Saturday, November 23, 2019

Trump is Reversing LGBT Progress in Plain Sight

The Trump/Pence regime has been waging a relentless war against the LGBT community since day one.  Part of the motivation has been to maintain the support of gay hating evangelical Christians.  The rest seems to be based on simple anti-LGBT animus.  The result is that LGBT individuals - especially those without money and influence - are significantly less secure in their employment and health care access than was the case on the last day of the Obama administration.  In states with laws protecting LGBT rights, some of the threats are lessened at least in the realm of employment and public accommodation, but in the health care realm where federal rules often govern, dangers have increased.  In states without pro-LGBT laws, the situation can be bleak.  Thankfully, here in Virginia, there is about to be a sea change in LGBT protections with Governor Northam telling us recently that he wants to "be bold" on advancing LGBT rights in the next legislative session. Propublica has compiled a list of 31 ways in which the Trump/Pence regime has rolled back LGBT progress.  The list can be found here.  Here are some highlights (read the entire piece):

   When he campaigned for president, Donald Trump posed with the rainbow flag and became the first GOP nominee to mention LGBTQ citizens in his convention speech. . . . . stating he was “determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community.”
      Yet since taking office, Trump’s administration has acted to dismantle federal protections and resources for LGBTQ Americans, particularly those gained under President Barack Obama.
     In a reversal from the Obama administration, the Trump administration has repeatedly taken the position that laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex do not cover a person discriminated against for being gay or transgender. The administration has also pushed for religious exemptions to civil rights laws, which experts say will make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. The administration has taken particular aim at transgender people . . . . ProPublica reviewed actions taken by the Trump administration that could directly affect LGBTQ citizens. We found dozens of changes that represent a profound reshaping of the way the federal government treats the more than 11 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Employment1.       On July 26, 2017, just months after taking office, the president tweeted that he planned to ban transgender people from military service. This announcement reportedly came as a surprise to the generals he claimed to have consulted.
 2.       Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo that reversed the Justice Department’s position on whether the Civil Rights Act protects transgender people from workplace discrimination.
 3.       The Department of Justice, in accordance with Sessions’ memo, submitted a number of briefs in state and federal courts around the country arguing that employers could legally discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Among those were briefs filed in three cases currently in front of the Supreme Court that deal with the issue of workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people.
 4.       The Office of Personnel Management removed guidance written for federal agency managers on how to support transgender federal employees and replaced it with guidance that links to the DOJ’s reinterpretation of the Civil Rights Act, which says that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
 5.       The DOJ sent two memos to all executive branch departments that interpret religious liberty protections in ways that give broad exemptions from federal anti-discrimination laws to agencies and contractors.
 6.       The Department of Labor issued a directive to its staff to exempt contractors from compliance with federal nondiscrimination rules that cover employment if they conflict with a contractor’s religious beliefs. The directive specifically cites sexual orientation and gender identity, and it contradicts promises made by Trump in the early days of his administration that it would safeguard those rules. . . .
 7.       The Department of Labor proposed exempting providers of services and supplies for the military’s TRICARE health program from an executive order that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors.
Schools and Youth Groups1.       The day after Sessions was sworn in as attorney general, the DOJ withdrew the federal government’s challenge to an injunction against trans-inclusive Title IX guidance. Later that month, the DOJ and the Department of Education rescinded that guidance entirely.
 2.       The Department of Education confirmed to multiple news outlets that it was no longer investigating or taking action on complaints filed by transgender students who were barred from restrooms or other facilities that match their gender identity.
 3.       [T]he Trump administration’s Department of Education has drastically scaled back civil rights enforcement for LBGTQ students. The report found that complaints students filed alleging sexual orientation- and gender identity-based discrimination were nine times less likely to result in corrective action under the Trump administration than under the Obama administration.
 4.       According to an investigation by The Des Moines Register, the Department of Agriculture pushed the national 4-H youth organization to withdraw guidance aimed at welcoming and protecting LGBTQ members.
Health Care1.       The Department of Health and Human Services proposed a rule that would eliminate Obama-era regulations explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex stereotyping — stereotypical notions of how those of a certain gender should look or act — and gender identity by federally funded health providers, programs and insurers . . .
 2.       In that same proposed rule, HHS said it planned to eliminate other Obama-era regulations that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in certain Medicaid, private insurance and education programs. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, without these nondiscrimination prohibitions, health plan issuers could charge higher premiums or cancel or deny coverage to LGBTQ individuals, and Medicaid managed care programs could discriminate against LGBTQ beneficiaries in enrollment.
 3.       HHS dropped proposed requirements for hospitals to establish policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in order to participate in Medicare and Medicaid.
 4.       This spring, the administration issued a new “conscience rule” aimed at significantly expanding protections for federally funded health care providers who refuse to provide some medical services because of religious or moral objections. The rule’s implementation, which had been delayed by legal challenges, was blocked by three federal judges this month.
 5.       The HHS Office for Civil Rights — the part of the agency that enforces health care-related anti-discrimination laws — has taken steps to shift the office’s emphasis from the protection of “equal access” for patients to the protection of “conscience and free exercise of religion” for providers. 6.       HHS announced a new proposed rule that would allow the agency to issue grants to organizations that deny services to LGBTQ people. Specifically, the administration announced that it would immediately drop enforcement ofand will be seeking to roll back — Obama-era regulations that prohibited grant recipients from denying services on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and religion.

