Saturday, June 22, 2019
Hampton Roads Pridefest take place today in downtown Norfolk at Town Point Park. Very large crowds are anticipated and the event is now Norfolk's largest festival event after Harbor Fest. Sponsors include not only the City of Norfolk which not too many years ago treated the LGBT community as if it was radioactive, and Newport News Shipbuilding, currently Virginia's largest employer and the company that builds America's nuclear aircraft carriers.
The event was preceded by events around the area virtually every day this past week - more events are tomorrow in Virginia Beach - including the "Block Party" held the last number of years in Scope, Norfolk's sports and concert arena. Having attended and closed down the party, it was packed, with the area floor completely filled with hundreds, if not thousands dancing while and even larger number socializing. The Block Party alone is far larger than Pridefest was for many, many years and the crowd covered a wide gamut of ages and every ethnic group was there, white, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander. Trump supporters would have thoroughly hated seeing such a multi-racial crowd getting along and having fun together. Things have come a long way since I came out going on 18 years ago.
Yet much remains to be done - both here here in Virginia where, if the Democrats take control of the General Assembly in the November 2019 elections, LGBT Virginians will finally have non-discrimination protections - and in many parts of America where bigots and Christofascists hold sway, encouraged in their message of hate by the Trump/Pence regime, the Republican Party, and, of course, scamvangelists lining their pockets with money as they pervert the Gospel message. To accomplish these needed changes, perhaps a new model is needed. Self-proclaimed LGBT activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign ("HRC") and Equality Virginia ("EV") increasingly seem most focused on raising money to support ever higher salaries to their leadership and larger staffs. Actually getting things done to benefit the wider array of the LGBT community has faded in importance despite lip service to the contrary.
In a piece in New York Magazine, gay conservative Andrew Sullivan looks at where the LGBT community finds itself today both in terms of positive improvement and criticism of some gay activists and organizations like HRC and EV that have lost their way. Some of what Sullivan says is on point, and some of it is out in the weeds due to his failure to let go of some aspects of conservatism and religion. Here are excerpts:
There has never been a better time or place in the history of the world to be gay than in 2019 and in the West.I think it’s worth repeating that — especially in front of the younger generation — because it gives us critical perspective on where we are now and where we are headed. If you glance at media aimed at gays, lesbians, and transgender people, you might imagine we are living in a state of siege. Gay students arriving in college in 2019 will be told instantly that they are oppressed in countless ways, and trans students will be told that they can be oppressed by gay people, as well. Check out the website for the biggest gay lobbying group, the Human Rights Campaign, and you will find that gays and lesbians and transgender people “have been under constant attack” since Trump became president.
And, yes, there has been some blowback, as one might expect after an astonishing decade of faster progress than in any civil-rights movement in history. The impulsively renewed ban on transgender service members makes no sense, was enacted by presidential whim (a tweet, no less), defended with arguments that collapse upon scrutiny, and opposed by much of the military brass. With luck, law, and lobbying, it will fall. There has also been executive action to defend the religious freedom of those fundamentalist Christians who make up a core of the Trump base. But it says a huge amount that Christianists are this panicked. They keep losing both secular and theological arguments — along with many members, especially among the young.
And look at what remains: marriage equality, even in Alabama; corporate America competing to brand itself as pro-gay (sometimes to an excruciating degree); full integration of gay service members; a lesbian mayor of Chicago and, in Corey Johnson, a future gay mayor of New York; a married gay man among the main contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination; a cornucopia of media-affirming gay and trans equality; openly gay and lesbian figures in almost every sphere of American life; a preventative pill for HIV and a pill to all but eradicate it from the living; and explicit legal protection from discrimination for half of the gay people in the country.
I’m not saying there isn’t more to be done — laws against discrimination in employment and public accommodations in those states that don’t yet have those protections, for example . . .
It is, I know, sometimes hard to take “yes” for an answer. It is also prudent, given human history, to be vigilant in defending the gains. But this level of openness and equality was unimaginable only a decade ago. Compared with the 1950s, when “sodomy” was illegal in every state, when the government hounded gay men and women in public service out of their jobs and demonized them as inherently treasonous, when gay people were barred from entering the country, and when psychiatrists believed them to be mentally ill, this is close to utopia. Compared with the 1980s and early 1990s, when gay men found themselves circling the drain of their own extinction, and witnessed horrors and pain and stigma as never before, this is incredible.
Because gay men and women are almost always brought up by straight parents, this history is hard to pass on. And so perspectives can be warped. Those whose livelihoods are built on defending victims have an interest in sustaining a victim paradigm for gay America, in which they are the saviors. And victim narratives are comfortable. They allow us to avoid responsibility for our own problems, while transferring it to others. . . . They actually provide status among today’s elites — and can help you advance your own career solely on the basis of your orientation if you want to go to college or get a job at a major corporation.
I think it’s time to shuck off this narrative, because it is a crude simplification of the gay experience, because it is profoundly out of date, and because it focuses us on other people we cannot always change while ignoring things closer to home that we can. What we need now, I think, is a narrative more productive and constructive, less about the harm the world can do to us, and more about the good we can give back to the world.
It will mean earning a living, raising kids in some cases, pursuing careers, sustaining marriages, and everything every straight person does without thinking twice about it. Being gay is not a political act; it is about deeper things than politics: love, above all, but sex and relationships as well. . . . We seek, in this sense, a kind of irrelevance for our sexual orientation — a world in which the hetero and homo categories define none of us, straight or gay, and the category of human includes us all.
