Saturday, August 25, 2018

16 States Want Gays to Be Exempt from Civil Rights Protections

Anti-LGBT animus is alive and well 16 states - most in the South/Bible Belt - except for Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Maine (thanks to its lunatic GOP governor) - where the attorneys general have filed briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that companies can fire workers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity without violating federal workplace discrimination laws.  The goal is the reversal of the EEOC position that firing gays or transgender is all about sex and sexuality and, therefore, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is applicable.  The filing is motivated by Jeff Session's Justice Department position that ‘sex’ under the terms of Title VII does not mean anything other than biological status as determined at birth which is in direct opposition to the EEOC position.  As Joe Jervis notes, the brief was co-authored by Nebraska Deputy Attorney General David Bydalek, formerly policy director of the vociferously anti-gay Nebraska affiliate of Focus On The Family.  One can only hope that progressive corporations and businesses take not and avoid these states.  Here are highlights from Bloomberg:
A group of 16 states urged the U.S. Supreme Court Aug. 23 to rule that companies can fire workers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity without violating federal workplace discrimination law.
The states, led by Nebraska Attorney General David Bydalek, asked the justices to overturn an appeals court decision against a Michigan funeral home that fired a transgender worker. They said Congress didn’t intend the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to cover bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender employees.
“The States’ purpose is to note that ‘sex’ under the plain terms of Title VII does not mean anything other than biological status,” Bydalek wrote.
The friend-of-the-court brief is the latest development in a legal debate that has divided courts and exposed a rift within the Trump administration. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says LGBT bias already is banned, but the Justice Department disagrees.
The EEOC successfully sued on behalf of Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes after telling a supervisor she was transitioning to a woman. But the agency must get the Justice Department’s approval if it wants to participate in the case at the Supreme Court level.
A total of 13 Republican attorneys general, including those representing Texas, Alabama, Kansas, and Utah, signed on to the brief. Three GOP governors— Matthew Bevin (Kentucky), Paul LePage (Maine), and Phil Bryant (Mississippi)—also joined in the court filing.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide in the coming months whether to take up the case. It’s also been asked to consider two other cases testing whether sexual orientation bias is a form of sex discrimination banned under the existing law.
Laws in 20 states and Washington, D.C., directly ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. That includes bans in Utah and Maine.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2017 became the first federal appeals court in the country to conclude that transgender bias is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII when it said Harris Funeral Homes violated the law by firing Stephens.

More Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Andre Brunelli

Scott Taylor Staffers Submitted 4 Dead People, 59 Fraudulent Signatures

I first met Scott Taylor at a Hampton Roads Pride launch event when he was - in my view - pandering to LGBT voters and claiming to be "LGBT friendly," a pretense he has continued.  At the time, I had a hard to define reaction that Taylor was a bit off and not necessarily genuine.  Nonetheless, I backed Taylor over Randy Forbes, a former law school classmate who had become a Christian zealot over the intervening years and supportive of endless anti-gay efforts.   I figured Taylor was the lesser of the two evils.  Fast forward to today, and Taylor has largely marched lock step with the Trump/Pence, the most anti-LGBT regime in decades which is actively undermining LGBT rights and rescinding LGBT non-discrimination protections.   Now, the unease I felt about Taylor has been quantified by the ongoing scandal over the fraudulent signatures collected by Taylor's campaign staffers to put Shaun Brown on the November ballot as an independent candidate for Taylor's congressional seat.  The obvious goal: to drain votes from Taylor's Democrat challenger, Elaine Luria.  The Virginian Pilot looks at the deepening scandal.  Here are some tawdry details:

The problem was that Floyd Newkirk died in 2016 at the age of 83, according to his obituary. He was a retired Marine, Korean War veteran and long-distance truck driver. Eddie Newkirk was disheartened to hear that his deceased father’s name was used for political gain. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “But I’m disappointed that someone would stoop to that level.”
The elder Newkirk was one of four Virginia Beach men who had died in recent years but whose names appeared on the petitions. The others were Hugh Doy, Melvin Chittum and R. Stuart Cake.
A team of reporters from The Virginian-Pilot conducted a two-week investigation of Brown’s petition signatures, trying to contact each voter listed on the dozens of pages submitted by five people paid by Taylor’s campaign.  The Pilot reached 115 of the 584 people listed – or a family member – by phone.
Of those reached, 51 people – including several local Republican politicians – acknowledged signing the petition. Six others weren’t sure whether they did.  But 59 – more than half of those reached – declared the signatures to be fraudulent.
Some of the fake entries contained misspelled names. Others included an outdated address next to the name. One person was in the hospital being treated for throat cancer on the day he was reported to have signed. Another said she was out of town attending a graduation ceremony.
Many of those named were elderly people, including Floyd Felten of Virginia Beach, whose name also was misspelled. Felten’s daughter, Carol Campbell, said she’s sure that her father didn’t sign. “He’s 102,” Campbell said. “He really can’t sign his name that well.”
Most of those who said they didn’t sign had no idea how their names ended up on the petitions. Some said they were Taylor supporters or Republicans, had given money to Taylor’s campaign, were on an email list for him or had agreed to put his campaign signs in their yards.
Most of the signatures submitted by the Taylor supporters were obtained during a two-day blitz on June 8 and 9, just days before the June 12 filing deadline.
Brown, a Hampton businesswoman who ran as a Democrat against Taylor in 2016, has said she didn’t know that Taylor staffers were collecting signatures for her. She faces trial in October on charges that she defrauded the federal government through a summer meal program for children. She was tried on the charges in federal court earlier this month, but the case ended with a hung jury. She did not return a call from The Pilot seeking comment for this story.
The Pilot found five people associated with Taylor’s campaign listed as being among the circulators of the petitions: Heather Guillot, Lauren Creekmore, Roberta Marciano, Daniel Bohner and Nicholas Hornung.
Federal Election Commission records show that Creekmore, Marciano and Hornung each received payments from Taylor’s campaign this year that were listed as payroll disbursements. Creekmore received five payments totaling $6,036; Marciano got three for $3,097; and Hornung got two for a total of $2,041, the records show.
Guillot, who served as chief of staff and campaign manager for former Republican state Del. Rocky Holcomb, had the most that were questioned – 29 reported as fraudulent. She also was the only one who had the names of dead people listed on her submitted petitions.  Thirteen people claimed that signatures submitted by Marciano were forged, and 12 said the same about signatures handed in by Creekmore.
Taylor spokesman Scott Weldon refused to say whether any of them were still associated with the campaign.
Before submitting petitions to get Brown on the November ballot, workers were required to sign an affidavit on the back of each page.  They promised that they had witnessed the signature of each person named on the document. They also acknowledged that breaking this promise would make them guilty of a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. Each affidavit also had to be notarized.
If the prosecutor determines there’s enough evidence to support charges in the case, they likely would include felonies such as filing false statements or perjury, said Matthew Shapanka, an attorney in Washington, D.C., who specializes in political law.
Among those who acknowledged signing the petitions were numerous employees of the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, a detail first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  The Pilot’s investigation found 52 sheriff’s employees listed on petitions submitted by Taylor’s campaign staff. . . . they were passed around during the workday by members of his staff, not the Taylor campaign members who signed affidavits on those pages.
If that’s the case, then those 52 signatures also were obtained illegally, said Rebecca Green, a professor at the College of William & Mary’s law school who runs the election law program.
Taylor's feigned lack of knowledge defies belief. Sadly, Taylor has shown that he is not only only too willing to dupe LGBT voters, but he seeming also subscribes to the morally bankrupt standards of Trump.  Taylor needs to be voted out of office in November. 

How Will The Trump/Pence Nightmare End

As Andrew Sullivan notes "There was a sense among some this week that we had at last reached that golden “inflection point” when all of Trump’s lies, scams, cons, and crimes finally sink in with Republicans, and the cult begins to crack."  A piece in The Atlantic notes a similar feeling but then cautions "This is an inflection point. And yet an equally well-informed friend insists, “I no longer believe in political inflection points and neither should you.”  How the national nightmare ends - and I include Mike Pence who once misused campaign funds in the past along lines that now has GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter under multiple federal indictment - is unclear.   Were we back in the Watergate era, when Republicans put the rule of law and the nation above continued self-enrichment and political power, the end game would be clear and the optimism of some that Trump is going to go down would be justified.  Now, most Republicans are little better than Trump and his base is truly the "basket of depolarables" that Hillary Clinton aptly called them even if her honesty was not politically correct.  Sullivan takes a darker view of where America might be headed given the hatred of others that motivates the Trump/Pence base and the lawlessness of Trump (Pence stands by and quietly applauds him).  Here's a portion of what Sullivan warns could happen:
I tend to think something else is happening: that we are entering the most dangerous phase of Donald Trump’s presidency. We always knew this would happen — that the rule of law and Trump would at some point be unable to coexist — but we had no idea how it would specifically play out. Now we see the lay of the land a little more clearly.
Trump has also revealed himself this week to regard Watergate hero John Dean as a “rat” for defending the rule of law under Nixon, a view that even Nixon never expressed in public. And he holds the views of a mob boss when it comes to the idea of plea bargains as a way of shutting down organized crime: “I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years, I’ve been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get ten years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go … It’s called ‘flipping’ and it almost ought to be illegal.” Almost.
Who else, by the way, do you know has spent four decades of his life “watching” the intricacies of mob round-ups? Yes, I know Trump made his fortune in part through the mob. They were regulars at his Taj Mahal casino, which was found to have “willfully violated” the money-laundering rules of the Bank Secrecy Act, was the subject of four separate IRS investigations for “repeated and significant” deviations from money-laundering laws, and was forced to pay what was then an industry record for the largest money-laundering fine. The Russian mob was critical to buying his real estate in secret as well. This is a president who has surrounded himself with criminals, especially Russian criminals, for decades. But still: the man who took an oath to enforce the laws of the land is openly touting the logic of mobsters in their battle with law enforcement. Before this presidency, that would have been inconceivable.
A republic cannot be governed by a man who acts like a mafia boss, following mafia rules. The minute that happens, the corrosion begins. Every day such a crook holds the highest office in the land represents yet another crack in the law of the land. If this figure decides to wage an actual war on the rule of law, and retains the solid support of his own party, all bets are off. And it is a staggering fact that in the wake of this week’s verdicts and Trump’s responses, no Republican leaders have yet decisively called their president out, and no right-wing media outlet has sounded any kind of alarm. It has fallen to Jeff Sessions to issue a statement defending the DOJ.
 [T]his is the beginning, not the end. Everything we know about Trump would lead you to believe he will defend himself, like every other mafia boss, to the bitter end. His current strategy is to dismiss the recent convictions as nothing to do with him, and nothing to do with collusion with Russia. “NO COLLUSION.” And that may well work with his base — unless evidence does emerge of a knowing conspiracy with Russia, giving Mueller the goods without any serious doubt. Or unless we discover that Trump himself obviously used his constitutional powers to obstruct justice.
But if the evidence for one or both does come to light, that’s also when the implicit danger becomes explicit. At that point, Trump would have several options. He could fire Sessions and Rosenstein and others until he found someone who would fire Mueller. (And he has just signaled that that is exactly what he will do.) He could pardon everyone implicated by Mueller and declare the entire affair a travesty of justice.
But Trump could also launch a political campaign to purge the government of those he views as global elitists who have been trying to overturn the result of a democratic election since November 2016. He could perform, in other words, a mini-Erdogan, go to the country in 2020, and appeal for mass support against the “swamp.” He could double down on the populism. If impeached, he would encourage and foment what Rudy Giuliani called this week a “people’s revolt.”
He could also ratchet up the foul white-nationalist rhetoric he has been spouting for so long, seizing on events, such as the awful murder of Mollie Tibbetts, to generate anti-immigrant hysteria. Newt Gingrich, one of the most sinister figures in modern American politics, has openly mused about running a midterm campaign on fears of violence by brown illegal immigrants. Trump could tweet out scare stories about land reform in South Africa, raising classic fears of black violence against whites, in order to rally his base. He could openly allow Russia to interfere again with the elections, this time the midterms, and indeed his administration just blocked a vital new bill to provide support for election security.
And in all this, he will have a completely shameless state propaganda network [Fox News] to amplify the message, and legitimize it.
I would like to believe that Trump would fail, and be removed from office, or, better still, voted decisively out of it. That would actually strengthen our liberal democracy. But it’s impossible to view the tribalism now defining our culture and the despicable character of this president and find this conclusion inevitable. The good news this week is that a poll shows growing support for the Mueller investigation, and a Democratic wave this November could force even this putrefying version of what was once the GOP to reconsider its options.
As Salena Zito noted this week: “Right now the value of Trump to the Trump voter is he is all that stands between them and handing the keys to Washington back over to the people inside Washington. That’s it. He’s their only option. You’ve got to pick the insiders or him.”
But what if picking him over the insiders means picking autocracy over the rule of law? The next few months will tell us if enough Americans prefer a criminal president to a Democratic one. I’m genuinely afraid of what the answer may be.
Frighteningly, Sullivan's assessment is, to me, on point.  I have no faith in today's GOP or the hideous GOP base to opt for the rule of law and democracy. 

