Saturday, July 01, 2017

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

The Pope’s Pedophile?

I began my exit from Catholicism back in late 2001 after beginning my "coming out" journey.  I found it impossible to remain a member of a church that so thoroughly denigrated gay individuals.  But my exit was suddenly made much easier when in 2002 the Boston Globe broke its story on the rampant sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston - a story that was basis for the Academy Award winning movie, Spotlight, and which let loose the torrent of exposes of similar abuse and deliberate cover ups on literally a world wide basis.  Indeed, the cover ups traced all the way to the Vatican and, to my mind, underscored the utter moral bankruptcy of almost the entire Catholic Church hierarchy with very few exceptions.  And in truth the problem had been know in some circles long before 2002 as shown here.  With the resignation of the vitriolically ant-gay and right wing Pope Benedict XVI, many Catholics had hoped Pope Francis would usher in a new period of reform and serious action against bishops and cardinals who had either aided and abetted predatory priests or turned a deliberate blind eye to the sexual abuse - in some cases actual rape - of children and youths.  Sadly, nothing has happened other than lip service and crocodile tears.  Now, with the criminal indictment of Cardinal Pell - a main player in Australia's still roiling abuse scandal - for sexual abuse, Pope Francis may be facing a long over due day of reckoning.  As Andrew Sullivan lays out, it is mind boggling why Francis ever elevated Pell to the number  three position at the Vatican.  Here are column highlights:
Well into Pope Francis’s pontificate, one of his closest aides, the third-highest official in the Catholic Church, Cardinal George Pell, has now been credibly accused of several acts of sexual assault, including one of rape. Australian police have concluded that the evidence they have is sufficient to move forward, even in cases that happened long ago. Yesterday, Pell was allowed to hold his own press conference at the Vatican to tell us that he spoke with the Pope only a few days ago about a campaign of “character assassination” against him . . . . The Pope’s spokesperson defended the Cardinal by saying that “it is important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as important and intolerable acts of abuse committed against minors.” And, of course, we should respect a presumption of innocence before a trial on crimes of this magnitude and depravity.
But it all feels sickeningly familiar. And this denouement comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has been following the sex-abuse crisis in the church — including Cardinal Pell’s own behavior — for the last few decades. A cloud has hung over Pell since he was an Episcopal vicar in a parish in the 1970s that has been described as a “pedophile’s paradise and a child’s nightmare.”
A full 15 years ago, Pell was accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy but when the church investigated, a retired Supreme Court justice found that there wasn’t enough evidence, even though the victim appeared to be “speaking honestly from actual recollection.” A year later, Pope John Paul II made Pell a cardinal. Several new alleged victims spoke out in a book published only last month.
In 2015, Australia’s Channel 9 ran a 60 Minutes segment that can only be called horrifying. In it, one of Francis’s own appointees to investigate sex abuse, Peter Saunders, described Pell’s record on sexual abuse as “almost sociopathic.” Pell had a “catalogue of denials … a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness,” Saunders said on camera. “I would go as far to say that I consider him to be quite a dangerous individual.”
The report revealed a pattern of concealment of sex-abuse cases, callousness toward the victims, offers of pathetically small settlements, and testimony demonstrating that Pell moved around a pedophile priest for years who was later convicted of 138 counts of indecent assault and child sexual abuse. That priest, the notorious Gerald Ridsdale, even allegedly raped two of his own nephews. Who was his roommate and close friend in the 1970s? Who publicly accompanied him to his trial in a show of support? One George Pell . . . .
Many historical cases of sex abuse of minors are hard to prove. But it seems to me that multiple accusations of cover-ups and molestations against a Catholic priest from the 1950s through the 1970s should at this point raise, ahem, red flags. Appalling abusers have advanced for years in the church, defending themselves as definitively as Pell has — only to be found guilty. The notorious case of the founder of the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel, comes to mind. Protected by Pope John Paul II, coddled by Benedict XVI, he was also defended by an array of theological arch-conservatives as a paragon of virtue.
It has not been easy being a Catholic in the 21st century. For a gay Catholic, it has been close to agony. It comes as no surprise, for example, that Pell has upheld, like Maciel, a highly conservative theology on sexuality — which was why he was so favored by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He opposed the use of condoms to stop AIDS in Africa, refused to give communion to openly gay people, campaigned strenuously against marriage equality, and described the church sex-abuse scandal as not a function of minor abuse and cover-up but of allowing homosexuals to be priests . . . .
What I cannot understand is why Pope Francis chose to advance this man under this cloud so high up the hierarchy. If Pell is found guilty, Francis will have advanced an accused abuser of children to the highest echelon in the Vatican. Far from cleaning the church of this evil, he will have contaminated it at its very apex. That’s why this case is indeed a watershed for Catholicism and Francis himself. If Francis can turn a blind eye to this, we can trust no one.
We were told that this Pope’s overriding theme was mercy. It would be a tragedy if the exception to this rule were to be any youngster whose life has been ruined, body violated, and soul raped by one of the Pope’s own right-hand men.
Sullivan - in what I see as a form of masochism - has remained a Catholic.  I could not do that.  I would literally feel dirty if I remained a part of, and worse yet, financially supported and institution that has no regard for the bodies and psyches of children and youths.  With children and now grandchildren of my own, I cannot fathom the callousness and lack of horror over such abuse.

