Saturday, January 25, 2020

More Saturday Male Beauty


When Does Republican Partisanship Become Treason?

In my view, the Republican Party long ago lost any shred of basis for claiming to be the party of morality, patriotism or Christian values.  Ditto for evangelical Christians who have betrayed Christ's gospel message and support GOP policies of slashing the social safety net for the poor and elderly, empowering racists and white supremacists, separating families and literally putting children in cages, and embracing the most vile and immoral individual to every occupy the White House.  Now, however, as a column in the Baltimore Sun, Republican partisan ship is moving into a new and treasonous phase as Republicans, especially in Congress who have sworn an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution and protect the nation from foreign enemies, embrace Russian propaganda, attack America's allies, and weaken the nation both domestically and internationally.  The Grand Old Party is fast becoming the party of Putin.  Here are column highlights:

It bears repeating: Donald Trump was not only press-ganging Volodymyr Zelensky in an illegal scheme for partisan gain. He was rewriting the history of 2016 in order to wound enemies (Democrats) and help friends (Vladimir Putin) — as well as to give Kremlin operatives room to strike again.
It is in no way overstating the case to say [Trump] the president of the United States is the head of an international conspiracy to defraud the American people. It has remained to be seen how far the Republican Party is willing to go in defense of Mr. Trump’s conspiracy. Senate Republicans quickly conceded that Russia sabotaged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, but stopped short of saying the president benefited (because admitting that would be admitting Mr. Trump is an illegitimate president.)
But now, as the impeachment process enters a new and dangerous phase, we are seeing new GOP behavior, though we have witnessed plenty of hints. One reporter wrote recently that Republicans decided the best way to defend the president is to embrace “the claim" of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Let’s be clear. There was no Ukrainian interference. That’s according to the special counsel’s report, which cited one and a half dozen national security agencies. That’s according to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report. That’s according to every career official in the State Department who testified under oath last month.
The idea that the Democrats, not Mr. Trump’s campaign staffers, conspired with foreign operatives is more than “conspiracy theory.” It is a fascist ploy to turn lies into truth. This is why I said recently that Mr. Trump’s crime is so much worse than abuse of power. It’s treason. And the Republicans, like lemmings, are heading for a cliff.
Now, it’s one thing to follow the party wherever it goes. Ordinary partisan activity, however vile, isn’t something I care to debate now. It’s quite another thing, however, to know what you’re doing is wrong and do it anyway. The Republicans can’t not know.
First, because intelligence officials briefed Senate Republicans, telling them explicitly the Ukraine-attacked-us story is pure Putin disinformation. Second, because Fiona Hill, a former member of the White House National Security Council, and a Russia authority, was clear about what House Republicans were already doing. She said: “In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.
And now we have another reason why the Republicans can’t not know they are participating in conspiracy to defraud the American people. Rudy Giuliani, who is not regarded for his discretion, confessed to knowing the Ukraine-attacked-us story was bunk. Not only that, the president’s personal attorney actually said he decided to pursue “evidence” of Ukraine’s attack in order to undercut Robert Mueller’s report. . . . . I can go prove someone else committed this crime. So to defend Mr. Trump is to defend Russia.
Is that where the Republicans want to go? Well, yes, if Tucker Carlson is any indication. The Fox News host is on the bleeding edge of attempts by Trump partisans to expand what the American people think is acceptable behavior. On his show recently he said: “I’m totally opposed to these [US] sanctions [on Russia] and I don’t think we should be at war with Russia and I think we should take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”
[I]t’s fair for some conservative writers, like Charlie Sykes and Matt Lewis, to characterize the Republicans as dupes and stooges or parroting the Kremlin line. But at some point, we must face what it means for Republicans to know the truth but to advance Kremlin lies anyway, even when doing so slowly burns down the republic.
At some point soon, we must stop calling them dupes, and start calling them the enemy.
Personally, I have seen them as the enemy since Trump's election. Things have only gotten worse since January 2017.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Bill Advances in General Assembly

