Saturday, December 26, 2020

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Cold War: The Catholic Church and LGBT Catholics

I left Catholicism two decades ago as I reached a point where I could no longer participate in a church than demeaned me, labeled me "inherently disordered" and offered me nothing but more years of condemnation and self-hatred ("praying away the gay" had proven to be a cynical lie). Throw in the global sex abuse scandal and the Church hierarchy's lies, cover ups, and rank hypocrisy and leaving the Catholic became a moral requirement. I have no regrets about leaving the Catholic Church and found solace in the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, two LGBT accepting denominations.  Sadly, two decades later, the Catholic Church continues to cling to a 12th century understanding of sexuality and ignores all modern medical and mental health knowledge.  A piece in The Advocate by a former Jesuit looks at the Church's continued cold war against LGBT individuals. Here are article highlights:

The last 12 months has been another year of the Catholic Church continuing its don’t ask, don’t tell policy of love the sinner not the sin. Another year when the Vatican missed opportunities to affirm the positive contributions of LGBTQ+ people. This year will be remembered as the year the Vatican told lesbians and gays that they were no longer interested in their salvation, or marriage, punting that issue to state rights. . . . Just a few countries away {e.g., Poland], anti-LGBTQ+ zones are rejecting LGBTQ+ people, growing increasingly intolerant towards sexual minorities.   

In America, Catholics are inspired to laud Amy Coney Barrett whose Supreme Court confirmation has pitted her style of Catholicism against President-elect Joe Biden. The United States Bishops tell us Barrett can receive communion, but Biden cannot.

In October 2020, Gay History Month, Pope Francis informed parents of LGBTQ+ children that “the church loves your children as they are because they are children of God.” Was this even in doubt? And if it were a true Vatican conviction, why couldn’t I, an ex-Jesuit and gay son eulogize my mother at her funeral at St. Isadore’s Church in Riverhead, N.Y.? (That was so 2019.)

In October, Pope Francis told his flock that heterosexual, married sex can be pleasurable. Isn’t all lovemaking pleasurable, part of an all-good and all-loving God’s plan for his beloved children?

In June, during Pride Month, the Vatican issued its most recent antigay argument: only biological males and females are complementary. . . .Of course the theology of the document does not deviate from century-old Vatican norms or Church dogma, for example, the primal purpose of adult opposite-sex relationships is to procreate. Thus, the Vatican exalts child-making couples, and shames all others; gay, lesbian, non-child bearing, and gender-fluid couples.

Of course, by exalting child-making couples, the Vatican is affirming its stance that sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman. Still, nothing new. But the damage done by this document is likely irreparable.

[T]he Vatican can never use “real-life experience” to shape its theology or dogma. If it did, divorced Catholics could remarry and receive the Eucharist. This is why calling for dialogue and listening to people talk on gender is dubious, if not manipulation by a few progressives to keep the pews filled with a portion of the faithful so easily termed uncomplimentary.  

When the Church, through documents like “Male and Female He Created Them” articulates an antigay theology, then through Pope Francis I says, “We must be attentive, not saying all are the same” that “people must be accompanied” it causes confusion, and provides a safe space for discrimination, bullying and violence against the LBGTQ+ community.

Just as the Vatican argues against gender existing along a spectrum so is it becoming increasingly clear, if you do not practice the Catholic faith in the most conservative of ways you are not fully a member of the Church. Whether you hope for a dialogue or listening, the only cudgel against the LGBTQ+ community is leading them to hope in something greater to come. And for LGBTQ+ people, that something greater might just be a change in faith; finding a new home in a house of worship that fully embraces them now and in the eternal life to come. Why settle for less? Jesus did not. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