But there’s more to the souls of gay folk than just this kind of normalcy, it seems to me. Unlike straights, we remain a specific minority, with life experiences that do shape us differently, and a way of life that will always, in some ways, be a subculture, as well as a counterculture. Equality and virtual normalcy need not be seen as ends, but as platforms for something larger, just as they are for other enfranchised minorities. Integration is not the same as assimilation.
This does indeed require pride in what we have that is distinct, a pride that is worth celebrating once a year. We have as gay people, it seems to me, a gift in our sometimes hidden sexual and emotional difference, a gift that teaches us at quite a young age not to judge a book by its dust-jacket, or to dismiss the different because they make us, at first, uncomfortable. The suffering that will always accompany gay and lesbian teens — the suffering that is a function of being so different at such a crucial age — can be deployed as adults, if we so choose, to see and alleviate the suffering of others.
[G]ay people’s lopsided contribution to the arts, fashion, design, and aesthetics are ways in which we can reflect society back to itself with greater depth and beauty.
These gay gifts can be shared. They always have been, of course, but under acute duress, and often silenced or unknown. What I’m emphasizing here is embracing these roles more explicitly as our charism, defining ourselves more clearly as human society’s indispensable regenerators, pillars, and buttresses. Gay male friendships can inform straight male ones — and surely for the better. Gay teachers can be a special boon to kids whose own family may not be engaged or supportive. We can be gay uncles and aunts, an often invaluable resource — financially and otherwise — for our siblings’ kids.
Gay scholars and aesthetes can protect and preserve our common inheritance. Gay entrepreneurs can invigorate decaying neighborhoods and innovate new ways of living. Gay writers can become, as they often are, the strongest champions of free speech — because, for so long, it was the only right we had, the indispensable resource to let each other know that we existed.
As the long night of persecution gives way to the dawning of integration, let’s take a moment both to remember the legions of human souls who knew nothing but darkness, to acknowledge the vast numbers of gay people around the world for whom such freedom still doesn’t exist — but also to recognize this unique and pivotal chance for renewal and reinvention in the West. We should indeed have pride in our past, our selves, and our lives as survivors. But as we peer into the future, and to what we can still bring to the world, let us also know joy.
One of the most powerful forms of activism is simply living one's life openly and proudly. Yes, if one lives in rural areas of red states, that can be difficult and perhaps life threatening. But the more of us that do this and demonstrate our normalcy to the straight world, the more positive change there will be. Demonstrate daily that we are not the "other" to be feared but rather friends, neighbors and positive participants in our communities. Yes, it can be scary, especially for those of older generations who grew up living in fear, but it is the way forward. It is something the husband and I try to do every day be it at work, social gatherings, participating in a sailing regatta, . . . the list goes on and on.
Friday, June 21, 2019
|Flooding area in Norfolk, VA.|
While the Trump/Pence regime continues to insist that climate change is not real and, worse yet, is undoing Obama era policies and regulations that sought to slow global warming, communities and those living on the coast can see first hand that the sea levels are rising. Here in Southeast Virginia, every community south/southeast of Williamsburg has areas threatened by rising sea levels and most have not seriously begun to face the financial burden that will be involved to build sea walls and other infrastructure modifications. As the New York Times reports, the potential partial cost the Virginia Beach is $1.7 billion. Meanwhile, the city of Norfolk (estimated to need 69 miles of sea walls) is devising a plan where neighborhoods could establish themselves as special tax districts to raise funds to make the needed improvements to face rising waters. The overall problem is staggering and Republicans sticking their heads in the sand is not a solution. Small communities could potentially cease to exist in the future. For the city of Hampton, the price tag for 68 miles of sea walls is $642.9 million - the fourth most costly in Virginia (look up your city here). Here are highlights from the Times article:
WASHINGTON — As disaster costs keep rising nationwide, a troubling new debate has become urgent: If there’s not enough money to protect every coastal community from the effects of human-caused global warming, how should we decide which ones to save first?After three years of brutal flooding and hurricanes in the United States, there is growing consensus among policymakers and scientists that coastal areas will require significant spending to ride out future storms and rising sea levels — not in decades, but now and in the very near future. There is also a growing realization that some communities, even sizable ones, will be left behind.
By 2040, simply providing basic storm-surge protection in the form of sea walls for all coastal cities with more than 25,000 residents will require at least $42 billion, according to new estimates from the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental advocacy group. Expanding the list to include communities smaller than 25,000 people would increase that cost to more than $400 billion.
“Once you get into it, you realize we’re just not going to protect a lot of these places,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the group, which wants oil and gas companies to pay some of the cost of climate adaptation. “This is the next wave of climate denial — denying the costs that we’re all facing.”
The research is limited in that it considers only sea walls, and not other methods for minimizing flood risk that may be more practical in some places, such as moving homes and shops away from the most flood-prone areas. The figures also don’t include the additional and costlier steps that will be required even with sea walls, such as revamping sewers, storm water and drinking water infrastructure.
Still, the data provides a powerful financial measuring stick for the tough decisions that countless communities — large and small — are starting to confront.
The cities that are quick to adapt to climate risks “are going to attract the jobs and the factories of the future,” said Eric Smith, president and chief executive officer for the Americas at Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies. “There’s going to be communities that I think will be left way, way behind.”
The new research identifies 241 cities of 25,000 people or more that will require at least $10 million worth of sea walls by 2040 just to protect against a typical annual storm.
Total cost of adding sea walls1. Jacksonville, Fla. $3.5 billion2. New York City $2.0 billion3. Virginia Beach $1.7 billion4. Galveston, Tex. $1.1 billion5. Charleston, S.C. $1.0 billion6. Tampa, Fla. $938.4 million7. Barnstable Town, Mass. $889.2 million8. Corpus Christi, Tex. $861.1 million9. St. Petersburg, Fla. $751.4 million10. New Orleans $725.1 million
Many cities, especially small ones, will not be able to meet the costs facing them. Those that can’t will depend on federal funding. . . . So experts have proposed ways of focusing federal money where it can do the most good — even if that means some places are left out.
