Saturday, January 11, 2020

Will the World Wake Up to the Climate Change Threat?

Despite all kinds of scientific evidence that climate change is real, many Republicans and that party's toxic base of support continue to deny climate change is real and that the world is facing an existential threat. With Australia literally in flames, polar ice melting at a rapid rate and record temperatures hitting large parts of the world, the question is whether or not the world and nations like the United States will at last make needed policy changes to lessen the coming climate disaster. A piece in New Yorker looks at evidence that ought to convince anyone sentient that something must be done.  Here are article highlights:

In a Dantean sort of way, Australia’s holiday-season infernos provided a fitting close to 2019, which has been called “the year the world woke up to the climate crisis.” In India this past summer, a heat wave killed more than a hundred people in the northeastern state of Bihar, and in Japan a month later a heat wave sent an estimated eighteen thousand to the hospital. All-time temperature records were set in France, where a high of a hundred and eight degrees was reached in the town of VĂ©rargues on June 28th, and in Germany, where the mercury in the town of Lingen hit a hundred and seven degrees on July 25th.
In Australia, records were broken only to be rebroken. On December 17th, maximum temperatures across the entire country, which is roughly the size of the continental United States, averaged 105.6 degrees. Then, on December 18th, they climbed to 107.4 degrees. The “feeling when you open the oven door” is how one Australian described the heat to the BBC. “It’s like that, but just the whole time.” Globally, it was the second- or third-warmest year since accurate measurements began.
What will the twenty-twenties bring? In geophysical terms, this question is almost too easy to answer. Temperatures will continue to rise. It’s virtually guaranteed that the coming decade will be warmer than the twenty-tens, which were warmer than the two-thousands, which were warmer than the nineteen-nineties, which—you guessed it—were warmer than the nineteen-eighties.
And with still higher temperatures will come still greater damage. Droughts will grow more punishing. (Australia’s horrific wildfires are, in large part, the result of what Australians are calling a “big dry,” which is now in its third year and has forced many towns to truck in water.) Warmer air holds more moisture, so the flip side of drought is deluge. (Last week, as Australia was roasting, flooding in Indonesia killed at least forty people.) Meanwhile, the planet’s ice sheets will continue to melt, leading to ever-higher sea levels, as will the Arctic ice cap. It’s possible that by 2030 the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free at the end of the summer.
Which brings us to the question of what it means to “wake up.” If in the past year (or the past decade) the world began to understand how dangerous climate change is, it certainly didn’t act like it. In the past ten years, more CO2 was emitted than in all of human history up to the election of J.F.K.
The Trump Administration, which has filed to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, and the Morrison government, which wanted to use an accounting trick to fulfill its Paris commitments, were explicitly blamed for the stalemate. Many commentators noted the irony of the situation. A headline in the Guardian put it this way: “AUSTRALIA TOOK A MATCH TO UN CLIMATE TALKS WHILE BACK HOME THE COUNTRY BURNED.”
[T]he twenty-twenties will be consequential in a more or less permanent way. Global CO2 emissions are now so high—in 2019, they hit a new record of forty-three billion metric tons—that ten more years of the same will be nothing short of cataclysmic. Unless emissions are reduced, and radically, a rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will be pretty much unavoidable by 2030. This will make the demise of the world’s coral reefs, the inundation of most low-lying island nations, incessant heat waves and fires and misery for millions—perhaps billions—of people equally unavoidable.
Really waking up, and not just dreaming to ourselves that things will be O.K., has become urgent—beyond urgent, in fact. To paraphrase Victoria’s fire authority: The world is in danger, and we need to act immediately to survive. 

Bill to Ban anti-LGBT Discrimination Introduced in General Assembly

Bills to ban anti-LGBT discrimination have been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly for years now, but most never even got a vote.  Instead, Republicans killed the bills in committee, ignoring the fact that most Virginians supported the legislation.  This year, with the Republican Party of Virginia in the minority and the hate merchants at The Family Foundation no longer dictating policy, the bill introduced by Virginia state Senator Adam Ebbin is likely to pass and Governor Ralph Northam (with whom I have spoken on this issue) will enthusiastically sign the bill into law. Contemplating the coming shrieks and wailing of the maven of hate, Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation, when this happens is, to me, nothing but exquisite.  A piece in the Washington Blade looks at the 2020 bill's introduction.  Here are excerpts:
Virginia state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has introduced a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination law.
Senate Bill 868 — also known as the Virginia Values Act — would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit. The measure has been referred to the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee.
“This legislation creates a critical update to Virginia law and sends a clear message that the Commonwealth is a safe and welcoming place for all people,” said James Parrish, director of the Virginia Values Coalition, a group of LGBTQ advocacy groups that supports the bill, on Friday in a press release. “It is imperative lawmakers pass the Virginia Values Act in the General Assembly.”
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) last month said during a press conference with Parrish, Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David and other activists that passage of a comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination is a 2020 legislative priority. Governor Ralph Northam and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax County) are among those who support the bill.
“Nondiscrimination protections are long overdue for Virginia’s LGBTQ community,” said Lamneck in Friday’s press release.
“The Virginia Values Act will ensure LGBTQ people are treated fairly and equitably by the laws of the state and have the opportunity to earn a living, access housing and healthcare, and participate fully in society,” they added. “This bill represents an important step to move our state forward.”
“For years, LGBTQ people living in Virginia have faced discrimination,” added David.
“The Virginia Values Act will not only provide critical protections for LGBTQ Virginians, but expand existing civil rights laws to provide recourse for discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, and veteran status. Virginia voters sent pro-equality majorities to Richmond to make this change, and we look forward to working with the House of Delegates and the Senate to pass the Virginia Values Act into law.”
I hope this bill sails through to passage quickly and finally helps move Virginia into the 21st century.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, January 10, 2020

Donald Trump Is the War Crimes President

The barbarism of the Nazi regime in the 1930's and during WWII did no come to pass overnight.  There were numerous steps along the way that involved dehumanizing a targeted scapegoat population - e.g., Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, "communists, and others. Long before the orchestrated extermination of 6 million European Jews commenced in earnest, torture became normalized and callous brutality became accepted. Along the way, the Geneva Conventions were ignored by Hitler and his brutal regime. Here in America, the slide towards moral bankruptcy began under the Bush/Cheney regime - probably at Cheney's instigation -  and America began ignoring the Geneva Conventions and making illegal torture a part of America's policies.  Obama reversed the torture policy, but failed to hold those guilty under the previous Bush/Cheney regime accountable.  Now, under Trump, America is careening toward complete moral bankruptcy.   It is now American policy to place refugee children in cages and torture and war criminals are lauded by the occupant of the White House.  In a long piece, Andrew Sullivan looks at America's moral decline.  The only way to reverse this is by voting Trump out of office in November, 2020, since it appears clear Senate Republicans will ignore their oaths of office and will put party over country and morality.  Here are article excerpts: 
I saw the gripping New York Times documentary on Hulu this past week about the case of Navy SEAL Commander Eddie Gallagher, a rogue soldier who routinely shot civilians in Iraq for the hell of it, and finally stabbed to death a barely conscious captive young ISIS fighter who was the lone survivor of a missile hit on an enemy house. The documentary has video of the testimonies of his fellow SEALs, all of whom were in obvious anguish and pain as they told the truth to investigators. It also shows a photograph of Gallagher holding up the murdered kid’s head like a trophy in a wild-game hunt. The image is difficult to put out of your mind.
This kind of dehumanizing barbarism started, of course, with a euphemism. “Enhanced interrogation techniques,” we were assured, were nothing like torture. They were just a very intense form of questioning. “I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: The United States does not torture,” president George W. Bush insisted with a straight and serious face.
And then we discovered that these “enhanced techniques” were actually extremely similar to the verschärfte Vernehmung (intense interrogation methods) that the Gestapo once used. . . . . Nor did we have to imagine these horrors: Many of these techniques were ubiquitous at Abu Ghraib prison and photographed. The administration insisted that all of this was invented by a few rogue grunts on the ground, even though we now know that what we saw was the very low end of the abuse of prisoners that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney directly authorized.
The official black sites were dystopian torture chambers. When the torture started, many U.S. personnel, at first, couldn’t watch. Seeing human beings treated by Americans the way they had been treated by the Nazis sickened them. Cables were sent, and ignored. Tapes of the grotesque torture sessions were destroyed.
In short, the United States abandoned the Geneva Conventions it had once been instrumental in creating. And this continued under the Obama administration. Yes, the torture program, mercifully, was ended by executive order on Obama’s second day. But Geneva also requires member states to investigate all claims of war crimes and prosecute the perpetrators. The new president, leery of the divisive and emotional issue as he began his term in an economic crisis, decided to ignore them. In fact, for eight years, no one was even fired or demoted for war crimes, let alone prosecuted, and some were even promoted within the CIA. The message was clear: Americans who torture are essentially immune from prosecution. Torture thereby became normalized.
So it was not surprising that in 2016, a presidential candidate emerged who openly espoused torture as something he would bring back if he were elected. . . . . And it was unsurprising that this position won support from Republican primary voters, as if it were just one of many policy proposals, and not an unthinkable violation of domestic and international law.
Only Jim Mattis was able to restrain the commander-in-chief from restoring the torture program, even if it is clear that Trump still regards war crimes as a sign of strength. But signs were sent to the military and the world that this president admired the tactics of dictators and found democracies pathetic in comparison.
This is how liberal democracies disintegrate. A violation of core moral norms happens in one specific, exceptional case, such as after 9/11. Some even find reasons to justify it as an emergency measure (something Geneva rules out as a legal excuse). But torture then entrenches itself into the government apparatus and bureaucracy. There’s a record. There are government employees involved and doctors and psychologists. And any president has a choice.
Trump took the new normal and boosted it. “Torture works!” he declared. In the 2016 campaign, he was asked what he’d do if a military officer refused to obey an illegal order from him, and he responded: “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse, believe me.”
After a group of six Navy SEALs decided, in great anguish, to report their murderous platoon chief for war crimes, and Gallagher was arrested and arraigned, Gallagher’s brother, Sean, went on Fox & Friends and appealed to Trump to step in. Trump first said he might pardon him after the trial.
Gallagher was acquitted, except for the charge of arranging the photograph of what he called a “deer kill,” holding the dead kid’s head up as a trophy. When the Navy, in a final weak attempt to punish him, tried to take Gallagher’s SEAL pin away from him, Trump personally intervened and insisted this war criminal would keep his pin, and that he was one of the “great fighters” in the U.S. military. Fox News celebrated . . .
A president who believes a war criminal is among the finest fighters the U.S. has and suggests he will pardon him after his trial is, quite simply, unique in the history of the U.S. So too is a president who threatens another country with the destruction of its cultural sites in revenge for any response to the assassination of one of its military and political leaders. In mere decades, we went from the architect and guardian of the Geneva Conventions to their nemesis.
The world once knew that the U.S. government would do its best always to follow those laws. There are likely to be war crimes in any real-world conflict, and the U.S. has committed its share of them. But George W. Bush was the first president to directly authorize something that George Washington had ruled out of bounds in the Revolutionary War. Washington’s words ring ever more tragically in the age of Trump: “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any prisoner … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause … for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”
Military honor and the laws of war are the mark of civilization, and something that takes centuries to build and one feckless decision to destroy. For an American president actually to celebrate such crimes, and even personally threaten to commit them, was unimaginable before now, before the shame and disgrace of Trump.
There were a few hours this past week when we were shaken out of the denial that comes with exhaustion. There we were, risking a real outbreak of war, and all we had was him. And this was not an exception in this presidency — just the most extreme example we have yet had of our collective helplessness in the face of one man’s fecklessness.
The administration has been incapable of providing any evidence for the “imminent” attack they used to justify the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani. It appears to me to have been invented. Regardless, there was time to consult allies, and to seek authorization from Congress for what was plainly an act of war.
But, of course, that didn’t happen. . . . The word for this is tyranny, as I noted three and a half years ago. Not tyranny in the sense that we do not still live in a free country, but tyranny in the classic sense: one-man, strongman rule.
In Plato’s words, when describing how a strongman’s rule unfolds: “Some of those who helped in setting him up and are in power — the manliest among them — speak frankly to him and to one another, criticizing what is happening … Then the tyrant must gradually do away with all of them, if he’s going to rule.”
And he [Trump] has pretty much done away with all of them. We’re left with a new and weak defense secretary, Mark Esper, constantly contradicted by his boss; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a toady obsessed with Iran; and a war criminal as CIA director, Gina Haspel, who owes her job entirely to a torture-loving president. With this supine clique, Trump ordered the assassination of the top military leader of a country with which we are not at war. Congress was sidelined almost entirely; allies were blindsided. This was not a sane process of deliberation about potentially starting yet another war in the Middle East, considering its consequences, and calibrating a strategy. It was a strongman’s impulse.

