Saturday, January 18, 2020

What to Know About the Gun Rally at the Virginia Capitol

Thankfully, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld Governor Ralph Northam's executive order banning all guns from the Virginia Capitol grounds on Monday when gun fanatics and likely unsavory and dangerous "militia" members will descend on Richmond from across the country to try to intimidate legislators into not passing gun control legislation that a majority of Virginians want - perhaps even more now that they have seen the extremism of the gun lobby.  With the FBI's arrest of now seven (7) white supremacist extremists who hoped to ignite a race war at the Capitol, the wisdom of Northam's preemptive strike with his executive order is all the more clear.  As for the whining of the gun nuts, there is no reason they cannot lobby legislators without being armed in what can only be viewed as an attempt at threats and intimidation.  The New York Times has a good overview of what has happened and what is known about some of the bad actors headed to Richmond at the invitation of the misnamed Virginia Citizens Defense League (which to me looks more like a group of all white vigilantes based on photos of the group's meetings) and strongly suggests a peaceful rally was perhaps never the goal. Add to this the reality that most "gun rights" groups receive funding from gun manufacturers who want to maximize sales regardless of the death and mayhem that results and it becomes clear that this gun nuts do not speak for the majority of Virginians.   Here are article highlights:
The rally is being hosted by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a prominent Second Amendment group that typically holds an annual “Lobby Day” to meet with lawmakers. The group is organizing charter buses, car pools and a sushi dinner the night before the rally in anticipation of what it is calling “the most important Lobby Day Rally that we have ever had.” 
[T]he rally has drawn the attention of militia groups from as far away as Nevada and Oklahoma, including those [hate groups] tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
Others vowing to attend include individuals associated with the Light Foot Militia, some of whom were banned from Charlottesville after the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, which ended in the death of a counterprotester. Richard B. Spencer, a prominent white nationalist who is among 24 defendants in a lawsuit over the rally in Charlottesville, also said he might attend.
Experts on extremism believe the groups want to co-opt the rally in an effort to fuel a race war. For example, extremists are calling Monday’s rally the “boogaloo,” which in the language of white supremacists is an event that will accelerate such a war.
It remains unclear who will actually arrive in Richmond, but it’s possible pre-emptive moves by the authorities could deter some who had vowed to attend.
The authorities on Thursday announced the arrests of three men linked to the Base, an extremist group being tracked by the F.B.I. The three men had obtained weapons and discussed participating in the Richmond rally and were charged with various federal crimes in Maryland, the authorities said.
On Friday, law enforcement announced the arrest of at least four other men also tied to the Base, in separate plots.
The Base is a white extremist, antigovernment group that aims to establish a white “ethno-state.”
The F.B.I. has grown increasingly concerned about the Base as it has worked to recruit more people. The group encourages the onset of anarchy, according to the Counter Extremism Project, an organization that tracks far-right extremists. Experts say that its founder, an American, appears to be living in Russia.
Former law enforcement officials say the Base and a similar group known as Atomwaffen have become priorities for the F.B.I.
In November, the F.B.I. arrested Richard Tobin, a young man in New Jersey, who was accused of recruiting on behalf of the Base and of supporting violence, including the killing of black people with a machete.
In his declaration, Mr. Northam cited the eruption in Charlottesville three years ago as an example of “what can happen when peaceful demonstrations are hijacked by those who come into the Commonwealth and do not value the importance of peaceful assembly.” He added: “We must take all precautions to prevent that from ever happening again.”

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Can Anyone Save the GOP?

The answer to the question posed in the caption is probably no.  It's the conclusion I came to two decades ago when I left the Republican Party and the situation has become even more dire in the age of Trump with the party base now firmly controlled by evangelical Christian extremists and white supremacists and white nationalists. True, a group of former Republicans will be airing anti-Trump ads on Fox News - during two of Der Trumpenführer's favorite shows - and a few individuals are struggle to mount a primary challenge to Trump, one such individual being Bill Weld, a former Republican Massachusetts governor.  Given the toxic nature of the GOP base and the efforts of state parties in some states to block any challenge to Trump, Weld's effort is an extremely long shot as noted in a column in the New York Times. One can only wish Weld well and meanwhile hope Republican senators in Congress will belatedly put their oaths of office first (don't hold your breath).  Here are column highlights:
Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor and current long-shot — make that, loooooooong-shot — candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, is a keen student of New Hampshire politics. In an interview with me this week, he noted the following fact: Every time an incumbent president of either party faced a significant primary challenge in the Granite State, he failed in his bid for re-election.
It happened to George H.W. Bush in 1992 after Patrick Buchanan took 38 percent of the New Hampshire vote.
It happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980 after Teddy Kennedy took 39 percent.
It happened to Gerald Ford in 1976 after Ronald Reagan took 48 percent.
It happened to Lyndon Johnson in 1968 after Eugene McCarthy took 42 percent.
It happened to Harry Truman in 1952 when Estes Kefauver beat him outright, 55 percent to 44.
So, Weld reasons, why not try to make it happen to Donald J. Trump, too?
That’s the hopeful thought in what otherwise seems to be Weld’s hopeless bid to derail [Trump] a president whose support among Republicans was 89 percent last month, according to Gallup.
But he’s also wise enough to know that losing well can achieve great things, like bringing down a president who, he said, “regards the law as something to be evaded.” Can that be done between now and Feb. 11, the date of the New Hampshire primary? Weld rests his hopes on two things: New England Republicanism, which remains alive and well despite reports of its demise; and Trump’s trial in the Senate, whose result may not yet be a forgone conclusion. On the former, note that Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire all have G.O.P. governors, who, like Weld, are relative moderates compared to the rest of the party. On the latter, Weld knows a lot about the impeachment process, having worked on the House Judiciary Committee’s staff as a young lawyer in 1974 as it considered articles against Richard Nixon. Nixon, Weld recalled, “was essentially forced to withdraw from the presidency because he had been caught lying on television to the American people on one topic” — a foothill of a deception compared to Trump’s Karakoram range.
Weld also knows how quickly things can turn in the course of a trial. “Cases don’t look the same at the end as they do at the beginning,” he noted, recalling his prosecutions of public corruption in the 1980s as United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, where he won 109 convictions in 111 corruption cases. He believes that if four Republican senators join Democrats in voting to call witnesses — Ohio’s Rob Portman could provide the decisive vote — then anything is possible.
Maybe that’s right, assuming devastating testimony from John Bolton, the former national security adviser; former Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas; and who knows who (or what) else. Not that any kind of testimony is likely to sway the 67 senators needed for a conviction. But it’s not quite out of the question that it might, in the coming weeks, sway a large fraction of New Hampshire Republicans to vote against the president, thereby setting into motion forces that could bring him down. That’s the hope, at any rate. The odds against? I’d say 20 to 1 — which is to say, still worth a shot. If it fails, Weld said he would not run as an independent. Unlike in 2016, when he ran with Gary Johnson on the Libertarian ticket (and won 4.5 million votes) he has no interest in playing the spoiler to anyone in the race except Trump.
The larger question if it fails is what becomes of the G.O.P. Weld compared the party to the late-stage Whigs of the early 1850s, which were riven between the nativist Know Nothing faction and the antislavery wing that would become the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. Fortunately, the good side won that time.
And this time? The best conservative case for rooting for a Democrat to win this fall — any Democrat, including Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren — is that it might be the only way to save the Republican Party from itself. That could happen if a critical mass of conservatives repudiates Trumpism or forms a new party on the Lincoln model. Weld calls it the Liberty Party.
Alternatively a Sanders or Warren victory could send the G.O.P. to even further extremes. . . . . Democrats who want to see Republicans recover their center need to protect their own. In the meantime, wish Bill Weld well in his Granite State carom shot.

Probably far to optimistic.  Moral, moderates left the GOP long ago with Trump having accelerated the exodus. That said, one can always hope for a miracle.

Friday, January 17, 2020

More Friday Male Beauty

Trump Unveils More Anti-LGBTQ 'License to Discriminate' Plans

The Trump/Pence regime is continuing its attacks on the LGBT community and moving to grant a license to discriminate to religious - mostly conservative "Christian" - organizations that receive taxpayer funded support.  The goal is to (i) solidify evangelical support in advance of the 2020 presidential election, and (ii) prop up religious organizations that cannot survive financially without government funding, their respective denominations no longer being able to support their operations.  The Trump/Pence rule making is targeted to allow discrimination against not only LGBT individuals, but also those of other religions or no religion.  Stated another way, it is an effort to have a stated supported religion - conservative Christianity - in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  A piece in The Advocate looks at this very dangerous and discriminatory agenda.  Here are excerpts:

Donald Trump’s administration has made yet another move to enable discrimination, including anti-LGBTQ discrimination, in the name of “religious freedom.”
On Thursday, National Religious Freedom Day, Trump announced his administration is issuing nine proposed rules that govern how faith-based nonprofits with government contracts interact with their clients, reversing regulations put in place under President Barack Obama.
Under the Obama-era regulations, these contractors “need to give beneficiaries notice of the providers’ religious character and the right to get services elsewhere,” The Washington Post reports. “The providers also have to make reasonable efforts to refer beneficiaries to another provider if the person receiving services is uncomfortable.” The Trump administration says these rules are unfair to faith-based providers because they don’t apply to secular organizations.
The newly proposed rules, which are subject to public comment before becoming final, would apply to organizations that provide a wide range of services through contracts with the departments of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Labor, Agriculture, Education, Justice, Homeland Security, and International Development. Services offered by these contractors include substance abuse treatment, adoption and foster care placements, refugee resettlement, and much more.
[W]e are talking about government grants to the tune of millions and millions of dollars,” she explained. “And increasingly, they are excluding members of the public from receiving services based on who they are.”
The rules would indeed enable faith-based contractors to turn away people who are LGBTQ or follow a different religion, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “We will keep saying this as long as we have to: Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but it does not confer a license to discriminate,” said Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, in a press release. “Government-funded programs, including those operated by faith-based organizations, should not be able to discriminate against vulnerable people seeking help.
“The right to believe and to exercise one’s faith is a core American value. The right to discriminate with taxpayer dollars is not. These regulations would dismantle meaningful protections for beneficiaries of these federally funded programs and strip away basic notice requirements designed to ensure that beneficiaries know their rights to be free from discrimination and their right to an alternative, nonreligious provider. Taxpayer funds should not be used to allow discrimination.”
Today’s announcement comes on top of many other efforts by the Trump administration to establish a right to discriminate in the name of religion. In November, for National Adoption Month, HHS announced a new rule that would allow adoption agencies and other programs that receive HHS grants to reject same-sex couples and rainbow families on the basis of religious freedom. Other programs that stand to be affected include elder services, Head Start, refugee resettlement, HIV services, and programs for runaway and homeless youth.
The administration has finalized a so-called conscience protection rule allowing health care providers to opt out of procedures that offend their religious beliefs, but court challenges have kept the rule from going into effect. It also wants to eliminate provisions of the Affordable Care Act that ban anti-transgender discrimination and even allow homeless shelters to discriminate against trans clients.

