Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Failure of Conservative Economics Should Discredit Their Bankrupt Ideas Forever

As noted in the prior post, the Republicans have no economic policy other than the same failed voodoo economics that have gutted the middle class and shifted obscene amounts of wealth to the super rich.  More of the same failed policies will only intensify the problem and, yes, it worries me that my children's prospects are worse than mine were at a similar age, and mine were worse than those of my parents.  As noted in other posts, upward social mobility is now higher in "Old Europe" than in America.  A piece in Salon argues why the GOP's economic policies are bankrupt and need to be discredited for all time.  Here are highlights:
On April 30, 2012, Edward Conard, a former partner for the financial management company Bain Capital and a multimillionaire who retired at age 51, sat across from Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” to promote his new book. Conard smiled and stared intently through his black-rimmed glasses as Jon Stewart, the liberal host of the comedy show, held up his book and described its contents. Conard’s book argued that America’s economy would be stronger if people like Conard were even richer and the country had even higher levels of economic inequality.

Stewart was puzzled by Conard’s argument and joked that it didn’t seem right because inequality in the United States was approaching the level in countries with “kidnapping-based economies,” generating laughter in the audience. 

Tax cuts for the rich and less regulation of business supposedly provide incentives for the wealthy to invest and work more. Enabling “job creators” to get richer helps us all, the theory goes.

Conard’s former boss at Bain, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Party nominee for president, ran on a platform of supply-side policies, as have virtually all Republicans since Ronald Reagan was elected president.

Fortunately, these flawed ideas are beginning to be challenged. Academics have begun to rethink their views about the decline of the middle class and progressive politicians are finally starting to openly contest the logic underlying supply side after years of failing to do so. It is about time because our economy is suffering deeply from a financial crash caused in large part by high levels of inequality. And though we may not have a kidnapping-based economy, as Stewart joked, the American middle class is so weakened that we are experiencing the kinds of problems that plague less-developed countries, including high levels of societal distrust that make it hard to do business, governmental favors for privileged elites that distort the economy, and fewer opportunities for children of the middle class and the poor to get ahead, wasting vast quantities of human potential.

A strong middle class is not merely the result of a strong economy—as was previously thought—but rather a source of America’s economic growth. Rebuilding the middle class would provide the stable base of consumer demand necessary to increase business investment and job creation. It would also enable the country to fully develop the human capital of its people, increase the social trust that makes transactions possible, and balance political power to produce a government that works for the whole country, not just those at the top.

The United States was founded as a middle-class country. On the eve of the American Revolution, America’s carpenters, shopkeepers, and farmers enjoyed a higher standard of living than workers in other parts of the world. Further, economic inequality was lower in the United States than any place else. In an era of kings and peasants, America’s middle class stood apart.

The strength of America’s middle class ebbed and flowed over time, especially as industrialization took hold. But after World War II, America returned to its roots and built a mass middle class that was the envy of the world, with rapidly rising incomes and decreasing inequality.

Yet, over the past three to four decades, middle-class America has come undone. The American middle class was already hurting when the Great Recession struck and is now in deep trouble. While there’s no official definition of the middle class, it’s not hard to see that it is in decline. By most every measure, most Americans are struggling.

First, there is the basic level of income earned by the typical American. Median household income—meaning half make more and half make less—was lower in 2013 than it was in 1989. This means that middle-class households now earn less than they did two decades ago.

The miniscule gains that households have made have largely come because women have increasingly entered the workforce—meaning families are working longer hours, as they run faster and faster to stay in place. Indeed, the hourly wage earned by a typical man is less than it was in 1973.

Median incomes for male workers now in their thirties are about 12 percent lower than the income was for their fathers’ generation at the same age.

While incomes have been stagnant for most Americans, the cost of middle-class basics like healthcare and gas have risen much faster than inflation, and some basics like housing and college have risen at double the rate of inflation over the past four decades. It costs a lot more to maintain a middle-class lifestyle, but no matter their efforts most families have not been able to earn much more income. Not surprisingly, debt levels have jumped sharply—the average debt of middle-class families has nearly doubled since 1983.

In contrast to the middle class and the poor, incomes of the rich, especially the very rich, have grown by astronomical amounts over the past three decades: in 2007, the year the Great Recession started, the top 0.01 percent, the richest one in ten thousand, earned in today’s dollars the equivalent of about $38.8 million, compared to $6.4 million per year in 1979.

The rich now make so much more than the middle class because they captured the vast majority of the economy’s gains over recent decades. The share of the nation’s income going to the top 1 percent has approximately doubled over the past three decades, while the share of income going to the middle 60 percent of income earners has fallen precipitously and is now stagnating near the lowest level ever recorded since the government began keeping track of the statistic.  

After 30 years of political dominance, it is obvious that supply-side economics has failed in a number of ways and is thus vulnerable to a challenge from middle out. Supply side helped fuel the Great Recession of 2007–2009 by destabilizing consumer demand and encouraging the deregulation of Wall Street—costing the United States 8.7 million jobs and trillions of dollars in reduced economic growth.

[G]rowth was weaker after President George W. Bush cut taxes for higher earners than it was after President Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich.

Moreover, trickle-down’s supposed growth mechanisms haven’t occurred the way the theory predicted. Savings, investment, employment, and productivity didn’t increase after trickle-down policies were enacted, as a host of studies have shown. And budget deficits skyrocketed when tax cuts didn’t pay for themselves, contrary to the claims of trickle-down proponents.

There's considerably more to the article that deserves a full read.  The take away?  That voodoo economics theories need to have a wooden stack driven through their heart.  And through the heart of the GOP.

GOP Fixates on Foreign Policy While Hillary Clinton Goes Domestic

Other than slashing social programs, waging a war on women and gays, ignoring the nation's crumbling infrastructure, attacking Medicare and Social Security and overall working to herald in a new Gilded Age, the GOP has no domestic policy.  Thus, it is little surprise that so many of the occupants of the GOP presidential candidate clown care blather on and on about foreign policy and their desire to get America involved in more ground wars (after all, the defense industry gives lots of campaign donations).   In contrast, Hillary Clinton seems to realize that to win middle and working class voters, she needs to have a plan to bolster their fortunes rather than merely a plan to send their children off to die in distant foreign land - and further bankrupt the country in the process.  A Washington Post article looks at the distinctly differing approaches to date.  Here are excerpts:
While Republican presidential hopefuls warn of Iranian duplicity and Russian aggression and accuse President Obama of allowing the rise of Islamic State militants, the most experienced ­foreign-policy hand in the 2016 race says almost nothing about events beyond U.S. shores.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served four years as secretary of state and was known as a national security hawk in the Senate before that, is preparing for a campaign in which economic and kitchen-table issues are at the forefront.

The disconnect says much about the nature of the crowded Republican primary contest, in which conservative-leaning voters hold sway, and the different landscape that Clinton is navigating as she makes her second run for the Democratic nomination.

Republican primary voters tend to care about foreign policy at higher rates anyway, but this year overseas issues present opportunities for candidates to distinguish themselves from one another and paint Obama as weak.

Obama is as much or more of a foil for Republicans at this stage of the race, and the improving economy may leave less room to attack the president on domestic issues.

In her calculation, foreign policy will not be a central question during a primary contest against far-lesser-known Democratic rivals and will be far less important than in past elections when it comes to the general election.

There is not a word about foreign policy in a memo that Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook sent to key supporters this week. The memo is a primer for a speech Clinton will deliver Saturday to lay out a campaign agenda focused squarely on those in, or aspiring to, the American middle class.
Since entering the race April 12, Clinton has addressed social and economic issues such as same-sex marriage, the crush of college debt and paid family leave. She has called for overhauls of the nation’s immigration, criminal justice and voting systems.

Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, said he’s not positive Clinton will do an overseas swing ahead of the first primary contests early next year.  “I’m not sure she needs to,” Podesta said in an interview. “She doesn’t need to go to England to prove she knows the difference between the queen and the prime minister.”

The passport parade to Europe, Israel and other strategic places is sure to continue as Republicans vie for the 2016 nomination.   At candidate forums in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and in television interviews, the GOP prospects focus on foreign crises such as the advance of the Islamic State terrorist group as threats to American security and leadership.

Clinton advisers are braced for constant attacks on Obama’s record as a way to get to Clinton but see the GOP candidates as hamstrung when it comes to alternative policies, particularly the issue of sending in ground troops to try to destroy the Islamic State. They believe Clinton’s experience in foreign policy will outweigh the Republican criticisms and are confident that many voters see her as prepared to take strong action herself as president.

They say they are content for Republicans to try to make the general election about foreign policy, arguing that she would be able to counter their criticisms with relative ease. They believe that those who care most about making the election about foreign policy are largely Republicans who vote in the primaries and caucuses.

Republican Elite Convene In Search of a Nominee

The so-called Republican elites seem to be growing concerned that the GOP clown car of would be presidential candidates  has no perceived front runner and by the fact that some of its occupants belong in an asylum and run the risk of pushing potentially viable candidates deep into crazy land as a competition has grown to see which candidates can most prostitute themselves with the GOP base which is seen a s radioactive by a majority of voters.  Hence a meeting in Park City, Utah, where donors and other self-important players could review the candidate base.  In addition, they sough a way to blunt what they fear will be a formidable campaign by Hillary Clinton.  The Washington Post looks at the gathering.  Here are excerpts:
Republicans have 10 declared candidates and counting, but they have no front-runner — not even the descendant of the closest thing the GOP has to a royal family. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has struggled ahead of his official campaign launch on Monday, and he skipped the Romney confab because he was in Europe. 

The fluidity gave the hopefuls who came — from top-tier favorites (Rubio and Walker) to dark horses (Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie) to long shots (Graham and former Silicon Valley executive Carly Fiorina) — an opening to court the business-friendly, establishment financiers who powered Romney to the nomination in 2012. Many of the donors are either helping multiple candidates or holding out until a likely winner emerges.

Looming over the three-day retreat at the Stein Eriksen Lodge was Hillary Rodham Clinton, the dominant Democratic candidate, who will kick-start her presidential campaign with a rally Saturday in New York. In hotel hallways, on ski-slope hikes and in fire-pit huddles, leading Republicans pondered how to win — and acknowledged that Clinton cannot be underestimated.

“The candidates need to prove they can take her on,” said Tagg Romney, Mitt’s eldest son. “This thing is totally open. It’s so wide open. . . . It’s about seeing who emerges strongest.”

As they sat in rows with notepads and glasses of ice water, the GOP’s wealthy elite monitored how the speakers contrasted with Clinton. Kasich said Republicans must do more than “destroy” Clinton but also show heart and convince voters of the “kindness of conservatism.”

Graham was perhaps the most pointed, saying Clinton was eminently beatable — “She’s carrying more bags than any politician should” — but insisting that Republicans would have to soften their tone on immigration to break out of their “demographic death spiral.”

“Hispanics, I think, are a great potential for the Republican Party, but nobody is going to vote for a party that’s going to break their family apart and deport their mother,” Graham said. “I love Mitt. That was the big mistake.”  Later, Romney thanked Graham for sharing his “wisdom.” His wife, Ann, told reporters: “He’s right. We’ve got to put a mirror up and see what’s going on.”

Organizers strived to maintain an aura of exclusivity. Media access was tightly controlled, with journalists requiring escorts to roam the premises and photography prohibited. When fundraiser Wayne Berman waved over reporters who were stuck behind a rope line, he quipped, “We’re not in Cuba!”   Still, the high-finance feel of the conclave was vintage Romney.
Even if some see the need for the GOP to change - and I will give the Palmetto Queen credit for that - the party is faced with a base that worships ignorance, racism and insane religious extremism, and bigotry towards anyone who isn't a white conservative Christian.  And that is not something that will easily change given the way the Christofascists were allowed to hijack the base like a fast moving cancer. 

Pope Francis to Meet With Married Gay Activist

Simón Cazal (left), executive director of SOMOSGAY, kisses his husband, Sergio López, during their 2012 wedding in Argentina.
Whether this will be nothing more than yet another PR stunt to soften the appearance of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy's anti-gay animus or something really positive remains to be seen, but Pope Francis on his own initiative is seeking to meet with a married gay activist during a visit to Paraguay in July when he visits that nation.  Paraguay currently has few protections for its LGBT citizens although homosexuality has not been illegal for many years (same sex relations have been legal since 18880).  With the recognition of same sex marriage sweeping South America, one of the Church's former bastions, one has to wonder if Francis realizes that the Church's continued hostility towards gays is only accelerating the Church's decline in the region as in North America and Europe.  BuzzFeed looks at the surprising development.  Here are highlights:

Pope Francis is slated to hold his first public meeting with a married gay activist during a visit to Paraguay in July.

