Friday, September 06, 2019

Let's Talk Honestly About America's Gun Crisis

As regular readers know, I am a strong advocate of drastic changes to America's insane gun laws.  No other advanced nation has the number of guns in civilian hands and no other advanced nation has the gun violence and carnage seen regularly in America.  America is exceptional alright, and not in a good way. Indeed, America's inundation with guns is nothing less than a public health crisis which requires drastic action to address.  While in Charlottesville recently, Beto O'Rourke (family members met him) spoke honestly about the extent of the problem and what needs to be done to address it.  A column in the New York Times looks at O'Rourke's statements and the need to implement actions that will challenge the lies disseminated by the NRA and gun manufacturers and the politicians - mainly Republicans - who parrot the lies.  Here are column excerpts:

Beto O’Rourke has easily emerged as my favorite presidential candidate on the issue of gun control. 
I long ago tired of hearing politicians who are supposed to be in favor of smarter gun laws and reducing American gun deaths and injuries pull their punches so as not to upset the gun lobby and gun lobbyists.
Among other things, O’Rourke’s “gun safety” plan includes declaring gun violence a public health emergency, creating a national gun licensing system and registry, requiring universal background checks, implementing red flag laws and banning “the manufacturing, sale and possession of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”
Other candidates agree with some of these proposals, and others have additional ones, but I like the full-throated way O’Rourke responds to being challenged on this front.
This week in Charlottesville, a reporter asked O’Rourke, “How do you address the fears that the government is going to take away those assault rifles — if you are talking about buybacks and banning?”
O’Rourke didn’t skip a beat: “I want to be really clear, that that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Americans who own AR-15s, AK-47s, will have to sell them to the government. We’re not going to allow them to stay on our streets, to show up in our communities.”
This was not the first time O’Rourke’s buyback plan has been challenged. Two weeks ago, the USA Today editorial board complained, “Anything smacking of confiscation would breathe life and energy into the not-from-my-cold-dead-hands crowd, endangering law enforcement and likely putting a full stop to any further gun safety measures.”
When asked this week on CNN about that criticism, O’Rourke responded, “This triangulation, calculation, poll-testing every move — that’s what got us here in the first place.”
Finally, a breath of fresh air. . . . we have to start taking deliberate and thoughtful action to deal with this problem. For instance, a mandatory buyback could be met with a constitutional challenge. A voluntary buyback might be most doable.
The scope of the problem is enormous.
According to a Washington Post report in 2018: “There are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, or enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over.”
Furthermore, The New York Times reported in December:
“There were 39,773 gun deaths in 2017, up by more than 1,000 from the year before. Nearly two-thirds were suicides. It was the largest yearly total on record in the C.D.C.’s electronic database, which goes back 50 years, and reflects the sheer number of lives lost.”
We must reduce the overall number of guns in the population, especially those considered weapons of war; we must shrink the market desire for new weapons; and we must set a course to not only pass a new law in a moment but build in the expectation that federal legislation around guns will be the never-ending, ever-adjusting reality.
People interested in reducing gun violence in America have to stop lying about what that would require. Opponents of new gun legislation will accuse its supporters of seeking the worse no matter what they do.
The point is to see a reduction in all shootings. And that argument actually reinforces a need to aggressively fund studies to figure out which measures would work best.
They are right when they say that restrictions on new purchases would place a burden on responsible gun owners — the overwhelming majority of gun owners — when only a tiny fraction participate in shootings. To that I say: AND?! Nearly 40,000 people in 2017 were killed by guns in this country. If a reduction in that number comes with more red tape for you, then so be it.
This is a public health crisis, as O’Rourke points out, and anything we can do to prevent guns from being used in a crime, to prevent a child from accidentally shooting a sibling, to prevent a depressed person from putting a barrel in his or her mouth, must be a consuming priority for all of us.
Even in the radical District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court decision in 2008 that established the right to bear arms as an individual right, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion:
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
Guns can be effectively and constitutionally regulated in this country. People who want to do so should be upfront and honest about how far they truly hope to go in that regard.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Trump's Mental Illness in Plain View

Hurricane Dorian is tearing up much of the southeast coast of the United States and what is Donald Trump obsessing over?  (1) Being caught in a false statement last week that Dorian posed a threat to Alabama and using a hand altered map to try to claim his statement was true, and (2) trashing actress Debra Messing who, in my view, made an accurate statement expressing support for a church sign that claimed "a black vote for Trump is mental illness."  If I were Messing, I would not have apologized. 