One approach would be for the federal government to spend the money based simply on where it would most reduce the future cost of damages, according to Craig Fugate, who ran FEMA during the Obama administration.
He acknowledged that Congress would probably object to that approach, since it would likely mean FEMA would concentrate its resilient-infrastructure funds in just a handful of states.
Another option would be for the federal government to distribute climate protection money based on a city’s property value, its historical and cultural importance, and how much it contributes to the national economy, said Harriet Tregoning, who was in charge of the housing department’s Office of Community Planning and Development during the Obama administration.
Cities could increase their chances of getting money by reducing their exposure to disasters, perhaps by retrofitting their buildings, implementing aggressive building codes and zoning restrictions, and helping residents leave the most vulnerable neighborhoods, Ms. Tregoning said. And there could be extra points for cities that take in people forced to flee other parts of the country.
Mr. Smith, of Swiss Re, said that cities should take responsibility for protecting themselves from the rising toll of disasters, rather than waiting for the federal government.
Virginia Republicans have been denying for years what is actually happening choosing to use the euphemism "repetitive flooding" rather than admit sea level rise.In his view, the chief obstacle is the refusal by some local officials to acknowledge what is happening. “The challenge is, we’re fighting about whether or not there’s climate change,” Mr. Smith said. “They don’t want to embrace what’s right in front of us.”
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Some recent actions by the U.S. Supreme Court must be disturbing to the ugly underbelly of the Republican Party that thought the appointment of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Court assured them of victory on a number of issues not popular with the larger public. Some have viewed the Court's actions as a way to preserve its popular respect and legitimacy even if some of the issues will likely come back before it in the future. How the Court rules on the Trump/Pence regime effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census - which is designed to cause an under count of non-citizens in mostly blue states - will be telling as to whether self-preservation remains the Courts guiding hallmark. A column in the Washington Post looks at recent rulings that in the wake of the Virginia redistricting decision against Virginia Republicans have avoided hot button issues and punted them back to the lower courts. Here are column excerpts:
The justices of the Supreme Court know how to keep out of trouble. That’s the takeaway from the order the court issued on Monday, sending back to the lower court a new case about another baker who wouldn’t bake a wedding cake.The case, Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, was a near-exact replica of last year’s Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Like the owner of that Colorado bakery, the husband and wife owners of Sweetcakes by Melissa in Gresham, Ore., claimed that their religion prohibited them from designing and baking a cake to be used in celebrating a same-sex marriage. To do so, the owners explained in their petition to the Supreme Court, would amount to “complicity in sin.” In fact, they said, the very reason they baked wedding cakes was to “celebrate weddings between one man and one woman.”
Like Colorado, Oregon has a public accommodations law that bars business from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Acting on the complaint of a lesbian couple, the official in charge of enforcing that law imposed a $135,000 fine to be paid to the couple as “compensatory damages for emotional, mental and physical suffering.” The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the order, and the Oregon Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.
On Monday, instead of adding the case to their docket, the justices vacated the lower-court decision and told the Oregon Court of Appeals to reconsider the case “in light of” last June’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. Objectively, that disposition makes little sense. The Supreme Court didn’t actually decide the constitutional issues in Masterpiece Cakeshop. . . . The decision was, in other words, a punt. It has no “light” to shed on the Oregon dispute.
I think that what finally prevailed was an institutional instinct for self-preservation. Why re-enter this battle at this moment? Cases granted this spring will be argued in the fall, to be decided next spring with the political season at its height and the court itself under a bright election-year spotlight. The court already has plenty to do next term, with three cases granted on whether federal law protects gay and transgender people against discrimination on the job. The conflict between private conscience and public duty is age-old. The court has time to resolve it in future cases. In fact, another such case will soon be on the way to the Supreme Court. This month, the Washington State Supreme Court reinstated a ruling against a flower shop owner who, because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ,” told a gay couple, longtime customers, that she could not design a flower arrangement for their wedding. The justices had vacated that ruling and sent the case back to the state court last summer for reconsideration in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop. The state court, deeming Masterpiece Cakeshop irrelevant, reissued its original opinion almost word for word.
What I discern as the Supreme Court’s instinct for self-preservation was also on display last month in an abortion case from Indiana. The state was appealing a ruling that invalidated its law banning abortions for reasons of the race, sex or disability of the fetus, a law enacted in deliberate and flagrant violation of existing abortion precedents. The state’s appeal, Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, went to conference an astonishing 15 times over five months. Ultimately, the court denied the appeal, noting in an unsigned opinion that because the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is the only court to have considered such a law, “we follow our ordinary practice of denying petitions insofar as they raise legal issues that have not been considered by additional Courts of Appeals.”
On a court deeply divided on the subject of abortion, that disposition was unanimous. . . . If I read that message correctly, we can expect the same outcome when the states that are now busy banning abortion appeal to the Supreme Court from the lower-court rulings that will inevitably strike down the new laws. (But to be precise, my prediction holds only until Election Day 2020, when the justices will be free from whatever constraint they now feel about taking a step likely to incite a public backlash against the Republican Party.)
These reflections on the court’s instinct for self-preservation lead me to a final question: What to do about the census case? As the world knows, the deeply contested question of the validity of the Trump administration’s plan to ask about citizenship has become even more fraught with revelations from the computer files of a recently deceased Republican redistricting specialist, Thomas Hofeller. The documents appear to validate the conclusion reached by Federal District Judge Jesse Furman, whose ruling against the Trump administration is before the justices, that the administration’s purported good-government reason for adding the citizenship question was a pretext. The real reason, the documents indicate, was to provide a statistical basis for entrenching Republican power by disregarding noncitizens in the population counts for future redistricting.
