Saturday, January 04, 2020

Gov. Ralph Northam: It’s Time to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

Over the years this blog has looked at how Virginia's marijuana laws have been disproportionately enforced against blacks, especially young black males, as a means to strike blacks from the voter rolls and to condemn minorities to a bleak economic existence as a result of having criminal records.  The City of Norfolk has been a prime offender in its use of marijuana laws to criminalize blacks. Now, with Democrat control of Virginia's General Assembly for the first time in a generation, Virginia may at last be poised to end this pernicious use of marijuana laws.  Indeed, as the Virginian Pilot is reporting, Governor Ralph Northam has come out in support of decriminalization of possession for personal use.  I would add that legislation is also needed that would restore felons' voting rights once their sentence is served - something the Virginia GOP will strenuously oppose for obvious reasons.  Here are story highlights (note the Republican comment that in reality shows the Virginia GOP's desire to keep minorities from voting):
Virginians shouldn’t risk jail for having small amounts of marijuana in their pockets, or go through life with a felony record that keeps them out of many jobs for stealing a cellphone, Gov. Ralph Northam says.
He’s proposing a series of criminal law reforms he says will temper the state’s tough penalties for violating the laws with a little bit of mercy and fairness.
“Our aim is to make our criminal justice more equitable and more compassionate,” Northam told advocates for reform Friday, speaking at the Richmond offices of an agency that helps offenders get back on their feet after leaving prison.
He’s proposing legislation to raise the trigger that turns a theft into a felony from $500 to $1,000. The General Assembly raised that threshold from $200 in 2018, but only eight other states set their thresholds as low, while three more have lower triggers.
Northam also proposed decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it subject to a fine of $50. Currently, a first offense is a criminal misdemeanor that can land someone in jail for 30 days.
Northam said that’s an excessive penalty, adding that he’s concerned about racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession. He said it could be a first step toward legalizing marijuana, which he said he needs to think through if the General Assembly decides to go that way.
He also wants to give the board authority to release inmates sentenced between 1995, when Virginia’s truth in sentencing law abolished parole, and 2000, when a court decision said juries had to be informed of that change before they recommended sentences. Not knowing that parole was not an option meant many juries imposed sentences on the belief that offenders would only serve a fraction of the time, he said.
Northam also wants the legislature to write into law a budget amendment passed last year that ends the automatic suspension of drivers’ licenses when people are behind with paying court costs and fines. Because the policy is in the budget, it could be dropped whenever a new budget is before the General Assembly, while writing the policy into law would put it on firmer footing.
Northam said suspending a license keeps people from working, so that they can’t pay their fines.
Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said people still have to pay their fines and court costs, and added that the state has several other ways to make sure they do so.
House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, a longtime [and now former] chairman of the Criminal Justice subcommittee, said the General Assembly needs to proceed cautiously.

More Saturday Male Beauty

Young love

United Methodist Church to Split Over Gay Marriage

Like the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America before it, the United Methodist Church ("UMC") is headed towards a split over gay marriage and acceptance of LGBT people based on modern medical and mental health knowledge on human sexuality.  As with the other two denominations, the main opposition to gays has come from UMC churches in Africa and other ignorant and uneducated parts of the world.   To me, the "conservative" - meaning bigoted and hate-filled - African churches and their white counterparts in the USA embody the poisonous aspects of religion where a need exists to condemn others so that adherents can feel superior and pat themselves on the back for their false piety.  As the split goes forward. one can hope (i) the liberal churches cease providing any funding to the "conservative" churches, and (ii) here in the USA the exodus of the younger generations from the "conservative" churches accelerates. Here are highlights from the Washington Post on the coming split:
The United Methodist Church is expected to split into two denominations in an attempt to end a years-long, contentious fight over same-sex marriage, church leaders announced Friday. The historic schism would divide the nation’s third-largest religious denomination.
Leaders of the church said they had agreed to spin off a “traditionalist Methodist” denomination, which would continue to oppose same-sex marriage and to refuse ordination to LGBT clergy, while allowing the remaining portion of the United Methodist Church to permit same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy for the first time in its history.
The plan would need to be approved in May at the denomination’s worldwide conference.
“I’ve always been committed to unity. But over time, it could not be unity at someone’s expense,” said Bishop Kenneth Carter, president of the church’s Council of Bishops and one of the formulators of the new plan.
Jan Lawrence, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, a pro-LGBT group within the church, said the separation plan “gives the hope that we can move toward a church that allows healing to begin.”
Friday’s announcement came as new sanctions were set to go into effect in the church, which would have made punishments for United Methodist Church pastors who perform same-sex weddings much more severe: one year’s suspension without pay for the first wedding and removal from the clergy for any wedding after that.
Instead, leaders from liberal and conservative wings signed an agreement saying they will postpone those sanctions and instead vote to split at the worldwide church’s May general conference.
Any local church that wants to join the new conservative denomination would have to conduct a vote within a specified time frame, the announcement said. A church would not need to vote to remain United Methodist. Churches that vote to leave could take certain assets with them, including their local church buildings in some cases.
After the separation, the agreement said, the remaining United Methodist Church would hold another conference with the purpose of removing the church’s bans on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy. Some advocates for LGBT inclusion worried that simply removing prohibitions would not be enough.
“There are efforts in the protocol to stop condemnation of LGBTQ people, which of course is good. There are no signs pointing toward a church that affirms us and repents of the significant harm that has been done to LGBT people for decades because of its complicity in spiritual violence against us,” said the Rev. M Barclay, who was ordained in 2017 as the United Methodist Church’s first transgender deacon.
[T]he larger divide is between American Methodists and foreign members of the United Methodist Church, especially churches in Africa. In a church that conducts all of its major decisions in churchwide votes, the much more conservative-leaning voters from Africa competed with American delegates who often fervently pushed for a change on same-sex marriage.
At a conference last year in which church leaders had declared they would solve this issue, many American delegates favored a plan that would have allowed local churches to make their own decisions on whether to perform same-sex marriages and ordain gay clergy. Some supported a plan to simply allow same-sex marriages worldwide. They were stunned when a third option passed, instead — one dubbed the “Traditional Plan,” which ushered in not only a continued ban on LGBT weddings and clergy but also harsher penalties for those who disobey church doctrine.
For some LBGT Methodists, Friday’s news arrived too late. Williams, who worked on earlier negotiations, is pursuing ordination in the United Church of Christ instead of the United Methodist Church.

Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning

As Australia literally burns due to climate change which its prime minister denies is real, the ever toxic Trump/Pence regime is pushing a new federal rule that would bar the consideration of climate change in planning infrastructure construction. The result would be to allow more polluting projects - e.g., pipelines for oil - and pretending that sea levels are not rising. It's true idiocy yet is mainstream Republican thinking (or lack of thinking) and does not bode well for America and the world if implemented. It is but one more reason why removing Trump from office by any means is crucial. Meanwhile, one can only hope that states will enact laws that will hinder the federal effort to destroy the environment.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this latest effort to harm Americans while enriching the fossil fuel industry and other corporate despoilers of the environment. Here are highlights: 
Federal agencies would no longer have to take climate change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of highways, pipelines and other major infrastructure projects, according to a Trump administration plan that would weaken the nation’s benchmark environmental law.
The proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when analyzing the environmental effects of the projects.
According to one government official who has seen the proposed regulation but was not authorized to speak about it publicly, the administration will also narrow the range of projects that require environmental review. That could make it likely that more projects will sail through the approval process without having to disclose plans to do things like discharge waste, cut trees or increase air pollution.
The new rule would no longer require agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure. In recent years courts have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea levels and other results of climate change on a given project.
[T]he Trump administration has been aggressive in its efforts to roll back environmental regulations. The 50 or so pages of revisions that the Council on Environmental Quality is expected to make public on Wednesday would not amend the act itself. Rather, they would revise the rules that guide the implementation of the law.
Environmental activists and legal experts said the proposed changes would weaken critical safeguards for air, water and wildlife. The move, if it survives the expected court challenges, also could eliminate a powerful tool that climate change activists have used to stop or slow Mr. Trump’s encouragement of coal and oil development as part of its “energy dominance” policy.
In March, a federal judge found that the Obama administration did not adequately take into account the climate change impact of leasing public land for oil gas drilling in Wyoming, a ruling that also presented a threat to Mr. Trump’s plans for fossil fuel development.
One month later, another federal judge dealt a blow to Mr. Trump’s plan to lift an Obama-era moratorium on coal mining on public lands when he found the administration did not adequately study the environmental effects of mining as required by law.
Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said eliminating the need to consider climate change would lead to more pipelines and other projects that worsen global emissions. It could also put roads, bridges and other infrastructure at greater risk, he said, because developers would not be required, for instance, to analyze whether sea-level rise threatened to eventually submerge a project.
“It has the potential to distort infrastructure planning by making it easier to ignore predictable futures that could severely degrade the projects,” Mr. Gerrard said.
Mr. Gerrard said the environmental review requirements of New York’s state-level version of the environmental policy act had helped to defeat a golf course that Mr. Trump hoped to build in Mount Kisco, N.Y. The Seven Springs golf course would have abutted Byram Lake, a reservoir for drinking water. Mr. Gerrard, who represented opponents of the project, said environmental reviews enabled the community to show that the drinking water supply could have been endangered. Mr. Trump shelved the project in 2004, but his public comments indicate the episode still rankles.
I am old enough that I will not live to see the worse consequences of the efforts of foul individuals like Trump.  My grandchildren will not be so lucky. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, January 03, 2020

