Saturday, April 13, 2019
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One thing the wrongly named "Christian Right" - they are neither Christian nor right - is doing most effectively is poisoning the Christian brand and driving people from religion, especially younger Americans. As noted in the prior post, evangelical support for Donald Trump - likely the most morally bankrupt individual to ever occupy the White House - illustrates just how false and toxic religion can be (and that's without adding the horrors religion has caused over the centuries). Adding to the exodus no doubt is the Catholic Church's never ending sex abuse scandal and the Church's refusal to hold bishops and cardinals truly accountable for their malfeasance if not active cover up of abuse. Now, for the first time, the so-called "Nones" are the largest "religious" group in the USA. Given the current trends, their numbers will likely continue to soar (and yes, I see this as welcome news). Politically, this new reality has not yet translated into representation in elected office, but that time is likely coming. Here are highlights from CNN:
For the first time "No Religion" has topped a survey of Americans' religious identity, according to a new analysis by a political scientist. The non-religious edged out Catholics and evangelicals in the long-running General Social Survey.
Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, found that 23.1% of Americans now claim no religion. Catholics came in at 23.0%, and evangelicals were at 22.5%. The three groups remain within the margin of error of each other though, making it a statistical tie. Over 2,000 people were interviewed in person for the survey.
"Religious nones," as they are called by researchers, are a diverse group made up of atheists, agnostics, the spiritual, and those who are no specific organized religion in particular. A rejection of organized religion is the common thread they share.
"It is the first time we have seen this. The same questions have been asked for 44 years," Burge told CNN. The meteoric rise of religious nones began in the early 1990s and has grown 266% since 1991, he said. Burge estimates that 'No Religion' will be the largest group outright in four to six years.
Robyn Blumner, executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, sees the change as a generational trend driven by millennials. "We are seeing the rise of a generation of Americans who are hungry for facts and curious about the world," she says.
Whatever the causes, the non-religious represent a growing constituency. Yet this demographic is greatly underrepresented in Washington's halls of power. There is not a single open atheist amid the most diverse Congress in history, according to a Pew study.
The Congressional Freethought Caucus's 10 members try to represent non-theist interests while protecting the secular character of government. "This growing group of Americans can feel like there is at least some people in Congress who believe they matter." says the co-chair and founder, Rep. Jared Huffman of California.
A piece in The Daily Mail also reports as follows:
Shifting political ideologies about social issues has also played a role, with fewer Americans comfortable with the rhetoric of their religious leaders.'Another (theory) is that the religious right kind of cleaved moderate Christianity and a lot of moderate Christians who were moderately attached said they didn't want to defend Jerry Falwell … and all the anti-gay and anti- abortion religious rights leaders,' Burge said. 'So they said, 'You know what? I'm out.'
Again, I hope the trend continues and that politicians are forced to stop prostituting themselves to the shrinking "religious right."As the 'nones' have ascended, the number of mainline Protestant Christians has fallen 62.5 percent since 1982, to now account for just 10.8 percent of the U.S. population, according to the survey.
For years now the Republican Party has claimed to be the party of god and god-fearing Christians - even though its policies over the last 20 years are diametrically opposed to Christ's social gospel message: feed the hungry, cloth the naked, give shelter to the homeless, care for the sick. The GOP instead wants to throw the poor in the gutter and to hope that the sick will conveniently die despite constant disingenuous statements of "thoughts and prayers" when it is social programs that are what is really needed. Swarming to the GOP banner have been the evangelical Christian and far right Catholic crowd seemingly motivated solely by anti-abortion fervor and anti-gay hatred and a willingness to close their eyes to the anti-gospel agenda of the Republican Party. Best representing this false Christianity are Mike Pence and "mother" his bigoted wife and, of course, the loud professional Christian set that rarely focuses on the issues Christ talked about and instead amasses personal wealth and strives for political power. This hypocrisy and anti-Christian behavior is now being repeatedly called out by unlikely sources: a gay Christian and a black woman in the persons of Pete Buttigieg and Stacy Abrams. I left the GOP years ago when I concluded that one could not be a decent, moral person and remain a supporter of the GOP. That belief has only intensified with Trump in the White House. Whether one calls them-self a Christian or not - I typically do not since evangelicals have so sullied the label - if you believe in the social gospel message, you cannot support the today's GOP. A column in the New York Times looks at this much needed call for decent people to challenge the GOP and strip it of its claim to be the party of god. Here are highlights:
We know that slaveholders in the American South used Scripture to justify keeping their fellow humans in bondage. They could find no words from Christ on this, for there are no words from him. Just a line in the New Testament from mere mortals presuming to speak for him.But perhaps it made those who tore apart families, who whipped insubordinates until they passed out, who sold children and cotton bales as similar commodities feel better to know that the monstrous crime of their daily enterprise could be a blessed act.
These days, no less an authority than Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said recently that God “wanted Donald Trump to become president.” She offered no sourcing for this assertion, as is the case for vaporous claims that rise from the rot of the Trump presidency on a daily basis.
Mocking Sanders and the many Ned Flanders of the G.O.P. team is unlikely to make much of a dent. Nearly half of all Republicans believe God wanted Trump to win the election. To them, secular snark is a merit badge on the MAGA hat.
But there is a better way to sway the electorate of faith, as the rising Democratic stars Pete Buttigieg and Stacey Abrams have shown us. They apply something like a “What Would Jesus Do?” test to rouse religious conscience on the political battlefield.
Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., is a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, a Rhodes scholar, married to a junior high school teacher. He’s gay and, more surprising for a modern Democrat, he is an out Christian, as quick to quote St. Augustine as Abraham Lincoln.
