Saturday, September 15, 2018

Reflections on Paris and London 2018

Two weeks ago the husband and I along with two friends flew out of Washington Dulles to start our 2018 visit to Paris and London.  For me, it was likely the 7th - or more - visit to Paris and like the 5th or sixth visit to London.  My first visits to both cities were back in the 1981-1983 time frame when I was in-house counsel working for an oil company handling various international matters.  Our travel companions, a straight couple, but gay friendly, had never been to either city and were paying our airfare and accommodations in exchange for us planning the trio and serving as tour guides, if you will.  The goal was to show them an amazing time and to also indulge our love for both cities, each of which is a world capital yet so very different in so many ways (both are very LGBT friendly and when we went by London City Hall today, a rainbow flag was flying)

If pushed to choose which city I love more, my vote would go to Paris.  I love the architecture and the way in which the central city has been spared from modern monstrosities or soaring towers which are a total disconnect with the beautiful historic buildings.  London, in contrast is often modern next door to 18th century buildings in part because sections of London were destroyed during the blitz in World War II.  Paris escaped destruction due to the commanding German general's refusal to destroy parts of the city notwithstanding Hitler's orders to do so.

Both cities offer wonderful dining opportunities with London perhaps having more diverse offerings.  But for the nearly 100 miles we walked over the last two weeks - the husband and our travel companions all had apps that measured the amount of their walking - I hate to think how much weight we would have gained.  

In terms of getting around, both cities have amazing mass transits systems that make most American cities look very pathetic at best.  In both cities we bought unlimited 7-day travel cards and we made extensive use of the Metro/Underground systems which make New York City's system look very poorly maintained in comparison.   The train systems for travel outside the cities make Amtrak look positively horrible and the speed at which the trains travel - not counting the Eurostar which is in a class by itself - are amazing.  America could learn a great deal from both the UK and France on how to build remarkable and cost efficient mass transit systems (they could do the same on the issue of healthcare, especially France).

Since this is an LGBT blog, I'd be remiss if I did not mention the local men in each city.  Both being world capitals and deeply involved in the fashion industry, both cities have LOTS of handsome men (and women for female LGBT readers), but the men of Paris, in my opinion are the "hottest" - to quote the husband - and most style conscious.  

If you have never visited either city, I recommend that you do so.  There are economic ways to do so, including looking for discount flights, sharing an apartment with friends, using travel cards as we have to get around freely, and getting a "London Pass" or the "Museum Pass" for Paris which saves a considerable amount of money - the London Pass even got us free rail travel to Windsor Castle.

I'm not sure when I will return to either city, but I suspect I will see both again, especially Paris.  As for blogging tomorrow, we head to the airport in the morning and then need to drive back to Hampton after we arrive in Washington Dulles International.  Post will be sparse at best.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

GOP Congressman: Orphanages Better than Gay Adoption

Homophobe GOP Rep. Chris Smith.
The Republican Party continues to be defined in part by anti-gay animus - racism, corporate greed, a betrayal of the Gospel message are other defining elements. This past week Republican Congressman  Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was caught on tape ranting that placing children and youths in orphanages was preferable to allowing children to be adopted by LGBT individuals or couples.  My father was raised from age 3 to age 16 in an orphanage and I can assure yo that Mr. Smith needs to pull his head out of his ass.  While y father was successful in life financially, he never overcame some of the emotional/psychological harm done by an orphanage environment versus that of a loving home with caring, loving parents.   He fortunately, was in the same institution as his siblings (all of whom were cast out at age 16), so the harm was less severe than might otherwise have been the case.  Oh, and did I mention the numerous studied finding that kids with same sex parents do just fine?  O course, none of this matters to Smith who is either a Christian zealot himself or an eager prostitute to gay-hating Christofascists. The Washington Blade looks at Smith's foul batshitery.  Here are highlights:
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was caught on tape saying orphanages for kids is better than gay adoption.   In an exchange with high school students that was caught on tape, a Republican congressman from New Jersey was tongue-tied over the prospect of same-sex couples adopting children and suggested kids would be better off in orphanages than with LGBT families.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) made the remarks May 29 when addressing student constituents in the auditorium of Colts Neck High School. They asked the congressman about his opposition to adoption by same-sex couples, according to a source familiar with the recording. A source familiar with the tape, who delivered the recording on Monday exclusively to the Washington Blade, said it was obtained in recent days.
The recording begins with Hannah Valdes, a senior at Colts Neck High School, telling Smith she has a gay sister who has said in the future she wants to adopt a child with her partner. The student asks the New Jersey Republican whether “based on household studies” her sister would be “less of a legitimate parent” than someone in a different-sex relationship and why she shouldn’t adopt a child.
Although the Supreme Court settled the issue of marriage, attempts are still underway to deprive LGBT families of the right to adopt. An increasing number of states have passed laws allowing religious-affiliated, taxpayer-funded agencies to refuse placement to LGBT homes for religious reasons. In the U.S. House, Republicans incorporated as a component of appropriations an amendment from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) that would penalize states and localities for having policies prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in adoption.
But that wasn’t enough for Valdes, who pressed Smith on why he thinks her sister shouldn’t be able to adopt. Smith, apparently having difficulty finding words for his response, said he believes “there are many others who would like to adopt who can acquire a child” and “the waiting periods are extremely long.”
When another student asks what makes these “others” more suited to become parents than her fellow student’s sister, Smith starts to reply, “in my opinion a child needs every possibility of,” without finishing his sentence. That might have been a prelude to saying a child needs every chance of being raised by a mother and a father.
That’s when Smith praised orphanages. In that context, Smith suggested even being raised in an orphanage without parents would be better for a child than having LGBT parents.
Rep. Smith responded by saying that he does not approve of gay adoption because gay households are not healthy environments for children to grow up in,” Valdes said. “He then stated that ‘numerous household studies’ show that children that have heterosexual parents have better lives than children that have homosexual parents.”
It’s hard to know what “household studies” Smith was referencing. According to Cornell University, at least 75 studies have concluded children with same-sex parents fare no worse than other kids.