Be very, very afraid.

Friday Male Beauty

The Evangelicals Who Pray for War With Iran

Most sane people, be it in America or around the world, are in no rush to see the end of the world. Nor are they eager to see the Middle East explode in war.  The term "sane people," in my view, rules out extreme evangelical Christians who cling to a bizarre reading of the Bible - a book totally composed by unknown authors who lacked any modern knowledge - that makes them want the world and life as we know it to end.  They want the "End Times" to Armageddon to come.   And to make this happen, they need a war in the Middle East involving Israel even though it would mean all but a few members of the Jewish nation perish.  Frighteningly, two such evangelicals are in positions of power that make their lunacy very dangerous: Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo.  Both are in tight communication with some of the most extreme Christian dominionists who, despite occasional disavowals when exposed by the media, want a theocracy in America.  These zealots are anti-LGBT, want women in subordinate roles to men, and would impose their beliefs on all Americans.  A piece in New Republic looks at Pence and Pompeo's disturbing alliances.  Here are excerpts:

Last Friday, a day after Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and nine others were killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, the Christian Zionist advocacy group Christians United for Israel emailed its millions of supporters to praise President Trump’s move. “This Decisive Action Will Save Countless Lives,” read the subject line, echoing the assessment delivered that morning by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Fox and Friends.
Pompeo and Pence reportedly were the top officials pushing Trump to kill Soleimani. They’re also devout evangelicals and major allies of CUFI. This is not a coincidence. While the organization is best known for its unflagging “support” for Israel—that is, for Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and protracted erasure of the possibility of a future Palestinian state—it has, since its founding in 2006, depicted Iran as an existential threat to Israel.
Televangelist John Hagee launched CUFI in 2006, calling for military action against Iran, then led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Hagee compared to Hitler. At the time, Hagee had been claiming that Iran would soon “have the nuclear capability to make a bomb, a suitcase bomb, a missile head, or anything they want to do with it.” That was untrue, given contemporaneous expert assessments of Iran’s projected nuclear advances. But for Hagee, a more militaristic approach was necessary in order to avert “an American Hiroshima.”
In his 2006 book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee imagined an elaborate scenario in which a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran would trigger an “inferno [that] will explode across the Middle East, plunging the world toward Armageddon.” Faced with scrutiny over his apocalyptic theology, he strained to create a discrete image for his new political organization, insisting that his extensive writings on biblical prophecy about the Rapture and Second Coming were distinct from CUFI’s lobbying agenda. But it was a rocky start for the organization. In 2008, while running for president, John McCain first accepted, then rejected, Hagee’s endorsement. The rebuff was seen as damaging to the political neophyte and a brave stance by McCain against fringe elements within the GOP’s evangelical base. At CUFI’s annual Washington Summit, held just two months later, only three members of Congress attended.
But one of those three members was a certain congressman from Indiana: Pence. He continued to maintain close ties with the organization, and in 2014 CUFI paid for then-Governor Pence and his wife to travel to Israel to celebrate Christmas. With Pence as vice president, Hagee’s star has risen even more. He has claimed a role in convincing Trump to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, . . . . Hagee delivered the benediction at the embassy dedication, a day Hagee described as “nothing short of a divine miracle!”
On matters of Iran, too, there has been a seamless relationship between CUFI and the Trump administration. In 2017, just a few months into Trump’s presidency, Pence addressed the CUFI Washington Summit, assuring attendees that “President Trump has put Iran on notice: America will no longer tolerate Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region and jeopardize Israel’s security,” and promising that under Trump, “the United States of America will not allow Iran to develop a useable nuclear weapon.” Trump’s subsequent actions have only elevated the specter of chaos in the region.  . . . . and yet, his evangelical supporters consider this one of his top accomplishments.
Pompeo, in a political career spanning three terms in the House of Representatives, a brief stint as CIA director, and now, as the country’s top diplomat, has promoted intertwining his Christian faith with his public service. But he has scoffed at charges that evangelicals promote theocracy. In a March 2019 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, while visiting Israel, Pompeo was asked whether Trump “has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” “As a Christian,” Pompeo replied, “I certainly believe that’s possible.” . . . and then thanked God for President Trump—“an immovable friend of Israel.” “We’ve implemented the strongest pressure campaign in history against the Iranian regime,” Pompeo said, “and we are not done.”
