Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Spreading Unrest of Red State Teachers

Red states have two main pillars of Republican Party governance: (i) slash taxes and governmental funding and (ii) prostitute yourself and the civil law to right wing Christian extremists. One area where these agendas merged was in slashing public school funding which satisfied the Christofascist party base's hatred of public education because - the horror! - it might educate students to the point where they might walk away from the brain dead, anti-knowledge worldview of the charlatans preaching from pulpits and/or television scamvagelists.  With the revolt that began in West Virginia - a state that is always the butt of jokes told by Virginians - seemingly now taking hold in other states, Republicans may find that they have awakened what may become a nightmare.  Just in time for the 2018 midterms and all of the state and local elections that piggy back with them.  The reality is that, if you value quality public schools - which are a key to maintaining property values and attracting new business and industry - you simply do not vote Republican. A piece in New York Magazine looks at the growing teacher unrest.  Here are highlights:
Eight Kentucky school districts — including those in Louisville and Lexington — are closed today as teachers stay home to protest the GOP legislature’s destructive “reforms” of their pension system. Oklahoma teachers are planning to strike on Monday despite winning a $6,100 pay raise. And Arizona teachers rallied at the state capital on Wednesday and are threatening to strike if their demands for major pay raises and restoration of education funding cuts are not met.
As this wave of unrest among teachers spreads nationally, it’s clear it has been inspired by the nine-day strike that won West Virginia teachers (and other state employees) a pay raise earlier this month. But there’s something more fundamental going on than copycat protests. We’re seeing a teacher-led backlash against years, and even decades, of Republican efforts at the state level to cut taxes and starve public investments. This is very clear in Oklahoma, where a quick pay raise the legislature passed this week is deemed by teachers to have missed the larger point: this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect. There is still work to do to get this legislature to invest more in our classrooms. And that work will continue Monday, when educators descend on the capitol,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said in a Facebook video
The pay-raise bill signed by Governor Mary Fallin yesterday brought in $447 million in new revenues from higher taxes on cigarettes and oil-production facilities. But the teachers are demanding $3.3 billion “to restore millions of dollars in school funding that have been cut in the past decade. . . .
Similarly, in Arizona the teacher protests are not just about teacher pay, though they are among the lowest paid in the country. Their demands are much broader . . . . Teachers, who organized a grassroots campaign on social media, are demanding a 20 percent raise and restoration of school funding to 2008 levels, before the Great Recession struck, according to the Arizona Republic. They are also asking state lawmakers to stop cutting taxes until Arizona’s per-student spending reaches the national average.
[T]his collision is a reminder that GOP claims that tax cuts at the state as well as the federal level would pay for themselves by generating sustained economic growth have once again proved faulty, with public education being the primary victim of chronic budget shortfalls.
While Republican pols in Arizona and Oklahoma, like their counterparts in West Virginia, are backpedaling furiously and trying to prevent or resolve strikes, the conflict may go too deep for an easy resolution.
In Kentucky, teacher grievances are mostly focused on the pursuit by Republican governor Matt Bevin and the GOP legislature of another big conservative cause: public pension “reform,” which in this case meant serious reductions in benefits and a complete revocation of teacher pension security. That the “reform” was whipped through the legislature suddenly after being attached to a sewer regulation bill did not improve its aroma.
Perhaps the current wave of teacher protests and strikes will subside as the school year ends. But more likely, it will spill over into the election season this fall, when 36 governorships and most of the national state legislatures are up for grabs.
Come November, vote a straight Democrat ticket at every governmental level and send the GOP a strong message.

Evangelical Leaders Face Sex Scandals

While the never ending sex abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church continue to remind the world of the moral bankruptcy complete hypocrisy of the  Church hierarchy - my Google search agent delivers new sex abuse coverage somewhere in the world literally every single day - evangelical Christians are likewise having their hypocrisy put on display as a number of prominent "leaders" are facing sex abuse scandals of their own.  This fact, combined with (i) some 80% of evangelicals supporting Trump, and (ii) the endless deliberate lies and untruths disseminated daily by "Christian family values" organizations, underscore that these folks who want to lecture or condemn others about morality are the LAST people who should be claiming the mantle or moral superiority on any subject.   They are modern day Pharisees plain and simple.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at four prominent evangelicals swept up in sex scandals.   Here are highlights:  
As white evangelicals have been some of President Trump’s staunchest defenders, a handful of their leaders find themselves contending with a problem all too familiar to the commander in chief: a sex scandal.
[S]ome observers wonder whether evangelicals are experiencing a repeat of the scandals that led to the downfall of several well-known televangelists in the 1980s.
[T]here’s a growing — but not fast enough — realization in church life of the way that power can easily be abused in predatory ways, especially spiritual power.
Most recently, Frank Page, president and chief executive of the SBC’s [Southern Baptist Convention] executive committee, announced his resignation because of an “inappropriate relationship.” Page did not divulge the details of his relationship on Tuesday, but in a statement he called it a “personal failing” . . . . Page was among a group of evangelical leaders who last September met with and praised Trump in the Oval Office.
In another case, Bill Hybels, who co-founded Willow Creek, one of the nation’s largest churches, came under the spotlight last week after the Chicago Tribune published a series of allegations that he made suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, invitations to a staff member to hotel rooms and had a consensual affair with a married woman. . . . . after Hybels responded to the allegations to his congregation, calling them “flat-out lies,” he received standing ovations.
Some fear that women are still being discredited in a climate in which a high majority of white evangelicals support Trump despite the multiple sexual harassment and misconduct allegations he has faced. Nearly 8 in 10 white evangelicals approve of Trump’s job performance, compared with 39 percent of all Americans, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.Wehner says he fears the “circling of the wagons” approach toward protecting leaders instead of victims. . . . “A lot of people are going to think it’s laced with hypocrisy,” he said. “They say one thing and do another. And that the faith is not transformative, faith is just a proxy for political tribalism. 
In a recent piece for the Gospel Coalition, evangelical author and speaker Andy Crouch wrote about the danger of evangelicals’ attraction to celebrity power. . . . “Megachurch pastors have the temptation of being a celebrity of sorts and have an aura around them,” Thumma said.
Earlier this year, a woman said Andy Savage, a megachurch pastor in Memphis, sexually assaulted her 20 years ago, when she was a high school student and Savage was a youth pastor in Texas. After he addressed his congregation, apologized and asked for forgiveness, it applauded him. He has since resigned.
In another case, late last year, Paul Pressler, who helped lead a conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was accused of sexually abusing a young man for several decades, starting when the alleged victim was 14. A pending lawsuit against Pressler, who is a former justice on the Texas 14th Circuit Court of Appeals and who served in the Texas legislature, also names Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, Paige Patterson, as defendants. Baptist News Global, an independent Baptist news outlet, reported that Southern Baptist leaders were mostly silent about the allegations.
Sex-abuse scandals in evangelical churches have been highlighted recently by Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to make allegations against sports physician Larry Nassar. Denhollander has since focused on speaking out about sexual-abuse allegations in Sovereign Grace Churches, a network of congregations mostly based across the United States. 
When the Catholic sex-abuse scandals emerged in the United States, part of the larger outcry was how the church hierarchy was involved in covering up cases. In evangelical circles, where churches are often nondenominational or loosely connected to each other, the lack of hierarchy can cause a different set of problems, said Heath Carter, a professor of history at Valparaiso University.
“In the evangelical world, the independence of evangelical leaders and … lack of authority structure mean they can go on for a while and then explode when they come to light,” Carter said.
I for one hope that they keep on exploding and in the long run expose the hypocrisy and moral emptiness of evangelicals, especially their leadership which, as in the Catholic Church, care about three things: money, power and control over others.  Actually lhe Gospel message in the end means little or nothing.

More Saturday Male Beauty

Laura Ingraham Faces Backlash Over Attacks on Parkland Students

If one listens to the spokesmen and pundits of the far right, they would have you believe that they are the protectors of morality, decency and civic virtue even as they behave as little better than cyber bullies and support and occupant of the White House who boasts of sexual assaults, cavorts with porn stars and is utterly devoid of even a shred of basic morality.  The true ugliness of these people and the far right and Christofascists has revealed itself in many ways, not the least of which has been merciless attacks on the student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as previously noted on this blog.   Earlier this week, right wing nut, Laura Ingraham joined the list of attackers and singled out David Hogg for special bullying.  To his credit, Hogg hit back and called for advertisers to dump Ingraham's show.  Amazingly, advertisers began to do just that in a hopeful sign that the majority of Americans and the business world have decided they are down with the ugliness of Fox News and similar propaganda sites.  Now, as CBS News reports, Ingraham has suddenly announce a vacation as the much deserved shitstorm she started swirls around her.  Here are highlights:
Fox News' Laura Ingraham announced Friday she would be taking a vacation the next week to celebrate Easter with her family as advertisers have dropped her show after she criticized a Parkland school shooting survivor. Her supporters have launched the hashtag #IStandWithLaura. 
In April 2017, embroiled in an advertiser boycott, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly announced he would be taking vacation for Easter. He was later fired by the network. 
Eleven companies so far have withdrawn their ads from Ingraham's Fox News program after she feuded with a survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting over Twitter. The Atlantis, Paradise Island resort; Office Depot, Jenny Craig, Hulu, Nutrish, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Wayfair, StitchFix, Nestlé and Johnson & Johnson said they would pull ads from the show. 
Ingraham on Wednesday posted a mocking tweet of high school senior David Hogg, taunting him for not getting into some colleges he had applied to. In response, Hogg tweeted a list of advertisers on Ingraham's show and called on followers to contact them.
Nutrish was the first to say it would stop advertising on Ingraham's program, and other brands followed. 
Ingraham apologized in a tweet the following day, citing "the spirit of Holy Week," and invited Hogg to appear on her show.  Hogg dismissed her statement. "She only apologized after we went after her advertisers," he told the New York Times. Ingraham has stayed silent since her tweet on Thursday. 
It's unclear how much of an impact the advertiser exodus will have on Ingraham's program. The 11 who have left are a small portion of the 129 companies that have run ads on her program in the last 10 days, reports Media Matters,  . . . . . On Thursday night, Ingraham's show ran a "filler" ad, indicating it could be having trouble selling.
Remember, if you want to see true moral decency, you will NOT find it on Fox News or in the pews of evangelical Christian churches. 

Trump's Desire to Weaponize the Supreme Court

One of the main bulwarks of democracy and the rule of law is an independent judiciary that, at least in theory, equally applies the law to all citizens.  In practice, of course, one's ability to hire top legal counsel can result in some receiving very different outcomes than others.  Still, the concept of the equal rule of law is key to a democracy and, in America, the court of last resort on federal and constitutional issues is the Supreme Court of the United States.  This fact makes that court a target of Trump's megalomania and desire to weaponize the court against those who oppose him and those he dislikes: non-whites, gays, non-Christians, - the list is a long one.  With several of the Court's justices in their 80's, Americans who care about democracy should be terrified of the prospect of a retirement which would allow Trump to appoint another bigoted ideology like Neil Gorsuch.   Pray that no justice retires before the end of January, 2019, and that the Democrats retake control of the U.S. Senate in the 2018 midterm elections.   A column in the Washington Post looks at Trump's sinister agenda.  Here are excerpts:
Think about that last sentence, which received way less attention, and condemnation, than it deserved: “We . . . must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court,” as if it were the presidency or a house of Congress, a prize awarded to the electoral victors.
As always, Trump manages to combine ignorance and cunning. He is ignorant of — ignorant, really, to the point of allergic to — the importance of the judiciary as an independent institution and the operation of the rule of law. Yet he is also maliciously canny; this is a man who knows that nothing motivates his base more than the prospect of courts packed with conservative judges.
“When I got in, we had over 100 federal judges that weren’t appointed,” Trump observed the day after the Stevens tweet, somewhere in the middle of a speech on infrastructure. “It was like a big beautiful present to all of us. Why the hell did [President Barack Obama] leave that?” Um, because Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), did their best to stall and block nominations?
For Trump, judges are just another set of crude political actors, on Team Trump or off it. When they rule against his political or financial interests, they are to be demeaned (“Mexican” judge, “so-called judge”) and bullied (“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” Trump tweeted after a ruling halting his travel ban. “If something happens blame him and court system.”)
But the Supreme Court, his tweet notwithstanding, is not “held” by Republicans — it is occupied by judges, who are nominated by Republican or Democratic presidents and confirmed by a Senate that has a Republican or Democratic majority. Unlikely that Trump was aware of this, but Stevens — who turned out to be a stalwart liberal — was nominated by a Republican president, Gerald Ford.
That is why Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s famous umpire analogy, depicting judges as neutral arbiters dispassionately using their Very Big Brains to reason through legal problems, was so frustrating, unsatisfying and, ultimately, misleading. “I believe that there are right answers,” Roberts said, “and judges, if they work hard enough, are likely to come up with them.”
But judging doesn’t work that way, certainly not at the Supreme Court level. The justices are not computers, they are humans, very smart ones, with very well-thought-through views about the Constitution and the law.
Trump is in good company with his cynical instrumentalism: McConnell’s brute-force refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia stems from the same anything-goes conviction. 
And the future of the high court, and the judiciary generally, is not solely a Republican concern. My colleague Ronald Klainhas predicted a “battle of the ages” if Justice Anthony M. Kennedy retires this summer — one that Klain thinks will motivate Democrats even more than Republicans.
[T]he court functions best — it produces better results and stands a better chance of broad societal acceptance — when justices’ views are tested and contested, when they have to defend their interpretations and temper their positions to accommodate alternate ideologies.
A court composed entirely or overwhelmingly of justices appointed by presidents of a single party, whether Republican or Democratic, would not be a better court. It would be a far more flawed — and therefore more dangerous — branch.
Adding to my concern are two facts: (i) today's GOP put's party over country, and (ii) the American Bar Association - the country's largest association of attorneys - have rated many of Trump's federal court nominees as "unqualified."  Some have been so bad that their nominations were withdrawn.  Be very afraid if a justice retires before February 1, 2019.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, March 29, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty

Washington State Bans Fraudulent "Ex-Gay" Therapy

During the last session of the Virginia General Assembly an effort was made to ban licensed therapists from subjecting those under age 18 to so-called "conversion therapy" or "ex-gay" therapy which is universally condemned by every legitimate American medical and mental health association.   Like every other pro-LGBT bill during the session, the ex-gay ban was killed by Republicans only too happy to prostitute themselves to The Family Foundation, Virginia's largest hate group.  Yesterday, Washington State demonstrated the urgency of Democrats capturing control of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates as Washington State's governor signed into law a ban on fraudulent ex-gay therapy that is harmful to those subjected to it and which has less legitimacy than one might observe from a witch doctor of old.   Indeed, the only supporters of such "therapy" are Christofascists still desperate to claim that sexual orientation is a choice both to appease their warped beliefs and to harm gays politically.  Joe Jervis has details:
Democratic Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a bill banning licensed therapists from attempting conversion therapy on minors. Washington becomes the 11th state in the nation to ban the practice. In response, DNC LGBTQ Media Director Lucas Acosta issued the following statement:
“Today, Washington State takes a huge step forward in protecting LGBTQ children by banning this backwards practice, which not only puts the lives of LGBTQ children at risk, but has been rejected by the medical community time and again.
“It would not have been possible for Governor Inslee to sign this bill into law without the support of the new Democratic state Senate. Last fall, Washington voters elected Manka Dhingra to the state Senate, which flipped control of the chamber and gave Democrats full control of the state government. In just a few months, Washington Democrats expanded protections for the LGBTQ community and fought for voting rights, equal pay, gun safety and net neutrality. . . . When Democrats lead with our values, organize early and reach voters in every ZIP code – we win.”
RELATED: The Maryland Senate yesterday also banned ex-gay torture in a 34-12 vote. The bill now goes to the Maryland House.

Another Shoe Just Dropped in the Mueller Probe

With Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, with no legal counsel in the Russiagate investigation other than Jay Sekulow, a Christofascist lawyer who some believe skimmed millions from supposed charities operated by he and his family members, Robert Mueller has "dropped another shoe" via information contained in a new federal court filing.  Sekulow has a long history of working with Christofascist extremists such as Pat Robertson.  As for his questionable business practices, Think Progress has this:

Sekulow’s business model bears more resemblance to Trump University than it does to an ordinary legal non-profit. Between 1998 and 2011, according to an investigation by The Tennessean’s Bob Smietana, two Sekulow-run charities “paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities’ federal tax returns.” That includes “$2.74 million in private jet lease payments to companies owned by Jay Sekulow and his sister-in-law, Kim Sekulow,” and $15.4 million to a law firm co-owned by Jay.

True, Sekulow would seem to be cut out of the same cloth as Trump given his history self-aggrandizement and and self-enrichment.  But that will likely have no bearing on Sekulow's ability to defend Trump in what appears to be a tightening noose around Trump and his closet sycophants.  Worse yet for Der Trumpenführer is the reality that reputable and competent attorneys are declining his invatations to join his legal team.  As for the latest Mueller development, a piece in the Washington Post looks at where the Russiagate investigation could be heading and the increasingly high stakes game Trump may be recklessly playing.  Here are highlights:
Another shoe just dropped in the Russia investigation. And it may leave a large footprint.“Manafort associate had Russian intelligence ties during 2016 campaign, prosecutors say,” reads The Post’s headline this morning. The story reports:
The FBI has found that a business associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, including during the 2016 campaign when Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were in touch with the associate, according to new court filings.
The documents, filed late Tuesday by prosecutors for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, also allege that Gates had said he knew the associate was a former officer with the Russian military intelligence service.
Gates, of course, was Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager, and he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with the Mueller probe. The associate is unnamed in the filing, but The Post notes the description matches Konstantin Kilimnik, the Russian manager of Manafort’s lobbying office in Kiev.
As the filing puts it, Gates was “directly communicating in September and October 2016” with that associate, who had “ties to a Russian intelligence service … in 2016.” And Gates knew of those ties, the filing also says, noting that another figure involved in those conversations has already testified to the special counsel’s office that “Gates told him” the person was a “former Russian intelligence officer.” That means Mueller is now alleging that Trump’s deputy campaign manager knew in the fall of 2016 that his and Manafort’s business associate had ties to Russian intelligence.  [Paul] Rosenzweig [who was special counsel during Ken Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton] also said that these new revelations do raise some important possibilities. First, they suggest that Manafort — who was Trump’s campaign chair deep into August 2016 — likely knew his associate had connections to Russian intelligence, since if Gates knew, Manafort also probably knew. “At a minimum that says something about his willingness to work with people who have ties to Russian intelligence agencies,” Rosenzweig said. “That raises the question of whether Manafort was a conduit of Russian influence on the campaign,” though he may have been an “unwitting dupe” in this regard.
Second, and perhaps more important, Mueller may have put this information in the filing in part to increase the pressure on Manafort. Mueller’s investigators are “showing Manafort some of their cards as a way to increase the pressure on him to cooperate,” Rosenzweig says.
Indeed, Politico recently reported that people around Trump are deeply worried about what Gates can tell Mueller, because that might end up inducing Manafort to conclude that his legal jeopardy is so severe that he should flip. Gates can perhaps tell Mueller what Manafort knew at the time about the associate’s ties to Russian intelligence.
Finally, putting this information in the filing might end up protecting the Mueller probe itself. “Mueller’s biggest strategic risk is being fired,” Rosenzweig said. “The more they put Russia into the equation, the harder it is for Trump to fire him.”
The new Mueller filing, . . . . , could make it that much harder politically for Trump to try to shut down or hamstring the probe. And if that’s what this latest shoe dropping accomplishes, that itself will leave a pretty big footprint.

Thursday Morning Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

More Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

White Supremacist Group Banned From Charlottesville

Like many Virginians and certainly countless University of Virginia alumni, I was both outraged and sickened by the Neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, and by the extremists trespassing on the University of Virginia grounds.   With family members residing in Charlottesville, I know just how furious city residents were to have outside hate merchants and bigots invade their city.  Indeed, in perhaps a slap in the face to right wing forces and politicians who pandered to racists - think Mr. Gillespie - Charlottesville voted roughly 85% for Democrat Ralph Northam in November 2017.  Now, the City of Charlottesville has reached a consent agreement that bans some of the groups that invaded the city - members of which Trumpenführer described as "good people" - from protesting in the city in the future.  A piece in The Hill looks at the outcome.  Here are excerpts:
A white supremacist group that took part in the deadly Charlottesville, Va., Unite the Right rally last year will no longer be able to protest while armed in the city, a Virginia court has decided. 
The League of the South, a neo-Confederate hate group, reached a deal with city organizers on Monday to keep its members, agents or state chairmen from taking part in any future armed demonstrations in Charlottesville, according to the watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center  (SPLC).
The consent decree was the result of a lawsuit first filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court by Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection against leaders of the League of the South and other paramilitary groups involved in the rally, which led to the death of one woman and injuries for several others. 
The city government and several local businesses later joined the ongoing lawsuit, which names the individual leaders of other white supremacist groups, allowing the opportunity that more groups might strike similar deals with the city. 
Spencer Borum, the group's Kentucky leader, has taken an active role in arming and training the League of the South for possible civil conflict in the U.S., the SPLC says.
Another League of the South leader, Michael Tubbs, pleaded guilty to the 1991 robbery of weapons from an Army base with the intention of arming the Ku Klux Klan, as reported by the Daily Beast

NRA Admits Accepting Foreign Funds; Did Funds Go To Campaigns?