Is Some of Trump's Base Waking to the Fact It Has Been Conned

One of the ironies of Donald Trump's base of support - and the Republican Party in general - is that it is made up of aging, uneducated, evangelical Christian whites for whom Trump and the GOP establishment hold nothing but contempt when not speaking into microphones at rallies and political events.  Yet through appeals to racism, religious based ignorance, fears of lost white privilege and appeals for hatred against those deemed "other" Trump and the GOP have induced members of this base to vote against its own best economic interest as GOP policies have looted the nation to benefit the wealthy.  Touring Versailles a week ago I could not help but see parallels between the detachment of the French nobility from the reality of their subjects and today's plutocrat loving GOP.  Sooner or later the masses wake up to the reality that they are being deliberately screwed over.   As a column in the New York Times reviews, at least a few in the Trump/GOP base may be slowly awakening to the fact that they have been conned and callously played for fools.  Here are column excerpts:

Dogs, though known for their loyalty, can take only so much from one abusive human. Alas, the same cannot be said for the aging, white, rural and southern people who make up Trump’s base. He can lie to them, hurt them with tariffs, make a mockery of their values, suck up to freedom-hating dictators they once distrusted, and they’ll stick with him. Cult 45 is thought to be impermeable.
But surprise — a raft of new polls show that some of the most hard-core Trumpsters are starting to get a clue. I know, hold your applause. It’s like discovering that climate change is not a hoax when your town is under water, and all your commander in chief can do is throw you a roll of paper towels. And the woke among the true believers is small.
I think Trump’s base is showing some erosion because his followers feel he finally crossed a line: He’s now insulting them.
It didn’t go over well in Alabama that Trump reportedly called his ’Bama-bred attorney general, Jeff Sessions, “a dumb Southerner” and ridiculed his accent. Trump has denied the account from Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear.”
Trump has used the regional dis before, calling the family of another ex-wife, Marla Maples, “dumb Southerners” and “hillbillies,” as one reporter recalled. Last week, the longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone trashed Sessions as an “insubordinate hillbilly” — expressing a double dose of hick hatred. It’s in Trump’s character to deride those without gold-plated bathroom fixtures as inferior. His people, as he said in a North Dakota non sequitur, have the best apartments and the nicest boats. But you don’t need what comes out of his mouth as proof of his class disdain. Look at the two biggest policy initiatives of his presidency. He has tried mightily to destroy Obamacare and all the lives dependent on it. He’s still pushing a repeal plan that would leave upward of 18 million people without health care. And who are those people? His supporters, mostly.
Working-class whites, particularly in the old Rust Belt, were the main beneficiaries of the expansion of health care under President Barack Obama. . . . . And if the president’s party succeeds in choking the last life out of Obamacare, these Trump voters stand to lose the most.
As noted, some of them are catching on. A Quinnipiac poll out this week showed that even among non-college-educated whites — the strongest demographic holdout for Trump — a plurality now say they’d like to see Congress be more of a check on the president. Since his election, he’s down 14 points among the “poorly educated” that Trump once professed to love, a CNN poll found.
In West Virginia, where Trump could shoot the Mountaineer mascot and still walk at the head of a parade, attacks on Obamacare are killing Republican chances of taking down Senator Joe Manchin.
The other signature issue is the tax cut. Remember how Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, another plutocrat who has trouble hiding his contempt for flyover country, described it last year? “Not only will this tax cut pay for itself,” he said, “but it will pay down the debt.”
We’ll soon be running a trillion-dollar deficit, up 32 percent this fiscal year, thanks to the tax cut. . . . .The collapse in revenue will hurt Trump supporters in other ways. One is the paucity of federal dollars for investment — in community colleges, roads, opioid treatment, Pell grants for students, ultimately even Social Security or Medicare. Another is that, by forcing borrowing costs up, the Trump deficit contributes to rising interest rates. That makes it much harder for working families to buy homes.
In truth, economics will probably not move Trump supporters. Their vote for him was more about status anxiety in a changing nation than about financial uncertainty. They’ll stay with him only so long as they allow themselves to be easy marks for the insulting con of this presidency.

Friday, September 14, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

What Manafort's Plea Deal May Mean

Some - including Der Trumpenführer - claimed that Paul Manafort would never enter into a plead deal with Robert Mueller's investigation.  Today, those claims crashed and burned as Manafort plead guilty to two charges and agreed to cooperate with Mueller's team in exchange for avoiding a second lengthy and costly trial.   The speculation now, of course, is what goods does Manafort have to offer Mueller in exchange for the plea deal.  If there was nothing of value, Mueller would not have accepted the deal.  Odds are Trump will be issuing twitter attacks on both Manafort and the Russiagate investigation.  A column in the Washington Post by former Republican, Jennifer Rubin, looks at the development.  Here are highlights:

The Post reports:
President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty Friday to two criminal charges under terms of a plea deal that includes his cooperation as a potential witness for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. . . . .
That’s the news Trump never wanted to hear. The prospect of just such a deal is why his lawyers reportedly dangled the promise of a pardon in front of Manafort’s lawyers. A plea deal that could put the Russians inside Trump’s campaign blows to smithereens the notion that only low-level, non-players or those distantly related to the campaign had Russian connections. Trump, who was praising Manafort to the heavens just weeks ago, will find it hard (but not impossible) to now smear him as a liar.
“The relentless Mueller push continues — as does that of the rule of law,” observes former White House ethics counsel Norman Eisen. “The reported cooperation agreement could be devastating to the president — and those around him. Manafort for example could  implicate not only the president in the Trump Tower meeting — but also others who were involved such as Don Jr. or [Jared] Kushner. The same is true on the mysterious [RNC] platform change, and indeed on all the possible collision offenses.”
The plea certainly explodes Trump’s claim that Mueller is engaged in a “witch hunt.” The only “hoax” here is the pretense that there was nothing out of the ordinary going on inside the Trump campaign or that it was too disorganized to have spent time colluding with Russians.
Trump also loses the argument that Mueller is wasting taxpayer money. As part of the plea deal, Manafort is going to cough up $46 million in forfeited assets, according to news reports.
What we will find out in the days and weeks ahead is just how much Manafort knows and how much he can tell us about what Trump knew regarding Russian interference on his behalf. For Republicans who have been carrying water for the president, it might be time to put down the buckets and run for their political lives. Frankly, voting for impeachment and removal might be a good option for Republicans at some point. Before we get there, however, there are the midterms, which are shaping up to be a wipeout for the GOP.

America’s Slide Toward Autocracy

While America's governmental institutions have so far curbed some of the worse damage and abuses of the Trump/Pence regime - no thanks, to Republicans -  nonetheless, significant damages has been done.  Most disturbingly, even if Democrats retake control of Congress, some believe that a desperate Trump and his base of support will become even more dangerous.  Trump will be focused on self-preservation, but Trump's base will be desperate to protect him because they will face personal discrediting if Trump falls and his duping of his base is fully exposed.  Never under estimate the ability of the ignorant and ideologues to grasp for any excuse other than to admit that they were played for fools.  A long column by former Republican David Frum in The Atlantic examines the damage done to America's governmental institutions.  Here are excerpts: 
Twenty-one months into the Trump presidency, how far has the country rolled down the road to autocracy? It’s been such a distracting drive—so many crazy moments!—who can keep an eye on the odometer?
Yet measuring the distance traveled is vital. As Abraham Lincoln superbly said in his “house divided” speech: “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.”
Let’s start with the good news: Against the Trump presidency, federal law enforcement has held firm. As of this writing, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry is proceeding despite the president’s fulminations. The Department of Justice is ignoring the president’s Twitter demands to prosecute his opponents. As far as we know, the IRS and other federal agencies are not harassing Trump critics. In July, a police department in Ohio retaliated against a Trump adversary, the porn actress known as Stormy Daniels, by arresting her on now-dismissed charges that she touched undercover officers while performing at a strip club. But evidence indicates that this was entirely a local initiative.
Trump sometimes wins in court, as he did on his Muslim ban. He loses more often, as he did on separating immigrant children from their parents at the southern border. Politically charged cases are advancing through the legal system in traditionally recognizable ways.
More generally, Trump has been noticeably constrained by his unpopularity. He inherited a strong and growing economy. Casualties from America’s military actions have remained low. A more normal president, facing the same facts, might expect approval ratings like those of Bill Clinton during his second term: mid-50s or higher. . . . . Gallup asked Americans to assess 13 aspects of Trump’s personality. Only 43 percent of respondents thought he cared about people like them. Only 37 percent found him honest and trustworthy. Only 35 percent said they admired him. Clearly, his erratic and offensive behavior, his overt racial hostility, and his maltreatment of women have taken a toll.
Yet even as Trump ties his own shoelaces together and lurches nose-first into the Rose Garden dirt, he has scored a dismaying sequence of successes in his war on U.S. institutions. In this, Trump is not acting alone. He is enabled by his party in Congress and its many supporters throughout the country. Republican leaders and donors have built a coping mechanism for the age of Trump, a mantra: “Ignore the weird stuff, focus on the policy.” But the policy is increasingly driven by the weird stuff: tariffs, trade wars, quarrels with allies, suspicions of secret deals with the Russians. The weird stuff is the policy—and it is transforming the president’s party in ways not easily or soon corrected.
Maybe you don’t care about the president’s party. You should, because a liberal democracy cannot endure if only one of its two major parties remains committed to democratic values.
Here are the three areas of most imminent concern:
EthicsPresident Trump continues to defy long-standing ethical expectations of the American president. He has never released his tax returns, and he no longer even bothers to offer specious reasons, like a supposed audit. His aides shrug off the matter as something decided back in 2016.
Meanwhile, the president continues to collect payments from people with a vested interest in decisions made by his administration, from foreign governments looking to influence U.S. policy, and even from his own party. Those who seek the president’s attention know to patronize his hotels and golf courses. Authoritarian China has fast-tracked trademark protections for his family’s businesses. Trump’s disdain for ethical niceties has infected his Cabinet and his senior staff. . . . . If one gauge of authoritarianism is the merger of state power with familial economic interests, the needle is approaching the red zone.
SUBORDINATION OF STATE TO LEADERAt a July 20, 2018, ceremony, CEOs gathered in the White House to offer personal job-creation pledges to the president. Watch the video if you have not already; the scene recalls a rajah accepting accolades from his submissive feudatories.
Perhaps the most defining characteristic of modern autocrats such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán, and Vladimir Putin is the way they seek to subsume the normal operations of government into their cult of personality. In a democracy, the chief executive is understood to be a public employee. In an autocracy, he presents himself as a public benefactor, even as he uses public power for personal ends.
Trump’s tariffs personalize power too. They enable him to privilege some industries and hurt others. Some losers—farmers, say—may be compensated; others, such as aerospace manufacturers, will be disregarded. All economic sectors must absorb the new truth that executive action can send their profits soaring (in July, not long after Trump imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminum, America’s largest steelmaker reported its highest second-quarter profits ever) or tumbling (shares of Molson Coors, which relies on cheap aluminum to make its beer cans, dropped 14 percent this spring after Trump’s tariffs were announced).
When Trump refers to “my” generals or “my” intelligence agencies, he is teaching his supporters to rethink how the presidency should function. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s remark that he and his wife were but “the latest tenants in the People’s House.”
Alternative FactsTrump is hardly the first president to lie, even about grave matters. Yet none of his predecessors did anything quite like what he did in July: Travel to a U.S. Steel facility and brag that, thanks to his leadership, the company would open seven wholly new facilities. In reality, the company was reopening two blast furnaces at a single facility. You’d think his audience would know better, but the assembled employees cheered anyway.
He has substantially shaped his supporters’ worldview, while successfully isolating them from damaging news. The share of Republicans with a positive opinion of the FBI tumbled from 65 percent in early 2017 to 49 percent this past July. In the past three years, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating among Republicans has almost tripled, to 32 percent.
To protect the president—and themselves—from the truth about Russia’s intervention in his election, Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee have concocted (and the conservative media have disseminated) an elaborate fantasy about an FBI plot against Trump. The party’s senior leaders know that the fantasy is untrue. That’s why they squelch attempts to act on the fantasy by opening a special-counsel investigation into the bureau. But they cheerfully allow their supporters to believe the fantasy—or to believe it just enough, anyway, to get revved up for the midterm elections.
Should Democrats recover some measure of power in Congress, their gains could perversely accelerate current trends. As Republicans lose power in Washington, Trump will gain power within his party.
Today, Republicans queasy about Trump can loo. to House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as alternative sources of power or patronage in Washington. But if the party loses hold of Congress, congressional Republicans’ clout will dwindle. Power will be divided in Washington between Trump and the Democrats. If legislative success becomes a vanishing possibility, the White House may begin testing the limits of its authority more aggressively.
Trump will face more hearings, more investigations, and generally more trouble than he faces today. Partisan loyalties will be engaged as Republicans rally around their embattled leader. . . . . Among Trump supporters, “No collusion!” has already evolved into “Collusion is not a crime,” with “Collusion is patriotic” perhaps soon to follow. Trump supporters have no exit ramp. . . . If Trump is exposed and repudiated, his supporters will be discredited alongside him. If he is to survive, they must protect him.
In an ultra-polarized post-November environment, the Republican Party may radicalize further as it shrivels, ceasing to compete for votes and looking to survive instead by further changing the voting system. Donald Trump is president for many reasons, but one is the astonishing drop in African American voter participation from 2012 to 2016. It’s not surprising that Hillary Clinton inspired lower black voter turnout than Barack Obama did in 2012. It is surprising that she inspired lower black turnout than John Kerry did in 2004. But in the intervening years, the rules were changed in ways that made voting much harder for non-Republican constituencies, particularly black people—and the rules continue to be changed in that direction.
Since 2010, that history of state-pioneered ballot restrictions has repeated itself, and if Republican power holders feel themselves especially beset after 2018, the rollbacks may continue.
Many of today’s authoritarians are notably uncharismatic. They flourish because they command political or ethnic blocs that, more and more, prevail only as pluralities, not majorities. So it is with Trump.
Free societies depend on a broad agreement to respect the rules of the game. If a decisive minority rejects those rules, then that country is headed toward a convulsion. In 2016, Trump supporters openly brandished firearms near polling places. Since then, they’ve learned to rationalize clandestine election assistance from a hostile foreign government. The president pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for violating civil rights in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of violating election-finance laws—sending an unmistakable message of support for attacks on the legal order. Where President Trump has led, millions of people who regard themselves as loyal Americans, believers in the Constitution, have ominously followed.
Once violated, democratic norms are not easy to restore, . . . . Restoring democracy will require more from each of us than the casting of a single election ballot. It will demand a sustained commitment to renew American institutions, reinvigorate common citizenship, and expand national prosperity. The road to autocracy is long—which means that we still have time to halt and turn back. It also means that the longer we wait, the farther we must travel to return home.