More Christmas Male Beauty


Standing Against the Coming Tidal Wave of Deceit

Personally, I will not find total relief until Congress certifies the Electoral College results and Joe Biden is shown into office on January 20, 2021.  These events will end the imminent threat Donald Trump continues to pose to America's democracy, world peace and morality.  But for total healing for the majority of Americans to occur, the crimes and misdeeds of the Trump/Pence regime must be exposed, legislation passed to prevent them from ever occurring again, and Trump being confirmed as the most corrupt and lawless occupant of the White House in American history. This may not sway Trump's white supremacist and Christofascist supporters (the two, in my view, are largely the same people), but an accurate history is critical, especially in the face of the tidal wave of lies Trump will continue to spin.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at why this is importance.  Here are highlights:

President Donald Trump uses his pardon power as an instrument of personal ambition. He pardons people who have lied to protect him, and people who have expressed loyalty to him. Yesterday, he pardoned Charles Kushner, whose son is married to one of Trump’s daughters. More Trump-family pardons may soon be coming.

Public-spirited citizens are understandably angry about these abuses. As the former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, once a leading member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, wrote, “The pardons from [Trump] this President are what you would expect to get if you gave the pardon power to a mob boss.”

Trump used the pardon power as a tool of self-defense against a criminal investigation. Potential witnesses were induced to keep silent—or to lie outright. To quote Weissmann again, Mueller had to structure his plea-bargain agreements with former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort “in anticipation of a pardon” by President Trump.

In partial consequence of Trump’s pardon power, the most important questions assigned to Mueller remain unanswered: What exactly was the relationship between Russian intelligence, Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, and the Trump campaign? . . . . Why has Trump remained so curiously deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and so reluctant to ever criticize him?

If public-spirited citizens rightly feel fierce anger against the abuse of office that Trump’s pardons represent, the story need not end here.

The prospect of Trump’s pardons hindered the prosecution of his associates—and their arrival has now overturned some of the convictions. But the country has much less need to punish the Trump associates than to know exactly what happened. . . . What the country needed was the truth, and that truth is still waiting to be told.

After Trump leaves office, the country will need more than ever an independent investigation that can document the corruption of the Trump era. The truth is needed especially because Trump’s manufacturing of lies will not end with his presidency.

[T]he effort to exonerate Russia for helping Trump in 2016 will continue, and possibly accelerate with Trump out of office. With Trump and the pro-Trump media, it’s never enough to prove the truth once. The truth needs to be as persistent as the lie. Even now, Trump defenders continue to describe the proven fact of Russian assistance as a “hoax,” and the guilty pleas of Trump associates as them being “framed.” The imperative to defend reality against Trumpism will not cease with the Trump presidency.

And so it will be with all the other mythological elements of the Trump dreamworld. They will continue to propagate in ways that poison the American mindscape. The massive corruption of the Trump family will be obscured by false accusations against everybody else—a job of obfuscation that Trump allies may find easier once the Trump family is no longer subject to any kind of official disclosure requirements.

Trump attempted to pervert the 2020 election by sabotaging mail-in voting—so essential amid a pandemic.

When that failed, Trump tried to overturn the outcome of the election in courts he had staffed for that very purpose.

When the courts balked, Trump demanded that Republican state legislators discard the wishes of their voters.

When the legislators refused, he turned to plots for a military coup to seize voting records.

What’s needed post-Trump is a fact-finding commission that can engrave this history on the national conscience. It cannot be a truly bipartisan commission, because one of the two parties is so tragically complicit in Trump’s misdeeds. But it can be nonpartisan: its chairpersons and staff chosen from among those with eminent legal and national-security backgrounds outside the party system.

The commission could be granted access to government records and whatever private records are produced by congressional subpoena. Its job would be to report, not prosecute. Congress can enact new laws, if those seem called for. The executive branch can adopt new rules too. But what America needs is a definitive record, backed by all the prestige of the most trusted American institutions, in order to stand strong, firm, and clear against the coming tidal wave of deceit.

