Saturday, May 06, 2017

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Trumpcare: American Conservatism Doesn't Gives a Damn About Others

As I have often noted, I grew up in a family with long ties to the Republican Party.  For eight (8) years I held a City Committee seat for the City Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach which I actually incorporated back in the 1990's.  But the Republican Party changed from what it had once been in the days of my parents and grand parents.  The catalyst for the change in my view, the Christofascists who deliberately and steadily infiltrated to local city and county committees, with foolish moderates voting extremists on to such committees. and thinking that they could still maintain control.  As this occurred the party morphed into a sectarian party with slavish obedience to Christofascists and falsely labeled "family values" organization which in reality were hate groups and veiled white supremacy groups.  The intertwining of Christian extremism and civil laws got to the point where I could no longer remain a part of the deepening cancer and resigned, stating that until the concept of separation of church and state was again recognized, I could no longer be a Republican.  Things have only worsened in the years since.   Now the party that claims devotion to "Christian values" has become a party of hate and utter mistreatment of the less fortunate.   The healthcare bill passed by House Republicans exemplifies the moral sickness that is now mainstream in the GOP.  Andrew Sullivan sums up the situation well and why many of us are now former Republicans:
You might think Obamacare would violate my generally conservative principles, but it didn’t. In fact, it seemed to me to be an effective marriage of conservative principles and, well, human decency. The decency part comes from not blaming or punishing the sick for their condition. The conservative part comes from the incremental nature of the reform, and its reliance on the private sector to provide a public good. For good measure, it actually saved the government money, and it slowed soaring health-care costs. The exchanges, with predictable early hiccups, largely worked — a case study in the benefits of market competition. The law allowed for experiments to test how efficient health care could be. It even insisted on personal responsibility by mandating individual coverage. And the concept of insurance is not socialism; it’s a matter simply of pooling risk as widely as possible. If any European conservative party were to propose such a system, it would be pilloried as a far-right plot. And yet the Republican Party opposed it with a passion that became very hard for me to disentangle from hatred of Obama himself.
The Trump GOP’s attempt to abolish it is therefore, to my mind, neither conservative nor decent. It’s reactionary and callous. Its effective abandonment of 95 percent of us with preexisting conditions will strike real terror in a lot of people’s hearts. Its gutting of Medicaid will force millions of the poor to lose health care almost altogether. It will bankrupt the struggling members of the working and middle classes who find themselves in a serious health crisis. It could hurt Republicans in the midterms —though that will be cold comfort for the countless forced into penury or sickness because of Trump’s desire for a “win.” But it’s clarifying for me. It forces me to back a Democratic Party I don’t particularly care for. And it destroys any notion I might have had that American conservatism gives a damn about the vulnerable. It really is a deal-breaker for me. I hope many others feel exactly the same way.

Thankfully, the U.S. Senate has made it clear that the House bill is not acceptable, but be prepared for Republicans to continue to try to include its most hideous aspects.  Meanwhile, as Trump/Republican voting "Christians" pack the pews in church tomorrow morning, understand that it is all a charade. Such people are not adherents of the Gospel message.  They do not give a damn about others.  Hate, greed and vile treatment of others are the real basis of their "faith."  No wonder the numbers of "Nones" are growing rapidly. 

Bermuda Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage

The Reefs - a Bermuda hotel once owned by friends

Equality has finally won out in Bermuda as the island nation's Supreme Court struck down bans on same sex marriage.  Sadly, as is the case in a number of Caribbean island nations - although Bermuda is in the Atlantic Ocean - ignorance embracing and reactionary religious beliefs were for too long allowed to deprive others of civil rights.   The husband and I were in Bermuda as part of a cruise in 2015 and found the country to be beautiful and an attractive destination but for its legalized discrimination against same sex couples.   What was the most ironic is that the country desperately wants in increase is tourism industry which has declined due to the growing popularity of cruises yet had a "Not Welcome" sign of sorts for LGBT tourists - a group that has been documented to stay longer and spend more than straight tourists.  The Royal Gazette looks at this welcomed development:
A gay couple have won a landmark legal ruling that paves the way for same-sex marriage in Bermuda.
Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé, Greg DeRoche, embarked on their fight for equal rights after the Registrar-General rejected their application to marry on the island.
They took their case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Human Rights Act took primacy in Bermuda and protected their right to marry.
Yesterday a packed courtroom in the Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building erupted into spontaneous applause after Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled in the couple’s favour.
“The common law definition of marriage, that marriage is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, and its reflection in the Marriage Act section 24 and the Matrimonial Clauses Act section 15 (c) are inconsistent with the provisions of the Human Rights Act as they constitute deliberate different treatment on the basis of sexual orientation,” Mrs Justice Simmons said.
“In so doing the common law discriminates against same-sex couples by excluding them from marriage and more broadly speaking the institution of marriage.
“On the facts of this case the applicants were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation when the Registrar refused to process their notice of intended marriage.
“Same-sex couples denied access to marriage laws and entry into the institution of marriage have been denied what the Human Rights Commission terms a “basket of goods”, that is rights of a spouse contained in numerous enactments of Parliament.”
She added: “The applicants are entitled to an Order of Mandamus compelling the Registrar to act in accordance with the requirements of the Marriage Act and a Declaration that same-sex couples are entitled to be married under the Marriage Act 1944.”
Mr Godwin described the ruling as a big step in the right direction and told The Royal Gazette that he and Mr DeRoche would be resubmitting their application to marry to the Registrar-General “within days”.
“It has been a long time coming,” he said. “This ruling, although it was in our favour ... there is still so much more to do in Bermuda.
“Hopefully, this brings forward hope and courage for those who were or are afraid to speak up or come out. This is a moment we are proud of and will never forget.”
Meanwhile, yesterday’s 48-page judgment was welcomed by the Rainbow Alliance who declared the ruling as victory for all same-gender loving people in Bermuda. The group said “history has been made and love has won”.
Senator Jeff Baron, the Minister of National Security, added: “Today’s ruling affirms that equality is for all — regardless of who you love, what you look like or who you pray to. And equality, when it’s real, isn’t conditional. Let’s acknowledge that there’s a tremendous amount of work to do, right here at home, to move barriers and heal our community. Let’s keep working together, let’s build this community of supporters and champions for equality.
“And despite hurtful attacks let us reach across and engage the most sceptical citizens and show them that Bermudian values; values of love, respect and inclusiveness, can be found in every corner of this island.”
Jamaica needs to take heed of what has happened in Bermuda and end its legalized homophobia.  I'd love to go back to Jamaica, but that will not happen until that countries anti-gay laws change. 

Is Putin Trying To Reprise a Stolen Election in France?

Putin and Le Pen - both enemies of democracy

For the record, I continue to believe that Russian dictator - that is, after all, what he is - Vladimir Putin helped steal the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump and that it is very likely that the Trump campaign cooperated with that effort.  Now, the same effort seems to be taking place in France where on the eve of the presidential run off election a massive dump of hacked documents has taken place with the apparent goal of damaging Emmanuel Macron and throwing the election to neo-fascist Marine Le Pen.  Le Pen has very open ties to Putin and her political party has even received funding from Putin's government and henchmen.  One would hope that French voters will be smarter than many angry white voters were and will see the hacking and document dump for what it is and run screaming away from La Pen.  If not, expect Putin to try to steal Germany's election next.  The irony in all of this is that the would be authoritarian rulers claim that are out to protect traditional values and the common citizen, yet as the House GOP's Trumpcare bill reveals, that is the furthest thing from the truth.  The House GOP's bill basically tells millions to just get sick and die and do the wealthy and the oligarchs a favor by doing so.  The New York Times looks at what can only be a Russian effort to undermine and destroy France's democracy.  Here are excerpts (note that fake documents were mixed in with real ones to dupe voters and lazy journalists):
PARIS — On the eve of the most consequential French presidential election in decades, the staff of the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron said late Friday that the campaign had been targeted by a “massive and coordinated” hacking operation, one with the potential to destabilize the nation’s democracy before voters go to the polls on Sunday.
The digital attack, which involved a dump of campaign documents including emails and accounting records, emerged hours before a legal prohibition on campaign communications went into effect. While the leak may be of little consequence, the timing makes it extremely difficult for Mr. Macron to mitigate any damaging fallout before the runoff election, in which he faces the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who has pledged to pull France out of the euro and hold a referendum to leave the European Union.
The hacking immediately evoked comparisons to last year’s presidential election in the United States, during which American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, ordered an “influence campaign” to benefit the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.
Groups linked to Russia, that are also believed to have been involved in the hacking related to the 2016 United States presidential campaign, have previously been accused of trying to breach the Macron organization. Security experts tracking the activity of suspected Russian hackers say they believe those same groups were involved in this latest attack.
In a statement, the Macron campaign said the hackers had mixed fake documents along with authentic ones, “to sow doubt and misinformation.”
The Macron campaign said the documents leaked Friday were stolen several weeks ago after the personal and professional emails of staff members at En Marche, his political movement, were hacked.
It was not the first reported hacking attempt of Mr. Macron’s campaign. In April, a report by the cybersecurity firm Trend Micro said there was evidence that the campaign was targeted in March by what appeared to be the same Russian operatives who were responsible for hacks of Democratic campaign officials before last year’s American presidential election. Mr. Macron’s campaign said the attack was unsuccessful.
Vitali Kremez, the director of research at Flashpoint, a business risk intelligence company in New York, said he suspected the involvement of a Russian-linked espionage operation known as APT28. “The key goals and objectives of the campaign appear to be to undermine Macron’s presidential candidacy and cast doubt on the democratic electoral process in general,” he said.
“If indeed driven by Moscow, this leak appears to be a significant escalation over the previous Russian operations aimed at the U.S. presidential election, expanding the approach and scope of effort from simple espionage efforts towards more direct attempts to sway the outcome,” Mr. Kremez added.
Security researchers who have been tracking APT28, also known as Fancy Bear, say it has been moving aggressively against NATO members and a variety of Western targets using various hacking tools, including so-called spear-phishing attacks, but also through the exploitation of vulnerabilities in technologies that allow hackers to invade their targets undetected by security software.
The National Commission for Control of the Electoral Campaign, a regulatory body, said it was contacted by the Macron campaign on Friday night. The commission, which planned to meet on Saturday about the hacking, urged the news media to be cautious in its reporting.
“It therefore asks the media, and in particular their websites, not to report on the content of these data, recalling that the dissemination of false information is liable to fall within the scope of the law — in particular criminal law,” the commission said.
The Macron campaign appealed to journalists to not do the hackers’ bidding by widely publicizing the contents of the emails.
Given what is known about Russia's involvement and Putin's goals of an ascendant Russia at the expense of Europe and America, I cannot fathom why anyone sane would vote for someone favored by Putin.  

On a different note, criminal hacking is not only occurring in the political realm.  More and more businesses and law firms are targets with the goal being to steal trade secrets and steal monies in trust accounts.  Nationwide, millions of dollars have been stolen from law firm trust accounts through hacked e-mails and altered wire instructions. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, May 05, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Will the Politicization of Churches Backfire?

Trump and Christofascists/hate merchants James Dobson and Tony Perkins
As noted, Donald Trump's "religious liberty" executive order has left the anti-gay forces among the Christofascist hugely disappointed.  The longed for exemption of Christofascists from non-discrimination laws and ordinances did not materialize.  What the hate merchants did receive was purported cover for right wing churches to openly engage in political activities - not that many weren't already doing so on a de facto basis anyways.  Here in Virginia, The Family Foundation, perhaps the leading hate group in Virginia, has for years operated a network with conservative churches and pastors and pushed these churches to vigorously work for TFF's regressive and theocratic agenda.   Thus, the executive order may not result in any change in the reality on the ground that much.   More importantly, it may accelerate the exodus from Christianity and religion in general that is sweeping the country.  I have long thought that despite a uptick in aggressiveness and stridency, long term the Christofascists may be one of the most powerful elements in the death of Christianity.  A piece in Salon looks at this possibility.  Here are highlights:
Thursday, on the National Day of Prayer, Donald Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” . . . . The final draft of the order, however, was a drastic rewriting. All the LGBT-specific attacks were taken out and abortion was not mentioned, though the new order does direct federal officials to consider changing health care regulations in order to stop insurance coverage of contraception for huge swaths of women. Instead, in a somewhat surprising move, the executive order largely focuses on undermining a law meant to discourage religious authorities from using their powers to influence elections.
This move is obviously meant as a giveaway to leaders of the religious right, who did so much to help elect Trump, and also as a way for Republicans to consolidate power by allowing conservative Christian pastors even more leeway to pressure their congregants to vote Republican. But this power grab could well backfire on the Christian right. Instead of drumming up more votes for Republicans, breaking down barriers between church and state may end up driving even more people out of the churches entirely.
Trump’s executive order doesn’t change the law — that would take an act of Congress. But it officially discourages the IRS from auditing or fining religious organizations and churches that may be in violation of it. . . . . it’s a solution looking for a problem. There’s no evidence that churches are being treated especially harshly by the IRS.
Still, the release of this executive order and all the publicity around it could encourage ministers, especially those of the fundamentalist variety, to get even bolder when it comes to campaigning from the pulpit. That’s where there’s a good chance this whole effort could backfire. There’s a fair amount of evidence to suggest that churches that become more political and conservative aren’t recruiting more people to the right-wing cause, and in fact may be driving people away.
One of the biggest social trends of the past decade is the rapid growth of the “nones” — people with no affiliation to organized religion — which is particularly pronounced with younger Americans. Both Pew Research and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) have found that up to a quarter of Americans don’t identity with any religious tradition at all, up from 6 percent in 1991. Four out of 10 Americans under the age of 30 are unchurched.
But where it gets really interesting is when one starts looking at the reasons why. Most nonreligious people — 78 percent, according to Pew Research — were raised in a religion and abandoned it in adulthood. While most simply say they no longer believe, there is some evidence that distaste for the religious right has had a significant impact.
According to PRRI, nearly 30 percent of those who have left a church cite their disapproval of religious homophobia as a reason. Sixteen percent say their churches became too political and 19 percent cite the clergy sex abuse scandal.
Sixty-six percent of nonbelievers in the PRRI survey agreed with the statement that “religion causes more problems in society than it solves.”
Encouraging ministers and priests to become more belligerent and more repressive in their politics, in the face of these rapid changes in religious affiliation and religious attitudes, is not likely to gain converts to the conservative cause. It’s probably just going to make more people who were already feeling uneasy with the conservative bent of much of Christianity to choose to leave their churches, and quite possibly to abandon religion altogether.
[P]olling data shows that most Americans think it’s a good idea to keep churches away from direct political campaigning. Pew Research polling shows that 66 percent of American respondents support the Johnson amendment.
Perhaps, then, atheists should be the ones celebrating this executive order. Legally, Trump’s latest order is largely toothless, but culturally, it’s only likely to accentuate the aspects of religion Americans like the least, namely the controlling and reactionary aspects of it. That, in turn, will encourage more Americans to use their Sunday mornings for sleeping and shopping, rather than enduring political lectures from conservative religious pastors.

Let's hope that by giving them a portion of what they want, Trump will have unwittingly accelerated their long term demise. 

Trump Punts on Anti-Gay "Religious Freedom" Executive Order

While the news of the House of Representatives vote on Trumpcare yesterday was depressing.  On a more positive note, the "religious freedom" executive order signed by Der Trumpenführer, while troubling, failed to include the license to discriminate demanded by Christofascists and their political prostitutes in Congress.  To say that the Christofascists and professional Christian class (who live well by peddling hate and division - think Tony Perkins and Brian brown as but two examples) are livid livid is an understatement.    Here's a taste of Brian Brown's shrieking:
This is the second time that President Trump has backed away from signing a comprehensive order protecting religious liberty after LGBT groups complained about the proposed actions. We cannot accept this capitulation on such a critical issue and must fight back. Will you help us insist that President Trump fulfill his repeated promises to protect the religious liberty of people of faith?

By "help us" Brown means send money so that he can continue to make over $500,000 a year. Brown was far from alone in his wailing and lamentations over Trump's failure to exempt Christofascists from non-discrimination laws and ordinances.  American Family Association hate monger Bryan Fischer was equally peeved and blamed Ivanka Trump and her Jewish husband for Der Trumpenführer's betrayal:
These are essentially hollow promises on the president’s part. No church has ever been deprived of its tax exempt status using the Johnson Amendment. . . . the gravest concern is aroused by what the president did not say. The draft of this executive order that was leaked to the liberal media in February contained robust protections for Christians engaged in business from being compelled by government to violate their own values and consciences in showdowns with the radical, vitriolic, and virulently aggressive LGBT lobby.  This morning’s empty and symbolic action on the president’s part most likely betrays the hidden hand of the president’s uber-liberal daughter, Ivanka, who likely leaked the February draft to a liberal rag (The Nation) in order to stir up enough intense outrage from the LGBT community to strangle this baby in the cradle. It worked. Ivanka wore out her red pencil eviscerating the original order, leaving us with today’s order which has very nice language but is virtually entirely lacking in substance. 

While Trump has delivered on some of his promises made to Christofascists, today's failure to include the much demanded anti-LGBT provisions underscores the reality that Christofascists and evangelical Christians are Motivated by two things: racism and homophobia.  In their strange bubble detached from objective reality and moral decency, they believe that the rest of society harbors similar hatreds.  That bubble is about to burst.  A full one-third  of the under 30 generation has left organized religion and many older Americans are following suit.  A piece in Sojourner looks at this reality.  Here are excerpts:

Last Friday, Jerry Falwell, Jr. took to Fox News to proclaim that in Donald Trump, “evangelicals have found their dream president.” Two years ago, this statement would have made virtually no sense, at least on the surface. To many outside the white evangelical world, it seemed — and still seems — inconceivable that a thrice-married serial adulterer, ultimate materialist, casino owner, habitual liar, and unprincipled deal-maker could ever become the standard bearer for a group that professes to base their vote on “family values.”
In the two years since Trump announced his candidacy, we have seen a remarkable moral unmasking of white Americans who call themselves Christian, and in particular those who claim the “evangelical” label. Eighty-one percent of white evangelical voters cast their vote for Donald Trump, and the most recent Pew Research poll puts Trump’s support after his first 100 days in office at 78 percent among white evangelicals (and 80 percent among white evangelicals who attend church once a month).
In supporting Trump’s crackdowns and, in Trump's words, “big" and "beautiful” wall that will keep immigrants out, Falwell is explicitly and proudly saying that white evangelicals voted for Trump not in spite of his racist and xenophobic rhetoric about undocumented immigrants, but because of this rhetoric. How that relates to Christians, including evangelicals, who are in direct relationship to the undocumented immigrants and refugees that Trump wants to deport or keep out of our country, Falwell didn’t say.
Falwell also didn’t mention that Trump’s agenda and proposed budget would brutally cut off vital support to all “the least of these” that Jesus asks us to protect in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. . . . . Jerry Falwell Jr. has once again shown himself to be nothing more or less than a Republican political operative, interested in advancing his preferred policy agenda much more than examining what it means to be a Christian.
This is about the moral hypocrisy of white American evangelical religious right leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. causing a crisis in the church, dividing American Christians on racial lines, and astonishing the worldwide body of Christ — the international majority of evangelical Christians who are people of color — and whose leaders keep asking many of us what in the world is going on with white American evangelicals.
That number, 81 percent, has become an international symbol that tragically now represents what white American evangelicalism stands for. It dramatically and painfully symbolizes the white ethno-nationalism that Donald Trump appeals to and continues to draw support from among white American evangelicals. It is the most revealing and hurtful metric of what I will call the racial idolatry of white American evangelical Christianity . . . . .

Racism is not a gospel issue to the Falwells, and never has been. That Donald Trump began his political career with a racist lie about America’s first black president isn’t an issue for Falwell, Jr. That Trump opened his campaign by demonizing immigrants in calling them “rapists” and “criminal” doesn’t matter to Jr. either. And Trump’s xenophobic assaults on Muslims seems to be something that Falwell. also agrees with, as his comments at the Liberty University convocation in 2015 indicate. 

That Trump is the dream president for people like Falwell and such a nightmare for the vast majority of evangelical, Pentecostal, and Catholic Christians around the world, and our brothers and sisters of color in the United States, really says it all.
This stark contrast reveals white evangelical Christianity in America as a bubble — a very destructive one, and one that is about to burst.
I hope the bubble bursts soon and that it accelerates the de-legitimization of conservative Christianity as a positive moral force in society.  Conservative Christianity is a pestilence that needs to be removed from society.  No deference is deserved and the media needs to cease providing a platform to Christofascist leaders and granting a false equivalency to their beliefs. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, May 04, 2017

The Republican Assault on the Middle Class, Poor and Elderly

As Republicans were jubilant today over the House of Representative's passage of the American Health Care Act - Trumpcare or Ryancare in common parlance - several thoughts crossed my mind, not the least of which is the utter hypocrisy of Republicans lying through their teeth to claim that no one would lose coverage, that no one will have benefits cut, and that premium costs will fall. Obviously, these legislators are following the Hitler/Goebbels model: lie often enough and people will begin to believe the lie.  The reality is, however, that everyday experience of average Americans will reveal the depravity of House Republicans and the depth of the lie.   The dishonesty of House Republicans should come as no surprise for those who have followed the transformation of the GOP into a sectarian party controlled by greedy billionaires and evangelical/fundamentalist Christians. From decades in politics, no one, and I mean no one in modern day America lies more than the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian crowd.  By the same token, few groups in American society are so infused with greed and selfishness than the "godly folk."  A piece in the Washington Post looks at what the reality will be if today's hideous bill passes the U.S.  Senate (which is thankfully, a long shot).  Here are article highlights.  
I won’t mince words. The health-care bill that the House of Representatives passed this afternoon, in an incredibly narrow 217-to-213 vote, is not just wrong, or misguided, or problematic or foolish. It is an abomination. If there has been a piece of legislation in our lifetimes that boiled over with as much malice and indifference to human suffering, I can’t recall what it might have been. And every member of the House who voted for it must be held accountable.
There’s certainly a process critique one can make about this bill. We might focus on the fact that Republicans are rushing to pass it without having held a single hearing on it, without a score from the Congressional Budget Office that would tell us exactly what the effects would be, and before nearly anyone has had a chance to even look at the bill’s actual text — all this despite the fact that they are remaking one-sixth of the American economy and affecting all of our lives . . .
We might talk about how every major stakeholder group — the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the AARP, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, and on and on — all oppose the bill.
But the real problem is what’s in the bill itself. Here are some of the things it does:
  • Takes health insurance away from at least 24 million Americans; that was the number the CBO estimated for a previous version of the bill, and the number for this one is probably higher.
  • Revokes the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which provided no-cost health coverage to millions of low-income Americans.
  • Turns Medicaid into a block grant, enabling states to kick otherwise-eligible people off their coverage and cut benefits if they so choose.
  • Slashes Medicaid overall by $880 billion over 10 years.
  • Removes the subsidies that the ACA provided to help middle-income people afford health insurance, replacing them with far more meager tax credits pegged not to people’s income but to their age. Poorer people would get less than they do now, while richer people would get more; even Bill Gates would get a tax credit.
  • Allows insurers to charge dramatically higher premiums to older patients.
  • Allows insurers to impose yearly and lifetime caps on coverage, which were outlawed by the ACA. This also, it was revealed today, may threaten the coverage of the majority of non-elderly Americans who get insurance through their employers.
  • Allows states to seek waivers from the ACA’s requirement that insurance plans include essential benefits for things such as emergency services, hospitalization, mental health care, preventive care, maternity care, and substance abuse treatment.
  • Provides hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for families making over $250,000 a year.
  • Allows states to try to waive the ACA’s requirement that insurers must charge people the same rates regardless of their medical history. This effectively eviscerates the ban on denials for preexisting conditions, since insurers could charge you exorbitant premiums if you have a preexisting condition, effectively denying you coverage.
  • Shunts those with preexisting conditions into high-risk pools, which are absolutely the worst way to cover those patients; experience with them on the state level proves that they wind up underfunded, charge enormous premiums, provide inadequate benefits and can’t cover the population they’re meant for. Multiple analyses have shown that the money the bill provides for high-risk pools is laughably inadequate, which will inevitably leave huge numbers of the most vulnerable Americans without the ability to get insurance.
  • Brings back medical underwriting, meaning that just like in the bad old days, when you apply for insurance you’ll have to document every condition or ailment you’ve ever had.
It is no exaggeration to say that if it were to become law, this bill would kill significant numbers of Americans. . . . People whose serious conditions put them up against lifetime limits or render them unable to afford what’s on offer in the high-risk pools, and are suddenly unable to get treatment.
Those deaths are not abstractions, and those who vote to bring them about must be held to account. This can and should be a career-defining vote for every member of the House. No one who votes for something this vicious should be allowed to forget it — ever. They should be challenged about it at every town hall meeting, at every campaign debate, in every election and every day as the letters and phone calls from angry and betrayed constituents make clear the intensity of their revulsion at what their representatives have done.
 The Republican health-care bill is an act of monstrous cruelty. It should stain those who supported it to the end of their days.