Friday Male Beauty

Click image to enlarge

Feinstein Refers Letter About Kavanaugh Sexual Misconduct to FBI

Trump and Kavanaugh: two sexual predators?
Sexual misconduct means nothing to Republicans - and evangelical Christians as well - as evidenced by their support for Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, a self-confessed sexual predatory and serial adulterer.  For many women voters (other than evangelical women), sexual misconduct and a contempt for women is a huge issue and can drive women voters to Democrats.  Hence the GOP's continued gender gap problem at election time.  Now, on top of the other reasons for women to oppose Trump/Pence and the GOP is news that Trump Supreme Court nominee may have sexual misconduct in his past.  New York Magazine looks at a referral by Senator Diane Feinstein to the FBI for investigation.  While Republicans want a quick vote on Kavanaugh, the double edge sword is that, if they do so, they could push more women to vote Democrat in November.  Here are article excerpts:
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California says she has turned over to federal investigators a secret letter about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which she had reportedly been withholding from other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Officials close to the matter told the New York Times the letter details possible sexual misconduct between Kavanaugh and a woman . . .
Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a Thursday statement: “I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.”
The information Feinstein refers to in her statement reportedly came from a letter sent to Democratic representative Anna Eshoo of California. Eshoo’s office passed the letter to Feinstein over the summer. The Times notes that the letter reportedly contains an allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.
The Times reports that several committee members urged her to take the matter to the FBI.
Eshoo’s office declined to comment on the letter to HuffPost, saying that it came from a constituent and is therefore considered casework and won’t be made public. But on Thursday, the White House decried news of the letter as an attempt to delay the confirmation . . . . “Senator Schumer promised to ‘oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have,’ and it appears he is delivering with this 11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.”
BuzzFeed News believes that it knows the identity of the woman who is the subject of the letter. The outlet said it reached out to her last week and that she declined to comment. However, BuzzFeed News also reports that a lawyer believed to be representing the woman — acclaimed #MeToo attorney Debra Katz — was spotted leaving Capitol Hill on Wednesday shortly after the Intercept broke news of the letter. Katz declined to comment or confirm whether she was representing the woman. “There’s nothing to say,” she told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday.
Frankly, if the allegations are true, Kavanaugh's nomination should be withdrawn and his continued presence on the DC Circuit should be evaluated depending on the nature of the allegations.  

