing Trump to be re-elected because minority voters fail to go to the polls. Yet, in 2016, many did precisely that and the nation has suffered as a consequence.

Trump is a Threat to Religious Liberty

Donald Trump is many things, but a defender of the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment protecting freedom of religion, he is not.  Indeed, he is a threat to constitutional government and the religious freedom of except strident, far right Christian extremists who seek to totally subvert the concept as laid down by the Founding Fathers. Indeed, they want a de facto established religion that only upholds their own toxic and perverted version of Christianity.  Playing on the self-centered hypocrisy of the Christofascists and "Christian leaders" like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Pat Robertson and a host of similar scam artists, Trump has set about depriving others of their religious freedom and, hopefully in time, a major backlash against right wing Christians where their nonsensical claims of persecution might become a reality as they find themselves being treated as they have treated others for so much of history. A piece in New York Magazine looks at Trump and the Christofascists destruction of true religious freedom.  Here are highlights:
A central pillar of Donald Trump’s compact with conservative Christians, which has been immensely useful for him and is critical to his reelection prospects, is his much-professed concern for “religious liberty.” There’s a whole fact sheet about the topic on the White House website. It was the alleged subject of a major executive order early in his presidency.
But as Steven Waldman (founder of Beliefnet, a web portal for all things religious) observes in Sacred Liberty, his recently published comprehensive history of America’s tradition of religious freedom, Trump’s actual record is not so positive:
Donald Trump’s legacy on this issue can seem confusing. He talks about defending religious freedom more than almost any other president. His administration has taken a few positive steps, such as deciding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency could give disaster relief to houses of worship and raising concerns about persecution of Christians overseas. . . . But much of his religious liberty agenda involves efforts, focused largely on helping conservative Christians, that are minor, symbolic, or actually damaging.
Most obvious, Trump is the first president since the virulently anti-Mormon Rutherford B. Hayes to publicly single out a religious community for opprobrium and (attempted) discrimination. . . . . he has violated most of the principles that have sustained religious freedom by favoring one religion over another; ignoring First Amendment protections; blurring the distinctions between Americans practicing their faith and extremists overseas; and proposing that practitioners of one faith should have second-class citizenship. He has made the concept of religious freedom partisan instead of universal, a way to divide rather than unite.
Trump is a friend to religion only if your religion happens to be the same as that of his conservative Evangelical and traditionalist Catholic allies, who have a mutually exploitative and very transactional relationship with the 45th president.
[M]uch of Trump’s talk about religious liberty involves reinforcing the fatuous paranoia of some conservative Christians who believe state neutrality toward their faith, as well as the spread of nonbelief or religious heterodoxy, actually represents persecution.
The many thousands of Christian martyrs over the centuries (and those still suffering in other countries) must be laughing or crying at the idea that being disrespected by retailers and seasonal-card senders is some sort of crucifixion. But it reflects Trump’s close identification with the Christian right’s claim that the liberty to practice one’s faith “in the public square” is so absolute that it excludes counter-concerns ranging from simple courtesy (the main problem with shouting “Merry Christmas” at non-Christians) to anti-discrimination laws. Again, Waldman explains how efforts to accommodate religious practice have degenerated into demands for plenary exemptions from norms the rest of society observes, to the point at which conservative Christians began to distort and politicize their own faith traditions . . . .
Millions of Americans (most notably Catholics, but many Evangelicals, too) go to church regularly without for a moment sharing the hostility to homosexuality (or, for that matter, legalized abortion) that their leaders increasingly treat as fundamental to their beliefs. Such distortion of an ancient faith is a lot more dangerous than any threats to the tender conscience of the occasional aggrieved baker.
Not that long ago, conservative Evangelicals typically regarded church-state separation as the central principle of religious liberty. Most Christian-right leaders have abandoned or even inverted that position. When Thomas Jefferson referred to religious liberty as requiring a “wall of separation” between church and state (a precedent today’s Christian-right leaders either ignore or attack in making the case that the Founders wanted a Christian nation), he was siding with Connecticut Baptists fighting a government that was hostile to minority religious communities. Similarly, James Madison’s commitment to total state neutrality on matters of religion was informed by his relationships with Virginia Evangelicals. . . . All that has changed radically.
In this transformation of conservative Christianity’s political arm from the self-confident advocacy of pluralism in matters of faith to a narrow, sex-obsessed movement fighting to bring back the imagined paradise of the 1950s, Trump was perhaps an inevitable figure. If ever there were a complete product of the most de-Christianized traits of secular culture, it’s Donald Trump. Yet he offers his religious supporters unconditional backing in their wars against abortion, LGBTQ rights, secular public education, and, yes, believers in what they consider false gods.
In 20th-century Europe, authoritarian movements exploited conservative Christians eager to fight socialism and secularism and regain their old power over cultural life. These politicized believers were ultimately corrupted and betrayed. Trump may serve the short-term purposes of those who have convinced themselves he is a modern-day Cyrus the Great, a “nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.” But he is no friend of liberty and, in the longer view, represents a threat to America’s great tradition of religious pluralism.

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bermuda 2019 - Day 2

The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.
Our second day in Bermuda was wonderful.  After a lazy morning at the guesthouse - there a several other couples staying here, one from Norway - we had lunch at Coconuts, the restaurant at The Reefs. The weather was amazing and the view from the restaurant was beautiful, with the hotel perched along the top of the cliffs:

After lunch, we went into Hamilton and did some window shopping - and I bought a tie since I left mine at home - before taking the ferry across the harbor to return to the guesthouse and a snack and cocktail.  The highlight of the day was the welcome party for wedding guests at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club on the Hamilton waterfront. The bride, although from Newport News, has lived in Boston for a number of years and the groom is a Boston, native, so the bulk of the guests attending are from the Boston area.  That said, about 15 of us from Hampton Roads are down for the event.  The party was great fun with drinks, food and a DJ who got the place dancing up a storm.  Today, Barry is doing hair for the bride and bridesmaids - his gift to the bride - while yours truly will be lounging at the guest house pool.  The wedding is this afternoon and we will be dressed in "Bermuda formal.:  More photos from the party, including Barry with the bride to be: