Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hillary Slays Dragons, Loses 3 Opponents in One Week

Some on the right in particular thought that October would be a disastrous month for Hillary Clinton.  With only a week left, so far the month has turned out to be the complete opposite.  Yes, her campaign is still fraught with dangers, but she has seen three would be opponents end their campaigns and the Benghazi Committee failed to do her any damage despite the best efforts of the GOP members.  Pieces in Vanity Fair and Salon at Hillary's surprisingly positive month.  First are excerpts from Vanity Fair:
On Friday, former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee announced that he would drop his bid for the White House, making him the third Democrat to either drop out or forego joining the race against Hillary Clinton.

With his exit, Chafee shall be forever remembered in this cycle as the third Democratic Clinton rival to disappear in a single week: former senator Jim Webb exited the race on Tuesday, and shortly afterwards, Vice President Joe Biden, whom many saw as a potential challenger to Clinton, announced that he would not seek the bid. 

That, combined with her well-received performance at Thursday’s 11-hour-long hearing before the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi, has made this a pretty good week for Clinton.

Then there are these excerpts from Salon:

The end of the [Joe] McCarthy witch hunt did not end conservative hostility to the State Department. 

This suspicion of the State Department has continued even in Republican administrations. During the Reagan administration Secretary of State George Schultz was famously at odds with Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger and there was little love lost between the Bush administration’s Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. When the Democrats have the executive branch it’s much, much worse. There is just something about the State Department that drives conservatives a little bit crazy.

Of course nothing on earth drives them as crazy as Bill and Hillary Clinton, their most hated enemies. The Republicans wasted tens of millions of dollars back in the 1990s trying to destroy them.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that when the radical right’s decades-long mistrust of the State Department combined with their decades-long crusade against Hillary Clinton, the result would be an incoherent howl of suspicion, confusion and inchoate rage. Throughout that marathon hearing yesterday, if there was a theme, a theory or even a rough guess about what Clinton was supposed to have done, it was extremely hard to see what it was. Under the leadership of Trey Gowdy, a man reputed to be a crack prosecutor, the Republicans were disorganized and unprepared, lurching from one topic to another without connecting any dots or explaining to the nation just what in the world this torturous exercise was supposed to achieve. 

So it’s about spies in the State Department. As usual. Only this time it’s Hillary Clinton, their most hated nemesis, the one who simply won’t go down no matter how hard they hit her. The frustration was palpable.

Joe McCarthy was eventually brought low by his own hubris. A man named Joseph Welch put the final point on it when he said, “at long last sir, have you no decency?” It was Congressman Elijah Cummings who made the similarly powerful moral statement in the hearing yesterday when he said:
“I don’t know what we want from you. Do we want to badger you over and over again until you get tired, until we do get the gotcha moment he’s talking about?

“We’re better than that. We are so much better. We are a better country. And we are better than using taxpayer dollars to try to destroy a campaign. That’s not what America is all about.”
The good news is that if yesterday’s hearing is any example, today’s witch hunters are all ham-handed Kevin McCarthys instead of Tail-gunner Joes. Right wing conspiracy nuts aren’t what they used to be. Maybe we’re making progress after all. 

Will Pope Francis Overrule The Haters in the Hierarchy?

The so-called synod on the Family at the Vatican continues to display open conflict between those who would moderate the Church's position on gays, divorced and remarried Catholics, and those who engage in cohabitation without marriage and those who want to maintain the rules of exclusion and denigration that are driving away Catholics in growing numbers in educated parts of the world.   The irony, of course is that by some estimates, 50% of the bitter old men in dresses at the Vatican are self-loathing closet cases who either (i) cannot let go on 12th century dogma, (ii) who want to keep others as miserable as they are themselves, or (iii) cannot overcome their own psycho-sexual dysfunctions.   The ultimate question, of course, is whether or not Pope Francis will use his imperial like authority to force change.  I would love to see change in the Church not because I would ever return to it, but instead so that fewer LGBT lives would be damaged or ruined by it.  The Washington Post looks at the ongoing infighting.  Here are highlights:

During a major summit of the Roman Catholic hierarchy that will end this weekend, a senior conservative bishop took the floor inside the Vatican’s assembly hall and promptly charged his liberal peers with doing the devil’s work.

The three-week gathering, known as a synod, has erupted into a theological slugfest over Pope Francis’s vision of a more-inclusive church, and it has displayed the most bitter and public infighting since the heady days of Catholic reform in the 1960s.

The pushback by traditionalists has been so strong that the chances of fast changes on contentious family issues — whether to offer Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics or to craft more-welcoming language for gays and lesbians — have substantially dimmed, if not died.

“Francis has the same problem that Obama had,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. “He promised the world, but Congress wouldn’t let him deliver. If nothing much comes of this synod, I think people will give the pope a pass and blame the bishops for stopping change.”

The 270 senior church officials, from 122 countries, are scheduled to finish voting on a final document by Saturday. But Francis has the last say, with the power to accept the synod’s recommendations, go beyond them or withhold judgment to encourage further debate.

Using his powers to go beyond the synod’s recommendations could rouse the wrath of conservatives, some of whom already are openly questioning the trajectory of his papacy. But if the final recommendation of the synod falls short of liberals’ hopes, ­rubber-stamping it or encouraging more debate could generate disappointment among Francis’s fans worldwide. They may begin to view him as a revolutionary only in gestures and words, not on substance.