For more background on Pell, this is a good piece from the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Today's GOP: The Face of Cruelty

I have often noted that, in my opinion, the Republican Party began its transformation into something hideous when evangelical and fundamentalist Christians began to hijack the party base.  A party that had been moderate on social issues and seemingly had little interest in policing people's bedrooms while pushing for fiscal conservatism became something very different and extreme.  First came near hysteria over abortion even as any form of science based sex education that would have decreased unwanted pregnancies was opposed tooth and claw (many far right Christians still would like to make contraception illegal and see Griswold v. Connecticut, which established a right to privacy in sexual matters, reversed).   This was followed by anti-gay hysteria which continues to this day.  Now, we see open hatred towards Muslims and those of other faiths - and anyone or anything that challenges beliefs based on Bronze Age myths, hence the push for creationism in public education and denial of climate change.  Through it all, the Christofascists as I call them have harbored a thinly disguised racism against anyone who doesn't have white skin.   The cancer has fully metastasized in the GOP even as country club Republicans - and I know many - pretend that the GOP of the 1960's and early 1970's is alive and well.  That party is dead and gone.  Logic, reason, and objective fact no longer matter and this hatred of others permeates GOP policies: the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor; the sick are responsible for their illness because of bad "choices" or their sinfulness; gays deserve abuse and discrimination because they "choose" to be gay; racial minorities deserve no social safety net because they are lazy and less than fully human.  It's a hideous mindset (and anything but Christian), but it explains much about the Republican effort to destroy Obamacare and health care in general.  A column in the New York Times looks at this push for open cruelty.  Here are excerpts:
The basics of Republican health legislation, which haven’t changed much in different iterations of Trumpcare, are easy to describe: Take health insurance away from tens of millions, make it much worse and far more expensive for millions more, and use the money thus saved to cut taxes on the wealthy.
Donald Trump may not get this — reporting by The Times and others, combined with his own tweets, suggests that he has no idea what’s in his party’s legislation. But everyone in Congress understands what it’s all about.
The puzzle — and it is a puzzle, even for those who have long since concluded that something is terribly wrong with the modern G.O.P. — is why the party is pushing this harsh, morally indefensible agenda.
Think about it. Losing health coverage is a nightmare, especially if you’re older, have health problems and/or lack the financial resources to cope if illness strikes. And since Americans with those characteristics are precisely the people this legislation effectively targets, tens of millions would soon find themselves living this nightmare.
Meanwhile, taxes that fall mainly on a tiny, wealthy minority would be reduced or eliminated. These cuts would be big in dollar terms, but because the rich are already so rich, the savings would make very little difference to their lives.
More than 40 percent of the Senate bill’s tax cuts would go to people with annual incomes over $1 million — but even these lucky few would see their after-tax income rise only by a barely noticeable 2 percent.
So it’s vast suffering — including, according to the best estimates, around 200,000 preventable deaths — imposed on many of our fellow citizens in order to give a handful of wealthy people what amounts to some extra pocket change. And the public hates the idea: Polling shows overwhelming popular opposition, even though many voters don’t realize just how cruel the bill really is.
Which brings me back to my question: Why would anyone want to do this?
I won’t pretend to have a full answer, but I think there are two big drivers — actually, two big lies — behind Republican cruelty on health care and beyond.
First, the evils of the G.O.P. plan are the flip side of the virtues of Obamacare. Because Republicans spent almost the entire Obama administration railing against the imaginary horrors of the Affordable Care Act — death panels! — repealing Obamacare was bound to be their first priority. . . . . Republicans, through their political opportunism and dishonesty, boxed themselves into a position that makes them seem cruel and immoral — because they are.
Yet that’s surely not the whole story, because Obamacare isn’t the only social insurance program that does great good yet faces incessant right-wing attack. Food stamps, unemployment insurance, disability benefits all get the same treatment. Why?
As with Obamacare, this story began with a politically convenient lie — the pretense, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan, that social safety net programs just reward lazy people who don’t want to work. And we all know which people in particular were supposed to be on the take [blacks and non-whites].
Now, this was never true . . . . some of the biggest beneficiaries of these safety net programs are members of the Trump-supporting white working class. But the modern G.O.P. basically consists of career apparatchiks who live in an intellectual bubble . . . . Or to put it another way, Republicans start from a sort of baseline of cruelty toward the less fortunate, of hostility toward anything that protects families against catastrophe.
In this sense there’s nothing new about their health plan. What it does — punish the poor and working class, cut taxes on the rich — is what every major G.O.P. policy proposal does. The only difference is that this time it’s all out in the open. . . . . this is what modern Republicans do; this is who they are.
I truly do not understand how a decent, moral person can continue to be a Republican.  Are they so brainwashed by Fox News and so driven by their racism and hatred of others that they simply close their eyes to depriving children and the elderly - and many others - of life-sustaining health care?  I cannot comprehend the mindset - which perhaps is a good thing or else I'd still be a Republican. Coming out as gay and becoming part of a minority that faces daily hatred from "Christians" and others does open one's eyes as to what other minorities face even though the mistreatment and prejudice is different.  I wish more of my Republican "friends" could have the experience. Ultimately, we are all the same: we all bleed, we all have hopes and dreams, and we all have loved ones we seek to protect.  Why is it so impossible for some to see through skin color, sexual orientation or religious belief to our common humanity?

