Saturday, July 13, 2019

More Saturday Male Beauty

Trump’s Ominous Attempt to Redefine Human Rights

An idea Trump/Pence's new Commission would
seemingly like to bring back - gays
in concentration camps.
The Trump/Pence regime has established a "Commission on Unalienable Rights" that will use "natural law" to determine what rights matter.  Those appointed to the commission are a who's who of far right Christian extremists with documented histories of anti-LGBT animus and opposition to women's rights. By the composition of the Commission membership, it is clear from the start that some rights - and only some people - will matter.  The use of the term "natural law" - a favorite of the Christofascists - is a dead give away that the agenda of the Commission will be anti-gay and anti-modernity.  A column in the New York Times looks at this dangerous Commission and the farcical pretense that true protection of human rights of all people will be on the Commission's radar screen.  The move is a clear effort on Trump's part to shore up support among evangelicals who have shown themselves only too happy to look the other way from the near concentration camps Trump/Pence is operating on the southern border to deal with what lily white evangelicals view as the "brown menace."  Here are column excerpts:
For the Trump administration to establish a “Commission on Unalienable Rights” to examine the meaning of human rights, as it did this month, is a little like Saudi Arabia forming a commission on multiparty democracy or North Korea a commission on how to end famine. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so ominous.
Announcing the composition of the new body, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration “takes seriously the founders’ ideas of individual liberty and constitutional government.” He did so in the same week as President Trump demonstrated, once again, his contempt for the Constitution by tweeting that he’d leave office “in six years, or maybe 10 or 14 (just kidding).” Ha-ha.
In the same Twitter rant Trump called himself “a true Stable Genius.” Now the Genius in Chief, through his secretary of state, has determined that the time is ripe to sift through human rights claims and, in Pompeo’s words, determine “which rights are entitled to gain respect.”
Autocrats around the world, from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to China’s Xi Jinping, have long cast human rights groups as Trojan horses for a liberal democratic agenda. It’s an attempt to deflect attention from their gross human rights abuses. Now it appears that Trump’s United States is preparing to join the club of human rights skeptics. A more complete disavowal of what America has stood for since Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 is hard to imagine.
This, remember, is the administration that has consistently relegated human rights in its valueless foreign policy; saw in the Saudi murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi no cause to reprimand Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; embraced North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un; kowtowed to every autocrat outside Iran and Venezuela; and separated migrant children from their families to hold them in appalling camps.
The administration has excised reproductive rights from the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights. It watered down a recent United Nations Security Council resolution on victims of rape in armed conflict. It has withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The United Nations Human Rights Committee and Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination are both without a United States member.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel, Mr. Secretary [Pompeo]. A lot of bipartisan and international consensus, consolidated over the postwar decades, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and other horrors, exists as to what human rights are and what America’s role in defending them should be.
Modern human rights are grounded on the dignity inherent in every human being. They are not God-given rights, or Trump-given rights, and they apply to people of all faiths and to those who have none. They include freedom of speech, the press, assembly and religion, and the “right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law,” as the Universal Declaration puts it. They involve combating discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
The intention of Pompeo, an evangelical Christian whose beliefs infuse his policy, appears to be to turn back the clock.
In May, The Federal Register said the commission would provide “fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” These “natural rights” at the time, of course, included chattel slavery and the dehumanization of black people, as well as the disenfranchisement of women.
Today, the Trump administration’s war on reproductive rights and L.G.B.T. rights is pretty clear. On gay and transgender issues, it is hostile; its attempt to dehumanize the trans community is evident.

For Pompeo, religious rights are plainly human rights; as to the rest, it’s unclear. As head of the commission, he has appointed Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard professor known as a zealous opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. Other political opinions are represented, but the body is predominantly conservative and religious.
No plausible reason for this strange initiative has been given. Trump, having shown willful neglect toward human rights, now wants to redefine them. The exercise can only reflect his contempt for the rule of law, a free press, an independent judiciary, gays, minorities, women’s reproductive rights, the safety of migrant children, truth and decency — as well as his boundless affection for human rights violators. It is, in other words, a disaster in the making.
Be very, very afraid.