Anyone who is not an evangelical "Christian" extremist should be very, very worried.  Yes, I have the word Christian in quotation marks because, in my view, the members of Trump's base are Christian in name only.  Look at Christ's social gospel message, and these people are the antithesis to that message.  Indeed, the make the Biblical Pharisees seem like good, upstanding people.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

America is Failing at Child Care

It has been a long time since most American families could afford to have one spouse work and the other be the full time child care provider. Now, both spouses must work full time simply in order to make ends meet financially.  The losers in this are the vast majority of America's children, those not born to wealth who find themselves shuffled from various child care scenarios as their parents work. And this doesn't even factor in America's abysmal record on maternity leave compared to every other advanced nation - and even some not considered advanced. Why does America spend relatively lavishly on senior citizens yet begrudge spending on children.  Sadly, part of the reason is racial - a false perception that "those people" receive childcare benefits whereas "real Americans" (meaning whites) do not. Republican propaganda has fueled this lie for decades.  This belief is a fallacy, of course, as countless white working mothers struggle to work and provide child care for their children.  With two working daughters I see it daily in their juggling act.  A column in the New York Times looks at America's failed treatment of children which is literally harming the nation's future.   Here are highlights:
The other day a correspondent asked me a good question: What important issue aren’t we talking about? My answer, after some reflection, is the state of America’s children.
But policy toward children has attracted far less media attention than the debate over “Medicare for all,” which won’t become reality anytime soon — let alone the so-called Warren-Sanders “spat.” And my guess is that even well-informed voters have little sense of the grim exceptionalism of America’s child-oriented policies, which are Dickensian compared with those of every other advanced country.
A few numbers may be in order here.
Every advanced country mandates some form of paid leave for new mothers, typically three or four months — every country, that is, except America, which offers no maternity leave at all.
Most advanced countries devote substantial sums to benefits for families with children; in Europe these benefits average between 2 and 3 percent of G.D.P. The corresponding number for the United States is 0.6 percent of G.D.P.
Even where the United States does help children, the quality of that help tends to be poor. There have been many comparisons between French and American school lunches: French schoolchildren are taught to eat healthy meals; American children are basically treated as a disposal site for farm surpluses.
What’s especially striking is the contrast between the way we treat our children and the way we treat our senior citizens. Social Security isn’t all that generous — there’s a good case for expanding it — but it doesn’t compare too badly with other countries’ retirement systems. Medicare actually spends lavishly compared with single-payer systems elsewhere.
So America’s refusal to help children isn’t part of a broad opposition to government programs; we single out children for especially harsh treatment. Why?
The answer, I’d suggest, goes beyond the fact that children can’t vote, while seniors can and do. There has also been a poisonous interaction between racial antagonism and bad social analysis.
These days, political support for programs that aid children is surely hurt by the fact that less than half the population under 15 is non-Hispanic white. But even before immigration transformed America’s ethnic landscape, there was a widespread perception that programs like Aid to Families With Dependent Children basically helped Those People — you know, the bums on welfare, the welfare queens driving Cadillacs.
This perception undermined support for spending on children. And it went along with a widespread belief that aid to poor families was creating a culture of dependency, which in turn was the culprit behind social collapse in America’s inner cities.
The result was a decline in assistance for the poor children who needed it most.
At this point, however, we know that cultural explanations of social collapse were all wrong. The sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that social dysfunction in big cities was caused, not by culture, but by the disappearance of good jobs. And he has been vindicated by what happened to much of the American heartland, which suffered a similar disappearance of good jobs and a similar surge in social dysfunction.
[W]e’ve established a basically vicious system under which children can’t get the help they need unless their parents find jobs that don’t exist. And a growing body of evidence says that this system is destructive as well as cruel.
Multiple studies have found that safety-net programs for children have big long-term consequences. Children who receive adequate nutrition and health care grow up to become healthier, more productive adults. And in addition to the humanitarian side of these benefits, there’s a monetary payoff: Healthier adults are less likely to need public aid and are likely to pay more in taxes.
It’s probably too much to claim that helping children pays for itself. But it surely comes a lot closer to doing so than tax cuts for the rich.
So we should be talking a lot more about helping America’s children. Why aren’t we?
At least part of the blame rests with Bernie Sanders, who made Medicare for All both a progressive purity test and a bright shiny object chased by the news media at the expense of other policies that could greatly improve American lives, and are far more likely to become law. But it’s not too late to refocus.
Whoever becomes the Democratic nominee, I hope he or she will give our nation’s shameful treatment of children the attention it deserves.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty

Court Rejects Gun-Rights Fringe Effort to Thwart Gun Ban

While overshadowed by the likely kangaroo court in the U.S. Senate on the impeachment of Donald Trump, Virginians are arguably witnessing precisely why common sense gun control laws are needed in the Commonwealth of Virginia after 26 years of Republicans pandering to every conceivable gun fanatic including allowing so-called "open carry" of weapons of war. Faced with probably cause to anticipate neo-Nazis and white supremacists and other out of state groups descending on Richmond - some hoping to spark a race war - the Governor of Virginia banned all guns from the Virginia Capitol grounds (Indeed, the FBI arrested some scary types - one with experience in explosives - who were headed to Richmond). Rather than put public safety first as the Governor had done, extreme gun rights groups - the misnamed Virginia Citizens Defense League and Guns for America, Inc. - filed a lawsuit today seeking to have the Governor's ban set aside.  Thankfully, the court rejected the extremists bid and upheld the Governor's gun ban.  All of this shows the lack of sane thinking on the part of the gun fetish crowd.  As one friend noted:
"arguing that a well armed society is a polite society while literally threatening death and violence isn’t very productive...maybe just the opposite. No doubt any associated legislation [before the legislature] will trigger (I’m so sorry) court cases...which is the appropriate path of challenging laws in our system of checks and balances."

