Saturday, October 05, 2019

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Is it Legal to Fire Someone for Being Gay?

As long time readers know, I was forced from a law firm years ago for being gay. It has taken years to rebuild my finances, although I will never be in a position equivalent to where I would have been but for the anti-gay discrimination I experienced first hand. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is about to begin its term on October 8, 2019 (the first Monday in October) by hearing arguments in three cases in which the Trump/Pence Department of Justice is arguing that it is perfectly fine and legal to fire individuals for being LGBT.  The Christofascists are cheering this disturbing DOJ position that some are above non-discrimination and public accommodation laws, while decent people ought to be wondering who will be next to be targeted by Christofascists after gays. Ultimately, these religious extremists want to be able to discriminate against anyone who threatens their ignorance based Bronze Age beliefs.  Allowing discrimination based on cherry picked bible passages puts many at risk going forward, including blacks.  Countless lives would be harmed based on nothing than what boils down to ignorance and superstition. A lengthy piece in the Washington Post looks at the cases and what is at stake.  Here are highlights:

Aimee Stephens never saw how her colleagues at work would react to her gender transition. The owner of the funeral home where she worked fired her first.
Gerald Bostock claims everything was fine in his job as a social worker in Georgia until he joined a gay softball league. Then came the pink slip.
For skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, the termination came after the routine way he joked with a woman when the two had been strapped together shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-to-hip for a tandem jump. Something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, I’m gay.”
The three present the Supreme Court with a blockbuster question at the start of its new term: Is it legal to fire someone for being gay or transgender?
The cases will be argued Tuesday.
This is one of the most consequential issues of the term, with more than 70 friend-of-the-court briefs dividing states, religious orders and members of Congress. More than 200 of the nation’s largest employers are supporting the workers.
[G]ay rights leaders say “married on Sunday, fired on Monday” is a possibility in more than half of the United States, where there is no specific protection for gay or transgender workers.The states that prohibit discrimination are not uniform — some protect only gender identity or transgender status, and some differentiate between public and private employment.
The issue for the court is the reach of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, besides protecting against workplace discrimination because of race, also prohibits discrimination “because of sex.”
For 50 years, courts read that to mean only that women could not be treated worse than men, and vice versa, not that discrimination on the basis of sex included LGBTQ individuals. The Trump administration says that is what the Supreme Court should find as well.
That puts the Trump administration at odds with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which decided in 2015 that gay and transgender individuals were federally protected.
Treating a man who is attracted to men differently than a woman who is attracted to men is discrimination, the EEOC reasoned. . . . . Discrimination because of sexual orientation is the same thing, the EEOC said, because it relies on stereotypes about to whom men and women should be attracted.
The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled for Zarda, and said its contrary past decisions on the issue were wrong.
Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann wrote that “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.” (Zarda died in 2014, and his case is being advanced by his sister and partner.)
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit came to a similar conclusion in Stephens’s case.
But in Bostock’s case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit went the other way, ruling for Clayton County, a suburb south of Atlanta, that Title VII did not protect on the basis of sexual orientation.
In previous rulings on gay rights, such as striking down a federal law that recognized only marriages between a man and a woman and state statutes that outlawed homosexual conduct, the Supreme Court relied on the Constitution.
These three cases concern the text of Title VII. No one argues that Congress in 1964 intended to protect LGBTQ individuals; homosexual conduct was illegal in the vast majority of the country. The solicitor general said that basic fact should decide the cases.
[T]he lawyers point to an unlikely ally: the late justice Antonin Scalia.  In a 1998 ruling in a case called Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Scalia wrote for the court that male-on-male sexual harassment was covered by Title VII even though it is not mentioned in the statute or envisioned by Congress.
“It is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed,” Scalia wrote, adding that same-sex harassment need not be “the principal evil Congress was concerned with.”
“We’re the textualists here,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, an attorney for the ACLU, which is representing the Zarda estate. “We’re the ones pointing to the words of the statute.”

But for the demands of Christofascists and the abhorrent and deceptively named Alliance Defending Freedom, these cases would never have reached the Supreme Court.  What we see is religion - which has caused so much death, destruction and human misery over the centuries - yet again seeking to inflict harm those who do not hold to Christofascist dogma.  The Court needs to reject their demands and make it clear that real or feigned religious belief does not elevate one above the law. Civil rights outweigh ignorance based religious dogma. 

Friday, October 04, 2019

Friday Morning Male Beauty

The Growing Trump Created Economic Slump

Troubles for congressional Republicans are growing and not just because of Donald Trump's diarrhea of the mouth and tweet storms as the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry gains speed.  Like Trump, they are lying and obfuscating to avoid admitting Trump has engaged in impeachable offenses, and soon they will being doing the same as signs of Trump's self-created economic slump - trade wars and erratic policies do have consequences - become more evident.  Yes, the 35%  of the public that blindly supports Trump in a cult like manner will likely be unmoved as the economic downturn picks up momentum, but sane and sentient voters are likely to connect the dots and realize there is an additional reason Trump needs to be driven from the White House.  As Newsweek reports, one GOP strategist said to fellow Republicans "Trump is a suicide bomber, and you've strapped yourselves to him so tightly that when he explodes, you're going out to meet the 72 porn stars of the Trumpian afterlife with him."   That remark did not even factor in the looming economic issues. A column in the New York Times by a prominent economist lays out the damage Trump has done and continues to do.  Here are excerpts:

When he isn’t raving about how the deep state is conspiring against him, Donald Trump loves to boast about the economy, claiming to have achieved unprecedented things. As it happens, none of his claims are true. While both G.D.P. and employment have registered solid growth, the Trump economy simply seems to have continued a long expansion that began under Barack Obama.
But now it’s starting to look as if Trump really will achieve something unique: He may well be the first president of modern times to preside over a slump that can be directly attributed to his own policies, rather than bad luck.
There has always been a deep unfairness about the relationship between economics and politics: Presidents get both credit and blame for events that usually have little to do with their actions.
Now the U.S. economy is going through another partial slump. Once again, manufacturing is contracting. Agriculture is also taking a severe hit, as is shipping. Overall output and employment are still growing, but around a fifth of the economy is effectively in recession.
But unlike previous presidents, who were just unlucky to preside over slumps, Trump has done this to himself, largely by choosing to wage a trade war he insisted would be “good, and easy to win.”
The link between the trade war and agriculture’s woes is obvious: America’s farmers are deeply dependent on export markets, China in particular. So they’re hurting badly, despite a huge financial bailout that is already more than twice as big as the Obama administration’s auto bailout.
Shipping may also seem an obvious victim when tariffs reduce international trade, although it’s not just an international issue; domestic trucking is also in recession.
The manufacturing slump is more surprising. After all, America runs a large trade deficit in manufactured goods, so you might expect that tariffs, by forcing buyers to turn to domestic suppliers, would be good for the sector. That’s surely what Trump and his advisers thought would happen.
But that’s not how it has worked out. Instead, the trade war has clearly hurt U.S. manufacturing. Indeed, it has done considerably more damage than even Trump critics like yours truly expected.
The Trumpist trade warriors, it turns out, missed two key points. First, many U.S. manufacturers depend heavily on imported parts and other inputs; the trade war is disrupting their supply chains. Second, Trump’s trade policy isn’t just protectionist, it’s erratic, creating vast uncertainty for businesses both here and abroad. And businesses are responding to that uncertainty by putting plans for investment and job creation on hold.
So the tweeter in chief has bungled his way into a Trump slump, even if it isn’t a full-blown recession, at least so far. . . . Also, the pain in manufacturing seems to be falling especially hard on those swing states Trump took by tiny margins in 2016, giving him the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote. . . . . Trump is, as I said, unique in that he really did this to himself.
So what will come next? Trump being Trump, it’s a good bet that he’ll soon be denouncing troubling economic data as fake news; I wouldn’t be surprised to see political pressure on the statistical agencies to report better numbers.
The scary thing is that around 35 percent of Americans will probably believe whatever excuses Trump comes up with. But that won’t be enough to save him.
Trump is poised to utterly destroy the GOP, yet Republicans refuse to shout out that the emperor has no clothes.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

More Thursday Male Beauty

FB friend Andre Brunelli.

Pete Buttigieg - The Underdog to Watch?

With health issues having temporarily sidelined Bernie Sanders - and made many much more worried about his advanced age - and Joe Biden's embroilment in the Ukraine scandal and heating up impeachment inquiry, it is a reminder that one never knows what can happen in long drawn out political campaigns.  Things happen to people and issues can surge to the forefront that no one contemplated just weeks earlier.  A piece in Politico looks at the change in the 2020 election dynamics that would unfold if Donald Trump were to be impeached and Mike Pence not go down with Trump - somewhat of a open question given Pence's apparent deep participation in the shakedown of Ukraine. Suddenly, things that seemed certain would be in great flux.  In this context, a column in the Washington Post suggests that Pete Buttigieg might yet be the candidate to watch.  Here are column highlights (in the interests of full disclosure, yes, I have given to his campaign):
Going into early primaries as the front-runner has its drawbacks. Should the surging Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) fail to win Iowa or New Hampshire, her current success will make later results disappointing. Past success in a state also raises expectations perilously high. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won more than 49 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses in 2016; his RealClearPolitics average in Iowa polls is now 12 percent, less than a point ahead of South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
What should happen, say, if Buttigieg comes in third in Iowa, ahead of one of the current three front-runners? That’s a real possibility, and one reason that a betting person wanting to put money on an underdog might pick Buttigieg.
Buttigieg has a number of factors in his favor.
First, he is a proven fundraiser (taking in more than $19 million in the third quarter).
Second, he attracted big crowds and extremely positive coverage on his Iowa road trip. 
Third, he is doing what every other non-Biden candidate has failed to do: He is standing firm in the center left. He’s not promising single-payer health care nor confiscatory gun policies.
Fourth, he is smart and succinct enough in a debate to make trouble for the far-left candidates, thereby boosting his profile as one of the most adept combatants from the center-left.
Fifth, his military service helps his electability argument. It not only gives him some national security credibility but also helps him to take President Trump down more than a few pegs; he can contrast his own service with Trump’s fortuitous “bone spurs” that got him out of serving in Vietnam.
Finally, he is the most genuinely middle-class candidate among the top contenders. No millions from book sales, speeches, consulting gigs or past Senate fund-raising (to slide over into the presidential campaign fund).
 The conventional wisdom has been that Biden has to collapse before someone can move up in the not-too-far-left category of candidates. However, Biden might not disintegrate, and in fact, the loyalty of African Americans suggests that he will maintain a solid base of support at least until the early primaries. However, it is entirely possible that Buttigieg, without attacking Biden (in fact, he has smartly defended Biden against Trump’s scurrilous attacks), can impress debate-watchers and early state caucus and primary voters to pull him even with better-known candidates who should be able to clobber a mayor of a medium-size Midwestern city.
The wildcard in all of this is impeachment and Trump scandals. The mere possibility that Trump might not be the nominee is arguably enough to prompt primary voters to reexamine what it means to be electable. Moreover, as we trek down a path even more exhausting, terrifying and exasperating than the three years that proceeded it, with the circle of wrongdoers expanding well beyond the president, there is something to be said for someone who does not want to start a revolution, but rather, recover from the Trump ordeal. Someone preternaturally calm, logical and self-effacing might provide a welcome contrast to the Republican carnival.
In sum, as improbable as it might seem, next to Warren (who’s running a near-perfect campaign) Buttigieg might have the most effective campaign operation and message. It has been good enough to lift the mayor of South Bend into the top four candidates in the race.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Is China Heading for Crisis?