Trump Is Wrong In Thinking Attacking Iran Will Get Him Reelected

Being of a "certain age" I remember the Vietnam War debacle well and lost friends to America;s folly in the late 1960's and early 1970's. When the George W. Bush - sometimes known as the Chimperator on this blog - launched the Iraq War, I had a huge sense of deja vu which sadly proved all too accurate. Indeed, when a former law partner who had served in Vietnam saw "Fog of War" with me back in the early 2000's, his reaction was that Iraq was Vietnam all over again. In each of these poorly conceived wars, individuals Americans paid with their lives and the nation squandered billions of dollars.  Now, it seems, Donald Trump - a man who doesn't read, knows little history and wants one page bullet style briefing reports - wants to launch an even more insanely conceived war against Iran - a nation far larger and better educated and wealthy than Iraq - in the hope that it will win him re-election. A piece in New York Magazine makes the case of why Trump's insane desire for a war with Iran will not assure him re-election.   Here are article highlights:
Beginning in 2011, and continuing through the next year, Donald Trump began obsessively predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran in order to be reelected. Trump stated it publicly, on at least a half-dozen occasions, explicitly positing that attacking Iran would help Obama win reelection.
Trump’s attacks on Obama were the purest form of projection. They reflect his cynical belief that every president will naturally abuse their powers, and thus provide a roadmap to his own intentions.
And indeed, Trump immediately followed the killing of Qasem Soleimani by metaphorically wrapping himself in the stars and stripes. No doubt he anticipates at least a faint echo of the rally-around-the-flag dynamic that has buoyed many of his predecessors. But Trump’s critics need not assume he will enjoy any such benefit, and should grasp that their own response will help determine it.
One salient fact is that it’s not 2001, or even 2003. A poll earlier this summer found that just 18 percent of Americans prefer to “take military action against Iran” as against 78 percent wanting to “rely mainly on economic and diplomatic efforts.”
It is in part due to public war weariness that Republicans have sworn repeatedly, for years, that they would not go to war with Iran. The possibility of such a military escalation was precisely the central dispute between the parties when the Obama administration struck its nuclear deal. . . . And as Trump mulled following through on his threat to abrogate the deal, conservatives furiously denied that doing so would lead to military conflict.
Trump’s allies have framed the issue as being about Qasem Soleimani’s moral culpability, or Iran’s responsibility for escalating the conflict. And it is certainly true that Iran is a nasty, aggressive, murderous regime. But none of this refutes the fact that Trump’s Iran policy is failing on its own terms. Having violated a diplomatic agreement on the premise that doing so would not lead to war, they are now blaming Iran for the war they insisted would never happen.
Americans historically support their presidents in foreign conflicts, both the wise ones and unwise ones alike, at least initially. Trump no doubt believes the halo effect will last at least through November — that he might undertake an action that would harm his reelection out of some larger sense of duty to the nation or the world is unfathomable.
But presidents traditionally benefit from a presumption of competence, or at least moral legitimacy, from their opposition. Trump has forfeited his. He will not have Democratic leaders standing shoulder to shoulder with him, and his practice of disregarding and smearing government intelligence should likewise dispel any benefit of the doubt attached to claims he makes about the necessity of his actions. Trump has made it plain that he views American war-fighting as nothing but the extension of domestic politics.
I fear for members of the military who may loose their lives - and for their families - as a result of Trump's self-centered war mongering.  I nearly lost a family member in the Afghanistan disaster. Others may not be as luck as we were. 

Climate Apocalypse Becomes the New Normal

Living on the East Coast literally within about 30 feet of a tidal creek perhaps gives one a keener sense that climate change is real and the fear of higher storm surge and stronger hurricanes is very real.  But we are seeing other examples of climate change that ought to wake up sane and rational people: the Midwest flooding, warmer oceans, polar ice melting - the list goes on.  Yet America's federal government under the Trump/Pence regime is not only in denial, but is actively taking steps that will aggravate an already perilous situation. Equally frightening is the shrug of the shoulders reaction of many which indicates that, OK, climate change is real but it doesn't impact me.  But, of course, eventually it will impact all of us - despite Fox News' pretense to the contrary - and the indifference to the perils of others is most disturbing.  A column in the New York Times looks at the new normal that we are now living with which hopefully will awake more to reality.  Here are excerpts: 
Australia’s summer of fire is only the latest in a string of catastrophic weather events over the past year: unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, a heat wave in India that sent temperatures to 123 degrees, another heat wave that brought unheard-of temperatures to much of Europe.
And all of these catastrophes were related to climate change.
Notice that I said “related to” rather than “caused by” climate change. This is a distinction that has flummoxed many people over the years. Any individual weather event has multiple causes, which was one reason news reports used to avoid mentioning the possible role of climate change in natural disasters.
In recent years, however, climate scientists have tried to cut through this confusion by engaging in “extreme event attribution,” which focuses on probabilities: You can’t necessarily say that climate change caused a particular heat wave, but you can ask how much difference global warming made to the probability of that heat wave happening. And the answer, typically, is a lot: Climate change makes the kinds of extreme weather events we’ve been seeing much more likely.
On our current trajectory, Florida as a whole will eventually be swallowed by the sea, but long before that happens, rising sea levels will make catastrophic storm surges commonplace. Much of India will eventually become uninhabitable, but killing heat waves and droughts will take a deadly toll well before that point is reached.
Put it this way: While it will take generations for the full consequences of climate change to play out, there will be many localized, temporary disasters along the way. Apocalypse will become the new normal — and that’s happening right in front of our eyes.
The big question is whether the proliferation of climate-related disasters will finally be enough to break though the opposition to action.
The bad news is that growing climate awareness is mainly taking place among Democrats; the Republican base is largely unmoved.
And the anti-environmental extremism of conservative politicians has, if anything, become even more intense as their position has become intellectually untenable. The right used to pretend that there was a serious scientific dispute about the reality of global warming and its sources. Now Republicans, and the Trump administration in particular, have simply become hostile to science in general. Hey, aren’t scientists effectively part of the deep state?
Furthermore, this isn’t just a U.S. problem. Even as Australia burns, its current government is reaffirming its commitment to coal and threatening to make boycotts of environmentally destructive businesses a crime.
The sick irony of the current situation is that anti-environmentalism is getting more extreme precisely at the moment when the prospects for decisive action should be better than ever.
On one side, the dangers of climate change are no longer predictions about the future: We can see the damage now, although it’s only a small taste of the horrors that lie ahead.
On the other side, drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions now look remarkably easy to achieve, at least from an economic point of view. In particular, there has been so much technological progress in alternative energy that the Trump administration is trying desperately to prop up coal against competition from solar and wind.
But the wave of climate-related catastrophes may be changing the political calculus. I’m not a campaign expert, but it seems to me that campaigns might get some traction with ads showing recent fires and floods and pointing out that Donald Trump and his friends are doing everything they can to create more such disasters.
For the truth is that Trump’s environmental policy is the worst thing he’s doing to America and the world. And voters should know that.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Elizabeth Warren Embraced High-Dollar Fundraisers for Years

