Saturday, April 08, 2017

More Saturday Male Beauty

Were Trump's Syrian Air Strikes A Ploy to Distract from the Fact He's in Bed with Putin?

There are few people I trust less than Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer.  Of those who is even less trustworthy, Vladimir Putin would head up the list.  It seems that I am not the only one who wonders about the true motivations behind Trump's air strikes against one Syrian airbase - taking out all of them would have been a more effective deterrent against future chemical weapons attacks - after apparently giving notice to Russia of the coming attack.  Anyone who believes Putin didn't have word passed immediately on to Syrian Dictator Assad is simply delusional.  So what was the real motivation?  Some believe that it was to change the narrative and interrupt the non-stop reporting on Trump/Russia ties.  And, true enough, Putin has played the game and outwardly challenged America actions and a gullible media is in some instances reporting an "end" of a Trump/Putin bromance.  The Independent, a British newspaper looks at this cynical - and probably accurate - analysis.  Here are highlights:
Donald Trump's air strikes on Syria could be a "set piece" concocted in collusion with Moscow to '"kill the narrative he's in bed with Putin", MSNBC political analyst Chris Matthews has claimed.
The Hardball anchor suggested the attacks might have been set up or staged, in the hope of undermining Democratic claims that Russian hacking and espionage swung the 2016 US Presidential election in Mr Trump's favour.
An agreement to prevent clashes between Russia and America in Syrian airspace has now been suspended by the Kremlin, in response to the cruise missile bombardment which destroyed at least nine jets in a Syrian airbase.
[S]peaking on MSNBC, veteran analyst Chris Matthews said: "Maybe it's cynicism but i thought... if there was a way for [Mr Trump] to kill the narrative he's in bed with Putin it would be this.
"Take on Putin's warm freshwater port [in Tartus], take on his satellite, his loyal ally Assad. And that would be a way of saying I was never in bed with this guy, i never planned any kind of coalition in Moscow."
The Russian naval base in Tartus gives Mr Putin vital access to the Eastern Mediterranean basin, allowing for Russian warships and submarines to pass from the Black Sea into Western waters and potentially providing a route to untapped natural gas resources.
It's the only Russian naval base on foreign soil, and maintaining control of Tartus was perhaps the principal reason for Mr Putin's entry into the Syrian arena of war. 
Mr Matthews continued to speculate that Mr Trump and Mr Putin may have "have had a phone-call this evening, and they worked this thing out, and it was a set piece that was not meant to be particularly antagonistic to Moscow."
Russian forces were admittedly warned of the strikes 30 minutes before they took place, using the so-called "deconfliction line" used to prevent clashes between the two superpowers in Syrian airspace.
No Russian casualties have been reported, though their personnel were stationed on the base where six Syrian soldiers lost their lives, along with nine civilians in a neighbouring village.
Am I being too cynical?  Putin and Assad have no problem having people murdered and, in Assad's case that includes children.  Add in malignant narcissist, Trump, and sadly, I believe almost anything foul and duplicitous is a possibility. 

Federal Judges Hail Gavin Grimm as Human Rights Leader

When I received my "Outstanding Virginia" award early in the month, I stood on the stage next to another honoree - Gavin Grimm, the truly amazing transgender teen from Gloucester County, Virginia.  Sadly, Gloucester has proven itself to be a bastion of backwardness and religious extremism that will do little to advance the county economically or socially.  In contrast, Grimm, whom I have known for several years now, shows the bravery and willingness to put one's self in the spotlight that is too often missing in today's society.  The consequence of such cowardice, as has always been the case, is that cowardice becomes complicity and bad things happen to people.  Some of the judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently noted Gavin Grimm's courage and unsought status as a civil rights leader.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post:
Federal appeals court judges on Friday hailed the Virginia transgender teen fighting to use the boy’s restroom at his high school as a courageous civil rights leader even as they lamented that the school year would end without a resolution of his case.
The praise for Gavin Grimm came from two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, who could have issued a short, unsigned order but instead chose to post a five-page memo.
The Supreme Court in March put off a ruling in Grimm’s case after the Trump administration revoked federal guidelines that directed schools to allow transgender students to use a bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The high court sent Grimm’s case back to the Richmond-based 4th Circuit. The appeals court earlier had sided with the teen and deferred to the federal guidelines on transgender rights that had been in place under the Obama administration.
The 4th Circuit announced Friday that Grimm’s case against the Gloucester County School Board would not be heard before he is scheduled to graduate. But Judge Andre M. Davis, a senior judge appointed by Barack Obama in 2009, used a separate court order issued the same day to passionately express his support for Grimm’s legal journey and state his dismay that the legal system sometimes lags behind the realities of people’s lives.
Grimm’s case “is about much more than bathrooms. It’s about a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy. It’s about protecting the rights of transgender people in public spaces and not forcing them to exist on the margins,” wrote Davis, who was joined by Judge Henry F. Floyd, another Obama appointee.
Davis said Grimm would be remembered alongside of other “brave individuals,” including Dred Scott, Fred Korematsu and Mildred and Richard Loving, who “refused to accept quietly the injustices that were perpetuated against them.”
“Today, hatred, intolerance, and discrimination persist — and are sometimes even promoted,” Davis wrote, referring to Grimm by his initials, G.G.
“But by challenging unjust policies rooted in invidious discrimination, G.G. takes his place among other modern-day human rights leaders who strive to ensure that, one day, equality will prevail, and that the core dignity of every one of our brothers and sisters is respected by lawmakers and others who wield power over their lives.”
An attorney for the school board, David Corrigan, declined to comment on the court’s order.
Grimm, who was on spring break this week, said he was honored to be compared to men and women whose names feature prominently in civil rights fights.

Prenatal Hormone Levels and Sexual Orientation - Another Blow to the "Ex-Gay" Myth

New Mexico has joined the small but growing number of states to ban ex-gay torture that has paraded under the disingenuous banner of "conversion therapy" and been a linchpin in the Christofascists' campaign to depict sexual orientation as a choice. I can personally attest after 37 years of trying to "pray away the gay" that it simply does not work and that anyone who claims otherwise is (i) a liar, (ii) possibly looking to line their pockets with money from the religiously brainwashed, and/or (iii) desperately trying to avoid admitting that their own religious tradition has fed them lies.  Science is increasingly exposing the lie of the "ex-gay" myth and even New Mexico's Republican governor (yes, it is shocking) seemly put science and truth ahead of the Christofascist agenda.  Joe Jervis reports in part as follows:
Gov. Susana Martinez has signed legislation that would ban the use on minors of conversion therapy that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure was among dozens signed by the Republican governor as the Friday deadline approached for her to act on legislation passed during the session that ended March 18.
Six other states have banned ex-gay torture: California, Illinois, Oregon, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. Bans have also been adopted in dozens of local municipalities across the country, including in Cincinnati, Seattle, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC.

I can already hear the shrieks and howls coming from the usual suspects at "family values" organizations, including the mistress of hate, Victoria Cobb at The Family Foundation based in Richmond.  Science and medical knowledge moves onward even as the Christofascist seek to slink back in time.  A new study finds yet more evidence that prenatal hormone exposure plays a role in one's ultimate un-chosen sexual orientation.  Indeed, it suggests that common treatments to prevent miscarriage (such as what my own mother underwent) significantly increases the odds that a child will be same sex attracted later in life.  Here are some of the study findings:
Index cases were exposed to lutocyclin (bioidentical progesterone = C21H30O2; MW: 314.46) and no other hormonal preparation. Controls were matched on 14 physical, medical, and socioeconomic variables. A structured interview conducted by a psychologist and self-administered questionnaires were used to collect data on sexual orientation, self-identification, attraction to the same and other sex, and history of sexual behavior with each sex. Compared to the unexposed, fewer exposed males and females identified as heterosexual and more of them reported histories of same-sex sexual behavior, attraction to the same or both sexes, and scored higher on attraction to males.
. . . . regardless of sex, exposure appeared to be associated with higher rates of bisexuality. Prenatal progesterone may be an underappreciated epigenetic factor in human sexual and psychosexual development and, in light of the current prevalence of progesterone treatment during pregnancy for a variety of pregnancy complications, warrants further investigation. These data on the effects of prenatal exposure to exogenous progesterone also suggest a potential role for natural early perturbations in progesterone levels in the development of sexual orientation.

The February special with Katie Couric on the National Geographic Channel  that looked at the transgender Americans addressed the medical findings on what causes one to be transdgender.  The same, of course, applies to the rest of those under the LGBT umbrella.  Nature, not choice or nurture, is what is determinative.  Pretending otherwise only leads to pain, self-hate, and too often, suicide. On this issue, the Bible is simply flat out wrong. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, April 07, 2017

George W. Bush: Keep HIV/AIDS Programs Fully Funded

Perhaps the largest beneficiary of the election of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer,  to the White House is George W. Bush.  Loathed by many when he left the presidency, George W. looks better and batter with each and every passing day.  Had I been asked in say 2005 if I would ever have a softening of my views on George W. Bush, I would have said that Hell would need to freeze over first.  Yet, today in the Washington Post George W. Bush has an op-ed that argues against Der Trumpenführer's proposal to savagely slash funding to HIV/AIDS programs, especially in Africa. Despite his many, many failings, belatedly, George W. seems able to comprehend that others are equally human.  With the ego drive, malignant narcissist in the White House, I truly do not expect to ever see such an evolution and perhaps even sense of sadness over mistakes made. Trump, unfortunately, is foul through and through.  Here are excerpts from George W. Bush's op-ed (we can only hope that Congress listens and rejects Der Trumpenführer's proposed budget cuts:
Last week in Gaborone, Botswana, Laura and I sat in a small room in Tlokweng Main Clinic, a facility that recently started screening and treating women for cervical cancer. Seated with us was Leithailwe Wale, a 40-year-old woman who was diagnosed with the disease. Thanks to early detection and access to treatment, she told us, today she is alive, healthy and able to raise her son.
Good news like Leithailwe’s is becoming increasingly common in five African countries where Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is operating. Since leaving the White House, Laura and I have been heartbroken to learn that because women with HIV are more likely to have cervical cancer, people who had been saved from AIDS were needlessly dying from another treatable, preventable disease. So at the Bush Institute, we formed this global public-private partnership to fight women’s cancers.
In the past six years, more than 370,000 women have been screened for cervical cancer and 24,000 for breast cancer through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon. More than 119,000 girls have been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical and other cancers. Nearly 1,000 health workers have been trained. With the proper resources and international commitment, we could end cervical cancer deaths on the continent in 30 years.
Critical to this effort is our Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partner, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). My administration launched PEPFAR in 2003 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic that threatened to wipe out an entire generation on the continent of Africa. Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against disease. Today, because of the commitment of many foreign governments, investments by partners, the resilience of the African people and the generosity of the American people, nearly 12 million lives have been saved. And nearly 2 million babies have been born HIV-free to infected mothers.
This lifesaving work also has a practical purpose for Americans. Societies mired in disease breed hopelessness and despair, leaving people ripe for recruitment by extremists. When we confront suffering — when we save lives — we breathe hope into devastated populations, strengthen and stabilize society, and make our country and the world safer.
As the executive and legislative branches review the federal budget, they will have vigorous debates about how best to spend taxpayers’ money — and they should. . . . . But they should fully fund programs that have proven to be efficient, effective and results-oriented. Saving nearly 12 million lives is proof that PEPFAR works, and I urge our government to fully fund it. We are on the verge of an AIDS-free generation, but the people of Africa still need our help. The American people deserve credit for this tremendous success and should keep going until the job is done.  
Apparently, Hell is beginning to freeze over.  Kudos to George W. and Laura Bush.  Don't hold you breath for Trump or his spawn to do something like this.

More Friday Male Beauty

Trumpism and the Ugliness of Today's GOP

As I have often noted, I was once a Republican back in the days before the ascendancy of the Christofascists and the white supremacists (the two generally go hand in hand) within the Republican Party.  Indeed, in May of 1999, near the end of my membership in the GOP, I even handled the incorporation of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach at the request of the then moderate City Committee chair who was later ousted by a coup by the hard right.  Since that time the Republican Party at both the state and national level has continued its descent into ugliness and misogyny.   The only true principles of the party now are trashing the environment, attacking the rights of those its base deems "other" - gays and Muslims being two favorite bogeymen - and concocting schemes to shift wealth from the poor and working/middle class to the most wealthy individuals and the nation's large corporations.  Things that were once too reprehensible to say in public discourse even if one thought them in private are now mainstream in the GOP and there seems to be no limit to how low things will go.  The election of Der  Trumpenführer is the culmination of years of malignancy and, despite the media's efforts to depict economic worry as  the motivating factor for Trump voters, the truth is something much uglier.  An op-ed in the New York Times describes the sickness and the party's leader well.  Here are excerpts:
This week’s New York Times interview with Donald Trump was horrifying, yet curiously unsurprising. Yes, the world’s most powerful man is lazy, ignorant, dishonest and vindictive. But we knew that already.
In fact, the most revealing thing in the interview may be Mr. Trump’s defense of Bill O’Reilly, accused of sexual predation and abuse of power: “He’s a good person.” This, I’d argue, tells us more about both the man from Mar-a-Lago and the motivations of his base than his ramblings about infrastructure and trade.
First, however, here’s a question: How much difference has it made, really, that Donald Trump rather than a conventional Republican sits in the White House?
The Trump administration is, by all accounts, a mess. The vast majority of key presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation are unfilled; whatever people are in place are preoccupied with factional infighting. Decision-making sounds more like palace intrigues in a sultan’s seraglio than policy formulation in a republic. And then there are those tweets.
Yet Mr. Trump’s first great policy and political debacle — the ignominious collapse of the effort to kill Obamacare — owed almost nothing to executive dysfunction. . . . . it failed because Republicans have been lying about health care for eight years. So when the time came to propose something real, all they could offer were various ways to package mass loss of coverage.
Similar considerations apply on other fronts. Tax reform looks like a bust, not because the Trump administration has no idea what it’s doing (although it doesn’t), but because nobody in the G.O.P. ever put in the hard work of figuring out what should change and how to sell those changes.
[G]iven what we heard in the interview — basically incoherent word salad mixed with random remarks about transportation in Queens — it’s clear that the administration has no actual infrastructure plan, and probably never will.
True, there are some places where Mr. Trump does seem likely to have a big impact — most notably, in crippling environmental policy. But that’s what any Republican would have done; climate change denialism and the belief that our air and water are too clean are mainstream positions in the modern G.O.P.
[W]hat Trumpism has brought is a new sense of empowerment to the ugliest aspects of American politics.
By now there’s a whole genre of media portraits of working-class Trump supporters (there are even parody versions). You know what I mean: interviews with down-on-their-luck rural whites who are troubled to learn that all those liberals who warned them that they would be hurt by Trump policies were right, but still support Mr. Trump, because they believe that liberal elites look down on them and think they’re stupid. Hmm.
Trump gives outright, unapologetic voice to racism, sexism, contempt for “losers” and so on — feelings that have always been an important source of conservative support, but have long been things you weren’t supposed to talk about openly. . . . Fox News in general, and Mr. O’Reilly in particular, is that they provide a safe space for people who want an affirmation that their uglier impulses are, in fact, justified and perfectly O.K. And one way to think about the Trump White House is that it’s attempting to expand that safe space to include the nation as a whole.
And the big question about Trumpism — bigger, arguably, than the legislative agenda — is whether unapologetic ugliness is a winning political strategy.

Gorsuch: Skeptical That LGBT People Deserve Rights

Today Senate Republicans used the "nuclear option" to kill the filibuster of U.S. Supreme Court nominees so that now justices can be approved for a lifetime appointment by a mere 1 vote majority. The result is that a man who cannot win 60 votes out of 100 will likely be appointed to the Supreme Court tomorrow where he will influence and determine legal rights for all Americans for possibly 30 years or more.  As a potentially swing vote, Gorsuch will literally decide who has legal rights and protections and who will not. Yes, I am aware that Gorsuch received unanimous approval on a voice vote for his appointment to the Court of Appeals as Republicans have disingenuously bloviated over and over again.   The GOP talking points, however, ignore decisions Gorsuch has participated in at the Court of Appeals and other subsequent statements and actions which show him to be unfit for the U.S. Supreme Court.  To me, the telling case was Hobby Lobby where Gorsuch's Court of Appeals opinion - as did the Supreme Court decision - placed legend and myth based religious belief of Christofascists over the civil rights (and physical autonomy rights) of others. A piece in The Advocate looks at Gorsuch's beliefs that LGBT individuals do not deserve equal civil rights.  Here are excerpts:
[T]he Senate will vote on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court against a multilayered backdrop of opposition. Opposition that, for many LGBTQ rights advocates, only increased after Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings. During these hearings, Gorsuch referred to Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that recognized marriage equality, as “settled law.”
This acknowledgement should have come as a relief to many, particularly as the team of people with whom I work at the National Center for Lesbian Rights helped bring this case to the Supreme Court. However, it is cold comfort because after a slew of carefully worded answers, Gorsuch refused to affirm the legal reasoning underlying the court’s interpretation of constitutional protections for the LGBTQ community. Gorsuch has also endorsed the view that religious beliefs can justify discrimination, even when others are harmed. A vote to confirm Gorsuch would jeopardize the LGBTQ community’s hard-won achievement of basic freedom and constitutional rights.
Gorsuch is deeply skeptical of the fundamental constitutional rights recognized by the Supreme Court that ensure fair and equal treatment for LGBTQ people. The fact that the cases striking down antisodomy laws (Lawrence v. Texas) and recognizing marriage equality (Obergefell v. Hodges) have already been decided should not make us complacent. Right now there is a concerted effort by anti-LGBTQ organizations and elected officials to nullify Obergefell by contending that while it may require states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it does not require equal treatment of married same-sex couples. The Arkansas Supreme Court recently issued a decision based on that very argument, holding that Obergefell does not require equal treatment of married same-sex couples with respect to the issuance of birth certificates for their children. And a few weeks ago the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case in which state officials are arguing that Obergefell does not require equal employment benefits for same-sex spouses.
These are real, not hypothetical, concerns, and we have every reason to be gravely concerned that Judge Gorsuch would permit Obergefell and other decisions involving fundamental rights to be effectively nullified were he to be confirmed.
Gorsuch also espouses a breathtakingly broad view of religious liberty, one that allows virtually anyone who expresses a religious objection to opt out of laws with which they disagree. His ruling in the Hobby Lobby case (involving employee access to contraceptive coverage) before it reached the Supreme Court gave no consideration to the employees’ health care needs and instead endorsed a view of “complicity” that is sweeping and alarming. Under his reasoning, a religious objection to doing something that might even very indirectly facilitate conduct that violates the objector’s faith is enough to allow for an opt-out.
Religious refusals have long been a significant problem in the realm of reproductive health care, and we now see such refusals surfacing around nondiscrimination laws and the right to marry, which are core concerns for the LGBTQ community. Private businesses are fighting in court for the right to deny services to same-sex couples, states are introducing laws to allow sweeping religious opt-outs from nondiscrimination laws, and employers are citing Hobby Lobby to justify firing transgender employees. Elevating Gorsuch to the Supreme Court would be a serious setback to the equality of LGBTQ people for which we have all fought so hard.
We fear that with Judge Gorsuch on the bench, this continual exercise of securing freedom for all by applying the Constitution’s “central protections” will be halted and many, including LGBTQ people, would be left out in the cold.

Like far to many heterosexual white males, Gorsuch has no clue of the struggles that face LGBT citizens and other minorities.  Worse yet, from his refusals to answers questions and coy responses to others, the take away is that he simply does not care because they do not impact him.  This lack of empathy and concern for others - or even the ability to recognize them as equally human - has become a hallmark of today's largely Christofascist controlled Republican Party. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, April 06, 2017

More Thursday Male Beauty

Why Are So Many White Americans Dying?

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, we have heard much about the supposed economic angst of white working class Americans.  In addition, a study last year found that mortality rates for working class whites was falling.  America is the only advanced industrial country to see this phenomenon.  It's not happening in "Old Europe" and other modern nations.  I have my own thoughts on the matter and causation: (i) America still has the worse (and most expensive) health care system of any industrialized nation where even with health care coverage, high deductibles force many to not seek medical treatment, (ii) America has the worse social safety net of any advanced nation, (iii) Europeans have far greater job security, and (iv) despite talk of vocational training for the non-college bound, our high school fail in far too many instances to provide real, marketable vocational skills.  The results in a globalized economy are deadly.  To address these problems takes money - something Republicans refuse to spend on American citizens and, indeed, the current crop of congressional Republicans seek to cut funding for all of the above cited needs, making the prospects going forward even worse.  To them, average Americans are disposable trash.  A piece in Politico looks at the problem.  Here are highlights:
It’s a mystery with profound implications for American politics, not to mention public health: Why are so many white people dying?
When economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton released their first bombshell study in 2015, showing that mortality rates were rising for middle-aged white Americans after years of decline, the finding stunned the research world. This wasn’t a global trend—it was a distinctly American phenomenon, Case and Deaton had discovered. Among other races and age groups in Europe, mortality rates had continued to fall. But in the U.S. white people aged 45 to 54 without a college degree were dying sooner, and not from the usual suspects like heart disease and diabetes.
[W]hen Donald Trump won an upset victory in the presidential victory with a message that resonated with those same voters, many turned to Case and Deaton’s research as one possible explanation for his ascendance.
Now Deaton, who won the Nobel Prize in 2015, and Case, his wife and coauthor, are back with a new paper that aims to refine their original findings, digging into the group that’s seeing the largest increases in mortality rates: white people without college degrees, accelerated by what they call deaths of despair, or suicide, alcohol- and drug-related deaths. “Ultimately,” they write, “we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high school educated, working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline.”
[J]ournalists and scholars have voiced concern about the spotlight on white people’s economic problems, which are still, relatively speaking, far smaller than those of, say, African-Americans.
[N]obody is disputing that the United States has a real problem as it struggles to understand the despair in communities left behind by globalization and automation. And, Case argues, the reversal of decades of progress on health among the least educated should be setting a fire under political leaders and policy wonks in both parties as they try to craft real solutions:
[W]hite non-Hispanics stopped making progress on heart disease, which is a big killer in middle age. First progress slowed, then it flatlined, and now it looks like it’s turned in the opposite direction.
[A] [high school] degree seems to be a marker for a lot of dysfunction that we’re seeing. But this new paper shows that the body count is only the tip of the iceberg. People with less than a college degree are reporting a lot more pain, much poorer health, poorer mental health. They’re less likely to be married, they’re less likely to be attached to the labor market, their wages don’t increase with age as quickly as they had in previous generations. So part two is being able to document that these things are happening in sync with each other.
And the third part is the fact that things appear to be getting worse and worse with every successive birth cohort, so that the cohort born in 1980 is having a much harder time on all those dimensions than the cohort born in 1970, who is in turn having a much harder time than the cohort born in 1960.
It used to be the case that with a high school degree, you could get a good job, with potential for on-the-job training and you could expect to have a middle-class life. You could get married, you could have a family. And the kinds of jobs a person can get now with a high school degree are not jobs where there is any up to move to.
[I]n Europe, mortality rates are falling, but they’re falling even more for people on the low end of their education distribution. Their mortality is falling faster than people on the high end of their education distribution. So what are they doing right that we’re not? That’s sort of the question right now. And again, education might just be a marker of something else, but I think it would be wise to look at how the Europeans have actually shouldered the kind of changes in the labor market. You know, they’ve lost a lot of manufacturing jobs to the far East, they’ve weathered the recession, but they haven’t seen the same kind of dysfunction and mortality increases that we’ve seen in the U.S.—so why?
Education is not necessarily what’s driving this, but it is highly correlated with all these bad outcomes that are happening to people. And I think part of that is that your high school degree gets you less far than what it used to, and when that happens, a lot of other bad things follow on.
[W]e see the prescription opioid epidemic as being an accelerant, as making this worse, but we don’t think it’s a root cause. It was happening before the heavy-duty prescription opioids hit the market. It starts at least as far back as 1990—that death rates from deaths of despair start rising—and then you throw prescription opioids into the mix, and it makes things a heck of a lot worse. But it was happening already.
There seem to be two Americas now: one for people who went to college and one for people who didn’t, and that’s going to be truer and truer, regardless of the color of your skin. Whether or not there’s enough political force to bring us back together, I’m really not sure about that.

Gorsuch Would Likely Overrule LGBT Civil Rights Case

As noted in a prior post, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in an en banc ruling held that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred employment discrimination against LGBT individuals.  The court read "sex" to include "sexual orientation" and non-gender conforming behavior.  The ruling conflicts with a decision handed down by the Eleventh Circuit and sets the stage for a case being appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court and makes the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch all the more threatening to LGBT Americans.  In his opinion in the appeals court ruling in the infamous Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch made it clear that he believes that Christian extremist religious beliefs outweigh the rights and health concerns of others.  Moreover, like Antonin Scalia, Gorsuch claims to be a "textualist" and :originalist" which allows him(when convenient, of course) to ignore social change and modern scientific and medical knowledge.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at how Gorsuch's nomination is a threat to LGBT rights and lives.  Here are excerpts:
This week’s appeals-court decision that sex discrimination includes sexual-orientation discrimination is a landmark case.
It also just raised the stakes of the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Because this is just the kind of case that shows how Gorsuch’s “textualism” dictates conservative social policies.
The question at the center of the case is relatively simple. Kim Hively was fired from her job at a community college when someone saw her kissing another woman, and reported it. If that was really the reason she was fired, was it against the law?
Survey after survey has revealed that most Americans think it is. But most Americans are wrong. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers racial and sex discrimination, but it’s never been expanded—despite many attempts—to include sexual orientation or gender identity. The laws in 29 states are similar [including Virginia].
 Hively’s lawyers at Lambda Legal, the leading LGBT-focused activist law firm, argued that if you think about it, she was discriminated on the basis of sex. If a man were seen kissing a woman, he wouldn’t be fired. But because she’s a woman seen kissing a woman, she was. 
That position has been rejected by two other appeals courts, but this week, by an 8-3 vote, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with it, writing “Hively represents the ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype.”
Because of the circuit split, the Hively case, or one just like it, is almost certain to go to the Supreme Court—where, if all goes according to prediction, it will encounter Justice Neil Gorsuch and his philosophy that a judge’s job is to say “what the words on the page mean.”
 That phrase sounds innocent enough, and Gorsuch repeated it over and over again during his confirmation hearing. But the Hively case shows why it’s a con. 
Is “sexual orientation” among the “words on the page” of the Civil Rights Act? No. Was Hively fired for being female? No. Therefore, according to the “textualists,” she loses.
Now let’s come back to Hively. We know that the “words on the page” are ambiguous; that’s why there’s a lawsuit. So how do we understand discrimination on the basis of sex? Hively was doing something that, if she were a man, would have been totally unobjectionable. But because she’s a woman, she gets fired. Isn’t that sex discrimination?
Moreover, Hively’s claim is based on actions, not identity. She’s not claiming that her sexual orientation got her fired; she’s claiming that certain acts in which she engaged did. That’s actually a crucial difference. Hively isn’t making her case as a lesbian; she’s making her case as a woman who did something that her boss thinks a woman shouldn’t do.
[R]easonable people can disagree about how to interpret the Civil Rights Act in this kind of case. But one thing is for sure: The “words on the page” are the beginning, not the end, of the inquiry. If the words on the page were so clear, there’d be no need for judges.
Hively being decided just as Gorsuch’s nomination is being debated highlights what’s at stake for the Supreme Court, and why the non-confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland is not water under the bridge. If Gorsuch is confirmed, the case will, like so many others, come down to Justice Kennedy deciding whether to side with the court’s four liberals or the court’s four conservatives.
And if the next justice to retire is one of those liberals, or Kennedy himself, cases like Hively are open and shut. That’s why, absent some kind of last-minute compromise, Democrats are going to the mat to block Gorsuch, no matter how nice of a guy he is.
To laypeople watching the hearings, Gorsuch’s aw-shucks manner and plain-spoken appeals to the “words on the page” seem like good old common sense. But they aren’t that at all—they’re an ideology that leads to very specific, very conservative results.  And women like Kim Hively pay the price.
I take employment discrimination very personally.   When I first came out as gay after being married to a woman and having three children, I was with a relatively prominent Norfolk law firm and making good money.  While some of my partners were not thrilled with having a gay partner, nothing adverse happened to me.  Later, that firm was basically acquired by a larger law firm based in the area and the powers that be at that firm did not want to have a gay partner in the firm out of deference for "the sensibilities of the firm's conservative clients."   Naturally, when I was forced from the firm, things were worded differently, but when confronted by the attorney I had hired, the true cause was never denied.  At the time this happened, I still had a child in college and a child still in high school and a family to support.  Of course, no consideration was given to them or me the anti-gay bigots involved.  All that mattered were the purported religious beliefs of unnamed clients.  What was the impact on me?  Financially, it devastating and ultimately I was forced to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  At that time period in Hampton Roads, there were no "out" partners in any larger law firm - there still aren't any to my knowledge - and I was basically unemployable.   Emotionally, things were just as brutal for me and my children.  In fact, I engaged in two serious suicide attempts during the ongoing nightmare.  