With America's current political crisis sucking up most of the media attention, even as Trump strives to be an authoritarian ruler above the law, it is easy to forget that even dictatorships seem to have a maximum life expectancy and that nations like China, which seeks to hold a hegemony of Asia, have their own perils to face. While the Chinese regime is not as fossilized as that of the Soviet Union on the eve of its collapse, political strains are growing and not just in Hong Kong, a city state that exists as a sharp reminder of a dictatorial regimes limitations. Yes, China's leadership has a vision of where it wants the country to go in terms of economic power and influence, but the very prosperity that this will bring undermines dictatorial rule.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the growing difficulty China is experiencing in holding conflicting goals and desires under control.  How it all ends is anyone's guess.  Here are column excerpts:

China — or, rather, the Chinese regime — is in trouble. Tuesday’s gigantic parade in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic looked like something out of the late Brezhnev era: endless military pomp and gray old men. Hong Kong is in its fourth straight month of protests, marked and stained by this week’s shooting of an unarmed teenage demonstrator. The Chinese economy is growing at its slowest rate in 27 years, even when going by the overstated official figures.
Meantime, capital is fleeing China — an estimated $1.2 trillion in the past decade — while foreign investors sour on Chinese markets. Beijing’s loudly touted Belt-and-Road initiative looks increasingly like a swamp of corruption, malinvestment and bad debt. Its retaliatory options in the face of Donald Trump’s trade war are bad and few. And General Secretary Xi Jinping has created a cult-of-personality dictatorship in a style unseen since Mao Zedong, China’s last disastrous emperor.
Remember the “Chinese Dream” — Xi’s vision of China as a modern, powerful, and “moderately well-off” state? Forget it. The current task for Chinese leadership is to avoid a full-blown nightmare of international isolation, economic decline, and domestic revolt.
The question is whether that’s still possible.
China’s presumptive trajectory once seemed clear. In domestic affairs: rapid economic reform; slow political opening. Lather, rinse, repeat. In international affairs: peaceful rise; burgeoning clout. It was to be a model of managed development, a Middle Kingdom fit for the 21st century.
That’s not what happened, for reasons that Chang and others saw coming long ago. Rapid growth is easy when labor and capital are plentiful and cheap. But most developing countries inevitably fall into what’s called the middle-income trap, when they no longer have the cost advantages of poor countries but haven’t yet acquired the legal, educational, or technological advantages of rich ones.
Beijing’s dilemmas go deeper. Economic reforms generate sudden riches that are ripe targets for extravagant graft, particularly by powerful state actors. Graft creates incentives for further self-dealing, which distorts economic decision-making and breeds public cynicism. . . . The result: more corruption, more cynicism, more repression. How long that can keep going is an open question.
[S]cholars such as Larry Diamond and Minxin Pei have noted that dictatorships tend to have a roughly 70-year lifespan. At some point, the revolutionary fervor that sustains the first generation of leaders and the will to power that sustains the second gives way to the policy failures, mounting discontents, outside shocks and inner doubts that prove the undoing of the third.
Especially when the regime experiences some kind of blunt trauma, either in the form of a foreign-policy fiasco, an economic shock, or a moral outrage. In its attempts to respond to Hong Kong’s protests, Beijing risks all three.
Accommodating the protesters’ demands, above all the granting of genuine universal suffrage, is the right thing to do, but introduces a democratic principle fatal to the regime’s self-preservation.
Hence the looming crisis. It could be defused, if Beijing guarantees amnesty for all nonviolent protesters and removes the troops it has brought in from the mainland in exchange for a meaningful process of negotiation. Or it could be “solved” through some form of hyper-aggressive policing that stops short of an outright massacre. But that only puts a lid on discontents that will continue to boil.
A policy of hoping the protesters discredit themselves or simply run out of steam shows no sign of working. A Tiananmen-style crackdown would underscore the regime’s brutishness and incompetence, destroy Hong Kong as a global financial capital, and spur China’s neighbors to arm to the teeth and draw closer to Washington.
But if the regime’s travails prove anything, it’s that China’s current despot is no more enlightened than despots elsewhere, and China’s people are no less eager to have what people have elsewhere: justice, fairness, rights, freedom from fear, freedom itself. In China’s looming crisis, the human condition shines through.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Trump Implicates Pence in Ukraine Impeachment Scandal.

Pence is lying about his role in the Ukraine scandal.

So far during his term as Donald Trump's sycophant-in-chief, Mike Pence has worked hard to engage in a "Sergeant Schultz" routine of claiming he saw nothing, heard nothing and knew nothing about Trump's various misdeeds and abuses of his office.  Indeed, some have remarked that it defies belief that Pence is as out of the loop and as uninformed as he would have the American public believe. Now, with the House of Representatives impeachment heating up, Trump is not only spouting insane nonsense, but he is also implicating Pence, Pompeo and others as having been on the threat/intimidation call to the president of Ukraine and, it would seem, part of the conspiracy to cover up the details of the call and Trump's call for a quid pro quo from Ukraine in exchange for much needed military aid. A piece in the Washington Post looks at Trump's implication of Pence in the entire effort that now threatens Trump - and by extension, Pence - with impeachment.  The overall take away is that of a criminal operation by a mobster and his lieutenants and henchmen.  Here are article excerpts:

President Trump repeatedly involved Vice President Pence in efforts to exert pressure on the leader of Ukraine at a time when the president was using other channels to solicit information that he hoped would be damaging to a Democratic rival, current and former U.S. officials said.
Trump instructed Pence not to attend the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May — an event White House officials had pushed to put on the vice president’s calendar — when Ukraine’s new leader was seeking recognition and support from Washington, the officials said.
Months later, [Trump] the president used Pence to tell Zelensky that U.S. aid was still being withheld while demanding more aggressive action on corruption, officials said. At that time — following Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenksy — the Ukrainians probably understood action on corruption to include the investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Officials close to Pence insist that he was unaware of Trump’s efforts to press Zelensky for damaging information about Biden and his son
Pence’s activities occurred amid several indications of the president’s hidden agenda. Among them were the abrupt removal of the U.S. ambassador to Kiev; the visible efforts by the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to insert himself in the U.S.-Ukraine relationship; as well as alarms being raised inside the White House even before the emergence of an extraordinary whistleblower complaint about Trump’s conduct.
Perhaps most significantly, one of Pence’s top advisers was on the July 25 call and the vice president should have had access to the transcript within hours, officials said.
Trump’s deployment of Pence is part of a broader pattern of using both executive authority and high-ranking officials in his administration to advance his personal or political interests — even in cases when those subordinates appear not to know that another agenda is in play.
White House officials said that Pence likely would have received the detailed notes of the president’s call in his briefing book on July 26.The five-page document also should have been part of the briefing materials he took with him to Warsaw to prepare for the meeting, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
In his meeting with Zelensky, Pence conveyed the news that hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine was not going to be released amid concerns about the country’s lagging efforts to combat corruption. He also emphasized Trump’s frustration that he thought the European Union was not doing a sufficient job in helping to provide aid.
[F]ormer officials said that Pence’s emphasis on corruption probably would have been interpreted by Zelensky as “code” for that issue [i.e. finding dirt on Biden], whether the vice president intended it or not. . . . A top Pence staffer rejected the charge that the vice president was conveying an inappropriate — or coded — message from the president.  

A piece in New York Magazine looks further into Pence's extensive role that suggests that either his Sergeant Schultz routine is a big lie or that he is so stupid and incompetent that he needs to resign his office.  Here are highlights:
Vice-President Mike Pence is knee-deep in the Ukraine scandal. He is floating the absurd defense that, while he did participate in Trump’s plan to extort Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden, he was completely ignorant of what he was doing.

Although President Trump “used Pence to tell [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky that U.S. aid was still being withheld,” the Washington Post reports, Pence’s aides insist he had no idea what he was actually being used for.
Pence’s involvement in the plot was extensive. White House officials had him cancel a planned trip to Zelensky’s inauguration. One of Pence’s top advisers was on the July 25 call when Trump made clear his demand that Zelensky open investigations into various Democratic officials, including Biden, whom Trump named on the call. Pence was given the transcript of the call before his September 1 meeting with Zelensky, when he reiterated Trump’s threat.
Pence’s defense is that, even though the readout of Trump’s call with Zelensky was in his briefing materials on his trip to Europe, he did not bother to read it before the meeting.
So Pence didn’t read or understand the vital background information he needed before this important national-security meeting. He didn’t hear the widespread alarm rippling through the administration that Trump was acting improperly. He somehow failed to pick up on Rudy Giuliani’s repeated public boasts — in the New York Times, on Fox News, on Twitter, and in any media he could find — that he was pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in his personal capacity as Trump’s lawyer. Most amazing, Pence’s defense is that when he delivered Trump’s threat in the meeting with Zelensky, Pence had no idea that “corruption” was code for ordering up investigations of Trump’s domestic enemies. If Pence is so ignorant that he could be pulled into an extortion plot without having any idea what he was doing, while missing numerous public and private signs that would have spelled it out, he is too dumb to serve as vice-president or even to be allowed to use metal cutlery. There is no way Pence is quite that stupid.
Pence was asked whether the aid was being held up over the Biden probes, and he answered by reciting the “corruption” party line. Pence knew exactly what he was doing.

If one needs further proof that Pence is lying, consider this: in all my years in politics - and life in general - absolutely no one lies more than evangelical Christians, a group that Pence claims to belong to. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Trade War and Oil Industry Waivers Continue to Harm Farmers

Empty grain receiving facility - photo credit: Washington Post.
Ironically, it is Republicans who preach - or at least pretend to preach - the mantra of personal responsibility and that bad decisions and actions should reap consequences on those who make bad life decisions. Thus, for example if suffers the consequences of being gay or poor, somehow one's choices are to blame, not social and economic barriers.  Applying this rule, it is delicious to see Mid-West farmers who helped elect Donald Trump pay an enormous economic and financial price for their bad and - in my view - morally bankrupt decision. I truly worry about the children and youths who are suffering as a result, but as for the adults who chose to vote for a narcissistic demagogue who played to their worse instincts and bigotries, they sadly deserve their fate.  Frighteningly, many continue to refuse to see their own fault in what has now befallen them.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the continued economic devastation  Trump's self-created trade wars and pandering to the oil industry continues to wreak in the Mid-West in particular.  Here are story highlights (Note the idiocy and insanity: "Many of those grumbling about Trump today concede they are unlikely to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate next year."):
SIOUX CENTER, Iowa — On a typical day, about 80 tractor trailers full of corn line up to dump their loads at Siouxland Energy Cooperative, the ethanol plant just outside of town. The air throbs with the noise and vibration of this industrial moonshine operation, which distills nature’s harvest into a cleaner-burning fuel.
But today, the warm Iowa sun shines on an almost empty parking lot, and the machinery sits idle.
After two decades, Siouxland this month halted operations following the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to exempt 31 small oil refiners from a federal law requiring them to blend ethanol in their gasoline. The waivers, which the Trump administration has approved almost four times as often as its predecessor, have undercut demand for ethanol and the corn used to make it, farmers said.
“The waivers are what pushed us over the edge,” said Steve Westra, 46, the plant manager. “It absolutely killed the potential for anybody to make any money at this.”
For Iowa farmers already suffering from an extended trade war with China, the ruling has made ethanol the focus of their growing ire over President Trump’s policies.
The trade war has cost farmers potential Chinese orders for the corn-based fuel as well as for a byproduct that is used as animal feed. Now, the refinery exemptions are compounding the financial pain — and threatening political consequences for [Trump] the president, who won this state and its six electoral votes in 2016.
“I supported Trump in the last election. Today, if the election were held, I don’t think I could vote for him,” said Kelly Nieuwenhuis, 60, a corn and soybean farmer in Primghar, about 40 miles east. “It’s definitely growing, the displeasure with the Trump administration.” . . . .Many of those grumbling about Trump today concede they are unlikely to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate next year.
In recent days, amid a rising impeachment furor, the White House has scrambled to midwife a compromise between ethanol advocates and the oil industry. . . . The discontent in deeply conservative northwest Iowa has its roots in [Trump’s] the president’s confrontation with China, which farmers initially backed.
The trade war’s mounting costs are especially evident in this corner of the corn belt. Iowa’s fourth congressional district, which sprawls from the Nebraska and Minnesota borders to the outskirts of Des Moines, has lost more export sales to China than any other district in the country, according to the U.S.-China Business Council.
China’s retaliation for [Trump's] the president’s tariffs on Chinese goods last year cost farmers 78 percent of their $856 million in oilseed and grain shipments to China, the study found.
Those figures may understate the toll. The trade war erupted as farmers were counting on a major increase in Chinese orders for U.S. ethanol and an ethanol byproduct called distillers dried grain (DDG.) Those potential sales for the past two years have now become casualties of the trans-Pacific conflict, Nieuwenhuis said.
China in 2015 had purchased more than 5 million metric tons of DDG, a high-protein animal feed, valued at $1.4 billion, according to the U.S. Grains Council. By the following year, China was the No. 3 export market for American ethanol, purchasing more than 200 million gallons, worth almost $350 million, the industry group said. Since then, DDG sales have plunged by roughly 98 percent; ethanol orders are virtually nonexistent.
China targeted Midwestern farmers for retaliation, calculating that complaints from a key part of Trump’s political base might cause him to buckle. The president so far has instead tried to make farmers whole with a $28 billion bailout and promises of future riches.
Neither seems to be working. Multiple farmers said the Agriculture Department payments that [Trump] the president bills as full compensation for lost Chinese sales, while better than nothing, still leave them in the red.
[The Trump/Pence] administration has exempted more than 38 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel from ethanol blending requirements compared with just 7.4 billion in President Obama’s final three years, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, an industry group.

It is sad that racial animus and clinging to extremist religious beliefs mean more to a majority of these farmers than their own economic survival.  Adding insult to injury is that the rest of America has been forced to pay 28 billion to save these farmers from the consequences of their own idiocy and bigotry.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

More Monday Male Beauty

Why Impeachment is Necessary

One of the books I am reading - I usually read two to three books in rotation at a time- is titled "Mortal Republic" and looks at the slide of the Roman Republic to an authoritarian, dictatorial rule under emperors.   Some of the parallels between the Roman Republic's slide to tyranny and what we see happening in America in the age of Trump are chilling. Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans bear a disturbing similarity to Roman senators who valued their own office and remaining in power over their country and the public that they were supposed to represent and serve. At several points the Roman senators of old could have stopped the destruction of the Republic had they exhibited courage and pushed aside craven short term self-interest. Now, Senate Republicans are on the cusp of finding themselves at a similar crossroads where they can either side with upholding the American Republic or they can act as their Roman predecessors did and thereby accelerate the demise of democracy and the U.S. Constitution. Those who think I over dramatize where America finds itself either do not know history and/or are motivated by tribalism, hate and greed. A column in the New York Times looks at why impeaching Trump is imperative.  Here are highlights:
“I think the American people are going to have a chance to decide this at the ballot box in November 2020,” Beto O’Rourke said in March, neatly expressing prevailing Democratic opinion on the question of impeaching President Trump, “and perhaps that’s the best way for us to resolve these outstanding questions.”
This is no longer a tenable position. [Trump's] The president’s bungled bid to coerce Ukraine’s leader into helping the Trump 2020 re-election campaign smear a rival struck “decide it at the ballot box” off the menu of reasonable opinion forever. Mr. Trump’s brazen attempt to cheat his way into a second term stands so scandalously exposed that there can be no assurance of a fair election if he’s allowed to stay in office. Resolving the question of [Trump's] the president’s fitness at the ballot box isn’t really an option, much less the best option, when the question boils down to whether the ballot box will be stuffed.
Impeachment is therefore imperative, not only to protect the integrity of next year’s elections but to secure America’s continued democratic existence. If the House does its job, it will fall to Senate Republicans to reveal, in their decision to convict (or not), their preferred flavor of republic: constitutional or banana.
Mike Murphy, a Republican election consultant, recently remarked that “one Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump.” Everyone understands that Mr. Trump is wildly popular with conservative voters, and that Senate Republicans would rather not invite primary challengers by alienating them. But when the legitimacy and preservation of our democracy are at stake, striving to keep a Senate seat safe through craven betrayal of the American people could come at a catastrophic price to the country.
It is now impossible to deny that Mr. Trump pressed Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to dig up dirt on Joe Biden while holding up congressionally appropriated military assistance intended to help Ukraine stave off Russian aggression. Mr. Trump loudly admitted it, and the summary of his July phone conversation with Mr. Zelensky and the whistle-blower report cast it in the worst possible light. If Mr. Trump’s willing to cop to this, all while promoting an Infowars-level conspiracy theory to justify it, the American public can reasonably suspect that he’s abusing the powers of his office in other ways to fix the election in his favor.
[Trump] knows he’s beyond the reach of criminal prosecution only so long as he commands the awesome powers of the executive branch.
The content of the “favors” Mr. Trump asked of the Ukrainian president underscore his feral resolve to barricade himself inside the Oval Office for at least five more years. His purpose in pressuring Mr. Zelensky to inquire into the Ukrainian whereabouts of an imaginary server and to beat the bushes for evidence of corruption involving Mr. Biden’s family was to drum up “evidence” that Russian election interference and his role in abetting it was nothing but a frame job fabricated by Ukrainians, in cahoots with the Democratic Party, to throw the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton.
This is the lunacy behind Mr. Trump’s willingness to casually endanger Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russia. Worse, by ordering the attorney general, the secretary of state and his personal fixer to lend counterfeit substance to this ridiculous effort, he has untethered American diplomacy and law enforcement from reality.
If the House goes through with impeachment but the Senate acquits, Mr. Trump’s lawlessness will have been lavishly rewarded. He will take it as a signal that absolutely anything goes — especially given the Senate’s failure to act in any meaningful way on election security. Should he win, a sizable majority of the public will see it as an electoral coup and deny the validity of his claim to power.
If Senate Republicans hold their majority through an election that stinks of corruption, they’ll be dogged by the same crisis of legitimacy. If they nevertheless go on to use their dubious authority to continue stacking the courts and shielding the president from accountability, Americans won’t be wrong to conclude that our democracy has crumbled and that the United States has devolved into one of the world’s many soft-authoritarian kleptocracies claiming popular legitimacy from behind a cheap veneer of rigged elections. It can definitely happen here.
Senate Republicans who would vote in secret to remove Mr. Trump need to finally come to the defense of their country and do it in public. . . . . senators who choose to ignore the duties of their office in order to protect Mr. Trump will communicate with ringing clarity that they don’t care about having a fair election; that they don’t care whether the American people have really granted them the authority to govern; and that they think their own voters don’t care about any of this, either.
But the American people, Democrats and Republicans alike, do care. The fainthearted lions of the Senate ought to bear in mind that a defiant citizenry inflamed by indignation and jealous of its rights can overwhelm a corrupt regime’s dirty electoral plans. An election with an impeached Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket is an invitation to an electoral uprising that should haunt Mitch McConnell’s dreams.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