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, June 30, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Germany Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Germany's Parliament voted somewhat belatedly yesterday to doing the rest of modern Western Europe by legalizing same sex marriage.  As in America, same sex marriage has been used as a political football by politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel who moved to allow the vote even though she voted "no" on the measure.  Why?  Political expedience and the realization that blocking a vote could hurt her reelection prospects.  In Germany, religious groups, including child the rapist protecting Catholic Church, have opposed LGBT equality, clinging to a 12th century understanding of sexuality and sexual orientation.  Of course, it must be remembered that with notable exceptions, Germany's churches climbed aboard the Nazi train, seeking to retain power and wealth (the Vatican did the same thing in Italy with Mussolini).  The the parallel with America is that it is Germany's rural regions that have opposed marriage equality while modern urban areas, the economic dynamo of the economy, have favored it. The Washington Post reports on the development.  Here are excerpts:
Germany on Friday recognized the right of same-sex couples to wed, a major step for gay women and men living in a country split between conservative, Christian customs and modernizing forces.
The German Parliament voted 393-226 to modify the country’s civil code, reshaping the institution of marriage with little fanfare but enormous significance as Germany prepares to join much of the Western world in codifying marriage equality. After clearing a path for lawmakers to approve the measure, Chancellor Angela Merkel ultimately opposed it herself.
“It’s a joyous turning-point,” said Volker Beck, who has campaigned for gay rights for decades, as a spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany before he entered Parliament as a member of the Green Party. “Equality and civil rights have been achieved.” 
For some, the surprise was only how long it took, in a country often seen as a progressive model for the region. Notable, also, was how quickly the matter moved forward once it was brought up this week. 
At issue was a web of dynamics, from Nazi-era repression to the way in which political parties have derived their power from religious groups. Over time, however, church attendance has waned, and polling suggests that a comfortable majority of the public supports same-sex marriage. 
Since 2001, Germany has allowed civil partnerships, which afford many of the same benefits accruing to married couples, with the notable exception of the right to joint adoption. 
Electoral pressures facing Merkel also appeared central, leading some gay Germans to wonder whether they were political instruments for the German leader running for a fourth term in September.
Marriage was becoming a wedge issue, and by easing her resistance, Merkel swept it away from her opponents. The Social Democrats, a center-left group forming part of the chancellor's governing coalition, had declared future cooperation contingent on same-sex marriage. Smaller parties on whom Merkel might depend should she be reelected in the fall, such as the Greens, said the same. 
The chancellor has often made leftist causes, from wages to nuclear power, her own. In this case, however, she kept the issue at arm’s length. After enabling its consideration, which all but guaranteed passage, she ultimately voted no.
Her personal reservations could ease backlash from the conservative wing of her party, and from its Bavarian counterpart, the Christian Social Union, which is staunchly Catholic. The German Bishops’ Conference opposed the vote in a statement condemning the “hasty procedure” for overriding the “Christian concept of marriage.” 
The uneasy advancement of gay people in the E.U.’s largest country reflects vast social differences within Germany, as well as its tortured past.   
“Berlin and some of the conservative villages in the south of Germany — they exist on different planets,” said Andreas Kraß of the Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies at the Humbold University in Berlin.
It was in Berlin that the gay rights movement began at the turn of the 20th century, with the founding of the first gay rights organization, said Robert Beachy, author of “Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity.” 
But the capital wasn’t “back in its glory,” he said, until reunification in 1990, as homosexuality was as dangerous in the postwar period as it had been under the reign of the Third Reich. Just last week, Parliament voided convictions under an anti-sodomy law sharpened by the Nazis and then preserved by West Germany.  
The much welcomed vote represents another much deserved defeat for the Catholic Church and other denominations that continue to base their beliefs on hatred of others and the embrace of ignorance.  I continue to believe that religion, especially  conservative Christianity and fundamentalist Islam, are net evils in the world.  The world and humankind would be better off if they both ceased to exist.

