Saturday, October 12, 2019

Upcoming Family Cruise

In the past I have blogged about the travels my husband and I have enjoyed both on cruises and trips to various parts of Europe, often from an LGBT travel perspective. Now, we are embarking on a new travel experience: we are taking my two daughters, their husbands and the five grandchildren - ranging in age from 3 and a half to 10 - on a family cruise.  We sail out of Norfolk on Monday to The Bahamas for six nights aboard the Carnival Sunrise.  Our wonderful friend Jenny will be staying at our home and house sitting and dog sitting our Chihuahua. 

Between now and then, I will be working through much of the weekend getting things ready for a large commercial closing while I am away.  As has been the norm, I will blog about our experiences and reflections on this new episode of family travel.  The take away for the vacation and cruise industry is that the pink dollar also includes family travel. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

The Never Ending Process of "Coming Out"

Yesterday was the 31st anniversary of National Coming Out Day - a day to celebrate coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  Truth be told, however, when one is LGBT, the "coming out" process is not a one time event.  It happens over and over again as one has to first admit reality to one's self and then over time to coming out to family, friends, at work, and thereafter, every time one meets someone new, assuming you feel it necessary and/or worthwhile to reveal this truth about yourself.  Some times it is worth the effort, other times it is easier to reference "my spouse" rather than to say "my husband" and run the risk of awkward questions or outright rejection.  As a column in the Washington Post notes, it can be exhausting and can be more about others' expectations than self-affirmation.  Over time, it does get easier once one develops an "I don't give a damn" attitude towards what others think.  Yet, coming out remains something the straight world cannot comprehend since no one straight ever has to "come out."  My thoughts and best wishes go out to the LGBT individuals beginning the never ending process. Here are column highlights:   
Since college, I’ve come out countless times: in office meetings, to roommates, at dinner parties, to baristas and doctors and anytime it seems necessary.
Since 1988, there has been an official day for coming out: Oct. 11. But the reality is that queer people have to come out over and over and over again. It’s exhausting and frankly sometimes not worth it. So I’m not always out. Maybe someone asks me if I have a wife, and I simply say no. Maybe a friend’s child asks what gay is, and I say they should ask their parents. Maybe I check “rather not respond” on hospital forms about sexuality. Maybe I don’t tell and hope that others don’t ask.
In asking gay friends — and lesbians, bisexuals, trans folks and closeted people — about their similar experiences with this exhaustion and coy, post-out closetedness, a recurring frustration was that as soon as queer life is broached, straight people often act entitled to ask personal questions. Are you a top or a bottom? Are you postoperative? Do you have a penis? Which do you like more, men or women? There is a tyranny there that conscripts queer people as servants to straight awareness, paid intermittently in the minimum wage of tolerance. Queer people would never do this to straight people; we’re not allowed.
This is the trap of coming out, the way it squirms under the weight of straight expectations. Coming out is embraced only as otherness . . . . my interrogators have almost never put any effort into their curiosity before unloading it on me. Because it’s not about learning my truths; it’s about fitting their scripts.
Openness was a radical act of self-empowerment in Harvey Milk’s day, when gay existence was just shy of insanity and plague. But a half-century of pride later, coming out has become increasingly about other people. When Apple chief executive Tim Cook came out, he quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” Sure. But our outness is for us, not them. We have lost the spotlight in our own story.
What’s more, we have collectively believed the lie that coming out, as a moment of actualization, is exclusively a personal journey rather than a societal one. Our celebration of coming out forces queer people alone to do the hard work and emotional labor of changing the country. Meanwhile, Americans are raising persistently gendered blue and pink kids. No matter our pride, outness still costs us Uber rides, YouTube dollars, our health care, our ability to parent, the roofs over our heads and, in 28 states, our jobs (this past week, the Justice Department argued that the Supreme Court should allow businesses to treat outness as a fireable offense nationwide, condemning queer livelihood to straight mercy).
No wonder that high-profile athletes and musicians who come out often do so only after they’re off the field (football player Ryan Russell) or after their song has danced atop the charts (“Old Town Road” singer Lil Nas X). The Brooklyn Nets forced center Jason Collins to accept a series of 10-day contracts after he came out. Actor Sean Hayes didn’t come out until after the original run of “Will & Grace” concluded (and he scored his Emmy). It is a vanguard that cowers — maybe by necessity.
Thankfully, the coming-out playbook is being rewritten — if imperfectly — by prominent people from Jodie Foster and Aaron Schock to Lil Nas X and Janelle Monáe. Without officially coming out, Foster and Schock (a former congressman) skipped to being out, forcing others to process "what this means" on their own. It's a mix of bravery, subversion and evasion. . . . . All four are out in deliciously contradictory ways.
This last part underscores the truth that there is no monolithic way of being LGBT.  We are as diverse and varied as those in the straight world despite efforts to stereotype us.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Economic Storms Gather in Swing States

Abandoned factory.
As approval of the impeachment inquiry continues to rise, Donald Trump has continued his standard approach to everything: lie and and try to distract, even lying about knowing Rudi Giulian's newly arrested Russian cohorts. Meanwhile, his self-created trade wars are wreaking havoc on the economies of the swing states critical to Trump's re-election hopes: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.  Particularly hard hit are manufacturing - which Trump promised to restore - and, of course, farming which is being further damaged by climate change in the Mid-West, a phenomenon that Trump claims is a Chinese hoax. A piece in Politico looks at the growing economic storm clouds hanging over states that, if they reject Trump, could end in his defeat in 2020, assuming his isn't removed from office before then.  Here are highlights:
Donald Trump shocked the world and won the White House in 2016 on bold promises to bring greatness back to the industrial Midwest.
But his promise now faces a brutal reality: The U.S. manufacturing sector is spiraling into recession, victimized by Trump’s trade wars and sagging confidence among corporate executives who have little idea how to plan for an uncertain economic future.
Unless Trump can ram his revised North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress and cut a deal with the Chinese to erase historically high tariffs, he may find it difficult to repeat wins in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that drove him into office in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
“Manufacturing is in recession right now. This is what all the data show,” said Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. “And everywhere I go in the world, the fear I hear is that we are going to be driven deeper into recession because this is all about uncertainty caused by the trade war.”
Broad national gauges of manufacturing are already troubling, countering some of the president’s claims of success. The Institute for Supply Management manufacturing survey . . . . has shown a declining sector two months in a row, recently hitting a level not seen since the end of the Great Recession due to a sharp drop in new export orders. Respondents to the survey blamed a trade war that has reduced export demand and increased costs for parts used in manufacturing.
At the county and state level, the environment looks even darker for Trump.
The negative news on manufacturing comes as senior Chinese officials arrive in Washington for another round of talks aimed at reaching a deal with Trump that would reduce heavy tariffs that have imposed significant economic costs on both sides.
It’s unclear whether Trump would accept such a deal that could eliminate tariffs and relieve some of the pressure on the manufacturing sector, and he told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he didn’t think China was lowering expectations for a trade deal.
It’s not certain that even such a deal will reverse negative trends in the manufacturing sector, which overall is a small slice of the American economy but an important part of overall corporate profits. Manufacturing also supports all kinds of ancillary service-industry jobs that suffer whenever factory work declines.
Overall, the growth in manufacturing jobs — one of Trump’s biggest promises — has essentially vanished. After adding as many as 25,000 new manufacturing jobs per month last spring, the numbers began to decline as the trade war with China intensified. In September, the sector lost 2,000 jobs. That number could grow for October when striking GM workers are included.
“To the extent that the manufacturing slowdown continues unabated, which is likely unless there is a de-escalation in trade tensions, the electoral map could be more difficult for President Trump and Republicans in 2020,” Deutsche Bank analysts wrote in a report this week.
The still-strong national employment numbers, with a jobless rate at a half-century low of 3.5 percent, can also tell a misleading political story. . . . But dig deeper and large numbers of the jobs are coming from uncontested states like California. States that make up Trump’s coalition are not doing quite as well.
“It’s an existential political risk,” said Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi. “He won the election based on carrying Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and appealing to those voters who work in manufacturing or related industries. He promised he would bring manufacturing jobs back and his policies are doing the precise opposite. Jobs losses are mounting, particularly in those states.”
Trump’s trade battle with China has also slammed rural states where farmers have been unable to sell soybeans and other products into one of their biggest markets. Trump has responded by moving to dole out $30 billion in bailout money and praising “patriot farmers.” Many of the states hit by the drop in agriculture exports like Indiana, Nebraska and Kansas are solid Trump country. Others like Iowa could be a problem for the campaign.
Trump is also trying to make inroads in Minnesota, where he narrowly lost in 2016, and plans to hold a rally there Thursday night. But Minnesota is feeling pressure both in manufacturing and agriculture, as are states like Iowa and Pennsylvania.
And it’s not clear that even a quick and limited deal with the Chinese could reverse some of the major negative trends in manufacturing.
Ultimately, Trump’s reelection could come down to three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where manufacturing trends are working against him and where he will need a sharp turnaround. “In those three key states, the economies are weakening. Unemployment is low but rising,” said Zandi. “If it continues to rise between now and Election Day it will be very difficult for him to recover. The trend lines don’t look good.”

The trend lines may not look good for Trump, but are a net positive if they end up removing the orange cancer from the White House. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

The Growing Popularity of Impeaching Trump

Loyalty can be fleeting in the political realm, especially among Republicans who have to date shown they will happily sell their souls to Donald Trump in exchange for avoiding a primary challenge from someone even more tawdry who is willing to stir up Trump's putrid core base of support. Thus, the minute allegiance to Trump becomes a political liability, the spineless congressional Republicans may decide it is in their best interests to throw Trump overboard. As noted in a previous post, anti-Trump animus appears to be powering Virginians to favor a Democrat takeover of control of the Virginia General Assembly. If the Virginia GOP suffers another electoral defeat next months, some Republicans with the spine of a jellyfish might be ready to re-calibrate their allegiance to the liar-in-chief,  Add to this the growing support for impeachment and Trump becoming a liability may become a reality sooner than some of his current sycophants think.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at what may be fueling the growing support for both impeachment and the removal of Trump from office.  Here are excerpts: 

In the first few days after House Democrats announced impeachment proceedings against President Trump, a series of anti-Trump conservatives published columns arguing that they were making a giant tactical error. Bret Stephens (“Pelosi’s Bad Impeachment Call”), David Brooks (“Yes, Trump Is Guilty, But Impeachment Is a Mistake”), and George Will (“The best antidote for a bad election is a better election”) all produced the same argument. Trump has done awful things, but impeachment will repel the public. Only an election can remove him.
The flaws in that argument have already become apparent. Impeachment is growing steadily more popular. . . . A commanding majority, 58 versus 38 percent, support the House’s impeachment inquiry. The fear that Trump somehow desired impeachment has been belied by essentially all the White House reporting, which shows the president alternating between depression and raging and flailing for a strategy.
The fear that impeachment would backfire was not crazy, but almost every piece of evidence so far has vindicated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy. There are several reasons why the politics of impeachment have turned in the Democrats’ favor:
This isn’t Russia. The anticlimactic denouement of the Russia investigation weighed heavily on the impeachment skeptics. But the political impact of the Russia probe was smothered both by its dependence on Robert Mueller, . . . . and the sheer complexity of the affair. If the only important facts in the Russia story were Donald Trump negotiating for a several-hundred-million-dollar payoff from Vladimir Putin during the campaign and then lying about it, the outcry might have toppled him.
The Ukraine scandal is much simpler. There is a lot of evidence of wrongdoing, but it all revolves around a single narrative of Trump pressuring a foreign country to investigate his domestic rivals. And the narrative is controlled by Congress, which is willing to charge the president with a high crime, not a reclusive prosecutor who has decided it is improper for him to make any such accusation.
Even Republicans have trouble defending it. For all the public affirmations of support from Trump’s fervent base in the party and party-controlled media, even his supporters are harboring some qualms.
Anita Kumar has a revealing story quoting hard-core Trumpists — ones who stood behind him throughout the Russia scandal — expressing their belief that this time he went too far. “Russia was never real,” an outside Trump adviser says, “Ukraine is.”
The story can get worse. One thing that ought to have been apparent at the outset of this scandal, but which many people missed, is that a lot of people were involved. Turning American foreign policy into an episode of The Sopranos isn’t easy. You have a whole bureaucracy that’s used to operating along established channels, and distorting its functions in such a gross fashion sends ripples throughout the system.
There are going to be more witnesses and more records of communication. Trump is going to keep lying and saying crazy things. It’s not going to be easy to deprive the story of oxygen.
The politics can get worse, too. Republican support for Trump may be louder than the criticism. But the silence of many Republicans, not just the handful of quasi-independent voices, speaks volumes. Many Republicans are withholding judgment, perhaps criticizing impeachment as hasty, but not defending Trump’s behavior or ruling out removal if more evidence emerges.
Mitt Romney is planning to rally Republicans for impeachment in the Senate. Romney has a lot of respect in his caucus, and a lot of fame among the public. Can he get enough senators to remove Trump? Probably not. (Though “probably” is a lot different than “absolutely.”) But some measure of bipartisan support for impeachment is going to strengthen the message that Trump has done something seriously wrong.
This will hurt Trump’s reelection. The biggest mistake the impeachment skeptics made is their assumption that impeaching Trump are unrelated to, or at cross-purposes with, defeating him in 2020. “An election can save the country. An inside-the-Beltway political brawl will not,” predicted Brooks.
Most voters are locked in to one of the parties. The swing vote tends to be low-information voters with a hazy grasp of the issues. Impeachment is a signal to those voters that Trump has done something seriously wrong. It’s not a magic trick that works against every president — there needs to be misconduct people can easily understand, and which the news media covers as a serious scandal. This easily qualifies.
There’s no real political magic here. Having the news dominated by a scandal even many Republicans can’t defend, with a constant drip of damning new details, is extremely unhelpful for [Trump] the president.
I personally hope the momentum of growing support for impeachment continues.  Another wild card Republicans need to be gin worrying about too is how involved was Mike Pence?  I suspect Pence was up to his ears in the operation. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Poll: A majority of Virginia Voters Want Democrats to Control the General Assembly

I was a Republican activist back in the 1990's when the Republicans won back control of the Virginia General Assembly.  At the time I was thrilled by that takeover.  What I had not factored in was the coming Christofascist - and more recently, open white supremacist - takeover of the GOP both in Virginia and nationally. During the intervening quarter of a century under these toxic influences, instead of making life better for a majority of Virginians, the Virginia GOP has endeavored to hold Virginia back from progress and pandered to Christian extremist, gun nuts, and those who would see their neighbors starve of die for lack of medical care rather than pay a dollar more in taxes. It has taken time for a majority of Virginians to realize that the Virginia GOP - like the national party - has become a reactionary, racist, and sectarian party (something I recognized as beginning to happen two decades ago).   Hence, it is little surprise that a new CNU poll found that a majority of Virginians want Democrats to take control of the General Assembly via the state elections next month.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the poll findings.  Here are story excerpts:
By a hefty margin, Virginia voters favor having Democrats take control of the General Assembly in November elections over leaving it in GOP hands, according to a poll released Monday by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
Fifty-three percent of likely voters say they want the Democrats to lead the legislature, the poll found, compared to 37 percent who’d like to keep Republicans in power.
The GOP is defending slim majorities in the state Senate (20-19) and House of Delegates (51-48), with one vacancy in each chamber. All 140 seats are on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Voters sided with Democrats on a range of issues on the front burner in Richmond this year, including gun control, with 83 percent saying they would be more likely to support a candidate who favors requiring background checks for all gun purchases and 67 percent saying the same about banning assault weapons.
Seventy-six percent said they would be more likely to vote for someone who supports ratifying the federal Equal Rights Amendment, while 66 percent said they would be inclined to back a candidate who supports a $15 minimum wage.
But the poll showed markedly little appetite for the “Medicare for All” healthcare plan embraced nationally by some leading Democratic 2020 presidential contenders.
Other national political factors – President Trump chief among them – seemed to be working against Republicans. Trump’s low marks in the survey – 37 percent approve of the job he’s doing -- has potential to spill over to state legislative candidates. Fifty-nine percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for someone who supports [Trump] the president, while 37 percent said they would be more likely. . . . . “Like or not, there’s no way for state legislative candidates to run in a vacuum -- their national party brands influence their fortunes.”
Most of the survey was conducted before the release of detailed notes of a July call between Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump urged Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Turnout for Virginia’s “off-off year” elections, when there is no statewide contest on the ballot, typically favors Republicans. But Christopher Newport pollsters see indications that the anti-Trump backlash that drove up Democratic turnout over the past two years has not subsided.
They note that, among likely voters, 62 percent of Democrats say they are “very enthusiastic” about voting in the election, compared to 49 percent for both Republicans and independents. They also found a 10-point advantage for Democrats who say they will “definitely” vote (84 percent of Democrats, compared to 74 percent of Republicans).
The poll found Democrats held a 13-point advantage of the “generic ballot” question, which asks voters if they will support the Republicans or Democrats running for the legislature.
“Given the significant interest and enthusiasm gaps measured in this survey, we expect some version of the Trump Bump to manifest in the 2019 Virginia state legislative elections,” said Rachel Bitecofer, the Wason Center’s elections analyst.

Note two things: (i) Elizabeth Warren's and Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for all" is not moving voters to support Democrats, and (ii) Trump is continuing to destroy voter support for the GOP in Virginia - at least outside of the racist and ignorance embracing rural areas.  Should Virginia Democrats triumph next month, one has to wonder if national Republicans may realize their best move would be to support impeachment of Trump and his removal from office.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

LGBT Americans Again Wait to See If They Are Equal Under the Law

In the eighteen years since I first admitted to myself and others that I am gay - have always been gay, despite decades of strenuous attempts to "pray away the gay" - I and others in the LGBT community have had to wait and worry for the courts and legislatures to rule or legislate that we are equal under the law and not condemned to an inferior status because of what ultimately is religious based discrimination nowadays principally championed by far right Christians at least in America.  First we watched and worried at how the Supreme Court would rule in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 which ultimately struck down the sodomy laws in Texas, Virginia and eleven other states.  Until that ruling, gays faced possible felony convictions even for relations with those of the same gender even in the privacy of their own homes.  

Later, we watched to see if Congress would strike down Don't Ask, Don't Tell which made life a living hell for thousands of honorable and decent LGBT members in the nation's military.  I and many others in the LGBT community have friends who were forced out of the military because of this policy that, once again, had its basis in religious based bigotry that had nothing to do with one's ability to serve and lead.  Look no farther than Alexander the Great, the Sacred Band of Thebes, or America  Revolutionary War leader General Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben, also referred to as Baron von Steuben, to prove the lie of Christofascists arguments.

More recently, in 2014 and 2015, we watched and waited to see how the courts would rule on same sex marriage - the husband and I traveled to the District of Columbia to marry before the 4th Circuit struck down Virginia's ban - with the Supreme Court finally making same sex marriage a reality in the Obergefell ruling in June, 2015.  

Through out this slow process, here in Virginia and many other states (thanks to Republican legislators), LGBT citizens have been unprotected from being fired for being gay - something I know about first hand after being forced from a law firm for being gay.  I was told a gay partner would "offend the sensibilities of the firm's conservative clients."  I have never fully recovered from the financial ruin that firing triggered.  While I now work at a firm that cares nothing about me being gay, thousands of gays are not so lucky.  Now, we in the LGBT community again wait to see if the Supreme Court will grant us equality and equal protection under the nation's non-discrimination laws.  With that Court now in the grips of right wing justices, the verdict is anything but certain as a piece in The Atlantic notes.  Here are article highlights: 
A skydiving instructor in New York, a funeral-home director in Michigan, a child-welfare advocate in Georgia: Donald Zarda, Aimee Stephens, and Gerald Lynn Bostock are three people who seemingly have little in common, save for one extraordinary fact. Each claims to have been fired because they are gay or transgender, and all three will argue their cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.
The Court will decide whether existing federal civil-rights law protects millions of LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace, potentially clearing the way for new challenges across the legal system. But more important, the Court’s ruling will be a powerful symbol of the status of LGBTQ rights in America today. Faced with the legal mess America left behind when it moved on from its gay-rights moment following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, the justices will decide whether the law actually reflects a culture that is radically more accepting than it was even a few years ago.
All three of the alleged wrongful-termination cases hinge on one word: sex. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise penalize people because of their sex.
[T]he Court has long ruled that sex discrimination includes sex stereotyping, or generalizations about how a person should act or dress based on societal norms for men and women. In 1989, this was the basis of a major victory for a woman named Ann Hopkins, who sued her employer, the accounting firm then known as Price Waterhouse, for telling her she needed to wear makeup and otherwise play up her feminine charms to get promoted to partner. Over the past 30 years, LGBTQ advocates have argued that sex stereotyping is also what drives employers to discriminate against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, believing LGBTQ people fail to meet society’s standards for how men and women should act.
But Katie Eyer, a law professor at Rutgers University, doesn’t think the Supreme Court’s decision in these cases will necessarily follow clear ideological lines. “I really do think this is a case in which people’s intuitions” about the justices’ ideology “are butting up against the methodological commitments of those same justices,” she told me.
The possibility for a surprise outcome, Eyer said, lies in the influence of textualism, the legal theory that guides certain conservative justices. While some scholars, such as Epstein, argue that Title VII should not cover LGBTQ people because Congress never meant for it to do so, “the basic premise of textualism is that we have to have our legal decisions controlled by the words that Congress used rather than any sort of subjective sense of what Congress intended,”
Eyer said. She believes the meaning of sex plainly includes expressions of gender and sexuality, and that at least one conservative justice might agree. As evidence, she cited the Court’s unanimous 1998 decision in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., in favor of a man, Joseph Oncale, who was sexually harassed by other men who worked with him on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The author of that decision was none other than the Court’s foremost champion of textualism, Antonin Scalia, who was replaced by an ardent admirer of his and who is also a committed textualist: Neil Gorsuch.
No matter what the Court decides, these cases will likely prompt a renewed push for federal legislation that clearly spells out Congress’s position on LGBTQ discrimination. Versions of this kind of bill have bounced around Congress for decades, but have always failed to pass, which Harper has called “shocking and appalling.” The latest iteration, called the Equality Act, easily passed in the House of Representatives this spring, but was essentially dead on arrival in the Senate. If the Supreme Court rules that Title VII does not currently bar employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Congress will be LGBTQ advocates’ last hope for protections.
On the other hand, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the LGBTQ-rights argument, conservatives will likely race to protect religious institutions that fear they will be forced to comply with hiring standards that violate their teachings on gender and sexuality. Many LGBTQ advocates want to see their rights protected with explicit legislation, no matter what: It would send a “moral message,” Eyer said. “There is value to having Congress enact a law that says, explicitly, ‘This is a form of discrimination that we value—quite apart from sex discrimination—that we think should not exist in the workplace.’”
Ultimately, these cases are most significant because of their moral symbolism: While relatively few people end up suing their employers in federal court, laws help set norms about who is valued and protected in the United States. “Nobody wants the lawsuit,” Eyer said. “What they want is not to have experienced discrimination or harassment to begin with.”
Just a few years ago, a Supreme Court with a very different ideological makeup handed down a landmark ruling in Obergefell, establishing the right for all Americans to marry. That decision left many legal issues unresolved, however, including questions about LGBTQ discrimination. As it stands now, the Court may not be inclined to continue on its recent path of affirming LGBTQ rights.
Whatever it decides, however, America has fundamentally changed. The judgment of nine Supreme Court justices matters. But LGBTQ Americans are working toward something larger: acceptance.
I dream of a day when LGBT citizens are fully equal with everyone else under the law.  

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

New Poll: Majority of Americans Endorse Impeachment Inquiry

In the previous post, it was noted that Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a “nutjob” and a loser,” as well as a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” Moreover, he predicted that if the GOP nominated him, “we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”  That, of course, was before Graham and other Congressional Republicans sold their souls and became Trump apologists or worse. Now, a new poll suggests that the GOP's much deserved self-destruction may be closer at hand than boot licking Republicans want to admit.  Indeed, 58% of Americans support the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry and 49% believe Trump should be removed from office - and this is even before the hearings likely expose much more unsavory and improper actions by Trump.  Here are highlights from the Post about the poll findings which must have some in the GOP close to soiling their underwear:
A majority of Americans say they endorse the decision by House Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry of President Trump, and nearly half of all adults also say the House should take the additional step and recommend that the president be removed from office, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.
The findings indicate that public opinion has shifted quickly against [Trump] the president and in favor of impeachment proceedings in recent weeks as information has been released about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian government officials to undertake an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 campaign rival, and Biden’s son Hunter.
The recent revelations appear to have prompted many Americans to rethink their position.
The poll finds that, by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans say the House was correct to undertake the inquiry. Among all adults, 49 percent say the House should take the more significant step to impeach [Trump] the president and call for his removal from office. Another 6 percent say they back the start of the inquiry but do not favor removing Trump from office, with the remainder undecided about the president’s ultimate fate. The results among registered voters are almost identical.
The findings highlight the partisan divisions that surround the Trump presidency and any impeachment inquiry, but also the degree to which there are defections among Republicans.
More than 8 in 10 Democrats endorse the inquiry and nearly 8 in 10 favor a vote to recommend that Trump be removed from office. Among Republicans, roughly 7 in 10 do not support the inquiry but almost 3 in 10 do, and almost one-fifth of Republicans say they favor a vote recommending his removal. Among the critical voting bloc of independents, support for the impeachment inquiry hits 57 percent, with 49 percent saying the House should vote to remove Trump from office. . . . there has been movement toward an impeachment inquiry among all three groups, with support for the inquiry rising by 25 points among Democrats, 21 points among Republicans and 20 points among independents.
Two pieces of information triggered the impeachment inquiry and have sparked widespread public concern, according to latest survey . . . . The first was the rough transcript of a July 25 telephone call between Trump and newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked for “a favor” that included requests for the Ukrainians to look into what happened during the 2016 election and to investigate Biden and his son, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Asked about the contents of the telephone call, a clear majority of Americans say Trump’s request to investigate Biden and his son was inappropriate (62 percent to 32 percent who felt it was not).
When it comes to Trump’s overall conduct as president, Americans offer a harsh verdict. Asked whether the president upholds adequate standards for ethics in government, 60 percent of Americans say he does not, while 35 percent say he does.
At this early stage in the impeachment inquiry, whose timing is fraught as the country barrels toward an election year, the public is siding more with congressional Democrats than Republicans when it comes to their responses so far.
Majorities of Americans say Democrats in Congress are making a necessary stand against Trump’s actions (61 percent) and are acting to uphold their constitutional duties (53 percent). Similarly, a majority (55 percent) say Democrats are not overreacting by starting the impeachment inquiry.
The survey finds cracks within the Republican coalition on the question of support for the impeachment inquiry, with younger and more moderate Republicans offering greater support. . . . 40 percent of Republican-leaning adults ages 18-39 endorse the start of the impeachment inquiry, compared with 23 percent of those ages 40-64 and 13 percent of those age 65 and older.
On the question of the appropriateness of Trump’s request to Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, 45 percent of moderate-to-liberal Republicans and Republicans under age 40 say it was not appropriate.
65 percent of women favoring the impeachment inquiry, compared with 51 percent of men.
A majority (61 percent) of white college graduates favor the inquiry, while whites without college degrees, a mainstay of Trump’s support, are split: 47 percent in favor and 48 percent in opposition.

One can only hoe that support for impeachment - and removal of Trump from office - continues to grow.  He is a cancer that must be removed from the White House at any cost. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

The Humiliation of Lindsey Graham, a Trump Political Prostitute

Lindsey Graham - who willingly sold his soul.