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Dedicated Public Servants: the Antidote to Trump

The Trump/Pence regime and its entourage of grifters and crooks is a huge malignancy on America.  It is like watching a crime syndicate writ large except that even in "The Godfather,"  Don Vito Corleone had some shred of principles.  Trump has none.   This past week in sharp contrast, Americans got to witness the testimony of career diplomats and public servants who  take their jobs and duties seriously and adhere to a code of duty, honor, country. The contrast between these individuals and Trump - and Devin Nunes based on the new CNN reporting - could not be more stark.  We need more of these people in government and in politics if we are to save the nation and its soul.  Andrew Sullivan notes this in column in New York Magazine that focuses in particular on Fiona Hill who dismantled the lies and obfuscation being put worth by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.  Here are excerpts: 
I’ve been in Britain, so it was tough to give this week’s impeachment hearings the attention they deserve. But one obvious theme has emerged: the imperturbability, professionalism, and courage of the women who have testified. When I sat down last night and watched some of the footage of Fiona Hill online, I was gobsmacked.
One of the wretched things about the last few years has been following and staying sane in the blizzard of bluster, misinformation, gaslighting, conspiracy theories, and the actual empirical, complex reality we have been confronted with. To keep one’s focus while enduring this torrent of deliberate confusion and competing narratives has been extremely hard.
But not for Hill.
Watching her listen carefully to Castor and Nunes’s questions and arguments, and then just as carefully, methodically dismantle them was a kind of cleansing shower in an impossibly humid summer. Her clear distinction between national security and a “domestic errand” is at the heart of the profound corruption in this presidency, and I have simply never seen it expressed so coherently and plainly.
This is why we needed impeachment hearings. We can see this “deep state” for the patriotic professionals so many of them are. We can pierce through the propaganda and see the Washington that many of us who live there have always seen: countless quiet, principled public servants, usually genuinely seeking the public good. Yes, there are many, many cronies and lobbyists and swamp-dwellers as well. But they are outnumbered.
And to see how these people have had to endure a president this deranged, this indifferent to the truth, this craven toward the enemies of the United States because they can be assets for his domestic political purposes is to experience the appropriate amount of anger toward the damage he has done. It feels like a moment to me.
And it is right and just that it has been women who have faced down this belligerent, blustering tyrant. And not just women but immigrant women, whose commitment to this country and its ideals can often be more intense than those of the native born.
She knows what’s at stake. And she has done her part. It gives me hope, I guess. Hope that we can, in fact, expose and defeat this malignancy at the heart of our democracy.
If we see Trump as the poison he truly is, we have now also seen something else. We have seen the antidote. 