Any normal and sane occupant of the White House would be focused on the storm and dangers to citizens up and down the Atlantic coast.  But not Trump, a malignant narcissist who can never focus on anything or anyone other than himself and his insatiable ego.   The circus reminds me of sitting with Ralph Northam as he defended his statement to the Washington Post that Trump is mentally ill and how he reminded the reporter that as a neurologist, he did know a think or two about mental illness.


Thursday, September 05, 2019

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Democrats Poised to Dominate Next Round of Redistricting

Terry McAuliffe who is working to win Democrat control
of the Virginia General Assembly.
One can be hopefully optimistic that Democrats have finally awakened to the reality that state level elections matter just as much as presidential elections.  It is maddening that Democrat voter turnout soars in presidential election years yet historically stayed home and given away the farm the the Republican Party fueled by extremists and zealots. A piece in Politico looks at how Democrats may be poised to do unto Republicans what the GOP did in 2010.  Ultimately, it is STATE elections that determine congressional district maps, so every state house seat matters.  Now, with its off year elections, Virginia is garnering lots of attention and money to push the Democrat effort to take control of the Virginia General Assembly to not only control redistricting but to also pass common sense, progressive legislation that has been killed by Republicans, particularly in the House of Delegates.  Here are highlights from Politico:

Democrats were caught napping in the 2010 election ahead of the last round of redistricting — and it cost them control of Congress for nearly a decade.
Now Republicans are warning the same thing could happen to them.
Senior Republicans concede they’re at risk of losing dozens of state-level elections that will determine who wields power over the post-2020 congressional map — and potentially which party controls the chamber for the following 10 years. While Republicans are establishing a massive national infrastructure devoted to reelecting President Donald Trump and winning congressional majorities, party officials say the state legislative races are being overlooked. The trepidation comes as an array of well-funded Democratic groups — including one with the backing of former President Barack Obama and ex-Attorney General Eric Holder — are flooding cash into Virginia, a key redistricting battleground that's holding state legislative elections this fall.
The GOP's redistricting troubles represent a complete turnabout for the party. In the run-up to the 2010 election, Chambers’ group outspent its Democratic counterpart nearly 3-to-1, helping Republicans net nearly 700 seats and flip control of 20 legislative bodies. The party that year benefited from a broad backlash against Obama's first years in office, particularly his health care overhaul.
Republicans used their control of line-drawing to solidify and protect their newly won House majority, which remained intact through 2018.
This time around, it’s Democrats who are playing big. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee outraised the RSLC during the first half of 2019. And unlike a decade ago, Democrats are getting help from a galaxy of outside groups and allies, especially Obama.
Others warn that overlooking statehouse elections could have long-lasting implications for the party, which was wiped out in 2018 legislative elections.
The Democratic deluge is being felt most immediately in Virginia, where Republicans are trying to defend one-seat majorities in both legislative chambers. Democrats out-raised Republicans during the second fundraising quarter, and a handful of outside liberal groups, including the Michael Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and the Tom Steyer-funded NextGen America, have pledged to spend more than $5.5 million combined ahead of the November contests.
Other Democratic heavyweights are getting involved, too. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a former national party chairman and a fundraising powerhouse, has steered $400,000 to Virginia candidates through his political action committee.
Some Democrats say the attention to down-ballot races reflects lessons the party learned after two devastating losses: In 2016, when it became clear it isn’t enough to just play in presidential elections, and in 2010, when they were devastated in state-level races.

Personally, I hope it is the GOP that suffers devastating losses both in November, 2019, and in November, 2020. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Democrats Bet Big on Health Care to Win Virginia Statehouse

Virginia Capitol.