Pelosi: Please Stop Coddling Donald Trump

I like Andrew Sullivan's writing skills and applaud the fact that he finally left the GOP and has come to recognized the toxic force that party has become - he now needs to leave Catholicism, in my view - but in his latest column he seems too hard on Democrats and Nancy Pelosi in particular.  Yes, Pelosi has been cautious and has danced around impeachment out of fear of a reprise in 2020 of what Republicans suffered after their impeachment effort against Bill Clinton.  In the argument in favor of impeachment of Trump, the differences between Bill Clinton's lying about a personal sexual misdeed versus Trump's never ending lies and clear obstruction of justice are in totally different leagues.  Yet, a majority of American voters appear opposed to impeachment - something Pelosi must take into account like it or not and whether or not it is even a rational perspective. Plus, unless and until Democrats take control of the U.S. Senate, impeachment would ultimately go nowhere.  Indeed, Trump could be video taped raping a 13 year old girl (or boy, but that would more likely be the closeted Mike Pence) on the high altar of St. Peter's basilica, and today's Republicans would still not vote to impeach him,  Decency, morality and the rule of law long lost favor in today's GOP which worries only about the satiating the hatreds that motivate the party's racist and religious extremist base.  Of course, Democrats have other options which Sullivan lays out and, in the case of Trump's New York State tax returns, they ought to pursue vigorously. The following are highlights from Sullivan's latest column in New York Magazine:
I suspect many of us voted for the Democrats last fall because we wanted a serious check on President Trump’s intensifying authoritarianism. That includes many of us who don’t support the far left’s takeover of the Democrats, but who saw the urgency of an opposition with teeth, confronted as we are by a deranged, tyrannical bully in the White House. What would happen if the Mueller Report emerged with a Republican House still intact, we worried? How could we begin to investigate Trump’s tax returns, or his cronies’ corruption, or his foul pedophile friends, or his murky real estate money-laundering, if Paul Ryan, the Randian eunuch from Wisconsin, were still in charge?
It turns out, six months later, that on all these topics, the Democratic House majority didn’t matter much at all. Whenever a serious administration abuse of power seems to demand investigation, Speaker Pelosi springs almost instantly into inaction. There is nothing she won’t not do.
When, for example, a highly dubious decision years ago by Labor Secretary Alex Acosta — to give Jeffrey Epstein an incredibly lenient plea deal for the sexual abuse of 40 underage girls — blew back into the headlines, Pelosi instantly ruled out any notion of impeaching Acosta: “It’s up to the president, it’s his Cabinet. We have a great deal of work to do here for the good of the American people and we have to focus on that.”
Really, Madam Speaker, oversight of shady dealings by Cabinet officials is the work of the president now? And holding a corrupt administration to account is not “work … for the good of the American people”? This “distraction” from real “work” meme is, in fact, a Republican talking point.
The most epic moment of Pelosi’s oversight abdication was, of course, her response to the Mueller Report. She was completely out-foxed by Bill Barr’s shameless misdirection at first, and once his sleight of hand became obvious, she seemed to have no strategy to hold Trump to account in any way. She was presented with striking evidence that President Trump repeatedly abused the power of his office to obstruct justice — the charge that brought down Nixon, and one charge that forced even Bill Clinton into a Senate trial - and was all but invited by Mueller to move the ball forward through impeachment: “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Pelosi immediately, reflexively, punted.
Later this month, we will finally get testimony from Mueller. This week, the House Judiciary Committee has issued 12 new subpoenas for Trump officials, including Jared Kushner. This time, they tell us, they’re serious. These subpoenas come after almost all previous ones were rebuffed entirely by an unprecedented blanket assertion by the president that all oversight inquiries are of a partisan nature and should therefore be ignored. But last month the Democrats passed a resolution seeking court enforcement of their subpoena power. How long will this process take? Who knows?
Or take the issue of Trump’s tax returns. Judd Legum is aghast that it took the Democrats four months even to ask for them! When Trump (surprise!) refused to hand them over, Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal filed a lawsuit arguing that the reason he was doing so was not because he wanted to see if Trump had committed fraud or other financial crimes, but that he needed “to decide if legislative action is needed” on “the mandatory presidential audit program.” He believed the claim should be as modest as possible to help guarantee an eventual court victory. But “eventual” is the operative word here.
The goods are there though. So when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing Trump’s state tax returns to be examined directly by Neal, Neal refused, even though the data would be largely the same as the federal returns. He preferred to wait for the result of his own federal legal case — which could be months or years in coming! . . . It is an effective abandonment of a critical tool for exposing presidential corruption.
I know that aggressive oversight, especially impeachment hearings, is a politically fraught decision, full of risk. I know the polls suggest it splits the country and, by her own expert counting, divides the House Democrats as well. I know her party won the House in 2018 by focusing on health care, rather than Trump. I think that should be their focus next year as well. But fortune favors the brave. If she doesn’t act against a serious threat to the Constitution, voters will infer that the Democrats don’t actually believe there’s a threat. If she lets this president own the narrative, as he keeps doing, Democrats will end up following his story rather than their own.
And there is no essential conflict between holding impeachment hearings and making the case for your policies. It should be possible for a competent and gifted Speaker to do both.
The best gloss I can think of to explain Pelosi’s abdication is that she believes that it’s only a matter of time before Trump loses in 2020, so why risk alienating moderates who get nervous with the I-word now? Why impeach when the Senate will acquit? Why go to war now, when it might imperil electoral victory next year?
Here’s why. There is a strong possibility that Trump is going to win the next election. I know it’s early but the head-to-head polling against most of the Democratic candidates is very close — and that’s before the GOP has gotten to work on oppo research on those Democrats who aren’t well known. Incumbency in a strong economy is usually dispositive.
If Pelosi keeps playing it safe and Trump is reelected, it will set a precedent that a president can obstruct justice and be rewarded for it. He can avoid all serious congressional oversight and get away with it. The Congress will continue its journey as a withered limb in a Constitution that actually gives it pride of place, Article 1. And every time Trump gets away with another crime, or abuse of power, he is emboldened. Vindicated by re-election? God help us.
And what Trump now knows after six months of Democratic control of the House is that he is as free from congressional checks whether it is run by Democrats or Republicans. Pelosi has shown every future president that they can obstruct justice with impunity, refuse every subpoena with impunity, lie with impunity, and violate the separation of powers with impunity.
At some point, Madam Speaker, history may show you had one critical chance to stop this slide toward populist authoritarianism. And you decided you had better things to do.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Paul Ryan Admits He Was a Fraud All Along

I have never liked former House Speaker Paul Ryan who I always saw as a liar and a fraud. While in office, Ryan cared about only two things - actually three, the third being staying in office - cutting taxes for the wealthy and slashing the social safety net for the less fortunate, all the while pretending to be a good Catholic despite all his actions contrary to the Church's social gospel. Before retiring, Ryan accomplished one thing: passage of the Trump/GOP tax cuts which have exploded the federal deficit - something Ryan supposedly cared about, but like all else with Ryan that story line was a lie.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at Ryan's new and disingenuous book which tries to rewrite history and rehabilitate Ryan's abysmal record.  Here are article highlights:

After the release of the Access Hollywood tape, which featured the future president bragging to Billy Bush about how his celebrity entitled him to sexually assault women, Paul Ryan canceled a scheduled appearance with Donald Trump and announced he would not campaign on behalf of the Republican nominee. “I am not going to defend Donald Trump,” then-House Speaker Ryan reportedly told his party at the time. “Not now, not in the future.” Ryan probably assumed he wouldn’t need to defend Trump in the “future,” as the prevailing wisdom was that Hillary Clinton would send him back to the bowels of reality TV from whence he came. But it was still a notable disavowal even if, in true Ryan form, it made no move to rescind his tortured Trump endorsement.
Of course, Ryan would break his promise after Trump’s shock victory. The self-styled wonk would, again and again and again, defend the president, enable him, and respond to his daily outrages with feeble handwringing. But the Wisconsin Republican is now trying to rehabilitate his doormat reputation. . . . Ryan tees off on the president, depicting him as a narcissistic, divisive loon and “uneducated about the government”—revelations that only further highlight how Ryan was knowingly complicit in Trump’s nightmare government.
“We’ve gotten so numbed by it all,” Ryan tells Tim Alberta in American Carnage, which examines how Republicans came to embrace Trump after an acrimonious 2016 race. “Not in government, but where we live our lives, we have a responsibility to try and rebuild. Don’t call a woman a ‘horse face.’ Don’t cheat on your wife. Don’t cheat on anything. Be a good person. Set a good example.”
Ryan, who tells Alberta that he viewed his retirement as an “escape hatch” to get away from Trump, plays up the “adults in the room” myth, suggesting his deference allowed him to steer Trump on a better course.
It’s a line Ryan has echoed before. . . . And of course, it’s intended to paint Ryan in the best possible light, similar to John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, and others who suggested they only stood by Trump out of some high-minded sense of duty to the country. Of course, none actually succeeded in serving as a real moderating influence. They may be better than the sycophants he’s surrounded himself with now, but Kelly, Tillerson, and Ryan consistently failed to keep the president’s impulses in check. Worse, they lent a veneer of normalcy to a president who was decidedly not.
That Ryan is now back to bashing Trump is, perhaps, a step above some of his former colleagues, who have turned into rabid, mindless supporters of the president. But it’s hardly courageous to point out Trump’s plainly obvious defects after the fact. So far, just one Republican—Justin Amash, who left the party earlier this month—has openly criticized the president. “These guys have all convinced themselves that to be successful and keep their jobs, they need to stand by Trump,” Amash tells Alberta in the book. “But Trump won’t stand with them as soon as he doesn’t need them. He’s not loyal. They’re very loyal to Trump, but the second he thinks it’s to his advantage to throw someone under the bus, he’ll be happy to do it.”
Hopefully, history will be very harsh to Paul Ryan.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

More Thursday Male Beauty

Gun Control: Virginians Deserve Better Than the Virginia GOP

As regular readers know, (i) I am a former Republican activist who left the GOP when the party became a sectarian party of Christian extremists and tools of the gun lobby, and (ii) since my "conversion", if you will, I have aligned with Democrats in the hope that continual electoral defeats will force the GOP to jettison the Christofascists and NRA.  During the later phase, my husband and I have become personal friends with the current governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam who I have know since he first ran for the Virginia Senate over a decade ago. In the wake of the horrible mass shooting in Virginia Beach on May 31, 2019, Northam called a special session of the Virginia General Assembly to address the issue of Virginia's abysmally lax gun laws, no doubt hoping that Virginia would see movement towards common sense reforms such as occurred in Florida after the Parkland massacre.  Shockingly, Virginia Republicans refused to have any meaningful discuss and debate and voted to adjourn the special session without taking any action whatsoever. The arrogance of the Virginia GOP in this regard is stunning, but, in my view, nor surprising since the GOP long ago gave up on representing the interests of a majority of their constituents.  In response, Northam has an op-ed in the Washington Post which notes his experience both in the army and as a doctor and then proceeds to condemn the Republican inaction on a vital issue.  The take away is to register to vote in November, 2019, and to vote Republicans out of control of the General Assembly.  Here are op-ed highlights:
After decades of working in emergency rooms and intensive care units, I’ve learned how to keep my emotions in check and get the job done. We all have experiences that fundamentally shape who we are, that change the way we look at the world and what we work toward every day.
For me, those experiences have come through my work as an Army doctor, my 30 years as a pediatrician, my time as a children’s hospice director and my role as governor of a state that is losing more than 1,000 people a year to gun violence.
Early in my career, I served in the Army. I took care of wounded soldiers in Operation Desert Storm, and I saw what weapons of war do to human beings.
As a pediatrician I’ve taken care of toddlers — 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds — who picked up loaded weapons off the bedside table. And I’ve been the one who has had to sit with those toddlers in my arms, without breath in their bodies, and tell their parents that they won’t be going home.
One of my favorite patients was a girl named Katie, whom I started caring for when she was very young. She grew up to be an intelligent and accomplished young woman and married and had a child. One night, Katie’s husband pulled out a revolver and shot her dead in front of her 5-month-old baby. Her mother called me that night to tell me she was gone. That is still one of the most difficult calls I have ever had to take.
On May 31, around 4 in the afternoon, I was told there had been a mass shooting in Virginia Beach. The number of dead kept climbing as we drove to the emergency operations center. By the end of the night, 12 precious lives had been lost. All of those people had gotten up that morning and gone to work, expecting to leave that night and go home to their families. That didn’t happen. Their lives were taken senselessly.
A few days after the Virginia Beach tragedy, I spoke at the funeral of Markiya Dickson, a 9-year-old girl who was shot and killed while playing with her friends in a Richmond park. Her father stood at the pulpit with his daughter lying in a casket. He spoke about what a wonderful young girl she was, how her favorite color was pink and how everybody at school loved her. And then he said something I will never forget. He said, “We shouldn’t be here.”
As a father, I don’t want another father to have to bury his child. As a doctor, I don’t want another doctor to have to tell parents that their loved one will never come home. And as a governor, I don’t want another governor to get that call about a mass shooting or have to speak at a funeral for a precious 9-year-old girl killed by guns.
On Tuesday, I asked the General Assembly to do something about it. I asked lawmakers to address the emergency of gun violence in Virginia. I asked them to show their constituents and our country that despite our differences, we can come together to save lives.
Legislators came to Richmond Tuesday, but after just 90 minutes, Republican legislators voted to adjourn until November — without hearing any bills, without having any debates and without taking any action to address the crisis of gun violence.
That’s not what they were elected for.
They were not elected to punt or dismiss important issues. They were elected to weigh ideas and discuss differences. Regardless of whether folks agree on solutions, they were elected to take these votes. I expected better of them. I knew better than to think there would be an easy agreement, but I did expect our elected representatives to treat serious issues with respect, not contempt.
[T]his debate is not over. It is painfully clear that the issue of gun violence is not going away. And we will not stop working to find solutions to prevent these tragedies from taking more lives.

Sadly, Virginia Republicans give higher priority to gun manufacturer profits and the wants of gun lobby extremist than on the lives of every day Virginians who simply want to live their lives free from the seemingly ever growing threat of gun violence.  As noted above, the solution to this problem to vote out Republicans in November, 2019.

Is a Tide Turning Against Populism?

Populism is defined as "a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups."  It certainly describes the nature of Donald Trump's base which is enraged that it is losing white privilege and/or its ability to impose its toxic form of Christianity on the nation.  It is also the mind set behind the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the election of various right wing, authoritarian politicians across Europe.  To take hold, of course, there was a need for other voters who did not celebrate racism, the embrace of ignorance, and the destruction of democratic norms to be apathetic and fail to vote thereby allowing foul individuals like Trump to triumph.  As a piece in the New York Times explores, the tide may be beginning to turn on populism with voters realizing the need to vote and throw aside complacency.  One can only hope the piece is correct and the rejection of populism and authoritarians occurs in America as well.  Here are article highlights: 
While most eyes are fixed on Iran and China, the competition between the liberal international order and the populist demagogues who threaten it has taken an unexpected turn. In a seemingly unlikely region, a rear-guard action has quietly begun to challenge the “populist surge.”
With Britain seemingly on the verge of Brexit and Donald Trump something of a global albatross, some analysts have written off liberalism. But others have kept faith that liberalism remains strong, and that they still expect a “backlash to the backlash” to emerge in Western Europe.
They may be right. Intriguing developments are taking place, but not necessarily in the West. Instead — surprisingly — they are to be found in Central and Eastern Europe.
The region’s countries became part of the liberal order only after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc in 1989 . . . . But in recent months they have become ground zero for what is beginning to look like a comeback for liberal forces, at least within the region. More than ten different countries have voted out populists, undergone serious protests, or taken strong stands against Russia.
The reigning orthodoxy is that it’s only a matter of time until far-right populist parties begin winning elections in country after country. But the evidence from across Central Europe runs counter to that: Liberal leaders and activists have begun to push back against populism.
The most interesting case is Slovakia, where the polls leading up to this spring’s election showed a pair of populist candidates in the lead. But in the end a less bombastic Western-oriented political novice eked out an impressive victory. The victor, Zuzana Caputova, took advantage of anti-populist sentiment spurred by the murder of a crusading anti-corruption journalist.
Likewise in Poland, local elections and major mayoral races over the past two years have been won by liberal candidates, rather than Poland’s populist governing party. While in Bulgaria, in 2017, Bulgarians voted out a populist Russia-centric government and brought back to power a pro-NATO and pro-European Union former prime minister, Boiko Borisov.
What’s more, Ms. Caputova’s rise and solid block of support . . . . are inspiring opposition leaders in other countries. In the Czech Republic, for example, hundreds of thousands of protesters have been marching against their prime minister, Andrej Babis, a former businessman with alarmingly demagogic leanings who has been accused of corruption.
Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Georgia have also experienced significant anti-populist protests in the past two years. Hungarians turned out in large numbers this spring to protest against the most well-known populist head of government in Europe, Viktor Orban, who has a reputation for undermining democracy through his corruption, economic mismanagement and clamping down on the media. The Romanian people recently celebrated the jailing of Liviu Dragnea, the country’s most powerful politician and head of the ruling Social Democratic Party, which had defied the European Commission and made repeated efforts to shield politicians from the law.
Central European countries have also taken strong stands or direct actions against Russia. Greece expelled Russian diplomats in response to Russian interference in the naming of North Macedonia. In 2016, Montenegro arrested a range of violent coup plotters who were backed by Russia. This year, 14 of them were convicted and sentenced to prison.
These anti-populist trends have occurred in the face of heavy Russian interference in the form of cyber warfare and in some cases the direct intervention of Federal Security Service agents. Russia also interfered in the European Parliament elections in May, which polls and pundits had predicted would bring a populist takeover. However, not only did numerous populists — like Germany’s A.F.D. party — perform less well than expected, but they are also far from being able to form a majority.
Populists have also been kept out of recent governments formed in Finland, Sweden and Estonia. . . . Spain’s Socialist Party routed the populists with ease, and the right-leaning young Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz, after losing a vote of confidence that cost him his role as chancellor, appears well positioned to fight for a new term in coming elections, having jettisoned the populist contingent from his coalition. And last weekend, Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party performed surprisingly poorly in an election that brought to power a traditional center-right party and prime minister.
Yet the question remains: Is a discernible trend at work here? Either way, logic may well be on the liberals’ side. First, populist leaders tend to be poor at governing, particularly in the area of economic policy. Second, the more Russia continues to rattle its sabers and make European countries feel insecure, the more places like Poland will avoid becoming too populist. Third, while electorates in Europe have been withdrawing their support from traditional center-left and center-right parties, liberal, green and other parties offer decidedly anti-populist policies.
We may need more time to ascertain whether a larger global “backlash to the backlash” trend is afoot. But in Central Europe the evidence is clear. . . . . the battle against populism has been joined by regrouped liberal forces. The vaunted liberal international order, however damaged, remains intact to a significant degree.
Here in Virginia, a blow can be struck against the populism and arrogance of the Virginia GOP in November if people get out and vote the corrupt, political whores of the GOP who have sold their souls to the gun lobby and far right Christian extremists out of office. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Are Never Trump Republicans Worth Democrats' Efforts?

As a former Republican - I left the GOP many years ago - I watch the antics and hand-wringing of never Trump Republicans with some skepticism.  For years as the GOP drifted towards becoming a party controlled by white supremacists and far right Christian religious extremists - the base that elected Donald Trump - these never Trumpers continually acted as apologists for GOP extremism and the war against Barack Obama waged by Mitch McConnell in the U.S. Senate and a who's who of the falsely named Christian Right.  Worse yet, in the 2016 election, many either held their noses and voted for Trump or voted for hapless third party candidates who had a snow ball's chance in Hell of winning so that such votes were a defacto vote for Trump.   Now that the handiwork of their actions has been fully realized and the GOP has become something truly hideous, some of them have the audacity to argue that Democrats ought to be kissing their asses and courting their votes. I'm sorry, but a vote for today's GOP and its candidates is, in my opinion, a vote for evil.  The ONLY alternative and way to fight that evil is to vote a straight Democrat ticket. A piece in Politico looks at the argument made by Mona Charen, a long apologist for the GOP and its worse policies who thinks she needs to be courted by Democrats.  I believe that the 2020 Democrat presidential candidates need to pursue moderation in their policies to win moderate voters, but I doubt the likes of Charen will ever be won over from the GOP that, like it or not, they helped create. Here are excerpts:
Dear 2020 Democrats—all 23 of you who are running for president:
You are itching to be rid of Donald Trump. Who can blame you? Of course, if this were a normal Republican presidency, I would not share your feelings. Not remotely. As a lifelong conservative, I think your policy ideas are ill-advised. But this cycle, other Trump-disgusted Republicans and I can contemplate voting Democrat. We could do so not because we’ve become progressives, but because we think it’s in the long-term interests of conservatism and the country to be rid of Trump. If he gains a second term, conservatism may well be irredeemably tarnished.
[L]et me make the case that you should court Republican refugees like me in 2020.
You may think you don’t need us—but you’d be wrong. I know things are looking good for you: Trump’s approval rating has never topped 46 percent, and among younger voters, millennials and Gen Zers, his support is 30 percent or below. But Trump was elected with the lowest approval ratings of any major candidate in history. Polls can disguise as well as reveal. The “shy Tory” phenomenon—in which voters seem disinclined to tell pollsters that they support conservatives—is real across the globe, as evidenced most recently by the upset victory of the conservatives (called “liberals”) in Australia. Right-wing populism continues to show strength worldwide as recent election results in Brazil, India, Hungary, Poland and the Philippines attest.
And if the results of the 2018 midterms have you feeling confident, you should look to the not-so-distant past. Democrats were pasted in the 2010 midterms and yet President Barack Obama glided painlessly to reelection in 2012.
While we’re on the subject of the midterms, remember that your 2018 victories were not a left-wing triumph. Your 40-seat pickup was due in no small measure to Republicans and independents who voted Democrat. In other words: Voters like me.
Democrats are well-positioned to win in 2020 by embracing political normalcy again. . . . Trump’s tenure has not, thankfully, featured pestilence or war. It’s more like the Three Stooges than the Four Horsemen. Still, today, many of us are prepared to put our long-term goals of balanced budgets and less government-controlled health care aside to feel some sense of political equilibrium again.
But that’s not the tone you are adopting. First, you seem taken with the idea of executive overreach. . . . This is precisely the kind of power grab that Trump engaged in when declaring his spurious state of emergency to redirect funds to his border wall. And though Democrats’ frustration with his lawlessness is justified, this would represent a total vindication of it. If Democrats respond to Trump’s arrogation of power by doing the same thing, our constitutional system is threatened.
The assertion of unlimited executive power is not just contrary to the Constitution; it’s also a recipe for rising political tensions. If I believe that a Democrat will propose legislation with which I disagree, I know I stand a good chance of having my representatives modify or even block it. That’s not true of executive action. The stakes of each presidential contest thus get ratcheted up, as both sides fear that the next president, unconstrained by Congress, can lurch the country in a dramatically new direction. That severely decreases the chances that all of you, hopeful Democrats, can bring more centrist voters over to your side.
Second, have some respect for the norms and institutions that undergird our system’s stability. You claim to be dismayed by Trump’s norm-shattering ways, and yet your proposals are political earthquakes.
Harris and Buttigieg also favor packing the Supreme Court. The court has had nine justices since 1869. Remember, when FDR attempted to pack the court in 1937, he was thwarted by his own party. If Democrats take this step, it will invite further erosions of tradition by the next Republican majority. And, like executive orders, it will heighten the sense that presidents are would-be emperors.
Sanders, Cory Booker, Harris, Warren, Julián Castro and Andrew Yang have endorsed the “Green New Deal,” and Amy Klobuchar and Gillibrand support the “aspirations” of the plan, if not the details. The plan would demand a vertiginous (in fact, impossible) reordering of our entire government and economy—for instance, by requiring the refurbishment of every single building in the country.
There’s a clear way forward, Democrats, and it is grounded in the Constitution. Do what you think is right—propose legislation to fix Obamacare or spend more on basic research of climate change or whatever—but in the constitutional way. No sweeping, federalism-smashing plans to overhaul everything in the name of your preferred policies. And please, don’t call for the abolition of traditions and constitutional structures, like the Electoral College, that make voters nervous about your stewardship.
Democrats would be wise to embrace that sensibility, in the person of Biden or another, not just because it could win, but because it’s important for all of us, right and left, to turn our faces away from Caesarism—of the right or the left.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Judge Denies Trump DOJ Request to Replace Census Case Legal Team

