Saturday, June 30, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

HH Prince Nikolai of Denmark, Count of Monpezat

The Future of Gay Rights Is Extremely Fragile

June is Pride month across America and in many other parts of the globe.  It is a time to reflect on and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history - which has so often been hidden from view by the dominant straight, white society, if not openly oppressed. Given the current political climate under the Trump/Pence regime which seeks to grant extraordinary rights to Christian extremists, Pride month and Pride events remain important, perhaps as important as every.   Here in Virginia, LGBT citizens continue to lack any state law employment non-discrimination and public accommodation protections thanks to Republicans in the General Assembly. The recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case which allowed a “Christian” baker to cite alleged religious belief as a basis to refuse service to a same sex couple planning their wedding is being construed by many on the far right as a license to discriminate against LGBT citizens (and even non-white citizens).  Sadly, things are likely to get far worse if Der Trumpenführer and the GOP controlled U.S. Senate place a right wing ideologue on the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Kennedy who increasingly seems to have bought by Trump (see this Vanity Fair piece).  A piece in the New York Times by two law professors looks at the distressing days ahead.  Here are excerpts: 
In 30 years on the Supreme Court — the past 13 as the swing justice — Justice Anthony Kennedy has been the decisive vote in cases on issues ranging from abortion to affirmative action. Yet his legacy will be defined primarily by his opinions in the area of gay rights, where he wrote the major majority opinions expansively reading the Constitution to protect gay Americans.
His gay-rights decisions will now face a hostile majority on the court, which is likely to overturn, cut back or nullify at least some of them. And he has made it surprisingly easy.
Justice Kennedy’s gay-rights legacy, however, is at risk and not just because of the slim vote margins that produced it. Unfortunately that margin is almost certainly gone already.
When President Trump’s second nominee takes his seat at the court, probably this fall, a majority of the court is likely to disagree with Justice Kennedy’s expansions of L.G.B.T. rights. And even without overturning his signature cases, Justice Kennedy’s decisions can be narrowed and their implications minimized.
And those who will want to cabin his legacy will be aided by the justice’s own decision-making style. His opinions often hedged, refusing to establish strong rules to protect gays and lesbians going forward.
Most important, he balked at declaring that laws discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation should be, like those discriminating on the basis of race or gender, presumed suspect by the courts. Much of constitutional law depends on the “levels of scrutiny.” If a law burdens a fundamental right or discriminates on the basis of race or sex, courts take a hard look to make sure the government has a really good reason for the law. In the marriage cases, a fair analysis should have depended less on “the universal fear” of loneliness and more on whether the bans were subject to rational-basis review or something stricter. If rational, the bans should survive. If strict, they would fail. Both sides petitioned the court to rule on that question, but Justice Kennedy could not bring himself to decide it.
These doctrinal points Justice Kennedy neglected are not mere niceties. Lower courts need such guidance to determine whether laws biased against L.G.B.T. people should be upheld. Indeed, lower courts have previously read Justice Kennedy’s opaque language in Lawrence to allow states to ban gay adoption and permit governments to fire employees for engaging in private, consensual sexual behavior. The language in the marriage cases could allow similar mistakes.
If Justice Gorsuch’s narrow view of Obergefell prevails, gays and lesbians may one day enjoy a right to marry without marriage equality.
Justice Kennedy left unanswered one of the pivotal questions for the future of gay rights: Do businesses have a right to discriminate against gay and lesbian employees or customers if the business owners claim a religious objection? The issue was teed up perfectly this term, but Justice Kennedy ultimately punted, leaving the key questions once again unaddressed. With his resignation he ensured they would be answered by a future, more conservative court more likely to see anti-gay discrimination as perfectly rational.
Back in 2010, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United overturned one of former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s campaign finance opinions, she lamented her retirement, saying, “Gosh, I step away for a couple of years and there’s no telling what’s going to happen.”
It may be Justice Kennedy — and those Americans who’ve found protections and respect in his decisions — with similar regrets in the years to come.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I am very fearful for the future.

General Motors: Trump Tariffs Could Lead to GM Downsizing in USA

More Trump supporters may be losing their jobs or facing vastly higher auto prices if the narcissistic cretin-in-chief in the White House proceeds with his ill-conceived tariffs.  Instead of increasing American jobs, the tariffs seem headed toward forcing U.S. manufacturers to move operations out of the USA as Harley-Davidson has announced it is doing.  Now, General Motors is warning that it will take a similar path if Der Trumpenführer continues his push for tariffs.  The good news, of course, is that the job losses will be concentrated in states that went for Trump.  If this happens, karma will certainly bite those who allowed racism and bigotry to dupe them into voting against their own economic best interests (as you can tell, I have a very hard time feeling even a shred of sympathy for these people).  Bloomberg looks at what Trump voters may have rain down on them if GM proceeds with moving operations out of the USA.  Here are highlights:

General Motors Co. issued a stern warning to the Trump administration that it could shrink U.S. operations and cut jobs if tariffs are broadly applied to imported vehicles and auto parts. “Increased import tariffs could lead to a smaller GM, a reduced presence at home and risk less -- not more -- U.S. jobs,” the nation’s largest automaker said in comments submitted Friday to the Commerce Department.
That such a blunt statement came from GM -- a company run by a CEO, Mary Barra, whose normal tack is to avoid the political fray and let trade groups address the president’s policies -- was surprising to industry observers. And it underscored how high she, and many industrial leaders, believe the stakes are as [Trump] the president sinks the U.S. into tit-for-tat trade squabbles across the globe. GM’s public pronouncement follows similar moves by Harley-Davidson Inc., Toyota Motor Corp. and Daimler AG.
The “comment suggests how severe the impact would be to GM, its employees and consumers," said Michelle Krebs, analyst with "There is a lot at stake for GM, the auto industry and the overall economy."
The probe has raised alarm among manufacturers, parts suppliers and auto retailers because all major carmakers -- including GM and Ford Motor Co. -- import a substantial share of the vehicles they sell in the U.S. from other countries. Levies on parts also would have major implications for top models like the Ford F-150 pickup and Toyota Camry sedan by boosting prices by thousands of dollars.
Barra had earlier tried to stay on good terms with Trump. She continued to serve on his Strategic and Policy Forum even after many other CEOs, such as Walt Disney’s Bob Iger and Tesla’s Elon Musk, quit to protest Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement last year. The forum was disbanded in August following Trump’s tepid response to attacks by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Now, the Detroit-based maker of Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles is warning that additional tariffs -- on top of those recently slapped on steel, aluminum and Chinese products -- could hurt GM and ultimately its customers. Higher prices would crimp sales, particularly to less-affluent consumers, and reduce the number of factory workers needed, it said.
“The threat of steep tariffs on vehicle and auto component imports risks undermining GM’s competitiveness against foreign auto producers by erecting broad brush trade barriers that increase our global costs, remove a key means of competing with manufacturers in lower-wage countries, and promote a trade environment in which we could be retaliated against in other markets,” the company said.
GM’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup was the top-selling model imported from Mexico last year, while the Chevrolet Equinox crossover was the leading vehicle sourced from Canada, according to LMC Automotive.
“GM imports a lot of pickup trucks from Mexico, so it’s a huge issue,” Alan Baum, an auto analyst in West Bloomfield, Michigan, said. “And for parts, it’s not just GM. Everyone imports a lot of electronics from Asia. Those are are high-value parts.”

Hate and bigotry often carry a high economic price - look no further than economically depressed Southwest Virginia for a case in point. 

An Explosion is Coming

Throughout history the arrogant rule of a minority has usually ended badly for those thwarting the will of the people.  The French and Russian Revolutions are but two of the more extreme examples as is the fate of  Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Here in America, one can hope that such violent eruptions never occur, but we are seeing a phenomenon where an increasing arrogant and out of touch Republican Party - thanks in part to gerrymandering and an Electoral College that has failed the intent of the Founding Fathers - is forcing an agenda on the country that is opposed by the majority of Americans. As a piece in New York Magazine notes:
Democrats have won the national vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, which, with the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, will have resulted in the appointment of eight of the Supreme Court’s nine justices. And yet four of those justices will have been appointed by presidents who took office despite having fewer votes than their opponent.  
Over the last generation, the Republican Party has moved rapidly rightward, while the center of public opinion has not. It is almost impossible to find a substantive basis in public opinion for Republican government. On health care, taxes, immigration, guns, the GOP has left America behind in its race to the far right.

Thus, the question becomes one of when will the majority say "enough" and fight back?  One would hope that the taking back of the nation from minority control would take place at the ballot box, but given the GOP's gerrymandering of districts and a constitution that grants 2 U.S. Senators to states with tiny populations populations  - Wyoming has a population of less than 600,000 while the cities of Hampton Roads have a population of 1.7 million; Montana has slightly over 1 million residents while New York City has over 8.5 million - electoral efforts for the majority to retake control my be difficult.  Has Mitch McConnell, who represents a state with a population of half of New York City and not vastly larger than that of Los Angeles, and Trump forgotten Ceausescu's fate (I suspect Trump has no idea who Ceausescu was although I suspect Melania does)?   A column in the Washington Post looks at what will hopefully be the coming explosion.  Here are highlights:
Eight years ago, when Congress was about to pass Obamacare, John A.Boehner, leader of a powerless Republican congressional minority, gave a passionate, prescient speech on the House floor. . . . “This is the People’s House, . . . .  you can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.”
This was Boehner’s famous “hell no, you can’t” speech. But the Democrats could. They had the votes, and they passed Obamacare. Boehner was correct in his prediction, though. The Democrats were soon on their way to minority status in the House and would later lose the Senate and the presidency.
Now . . . . We see Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowing to ram through the Senate the confirmation of the decisive fifth hard-right justice on the Supreme Court, quite likely signaling the end of legal abortion in much of the United States and possibly same-sex marriage and other rights Americans embrace, in far greater number, than they ever did Obamacare.
One wants to cry out: Hell no, you can’t! But Republicans can. They have the votes. Democrats can and should fight, but the GOP controls the schedule, sets the rules and already eliminated the procedures that gave the minority a say in Supreme Court confirmations.
If anything, the fury should be far more intense on the Democratic side right now than it was for Boehner in 2010. The Affordable Care Act was the signature proposal of a president elected with a large popular mandate, it had the support of a plurality of the public, and it was passed by a party that had large majorities in both chambers of Congress and had attempted to solicit the participation of the minority.
Now we have a Supreme Court nomination — the second in as many years — from an unpopular president who lost the popular vote by 2.8 million. The nominee will be forced through by also-unpopular Senate Republicans, who, like House Republicans, did not win a majority of the vote in 2016. 
For good measure, the new justice may well join the other four conservative justices in revoking same-sex marriage, which also has the support of two-thirds of Americans. And this comes after the Republicans essentially stole a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
You can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.Republicans have been defying gravity for some time. . . . they lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections. 
Because of partisan gerrymandering and other factors, Democrats could win by eight percentage points and still not gain control of the House, one study found. And the two-senators-per-state system (which awards people in Republican Wyoming 70 times more voting power than people in Democratic California) gives a big advantage to rural, Republican states. 
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has protected Republican minority rule. It gave the wealthy freedom to spend unlimited dark money on elections, while crippling the finances of unions. It sustained gerrymandering and voter-suppression laws that reduce participation of minority voters. And, of course, it gave the presidency to George W. Bush.
Control of the judiciary, and the resulting protection of minority rule, has been the prize for Republicans who tolerated President Trump’s starting a trade war, losing allies while getting cozy with Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, flirting with white supremacists, paying off a porn star and attacking the justice system while his former advisers are indicted and convicted.
The backlash is coming. It is the deserved consequence of minority-rule government protecting the rich over everybody else, corporations over workers, whites over nonwhites and despots over democracies. It will explode, God willing, at the ballot box and not in the streets. You can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.
Sadly, part of me believes that ultimately, it will explode in the streets. If that happens, McConnell, Trump and others will deserve whatever very harsh consequences befall them. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, June 29, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

Searching for Hope in Frightening Times

The last few days have been enough to make a thinking person feel depressed as the U.S. Supreme Court has issued horrific rulings, followed by the announcement of the retirement of Justice Kennedy which could make such horrors the norm for future Court rulings for years. Public reaction falls into four categories: (i) jubilant Christofascists and white supremacists who foresee a Court that will further their anti-democratic agenda, (ii) Democrats and progressives feeling literally physically ill at the prospect of the far right's agenda moving forward, (iii) those realizing the extreme danger ahead looking for what to do to try to stop, and (iv) the indifferent soccer moms and those who were too lazy to get themselves to the polls and vote in November 2016 who are as clueless as many Germans were in the 1930's (hence why I re-posted the image above from Facebook).  A column in the New York Times lays out what in categories (ii) and (iii) need to do immediately to try to turn around a frightening future.  Here are column excerpts:

In fact there are three things they [Democrats and progressives] need to do.
First of all, they need simply to reflect on their recent history and understand why they’re in this situation. The time to play hardball was 2016. Maybe there’s nothing they could have done, given that the Republicans ran the Senate. But consider this counterfactual.
I argued at the time that President Obama should have nominated not Judge Garland but Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, then 43 years old and an associate justice on the California Supreme Court. Justice Cuéllar would have been an aggressively political choice in exactly the way Judge Garland was not. As a young, impeccably credentialed Mexican-American — by far the largest of the Latino voting blocs — Justice Cuéllar would have been someone to whom the Democrats’ core constituencies would have developed an emotional attachment. Someone they’d fight for. . . . . [McConnell] wouldn’t have given Justice Cuéllar a vote either. But in that case, the refusal would have carried a higher political price. It would have energized the Latino vote. It would have made the Supreme Court a more central voting issue to Democratic constituencies than poor Judge Garland ever became.
That it never became that central issue is not all Mr. Obama’s fault. Hillary Clinton’s campaign shares the blame for that, and in fact the Democratic Party generally. I kept waiting in the fall of 2016 for Mrs. Clinton and all of her surrogates to emphasize to liberal voters: Don’t you see, this is our chance! They’ve had the Supreme Court for 30 years. We win, it’s ours! Voting rights, abortion rights, contraception, L.G.B.T. rights, union rights, money in politics, Second Amendment interpretations — if we get this one vote, all of those and more will change in our direction!
The argument never really came. On the other side, it was a key argument, and quite possibly the key argument. All of those “Christian” conservatives knew very well they were voting for a man who was about as Christian as Larry Flynt. But they voted for Donald Trump en masse. . . . Democratic politicians and their voters did not.
So that’s the first thing Democrats must do — learn from the past. We might not be in this situation if they’d played for keeps in 2016.
The second thing the Democrats have to do is fight this nomination to the bitter end. Maintain, even if it’s manufactured, some aura of optimism and eagerness for the battle. Mr. Schumer said all the right things Wednesday afternoon, but if you watch the video, you’ll see he wasn’t exactly breathing fire.
A sports team that’s behind and sees it’s likely to lose can give up midway through the fourth quarter or it can fight until the final second. Doing the former is always remembered as shameful, the latter always as noble. Besides, it’s not the fourth quarter. It isn’t even the end of the first quarter.
President Trump could name someone so extreme that he or she will instantly be controversial. Democratic and progressive groups will have ample opportunity to pressure the four or five Republican senators who might become no votes.
And don’t forget Robert Mueller, the special counsel, or think he isn’t relevant here. If he issues a report in July or August, as many now expect, and if that report presents evidence that Mr. Trump did indeed obstruct justice, Mr. Schumer and the Democrats can make a strong case that a president governing under such a cloud — who might yet be found to have colluded with Russia in his election — has no business making Supreme Court nominations. That nominee, if confirmed, may well be ruling on matters relating to the investigation of the president. No, it’s not clear that will work as a gambit. But if the situation were reversed, the Republicans would try it.
Yes, chances are the Democrats will lose this one, which brings us to the third thing they must do. They need to get their core constituencies to understand the stakes and to vote with the Supreme Court, and really all federal judges, at top of mind.
[H]ere we are, contemplating the end of Roe v. Wade, the reversal of the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage decision and God knows what new levels of darkness on money in politics, gun rights and even age-old precedents like one person, one vote. If you don’t know much about that, go read about Reynolds v. Sims; a very conservative court could put that precedent at risk, and it would be a nearly incalculable disaster for democracy.
And the sad truth is that apparently it will take these developments, or some of them, for liberals to see why they should care about the Supreme Court. Or let’s hope it will just take the threat of them happening. If Democrats and liberals want to choose a date to begin caring again, Nov. 6, 2018, would be a good day to start.
Part of caring will be finding a message that will get those in category (iv) above to get off their asses and begin caring about their larger community and the nation.  Indifference and laziness at some point become complicity in evil.  These people need to be convinced that they must act to oppose it at the ballot box.  