Election day in Virginia's elections that will determine which party controls the Virginia General Assembly is two months from tomorrow and Democrats are stressing that they are the protectors of health care in Virginia as part of their campaign to win control of the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.  Meanwhile, many Republicans (Think Del. Chris Jones -R) are lying about their true voting record on Medicaid expansion and are hoping voters have amnesia.  Jones voted four (4) times against Medicaid expansion and only voted for expansion after the Democrat wave in 2017 (you'd never know this from his TV ads that claim he was a "champion" for expansion - he's about as big of a liar as Trump, in my opinion).  The other issue that Democrats will likely stress is the GOP self-prostitution to the gun industry.  A piece in Politico looks at the growing intensity of the lead up to ballots being cast on November 5, 2019.  Here are article highlights:
Virginia Democrats are betting health care will help them take control of the state legislature in November, following their rout of Republicans two years ago that nearly eliminated the GOP’s hold on the Virginia statehouse.
Democrats are already pouring tens of thousands of dollars into ads targeting the health care records of GOP incumbents in newly competitive races, hoping to capitalize on recently redrawn legislative districts seen as more favorable to Democrats. And new polling data says health care ranks high for potential voters.
State lawmakers will face voters for the first time since Virginia adopted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in an election that will test whether some of the same pro-Obamacare messaging can work again. The off-year election will be watched closely as a harbinger for 2020, after Virginia’s last statewide elections forecast the mid-term blue wave . . . . Another health care-fueled Democratic victory in Virginia this fall could be a worrying sign for President Donald Trump, who has sought to seize an advantage on health care since failing to replace Obamacare.
Both of Virginia's legislative chambers are up for grabs this fall, with Republicans holding just a razor-thin majority in each chamber. A full Democratic takeover could usher in the most liberal government in Virginia history and empower the party to redraw electoral maps for the state legislature and congressional seats in 2021.
[A] Roanoke College poll last week showed health care ranked as a top issue for potential voters, narrowly behind education and the economy. The poll also showed that Democrats had a slight advantage over Republicans on a generic ballot. The fight for Medicaid expansion, as well as backlash to Trump amid the state’s leftward shift, drove Gov. Ralph Northam’s successful 2017 campaign and helped Democrats nearly retake control of the Virginia House of Delegates. In a replay of that strategy, Democrats are reminding voters that Virginia Republicans, including Cox and Jones, had long opposed Medicaid expansion, which has covered more than 300,000 low-income Virginians since enrollment started last November, and they contend only Democrats can be trusted to preserve the program. In Virginia, though, health care will compete for attention with other high-profile issues Democrats and outside groups will lean on heavily to drive turnout in an off-year election. That includes a push for stricter gun laws after 12 people were killed during an attack in Virginia Beach this May. Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University, said guns and health care are the two biggest issues for voters in competitive districts Virginia Democrats are trying to flip in November.

A Democrat takeover would mean that Virginia finally moves into the 21st century and that legislation long blocked by the Virginia GOP will see likely passage.  If you live in Virginia, make sure you are registered to vote and go out and vote a straight Democrat ticket in November. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Hurricanes Are Getting Worse

As Hurricane Dorian continues its slow move up the east coast, nerves are fraying from Florida northward into the Hampton Roads area.  WAVY TV is reporting as follows this morning:

Tuesday night, the Commander of the U.S. 2nd Fleet said U.S. Navy ships in the Hampton Roads area will begin to leave on Wednesday under a “Sortie Condition Alpha.” “Based on the current track of the storm, we made the decision to begin to sortie our Hampton Roads-based ships and aircraft tomorrow,” said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet. “This allows time for our assets to transit safely out of the path of the storm.”

As long time residents know, this is never an encouraging sign, especially with military leaders concerned about winds in excess of 50 knots.  The bigger issue, however, is that hurricanes are getting stronger and more intense.  Why?  Climate change, a term members of the Republican Party resists even uttering.  A column in the New York Times makes the case that it is insanity to talk about hurricanes without acknowledging what climate changes is doing to the intensity of storms.  Here are column excerpts:
The frequency of severe hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean has roughly doubled over the last two decades, and climate change appears to be the reason. Yet much of the conversation about Hurricane Dorian — including most media coverage — ignores climate change.
That’s a mistake. It’s akin to talking about lung cancer and being afraid to mention smoking, or talking about traffic deaths and being afraid to talk about drunken driving.
Climate change, likewise, doesn’t cause any one hurricane on its own, but it’s central to the story of the storms that are increasingly battering the Atlantic. Why are we pretending otherwise?
For more: I find the National Climate Assessment reports — cautious documents, written by a federal panel of scientists — to be helpful in understanding the role that climate change does (and doesn’t) play in influencing the weather. Those reports explain that the warming of the planet does not appear to be increasing the total number of hurricanes. But it does seem to be making those storms stronger and causing them to produce much more rain.
Warmer air and seawater cause storms “to rapidly reach and maintain very high intensity,” the scientists have written. Over the last few years, hurricane activity has been “anomalous and, in one case, unprecedented.”
Dorian became a Category 4 hurricane on Friday, before reaching Category 5 — the most severe designation — over the weekend and then falling back to Category 4 on Monday. Both Categories 4 and 5 qualify a hurricane as severe, and Dorian is the first Atlantic storm to reach that status this year. The heart of hurricane season often lasts from August to October.
From the 1960s through the 1990s, a typical year had only one severe hurricane. In this century, the average number has roughly doubled, . . . . And because global warming is intensifying, scientists expect the number of extreme storms to continue rising.