Devin Nunes Implicated in Trump Ukraine Effort

Nunes and Parnas.
I have long viewed Rep. Devin Nunes (R) as little better than an agent of Vladimir Putin and someone utterly unfit for office. Like Donald Trump, Nunes uses lies, deceptions and the undermining of political norms to further causes destructive to American democracy and acts like one of Trump's crime syndicate "soldiers." Now, as CNN is reporting, it appears that Nunes was part of the effort to blackmail Ukraine and fabricate dirt on Joe Biden - all of which was/is a criminal conspiracy. Meanwhile, the slimy, amoral Nunes is striving to protect Trump in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.  Nunes needs to be forced from the House Intelligence Committee now investigating improper actions of which he was/is a part.  The GOP increasingly looks to be little more than one large criminal operation. Here are highlights from CNN:  
A lawyer for an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani tells CNN that his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had in Vienna last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.
The attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, represents Lev Parnas, the recently indicted Soviet-born American who worked with Giuliani to push claims of Democratic corruption in Ukraine. Bondy said that Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes.
 Nunes is one of President Donald Trump's key allies in Congress and has emerged as a staunch defender of [Trump] the President during the impeachment inquiry, which he has frequently labeled as a "circus." Nunes declined repeated requests for comment.
 Bondy tells CNN that his client and Nunes began communicating around the time of the Vienna trip. Parnas says he worked to put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help Nunes dig up dirt on Biden and Democrats in Ukraine, according to Bondy.
 That information would likely be of great interest to House Democrats given its overlap with the current impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and could put Nunes in a difficult spot.
Bondy tells CNN his client is willing to comply with a Congressional subpoena for documents and testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry in a manner that would allow him to protect his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
 Parnas' claims that Nunes met with Shokin, which has not been previously reported, add further context to a Daily Beast report that Parnas helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Nunes last year, citing another Parnas' lawyer, Ed McMahon.
 Those revelations came to a head on Thursday when Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell raised the Daily Beast story publicly during the impeachment hearing. Parnas, who was indicted on federal campaign finance charges last month, worked with Shokin and Giuliani to push a pair of unfounded claims: that Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Democrats, and that Biden was acting corruptly in Ukraine on behalf of his son Hunter, who sat on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings.
 "Nunes had told Shokin of the urgent need to launch investigations into Burisma, Joe and Hunter Biden, and any purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election," Bondy told CNN.
 There is no evidence that the Bidens acted inappropriately. Nor is there evidence to support the conspiracy theory that Ukraine worked with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election.
Yet these claims have been a key part of the public defense of [Trump] the President put forth by Nunes and other Republicans during the impeachment hearings this month.
 Bondy tells CNN that Parnas is also willing to tell Congress about a series of regular meetings he says he took part in at the Trump International Hotel in Washington that concerned Ukraine. According to Bondy, Parnas became part of what he described as a "team" that met several times a week in a private room at the BLT restaurant on the second floor of the Trump Hotel. In addition to giving the group access to key people in Ukraine who could help their cause, Parnas translated their conversations, Bondy said. In the weeks since his arrest, Parnas has become disenchanted with Trump and Giuliani, according to Bondy as well as other sources who spoke to CNN. Parnas, these sources say, was particularly upset when Trump denied knowing him the day after Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman were arrested in October. . . . "He believes he has put himself out there for [Trump] the President and now he's been completely hung out to dry," a person close to Parnas told CNN. On Thursday, Bondy promoted the hashtag #LetLevSpeak on Twitter in response to a number of questions about whether Parnas would testify in front of Congress. Bondy tweeted directly at Republican California Rep. Kevin McCarthy Thursday night after McCarthy accused Schiff of blocking important witnesses from testifying, saying "I don't agree with your premise, but please, if you mean what you say, call my client, Lev Parnas. #LetLevSpeak."

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, November 22, 2019

Can the Supreme Court Save Itself?

With a rogue malignant narcissist in the White House and a Congress where Republicans no longer care about facts an, indeed the rule of law, the last institution left to protect the nation and constitutional norms is is the U.S. Supreme Court.  With the appointment of two ideologues to the Court by Trump, the question now is one of whether the Court will become yet another of the Republican partisan political agenda and, in the process lose the respect of the majority of Americans.  Courts are expected to follow the rules and not support the whims and demands of a would be autocrat and rely to a large extent on public acceptance of their rulings as their source of legitimacy.  As a column in the New York Times argues, the Court finds itself on a precipice that will determine if it becomes viewed as merely a partisan body that no longer follows the long established rules of operation. Rules, which if followed would require rulings against both the Trump administration and Trump personally in his effort to hide his tax returns (which must contain some bombshells given the desperation with which he seeks to hide them from view).  Here are column highlights:

I’m often asked these days whether there is anything the Supreme Court can do to extract itself from the partisan trap into which the rancid confirmation process and the court’s own behavior have driven it. It’s a hard question because, of course, individual justices have deeply held views that happen for the most part to map onto the views of the presidents who named them to their seats.
That wasn’t always the case — think Chief Justice Earl Warren, named by President Dwight Eisenhower, or Justice Harry Blackmun, appointed by President Richard Nixon. But it’s the case now, and it’s unrealistic to suppose that either the five conservative Republican-appointed justices or the four moderates named by Democrats would — or even should — put their basic beliefs about the Constitution or the interpretation of statutes on the shelf in an effort to persuade the public that the court is not just another political institution.
But the recently argued case involving young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers and the pending effort by President Trump to quash subpoenas seeking his tax information from his personal accountants suggest that there is something the court can do. These are extraordinary cases, to be sure, but they easily — even obviously — lend themselves to resolution by ordinary rules.
And that would be the point: business as usual, no matter who’s in the White House. Although President Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, have excoriated lower-court judges as agents of “the resistance,” in fact it’s the judges who have been following the rules and the administration that behaves as if the rules apply only to everyone else.
The case involving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is a prime example. . . . The case is not about DACA’s legality or presidential discretion. It’s about rules: whether in rescinding DACA, the president adhered to the core principles of administrative law. Judges in four federal judicial districts found that he did not.
The Administrative Procedure Act doesn’t tell the government what to do. It simply requires that actions of federal agencies be supported by reasoned decision-making. When challenged, agencies have to provide explanations that are plausible and consistent rather than “arbitrary and capricious.”
It was on this basis that the administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census crashed and burned in June. The judges who blocked the plan, including Chief Justice John Roberts in his majority opinion, did not, as Attorney General Barr implied in a speech last week to the Federalist Society, “inquire into the subjective motivation behind governmental action. . . . The judges simply put the administration’s stated reason (to aid the Justice Department’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act) side by side with the facts (the request had not originated with the voting rights enforcers) and decided that the distance between the two was too great to meet the test of reasoned decision-making.
[Trump] The president would almost certainly have gotten away with rescinding the DACA program if he and his lawyers had simply said, “We don’t like DACA, it’s inconsistent with our approach to immigration policy in the following ways, and we’re getting rid of it.” But the lawyers couldn’t say that because President Trump had promised “the Dreamers” at the start of his administration that they would have his continued support. So the explanation the lawyers offered was that they had to terminate the program because they had discovered that it was illegal.
Rejecting this conclusion as “conclusory” and “virtually unexplained,” Judge John Bates of the Federal District Court in Washington took an unusual step. Rather than issuing an immediate injunction to block the rescission, he gave the administration 90 days “to better explain its view that DACA is unlawful.” Instead, the administration came back with what amounted to a new explanation of a different kind: that DACA was sending the wrong message by seeming to endorse and invite illegal entry into the country.
Responding in a second opinion, Judge Bates said that to accept what he called the “messaging rationale” would violate a basic principle of administrative law, which requires judges to disregard after-the-fact explanations “for why the agency could have taken the action.” Quoting a precedent from the federal appeals court in Washington, Judge Bates said that an agency’s subsequent explanation “must be more than a barren exercise of supplying reasons to support a preordained result.”
[I]f the administration wants to offer policy-based reasons for terminating DACA, it has to explain its policy choice, including why the need to end the program outweighs the fact that some 700,000 DACA recipients have built their lives around their ability to remain in the United States. Judge Bates said that when an agency is terminating an existing policy, the Administrative Procedure Act requires a “more substantial justification” than usual if the “prior policy has engendered serious reliance interests.”
So that’s how the ordinary rules would work in the DACA case. It’s not particularly complicated, but the conservative justices appeared to be having a hard time with it when the case was argued last week.
When it comes to the president’s effort to shield his tax returns, the justices need to do even less than that.
Two appeals by the president, in his private capacity and represented by private lawyers, have reached the Supreme Court in the past week. One, Trump v. Vance, is a formal appeal from a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York upholding the validity of a grand jury subpoena obtained by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, and served on the president’s accountants for his personal and business tax records.
“Any presidential immunity from state criminal process does not extend to investigative steps like the grand jury subpoena at issue here,” Chief Judge Robert Katzmann wrote for the appeals court. Any further question, he added pointedly, “is purely hypothetical.”
The Trump lawyers’ Supreme Court petition, referring to Mr. Vance as “politically motivated,” “a lone county prosecutor,” instructs the court that “a sitting president should be categorically immune from state criminal process.”
Whether the Supreme Court ultimately grants review in these cases is purely discretionary. In their preliminary posture, and in the absence of conflicting opinions from other courts, the cases don’t satisfy the justices’ ordinary, if loosely defined, criteria for cases worthy of their attention. The president’s lawyers appear to recognize this, compensating with their hyperbolic language about the dire consequences to the presidency and the country if the subpoenas are enforced.
I remember similar arguments in the Paula Jones case, when President Bill Clinton’s lawyers went to the Supreme Court with the claim that a sitting president should not be subject to a lawsuit. Mr. Clinton lost that argument by a vote of 9 to 0.
What should the court do with the Trump tax cases? If the justices play by their ordinary rules, they will turn them down.
DACA supporters have criticized the administration’s position that “the law is making us do it” on the ground that the administration is seeking to evade responsibility for a decision that while perhaps popular with the president’s base, is likely to be unpopular with the country as a whole once mass deportations of DACA recipients begin.
And if the justices don’t follow the ordinary rules of administrative law, the Supreme Court will own it too — as it will own President Trump’s effort to keep his tax returns secret if the justices don’t steer clear of his cases. Can the Supreme Court save itself from itself? We’re about to find out.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Republicans’ Moral Rot is All Out in the Open