Like Abrams and Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete says his faith made him a progressive. Scripture directs him to defend the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the societal castoffs.
But Buttigieg goes much further than mere Bible-citing. He’s taking it directly to Trump and to Vice President Mike Pence, who flashes his piety like a seven-carat diamond on his pinkie finger. It’s hard to look at the actions of President Trump, Buttigieg said, “and believe they are the actions of somebody who believes in God.”
The mayor calls Pence the “cheerleader of the porn star presidency,” and he wonders whether the vice president “stopped believing in Scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump.”
Buttigieg’s marriage to Chasten Glezman “moved me closer to God,” he said in a speech last Sunday. To the “Mike Pences of the world,” he said, “your quarrel is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
Abrams, who narrowly lost her race for governor of Georgia last year, also uses faith, part of a long African-American tradition, to marshal Christian principles against the repulsive acts of man. The daughter of two Methodist preachers, she said in one of her television ads, “My reading of the Bible says that Jesus Christ was a progressive.”
[W]hen a president is held up by his own spokeswoman as an extension of divine will, and that president is embraced by the evangelical community as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, it’s fine to use the source material to fight back.
The best Christian argument against Trump comes from Christ. The essence of Christianity is his exhortation that people treat the sick, the hungry, the poor, the imprisoned as they would treat him. “Whatever you did to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me.”
No one can know what’s in Trump’s heart. But his policies are inhumane in the extreme. Cursed are the meek, for under Trump’s command, children have been put in cages, and the poor in red states are denied the health care that should be available to them under Obamacare.
Trump is all about self. His bigotry, his boasting, his lies, his pride, his scams of the vulnerable, his worship of materialism, his insults of the dead, his turning a blind eye to refugees, his bragging of adulterous behavior, his treatment of “the least” among us — all of this is antithetical to Christian philosophy.
In what many of the "godly folk" would find ironic, most of the LGBT people I know are far more Christian - meaning they support Christ's social gospel message - than the evangelical crowd. The vast majority of us oppose Trump and the GOP and we support the very social safety net that the GOP seeks to destroy. Calling oneself Christian and parking your ass in a pew each Sunday doesn't prove one is Christian. Rather it is how one approaches supporting feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, caring for the sick and caring for refugees. The Pences of the world utterly fail this test.Buttigieg is right to call him on this. He’s right to attack Pence’s hypocrisy. But the moral high ground is a fragile perch, best visited on rare occasions. He’s thrown down a needed challenge. Now let Trump and Pence try to prove him wrong.
Friday, April 12, 2019
One of my biggest fears as thing heat up in the 2020 election is that the far left of the Democrat Party will drive candidates too leftward to make them electable in the 2020 presidential general election. What we are witnessing is akin to what one sees within LGBT activism where wealthy gays living in liberal cities and states are clueless as to the reality on the ground in most of the country and want an agenda that simply is not realistic in terms of legislation that can be actually enacted and what will play well with a majority of voters. In the context of the 2020 election, some far left Democrats are showing a similar blindness as to what can garner 270 electoral college votes and play passably in moderate and more conservative states. Add to this the purity police and the no forgiveness ever mindset we have witnessed in Virginia over the last two plus months, and Trump must be smiling with glee. A long piece in Vanity Fair looks at this very real danger of far left Democrats sabotaging more moderate candidates who could actually take on Trump and win. Here are article highlights:
Ideas that once seemed out-of-bounds are now creeping into the mainstream of Democratic politics, with social media acting as the accelerant. Democrats, in the rush to appease the noisiest voices on the Internet and grab onto any gust of fleeting attention, so far have shown they’re willing to jump on a bandwagon of ideas that Barack Obama would never have endorsed on his way to winning two presidential elections: backing reparations, abolishing ICE, getting rid of the Electoral College, running away from the word “capitalism.” As The New York Times put it on Tuesday, “activists are leveraging the early stages of the Democratic primary, creating pseudo-litmus tests for candidates eager to respond to the energy that is driving more extreme policy proposals.”These “extreme” litmus tests get re-tweeted online with emoji claps from activists (and journalists whose reporting often veers into activism). Many of those same people point to polls showing that progressive momentum is on their side: a survey last week from the Des Moines Register showed that “more than half of likely 2020 Democratic caucusgoers [in Iowa] say they would be satisfied with a presidential candidate who wants the U.S. to be more socialist.” Times have certainly changed since Obama ran for office. There’s great hunger among Democrats, from New Hampshire to Arizona, for bold policies designed to empower the middle class and fix a grossly distorted economy in which the richest 1 percent of American families own 40 times the average family’s wealth. Once-forbidden ideas like Medicare-for-All and a wealth tax sound both audacious and common sense. Democrats of vastly different cultural backgrounds, whether they shop at Whole Foods or Piggly Wiggly, seem united in their contempt for unaccountable billionaires and corporations.
But this Democratic primary is about to test something else: whether burgeoning public support for daring economic policies coincides with support for more hot-burning cultural issues that seem to dominate Twitter in the Trump era. In other words, Democratic voters are very down with Medicare-for-All. But do they want to be talking about reparations or socialism in a head-to-head against Trump next year? Already, at least one prominent Democrat, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, is sounding an alarm, however gently, about a presidential primary in which the current rule of the game appears to be chasing the latest shiny metal object on Twitter to win over the most plugged-in and fashionable online.
“I want our candidates to start thinking about the general election and how you’re going to win the general election,” Brown told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Monday. “Of course we play to the progressive base,” Brown said, “but we’ve got to talk to workers. I don’t think our candidates are thinking of the general election.