It's impossible to set responsible policies if one refuses to admit the reality of what is happening.  Yet the GOP continues to refuse to accept scientific fact. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Most Canadians Are Now Better Off Than Most Americans

While the malignant individual in the White House bloviates about "making America great again" and tells his knuckle dragging supporters that he will bring back their economic hopes, a piece in Bloomberg reports that other than America's obscenely rich very wealthy, Canadians are better off economically than their American counterparts (seemingly without factoring the fact that Canadians have a national healthcare system).   Moreover, the piece notes that a number of other advanced nations are seeing their citizens pulling ahead of their American counterparts.  The net take away?  The GOP's version of America's vulture capitalism is serving the very rich but failing the majority of Americans.  Here are article excerpts:

Everybody knows that the U.S. version of capitalism is rougher and tougher than is the norm in other affluent countries. The rich are richer here, the poor poorer and the welfare state less exhaustive. Not surprisingly, the U.S. scores poorly versus other rich nations in terms of health outcomes, education levels and other such metrics.
Defenders of the U.S. approach can point, though, to the fact that per-capita gross domestic product has remained higher in the U.S. than in all but a few small nations with unique characteristics (Qatar, Luxembourg, Singapore, Switzerland, Norway, etc.) — so much higher that even with the less-equal income distribution here, most Americans continue to have higher incomes than their peers in other large, affluent countries.
Times may be changing, though, and international income comparisons are definitely getting more precise. Five years ago, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy of the New York Times showed using numbers from the Luxembourg Income Study Database that the median income in Canada had caught up with that of the U.S. as of 2010, and speculated that Canada had probably passed the U.S. since.
Now there’s more evidence. A report released this summer by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, an Ottawa nonprofit, contends that as of 2016 Canada had in fact pulled ahead of the U.S. in median household income, with a $59,438 to $58,849 advantage in U.S. dollars . . . . The study also compares incomes in every percentile of the income distribution, and finds that up through the 56th percentile Canadians are better off than their U.S. counterparts.
U.S. residents at the top of the income distribution make a lot more than Canadians at the top of the distribution, and Canadians at the bottom make a lot more than their south-of-the-border peers. In the middle of the distribution the income differences are much smaller, but the Canadians have seized the advantage.
Finally, and this is of course totally anecdotal, but I think most Americans who have visited Canada lately would attest that it feels like a more broadly affluent place than the U.S. does. That is, the claim that most Canadians are more prosperous than most Americans is not patently unreasonable.
It’s not just in Canada that those in the middle of the income distribution have been gaining on their American peers. From 1990 through 2018, according to the World Bank, per-capita real gross domestic product grew at the same 1.5% annual rate in the U.S., the European Union and the OECD, which counts 36 affluent democracies on five continents as members. In other words, the rough-and-tough U.S. approach to capitalism hasn’t delivered faster per-capita growth, and istribution, that means Americans in the middle and the bottom have been losing gbecause growth in the U.S. has been concentrated at the very top of the income dround to their counterparts in other countries.
The bottom line: When it comes to improving the lives of the middle class, other rich countries have been doing a better job than the United States.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Could Dorian Be a Disaster for North Carolina?

click image to enlarge.

Like Virginia Republicans who talk about "repetitive flooding" rather than rising sea levels and climate change , North Carolina Republicans are climate change deniers and, as a result, a number of bad policy decisions have been made as scientific and climate experts are ignored.   With Hurricane Dorian likely to make landfall based on the latest track somewhere at the southern end of the Outer Banks, a piece in Slate argues the North Carolina GOP may have set the state up for disaster. Now, with a Democrat in the governor's mansion, some efforts are being made to bring the state's policies into line with scientific reality.  That said, bad decisions of the past by Governor Roy Cooper's predecessor and the GOP controlled legislature cannot be magically undone.  Meanwhile, Dorian may soon visit that state.  Here are article highlights: 
Puerto Rico has escaped the worst of Hurricane Dorian. And it looks like Florida might, too: On Saturday morning, the storm again shifted paths, and it appears likely to skirt Florida’s eastern coast instead of making a direct hit. That doesn’t mean the danger is over for Florida, and it does put the rest of the southeastern coast, especially Georgia and the Carolinas, in harm’s way sometime next week. South Carolina has already declared a state of emergency.
The stakes have grown much higher when a hurricane threatens to hit the coast. There are a lot of reasons for this. As I explained two years ago, “Some are psychological, others are practical, and many are self-inflicted.” Climate change is part of the problem, with warmer temperatures fueling deadlier, wetter storms. Rising sea levels increase the chances of coastal flooding. But it’s also the blind spots that North Carolina politicians have developed on climate change. While seas are rising, these lawmakers have encouraged building in low-lying areas, and in some cases discouraged state law from reflecting scientific realities.
The Carolinas are flanked by low-lying narrow barrier islands that have seen housing and tourist development during the past few decades “in places where it probably should not have been,” according to the Associated Press. Much of that development has been subsidized by a federal flood insurance program that shelled out $1.5 billion to cover flood claims in two dozen coastal counties even before Hurricane Florence struck. Last year, when Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, it dealt the region $24 billion in damages and 53 deaths. The floodwaters breached hog lagoons and coal ash pits and threatened Superfund sites.
Unwise development isn’t the only problem. As in Florida, North Carolina politicians have also allowed climate change denial to dictate their decision-making.
In 2010, a panel of scientists advising the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission, which guides the state’s coastal development, issued a report projecting 39 inches of sea-level rise by the end of the century. The report triggered political backlash from developers and the Republican-controlled legislature, which preferred that the commission rely only on historical data. The state ended up passing a law requiring a broader range of projections to dilute findings that sea level rise would accelerate. Newer research has found that the sea level is rising even faster along the southeastern coast than global averages. Instead of considering the best science out there, the governor-appointed commission ultimately limited the science panel’s projections to 30 years into the future.
North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, elected in 2017, has begun to loosen these restrictions on how development plans incorporate the latest science. Last year, a month after Florence struck, Cooper issued an executive order to create an interagency climate change council.  In late September, the Coastal Resources Commission will look at updating the 30-year limit placed on the science advisory panel as it prepares a five-year update to its 2015 report, according to the News and Observer.
Of course, by late September, Dorian may have already come for a visit.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Trump Accelerates Despoiling of Public Lands

