Saturday, December 09, 2017

The GOP Is Now the Party of Predators

Republican elected officials continue to bloviate about the GOP being the party of "family values" - especially during election season - yet their actions send a very different message.  It would appear that the GOP now has no vlaues whatsoever other than perhaps to steal for the poor to give to the rich.  Indeed, sexual predators are perfectly acceptable be they in the White House or running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama.  Meanwhile, in order to protect their new führer (who increasingly appears to have perhaps committed treason), these same Republicans attack the FBI and depict it as some sort of  "secret police" for liberals that manufactures "fake news."  A growing majority of Americans find what is occurring to be repulsive, yet the Republicans continue to forge ahead alienating the rising generations of voters.  Perhaps they hope for their führer to impose a dictatorship so that securing a majority of votes will simply no longer matter.  It seems the only explanation for what otherwise would appear to be long term suicide as a political party.  My Republican ancestors would be appalled by it all.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at how predatory sexual behavior is now the latest thing to be normalized by the GOP.  Here are excerpts:
Even The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which sold its soul to Donald Trump after the election, said this morning that “you have to believe in magic to think this is going to end well for Republicans.” Anticipating the resignation of Al Franken, the editorial pleaded with its party, from Trump down, to disown Moore — if only because the departures of both Franken and John Conyers rendered moot the GOP’s main talking point to deflect any questions about the party’s embrace of Moore.
But while the Democrats’ resignations have now ripped away that moral fig leaf, there’s zero chance the GOP will ditch Moore. Sure, some Republicans in Washington, including Mitch McConnell, have denounced Moore. But many of them have previously disowned Trump on multiple occasions — including, most pertinently, after the release of the Access Hollywood tape — only to fold soon after. The RNC’s renewed funding of Moore’s campaign tells you all you need to know about the Vichy Republicans. That’s an action that speaks louder than words. The GOP wants to add another vote to its slender Senate majority and will swallow anything required to get it.
The Party of Lincoln is now the Party of Predators. Maybe it always was: Do recall the histories of such GOP congressional leaders as Denny Hastert and Mark Foley. It should also be noted that a tolerance for sexual predation may be well on its way to becoming a majority plank among the GOP rank and file. While a new Quinnipiac poll finds that 77 percent of Democrats believe elected officials should resign in the face of multiple sexual harassment accusations, only 51 percent of Republicans do.
Moore has the wholehearted support of the Republican president, and if he is elected on Tuesday in Alabama (the likely outcome, I’d guess), the Senate will seat him no matter the posturing to the contrary. Among Republican elites, the only naysayers to Trump are either out of power (Mitt Romney) or not likely to face another election. In that latter category, even John McCain violated his professed principles about deficits and a “regular” legislative process to sign on to the tax bill that extravagantly rewards Republican donors. He and his colleagues will shed crocodile tears about the new sexual miscreant in the Senate chamber all the way to the bank. 

The piece goes on to say this about the sexual predator-in-chief:
Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital yesterday, upending nearly 70 years of U.S. policy. Critics of the decision include the Pope, some of the most powerful U.S. allies, and, reportedly, Rex Tillerson and James Mattis. What does Trump gain here?
Trump’s most incendiary presidential actions are generally prompted by one or all of three underlying motives: (1) to pander to the one third of the country that is his unfailingly loyal base; (2) to distract from the Mueller investigation and all its attendant story lines; (3) to enable the kleptocratic enrichment of himself, his family, and Trump business enterprises. At the very least (1) and (2) are at work here.
Trump’s most incendiary presidential actions are generally prompted by one or all of three underlying motives: (1) to pander to the one third of the country that is his unfailingly loyal base; (2) to distract from the Mueller investigation and all its attendant story lines; (3) to enable the kleptocratic enrichment of himself, his family, and Trump business enterprises. At the very least (1) and (2) are at work here.
[A] major component of the Trump base, the Evangelical right, led by its in-house representative Mike Pence, was the driver here. Evangelical Christians want to ensure that Jews remain in power in Jerusalem as a step toward the Second Coming. They see the provocative move of the American embassy as furthering that goal (which may prove to be far from the case). It tells you all you need to know about these lovely people that they clamor for an American embassy in Jerusalem, but back at home remain silent when Trump calls the alt-right stormtroopers of Charlottesville “very fine people” after they’ve chanted that “Jews will not replace us.”
Of course the announcement of the embassy move would fall on the day that Donald Trump Jr. was stonewalling investigators behind closed doors at the House Intelligence Committee.
Much was made by Republicans, not without reason, when Bill Clinton went on television to announce the American bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. But how puny that Wag the Dog moment looks now when we have a president who thinks nothing of engulfing the world in war and environmental calamity to save himself from potential legal culpability on multiple fronts, from obstruction of justice and collusion with Russia to sexual assault.

As a former Republican, I truly do not comprehend how outwardly decent people remain Republicans given the hideousness of today's GOP. 

More Saturday Male Beauty

Clueless Straight White Males Make Excuses for "Religious Based" Homophobia

George Will and David Brooks - clueless straight white guys
A Facebook friend and fellow LGBT activist shared a piece from Slate that underscores to me the most maddening thing about far too many heterosexual white males - and many heterosexual white Christians in general.  NONE of these individuals had one iota of input on their being white, being heterosexual or being born into right wing Christian families.  That had NOTHING to doe with the winning hand that they were dealt. Yet far too many act as if their random luckiness somehow invests them with special virtue and excuses them from any responsibility to hold even a shred of empathy or respect toward those who through no fault of their own happened to be born black, LGBT, Hispanic or born into non-fundamentalist Christian families.  Worse yet, they expect those not dealt such lucky hands in life to quietly accept the bigotry and discrimination targeted at them by, you guessed it, the white, heterosexual Christians.  The hypocrisy and self-centered nature these folks is simply stunning.  The Slate piece blasts those who attack gays for wanting non-discrimination laws enforced and once again would place toxic, hate based religious belief over the civil rights of others. One of the targets of the piece in New York Times columnist David Brooks who is lamenting what the GOP has become, yet continues to engage in the mindset that helped turn the Republican Party into a toxic cesspool that it is today.  Here are excerpts from Slate:
Why does it seem that, every time a national debate erupts about the place of minorities in American life, a gaggle of Straight White Guys with little connection to or understanding of these minorities holds forth on how they should or shouldn’t resolve their grievance about unequal treatment? This week’s version came in response to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Division, the Supreme Court case of Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple . . . Phillips is seeking a license to discriminate based on artistic and religious freedom.
This week’s featured culprits: David Brooks writing in the New York Times, and George Will and political scientist Greg Weiner in the Washington Post. Each of their pieces made some reasonable points. But each betrayed a galling inability or unwillingness to truly consider what it might feel like to be a disfavored minority in modern America—to enter a store and be stamped for rejection based on a stigma you’ve already endured your entire life. In other words, they refused to let empathy shape their thinking.
This appeal to empathy is not a plea for powerful men to feel sorry for minorities; it’s about creating the moral habits of mind that involve putting yourself in others’ shoes so you can better understand the many sides of an issue that disproportionately affects people who aren’t you. If decent white men should have learned anything from the Trump election, Charlottesville, the police killings of unarmed black men, and the nationwide sexual harassment scandal, it’s that we have a special responsibility to better learn and practice empathy so we can make more informed decisions and wreak less havoc across the world.
With that in mind, I present five arguments advanced by Clueless Straight White Guys about religious-based anti-LGBTQ discrimination and explain why they’re clueless:
Argument No. 1: It’s just cake; buy it somewhere else.
Why it’s clueless:  . . . . “go elsewhere” entirely misses the point of this case. The feeling seems to be that if a major material hardship is not at issue, LGBTQ people should just suck it up and not fuss about such ethereal things as seeking dignity and avoiding the humiliation of exclusion from the public realm. As I’ve argued, full access to both commercial accommodations and marital recognition is a basic matter of equal dignity. For black Americans, standing a few feet further back on an Alabama bus was, yes, a material hardship for toiling housecleaners and waitresses on their feet all day; but just as important, it was an affront to dignity and it was deemed, quite properly, a constitutional affront. . . . . This case is about equality, not shopping.
Argument No. 2: It’s not like we’re condoning something as bad as racial discrimination.
Why it’s clueless: This is a fundamental failure of understanding history—itself a failure of empathy because history requires putting yourself in the worlds of others. The argument here is that when religion was used to justify slavery and racial discrimination in the past, those people were obviously being disingenuous. But today’s use of religion to defend other forms of prejudice is, just as obviously, sincere.
But the Christian explanations for segregation really were deeply felt. And the Supreme Court has repeatedly thrown this rationale out. . . . . The trial judge in the case that later outlawed bans on interracial marriage declared in his decision that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
These judges stated or conceded that the religious beliefs propping up racism were sincere. Fortunately, that didn’t hold up in court as a justification for segregation. Meanwhile, religious justifications for racial segregation are hardly a thing of the past, but have been bubbling up again for decades and have broken into the open as part of Donald Trump’s ennobling of white nationalism.
Clueless Straight White Guys seem to feel at the end of the day that, while racism is bad, homophobia really just isn’t that awful and so religious conservatives should just get a pass.
Argument No. 3: It would have been so much kinder if the gays had just been neighborly and courteous about all this, even though the baker wasn’t.
Why it’s clueless:  Really? The gays behaved “abominably”? Dragging out the actual word the Bible uses to condemn gays as disgusting threats to civilization? Will berates a gay couple for having the audacity to ask the government to enforce the law, and derides them as essentially fetishizing their own rights. This can only be said by someone who has never had to defend his rights against those who would repeatedly trample them. I’ve no doubt it’s annoying for Will to hear black, brown, female, gay, and trans people always clamoring for their rights; imagine for a minute what it feels like for them.
Telling minorities who have suffered a history of discrimination that it’s unneighborly, unseemly, or discourteous to fight for rights that they’re being denied but you’re enjoying is shameless . . .
Argument No. 4: Be patient and let the political process of persuasion and compromise run its course; the courts are the wrong place to go when your rights aren’t being protected, and it will only spur backlash.
Why it’s clueless: Has anyone else noticed how well the “political process” has been functioning lately, particularly with protecting the rights of vulnerable minorities? And are Clueless Straight White Guys aware of the tens of millions being spent by conservative religious groups pushing hundreds of state bills and lawsuits seeking to undercut the reality of marriage equality and other gains toward LGBTQ equality?
The political process did not secure marriage equality; the courts did. And the brilliance of the LGBTQ movement, as those who aren’t clueless about LGBTQ history and the long struggle for marriage will tell you, was that its advocates did engage in persuasion, conversation, and appeals to the public—for decades. One result was that Colorado passed a duly enacted law through its democratically elected legislature banning anti-gay discrimination in public accommodations.
Yes, pushing for LGBTQ equality in court spurred backlash, as Weiner notes. But it then generated a public dialogue around empathy and equality, and swept full marriage equality into being nationwide—including places like Alabama. If going to court for racial equality was the right course, it’s also the right course here.
Argument No. 5: The baker is only asking that his sincere religious beliefs and artistic freedom be respected; he is not harming anyone.
Why it’s clueless:  The prevalence and harms of discrimination are not abstractions, but have been extensively documented, including in this amicus brief signed by three dozens scholars. You could just spend some time speaking with LGBTQ people who have faced it, and you’d know this.
Most people seem to take Phillips at his word that, as a Christian, his opposition to participating in a same-sex marriage is a “sincere belief.”  . . . Yet while Phillips may experience his beliefs as sincere, it’s simultaneously possible—indeed likely—that bias and even animus are really at play. Consider this consistency test: The Bible clearly teaches not only that marriage is for straights, but that it’s for life and that divorce is a sin equivalent to adultery. Yet no one has sued for the right to refuse service to customers on their second or third marriage. Will accepts Phillips’ claim of religious belief on faith, as if the baker’s only choice is to stop selling his beloved wedding cakes entirely. But if that’s true, he would have made the same fuss over mounds of other Biblical transgressions. Courts can’t look into the minds of the parties to a case. But there is enough evidence that bias, often unconscious, is the overwhelming factor in anti-gay discrimination to take claims of religious sincerity with a grain of salt.
Even if we take religious-based anti-LGBTQ sentiment as sincere, there’s no question that refusing service to minorities causes harm. And where the wish to harm others by imposing your religion on them collides with the state’s interest in ensuring the dignity of access to public accommodations, the courts have already sided with the latter.