For some time there have been questions swirling around about whether or not the National Rife Association ("NRA") laundered Russians funds and directed them to the Trump campaign or the campaigns of other Republicans bought by the NRA.  Indeed, the Federal Elections Commission and FBI are investigating this very issue. Now, it has come out that the NRA has in fact accepted foreign funds although it has offered a mealy mouth story line that (i) none of these foreign funds came from Russia, and (ii) none of the funds have been given to any political campaigns. Never mind Russia's use of shell corporations in Cyprus and other locales to hide Russia as a funding source and/or that once cash is deposited into a bank account, the funds are fungible and can easily find their way to political campaigns.  Talking Points Memo looks at this breaking story which, if we are lucky, will cause immense problems for both the NRA and the Trump/Pence regime.  Here are highlights:
The National Rifle Association is acknowledging that it accepts donations from foreign entities, and that it moves money between its various accounts “as permitted by law.”
The gun group insists it has never received foreign money in connection with an election. But campaign finance experts say that, since money is fungible, that assurance doesn’t mean much.
Though it’s a long way from being confirmed and may never be, the NRA’s new admissions offer perhaps the most compelling evidence yet that foreign money could have allowed the group to conduct political activities boosting Trump.
The admissions came in a recent letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has sought answers about the group’s foreign funding, following reports that the FBI is probing whether a Russian banker funneled money to the NRA to benefit the Trump campaign. As TPM has reported, that makes it difficult to trace if the NRA legally received foreign money into its general accounts, then transferred the same amount into an account that can be used for political spending.
“Even if the NRA segregated the foreign money that it received, money is fungible,” Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance expert at the Campaign Legal Center, told TPM. “Foreign money in one account frees up money that can be used for elections in another account.”
“This is a very carefully worded letter that appears designed to give the impression that the NRA does not take foreign money for its election work, but reading between the lines, it does not actually say that,” Fischer added. “The NRA said it did not receive foreign money in connection with the U.S. election. It does not say that foreign money was not used in a U.S. election.”
Paul S. Ryan, Vice President of Policy and Litigation at good-government group Common Cause told TPM that the system described in the gun organization’s letter means that “foreign money subsidizes the NRA’s U.S. political spending.” [I]nvestigative bodies might have access to additional evidence that could determine how Russia or other foreign entities wanted their money to be spent. The FBI is reportedly investigating whether Russian banker and lifetime NRA member Aleksandr Torshin channeled money to the group with the express purpose of helping Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential race. In a follow-up letter sent Tuesday, Wyden asked Frazer for an in-depth account of how foreign donations were used over the past thee years, and whether Russian nationals were members of the NRA’s donor programs, among other questions.
One issue of interest to Wyden: how the organization makes “transfers between accounts are made as permitted by law,” as Frazer acknowledged it does.