If he agrees fully with the synod’s recommendations, “there might be a collapse of his popularity in world public opinion, but there might also be an increase of his popularity among Catholics,” said Massimo Franco, author of “The Crisis of the Vatican Empire” and a columnist at the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Even by Vatican standards, the level of drama at the synod has been extraordinary.

Francis still has not openly stated if, when and how he would like to see church policies altered. But his calls for a more merciful and open church, his pastoral outreach toward divorced and gay Catholics, and his decision to allow wide-ranging discussion at the synod have inspired leading church liberals to press for change.

Of the many measures under debate here, two have emerged as the most polemic.

One is whether to grant divorced and remarried Catholics, who are committing adultery in the church’s view, access to Communion. The other is the question of whether to offer a warmer welcome to gays and lesbians, including cutting references to being gay as “intrinsically disordered” from church teachings.

The divide is not just a liberal-conservative split; it is also geographic, with prelates in Africa, for instance, denouncing the “Eurocentric” and “Western” fixation with issues such as gay rights.

The vehemence of the backlash has shocked even some moderate conservatives, and it has suggested the rise of a tea-party-like faction of bishops within the hierarchy.

“Some of them are talking now like this is Armageddon,” Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Some also have denounced the general sense of chauvinism hanging over the debates, in which only male clerics have voting rights.

Maureen Kelleher, an American nun serving in one of the non-voting roles at the synod, told the National Catholic Reporter that there were “times that I have felt the condescension so heavy, you could cut it with a knife.”

Speaking of women in general, she added: “I see a high level of non-acceptance of us as holding up half the sky.”

Ultimately, Francis' decision comes down to either killing reform and losing the West - which still bankrolls most of the Vatican's funds - and becoming an Africa centric church, or  embracing modernity and letting the Tea Party like faction to whine and shriek and at worse break away.   Either way, if I was Francis, I would be using a taster before I ate or drank anything.  There are few things more dangerous than angry, self-loathing closeted gays be they in the Church hierarchy or the Republican Party. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Richmond Have the Most Gay Marriages

This morning, we are at sea on the Carnival Splendor along with 16 friends, half of whom are married same sex couples.   Most, like the husband and I, got married outside  of Virginia prior to the 4th Circuit ruling on October 6, 2014, that made our marriages legal in Virginia.  Since that date, some 3500 other couples have married in Virginia.  As the Richmond Times Dispatch reports, Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Richmond lead the way in the number of same sex couples tying the knot.  Fairfax and Arlington Counties are close behind.  Here are story highlights:

Out of roughly 3,600 gay marriages that have occurred from last October through August of this year, 320 certificates were filed in Norfolk, the most of any courthouse in the state.

Virginia Beach and Richmond followed with 298 and 229, respectively. Rounding out the top five were Fairfax County with 223 and Arlington County with 218.

"The numbers are great," said James Parrish, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Virginia. "It definitely shows that there are people in the state that wanted to get married."

"We're a little bit baffled because we're about half the size of Virginia Beach," Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George E. Schaefer said of his office topping the list. "But we are sort of the center."

Schaefer said much of the Virginia Beach population lives closer to the Norfolk courthouse than the courthouse in their own city. There are no residency requirements for marriages in Virginia, which means couples can go to any courthouse to fill out the required paperwork.

John Osterhout, president of Hampton Roads Pride, said his group has worked hard to help make the area an LGBT-friendly place to live.

"As people from all sectors of society have seen that we love our families as much as any straight person, it is harder to harbor negative images of those of us who are LGBT," Osterhout said.

Statewide, 5.27 percent of all marriage certificates in 2015 involve gay couples. The records are current through the end of August. State officials said local clerks were in the process of submitting certificates for September.

So far in 2015, the city of Staunton saw the highest percentage of its marriage licenses go to gay couples, with 11.97 percent. Staunton is followed by Bristol (11.22 percent), the city of Roanoke (11.10 percent), New Kent County (10.17 percent) and Rappahannock County (10 percent).

Somewhat ironically, the lawsuit that successfully overturned Virginia's ban on gay marriage began in the Norfolk courthouse that has now processed the most same-sex marriages.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Florida Republican Files Hideous "Religious Freedom" Bill

Anti-gay bigot Julio Gonzalez
Gay marriage is the law of the land, science is increasingly confirm that sexual orientation is fixed at birth and not a "choice", and rational members of society are moving on and accepting gay couples as a normal part of life as evidenced by local yacht and country clubs that are accepting gay couples as member. But in the Republican alternate universe where policies and legislation is based on a race back to the worst aspects of the 1950's, gay bashing and special rights for far right white Christofascists is the highest priority.  A case in point?  A heinous bill introduced in the Florida legislature aimed at granting the right to anti-gay discrimination to adoption agencies, health care institutions and many other businesses.  Towleroad looks at the batshitery.  Here are highlights:

A Republican lawmaker in Florida has introduced a hideous “religious freedom” bill that would empower adoption agencies and certain businesses in the Sunshine State to turn away LGBT couples for ‘religious or moral reasons.’

The bill is modeled on similar “religious freedom” bills that were introduced to disastrous consequences in Indiana and Arkansas.

State Rep. Julio Gonzalez filed the bill, HB 401, in response to what he views as the erosion of religious liberty caused by the advancement of LGBT rights.