Clear cut logging in the Tongass National Forest.
The national park and forest system was established to protect public lands for future generations and to keep areas "forever wild."  The Trump/Pence regime could care less about this goal as it increasingly allows big business to clear cut forests and expand oil and gas exploration into public lands to benefit big business.  Like everything else the regime does, it's an attitude of "fu*k the general public."  Disturbingly, the regime supports Dominion Energy's desire to build a pipeline across the Appalachian Trial here in Virginia. Ironically, what the regime is allow hearkens back to the robber baron days of the Gilded Age which first prompted Theodore Roosevelt to propose establishing the national park system which became a reality in 1916.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the destruction of national treasures under the Trump/Pence regime while another in Politico looks at Dominion Energy's quest to destroy a section of the Appalachian Trail.  Trump destroys everything his regime touches.  First highlights from the Times piece: 
The tug-of-war over America’s public lands between those who would protect them for future generations and those who would exploit them for immediate commercial gain has a long history. The two Roosevelts, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were mostly sympathetic to the cause of conservation, Ronald Reagan and the second George Bush decidedly less so. But for sheer hostility to environmental values, Donald Trump has no equal.
Mr. Trump arrived in the White House with little interest in conservation, his idea of nature framed largely by his golf courses. He was, to boot, almost pathologically dedicated to obliterating anything President Obama had done to reduce global warming gases, preserve open space and help endangered species.
This translated into a simple operating strategy: Get rid of things the fossil fuel industry didn’t like and rubber-stamp the stuff it wanted.
Hence also the gifts over the last two years to mining and oil and gas interests of vast areas previously shielded from exploration — two national monuments in Utah, millions of acres reserved for the threatened sage grouse, much of the outer continental shelf and the long-protected coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In the shadow of these big ticket items, Mr. Trump has presided over several less visible travesties. We offer three. One is his push to open the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to logging. The others are his efforts to revive two potentially destructive mining projects — one near Alaska’s Bristol Bay, the other near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.
In all three cases, Mr. Trump has breathed new life into bad ideas thought to be dead and buried or getting there. Together they demonstrate again how Mr. Trump, when faced with a choice between commerce and conservation, reflexively sides with the former, even when the economic case for conservation is strong.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that [Trump] the president has ordered Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who oversees the Forest Service, to draw up a plan that would wipe out protections for all of the 9.5 million acres of roadless forest protected nearly 20 years ago.
It is not clear why Mr. Trump is doing this, apart from wanting to make Alaska’s Republican leaders happy. The economic gains would be uncertain at best; the timber industry has been in steep decline for years, whereas renewed large-scale logging would inflict damage on two big moneymakers, tourism and the seafood industry.
In 2010, the Obama administration restricted oil drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, America’s richest salmon fishery and the heart of a multibillion dollar regional fishing industry. Yet one huge threat to this extraordinary ecosystem remained: a proposed gold and copper operation known as the Pebble Mine that its backers claimed would add 1,000 jobs to Alaska’s economy . . . .
The Obama Environmental Protection Agency had its doubts, and in 2011 began a series of studies. The preliminary findings were worrisome: Building a big operation like Pebble would destroy streams and wetlands, but the biggest threat was the catastrophic failure of the huge man-made reservoirs known as “tailing ponds” where mining companies typically store toxic acids, metals and other mining wastes. If those were breached somehow, spawning streams would be widely polluted. . . . . the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries.”