Trump and fellow liar, Wilbur Ross.
In the legal realm, attorneys on a litigation case can withdraw and be replaced only under limited situations and such withdrawal requires court approval.  Among these situations are (i) a private party litigant elects to hire new legal counsel, (ii) the client has failed and refused to pay legitimate legal fees of its legal counsel, and (iii) legal counsel believes the client is attempting to perpetrate a fraud on the court.  In the case of the lawsuit brought by the Trump DOJ seeking to force a citizenship question on the 2020 census - which the U.S. Supreme Court remanded back to the lower court while noting the alleged need for the question was contrived - the first two situations do not apply.  Now, with a federal judge refusing to allow the Trump DOJ to replace it legal team without explanation, some are conjecturing that the third situation may be what is really going on.  Stated another way, some commentators suspect the original DOJ legal team may be seeking to withdraw because the Trump regime is pressuring the lawyers to lie and defraud the court. In addition to seeking to under count non-whites in the census, Trump appears to be playing to his racist base. As prior post noted, the language directly from the U.S. Constitution mandating the census says NOTHING about citizenship.  It mandates a count of ALL people within the boundaries of the nation. Numerous news outlets are reporting on the court's refusal to grant the request to replace the entire original legal team.  Here is are highlights from the Washington Post
A federal judge in New York on Tuesday denied a bid from the Justice Department to replace the team of lawyers on the case about the census citizenship question, writing that its request to do so was “patently deficient.”
The department had earlier this week announced its intention to swap out the legal team on the case, without saying exactly why.
A person familiar with the matter said the decision was driven in part by frustration among some of the career lawyers who had been assigned to the case about how it was being handled, though the department wanted to replace those in both career and political positions.
But U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman denied the formal, legal bid to do so.
“Defendants provide no reasons, let alone ‘satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Furman wrote. He also noted that a filing in the case was due from the department in just three days, and that the department had previously pushed for the matter to be moved along quickly.
“If anything, that urgency — and the need for efficient judicial proceedings — has only grown since that time,” Furman wrote.
He said the department could refile its request, if it gave “satisfactory reasons” for the attorneys’ withdrawal and promises that the attorneys who had worked the case previously would be available upon request. The judge also asked the department to “file an affidavit providing unequivocal assurances that the substitution of counsel will not delay further litigation of this case (or any future related case).”
The judge’s decision was the latest development in the continuing effort by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
The Justice and Commerce departments then effectively conceded defeat — but Trump soon ordered the lawyers to do an about-face and come up with ways to keep the fight alive.
Furman’s move could force the Justice Department to expose more of its messy, internal debates over the census case. Those attorneys who object to the handling of it might proceed without signing briefs, serving up a regular, public reminder of how fraught the case has become internally. The department might also choose to lay out more detailed reasons for wanting the attorneys off in a subsequent request.
New York Attorney General Letitia James took a tacit swipe at Trump in reacting to the ruling.  “Despite the president attempting to fire his lawyers, this is not an episode of ‘The Apprentice.’ Judge Furman denied his request and required the administration to comply with the rules regarding substitution of counsel, ” said James, in a reference to Trump’s onetime television show.
Justin Levitt, an election law professor at Loyola Law School who was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division from 2015 to 2017, said he had never seen the department swap out an entire team in the middle of litigating a case.
The move was particularly odd given that the previous team was composed of experts in administrative procedure who were steeped in the details of the census litigation, he said. The new team, pulled together from the department’s consumer protection, civil fraud, and office of immigration litigation components, is “a truly random assortment,” he said.
Intensifying the political battle, House Democrats threatened to block funding for government efforts to ask about citizenship status as the White House continued to ponder an executive order to force the issue. 
“I have no intention of allowing this flagrant waste of money,” Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), who leads the House panel overseeing funding for the Commerce and Justice departments, said in a statement. “I once again urge the Trump administration to give up this fight and allow for a depoliticized and accurate census, as we always have.”
A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee confirmed Democrats would seek to block taxpayer money from funding any efforts by the Trump administration to ask about citizenship in next year’s survey “if the issue has not been rendered moot by the courts.”

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Trump's Warped and Dangerous View of America