One of the confounding things about Donald Trump sycophants and Republicans trying to outdo each other in give Trump political fellatio is that throughout his tawdry career, Trump has never shown true loyalty to anyone. It is all about Trump 24/7 and those who toss aside integrity and what little shred of honor today's Republicans can claim sooner or later find themselves tossed aside and disposable.  The same holds true in the international realm.  Trust Trump and any believe what he says and it's only a matter of time before the betrayal unfolds.  Ask the Syrian Kurds who allied with the United States only to find Trump summarily decide to withdraw American troops and aid and throw the Kurds to the mercy of Turkey.  Or ask Lindsey Graham who has prostituted himself to Trump more than almost any other congressional Republican in order to (i) remain "relevant" and (ii) stay in the good graces of the racists and Christian extremist in South Carolina that are keys to Trump's base.  A piece in Politico Magazine looks at Graham's self-degradation seemingly for little return.  Here are excerpts:
It was a cri de cœur from Lindsey Graham, the lament of the sycophant scorned.
President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in Syria by leaving them undefended against a Turkish invasion was, Graham tweeted, “a disaster” and a “nightmare.”
As Monday morning wore on, he expanded his indictment. Betraying the Kurds would force them to align with the Assad regime and Iran and would ensure the comeback of ISIS. It would be, he tweeted, “a stain on America’s honor,” and a virtual surrender to the terrorists. . . . “By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible — America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways.“ . . . In his cruelest cut of all, he compared Trump with Barack Obama.
Graham’s disappointment was palpable, but understandable, given all that he has given up to avoid this moment.
For the past several years, Graham has transformed himself from one of Trump’s fiercest critics, into one of his most reflexive defenders. Even by the cynical and shape-shifting standards of Washington, Graham’s metamorphosis has been a thing of wonder. The senator once known as John McCain’s best friend in the Senate, transformed himself into Trump’s shinebox, willing to ingratiate himself with rationalizations and praise even as Trump became increasingly erratic.
During the 2016 campaign, Graham had called Trump a “nutjob” and a loser,” as well as a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” He predicted that if the GOP nominated him, “we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”
But as McCain faded from the scene, Graham seemed to shift his affections to the man who so publicly insulted McCain.
In moments of candor, Graham tried to explain the deal he thought he was making. When Mark Leibovich asked him earlier this year what had happened to him, Graham explained:
“Well, OK, from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he said.  I asked what “this” was. “ ‘This,’ ” Graham said, “is to try to be relevant.”
Like many others in his party, staying “relevant” was central to their political calculations. Capitulating to Trump meant that Graham would become a rock star in the increasingly Trumpist party and virtually assured of reelection in South Carolina next year.
He would also have the president’s ear. And this was at the heart of Graham's bargain.
Others made the same calculation, but Graham made the uber-tradeoff, because the stakes were so high. What did it matter if he had to endure temporary embarrassments, abase himself on cable television, or even become a political punchline, if he could stop Trump from impulsive decisions regarding Russia or North Korea? Or Syria?
The world saw Graham as a craven, cringing Uriah Heep. Graham saw himself as someone who could save the world, or at least the Kurds. . . . . He was not simply the adult in the room; he was the adult BFF in the room, who would temper Trump’s worst instincts.
And then came Trump’s decision.
Despite Graham’s compulsive turd-polishing of the past few years, Trump didn’t even consult him before making the decision to abandon the Kurds. Graham, who had given up so much self-respect to prevent just this outcome, was not even in the room. He didn’t even get a text.
This is the thing about Faustian bargains. The price is high and the rewards turn out to be illusory. They end badly.
This week, Lindsey Graham, found that out the hard way. I wonder what they’ll talk about the next time they go golfing together.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Is Trump’s Base is Smaller Than He Thinks

Republicans remain cowed and intimidated by Donald Trump's base of racists, religious extremist, and greed driven plutocrats, hence their reluctance to admit publicly that Trump is unfit for office and needs to be impeached for seeking election interference from foreign governments. However, a column in the Washington Post suggests that Trump's unwavering core of supporters is perhaps far smaller than both he and spineless congressional Republicans believe.   If this analysis is correct, and if Republicans get grow a pair and stop being intimidated by the crime boss like part head, then perhaps the cancer in the White House can be removed. Of course, just how involved Mike Pence has been in these illegal activities - so far it appears he was up to his ears in it despite his sergeant Schulz act - could also play a factor it their willingness to send Trump out of office. Here are column highlights:

The debate over impeaching President Trump reveals an irony: Those who favor it have far more respect for the president’s supporters than those who oppose it.
Critics of impeachment argue that the effort to remove Trump from office over his open invitations of foreign meddling in our elections will only ignite the Trump “base. Those who say we should let this all go see his backers as an excitable immovable bloc of people closed to reasoned argument or new information.
Thus are roughly 40 percent of our fellow citizens cast as an unthinking blob that will embrace anything Trump says and turn out in droves in 2020 to beat back the elitist fake-newsers and deep-staters no matter what the facts are.
Those of us who support impeachment don’t deny that there is a “Trump base” but insist that mountains of polling evidence show that it amounts to 25 to 30 percent of voters at most. The rest of the 46 percent who voted for Trump have real doubts about who he is, how he behaves and what he is doing to our country. Even those of us who disagree with them on a variety of issues see this substantial part of Trump’s constituency as made up of rational and engaged citizens open to persuasion.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, found that only 24 percent of registered voters strongly approved of Trump’s performance, while 44 percent strongly disapproved. Significantly, 74 percent of Democratic registered voters strongly disapproved of Trump, but only 50 percent of Republican registered voters strongly approved of him. Which base would you rather have going into this fight — and into 2020?
The 24 percent are the folks you see at the Trump rallies. Trump’s more tepid approvers (17 percent of registered voters in this survey) tend to stay home, take in the news and ask questions about what’s going on.
The big gap between strong approvers and strong disapprovers was very predictive of the 2018 election turnout that gave Democrats control of the House. Those elections showed that many who voted for Trump in 2016 were prepared to vote for Democrats two years later. This was a telling sign that a sizable share of Trump’s voters are not lockstep apologists.
Recall that the three key Trump states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin elected Democratic senators and governors last year. In Wisconsin, Sen. Tammy Baldwin picked up 14 percent of Trump’s 2016 voters, while Sen. Bob Casey won 12 percent of them in Pennsylvania and Sen. Debbie Stabenow got 9 percent of them in Michigan. If a Democratic presidential nominee can achieve those numbers next year, Trump loses. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Sept. 13 to 16,. . . . only 30 percent said they had “very positive” feelings toward him [Trump], and only 25 percent said they both liked Trump personally and approved of most of his policies. The bottom line is that too much political analysis (wrongly) sees this hard core as representing all of those who backed Trump in 2016 because they wanted to send one message or another (or because they loathed Hillary Clinton). In fact, a lot of Trump’s one-time supporters do not believe everything they hear from him or Fox News. A fair number of them don’t like him very much. Economically minded working-class Trump voters will notice that his signature promise to restore manufacturing is being broken before their eyes as new economic numbers point toward a manufacturing recession.
Those advancing the case for impeachment believe that, whether the Senate removes Trump from office or not, it’s important to make clear how corrupt and dangerous his behavior has been. More Trump voters are listening to these arguments than their pretend-friends want us to believe.