Conservatives' Disgusting Attacks on the Parkland Students

I find it very revealing to watch the behavior of so-called conservatives as they attack the student activists from Parkland, Florida as they work to spearhead pressure for the enactment of common sense gun control laws.   Much like the Christofascist who disseminate deliberate lies against LGBT individuals, we are now seeing fabricated photos and sound bites attacking Parkland students, especially Emma Gonzales and David Hogg.  The subtitle of a piece in The Guardian described the phenomenon well:
This is a fight between a young, diverse, feminist generation against an old, white, male minority desperate to hang on to power. 
Yes, there is a strong racial component to the attacks on the Parkland students given that many have argued that  America's insane gun laws are really about maintaining white power, and white male power in particular.   A column in the Washington Post looks at the false and immoral attacks as does the piece in The Guardian referenced above.  First highlights from the Post column which notes that the usual haters on the right are furious that their usual tactics of personal destruction against their opponents are not having their usual effectiveness:
As an entirely new movement for gun reform is being driven by a group of smart, passionate and media-savvy Florida teenagers who survived one of America’s frequent mass shootings, many on the right are more than a little put out. The problem, as conservatives see it, is that the mainstream media have given these young people more attention and more credulous coverage than they deserve
But what really ticks conservatives off is that they themselves are feeling constrained from criticizing the Parkland students, because they are worried they will be criticized for attacking such sympathetic spokespeople. Not that some aren’t trying. Just in the last couple of days, we have seen two genuinely fake news stories about Parkland students go viral on the right, one in which involved a doctored photo of a student supposedly tearing up a copy of the Constitution, and another which falsely alleged that one of the students wasn’t on campus on the day of the shooting and had been lying about it. But even in the nonloony corners, the Parkland students are making people frustrated. Head over to the National Review’s website today, and you can find a bunch of articles about guns.  . . . . [one] the magazine’s editor Rich Lowry, is entitled “The Teenage Demagogues.” Lowry, after listing what he sees as rhetorical excesses from some of the students, gets to the heart of the matter: Maybe all of this can be written off as the work of overenthusiastic, under informed 17-year-olds. But the student activists aren’t acting alone. They are promoted and praised by adults who should know better. Since the kids serve a useful purpose in promoting gun control, though, it is practically forbidden in much of the media to dissent from anything they say.
“It is practically forbidden in much of the media to dissent from anything they say,” Lowry says, claiming for the right the status of noble victims, brutally silenced by a system that forbids them to speak their opinions out loud.
But is that true? Tell me: What opinion on the subject of guns has been declared verboten in the current American debate, never to pass the lips of a conservative lest he be banished from the media forever? The idea that we should be arming teachers, or the ludicrously false claim that more guns leads to less crime, or the belief that military-style rifles are awesome, or the notion that we have no gun problem that can’t be solved by bringing more guns into more places? Which of the policy changes advocated by the Parkland students — a ban on those military-style weapons, raising the age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21, expanded background checks — may no one “dissent” from? Because I hear conservatives making all of these arguments on TV, on the radio, and online every single day.
Here’s the real difficulty the Parkland students present. It’s not that they’re passionate and surprisingly articulate for their age, though they are. It’s not that they’ve widened the conversation on guns by refusing to accept things the adults have taken as given for years, such as the idea that the NRA is simply too powerful to bother opposing, though they have. It’s that they’re too sympathetic. And when a spokesperson is sympathetic, when you attack them personally, you look like a jerk.
[W]hat conservatives are really mad about is that the tactic of demonizing those they disagree with — which is so common in contemporary political rhetoric  . . . .  has, in this case, been taken away from them.
You can say the Parkland kids are wrong, but calling them names, trying to dig into their personal lives to find something embarrassing, encouraging your audience to not simply think they’re mistaken but to hate them with all the venomous fire they can muster — that’s what some on the right wish they could do, but can’t, at least without looking like soulless ghouls. 
The piece in The Guardian gets to the underlying motives of those on the right.  Here are excerpts:
We know that the gun debate is a culture war. But Haider and her sign reminded me that it’s more than an abstract debate over ideology or constitutional principles. It’s a fight between a young, diverse, feminist generation representing an emerging majority and an old, white, male minority desperate to hang on to power. And guns are their security blanket of choice. Just 3% of Americans own half of the guns in America. And that 3% isn’t just anyone. According to a Harvard study flagged by Scientific American this month, the person most likely to stockpile guns in this country is an older, white man from a rural conservative area. And an alarming body of research shows that they’re motivated by racial anxiety and a fear of emasculation. A 2017 Baylor University study, for example, found that men’s attachment to guns often stemmed from economic woes and fear of losing traditional “breadwinner” status. The researchers wrote that “engaging in fantasies about being an NRA ‘good guy’ who uses his gun to protect his family and community from the ‘bad guys’ was one way for men to reclaim that threatened masculinity.” And in 2015, researchers from the University of Chicago reported that racial resentment was a strong predictor of opposition to gun control; and that the more racist respondents were, the more steadfast that opposition was. There’s a long history of white male support for gun rights being connected to anger and fear over gains for women and people of color. That’s part of the reason that many of the most irate responses to recent young activists have skewed racist or misogynist. But while issues of race and gender confound and alarm those on the right, young activists are doing nuanced thinking to bolster their work on gun violence. This generation is calling out the hypocrisy of conservatives who abhor government interference unless it’s over women’s bodies, talking about how arming teachers would endanger students of color, and recognizing how white students are getting the support that young Black Lives Matter activists never did. The new America is made up of communication-savvy, digital natives. They’re not cowed easily, and they see through the arguments that may have stumped their forebears. . . . . A lot of us adults watching the march and the walkout felt hope for the first time in a long time, and not just because of the incredible signs. We saw a generation who is succeeding where we failed, an emerging new force that thinks differently and who is willing to take the power they democratically deserve.

Nothing frightens the far right more than smart, media savvy non-whites and whites who do not feel threatened by the skin color of others. and who embrace modernity rather than tribalism and Bronze Age beliefs. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

More Tuesday Male Beauty

The Rising Numbers of Those With No Religious Affiliation

The face of Christianity provided by today's GOP supporting evangelical Christians
If one listens to the bloviation of the professional Christian crowd, one hears much about keeping America a "Christian nation" even though such was never the case and the Founding Fathers went to great lengths to avoid any type of state religion.  What one will also hear is a great many lies and witness hypocrisy of epic proportions, especially in the era of Trump/Pence when evangelical Christians demonstrate their moral bankruptcy as they remain loyal supporters of a man devoid of morals and decency.  One of the results, in my view, is the accelerating rate at which Americans are leaving organized religion and Christianity in particular.  Why would anyone truly moral want to be associated with the likes of Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Tony Perkins or the Catholic Church hierarchy which puts protecting predators and Church wealth ahead of the welfare of children and youths.  A piece in Scientific American looks at the continued increase in the "Nones."  Here are excerpts:

In recent years much has been written about the rise of the “nones”— people who check the box for “none” on surveys of religious affiliation. A 2013 Harris Poll of 2,250 American adults, for example, found that 23 percent of all Americans have forsaken religion altogether. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll reported that 34 to 36 percent of millennials (those born after 1980) are nones and corroborated the 23 percent figure, adding that this was a dramatic increase from 2007, when only 16 percent of Americans said they were affiliated with no religion. In raw numbers, this translates to an increase from 36.6 million to 55.8 million nones.
[T]hey are . . . . a significant voting block, far larger than Jews (4.7 million), Muslims (2.2 million) and Buddhists (1.7 million) combined (8.6 million) and comparable to politically powerful Christian sects such as Evangelical (25.4 percent) and Catholic (20.8 percent).
This shift away from the dominance of any one religion is good for a secular society whose government is structured to discourage catch basins of power from building up and spilling over into people's private lives.
[T]hese nones are not necessarily atheists. Many have moved from mainstream religions into New Age spiritual movements . . .  What's going on here? . . . . In a paper in the January 2018 issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science entitled “How Many Atheists Are There?”, Will M. Gervais and Maxine B. Najle, both psychologists at the University of Kentucky, contend that there may be far more atheists than pollsters report because “social pressures favoring religiosity, coupled with stigma against religious disbelief..., might cause people who privately disbelieve in God to nonetheless self-present as believers, even in anonymous questionnaires.
From this analysis, they estimated, with 93 percent certainty, that somewhere between 17 and 35 percent of Americans are atheists, with a “most credible indirect estimate” of 26 percent.
If true, this means that there are more than 64 million American atheists, a staggering number that no politician can afford to ignore. Moreover, if these trends continue, we should be thinking about the deeper implications for how people will find meaning as the traditional source of it wanes in influence. And we should continue working on grounding our morals and values on viable secular sources such as reason and science.

As I have noted before, I believe that it will be the evangelical Christians and the Christofascists, not liberals, who will kill Christianity in America.

The Unexpected Public Contribution of Stormy Daniels

Survey: Daniels more credible than Trump by 41 points
Not to beat a topic to death, but the Stormy Daniels interview on 60 Minutes continues to resonate.  Tellingly, a poll shows that 62% of people surveyed believe Stormy Daniels while only 21% believe Donald Trump. That's a 41% spread in favor of the porn star over the occupant of the White House.  I cannot remember anything comparable.  A piece in the Washington Post by Michael Gerson - a former member of the George W. Bush White House and sickened Republican - looks at this stunning situation and the contribution that Stormy Daniels has done to the American public: she has shown that Trump is foul, morally bankrupt, pathological liar. This reality is clear to seemingly everyone but evangelical Christians.  Even Sarah Huckabee Sanders ducked the White House press briefing yesterday in an apparent display that even she would not submit herself to the degradation defending Trump.  Here are column excerpts:

Some who watched the Stormy Daniels interview on “60 Minutes” claimed it contained nothing new. On national television, an adult performer alleged that Donald Trump engaged in an extramarital fling, that his minions legally and physically threatened her to discourage public disclosure of the affair, and that Trump’s fixer paid her $130,000 in hush money to secure her silence immediately before the 2016 election. People should just go back to their knitting. Nothing to see here.
Americans who find this unremarkable have missed an extraordinary cultural moment. Daniels’s allegations are denied by the White House and an attorney for President Trump’s lawyer. Yet who in their right mind would trust Trump’s word over hers? In this case, the porn star has more credibility than the president of the United States. It is not even close.
 If these allegations are true, they reveal a man of poor character. (The technical term in moral philosophy, I think, is “sleazeball.”) Trump seems to regard beautiful women as an employment benefit of the wealthy and powerful. Porn stars and Playboy models are in the same category as a private jet or the key to the executive washroom. This is hardly surprising in our culture of celebrity. To a large number of American males, this represents exactly the kind of treatment they would want as a sports star or rock star.
This type of scandal demonstrates why character does matter in politics. . . . . . Trump feels exempt from the normal rules of honesty and decency. He plays close to ethical and legal lines. And he uses his wealth and influence to shield his embarrassing behavior from view — with hush money, nondisclosure agreements, legal threats and lies from the White House briefing room podium. He forces everyone around him to become complicit in his corruption. Members of Congress, White House staffers, party officials, conservative media figures and religious leaders are all expected to be accomplices. And we are left with a vacuum of integrity at the heart of our government.
Trump has made a career out of paying and manipulating people to be dishonest about him. . . .  This weakness of character is now what moves Republicans in Washington to speak of him as though he were a great leader — bowing and scraping in the hope of getting what they want. Sometimes they do. But in the process they give Trump what he wants: people pretending he is something he is not.
In this scandal, such tactics aren’t working. Trump can’t get the porn star to say he is wonderful and move on. This is the strange, unexpected public contribution of Stormy Daniels.
It is a very sad day when a porn star has more moral integrity and credibility than the occupant of the White House.  Sadly, anyone familiar with Trump's business history over the decades would not be surprised with this result. Everyone, of course, except sanctimonious and morally bankrupt evangelical Christians.