Saturday, March 12, 2016

Texas State Board of Education Candidate Embodies the GOP's Embrace of Ignorance

Coming from a family with a long history of Republican ties and having myself been a city committee member and precinct chair for nearly eight (8) years, I continue to be shocked by how low a political party that once thought of itself as educated, moderately cultured and respectful of science and knowledge has become the home base for fringe lunatics and those who frankly need mental health interventions.  On the national scene these low intelligence, low education masses in the GOP base are rallying to Donald Trump's racist and fascist themed campaign.  Shockingly, at the local and state level, things are even scarier.  Texas is seemingly ground zero for such lunacy and a candidate for the state board of education reflects just how sick and ignorance worshiping the Republican Party has become.  The candidate, Mary Lou Bruner, has claimed on social media, among other things, that President Obama had worked as a gay prostitute in his youth, that the United States should ban Islam, that the Democratic Party had John F. Kennedy killed and that the United Nations had hatched a plot to depopulate the world.  Frighteningly, many in today's GOP see nothing wrong with Bruner's insanity.  Moreover, here in Virginia, the Virginia GOP is controlled by many who hold Bruner's beliefs.  Here are highlights from the New York Times:

On Super Tuesday, Dale Clark voted for a local Republican who claimed on social media that President Obama had worked as a gay prostitute in his youth, that the United States should ban Islam, that the Democratic Party had John F. Kennedy killed and that the United Nations had hatched a plot to depopulate the world.

Mr. Clark, 75, was unaware that the candidate he had supported — Mary Lou Bruner, 68, a former kindergarten teacher running for a seat on the State Board of Education — held such views. But as he sat with his wife eating lunch in this East Texas city, Mr. Clark was ready to give Ms. Bruner the benefit of the doubt.

“I would not discount her on the basis of having those beliefs,” said Mr. Clark, a retired pilot. “It convinces me, though, that she’s quite conservative, and if I were going to err either way, I would want to err toward the side of the conservative.”

Ms. Bruner’s anti-Obama, anti-Islam, anti-evolution and anti-gay Facebook posts have generated national headlines and turned an obscure school board election into a glimpse of the outer limits of Texas politics. In a part of the state dominated by conservative Christians and Tea Party activists, Ms. Bruner’s candidacy has posed a question no one can answer with any certainty — how far to the fringe is too far for Texas Republicans?

Because of the board’s clout in selecting textbooks for all of the state’s schools, it can influence the content of textbooks produced nationwide.

Here in Ms. Bruner’s hometown, Mineola, and elsewhere in intensely conservative East Texas, her views fit a widely accepted anti-Obama and conspiracy friendly antigovernment mind-set. Inside Kitchens Hardware and Deli, the combination hardware store and diner where Mr. Clark was eating, a sign on a shelf read, “Hillary for Prison 2016.” A woman in a nearby store who declined to give her name said she would not hold Ms. Bruner’s Facebook posts against her, and spoke at length about her belief that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 was a government-staged hoax.

Tammy Blair, the chairwoman of the Republican Party in nearby Cherokee County, said there were differing definitions of extreme, adding that she was sympathetic to the movement to have Texas secede from the United States.  “At the end of the day, is Mary Lou a wacko extremist? No,” Ms. Blair said. 

On her Facebook page, Ms. Bruner called Mr. Obama “Ahab the Arab,” and wrote that he “hates all white people and all wealthy people because to him wealthy means white.” Although she condemned the Ku Klux Klan in one posting, she wrote positively of its roots, writing that it started “as citizens trying to fight back against a corrupt government when there were corrupt officials or no officials at all to keep law and order in the rural areas.” Of Mr. Obama’s youth, she wrote: “I heard from a reliable source that Obama was also a male prostitute for a while when he lived in New York with his male ‘partner.’ How do you think he paid for his drugs?”

Other Republicans have expressed shock and disgust at Ms. Bruner’s comments and primary victory, and have vowed to vote for Mr. Ellis in the May runoff. Her critics include the superintendents of several East Texas school districts.