Is America on a Slippery Slope to Fascism?

As a history junkie (I majored in history in college), two of the periods of the past that I find most fascinating are the rise of Hitler in Germany and the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia and the fall of the Romanov dynasty.   While Hitler represented fascism and Lenin represented a perverted version of communism, both movements saw morality and some level of decency towards others turned upside down and targeted elements of society rendered less than human through propaganda that paved the way for their extermination.  In the process, Germany went from being one of the world's most educated and civilized nations to one where mass murder and genocide reigned.  Russia, while nowhere near as industrialized, saw the educated classes murdered and many others murdered on a grand scale.  In both countries, ultimately millions died even as a cult of the glorious leader flourished.  Fast forward to America in 2018 and we see the occupant of the White House - I refer to him as Der Trumpenführer since his view of himself seemingly parallels that of Hitler - who disseminate lies daily and who is trumpeting propaganda that dehumanizes others and targets the free press.  Things that occurred in both Germany and Bolshevik Russia. 

In 2008, I attended the LGBT Blogger Summit in Washington, D.C, along with 49 other bloggers and LGBT journalists from across the country (Microsoft and Progressive Insurance under wrote the entire cost).  One of my compatriots at the weekend long event was Karen Ocamb who now writes for the Los Angeles Blade.  While no "chicken little" by any means, Karen shares my concerns for where America is headed.  Neither Hitler nor Lenin became supreme autocrats overnight.  They were aided by a large segment of the population that was indifferent to what was happening, and also by a smaller but more determined segment that applauded their policies of hate, bigotry and resentment.  Karen has a column that calls on all of us to wake up and be aware of what is happening and the need to resist it will all our might.  Here are highlights:

[J]ournalist Masha Gessen, an expert on Russian President Vladimir Putin and authoritarianism, pulled no rhetorical punches. “I don’t think we have fascist rule in this country, but what we have is a fascist leader,” Gessen told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on June 23, referring to President Donald Trump. “We have a nativist, nationalist leader who is devoting all his energy into portraying a group of people as a super dangerous enemy, both sort of subhuman animals, right, ‘infestation,’ and superhuman at the same time because they’re so frightening— because if we don’t protect ourselves, terrible things will happen, we don’t know what kind of catastrophe will befall us,” encapsulating Trump’s use of fear tactics and dehumanizing language about immigrants to rile his base.  “That is fascism,” Gessen said. “Whether we allow fascism to take over this entire country is an open question and none of us knows what’s going to happen. But it is by no means hyperbole to call Trump a fascist.” Gessen noted how slowly fascism takes hold. “Somebody posted recently the mock cover that The Boston Globe did before Trump’s election to try to scare people that said, ‘Deportations to Begin.’ And we thought it would be so shocking just a year and a half ago—and now we’re in the middle of it,” she said. “Deportations have long since begun and worse than deportations.”
 “And soon internment camps,” Reid added as an almost throwaway afterthought. And then came the internment camps—for children. [O]n April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy. Lest anyone miss the point, Sessions went to Friendship Park on the border on May 8 and gleefully spelled out the new policy.   . . . . The felony criminalization of immigration forced authorities to take a child while the parent was referred for prosecution, which often resulted in deportation without the child. Sessions later declared that asylum would not be granted to anyone fleeing from domestic violence or gangs.
The policy was the last straw for former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt who renounced his membership in the Republican Party, now “fully the party of Trump.”
 “This child separation policy is connected to the worst abuses of humanity in our history. It is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery and dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families,” he said in the thread. “Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and values.” Schmidt also came close to calling Trump a fascist. “Conservatism has become synonymous with obedience to the leader – a leader who says ‘I am the law. I am above the law. I will define what truth is.’ Truth is what the leader says it is, not what we would have recognized months ago as objective truth,” Schmidt told MSNBC. “The last time this happened, it unleashed a tragedy the likes of which the world has never seen. And I think there is a real lack of imagination in this country about how fragile these institutions are and how dangerous a president as unprepared, as authoritarian, as ignorant as he is—the damage he would be able to cause.” The government tried to control the detention narrative. But reporting by Los Angeles native Jacob Soboroff for MSNBC after touring a facility in McAllen, Texas burst through. He described essentially a prison with “babies sitting by themselves in a cage with other babies.” He said reporters on the tour were asked to smile at the kids because they “feel like animals locked up in cages.” ProPublica released smuggled audio of young children crying for their parents. Reports of “tender-age shelters” and the sight of young people escorted in the dark of night to facilities around the country caused outrage. [W]hile a San Diego judge ordered family reunification within 30 days of separation, the government has apparently not been keeping track of the children, including infants and toddlers who do not know their names. More than 2,300 children are in government custody since the separation policy started in April. “[History] is repeating itself but it has gone to a new low with Donald Trump. When we were incarcerated [in Japanese-American internment camps], our families were intact. My parents were with me,” out actor George Takai told CNN. “But in this case, it’s come to a chilling low where babies are torn away from their mothers and placed in separate internment camps.” Takai says Trump’s lies and inflammatory rhetoric are similar to what happened to Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. “We were characterized by the government, classified as ‘enemy aliens.’ We were neither,” he said, noting that many young Japanese Americans “rushed to their recruitments centers to volunteer to serve in the US military” right after Pearl Harbor but were denied. But repeat a lie often enough “and it becomes a reality.” That’s what happened with “enemy aliens,” Takai said, recalling comments from the politically ambitious California Attorney General Earl Warren: “We have no reports of sabotage or spying or fifth column activities by Japanese Americans. And that is ominous because the Japanese are inscrutable. We can’t tell what they’re thinking so it would be prudent to lock them up before they do anything.” LGBT people should be concerned about Trump’s call to do away with immigration judges. “What are we going to do for LGBT people who are fleeing regimes that actually torture and kill them for being gay?,” asks Takano. “They don’t even get a hearing?” This anti-immigrant attitude harms us morally, to have this be done in our names as American citizens.” 

Shockingly, the referenced San Diego federal judge noted that the Trump regime seemingly had no method to keep track of children so as to reunite them with their parents.  Imagine if your children or grand children were seized by force and there was a serious likelihood you would never see them again.   Having brown skin does not make one less than human.  My fear is that the targets today are Hispanic immigrants, but tomorrow it may be gays, blacks, or others.   There are few people more consumed with hate than Trump's Christofascist/white supremacist base.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, June 28, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty

Justice Must Be Won at the Ballot Box

With the United States Supreme Court poised to become a reactionary, anti-civil rights, anti-minority, anti-non-Christian force in America, average Americans' last resort for justice will be the ballot box.  Judicial redress of wrongs will like  be greatly curtailed as a soon to be solid majority of reactionaries will dominate the Court and inflict the Republican Party's extremist agenda on all Americans.  Two different columns, one in the New York Times and one in the Washington Post, look at the ominous future and suggest that efforts must be made to defeat Republicans at the ballot box - just as former Republican George Will recently argued. America is now poised where it either goes down the road of fascism like Germany of the 1930's, or citizens get off their asses and act before it is too late.  First, highlights from the Times piece:
If the last few days hadn’t been dispiriting enough for those who believed the Supreme Court could still stand for reproductive freedom, equal rights for all Americans, a check on presidential power, a more humane criminal justice system and so much more, Wednesday afternoon brought the coup de grâce.
Everyone knew it was coming sooner than later, but Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, which he announced in a letter released hours after the court had issued its final rulings of the term, is still crushing. It sends a stark message to the tens of millions of Americans who have long turned to the court for the vindication of many of their most cherished rights and protections: Look somewhere else.
That place is the ballot box. So show up and vote. In the absence of a Supreme Court majority that will reliably protect human dignity, universal equality and women’s right to control their own bodies, it is up to Americans who cherish these values to elect politicians at every level of government who share them. . . . With Justice Kennedy’s departure, the court is very likely to lock in an unmoderated, hard-right majority for the rest of most of our lives.
It is a dark moment in the history of the court and the nation, and it’s about to get a lot darker. Once President Trump names his second pick and the Senate confirms that person, you can forget about new or enhanced protections for gays and lesbians, or saving the last shreds of affirmative action at public universities. Longstanding precedents are now at extreme risk.
[C]ount on more rulings that, like Monday’s decision upholding racial gerrymandering in Texas, give states the green light to cut back on voting rights, promote the rights of corporations over individuals, further erode the wall between church and state and look the other way when states cut corners and evade constitutional requirements in order to execute their citizens.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who put up that blockade [to Obama’s nominee] despite the damage it inflicted on two branches of government, is celebrating now. He knows he has an open road to confirming whomever he and the Federalist Society want on the bench. . . . any remaining sense that the court can exist apart from partisan politics is gone.
For those who face the future in fear after Wednesday, there are no easy answers — but there is a clear duty. Do not for a moment underestimate the importance of getting out and voting in November. Four years ago, only 36 percent of Americans cast ballots in the midterm elections. Had more people showed up, the Senate may well have remained in Democratic control, Mitch McConnell would not be the majority leader and Judge Merrick Garland would now be Justice Garland. In the days and months ahead, remember this.
The column in the Post makes a similar case.  Here are excerpts:
Our constitutional system of “checks and balances” works only if those in a position to operate the levers of checking and balancing do their job. It is clear that a Republican Congress and Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have no taste for such work. For the moment, President Trump is mostly unchecked and unbalanced.
[N]ow things stand to get even worse because of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement. He was, at least on some occasions, a moderating force. His replacement by another conservative hard-liner in the mold of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch would give right-wing interpretations of the law free rein.
This court’s direction was troubling enough with Kennedy there.  . . . When it comes to access to the ballot, they are pushing the nation back to the jurisprudence of the pre-civil rights era. The majority’s shameless ratification of a racial gerrymander by Texas’s Republican legislature, wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in dissent, demonstrated its refusal to enforce the “right of equal opportunity.”
And on Wednesday, in what might be seen as a companion to the Citizens United decision that enhanced the influence of corporations on our political life, the majority voted to undercut organized labor’s ability to fight back. 
A profound mistrust of the court will only be aggravated by the contrast between its approach to the travel ban and its method in an earlier 7-to-2 ruling in favor of a baker who did not want to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.
The cake decision uses statements by a Colorado regulator critical of religion to decry “religious hostility on the part of the State itself.” The five-justice majority then turns around in the travel-ban case, as Sotomayor noted, and “completely sets aside the President’s charged statements about Muslims as irrelevant.” In the first, involving Christians, the court went out of its way to protect religious liberty. In the second, involving Muslims, it went out of its way to insist that religious-liberty concerns did not apply.
All the recent talk about civility should not stop opponents of a right-wing court from doing everything in their power to keep the judiciary from being packed with ideologues who behave as partisans.
There is nothing civil about rushing a nominee to replace Kennedy before the midterm elections. And no rule of civility demands the confirmation of justices who would leave an abusive president unchecked and use raw judicial power to roll back a century’s worth of social progress.
Get registered to vote if you are not currently registered and get to the polls and vote against Republicans at all levels.  Act as if your rights - and lives - depend on it because they just might.  Apathy and laziness have brought the nation to this nightmare crossroads. The 2018 midterm elections just might be among the most important in America's history. 