Personally, if one is a science denying, theocracy supporting evangelical, you should not be allowed to hold any important political position, not because of your "faith" but rather due to you dangerous embrace of ignorance. 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Hampton City Council Withdraws "Gun Sanctuary City" Resolution

Downtown Hampton, VA.
While Hampton City Council withdrew a "sanctuary city" resolution to the outrage of gun fanatics and likely white supremacy last night, it is still troubling that any such resolution was ever put into motion, especially because it was the white city council members in a majority black city who first brought up the resolution.  The optics were terrible and many blacks residents, rightly in my view, saw racism in the move to consider the resolution. The fact that the resolution - which would have had no legal basis  and arguably would have encourage extremists to ignore new gun control laws likely to be passed by the General Assembly - was ever brought up in the first place is a study in cowardice.  Thankfully, after reflection, City Council unanimously withdrew the resolution.  The move is in sharp contrast to action taken by the City of Virginia Beach recently that saw city council cave to the demands of gun nuts and extremists. WAVY-TV looks at the action in Hampton and also has a listing of localities who have pandered to gun extremists and, in my view, white supremacists.  Here are highlights:
Hampton City Council has signed onto a letter supporting Second Amendment rights, without actually voting on anything.
The move was met with “boos” from the hundred or so gun-rights supporters that gathered in council chambers Wednesday night in hopes of seeing an official resolution passed supporting Second Amendment rights.
For nearly two hours speakers on both sides of the issue spoke in front of the council.
The resolution as initially proposed expressed support for law-abiding citizens to keep their guns. It also urged the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam to not take any action that would violate freedoms guaranteed in the state or federal Bill of Rights.
Council members Linda Curtis, Eleanor Weston Brown and Billy Hobbs brought forward the resolution.
But when it came time for a vote, Brown withdrew the resolution citing fear it “is perceived we would undermine the rule of law with this.”
“Because we did not want to create misunderstanding in the general Public’s we decided that it was best to withdraw the resolution and not create that misunderstanding or give the inference that Hampton could be a second amendment sanctuary city,” Brown said.
Localities across Virginia are considering the idea of becoming Second Amendment sanctuaries, which are localities that have pledged not to use public resources to enforce any laws they see as unconstitutional. Some have passed resolutions simply in support of citizens’ Second Amendment rights, while others have said discussions on gun laws belong in Richmond.
Here’s the rundown on where area localities stand:
  • Accomack County: The Board of Supervisors did not make the county a “sanctuary,” but approved a resolution affirming its commitment to citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment Dec. 18.
  • Exmore: Exmore officials have passed a resolution to become a Second Amendment sanctuary city.
  • Hampton: City Council has not voted on any Second Amendment-related resolution, but hundreds voiced their support at the council meeting Dec. 11. The NAACP also attended and came out against the idea. Mayor said the issue is “premature.”
  • James City County: The Board of Supervisors did not make the county a “sanctuary,” but approved a resolution affirming its commitment to citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment Dec. 10.
  • Isle of Wight: The Board of Supervisors did not make the county a “sanctuary,” but approved a resolution to affirm its commitments to citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment.
  • Mathews County: The Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 17 to become a Second Amendment sanctuary.
  • Newport News: City Council has not voted on any Second Amendment-related resolution, but a large crowd attended a Dec. 10 meeting to voice support for gun rights.
  • Northampton County: The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution expressing its support for the rights of citizens to bear arms under the Second Amendment Dec. 10, but the resolution did not declare it a “sanctuary.”
  • Poquoson: Poquoson City Council voted to become a “Constitutional City” and uphold citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment Dec. 9.
  • Southampton County: Southampton officials have passed a resolution to become a Second Amendment sanctuary city.
  • Suffolk: City Council voted on December 16, 2019 in support of a resolution reaffirming Suffolk’s commitment to the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Virginia Beach: City Council voted Jan. 6 to become a “Second Amendment Constitutional City.”
  • York County: The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Dec. 17 to become a “Constitutional City” and uphold citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment.
The vast majority of Virginians support common sense gun control laws - something Republicans have blocked for many years.  That so many localities have felt the need to pander to extremist minorities is a testimony in how ready too many elected officials are to prostitute themselves to extreme and unsavory groups.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Biden's Disastrous Iraq War Vote Comes Back to Haunt Him