Russian Hackers Sought to Get Clinton Emails to Mike Flynn

If one wonders why Der Trumpenführer is so obsessed with shutting down the FBI investigation of Trump BFF Mike Flynn, stories in New York Magazine and Talking Points Memo look at efforts of Russian hackers working on Vladimir Putin's personal orders sought to collaborate with Flynn and to hinder Hillary Clinton's electoral chances. Trump may be trying to use the ruse of voter fraud to distract his knuckle dragging supporters, but the real story remains that of what collusion and attempted collaboration went on between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign and Trump advisers.  Remebr, Trump more or less admitted that he fired James Comey because of the FBI investigation of Mike Flynn.  First these highlights from the New York Magazine piece:
During the 2016 campaign, Russian hackers discussed how to obtain emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server — and, then, transmit them to Trump campaign advisor Michael Flynn, according to intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. officials.
Meanwhile, a longtime Republican opposition researcher organized a campaign to access the emails that Clinton had deleted from that server — emails that he believed Russian hackers had gotten hold of. This GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, told multiple friends and potential “recruits” that he was working with Flynn on the email project.
These bombshells were brought to you by the Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris, who interviewed Smith on May 4 — 10 days before the 81-year-old died. Here’s Harris’s summary of Smith’s efforts:
His project began over Labor Day weekend 2016 when Mr. Smith, a private-equity executive from Chicago active in Republican politics, said he assembled a group of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator based in Europe to acquire emails the group theorized might have been stolen from the private server Mrs. Clinton used as secretary of state. …In the interview with the Journal, Mr. Smith said he and his colleagues found five groups of hackers who claimed to possess Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails, including two groups he determined were Russians. “We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government,” Mr. Smith said. …Mr. Smith said after vetting batches of emails offered to him by hacker groups last fall, he couldn’t be sure enough of their authenticity to leak them himself. “We told all the groups to give them to WikiLeaks,” he said. WikiLeaks has never published those emails or claimed to have them. Smith said that he worked independently of the Trump campaign, and declined to tell the Journal whether the retired general was involved in his project.
However, the paper obtained a great deal of evidence that, at the very least, Smith led people to believe he was working for the Republican nominee’s senior adviser.
“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails. …In one Smith email reviewed by the Journal, intended to entice outside experts to join his work, he offered to make introductions to Mr. Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, who worked as chief of staff in his father’s company. Mr. Smith’s email mentioned the son among a small number of other people he said were helping. Michael G. Flynn didn’t respond to a request for comment.
 In another recruiting email seen by the Journal, Jonathan Safron, a law student Mr. Smith described as a close colleague, included links to the websites and LinkedIn profiles of people purportedly working with the Smith team. At the top of the list was the name and website of Flynn Intel, which Mr. Flynn set up after his 2014 firing as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Harris’s report represents the most compelling evidence, to date, that Trump campaign associates colluded with Russian hackers to steal Clinton emails. The specific emails that Smith was targeting — ones sent by Clinton over a private server as secretary of State — were never leaked to the public by hackers. Rather, Russian agents hacked the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.
At the time Smith began his operation, the DNC emails had already been leaked.
It’s worth noting that Smith is not, necessarily, the world’s most trustworthy source. Among the GOP operative’s past endeavors were efforts to publicize sensational — and unverified — charges that, while governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton instructed his body guards to procure women for him to have sex with. Smith also drummed up rumors that Clinton had an illegitimate child.
The Journal story does not establish that Flynn was working on this effort — only that Smith said he was. It’s true that the intelligence reports cited in Smith’s story suggest that Russian hackers believed Flynn wanted them to send him emails. But if Smith were falsely informing hackers that he was affiliated with Flynn, it’s conceivable that those conversations could have transpired despite Flynn having no role in the project.

The Talking Points Memo piece adds some details.  Here are excerpts:
Eric York, one computer security expert who said he searched hacker forums on Smith’s behalf to try to dig up the emails, told the Journal.
What Smith hoped to unearth were the 33,000 emails that Clinton has said she deleted from her private email server because they were personal in nature, and which Trump infamously urged Russia to find and release during a July 2016 campaign rally.
Trump and his defenders in the media and his administration have referred to the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt” intended to hurt his presidency. They insist there is no evidence of collusion between Russian operatives and Trump campaign associates.
Smith acknowledged that the emails, if they existed, would likely have been hacked by Russian operatives. He ultimately received some emails from hacker groups prior to the election, he told the Journal, but urged those groups to pass the emails along to WikiLeaks so he would not have to personally vouch for their authenticity. Those emails have never surfaced, according to the report.
With all this smoke, it is increasingly difficult to believe that there wasn't real fire in the collusion effort.  If Trump had nothing to hide, why did he fire Comey and try to impede the investigation?   

McAuliffe Politely Tells Trump Commission on Non-Existent Voter Fraud to Shove It

One of the perennial claims of Republicans is that voter fraud is rampant.  The goal, of course, is to fabricate a justification to implement voter ID laws and other impediments in order to disenfranchise those likely to vote against Republicans.  Meanwhile, numerous legitimate studies have found that voter fraud is very rare and, indeed, the chances of being struck by lightening far exceed the likelihood of voter fraud occurring (another good article is here). Der Trumpenführer, with absolutely no supporting evidence, has claimed that millions voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election - hence why Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.  To add legitimacy to this lie - and titillate his racist and white supremacist base - Der  Trumpenführer, established a "presidential election committee on election integrity" to investigate his imagined voter fraud.  Naturally, no such commission has been established to look into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.  Today, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe politely told Trump that Virginia would not participate in the charade or turn over personal information on Virginia voters as demanded by Der  Trumpenführer.  Here are highlights from a press release from McAuliffe's office:
“Today the Commonwealth and the other 49 states received a lengthy request from Kris Kobach, the Vice Chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, requesting a list of all registered Virginia voters, the last four digits of their social security numbers, their addresses, date of birth, political affiliation, and their voting history. The Vice Chair’s letter also contained a list of vague inquiries about the election policies and laws of the Commonwealth.
“I have no intention of honoring this request. Virginia conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Virginia. This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November. At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.
“The only irregularity in the 2016 presidential election centered around Russian tampering, a finding that has been confirmed by 17 of our intelligence agencies and sworn testimony delivered to several congressional committees. In 131 days Virginia’s Department of Elections will again conduct a statewide election for the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General, as well as 100 House of Delegates races and numerous other positions. I’m not going to divert resources that could potentially compromise that important work to enable this politically motivated and silly posturing.”
Kudos to Governor McAuliffe and shame on Trump and Republicans who continue to fabricate and disseminate the lies that voter fraud is a problem.  The biggest problem facing the nation at the moment is the Trump/Pence regime and the malignant narcissist in the White House. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