Frankly, the more I see of the gun crowd, the tighter I want the gun control laws to be.  These people are dangerous and put their wants and whims - and need to bolster their inadequate manhood - ahead of the general public.   A piece in the Virginian Pilot looks at the Court's rejection of the gun extremists lawsuit. Here are article excerpts (read the whole article and note how Republicans' sole concern was kissing the asses of gun extremists):
A Richmond judge rejected a bid by gun-rights groups and residents Thursday to block Gov. Ralph Northam’s temporary ban on guns in Capitol Square.
The temporary injunction request, filed in Richmond Circuit Court, says Northam doesn’t have the authority to issue such a ban, and the ban violates Second Amendment rights and possibly the First Amendment.
[A]fter a hearing, Judge Joi Taylor denied the request, saying the governor has the authority to issue such an order under a state emergency services law and that the court should show deference to the executive on the issue.
Taylor wrote that the governor has the authority to enact the ban because he oversees the Department of General Services, an executive branch agency that controls Capitol Square. She cited a state code section that said he also had the authority to take "action from time to time” during emergencies to ensure safety.
On Wednesday, Northam announced the ban and state of emergency — which goes into effect Friday and ends Tuesday — saying intelligence officials had heard credible threats of violence expected Monday, when the Virginia Citizens Defense League holds its annual lobby day and rally to protect gun rights.
Those who filed the injunction request — Gun Owners of America, the Virginia Citizens Defense League and three Fairfax residents who are concealed carry permit holders and say the ban would violate their rights — can appeal the judge’s ruling, but Friday and Monday are state holidays, and courts will be closed. David Browne, the lawyer arguing for the injunction an hour after it was filed Thursday, said carrying a gun was a form of speech, and that people had a “right to peacefully assemble in the manner they see fit.” Toby Heytens, the state’s solicitor general, pointed to the credible threats of violence Northam said police received, and said the temporary ban was a way to prevent another event like Charlottesville, where in 2017 violence erupted from hate groups and a woman was killed.
He cited a New York Times article published Thursday that reported FBI officials arrested three suspected members of a neo-Nazi hate group amid allegations they planned to travel to the rally Monday.
Heytens argued the ban didn’t prevent anyone from assembling, speaking or petitioning their government, and argued simply carrying a gun isn’t considered free speech. While the hearing was going on Thursday, the Senate narrowly passed three of Northam’s proposed gun control measures: universal background checks on gun sales, allowing localities to regulate firearms in government buildings and parks, and limiting handgun sales to one a month.

It's time for sane Virginians to tell their legislators that they want sane and strict gun control laws. No more arming dangerous elements and putting the lives of the majority at risk. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Afghan War Plagued by "Mendacity" and "Lies"

With the Trump/Pence regimes relying on lies to try to take America to war with Iran, it is perhaps timely that the truth about the Afghan War is finally coming out and that truth is ugly: Americans have been repeatedly and deliberately lied to both senior members of the military and by politicians. Meanwhile, Americans died and were grievously wounded, some bearing the physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives.  Afghanistan has been called the "graveyard of empires" and with good reason to anyone with a knowledge of history.  It turns out that America, despite its hubris and misguided (and false) sense of exceptionalism has done no better that would be conquerors of the past. Belatedly recognizing this will not bring back the dead, heal the forever wounded or restore the squanders taxpayer dollars. It should, however, educate the American public to refuse to be played for fools again by the military and/or hawkish politicians.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the trail of lies and wasted taxpayer money.  The takeaway, in my view, is that if Afghanistan was unwinnable, Iran would be an even larger disaster.  Here are excerpts:
The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction told Congress Wednesday that U.S. officials have routinely lied to the public during the 18-year war by exaggerating progress reports and inflating statistics to create a false appearance of success.
“There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue . . . mendacity and hubris,” John F. Sopko said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.”
As an example, Sopko said U.S. officials have lied in the past about the number of Afghan children enrolled in schools — a key marker of progress touted by the Obama administration — even though they “knew the data was bad.” He also said U.S. officials falsely claimed major gains in Afghan life expectancy that were statistically impossible to achieve.
In addition, Sopko criticized the Trump administration for classifying information that shows the war is going badly, including data on Afghan troop casualties and assessments of the Taliban’s strength. . . . . “It turns out that everything that is bad news has been classified for the last few years.”
Since 2001, the United States has spent more than $132 billion to modernize the country — more than it spent, adjusted for inflation, to rebuild Europe after World War II.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee summoned Sopko to testify in response to a series of articles published last month in The Washington Post that revealed how senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the conflict had become unwinnable.
The inspector general had drawn on the interviews to publish seven reports — called “Lessons Learned” — about policy failures in Afghanistan. But the reports left out the harshest and most frank criticisms and omitted the names of more than 90 percent of the people who were interviewed for the project.
The Post obtained about 2,000 pages of unpublished notes and transcripts from the interviews under the Freedom of Information Act, but had to sue SIGAR in federal court — twice — to force it to release the records.
Several lawmakers said they were shocked by revelations in The Afghanistan Papers, including blunt admissions from generals, ambassadors and White House officials that they didn’t know what they were doing in Afghanistan and that the war strategy was fundamentally flawed.
Sopko defended his agency’s attempts to withhold the documents, saying he had an obligation to protect the identities of people who criticized the war and wanted to remain anonymous.
“These people who spoke to us risked a lot,” he said. “You know what this town is like, you know what it’s like if somebody bad-mouths their old boss or ­whatever.”