Judge Gorsuch can play his word games and textualism all he wants, but the bottom line is that he is a threat to real people and real families and real lives.  

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Will Revived GOP Health Care Effort Bring Back Preexisting Condition Bars?

Those who have felt safer in the wake of the Republican Party's failure to pass legislation to repeal and "replace" Obamacare need to still be afraid.  Efforts are stirring among House Republicans to have another go at "reform" and the consequences could be that the health insurance market would return to much of its pre-Obamacare nature: those with preexisting conditions could be excluded from policy coverage and those with health problems could see premium costs soar to a point where any tax credits awarded under the GOP plan would barely scratch the costs of coverage.  To use a term the GOP coined, insurance companies would become death panels largely determining who gets treatment and who dies.  The main force behind the effort id the "conservative" House Freedom Caucus, a group that espouses respect for Christian values but which obviously has cast aside the Gospel message of caring for the sick.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the foul proposals brewing in the House of Representatives.  Here are excerpts: 
Monday night, word emerged that the White House and the group of conservative lawmakers known as the Freedom Caucus had discussed a proposal to revive the bill. But the proposed changes would effectively cast the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing conditions provision aside.
The terms, described by Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and the head of the Freedom Caucus, are something like this: States would have the option to jettison two major parts of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance regulations. They could decide to opt out of provisions that require insurers to cover a standard, minimum package of benefits, known as the essential health benefits. And they could decide to do away with a rule that requires insurance companies to charge the same price to everyone who is the same age, a provision called community rating.
The proposal is not final, but Mr. Meadows told reporters after the meeting that his members would be interested in such a bill. To pass the House, any bill would need to find favor not just with the Freedom Caucus, but also with more moderate Republicans. It would also need to attract the support of nearly every Republican in the Senate to become law.
The ability to opt out of the benefit requirements could substantially reduce the value of insurance on the market. A patient with cancer might, for example, still be allowed to buy a plan, but it wouldn’t do her much good if that plan was not required to cover chemotherapy drugs.
The second opt-out would make the insurance options for those with pre-existing conditions even more meaningless.
Technically, the deal would still prevent insurers from denying coverage to people with a history of illness. But without community rating, health plans would be free to charge those patients as much as they wanted. If both of the Obamacare provisions went away, the hypothetical cancer patient might be able to buy only a plan, without chemotherapy coverage, that costs many times more than a similar plan costs a healthy customer. Only cancer patients with extraordinary financial resources and little interest in the fine print would sign up.
There is a reason that many conservatives want to do away with these provisions. Because they help people with substantial health care needs buy relatively affordable coverage, they drive up the price of insurance for people who are healthy. An insurance market that did not include cancer care — or even any cancer patients — would be one where premiums for the remaining customers were much lower. The result might be a market that is much more affordable for people with a clean bill of health. But it would become largely inaccessible to anyone who really needs help paying for medical care.
We do not have to speculate to know what the world looks like without essential health benefits and community rating. It was how most state insurance markets worked before Obamacare. Back in 2009, most sick people who did not get insurance through work or a government program were excluded from coverage if they had a history of health problems like allergies or arthritis. Plans that did not cover pregnancy care or drug addiction treatment were widespread.
[I]nsurance in the old high-risk pools tended to be expensive, and often came with long waiting periods or benefit limitations, even for the very sick.
What states would choose to do with this set of options is hard to predict. Before Obamacare, few states required community rating of health plans. And few states required insurers to cover all of the benefits deemed essential under Obamacare, though most did require a few types of treatments to be covered. State governments would face a difficult choice: either take away the requirements, and leave sick patients without insurance options, or keep them and see people unable to afford coverage under the new subsidy system.
Mr. Meadows said that the proposal presented to the Freedom Caucus would retain the pre-existing conditions policy. But that would be true in only the most literal sense. The mix of policies could allow insurance companies to charge sick people prices that few of them could pay. And it could allow them to exclude benefits that many healthy people need when they get sick. The result could be a world where people with pre-existing conditions would struggle to buy comprehensive health insurance — just like before Obamacare.

As I have argued for some time, the only real solution is a single payer system like the rest of the advanced world utilizes that would take the power of life and death away from insurance companies.  It is really that simple. 