Abortion and LGBT Rights Are Next the Trump/Christofascist Hit List

Like many in the LGBT community, I felt physically ill when I heard the news that Justice Anthony Kennedy would be retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of the current term.  His retirement means that Der Trumpenführer, whose approval ratings remain in the toilet outside of Christofascist and white supremacist circles, will nominate another ideologue like Neil Gorsuch who will purse the Trump base's dream of outlawing all abortions, rescinding LGBT rights, and disenfranchising as many minority voters as possible.  Short of a miracle where moderate Republicans - if such a thing still exists - in the U.S. Senate buck Trump and their party and reject Trump's nominee, for at least a generation, the U.S. Supreme Court will be openly hostile to minority rights of all kinds. How bad will it be?  Likely, very bad and if "friends" who voted for Trump think I will forgive them, they are delusional.  They have stabbed so many of us in the back and deserve nothing but derision and ostracizing from the company of decent, moral people.  A piece in The Daily Beast, looks at the coming nightmare.  Here are highlights:
The judicial apocalypse is here, and there’s nothing Democrats can do to stop it.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing voter in most of the Supreme Court’s close cases of the last decade, is retiring at age 81. President Donald Trump will choose his successor.
With the Senate filibuster of Supreme Court nominees eliminated last year by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, anyone Trump nominates will be rubber-stamped.  That has been the pattern so far, with 39 judges confirmed so far, often in an expedited process, with not a single Republican vote opposing any of them.
Moreover, Trump’s judicial nominees thus far have been chosen by the far-right Federalist Society, which has put forward extreme ideologues in the mode of Justice Clarence Thomas, whose ideas were once considered on the fringe but are now increasingly within the [GOP] mainstream. 
While Justice Neil Gorsuch replaced another conservative, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whoever replaces Justice Kennedy will likely be a conservative firebrand replacing a moderate.  The shift will transform the Court for decades to come.
Among the Court’s precedents that will be on the chopping block are Roe v. Wadeprotecting women’s rights to choose to have an abortion, and Obergefell v. Hodges, protecting gay people’s rights to marry.
Roe has been significantly limited in recent years, and all four sitting conservative justices have either opposed it directly, or opposed the doctrines on which it is based.
Justice Kennedy wrote the Obergefell decision, over a vigorous dissent by Chief Justice John Roberts, and the vote was 5-4.  Even the Court’s own doctrines of respecting precedent will not protect same-sex marriage; just this week, the Court directly overturned a precedent regarding public-section unions. 
It is quite likely that the both rights will come to an end within two to three years: there are cases pending that would further limit each, and more will soon follow.
In the case of abortion rights, Justice Kennedy was the swing vote striking down Texas’s junk-science regulations that would have shuttered most abortion clinics in the state; with him gone, other states will surely pass and litigate their own versions.  Iowa’s new law, known as the heartbeat bill, bans abortions once a heartbeat is detected, usually the sixth week of pregnancy – the lawsuit about that law will provide the next Supreme Court with an opportunity to further limit Roe, or overturn it entirely.
Likewise for marriage rights. There are already cases pending about whether same-sex spouses are entitled to spousal benefits, and numerous cases about when private actors may discriminate against gay people.  Each of these provide opportunities to limit or overturn Obergefell.
Assuming the Senate fast-tracks the nomination – as McConnell and Trump have already said will happen – the confirmation vote will take place before the November elections.
Democrats’ only hope is to somehow persuade moderate Republicans like Jeff Flake or Susan Collins to oppose Trump’s nominee, although they have been mostly unable to do in the first two years of the Trump presidency.  (Senator Flake recently said he would block Trump’s nominees if the Senate did not act to restrain Trump on tariffs.)
Understandably, the consequences for the Supreme Court, and civil rights as we know them today, are eclipsing, . . . Justice Kennedy turned out to be the unlikely hero of the LGBT equality movement, writing every major pro-LGBT opinion in the Supreme Court’s history, culminating in Obergefell in 2015.
n an ideal world, a responsible Republican president would nominate a thoughtful moderate-conservative who is respected by his colleagues and who lies within the judicial mainstream – basically, a conservative version of Merrick Garland.
But in the world we live in, Trump is likely to please his base by nominating an extreme conservative, like his recent picks who have compared abortion to slavery, called Justice Kennedy a “judicial prostitute,” and called transgender children “evidence of Satan’s plan at work.”  All of those nominees, by the way, were confirmed without a single Republican vote against.

I am not many years from retirement and, if my fears are realized, the husband and I may find ourselves looking to retire somewhere outside of the United States.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Job Losses from Trump's Trade War Likely Just Beginning

Much like Mussolini (for whom things did not end well), Donald Trump likes to strut around and act the tough guy. Part of this tough guy/bully routine is Trump's self-created trade war which is already beginning to kill American jobs.  But worse days are likely to come for both American workers more of whom will lose jobs and American consumers who will find themselves paying higher prices for numerous goods.  All so a foul narcissist can feed his insatiable ego and play to the knuckle dragging base of the Republican Party. A column by a former U.S. Trade Representative looks at America's increasingly alienated allies working to form new trading alliances that exclude America.  Here are highlights:

Diversification is the polite way of saying that America’s friends and allies believe we have become an unreliable partner, and they are now looking elsewhere. From Ottawa to Brussels to Seoul, our trading partners are fed up with the Trump administration’s tariffs, and they have given up on trying to charm President Trump or persuade him that free trade is good. To reduce their economic dependence on the United States and their exposure to a potential global trade war, they are forging trade deals that leave us out of the picture altogether. On June 14, Canada’s government asked Parliament to ratify a new version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the United States backed out of last year. On June 18, the European Union trade commissioner visited Australia and three days later, New Zealand to begin negotiations for free-trade agreements; and on June 22, South Korea announced plans to pursue negotiations for its first free-trade agreement with Russia.
These moves are a direct response to the Trump administration’s unreliability and unpredictability, and they are a clear sign that the administration’s trade policy priorities — renegotiating deals and punishing violations — are not working out as expected.
[Trump] The president may want better deals to replace the old, “terrible” deals he doesn’t like, but so far, the rest of the world has been reluctant to negotiate new agreements with the United States. The long and growing list of tariffs, particularly those based on dubious national security grounds, has weakened the administration’s ability to form coalitions with other countries to tackle legitimate concerns, especially China’s unfair trade practices.
Instead, our closest trading partners are scrambling to find new markets for exports subject to tariff increases by the United States, and to secure new suppliers for the American products that their own countries are planning to hit with retaliatory tariffs.
Japan is thus accelerating negotiations with other countries. Japan and the European Union plan to sign their free-trade agreement in July. Moreover, it was Japan who stepped up to fill the leadership void left by the American exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Japanese Diet approved a bill to ratify the revised pact this month.
The tone and policies of the Trump administration have even managed to bring two longtime rivals, China and Mexico, closer together. The two countries once competed head-to-head as low-cost manufacturers, with the United States as the most important market. After Mr. Trump began beating the drum for tariffs and a possible withdrawal from Nafta, Mexico’s economy minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, called a visit last year to China “strategic leverage,” saying it “sends the signal that we have alternatives” to the United States.
Regrettably, this leaves the United States on the margins as the rest of the world builds a new trading structure without us. Our workers, farmers and companies will be locked out of important markets. We will lose our chance to help write the rules and set standards for trade in advanced technology, such as alternative-fuel vehicles, 3-D printing and artificial intelligence. Global and regional supply chains will increasingly bypass the United States. And years of efforts by the United States to curb China’s unfair trade practices will lose critical international support. To be sure, as the world’s largest economy, the United States will remain a major player in international commerce. . . . There is a danger, however, in overestimating our negotiating leverage. Trade patterns will shift as our partners look elsewhere. We have spent decades building trust with our allies. We are now squandering it.