Brown—who voted against NAFTA, opposed the Iraq War, and supported marriage equality before most every Democrat in his party—is no one’s idea of a moderate. But the Ohio senator, who last week decided against a presidential bid, also won four statewide elections in a culturally conservative state by keeping a tireless focus on kitchen-table topics, not the gurgles of Twitter. “I get gun owners votes in some significant numbers in Zanesville and Mansfield and Lima, Ohio, because I talk about education, and I talk about keeping their health care, and going after the drug companies and how to send your kids to community college.”
He believes that winning back the White House means reclaiming the Midwest—including Obama voters who flipped to Trump and African-Americans who were iffy on Clinton. Put another way, he knows that it would be folly for Democrats to abandon their former Electoral College strongholds and bank everything in 2020 on winning the “rising electorates” of Arizona, Texas, and Georgia.
Brown, somewhat obliquely, was suggesting that there seems to be a rush among the Democrats to respond to whatever the Twitter hive mind is demanding on a given day, without hewing closely to a consistent message that can appeal to voters across Iowa and South Carolina and California. Playing to short-term national attention on Twitter, when it’s off-brand and reactive, is a surefire way to get in trouble.
A host of Democrats, including Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand, embarrassed themselves by rushing to defend disgraced actor Jussie Smollett on Twitter after his staged hate crime in Chicago—with Harris and Booker calling it a “modern-day lynching” without any set of facts at hand.
What Brown knows is that having a set of organizing principles and a clear message can be enough to inoculate a politician against the minute-by-minute demands of professional activists and angry tweeters. Candidates who make policy-by-Twitter, the ones who chase every micro-news-cycle, risk losing sight not just of what voters care about, but also why they’re running for president in the first place.
[I]n our era of forgetting everything that happened yesterday, what doesn’t get mentioned in these conversations is that Democrats have generally had a favorable view of socialism for almost a decade, well before Sanders emerged on the national stage. In a 2010 Gallup poll, 53 percent of Democrats reported a “positive view” of socialism, a number that has since crept up only slightly, to 57 percent. What has changed are the Democratic views of capitalism: In 2010, 53 percent of Democrats had a positive view of capitalism. By 2018, that number had dropped to just 47 percent.
But does that mean Democrats are ready for socialism? Is America yearning for a planned economy? It’s hard to tell if voters in these polls know what “socialism” or “democratic socialism” actually means or implies. Is Barb in Council Bluffs saying she’s open to socialism because she’s been up late reading Michael Harrington and scanning Twitter for red rose avatars to follow? Or is Barb saying she’s open to socialism because she likes how Sanders has presented it: as an audacious but common-sense message to fight income inequality and provide access to basic services? It seems like the latter. At the very same time socialism is claiming a moment, a Harris Poll released last month asked voters, “Which label do you most identify with as a Democrat?” Almost half of Democrats chose the labels “Obama Democrat”—anathema to the emergent socialist left!—or “moderate Democrat.” Less than 10 percent picked “Socialist.”
Almost half of Democrats in Iowa said Sanders was “too liberal.” Confused? Same here. Twitter tells us that a “moderate” cannot win the nomination. Neither can a white man. But actual conversations with voters tells us that Democrats just want to beat Trump with a candidate who generally excites them and aligns with their values. Ideology and identity aside, Democrats are eager to hear from every candidate about how to best do that.
Do not tell any of this to the Democratic Socialists of New York City, of course. Empowered by Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in a single Democratic primary in a safe House district last year, plenty of them are bathing in newfound attention from the media, mostly online.
But their political muscle is decidedly smaller than their attentional powers on social media. Socialism might pack a punch in some congressional districts and state house races, but its reach is decidedly more limited when exposed to a bigger Democratic electorate that doesn’t stare at smartphones all day. Case in point: socialists in New York rallied behind Cynthia Nixon’s primary challenge last year to Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, a corporate centrist fairly reviled on the left despite his progressive stances on social issues. But in spite of Nixon’s Instagram-friendly liberal politics and a gush of flattering media coverage, Cuomo clobbered her by almost 30 points, thanks in large part to African-American primary voters who lined up with the governor. In a statewide primary in the bluest of states, the unlikeable moderate guy beat Nixon with ease. Twitter, once again, was not real life.
Trump is already gearing up to weaponize the word socialism for a pretty obvious reason: because plenty of Americans are still frightened by it. That’s why two Democrats—Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi—were quick to their feet with applause during the State of the Union Address when Trump declared that the United States will not become a socialist country. The goal posts are moving on the left, but despite what you read about those despicable neoliberals on the Internet, they aren’t moving fast enough for a sudden political realignment.
[T]he convulsions of everyday Twitter, a small club of media elites and professional opinion-havers, are plainly disconnected from the concerns of most Democratic voters. There’s a real risk that otherwise smart, promising 2020 candidates begin to self-sabotage in their haste to appease this microscopic cluster of social-media activists just because they’ve got a megaphone. Democrats won the House last November—and a bucket of governorships—not by charging to the left, but by flipping Republican seats with so-called “moderate” candidates who were attuned to the concerns of middle-class suburbanites and working-class white women, primarily health care. Socialist, capitalist, feminist, white, black: the voters of 2018 cared little for labels. And those voters offer the best sample set for Democratic politics moving into 2020.
Will Democrat candidates wake up to these truisms and remember what worked in 2018? I hope so.What Townsend and Carter are saying—one an old-school labor Democrat and the other a young socialist—is more or less what Sherrod Brown was arguing for on MSNBC earlier this week. Having a message that speaks to middle-class fairness is the most powerful tool one can brandish in Democratic politics. It’s a boring superpower that’s been proven time and again. Economic fairness is an argument that cuts across race, demography, gender, disability, and age. Nor does a focus on “middle-class” issues have to come at the expense of fighting for racial and social injustice. Those cultural battles become easier to fight when candidates have a reason for running: they can be folded into the message and a biography, if it’s a good one.Politics on Twitter, generally, is about making you feel bad. People are shamed for going to certain schools, for practicing a certain faith, for their gender, their race, or for using the wrong words, regardless of intent. Politics at the presidential level, the successful kind, could not be more different. Winning campaigns find a way to build coalitions, to unite people with shared values under an umbrella of charisma and a succinct message that rises above the din of Washington. This is how Democrats have won the presidency in the past.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
A future blog post will look at the issue of far left Democrats potentially causing Donald Trump to be re-elected because of their inability to push for more moderate proposals that can win the support of a majority of voters. It's a symptom of the out of control "purity" obsession of some far left Democrats who have lost sight on the need to win elections, even if the candidate best able to win doesn't meet all of the impossible - and impractical - purity tests. Which brings me to the polls in New Hampshire and Iowa that both have Joe Biden in the lead even though he has yet to announce (and in my view, should not announce) and Pete Buttigieg in third position. Of the far left candidates, only Bernie Sanders is in the top three. The message to the far left should be that a far left agenda may not equate to winning the nomination. A piece in Politico looks at the Iowa poll and possible takeaways. Here are excerpts:
Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the 2020 Democratic presidential field in Iowa, according to a new poll released Thursday that also suggests Pete Buttigieg — a previously unknown, small-city mayor from Indiana — is gaining significant traction with likely caucus-goers.The Monmouth University poll shows Biden, who hasn’t officially entered the race, is the first choice of roughly a quarter of likely caucusgoers, 27 percent. He’s followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 16 percent and Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., with 9 percent.
That places Buttigieg marginally ahead of a handful of candidates who entered the race with more established profiles: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are at 7 percent, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) is at 6 percent, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is at 4 percent and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is at 3 percent.
Buttigieg still lags most of the other major candidates in name recognition, the poll shows. Nearly a quarter of caucusgoers, 24 percent, say they haven’t heard of the mayor of the nation’s 301st-largest city, compared to 3 percent who haven’t heard of Warren, 7 percent who haven’t heard of O’Rourke, 10 percent for Harris and 11 percent for Booker. (Biden and Sanders have universal name-ID among Democrats.)
But Buttigieg has his fans: 45 percent of caucusgoers view him favorably, while 9 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. The remaining 22 percent say they have heard of Buttigieg but don’t have an opinion of the 37-year-old candidate.
“Buttigieg’s current standing in the horse race is impressive given that nearly half of likely Democratic caucusgoers have yet to form an opinion of him,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “He has one of the best positive to negative ratios in the field. He could move up if he is able to maintain that rating as he introduces himself to more voters.”
It’s the second early-state poll released Thursday showing Buttigieg surging into third place. A St. Anslem’s University poll in New Hampshire showed Buttigieg at 11 percent in that state’s first-in-the-nation primary.
[F]ully one-in-four caucusgoers, 26 percent, have an unfavorable opinion about Sanders, who finished a close second to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 caucuses, and 20 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Warren.
Wherever Buttigieg ends up, it has been remarkable to see an openly gay candidate do so well in these early stages of the nomination process. Meanwhile, as a coming post will note, Buttigieg is making the Christofascists freak out and show their true ugly selves.A POLITICO analysis finds that 14 candidates have qualified for the debate stage through polling, while Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has also said she has passed the donor threshold. If more than 20 candidates qualify through either method, a series of tiebreakers will determine the final lineup.
|Picture of then Pope Benedict XVI with his "personal secretary".|
Former Pope Benedict XVI - thought by many to be a self-loathing closeted gay with a long time male lover - has again launched a major attack on gays and also the 1960's sexual revolution and Vatican II for the rampant and global sexual abuse of children and youths by Catholic clergy. He conveniently ignores the reality that in the 1950's and likely long, long before then, sexual abuse was rampant within the priesthood, so blaming the 1960's sexual revolution for something that long proceeded it is specious at best. He also side steps his own role in cover ups as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - historical also known as the Inquisition - while serving under John Paul II who protected some of the worse predator clergy. Moreover, it was Benedict who enforced the Church's warped 12th century dogma on human sexuality that many experts credit with the psycho-sexual maladjustment of predator priests that along with unquestioned power set the stage for abuse. The take away about Benedict's creed is to believe none of it. Here are highlights from the Washington Post on Benedict's attempt to avoid his own responsibility in the abuse scandal and the corrupt nature of the Church hierarchy:
Breaking years of silence on major church affairs, Pope Benedict XVI has written a lengthy letter devoted to clerical sex abuse in which he attributes the crisis to a breakdown of church and societal moral teaching and says he felt compelled to assist “in this difficult hour.”The 6,000-word letter, published in tandem Thursday by a Catholic outlet and an Italian newspaper, decries the 1960s sexual revolution, laments the secularization of the West and describes seminaries filled with “homosexual cliques.”
Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein [thought by many to be Benedict’s gay lover], confirmed the authenticity of the letter in an email.
Since abdicating the papacy six years ago, Benedict — living in a monastery inside the Vatican City walls — had remained nearly silent on issues facing the Roman Catholic Church, in part to yield full authority to his successor, Pope Francis. The new letter, then, marks an unprecedented moment in the modern church: a significant pronouncement from an ex-pope on the most central problem facing the church.