The last point scores a home run.  Evangelicals are in general the most anti-gay - and often equally racist - of any Christian denominations yet have the highest divorce rate (the Bible Belt also has the highest teen pregnancy rate and the highest use of Internet porn).  Obviously, only selective passages in the Bible are cited for the basis of "deeply held religious belief" - usually those that are useful in condemning others - while others are literally ignored, including Christ's purported prohibition on divorce.   Bigots like Jack Phillips need to be called out.  If they are going to cite the Bible for the basis of their belief, they'd better damn well be following every aspect of it.  And if they are not, let's be honest and call them what they are: modern day Pharisees.  And the New Testament is VERY clear on what Christ thought of the Pharisees. 

The GOP Is Riddled with Moral Rot

The moral bankruptcy that has overtaken the Republican Party did not happen over night.  In my view, it began when the wrongly name "Christian Right" - a group that is neither Christian in its behavior or right on moral issues - was welcomed into the party.  Then, when excesses and extremism began to take off under the influence of those who hate almost everyone and refuse to accept science and even objective reality, far to many conservatives and members of the pundit class became apologists for what was increasingly reprehensible (this includes David Brooks who in a column in the New York Times laments the consequences of his own accommodation with evil).  Add to this betrayal of decency Fox News and the rest of the right wing media and lunatics like Sarah Palin became mainstream in the GOP.  All of that we are witnessing in the GOP is the result of embracing toxic people and embracing hate and ignorance.  Brooks' column is on point.  Some of us saw this coming long ago, but our protests were ignored.  Here are column excerpts:
A lot of good, honorable Republicans used to believe there was a safe middle ground. You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump, but you didn’t have to go all the way to the other extreme and commit political suicide like the dissident Jeff Flake, either. You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed.
Now it’s clear that middle ground doesn’t exist. That’s because Donald Trump never stops asking. First, he asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.
There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.
That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.
The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.
 “What shall it profit a man,” Jesus asked, “if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” The current Republican Party seems to not understand that question.
It’s amazing that there haven’t been more Republicans like Mitt Romney who have said: “Enough is enough! I can go no further!”
The reason, I guess, is that the rot that has brought us to the brink of Senator Roy Moore began long ago. Starting with Sarah Palin and the spread of Fox News, the G.O.P. traded an ethos of excellence for an ethos of hucksterism.
The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.
Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.
The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”
 All of which is why I am now more or less a Democrat.  The GOP left me years ago.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, December 08, 2017