The piece in The Atlantic is less dark and cautionary and hopes for a better end.  But it too notes the current foul state of the GOP and its knuckle dragging base (for Fox News viewers, Mussolini was an Italian dictator aligned with Hitler who was ultimate hanged by his people):
A tyrant is unloved, and although the laws and institutions of the United States have proven a brake on Trump, his spirit remains tyrannical—that is, utterly self-absorbed and self-concerned, indifferent to the suffering of others, knowing no moral restraint. He expects fealty and gives none. Such people can exert power for a long time, by playing on the fear and cupidity, the gullibility and the hatreds of those around them. Ideological fervor can substitute for personal affection and attachment for a time, and so too can blind terror and sheer stupidity, but in the end, these fall away as well.
And thus their courtiers abandon even monumental tyrants like Mussolini—who at least had his mistress, Claretta Petacci, with him at his ignominious end. (Melania’s affections are considerably less certain.) The normal course of events is sudden, epic desertion, in which an all-powerful political figure who loomed over everything is suddenly left shrunken and pitiful, a wretched little figure in gaudy robes absurdly too big for him, a figure of ridicule as much as, and even more than, hatred.
This is going to happen to Trump at some point. Of the Republicans in Congress it may be said of most of them: Those he commands move only in command, nothing in love. For now, admittedly, there are those who still court his favor—Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, once the trusty vassal of Senator John McCain, the bravest of warriors and noblest of dukes, seems to have switched his allegiance from his dying lord to the swaggering upstart aged prince. But that is about ambition, not affection.
For the moment, the Republicans will not turn on Trump. They fear a peasant revolt, many of them; they still crave favors; they may think his castle impregnable, although less so if they believe what the polls tell them about some of its tottering walls. But if they suffer a medieval-style slaughter on Election Day, the remnants of the knights of the GOP will know a greater fear than that of being primaried. And at the moment when they no longer fear being swept away in 2020, when the economy may be in recession and Robert Mueller’s probe is complete with revelations whose ghastliness would delight the three witches of the Scottish play, they will suddenly turn on Trump. Act V of this play will also have a nonlinear finish.
And what of Trump himself? In this respect he will be like Macbeth. Where Nixon, who was a statesman, saw the inevitable and resigned, this president is more likely to go down spitting defiance.
And so it will likely be, as Americans gaze back and wonder how on earth this rare monster, now deposed, ended up as their president.
How do we insure a good end?  Make sure you and everyone you know is registered to vote and that you and all of them vote Democrat in November.  Only an electoral massacre will push today's Republicans to do what those of 1974 did with Nixon. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, August 24, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

Trump Tweets False White Supremacist "Talking Point" and Causes Rift with South Africa