Benedict wrote that he contacted both Francis and the Vatican’s secretary of state before proceeding. And the pope emeritus finished his essay by thanking Francis for his work to show “the light of God.” But Benedict’s remarks on the topic differ sharply from those of Francis, who has emphasized the corrupted power of clergy and has acknowledged systemic problems that result in coverup. Those themes also prevailed during a February sexual abuse summit at the Vatican that involved leading bishops from around the world.
Benedict devoted the first third of his letter to changes in society and inside the church beginning in the 1960s that gave rise to an “all-out sexual freedom.” He wrote that Catholic moral theology “suffered a collapse” of its own during a period of major reforms. One outcome of the sexual revolution, Benedict wrote, is that “pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.”
David Gibson, the director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, said it was a “major problem” that Benedict was “blaming the abuse crisis on liberal mores and gays and secularization.”
In the letter, Benedict did not describe his own role in dealing with the crisis, nor did he discuss particular cases. Benedict, before becoming pope, was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As pope, he sometimes defrocked hundreds of priests per year, and the Vatican was more forthcoming than it is now about releasing data on abuse.
But analysts say Benedict also had significant shortcomings and was slow to acknowledge the institutional problems that have enabled abuse to persist — including the role of bishops and cardinals in protecting accused priests.
Julian Assange, an ally of Vladimir Putin and seemingly Donald Trump as well has at long last been booted from the Ecuador embassy in London and was promptly arrested and carried away by London Metropolitan police (see the image at the end of this post). Unless one has been living under a rock - or watching only Fox News - it is common knowledge that Assange and his Wikileaks organization was the vehicle through which emails and documents stolen by Russian intelligence officers were released to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Trump associate Roger Stone remains under federal indictment for lying to Congress about his communications with Assange and Russian intelligence operatives. The Guardian looks at Assange arrest while the New York Times looks at the larger implications. First highlights from The Guardian:
Julian Assange has been arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after the South American country withdrew asylum from the WikiLeaks founder. Assange had been granted refuge at the embassy while on bail in the UK over sexual assault allegations against him in Sweden.The Metropolitan police said: “He has been taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster magistrates court as soon as is possible. “The MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] had a duty to execute the warrant, on behalf of Westminster magistrates court, and was invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.”
Assange was shouting and gesticulating as he was carried out of the embassy in handcuffs by seven men and put into a waiting Met police van, video footage showed. He appeared to be carrying a book.
Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, said on Twitter: “In a sovereign decision, Ecuador withdrew the asylum status to Julian Assange after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols.”
The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted: “Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years. Thank you Ecuador and President Lenín Moreno for your cooperation with the Foreign Office to ensure Assange faces justice.”
Assange claimed that if he was extradited to Sweden he might be arrested by the US and face charges relating to the publication of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.
The piece in the New York Times looks at the wider picture. Here are excerpts:US authorities have never officially confirmed that they have charged Assange, but in November 2018 a mistake in a document filed in an unrelated case hinted that criminal charges might have been prepared in secret.
The United States Justice Department has filed criminal charges against Mr. Assange, 47, related to the publication of classified documents, a fact that prosecutors accidentally made public in November. He also faces a charge in a British court of jumping bail, . . .Mr. Assange is also suspected of aiding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by releasing material stolen from the computers of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. In July, the Justice Department charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking those computers, and the indictment contends that at least one of them was in contact with WikiLeaks.
During the 2016 campaign, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails stolen from the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee, leading to a series of revelations that embarrassed the party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. United States investigators have said that the systems were hacked by Russian agents.
Mr. Assange made no secret of his intent to damage Mrs. Clinton, but he has insisted that he did not get the emails from Russia.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
|Trump's dangerous offshore drilling policies could bring a major oil spill to a coast near you.|
To date the Trump/Pence regime has shown time and time again that it puts the financial interest of big business groups be they coal, oil or pharmaceuticals, ahead of the interests and health of average American voters. To try to save the moribund coal industry, Trump has been rolling back clean air and clean water regulations with no concern about the health care nightmares increased air and water pollution will American citizens. All that matters is further lining the pockets of big business. Now, Trump is pushing for offshore drilling from Florida northward along the Atlantic coast, including Virginia (which along with Maryland will be harmed by Trump's efforts to eliminate funding for the cleaning up of the Chesapeake Bay) despite the strong opposition from residents of the states that would be severely harmed by a major oil spill in their offshore waters. A piece in Politico looks at how this highly unpopular plan could see Trump lose his 2020 re-election effort with particular emphasis on Florida. Here are article highlights:
The Trump administration is considering auctioning off Florida’s coastal waters for oil and gas drilling — and Republicans are warning it could cost the president dearly in Florida in the 2020 election.An industry lobbying offensive has put it on the cusp of achieving its holy grail: access to the resource-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico. The idea is so politically toxic in Florida that past presidents haven't even entertained it. But behind the scenes, oil and gas interests are appealing to Trump's desire to turbo-charge U.S. energy production, including his past openness to drilling off the Florida coast.
But giving it the green light would be tantamount to a declaration of war on his second home state, given the uniform opposition from Florida Republicans, including prominent allies like Sen. Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis and others. “He would have a price to pay for that,” Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), a staunch Trump supporter, told POLITICO.
Multiple oil and gas industry sources told POLITICO that the eastern Gulf, along with the Atlantic coast, are included in the administration’s current five-year off-shore drilling proposal, which hasn’t yet been released.
The administration's position was muddied when former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held an elaborately staged Jan. 2018 meeting with Scott, then Florida's governor, to declare the state wouldn’t be on the drilling map. The announcement was seen as a favor to boost Scott’s electoral fortunes in his ultimately successful challenge against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, who tried to use environmental issues to separate himself from the Republican challenger.