More Friday Male Beauty

The Steele Dossier on Trump Is Looking Increasingly Real

While many congressional Republicans appear hell bent on discrediting Robert Mueller and even the FBI as more Trump campaign figures have been indicted or struck pleas deals to go state's evidence against the Trump/Pence regime, other details seem to be pointing to a source of the GOP paranoia: the Steele dossier is looking more and more real and accurate in many of its accusations. With the GOP obsessed with placating its white supremacist and Christofascist base so as to avoid primary challenges and to retain an unfit individual in the Oval Office that will sign bills furthering the party's reverse Robin Hood agenda, the last thing the Republicans want to admit is that they have become the party of treason.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the growing belief that much of the Steele dossier's contents are true:  
When news surfaced at the beginning of the year that British intelligence agent turned private investigator Christopher Steele had compiled a report on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, news reports immediately treated its findings as radioactive. The implications of Steele’s reporting were spy-movie-unreal: Trump was the subject of Russian financial and even sexual blackmail, and he and his advisers had been openly colluding with Moscow. Two details in particular made the dossier seem suspect. First, its report that Trump had paid Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed that had been used by Barack Obama. And second, the report alleged that Michael Cohen, a Trump crony with Russian contacts, had met in Prague with Russian intelligence officials. The golden-showers detail, while unconfirmed, seemed too bizarre to be plausible. And Cohen shot down the Prague allegation forcefully. The report of his meeting was “totally fake, totally inaccurate,” Cohen said, “I’m telling you emphatically that I’ve not been to Prague, I’ve never been to Czech [Republic], I’ve not been to Russia.” But this hardly settles the question. A congressional investigation is digging into whether Cohen is telling the truth about the alleged visit to Prague. “Cohen’s passport would not show any record of a visit to Prague if he entered the EU through Italy, traveled to the Czech Republic, and then returned to his point of EU entry,” reports Politico, in a passage that’s received less attention than merited. “A congressional official said the issue is ‘still active’ for investigators.”
Most reporters have treated the say-so of Cohen, a Trump hanger-on laden with extremely shady associations, as implicitly more credible than the reporting of a British intelligence agent with years of expertise. That is probably a mistake.
And what about the bit about the prostitutes? . . . . Brian Beutler made a fairly persuasive case that Trump has displayed during his presidency the exact same kind of pathological, self-destructive jealousy of Barack Obama (who had publicly humiliated Trump two years before the alleged incident).
As time goes by, more and more of the claims first reported by Steele have been borne out. In general, there is a split between the credibility afforded the dossier by the mainstream media and by intelligence professionals. The former treat it is gossip; the latter take it seriously.
[N]o doubt some of the tips Steele picked up are false. But we should probably be giving far more weight to the possibility that the darkest interpretation of Trump’s relations with Russia is actually true.

Donald Trump’s Mental Meltdown

Long before November 8, 2016, there were voices shouting out warnings about Donald Trump's mental fitness for the Oval Office.  At a minimum, we heard warnings that he was a malignant narcissist who would endanger the nation and damage the nation domestically and in the international realm.  Despite these warnings and a 3 million vote loss in the popular vote, the Electoral College certified Trump as the winner of the election in dereliction of its duty as envisioned by the Founding Fathers who had feared the rise of someone like Trump.  The fact that the 70,000 votes in three states that tipped the scales were likely motivated by the efforts of a hostile foreign nation make the situation all the more disturbing.  If Vladimir Putin sought to weaken the United States, he has achieved far more than he could have dreamed as Trump has shredded treaty negotiations and frayed international alliances.  Meanwhile, his white supremacist and Christofascists core of supporters remain so blinded by their hatred of minorities and desire to trample on the religious freedom of other citizens that they turn a blind eye to how they have endangered to nation.  A column in the Washington Post looks at Trump's seeming mental deterioration.  When will Congressional Republicans put the country ahead of partisan ship and robbing the working and middle classes to lavish tax cuts on the already wealthy?  Here are column highlights:
Donald Trump spent much of 2016 questioning his opponent’s stamina to be president of the United States. But it is now Trump’s own fitness that is being scrutinized by friends and foes alike. After Trump spent recent weeks creating a level of chaos unseen around the White House since Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Capitol Hill politicians and media outlets are quietly questioning whether Trump is fit for the highest office in the land. That the commander in chief slurred his way through the end of a speech on Jerusalem Wednesday was just the latest in a string of unsettling incidents. Many who move through his orbit believe Trump is not well. That is a verdict that was reached long ago by many of the president’s own staff. More than a few politicians and reporters across Washington have shared similar fears.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) openly questioned Trump’s competence and suggested that administration officials are doing little more than running “an adult day care center.” The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also expressed fear that the president’s erratic behavior is putting the United States “on the path to World War III.”
The secretary of state reportedly called the president a “moron.” The national security adviser allegedly said Trump has the mind of a “kindergartner.”
White House insiders tell Vanity Fair that Trump is “unraveling” mentally.
One of the president’s regular early-morning reads, the New York Daily News, editorialized last week that “the President of the United States is profoundly unstable. He is mad. He is, by any honest layman’s definition, mentally unwell and viciously lashing out.”
The president has spent the past few weeks insulting the United States’ closest allies, retweeting anti-Muslim videos from far-right British activists, spitting out racist slurs at a ceremony honoring Native American veterans, privately embracing conspiracy theories related to his “Access Hollywood” tape and Barack Obama’s birthplace, slandering CNN International, and, yes, pushing a bizarre conspiracy theory in my direction.
Any Fortune 500 company would have fired a chief executive exhibiting similarly erratic behavior long ago. Unfortunately, the Washington leaders most strategically positioned to limit the damage seem to be frozen by fear.
For months now, national security insiders have been fretting about the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula. But administration sources admit their greatest fear is their own commander in chief’s instability.Trump has dragged America’s values and reputation to their lowest point in years. If Republicans don’t find their bearings soon, it may be America’s safety and security that are next to go.