Susan Collins Finds Herself Targeted in 2020 for Support of Kavanaugh

As a former Republican of many years, I am continually disgusted by the moral bankruptcy that now defines the GOP, lies, deceits, hatred of others, and support for Trump, a man devoid on any morality and decency now define the party  One of the few Republican senators who has avoided a full embrace of the reprehensible has been Susan Collins of Maine.  Now, however, with her apparent support of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Collins seems poised to join the rest of her amoral party.  Not surprisingly, many of her constituents are up in arms for numerous reasons, not the least of which is Kavanaugh's likely perjury before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Add to that his disturbing views of women's rights, abortion, the unrestrained power of the presidency, and the deference he would give to special rights demanded by Christofascists, and there is clearly grounds for a revolt against Collins if she votes for Kavanaugh.  (A New York Daily News piece which I cannot access since I am in the UK currently also indicates that Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct).  Here are highlights from the Washington Post:

Exceptional dangers require exceptional and sometimes unusual responses.  This was the spirit animating the volunteers at a phone bank here Tuesday night. They were asking citizens to urge their state’s popular Republican senator, Susan Collins, to oppose the confirmation of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
And if they found a sympathizer, they took an additional and, for some, a controversial step: Asking for a commitment to contribute to a fund that would be activated against Collins (her term is up in 2020) if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
The campaign is spearheaded by Mainers for Accountable Leadership and Maine People’s Alliance, and it has outraged Collins, a consensus seeker who issued an unusually sharp retort: “Attempts at bribery or extortion will not influence my vote at all.” The organizers were unapologetic. “The idea of Susan Collins attacking an effort by 35,000 small-dollar donors as bribery is politics at its worst,” Marie Follayttar Smith, the Accountable Leadership group’s co-director, said in a statement. “We absolutely have the right to prepare to unseat her given everything Judge Kavanaugh would do on the Supreme Court to make life worse for Maine women.”
[T]here is this irony: Kavanaugh himself is, as the legal scholar Richard Hasen wrote recently in Slate, “deeply skeptical of even the most basic campaign-finance limits.”
It is one of a host of ways in which Kavanaugh would likely push the Supreme Court well to the right, because he would replace retired justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a more moderate conservative.
For the activists here and for many others around the country, the fears around Kavanaugh’s nomination begin with abortion rights. But the catalogue is much more extensive, reflecting the broad array of concerns of the activists mobilizing against him.
Ben Gaines worried that Kavanaugh would look for ways to side with President Trump in a dispute over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. Dini Merz has the same apprehension, and also mentioned Kavanaugh’s views on “corporate power” and “religion and its role” in American life.
Follayttar Smith spoke of the likelihood Kavanaugh would roll back environmental regulations and the Affordable Care Act. Susie Crimmins saw him as “dismantling government in its role of protecting the marginalized.” Louise Lora Somlyo felt that Kavanaugh had not been candid in his testimony before the Senate. Collins is an unusual Republican who has, by turns, both gratified and infuriated liberals in her state. Alicia Barnes, a Navy veteran, said Collins “had our backs” during the campaign by LGBTQ groups to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; Smith spoke of the appreciation across the state for Collins’s vote to defend the Affordable Care Act.
But Collins’s later vote for the Republican tax cut was a reminder of how often she has been loyal to her party’s leadership, and Bill Nemitz, a veteran columnist for the Portland Press-Herald, wrote a passionate column last weekend suggesting a vote for Kavanaugh would be a breaking point.
With Senate Democrats now sharply questioning whether Kavanaugh has been misleading (or worse) in his testimony, Collins would have a path to oppose him, and she has said that if he has not been “truthful, then obviously that would be a major problem for me.”
But there is a larger issue of hypocrisy that incites aversion to Kavanaugh. Repeatedly, Republican presidential candidates promise (usually indirectly, but, in Trump’s case, directly) they will nominate justices who would challenge Roe v. Wade and, more generally, toe a conservative line.
Once they are nominated, however, these would-be justices pretend not to hold the views they hold. And when skeptics point out their obvious evasions, defenders denounce these objections as purely partisan.
The affable Collins is now confronting the backlash to this long history of doublespeak.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Climate Change Denying NC Republicans About to Face Florence's Wrath

Like their Virginia counterparts, North Carolina Republicans have denied that climate change is occurring or that sea level rises are being fueled by climate change.  In 2012, they passed a bill that dismissed dire warnings from the Coastal Resources Commission and opened the door for more construction in vulnerable coastal areas and stymied expert efforts to plan long term for adaptation to the consequences of climate change, including more powerful and much more rain drenching hurricanes. With Hurricane Florence about to make landfall and by some predictions drop up to 40 inches of rain on parts of the state, Republican embrace of ignorance and denial will hit head on with reality.  Sadly, many lives will be at increased risk as a consequence.  A piece in Huffingtom Post looks at this likely bout with Karma.  Here are highlights:

In 2012, North Carolina legislators passed a bill that barred policymakers and developers from using up-to-date climate science to plan for rising sea levels on the state’s coast. Now Hurricane Florence threatens to cause a devastating storm surge that could put thousands of lives in danger and cost the state billions of dollars worth of damage.
The hurricane, which is expected to make landfall on Friday, is shaping up to be one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast. Residents of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and mainland coasts have already been ordered to evacuate.
“It only takes a few extra inches of water depth to be the difference between a ruined floor and no damage, or a ruined electrical system and just a ruined floor,” Strauss said. “Floods tend to be a great deal more destructive and costly than homeowners anticipate.”
Sea level rise can also affect the severity of hurricanes, said William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “If you compared storm surge heights from the same storm at the same location over several decades, the surge would be higher ― assuming no change in flood defenses ― because of sea level rise,” Sweet said.  
But in North Carolina, lawmakers chose to ignore the threats. A panel of scientists on the state Coastal Resources Commission issued a dire warning in March 2010, estimating that the sea levels along the state’s coast would rise 39 inches over the next century. Conservative lawmakers and business interest groups feared the report would hurt lucrative real estate development on the state’s coast and sought to undermine it. A lobbying group committed to economic development on the coast accused the panel of “pulling data out of their hip pocket.”
[Conservative state Rep. Pat] McElraft introduced the bill in April 2011, and it passed the legislature in the summer of 2012.
Part of the bill stipulated that state and local agencies must also refer to historical linear predictions of sea level rise rather than current research, and another alarming section required that research look only at 30-year predictions rather than at a century, as the CRC report had done. Supporters of the bill saw short-term benefits in more affordable insurance, and continued opportunities for real estate development and tourism along the attractive coast. Critics saw the long-term consequences of damaged homes and businesses and vast swaths of the state being swallowed by floods.   
In North Carolina, the state’s topography and the rising sea levels have made for even more dangerous storms and floods, Strauss said. Unlike coastal communities that have deep, cliff-like dropoffs, North Carolina’s coast is flat, wide and shallow, “like a kiddie pool,” Strauss said. “When you think about storm surge, some places have higher potential than others. The same storm would produce different surges depending on the topography,” said Strauss.
The state also has a wide, shallow continental shelf compared with places like Miami, which “means there is massive potential for a storm surge,” he said. “Especially a storm like this, that’s moving straight forward,” he said. “It’s a really bad setup.”
At the same time, climate change has “supercharged” recent storms, as HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo reported on Friday, putting Florence on track to do as much, if not more, damage than last year’s Hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana.
“It is fair to say that the very same factors are likely at play here, namely very warm ocean temperatures and an anomalous jet stream pattern favoring stalled weather systems,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

Brett Kavanaugh Lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee

Like Trump, Kavanaugh is the deliberate liar.
Sadly, today's Republican Party is synonymous with lying and working to endlessly dupe and deceive average Americans - a trait they seemed to have adopted from the Christofascist in the party base.  Trump's disturbing Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, appears to be no exception to this rule and as mounting evidence indicates, Kavanaugh perjured himself during bothe the current hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as before his appointment to the DC Circuit.  It is bad enough that Kavanaugh is a partisan ideologue.  That he lies with abandon is even more disturbing.  A piece in Slate looks at Kavanaugh's apparent deliberate lies.  Here are excerpts:
Last week, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of repeatedly misleading the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings. “Brett Kavanaugh used materials stolen from Democratic senators to advance President Bush’s judicial nominees,” the committee’s ranking member tweeted. “He was asked about this in 2004, 2006 and this week. His answers were not true.”
Citing an essay in Slate by Lisa Graves, a former staffer for Sen. Patrick Leahy, Feinstein presented a line of argument that’s gaining currency among Democratic senators: that Kavanaugh’s lack of honesty makes him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court. In this case, Kavanaugh has repeatedly sworn that he never received documents stolen by Republican Senate aide Manny Miranda—documents that he did, in fact, receive.
Kavanaugh said to Hatch in 2004 that he didn’t receive “documents that appeared to [me] to have been drafted or prepared by Democratic staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.” He said to Sen. Chuck Schumer in 2004 that “Mr. Miranda never provided these documents” and that he had never “come across memos from internal files of any Democratic members.” And Kavanaugh said to Kennedy in 2006, “I do know that I never received any memos.”The bar for a lie here is to demonstrate that Kavanaugh had received any memos from Democratic staff or documents from Miranda that appeared drafted or prepared by Democratic judiciary staffers. By the plainest meaning of those words, Kavanaugh received both things.
Documents released last week reveal that in early 2003, Miranda sent Kavanaugh an email with the subject line “Judiciary Dems obstruct on reorganization.” That email contained a draft letter from Democratic Judiciary Committee members to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle laying out their desired negotiating position over a new process for judicial confirmations. Miranda indicated to Kavanaugh that the document was not public at the time he sent it, saying, “I am told that all [Democrats] on the [Judiciary Committee]” were signing on to the document.
Another email released last week included a bullet-pointed memo written by Graves for Democratic staff. The memo contains a laundry list of research Graves put together for Judiciary Committee staff laying out legal arguments Democrats planned to make regarding a controversial Bush judicial nominee. . . . Miranda’s email to Kavanaugh describes this memo as “confidential information” from “Dem staffers.”
But even if Kavanaugh didn’t suspect at the time that this was a stolen memo, it should have been obvious after Miranda’s theft became a major news story. And yet he insisted under oath that nothing that Miranda stole ever crossed his desk.
Other former staffers whose material was stolen argue it’s absurd to contend that Kavanaugh would not have known that this detailed information wasn’t ripped off directly from the Democrats themselves.
Bob Schiff, former chief counsel for Sen. Russ Feingold, added. “To hear Judge Kavanaugh testify recently that this was kind of common for there to be information shared across the aisle as his way of explaining why key Democratic arguments and plans [were not suspicious to him] does not ring true.”
If the documents that have been released in recent weeks had come to light in 2006, they could have easily torpedoed Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Even without those documents, which clearly demonstrate that Kavanaugh has misled the Senate, his appointment was incredibly controversial.
Kristine Lucius, who worked for Leahy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2002 through 2017, argued that these revelations would have stopped Kavanaugh’s judicial career cold. “I sincerely believe that if this information had been out at the time of his lower court confirmation hearing, he would not have been confirmed,” she argued. Lucius noted that Kavanaugh’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit occurred just after a sergeant-at-arms report was released detailing Miranda’s theft, when feelings on the subject were “still quite raw.” 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

London: Dinner and "Tina" the Musical

With Hurricane Florence seemingly no longer a major threat to Hampton Roads our mood in London has been a bit more cheery.  This evening we met friends who reside in London part of the year who joined us and our travel companions for dinner at The Delauney - a beautiful old style restaurant and then saw the musical "Tina" based on the life of Tina Turner at the Aldwych Theater.  Dinner was wonderful and it was nice catching up with our London friends.  As for the show Tina, we thought it was wonderful. It will be headed to Broadway shortly.  We highly recommend both the restaurant and the show.