Donald Trump may be the least knowledgeable individual to ever occupy the White House.  Rather than educate himself from multiple sources and reading lengthy reports, he watches Fox News which now basically broadcasts what Trump and his supporters want to hear and insists on single page briefing papers.  Add to this Trump's long history of racism - one significant detail arose right here in Hampton Roads when Trump's company was sued for anti-black discrimination - and its little surprise that Der Trumpenf├╝hrer launched a totally erroneous and racially charged tweet the other evening.  Whether it was meant to be a distraction form the coverage of the conviction and guilty plea of his right hand men or pure ignorance and racial malice may never be known.  What is certain is that the story line derives from a white supremacist talking point used to spread the myth of "white genocide."  The New York Times looks at this latest falsehood peddled by the White House:
Trust President Trump, following his familiar tactic of deflecting attention from yet another scandal by issuing some outrageous tweet, to come down hard on the wrong side of an issue he knows nothing about, based on no more than a slanted Fox News program. In a late-Wednesday tweet, Mr. Trump said he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to look into land seizures and the “large-scale killing of farmers” in South Africa. It was the first time he has mentioned Africa by name in a tweet as president.
His source was a grossly one-sided report by the Fox host Tucker Carlson [who has been pandering to white supremacists] asserting that the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was seizing land from his citizens because they are the wrong “skin color.” There have been no large-scale killings of white farmers, and Mr. Ramaphosa’s proposal to change the Constitution to allow expropriation of land [in certain limited situations such as abandoned property and derelict urban buildings] without compensation has not yet passed.
The Natives Land Act of 1913 essentially reserved most of the land to the white minority, and the restrictions became more onerous in the apartheid era. When that system was finally dismantled almost 25 years ago, a new Constitution did provide for land reform, but the process has moved slowly. Statistics vary, but what is clear is that whites, who are less than 10 percent of the population, continue to own more than two-thirds of the land, while black South Africans, the overwhelming majority, own a much smaller share.
That “highly skewed” distribution of land and productive assets, according to the World Bank, contributes heavily to making South Africa “the world’s most unequal country.”
Mr. Ramaphosa argued in an op-ed article in The Financial Times that his proposal was “no land grab,” and that the A.N.C.’s land reform program would not undermine investment in the economy or damage agricultural production. The constitutional amendment he is seeking, he said, would strengthen the existing rules by making explicit the conditions under which land could be expropriated without compensation.
 Yet Mr. Trump’s tweet, and the Fox show on which it was based, were bereft of any context, sympathy or understanding. They pounced, instead, on the false narratives of right-wing white South African groups claiming widespread seizures of white-owned land and a continuing “white genocide.”
 In fact, the number of killings of farmers and farm workers is at a 20-year low, with 47 in the 2017-18 fiscal year, according to AgriSA, a farmers’ organization in South Africa.
 Not surprisingly, South Africa reacted angrily to Mr. Trump’s tweet, saying it reflected a “narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.” Sadly, it probably reflects even less than that — a clueless grasp at a racially tinged political diversion. As Patrick Gaspard, a former American ambassador to South Africa and now president of the Open Society Foundations, tweeted, “This man has never visited the continent and has no discernible Africa policy.”
Personally, I doubt Trump cares about the truth of the situation in South Africa.  His tweet was likely aimed merely pleasing his racist base that is hysterical over its loss of perceived white privilege and terrified of those with different skin color.

Manhattan D.A. Considers Criminal Charges Against Trump Organization

Donald Trump's pardon powers are limited to FEDERAL charges and convictions.  He holds no power to pardon those convicted of state law violations. Hence, the reason that some hope that the Commonwealth of Virginia and New York State may seek indictments against Paul Manafort and/or Michael Cohen that could lead to convictions or plea deals which would be outside the reach of Trump's efforts to basically bribe individuals with a promise of a pardon.  Along this line, the Manhattan district attorney is now considering criminal charges against the Trump Organization in the aftermath of Michael Cohen's plea deal with federal prosecutors.   A piece in the New York Times looks at this new development and the implications it could have for Cohen, Trump and Trump Organization officers.  Here are highlights:
The Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael D. Cohen’s hush money payment to an adult film actress, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter.
A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with President Trump, the officials said.
State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.
 The Trump Organization recorded the reimbursement as a legal expense. But Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer, said on Tuesday that he paid Ms. Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence during the 2016 campaign. Federal prosecutors have said the reimbursement payments were for sham legal invoices in connection with a nonexistent retainer agreement. Mr. Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance charges, did no legal work in connection with the matter, prosecutors said.
“On its face, it certainly would be problematic,” said one of the officials familiar with the district attorney’s office review, noting that listing the reimbursement as a legal expense could be a felony under state law.
As the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., considers opening an investigation, the New York State attorney general’s office has moved to open a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Cohen has violated state tax law, an inquiry that would be unrelated to the federal tax evasion charges that he pleaded guilty to on Tuesday, according to a person with knowledge of the state matter.
The attorney general, Barbara D. Underwood, in recent days sought a referral from the state Department of Taxation and Finance, which is needed to conduct such an inquiry and to prosecute any violations of state tax law it might uncover, the person said. Such requests are seldom denied. The state’s double jeopardy laws do not apply to tax crimes.
Manhattan prosecutors are focused on whether business records were falsified, one of the officials said. That could be charged as a low-level felony, or as a misdemeanor. It’s a misdemeanor for a person or company to make a false entry in a business record or cause one to be made, with intent to defraud. It becomes a felony if it is done to commit or conceal another crime.
 Court papers in the federal case against Mr. Cohen said he ultimately received $420,000 from the Trump Organization to reimburse him for his $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford. That is because the Trump Organization included money to cover his taxes on the $130,000, a bonus for him and reimbursement for other campaign expenses.
The company, according to the court papers, accounted for the payment as legal expenses and Mr. Cohen issued phony monthly invoices for $35,000 “pursuant to retainer agreement.”
If Mr. Vance decides to proceed, it would not be the first time he investigated members of the Trump family. He was faulted for not pursuing charges against Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who were under criminal investigation in 2012 over allegations that they misled buyers interested in the Trump SoHo condominium project.  
 Personally, I'd love to see Ivanka spend a few years in orange prison garb.  Ditto for Trump, Jr.