It is frightening that each morning I wake up and hope that Trump has not unleashed some catastrophe during the night.  The fact that millions around the globe likely have a similar experience is not comforting. 

The Republican Party War on Children

I make no apologies for my past statements that, in my view, I do not fathom how a decent and moral person person can continue to be a Republican.  And that view is without even factoring in the toxicity of Der Trumpenführer and/or the RNC's full support of Roy Moore.  If one is a true follower of Christ - and the GOP claims to be the party of "Christian values" - it is impossible not to support the feeding of the hungry, aiding the poor and/or sick, and sheltering the homeless, especially in the case of children, yet the Republican Party is engaged in an all out war on children, not to mention the elderly after Paul Ryan's announcement that in 2018 Congressional Republicans want to put Medicare. Medicaid and Social Security benefits on the chopping block in order to pay for huge tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy and large corporations.  Interestingly, at a holiday social gathering tonight I talk briefly with a friend who has historically identified as a Christian and Republican, yet who now feels that he can no longer remain a Republican.  Ironically, this individual wanted to talk to me about my departure from the GOP a significant number of years ago and how he might make the transition from the GOP to the Democrats.   Meanwhile, a piece in New York Times looks at the GOP efforts to harm children.  Here are excerpts:
Would you be willing to take health care away from a thousand children with the bad luck to have been born into low-income families so that you could give millions of extra dollars to just one wealthy heir?
You might think that this question is silly, hypothetical and has an obvious answer. But it’s not at all hypothetical, and the answer apparently isn’t obvious. For it’s a literal description of the choice Republicans in Congress seem to be making as you read this.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, is basically a piece of Medicaid targeted on young Americans. It was introduced in 1997, with bipartisan support. Last year it covered 8.9 million kids. But its funding expired more than two months ago. Republicans keep saying they’ll restore the money, but they keep finding reasons not to do it; state governments, which administer the program, will soon have to start cutting children off.
The other day Senator Orrin Hatch, asked about the program (which he helped create), once again insisted that it will be funded — but without saying when or how (and there don’t seem to be any signs of movement on the issue). And he further declared, “The reason CHIP’s having trouble is that we don’t have money anymore.” Then he voted for an immense tax cut.
And one piece of that immense tax cut is a big giveaway to inheritors of large estates. Under current law, a married couple’s estate pays no tax unless it’s worth more than $11 million, so that only a handful of estates — around 5,500, or less than 0.2 percent of the total number of deaths a year — owe any tax at all. The number of taxable estates is also, by the way, well under one one-thousandth of the number of children covered by CHIP.
But Republicans still consider this tax an unacceptable burden on the rich. The Senate bill would double the exemption to $22 million; the House bill would eliminate the estate tax entirely.
So now let’s talk dollars. CHIP covers a lot of children, but children’s health care is relatively cheap compared with care for older Americans. In fiscal 2016 the program cost only $15 billion, a tiny share of the federal budget. Meanwhile, under current law the estate tax is expected to bring in about $20 billion, more than enough to pay for CHIP.
By their actions, Republicans are showing that they consider it more important to give extra millions to one already wealthy heir than to provide health care to a thousand children. . . . There is no plausible argument to the effect that letting wealthy heirs claim their inheritance tax-free will make the economy boom.
What about the argument that estate taxes are a burden on small businesses and family farms? That’s a total, thoroughly debunked myth: Each year only around 80 — eight-zero — small businesses and farms pay any estate tax at all. And when you hear about family farms broken up to pay estate tax, remember: Nobody has ever come up with a modern example.
Then there’s the argument of Senator Chuck Grassley that we need to eliminate estate taxes to reward those who don’t spend their money on “booze or women or movies.” Yes, indeed, letting the likes of Donald Trump Jr. inherit wealth tax-free is a reward for their fathers’ austere lifestyles.
Think about it. Children who get adequate care are more likely to be healthier and more productive when they become adults, which means that they’ll earn more and pay more in taxes. They’re also less likely to become disabled and need government support. One recent study estimated that the government in fact earns a return of between 2 and 7 percent on the money it spends insuring children.
[I]t’s still hard to believe that a whole political party would balk at doing the decent thing for millions of kids while rushing to further enrich a few thousand wealthy heirs.
That is, however, exactly what’s happening. And it’s as bad, in its own way, as that same party’s embrace of a child molester because they expect him to vote for tax cuts.
Again, based on this example alone, how do decent moral people remain Republicans?  Are the sticking their heads in the sand?  Or, do they think all of these children are non-whites and, therefore, disposable trash.  The moral bankruptcy is complete. I left the years ago and now I refrain from calling myself a Christian given what the evangelical Christians and "family values" republicans have done to destroy the Christian brand.