Trump was upset by the announcement. People familiar with his reaction said Zinke’s statement came without White House approval and contradicted the administration’s “energy dominance” message.
Both parties in Florida oppose offshore drilling. Memories of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which sent tarballs ashore in Florida, bring fears of a future spill damaging the state’s fisheries and tourism. Many in the state also say drilling would conflict with military exercises in the area.
Offshore drilling is broadly unpopular in Florida. A Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters released March 13 showed 64 percent oppose the practice. Republicans, though, supported it by a 54-38 percent margin. A ballot measure banning oil and gas development in state waters passed overwhelmingly in November.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Florida remains off the table,” Scott told POLITICO in an interview earlier this month. “I’ve been very clear to let the White House know where I stand. This is very important to me.“
The current plan includes a “buffer” to keep rigs at least 100 miles from Florida’s shoreline, according to industry representatives. They said they plan to present Trump with several options for each of the major regions to be covered under the plan, including the mid-Atlantic and Pacific.
Florida lawmakers from both parties have signed numerous letters rejecting offshore drilling, no matter how far from the state’s shoreline. Many also have pushed back on what’s known as seismic testing, a precursor to drilling that involves blasting sonar from boats toward the seafloor to search for buried oil and gas deposits. Both chambers of the state legislature are moving resolutions rejecting offshore drilling in the Gulf.
“We don’t want to see any of it in the Gulf, I don’t want to see any of it on the Atlantic side, which is where I represent,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) told POLITICO. “We’re not looking for Deepwater Horizons off of Jensen Beach, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach, Fort Pierce Beach, and we don’t want to see it out there in the Gulf.”
Even DeSantis, whom Trump endorsed in a crowded Republican primary last year, signed an executive order in January committing the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to “adamantly oppose” offshore drilling. Pressure on Republicans to oppose drilling has only grown since DeSantis was elected in November, as Democrats have homed in on fighting climate change.
“It seems hard to believe that the administration would move forward with drilling off the coast of Florida less than two years before a presidential election,” said Alex Conant, a partner at Firehouse Strategies and former aide to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “It would certainly be an issue that Democrats would try to use against [Trump] throughout the state.”
Trump cares nothing about the environmental damage his horrible regime's policies are causing or the health harms done to average Americans. More dollars to oil companies and plutocrats is all that matters.
|Karen Pence - Hypocrite badly|
in need of gay friends for fashion advice.
As readers may recall, Karen Pence, the wife of the sinister Mike Pence, works at a school that bars gays and their children. She also proudly parades around supporting other aspects of Christofascist hatred towards others while putting on a show of feigned piety. Thus, it is no surprise that she got her (likely ugly) panties in a wad over Pete Buttigieg’s comments this week (i) challenging “the Mike Pence’s of the world” for believing homosexuality is a choice, and (ii) noting that the form of "Christianity" practiced by evangelicals bears little resemblance to Christ's social gospel message. Ms. Pence whined that people should not be attacked for their religious beliefs no matter how toxic and hypocrisy laden and that children need to learn that at a young age that it is "okay what faith people have," again, no matter how toxic and hate driven. Meanwhile, she thinks it is perfectly fine for evangelicals to abuse and attack those, including gays, who do not share her blind allegiance to Bronze Age myths.
Sadly, Ms. Pence is the face of Christofascists' self-centered and hypocrisy-filled belief system. They want one standard of tolerance and respect for themselves but see no one else as deserving similar respect or tolerance. Plainly put, she is not a nice individual no matter how much she pretends otherwise.
While the Trump/Pence regime's Stephen Miller physically resembles Hitler's Joseph Goebbels, the cruel immigration policies he is pushing - and which Der Trumpenführer is gleefully embracing - are more akin to the policies of Heinrich Himmler's - the man who oversaw the "Final Solution" and the murder of millions of Jews across Europe. Like Hitler and Himmler, Miller and Trump see no common humanity in the immigrants their policies abuse, including small children in some cases wrenched from their parents. There are other parallels to the horrible Nazi past alive and well in America in 2019: the portion of the population that supports such horrors and, even more so, the personnel implementing the policies and abusing immigrant families. No doubt the latter justify their conduct in the same manner Nazi death camp workers did: we were just following orders. As if that excuse washed away any responsibility for the harm they did to others. A column in the New York Times looks at Trump and Miller's accomplices - individuals who deserve to be damned by history. Here are excerpts:
As President Trump continues his mad purge of the Department of Homeland Security, a sinister figure is emerging as the driving force behind all the chaos: Stephen Miller, the president’s top immigration adviser. . . . Mr. Miller seems to have rarely met an immigrant he didn’t want to deport. He is among the hardest of hard-liners, known for spurring his boss to pursue ever more draconian measures.Not that Mr. Trump needs much encouragement. He did, after all, ascend to the White House on an immigrant-bashing, ethnonationalist platform as dishonest as it was divisive. Many of the administration’s uglier policy ideas have been a result of Mr. Trump’s failure to deliver on his signature campaign promise of a “big, beautiful” border wall. Small wonder Mr. Miller has emerged as his favorite consigliere on such matters.
He [Miller] was a chief architect of the travel ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries. He favors the building of tent cities at the border for warehousing asylum seekers. He’s agitating to end the 20-day limit on detaining migrant children. And he wants to reinstate the practice of snatching migrant children from their families — though this time he’d like to give parents a “binary choice” of having their kids taken from them or held with them in detention indefinitely.
Mr. Miller is being credited with the blood bath at the Department of Homeland Security. Since Friday, a handful of top leaders have been, or are soon to be, shown the door, including the head of the Secret Service, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was never quite ruthless enough for the president’s or Mr. Miller’s taste. More firings are expected as Mr. Miller moves to remake the department in his image.