Michael Gerson: Trump is a Cancer on the Presidency

I continue to have Republican "friends" who seemingly continue to engage in mental gymnastics and false moral equivalency mind games to avoid admitting that Donald Trump is a foul individual who is utterly unfit to occupy the White House.  A man they should never have voted for if they are the moral and decent people they want their friends to believe they are.  In contrast, there are Republicans - well, actually, former Republicans - who have come to the realization that Trump is a cancer on the presidency and a danger to the nation.  Some are well known names in the world of political punditry such as David Frum, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin and so on.  In a column in the Washington Post, Gerson makes the case that Trump is indeed a cancer on the office of the presidency.  Here are column excerpts:
Whatever day you are reading this, it is June 1973 in Washington. A lawyer close to the president has turned decisively and damagingly against him. Testifying before a Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal, John Dean describes a high-level coverup, including the use of hush money, designed to influence the outcome of the 1972 presidential election. And he identifies President Richard M. Nixon as part of that criminal conspiracy.
In the course of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea this week, a lawyer close to the president has admitted his part in a high-level cover-up, including the use of hush money, designed to influence the 2016 election. And he accused President Trump of directing this violation.
This is different from our daily dose of the president’s outrageous tweets and attacks. It is an inflection point in the Trump presidency. He has been credibly accused, not of violating civic norms, but of personal involvement in criminal law-breaking. If Trump were not the president, he might well be indicted, convicted and face jail time.
His violation of civic norms, by the way, is not a minor matter. The payment to Stormy Daniels was made 12 days before the election. This timing indicates not the prevention of personal mortification, but an attempt to deny voters relevant information. As a result, the 2016 presidential election will always have an asterisk — “outcome may have been influenced by Russian hacking and campaign fraud.”
There is, again, a cancer on the presidency. But the comparison to Watergate offers a caution to the advocates of impeachment. Dean’s testimony was not enough.
It took a series of developments to turn the public decisively against Nixon. It was the White House recordings that sealed the president’s fate — including the tape on which he said he could raise $1 million in hush money. It took the firing of the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox (whom Nixon later referred to as the “partisan viper we had planted in our bosom”). . . . . It was only in June 1974 that a majority of Americans thought Nixon should resign or be impeached.
Yet Trump still has serious cause for worry:
The Cohen wild card has not been fully played. Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, hints that his client may be keeping some revelations in reserve. What does Cohen know about potential irregularities at the Trump Foundation? About possible advance knowledge of Russian hacking?
There is still a chance that Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — facing a hefty prison term and a new round of criminal charges — might turn against [Trump] the president. It is hard to imagine Manafort navigating the criminal-justice system with any values but self-interest in mind. Will he continue to choose the hint of a future pardon over the hard reality of additional years in prison?
●Trump could attempt to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. This, given the credible charges already lodged against the president, would appear (and be) an admission of guilt and provoke serious blowback.
there could be — almost certainly will be — more incriminating tapes made public.
The House of Representatives is likely to return to Democratic control, allowing Congress to get past the GOP’s coordinated cowardice and begin real investigations of the administration’s corruption.
 Every time we gain a peek into the inner workings of Trump world, we see a leader with the ethics of an Atlantic City casino owner who surrounds himself with people chosen for their willingness to lie and cheat at his bidding.
Left to his investigation, Mueller will expose this world to the light. And the choice for Congress is likely to be clear: Impeach, or tolerate massive corruption.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, August 23, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty

A Conservative Argues for Trump's Impeachment

I make no bones about the fact that I loath Donald Trump.  To me, he embodies everything one should NOT want one's children or grandchildren to be - I shudder what my impressionable grandchildren are being exposed to.  As an attorney of over 40 years, I also have respect for the rule of law and believe that oaths of office - such as every member of Congress takes - actually mean something.  Sadly, most Congressional Republicans are making a mockery of both the law and their oaths of office as they place party fealty and short term political advantage over the Constitution and the good of the nation. Some conservatives have belatedly come to see that the only way to restore accountability and to protect the national interest is to work for massive Democrat victories in November.  Others, are slowly coming to the conclusion that impeachment of Donald Trump is in order (although the prospect of a president Mike "Christian Taliban" Pence is equally terrifying).  A column in the New York Times by a long time conservative makes the argument of why it is time to consider the impeachment of Trump and his removal from office.  Here are excerpts:

For all of my opposition to Donald Trump, I have long been skeptical of the political wisdom or evidentiary basis of efforts to impeach him.
My reasons: First, being a terrible president and a wretched person are not impeachable offenses. Second, Robert Mueller’s investigation has so far produced evidence that can be interpreted as obstruction of justice, but not as clear proof. Third, impeachment in the House would be unlikely to translate into conviction in the Senate, even if Democrats win both chambers in the fall. Fourth, impeachment without conviction could strengthen Trump politically, much as it did for Bill Clinton after his own 1998 impeachment.
At least that was my view until this week. Michael Cohen’s guilty plea changes this. The Constitution’s standard for impeachment is “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The standard is now met.
Trump’s longtime fixer acknowledged in court on Tuesday that he violated campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” That means Trump. That means that, as a candidate, Trump is credibly alleged to have purposefully conspired with Cohen to commit criminal acts. That means the duo did so “for purposes of influencing [an] election for Federal office,” which is the legal definition of a campaign contribution.
It also means that, as president, Trump allegedly sought to conceal the arrangement by failing to note in his 2017 financial disclosure forms his reimbursements to Cohen. [Trump] The president most likely continues to lie to the American people about the nature and purpose of those payments.
The Trumpian rebuttal to these charges is that Cohen is a sleazy lawyer and proven liar. . . . . But if Cohen’s lies as Trump’s lawyer are one thing, lying under oath to a federal judge is quite another. Cohen’s sentencing isn’t until December, when he’s expected to be sent to prison for up to five years. If he’s being untruthful, that leaves plenty of time for any deceits to come to light. Ask yourself: Does he [Cohen] look like a guy eager to have his sentence doubled?
In Trump’s case, there is little doubt about the purpose of the payment to Stormy Daniels: To prevent disclosure of their alleged liaison, less than a month before the election and barely two weeks after the Access Hollywood tape came to light.
To suggest that this doesn’t amount to a felonious act also doesn’t pass the smell test. The president is now, in effect, an unindicted co-conspirator on charges already prosecuted by the government as a criminal matter against Cohen. Why should a lighter standard apply to Trump, since he’s the one at whose direction Cohen claims to have carried out the payments?
That question should especially engage those conservatives who demanded Clinton’s impeachment (as I did). Take South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, one of the House managers overseeing the case against the 42nd president.
“Twenty-five years ago,” he said that December, “a Democratic-controlled judiciary committee, with a minority of Republicans, reported articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Why? Nixon cheated — he cheated the electoral system by concealing efforts of a political break-in, and his people thought the other side deserved to be cheated. They thought his enemies deserved to be mistreated. Ladies and gentlemen, they were wrong.”
He continued: “Today, Republicans, with a small handful of Democrats, will vote to impeach President Clinton. Why? Because we believe he committed crimes resulting in cheating our legal system. We believe he lied under oath numerous times, that he tampered with evidence, that he conspired to present false testimony to a court of law. We believe he assaulted our legal system in every way. Let it be said that any president who cheats our institutions shall be impeached.”
The emphases here are mine. To conservatives reading this column, ask yourselves the following questions:
If breaking the law (by lying under oath) to conceal an affair was impeachable, why is breaking the law (by violating campaign-finance laws) to conceal an affair not impeachable?
If cheating “our institutions” (by means of an “assault” in “every way” on the legal system) is impeachable, why is cheating those institutions (by means of nonstop presidential mendacity and relentless attacks on the Justice Department and the F.B.I.) not impeachable?
Pragmatists will rejoin that there’s no sense in advocating impeachment when the G.O.P. controls Congress. I’m sorry that so many congressional Republicans have lost their sense of moral principle and institutional self-respect, but that’s a reason to seek Democratic victories in the fall. The Constitution matters more than a tax cut. What the Constitution demands is the impeachment and removal from office of this lawless president.

Was Brett Kavanaugh’s Involved in Bush-Era Anti-Gay Marriage Agenda?

Having read U.S. Supreme Court decisions now for over 45 years, I have concern about justices who lack any apparent ability to show a shred of empathy for others and who feel that only their views and beliefs are correct and should, therefore, be imposed on the entire nation and its citizenry.  The late Antonin Scalia was such a justice.  Now, the nation is faced with privileged, white, straight male  nominee to the Court who sees Scalia as an icon and who just as frighteningly sees the occupant of the White House as basically above the law while in office.  That he was Trump's pick is no coincidence, in my view, especially due to his views on presidential exemption from prosecution and meaningful oversight.  Brett Kavanaugh also seems likely to favor the evangelical goal of rolling back LGBT rights and granting special privileges to those I call Christofascists.  Given the growing likelihood of Trump's criminality - and possible treason - being more fully exposed, Senate action on Kavanaugh's nomination needs to be delayed.  In addition, a more full review of his past actions, including the anti-gay marriage agenda launched by George W. Bush's administration, needs to be allowed.  At present, Republicans are opposing a full examination and suggesting there is something to hide from public review.  A column in Huffington Post argues why we need to know about Kavanaugh's past actions:

GOP leaders recently decided they wouldn’t request records that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh authored, generated or contributed during his time as White House staff secretary under President George W. Bush. And they’re not budging from this position.
Their change in course came after a July 24 meeting between Trump White House counsel Don McGahn and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the substance of which isn’t known. 
Last Friday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) criticized his GOP colleagues for the curious and troubling about-face and took them to task in a letter to McGahn. He asked if McGahn had spoken with Kavanaugh about the records, as well as Bush’s personal attorney, Bill Burck, who is advising the former president on the release of his administration’s documents.
Democrats have rightly charged that it’s an appalling conflict to have Burck, who worked with Kavanaugh in the Bush administration, overseeing the release of the records. It’s also enormously problematic that Burck is McGahn’s personal attorney as well and is representing him ― in addition to former Trump advisers Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon ― in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
But the issues don’t end there. As Rachel Maddow noted on Twitter, Leahy also asked if McGahn had “reason to believe any of the records relate” to several pertinent issues, including “a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.”
Leahy’s letter calls into question the roles Kavanaugh and Burck played during the Bush administration and, more specifically, what involvement they had in the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage vigorously promoted by Bush-era Republicans ― a ban the Bush White House came to support in its first term.
Marriage equality and the broader fight for LGBTQ rights are continually put before the Supreme Court today, so it’s crucial for the public to know about Kavanaugh’s past  ― and appropriate for senators to ask questions about it. After all, there’s no way Kavanaugh and Burck, two key figures in the Bush White House, weren’t at the center of discussions about this controversial amendment. 
Kavanaugh, as White House staff secretary during that time, was certainly in the thick of these interactions and discussions. After Bush was re-elected, the president continued to give speeches in support of “a ban on same-sex marriage.” And controversy exploded in 2005 over revelations that the administration had paid right-wing columnists to promote its positions on marriage and the family.
By Trumpian standards, this scandal may seem like nothing, but the national uproar lasted for days. Bush was forced to address the issue, publicly urging his Cabinet secretaries to stop paying what amounted to thousands of dollars to radio host and columnist Armstrong Williams and syndicated columnist Mike McManus.
Also on the payroll: Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher, who received an additional $20,000 in a federal contract to write a report titled “Can Government Strengthen Marriage?” for a private group. She even testified before Congress promoting Bush’s policies. (In 2007, Gallagher would go on to co-found and lead the National Organization for Marriage, the driving force behind the movement against marriage equality that helped pass California’s Proposition 8 and other statewide gay marriage bans.)
Marriage equality is the law of the land today. But it continues to be challenged, not only by those who want to treat gay couples differently, like anti-LGBTQ bakers and other business owners, but by those who want to send the issue back to the states to decide.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointee to the Supreme Court, has invited state challenges to the Obergefell marriage equality ruling in a recent dissenting opinion. As I’ve noted, Gorsuch revered the late Justice Antonia Scalia, who, like Gorsuch, was an originalist . . . . Kavanaugh, who gave a speech in 2016 calling Scalia a “role model” and “hero.”
In that speech, Kavanaugh also pointed to Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell (Scalia called the ruling a “threat to American democracy”) as an example of what he liked about Scalia’s judicial philosophy. Scalia, he said, viewed the court as having “no legitimate role ... in creating new rights not spelled out in the Constitution.”
So what, exactly, are Republicans afraid the public will see in the Kavanaugh records from the Bush years, when the White House supported and promoted a federal marriage amendment? 
[T]he public should also know which issues Kavanaugh worked on in the Bush White House, how they may relate to cases coming before him, and if he would recuse himself from those cases.
The fact that there are likely hundreds of thousands more pages of records to review with regard to Kavanaugh, which will take more time, is no excuse. This is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. The American public has the right to see how Kavanaugh interacted with, and perhaps weighed in on, one of the most important civil rights issues of our time. 
If one has nothing to hide, one doesn't seek to hide information.  You can only assume there is information in those records from the Bush years that Kavanaugh and his backers do not want the public to know about.  Given the incessant lies and hiding of information under the Trump/Pence regime, we need a full airing of all information, good and bad, on Mr. Kavanaugh.   