“There have been various situations where there are increasing possibilities of subsections of society having their religious freedoms encroached on,” Gonzalez said. “Over time it became obvious to me we need to adopt some statutory protections.”  […]

[HB 401] states that individuals, businesses with five or fewer owners, religious institutions and businesses operated by religious institutions are “not required to produce, create, or deliver a product or service” to a customer if they have a religious or moral objection. […]

The bill does not mention sexual orientation. Its wording is vague enough that it would allow businesses to reject any customer for religious or moral reasons. Asked if someone’s race could be cited as a reason to deny service under the legislation, Gonzalez said there already are federal protections to prevent discrimination based on race.

Executive director of Freedom for All Americans, Matt McTighe, released a statement on the bill’s introduction:

“HB 401 uses a thinly veiled guise of religion to justify denying services to people in need at hospitals, adoption agencies, and other important institutions that Floridians use every day. It’s cruel to deny any child the opportunity to be welcomed into a loving, supporting family, just because they or a parent might be gay or transgender. It’s wrong to refuse potentially life-saving medical care to a person who has been in an accident simply because they are LGBT. This bill goes too far and would make Florida a worse place for everyone.”

Gay rights lobbyist Carlos Guillermo Smith, said Gonzalez’s bill is “sweeping anti-LGBT legislation” that is “extreme even for the extremists”:

“Bills like this threaten Florida’s tourism-based economy and could provoke an Indiana-style backlash,” Smith said. “It would be a disaster for Florida.”

I cannot help but wonder about what psychological issues plague Gonzalez and how soon it will be before he's caught in some gay sex scandal.  Anyone this hysterical about gays is generally hiding something.   Let's hope the bill goes down to defeat.

The Benghazi Bust

You know things are not going well when Fox News drops its coverage of an event that is supposed to have been Hillary Clinton's Waterloo long before the end of Hillary's appearance before the GOP inquisitors.  With no new sensational information discovered and much self-embarrassment accomplished, one has to wonder if the House Republicans will finally cease their partisan inspired witch hunt.  Rather than hurting Clinton, their circus event may have actually helped her.   A piece in Salon looks at the failed GOP effort.  Here are highlights:

There’s not really any good news for the GOP in the aftermath of yesterday’s House Benghazi Committee interrogation of Hillary Clinton. There had been some flickers of hope among conservative activists that the committee Republicans, led by chairman Trey Gowdy, would finally produce the long-rumored “smoking gun” that would prove once and for all that Hillary did… whatever evil thing she supposedly did with regard the Benghazi. Or maybe they’d goad her into making a terrible gaffe that would ruin her politically. But that’s not what happened.

After weeks of damaging stories about the Benghazi committee’s partisan agenda and vanishing credibility, it might have done Gowdy some good to put together a quiet and informative hearing that was befitting the “serious investigation” that he insisted he was leading. Instead, Gowdy took the lead role in proving correct each one of his Republican colleagues who said the committee was focused on damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances.

Gowdy’s implication – that Stevens either lacked access to Clinton or that Clinton prioritized her communications with Blumenthal – was flagrantly false, and Gowdy knows it was false. Stevens had access to Clinton through a variety of means and could have been in touch with her at a moment’s notice if he’d wanted. But Gowdy used the frequency of email communication – and only email communication – to give the impression that Blumenthal was in the loop while the ambassador was not.

This theme was picked up on by his Republican colleagues, who weren’t nearly as subtle in their dishonesty as Gowdy was. 
Democrats used their time to make clear just how pointless they believe the entire investigation is and allowed Clinton her opportunities to offer sanitized and carefully worded defenses of the Libya intervention. At least one member of the committee used the hearing to pose useful and interesting questions about issues that arose from the Benghazi attack: Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). She asked Clinton about policies for outsourcing security to local militias and security contractors, which has caused problems for the State Department and other government agencies.

All in all it was a bust for Gowdy and the Benghazi committee, to the point that conservative pundits were griping about how poorly the Republicans fared against Clinton. Anyone who doubted that the committee was a partisan exercise in Clinton-bashing came away free of doubts. The only sliver of good news for the Republicans is that it likely won’t matter. The notion that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton engineered some sort of evil Benghazi cover-up is already assumed to be true in the minds of conservatives and Republican voters. The fact that Gowdy and crew spent the day stepping on rakes and scoring own-goals in a failed attempt to “prove” it won’t change their minds.

Other than hoping to hurt Hillary's presidential bid, the only other motivation behind the Benghazi Committee has been to play to the delusional base of the GOP that have an obsessive hatred towards her  that will never change regardless of what she does or doesn't do.  This obsession traces back to the Bill Clinton years in the White House and will never end.  Meanwhile, for most Americans, the Clinton years look pretty good compared to the economic and foreign policy disasters brought on by the Bush/Cheney years of misrule.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Republicans Fail To Take Down Hillary Clinton

After squander millions of taxpayer dollars in the partisan witch hunt, the GOP controlled House Benghazi Committee failed to do any damage to Hillary Clinton today.  Not doubt there is much gnashing of teeth in Teabagistan over the fact that no "smoking gun" was revealed.  Not that one was reasonably expected to be found given the fact that numerous other committees failed to find evidence that would send the spittle flecked, knuckle draggers of the GOP base into orgasms.   As for committee chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a former prosecutor, one is left wondering how he ever got convictions if this circus is typical of his investigations.  The Huffington Post looks at the failed GOP efforts.  Here are highlights:

Hillary Clinton maintained a calm, unruffled demeanor for 11 hours Thursday, as Republican after Republican grilled her in relation to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi and about her use of a private email server as secretary of state. 