Bottom line, Stephen Miller is a man whose anti-immigration zeal remains unfettered by concern for the law, international norms or basic humanity. . . . And yet. The portrait of the 33-year-old policy adviser as a figure of singular evil is both overly simplistic and counterproductive.
But no matter how much of the administration’s immigration agenda Mr. Miller has been responsible for, it’s taken a village to make that vision a reality. Giving too much credit to any one person builds up Mr. Miller, undeservedly, as a Machiavellian genius and lets many other folks off the hook.
A society does not fall because of a small coterie of bad actors. Widespread rot requires legions of enablers, many of whom are driven by varying blends of personal ambition, ideological expedience and the self-aggrandizing delusion that, through their invaluable counsel, they can save the state from total destruction.
Expect increasingly to hear this last rationalization from former administration officials starting redemption tours as they resume life outside the Trump bubble.
Advisers like Kellyanne Conway, lawmakers like Senator Lindsey Graham and the former House Speaker Paul Ryan, party apparatchiks like the Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and a whole host of Trump-friendly media personalities may not personally share the president’s views or policy aims. But their willingness to swallow some of the administration’s cruelest acts renders them complicit. Neither their reputations nor their consciences should be wiped clean.
Take Ms. Nielsen. . . . . Throughout her tenure, stories bubbled up about how she incurred Mr. Trump’s wrath by dragging her feet on policies that would have run afoul of the law or thrown the nation into chaos. But she still carried out and aggressively enforced her share of atrocities.
Now, defenders are portraying the woman who was in charge of caging migrant children as a hapless victim of the administration’s more unhinged forces.
Those who quietly allowing the Trump regime's abuses to continue are little better than the "good Germans" who did nothing as millions were murdered. These people deserve no respect and deserve to be treated as pariahs. They are morally bankrupt no matter how frequently they park their asses in church pews.It’s tempting to see Stephen Miller as the archvillain of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. But there is much guilt to go around, and even reluctant collaborators cannot be allowed to absolve themselves of responsibility for the administration’s continuing outrages.
Tuesday, April 09, 2019
|Trump with evangelical hate group leaders.|
Christians for a long time. Indeed, there are few groups that lie more frequently, hate so many others so maliciously, and parade around in displays of utterly false piety. If there is any positive aspect of the Trump presidency, it is that the loyalty of evangelicals to the toxic demagogue has displayed their hypocrisy and hate writ large for the world to see. They are morally bankrupt and have no more moral authority that the Catholic prelates who aided and abetted child rape for decades if not centuries. To call them modern day Pharisees, insults the Pharisees of the New Testament. The candidacy of Pete Buttigieg may do even more to expose they foulness of these people, especially since Buttigieg seemingly has no intention on being reticent about calling them out. A piece in Esquire looks at Buttigieg's willingness to confront Christofascists and also looks at just how ladened with hypocrisy evangelicals are in fact. Here are article highlights:
Amid all the chaos and cruelty, perhaps the one enduring benefit of Donald Trump's presidency will be The Great Unvarnishing. The acidity of Trump's public persona—his blatant narcissism and vindictiveness and lack of ethics and selfishness and greed—has worn on the top coat of paint many people have applied to themselves, gradually exposing what lies beneath. It isn't often pretty. All the pretense has gone straight out the window as [Trump]
the presidenthas seized control of one of our two major political parties while saying the quiet parts out loud.No one pretends Donald Trump is an ethical person. He and his allies scarcely even pretend he is a president for all Americans. Everyone knows for whom he is the president: The Base, and especially the core Republican constituency of White Evangelical Christians. This is all the more revelatory because no one pretends Donald Trump is a man of God, really. His pantomimes of Devout Religiosity during the campaign were so half-assed that few adult humans could realistically believe he's a believer. The guy who bragged about grabbing women "by the pussy" and OK'd calling his own daughter a "piece of ass" was suddenly pretending to have accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
It was all there: the obvious unfamiliarity with the material, and the open disdain for anyone who actually was familiar. Trump, the ultimate snake-oil salesman, couldn't resist calling out his newest and easiest marks for what they were while he made the sale. Except, again, it's doubtful many Evangelicals who pulled the lever for Trump really believed he's a God-fearing man. . . . They knew what they were getting.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a rising star in the 2020 Democratic field, said as much recently when he declared of [Trump]
the president, "It's hard to look at his actions and believe they are the actions of somebody who believes in God." Chuck Todd of Meet the Press asked him to square that with Trump's Evangelical support on Sunday.
It's only "hypocrisy" if you believe the most important word in the phrase White Evangelical Christian is "Christian"—as in, you prioritize, above all else, the teachings of Jesus Christ. Of course it isn't. It has always been "White." The current all-encompassing figurehead of the Republican Party has merely laid this bare, because the question, What principles of Jesus Christ does Donald Trump embody? can only be met with derisive laughter. The better question might be which of the Seven Deadly Sins—pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth—does he [Trump] not embody.
No, the important part of White Evangelical Christian is White. These folks had called themselves Values Voters, which mainstream politicos would accept without much examination even though the most important values seemed to be abstinence-only sex ed and opposition to marriage equality and abortion. Jesus never devoted much time to any of these topics, and all his talk about giving aid to the poor and the sick never got much play in Republican politics.
They believe the United States was at its best in the postwar boom of the 1950s and '60s, but not necessarily because programs like the G.I. Bill—a dreaded Big Government initiative—enhanced social mobility and gave young (white) men the chance to establish middle-class families. They're more interested in who made the rules back then: white, Christian men, who accepted input from other white, Christian men. This is politics, and politics is about power.