Why Trump Supporters Ignore His Corruption and Moral Bankruptcy

One of the continued puzzles to many is how Trump's supporters continue to close their eyes or look the other way at Trump's utter corruption and general moral bankruptcy.   Having followed the so-called "Christian Right" for decades, this group believes that the end sought justifies any mean to accomplish it whether it be deliberately disseminating known lies and untruths to spewing hatred towards others.  Thus, in exchange for Trump's promises to appoint reactionary judges and supreme court justices and to push an anti-gay agenda, evangelical Christians rallied to Trump. Never mind his three marriages, his self-admitted and boastful sexual assault of women and his fraudulent business practices.  Outside of the "Christian Right" others in the Trump base seem to be similarly focused on what boils down to a racist and/or reactionary agenda that longs for the "good old days" when white men were supreme on the social peeking order and women and minorities knew their place. A piece in The Atlantic looks at the phenomenon and how Trump supporters seemingly have redefined "corruption" and immorality while ignoring illegal activity and non-stop lies.  The take away?  Trump supporters, whether or not they admit it, are either racists, misogynists, male chauvinists and/or reactionary religious extremists.  Here are highlights: 
On Wednesday morning, the lead story on was not Michael Cohen’s admission that Donald Trump had instructed him to violate campaign-finance laws by paying hush money to two of Trump’s mistresses. It was the alleged murder of a white Iowa woman, Mollie Tibbetts, by an undocumented Latino immigrant, Cristhian Rivera.
On their face, the two stories have little in common. Fox is simply covering the Iowa murder because it distracts attention from a revelation that makes Trump look bad. But dig deeper and the two stories are connected: They represent competing notions of what corruption is.
Cohen’s admission highlights one of the enduring riddles of the Trump era. Trump’s supporters say they care about corruption. . . . And yet, Trump supporters appear largely unfazed by the mounting evidence that Trump is the least ethical president in modern American history. When asked last month whether they considered Trump corrupt, only 14 percent of Republicans said yes. Even Cohen’s allegation is unlikely to change that.
The answer may lie in how Trump and his supporters define corruption. In a forthcoming book titled How Fascism Works, the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley makes an intriguing claim. “Corruption, to the fascist politician,” he suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”
Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.
The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men. By allegedly murdering Tibbetts, Rivera did not merely violate the law. He did something more subversive: He violated America’s traditional racial and sexual norms.
[F]or Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies, their behavior makes more sense.
Why were Trump’s supporters so convinced that Clinton was the more corrupt candidate even as reporters uncovered far more damning evidence about Trump’s foundation than they did about Clinton’s? Likely because Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition—especially in service of a feminist agenda—in and of itself represents a form of corruption.
Cohen’s admission makes it harder for Republicans to claim that Trump didn’t violate the law. But it doesn’t really matter. For many Republicans, Trump remains uncorrupt—indeed, anticorrupt—because what they fear most isn’t the corruption of American law; it’s the corruption of America’s traditional identity. And in the struggle against that form of corruption—the kind embodied by Cristhian Rivera—Trump isn’t the problem. He’s the solution.
Stated succinctly, Trump's supporters want a return to the white Christian dominated era of the 1950's when America economically dominated the world, gays were closeted, blacks were subjected to the Jim Crow laws, and women were largely confined - at least in their mythic world - to being June Clever styled house wives and homemakers.  As long Trump continues to bring back that awful period in time, there is no wrong he can do in the eyes of his very scary would be fascist supporters.  To my Trump supporting "friends," I suggest they take a good long look at themselves in the mirror and admit what really motivates their support for Trump.

Don’t Blame the Catholic Church Sex Abuse Crisis on Gays

Photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash.
Many on the far right of the Roman Catholic Church ranging from reactionary bishops and cardinals and, in my view, parasitic, self-enrichment organizations such as Church Militant and Bill Donohue's Catholic League (which is comprised of one well paid Donohue and one staffer) are working overtime to blame the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal on gays - specifically, gay priests - rather than the Church's clericalism, the Church's bizarre 12th century dogma on sexuality, or the Church hierarchy's active cover ups of abuse.  As always, scapegoating gays and shielding the reputation of the Church is the prime goal regardless of the lies and subterfuge required.   In response, a piece in America, the official outlet of the Jesuits - historically the best educated and most zealous defenders of Catholicism - argues that this scapegoating effort is wrong and not to be believed.  Indeed, gay Catholics, perhaps more than any others, have had to truly ponder the Gospel message and what - if one believes them to be more than myths of ignorant herders - the Old Testament seeks to tell.  Because of this, psycho-sexually mature gays have much to teach the Church. Here are excerpts:
This is not a fun moment to be Catholic, I know, and we are all grasping for sense and answers. But here’s the thing: Using an abuse and accountability scandal to scapegoat Catholic queerness is not O.K.
Take, for example, this letter from Bishop Robert Morlino. I trust the bishop has the best intentions, but some of his most scorching indignation aims not at the abuses of power and accountability he is supposed to be talking about but at homosexuality, in general, which he reminds us the church regards as “intrinsically disordered” and that “cries out to heaven for vengeance” and possibly—the referent is not fully clear—is to be “hated with a perfect hatred.”
There are other concurrent truths, too. . . . . Each time I read something like this, I think of how, over and over, the people who have saved my faith when it was on the brink happened to be queer folks. I suspect this is not an accident. I cannot be sure, but I expect it was their experience of marginalization and their humanness against it that helped me see where God is.
Some of these people have been of the left, some of the right. Some have been on TV, some will never be so seen. Sometimes things have even gotten inappropriate. But that was not because they were queer. Straight folks in the church cross boundaries, too, just as much.
I came into this church right in the heat of the Boston Globe revelations. I was baptized in 2003. Many times I have been grateful to have been called to this church as an adult (barely, I was 18). But I was old enough to know the difference between the nonsense and the glory.
I would not have begun to know God were it not for a person, harbored in holy orders, whose life could only be described as queer, and who drew me in, safely and respectfully, when the straight dudes wanted to drive me out.
I never noticed queerness in one of the people I looked to early in my Christian life as a guide and model. But years later I ran into him with his partner at a famously welcoming evening Mass, on the other end of town from where he lived.
And it was from some corners of this church, believe it or not, that queer experiences seemed to make the most sense. From one corner, a nun had to keep her ministry to the trans community secret. From another, the sweetest friendship I have ever seen was between a famous, withering Jesuit and a woman whose husband, while dying from AIDS, the two of them had tended to decades earlier.
In a sense, there is some truth that the problem of abuse has to do with a problem of queer sexuality. It is the problem of a repressed, denialist, immature queerness that discovered itself a little after Vatican II but was not able to go beyond that.
There is a revelation at hand here. It is not a liberal revelation or a conservative one. It is something else, something ancient. Blindness to it has caused so, so much pain. It has caused good people and good leaders to be their worst selves.
As I traveled my coming out journey, I read a great deal on religion, the Bible and Catholicism and worked with a licensed therapist who was an ordained minister. In the process, I suspect I gave more thought and analysis to my faith than the average Catholic and many members of the Church hierarchy who seem most focused on power, status, control of others and living like "princes."