The activist is Simón Cazal, executive director of the Paraguayan LGBT rights group SOMOSGAY, who married another SOMOSGAY activist, Sergio López, in neighboring Argentina in 2012. Though the pope has reportedly held pastoral meetings with some LGBT people, this meeting marks the first time he will publicly meet with an LGBT political activist.

Cazal received an invitation on June 4 from the committee of the Paraguayan bishops’ conference to participate in a roundtable with the pope and civil society leaders. The invitation — provided to BuzzFeed News by SOMOSGAY — said it was extended in recognition of the “high impact of your organization on Paraguayan society.” The meeting will be held on July 11 in the capital, Asunción.

López told BuzzFeed News that the invitation came as a total surprise — the group had not requested to be included in the meeting. Paraguay also is one of the few South American countries where no protections exist for LGBT people or same-sex couples; their marriage in Argentina has no legal force in their country.

The invitation comes shortly after SOMOSGAY launched a campaign calling on the Catholic Church to “abandon the positions of intolerance and insults dehumanizing LGBT people.” 

SOMOSGAY made international news last June when riot police violently removed LGBT protestors supporting a resolution supportive of LGBT rights when they clashed with religious conservative protestors before the beginning of a meeting of the Organization of American States in Asunción last year.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Transgender Student Sues Gloucester County School Board

Some of the outlying areas of Hampton Roads often seem to go out of their way to be backward and to reject modernity in general.  Not surprisingly, many of these areas are Republican controlled.  Why accept modern science and knowledge when one can be a knuckle dragging Neanderthal.  Urging on these backward motivations, of course, one can typically find the "godly folk."  Gloucester County - across the York River from Yorktown - is one such area of Hampton Roads.  Now, given its backwards policies towards transgendered students, the Gloucester County School Board finds itself the target of a federal lawsuit.  The Washington Blade has details.  Here are highlights:
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against a Virginia school district over its controversial policy that requires students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their “biological gender.”

The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia brought the case against the Gloucester County School Board on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who has been required to use a unisex restroom in the nurse’s office since the policy took effect in December. 

The lawsuit claims the policy violates both the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and Title IX that prohibits schools that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex. It also states that Grimm is “currently the only student in his school who must use separate private restrooms.”

“The distinction stigmatizes Gavin and marks him as different from the other students; it isolates Gavin from his peers and it exposes him to serious psychological harm,” reads the lawsuit. “To avoid the stigma of having to use separate restrooms, Gavin has tried to avoid using any restroom during the school day.”

Grimm and his mother, who is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, are seeking “preliminary and permanent injunctions requiring the school board to allow Gavin to use the boys’ restrooms at school.” They are also seeking unspecified damages.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia alleged in a complaint it filed with the Educational Opportunities Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in December that the school board’s policy violates Title IX. Kim Hensley, the only member of the Gloucester County School Board who voted against the policy, told the Washington Blade late last year she feels it could potentially jeopardize the district’s federal funding.

Gloucester County School Board Chair Randy Burak on Thursday did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment on the ACLU lawsuit.

Let's be candid.  The purpose of the policy IS to stigmatize Gavin.  And to protect little Johnny and Suzie from  having face the reality that some people are different and that they just need to get over it.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Who Do the Supreme Court Justices Want to Be President?

The U.S. Supreme Court seemingly finds itself becoming more embroiled in politics and it is largely because of the efforts of the right wing justices to further Republican policies.  The flip side could be, as a piece in Slate argues, that depending on how the Court rules on a few big cases is that Democrat prospects in the 2016 presidential elections could soar as voters take out their wrath by electing a president who will not nominate conservatives to the Court.  Of course, this opposite effect is likely too far above the head of dullards like Justice Thomas or ideologues like Antonina Scalia.  Here are article highlights that look at what the consequences of these rulings could be:
[T]he court has, intentionally or not, inserted itself into the heart of the 2016 presidential election. In a way we have not seen since five justices in Bush v. Gore picked the president in 2000, the court may be making itself the cornerstone of the upcoming election.

Despite the justices’ mandate to ignore the politics of the day, there must be some real pressure on the court—and perhaps more specifically the conservative justices—to contemplate the potential political fallout from at least one of the term’s blockbuster cases: the Obamacare challenge. 