“Some of the statements that she has made make you question her ability to hold an office,” said Mary Ann Whiteker, the longtime superintendent of the Hudson Independent School District in Lufkin. “It’s very, very frightening to think that she could be giving input on what we ought to be teaching our students.”

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Hillary Clinton "Steps in It" With Nancy Reagan Remarks

In the wake of Nancy Reagan's death, I previously posted a piece on her heartless refusal to help her supposed friend, Rock Hudson, as he desperately sought medical help as he died of AIDS.  Her apparent concerns?  Appearances and not upsetting the Christian Taliban that was almost jubilant over the "gay plague" that was said to be God's punishment for homosexuals.  Contrast Nancy Reagan's behavior with that of Elizabeth Taylor who did the right thing and had the view that her critics could be damned. In this atmosphere, Hillary Clinton committed a major blunder - for which she has quickly apologized - by making the false statements that Nancy Reagan had helped ignite a needed conversation about HIV/AIDS.  Clinton's motivation, no doubt, was a desire to say something nice about a fellow former First Lady.  Yet, sadly whitewashing the failings of the departed does no good for anyone.  A opened eyed view of accurate history should always be the goal, not creating false fairy tales.  The Nation looks at Hillary's blunder and quick apology.  Here are highlights: 

Many gay men of a certain age—let’s say in their late 30s and up—love Hillary Clinton. I have no evidence to prove this, but just trust me that it is true. . . . . I think the root of this adoration lies in her earned status as a survivor. In a remarkably long and tumultuous public life, Hillary Clinton has been denigrated, lied about, mansplained to, and grossly caricatured. She was publicly betrayed by her husband in a humiliating fashion, and her greatest ambition was thwarted in a protracted and ugly primary battle. Throughout it all, she has endured—and come November, she could quite possibly triumph. She grew strong, and she learned how to get along. For better or worse, I think gay men of my generation and older see in Hillary a kindred spirit—one tough woman who has taken more than her fair share of knocks and come out the better for it. We see her pain, and her resilience, and we identify with it. The question after today is—does she see ours?

In an interview with MSNBC at Nancy Reagan’s funeral, Clinton praised both Ronald Reagan and his wife for their work on AIDS. “It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” Clinton said, but “because of both president and Mrs. Reagan, in particular Mrs. Reagan, we started a national conversation when before nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it, and that, too, is something that I really appreciate.”

This is a bizarre and historically inaccurate statement, to say the least. It’s the equivalent of lauding George Wallace for starting a national conversation on segregation. Reagan gave his first speech devoted to AIDS in 1987, years after the epidemic first struck. In that speech, he emphasized HIV testing before issuing marriage licenses, for which exactly zero gay men could apply. By the end of that year, over 40,000 Americans, mostly gay men and IV drug users, had died of AIDS. Many, many thousands more died later, deaths that could have been prevented had the Reagan administration simply followed the advice of the medical establishment and thrown more resources into prevention and treatment. In a nutshell, the Reagan administration chose to ignore AIDS, until it couldn’t, at which point its strategy was to protect straight America from the disease while throwing vulnerable populations to the wolves.

During this period, Hillary Clinton was an adult person—10 years plus out of Yale Law School and the first lady of Arkansas. Since then, she has spent 30 years in public service, helping run a foundation that is significantly devoted to addressing HIV/AIDS and serving as Secretary of State during the peak of the global AIDS epidemic. Given this record, her statement today is baffling, infuriating, and hurtful.

Clinton has since apologized for her remarks, saying that she misspoke. The swiftness of her apology is appreciated, and to be clear, I don’t think her statement today was calculated to pander to the right. I also don’t think it signals some grand reversal of her position on gay rights or HIV/AIDS. Like most Democrats, including President Obama, Clinton was lousy on gay rights until very recently (notable exception: Bernie Sanders), and there’s every reason to expect she’d support pro-gay legislation like ENDA

That said, her statement today revealed a disturbing lack of empathy to and awareness about HIV positive people and the gay community. And her apology, which doesn’t acknowledge the righteous pain caused by her remarks, indicates a social distance that gay men might want to take a closer look at. My hope is that she issues a new statement, one that really understands the gay community’s struggle with HIV/AIDS

Is the GOP Establishment About to Sell its Soul to Trump?