The Supreme Court's New Dred Scott Decision

Justices Gorsuch and Roberts - history will not judge them kindly. 
Throughout its history, the United States Supreme Court has on occasion spectacularly failed to rule in the interest of justice and fairness.  It did so again when it narrowly upheld Donald Trump's Muslim ban despite all the evidence that religious based animus was the motivating factor for its enactment.  As in its past spectacular failures, the conservative majority of the court - made far worse by the elevation of Neil Gorsuch, a champion of special rights for Christian extremists - ratified bigotry rampant within portions of the American populace.   While not the only wrong headed ruling  by the conservative majority - it looked the other way in a racial gerrymandering case out of Texas - Trump v. Hawaii is perhaps the most hypocritical given the Court's recent deference to a Christian extremist's "beliefs" in the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling. Apparently religion and religious belief only merit protection when it is of a right wing Christian variety.  A column in the Washington Post rightly rips the Roberts Court.  Here are excerpts:

The Supreme Court’s approval of President Trump’s travel ban barring entry to some 150 million people from five overwhelmingly Muslim countries is likely to be judged by history as one of the court’s greatest failures — in a league with Dred Scott v. Sandford, which helped bring on the Civil War, and Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the wartime detention of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans and noncitizens of Japanese descent.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., perhaps recognizing the disturbing parallels, sought to distance the court from this critique by declaring, nearly 75 years after the fact, that Korematsu “was gravely wrong the day it was decided” and that it has “nothing to do with this case.” But it has everything to do with this case: In Trump v. Hawaii, as in Korematsu and Dred Scott, the court was asked to stand up for the rights of the vulnerable against the biases of the powerful — and failed.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the court’s conservative justices wrote that even considering all of President Trump’s anti-Muslim statements about the ban, the order should be upheld as long as the court could imagine any plausible basis for it, applying the most deferential standard of scrutiny in constitutional law. In doing so, the court effectively closed its eyes to what the world sees and rubber-stamped a ban that effectively erected a sign at the U.S. borders reading “Muslims not welcome.”
In Dred Scott, the Supreme Court in 1857 struck down a statute prohibiting slavery in the northern territories, saying that “the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution,” and that African Americans had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The decision treated human beings as property and denied Congress the power to ban slavery in the territories.
In Korematsu , the Supreme Court in 1944 upheld President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese American citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent against a challenge that it unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of race and national origin. . . . . the court simply deferred to unwarranted aspersions cast on an entire segment of the U.S. population by the military. In Trump v. Hawaii, there was overwhelming evidence that Trump’s ban targeted Muslims. As a presidential candidate, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” because, he asserted, “Islam hates us.” He explained that he would do so by using territories as a proxy for religion, because “people were so upset when I used the word Muslim.” One week after taking office, he did just that. In case there were any doubt, he said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that day that the order would give priority to Syrian Christians over Muslim refugees.
When that order and a second one were both blocked in court, Trump issued a third version, which also bars entry to North Koreans and certain Venezuelan government officials, but because almost none of them come to the United States anyway, virtually everyone affected remains Muslim.
Just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court reminded us in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission that the freedom of religion “bars even ‘subtle departures from neutrality’ on matters of religion.” The court warned that when there is “even slight suspicion” of animosity to religion underlying government action, all public officials “must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures.” . . . Yet the court openly abdicated that duty in a case with more evidence of religious animus than perhaps any other it has ever considered.
Had any other government official, in any other context, acted so openly out of animus against a particular religion, the court would swiftly and rightly step in to uphold the establishment clause. It did so on extraordinarily weak evidence of religious bias by a state civil rights commission functionary in Masterpiece Cakeshop. But in Trump v. Hawaii, the court reasoned that because the biased official is the president exercising his immigration authority, it should for all intents and purposes look the other way. . . . just as in Dred Scott and Korematsu, the Supreme Court failed the ultimate test of justice. It bowed to the prejudice of the powerful when its duty was to protect the most vulnerable.  Even as he repeated the court’s worst past mistakes, Roberts declared that Korematsu had been “overruled in the court of history.” So, too, will Trump v. Hawaii.

Until the hold of the "conservatives" on the Court - they are in reality, mostly racists and bigots - is shifted back to moderates, expect more horrific rulings with further erosion of civil rights of those hated by the Republican base of Christian extremists and white supremacists.  Be very afraid.