PS. Of added intrest, the lead actress in the show, Adrienne Warren, is from Hampton Roads and attended the Governor's School for the Performing Arts. 

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Evangelical Christians Have Tossed Away Christ's Teachings

For those who continue to try to convince themselves that Christianity is a positive force in the world - a belief I do not share - a new “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” released by a group of evangelical and right wing "Christians" will make this pretense/mental contortions even more difficult.  In it, these modern day Pharisees claim that social justice - feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, tending the sick has no direct connection the Gospel message.  As is so often the case, inconvenient passages are utterly ignored while a selective fixation on a few Old Testament passages that allow condemnation of others are upheld.  The hypocrisy is off the charts and explains the accelerating exodus from Christianity.  Conservative columnist Michael Gerson bemoans this latest evidence of the reality that conservative Christianity is a blight on mankind (my words, not his).  Here are excepts:
The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” claims that social justice is not, in fact, a definitional component of the gospel, and that it is heresy to elevate “non-essentials to the status of essentials.” As you might expect, the document affirms traditional beliefs on same-sex relationships and “God-ordained” gender roles. But it seems particularly focused on rejecting collective blame in racial matters.
By way of background, it seems this statement was created in outraged response to another group of evangelical Christians — the Gospel Coalition — that held a conference on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. MacArthur clearly wants to paint the participants — including prominent pastors Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile and John Piper — as liberals at risk of heresy.
Where to start a response? First, there is the matter of judgment. MacArthur surveys the evangelical movement in 2018 — increasingly discredited by rank hypocrisy and close ties to an angry, ethnonationalist political movement — and concludes that its main problem is too much . . . social justice. It is a sad case of complete spiritual blindness.
Second, there is a matter of history. . . . This could be claimed only by someone who knows nothing of the evangelical story. During the 19th century, Northern evangelicalism was generally viewed as inseparable from social activism. Evangelist Charles Finney insisted that “the loss of interest in benevolent enterprises” was usually evidence of a “backslidden heart.” Among these enterprises, Finney listed good government, temperance reform, the abolition of slavery and relief for the poor.
But most damaging is the Mac­Arthur statement’s position on racial matters. What could a group of largely white evangelicals, many of them Southerners, possibly mean by criticizing “racial vainglory”? Is it vanity to praise the unbroken spirit of Africans in America during more than four centuries of vicious oppression, which was often blessed by elements of the Christian church? Is it vanity to recognize the redemptive role played by African American Christianity in calling our nation to the highest ideals of its founding?
The purpose of “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” is clear enough. It is, as one prominent evangelical leader put it to me, “to stop any kind of real repentance for past social injustice, to make space for those who are indeed ethnonationalists, and to give excuse for those who feel Christians need only ‘preach the gospel’ to save souls and not love their neighbors sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not.”
The MacArthur statement is designed to support not a gospel truth but a social myth. The United States, the myth goes, used to have systematic discrimination, but that ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Racism is now purely an individual issue, for which the good people should not be blamed. This narrative has nothing to do with true religion. It has everything to do with ignorant self-satisfaction.
It is neither realistic nor fair to ignore the continuing social effects of hundreds of years of state-sponsored oppression, cruelty and stolen wages. It is neither realistic nor fair to ignore the current damage of mass incarceration and failed educational institutions on minority groups. Prejudice and institutional evil are ongoing — deeply ingrained in social practice and ratified by indifference. Repentance is in order — along with a passion for social justice that is inseparable from the Christian gospel.
If it were up to me, churches - and all religious structures of every faith - would lose tax-exempt status and be taxed like any other business organization.  Churches that could not survive without forced subsidies from taxpayers would close and those that had a marketable message would survive. 