First the Republican Party establishment sold its soul to white racists and segregationists with Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" - a strategy still in full play today.  Next, it sold its soul to the Christofascists who comprise the Christian Taliban and now Republicans work to subvert the U.S. Constitution by granting special rights to Christian extremists under the smoke screen of "religious liberty."  Now, the degradation of the GOP establishment is on the precipice of being complete as more and more of its members are poised to embrace Donald Trump and his demagoguery and fascist leanings.  With each of these sellouts, sane and rational people have fled the GOP.  A few are shouting out "enough is enough" as evidenced by a column by Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post.  Here are column excerpts: 

As Donald Trump continues to surge forward as the most-likely Republican nominee, perfectly sane people are beginning to wonder: “Was there something we missed? Maybe he’s not really so bad.”

Shed that self-doubt and purge the thought. You’re not wrong — and he’s that bad. Just ask the Breitbart reporter who was roughed up at a recent Trump rally. And she’s one of the “good” people. Imagine what happens to his critics once a Trump presidency takes shape.

Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago. He is still a boastful, volatile, misogynistic, race-baiting, willfully and strategically ignorant, exploitative fear-monger who is guided by profit over principle and whose hair-trigger temperament has the world on edge.

Never mind that he has begun softening his tone or walking back some of his more radical statements. Seeking redemption through press release, he now says he wouldn’t order the military to hunt down and kill the families of terrorists. . . . But he did think and say such a thing. 

That rational objections seem not to matter to a third of the Republican Party, including a swath of evangelicals, reflects our sadly degraded culture. . . . . We’re all trapped in one big sleazy reality show, no longer spectators but fellow actors with people we can’t stand.

Nevertheless, politicians are beginning to pivot toward Trump, despite having found him reprehensible five minutes earlier. . . . . Even the three other remaining GOP candidates have pledged to support the man they still find reprehensible.

The commentariat, too, is beginning to turn. You’ll notice a softening of criticism, a leaning toward the possible next president of the United States. Again, the bottom line in Washington is access — to the White House, the president and, hardly least, Palm Beach.

Whatever one hopes or wishes to believe about him, Trump is still terrible for the country and, therefore, the world. It should concern us that other nations are worried — and not in a good way. David Ignatius, The Post’s leading foreign affairs commentator, recently said that international leaders, including our allies, are cornering him to ask how the world might look under a President Trump.

To such concerns, Trump responds that he can be as presidential as anybody — whatever this means. 
Never believe anyone who says, “Believe me.
There has always been a balance among our nation’s governing institutions. No one was ever perfectly satisfied, but at least we had a sense that the country would remain fundamentally stable. Elsewhere, other nations could reasonably rely upon the United States to be a certain kind of country — not perfect but always striving toward a more perfect union.

With Trump at the helm, given his own vows and threats, this balance feels at risk. His so-called refreshing candor has the power to rock markets and collapse nations. His deal-making prowess notwithstanding, Trump would be a destabilizing force both here and abroad.

The only real strength of Trump’s candidacy has been to expose and shame the cowards and opportunists among us. Remember them.

Antonin Scalia’s Death has Changed the Supreme Court

As regular readers know, I was never a fan of Antonin Scalia and, in fact, on more than one occasion opined that he needed to be removed from the U.S. Supreme Court because of his inability to put aside his own religious, racial and male chauvinist prejudices when confronted with cases.  Nature - or God, if one is a Christofascist - stepped in and Scalia was removed from the Court in a manner I had not contemplated.  Now, if only Clarence Thomas would be removed, we might begin to see a Court with mostly responsible justices (Alito remains a boil on the Court, but might come around if sufficiently isolated).  A piece in Slate looks at how the passing of one bigot and opponent of modernity has changed the Court - most likely for the better, especially  if the Republicans fail to win the White House.  Here are column highlights:

Nobody quite knows what to make of it yet, but nobody disputes it, either: The Supreme Court of March looks nothing like the court we knew in February. The loss of a single justice, Antonin Scalia, has blown up the court and reshuffled everything. It’s the early days yet, and much of the evidence of newish, liberalish outcomes at the court lies in routine housekeeping matters: unsigned orders and withdrawn appeals. Still, it’s safe to say the high court is no longer going to be a candy store for pro-business and socially conservative litigants. What will rise in its place is still a work in progress.