During my blogging hiatus, I booked marked several articles that struck me as worthy of another visit  once I was back home.  Elizabeth Warren likely thought she was being cunning when she went after Pete Buttigieg in the last Democrat presidential debate for supposedly courting "billionaire" donors.  Now, it would seem it is biting her in her hypocritical ass. First, there was an op-ed by an attendee who made clear that the event was hardly what Warren sought to describe it as (the piece is a must read).  Then, the Washington Post is reporting on Warren's own history of going after the millionaire and billionaire set at fundraisers - where she likely gathered the $10 million that she transferred to her presidential campaign, as Buttigieg noted during the debate.   In politics, it can be hard to escape your past, but when you have an easily documented history, one has to wonder why Warren set herself up for a trashing.  Here are highlights from the Post piece:

Chase Williams grinned broadly as he stood for a photo next to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, chatting briefly with the senator from Massachusetts before moving on so someone else could have their turn. But this shot, taken in October 2017, was at an entirely different kind of event: an exclusive “backstage” reception that took place in the vault of a former Cleveland bank. And that was the day’s low-rent affair — donors who agreed to pay more attended an even more exclusive shindig with Warren that day, according to two people familiar with her schedule.
The events were part of a high-dollar fundraising program that Warren had embraced her entire political career, from her first Senate run in 2011 through her reelection last year. Warren was so successful at it that she was able to transfer $10 million of her Senate cash to help launch her presidential bid.
[I]n the past year Warren has undergone a transformation, moving from one of the Democratic Party’s biggest draws at high-dollar fundraisers to a presidential candidate who has sworn them off as sinister attempts to sell access.
Williams, who supports Buttigieg in the presidential race, said Warren’s position was “disingenuous.”
“I am frustrated because she said, ‘I don’t do this. This isn’t something I do.’ And two years ago she very much did do that, and I was in the room,” said Williams, who had a photo taken after writing a $500 check.
Other notable Warren events from her Senate runs include a private luncheon held for donors at Boulevard, a San Francisco restaurant where the wine list tops out with a $3,800 bottle of a pinot noir from Burgundy and diners can eat in a “wine vault.”
The October 2017 event was to thank her big givers and seek their help for Warren’s 2018 reelection, according to an invitation obtained by The Washington Post, which outlined the requirement that attendees pay at least $1,000 a head to attend.
Warren appeared in June 2012 at an exclusive reception with Kevin Ryan, a New York tech investor who held an event for Buttigieg earlier this month that attracted protesters who sought to tag the candidate as #WallStreetPete.
There was also “an evening of music and conversation with Grammy Award Winning Singer-Songwriter Melissa Etheridge” at City Winery in Boston in June 2018 where those who gave more than $1,000 to Warren received a “souvenir wine bottle,” an event first reported by the Associated Press.
Warren’s campaign acknowledged the misstepfor an April 2012 evening reception with a host committee that included Linda Fairstein, the former Manhattan district attorney who prosecuted five black and Latino teenagers on charges of raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989. The teens became known as the Central Park Five and went to prison but were later exonerated in a case that highlighted deep racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Warren’s new position is part of an attempt to tap into the zeitgeist of the party’s left wing, where activists and voters believe wealthy individuals and companies have far too much influence in American life and over American institutions. But party strategists say Warren’s approach could be damaging for her, as well as her opponents.

Buttigieg is the only candidate without Washington insider connections.  He's also the only candidate who is not a millionaire.  Coincidence?  Probably not. 

Thursday, January 02, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty

Global Apathy to Climate Change as Australia Burns

UPDATE:  Consider making a donation to help those impacted through the Australian Red Cross here.

In the realm of politics, I have often lamented the apathy and disinterest of so many when it comes to voting and making sure one is well informed.  A classic was the so-called soccer moms who obsessed over PTA gossip and children's sports while being totally oblivious to political issue that would impact their lives and the lives of their families far more.   Frighteningly, a similar phenomenon appears to be happening with the threat of global warming and climate change even as the East Coast of the USA faces dire sea level rise and large parts of Australia burns as that continent is experiencing record heat.  In Australia, huge areas have already burned, thousands of homes have been destroyed and perhaps a half billion animals have perished. The photos in this post are from a reader who took this photos from his home last month. He recounted that the experience was terrifying as the town's shopping district burned.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the frightening apathy of so many - including media outlets - to life threatening climate change.  Here are article highlights:
Right now, on the outskirts of a hyper modern first world megapolis, at the end of a year in which the public seemed finally to wake up to the dramatic threat from global warming, a climate disaster of unimaginable horror has been unfolding for almost two full months, and the rest of the world is hardly paying attention.
The New South Wales fires have been burning since September, destroying fifteen million acres (or more than two thousand square miles) and remain almost entirely uncontrolled by the volunteer firefighting forces deployed to stop them; on November 12, greater Sydney declared an unprecedented “catastrophic” fire warning.
[T]he response to what’s transpired in Australia — again, over a period that has stretched into months — is unfamiliar, to me at least, and not in a good way. Those California fires transfixed the world’s attention, but while the ones still burning uncontrolled in Australia have gotten some media attention outside the country, in general they have been treated as a scary, but not apocalyptic, local news story.
What accounts for the difference? There are all the usual factors—the desire to look away, to avoid contemplating the scariest aspects of contemporary life or what they portend for our future, the shortsightedness of the media, reluctant to cover climate disasters, at least as climate disasters, and the forces of denial now seemingly embodied as much by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison (who was elected on a campaign pitched against climate action and who blithely took a long holiday in Hawaii while his country burned) as they are by Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro.
But two additional explanations suggest themselves to me, neither at all encouraging.
The first is that the duration of this climate horror has allowed us to normalize it even while it continues to unfold — continues to torture, and brutalize, and terrify. The Camp Fire in Paradise, California did almost all of its damage in just four hours, and the short duration may have been as important to our collective horror as the speed. Perhaps if it had lasted longer, even burning with equal ferocity, we would nevertheless simply have gotten used to it as the white noise of catastrophe all around us, as impossible as that may seem to imagine, given the scale of suffering involved.
This hypothesis is especially concerning, of course, given the way that climate change will inevitably extend these sorts of horrors in the decades ahead. Today, there are categories of natural disasters, like droughts, we understand can last for months, or even years, and though they should demand our attention, rarely do. . . . But regarding the fires themselves — which can travel 60 miles per hour or more, creating their own weather systems that project lightning strikes miles away from the blaze, causing more fire — not as a sudden catastrophe but a semi-permanent condition strikes me as another level of normalization entirely. And yet here we are.
The second explanation is perhaps even more distressing. If you had told me, even six months ago, that a climate disaster like this one would strike a place like Australia, I probably would not have expected global wall to wall media coverage — seeing these Sydney opera house against an eerie backdrop of orange smoke makes for spectacular footage, but it’s perhaps less ripe fodder for social media than watching the Kardashians evacuate the valley by Instagram story — but I would have expected a lot more than this.
That’s not because of high-minded faith in the media, or public interest in harrowing stories like these. It’s for a more sinister reason: for decades now, in the U.S. and Western Europe, we have paid much, much more attention to even small-scale suffering by the force of natural disaster when it strikes parts of the wealthy west than we ever muster for those suffering already so dramatically from climate change in Asia and especially in the global south.
That set of prejudices is a moral outrage, and an especially concerning feature of the global response to climate change, which is already punishing the developing world in ways almost no one in the wealthy west would consider conscionable — if they let themselves see it. But it has also proven maddeningly stubborn, and I would not have expected the same prejudices to blind the sympathy and empathy of millions across the U.S. and Europe to the plight of a mostly white, English-speaking “First World” former colony like Australia, however far away, in the face of disaster.
The global response to the bushfires has suggested, unfortunately, something more like the opposite: that no bind of tribal alliance or allegiance is strong enough that we won’t discard it, if discarding it allows us to see the suffering of those living elsewhere on the planet as insignificant to our own lives. These fires are just one disaster, of course, and the planet has many test cases like it ahead. But it would be among the most perverse grotesqueries of climate change if it brought about the end of these kinds of global prejudices — not to be replaced with a sense of common humanity but a system of disinterest defined instead by ever smaller circles of empathy.

Today'se GOP Stands for All the Wrong Things

Years ago when I was a Republican, most party supporters thought the GOP stood for certain values: fiscal sanity, free trade, strong on Russia, and that character and personal responsibility count to name a few.  Those days are long, long gone and the GOP - especially the elected officials - are more akin to a crime syndicate focused solely on retaining its power and enriching those at the top.  Trump, of course, is the embodiment of this rejection of moral values. Worse yet, he has opened the Pandora's box of legitimizing - at least in the minds of the immoral - that hatred of others and greed are positive things. A column in the Washington Post by a long time GOP political consultant looks at the death of positive, defining values in the GOP.  Here are column highlights:

Does anybody have any idea what the Republican Party stands for in 2020?
One way to find out: As you are out and about marking the new year, it is likely you will come across a Republican to whom you can pose the question, preferably after a drink or two, as that tends to work as truth serum: “Look, I was just wondering: What’s the Republican Party all about these days? What does it, well, stand for?”
Republicans now partly define their party simply as an alternative to that other party, as in, “I’m a Republican because I’m not a Democrat.”
In a long-forgotten era — say, four years ago — such a question would have elicited a very different answer. Though there was disagreement over specific issues, most Republicans would have said the party stood for some basic principles: fiscal sanity, free trade, strong on Russia, and that character and personal responsibility count. Today it’s not that the Republican Party has forgotten these issues and values; instead, it actively opposes all of them.
Republicans are now officially the character doesn’t count party, the personal responsibility just proves you have failed to blame the other guy party, the deficit doesn’t matter party, the Russia is our ally party, and the I’m-right-and-you-are-human-scum party. Yes, it’s President Trump’s party now, but it stands only for what he has just tweeted.
A party without a governing theory, a higher purpose or a clear moral direction is nothing more than a cartel, a syndicate that exists only to advance itself. There is no organized, coherent purpose other than the acquisition and maintenance of power.
Trump didn’t hijack the GOP and bend it to his will. He did something far easier: He looked at the party, saw its fault lines and then offered himself as a pure distillation of accumulated white grievance and anger. He bet that Republican voters didn’t really care about free trade or mutual security, or about the environment or Europe, much less deficits. He rebranded kindness and compassion as “PC” and elevated division and bigotry as the admirable goals of just being politically incorrect. Trump didn’t make Americans more racist; he just normalized the resentments that were simmering in many households. In short, he let a lot of long-suppressed demons out of the box.
This paranoid element in the party has existed for decades, since the Joe McCarthy era, when some Republicans who saw dark forces threatening the country argued that only radical action by “true” Americans — white, Christian, conservative — could safeguard the nation. . . . . I worked in every Republican presidential campaign from 1996 through 2012 and assumed that those guys had long been vanquished and that optimism and inclusion had prevailed. I was wrong.
This impeachment moment and all that has led to it should signal a day of reckoning. A party that has as its sole purpose the protection and promotion of its leader, whatever he thinks, is not on a sustainable path. Can anyone force a change? I’m not optimistic. . . . I know the seductive lure of believing what you prefer while ignoring the obvious truth.
Which is this: We are a long way — more than a half-century — from 1968, much less 1952. The United States is now a diverse, chaotic collection of 330 million people, a country of immigrants and multiculturalism that is growing less white every day. It is not some gauzy Shangri-La of suburban bliss that never existed.
I’d like to say that I believe the party I spent so many years fighting for could rise to the challenge of this moment. But there have been too many lies for too long.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Christianity Today: Why Our Editor in Chief Spoke out Against Trump