Everyone seeking to cover their own asses and keeping their own jobs while Americans needlessly died and billions of dollars might just have well been set on fire and burned.   We must not be tricked by lies again when it comes to the Middle East.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty

Virginia Becomes the 38th State to Pass the Equal Rights Amendment

On a more positive note than the threat of gun extremist violence, Virginia is in the news for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment - yet another measure Republicans had blocked for many years. With Virginia's passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, the 3/4 of the states requirement has been met and the issue now becomes whether or not Congress' 10 year period for state ratification is binding.   Article V of the U.S. Constitution itself imposes no ratification deadline: 
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Expect litigation to be filed by progressive states to push for final adoption of this Amendment which would provide women much enhanced protections - much to the consternation of Republicans, male chauvinists, and  right wing Christian extremists who want women forever subordinate to men.   A piece in Mother Jones looks at Virginia's historic action:
Since Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, the proposal to enshrine gender equality in the Constitution has languished in state legislatures, failing to rack up the approvals in the three-quarters of states required of Constitutional amendments—until now. On Wednesday, Virginia became the 38th state to pass a resolution to ratify the ERA in its newly elected Democratic state legislature. 
The significance of the ERA lies in its power to strengthen existing anti-discrimination laws—on issues like pay equity, sexual violence, and pregnancy discrimination—by giving them the weight of a constitutional amendment that cannot easily be repealed, amended, or weakened in the courts, its proponents argue. 
The deadline for 38 states to ratify the amendment passed in 1982, and in the intervening years, five states have rescinded their earlier approvals. These complications mean that the ERA still faces significant hurdles before it could be added to the Constitution, including potential years of legal battles. [T]he old battles over the ERA have been revived in recent years as women’s groups have strategized to reenergize the older movement. Their efforts have been fruitful: In 2017, Nevada voted to ratify the amendment. In 2018, Illinois followed suit. Both were part of a modern “three-state strategy” to move the amendment forward.
Because it would have changed the Constitution, the proposal went to the states for ratification after Congress approved it. States had 10 years to pass the amendment, but conservatives and anti-feminist activists, led by the late activist Phyllis Schlafly—who claimed, among other things, that women would lose financial support from their husbands if the ERA was passed—fought fiercely against it. By the time the 1982 deadline rolled around, only 35 states had ratified—three short. The amendment was dead.
But the ERA’s demise never deterred women’s groups from trying to restart the conversation. At least 10 state legislatures, backed by the ERA Coalition (which counts Steinem as a board member) and smaller state groups like the Virginia-based Women Matter, have introduced bills to ratify the ERA in the years since it was first approved. They’ve focused on the so-called “three-state strategy”: if they can get three more states to pass the amendment, they’re hoping Congress will recognize the ratifications that occurred after 1982 as valid and let it pass.
Now, it may now be up to Congress to recognize the late ratifications and push the amendment process forward, according to Julie Suk, a professor at the City University of New York who is writing a book about the ERA.
“I think there’s a very strong political and moral argument,” Suk says. “It’s taken a generation 100 years to get the ERA because there are obvious challenges to getting equal rights when you don’t have equal rights. If Congress were to say ‘follow the rules, sorry you were late,’ I think they would be rejecting 100 years of effort by women.”

Sadly, with today's GOP, moral arguments mean nothing.  Thus, court battles may be what ultimately push the ERA over the finish line. 

Richmond: State of Emergency in Face of "Militias" and Hate Groups Gathering

The Trump/Pence regime and Republicans have repeated sought to suppress information on the threat posed by self-style "militias" and white nationalist and white supremacy groups - not coincidentally,  pillars of the GOP base in the age of Trump.  Not surprisingly these groups have a large overlap of membership with "gun rights" groups.  With the memories of August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville and the mass shooting in Virginia Beach last year, the vast majority of Virginians want gun control legislation enacted this session of the Virginia General Assembly.  Indeed, Virginia voters elected a Democrat majority in no small part because of Republican obstruction of the will of the majority of Virginians.   Stated another way, the 2019 Virginia election saw the majority of Virginians at last say "no more" to Republicans putting the rights and wants of small minorities of extremists over the rights of the majority.  Now, with much desired gun legislation before the legislature, some of the same elements that brought mayhem and murder to Charlollesville, appear poised to descend on Richmond and apparently "storm" the Virginia Capitol to frighten legislators into not passing needed gun control laws. Virginia's Governor has vowed not to allow these elements to bring violence to the streets of Richmond or the Capitol grounds. The Washington Post reports on Gov. Northam's actions and the threat posed by hate groups and out of state "militias."  Here are story excerpts:
RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam is declaring a state of emergency and temporarily banning weapons from the Capitol grounds in advance of a gun-rights rally planned for Monday, citing “threats of armed confrontation and assault on our Capitol.”
Monday is the state’s traditional citizen lobbying day, and gun-rights groups are organizing a large demonstration to oppose several far-reaching bills being advanced by the Virginia General Assembly’s new Democratic majority.
The rally has drawn interest from militias and extremist groups across the country, raising security concerns in Richmond.
Northam asked that nonessential state employees not come to work Monday, a state holiday on which legislative staffers would normally be on duty since the legislature is in session.
The governor — flanked by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D), state, capitol and city police leaders, and state Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran — began his announcement by stating his belief in the right to debate, assemble and bear arms.
But he said authorities had “received credible intelligence,” some gathered via “dark web channels used by white nationalists outside Virginia,” about groups with “malicious plans” such as “storming our Capitol” and “weaponizing drones” over Capitol Square.
“This includes out-of state militias and hate groups from across the country,” Northam said. “They’re not coming to peacefully protest. They’re coming to intimidate and cause harm.” He said information circulating on the Internet is being “fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories.”
The governor took pains to distinguish between the extremists he said were latching onto the planned rally and the law-abiding gun-rights activists who for years have “peacefully assembled” at the Capitol. “No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017,” said Northam, referring to the deadly violence that followed a “Unite the Right” rally that centered on opposition to removing a Confederate statue in the university town. “We will not allow mayhem and violence to happen here.” Monday’s rally is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, one of many grass-roots groups that turn out every year for the citizen lobbying day. The organization expects a much larger crowd this year, with the legislature advancing measures that would require background checks on all firearms purchases, allow law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others, let localities ban weapons from certain events and government buildings, and cap handgun purchases at one per month.
Gun control became a dominant issue in the 2019 elections in Virginia, following a deadly mass shooting in a Virginia Beach and a decision by the then-GOP-controlled legislature to swiftly adjourn a special session Northam called to address gun legislation in the aftermath.
In recent weeks, VCDL President Philip Van Cleave has encouraged supporters to leave intimidating long guns — including assault-style rifles such as the AR-15 — at home. He has welcomed out-of-state militias but warned them not to get into confrontations with gun-control activists. And he has tried to keep other incendiary issues out of his event.
“This is not about [Confederate] flags, statues, history, etc. Just guns,” he wrote in a statement to supporters.
One can only hope that such threats convince legislators to pass even more stringent gun control laws than now contemplated, including a ban on assault weapons  and stiffer penalties for out of state actors who violate Virginia's laws.  Having been at the Virginia Capitol - a beautiful and historic building designed by Thomas Jefferson - over the weekend, no one who is not up to no good should ever want to bring a gun onto the Capitol grounds much less into the Capitol.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Northam Wisely to Ban Guns from Virginia Capitol Grounds