The crazy new vibe at the court isn’t even limited to the raft of orders that have come down in the past week. Those include a critical and unanimous order affirming the right of same-sex partners to adopt children and the tossing of a death penalty conviction in Louisiana because the state withheld significant exculpatory evidence.

There was also last Friday’s unsigned order allowing several abortion clinics in Louisiana to reopen their doors, following an emergency decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that would have shuttered all but one clinic in that state. In one sense, the order to keep the clinics open while the case progresses was not a massive surprise. Last June, the Supreme Court issued a similar last-minute stay of the 5th Circuit’s Whole Woman’s Health decision that would have closed a significant number of clinics in Texas. . . . .   in choosing to reinstate the Louisiana abortion rules, the 5th Circuit brushed aside the fact that the Supreme Court had prevented Texas’ clinics from closing last June. Faced with the snub, the court tartly reminded the 5th Circuit that keeping the Louisiana clinics open is “consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.” In other words, says the Supreme Court to Louisiana, “We may be 4–4 now, but we are still here. Thank you.”

This week, the Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin also noted that a new alliance seems to have cropped up between the court’s two most conservative members, Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito. The emerging split between these two determined conservatives and their colleagues might be in reaction, writes Bravin, to Chief Justice John Roberts “apparently seeking consensus where he can on a court hobbled by potential 4-4 ideological splits.” By contrast, Thomas and Alito seem to be redoubling their efforts to form a bulwark against “the path set out by their six colleagues.” . . . . . The two conservatives also aligned in an effort to uphold the right of states to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole.

But changes at the court itself are only half of it. There’s also a growing sense among conservative interest groups and litigation shops that the good times and rich bounty of the old Roberts court are no longer on offer and that it may be better to cut and run than stick around and lose.

In an incredibly short time frame we have seen, for instance, a major antitrust appeal from Dow Chemical settled for $835 million last month, when the company determined that it wasn’t worth the risk to spin the wheel at a 4–4 court. Having only last month granted a completely unprecedented stay in a challenge to President Obama’s new environmental regulations—before the case had even been adjudicated in a lower court—Roberts batted away a similar request challenging a different pollution regulation without comment last week. Not here, he seemed to be cautioning Michigan and the other states that wanted to challenge the law. Not anymore.

Consider, too, that in New York this week a key gun rights group opted to drop its challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s SAFE Act—the big post–Sandy Hook gun control initiative—out of a concern that it could not prevail at the high court without Scalia on the bench. According to the New York Daily News, a National Rifle Association board member explained that the challenge had been halted en route to the court because “it’s just the wrong time.” His lawyers advised that “going forward could damage the case because the High Court at the very least would likely deliver a split 4-4 decision that would leave the law in place.”

This is a shocking turn from how the judicial landscape looked earlier this year. Going into this term, a number of important cases had been seen as likely to change the way we vote, the way we regulate abortion, and the way we fund public-sector unions. So certain were some plaintiffs of their likelihood of success that they had their appeals rocketed to the Roberts court on a fast track.
Suddenly, in a scenario where the conservative justices have been reduced to four, the high-speed pipeline looks far less attractive. It’s not at all clear these fast-track appeals will continue, so long as outcomes are uncertain and given the possibility of a long-term vacancy. By the same token, the tactics deployed to hustle last year’s big Obamacare challenge to the high court will likely lose their allure now. Nobody wants to rush a case to the court with even odds. Watch for a lot of hurry up and wait from conservatives groups that used to be all hurry.