Another worthy take down of the Republican abomination is at New York Magazine:
The heart of the bill is the same one that was polling at under 20 percent and failed two months ago: a near-trillion dollar tax cut for wealthy investors, financed by cuts to insurance subsidies for the poor and middle class. They have added a series of hazily defined changes: waivers for states to allow insurers to charge higher rates to people with preexisting conditions and to avoid covering essential health benefits, and a pitifully small amount of money to finance high-risk pools for sick patients.
The implications of these changes are vast. The Brookings Institution notes that if a single state eliminated the cap on lifetime benefits for a single employee, then employers in every state could actually follow suit, thus bringing back a horrid feature of the pre-Obamacare system, in which people who get hit with expensive treatment suddenly discover that their insurer will no longer pay for their care. This would affect not only those getting insurance through Medicaid or the state exchanges, but also through their job.
They are rushing through a chamber of Congress a bill reorganizing one-fifth of the economy, without even cursory attempts to gauge its impact. Its budgetary impact is as yet unknown. The same is true of its social impact, though the broad strokes are clear enough: Millions of Americans will lose access to medical care, and tens of thousands of them will die, and Congress is eager to hasten these results without knowing them more precisely. Their haste and secrecy are a way of distancing the House Republicans from the immorality of their actions.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Chechnya’s Anti-Gay Pogrom

If Donald Trump signs the promised anti-LGBT "religious freedom" executive order today, America will have taken the first step to legalize the open abuse of LGBT Americans.  The move will electrify the 81% of evangelical Christians who voted for Trump, a twice divorced, serial adulterer and sexual predator as part of their quest to inflict a form of Christian sharia law on America.  From Trump's perspective, the move will be akin to Vladimir Putin's anti-homosexuality laws aimed at strengthening support from the similarly anti-gay Russian Orthodox Church which has long placed advancing its own political power ahead of democratic principles and/or the civil rights of others. The New York Times looks at the anti-gay pogrom underway in the Russian republic of Chechnya which is an outgrowth of legalized homophobia and religious extremism being championed by one of Putin's henchmen.  The ultimate motivation is political both for Putin and his lapdog, Ramzan Kadyrov.  Here are highlights:
At the beginning of April, reports surfaced that a crackdown on gay men was afoot in Chechnya, the small, turbulent republic on the southern edge of the Russian Federation. According to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, more than 100 gay men were rounded up by the police and brutalized in secret prisons, and at least three of them were killed. Many remain in detention.
In fear and desperation, 75 people called in to the Russian LGBT Network’s Chechnya hotline. Of these, 52 said they had been victims of the recent violence, and 30 fled to Moscow where they received help from L.G.B.T. activists.
“Once they bring you there,” a survivor told me, referring to the secret prison in Chechnya where he’d been detained, “they immediately start the beatings and electrocutions, demanding information about who you were dating.”
This persecution of gays is symptomatic of the repressive regime that now runs Chechnya. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago, that rugged outpost of the old empire has lived through separatist agitation, terrorism and two bloody wars. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, some 5,000 are still missing, and its towns were left in ruins.
Chechnya’s autocratic leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has enjoyed near unconditional support from Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad, started out as a separatist Islamic leader, but at the beginning of Russia’s second military campaign against Chechen rebels, which began in 1999, he swapped sides to support Moscow.
Mr. Kadyrov ensured that his fighters were integrated into the local police force, largely preserving the command chains, and their violent skills were deployed in heavy-handed counterterrorism operations on behalf of the Kremlin.
Loyalty to Moscow was rewarded with lavish federal funds to raise Chechen towns from rubble and build shiny skyscrapers in the capital, Grozny.
Collective punishment is the hallmark of Mr. Kadyrov’s repression. Relatives of those who displease the authorities are threatened, beaten, held hostage, expelled from the republic or have their homes burned down. Such methods were first applied to suspected rebels but have spread to regime critics, religious dissenters, even drunken drivers. The same techniques have now been applied to the families of men thought to be gay, which are threatened with detention unless the suspects turn themselves in to the police.
In this climate of humiliation and immense fear, Chechens are fleeing the Russian Federation en masse. Yet the Kremlin turns a blind eye to such excesses in return for allegiance. Mr. Kadyrov calls himself a foot soldier for Mr. Putin.
The regime’s coercive methods are allied with punitive conservative values. Official Chechen ideology is a mix of traditionalism, Sufi Islam and Putinism. The authorities have banned alcohol, enforced dress codes and “moral behavior” for women, supported honor killings and blood feuds, and even closed orphanages as being alien to Chechen culture.
As news reports emerged about the arrests of gay men in the republic, Mr. Kadyrov met with Mr. Putin on April 19. Mr. Kadyrov is said to have complained to the Russian president about the “provocative articles” in the news media on issues he felt “embarrassed” to talk about. This show of coyness and piety no doubt played well with his supporters. Since the news broke, the Chechen leadership has fomented homophobia. . . . . in fact, it is part of their new ideology of a ‘pure nation.’ ”
By promoting nationalism and traditionalism, Mr. Kadyrov tries to prove to Chechens that their republic now has more autonomy than separatist leaders ever dreamed of; and this justifies his strong pro-Putin position. But his appeal to tradition is self-serving and spurious. Until now, Chechnya never had any record of organized violence against gays.
Mr. Kadyrov and his clique depend entirely on Mr. Putin. It is within the Russian president’s power to halt the violence against gay men, empty the illegal prisons and force an investigation into this crackdown. If Mr. Putin continues to give the Kremlin’s tacit approval to Mr. Kadyrov’s repressions, he is only storing up trouble for the Russian Federation.
The Chechen conflict has not been resolved but merely contained by brute force and a personal bond between the two leaders. In the long run, such an unstable situation makes a deadly new conflict in Chechnya almost inevitable.
Putin will not stop the mayhem since he needs the Russian Orthodox Church to help legitimize his dictatorship in Russia.   That Trump seemingly supports despots like Putin and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines ought to gravely concern decent and moral Americans.  As shown by their support of Trump, this latter categorization does not include evangelical Christians as a whole.