Christianity Today's editorial back in December, 2019, stating why Donald Trump must be removed from office generated a fire storm among the racist, white supremacist elements of white evangelicals - which, sadly, is most of them - while causing others to think that just perhaps there was still a shred of hope for Christianity in America to regain some moral decency.  As a new editorial lays out, the magazine is not backing down in its condemnation of Trump’s "rampant immorality, greed, and corruption; his divisiveness and race-baiting; his cruelty and hostility to immigrants and refugees; and more" and its call to evangelicals to consider (i) whether their allegiance to Trump is consistent with true Christian values and (ii) the harm being done to Christianity's witness by aligning with such an immoral individual.  The magazine plans to continue the debate over the coming month.  Here are highlights from the most recent editorial justifying the magazine's position:

Reader responses to Mark Galli’s recent editorial have spanned the spectrum. We have received countless notes of encouragement from readers who were profoundly moved. They no longer feel alone. They have hope again. Many have told us of reading the editorial with tears in their eyes, sharing it with children who have wandered from the faith, rejoicing that at last someone was articulating what they felt in their hearts. They felt this was a watershed moment in the history of the American church—or they hoped it would prove to be. Stay strong, they told us, knowing we were about to reap the whirlwind.
On the other hand, we have heard from many readers who felt incensed and insulted. These readers felt the editorial engaged in character assassination, or maligned a broad swath of our fellow evangelicals . . .
[A]t the end of the day, we write for a readership of One. God is our Tower. Let the whirlwind come.
President Donald Trump would have you believe we are “far left.” Others have said we are not Bible-believing Christians. Neither is true. Christianity Today is theologically conservative. We are pro-life and pro-family. We are firm supporters of religious liberties and economic opportunity for men and women to exercise their gifts and create value in the world. We believe in the authority of Scripture.
We are also a global ministry. We travel the world and see the breadth and depth of what God is doing through his people all around the planet. It is beautiful, and breathtaking, and immense.
We at Christianity Today believe we need to relearn the art of balancing two things: having a firm opinion and inviting free discussion. We need, in other words, both a flag and a table.
First, then, the flag. Numerous reporters have asked whether the ministry supports what was stated in the editorial. Was Mark Galli speaking on behalf of the institution? CT does not have an editorial board. Editors publish under their own names. Yet Galli has stood in the trenches for men and women of faith for over three decades. He has been an outstanding editor in chief. While he does not speak for everyone in the ministry—our board and our staff hold a range of opinions—he carries the editorial voice of the magazine.
As an institution, Christianity Today has no interest in partisan politics. It does not endorse candidates. . . . . Political parties come and go, but the witness of the church is the hope of the world, and the integrity of that witness is paramount.
Out of love for Jesus and his church, not for political partisanship or intellectual elitism, this is why we feel compelled to say that the alliance of American evangelicalism with this presidency has wrought enormous damage to Christian witness. It has alienated many of our children and grandchildren. It has harmed African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American brothers and sisters. And it has undercut the efforts of countless missionaries who labor in the far fields of the Lord.
While the Trump administration may be well regarded in some countries, in many more the perception of wholesale evangelical support for the administration has made toxic the reputation of the Bride of Christ.
Galli’s editorial focused on the impeachment, but it was clear the issues are deeper and broader. Reasonable people can differ when it comes to the flagrantly partisan impeachment process. But this is not merely about impeachment, or even merely about President Trump. He is not the sickness. He is a symptom of a sickness that began before him, which is the hyper-politicization of the American church. This is a danger for all of us, wherever we fall on the political spectrum. . . . we ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to consider whether they have given to Caesar what belongs only to God: their unconditional loyalty.
Let me protect against two misunderstandings. The problem is not that we as evangelicals are associated with the Trump administration’s judicial appointments or its advocacy of life, family, and religious liberty. We are happy to celebrate the positive things the administration has accomplished. The problem is that we as evangelicals are also associated with President Trump’s rampant immorality, greed, and corruption; his divisiveness and race-baiting; his cruelty and hostility to immigrants and refugees; and more. In other words, the problem is the wholeheartedness of the embrace. It is one thing to praise his accomplishments; it is another to excuse and deny his obvious misuses of power.
The 2016 election confronted evangelical voters with an impossible dilemma: Vote for a pro-choice candidate whose policies would advance so much of what we oppose, or vote for an extravagantly immoral candidate who could well damage the standing of the republic and the witness of the church.
We nevertheless believe the evangelical alliance with this presidency has done damage to our witness here and abroad. The cost has been too high. American evangelicalism is not a Republican PAC. We are a diverse movement that should collaborate with political parties when prudent but always standing apart, at a prophetic distance, to be what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the conscience of the state.” That is what we believe. This is where we plant our flag. We know we are not alone.
Now, to the table. A table is a place of welcome, a place where bread is broken and friendships are forged. In a political landscape dominated by polarization, hostility, and misunderstanding, we believe it’s critical for Christians to model how to have a firm opinion and host free discussion at the same time. Evangelicals of different stripes cannot continue to shout one another down, bully those who disagree, or exclude one another and refuse to listen.
We hold fast to our view that the wholehearted evangelical embrace of Trump has been enormously costly—but we are committed to irenic conversation with men and women of good faith who believe otherwise.
It is time for evangelicals to have a serious discussion about how our identity as Christians shapes our activity as citizens.