There is an emerging consensus, across ideological lines, that if Obama loses on King v. Burwell in the next three weeks, the bigger loser will be the GOP. As the National Review put it last week, “If a Supreme Court ruling against Obama turns into a hollow victory for conservatives, congressional Republicans could be in for a bloodletting.” Why? If the court rules that only those on state-created exchanges are eligible for subsidies, and Republicans in the statehouses and on the Hill don’t find a fix, nearly 6.4 million Americans would be impacted, and their health care costs could spike by almost 300 percent. And if they do come together to build a fix? 

As former GOP strategist John Ullyot told the Hill, “Republicans are in the position of having to create a fix that would be seen as a problem by their most conservative supporters.” Propping up Obamacare is the last thing their base wants to see them doing, especially in an election year.

And it’s not just the mostly Republican governors, or the GOP senators who have to defend their seats in those 34 states that may see their exchanges collapse, who are concerned. Prospective GOP presidential nominees are also worried about what happens if millions of Americans—many Republicans—lose their health care in the next two weeks. 

Then there are the marriage cases. As Greg Stohr points out in Bloomberg, the same calculus surrounding a conservative win in the King case also holds true with respect to the marriage equality cases. If the court’s conservatives rule against marriage equality this month, it will be a disaster for the GOP in 2016. As Stohr explains: “[R]uling against gay marriage would make the issue a focal point for the 2016 general election, leaving Republicans to argue against a right supported by six in 10 Americans.” The most recent Gallup polls reflect that support, with 60 percent of Americans in favor of marriage equality and 37 percent opposed. Not to mention that 36 states already allow for same-sex marriages. 

The conundrum the GOP faces in both King and Obergefell v. Hodges is that a conservative win would pit moderate conservatives and independents—who may have grown to like their health insurance and don’t hate same-sex marriage—against the base.

[T]he justices aren’t merely poised to place their thumbs on the scale to determine which party wins the White House in 2016. Several of them may also be helping elect the president who will pick their successor.  

Recall that this is a really, really old court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 82. Justice Anthony Kennedy is 78. Scalia is 79. And Justice Stephen Breyer is 76. So when Kennedy and Scalia are pondering which formal rules of statutory construction they will deploy in reading four words in the Obamacare statute, somewhere at the back of their minds there must lurk the small, niggling thought: “Am I helping to elect the next President Hillary Clinton?”

Even justices who don’t think about politics in terms of stark wins and losses might be tempted to do so when it could mean that the president who will someday fill their seats can either dismantle their judicial legacies or bolster them. Yes, this is precisely the kind of ugly, human, partisan politics from which Chief Justice John Roberts most wants to distance himself and his court. It’s also precisely the place—where judging meets ideology, and legacy, and ego—at which the court reveals itself when it least wants to.

Conservatives' Seriously Bad Ideas

Like the SBC, today's Republican Party and its conservative allies overseas cling to an outdated - indeed, fairy tale - vision of objective reality and continues to push policies that have been proven to be failures by facts and reality.  Dogma trumps facts and actual experience.  And no admission can ever be made that the policies and those who trumpet them were wrong - terribly wrong.  The result?  Here at home in America we see the GOP still pushing economic and social policies that have the opposite effect of the claimed objectives and which continue to make matters only worse for all except the most wealthy.  The same is happening in Britain where the same Kool-Aid is being consumed.  A column in the New York Times looks at this continued embrace of truly bad ideas.  Here are excerpts:
One thing we’ve learned in the years since the financial crisis is that seriously bad ideas — by which I mean bad ideas that appeal to the prejudices of Very Serious People — have remarkable staying power. No matter how much contrary evidence comes in, no matter how often and how badly predictions based on those ideas are proved wrong, the bad ideas just keep coming back. And they retain the power to warp policy.

So the true story of economic disaster, which is that it was caused by an inadequately regulated financial industry run wild and perpetuated by wrongheaded austerity policies, won’t do. Instead, the story must involve things like a skills gap — it’s not lack of jobs; we have the wrong workers for this high-technology globalized era, etc., etc. — even if there’s no evidence at all that such a gap is impeding recovery.

And the ultimate example of a seriously bad idea is the determination, in the teeth of all the evidence, to declare government spending that helps the less fortunate a crucial cause of our economic problems.

[A]ll these claims of irresponsibility involve rewriting history, because on the eve of crisis nobody thought Britain was being profligate: debt was low by historical standards and the deficit fairly small. Finally, Britain’s supposedly disastrous fiscal position has never worried the markets, which have remained happy to buy British bonds despite historically low yields.Nonetheless, that’s the story, generally reported not as opinion but as fact. And the really bad news is that Britain’s leaders seem to believe their own propaganda.