Expect a lot more weirdness and subtle signaling from the court as the term rolls on. An institution that never wished to be an election issue has become one. What might have once been routine orders have now turned into a complex game of reputation management. Whether it’s the chief justice trying to appear apolitical, the conservative justices trying to fly the flag of ideology, or the liberals making hay while the sun briefly shines, nothing at the court these days is exactly what it appears to be, and it appears it will be that way for a while.

[T]he sudden frailty of the conservative bloc and the almost giddily emboldened left reveal how high the stakes will be in the general election. These past few weeks have proved to the right that its fears about the post-Scalia court are justified and tantalized the left with promises of a golden era with Ruth Bader Ginsburg tossing thunderbolts around from on high. Even as it tries to speak softly and subtly this month, the court reveals just how much now hangs in the balance. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Despite Protestations, Trump Personifies "Conservative" Christians

I have followed the propaganda and behavior of right wing Christians and "family values" organizations for a very long time and the general take away has been that no one is more full of hatred towards others and more likely to lie and be divisive than the "godly folk." Indeed, the more they wear their supposed faith on their sleeves, in general, the nastier and more dishonest they are. Now, with evangelical Christians rallying to Donald Trump's standard, some of the parasitic professional Christian class and pundits blinded by their own religious based psychosis like Rodd Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times, are shocked and are claiming that these trump followers are not "real Christians."  Why?  Because they are finally showing society and the world what some of us have known about conservative Christians for a long time: they are simply put not nice and decent people and they care nothing for the true Gospel message.  Rather, they cling to ugly passages in the Old Testament, are judgmental of others, and hate those who don't look and believe just as they do.  They are the perfect base for a demagogue like Donald Trump.  Here are excerpts from Douthat's self-deceptive column that tries to distance Trump followers from "real Christians":

Of all the reasons it once seemed unthinkable that Donald J. Trump might be the Republican nominee, one of the strongest was the G.O.P.’s reputation as the party of religious conservatives.

And yet: Despite his transparent irreligiosity, Trump has won easily across the South, one of the most religious portions of the country. Among both self-identified evangelicals and Catholics, he’s consistently polled as well as the evangelical Ted Cruz and the Roman Catholic Marco Rubio.

For conservative Christians who oppose Trump, these patterns have provoked a great deal of anguish. My fellow columnist Pete Wehner recently declared himself stunned that “my fellow evangelicals can rally behind a man whose words and actions are so at odds with the central teachings of our faith.” The prominent Southern Baptist spokesman Russell Moore has condemned evangelical leaders for being “scared silent as evangelicalism is associated with everything from authoritarianism and bigotry to violations of religious freedom.”

Such angst and soul-searching is warranted, as it is for just about everyone in the age of Trump. But some clarity is also needed about what it means, exactly, that Trump is winning religious voters.

 What Trump is doing, then, isn’t so much co-opting conservative Christianity as exploiting its weaknesses and divisions. As with the wider conservative coalition, Trump is heightening conservative religion’s internal contradictions and fracturing it along pre-existing fault lines.

[A]mong Americans who do still have an active faith, Trump has exploited the widening gap between what many conservative Christians assumed about the relationship between their country and their faith, and what the last 10 years or more of social and political change have revealed about the nation’s drift.

If this is really a post-Christian society, they seem to be thinking, then Christians need to make sure the meanest, toughest heathen on the block is on their side. So it makes sense to join an alliance of convenience with a strongman, placing themselves under his benevolent protection, because their own leaders have delivered them only to defeat.

And the lure of the strongman is particularly powerful for those believers whose theology was somewhat Trumpian already — nationalistic, prosperity-worshiping, by turns apocalyptic and success-obsessed.

With the steady post-1960s weakening of traditional Christian confessions, the preachers of this kind of gospel — this distinctively American heresy, really — have assumed a new prominence in the religious landscape. Trump, with his canny instinct for where to drive the wedge, has courted exactly these figures.
[H]e’s wooed televangelists and prosperity preachers, and pitched himself to believers already primed to believe that a meretricious huckster with unusual hair might be a vessel of the divine will.