In my view, gun fanatics who parade around with the open display of guns do so for two principal reasons: (i) to compensate for deep feelings of sexual inadequacy, and (ii) to intimidate others, especially those who oppose the open display of weaponry in public places. Recognizing this latter motivation, Gov. Ralph Northam is about to ban guns from the Virginia Capitol grounds as the legislative session proceeds and in advance of an expected gathering of gun fanatics who oppose common sense gun control measures that a significant majority of Virginians want enacted.  There is zero legitimate reason that legislators and others should feel threatened and intimidated by gun gun fanatics around the Capitol - or any public place. A piece in the Washington Post looks at Northam's common sense move and the likely shrieks and whines of the gun nuts and white supremacists (in my mind, the two are typically one and the same).  Here are story excerpts: 
Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday will announce at least a temporary ban on firearms on the grounds of the state Capitol, two people briefed on his plans said late Tuesday.
The move comes just days after newly empowered Democrats banned guns from the Capitol building and an adjacent legislative office building. And it comes just ahead of a gun rights rally planned for Monday, which organizers say will draw tens of thousands to Capitol Square.
The rally has drawn interest from militias and extremist groups across the country, raising security concerns in Richmond.
Security has been unusually tight during the General Assembly session that kicked off last week, as Democrats — who won control of the House of Delegates and state Senate in elections in November — consider far-reaching gun-control legislation. . . . . Crews have been erecting steel crowd-control barricades around the manicured Capitol grounds in recent days.
The teenagers who normally work in the House and Senate as pages were given the day off Monday, the first business day after a joint House-Senate committee on Friday banned weapons from the Capitol and legislative office building. The ban is not subject to review by the full legislature.
Hundreds of gun rights activists flocked to the Capitol that day to protest the ban and to testify against the first gun-control bills to make it to a Senate committee that morning.
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced four bills to the full Senate. The measures would require background checks on all firearms purchases, allow law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others, let localities ban weapons from certain events and government buildings, and cap handgun purchases at one per month.
There were no incidents Monday, but law enforcement officials remain concerned about the rally planned for next week. That event is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, one of many grass-roots groups that turn out every Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — for what is a traditional day of citizen lobbying at the state Capitol.
Democrats won their majorities in the November elections, ending a 26-year stretch when Republicans were able to quash any proposed restrictions on guns.
Gun control took on greater prominence in the fall elections following a deadly mass shooting in a Virginia Beach in May and after the GOP-controlled legislature swiftly adjourned a special session that Northam had called in the aftermath.

Kudos to Northam.  Hopefully, (i) the ban of guns on the Capitol grounds becomes permanent, and  (ii) the four bills reported out to the Virginia Senate sail through to quick passage.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Why Trump Has a Huge Advantage With Low-Information Voters

Numerous news stories have reported on how Donald Trump's speeches at rallies and elsewhere are delivered on a 4th grade level of speech and vocabulary. For Trump, this is probably a good thing given the nature of his core base of support: non-college educated whites and evangelicals, the least educated of any Christian denominations in America. Add to this reality the fact that many of Trump's low information voters are easily engaged by racism and/or right wing Christian extremism and otherwise either pay little attention to the news media or rely on the propaganda of Fox News as their sole source of information, distorted as it may be. In short, Trump's tactics - and even his lies - work with his base. Democrats on the other hand have a different problem given the much more diverse nature of that party's base.  On the one hand you have highly educated individuals who follow politics daily (I confess to being a member of this group) and on the other, there are vast numbers of less educated/engaged Democrats, some of whom pay little attention to politics which they view as "confusing" or as not delivering to them.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at this issue and the challenge Democrat candidates have in motivating and energizing the party' low information.  I definitely feel for candidates that need to find a means to connect with this segment of the party base.Here are story excepts: 