Nobody fully understands either why this slump has happened or how to reverse it, but surely the combination of a still-weak economy, terrible productivity performance and negative borrowing costs says that this is a time to increase investment in things like infrastructure. (Passenger trains here make rail service in the United States look good, and traffic congestion is getting ever worse.) Yet the Osborne proposal would kill any such initiative.

Now, some readers are probably thinking that I’m giving the likes of Mr. Osborne too much credit for sincerity. Isn’t all this deficit obsession just an excuse to slash social programs? And I’m sure that’s part of it. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. Seriously bad ideas, I’d argue, have a life of their own. And they rule our world.

Southern Baptist Convention Continues to Shed Members

The latest figures released by the Southern Baptist Convention hold good news for those who value science, knowledge and an end to religious based bigotry: the denomination again has experienced a loss in membership, church attendance is down and so are baptisms.   While the number of churches is purportedly up, some of the congregations must be small indeed.  Most ironically, the SBC leadership blames the decline of the denomination on lack of prayer and a failure to get the SBC's message out.  Truth be told, the SBC's message of hate, fear, intolerance and the embrace of ignorance is getting out all too well and is fueling the exodus.   If we are lucky, the delusional leadership will continue to drive the SBC towards extinction.  Here are some of the figures released via the Baptist Press:
[T]he churches lost more than 200,000 members, the biggest one-year decline since 1881, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay in cooperation with Baptist state conventions. Average attendance, baptisms and giving also declined.

One of the biggest declines last year was Southern Baptist church membership, which fell 1.5 percent to 15.5 million -- still the largest Protestant denomination by far, but at the lowest level since 1993. Weekly worship attendance declined 2.75 percent to 5.67 million Sunday worshippers.

Baptisms declined for the third year in a row, although the rate held steady with one baptism for every 51 members. Churches recorded 5,067 fewer baptisms, a decrease of 1.63 percent to 305,301. Reported baptisms have fallen eight of the last 10 years, with last year's the lowest total since 1947.

Total and undesignated church receipts according to the ACP data also declined last year, 0.49 percent and 0.24 percent respectively. 

"This new data confirms SBC President Ronnie Floyd's call for next week's convention to focus on prayer for a great awakening. Programs and meetings are not going to revive our people -- only prayer and repentance will lead our people to revival."
As I said, all good news.  The SBC continues to have strong ties with white segregationists and is among the most homophobic denominations in America.  Its demise would be a divine blessing, if you will, on the America.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

More Thursday Male Beauty

Koch brothers and Republican Party Go to War With Each Other

Illustration: Tom Cocotos for Yahoo News
Perhaps the so-called Republican Party establishment is belatedly realize that the Koch brothers are power mad and greed driven megalomaniacs.   Add the GOP's foolish previous pacts with the Koch brothers and its creation of the Frankenstein monster known as the Christofascist/Tea Party base of the party and the establishment has done much to destroy the GOP as a sane and respectable political party.  Time and time again the GOP establishment has looked at short term expediency with no though about the adverse impacts down the road.  Now, it is uncertain how these twin monsters can be defeated.  Yahoo News looks at the war with the Koch brothers.  Here are highlights:

The Republican National Committee’s data arm last year called it a “historic” occasion when it struck a deal to share voter information with the Koch brothers’ rapidly expanding political empire. 

It was an uneasy détente between the party committee, which views itself as the rightful standard-bearer for the GOP, and the behemoth funded by Charles and David Koch, which is free of the campaign finance restrictions that bind the RNC and plans to spend almost $900 million in the 2016 election cycle to elect a Republican to the White House. 

Party leaders, including the current chief digital officer for the RNC, hailed the deal as an important step forward in the GOP’s attempt to modernize itself. 

But after the fall midterm elections, the deal was allowed to expire without being renewed. Since then, relations between the two sides have soured, turning into what one Republican operative described as “all-out war.” 

The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over — some even say control of — the GOP.

“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff. 

The fight between the RNC’s chairman and the political operatives affiliated with Charles and David Koch over who controls the rich treasury of data on likely Republican voters has raised fundamental questions about what role the party’s central committee — even under the best management — can hope to play in the age of super-PACs. And it raises an even more fundamental question of how you define a political party. 