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VA Democrats Make LGBT Nondiscrimination a Top 2020 Priority

Speaking with Governor Ralph Northam last month in Richmond following the Virginia 2019 elections that saw Democrats retake control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly, he said he wanted Democrats to "be bold" on the issue of LGBT rights.  Democrats now in control of the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate appear to be doing just that and are making the passage of LGBT non-discrimination laws a priority for the 202 legislative session ( no doubt to the horror of the hate merchants at The Family Foundation).  A ban on conversion therapy is also apparently in the works. All of which underscores the reality that elections do matter and that every vote is critical - ask Nancy Guy who beat a Republican by a little more than two dozen votes.  While vacationing last week, I came across a piece that looks at the Democrat agenda on finally enacting LGBT protections long blocked by Republicans.  Here are highlights:

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker-designate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) on Thursday said passage of a comprehensive LGBT nondiscrimination bill is a top legislative priority in 2020.
“Virginia needs comprehensive protections for our LGBT brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers,” said Filler-Corn during a press conference at the Pocahontas State Office Building near the Virginia Capitol in Richmond. “And in 2020 I’m here to tell you we will deliver them.”
State Dels. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) and Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) are among those who stood alongside Filler-Corn at the press conference the Virginia Values Coalition organized. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), outgoing Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish, Nationz Foundation founder Zakia McKensey, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. GastaƱaga, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling and Hannah Willard of Freedom for All Americans spoke.
The bill about which Filler-Corn and others at the press conference spoke would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accomodation. Filler-Corn noted Virginia is one of 30 states “where members of the LGBTQ community are not explicitly protected from discrimination.”
“We’re long overdue in protecting Virginia’s LGBT community,” she said. “It is unacceptable to me, to others and clearly the voters that in 2019 a Virginian can be fired or evicted or denied service at a restaurant because of who they are and who they love.”
Roem after she defeated Republican challenger Kelly McGinn on Election Day told the Washington Blade “its time for us to pass a Virginia version of the Equality Act.”

This is wonderful news!! May the legislation pass quickly and go to Northam's office for signing.

"Conservative" Religion Is Fueling Hate and the Partisan Divide

As regular readers know, I view religion as one of the most poisonous forces throughout human history that has fueled hatred, violence, and mass murder over and over again over the centuries with any beneficial side effects some argue religion provides being far out weighed by the negatives. Religion has time and time again been used to label others as "other" and/or worthy of death, be it in India and Pakistan, the Middle East, 17th century France, or Northern Ireland.  In the age of Trump, religion - in this case "conservative" Christianity is repeating religion's toxic impact on society and fueling political partisanship and a willingness on the part of Republicans to destroy America's democracy in order to cling to power. In my view, no true follower of Christ can be a Trump supporter or Republican nowadays and those who do so put their hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy on open display as they support the caging of children, white supremacy and a man who is the personification of the seven deadly sins.  A lengthy piece at CNN looks at religion's toxic role in dividing American society.  The good news is that over the long term, conservative Christianity is dying in America.  It's death cannot come soon enough in my opinion.  Here are article excerpts:
The religious and cultural divide between Democratic and Republican voters is widening, pointing toward even greater partisan polarization and social tension as the nation careens into a possible impeachment vote against President Donald Trump and potential record turnout in the 2020 presidential election.
An extensive national study released Monday by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute showed that voters in each party now hold antithetical views not only on issues that dominate the immediate political debate -- such as health care and impeachment -- but also on deeper changes in the nation's demography, culture, race relations and gender roles, according to detailed results the institute provided to CNN. While whites who identify as Christians still represent about two-thirds of all Republicans, they now compose only one-fourth of Democrats, according to results provided by the Pew Research Center from a new study it released last week. Americans unaffiliated with any religion, and racial minorities who identify as Christians, now each make up a bigger share of the Democratic coalition than white Christians do, Pew found. Both groups remain only relatively minor components of the GOP coalition.
On the religious front, just as in those other arenas, the groups that favor Democrats are clearly growing. Not only have the religiously unaffiliated expanded since 2009 from about 1 in 6 to 1 in 4 adults, but the share of Americans who ascribe to non-Christian faiths, a group that also leans strongly Democratic, has edged up from 5% to 7% of the population over that time, Pew found. Simultaneously, white Christians have fallen as a share of all American adults -- from just over half in 2009, according to Pew and other data, to around two-fifths today.
The challenge for Democrats is that their potential gains from the growing groups are being muted by an increasing tilt toward the GOP among the groups that are shrinking, in this case whites who identify as Christian. (The same dynamic is evident among other contracting groups such as whites without college degrees.)
Trump has accelerated the trends on both sides of that equation, consolidating the GOP's position among blue-collar, older, non-urban and evangelical whites at the price of sparking intense resistance among younger, white-collar, nonwhite and metropolitan voters.
[E]ven as white Christians have declined as a share of the population, more of that shrinking group is aligning with Republicans. In 2009, Pew found 51% of white Christians identified as Republicans, while 37% considered themselves Democrats (the rest were independents). Today that 14-point partisan gap has more than doubled: In the latest Pew results, 63% of white Christians identify as Republicans, compared with 30% who identify as Democrats. The movement has been even sharper among white evangelical Protestants. Their share of the overall population is also shrinking: It fell to 16% in the latest Pew results, down from 19% in 2009. In 2009, they were about twice as likely to identify as Republicans (61%) as Democrats (30%), according to figures provided by Gregory Smith, Pew's associate director of research. Today 75% of white evangelicals call themselves Republicans, while just 19% identify as Democrats, a ratio of nearly 4 to 1.
Democrats rely on voters who reflect the nation's growing racial and religious diversity, while the contracting population of white Christians -- especially white evangelical Protestants -- tilt more toward the GOP as a vehicle to protect values and a vision of America that they believe is under siege from the forces of change. Across the key changes reshaping American culture, the two groups rendered almost inverse verdicts. On gender, roughly three-fifths of adults who approve of Trump agreed that "these days society seems to punish men just for acting like men." Three-fourths of adults who disapprove of Trump disagreed. The divide between the two sides was even more pronounced on issues relating to race. Fully 68% of those who approve of Trump agreed that "Today, discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities." Three-fourths of those who disapprove of Trump disagreed with that sentiment. At the heart of these contrasts are the inimical views of white evangelical Protestants and religiously unaffiliated Americans (of all races), which now arguably represent the core of each party's coalition. While two-thirds of white evangelicals, for instance, say discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minorities, more than 7 in 10 among the religiously unaffiliated disagree. Two-thirds of white evangelicals say immigrants are "invading" America; three-fourths of the religiously unaffiliated disagree. Three-fourths of white evangelicals say socialists have taken over the Democratic Party; two-thirds of the unaffiliated say racists now control the Republican Party. [T]he long-run threat to Republicans clearly emerges from these new studies: The party, especially as defined by Trump, faces huge resistance among the groups that are growing in society, while the groups most drawn to his racial nationalism -- such as white evangelicals -- are shrinking. Given that pace of change, it's an open question how long Republicans can rely on the Trump strategy of squeezing bigger margins from shrinking groups. On most key measures, from racial diversity to the shift away from Christian faiths, the changes reshaping America are more pronounced among the youngest generations. Among adults younger than 30, only 1 in 4 are white Christians, the Public Religion Research Institute found, with the religiously unaffiliated and those who practice non-Christian faiths accounting for nearly half and non-white Christians making up the remaining fourth.
This wave of new data on religion and partisan allegiance underscores the broader conclusion that American politics in 2020, and likely for years beyond, promises an epic collision between what America has been and what it is becoming.