The Big Lie Behind the GOP Quest for Tax Cuts

No one likes paying taxes and the husband an I certainly pay our share - or more than our share per Republican thinking.  Yet we realize that the nation needs roads, defense and, yes, to have a social safety net for the less fortunate.  We may not be regular churchgoers (gave that up years ago when I realized the Catholic Church leadership was morally bankrupt), but we understand that moral imperative.  It seems, however, that most Republicans do not, most especially the party leadership that depicts those receive assistance as lazy and undeserving and living on lavish benefits.  As an editorial in the New York Times lays out, such is not the case and much of the GOP agenda is merely based on a big lie when this false premise is stripped away.  The true motive becomes greed with a strong dose of racism aimed at those who are "undeserving."  The irony is that most welfare recipients and Medicaid beneficiaries are poor whites.   Here are editorial highlights:
With the Senate effort to upend Obamacare suspended for the Fourth of July holiday, there’s a chance to step back and examine the assumptions behind Republicans’ longstanding objections to the social safety net — as well as the flaws in those assumptions.
From Ronald Reagan’s invocation of a “welfare queen,” to Mitt Romney’s derision of “takers,” to the House and Senate bills to cut taxes for the rich by taking health insurance away from tens of millions of people, the premise of incessant Republican tax cutting is that the system robs the rich to lavish benefits on the poor.
But here is an essential and overlooked truth: As a share of the economy, federal spending on low-income people, other than for their health care, has been falling steadily since it peaked in 2011, after the Great Recession, and while it’s still slightly above the long-term average, it is declining, according to a recent series of reports by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Mandatory non-health programs like food stamps, earned-income tax credits and Supplemental Security Income for impoverished elderly and disabled people currently equal 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product, only modestly above the 40-year average of 1.3 percent. Moreover, if spending on those programs continues its current downward trend, it will fall below the long-run average by 2024.
Spending on these programs — including housing assistance, worker training and heating aid — equals 0.6 percent of the economy, the lowest level since 1970. If current trends hold, it will fall to 0.5 percent by 2027, the lowest level since 1966.
Spending has risen for Medicaid, which the Senate and House health care bills would slash. But the increase is not the result of generosity or waste. Much of it is from rising nursing home admissions as the population ages. Medicaid insures most nursing home residents — after they have exhausted their savings.
Medical inflation, which usually rises faster than the general inflation rate, also pushes up Medicaid costs. But Medicaid is not driving that inflation. In fact, compared with privately insured care, Medicaid’s costs have risen more slowly over the past decade and its costs per beneficiary are lower, partly because it has no profit margin.
By using Medicaid to cover millions of previously uninsured people, Obamacare chose the most economical and efficient part of the health care system to achieve a historic reduction in the number of uninsured. And by using tax increases on the well-to-do to pay for expanded coverage, the expansion did not add to budget deficits.
[T]otal federal spending on people struggling to get by is projected to hold steady. That is not lavish. And it is not an excuse for tax cuts that deprive tens of millions of people of health insurance.
I cannot help but wonder at the irony: church going evangelicals support this horrific  attitude and would be treatment of the sick and poor, while I and other gays who they view as sinful and "degenerate" believe we have a duty to care for the sick, elderly and less fortunate.  Who are the ones showing true loyalty to Christ's message? 

Top Catholic Cardinal in Australia Charged with Sex Offenses

Cardinal Pell with Pope Francis
As has happened in many parts of the world, Australia has seen an ongoing and growing sex abuse scandal involving the Catholic Church and its leadership's systematic cover up of sex crimes against children and youths.   While not yet on the scale of what happened in Ireland where the Church's power has collapsed and the country now has a gay prime minister, the problems have been growing.  Now, Cardinal George Pell, Australia's highest Catholic cleric has been charged with at least three (3) sex offenses.  For many months Pell has been pummeled for his role in cover ups.  Now, it seems that Pell may have been a predatory himself. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on this development that one can only hope will put new pressure on the Vatican to clean house of bishops and cardinals involved in the aiding and abetting of predator priests and their subsequent protection.  Here are story excerpts:
Cardinal George Pell, Australia's highest ranking Catholic will face at least three serious sex assault charges, including at least one count of rape.  Victoria Police has confirmed Cardinal Pell has been charged on summons over multiple allegations against multiple victims and is due to face Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 for a filing hearing.
Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton confirmed in a brief press conference that Cardinal Pell had been issued with multiple charges relating to historic sexual abuse allegations. The charges were served on Cardinal Pell's legal representatives in Melbourne on Thursday, Mr Patton said.
Police did not take any questions during the press conference and did not detail what the allegations were.  Mr Patton said it was important that due process was followed.
"Preserving the integrity of that process is essential to us all and so for Victoria Police, it is important that it is allowed to go through unhindered and allowed to see natural justice is afforded to all the parties involved, including Cardinal Pell and the complainants in this matter," he said.
All was quiet at Cardinal Pell's Roman residence as the news broke.  He lives in a block of apartments on a square just outside the Vatican walls, metres from St Peter's Square, and a minute's walk from the doors to the Basilica.
[T]he announcement is set to send shockwaves through the Catholic Church in Australia and around the world. . . .  Cardinal Pell is the third most senior Catholic at the Vatican, where he is responsible for the church's finances.
The charges are likely to force Cardinal Pell to step aside from his Vatican post while he fights the charges. . . . . a legal source told Fairfax Media that the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions, John Champion, has been assessing whether Cardinal Pell should face charges of rape, buggery or indecent assault.
As Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, Cardinal Pell may avoid prosecution should he choose not to return to Victoria, but he is expected to come back to fight the charges.
 One can only wonder if and when accessories to child sex crimes within the Church hierarchy will ever be held accountable by the Vatican.  I am not holding my breath.  Meanwhile, moral people should walk away from Catholicism until a thorough house cleaning takes place against bishops and cardinals involved in sex abuse and sex abuse cover ups. 