Priebus believes the RNC is the proper custodian of the Republican Party’s master file on the nation’s electorate, which is used as a starting point for campaigns, who then use that information to build lists — called voter universes — of the people in a state or district that they want to target for both turnout and persuasion. Volunteers and donors are also targeted for recruitment using such lists. 

The core issue, from Priebus’ point of view, is one of loyalty and allegiance. The RNC is a permanent entity, committed to the Republican Party without question. The Koch network is too independent from the party to be trusted with possession of the GOP’s most valuable core assets. If the Kochs — whose political history is steeped more in libertarianism than it is in any loyalty to the Republican Party — decided next week to use their database to benefit only their massive multinational corporation, they could do so. 

The RNC, Walsh said, “has one job: to elect Republicans.” 

Some in the Republican Party agree with Priebus’ point of view, believing the issue of allegiance to be fundamental. Others in the GOP, even some in highly consequential positions, think Priebus and the RNC are crying wolf.

And the problem for the RNC is that while it has political data going back roughly two decades, you need more than just data in order to be the data hub for a political party. And that is where the RNC has fallen short.

In 2013 the RNC promised to build a next-level system called Beacon. But so far Beacon is being used by only a small handful of state parties, Walsh said. About 40 state parties are still using the RNC dashboard that Beacon was built to replace, GOP Data Center, which was designed a few years ago by a company called FLS Connect. The most common complaint from those who do not like Data Center is that it is not easy for the average volunteer or field staffer to use. 

The RNC has signed data-sharing agreements with most of the 2016 candidates or likely candidates. And the RNC — as it did in 2014 — is trying to discourage campaigns and state parties from signing up with i360, according to numerous conversations with people who have knowledge of such conversations. This was a tactic that irritated many people in 2014. But Walsh, the new chief of staff, appears to be setting a different tone that admits past shortcomings and focuses on the philosophical argument that the GOP’s data should be housed at a party committee, not at a private business empire.

The RNC is now confronting the Kochs more openly than before, by having Walsh speak on the record for this article and by making other key players available for interviews. Their decision to take their dispute with i360 public shows the level of alarm inside the RNC at the growing clout of the Koch political empire. They have concluded that the Koch political machine wants to replace them and to essentially become a shadow party.  

The GOP establishment just doesn't grasp the fact that when you make a deal with the Devil, the Devil is going to want a very high price in return.  Shortsightedness and cynical beliefs that the monster can be controlled have proven wrong over and over again. 

New Jersey: SPLC Attorney Destroys Head Of "Ex-Gay Ministry"

ex-felon and municipal-bond fraud scheme mastermind Arthur Goldberg
The consumer fraud trial in New Jersey against JONAH - Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing - which fraudulently claimed that it could "cure" gays and make them heterosexual continues and, thankfully, continues to show the types of charlatans behind so many of these bogus ministries.  The irony is that even as the trial progresses, many Christofascists and right wing churches are launching new efforts to sell these snake oil peddling "ministries" to the ignorant and uninformed.  Among other things, at trial it came out that the founder of JONAH, Arthur Goldberg - which Wayne Besen and discovered a number of years ago - is a convicted felon.  Moreover, he lacks any of the credentials that he claims to hold in JONAH literature.  The New Jersey Jewish News has details:
On the trial’s second day, the plaintiffs’ lawyer Lina Bensman pointed out that Goldberg was a disbarred attorney who in 1989 was incarcerated for six months on federal tax fraud and conspiracy charges while heading a New York underwriting firm.

She asked why he had occasionally identified himself as a “doctor,” although he was not a physician and had no PhD.  “I am a JD, a juris doctor,” he explained. 

Goldberg also acknowledged that he used the title “rabbi” on occasion, although he was not ordained.
“I was not a rabbi,” he said. “I have no formal religious training other than going to a yeshiva in grade school.”

Goldberg also testified, “I have never been a licensed counselor. I give advice.”  But after being shown a signed document projected on a video screen, Goldberg acknowledged he had applied to the American Psychotherapy Association to become a certified relationship specialist and a certified professional counselor.   “But these certifications were revoked?” asked Bensman.  “Yes, ma’am” he replied. 
“And the certifications read, ‘I certify I have not been convicted of a felony’?”  “That is correct,” he said.