Smirking GOP Rep. Jm Jordan - who is also accused of
ignoring sexual abuse of student athletes. 
This week's impeachment inquiry hearings, especially the testimony of Trump appointee Gordon Sondland has not been good news for Der Trumpenf├╝hrer, who has increasingly been revealed to operate no differently than crime boss.  But Trump is not the one to have been exposed as morally deficit. The revelations have involved Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and others in the bribery scheme hatched to advance Trump's re-election campaign by slandering a potential political rival. Even further, based on their behavior to date, Congressional Republicans have been exposed to care more about power and tribal loyalty than they care about the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution and ethical behavior.  Michael Gerson, a former Republican like myself - I left the GOP far earlier having sense the growing moral rot - has a column in the Washington Post that looks at the moral degradation of the GOP that is now on open display.  One can only hope that the majority of the public is watching and will savage GOP candidates in 2020. Here are column highlights:
“Secretary [Rick] Perry, Ambassador [Kurt] Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States. . . . We followed the president’s orders. . . . Everyone was in the loop.”
With these words, Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, did his country the favor of candor and clarity. This does not mean that elected Republicans will yield to reason and evidence. But it does change conditions on the ground in significant ways.
First, President Trump can no longer employ his go-to method of damage control — throwing subordinates beneath the presidential limousine. Trump, according to Sondland’s testimony, personally directed the Ukraine squeeze. And if underlings are to be sacrificed, they would have to be underlings of the highest order. According to Sondland, Vice President Pence was informed of the extortion attempt and said nothing.
Both acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were closely involved in the effort. Trump would not hesitate to fire all three men if it would put him one point higher in the polls. But shedding your vice president, your chief of staff and your secretary of state is not a strategy of containment; it would be the complete collapse of the executive branch into recrimination and chaos.
The impeachment investigation has gained additional fuel by uncovering broad complicity at the highest levels of government. Some stories, such as the involvement of Attorney General William P. Barr, are yet to be fully told. . . . Is it really plausible that the most politicized attorney general of recent memory was an innocent bystander in these events?
Congress now has every reason and right to hear directly from Barr, Pence, Mulvaney and Pompeo, given their implication in public corruption. And their refusal to testify compounds their apparent corruption with cowardice.
Second, we have once again seen evidence of Trump’s mobster mentality. The president surrounds himself with a bodyguard of rotters — fixers who are willing to do his dirty work based on hints delivered with all the subtlety of a silent film actor. Any leader who would depend on Rudy Giuliani, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone for service and counsel is not a bad judge of character; he is a good judge of useful knaves. . . . But at the top of those lines Trump has placed people such as Mulvaney, Barr, Pence and Pompeo, who are morally neutered. In a perverse form of political Darwinism, leaders in the executive branch have been selected for traits of turpitude and tractability. It is the survival of the unscrupulous.
Third, the Sondland testimony — along with the testimony of other witnesses — has stripped away the last, semi-rational arguments advanced by Republican defenders of [Trump] the president. No quid pro quo? No longer tenable. Secondhand hearsay? Not anymore. A “deep-state” plot? Tell that to Vindman and Taylor. The president as anti-corruption crusader? Give me a break.
None of this is likely to change the minds of most elected Republicans on impeachment itself. It does, however, place their motivations out in the open. In the face of serious charges against [Trump] the president, Republicans have no exculpatory evidence to offer. Their true appeal — their only appeal — is tribal. . . . . Republicans would certainly support impeachment for a Democratic president who sought foreign help in rigging an American presidential election, particularly in a manner that strengthened an international rival. But no matter. . . . . The only thing that matters in the end? Using power to keep power.
Some, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), are surrendering their integrity eagerly, almost happily. Other Republicans will want to appear more reluctant. But anyone who puts power above truth and character is doing a nasty disservice to their country. And it won’t be forgotten.
Vote Democrat in 2020.

More Thursday Male Beauty

Sondland Leaves No Other Option Than Impeachment

Yesterday's testimony of Gordon Sondland, a Trump $1 million contributor and hardly one to be labeled a Never Trumper, has set the stage for a moment of truth for the Republican Party as a whole and Congressional Republicans in particular.  Either they support the U.S. Constitution and the concept that no one is above the law or they don't.  Indeed, if they do not impeach and vote to convict Trump, they will be violating the oaths of office that each one of them took and will be confirming that the GOP is now the party of corruption and lawlessness.  If the GOP still was the party that I had once belonged to, a delegation would be preparing to visit the White House and tell Trump that he needs to resign - the same may end up applying to Mike Pence as well who seems to have been a co-conspirator despite his game of amnesia and denial. Sadly, today's GOP is no longer that party and its base is controlled by racists, white supremacists, religious extremist and greed driven multi-millionaires and billionaires. If Republicans refuse to do their constitutional duty, they need to be voted out of office  at every level by the public who must now demonstrate that the rule of law still matters.  A column in the New York Times neatly lays out why their is no option but impeachment and removal of Trump from office.  Here are highlights:

History will remember Wednesday as the day a United States ambassador testified under oath before Congress and laid out a clear, simple and damning case that President Trump abused the power of his office and committed bribery, an act for which the Constitution leaves but one outcome.
The evidence was already overwhelming, but now there can be no question about it: Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony was the smoking gun.
This is largely because the facts presented are simple. At the direction of Mr. Trump and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, United States officials communicated to the government of Ukraine that a White House visit for the new Ukrainian president was contingent on the Ukrainian president publicly announcing investigations into the dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden and a conspiracy theory about the 2016 elections. Later, a congressionally appropriated $391 million military aid package was added to the leverage.
Mr. Sondland, a Trump appointee and million-dollar Trump inauguration donor, testified under oath that there was an explicit quid pro quo at the direction of President Trump, through Mr. Giuliani. The facts are not meaningfully in dispute, because Mr. Sondland’s testimony corroborates the accounts of multiple strong and reliable witnesses. Mr. Sondland made clear that there are even more people and additional documents that could corroborate his testimony, but the White House is blocking their release. The absence of these additional documents and witnesses makes it abundantly clear that the administration is obstructing Congress. In a few bombshell exchanges, Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and the committee’s Democratic counsel, Daniel Goldman, had Mr. Sondland walk the public through each element of the federal bribery statute. Mr. Trump corruptly demanded something of value — the announcement of investigations into his political rivals — for his personal benefit, in exchange for President Trump’s performance of official acts: both hosting a White House meeting and, as Mr. Sondland came to believe, releasing the security aid. Mr. Sondland noted, “We worked with Mr. Giuliani because the president directed us to do so” and “Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States.” In fact, Mr. Trump’s insistence on using his lawyer to obtain a personal benefit at the expense of official United States policy is powerful evidence of the president’s corrupt intent. Bribery is one of the Constitution’s specific prohibitions on executive conduct, second only to treason as a reason for impeaching a president. And constitutional bribery is defined more broadly than the statute — the Constitution was written well before the federal bribery statute and was meant to capture a host of executive malfeasance that might not be captured within the narrow confines of our specific federal laws.
If we are to be, in the words of John Adams, “a government of laws, not of men,” then there is no other option after today’s testimony than the impeachment, conviction and removal from office of President Trump.