Should We Just Let Appalachia Depopulate?

If there is any part of Virginia that is an economic basket case it is large swaths of Southwest Virginia that comprise a part of Appalachia.  Much of the economic malaise derives from the decline of the coal industry.  But much also comes, in my view, form the region's social backwardness and religious extremism that keeps new industry from entering the region.  The combined result is that young people are fleeing the region, leaving the region inhabited by an increasingly elderly and less educated population.   If Congressional Republicans have their way and gut Medicaid, the regions economy will be even more distressed as rural hospitals are forced to close and some of the few large non-coal related employers cease to exist.  Two editorial in the Roanoke Times - here and here - suggest that perhaps parts of Appalachia should be allowed to simple become depopulated.  The pieces recognize the reality that before the rise of the coal industry, the region was very sparsely populated. A few counties and small cities are trying to embrace education and woo new 21st century businesses. Many, however, are not and the downward spiral, if anything, is accelerating.  Here are  excerpts:
Here’s an uncomfortable question: Instead of trying to build a new economy in Appalachia, should we simply depopulate the place?
Mind you, that’s not a position we’re advocating. It does, however, make for a sobering thought experiment — one that has some important policy implications.
Here’s who got us thinking about this: A friendly fellow named Lyman Stone who issues some dire warnings. By day, he’s a cotton economist in Washington, concerned with the ups and downs of the global cotton trade. On the side, he runs a website called In A State of Migration, which tracks migration trends around the world. A native of Kentucky, he writes a lot about Appalachia. One of his posts — laden with charts and graphs and maps — shows population trends in Appalachia.
The basic point: Westward settlement mostly bypassed Appalachia, likely for the obvious topographic reasons. From 1800 to 1870, what he calls “the classic core of Appalachia — West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia — was mostly empty.
Then something happened. Coal happened. Railroads happened. People — many of them immigrants — poured into Appalachia. Roanoke was not the only boom town to spring up then. So did lots of other communities deeper in coal country.
Between 1870 and 1890, the population of many counties in Southwest Virginia (we’ll just focus on our part of Appalachia) nearly doubled. Over the 20 years after that — between 1890 and 1910 — many nearly doubled again. Wise County’s population more than tripled. From 4,785 in 1870 and 9,345 in 1890, Wise County’s population surged to 34,162 in 1910. The coal boom wasn’t over yet. By 1950 — the year most coal counties in Virginia peaked — Wise County topped out at 56,336. West of the Blue Ridge, only Roanoke was bigger.
Put another way, Appalachia was where the jobs were. Now it’s not.
First, coal-mining became more mechanized. People started moving out decades ago, long before the demand for coal dropped. The collapse of the coal economy has only accelerated that population exodus.
All but one of Virginia’s coal counties is smaller than it was in 1950, sometimes dramatically so.  . . . . And their populations will surely continue to decrease for two reasons, one economic, one demographic.
The economic reason: Last year marked the first time that coal was not the nation’s biggest energy source; natural gas surpassed it. Coal will not come back in any appreciable way. The demand of metallurgical coal — used in steel-making — may rebound some, depending on the economy. However, when utilities make decisions on new power plants, they’re looking decades ahead. They are putting their money into natural gas — hence, Dominion Energy’s interest in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — and, to a lesser extent, renewables such as wind and solar. You can’t simply flick a switch and turn coal back on.
The demographic reason why coal counties will continue to lose population: It’s young adults who are leaving. Rural areas in general are getting older, but Appalachian counties even more so. . . . . There is not going to be a baby boom in the coalfields — so all these counties will simply get older and older, which means another way they lose population: Deaths outnumber births. All that’s old news, of course, just a backdrop for getting to this question: How much lower will Appalachia’s population drop? And should we really try to stop that?
So what is Appalachia’s economic future? There are certainly efforts to change the equation. Wise County is now rich with broadband Internet — thanks in part to investments by the state’s tobacco commission — and is now making a play for data centers. It’s already landed one. The University of Virginia’s College at Wise and the community college there are training students for drones and cybersecurity. There are similar efforts in eastern Kentucky to create what some are calling “Silicon Hollow.”
On the other hand, Appalachia is a lot bigger than just one forward-thinking county. And President Trump’s proposed budget zeroes out funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, the federal agency that makes a lot of that training possible. It also zeroes out funding for the program that converts abandoned mine sites into marketable industrial sites.
Trump has lifted environmental regulations on coal. This helps the coal economy in the short term, but does nothing to change its long-term trajectory in the marketplace. Meanwhile, he is trying to take away the few tools that Appalachia does have to remake its economy. Even with those tools, though, the challenge to create an economy to match its existing population is daunting.
Stone puts it in clinical terms: “The market equilibrium for Appalachian population may be even lower than the levels we see today. I know this will cause deep sadness for locals who long for recovery; and as someone who genuinely loves Appalachia, it does for me too. But we can’t let hopes blind us to realities. On some level, population must be associated with economic activity to support it. Coal mining is still declining, and when it’s completely gone, it’s not clear how much economic activity will remain, and therefore how much population can be sustained.”
So what is the solution - beside Appalachia dropping its religious extremism and bigotry towards those who are :other"?  The second o-ed suggests something abhorrent to many whites in Appalachia: immigrants.  Here are excerpts from that piece:
In most localities in Southwest Virginia, more people are dying than being born. In 2015, there were about 1,800 babies born in Virginia’s coalfields. But about 2,400 people died.
Furthermore, the number of deaths is only going to accelerate in coming years, because there are bigger age cohorts moving into their senior years. Meanwhile, the number of births is probably going to fall, because there are fewer young adults left to have babies.
That means right now the coalfields’ population declines by about 600 people a year just through the natural process of deaths and births — even if nobody moves out. And that annual deficit is likely to increase to 1,300 to 1,800 per year — again, even if nobody moves out. That’s a lot of people to make up.
So what would it take to keep the population of the coal counties even? To stop the population losses entirely? Hold onto your seat.
There is another solution, one that could repopulate the coalfields. It’s a policy that’s been proven to work elsewhere, but isn’t likely to be very popular in Southwest Virginia. Still, we’ll mention it anyway: Immigration.
One of the great ironies of our current political situation is that anti-immigration sentiment runs highest in rural areas, yet it’s rural areas that logically should be the loudest champions for increased immigration.
The United States is not Canada — a little matter in 1776 made sure of that — but there are some things we might learn from our northern neighbor. Rural Canada faces the same demographic pressures that rural America does, yet some Canadian communities have responded very differently.
Consider the case of Cape Breton, the northernmost part of Nova Scotia. It looks and feels a lot like Southwest Virginia — mountainous, with an economy that was once based on coal. Now the coal mines are shut down, and the population is declining. Sound familiar? The problem does but the solution doesn’t: Community leaders there are actively encouraging immigrants to settle in Cape Breton — and the leadership complains when their provincial and federal governments don’t do enough to direct immigrants there.
Not just Cape Breton either. The Calgary Herald recently looked at two small towns in what it called Manitoba’s “Bible Belt”: “In 2011, Winkler’s population stood at 10,700; Morden’s was 7,800. Both cities and the surrounding region have grown by more than 3,000 people since, thanks to immigration programs that have drawn people from all over the world.” The Herald said the two towns were now economically “booming,” as employers are enticed there by the larger talent pool of workers.
Canadians see more clearly than Americans that immigrants drive the economy, not slow it down. So what would it take to reverse the demographic collapse in the coalfields? A baby boom would help. So would increased immigration. Without one or both of those, the coalfields will continue to die, quite literally.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Are Republicans Becoming the Party of Putin?