As in Alaska, tailing ponds that hold mining wastes are at the center of a fierce dispute in Minnesota over a proposed copper and nickel mine that would be built on national forest lands adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a spectacular wilderness of more than a million acres and more than a thousand lakes. . . . Also as in Alaska, the environmental community is terrified that leakage from the tailing ponds would poison streams that flow into the Boundary Waters. Walter Mondale, the former vice president and senator, in a Times Op-Ed piece three years ago, called such an outcome “catastrophic.”
The campaign to stop the mine found a sympathetic ear in the Obama administration’s Interior Department, which decided not to renew two expired leases held by a Chilean-owned company, Twin Metals Minnesota. . . . In 2018, Mr. Trump’s Interior Department reinstated the leases, while Mr. Perdue, at the Forest Service, abruptly canceled what he had promised would be an exhaustive study of the perils of mining on federal lands next to Boundary Waters.

Note that the mining company in Minnesota is not even an American company. Read the entire piece if you want to be both sickened and infuriated.   

As for the Politico piece and the rush to destroy part of the Appalachian Trail, here are excerpts (NOTE: since this involves FEDERAL permits, Virginia's Northam administration cannot stop the pipeline):  
Dominion Energy wants to run a massive pipeline across America’s treasured Appalachian National Scenic Trail and some of the least developed wildlands remaining in the East. This isn’t just a bad idea, it’s an unprecedented one. Dominion, the Virginia-based power giant that serves customers in 18 states, wants to do something that has never been done in the half century since the iconic hiking path was enshrined in law: force a pipeline across the Appalachian Trail on federal land managed by the Forest Service.
To get its way, the company must persuade lawmakers to overturn a federal court decision and change a law that has protected important parts of the trail for almost 50 years. Congress should say no.
The Appalachian Trail has been one of the jewels of our national park system since its creation in 1968. Every year, it draws millions of visitors, offering the opportunity to explore scenery and solitude from Georgia to Maine. Lands adjacent to the trail also provide important habitat for wildlife and plants. Like the creation of the trail itself, conservation has traditionally transcended politics. As a nation, we have decided to set aside some areas as national parks or designated wilderness and establish an American vision of conservation that resonates around the world. The writer and historian Wallace Stegner called our national parks “absolutely American” and “the best idea we ever had.” But that bipartisan idea is now under threat from an administration working aggressively to undo legal protections for our public lands. One of those threats is Dominion’s irresponsible route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a pipeline that would carve its way across the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway and two national forests. Dominion’s pipeline would permanently affect the trail experience on these protected federal lands, carving up a largely forested mountain landscape with a cleared right-of-way the width of a multi-lane highway.
To achieve its goal, Dominion has courted Trump appointees eager to promote the administration’s energy-at-any-cost agenda. Two years ago, it looked like Dominion might get its way. In January 2018, the Forest Service gave the company a permit to cross the Appalachian Trail on national forest land, but a coalition of conservation groups quickly challenged the decision in federal court. Eleven months later, the court concluded that, under federal law, the Forest Service did not have legal authority to allow the crossing and invalidated the permit. Dominion wants to overturn this court decision in Congress.
The court relied on a federal law known as the Mineral Leasing Act, which since 1973 has prohibited oil and gas pipelines from crossing all units of the national park system, including Appalachian Trail segments on federal land. Almost five decades ago, Congress understood that pipelines presented extraordinary risks—including the effects of heavy construction, spills and explosions—that have no place alongside the natural beauty that our park system protects.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Insanity: Looser Gun Restrictions Went into Effect in Texas Today

Anderson Davis, a 17 month old wounded in the Odessa shootings. 

Two mass shootings have occurred in Texas recently - both involving assault rifles - yet thanks to the Texas Republican Party, as of today laws went into effect today that loosen restrictions on guns and even make it impossible for property owners to restrict invitees and tenants from bringing guns onto their property. Likewise, gun fanatics can now bring guns onto school and church properties.  The Washington Post looks at some of yesterday's victims:
A former math teacher was shot while sitting at a traffic light with his wife and children. A beloved uncle was hit outside the home he had just moved out of. A high school student bled out after leaving a dealership where her brother had just picked up the keys to his new car. . . . The dead ranged from 57 years old to as young as 15, officials said.