Voter Hatred of Trump Out Weights a Positive Economy

Ten months ago the Republicans were confident that their give away to the rich tax cuts and a good economy would assure them of electoral success in the 2018 midterm elections. Now, the picture is something far from what was envisioned - Ted Cruz may lose his senate reelection bid to Beto O'Rourke and things at the House level are bleak.  Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan sold out average Americans and have happily assisted in normalizing the reprehensible.  Thankfully, voters for the most part realize this and polls indicate that 60% want a Democrat Congress to restrain Trump.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at how GOP bragging about the economy may do little to save many of them.  Here are highlights: 
The last time American consumers were this confident, September 11 was just a random date on the calendar. And it isn’t hard to see U.S. workers are feeling upbeat. In July, there were 659,000 more job openings than Americans looking for jobs. In August, the U.S. saw its best month of nominal wage growth in nine years. The percentage of Americans involuntarily stuck in part-time employment is smaller than it’s been for a decade. Unemployment is hovering near mid-century lows.
By all appearances, the Gods of the Macroeconomy are doing all they can to save the GOP’s congressional majorities. And they’re failing, miserably.
In recent weeks, as the “Trump economy” was reaching new heights, Donald Trump’s approval rating dipped below 40 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s poll of polls for the first time since late February. Eight of the last eight live-interview surveys have found [Trump's] the president’s approval rating to be in decline. Meanwhile, Democrats have opened up a near-double-digit lead in the generic congressional ballot.
Overall, the American people’s assessment of [Trump] their president has been remarkably steady throughout the Trump era. Odds are that the recent decline is a fleeting reaction to John McCain’s funeral, or ephemeral headlines about White House dysfunction, or else, just a bit of statistical noise. 
But that still wouldn’t be good news for Trump or his party. The fact that [Trump's] the president’s approval rating has held steady (which is to say, has held steadily low) — amid improving economic conditions — suggests that the economy won’t save the GOP this November, no matter how good the good times get.
Of course, there’s no reason why this stimulus had to take the form of massive tax cuts for the wealthy and big increases in military spending. In fact, a couple trillion dollars in wage subsidies for the working class would have almost certainly produced bigger macroeconomic returns, as ordinary Americans spend far more of their disposable income than Robert Mercer does. Just because Trump’s policies have produced improvements in short-term economic performance does not mean that they were good policies.
And many voters appreciate this distinction. A CNN/SSRS poll released Monday found that 69 percent of American voters think the economy is “good” — but only 49 percent approve of the way Trump is managing the economy. And even voters who believe the economy is doing well — and credit Trump for that fact — don’t necessarily support the president or his party. Only 36 percent of the poll’s respondents approved of Trump’s overall job performance, down from 42 percent in August. A separate Washington Post-ABC News poll documents the same phenomenon . . . when asked whether they’d rather have a Democratic Congress “as a check on Trump” — or a Republican one that would “support Trump’s agenda” — 60 percent of voters opted for the former.
[C]urrent polling does suggest that there are firm limits on how much support the GOP can derive from improving material conditions. American voters simply hate Donald Trump more than they like the tightening labor market. It’s not the economy, stupid.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Voter Backlash to Trump, Bathroom Law Put North Carolina GOP at risk

Teachers protesting North Carolina GOP policies harmful to public schools.
Few states have witness the toxic policies that occur when Republicans control the state legislature than North Carolina where the GOP controlled legislature has pandered shamelessly to Christofascists while ignoring the interest of the business community, engaged in racially based gerrymandering and slashed public education funding.  The irony is that until a few years ago, North Carolina was largely a middle of the road state that prided itself on being open for business and moderation.  Then came the GOP/Christofascist effort to use anti-LGBT animus and promises to Christian extremists to take control of the legislature.  Now, the backlash to Republican over reach and foul policies may be about to sweep over the state, aid by large scale hatred of the Trump/Pence regime.   A Piece in the Washington Post looks at a trend that one can only hope will damage the North Carolina GOP severely in November.  Here are highlights:

The owner of a small vodka distillery near this traditionally Republican enclave in suburban Raleigh says he is so fed up with GOP leadership in the state capital that he took leave from his job to try to defeat a state senator.
A popular local weatherman in the state’s Appalachian Mountains with no experience in politics threw himself into a race to unseat a four-term GOP member of the state House.
And the daughter of a legendary former governor is taking her first crack at a run for office by challenging a Charlotte-area state House Republican with a promise to renew the legacy of her father, Jim Hunt, as a champion for education funding.
An unusual political battle is raging across North Carolina, where national and state Democrats have recruited an army of candidates and are pouring millions of dollars into a campaign to loosen a years-long Republican grip on a state legislature that has turned an otherwise evenly split state into a bastion for some of the country’s most conservative laws. Among them: a limit on transgender access to bathrooms that was ultimately repealed under pressure from business leaders, congressional district maps that courts have ruled were designed to curtail the voting power of African Americans and education spending levels that have sparked mass protests at the state Capitol.
The campaign reflects an often-overlooked subplot of the Democratic Party’s broader push to engineer a “blue wave” across the country in the November midterms — tapping into voter anger over President Trump as well as Republican policies on school funding, taxes and health care to chip away at GOP dominance in state capitals.
And Republican candidates must contend with President Trump’s unpopularity among Democrats as well as unaffiliated voters, whose numbers have been growing dramatically in recent years.
While they [Democrats] face steep odds in their quest to win the legislature outright, some Republicans here have begun to acknowledge their party appears increasingly likely to lose the veto-proof supermajorities that have been key to much of their success in thwarting [Governor] Cooper. For that, Democrats must pick up just four seats in the House and six seats in the Senate.
“If you’re a Republican and you’re not nervous, you should be,” said Carter Wrenn, a longtime GOP operative in the state who made his name working for the late senator Jesse Helms.
Democrats sense a potential voter backlash over what they call Republican overreach on a range of issues — from the bathroom bill and gerrymandering to a new push by GOP lawmakers to block the governor’s power to appoint judges, the state electoral board and other executive-branch panels. Democrats have recruited candidates to run in all 170 legislative districts for the first time that anyone can remember, with the party’s Break the Majority political committee hiring 70 full-time field organizers and banking nearly $6 million — enough to put its spending on par with state Republicans for the first time in a decade.
Indivisible, the grass roots organization that formed after Trump’s election, has launched a “Flip NC” campaign targeting 20 seats in the House and 10 in the Senate.
For Democrats to succeed this year, they will need voters like Marla Sloane, 60, a registered Republican who runs an Internet business selling novelty items from her home. Sloane showed up last week at a meet-and-greet for Searcy, the Democrat running for Senate.
“I don’t hear any state Republicans saying, ‘We’re standing up against ‘Trump,’” said Sloane, who voted for GOP presidential nominees John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 but could not get herself to vote for Trump. “I think this is a very scary time in America where we’re trying to make sense out of crazy. And I don’t see anyone standing up at the state level saying, ‘This isn’t right.’”
I hope the Democrat effort succeeds.  Similar hatred for Trump and racist and Christian extremist backed policy in large part set the stage for the Democrat sweep in Virginia in 2017.