The Global Backlash Against Gay Rights - Homophobia As A Political Tool

Pulse massacre victims remembered - St. Pete Pride Parade

Later today, Donald Trump - who I refer to as Der Trumpenführer - is reportedly scheduled to sign a so-called "religious freedom" executive order.  The order has nothing to do with protecting religious freedom for all Americans but instead would grant special rights and privileges to Christian extremists - the Christofascists, if you will.  If the order is as expected, Christofascists will be granted a license to discriminate at will against LGBT individuals and possibly others who do not conform to Christofascists' religious views.   The driving force behind the effort?  Obviously, the religious based hatred of Christofascists toward anyone and/or anything that challenges their beliefs or underscores the fallibility of the Bible, a work first authored by ignorant, uneducated, unknown Bronze Age authors.  The other is the political opportunism of Republicans and reactionary politicians and autocrats who see fanning homophobia as a means to motivate Christofascist voters in America, and scapegoat minorities  to retain power in Russia, much of Africa and parts of South and Central America.  A lengthy piece in Foreign Affairs looks at  the anti-gay backlash and the poisonous religion  dogmas and political whores/autocrats who care nothing about the lives they harm so long as they remain in power.  Here are highlights:
No revolution worth its salt comes without pushback. The fight for gay rights—widely regarded as “the fastest of all civil rights movements” (over a short period of time, 20 nations have come to recognize same-sex marriage and an additional 15 now allow same-sex civil unions)—is no exception. A shooting rampage last June at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by a terrorist who had expressed loathing for the LGBT community, was the deadliest assault ever on the American gay community and attests to the viciousness of this pushback. But that was only one incident. In recent years, there has been a global backlash against gay rights that runs from the United States, through many parts of the global South, to Russia and other parts of the post–Communist world.
The opposition to gay rights comes in two strains and reflects what the Pew Research Center has called “the global divide on homosexuality.” In Western Europe and the Americas, home to the world’s most democratically advanced states and the largest and most sophisticated gay rights movements, the gay backlash takes the form of a counter-revolution designed to intimidate the gay community and roll back gains in gay rights. Across Africa, the Middle East, and much of the post–Communist world, the parts of the globe where democracy, civil society, and human rights are either in short supply or struggling, the gay backlash consists of a “preemptive strike” meant to stop the gay rights movement before it can gain its footing. This involves passing legislation that criminalizes or re-criminalizes homosexuality and that bans the promotion of homosexuality. Both strains, however, serve to fuel anti-gay violence and discrimination, and have exposed the political, rather than cultural nature of the backlash. 
In Europe, there have been massive protests against same-sex marriage, especially in Catholic-majority countries. . . . The protests were for the most part peaceful, but at least one demonstration in May 2013 turned violent, forcing the police to use tear gas and batons to disperse demonstrators.
Across Latin America, the gay backlash has been felt most profoundly in Brazil, where the highest court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2011. Since then, Brazilian legislators have retaliated with a plethora of anti-gay bills that call for redefining the family to exclude homosexual couples, for establishing a national day of “heterosexual pride,” and for banning “Christ-phobia,” or the desecration of Christian symbols. The ban targets the provocative floats mixing religious imagery and sexuality typical of Brazilian gay pride parades. Although these bills don’t really stand much chance of ever becoming law (for one thing, they are of dubious constitutionality), they contribute to the homophobic culture that underpins Brazil’s massive problem with gay killings.
It is in the United States, however, where, along with liberal democracy, the strongest backlash against gay rights can be found. We can count three distinct waves.  The first began immediately after the rise of the gay liberation movement in the 1970s and entailed nothing short of moral panic. Its most dramatic manifestation was country singer Anita Bryant’s “Save the Children” campaign, which succeeded in overturning an anti-discrimination ordinance enacted in Dade County, Florida, by depicting homosexuals as pedophiles. A second wave of backlash crashed in the late 1990s. Between 1998 and 2012, some 30 states enacted constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.