The True Face of Virginia Republicans

Gun carrying Amanda Chase - the true face of the GOP.
Watching political ads for the coming Virginia elections in November, 2019, one thing is striking: most Republicans are running ads that (i) would have one think they were Democrats, (ii) totally misrepresent their actual voting records - e.g., Chris Jones who voted against Medicaid expansion four times - or  (iii) avoid indicating that they are Republicans.  Besides Jones, among other local Republicans who are seeking to appear deceptively moderate is 91st district GOP candidate Colleen Holcomb who, despite her brazenly false campaign web page is a far right Christofascist extremist.  The big question will, of course be how many voters are fooled by the deceptive depictions of what GOP candidates really stand for even as most work strenuously to sell themselves as something that they are not.  An exception to this phenomenon is Republican Virginia state Sen. Amanda F. Chase of Chesterfield County who flat out reveals what the Virginia GOP is really all about: supporting Trump, anti-gay, anti-women's rights, pro-guns, and largely anti-modernity.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at Chase and the consternation she is causing among many Virginia Republicans who do not want voters to know their real agenda.  Here are article highlights (take a good look at Chase, because if the GOP retains control of the General Assembly, she embodies the true GOP agenda): 
In a state where Trump’s approval rating is in the basement, Chase is the rare suburban Republican who is embracing [Trump] the president as she seeks a second term in a pivotal election this November.
All 140 seats in the state legislature will be on the ballot and Republicans are defending razor-thin majorities: the GOP has a 51-48 edge in the House and a 20-19 advantage in the Senate, with one vacancy in each chamber. If Democrats flip both chambers, they would have full control of state government for the first time in a generation.
Democrats are banking on ­anti-Trump sentiment to help them in suburban districts. Many Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to avoid talking about the president or divisive issues such as guns and abortion.
Not Chase. . . . “I won’t be quiet. I won’t be silenced,” she declared to about 40 donors at the country club. “I’m going to continue to boldly represent our family values and those values which make Virginia, Virginia. We are not California. We are not New York. And we will not be, as long as I’m serving in the General Assembly.”
The 49-year-old freshman lawmaker says Democrats and ­RINOs — Republicans in name only — are aligned against her because she is a conservative truth-teller. At a time when the GOP can’t afford to lose a single seat, some Senate Republicans fret that the drama swirling around “Senator Annie Oakley Chase,” as some call her, threatens to put her reliably red district in play.
“What she does, we all pay a price for,” said one frustrated GOP senator who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard, a Republican who withdrew his support this spring because Chase would not apologize to the police officer, has been in the senator’s sights ever since. She threatened to hurt his fundraising — “I’ll let my Republican donors know,” she texted — and has been campaigning with his challenger, an independent. On Friday, she accused Leonard of making Chesterfield a “sanctuary city.” That was news to the sheriff, who last year backed Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), an immigration hard-liner.
On Monday, the Chesterfield County GOP ousted Chase for attacking Leonard and promoting the independent challenging him.
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who saddled Chase with the Annie Oakley nickname, said she also reminds him of the president. “She’s a replica of Trump,” Saslaw said. “His conduct is bizarre, and so is hers.” Chase supporters compare her to Trump, too, but favorably.
During a special legislative session in July, a gun-control group wielding a video camera put Republicans on the spot as they passed through the Capitol’s marble hallways. As the video crew lobbed questions about expanding background checks, a pair of suburban Republicans scattered. Chase didn’t run; she said flatly that she wouldn’t support anything that infringes on gun rights. Chase’s Democratic challenger — another Amanda, Amanda Pohl — has used some of Chase’s headlines to raise money. After the El Paso mass shooting in August, Chase put out a video calling for an end to “gun-free zones that are creating safe havens for criminals who don’t follow the law.” Pohl, a social worker and former hospital chaplain who favors expanded background checks, promoted the video, too — calling Chase’s response “outrageous and dangerous. She is out of touch with our district and with reality.”
Pohl has outraised Chase so far this year, $252,000 to $189,000, and had more cash on hand heading into September.
Emotions were high last year as a handful of Senate Republicans were about to break ranks and vote to expand Medicaid — something the GOP had fiercely opposed for years. House Republicans had done an about-face after an anti-Trump wave in 2017 all but wiped out their 2-to-1 majority. Now Senate Republicans were crumbling.
In a closed caucus meeting ahead of the vote, Chase warned the four defectors that she would see to it that they all got primary challengers, according to wit­nesses.
Do NOT be fooled by Republican candidates' deceptive campaign websites and/or ads that depict them as moderates.  They are not moderates and hope voters fail to understand their true agenda.  Vote Democrat to move Virginia forward.