"So far today, I've said, 'good morning,' 'good afternoon,' 'good evening.' So let me go ahead and say, 'good night,'" Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said around 8 p.m., acknowledging that the hearing had began at 10 a.m. (with some short breaks throughout the day). 

Despite the long hours, Republicans failed to catch Clinton off her guard or come up with significant new revelations to argue that she was negligent in her duties that led to the death of four Americans in Libya. 

Her appearance is likely to give her a boost with the base, especially coming off from a strong performance after the first Democratic debate last week. Republicans weren't able to score any major hits and knock her off her feet, and Clinton showed she had the stamina to withstand the GOP attacks -- a fact that Republican lawmakers grudgingly seemed to acknowledge.

Indeed, many of the members seemed more exasperated than Clinton as the day wore on. 

"I don't know what we want from you," ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said, his voice rising during hour 10 of the hearing. "Do we want to badger you over and over again until you get tired, until we do get the 'gotcha' moment that he's talking about? We're better than that. ... We're better than using taxpayer dollars to try to destroy a campaign. That's not what America is all about. So you can comment if you like. I just had to get that off my chest."

But some of the most heated debates were between the Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who disagree about whether the committee should exist at all. 

Indeed, the opening statements of Cummings and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the committee's chairman, both focused on intra-committee politics. Gowdy tried to argue why, although there have been seven other investigations into Benghazi, his is still necessary. Cummings called for Congress to disband the committee. 

"It is time now for the Republicans to end this taxpayer-funded fishing expedition," Cummings said. "We need to come together and shift from politics to policy. That's what the American people want, shifting from politics to policy."

Clinton was the only one who actually spent her entire time discussing the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.
 As for Gowdy, is it just me, or does he come across as a peevish closet case?

Olympic Silver Medalist Skier Gus Kenworthy Comes Out

 have often said that coming out is one of the most powerful acts of activism that one can do.  It is a way of smashing stereotypes and forcing bigots to hopefully rethink their prejudices.  Of course, in addition to helping bring much needed social change, coming also is an incredibly liberating feeling as the need to live a lie or a stage role assigned to you by others suddenly goes away.  Today, American free style skier Gus Kenworthy came out as gay in an interview with ESPN.  Kenworthy won the silver medal in his event for Team USA back in 2014 at the Sochi Olympics in Russia.  Note how he admits that he has known the truth about himself for a long time, but felt he had to hide the truth as he wrote on Facebook afterwards:

I am gay.  Wow, it feels good to write those words. For most of my life, I’ve been afraid to embrace that truth about myself. Recently though, I’ve gotten to the point where the pain of holding onto the lie is greater than the fear of letting go, and I’m very proud to finally be letting my guard down.

My sexuality has been something I’ve struggled to come to terms with. I’ve known I was gay since I was a kid but growing up in a town of 2,000 people, a class of 48 kids and then turning pro as an athlete when I was 16, it just wasn’t something I wanted to accept. I pushed my feelings away in the hopes that it was a passing phase but the thought of being found out kept me up at night. I constantly felt anxious, depressed and even suicidal.

Looking back, it’s crazy to see how far I’ve come. For so much of my life I’ve dreaded the day that people would find out I was gay. Now, I couldn’t be more excited to tell you all the truth. Maybe you’ve suspected that truth about me all along, or maybe it comes as a complete shock to you. Either way, it’s important for me to be open and honest with you all. Y’all have supported me through a lot of my highs and lows and I hope you'll stay by my side as I make this transformation into the genuine me - the me that I’ve always really been.  

It is sad that people still have to live in fear and with self-loathing all because the ignorant and bigoted cling to the writings of Bronze Age herders rather than have the courage to think for themselves and admit that they were indoctrinated with lies.   Kudos to Kenworthy.  I wish him much future happiness and success.  More over, I hope he is an inspiration to young LGBT individuals who need a positive role model, especially those living in emotionally and psychologically abusive "Christian" homes.   And yes, Gus is a hottie!

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Gloucester Transgender Teen Asks for New Judge

Sadly, here in Virginia finding judges who are not homophobes can be a challenge.   At the state level, the Canons of Judicial Conduct require judges who cannot be impartial toward LGBT litigants to recuse themselves from the case yet thus almost never happens as I discovered in my own divorce case where the judge over the case admitted in writing that he view sexual orientation as a choice.  Despite such bigotry and ignorance, he failed to remove himself from the case.  Now, we are seeing the same kind of prejudice in the judge overseeing the litigation on behalf of 16-year-old Gavin Grimm (pictured above, who I know and who is amazing) who has sued the Gloucester County schools over anti-transgender restroom use bigotry.  Through statements, U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar has shown his bias and rejection of modern knowledge in favor of ignorant religious inspired ignorance.  In short, he needs to be removed from the case. has details.  Here are highlights:

A judge who repeatedly referred to a transgender student’s “mental disorder” should be removed from presiding over the teenager’s lawsuit challenging a policy that bars him from using the boys’ restrooms at his high school, his attorneys said in court papers Wednesday.

Attorneys for 16-year-old Gavin Grimm also said U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar of Norfolk has made statements indicating he may be suspicious of modern medical science regarding gender identity and that he objected to lawyers publicizing their client’s transgender status.