The lives of these victims (including the little girl pictured above who was wounded) seemingly means nothing to Republicans despite nauseating and disingenuous statements about "thoughts and prayers." Instead, to these politicians all that matters is pleasing the NRA and the gun manufacturers fro which it is a front organization.  Public safety and the lives of everyday citizens simply do not matter.  One can only wonder when sane Texans are going to say "no more" and vote Republicans out of office.  The Hill looks at this utter insanity that is part of the GOP agenda not only in Texas but across America (the Virginia GOP killed a special session of the Virginia General Assembly in the wake of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach and would not even allow any debate).  Here are article highlights: 
A slate of new Texas laws that loosen regulations for firearms went into effect Sunday after a month in which the state experienced multiple mass shootings. 
The bills, which were passed during the 86th Texas Legislature, ease restrictions surrounding access to guns on school grounds and churches, among other provisions. 
House Bill 1143 says that the Texas Education Code will be updated to "prevent school districts from regulating the manner in which a licensed person's handgun, firearm, or ammunition is stored in their vehicle in a school parking area."
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 535 clarifies that licensed handgun owners will be permitted to carry firearms in places of worship. 
Other legislation loosens restrictions on how many armed school marshals a school district can appoint. House Bill 2363 makes it legal for some foster homes to store firearms and ammunition in a secure place. CNN noted that House Bill 302 also bars homeowners or landlords from preventing tenants from possessing, carrying, transporting or storing a gun on their property.  The National Rifle Association has praised the legislation as "highly successful," local ABC affiliate KSAT 12 reported  

More Sunday Male Beauty

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Extremist Group Endorses GOP Candidates in 13th and 91st House Districts

It's Labor Day weekend and the traditional kickoff of the home stretch for political campaigns in Virginia.  As previously noted, with the entire Virginia General Assembly up for re-election, one would think at first blush that the Republican Party of Virginia would have worked diligently to field sane, somewhat mainstream candidates in order to improve its chance of clinging to control of House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.  Yet at least two of the GOP's candidates are ultra-far right despite their campaign websites' efforts to depict them as moderates.  Indeed, they have both been endorsed by Eagle Forum - a far right group that is anything but mainstream. One of these candidates, Colleen Holcomb is running for the 91st District (i.e., parts of Hampton, Poquoson and York County), continues to be a part of Eagle Forum's Washington D.C., office. The other is Kelly McGinn who is running for the gerrymandered 13th District in the Prince William/Manassas area. 

I have followed Eagle Forum for over twenty years.  The organization is very extreme, and is pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-public education, pro-unregulated home schooling, and would siphon money from public schools to private religious schools, and opposes publicly funded day care and pre-kindergarten programs. Just as disturbing are Eagle Forum's opposition to immigration, support for restrictive voter ID laws, white supremacist overtones, an proposals to restrict the jurisdiction of the federal courts on civil rights issues, and support for a radical definition of "religious freedom" that would allow right wing Christians to exempt themselves from non-discrimination and public accommodation laws.  

Extremist endorsed Kelly McGinn. 
McGinn is an at home mother (not an issue in and of itself), but previously her work experience is quite troubling.  McGinn was on the staff of former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback – a far right extremist – whose subsequent policies as governor of Kansas slashed education spending and wreaked havoc on Kansas’ economy.  Brownback’s policies were in fact so destructive to Kansas, including its public schools and universities, that Kansas, a deep red state, elected Laura Kelly, a Democrat as governor in 2018.  Virginia does not need an extremist back individual who likely shares Brownback’s damaging views in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Extremist activist Colleen Holcomb.
As for Holcomb, she espouses Eagle Form's agenda everywhere except on her campaign website which seeks to dupe voters into falsely believing she is a moderate.  Not only is Holcomb tied to Eagle Forum, but she is a registered to lobbyist in Virginia for the anti-gay, anti-reproductive choice, anti-public education Family Foundation, which among other extreme positions supports requiring women to be given a forced ultrasound prior to having an abortion.  The Family Foundation also supports the “Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit,” which is essentially a voucher program to divert moneys from public schools. 

Back to Holcomb's Eagle Forum ties, Eagle Forum thinks “restricting gun laws devalues our freedoms.” It thinks people on the No Fly List should be allowed to buy guns and teachers should be allowed “to arm themselves while at school.”  Also of note is the fact that two months after failed GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin claimed “in a TV interview …that victims of ‘legitimate rape’ very rarely get pregnant because their bodies prevent them from doing so,” Holcomb campaigned for him.

Eagle Forum supports anti-vaccine extremists.  It is realistic to believe that both McGinn and Holcomb also support this dangerous agenda. 