A third wave arrived in 2013 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, a 1997 law that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. A virtual tsunami of legislation intended to undermine LGBT rights has ensued: 254 anti-gay bills have been introduced, 20 of which have become law. In the first half of 2016 alone, 87 bills that could in theory limit LGBT rights were introduced, a steep increase from previous years. The bulk of these laws are justified as measures to protect religious freedom. The passage of bills of this kind has increased by at least 50 percent every year between 2013 and 2015.
Russia’s “gay propaganda law,” enacted in 2013, has also earned its share of infamy. It punishes anyone who promotes homosexuality with jail time and fines. So broadly written is the law that, in principle, it outlaws pride parades; public displays of affection by same-sex couples; gay newspapers and magazines; gay-themed literature, television, and films; and symbols of the LGBT community, such as the rainbow flag. Even an admission of homosexuality, unless the admission is made in order to denounce homosexuality, can be considered illegal.
Darker still is the picture across Central Asia and the Middle East, where the gay backlash has unleashed a nasty wave of anti-gay violence. Since March, more than 100 gay and bisexual men have been reported tortured, held in camps, and killed in the semi-autonomous Russian Republic of Chechnya. For several years now, the world has been horrified by the ghastly antics of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), which has been beheading gays and throwing them from rooftops in the territories that it controls. . . .
What is causing the global gay rights backlash is less clear, since societal acceptance of homosexuality in most countries has never been higher. A popular sociological explanation is that increasing visibility makes LGBT people an easier target for anti-gay rights activists. . . . Although this visibility has had a positive effect, leading to greater acceptance of the gay community, the normalization has also galvanized staunch opponents. As Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The New York Times, “As the majority of society becomes more tolerant of LGBT people, some of those who are opposed to them become more radical.” 
Another popular explanation is the enduring strength of homophobia, which flows from the cultural heterosexism embedded in most religions. Public polls show that societal acceptance of homosexuality is intimately linked to levels of social and economic development and rates of religiosity. The higher the religiosity, the lower the acceptance rate of homosexuality, and vice versa.
Decidedly less noted, and therefore less understood, are the political roots of the gay backlash. By openly embracing anti-gay violence and extremely homophobic legislation, many autocratic regimes across the world are doing what such regimes have done for centuries to groups as varied as Jews, heretics, and various ethnic minorities: scapegoating a socially despised minority as a way to consolidate power, to justify conservative policies, and to distract from other issues.
The governments of Egypt and Iran, for example, employ anti-gay violence in a way that is strikingly similar to the way terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, use violence. Beheading and hanging gays is as much about punishing individuals as it is about intimidating a community or an entire group of people. Russia’s “war on gays” is more a reflection of President Vladimir Putin’s desire to crack down on civil and political liberties than it is an expression of homophobia in Russian culture. Before Putin’s rise, Russia had decriminalized homosexual activity immediately following the fall of Communism.
Although homophobia in Africa is often seen as an “ancient hatred,” its history is surprisingly short. A study by Human Rights Watch revealed that roughly half of the world’s remaining anti-sodomy laws are holdovers from British colonial rule. . . . Leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe discovered that they could score political gains by condemning homosexuals and demonizing homosexuality as a “Western perversion.”
Politicians in the West, but especially in the United States, have also found that exploiting hostility toward homosexuality can score them political points, especially around election time. . . . Karl Rowe, the architect of George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, put same-sex marriage referenda in as many states as possible for the sole purpose of mobilizing so-called value voters. That year, 11 state anti-gay marriage referenda were put to the voters, including in the very important swing state of Ohio.
U.S. President Donald Trump, despite his pledge at the 2016 GOP National Convention to protect LGBT Americans from violence and discrimination, ran on a platform described by gay Republicans as the GOP’s “most anti-LGBT platform” in the party’s 162-year history. . . . While these anti-gay stances no longer have the popular political appeal that they once had, they still serve the useful purpose of keeping social conservatives within the GOP’s fold.
If there is a silver lining to the gay backlash, it is that the backlash is forcing the international community to confront the issue of anti-gay violence and discrimination. . . . faster and more effective change could come if the international community took a stronger stance against those regimes inclined to use gays as a political scapegoat and to employ homophobia as a political tool.