Personally, I have never fully bought into the American exceptionalism myth.  Truth be told, throughout history, various nations have viewed themselves as exceptional and special: Great Britain, France, Russia, ancient Rome - the list goes on and on. That said, America has been unique in that its better angels have relied on concepts and ideals that more defined the nation than its ethnic make up or one prevailing culture.  At least until now in the era of Donald Trump and his racist and religious extremist base.  To Trump and his followers, it is all about skin color and one's ancestral origin.  Those of white European ancestry count while everyone else does not. As a prior post noted, evangelical Christians are all on board with this limiting view of who are "real Americans" and "leaders" like James Dobson and Tony Perkins are preaching it to the hapless followers who can only see common humanity in those that look like them and hold the same archaic and exclusionary religious beliefs.  Michael Gerson, a conservative who in my view, like many never Trumpers, was far too slow in condemning the racist trajectory that the Republican Party began to follow years ago now, laments what Trump's view of America means for the country and the future in a column in the Washington Post.  Here are highlights:
The celebration of American independence is supposed to be a unifying national ritual. But we are a country with profound differences over the meaning of nationhood itself.
People in more typical countries — such as Belgium, Japan and Russia — are attached primarily to a unique piece of earth, a unique language, a unique culture and (perhaps) a unique ethnicity. Their celebration of nationhood is the celebration of particularity. One may become a naturalized citizen of such a country, but it is less clear what it means to become Belgian, Japanese or Russian. If possible, it would require total immersion in national distinctiveness.
This is how the current U.S. president appears to view his native land. President Trump’s Fourth of July remarks did make reference to the abstract promises of the Declaration of Independence, but he mainly praised his nation as a place and a power. . . He talked about the nation’s military victories, but not much about the nation’s character. He seems to love America because it is his country and a powerful country, but not because it is a country with a calling.
Contrast this with the national story told by Ronald Reagan or Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy or George W. Bush. American ideals — while growing out of a specific culture — are transcendent and universal. . . . It wins a global competition of ideals because it accords most closely with the durable dreams of humanity for liberty and justice.
This differing emphasis has dramatic implications. If the United States is primarily a normal nation, united by a common culture, then it is diluted by outsiders and weakened by diversity. In this circumstance, cultural differences lead inexorably to conflict and disunity. A nation defined primarily by culture or ethnicity is a fortress to be defended.
“America has never been united by blood or birth or soil,” said George W. Bush in his first inaugural address. “We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.”
And if our main source of national unity is cultural, then the composition of America’s foreign-born population would matter greatly. According to Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Trump expressed disdain for immigrants from countries such as Haiti and said, “We should have more people from places like Norway.” It is difficult to separate such statements from their racial context. In this view, a national culture largely shaped by white European migrants is better carried forward by white European migrants.
This conception of nationhood can descend quickly into dehumanization. If Hispanic migrants are defined as a threat to national security and national identity, then it becomes easier to separate crying children from their parents. It becomes easier to store migrants in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions. And it becomes easier — following the tragic drowning of a father and daughter trying to cross the Rio Grande — to blame migrants for their own desperation.
A broader definition of American identity does not require the decriminalization of all border crossings, or the abolition of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. It does require the construction of a humane asylum system that treats oppressed and frightened people with respect. It forbids the dehumanization or cruel treatment of migrants under any circumstance. And it embodies the generosity of spirit on which American greatness depends.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, July 08, 2019

The Parallels Between Evangelicals and Pro-Nazi German Christians

While there are surely many good evangelical Christians in America, far too many are remaining silent and allowing themselves to be defined by the likes of Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell, Jr., who not only are all in for Donald Trump, but are embracing his racist policies with enthusiasm and, more dangerously, legitimizing human rights abuse in the eyes of their gullible and racist followers.  A piece in Sojourners looks at the dangerous rhetoric of James Dobson which disturbingly parallels that of German pastors and theologians in Hitler's Third Reich.  
The ultimate problem is that these supposed "leaders" are racists - especially Tony Perkins for Family Research Council, a certified hate group - and their anti-immigrant animus is ultimately due to one factor: the immigrants at America's southern border have brown, not white, skin. Evangelicals who remain silent and fail to condemn such rhetoric in the end become complicit in the horrors that it legitimizes.   They will become no better than their counterparts in Germany 80 years ago. Here are column highlights:

Growing up in conservative evangelical churches in North Carolina, the name of Dr. James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, were regularly cited by my pastors as authorities on what they considered the most pressing social issues. Dobson remains influential and, although he has not led Focus on the Family for 15 years, his latest organization, Family Talk, focuses on “marriage, parenthood, evangelism, and the sanctity of human life and encouraging righteousness in the culture.” . . . which is why his rhetoric concerning immigrants in his July 2019 newsletter is so disturbing.
The characterization of the men, women, and children in the camps includes several troubling phrases. They are described as carriers of “lice, scabies, and other diseases”; they sit silently with “plaintive eyes;” they are from “the lowest rung of many societies.” The most alarming rhetoric occurs in the closing paragraph:
What I’ve told you is only a glimpse of what is occurring on the nation’s border. I don’t know what it will take to change the circumstances. I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. . . . Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. . . . we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.
The closing phrase is ambiguous. It won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen. Is Dobson referring to consequences for the U.S. if the problem is not solved? Is he describing the inevitable consequences migrants face at the U.S.-Mexico border, where they are placed into camps by border patrol agents? Or, is he suggesting there are worse consequences to come for those who are crossing the border or in detention?
As a student of the history of biblical interpretation, the rhetoric employed by Dobson and other evangelical leaders is frighteningly similar to that of German pastors and theologians in the Third Reich. It appears that Christians have either forgotten or are ignoring the dark history of Christianity’s marriage to partisan politics and nationalist agendas.
Comparing current figures and events with Nazi Germany is fraught with difficulties, but the similarities in the language and dehumanization of a people group from a leader within Christianity are too obvious to ignore. I am not saying anyone is a Nazi; however, Dobson’s rhetoric of xenophobia and nationalism in combination with Christianity is not unlike Christian pastors who supported the Nazi Party.
The closing paragraph of Dobson’s newsletter reminds me of a 1933 book by the German theologian Gerhard Kittel. The problem of the Jews living in Germany was, according to Kittel, based on the fact that they are a people perpetually in a foreign land and thus, as foreigners, they have brought decadence to Germany. In an effort to solve this “problem” from a Christian theological perspective, Kittel offers four possible solutions: 1) Extermination (which he rejects on practical, rather than moral grounds); 2) Deportation (which he also considers impractical on political grounds); 3) Assimilation (an idea abhorrent to Kittel); or 4) Separation (the only possible solution).
By advocating for the separation of the Jews in order to protect the German way of life, Kittel and other Christians were able to support the cruel and inhumane policies of the Nazi Party. They considered it their Christian duty to preserve their German way of life. Kittel even warned of becoming soft toward the Jews. Assimilation was the worst possible solution, further infecting the German culture, and was to be avoided at all costs, even if the cost was the loss of empathy and humanity. There is simply no other place to ‘house’ them.
The rhetoric of evangelicals like Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr. or [Franklin] Jack Graham, legitimizes the dehumanizing policies of the Trump administration at the border in the name of protecting their version of American “culture.” The characterization of migrants at the border as disease-carriers, criminals, swindlers, and uneducated provides further legitimization that these are the type of people that American culture must be protected from. Thus, the policy of family separation is no longer inhumane or immoral, but, according to Dobson, the only practical solution. Evangelical Christianity has sided with the oppressor, not the oppressed.
Dobson’s views on immigration are based on his militarized evangelical masculinity. White, American, evangelical men are to protect family values at all costs. Migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador are perceived as a threat to these “family values.” The violence committed against these people is justified because the men at the border are assumed to be “hardened criminals and drug runners,” or even terrorists.
During this period in American history, Christians do well to remember the history of the church during the Nazi era and avoid the mistakes they made. Vocal supporters of the Nazis from Christian thinkers like Kittel, Walter Grundmann, or Emmanual Hirsch, are condemned from all sides for their support of the brutal treatment of the Jews.
The atrocities committed against asylum seekers are well-known and new stories are being published daily documenting the horrors of life in the camps. A recent ProPublica story uncovered a Facebook group of Border Patrol agents and documented their vile jokes about Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Valeria, who drowned in an attempt to cross the Rio Grande. Christians who see no alternatives to putting people into camps, not only lack political and theological imagination, they make these policies, behaviors, and language theologically permissible.
One can only hope decent Christians will rise up and oppose these policies and deliberate acts of cruelty. Meanwhile, one can also hope that Dobson and those like him will accelerate the extinction of evangelical Christianity in America. 