Anyone who is honest will concede that the Iraq War was one of the worse disasters ever undertaken by the USA since at least the Vietnam War debacle.  And there were plenty of reasons to not believe the Bush/Cheney lies that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  Cheney in particular was obsessed with going to war and ultimately through his Halliburton stock holdings made a fortune as Americans died and trillions of dollars were squandered. Yet, Joe Biden voted for war in Iraq, displaying an enormous error in judgment.  Now, as Trump/Pence seem obsessed with repeating the Iraq disaster in Iran, Biden's error in his vote is coming back to haunt him.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at the possible reckoning facing Biden which suggests that experience that consists of bad decisions is not a plus on the campaign trail.  Here are article highlights:  
Sanders, who in 2002 was Vermont’s sole congressman, delivered an impassioned speech against authorizing Bush to use force against Saddam Hussein and then voted no. The ruinous Iraq war that followed—and in some ways continues to unfold—made a strong case that Sanders was right. In 2016, he used Hillary Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq war to help mount a surprisingly strong primary bid. Now the killing of Soleimani, and the prospect of widening military action against Iran, have given Sanders an opening, one month before the Iowa caucuses, to hammer at a pillar of Biden’s 2020 rationale: that the former vice president’s vaunted record of experience is in fact malarkey because Biden has too often made the wrong call on big issues.
“We’re in this moment on Iraq where that fundamental flaw—I don’t want to get too soft here—that fundamental error in judgment by Joe Biden and many other establishment politicians has continued to remind people of what a disastrous mistake that 2002 vote was,” Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s campaign manager, told me shortly after the Soleimani news broke. “Bernie Sanders has a proven record of fighting for the right thing at the right time—on the first instance, not on the second, third, fourth, or fifth try, as the case might be with Joe Biden. So yes, you’re going to hear a lot more about his Iraq vote from us.”
The debate around Trump needing authorization to conduct further tit-for-tat with Iran could become a fault line in the primary,” said Brian Fallon, who was a top strategist for Clinton in 2016. “On the left, even insisting on congressional authorization is going to be viewed as, It’s okay to go to war with Iran, you just want Trump to do it the right way. Similar to when people were pussyfooting around on impeachment. Anything less than full-throated opposition to escalation with Iran will be seen as going down the same path as in 2002, and mark you as being part of the Democratic old guard.”
Biden will be facing increasing criticism over his Iraq vote from his Democratic rivals, and not just Sanders. “He supported the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime, which was the decision to invade Iraq,” Pete Buttigieg told an Iowa television interviewer. Next week the South Bend mayor will have the chance to say that to Biden’s face, onstage in Des Moines during the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses. If Sanders doesn’t beat him to the punch, that is.
“Bernie has raised his concerns with Biden’s vote for the Iraq war in at least three debates prior,” Shakir said, “as a matter of distinction between not only their records, but their judgment. It’s nice that people can calibrate and get things right over time. Even better is getting it right the first time.”
For months Biden has largely stayed above the Democratic fray, keeping his focus on Trump. With the Iowa endgame shaping up as a tight five-way scramble, Biden may no longer have the luxury of leaving the sharpest words to his surrogates.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Unstable and Impeached, Trump Pushes USA Toward War with Iran