In the light of Trumpism, many hard truths about American Christianity — its divisions, its failures, its follies, its heresies — stand ruthlessly exposed.
Douthat can cling to his fantasy that "real Christians" are not rallying to trump, but the truth is that what he decries is the real face of conservative Christianity in America.  The nation would be a better place if conservative Christians simply vanished.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

How Gay-Friendly Are the Presidential Candidates?

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Trump: The Demagogue that the Founding Fathers Feared

For the most part, the Founding Fathers feared too much power in the hands of any one part of government, hence the division of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government under the U.S. Constitution. They also feared demagogues and believed in an informed populous, with the First Amendment aimed at insuring freedom of speech and the press.  Sadly, now, much of the electorate is ignorant and uninformed and, within Republican circles, the embrace of ignorance is celebrated.  We have Americans who can recite all kinds of minutia about football teams and players - in my view, the modern equivalent of Roman gladiators whose purpose was to entertain the rabble - yet know little or nothing about current events, history, science and other things an informed voter should deem important.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the sad state of affairs, particularly in the Republican Party which has pandered to ignorance and bigotry over the last few decades.  Here are excerpts:

As the unthinkable becomes likely, the question arises: Who is really to blame for Donald Trump?
The proximate answer is a durable plurality in the Republican primary electorate, concentrated among non-college-educated whites but not limited to them. They are applying Trump like a wrecking ball against the old political order. And it clearly does not matter to them if their instrument is qualified, honest, stable, knowledgeable, ethical, consistent or honorable.
But why has this group of voters cohered, while other elements of the Republican coalition have fractured?  Some blame compromised Republican leaders who have resolutely refused to do things — such as unilaterally overturning Obamacare — that they actually lack the constitutional power to do. 
Or maybe, as reform conservatives have argued, Republicans have not adequately responded to 25 years of economic dislocation and wage stagnation — challenges faced by blue-collar families that simply don’t yield to a circa-1981 GOP agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.
The problem? All these same arguments were being made by the same people before Trump arrived on the scene. A new and unexpected development in U.S. politics has managed to confirm everything people already believed, suggesting that not much learning is taking place.
Whoever else might be implicated, it is necessary to say that Trump is to blame for Trump. The fact that he is appealing to understandable concerns does not make him a valid or responsible voice.
In a dangerous world, fear is natural. Cynically exploiting fear is an art. And Trump is a Rembrandt of demagoguery.
But this does not release citizens from all responsibility. The theory that voters, like customers, are always right has little to do with the American form of government. The founders had little patience for “pure democracy,” which they found particularly vulnerable to demagogues. “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs,” says Federalist 10, “may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” A representative government is designed to frustrate sinister majorities (or committed pluralities), by mediating public views through “a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.”
Trump is the guy your Founding Fathers warned you about.
With the theory of a presidential nominee as a wrecking ball, we have reached the culmination of the founders’ fears: Democracy is producing a genuine threat to the American form of self-government. Trump imagines leadership as pure act, freed from reflection and restraint. He has expressed disdain for religious and ethnic minorities. He has proposed restrictions on press freedom and threatened political enemies with retribution. He offers himself as the embodiment of the national will, driven by an intuitive vision of greatness. None of this is hidden.
The founders may not have imagined political parties as a check on public passions, but that is the role the GOP must now play — as important as any in its long history. It is late, but not too late. If he loses in Ohio and Florida oMarch 15, Trump may well be held below a majority of delegates at the Cleveland convention. And then this chosen body of citizens should play its perfectly legitimate role and give its nomination to a constructive and responsible leader.

Much of the  column is on point.  However, calls for the GOP as a party to do the responsible thing are, in view, out of touch with reality.  The GOP has nurtured and pandered to the very elements now rallying to Trump - oligarchs, religious extremists, racists, the ignorant, and malcontents - which have come to make up the majority of the party base.  Without the role of the GOP, the current threat would not exist.  Expecting the party to now rein in its Frankenstein monster is fantasy.