Friday Morning Friday Morning - Pt 1

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Lest We Forget the Ugliness of War: Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

The image above reminds us of the ugliness and death that accompanies war, something Der Trumpenführer seems to have forgotten as he inflames relations with North Korea and tries to ignite a conflagration in the Middle East with his declaration that the United States will move its embassy to Jerusalem.  

Brief statistics on the damage done by the attack on Pearl Harbor:  All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. All but the USS Arizona were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship,[nb 5] and one minelayer. One hundred eighty-eight U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed (the vast majority aboard the Arizona) and 1,178 others were wounded.

Three days later, British Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales (which earlier in the year damaged the German battleship Bismark and led to its demise) and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by land-based bombers and torpedo bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy as the Japanese swept into  French Indo-China and  Britain's fortress at Singapore.

Frighteningly, Der Trumpenführer  knows little of history or of the true situation in the Middle East.  As always, satiating his ego and narcissism - and on occasion throwing bones to his evangelical Christian supporters - is all that really motivates his actions.  

As we remember the dead today, we must remember that we have an occupant of the White House who truly cares nothing about the lives that may be lost all because of his arrogance and ignorance.

More Thursday Male Beauty

Mueller Closes in on White House, Pence Makes Himself Scarce

Lest Fox News viewers forget (assuming Fox is even covering Russiagate), Mike Pence was actively involved in the Trump campaign and he was the head of the Trump transition team.  Yet, as noted before, he has steadfastly acted like Sergeant Schultz in the old Hogan's Heroes, television show: he claims he saw nothing, heard nothing and knew nothing.  Recent revelations, including emails discussing Mike Flynn's Russian contacts, however, suggest that Pence - who claims to be a devout evangelical Christian - is perhaps lying.  As regular readers know, in my view from years of tracking them, other than perhaps Trump himself, few elements of American society lie more often or more viciously than the self-congratulatory "godly folk." A piece in Vanity Fair looks at Pence's efforts to fade into the woodwork as he no doubt hopes that if and when Trump is driven from office, he can step in and claim the mantle of the presidency.  Here are article highlights:
It is extraordinary, in retrospect, that Mike Pence wouldn’t have known about Michael Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak or his foreign lobbying ties. As we now know, multiple members of the Trump campaign were aware that the man who would become Donald Trump’s national security adviser was in communication with the Russian ambassador at a senior campaign official’s behest. Yet Pence, who was in charge of Trump’s White House transition team—directing staffing, organizing agency “landing teams,” and vetting administration candidates—was conveniently out of the loop. (Flynn was ostensibly fired for misleading the vice president about those contacts.) Pence went radio silent again last week, when Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about those conversations. And he was nowhere to be found in the aftermath, as Trump’s legal team raced to contain the fallout after the president potentially implicated himself in obstruction of justice on Twitter. The former Indiana governor has, on the one hand, secured Trump’s trust by serving as an unflappable, unquestionably ideological defender of the president’s agenda. But his blissful ignorance on all things Russia has also raised eyebrows in Washington among insiders who see him as the obvious back-up candidate if Trump doesn’t pan out. Indeed, Pence has a curious pattern of alibis whenever controversy strikes the West Wing. While Flynn and Jared Kushner were ensnared in back-channel brokering over a United Nations resolution during the transition, Politico notes, Pence was volunteering at a homeless shelter in his home state of Indiana. When Flynn was gabbing with Kislyak about lifting sanctions against Moscow, Pence was at his son’s wedding. As Donald Trump Jr. was fending off headlines about his Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, his father’s right-hand man insisted that was the first he’d heard of it.
Rumors of Pence’s presidential ambitions seem to resurface whenever Trump’s political prospects look weakest. . . . . Others noted the existence of an unspoken agreement among Republicans to keep Pence above the fray. “He’s not stupid about the fact that there could be some very bad outcomes for Donald Trump here,” Rick Wilson, another Republican strategist, added.
There is no vice president who takes the job without the expectation of advancement. But Pence, it seems, glimpsed the possibility of a promotion early on. According to The Atlantic, amid the tumult after the Access Hollywood tape was made public, Pence briefly came within spitting distance of the top of the Republican ticket.
It is a grand irony that Donald Trump might, unintentionally, slingshot Mike Pence to the presidency. While Pence’s name emerged as a potential presidential contender for 2016 in the wake of his 2012 gubernatorial victory, the Indiana governor’s political career was on a downward trajectory when he unexpectedly hitched his wagon to Trump’s star.
Pence has repeatedly denied that he has any designs on the presidency. . . . Still, the signs are there. In May, he filed paperwork with the F.E.C. to launch his own PAC, the Great America Committee. Reports that he was cozying up to Republican mega-donors fanned speculation that he was in drape-measuring mode. According to the Times story, “multiple advisers” to Pence have “already intimated to party donors that he would plan to run if Mr. Trump did not.”
Pence’s ascendance could come sooner than later. . . . The latest argument from Trump’s legal team—that there “is no crime of collusion” and that the “president cannot obstruct justice”—appears to anticipate the worst. Meanwhile, Pence boosters are waiting quietly in the wing.
The country does not need another conniving liar in the White House.  If - and hopefully soon - Trump goes down he will reach out and take Pence with him.  If Trump has any sense, he ought to see the signs that Pence will knife him in the back as soon as he sees it to be in his own self-interest.  I despise Paul Ryan, but he'd be far less dangerous to the country and civil rights of its citizenry than either Trump or Pence.