More Monday Male Beauty

Mohammed bin Salman: America's New Saddam Hussein

Maddeningly, America rarely seems to learn from past mistakes and seems doomed to repeat past fiascoes.  The Vietnam War should have been a start warning for the USA not to launch the Iraq War, yet war mongers like Dick Cheney - who had avoided service in Vietnam himself - blindly pushed the hapless George W. Bush to launch yet another disastrous war that has squandered trillions of dollars and cost countless lives not to mention setting the stage for the disaster that is today's Middle East.  A column in the Washington Post looks at another disaster that the USA and most western nations are repeating and draws the parallels between the West's earl support of Saddam Hussein and Saudia Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman.  Simply having a perceived common enemy does NOT make one your ally, especially if that alliance requires deliberate blindness to human rights abuses and atrocities. Today's supposed expediency sets the stage for tomorrow's nightmare.  Here are column highlights:

Once upon a time, there was a brutal and reckless dictator of an oil-rich Arab country who, despite his well-documented excesses, was stroked and supported by the United States and other Western governments. His crimes were terrible, went the rationale, but he was modernizing his country and he was holding the line against Islamist jihadism and Iran. Anyway, there was probably no alternative.
The ruler heard that message. He concluded that, as long as he kept supplying oil and opposing Iran, he was free to butcher his opponents and bully his neighbors.
His name, of course, was Saddam Hussein. The bet made on him by the United States and its allies directly led to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and from there to the “endless wars” in the Middle East that are now almost universally bemoaned by the West’s foreign policy establishment.
And yet, 30 years later, those mandarins and the politicians they report to are blindly repeating the mistake. They are saying they abhor the blatant crimes of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including the murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the torture and imprisonment of women seeking greater rights. They see his bombing campaign in Yemen as a war-crime-ridden disaster.
Yet, at the summit of the Group of 20 in Osaka, Japan, a week ago, they cheerfully clustered around him. Not just President Trump but also prime ministers and presidents from the big European democracies. And not just them but also the leaders of India, South Korea and Japan, all of whom have received Mohammed bin Salman warmly in the past six months.
Ask them why, and you get an all-too-familiar response: The crown prince, who is also known as MBS, is the best chance for modernization in Saudi Arabia. He’s fighting the Islamist extremists, and he’s allied with us and with Israel against Iran. The alternatives to him are worse.
[U.N. special investigator] Callamard conducted a five-month investigation into Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October. On June 19, Callamard released a powerful report making the case that “Mr. Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia responsible” — and that Mohammed bin Salman was almost certainly complicit in the operation and in its subsequent coverup.
Callamard’s report called for a halt to the closed Saudi trial of 11 lower-level operatives blamed for the murder, and for an independent investigation by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, or the FBI. The report also called for sanctions to be imposed on Mohammed bin Salman and his foreign assets “until and unless evidence is provided and corroborated that he carries no responsibility for this execution.”
At the G-20 summit, Trump met Mohammed bin Salman for breakfast and declared he was doing “a spectacular job.” Later, [Trump] the president answered a question about Khashoggi by saying there was no “finger directly” pointing at the crown prince — though both Callamard’s report and a CIA assessment have done just that.
Trump notwithstanding, she is counting on justice to come from the United States. “I think this is the only place where political accountability is going to work,” she said during a meeting at The Post.
There is still some hope of that: Legislation pending in the House would require the director of national intelligence to report on those responsible for the Khashoggi murder, and would require a visa ban to be applied to them. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to consider other bills this week. But as long as Trump is president, Mohammed bin Salman is unlikely to face direct U.S. sanction . . .
Like Saddam Hussein before him, Mohammed bin Salman has concluded that he is immune. Women he ordered tortured are still in prison. His planes are still bombing Yemen. And he is taking the first steps toward acquiring nuclear weapons. Because Western governments do not stop him now, they will have to do it later — when the cost is likely to be far higher.
Those who do not know history - or, in this case, who choose to ignore it - are doomed to repeat it, often with even worse consequences down the road.  Saudi Arabia is NOT America's ally and MBS is no friend to decent moral people.