Grimm’s lawyers asked for a new judge in a 58-page brief asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse two key rulings in the case. Doumar refused to grant a preliminary injunction that would have allowed Grimm to use the boys’ bathrooms when the new school year started in September, and he threw out a claim that the policy violates federal sex discrimination law. He has not yet ruled on Grimm’s claim that the policy violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The Gloucester High School junior, who was born female but identifies as male, filed the lawsuit after the school board adopted a policy requiring him to use either the girls’ restrooms or one of several single-stall unisex restrooms available to all students. He claims the policy is stigmatizing and discriminatory.

Grimm’s attorneys wrote in their brief that the transcript of a motions hearing conducted by Doumar “indicates that the court has preexisting views about medical science in general—and medical science regarding gender and sexuality in particular—that the court may have substantial difficulty putting aside.”

They cited Doumar’s support for the idea that allowing Grimm to use the boys’ restroom could lead to “mating.” Doumar said medical science shows that “the brain only has two instincts. One is called self-preservation, and the other is procreation.”

The attorneys wrote that the American Psychiatric Association says gender dysphoria should not described as a disorder “because that terminology improperly stigmatizes transgender people,” yet Doumar persisted in using the term. That “gratuitous labeling ... does not reflect the sensitivity or care the public should expect from courts addressing these issues,” the lawyers said.
The embrace of ignorance and religious belief have no place in the civil lor on the bench.

Today's GOP Benghazi Show Trial

Love her or hate her, today Hillary Clinton will testify before the House Benghazi Committee in hearings about as objective as Stalin's show trials of the 1930's that had no purpose other than to destroy Stalin's chief rivals.  Exposing the truth bore no role in the trials orchestrated by Stalin and the same holds true for the circus that Republicans will oversee today.  As the image above underscores, there have been many more embassy staff deaths under George W. Bush, yet there have been no comparable hearings or committees.  No, the Benghazi Committee has one real goal only: damage Hillary Clinton. Along the way, of course, Republican members of the committee will get to grandstand for the spittle flecked, knuckle dragging members of the GOP base that hate Clinton no matter what she does or doesn't do.  In some ways the hearings are the logical outcome of the GOP's descent into insanity and the alternate reality that it's base lives in daily.  A piece in Salon looks at the Committee and it's pure political agenda.  Here are highlights:
Today Hillary Clinton will appear before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in a likely futile attempt to rebut the fever dreams of cover-up and conspiracy that the committee’s Republican members have gleaned from the comments section at Breitbart. It will be a fantastic piece of theater so far removed from the terrible events that occurred at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, that it might as well be occurring on the other side of a galactic wormhole. The hearing’s participants could speak gibberish for all we are really going to learn about the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Assuming there even is anything more to learn that seven prior congressional investigations have not turned up.

It is a truism of modern political horse-race coverage that reporters are not really interested in accurately explaining a candidate’s positions and policies to the audience. The reason the TV cameras are turned on the candidate every single second is in hopes of catching a gaffe, that race-altering goof that undermines the message he or she is trying to pitch to voters.

The hope of inducing that type of campaign-altering gaffe is really the reason why the select committee is dragging Hillary Clinton up to Capitol Hill today. No matter what the most rabid right-wingers think, these hearings are not about investigating a cover-up the way the Watergate or Iran-contra hearings were. They are not about figuring out what really happened in Benghazi, because we already have dozens of reports produced by other congressional committees, federal agencies, and the military to explain what happened and why.

No, what the Republicans want – what they need in order to justify the colossal effort they have put into building Benghazi up to be worse that Iran-contra plus Watergate and Teapot Dome times eleventy billion – is a Clinton gaffe along the lines of “What difference does it make.” Only worse. Something that will rip off the Democratic frontrunner’s carefully spit-polished image and reveal the shrill, corrupt, power-mad harridan underneath.
[T]his has been the Republican way with Hillary Clinton for 25 years now. No matter how many investigations clear her of any wrongdoing on an issue, the GOP just cannot accept it. There must always be one piece of information it did not turn up, one thread it failed to pull until the whole sweater unraveled. 

The only question is how they will go about it. Will they grill her like a salmon, coming at her from every angle, interrupting, badgering, trying to confuse her until the internal dam that has always successfully kept her bottomless evil at bay finally bursts? Or, as Brian Beutler argues, will they be polite and restrained while testing her memory of isolated details to try and trip her up? 

[A]t heart, this is all just one long political attack ad, a sequel to “Hillary: The Movie“ in the guise of a congressional investigation. It’s theater of the absurd for an audience of suckers.
As noted before, to be a Republican nowadays, one has to lack any integrity, and be either insane, a white supremacist, a religious fanatic, motivated solely by greed, or a combination of the foregoing.  It is a very ugly reality. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

The Scary Specter of Ted Cruz

I generally view George W. Bush as a cretin who caused huge harm to America during his presidency.   But like Donald trump, once in a great while even George W. manages to be right.  In this case, it is his slamming of Ted Cruz during a fundraiser behind closed doors.  The entire GOP field of would be presidential candidates is frightening, but in Cruz we see someone who is truly frightening, if not evil.  He reminds me of another Ken Cuccinelli, man who suffers from delusions, in my opinion, and who spews hatred in order to pander to the increasingly insane Republican Party base.  Given the opportunity, I firmly believe that Cruz would become another Joe McCarthy.  What makes Cruz so dangerous is the fact that if and when Trump and the mentally disturbed Ben Carson exit from the GOP clown car, Cruz could become the fallback candidate for the ugliest elements of the GOP base.  A column in the New York Times looks at the prospect.  Here are highlights:

Since leaving the White House, George W. Bush has taken pains not to insert himself into the events of the day. Not to weigh in. Not to utter statements bound to become headlines.   When he breaks that habit, you perk up and wonder why.