New Year's Day Male Beauty

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Will Voters Save America's Democracy?

We regularly hear it said that a coming election is the most important one ever.  In the case of the 2020 presidential election, this is in fact a true statement because, if Trump, is re-elected, the survival of American democracy itself is perhaps at issue. We find ourselves at the moment with a U.S. Senate that seems heel bent on making the same mistakes made by their Roman counterparts many centuries ago.  Then, the result was a dictatorship and imperial rule.  Now, Trump sees himself as a monarch and is out to destroy all of the institutions created by the Founding Fathers to prevent the rise of monarchical rule. A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at both the savaging of government institutions under Trump with a complicit Republican Senate majority and the stakes facing the nation if Trump is not defeated. We clearly live in frightening times.  Here are column excerpts:

Two thousand and twenty will be a year in which U.S. institutions begin to recover from a nasty infection, or to reveal lasting disabilities. The immediate, televised test will come to a disturbingly weakened U.S. Senate.
This is the one institution that Americans decided the founders had gotten all wrong. Senators were initially selected by state legislatures as a counterbalance to the direct democracy of the House of Representatives. That changed with the ratification of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913. But the Senate’s immunity from public passions was partially maintained by six-year terms and by Senate rules allowing filibusters and requiring supermajorities to move forward at key moments. This gave individual senators extraordinary power to shape corporate outcomes and encouraged a healthy institutional arrogance.
The old Senate is nearly dead — mortally wounded by majority leaders of both parties who have prioritized efficiency over tradition. The current leader, Mitch McConnell, seems intent on delivering the coup de grace by publicly admitting to coordination with the White House in the impeachment process. This is the effective subordination of the Senate to the president, leaving a large hole where the framers intended an immovable object.
We are witnessing the triumph of partisanship over deliberation and senatorial self-respect. In the impeachment process, facts and democratic values apparently mean nothing. The majority leader has announced a verdict before the trial. . . . . obvious hypocrisy is viewed with pride rather than shame. And a vital constitutional process is revealed as a political pretense.
Most Republican senators have refused to even engage the damning testimony of people such as National Security Council aide Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, vice-presidential aide Jennifer Williams, ousted Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, former National Security Council aide Fiona Hill and former acting ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. These men and women risked their careers — and public slander by the president — to call out a serious abuse of presidential power. So far, virtually no Republican senators are willing to assume any risk to endorse their bravery.
The servility of Republican senators would leave both the Senate and the executive branch damaged and call into question Republican fitness to govern.
Other institutions are also about to be tested in 2020. Because the president views anyone he can hire and fire as his personal valet, the integrity of federal law enforcement is also under severe stress. President Trump has already secured the appointment of an attorney general willing to polish his shoes, wash his laundry and obscure his scandals. . . . . To a long list of professional milestones, Barr is adding toady, minion and yes man.
A similar type of institutional assault is taking place in the U.S. military. In his cartoonish conception of strength, the commander in chief clearly views members of the armed forces as “killing machines” who should act without conscience. And so he [Trump] has upended military discipline to absolve members of the military accused or convicted of war crimes.
In all these cases, a president of crude, cunning and low character is attempting to leave his imprint on important democratic institutions. During 2020, many will resist that influence — not as a “deep state” but as defenders of public integrity. They deserve our support. But only the presidential electorate can prevent four more years of institutional vandalism.