A little over a week ago, after the Trump administration killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the opinion-havers of Twitter were doing what they do best: arguing about something most people don’t care about. The debate at hand involved Elizabeth Warren’s shifting public statements on Soleimani’s killing.. . . . After a whole day of Warren mockery on Twitter, Dave Weigel, a reporter from the Washington Post, threw a brushback pitch at two colleagues from the National Journal and ABC News. “Guys, get out of the beltway for a weekend. Most people had to google Soleimani on Friday,” he wrote.
Weigel, who has spent more time in airports over the last decade than most political journalists, was echoing a critique long held by Avis Preferred press corps against their desk jockey friends in Washington and New York: that the stories and micro-scandals that obsess political and media insiders—often played out in episodic fashion on Twitter—matter little to voters who are too busy and too well-adjusted to follow every nanosecond of the political news cycle. It’s hard to overstate how salient this discontinuity will be in the current election year.
Donald Trump, despite his deep personal insecurities and lust for elite validation—and, indeed, his own use of Twitter—has derived much of his political success by ignoring Washington finger-waggers and connecting with the more primal instincts of his supporters, in whatever televised or digital corner of the media he can, with or without the good graces of the national press and savvy insiders. . . . . . one of the biggest splits in American politics is simply between those who follow politics closely and those who do not.
It’s a split that maps, if not perfectly, onto the gap that emerged between college and non-college educated voters in 2016. The latter set are often low-information voters who view politicians and media with contempt, deciding to sit elections out. Trump has exploited them to powerful effect. [Trump]The president has made politics about culture—not just policy.
None of the above can be said for Democrats, who care habitually about the good graces of the national press, and who don’t see politics as a subspecies of the entertainment business. Democrats happen to believe in facts and institutions—and yes, they would like a cable contract when the campaign is over, thank you very much. But to Trump’s great advantage, the mainstream press is where many of the fights for the Democratic nomination are being waged: on cable news, on Twitter, and in the prestige media.
“In many ways, 2020 is the Cable News Primary. MSNBC and CNN are the biggest pipelines into voters’ living rooms.” The problem for Democrats is that those media spaces are, today more than ever, islands unto themselves. Cable may be a good way to reach highly engaged Democratic primary voters, but the reality is that television news is watched by only a tiny fraction of Americans. During the first five days of the much-hyped impeachment hearings, only about 4% of the American population tuned in to watch some part of the testimony on TV. Twitter, the other opinion-shaper preferred by Democrats, is younger, more educated, and more liberal than the country as a whole, and only 10% of its users create 80% of its content, according to Pew Research.
Topics like wine caves, pay-fors, court packing, white privilege, and Iowa’s role in the nomination process have become topics of profound consequence in the race. The political media blob tumbles forward every day on the assumption that people are aware of these story lines and characters, that voters are tuning in, when many probably can’t tell you what channel this thing is on. The assumption should be that they are not.
Even in Iowa, where caucusgoers have a front-row seat to the race and defeating Trump is top of mind for Democrats, the minutiae of Washington rarely pops up at campaign events. “It’s health care, prescription drug costs, teacher pay, climate change,” said Caroline Cummings, a political reporter for KGAN in Cedar Rapids. . . . Americans might be obsessed with Trump, but they really aren’t obsessed with politics.
Not since Barack Obama have Democrats had a figure compelling enough to overwhelm the informational divides in our culture, to appear on all screens at all times and capture the attention of people who don’t usually follow politics: black people, Hispanics, young people, low-income voters, and people who just think politics sucks. Democrats need them. But at this stage of the race—still early, yes—Democrats aren’t even close to grabbing the hearts and minds or even the eyeballs of the drop-off voters who stayed home on Election Day in 2016. In fact, it’s worse: Many of those voters can’t even tell you who is actually running for president. This doesn’t mean voters are dumb. It means they’re normal—and that Democrats have serious work to do to reach them.
In each of the three low-information groups, Favreau asked voters to say the first word that came to mind when he said “Democratic Party.” Almost everyone repeated a handful of the same names—Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and __Bill Clinton __—along with known Republican Condoleezza Rice for some reason . . . . Most of the voters said they were generally aligned with the Democratic Party on issues—especially the idea of reducing health care costs and expanding access—but that they also associated the Democratic Party with infighting, taxes, socialism, ineptitude, and “too many candidates.” Only Obama’s name elicited warm reactions among everyone.
But even as they universally expressed displeasure with Trump, including the people who voted for him in Milwaukee but flipped in 2018, almost every participant told Favreau they wouldn’t yet commit to voting for the Democratic nominee in 2020. Some said it depends on who the nominee is. Others were open to voting for a third-party candidate instead of the Democrat. “None of them really like Trump, but they don’t have much love for Democratic politicians, Republican politicians, and especially the media, which they don’t trust at all,” Favreau said.
A theme that surfaced again and again, not just about Democrats but about politics generally, was that the whole process is confusing, tedious, and off-putting—and that news organizations and social media do little to make sense of it. “I don’t understand it. I haven’t even watched the news. I just turn it off and go do something else,” said Angela from Philadelphia, a Medicaid-dependent mother of an autistic child who said she was raised Democrat but no longer follows elections closely, despite voting in 2018.
In Philadelphia the voters associated Biden with “crime bill,” “too old,” and “not fired up.” . . . . Sanders, too, was described as “too old” in all three cities, though many of the responses were, if not on message, at least message-adjacent. The Miami group associated Sanders with “crazy hair,” “grinny,” “free college,” and “wants to give away too many things for free.” The Philadelphia group said “your crazy uncle,” “health care,” “questionable health,” and “passionate hand talker.”
Focus groups are not polls, but they do add important texture to the horse race and pressure-test assumptions embedded in the national conversation. The Wilderness focus groups offer a glimpse into the behavior and opinions of those voters you don’t often read about, the self-identified Democrats who “don’t know enough” or have “no opinion” about the candidates. If you scrolled through excited corners of progressive Twitter last week, for instance, you’d think that Julián Castro’s endorsement of Warren was a major moment, giving her a stamp of approval from a former Obama administration official and the lone Hispanic figure in the 2020 race. But an Economist–YouGov poll from December showed that fully 35% of Democrats, and 39% of Hispanics, didn’t even know who Castro was. Another national Quinnipiac poll from December showed that 36% of Democrats didn’t know enough about Buttigieg to have an opinion, and a whopping 49% of Democrats didn’t know enough about Klobuchar. These are names on the tip of every political reporter’s tongue, the marquee actors in America’s national pageant, yet vast swaths of Democrats haven’t given them a passing thought.
[T]he views of these lesser-engaged Democrats are complex and don’t fall neatly into the ideological buckets often discussed in the media. They mostly liked the idea of Medicare for All, but also doubted how the government could possibly pay for it. They brought up a wide variety of issues as their top concerns—poverty, opioids, prison reform, Medicaid, college affordability, guns, LGBTQ rights, drug prices, taxes—but few could say what the federal government had done to help. “No one could remember the last thing the government had actually done to improve their lives, except one woman in Miami who brought up the Affordable Care Act,” Favreau said.
[F]or many of the people in Favreau’s focus groups, politics isn’t real life, either. The eventual Democratic nominee, he said, is duty-bound to fix that. He pointed to an interview with former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, also airing on this season of The Wilderness: “What I think we all have to hold to, is that our ambitions have to be met with our capacity to deliver,” Abrams told him. “Because for the people who are the most easily dissuaded from participation, it’s when you promise them the moon and can‘t deliver a single grain of sand.”