Those plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, have now asked the justices for a “limited remand” that would send the case back to the District Court “to allow exploration of where the truth lies.”
But there is another option, suggested by the plaintiffs in a final footnote to their latest brief: Just dismiss the appeal. The procedure is known as a DIG: “dismissed as improvidently granted.” The justices use it once or twice a term, usually when a case turns out, on further reflection, not to be what they thought it was when they granted it.
For the time being, it’s a reminder that the court knows how to get itself out of a tight spot when it needs to. A DIG requires no explanation. Its effect is to wipe the Supreme Court slate clean, as if the appeal had never even reached the court. A DIG here would leave Judge Furman’s opinion in place and would enable the professionals in the Census Bureau, who strongly objected to adding the citizenship question, free to go about their business counting us — all of us. If I’m right about these recent signals that the court knows how to save itself, now is the time.
The out come of the census case will be telling and clearly signal whether the Court puts its own legitimacy ahead of all else.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
|Perkins addressing a white supremacy group before moving to FRC.|
The Trump/Pence regime and its self-prostituting GOP allies are continuing its efforts to make far right evangelical Christianity the preferred religion in the United States. While Pence is a true believer and, in my view down right frightening given his fanaticism, Trump has zero moral compunctions and it's all about keeping the now dominant Christofascist/white supremacist base of the GOP loyal through the 2020 elections. Molded out of the same moral vacuum is Mitch McConnell who appointed a leading hate merchant/professional Christian who has helped rally evangelicals to Trump's support and the GOP's support is Tony Perkins - head of the certified hate group, Family Research Council ("FRC") - to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. McConnell, like Trump, faces a potentially difficult re-election campaign in 2020 and is willing to sell his soul (if he has one) to secure Christofascist support. Sadly, in Perkins' world view, only his fellow evangelicals deserve religious freedom. The rest of us simply do not matter or are deemed deserving of marginalization. A piece in New York Magazine looks at Perkins' ugly record and agenda, but sadly omits Perkins' strong and documented white supremacist ties (Perkins hails from Mississippi, perhaps the most racist state in America). Here are article highlights:
One of the most vitriolic anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim activists in the U.S. will now lead the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Tony Perkins, who was first named to USCIRF by Senator Mitch McConnell in 2018, will head the group for a year. Perkins is also the president of the Family Research Council, a far-right organization that lobbied against marriage equality and continues to work against anti-discrimination laws that cover LGBT people.Established by the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, USCIRF is a bipartisan body. Commissioners are appointed by members of Congress and serve limited terms. As the commission explains on its website, it’s charged with tracking the status of religious freedom around the world, advocating for prisoners of conscience, and producing reports that contain policy prescriptions. . . . But Perkins’s chairmanship will likely undermine USCIRF’s mission, and his hostility toward LGBT people and Muslims mirrors the Trump administration’s positions in the worst possible ways.
Like USCIRF itself, Perkins isn’t much of a household name. But he has for years worked toward a definition of religious freedom that maximizes First Amendment rights for conservative Christians, while minimizing the rights of Muslims, nontheists, and members of other minority traditions.
At various points in his prolific career, Perkins has
argued[lied] that there is “a disproportionate overlap” between homosexuality and pedophilia and that the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead inexorably to the persecution of conservative Christians. In a column on the Family Research Council’s website, Perkins linked the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas — which found sodomy bans unconstitutional — to a host of other supposed evils, including marriage equality, rights for trans people, and the alleged mainstreaming of polygamy and pedophilia.
Same-sex relationships remain illegal in much of the world, and LGBT people can face violence and death, meted out either by vigilantes or courts. They won’t have an advocate in Perkins, nor, for that matter, will many religious minorities.
Perkins has also shown particular antipathy toward Islam. . . . The Trump administration shares Perkins’s animus toward Islam. Its ban on immigration from some majority-Muslim countries indicated early the depth of its hostility for Muslims. As HuffPost reported after March’s mosque shootings in New Zealand, Trump once floated a national database to track Muslims, and has repeatedly and wrongly insisted that Muslims in Jersey City celebrated the September 11th attacks. The Trump administration isn’t any more tolerant of LGBT people. Trans people are among its favorite targets . . .
At the same time, the administration has consistently defended a definition of religious freedom that allows people of faith extreme leeway to discriminate. If the administration’s idiosyncratic definition of religious freedom has ever bothered Perkins, it’s not visible; as president of the Family Research Council, Perkins has committed himself wholly to the defense of Trump and his policy priorities.
Perkins’s term as chairman ends in 2020, but the rest of USCIRF’s membership tilts to the right as well. Of its nine commissioners, five have links to right-wing groups; at least one, Gary Bauer, has also worked for the Family Research Council. Though Perkins won’t be around for long, his tenure as chairman marks a grim turn in USCIRF’s history.
Virginians need to be aware that The Family Foundation, Virginia leading hate group, is closely aligned with FRC and its antecedents likewise trace to white supremacists.