He broke it in regard to Ted Cruz.

According to a report in Politico on Monday, Bush used his unscripted remarks at a fund-raiser for his brother Jeb over the weekend to make clear that among Jeb’s rivals for the Republican nomination, one in particular rubs him the wrong way.

He described Cruz as cynically opportunistic and self-serving. And this assessment was so starkly at odds with Bush’s anodyne, even warm, remarks about other Republican presidential candidates that listeners were stunned, wrote Politico’s Eli Stokols.

I think a great many Americans — including a majority of Cruz’s colleagues in Congress — know exactly how he feels.

But there’s no solace in his words. Quite the opposite. He wouldn’t have felt compelled to utter them if Cruz wasn’t a possible factor in the race — if he wasn’t a menacing, stalking, relentless force to watch for and run from, like the body-hopping spirit in this year’s most celebrated horror movie, “It Follows.”

In fact Bush’s remarks at the fund-raiser apparently included a heads-up about Cruz’s potency, especially in primaries across the South.

The slow torture of the Republican primary knows no limit. First Donald Trump turns it into a carnival, then Ben Carson comes along with his insanity about the Holocaust and guns. Between them they own nearly 50 percent of the Republican vote, according to recent national surveys.
Examine those polls closely and your stomach clenches tighter.

His [Cruz's] campaign has more cash on hand than that of any other Republican in the hunt. If you add “super PAC” money that’s been officially disclosed so far to the tally, he trails only Jeb and Hillary Clinton.

In a column earlier this month, I noted that alarmed Republican operatives were paying greater heed to Cruz, who seems to be positioning himself as the ultraconservative fallback — the rabble rouser in the bullpen — if angry voters rethink Trump or Carson and want an establishment-vilifying candidate with at least some government experience. Cruz is in his first term as a senator from Texas.

[H]e’s emblematic of the flamboyantly uncompromising comrades in the so-called Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, who similarly confuse attention with accomplishment.

Cruz doesn’t propose remedies. He performs rants. He’s not interested in collaboration or teamwork. His main use for other politicians, even in his party, is as foils and targets. Paul Ryan got a taste of that over the weekend, when Cruz, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” was asked if Ryan was a true conservative and dodged the question, withholding his blessing.

And remember that when someone is as broadly and profoundly disliked as Cruz is, it’s usually not because he’s a principled truth teller.  It’s because he’s frightening.

Churches Steal $71 Billion From Taxpayers, Spend Little on Charity

As I have noted many times before, I very much support the concept of taking way tax-exempt status for all religious denominations.  By granting churches tax-exempt status, every taxpayer in the country is being forced to indirectly subsidize churches they don't belong to and which may actively oppose the civil rights of many taxpayers - e.g., the Southern Baptist Convention which is anti-gay and anti-black.  The First Amendment right of freedom of religion by no means requires tax-exempt status for houses of worship.  Indeed, by forcing taxpayers to indirectly support churches that  attack and denigrate them, I would argue that such gifts of tax-exempt status actually violate the First Amendment.  So how is this exempt status justified?  Through the myth that churches are charities.  Unfortunately, most spend a pittance on charity work as a piece here demonstrates.  Here are article highlights:
[W]hat always slips right through the cracks are the tax benefits to religious organizations, which overwhelmingly support Republicans, and are estimated to cost taxpayers nearly double those of hidden off-shore havens. The Secular Policy Institute estimates:  
“If religious organizations (ie. churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) were taxed like for-profit agencies, it was found that this could generate upwards of $71 billion per year in tax revenue…even if churches were merely held to the standards of other non-profit agencies, this could generate $16.75 billion in tax revenue per year.”  
According to Pew, folks affiliated with ties to religious organizations also overwhelmingly support the Republican Party: “Republicans lead in leaned party identification by 48 points among Mormons and 46 points among white evangelical Protestants, with younger white evangelicals (those under age 35) having similar partisan affiliation as their older counterparts.”

What is particularly egregious about the tax benefits going to religious organizations is that they receive these benefits, ostensibly, because they are charities. Researchers at Secular Humanism have calculated:  
“The Mormon Church, for example, spends roughly .7% of its annual income on charity. Their study of 271 congregations found an average of 71% of revenues going to ‘operating expenses’…Compare this to the American Red Cross, which uses 92.1% of revenues for physical assistance and just 7.9% on operating expenses. The authors also note that Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.”
Religious organizations are not non-profits, and if they conduct charitable activities, those activities should be separated out from their normal finances, which should not be financed by the government. However, we know the Republican worldview is all about distorting religion to support their bizarre vision of science and reality – supported by a tax policy that enables their wealthy constituency to support their political efforts.
 Republicans talk about tax code reform.  A starting point would be to end this rip off of taxpayers by churches.  Only true charity operations should be tax-exempt.  Let churches start paying taxes on their revenues and on their properties.  The give away that tramples on the rights of non-church goers needs to stop.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Paul Ryan: I'll Be Speaker But Only If the Neanderthals Supports Me

I have no love for Paul "Reverse Robin Hood" Ryan.  That said, the man isn't stupid (even if he is otherwise horrible) since he has told the House Republicans that he will throw his hat into the ring for the position of Speaker of the House only if all of the elements of the Republican conference support him.  Ryan has no desire to step into the nightmare that drove John Boehner into resigning.  The big question, therefore, is whether or not the lunatic Christofascist/Tea Party elements of the House GOP will swear fealty to Ryan.  Ryan has given them until Friday to decide.  Politico looks at the ongoing circus within the Republican Party.  Here are excerpts:

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who for years has resisted a move into House Republican leadership, said Tuesday night he would serve as House speaker if he is the party's "unity candidate."