Again, I hope this analysis is correct and that spineless Republicans will wake up to this reality.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

More Sunday Male Beauty

The Republican Art of Selling One's Soul

Image by Ben Wiseman.
Moral bankruptcy and a willingness to prostitute one's self in exchange for fleeting power are now hallmarks of today's Republican elected officials. Honor, honesty, and adherence to basic morality no longer matter.  And then there is the putrid party base that is consumed with racism, hatred of those they deem "other" and pushing a hideous form of Christianity that flushes Christ's gospel message down the toilet.  As a former Republican, I continue to be dismayed at how many one time political colleagues have sold their souls and are making a mockery of the values they once claimed to uphold.  A column in the New York Times looks at some prominent Republicans - Mike Pompeo, an supposed evangelical Christian, in particular - who embody this total moral rot that has consumed the GOP.  Here are column excerpts:
There’s no way that Mike Pompeo actually venerates Donald Trump. I doubt he even likes the president much.
Pompeo graduated first in his class at West Point decades ago, a feat that suggests enormous reserves of discipline, a profound respect for tradition and a talent for self-effacement when the circumstances warrant it. Trump possesses none of those qualities.
Pompeo is an evangelical Christian, steeped in the very dictums that Trump has spent a lifetime mocking with both his words and his deeds. And Pompeo has long believed in the importance of American military intervention abroad, the kind of activist role that Trump railed against during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
In fact Pompeo, who was then a congressman from Kansas, supported Marco Rubio — and publicly praised him, while disparaging Trump . . . . he sounded an alarm that Trump would be “an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution.” He urged Republicans to come to their senses and resist the lure of the surging Trump campaign. “It’s time,” he said, “to turn down the lights on the circus.”
But the lights continued to burn bright, so Pompeo just put on a clown suit, put away his ethics and finagled a big role under the Big Top.
He had plenty of company in that transformation. It’s the wonder of the Trump era and one of the saddest, scariest themes of the impeachment inquiry so far: the teeming crowd of sellouts and suck-ups who eagerly traded principle for position and are in some cases doubling and tripling down on that transaction, to a point where it’s fair to ask if there was ever much principle to begin with.
I’m looking at you, Lindsey Graham, who somehow decided that Trump was the new John McCain, which is like deeming tripe the new tenderloin. Hell, I’m looking at most of the Republicans in the Senate.
Pompeo, who first signed on as Trump’s C.I.A. director and then flattered his way to secretary of state, is a paragon of these lackeys-come-lately, and he’s especially vivid proof of how easily and completely the lure of power can overwhelm any call to conscience.
Pompeo had a heady shot at a vaunted job that almost surely wasn’t going to come his way any other time. So he lunged for it, then demonstrated with his obsequiousness that doing good and doing right were never high on the agenda.
He wrote an op-ed article that essentially broke with his fellow Republicans to promote Trump’s view that Saudi Arabia’s butchery of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi shouldn’t give anyone pause. What are a few severed body parts among allies?
He listened mutely to that July 25 phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, decided to ignore what he heard and then claimed — until a few days ago — that he was utterly in the dark about any pressure on Ukraine to kneecap Joe Biden.
Had he spoken up or pushed back, he would have risked ending up on the outside, among the swelling Trump administration diaspora. He preferred the inside, with its glossier trappings and cushier thrones. . . . Better to be a wretched part of history than no part at all.
The tale sounds familiar because it is. It’s the story of Faust, who sold his soul for renown, then endured the ugliness of that deal. It’s also the story of too many of Trump’s Republican enablers to count.
Few people remember anymore, but just years before she became the dark empress of “alternative facts,” Kellyanne Conway was a respected, reasonably mainstream, uncontroversial Republican pollster and strategist. Just months before she joined Team Trump, she correctly labeled him “vulgar,” said that he wasn’t presidential, called him a liar and demanded his tax returns. Then he offered her the lofty job of managing his presidential campaign — and all the television airtime that came with it — and she turned herself into a kowtowing cartoon. She’ll never be seen the same way again. Was the ride really worth it?
[Lindsey] Graham was oddly and briefly honest about this in an interview with The Times’s Mark Leibovich, framing his kinship with Trump, whom he once called “the world’s biggest jackass,” as part of his career-long quest “to try to be relevant.” This quest now involves the insistence that Trump, rather than abusing the presidency to dig up imagined dirt on a political rival, is the victim of some setup.
You can hear Graham’s version as predictably loopy illogic from a senator up for re-election next year in the deep-red state of South Carolina, but it’s more than that. It’s the fee for being able to get the president on the phone, for being invited to play golf with him, for feeling the rush of access, for crowing about your perch at the epicenter of the action.
He and Pompeo will have insider anecdotes to last the rest of their lives. They’ll need just as long to convince themselves that they didn’t overpay.