Earlier this week the United States Supreme Court rejected the appeal by House of Delegates Republicans to the judicial striking down of the Virginia GOP's carefully drawn voting districts. These districts were aimed at minimizing the strength of minority voters and thereby protecting the Virginia GOP from the reality that increasingly Virginians do not want what the Virginia GOP is peddling, namely racism, homophobia, slavish prostitution to the gun lobby and a general opposition to anything progressive in nature. While SCOTUS used the issue of standing as a means to reject the appeal, the result is nonetheless the same and the odds of Democrats winning control of both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates has increased. Many would argue that the Virginia GOP's solution is to update its agenda to reflect 21st century concerns, a task made impossible by the GOP's increasingly hideous base of racist, white supremacists, religious extremists and general misogynists. One can only hope November, 2019, deals the Virginia GOP a blow that will send it into minority party status for years to come. A piece in Slate looks at the SCOTUS ruling:
The Virginia House of Delegates’ racial gerrymander is officially dead—killed off by a 5–4 Supreme Court ruling on Monday that seems to clear the way for a potential Democratic sweep of the Virginia Legislature in November.
Although Monday’s decision in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill slays a gerrymander, it revolves around a more mundane issue: Who has the ability to defend that gerrymander in federal court? When Virginia voters first filed a lawsuit alleging that multiple House districts were drawn illegally along racial lines, the state attorney general defended the map. Eventually, a federal court found “overwhelming evidence” that the state had “sorted voters into districts based on the color of their skin,” violating “the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause.” It appointed a special master to redraw 11 House districts and adopted his proposals, ordering the House to adopt his new map for the 2019 election.
Throughout these proceedings, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, defended the House’s unconstitutional districts. He did so because a Virginia law tasks the attorney general, and him alone, with the job of defending the state’s interests in court. After the federal court struck down the old map, Herring decided his job was done: He had defended the gerrymander since 2014, when the case began, and didn’t want to appeal the latest ruling to SCOTUS. But the House (and, specifically, its Republican speaker) had intervened in the case and did want to appeal. So it asked SCOTUS to reverse the district court and restore its old map.
On Monday, the Supreme Court held that the House lacked standing to appeal the ruling against its gerrymandered districts. Practically speaking, that means the 2019 election will take place under the new maps—a relief, since Virginia just held primary elections under these maps last week. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg first cited the Virginia statute giving the state attorney general (and not the House) the ability to “represent the state’s interests.”
Ginsburg then wrote that the new maps inflict no concrete injury on the House, depriving it of the right to appeal the district court’s decision. The court-imposed plan, she wrote, merely changes the House’s composition. But House districts already “change frequently”—after each census, at a minimum—and any ensuing electoral difficulties “are suffered by individual legislators or candidates, not by the House as a body.”
[U]nder Virginia law, redistricting authority resides in the full General Assembly; the House and Senate must both vote to adopt any redistricting plan. Because the House “constitutes only a part” of the General Assembly, it does not have standing, on its own, to appeal the decision invalidating its districts. In other words, “a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole.”
Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch.
All 11 districts invalidated by Monday’s decision were flagrantly gerrymandered to capture minority communities, trapping a huge number of black voters in a few non-competitive districts. The new map creates more diverse and competitive districts, handing Democrats a major victory. Right now, Republicans hold a 51–49 majority in the House; under the new, fairer map, Democrats seem likely to seize the chamber in November. They’re also favored to take the Senate—and since the state has a progressive . . . . governor, a legislative sweep would create a Democratic trifecta. That would give Virginia Democrats control over the 2020 redistricting process, preventing Republicans from drawing another round of gerrymanders to last another decade.
Virginians who want to move Virginia forward need to make sure they are registered to vote and go to the polls come November. We have the potential for a new day in Virginia that we cannot afford to lose.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Some time back I did a post about a potentially severely damaging story involving Jerry Falwell Jr., a Donald Trump sycophant, major scamvangelist, in my opinion, and head of Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, a blight on Virginia only rivaled by Pat Robertson's Regent University in Virginia Beach. In the post, reference was made to a seemingly bizarre relationship between Mr. Falwell and his wife and a very attractive 21 year old Florida pool boy. The story back then involved the issue of "compromising photos" of Falwell and his wife and a seemingly incomprehensible loan made by the Falwells to the pool boy. Much to Falwell's likely outrage, the story has not gone away and now the New York Times has a very long article looking at the the connections between the pool boy, the alleged photos and Falwell's contacts with Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former fixer, and Falwell's decision to endorse Trump in 2016 rather than Ted Cruz. Suffice it to say that, despite Falwell's denials, something doesn't add up and one is left wondering when the photos or the rest of the story may emerge. Here are article highlights:
MIAMI BEACH — Senator Ted Cruz was running neck and neck with Donald J. Trump in Iowa just before the caucuses in 2016, but his campaign was expecting a last-minute boost from a powerful endorser, Jerry Falwell Jr.Mr. Falwell was chancellor of one of the nation’s largest Christian colleges, Liberty University, and a son of the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the televangelist and co-founder of the modern religious right.
But when the time came for an announcement, Mr. Falwell rocked the Cruz campaign and grabbed the attention of the entire political world. He endorsed Mr. Trump instead, becoming one of the first major evangelical leaders to get behind the thrice-married, insult-hurling real estate mogul’s long-odds presidential bid.
Mr. Falwell — who is not a minister and spent years as a lawyer and real estate developer — said his endorsement was based on Mr. Trump’s business experience and leadership qualities. A person close to Mr. Falwell said he made his decision after “consultation with other individuals whose opinions he respects.” But a far more complicated narrative is emerging about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the months before that important endorsement.
That backstory, in true Trump-tabloid fashion, features the friendship between Mr. Falwell, his wife and a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach; the family’s investment in a gay-friendly youth hostel; purported sexually revealing photographs involving the Falwells; and an attempted hush-money arrangement engineered by the president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen.
The revelations have arisen from a lawsuit filed against the Falwells in Florida; the investigation into Mr. Cohen by federal prosecutors in New York; and the gonzo-style tactics of the comedian and actor Tom Arnold.