The article also notes:
According to Bennett Zurofsky, a Newark attorney who handles employment, consumer fraud, and constitutional rights cases, the allegations against JONAH “are similar to all fraud cases in that representations were made that people would rely on in making the decision to make use of the product or service, and that the representations were false and you were injured as a result of their being false.”

Zurofsky said the New Jersey fraud statute is stronger than those in many other states because it permits winning plaintiffs to collect triple damages — three times the amount of the money they spent on the service. In addition, the losing party is required to pay the attorneys’ fees of the winning side.

“What makes the consumer fraud statute useful is if you bring it as an ordinary fraud case you have to pay your own attorney,” he said. “A case like this one can be very expensive to litigate.”
Obviously, if JONAH loses this case, it could be shut down permanently.  Sadly, in states with less  stringent consumer fraud statutes, these quack ministries may be able to dodge much needed litigation.   FYI - Equality Case Files is attending the trial and is posting transcripts of the court proceedings and testimony. JONAH is being defended by a legal group headed by anti-gay extremist and fat cow Maggie Gallagher.

Again what JONAH has in common with so many of these fraudulent "ministries" is that fact that  most of the "experts" are frauds and/or have no legitimate credentials.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Religion's Decline Is Good For Politics

As numerous posts have noted, religion is in a sharp decline in America and the fastest growing religious segment of the population is the so-called "Nones" who have walked away for organized religion entirely, a group that includes 34% of Millennials.  A piece in Politico argues that this is good news for American politics.  That is, of course, except for the Republican Party which has become a de facto sectarian party controlled by right wing religious extremists.  The piece also reviews the reality that the religious extremists did not use to hold such sway in any political party and that today's GOP is a historical aberration.When the GOP will wake up to the slow form of suicide it is practicing remains to be seen.  Here are article highlights:

Before the rise of the religious right in the 1980s, most politicians kept their faith to themselves. In 1945, for example, President Harry Truman wrote: “I’m not very much impressed with men who publicly parade their religious beliefs.” After his election in 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower joined a Presbyterian church, but when he heard the minister was publicly boasting about his new member the general commanded, “You go and tell that goddam minister that if he gives out one more story about my religious faith I will not join his goddam church!” John F. Kennedy discussed his Catholicism only when forced to do so by critics during the 1960 presidential campaign. In a 1964 interview with the Baptist Standard, President Lyndon Johnson explained, “I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution.”  . . . .  Even the openly evangelical Christian Jimmy Carter prioritized his piety below that of most political issues.

This all changed in the 1980s, when evangelical pastor Jerry Fallwell and his Moral Majority (famously characterized as “neither”) convinced Christian politicians that evangelizing for the Lord included knocking on doors within the beltway. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Christian sects and faith-based organizations such as Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition of America and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family used rallies and donor support to convince politicians and candidates that if they didn’t pander to religious voters they stood little chance of being elected. The result has been a nauseating display of political cheerleading for Christ, from proclaiming Jesus as your favorite “philosopher” to petitioning the almighty at the end of public political speeches to “bless the United States of America.”

Those days might be over. . . . the fastest growing religious cohort in America are the “nones”—those who check the box for “no religious affiliation.” Such unaffiliated numbers have been climbing steadily out of the single-digit cellar in the 1990s into a now respectable two-digit 23 percent of adults of all ages

There are today about 245 million adult Americans. This translates into 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults of all ages, more than either mainline Protestants or Catholics and second only to evangelical Protestants. This translates into 19 million more people who have no religion just since 2007, an encouraging trend for those who have grown weary of America’s slide toward theocracy.

The trend lines are as unmistakable as they are consequential. As the religious pig makes its way through the generational python . . . the number of the faithful coming out the other end will inexorably diminish in both number and influence. . . .  some people raised with no religion became religious (4.3 percent of U.S. adults), but four times as many went the other direction.

Imagine no religion. This is no figment of your imagination. It is happening now and it may be the most important trend of the new century. Indeed, pulling back for a big history perspective, the shedding of religious dogmas and the demolishing of ecclesiastical authoritarianism has been underway ever since the Enlightenment, and in my new book The Moral Arc I claim that this may well be the most important thing that has ever happened to our civilization.

Meanwhile, of course, a contest remains among the would be GOP presidential nominees to see who can out prostitute themselves to the Christofascists who peddle hatred and fear.