Like many LGBT Virginians I am watching the progress of bills in the Virginia General Assembly that would at long last end anti-LGBT discrimination and make me and others equal citizens under the law and protect us from being fired for who we are - something I suffered with devastating financial consequences.  As the Washington Post reports, legislation that would bar anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit applications is moving forward.  It's a bill Governor Northam has said he highly supports during personal conversations.  Sadly, most Virginia Republicans continue to support discrimination, most likely because they continue to prostitute themselves to hate groups like The Family Foundation (which in addition to being anti-LGBT has segregationist antecedents).  Here are article excerpts:  
A General Assembly subcommittee advanced a bill Thursday that would prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, public accommodations, employment and credit applications.
Lawmakers suggested expanding the focus of a bill introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, that would update the Virginia Fair Housing act to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing.
McQuinn’s bill was rolled into HB 1663, patroned by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax. Sickles’ bill, called the “Virginia Values Act,” includes additional protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Virginians in employment, public spaces and credit transactions and also outlines a process for civil action in a discrimination case.
The Virginia Fair Housing Law currently prevents housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status and disability. Sickles’ bill would add “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity” or status as a veteran, to current law.
Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the legislation is a step in the right direction and praised the delegates’ work.
“These protections are long overdue and an important step forward for Virginia’s LGBTQ community,” Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement.
Similar bills have been introduced by both chambers in previous sessions. Though praised by the ACLU and LGBTQ advocacy groups, such bills passed the Senate with support from some Republican senators, but never could advance out of Republican-led House subcommittees.
Capital News Service reached out to Republicans who voted against previous legislation to gauge their support for the current bill, but none responded.
Sickles said in a statement that discrimination has no place in Virginia. “All Virginians deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, including LGBTQ people,” Sickles said.
Advocates expect HB 1663 to be heard in committee Tuesday. The companion bill sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, is expected to be heard in a Senate committee the following day.
“In Virginia, although a gay couple can get married on Sunday, the sad reality is they can get fired on Monday, evicted on Tuesday morning and denied a hotel room Tuesday night,” Ebbin said in a press release. “This isn’t a theoretical issue, discrimination is happening today.”



Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center

Electoral College map.
A lengthy piece in the New York Times looks at political polarization in America and how the Electoral College, equal numbers of senators for states regardless of population disparities, and other structural matters that the Founding Fathers believed would ensure stability are now moving the nation towards a political crisis where in time 30% of the national population may be able to impose its will on the other 70%.  The piece poses the question of how long the majority will stand for minority control.  It also looks at why the Democrats to win must win over the votes of the political center and even more moderate conservatives.  It also underscores why a far left Democrat presidential candidate such as Bernie Sanders would be a political disaster for Democrats.  National polls mean nothing since winning huge majorities in the 15 largest states is not enough to win the Electoral College - a system that is now disproportionately tilted to favor red state and rural Republican voters.  A candidate that can win in enough moderate states is crucial - something Bernie's cult like followers do not want or seem capable of grasping.  Here are column highlights (every serious Democrat needs to read this piece): 
American politics has been dominated by the Democratic and Republican Parties since the Civil War. That gives us the illusion of stability — that today’s political divisions cut roughly the same lines as yesteryear.
But in recent decades, the two parties have been changing, and fast. Those changes are ideological — the Democratic Party has moved left, and the Republican Party has moved right. But more fundamentally, those changes are compositional: Democrats have become more diverse, urban, young and secular, and the Republican Party has turned itself into a vehicle for whiter, older, more Christian and more rural voters.
This is the root cause of intensifying polarization: Our differences, both ideological and demographic, map onto our party divisions today in ways they didn’t in the past. But the changes have not affected the parties symmetrically.
Put simply, Democrats can’t win running the kinds of campaigns and deploying the kinds of tactics that succeed for Republicans. They can move to the left — and they are — but they can’t abandon the center or, given the geography of American politics, the center-right, and still hold power. Democrats are modestly, but importantly, restrained by diversity and democracy. Republicans are not.
Over the past 50 years, the Democratic and Republican coalitions have sorted by ideology, race, religion, geography and psychology. Not all sorting is the same. Sorting has made Democrats more diverse and Republicans more homogeneous. This is often played as a political weakness for Democrats.
But diversity has played a crucial role in moderating the party’s response to polarization.
Appealing to Democrats requires appealing to a lot of different kinds of people with different interests. Republicans are overwhelmingly dependent on white voters. Democrats are a coalition of liberal whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and mixed-race voters. Republicans are overwhelmingly dependent on Christian voters. Democrats are a coalition of liberal and nonwhite Christians, Jews, Muslims, New Agers, agnostics, Buddhists and so on. Three-quarters of Republicans identify as conservative, while only half of Democrats call themselves liberals — and for Democrats, that’s a historically high level.
The Democratic Party is not just more diverse in who it represents; it’s also more diverse in whom it listens to. A new Pew survey tested Democratic and Republican trust in 30 different media sources, ranging from left to right. Democrats trusted 22 of the 30 sources, including center-right outlets like The Wall Street Journal. Republicans trusted only seven of the 30 sources, with PBS, the BBC and The Wall Street Journal the only mainstream outlets with significant trust. (The other trusted sources, in case you were wondering, were Fox News, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart.)
The Democratic Party’s informational ecosystem combines mainstream sources that seek objectivity, liberal sources that push partiality and even some center-right sources with excellent reputations.
There is no similar diversity in the Republican Party’s trusted informational ecosystem, which is heavily built around self-consciously conservative news sources. There should be a check on this sort of epistemic closure. A party that narrows the sources it listens to is also narrowing the voters it can speak to. . . . . Democracy, in other words, should discipline parties that close their informational ecosystems. But America isn’t a democracy.
Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the Supreme Court and a majority of governorships. Only the House is under Democratic control. And yet Democrats haven’t just won more votes in the House elections. They won more votes over the last three Senate elections, too. They won more votes in both the 2016 and 2000 presidential elections. But America’s political system counts states and districts rather than people, and the G.O.P.’s more rural coalition has a geographic advantage that offsets its popular disadvantage.
To win power, Democrats don’t just need to appeal to the voter in the middle. They need to appeal to voters to the right of the middle. When Democrats compete for the Senate, they are forced to appeal to an electorate that is far more conservative than the country as a whole. Similarly, gerrymandering and geography means that Democrats need to win a substantial majority in the House popular vote to take the gavel. And a recent study by Michael Geruso, Dean Spears and Ishaana Talesara calculates that the Republican Party’s Electoral College advantage means “Republicans should be expected to win 65 percent of presidential contests in which they narrowly lose the popular vote.”
The Republican Party, by contrast, can run campaigns aimed at a voter well to the right of the median American. Republicans have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections. If they’d also lost six of the last seven presidential elections, they most likely would have overhauled their message and agenda.
Republicans are trapped in a dangerous place: They represent a shrinking constituency that holds vast political power. That has injected an almost manic urgency into their strategy. Behind the party’s tactical extremism lurks an apocalyptic sense of political stakes. This was popularized in the infamous “Flight 93 Election” essay arguing that conservatives needed to embrace Trump, because if he failed, “death is certain.”
[O]ne of the few real hopes for depolarizing American politics is democratization. If Republicans couldn’t fall back on the distortions of the Electoral College, the geography of the United States Senate and the gerrymandering of House seats — if they had, in other words, to win over a majority of Americans — they would become a more moderate and diverse party. This is not a hypothetical: The country’s most popular governors are Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland. Both are Republicans governing, with majority support, in blue states.
A democratization agenda isn’t hard to imagine. We could do away with the Electoral College and gerrymandering; pass proportional representation and campaign finance reform; make voter registration automatic and give Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico the political representation they deserve. But precisely because the Republican Party sees deepening democracy as a threat to its future, it will use the power it holds to block any moves in that direction.
The alternative to democratizing America is scarier than mere polarization: It is, eventually, a legitimacy crisis that could threaten the very foundation of our political system. By 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in the 15 largest states. That means 70 percent of America will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of America will be represented by 70 senators. . . . Down that road lies true political crisis.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Friday Morning Male Beauty


The Trump/Pence Regime Continues Its War on Science

Science is the way of the future.  It also has the ability to show the falsity and/or wrongness of past ways of doing things, including the manner in which humans - especially large greed driven corporations - have ravaged the environment.  For Trump's far right Christian base, it also has shown more and more the falsity of their world view and shown aspects of their faith to be false.  The Trump/Pence solution?  Gut environmental laws and drive scientists from government agencies.  Meanwhile, of course, the rest of the world presses on with scientific research and China may soon pull ahead of the United States in the realm of science - and the future. Gutting wetlands protections and clean air and water regulations will not make for a better future - not that Trump and his sycophants care. Its a mindset reminiscent of post WWI Britain which failed to adapt to the changing world and ultimately lost its empire as a consequence. A piece in the Washington Post looks at this war on science and the potential long term consequences for America's future.  Here are excerpts:
Dozens of government computers sit in a nondescript building here, able to connect to a data model that could help farmers manage the impact of a changing climate on their crops.
But no one in this federal agency would know how to access the model, or, if they did, what to do with the data.  That’s because the ambitious federal researcher who created it in Washington quit rather than move when the Agriculture Department relocated his agency to an office park here last fall.
He is one of hundreds of scientists across the federal government who have been forced out, sidelined or muted since President Trump took office.
The exodus has been fueled broadly by administration policies that have diminished the role of science as well as more specific steps, such as the relocation of agencies away from the nation’s capital.
While the administration has come under fire for prioritizing the concerns of industry at the expense of science in government decisions, the cumulative effects are just beginning to appear after three years of Trump in the White House.
Some farmers said the USDA staff upheaval has made it harder to access information they need.
Torrential rains last spring dashed the plans of Liz Brownlee, who runs a livestock farm with her husband, to expand her pasture in Crothersville, Ind. Then an unseasonably dry autumn brought 90-degree days that baked the farmers’ seeds. “With all this uncertainty from climate change, I need the best data possible” to know when to plant, she said. “I’m worried I’m not going to have it.”
In the first two years of the Trump administration, more than 1,600 federal scientists left government, according to Office of Personnel Management employment data analyzed by The Washington Post. That represents a 1.5 percent drop, compared with the 8 percent increase during the same period in the Obama administration.
One-fifth of the high-level appointee positions in science are vacant — normally filled by experts who shape policy and ensure research integrity.
Of those who departed, the numbers were greatest among social scientists, soil conservationists, hydrologists and experts in the physical sciences — chemistry, geology, astronomy and physics.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 700 scientists have left in the past three years, according to The Post analysis. . . . . the loss of expertise weakens the government’s ability to make sound decisions.
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump called climate change a “hoax.” Once in office, he began dismantling much of President Barack Obama’s climate plan. He has installed industry figures in regulatory roles and rolled back scores of rules and policies that he considers harmful to the fossil-fuel industry. Trump’s actions spurred scientists into the streets, joining protesters for a March for Science rally on the Mall in 2017 and again in 2018.
After historic rainfall last spring swept away livestock and grain in the Midwest, crop planting was delayed by weeks. Andrew Crane-Droesch, 38, a researcher at the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, started work on a data tool that could predict months in advance the impact of, say, heavy rainfall on crop prices or planted fields. He hoped that knowledge could help farmers, commodity traders and government disaster planners prepare.
But when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue moved forward with his controversial plan to relocate the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture — two key research agencies — to Kansas City, Crane-Droesch headed for the exit.
He joined two-thirds of affected employees in his division who either retired or found other jobs rather than move to the greater Kansas City region. At the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which oversees $1.7 billion in scientific funding for researchers, nearly 8 of every 10 employees have left.
The move to Kansas City has also meant dozens of reports and millions in research funding have been delayed or scuttled as the Agriculture Department scrambled to keep up with departures.
Current and former employees interviewed said they felt the move to Kansas City was intended to diminish research areas such as trade policy, farm income and climate change; Perdue is a climate skeptic who recently described the problem as “weather patterns, frankly.”
Some federal researchers said they left the Trump administration after concluding their work was being undermined.
The study found that long-term exposure to levels of soot and smog lower than current national standards can cause premature death among older Americans. Such a finding suggests that current standards don’t adequately protect public health, which would have implications for industries that pollute. An unidentified EPA spokesman attacked the study in an interview with the Washington Times, an act Costa called “scientifically unethical.”
Elsewhere in the government, political appointees have delayed grants for scientific work.
Across the government, the administration is scaling back advisory committees that offer input to policymakers from scientists and other experts. Last year, Trump required agencies to eliminate one-third of their advisory panels, with a few exceptions.
Much of the impact of the federal government's shrinking science capacity will not be felt for years, observers said.
"If we're gone, is the world going to be a worse place?" he mused. "I like to think so. But it's not going to be immediate."

Thursday, January 23, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty


The Supreme Court Has Fueled Assaults on America's Democracy

There have been numerous contributors to the decline of America's democracy and the rise of plutocrat rule, but one institution bears a huge amount of responsibility: The U.S. Supreme Court.  More precisely, the conservative majority on the Court, including supposed swing vote, former Justice Anthony Kennedy. This clique of "conservatives" have put its collective religious and political views ahead of democracy and, in the process, has done severe harm to the constitutional system designed by the Founding Fathers and landmark civil rights legislation. One of the most damning  - and ridiculous - rulings  was Citizens United that held that corporations were "persons" under the law and, therefore entitled to assert "personal beliefs" and to give unlimited funds to political PACS and dark money groups. As a column in the Washington Post lays out, Chief Justice John Roberts is being forced to watch the fruits of the conservative justices toxic handiwork as he presides of Der Trumpenf├╝hrer's impeachment trial - a trial Senate Republicans are turning into a farce and cover-ups.   Here are column excerpts:

There is justice in John Roberts being forced to preside silently over the impeachment trial of President Trump, hour after hour, day after tedious day.
Roberts’s captivity is entirely fitting: He is forced to witness, with his own eyes, the mess he and his colleagues on the Supreme Court have made of the U.S. political system. As representatives of all three branches of government attend this unhappy family reunion, the living consequences of the Roberts Court’s decisions, and their corrosive effect on democracy, are plain to see.
Ten years to the day before Trump’s impeachment trial began, the Supreme Court released its Citizens United decision, plunging the country into the era of super PACs and unlimited, unregulated, secret campaign money from billionaires and foreign interests. Citizens United, and the resulting rise of the super PAC, led directly to this impeachment. The two Rudy Giuliani associates engaged in key abuses — the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the attempts to force Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents — gained access to Trump by funneling money from a Ukrainian oligarch to the president’s super PAC.
The Roberts Court’s decisions led to this moment in indirect ways, as well. The court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act and spurred a new wave of voter suppression. The decision in 2014′s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission further surrendered campaign finance to the wealthiest. The 2018 Janus decision hobbled the ability of labor unions to counter wealthy donors, while the 2019 Rucho v. Common Cause ruling blessed partisan gerrymandering, expanding anti-democratic tendencies.
The Republican Party, weakened by the new dominance of outside money, couldn’t stop Trump’s hostile takeover of the party or the takeover of the congressional GOP ranks by far-right candidates. The new dominance of ideologically extreme outside groups and donors led lawmakers on both sides to give their patrons what they wanted: conflict over collaboration and purity at the cost of paralysis. The various decisions also suppress the influence of poorer and non-white Americans and extend the electoral power of Republicans in disproportion to the popular vote.
Certainly, the Supreme Court didn’t create all these problems, but its rulings have worsened the pathologies — uncompromising views, mindless partisanship and vitriol — visible in this impeachment trial. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), no doubt recognizing that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is helping to preserve his party’s Senate majority, has devoted much of his career to extending conservatives’ advantage in the judiciary.
He effectively stole a Supreme Court seat by refusing for nearly a year to consider President Barack Obama’s eminently qualified nominee, Merrick Garland, to fill a vacancy.
It’s a symbiotic relationship. On the day the impeachment trial opened, the Roberts Court rejected a plea by Democrats to expedite its consideration of the latest legal attempt by Republicans to kill Obamacare. The court sided with Republicans who opposed an immediate Supreme Court review because the GOP feared the ruling could hurt it if the decision came before the 2020 election.
Roberts had been warned about this sort of thing. The late Justice John Paul Stevens, in his Citizens United dissent, wrote: “Americans may be forgiven if they do not feel the Court has advanced the cause of self-government today.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, in his McCutcheon dissent, warned that the campaign finance system post-Citizens United would be “incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy.”
Now, we are in a crisis of democratic legitimacy: A president who has plainly abused his office and broken the law, a legislature too paralyzed to do anything about it — and a chief justice coming face to face with the system he broke.

Guns Are No Mere Symbol - They Silence Others

Not to belabor the issue of gun control in Virginia, but a piece in The Atlantic gets to the true agenda of the gun rights fanatics - many from outside of Virginia - who descended on Richmond this past Monday.  Coming fully armed as if going into war was not meant to be an exercise of free speech as alleged but rather had two different goals: (i) threaten and intimidate legislators, and (ii) silence those holding opposing views who did not attend Lobby Day out of fear for the physical safety. To me, it all underscores the reality that the gun lobby and those it manipulates care nothing for the rights of other citizens - much as hunters years ago ignored "posted" signs on my family's property and willfully trespassed on our property.  Their rights superseded our right to be safe on our own property. The mindset on display was all about wanting special rights and trampling on the rights of others. Here are article highlights:
Few places in the United States concentrate as much history in 14 acres as the grounds of the Virginia state capitol. Thomas Jefferson designed the capitol building; Patrick Henry laid its cornerstone; in 1807, Chief Justice John Marshall sat there to preside over the treason trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr. The capitol’s second floor displays a Carrara-marble statue of George Washington made by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, considered the most accurate rendering of its subject. In 1861, a state convention voted there to secede; in 1865, United States Colored Troops re-raised the Stars and Stripes above it as Robert E. Lee’s retreating troops burned the city around them. A few days later, Abraham Lincoln stood at the equestrian statue of George Washington in Capitol Square and—for the first and only time—addressed an audience of freed slaves. In 1990, Lawrence Douglas Wilder, the first African American ever elected governor of a state, was sworn in on the capitol’s north steps. . . . . If there is holy ground in America, Capitol Square is part of it.

On Monday, hundreds of protesters stood outside the designated protest area with the weapons they fear the Virginia General Assembly will limit. Their presence underscores the many contradictions of this strange and ominous event.

To begin with, of course, the celebration of firearms took place on the 35th celebration of the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (within that lies the contradiction that the Commonwealth of Virginia until 2000 tried to use the same day to honor King and the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson). King’s gift to the national conversation was a commitment to nonviolence, and his life was ended by an assassin with a firearm. Second, the day of the march had come to be known in Virginia as Lobby Day, a day on which citizens could gather in the square and, in the words of the First Amendment, “peaceably assemble, and … petition the government for redress of grievances.”

But note who was not in Capitol Square on Monday. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence had also planned to assemble and petition for gun-control legislation—as it had done in peaceful competition with gun-rights groups in previous years. This year, because of the threats of armed violence surrounding the gun-rights march, that gun-control demonstration had to be canceled. The delegate from Manassas, Lee Carter, the South’s only socialist legislator, went into hiding because of death threats. Carter had not, in fact, sponsored an anti-gun measure, but gun-rights groups spread disinformation on the internet that he had done so; his life—and his ability to function as a legislator—was endangered.

One group’s politics canceled those of others, in other words. Self-government in a democratic society is supposed to follow a model of openness—different ideas and points of view compete in a “marketplace of ideas” for the support of the people and their representatives. That model doesn’t work when one side kills the other, or even threatens to.

This is the contradiction at the heart of the national dialogue about the Second Amendment. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his 2010 dissent in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the “right to keep and bear arms,” is fundamentally “dissimilar from those [the Supreme Court has] recognized in its capacity to undermine the security of others … Firearms may be used to kill another person.”

Second Amendment activists have, over the years, gone to great lengths to obscure the difference between gun rights and genuine civil liberties, especially the freedom of speech. After Virginia Governor Ralph Northam banned weapons from the square, gun-rights groups rushed to court to seek invalidation of the order. According to news reports, their lawyers “argued that prohibiting rallygoers from carrying guns would violate their Second Amendment right to bear arms and their First Amendment right to free speech” because “carrying guns is a form of symbolic speech.”

This is a potentially deadly confusion. The freedom to buy, own, and carry firearms, whatever its scope, is in no respect like the freedom of speech. Speech consists of words and launches ideas. “Symbolic speech” refers to signs, flags, photographs, and gestures that express those words and ideas. A gun is not merely a symbol; it is not like words or ideas. It is an instrument of violence and death, and its display amid a crowd is a threat.

The right to bear arms in political debate is not the power to speak for oneself; it is, at least implicitly, the power to silence others. It is not the right to persuade; it is the right to terrorize. It is not the right to participate in civil society; it is the power to threaten to disrupt, even to destroy it. As the historian Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker in 2012, “When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left.”
Hopefully, the armed fanatics - again, many not even Virginians - will galvanize legislators and the vast majority of Virginians who want gun control to refuse to be threatened and intimidated by those who seek to silence them.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Diverting Taxpayer Funds to Religious Schools is Wrong

It has long been the goal of religious schools to divert public tax dollars to support private sectarian schools many of which discriminate against gays and those belonging to other denominations or faiths. The Trump/Pence regime, eager to sustain the loyalty of Christofascist voters supports this diversion of public monies to discriminatory religious schools.  A case before the U.S. Supreme Court, if decided wrongly could open the flood gates for taxpayer funds flowing to such schools while allowing such schools to openly discriminate against an array of students and/or parents.  Such a ruling would clearly violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, yet the "conservative" majority on the Court may well be happy to allow taxpayer funded discrimination.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this dangerous situation.  Here are highlights:

Imagine a country where your hard-earned tax dollars must fund private religious schools that require students to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or that expel students for being gay. Imagine that your state is forced to spend resources to help fund construction of a local house of worship of a faith you do not share, just because the state is also contributing to building a community center.
These scenarios are antithetical to the principles of religious freedom on which our nation was founded. And yet, this is the path we may be headed down as the U.S. Supreme Court gears up to hear oral arguments Wednesday in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.
The case arises out of a challenge to a Montana private-school voucher program. Because the Montana Constitution — like three-quarters of the states’ constitutions — specifically prohibits state dollars from funding religious education, the state limited its voucher program to secular schools. But some parents argued that if Montana funds private education at all, it must fund religious education. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire voucher program, resulting in all private schools being treated the same way: None of them get taxpayer dollars.
Now, however, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide whether Montana’s earlier decision to fund some secular schools means that it must also fund religious schools — schools that teach religion, compel students to engage in religious activities and enforce religious codes of conduct. This case is not about what a state may do, but about what it must do. To hold that the U.S. Constitution requires taxpayers to fund religious education in this fashion would upset long-standing principles of religious freedom and separation of religion and government.
No taxpayer should be forced to fund religious education. . . . Private religious schools don’t adhere to the same nondiscrimination laws that public schools do. As a result, we have seen them turn students away because their families don’t share the school’s religious beliefs. They have barred admission because a student or parent is LGBTQ or a student has a disability. They have expelled students who engage in sex outside marriage. . . . . While not all private religious schools conduct themselves in this way, too many do, and taxpayers should not have to underwrite such discrimination.
Those challenging the Montana Constitution are not seeking a level playing field. Instead, they are asking the state to fund their religious schools and continue to extend to them exemptions from laws that apply to public and even secular private schools. That is not equal treatment — it’s religious privilege.


The Christofascists continue to demand special rights and the ability to discriminate at will - even when receiving taxpayer funds.  They are a clear and present danger to constitutional government. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


VA Senate: Ban Conversion Therapy, Set Transgender Policy, Repeal Gay Marriage Ban

For twenty six years, the Virginia GOP - pushed by the hate merchants at The Family Foundation - sought to make life hell for LGBT Virginians and blocked every effort to end anti-gays laws.  Indeed, between 2004 and 2006, the Virginia GOP pushed an aggressively anti-gay agenda culminating in the now unconstitutional ban on same sex marriage.  The newly Democrat controlled Virginia General Assembly is moving to reverse all of this discriminatory legislation as well as ban fraudulent "conversion therapy" so loved by charlatans among the professional Christian crowd and knuckle dragging evangelicals. It is truly the eve of a new day in Virginia when the state will at last move out of the 1950's, if not the 1800's.  Numerous news outlets are reporting on votes in the Virginia Senate that will end the Virginia GOP's horrible policies of licensing hate and bigotry. The queen of hate, Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation must be beside herself that LGBT Virginians will soon have equality under the state's laws. Both the Virginia Mercury and the Washington Post have stories.  Passage in the House of Delegates is expected and Governor Northam will sign them measures into law. Here are highlights from the Mercury:
A suite of LGBT-friendly legislation cleared the Virginia Senate on Tuesday.
Lawmakers voted to:
  • ban health professionals like counselors and psychologists from performing conversion therapy on anyone under age 18,
  • create uniform policies for transgender students attending public schools,
  • make it easier for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificates and
  • remove language from the state code banning gay marriage.
The gay marriage ban has already been invalidated by a 2015 Supreme Court ruling and advocates said the state code should reflect that.
“Right now same-gender marriage is legal in Virginia as it is throughout the country, and the code of Virginia needs to have legal ambiguity removed,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who sponsored the measure and is the first openly gay person elected to the Virginia General Assembly.
The measure passed 25-13, with only Republican members opposing.
The ban on conversion therapy saw the most opposition among Republicans, with 18 members opposing and one, Sen. Jill Vogel, not voting.
The ban would only apply to minors and does not apply to non-health professionals such as religious leaders. It specifically excludes “counseling that provides acceptance, support and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s coping, social support and identity exploration and development.”
Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, proposed the legislation addressing birth certificates and school board policies.
Under her proposal, a person who transitioned genders would be able to get a new birth certificate reflecting their new identity. She said during a committee hearing last week that the change aims to address problems transgender residents sometimes face when key documents like drivers licenses and birth certificates don’t match.
The legislation requires “an affidavit provided by a health care provider from whom the person has received treatment stating that the person has undergone clinically appropriate treatment for the purpose of gender transition.”
The bill addressing school policies for transgender students directs the Board of Education to develop a model policy covering issues ranging from how students are identified and dress codes to prevention and responses to bullying and harassment.
School Boards around the state would be required to adopt “policies that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than” the model policies by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
All four pieces of legislation must now be adopted by the House of Delegates to make it to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.
As the Post piece notes, another measure would eliminate "husband and wife" language in the Virginia Code and substitute "parties to marriage" to make Code provisions reflect the existence of same sex marriage.  Republicans had blocked this change since 2015 when Virginia's gay marriage ban was declared unconstitutional.  Here are excerpts from the Post:
The chamber also voted to replace “husband and wife” with gender-neutral “parties to the marriage” language in divorce law and make it easier for transgender people to change how their sex is listed on their birth certificates.
The bills now move to the Democratic-controlled House of Delegates, where they are expected to get a warm reception.
Advocates for expanded LGBT rights have long been stymied by the General Assembly, where Republicans have controlled at least one chamber for the past quarter-century.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Virginia Study: Increased School Bullying In Areas That Voted For Trump

2016 Virginia presidential vote by county.

A new survey of Virginia school students that correlates bulling with areas that voted for Donald Trump has yielded results that, personally, I do not find surprising whatsoever: Bullying is higher in areas of Virginia that voted for Trump in contrast to areas that voted for Hillary Clinton.  The results parallel the findings of past studies cited on this blog hat found that children raised in "conservative Christian" homes showed lee empathy toward others and were more inclined towards bullying of others. Given that evangelical "Christians" are Trump's strongest support group, it should be little surprise, therefore, that bully levels are higher in pro-Trump areas.   A piece at NPR looks at the study findings.  Here are excerpts:

After the 2016 presidential election, teachers across the country reported they were seeing increased name-calling and bullying in their classrooms. Now, research shows that those stories — at least in one state — are confirmed by student surveys.
Francis Huang of the University of Missouri and Dewey Cornell of the University of Virginia used data from a school climate survey taken by over 150,000 students across Virginia. They looked at student responses to questions about bullying and teasing from 2015 and 2017. Their findings were published Wednesday in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
In the 2017 responses, Huang and Cornell found higher rates of bullying and certain types of teasing in areas where voters favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Seventh- and eighth-graders in areas that favored Trump reported bullying rates in spring 2017 that were 18 percent higher than students living in areas that went for Clinton. They were also 9 percent more likely to report that kids at their schools were teased because of their race or ethnicity.
In the 2015 data, there were "no meaningful differences" in those findings across communities, the researchers wrote.
While bullying rates in areas of Virginia that voted Republican went up in 2017, rates went down in places that favored Clinton.
Their findings could lend credence to the anecdotal reports from teachers around the country after the election, says Dorothy Espelage, a psychology professor at the University of Florida who researches bullying and school safety in middle and high schools.
"Anybody that's in the schools is picking up on this," she says. "You don't have to be a psychologist or a sociologist to understand that if these conversations are happening on the TV and at the dinner table that these kids will take this perspective and they're going to play out in the schools."
"Parents should be mindful of how their reactions to the presidential election, or the reactions of others, could influence their children," Cornell, a psychologist and professor of education at UVA, said in a statement. "And politicians should be mindful of the potential impact of their campaign rhetoric and behavior on their supporters and indirectly on youth."
Regardless of where and how it happens, adds Francis Huang, "bullying is something that can still be addressed and brought down in schools."
Again, to me the findings are not surprising.  Trump's base represents some of the foulest, most racist and most cruel elements of America's population. While they parade around sanctimoniously pretending they are pious - at least while not carrying their AK-47's - they simply are not nice people.  Indeed, the biblical Pharisees look like nice and amazing people compared to Trump supporters and evangelical Christians.