Mr. Arnold befriended Mr. Cohen — who had lately become a vivid, if not entirely reliable, narrator of the Trump phenomenon — and then surreptitiously recorded him describing his effort to buy and bury embarrassing photographs involving the Falwells.
And they add another layer to one of the enduring curiosities of the Trump era: the support the president has received from evangelical Christians, who have traditionally demanded that their political leaders exhibit “family values” and moral “character.” Mr. Falwell’s father forged those words into weapons against the Democrats after he co-founded the Moral Majority political movement
Three years later, Mr. Falwell remains an unwavering Trump supporter. Last month he went so far as to suggest that the president deserved an extended term as “reparations” for time lost to the Mueller investigation. In turn, he has had entree to the White House, providing input on education policies that stand to benefit Liberty.
Mr. Falwell began to grow close to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen after Mr. Trump came to speak at Liberty, in Lynchburg, Va., in 2012. Mr. Cohen, who was working to connect his boss with important political constituencies and their leaders for a possible presidential run four years later, came along for the trip.
Mr. Trump lacked the religious bona fides of those who typically filled the school’s speaker lineup. But he was the star of the top-rated “Apprentice” reality show, and Mr. Falwell admired his career in real estate. As it happened, the Falwell family was exploring a real estate venture of its own.
Earlier that year, Mr. Falwell and his wife, Becki, had stayed at the Fontainebleau — the grande dame of the Miami Beach hotel scene and a somewhat unlikely vacation spot for the chancellor of a university whose student code prohibited short skirts, coed dorm visits and sex outside of “biblically ordained” marriage.
Once a glamorous hangout for John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, the Fontainebleau was now the stomping grounds of the Kardashians, Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga, known for allowing topless sunbathing and for a cavernous nightclub that one travel guide described as “30,000 square feet of unadulterated fun.” Techno music was pumped out at its 11 pools, where waitresses in polka-dot swimsuits served drinks and white-uniformed male attendants brought fresh towels and positioned umbrellas for tips.
The Falwells struck up a conversation with one of those pool attendants, Giancarlo Granda. Mr. Granda, then 21 and the son of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, was working at the hotel while studying finance at Florida International University. . . . Soon he was hiking and water skiing with them in Virginia. Within months, they were offering to help him get started in business in Florida.
Together, they directed Mr. Granda to a South Beach youth hostel that was for sale. The building also housed a restaurant and a liquor store. . . . In 2013, the Falwells completed the deal for the Miami Hostel, which rents beds for as little as $15 a night, bunking 12 people to a room. The hostel became known as one of South Beach’s best budget party hostels and is sometimes listed as gay-friendly. . . . . Tourism pamphlets included one for Tootsie’s Cabaret, “74,000 square feet of adult entertainment and FULL NUDITY.”
Real estate records show that an LLC called Alton Hostel Inc. bought the hostel and its building for $4.7 million in cash. Within weeks, Alton Hostel secured a $3.8 million mortgage from Carter Bank & Trust, the Virginia-based bank the Falwells had long used to finance and expand Liberty University. The source of Alton Hostel’s initial full-cash payment is not known. But Mr. Falwell would later say in a sworn affidavit that his family’s financial contribution to the deal amounted to a loan of $1.8 million, including $800,000 for renovations. The Falwells’ son Jerry Falwell III, who goes by “Trey” and was 23 at the time, was listed as manager of the LLC; Mr. Granda was added later as a co-manager. In his affidavit, Mr. Falwell said his wife was also a member of the LLC.
By late 2015, the lawsuit over ownership of the hostel had devolved into a fight over compromising photos, according to several people involved in the case. It was understood that between Mr. Granda, the Fernandezes and their lawyers, one or more people were in possession of photographs that could be used as leverage against the Falwells.
And so Mr. Cohen tried to play the fixer for his friends.
In a recent legal filing, Mr. Fernandez Jr. said he was forced to change his name because of the case. He became Gordon Bello. His father, Mr. Fernandez, Sr., became Jett Bello. Their name changes took place after Mr. Cohen intervened.
Mr. Cohen described his involvement in his conversation with Mr. Arnold, which was first reported last month by Reuters.
“There’s a bunch of photographs, personal photographs, that somehow the guy ended up getting — whether it was off of Jerry’s phone or somehow maybe it got AirDropped or whatever the hell the whole thing was,” Mr. Cohen told Mr. Arnold in the recording, which Mr. Arnold shared with The Times. Mr. Cohen never identified “the guy.”
“These are photos between husband and wife,” Mr. Cohen added, joking that “the evangelicals are kinkier than Tom Arnold.” He explained, “I was going to pay him, and I was going to get the negatives and do an agreement where they turn over all the technology that has the photographs or anything like that, any copies.”
With a few weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses kicked off the primary season on Feb. 1, 2016, Mr. Cruz was steadily racking up high-level endorsements. He was banking on strong evangelical support to push him past Mr. Trump in the state.
Meanwhile, rank and file evangelicals continue their blind support of Trump and Falwell. No wonder Millennials are fleeing religion.Signs that something was amiss came shortly afterward, when Mr. Trump arrived at Liberty for another speech. Mr. Falwell introduced Mr. Trump as a man who “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught.” Despite the generous introduction, the appearance seemed an unmitigated disaster for Mr. Trump. . . . A few days later, Mr. Falwell announced his endorsement of Mr. Trump, calling him “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
The Atlantic looks at this frightening trend of illiberalism and a longing for authoritarian rule. Here are highlights:
By the tail end of the Obama administration, the culture war seemed lost. The religious right sued for détente, having been swept up in one of the most rapid cultural shifts in generations. Gone were the decades of being able to count on attacking its traditional targets for political advantage. In 2013, Chuck Cooper, the attorney defending California’s ban on same-sex marriage, begged the justices to allow same-sex-marriage opponents to lose at the ballot box rather than in court. Conservatives such as George Will and Rod Dreher griped that LGBTQ activists were “sore winners,” intent on imposing their beliefs on prostrate Christians, who, after all, had already been defeated.The rapidity of that cultural shift, though, should not obscure the contours of the society that the religious right still aspires to preserve: a world where women have no control over whether to carry a pregnancy to term, same-sex marriage is illegal, and gays and lesbians can be arrested and incarcerated for having sex in their own homes and be barred from raising children.