Ryan, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, wants to know by Friday if the 247 members of the House Republican Conference support him. If not, he is "happy" to continue as chairman of the powerful tax-writing panel, the 45-year-old lawmaker said.

The Wisconsin Republican laid out a series of "requests" to his GOP colleagues on Tuesday night, including a demand that the major factions within the Republican Conference endorse him before he agrees to seek the speakership. Ryan is clearly trying to shift the onus of his decision onto the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hardline conservatives that repeatedly sought to undermine Speaker John Boehner.

Ryan wants the group to refrain from any attempts to remove him from the speaker's chair if he makes a decision they disagree with, though it's not at all clear Freedom Caucus will agree.

"I have left this decision in their hands, and should they agree with these requests, then I am happy and I am willing to get to work."

Ryan added: "This is not a job I ever wanted or I ever sought. I am in the job I've always wanted here in the Congress. I came to the conclusion that this is a very dire moment, not just for Congress, not just for the Republican Party, but for our country. I think our country is in desperate need of leadership."

Ryan described himself as "reluctant" to be speaker and said there were some parts of the job he dreaded. But he said would take on the post if the three major groups inside the GOP conference — the Republican Study Committee, the moderate Tuesday Group, and the Freedom Caucus — all endorse him by Friday.

Ryan also wants Republicans to alter the procedure for "vacating the chair," which is essentially a referendum to remove the speaker from office. Conservatives threatened to force such a vote against Boehner earlier this summer, and Ryan believes it's destructive. 

The Wisconsin Republican is calling on the next speaker to be more visionary. Ryan agreed with Freedom Caucus members and a large bloc of the GOP in supporting changes to rules and procedures to empower rank-and-file members. But he said those decisions must be made together.
As Think Progress notes, the Neanderthals spittle flecked "real Americans" in the GOP are not reacting well to Ryan's demands:

How the Freedom Caucus, and the right-wing, is reacting to Paul Ryan’s demands

Not well.   Many members of the Freedom Caucus are already publicly rejecting Paul Ryan and his demands.

There are 40 members of the Freedom Caucus so the ultimate outcome is still in doubt. They will be under severe pressure from the Republican establishment to reverse course and support Ryan. But the early signs for Ryan are not positive. 

Notice: Reduced Posting

Blogging from now through October 30th may be reduced.  On Friday, the husband and I - and at least more than a dozen friends that we know of - are sailing to Bermuda aboard the Carnival Splendor (pictured above) which leaves Norfolk this Friday and returns on the 30th.  As always seems to be the case when we travel, I find myself inundated with legal work and will be working late every night until we sail (I got home tonight at 8:45PM).  In addition, I will likely be working part of the time while we are at sea thanks to the miracle of satellite Internet which will allow me to check office e-mail, circulate documents, etc. - and post on this blog, of course.

One fun aspect of this trip is that we are traveling with dear friends from Hampton Roads who formerly owned The Reefs resort in Bermuda (pictured below) who have arranged some special dining experiences for us and who will show us "an insiders Bermuda" while we are in Bermuda for three days and two nights.  On the negative side, Bermuda has yet to come into the 21st century and accept gay marriage (same sex relations are, thankfully legal), and were it not for our friends, I would prefer to boycott Bermuda.

As is our practice, a family member will be staying at our home and watching the two Chihuahuas.  I am looking forward to getting away, but dread the craziness between now and when the ship sails on Friday!  I will, of course, blog about our experiences and my thoughts and impressions.


Italy Poised to Pass Gay Unions Bill

In yet another example of the waning influence of the Roman Catholic Church in educated parts of the world, Italy is at long last on the verge of passing a gay unions bill akin to the German model that would give same sex couples the rights of marriage without the formal title of marriage.  Up until now, the Catholic Church has always managed to kill such legislation.  As The reports, with church attendance dwindling and some seeing Pope Francis as ushering a more conciliatory tone, it appears that this time the Church's efforts to thwart modernity and equality will fail.  Here are article highlights:
Two days after Italy’s Senate voted to curtail its powers, premier Matteo Renzi swiftly got to work on the next cornerstone of his mandate: the civil union bill.

With Italy being the last major state in western Europe not to offer gay couples any legal rights, Renzi is under mounting pressure to usher the law in, pledging several times to get it passed by the end of the year.

Soon after the debate got underway came the opposing voice of the Catholic Church, with Nunzio Galentino, the secretary general of the Italian bishops conference, saying it was unthinkable that a government would put so much of its energy into a debate that would erode traditional family values.
But with the majority of Italy’s opposition parties, including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, supporting the proposals, it doesn’t look as if Galentino’s words will carry much weight in the latest debate.