It really is that simple and my Republican "friends" have no maneuvering room around it if they are honest and moral people. Trump must go.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Republicans Try to Ignore Sondland's Devastating Testimony

As The Hill notes, Kenneth Starr of Bill Clinton impeachment fame - or infamy depending on one's views - said that Ambassador Sondland's testimony today confirmed that (i) there was a quid pro quo between Trump's administration and the Ukrainian government — which would be "bribery," in the jargon of impeachment, and (ii) the orders to push Kyiv to open an investigation into Trump's political rivals had come directly from the Oval Office.  In the Watergate era, that would likely have been enough for Senate Republicans  of yesteryear to make a trip up Pennsylvania Avenue and tell Trump that it is time to resign.  Sadly, that was then and we are living in the now where the Republican Party of today is willing to run cover for and protect an occupant of the White House who operates as a crime boss and is only too willing to use bribery of a foreign power for his political gain.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the moral bankruptcy and willful blindness of Congressional Republicans.  Here are column excerpts:

Former White House counsel John Dean’s testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee beginning in June 1973 is widely seen as the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency. Dean testified that he had told President Richard M. Nixon that Watergate was a “cancer growing on the presidency” and that the president had proceeded with the coverup nevertheless. Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony on Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee has been likened to Dean’s — and there is even a closer comparison, for good and ill, than most of those offering the analogy realize.
“Was there a ‘quid pro quo’?” Sondland said under oath. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.” The sound you hear is Republican denials of a quid pro quo exploding. Sondland went on to say he was acting on “the president’s orders” in demanding that Ukraine announce an investigation of the company that employed Hunter Biden — although not to actually carry out the investigation. The distinction is significant because it undercuts the Republican conceit that Trump was genuinely interested in fighting corruption. In fact, he was only interested in damaging a potential political foe.
Sondland also destroyed the Republican cover story that he, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry (the so-called three amigos), were acting on their own to blackmail Ukraine. “Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said, and he made clear that by “everyone” he meant not only the president but also Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.
 If this were a movie, the next scene would be Trump resigning the presidency in disgrace. But real life doesn’t work like reel life. There was no sign of Republicans abandoning the president after Sondland’s blockbuster revelations. Republicans took great comfort in Sondland’s admission that “Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on meetings,” even though he also said “it was abundantly clear there was a link” and no other credible explanation for the aid holdup has ever emerged. Republicans also continued to pretend that Trump did nothing wrong because, after the whistleblower came forward, Trump said, “I want nothing” and the aid to Ukraine — though not a White House meeting — was finally delivered. Republicans are convinced that 2+2=22. It was as though Republicans had demanded of Dean: Did you hear Nixon order the Watergate break-in? Did Nixon ever explicitly say that he wanted you to commit “obstruction of justice”? Did Nixon succeed in stopping the investigation? And then used Dean’s negative answers to exonerate Nixon. What we are learning is that it’s much easier to document a president’s crimes than to get his party to give a damn. Republican leaders finally told Nixon to resign in August 1974 only after the release of the “smoking gun” tape on which Nixon could be heard directing the coverup. This was an indirect result of Dean’s testimony: Dean had told lawmakers that Nixon might have tapes of his conversations and White House aide Alexander Butterfield had subsequently confirmed the existence of the taping system. Trump is almost entirely ignorant of history but knows enough not to tape his incriminating conversations — and he is wily enough not to flat-out tell his aides “I want you to break the law.” As Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen told Congress, Trump communicates in “code” like a mob boss to make his criminal intent clear.
In a sane world, Sondland’s testimony would have ended the Trump presidency. But Republicans have made clear that their devotion to Trump is irrational and, like other religious faiths, not subject to rational refutation.