The religious right showed no mercy and no charity toward these groups when it had the power to impose its will, but when it lost that power, it turned to invoking the importance of religious tolerance and pluralism in a democratic society. That was then. The tide of illiberalism sweeping over Western countries and the election of Donald Trump have since renewed hope among some on the religious right that it might revive its cultural control through the power of the state. Inspired by Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Vladimir Putin in Russia, a faction of the religious right now looks to sectarian ethno-nationalism to restore its beliefs to their rightful primacy, and to rescue a degraded and degenerate culture. All that stands in their way is democracy, and the fact that most Americans reject what they have to offer.The past few weeks have witnessed a nasty internecine fight among religious conservatives about whether liberal democracy’s time has passed. Sohrab Ahmari, writing at First Things, attacked National Review’s David French for adhering to a traditional commitment to liberal democracy while “the overall balance of forces has tilted inexorably away from us.”Many religious conservatives see antidiscrimination laws that compel owners of public accommodations to serve all customers, laws that might compel priests to break the seal of confession if they are told of child abuse, and the growing acceptance of trans people as a kind of impending apocalypse. It is no surprise that among their co-partisans, Ahmari seems to have the upper hand here; in such circles, “Crush your enemies” almost always plays better than “The other side has rights too.”
The concerns Ahmari airs are not wholly without merit: Religious conservatives are not paranoid to imagine themselves pariahs someday in the future because of their views; it was not so long ago that liberal champions such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton held public positions that today would be described by the left as bigotry.
In spite of their disagreements, Ahmari and French are in accord about a great deal when it comes to abortion, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. French’s adherence to liberal democracy is a commitment to a set of rules under which these goals can be pursued in a pluralistic society: through public discourse, the courts, and the ballot box. For Ahmari and his ilk, this is insufficient. He seems to believe not only that the state should always settle such disputes in his favor, but that it should prevent cultural and political expressions he finds distasteful.This isn’t an exaggeration. In a since-deleted tweet, Ahmari praised Alabama Public Television for refusing to air an episode of the cartoon Arthur in which the titular character’s male teacher marries another man; his attack on French was preceded by another since-deleted eruption, over Drag Queen Story Hour at a public library, in which he cried, “To hell with liberal order”; and he has since suggested the humanities should be defunded because “they may be lost to us for good.”
If this is where Ahmari and his cohort are while the GOP still controls the courts, the Senate, and the presidency, imagine what they’ll be willing to countenance should they lose them. Ahmari’s demands here outline the United States that illiberals would like to see: one that resembles Orbán’s Hungary, where rigged electoral systems ensure that political competition is minimal, the press is tightly controlled by an alliance between corporations and the state on behalf of the ruling party, national identity is defined in religious and ethnic terms, and cultural expressions are closely policed by the state to ensure compliance with that identity. It is no surprise that the vast majority of black and Latino Christians see a secular but pluralist left as more trustworthy allies than conservatives who rail against “poisonous and censorious multiculturalism,” and darkly warn of a plot to “displace American citizens.”
The illiberals see the wealthy and upper-middle classes getting married, forming families, and raising children much as they did in the 1950s, and conclude that the problem with working-class Americans is not the diminished political power relative to their bosses, but the absence of a sharp enough lash, whether from the state or from a culture that has escaped the religious right’s grasp. Gillette should be making commercials about women staying at home and fathers going off to work, not dads teaching their trans sons to shave for the first time.
This understanding also helps illuminate the right’s eruption over YouTube’s decision to demonetize (but not remove) the channel of Steven Crowder, a conservative YouTuber who called the Vox reporter Carlos Maza a “lispy queer,” among other slurs. A world in which one can refer to gay people as “lispy queers” without repercussion is one in which the illiberal right is winning the culture war, so it matters little that YouTube is no less a private business than Masterpiece Cakeshop, and has a right to define the rules for using its platform. The same sort of protests that the right decries as illiberal when deployed against right-wing speakers on college campuses are suddenly a legitimate tactic when used against Drag Queen Story Hour.
The objective here, in Ahmari’s words, is to defeat “the enemy,” not adhere to principle, and that requires de-stigmatizing anew the kind of bigotry that was once powerful enough to sway elections.
[T]he illiberal faction in this debate retains Trump as its champion precisely because the president is willing to use the power of the state for sectarian ends, despite being an exemplar of the libertinism to which it is supposedly implacably opposed, a man whose major legislative accomplishment is slashing taxes on the wealthy, and whose most significant contribution to the institution of the family is destroying thousands of them on purpose. It is power that is the motivator here, and the best that could be said for these American Orbánists is that they believe that asserting an iron grip on American politics and culture would offer the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Every authoritarian movement has felt the same way.
The question of whether the Republican Party would abandon liberal democracy for sectarian ethno-nationalism was decided in the 2016 primary, and all French and Ahmari are doing is arguing about it after the fact. The commercial and social incentives for conservative writers to succumb to Trumpism are vast. . . . And the support Ahmari has drawn suggests that the conservative intelligentsia will offer less resistance to authoritarianism than it did in 2015 and 2016.