Many of us knew it was only a matter of time before Donald Trump's ignorance, impulsiveness and narcissism would land America in an international crisis.  Now, in the wake of Trump's assassination of Iran's top general - a number of legal scholars have made the case that a bad actor or not, the assassination was on questionable legal foundation under international law - American lives are at risk.  Meanwhile, America's allies are likely to stand aside and it is difficult to not wonder whether or not Trump's true motivation for the assassination was to distract Americans from the impeachment process and the continued stream of additional damning information against Trump, a proverbial "wag the dog " move.  Now, Iran has fired on American troops in Iraq even as Iraq moves to have those same troops evicted from that country.  Would Trump endanger American lives to further his own interests?  You'd better believe it - just ask the Ukrainians. Trump cares for no one but himself and those who think otherwise are, in my view, fools.  Americans and others will die because of this malignant occupant of the White House.  A column in the New York Times looks at the nightmare descending on the nation:.  Here are excerpts:
There are no more adults in the room.
After three harrowing years, we’ve reached the point many of us feared from the moment Donald Trump was elected. His decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s second most important official, made at Mar-a-Lago with little discernible deliberation, has brought the United States to the brink of a devastating new conflict in the Middle East.
We don’t yet know how Iran will retaliate, or whether all-out war will be averted. But already, NATO has suspended its mission training Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. Iraq’s Parliament has voted to expel American troops — a longtime Iranian objective. . . . On Sunday, Iran said it will no longer be bound by the remaining restrictions on its nuclear program in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal that Trump abandoned in 2018. Trump has been threatening to commit war crimes by destroying Iran’s cultural sites and tried to use Twitter to notify Congress of his intention to respond to any Iranian reprisals with military escalation.
The administration has said that the killing of Suleimani was justified by an imminent threat to American lives, but there is no reason to believe this. One skeptical American official told The New York Times that the new intelligence indicated nothing but “a normal Monday in the Middle East,” and Democrats briefed on it were unconvinced by the administration’s case.
Rather than self-defense, the Suleimani killing seems like the dreadful result of several intersecting dynamics. There’s the influence of rapture-mad Iran hawks like Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Defense officials who might have stood up to Trump have all left the administration.Trump likely had mixed motives. He was reportedly upset over TV images of militia supporters storming the American Embassy in Iraq. According to The Post, he also was frustrated by “negative coverage” of his decision last year to order and then call off strikes on Iran.
Beyond that, Trump, now impeached and facing trial in the Senate, has laid out his rationale over years of tweets. [Trump] The president is a master of projection, and his accusations against others are a decent guide to how he himself will behave. . . . . To Trump, a wag-the-dog war with Iran evidently seemed like a natural move for a president in trouble.
It’s hard to see how this ends without disaster. Defenders of Trump’s move have suggested that he might have re-established deterrence against Iran, frightening its leadership into restraint. But Vali Nasr, a Middle East scholar at Johns Hopkins University and former senior adviser to Obama’s State Department, tells me that Iran likely believes that it has to re-establish deterrence against the United States.
“If they don’t do anything, or if they don’t do enough, then Trump will get comfortable with this kind of behavior, and that worries them,” said Nasr. To Iranians, after all, America is the aggressor, scrapping a nuclear agreement that they were abiding by and imposing a punishing “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign. Just like militarists in the United States, they’re likely to assume that weakness invites attacks. “I don’t think they want to provoke war, but they do want to send a signal that they’re prepared for it,” said Nasr.
Meanwhile, ISIS benefits from the breach between Iraq and America. . . . . These networks will regenerate rapidly if we are forced to leave, and they will again turn their attention on the West.”
Unlike with North Korea, it’s difficult to imagine any photo op or exchange of love letters defusing the crisis the president has created. Most of this country has never accepted Trump, but over the past three years, many have gotten used to him, lulled into uneasy complacency by an establishment that has too often failed to treat him as a walking national emergency. Now the nightmare phase of the Trump presidency is here. The biggest surprise is that it took so long.
Trump must be removed by any means necessary.

Tuesday Male Beauty

Virginia Beach City Council Gun Vote Shows City is Not Ready for Prime Time

Gun rights extremist outside Virginia Beach City Council.
UPDATE:  Now per the Daily Press Hampton City Council is going to consider a similar resolution which has no legal impact and serves to show that some members of council are pandering political whores.  Most distressing is the fact that the three who initiated this resolution are people I thought had common sense and principles.