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Suleimani Is Dead, Iraq Is in Chaos and ISIS Is Very Happy

America's foreign policy in the Middle East has been a disaster for decades - perhaps back to the 1950's and certainly 1979 when the US failed to support the Shah of Iran - and was only made worse long term by the Iraq War. Now, with Iraq pushing for the exodus of all American troops from its territory and US allies stepping back from counter-terrorism efforts, things will likely go from bad to worse with the big winners being ISIS and Iran with Trump's assassination of Gen. Qassim Suleimani making the situation for American interests less safe. Trump needed a diversion from his impeachment problems and, putting personal interests ahead of long term national interests, we now have arguably a far worse situation.  A column in the New York Times looks at where America now finds itself. Here are highlights:

In 2016, Donald Trump, then a candidate for president, described Barack Obama as the “founder of ISIS.” In the end, it may be Mr. Trump who comes to be known not as the terrorist group’s founder, but as its savior.
The Islamic State has been weakened considerably since its peak in 2015, when it controlled a territory the size of Britain, but the Trump administration’s targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani may have poised the group for a comeback. Just as the misguided American invasion of Iraq in 2003 revitalized Al Qaeda, some 17 years later, a return to chaos in the same country may yet do the same for the Islamic State.
Granted, the White House was correct to identify General Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, as an enemy of the United States. . . . But war in the Middle East is nothing if not complex; General Suleimani’s proxies also indirectly served American interests by fighting the Islamic State — to great effect.
Still, contrary to the breathless eulogies to him in Iran, he was not some indispensable hero who single-handedly defeated the Islamic State. Other commanders will fill his shoes, if not in star power then at least in strategic expertise. The real boon for the jihadists will be the second-order effects of his death.
First, and most obviously, American influence in Iraq is now living on borrowed time. One of those killed alongside General Suleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Force, a coalition of pro-Iranian militias that nominally form part of the Iraqi armed forces. For many Iraqis, that made the strike an attack against Iraq as well as Iran, and put the Iraqi government, which already has a tense relationship with the United States, in an even tougher bind.
Recognizing the heightened tensions, the 6,000 American troops in the country have switched their focus to defending Americans in Iraq, rather than fighting the Islamic State or training Iraqi forces to do so. American allies including Germany and Britain have begun pulling their own forces from the country, . . .
Second, the chaos threatens Iraq’s stability. Tehran responded to the strike on General Suleimani with missile attacks on two American-run military bases last week. But it’s unlikely this will be the end of Iran’s retaliation. Iranian military strategy is defined by asymmetry — and particularly by the use of militant proxies. Under a screen of plausible deniability, Iran will most likely work to drive the United States out of Iraq.
In this, the Iranians will be brutal. During the American occupation — before the rise of the Islamic State made strange bedfellows of Washington and Tehran — Iranian proxies often exceeded Sunni extremists in terms of the number of casualties they inflicted on American forces. These proxies have lost no time in returning to attacks on American interests.
A conflict between Iranian proxies and the United States will tear at Iraq’s fragile governing structures, creating a power vacuum for the Islamic State to exploit. Iraq already has only a caretaker government. . . . . Iraq’s viability as a state is jeopardized. Add to that the harm to counterterrorism operations brought about by the “pause” in coalition assistance, and you have a combustible mix.
Third, and perhaps worst of all, General Suleimani’s death portends yet more sectarianism in Iraq. The parliamentary vote on Jan. 5 to expel American troops passed on the strength of votes from Shiite lawmakers; members of Parliament representing Iraq’s other main factions, the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs, abstained.
Extremist groups thrive on this kind of division. . . . . Moreover, the Iranian response to General Suleimani’s killing is likely to include an escalation in its conflict with Saudi Arabia, which is framed as a battle between Sunnis and Shiites. Ratcheting up these tensions will create still more openings for Sunni extremists such as the Islamic State.
The Islamic State still has deep pockets, affiliates around the world, and a knack for recruitment. General Suleimani’s death will have its leaders rubbing their hands in anticipation.
The damage is done. Without a major cooling of tensions, a jihadist resurgence might now be all but inevitable.