Evan McMullin, the former CIA operations officer who ran as an independent candidate in the 2016 presidential election, has an op-ed in the Washington Post that is less than kind to the Republican Party and Congressional Republicans in particular.  The premise of McMullin's piece?  That the Republican Party is becoming the party of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.   Worse yet, they are putting America's democracy at risk - all because they place their party and lining their own pockets ahead of the best interests of the nation.  Here are op-ed highlights:
Whether its leaders and members realize it, the Republican Party is at risk of becoming the Vladi­mir Putin-aligned party in the United States. It can be convincingly argued that it’s already similar to Putin-supported parties in Europe, given Donald Trump’s presidency, the Republican base’s increasingly favorable views of Moscow and the House GOP leadership’s disinterest in investigating and preventing Russian interference.
Increasingly sophisticated Russian influence and cyberoperations threaten Americans’ ability to choose their own leaders. This isn’t hyperbole; in fact, it’s hard to overstate just how serious this issue is. Yet President Trump continues to sow doubt about whether Moscow even interfered in the 2016 presidential elections and to suggest the question’s insignificance by ignoring it all together.
Our commander in chief seems more interested in protecting Moscow than he does in deterring its future attacks. The Post reported that the administration is actually considering allowing the Russian government to reopen the two spy compounds that President Barack Obama closed in late December in response to Russia’s election attack. There are also reports that the White House plans to step up lobbying efforts against a new Russia sanctions bill that the Senate passed with overwhelming bipartisan support this month. The measure would add new financial sanctions and require congressional review before Trump could lift these or other retaliatory measures currently levied against Moscow, including the closing of the two compounds.
Worse, Trump appears to have some support in this from Republican leaders in the House. Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have delayed the bill, citing the constitutional requirement that such bills originate in the House.
This is little more than a red herring. . . . . . Instead, Ryan and McCarthy appear to be more interested in delaying and weakening the bill.
Behind their neglect are changing Republican voter opinions, which are becoming alarmingly more pro-Russian. According to a Morning Consult-Politico poll conducted in May, 49 percent of Republican voters consider Russia to be either an ally or friendly. Only 12 percent consider it an enemy. In 2015, only 12 percent of Republicans held a favorable view of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Gallup.
Because they control both the executive and legislative branches, it is ultimately up to Republican leaders to prevent future Russian attacks on American democracy, even if such attacks may benefit the party electorally. Deterrence is an indispensable part of this equation. It cannot be accomplished without punishing Moscow for its violations of our sovereignty and threatening harsher responses for future trespasses.
In passing the Russia sanctions bill, Senate Republicans have shown they understand this. . . . [Trump] simply cannot be trusted to protect the integrity of America’s democracy on his own.
Republican leaders and the party are at a crossroads. They will either choose liberty in an independent America or to serve a distant, foreign master who seeks no more than to enrich and empower himself at the expense of free society everywhere. If Republican leaders choose the latter, the majority of Americans will have no choice but to hold them accountable as opponents to the cause of freedom.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Nixon, Trump, and How a Presidency Ends