I lived in Virginia Beach for just shy of 20 years. The City of Virginia Beach is the most populous city in Virginia - although Fairfax County has a far larger population and it likes to claim that it is a sophisticated, first class city.  In voting to become a 2nd Amendment "sanctuary city," the Virginia Beach City Council demonstrated to the nation and the world that Virginia Beach is anything but a first class city and more akin to lunatic areas in Southwest Virginia.  To describe Virginia as "bush league" might in fact too flattering. Sadly, the city continues to be governed by a small town minded clique that continues to pander to right wing elements of its population.  I am saddened to note that Michael Berlucchi, the sole gay member of counsel voted for this batshitery.  The measure has not force of law and cannot override state law.  All this vote does is send a message that Virginia Beach is not a place that sane and reasonable people should want to visit.  It would have taken courage to stand up to gun extremist, and City Council proved devoid of courage.  The Virginian Pilot looks at the idiocy.  Here are excerpts:
Virginia Beach joined more than 100 localities in the state to affirm its commitment to the Second Amendment.
On Monday night, seven months after the mass shooting that left 12 dead and four more injured, the Virginia Beach City Council voted 6-4 in favor of becoming a Second Amendment Constitutional City. The council supported the symbolic message to encourage state lawmakers to not pass laws that some activists contend would infringe on the Constitution.
The council did not declare itself a gun sanctuary city, which is what gun rights activists sought. Gun sanctuaries direct law enforcement to ignore laws that put restrictions on the Second Amendment. Several council members said they did not want to direct officials to break the law.
Before the meeting even started, five council members — Bobby Dyer, Jim Wood, Rosemary Wilson, John Moss and Jessica Abbott — signed on to the resolution. Councilman Michael Berlucchi was the final vote to give it the boost to pass. Wood said the debate brought out the largest crowd he has seen in his more than 17 years on the City Council.
The council is expecting a big crowd again tomorrow when it will consider asking the General Assembly to allow cities the option to prohibit the public from carrying firearms in government buildings. The issue was deferred in June after the mayor said the council shouldn’t make decisions when the community is still grieving from the May 31 mass shooting. He feared acting quickly would cause polarization.
The mass shooting inspired Gov. Ralph Northam to call a special General Assembly session last summer. Republicans adjourned the session after 90 minutes without debating any gun control measures. Democrats captured both the House and Senate in November, so gun rights activists fear gun control measures could be enacted during the 2020 session.
Philip Van Cleave, the president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, accused Northam of declaring war on gun owners.
A few people, including Tommy Cerja, a 20-year-old Norfolk State University student, asked the council strike down the resolution. Cerja recalled how the city felt united after Something in The Water music festival in April. But then tragedy struck on May 31.
“Now we have a choice on how to respond,” the Virginia Beach resident said. “We can come together and heal as one or we can resort back to immoral political tactics by doubling down on guns and an irresponsible over commitment to the Second Amendment."

Monday, January 06, 2020

More Monday Male Beauty

Trump’s Ignorance Has Created an International Crisis

Huge crowds in Tehran.
Nothing is more dangerous than someone who is ignorant and poorly informed yet thinks them-self brilliant and knowledgeable, if not more knowledgeable than all others.  Pair this ignorance with a malignant narcissist personality disorder and the danger increases exponentially.   Yet this is the reality of the nature of the person now in the White House.  A person who cares noting about the harm he does to others so long his ego is satiated.  Now, America and the world face an international crisis with Iran - a nation far larger, wealthy and educated than Iraq - was in 2003 - because of the actions of this uncontrollable narcissist.  The only consolation, if it can be called such, is that Iran has suggested that it might target Trump properties for its retaliation.   In a column in the Washington Post former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough looks at the danger the nation faces - all because of Trump's actions.  Here are column highlights:

During the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur would lead U.S. troops on the most audacious amphibious landing in U.S. history. The assault at Inchon in South Korea was viewed beforehand as being so reckless that the Joint Chiefs of Staff dismissed the proposal out of hand. “We drew up a list of every conceivable and natural handicap,” one naval officer remembered later, “and Inchon had them all.”
MacArthur’s arrogant belief in his own infallibility allowed him to see opportunity where others saw only peril. But the legendary general brought more than a bloated ego to battle; he also carried with him a mastery of military history and, with it, the knowledge of Japan’s successful 1904 landing at the same treacherous port. That insight served MacArthur well and reversed, almost overnight, the grim trajectory of America’s so-called Forgotten War.
President Trump’s decision last week to assassinate the most powerful military figure in the Middle East was, likewise, audacious. But unlike MacArthur at Inchon, Trump likely did not grasp the gravity of his decision. How could he? The former reality-TV star has long been ignorant of world history and current events. During a 2015 interview, then-candidate Trump did not even know who Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani was.
The danger posed by that ignorance is matched daily by the crises created by Trump’s own erraticism. His performance as commander in chief has been shaped by a collection of scattered grievances, emotional impulses and random tweets. As the Financial Times’s Philip Stephens has said of Trump’s foreign policy, “Looking for a framework is like searching for symmetrical patterns in a bowl of spaghetti.”
This is, after all, a president who spent last summer withholding military aid from a besieged democratic ally while pressuring its leaders to investigate a political opponent. Then, stepping in front of a bank of White House cameras, he asked the same of China.
Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior received much attention at the time, with the Associated Press’s Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller noting in July that the United States’ foreign policy had become unmoored after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others were driven from the administration. Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of the Atlantic, followed with an article appropriately titled “He’s Getting Worse,” in which he glumly noted that “there is no reason to hope that he will reform.
His followers reward his radicalism and his handlers are among the most cynical figures in American political history.”
We now find ourselves living through a time when those same administration officials are providing reckless counsel to an ignorant and erratic president. Though he shares MacArthur’s sense of infallibility, Trump spends most of his waking hours showing the world just how fallible he is. Critics have long warned of a time when this fatally flawed man would be forced to confront an international crisis.
That time has arrived and it is a crisis of Trump’s own making.
Contrary to the vows of candidate Trump, it is likely that the killing of Soleimani will now only deepen U.S. involvement in a region that has already claimed too many American lives. With Russia firmly ensconced in Syria, Iraqi discontent on the rise and Iran’s nuclear program restarted, expect more Americans to die across the Middle East in the coming years. With his audacious attack, Trump has further isolated the United States from its allies, provided a lifeline to Iran’s terrorist regime and broken yet another of his campaign promises.
Inchon this is not.
And Trump is no MacArthur.