Trump is the symptom of the Republican Party’s turn toward illiberalism, not its cause; even before Trump ran for president, some Republican elites were plotting to diminish the political power of minorities and enhance those of white voters. Whatever their disagreements, the leaders of both the populist and establishment wings of the Republican Party have concluded that they cannot be allowed to lose power simply because a majority of American voters do not wish them to wield it. The president speaks of imprisoning his political rivals, and his voters cheer. He valorizes political violence, and his followers take note.Trump’s supporters exult in the head of state attacking private citizens who demand equal rights, then wave the banner of free speech exclusively in defense of expressions of bigotry. In the end, Trump will dictate the course of his party on these matters, and his base will do whatever he gives it license to do.
Writers such as French and Ahmari cannot shape this course; they can only argue about it after the fact.[T]his faction did not abandon its faith in liberalism’s capacity to solve problems during the decades of Jim Crow. It did not cry, “To hell with the liberal order!” over mass incarceration. It did not erupt in fury over the shattering of Latino families at the border, or the Trump-made aftermath of the catastrophe in Puerto Rico. It did not question whether liberalism had failed after the first, third, fourth or 15th mass shooting at a school, or because it is typical for Americans to beg strangers on the internet for money to cover their health-care costs or after an untimely death.
The state of emergency occurred when, and only when, liberal democracy ceased to guarantee victory in the culture war. The indignity of fighting for one’s rights within a democratic framework is fine for others, but it is beneath them.
[W]hat they describe as a crisis of liberal democracy is really just them not getting exactly what they want when they want it.
Monday, June 17, 2019
The myth continues that America has the best health care in the world. To the extent this myth is true, it applies only to the very wealthy to whom cost is no obstacle. For millions of other Americans, even those with insurance, the system remains severely broken and remains a drive force in pushing individuals into bankruptcy. Even if one does not need surgery or an extended hospital stay, prescription drug costs are sky high, often even for generic brands - I recently paid $545.00 for a generic drug that I need to deal with side effects of my proton therapy AFTER my insurance company made its co-pay. Unlike so many others, I fortunately will not need to keep getting refills. In the case of insulin, those who need it, need it it on a continuing basis and American pharmaceutical companies are proving to be rapacious at best. Meanwhile, the federal government does nothing to bring down costs. As a piece in the Washington Post reports, some Americans now travel to Canada to get insulin at one tenth (1/10th) the cost paid in the USA. Here are highlights:
As their minivan rolled north, they felt their nerves kick in — but they kept on driving. At the wheel: Lija Greenseid, a rule-abiding Minnesota mom steering her Mazda5 on a cross-border drug run.Her daughter, who is 13, has Type 1 diabetes and needs insulin. In the United States, it can cost hundreds of dollars per vial. In Canada, you can buy it without a prescription for a tenth of that price.
So, Greenseid led a small caravan last month to the town of Fort Frances, Ontario, where she and five other Americans paid about $1,200 for drugs that would have cost them $12,000 in the United States. “It felt like we were robbing the pharmacy,” said Quinn Nystrom, a Type 1 diabetic who joined the caravan that day. “It had been years since I had 10 vials in my hands.”
Like millions of Americans, Greenseid and Nystrom are stressed and outraged by the rising costs of prescription drugs in the United States — a problem Republicans and Democrats alike have promised to fix.
Insulin is a big part of the challenge. More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. About 7.5 million, including 1.5 million with Type 1 diabetes, rely on insulin.
Between 2012 and 2016, the cost of insulin for treating Type 1 diabetes nearly doubled, according to the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute.
Some pharmaceutical companies, under pressure from U.S. lawmakers, have tried to reduce the cost for some patients. But many who rely on insulin still struggle. Large numbers resort to rationing — a dangerous and sometimes deadly practice.
Some diabetics and their families are taking matters into their own hands. They meet in coffee shops and strip mall parking lots to exchange emergency supplies. An unknown number travel outside the country to buy the lifesaving drug for less.
None of this is recommended by U.S. officials, and some of it might be illegal under Food and Drug Administration guidelines. But the organizers of the caravan — their word, a nod to the migrants traveling in groups through Mexico to the U.S. border — are speaking out about their trip because they want Americans to see how drug prices push ordinary people to extremes.
“When you have a bad health-care system, it makes good people feel like outlaws,” Greenseid said.
Barry Power, director of therapeutic content with the Canadian Pharmacists Association, said the group is tracking both U.S. drug-buying proposals and reports of cross-border trade closely but has yet to see a disruption to Canadian insulin supplies.
He said insulin prices in Canada are controlled through policy, including price caps and negotiations with manufacturers. “This is something the U.S. could do,” he said.
Elizabeth Pfiester is founder and executive director of T1International, a British-based nonprofit that advocates for people with Type 1 diabetes around the world.
“It’s kind of a myth that America has the best health-care system in the world, because it is set up to allow Americans to go bankrupt or die because they can’t afford their medicine,” she said.
Pfiester grew up in the United States. One of the reasons her organization is based overseas, she said, is that the cost of treating her diabetes in the United States is so high.
They see buying in Canada as a short-term emergency measure and a way to call attention to U.S. pricing — not the answer.
“I don’t think that the solution is going outside the United States,” Greenseid said. “The reason they have lower prices is because they have put in regulations to make sure their citizens are not paying too much. We have not yet made that decision in the U.S.”
LaShawn McIver is senior vice president for government affairs and advocacy at the American Diabetes Association. “Insulin is not a luxury, it is a matter of life and death,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “Action to reduce the high out-of-pocket costs that endanger the lives of the millions of Americans who depend on this medication is critical and urgently needed.”