As a piece in New York Magazine argues, the opponents of Der Trumpenführer simple need to just wait and maintain pressure on Congressional Republicans.  The piece reminds us that Watergate did not become a presidency ending phenomenon over night.   Despite the efforts of Vichy Republicans who would happily turn a blind eye even to Trump's murder of someone in broad day light in the middle of 5th Avenue, if the spotlight remains focused on obstruction and lies and self-dealing, at some point Trump may become too much of a burden for them.  We can only hope that that day comes sooner as opposed to later and that Mike Pence gets caught up in the collapse of a presidency that should never have occurred.  Here are article highlights:
“Let others wallow in Watergate, we are going to do our job,” said Richard Nixon with typical unearned self-righteousness in July 1973. By then, more than a year had passed since a slapstick posse of five had been caught in a bungled burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex. It had been nine months since Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported in the Washington Post that the break-in was part of a “massive campaign of political spying and sabotage” conducted by all the president’s men against most of their political opponents. Now the nation was emerging from two solid months of Senate Watergate hearings, a riveting cavalcade of White House misfits and misdeeds viewed live by 71 percent of the public.
Even so, Nixon had some reason to hope that Americans would heed his admonition to change the channel. That summer, the Times reported that both Democratic and Republican congressmen back home for recess were finding “a certain numbness” about Watergate and no “public mandate for any action as bold as impeachment.”
Gallup put the president’s approval rating in the upper 30s, roughly where our current president stands now — lousy, but not apocalyptic. There had yet to be an impeachment resolution filed in Congress by even Nixon’s most partisan adversaries. . . . . Might Tricky Dick pull off another Houdini? He was capable of it, and, as it happened, it would take another full year of bombshells and firestorms after the televised Senate hearings before a clear majority of Americans (57 percent) finally told pollsters they wanted the president to go home. Only then did he oblige them, in August 1974. [A]mong those of us who want Donald Trump gone from Washington yesterday, there’s a fair amount of fear that he, too, could hang on until the end of a four-year term that stank of corruption from the start. Even if his White House scandals turn out to exceed his predecessor’s — as the former director of national intelligence James Clapper posited in early June — impeachment is a political, not a legal, matter, and his political lock on the presidency would seem secure. Unlike Nixon, who had to contend with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Trump has the shield of a Republican Congress led by craven enablers terrified of crossing their Dear Leader’s fiercely loyal base. That distinction alone is enough to make anti-Trumpers abandon all hope. I’m here to say don’t do so just yet. . . . . . If you look through a sharp Nixonian lens at Trump’s trajectory in office to date, short as it has been, you will discover more of an overlap than you might expect. You will learn that Democratic control of Congress in 1973 was not a crucial factor in Nixon’s downfall and that Republican control of Congress in 2017 may not be a life preserver for Trump. You will find reason to hope that the 45th president’s path through scandal may wind up at the same destination as the 37th’s — a premature exit from the White House in disgrace — on a comparable timeline. The skids of Trump’s collapse are already being greased by some of the same factors that brought down his role model: profound failings of character, disdain for the law (“If the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” in Nixon’s notorious post-resignation formulation to David Frost), an inability to retain the loyalty of feuding White House aides who will lawyer up to save their own skins (H. R. McMaster may bolt faster than the ultimately imprisoned Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman), and dubious physical health (Trump’s body seems to be bloating in stress as Nixon’s phlebitis-stricken leg did). Further down the road, he’ll no doubt face the desertion of politicians in his own party who hope to cling to power after he’s gone. The American University historian Allan Lichtman, famous for his lonely prediction of Trump’s electoral victory, has followed up that feat with The Case for Impeachment, a book-length forecast of Trump’s doom. The impeachment, he writes, “will be decided not just in the halls of Congress but in the streets of America.” I’d go further to speculate that Trump’s implosion is more likely to occur before there’s an impeachment vote on the floor of the House — as was the case with Nixon. But where Nixon’s exit was catalyzed by an empirical recognition that he’d lost the votes he needed to survive a Senate trial, in Trump’s case the trigger will be his childish temper, not the facts. I suspect he’ll find a way to declare “victory,” blame his departure on a conspiracy by America’s (i.e., his) “enemies,” and vow to fight another day on a network TBA.
But as was also true with Nixon, some time and much patience will be required while waiting for the endgame. The span between Nixon’s Second Inaugural and his resignation was almost 19 months. Trump’s presidency already seems as if it’s lasted a lifetime, but it’s only five months old. Never forget that the Watergate auto-da-fé wasn’t built in a day.
I hope that the author is right!