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Prospect of Virginia Gun Control Exposes Insanity of Far Right

Gun nuts in Richmond back in July 2019.
Some studies indicate that right wing extremism is now a far greater threat in America than any sort of threat from Islamic extremism.  Given the lunacy on display by far right groups and the gun fetish crowd in response to proposed sane gun control laws, this scary reality is now in open view with threats being made against the governor and one rural county in Southwest Virginia taking measures to allow the establishment of a county militia to oppose the state laws (one more example of why no one sane wants to move a business to that region of the state).  Added to the general insanity of the gun crowd is the deliberate dissemination of untrue conspiracy stories on the Internet by groups that exist in some bizarre alternate reality.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the situation which, to me, underscores why proposed gun control laws are needed now more than ever.  Here are article highlights:

Gun rights advocates and militia members from around the country are urging thousands of armed protesters to descend on Virginia's capital later this month to stop newly empowered Democrats from passing gun-control bills.
What began as a handful of rural Virginia counties declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” has jumped the state’s borders and become an Internet phenomenon. Far-right websites and commenters are declaring that Virginia is the place to take a stand against what they see as a national trend of weakening gun rights.
[A] Nevada-based group called the Oath Keepers said it’s sending training teams to help form posses and militia in Virginia. The leader of a Georgia militia called Three Percent Security Force has posted videos and calls to arms on Facebook, urging “patriots” to converge on Richmond. The right-wing YouTuber “American Joe Show” warned without evidence that Virginia will cut the power grid to stop the army of protesters — one of a host of false and exaggerated rumors spreading online. Law enforcement and public safety officials say they are monitoring the situation, including several instances of threats toward Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Even some gun enthusiasts expressed concern about the potential for violence at a rally planned for the state Capitol on Jan. 20. State police briefed Northam for two hours last week, according to one state official, and the governor plans to lead an all-staff meeting this week to go over increased security procedures. “Hopefully it’ll not be another Charlottesville,” Van Cleave said, blaming police and state planning for the violence that erupted during 2017’s Unite the Right rally around a Confederate statue.
[F]irepower is a concern for gun-control advocates, who also plan to turn out on Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — for what is a traditional day of citizen lobbying at the state Capitol.
“There’s a dangerous intersection here of speech and guns, and what I think is critically important is that we don’t see the sort of armed intimidation and even violence that resulted . . . in Charlottesville,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director at Giffords Law Center.
Democrats won their majorities in November elections, ending a 26-year period where Republicans were able to quash any proposed restrictions on guns. After 12 people were killed at a Virginia Beach municipal building by a gunman on May 31, Northam vowed to pass some form of gun control. Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) issued an opinion that militia members presenting themselves as peacekeepers could be violating state law. Beginning in rural counties, boards of supervisors — usually with hundreds of local residents looking on — have passed resolutions proclaiming that they would not enforce any unconstitutional effort to seize or restrict guns.
Tazewell County in Southwest Virginia went a step further, passing an ordinance that would enable it to raise a militia.
One white supremacist blogger wrote a widely disseminated post claiming that Northam planned to call out the Guard and cut power and Internet service to thwart gun supporters. That led to a meme with a fabricated quote in which Northam is made to say, “if you still refuse to comply I’ll have you killed.”
The conspiracy theory site Natural News posted an angry tirade about Northam, accusing him of starting a new civil war and suggesting vigilantes would kill any officials who tried to take their guns.
An anti-Semitic website said Jewish Democrats were “gun-grabbers,” including former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, the presidential candidate whose gun-control organization has poured millions into Virginia.
State officials declined to directly address the threats. “Our Administration is taking serious precautions to protect the safety of all visitors, policymakers, and staff during the upcoming General Assembly session,” Clark Mercer, Northam’s chief of staff, said via email. “This issue evokes strong feelings, but spreading lies, rumors, and misinformation is irresponsible and dangerous.
Northam is backing eight bills, the same package he submitted ahead of the aborted special session in July. Among them are measures to ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers; require background checks on all firearms sales and transfers; cap handgun purchases at one per month; and create a “red flag law” to temporarily remove guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
The proposed assault-weapons ban has been one of the most controversial measures, since the original bill bans not only the sale of those guns but possession — meaning people who already own them would have to give them up. Amid an uproar, Northam said a grandfather clause would be added to protect existing owners, but they would have to register their weapons.
All the outside attention has overwhelmed some of the homegrown gun rights advocates. Troy Carter, who helped rally support for a sanctuary proclamation in Amelia County outside Richmond, said he has seen the fiery language on social media.
“I am worried people will come here to Virginia and look for that opportunity to cause trouble,” he said. “It’s not going to be the sanctuary guys, because we just want peace and to be left alone.”
As noted, these insane forces underscore why Northam's package of laws is needed now more than ever,  These gun nuts are a clear and present danger to law abiding citizens.