Alabama Vote Will Define Republicans - and Christians

The Millennial generation which includes those born between 1982 and 2000 - now the largest generation numerically in America - is becoming increasingly anti-Republican and anti-Christianity. Indeed, if Millennials voted in numbers comparable to reactionary elderly voters, many Republicans at state and federal office levels would be swept from office (their increased voter turnout in Virginia last month made a large difference in the outcome).  While their voting turnout needs to improve, they are actively showing their disdain for Christianity and organized religion in general by simply walking away.  A piece in Living Lutheran, the official magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, looks at the exodus of Millennials from religious denominations and their attitudes towards Christianity.  The piece looks at data compiled by Pew Research Center, Barna Groupand others.  Here are the findings:

87% see Christians as judgmental
85% see Christians as hypocrites
91% see Christians as anti-LGBT
36% of those 27 and younger have completely walked away from religious denominations 
34% of those 35 and under have completely walked away from religious denominations 
20% align with evangelical Protestants versus 30% of the so-called silent generation
16% align with Catholicism versus 24% of the so-called silent generation

In this context, we have the Alabama special senatorial election on December 12, 2017, which in the minds of many will strongly impact how many see the Republican Party and self-professed "Christians."  A column in the Washington Post looks at how this election will have long lasting effects beyond those that fixate Mitch McConnell, Der Trumpenführer, and other equally foul and morally bankrupt Republicans.  Here are column excerpts:
Just how disordered have our politics become? And how off-the-rails is the Republican Party?
The good people of Alabama will help answer these questions in next Tuesday’s special election for the U.S. Senate. The whole world will be watching them decide whether party and ideology top decency and moderation; whether there is simply no end to the extremism Republican voters are willing to tolerate in their ranks; and whether a majority in their state believe that being a credibly accused sexual predator is better than being a Democrat.  They will also be telling us what they think the word “Christian” means. 
The outcome is likely to be determined by the consciences of conservatives, and of a specific kind: those who see Mitt Romney and Republicans like him as far more reflective of their moral sense than is Judge Roy Moore, the GOP’s ethically defective nominee whose indifference to the law led him to be removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court twice.  . . .  The former Massachusetts governor tweeted this week that having Moore in the Senate “would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation.”
For good measure, Bannon not only accused Romney of avoiding service in Vietnam. He also trafficked in the anti-Mormon sentiments common among some evangelical Christians.
Thanks to Bannon, we now know that this is no longer just a race between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney who, depending on the poll, is either slightly behind or slightly ahead. It is, in very large part, a decision by Republicans about who they are.
It is also an important choice for devoted Christians. Do they really want their faith defined by those who tried to justify Moore’s alleged relationships with young teenagers by invoking the Holy Family and saying that Joseph was older than Mary . . . . ? Or by arguing that an interest in young girls might be explained by a desire for “a large family,” as a professor at Ouachita Baptist University wrote?
Do those saying such things not realize that they are helping to discredit the very tradition they claim to be defending? No atheist could inflict this much damage to the faith.
Moore’s promoters, including Bannon, want to convince Alabama Republicans that since a Jones triumph will be taken as a rebuke to Trump, they have an obligation to fall into line. But the long-term harm to the GOP from a Moore victory will be far greater than from one lost Senate seat. Bannon is right to cast the election as being about “honor and integrity.” When it comes to these virtues, it is not a close call.