7th Circuit: 1964 Civil Rights Law Prohibits Anti-LGBT Discrimination

In the face of a growing Trump/Pence/GOP onslaught against LGBT Americans, the full Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, a fairly conservative court, handed down a ruling that the 1964 Civil Rights Act bars anti-LGBT discrimination. The ruling is the direct opposite from that reached by a three judge panel of the 11th Circuit based in Atlanta.  The conflicting rulings set the stage for a possible case reaching the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the split in the Circuits.  Arguably, an en banc ruling such as that of the 7th Circuit holds more precedent but is not binding outside of the states located within the 7th Circuit.  A piece in Star Tribune looks at the ruling that could rile the waters for anti-LGBT Republicans and their Christofascist puppeteers (more coverage is in the Indianapolis Star here).  Here are excerpts:
A federal appeals court ruled for the first time Tuesday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBT employees from workplace discrimination, setting up a likely battle before the Supreme Court as gay rights advocates push to broaden the scope of the 53-year-old law.
The decision by the full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago comes just three weeks after a three-judge panel in Atlanta ruled the opposite, saying employers aren't prohibited from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation.
The case stems from a lawsuit by Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively alleging that the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend didn't hire her full time because she is a lesbian.
Hively said she agreed to bring the case because she felt she was being "bullied."
She told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the time has come "to stop punishing people for being gay, being lesbian, being transgender."
The Chicago ruling followed a so-called en banc hearing of all the judges in the appeals court, with eight agreeing that the civil rights law prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation, and three dissenting. The vote is notable because the 7th Circuit is considered a relatively conservative appeals court. Eight out of the 11 judges were appointed by Republican presidents.
The issue could still land before the Supreme Court at some point. A GOP-majority House and Senate make it unlikely the Congress will amend the Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and requires equal access to public places and employment.
The debate in the Hively case revolved around the meaning of the word 'sex' in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Some courts have concluded that Congress meant for the word to refer only to whether a worker was male or female. They said that it would be wrong to stretch the meaning of 'sex' in the statute to also include sexual orientation.
The lawyer representing the teacher, Gregory Nevins of the Lambda Legal advocacy group of LGBT rights, pointed to what he described as the absurdity of a 1980s Supreme Court finding that if workers are discriminated against because they don't behave around the office by norms of how men or women should behave, then that does violate the Civil Rights Law. But if a man or woman is discriminated against at work for being gay that was found not to violate the Civil Rights Act.
"You can't discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos," he said. "But you can if she's lesbian."

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

GOP "Moderate" Ed Gillespie Thinks Virginia Needs an HB2-Style Bathroom Bill

The myth that "moderate" Republicans still exist is just that, a myth.  The base of the Republican Party has become so extreme that no moderate in the traditional sense of the word can secure nomination to run for office.  A case in point is GOP gubernatorial candidate, Ed Gillespie.  On the same day that I was receiving an "Outstanding Virginian" award from Equality Virginia,at the Amherst County GOP Dinner, the  leading “moderate” GOP gubernatorial candidate, Ed Gillespie, parroted the Christofascist scare tactic against the transgender community and argued that Virginia needs a "bathroom bill" like North Carolina's heinous HB2 (which also repealed non-discrimination protections for gays and other minorities).  According to Gillespie, such bills seek to stop recognition of gender identity which he described as follows: 
"It's about compelling teenage girls to share locker room showers with teenage boys. It’s about compelling teenage girls to have to stay in a hotel with a teenage boy on an overnight band trip. And the fact is, we have to make clear, that we are going to protect our children from that. We are not going to allow for that to happen.”
In short, according to Gillespie, letting transgender people use the restroom or other public services aligned with their gender identity will somehow lead to sexual assaults.   Never mind, the fact that there are ZERO reported instances of sexual impropriety on the part of transgender individuals in restrooms.  Of course, the same cannot be said for numerous GOP elected officials at all levels of elected office.   Here are highlights from GayRVA on Gillespie's foul statements:
The Amherst County GOP Dinner this past weekend played host to the state’s three GOP gubernatorial candidates and while scientifically inaccurate answers could be expected from the two trailing candidates, the leading “moderate,” Ed Gillespie, shared a similarly base-less scare tactic against the trans community.
“This isn’t about bathrooms alone,” Gillespie (top image) said in a video sent to GayRVA when asked about how Virginia should handle bathroom use by transgender people in relation to North Carolina’s HB2.
Gillespie’s parroted arguments continue the conservative right’s mantra on inclusive bathroom laws; that letting trans people use the restroom or other public services aligned with their gender identity will some how lead to sexual assaults.
If you look at the history of the topic, you’ll actually find more GOP law makers have been arrested for sexual misconduct in restrooms than trans people.
Similar attempts to legislate restrooms in Virginia over the last few GA sessions have failed before they got out of committee – a sign which might point to state leadership realizing the hot-button issue isn’t worth tainting the Commonwealth’s reputation over. And then there’s the economic impact, like in North Carolina where the state has already lost hundreds of millions and is set to lose even more despite their half-assed attempt to repeal the law.
But there’s another argument that, should a Republican win the state’s executive seat, such a law would sail through the House and Senate and find its way to a more willing Governor’s desk. Gillespie has just exposed himself as that – a mean spirited bully who puts fear and rhetoric ahead of the lives and businesses a Governor is suppose to protect.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, both primary candidates Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former Roanoke Congressman Tom Perriello have promised to veto any anti-LGBTQ legislation that reaches their desk including laws that limit bathroom use.