I urge readers in Virginia to carefully research the candidates running in their districts.  Do not allow yourself to be fooled by disingenuous campaign websites and candidates' hidden agendas. . If you live in the 13th District, vote for McGinn's opponent Danica Roem.  If you live in the 91st District, vote for Martha Mugler.  If your House and Senate districts are not competitive, consider making donations to or volunteering for Democrat candidates in competitive districts.  Virginia does not need more far right extremists in the General Assembly. 

Sunday Morning Male Beauty

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Another "Ex-Gay" Leader Admits Conversion Therapy is a Fraud

While far right groups held a pitifully attended "straight pride" event in Boston (the counter protesters far out numbered the few dozen participants), the far right and Christofascists groups continue to peddle the lie that "conversion therapy" can change one from gay to straight. Why?  Three reasons, in my view: (i) its very lucrative financially to the charlatans who operate the "ministries," (ii) it provides an excuse to oppose LGBT non-discrimination protections, and (iii) it allows proponents to avoid admitting that homosexuality is a normal, god-given characteristic for a certain portion of the population and that their corruption of the Bible is flat out wrong.  Depending on the quack involved, the particular motivation will vary. One thing that has not changed is the continuing cavalcade of former "ex-gay" leaders who are admitting that the programs they lead - sometimes for many years - were and are frauds.  A long piece in the Charleston Post Courier looks at the latest individual to admit that the entire conversion therapy industry is a fraud.  It also looks at who right wing religion pushed him to try to "change," plus the other casualties of these fraudulent programs: the straight spouses these "ex-gays" marry.  Here are excerpts:
McKrae Game is gay.  He was gay when he received counseling from a therapist who assured him he could overcome his same-sex attractions. He was gay when he married a woman and founded what would become one of the nation’s most expansive conversion therapy ministries. He was gay when thousands of people just like him sought his organization’s counsel, all with the goal of erasing the part of themselves Game and his associates preached would send them to hell.
For two decades, he led Hope for Wholeness, a faith-based conversion therapy program in South Carolina’s Upstate. Conversion therapy is a discredited practice intended to suppress or eradicate a person’s LGBTQ identity through counseling or ministry.
In June, Game publicly announced he was gay and severed his ties with the organization. Now, the man once billed as a leading voice in the conversion therapy movement is trying to come to terms with the harm he inflicted while also learning to embrace a world and community he assailed for most of his adult life.
Game is one of many former conversion therapy leaders who have left the movement and come out as LGBTQ.
In 2014, nine founders and leaders from some of the country’s most prominent programs and ministries wrote an open letter calling for a nationwide ban on the practice.
“As former ex-gay leaders, having witnessed the incredible harm done to those who attempted to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, we join together in calling for a ban on conversion therapy,” they wrote in the letter. “It is our firm belief that it is much more productive to support, counsel, and mentor LGBTQ individuals to embrace who they are in order to live happy, well-adjusted lives.”
“Conversion therapy is not just a lie, but it’s very harmful,” Game told The Post and Courier. “Because it’s false advertising.”
Nearly 700,000 LGBTQ-identifying adults have undergone conversion therapy treatments or counseling, according to a 2018 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The various forms of conversion have been tied to emotional and psychological trauma for many, including depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. It’s been condemned by virtually every major medical group in the United States, including the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association.
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws on the books banning the practices on anyone younger than 18. South Carolina is not one of them. Whether or not there’s a ban in place, there’s nothing to prevent a religious organization from offering such counseling.
“I was a religious zealot that hurt people,” Game said in an interview. “People said they attempted suicide over me and the things I said to them. People, I know, are in therapy because of me. Why would I want that to continue?”
Game recently published a written apology to his personal Facebook page in which he called for the dissolution of any conversion therapy practice or ex-gay ministry.  Game said he realizes that for many an apology won’t be enough. And that he’ll likely be apologizing for the rest of his life.
While I never participated in a formal "conversion therapy" program, I tried many of the techniques they advocate.  I never "changed" but I surely experienced increased levels of self-loathing and self-hate, none of which made me a better person or parent to my children.  Yet believing the lie that "change" was possible I married - like Game did - and cheated my former wife from the type of marriage she deserved. She has remarried and I hope she is truly happy. Will she ever forgive me for believing the lie and marrying her?  Probably not. Of course, the proponents of conversion therapy care nothing about the spouses of gays or their children.  All that matters is the money to be made, furthering their political agenda, and/or avoiding the truth about their false faith system.

The Post Courier has another good piece entitled "Taught to Hate Myself" that is  worth a read. Sadly, these fraudulent ministries continue to do severe harm on a daily basis.