Elizabeth Warren Could Jeopardize Democrats in the House and the Senate

Selecting candidates for general elections is about picking a candidate that can both win and not wreak havoc on down ticket candidates. A long and well reasoned and researched column in the New York Times makes the case that Elizabeth Warren as the Democrat standard bearer could (i) result in Trump's re-election, and (ii) significant loses by Democrats in the House and Senate.  The same reasoning applies to Bernie Sanders and, to me, makes it clear that neither Warren or Sanders should be the nominee.   Their respective supporters, who the article points out tend to be the whitest and most affluent, simply are out of touch with what sells in Middle America, including among many more traditional and moderate Democrats. This is especially true in the half dozen swing states in the Mid-West that will likely decide who wins the Electoral College contest.  Running up huge vote leads in say California or New York means nothing in the Electoral College math calculation.  Here are lengthy column highlights which thinking Democrats need to read in full:

Under pressure, Elizabeth Warren has retreated from the idea of immediate implementation of Medicare for All, but she remains committed to the progressive core of her candidacy.
As she put it in a speech to Iowa Democrats on Nov. 1:
If we’re going to meet the challenges of our time, we need big ideas. Big ideas to inspire people and get them out to caucus and get them out to vote. Big ideas to be the lifeblood of our party and show the world who and what Democrats will fight for.
In rhetoric that drew enthusiastic applause from her supporters at the Liberty and Justice Dinner in Des Moines, Warren declared that the nation is at “a time of crisis, and media pundits, Washington insiders, even some people in our own party don’t want to admit it. They think that running some vague campaign that nibbles around the edges is somehow safe.”
Democrats will win, she continued, “when we offer solutions big enough to touch the problems that are in people’s lives. Fear and complacency does not win elections; hope and courage wins elections.”
There is evidence, however, that Warren’s strategy could generate a backlash leading to the re-election of Donald Trump.
Andrew Hall and Daniel Thompson, political scientists at Stanford, examined “the link between the ideology of congressional candidates and the turnout of their parties’ bases in US House races, 2006—2014” in their 2018 paper “Who Punishes Extremist Nominees? Candidate Ideology and Turning Out the Base in US Elections.”
In contrast to moderate candidates, Hall and Thompson found: Extremist candidates do worse, because, contrary to rhetoric, they fail to galvanize their own base and instead encourage the opposing party’s base to turn out more, on average.
In other words, polarizing candidates diminish turnout in their own party while boosting turnout among opposing partisans.
Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory, analyzed the pattern of Democratic victories in 2018 House races and found that “those who supported Medicare for All performed worse than those who did not, even when controlling for other factors.”
The analyses by Hall, Thompson and Abramowitz do not preclude the possibility that Warren could beat Trump in 2020. Whoever the Democratic nominee is will be able to capitalize on widespread hostility to Trump, a motivated Democratic electorate and the party’s continuing gains in formerly Republican suburbs across the nation.
An underlying premise of the campaigns of both Warren and Bernie Sanders is that taking radically progressive stands will motivate, enlarge and turn out the Democratic base, including minorities, the young and the poor; and that such positions are necessary to restore Democratic support among those who voted for third party candidates in 2016.
As much as the Warren program has mobilized many Democratic primary voters, polls show that significant numbers of swing voters — wavering Republicans repelled by President Trump and moderate to conservative Democrats — do not share Warren’s appetite for major structural change, preferring incremental change and the repair of existing programs, like Obamacare.
Strategically, if Warren wins the Democratic nomination, the election would become not only a referendum on Trump — favorable terrain for Democrats — but also a referendum on Warren’s program, a far less certain proposition.
“Many of Senator Warren’s proposals are indeed radical and could have unintended consequences,” Jeffrey Frankel, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, wrote by email. He added: “I fear that by far the worst of the unintended consequences of making these proposals during the campaign is to get Donald Trump re-elected.”
Larry Summers is a former secretary of the Treasury, director of the national economic council and president of Harvard. The Warren program, Summers wrote by email, “dwarfs the errors, economic and political, of George McGovern.”
Last week, in an effort to mute criticism that her agenda would be not only difficult to enact in toto but also highly disruptive if it became law, Warren announced a significant modification of her version of Medicare for All. Instead of trying to immediately pass a complete government takeover of health care that would eliminate private insurance plans, she proposed “a true Medicare for All option,” or what has generally been described as a public option — and that has strong support among voters of all stripes.
Warren’s new stance appears to be an acknowledgment of the fact that her proposal to replace all health private coverage with Medicare for All does not carry majority support even among Democratic primary voters, a liberal constituency, much less the general electorate.
While liberal economists have mixed views of Warren’s agenda, a number of political observers warn that candidates for the House and Senate would face a steeper climb to victory with Warren at the top of the ticket.
“It would be tough to run under Elizabeth Warren,” David Wasserman, who studies House races for the Cook Report, said in an interview. “As of now, she runs the weakest against Trump in battleground areas and her proposals are not broadly popular.”
The worst case scenario, Wasserman argued, “would be to have Elizabeth Warren at the top of ticket with a plausible chance to win.” He argued that swing voters worried about a Warren presidency would vote in support of a Republican Congress to act as a check on her.
“Anyone at the top of the ticket who repels these Republicans will make it more difficult to win the key House and Senate seats Democrats have targeted,” Trippi said.
Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research, was outspoken: “Elizabeth Warren is God’s gift to Donald Trump and Republican candidates.”
“Well-educated suburban voters, especially women,” Ayres continued, “are uncomfortable with President Trump,” but, he added, they are not going to vote for a candidate who wants to take away their private health insurance, decriminalize the border, increase government spending by 50 percent, and ban fracking, especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado.
Wariness toward the kind of disruptive structural change Warren is calling for can be seen among Democratic voters in six battleground states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida — as a New York Times/Siena College survey conducted Oct. 13-26 demonstrated.
By 62 to 33, these Democrats said they would prefer a candidates who promises “to find common ground with Republicans” to one who promises “to fight for a bold progressive agenda;” by 55 to 36 a candidate who is more “moderate than most Democrats” to one who is “more liberal than most Democrats;” and by 49 to 45 a candidate who promises “to bring politics in Washington back to normal” to a candidate who promises “to bring fundamental, systematic change to American society.”
The same Times/Siena College survey identified 596 undecided or “persuadable” voters in these six states . . . They are fairly clear about what they would like from a Democrat. They prefer, by 82 percent to 11 percent, one who promises to find common ground over one who promises to fight for a progressive agenda; and they prefer a moderate over a liberal, 75 percent to 19 percent.
Patterson’s analysis points to the larger question that looms constantly over the nomination fight: Is the progressive wing of the Democratic primary electorate, and its demand that the nominee take stands on health care, energy and immigration well to the left of the electorate at large, the main obstacle to Democratic victory in 2020?