The Church’s influence on Italian politics has managed to derail attempts by previous administrations to get the law enacted, and while it still plays a strong role in Italy, its influence over the gay rights debate seems to be diminishing.

"It’s not like 30 years ago,” Paolo Segatti, a political sociology professor at the University of Milan, told The Local.

“There are fewer practising Catholics in Italy...this decline has been happening for some time. The Church’s influence is now very small, so I don’t think it will be able to block this.”

The bill, which is based on the German model, stops short of allowing gay marriage but would recognize same-sex unions. Gay couples would also get some of the benefits of marriage, such as being able to receive part of a deceased partner's pension and automatic inheritance.

The most contentious part, which is fiercely opposed by Renzi’s smaller coalition partner, the New Centre Right ()NCD party, is the proposal to allow a gay person to adopt the child of their partner if it only has one legal parent.

[R]ecent opinion polls have indicated a majority of voters favour reform, with support for civil unions and gay marriage having risen significantly after Ireland voted strongly in favour of allowing same sex couples to wed.

If the Church loses this battle after having received a stunning rebuke in Ireland, it will have lost in the last historical bastion of Catholicism.  Pope Francis and the bitter old men in dresses at the Vatican truly need to decide whether the Church will change with the times and modern knowledge or opt instead to become a much smaller, Africa based denomination.  If they choose the latter, much of the money that flows in primarily from the west may decline even further.  Bigotry does have a monetary price. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Today's GOP: The Beginning of the End of an Informed Democracy

The Founding Fathers believed in the principles of the Enlightenment.  They also believed in an informed population and believed in learning and the advancement of knowledge.  Once upon a time, the Republican Party likewise believed in science and knowledge.  Sadly, now ignorance is celebrated in the GOP and at times the party seems as if it wants to take America back to the Dark Ages.   Science is ignored if not openly attacked and the fantasies of the delusional Christofascist/Tea Party base are advanced as fact.  The GOP's denial of climate change perhaps best embodies the knuckle dragging depths to which the GOP has fallen.  A piece in Salon looks at the GOP's embrace of ignorance and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's view of what the GOP is doing to America.  Here are excerpts:
If Americans agree about one thing, it’s that their favorite astrophysicist is Neil deGrasse Tyson. A ubiquitous presence on TV, radio and a host of other mediums, Tyson has become one of our greatest popularizers of science, this generation’s Carl Sagan . . .

Recently, Salon spoke with Dr. Tyson about the second season of “StarTalk,” which premieres Sunday, October 25 at 11pm ET on National Geographic Channel. We asked Neil both about the show and about what he thinks of the role of science in popular culture and political discourse today. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.

Why do we need a late-night talk show grounded in science? . . .  the goal here is to leave people with the impression, the correct impression, that science is ubiquitous in our society, in our culture.

Do you think that programs like StarTalk and Cosmos are how we make science more prominent in pop culture?    Yeah, I don’t want to say that they are our best hope. I want to say that the approach to the subject and the approach to the pedagogy, if you will, we have found them to be quite fertile but not uniquely fertile. The website I Fucking Love Science has about 40 or 50 million followers now – something like that. It’s a crazy high number. It’s way more than the number of actual geeks out there, I’m sure of it. So what it means is, that people who are not traditionally geeks are finding their inner geek. Because people are thinking about ways to share this moving frontier of science.

What do you make of that anti-science demagoguery in our political discourse right now? Is that just ideological biases triumphing over good thinking?  The moment you start bringing your personal belief system into governance, then that’s the end of pluralistic democracy. We have words for governance like that and they’re called dictatorships. You have a belief system, you have a philosophy, and that philosophy has some adherence and others have their own philosophies. Those are your personal truths. One of them is, “Jesus is your Savior.” I’m not going to say that Jesus is not your savior. That is your personal truth. But, in a country where we have different religions, if the person who said: “Jesus is your Savior” is going to govern a pluralist country, then their legislations must be based on objective truths, not personal truths.

[W]e have people in Congress whose job is to pass laws. If they pass laws based on things that are not objectively true, that’s the beginning of the end of an informed democracy.

People quietly assume that science will save us from ourselves, whether it is climate change or resource depletion or systemic poverty or any number of other problems. The hope is that we’ll always innovate our way out of crises. Do you think science and technology will solve all these problems for us?  Yes, but it requires enlightened governance for that opportunity to arise. Science doesn’t happen in the abstract. It pays to have science done. Frontier science, historically and in modern times, is generally paid by government-based sources. . . 

You remember Thomas Malthus saying that the population growing exponentially will outstrip the food supply that is only growing linearly. This became a philosophy of governance for so long until people realized that they can apply scientific principles to farming and have the food supply go up exponentially just as the population is, and they won’t have a food problem. That’s exactly what happened.
[W]e are producing more food than ever before in the history of our species. So, science solved that problem. Now, enlightened governance has to move the food to where it needs to go. That’s another layering on top of this. The scientist can’t be the one who says, “I’ve invented this way to triple the output on the land. Now, I’ve got to figure out how to get it to where people are starving.” That’s what politicians are supposed to do. That’s what enlightened geopolitics does.

Unfortunately, enlightened governance and today's GOP  are mutually exclusive.   Instead, of enlightened policy, the GOP offers polices based on greed, racism and pandering to the ignorant who cling to Bronze Age myths encapsulated in the Bible.