Monday, September 30, 2019

More Monday Male Beauty

Trump DOJ Backs Indianapolis Archdiocese in Firing of Gay Employees

Modern Day Pharisee - Archbishop of Indianapolis.
If one wants a case study in hypocrisy, look no farther than the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the Trump Justice Department.  In the case of the archdiocese, it wants the right to fire a gay high school faculty who has no direct contract with the archdiocese to protect its "religious liberty" and easily influenced students yet - like virtually all Catholic dioceses around the globe - has covered up sexual abuse of children and youths and has fought tooth and claw to avoid payment of reasonable compensation to the victims of clerical sexual abuse. Then there is the Trump DOJ which has sought to protect an occupant of the White House who is devoid of any shred of morality and decency, much less living a life reflective of the pillars of Catholic dogma who is pretending to back the "religious freedom" of a diocese guilty of sexual abuse of children and minors. The true agenda of both institutions: (i) to pander to the most reactionary elements of their respective bases, and (ii) distract from the ugliness of their science denying, homophobic animus towards LGBT individuals. A piece linked via The Advocate looks at the situation.  Here are excerpts:
The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday issued a Statement of Interest in support of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in its ongoing dispute with a former Catholic school teacher who alleges he was wrongfully terminated because he was in a same-sex marriage.
Joshua Payne-Elliott is currently suing the archdiocese, alleging it illegally interfered with his contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral High School, causing Cathedral to terminate him. 
In it's statement, the DOJ said that the First Amendment protects the right of the  Archdiocese to interpret and apply Catholic doctrine. 
It's not clear what the DOJ's statement means for Payne-Elliott's suit, if anything. But his lawyer, Kathleen DeLaney, said it was "highly unusual" for the Justice Department to insert itself into a local employment issue.
What I take away from this is that the Trump administration is politicizing a legal dispute about an Indiana business tort." DeLaney said.
Steve Sanders, a constitutional law expert, said it's not that uncommon for presidential administrations of both parties to file statements in “important civil rights cases.”
"I fear that this statement from the Trump administration's Justice Department appears to be more calculated to win favor with the president's base of religious conservatives than it does to seriously assist the court's adjudication of this case,” Sanders said. . . . . He added: “The Archdiocese may or may not prevail in the end, but the issue is not as one-sided, and the outcome is not nearly as clear, as the Justice Department statement portrays them to be." 
DeLaney said the case isn't about religious liberty, but instead centers on an employment dispute. 
"Josh Payne-Elliot was employed by Cathedral High School," she said. "Cathedral High School fired my client because the archdiocese told them to and threatened to take various actions against Cathedral if they refused to fire my client.
"That is textbook intentional interference in an employment relationship. He was not employed by the archdiocese but the archdiocese had him fired."
When Payne-Elliott filed his suit, he said in a news release that he hoped the case would "put a stop to the targeting of LGBTQ employees and their families."
He is one of the three gay, married Catholic school employees fired in the last year at the direction of the archdiocese, who said they were in violation of church doctrine by being in same-sex marriages.
The employees worked at multiple schools under the purview of the Church. Aside from Payne-Elliott, two guidance counselors were fired from Roncalli High School earlier this year.
In addition, Payne-Elliott's husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, is a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. The archdiocese stripped Brebeuf of its Catholic identity after it refused to fire Layton Payne-Elliott. The Vatican recently suspended that ruling, pending an appeal from the school. 
The bottom line is you have a diocese that has covered up sexual abuse teamed up with the Justice Department under an occupant of the White House who is the antithesis of what Christian values should be.  It'a match made in Heaven, or perhaps more appropriately, in Hell.

Monday Morning Male Beauty

What’s Wrong With Republicans?

Having once been a Republican from a family that was once solidly Republican, I like to believe there was a time that the GOP stood for some level of morality and basic decency.  In the age of Trump, those days are gone and I now find myself believing that one cannot be a decent and moral person and be a Republican. Yes, Trump is a cancer that has infected the GOP and caused those who at least pretended to support morality and decency to now defend the indefensible, namely Mr. Trump.  What happened?  How did this moral bankruptcy and tribalism come to pass? In my view, it began with the Christofascist infiltration of the GOP.  The Christofascists while clinging to the "Christian" label, give little regard to the New Testament (and no regard to its social gospel message) and instead revere the Old Testament and the hate and tribalism with which it is filled.  It was, in my view, the introduction of this mindset of exclusion and hate that set the stage for an embrace of Trump.  Now the question is whether the party can ever recover.  Personally, I think not, but if it is to be restored, the first step is jettisoning Trump.  A column in the New York Times looks at the moral decline of the GOP.  Here are highlights:

In a sane world, the reaction of Republicans to the “memorandum of telephone conversation” between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, combined with the whistle-blower complaint filed by an intelligence officer describing a White House cover-up, would be similar to the response of Republicans after the release, on Aug. 5, 1974, of the “smoking gun” tape that finally broke the Nixon presidency. Republicans would begin to abandon Mr. Trump, with senior figures urging him in private and in public to resign.
This may be asking too much of Republicans, who have lost their way in the Trump era. One might hope that some of the party’s elected officials would forcefully condemn the president on the grounds that there is now demonstrable evidence that he had crossed an ethical line and abused his power in ways even beyond what he had done previously, which was problematic enough.
But things are very different today than they were in the summer of ’74. Mr. Trump was on to something when he famously said, during the 2016 campaign, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, O.K.? It’s, like, incredible.” What most people took to be hyperbole turned out to be closer to reality.
[Many Republicans] from Senator Lindsey Graham to Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, are aggressively defending Mr. Trump, going so far as to argue that the notes from his July 25 conversation with Mr. Zelensky are exculpatory.
They are hardly that. Not only did the president ask a foreign government to intervene in a presidential election by digging up dirt on a political opponent, as he did in 2016 when he invited Russia to search for Hillary Clinton’s emails; this time, invested with the enormous power of the presidency, Mr. Trump appears to have used hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to pressure a foreign leader to act as the head of his opposition-research unit.
How does a quid pro quo play out in Trump world? Something like this: You want Javelin missiles to help protect you from Russia? Great. Then I have a favor to ask of you: Investigate a political rival of mine. For more details, talk to my personal attorney. Oh, and also the attorney general of the United States.
That something like the Trump-Zelensky phone call would occur was entirely predictable given what we know about Donald Trump. He is an extreme narcissist, pathologically dishonest, shameless, a man who delights in flouting norms. He has a mobster’s mentality. Mr. Trump’s behavior isn’t governed by moral standards; he doesn’t seem to believe objective moral standards even exist.
Why, then, are so many Republicans yet again circling the Trump wagon rather than taking this opportunity to denounce what the president did and declare some independence from him by doing so?
The answer to that question is complicated, and it goes well beyond the fact that Mr. Trump is advancing certain policies they believe in. The case for Republicans casting a vote for Mr. Trump in 2016 on those grounds is defensible, though I made a different choice. But here’s what’s also true: Republicans could support Mr. Trump’s agenda while simultaneously condemning his corrupt behavior. Yet the vast majority of them refuse to do so. Something more is going on here.
Understanding the close compact between Mr. Trump and the Republican Party starts with acknowledging the false hope many establishment Republicans placed in the shady real estate mogul as he rose to power. They misdiagnosed the individual they were dealing with, assuming that Mr. Trump would “grow in office” and that they, the “adults in the room,” would be able to control and contain him. . . . But the transformation turned out to be in them, not him.
Nor should one underestimate the role self-interest plays in the Trump-Republican relationship. “All people in elective politics are interested in self-preservation,” a Republican who served in the Senate told me. “Any negative comment by a Republican in Congress about the president would invite trouble in the next election either in the form of opposition in the next primary or lack of support in the general.”
“Until Republicans feel their existence is threatened by Trump’s mendacity and corruption, most will be blind to it,” a former Republican presidential aide told me.
There’s also this to factor in: For many Republican members of Congress, the president is more popular among Republican voters in their districts and states than they are. Even in the districts of moderate Republicans, Trumpist true-believers are the most vocal supporters of the party, the ones who do the essential grass-roots work. So to go crosswise of a sitting president of one’s own party invites political trouble, . . .
“It’s easier to stay with the tribe,” this individual told me. “It’s easier to stay with the team.” Even when the leader of the team is thoroughly corrupt.
All of this is tied to the psychology of accommodation. As a conservative-leaning clinical psychologist I know explained to me, when new experiences don’t fit into an existing schema — Mr. Trump becoming the leader of the party that insisted on the necessity of good character in the Oval Office when Bill Clinton was president, for example — cognitive accommodation occurs.
When the accommodation involves compromising one’s sense of integrity, the tensions are reduced when others join in the effort. This creates a powerful sense of cohesion, harmony and group think. The greater the compromise, the more fierce the justification for it — and the greater the need to denounce those who call them out for their compromise. “In response,” this person said to me, “an ‘us versus them’ mentality emerges, sometimes quite viciously.”
“What used to be a sense of belonging,” I was told, “devolves into primitive tribalism, absolute adherence to the leader over adherence to a code of ethics.”
Month after month, with one outrageous, norm-shattering comment or action giving way to another, Republicans who in the past could never have envisioned being Trump acolytes, have been ground down. Accommodation has kicked in, which is a psychological relief to many of them.
As the psychologist I spoke to put it to me, many Republicans “are nearly unrecognizable versions of themselves pre-Trump. At this stage it’s less about defending Trump; they are defending their own defense of Trump.”
“At this point,” this person went on, “condemnation of Trump is condemnation of themselves. They’ve let too much go by to try and assert moral high ground now. Calling out another is one thing; calling out yourself is quite another.”
As a result, many in Mr. Trump’s party not only refuse to challenge his maliciousness; they have adopted his approach. They have embraced his “will to power” worldview. After dealing with Mr. Trump, “you’re definitely denuded and jaded,” [said] one Republican . . .
Those who once defended traditional values now relish siding with the Great Transgressor. “Owning the libs” turns out to be a lot of fun. But it also comes at a high cost.
A person who was once an aide to a current Republican senator told me that his former boss, who in private will concede that he is quite troubled by Mr. Trump’s unethical conduct, will say “nothing that would cause the president to question his complete loyalty.” This individual went on to tell me, “The sad part about this is that no policy or new law is worth undercutting our norms and checks on power that will cause irreparable damage to our system.”
The Republican Party is the party of Donald Trump, through and through. As such, it has become morally disfigured.
Mr. Trump’s most recent abuse of power — pressuring the Ukrainian president to do his dirty work — is the latest link in a long chain of corruption. If Republicans don’t break with the president now, after all he has done and all he is likely to do, they will pay a fearsome price generationally, demographically and, above all, morally.