Trump has merely exposed this longstanding force in conservative politics for what it is, even if he pays lip service to the concerns of people in the industrial midwest who've been left behind by globalization. His basic appeal is as a bulwark for White America against a changing world, where The Others—chiefly, Hispanic immigrants and worshippers of Islam—are the villains in American life. That is the potent symbolism of The Wall, which Evangelicals support more than any other group. This is also the psychological thicket of power and identity where America's gun culture resides.
Trump's brash disregard for consequences—a symptom of the collapse of shame as a social force—has also spilled over onto some of the Thought Leaders on the Christian Right. . . . One thing that never seems to come up is, say, this:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Trump enjoyed the support of 71 percent of Evangelicals shortly after his administration embarked on its "zero-tolerance policy," the inevitable consequence of which was to separate children from their parents at the southern border. He continued to enjoy their support after the Mobile Locker Room tape, and after it emerged he'd paid $130,000 to silence a porn star about the affair she alleges they had shortly after the birth of his youngest child. He enjoyed their support after his administration teargassed migrants—The Stranger whom Jesus implores us to Invite In—which apparently was a rare moment of Trumpian praise for Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary who also oversaw the family separations but now has been forced out because she's insufficiently extreme.
He will continue to enjoy their support because he is a potent vector of weaponized nostalgia, and he has made it a priority to install Conservative Judges—not to be confused with Great Legal Minds Who Happen to Be Conservative—to enshrine in the judiciary these politics of backlash against the changing world.
Yes, Donald Trump has given us one gift: The Great Unvarnishing. Racism cannot be dismissed as some vestigial legacy of America's past mistakes—it is one of the core animating forces in our society, a vehicle for power that still runs smooth as ever. Everything is malleable in the face of power and riches. People who oppose crony capitalism in theory support it in practice—as long as they're the cronies. And self-proclaimed Men of God will support Donald Trump, American president. It's almost like everyone has personal standards of ethics, and what religion you practice doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your morality.
On the bright side, you never have to listen to Political Christians again if you don't want to. Again: what principles of Jesus Christ does Donald Trump embody? Would you even let the guy babysit your kids?
With luck, the exodus of the younger generations from religion will accelerate thanks to the glaring hypocrisy of the evangelicals. If we are even luckier, evangelical Christianity itself will die in time. In view, that cannot happen soon enough.
Monday, April 08, 2019
In what ought to be a lesson to the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, the Mormon Church is relaxing one of its anti-gay policies that victimized the children of LGBT headed families and barred the children from baptism in the Church. In conjunction with the Mormon Church's decision to not oppose an LGBT non-discrimination law in Utah, it shows some effort to reconcile Church doctrine with modernity and likely also is a reaction to Utah's sky high teen suicide rate. A piece in The Atlantic looks at the development. Meanwhile, Roman Catholic schools continue to throw out children of gays or refuse them enrollment, punishing children for who their parents are. Here are article highlights:
Tom Christofferson was in the shower on Thursday morning when he missed a phone call with huge implications for the lives of LGBTQ Mormons and their families.
Christofferson is gay. His brother, Todd Christofferson, is a member of the highest body of authority in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Todd was calling Tom to let him know that the LDS Church was about to roll back a controversial 2015 policy that automatically labeled Mormons in same-sex marriages apostates and barred their minor children from being baptized—a rite required for membership in the LDS Church and seen as necessary for eternal salvation. Under the new policy, same-sex marriages are still considered a “serious transgression,” according to a Church announcement, but not definitively apostasy. The children of LGBTQ couples can now be baptized.
The presence of LGBTQ Mormons is an undeniable reality in the LDS Church. The Church acknowledged the widespread pain caused by the former policy: “While we cannot change the Lord’s doctrine, we want our members and our policies to be considerate of those struggling with the challenges of mortality,” said Dallin Oaks, one of two counselors to the president of the LDS Church, in a statement.
Married LGBTQ Mormons are no longer automatically labeled apostates, and they are put on slightly more even footing with straight couples: “Immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way,” Oaks wrote in the announcement. Children living with these couples can be baptized, as long as parents know that they will be taught that LGBTQ relationships are wrong.
For many current and former Mormons, however, the consequences of the 2015 policy cannot be undone. Their relationships—with the Church, with their families, and with God—have been irreparably damaged.
LDS leaders consider both the 2015 policy and Thursday’s new policy to be matters of revelation, even though one effectively reverses the other.
But as this new announcement demonstrates, Church leaders clearly heard the objections from LDS community members. In a living faith tradition like Mormonism, relationships—between neighbors, relatives, or, say, a gay Mormon and his brother in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—have the power to shape the context of revelation.
Even with this new policy change, LGBTQ Mormons occupy a fraught space in LDS life. Those in same-sex relationships, or who have gone through a gender transition, live with the knowledge that their choices are condemned by Church teachings. And for LGBTQ believers, the theological consequences of their sexuality and identity are serious: Mormons teach that families can be bound together for eternity, and LGBTQ families are not included in that vision.
On a practical level, the 2015 policy cut many LGBTQ families off from participation in LDS communities. Parents couldn’t stay even loosely connected to the Church through their children, and some felt that it was cruel for the Church to ostracize kids because of their parents’ choices and identities.
“There was a lot of suffering caused by the policy, and it’s going to be hard for a lot of hearts to heal from that,” says Gustav-Wrathall. Like others, he draws a connection between the policies of the LDS Church and the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ teens in Utah, while acknowledging that it’s impossible to know the cause of most suicides. “What parents must be feeling,” he said, is: “Would my child still be here with me if this policy hadn’t happened?”