In terms of Virginia itself, the red areas on the map above should be avoided if one values progressive values and decent treatment of others.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Richmond Dodges a Bullet As Smaller Crowd of Extremists Protest

The city of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia dodge a bullet - literally and figuratively - as a much smaller than predicted crowd of gun extremist protesters - many from out side of Virginia - descended on the Virginia Capitol in an effort to intimidate members of the General Assembly.  Promoters had raved about 100,000 pro-gun nuts attending the rally, but police estimates place the crowd at a little over 20% of that number.  Thankfully, no violence occurred, probably largely due to the preemptive action of Governor Northam in banning guns from the Capitol grounds.  Plus, one needs to keep in mind that those who descended on Richmond are an aberration and/or outsiders given that recent polls confirm that the vast majority of Virginians want the gun control measures now before the General Assembly.  As the a column in the Washington Post aptly notes, what today's gun rally really demonstrated was the fear (and I would argue sexual inadequacy) that motivates the attendees who, based on their looks, my late New Orleans southern belle grandmother would have described as "white trash" - the lowest of the low in her book.  Fear of a loss of white privilege.  Fear of a changing world and society. Fear of a loss of white male dominance. They rant about the Second Amendment, but beneath that, something is going on that suggests that something is seriously wrong with these protesters. Here are highlights from the Post column:
Y'all, it smelled like fear out here in Virginia.
Scores of men — plus a handful of women — dressed up in battle rattle and draped themselves with assault weapons, long guns and handguns on Monday. They strapped hunting knives to their thighs and wore body armor and body cameras on their chests, shoulders and helmets. To a rally. A peaceful rally. On city streets in a quiet state capital on a holiday weekend.
That’s a uniform of fear, right there.
Fear of having to pass a background check if they want to buy a gun from a private individual?  Fear of not being able to buy more than one handgun every month?
Fear of not being able to carry an AR-15 across your chest to a county fair that doesn’t want your weapon aboard the Tilt-a-Whirl?
Fear of getting help taking a gun away from your suicidal son?
Because those are all the restrictions on guns that the Virginia [Senate]  passed last week.
The outsized turnout, vigor and rancor in Richmond on Monday — thousands of demonstrators filled the Capitol grounds and surrounding streets — is a reaction based on fear, not fact.
And the fear is all about a loss of power.
“It happened like that,” a man dressed in full camo with a handgun strapped to his hip told his friend, snapping his finger. “We were good for years, then the left took over and they’re going to take our guns away. Virginia is the home of the NRA. They want to run them out, too.”
Most law-abiding, regular old Virginians could still have a weapon — many weapons, even — under the common-sense legislation that the new Democratic majority in Richmond is passing.
Huge assault weapons strapped across chests and backs knocked against each other in the port-a-potty lines. Some walked in a masked phalanx, bookended by German shepherds.
One group pushed through crowds in a conga line of camo and Carhartt, holding on to each other as they muscled through a crush of people. “Racist, white supremacists coming through,” one line leader bellowed, laughing, like everyone should know he really isn’t racist.
All of the men I talked to were also solidly opposed to “red-flag laws,” which allow a concerned family member or the police to ask for the temporary removal of weapons from someone who may be dangerous to themselves or others.
“I can just tell the cops that a guy I hate is dangerous, and they’ll go take all his guns. It can happen to me,” one guy told me.
Nope. That may be what he fears. But the red-flag law requires a state court to be petitioned and a judge to weigh in on whether taking the gun is appropriate.
Let me spell it out: The people who lobby for red-flag laws are usually those who lost a loved one to suicide.
Thirty percent of gun deaths in Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are homicides.
A much larger percentage — 67 percent of all gun deaths in the state — are suicides.
The suicide-by-gun rate — about two a day in Virginia — takes primarily rural, white males over the age of 45, according to numbers compiled by America’s Health Rankings. And veterans are 1.5 times as likely to take their lives in Virginia.
That almost perfectly describes the demographic at the gun rally in Richmond.
Think about it, guys. The biggest thing you have to fear, when it comes to guns, is yourselves, actually.