Complacency Will Be the Death Of American Democracy

I have been politically engaged and - in my view - informed for decades.  Sadly, many Americans cannot say that as evidenced by the over 40% of registered voters who could not be bothered to vote in last year's presidential election.  This indifference - complacency, if you will, is having dire consequences on the viability of America's democracy, not to mention the rights of minorities.  The phenomenon is not new, but seems to have intensified in the run up to the 2016 presidential election and even afterwards as some minority communities, the LGBT community in particular. If one is a student of history, one knows that the Founding Fathers were (i) educated individuals, and (ii) believed that citizens have an obligation to educate themselves on issues and be politically involved.  Stated another way, an obligation of citizenship is political involvement and staying fully informed on matters. This latter concept was and is essential to maintaining and protecting democracy.  Compare this concept with the proverbial soccer moms who fixate on PTA issues and children's' sports yet remain clueless on pressing political issues and all to often either fail to vote cast their votes in utter ignorance.  I use soccer moms as but one example.  The problem is replicated across many groups in society, including the LGBT community where a minority seems to be engaged and informed while others remain clueless and often fail to support community organizations from which they receive benefits.   Excuses the "I'm too busy" or "I don't like politics" simple are not acceptable and are a default of fulfilling one's duty as a citizen.  History has shown us time and time again of what can happen when the citizenry falls into complacency.  Two pieces look at the consequences of complacency, one by Michelangelo Signorile directed at the LGBT community and the other on remarks made by Barack Obama.  First, these highlights from Michelangelo's column:
Inside the U.S. Supreme Court this week for the oral arguments for Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission I couldn’t help but look at Justice Neil Gorsuch and imagine how things would be if Merrick Garland were rightly sitting in that chair. 
Had Republicans not stolen that seat, refusing a vote on President Obama’s nominee for almost the entirety of his last year in office and allowing Donald Trump to put Neil Gorsuch ― an ideologue on the issue of “religious liberty” ― on the court, we would not be in this dangerous predicament.
[M]any progressive legal observers are concerned ― some very much so ― and the general consensus among journalists who cover legal issues is that it will come down to Kennedy, and that he, by his own history, could side with the baker. It’s often forgotten that on another gay rights decision, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, Kennedy joined the majority in a 2000 ruling that the Boy Scouts could ban gay scouts and scoutmasters on First Amendment grounds. 
In my 2015 book, It’s Not Over, I wrote all about what I’d termed “victory blindness,” a phenomenon in which minorities who are discriminated against become seduced by big wins ― like the Obergefell ruling ― and think they’ve achieved full equality in society. Victory blindness, I argued, overcame many LGBTQ people, who let their guards down or dismissed some anti-LGBTQ actions, not realizing that the anti-equality forces were organizing fiercely, and that the backlash would be intense and could roll back LGBTQ rights while we’re celebrating or not paying attention.
Victory blindness often prevents us from seeing how tenuous our wins are and how all minorities must continue to fight for their rights because the political winds can shift very quickly.
Donald Trump’s election and presidency did a lot to shake us from it, forcing us to become energized and to vow to fight. This week at the Supreme Court, no matter how the case eventually is decided, should serve to do the same.
The second piece goes well beyond the confines of the LGBT community and looks at how complacency can give rise to authoritarianism.  It has happened before throughout history and Donald Trump and today's GOP seemingly hope to allow it to happen again.  Here are highlights:
American democracy is fragile, and unless care is taken it could follow the path of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Mixed in with many softer comments, that was the somewhat jaw-dropping bottom line of Barack Obama last night as, in a Q&A session before the Economic Club of Chicago, the Chicagoan who used to be president dropped a bit of red meat to a hometown crowd that likely is a lot closer to him than the man whose name never was mentioned: President Donald Trump.
Obama moved from that to talking about a nativist mistrust and unease that has swept around the world. He argued that such things as the speed of technical change and the uneven impact of globalization have come too quickly to be absorbed in many cultures, bringing strange new things and people to areas in which "people didn't (used to) challenge your assumptions." As a result, "nothing feels solid," he said. "Sadly, there's something in us that looks for simple answers when we're agitated."
Still, the U.S. has survived tough times before and will again, he noted, particularly mentioning the days of communist fighter Joseph McCarthy and former President Richard Nixon. But one reason the country survived is because it had a free press to ask questions, Obama added. Though he has problems with the media just like Trump has had, "what I understood was the principle that the free press was vital."
The danger is "grow(ing) complacent," Obama said. "We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly."
That's what happened in Germany in the 1930s, which despite the democracy of the Weimar Republic and centuries of high-level cultural and scientific achievements, Adolph Hitler rose to dominate, Obama noted. "Sixty million people died. . . .So, you've got to pay attention. And vote."