Sunday Morning Male Beauty

The Case for Impeaching Trump

It should have been obvious to anyone not motivated by racial animus, right wing religious zealotry or greed that placing Donald Trump in the White House was a very bad and dangerous idea.  Anyone who had followed is crime syndicate like real estate business and his repeated flouting of the law - there's a reason his home town dislikes him so intensely - could well imagine that the same narcissism and disregard for the law would continue on a far grander scale if this unfit individual came to weld immense power.  Sure enough, all of this has come to pass and Trump now faces an impeachment inquiry as he openly calls on foreign governments to interfere in America's elections and places his own electoral interests above America and its allies national security. In a piece in New York Magazine, the case is made as to why Trump must be impeached and removed from office.  If one is a true patriot, nothing less can suffice.  The man is a menace.  Here are highlights:
Remember that sultry July day during the 2016 campaign when Donald Trump went in front of the television cameras and asked the Russian government to intervene in the looming presidential election on his behalf? “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails [by Hillary Clinton] that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” We now know, thanks to the Mueller report, that Moscow responded by hacking Hillary Clinton’s server that very day. We also know that the Mueller report itself concluded, after exhaustive examination, that there was no prosecutable evidence of a “conspiracy” between Trump and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. Yet we saw one in broad daylight.
This has long been the paradox of this administration. We tend to assume that nefarious activities of an impeachable variety will always be conducted away from the glare of the media, hidden from the public record, scrubbed of incriminating information. We always assume that what lies under the rock is always more damning than what lies basking on top of it. And we do so for a simple reason. Most criminals assume they might be caught, and take care to avoid it. Nixon ordered the break-in and the cover-up and tried to keep it all on the down low, where indeed it might have stayed if he hadn’t taped all his incriminating conversations.
Trump is different. He proudly released a “transcript” of a “perfect” phone call that proved a direct attempt to leverage pending U.S. military aid in order to get the Ukrainian government to investigate one of his likeliest opponents in the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden. In the texts of U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker to European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland, Ukrainian administration staff, and former Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor at the time:
“Most impt. is for Zelensky to say he will help investigation.” “Heard from White House — assuming president Z convinces trump he will investigate/ ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.” “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
July 21 has my favorite text:
Bill Taylor: Gordon, one thing Kurt and I talked about yesterday … was [the] point that president Zelensky is sensitive to Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic/re-election politics.”
Proof of an impeachable crime does not get clearer than that.
And then yesterday, the president, on his way to a helicopter, smeared a whole lot of butter icing on the top of the impeachment cake.
First, he reiterated his advice to President Zelensky of Ukraine that he should open an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business ventures in Ukraine. Then, not content with bragging about one impeachable crime, he gave notice that he was perfectly prepared to commit another. The amuse-bouche: “I have a lot of options on China, but if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.” The entrée: “Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is almost as bad a what happened in Ukraine.” He went further: “I don’t think president Xi likes being under that kind of scrutiny.” For good measure, Trump knows that there is no such thing as a fair investigation by a totalitarian state, currently involved in the reeducation or eradication of its Muslim Uighur minority and shooting at protesters in the streets of Hong Kong.
And so the president has clearly committed two high crimes: He has used his position as president to solicit help from two foreign governments, one a Communist dictatorship, in fighting the next presidential election, just as he did in July 2016 with Russia, but this time with China and Ukraine.
And yes, these are clear, unequivocal crimes. The chair of the Federal Election Committee, Ellen Weintraub, tweeted the bleeding obvious yesterday: “Let me make something 100% clear to the America public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.
Far from faithfully executing the laws, this president is openly breaking them — in full view of the world, and in flagrant violation of his oath of office.
And there is no Paul Ryan–like defense that Trump didn’t know about the illegality of such actions. In Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano’s words, “For heaven’s sake, Trump was just investigated by Mueller for two-and-a-half tumultuous years for allegedly bringing the Russian government into the 2016 election and now he has attempted in one phone call to bring the Ukrainian government into the 2020 election!” Worse, having been found out on the Ukraine call, he went ahead and urged China to investigate as well! This is repeated, reckless, deliberate breaking of the law and expressed contempt for it.
Why would a president say such things? And in public? My view, for what it’s worth, is that Trump’s pathological narcissism overrides reality on a minute-by-minute basis, and that because of this, the very idea of the rule of law, which makes no distinction between the really stable geniuses and everybody else, is impossible for Trump to understand. It’s designed as a neutral check on any individual’s desire to do whatever he wants — and a “neutral check” is, quite simply, beyond Trump’s comprehension
Looking at his long and abysmal business career, the rule of law was always, always an object of scorn, something only suckers cared about and lawyers were paid to circumvent. For Trump, the law is something to break, avoid or pay off. And as president, he clearly believes he is above it.
But narcissism is no defense. Delusional mania and paranoia are no defenses either. This is an open assault on the integrity of U.S. elections and the rule of law by the president himself. We need no more investigations or even hearings. We already have irrefutable proof. The suspect has confessed.
An attempt to get a foreign power to intervene in an internal election process is definitionally an impeachable offense. It was precisely the fear of foreign interference that prompted much of the founders’ discussion of impeachment.
Draw up the articles of impeachment, keep them short and focused on unchallengeable evidence in the Ukraine, and now China cases. Don’t let Trump deploy a barrage of distractions or misdirections. Don’t let the evidence grow cold. Hold a vote as soon as possible. This man is a menace to the core integrity of our republic and Constitution. He must be removed before the damage is incalculable.