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

American Medical Association: Ban Conversion Therapy

I am a strong advocate of banning all "conversion therapy" in the USA, both for minors and adults, and there should be ZERO so-called religious exemptions from any such ban. Religious belief does not entitle the harming of others.  While I personally never was subjected to a formal conversion therapy program - or "ministry as the Christofascists disingenuously call them - I know a number of individuals that suffered that fate.  All were harmed by the experience and some have never fully recovered from the nightmare ordeal.  Now, the American Medical Association ("AMA") has come out more forcefully in calling for a total ban of the practice which has no basis in fact or science and is very dangerous.  From all the reading and researchers I have spoken with, the reality is that sexual orientation is largely set before birth as a result of hormone levels and nothing will reverse this natural wiring, if you will, one one's brain.  Add to this the reality that Christofascists have intentionally funded gay conversion therapy for the deliberate purpose of using the "change myth" as I call it for the purpose of opposing gay rights legislation. A piece in The Advocate looks at the AMA's increased effort to stop the fraudulent and harmful "therapy."  Here are highlights: 

The American Medical Association adopted several LGBTQ-supportive policies at a meeting Tuesday, endorsing bans on conversion therapy and backing inclusion of more information on transgender patients in electronic health records, and also pledged to address racial pay gaps in medicine.
The AMA has spoken out on these issues before, but the policies OK’d at a San Diego meeting of the House of Delegates strengthen its position, according to an AMA press release.
The physicians’ group has long opposed the use of conversion therapy, designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but now it will support both federal and state bans on the practice, for both children and adults, and will develop model legislation for this purpose. Eighteen states and numerous cities and counties prohibit licensed therapists from subjecting minors to conversion therapy, but no jurisdiction in the U.S. bans its use on adults.
“The AMA heard testimony, including first-hand accounts, regarding the significant harms triggered by conversion therapy, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts and attempts,” the release states.
“It is clear to the AMA that the conversion therapy needs to end in the United States given the risk of deliberate harm to LGBTQ people,” AMA board member William E. Kobler, MD, said in the release. “Conversion therapy has no foundation as scientifically valid medical care and lacks credible evidence to support its efficacy or safety.”

The AMA further OK’d a policy urging accreditation bodies to continue to encourage medical schools to include information about sexual orientation and gender identity in their curricula and to evaluate the curricula periodically.
“These new policies from the American Medical Association reaffirm the urgent need to protect LGBTQ youth from this dangerous practice,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement, regarding the conversion therapy policy. “This policy will also be a critical resource for state legislators across the country as they work toward crafting legislation combating ‘conversion therapy.’ No child should have to endure this painful and life-threatening practice, and we are glad to see the AMA taking seriously the need to protect LGBTQ youth.
The voices of medical professionals have long been central to the growing support for LGBTQ-inclusive laws, policies and communities — these AMA policies continue that trend.”

Yes, the scamvangelist will shriek at this threat to their self-enrichment and the uneducated and ignorant will clutch their Bibles - or Korans - but science and knowledge need to prevail. The years I suffered silently trying to "change" were filled with much unhappiness, self-loathing and suicide attempts. No one should undergo this misery simply so religious fundamentalist can avoid being forced to admit that much of their faith is based on ignorance and superstition.