Christmas Morning Male Beauty


The Lost Message of Christmas and Christ

Like many LGBT Americans I have an uneasy relationship with religion, especially Christianity, which for so many of us is not a message of hope but instead the source of years of self-hatred and condemnation by the modern day Pharisees of our day, particularly leaders of the Catholic Church in which I was raised and evangelical Christians who seem more like the villains of the Bible than followers of Christ.  Sadly, on this pandemic year Christmas, the message of Christmas and Christ seeming remains lost on far too many Americans, especially the Trump base of evangelicals who continue to swear fealty to an individual who is the antithesis of Christ's inclusive message and who continues to preach division and hatred of others. Ironically, these same individuals will likely participate in church services today either in person or virtually as they utterly ignore the example of Christ. It's little wonder that so many of the younger generations have joined the ranks of the "Nones."  A column in the New York Times by Peter Wehner, a never Trumper and what might some might call a "principled conservative," Looks at the phenomena and how Christ was the radical opposite of so many of his self-proclaimed modern-day follower.  Here are column excerpts:

First-century Christians weren’t prepared for what a truly radical and radically inclusive figure Jesus was, and neither are today’s Christians. We want to tame and domesticate who he was, but Jesus’ life and ministry don’t really allow for it. He shattered barrier after barrier.

One example is Jesus’ encounter, in the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus and the woman talked about Jesus being the Messiah, why he was even deigning to talk with her, and the unnamed woman’s past and present, which she initially sought to hide from Jesus. (It included her five previous husbands, according to the account in John, and the fact that “the one whom you now have is not your husband.”) Yet not a word of condemnation passed the lips of Jesus; the woman felt heard, understood, cared for.

This story is a striking example of Jesus’ rejection of conventional religious and cultural thinking — in this case because Jesus, a man, was talking earnestly to a woman in a world in which women were often demeaned and treated as second-class citizens; and because Jesus, a Jew, was talking to a Samaritan, who were despised by the Jews for reasons going back centuries. According to Professor Bailey, “A Samaritan woman and her community are sought out and welcomed by Jesus. In the process, ancient racial, theological and historical barriers are breached. His message and his community are for all.”

This happened time and again with Jesus.

Jesus was repeatedly attacked for hanging out with the wrong crowd and recruited his disciples from the lower rungs of society.

And Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, a story about a man who helps a wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, made the hero of the story not an influential priest, not a person of social rank or privilege but a hated foreigner.

Jesus was most drawn to the forsaken and despised, the marginalized, those who had stumbled and fallen. He was beloved by them, even as he was targeted and eventually killed by the politically and religiously powerful, who viewed Jesus as a grave threat to their dominance.

Over the course of my faith journey, I have wondered: Why was a hallmark of Jesus’s ministry intimacy with and the inclusion of the unwanted and the outcast, men and women living in the shadow of society, more likely to be dismissed than noticed, more likely to be mocked than revered?

Part of the explanation surely has to do with the belief in the imago Dei, that Jesus sees indelible dignity and inestimable worth in every person, even “the least of these.” If no one else would esteem them, Jesus would.

Among the people who best articulated this ethic was Abraham Lincoln, who in a 1858 speech in Lewiston, Ill., in which he explained the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence, said, “Nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.”

Yet another reason for Jesus’ connection with outcasts undoubtedly had to do with his compassion and empathy, his desire to relieve their pain and lift the soul-crushing shame that accompanies being a social pariah and an untouchable.

Jesus must have understood that we human beings battle with exclusion, self-righteousness and arrogance, and have a quick trigger finger when it comes to judging others. Jesus knew how easily we could fall into the trap of turning “the other” — those of other races, ethnicities, classes, genders and nations — into enemies. We place loyalty to the tribe over compassion and human connection. We view differences as threatening; the result is we become isolated, rigid in our thinking, harsh and unforgiving.

Jesus clearly believed that outcasts had a lot to teach the privileged and the powerful, including the virtues of humility and the vice of supreme certitude.

It’s easy for us to look back 20 centuries and see how religious authorities were too severe and unforgiving in how they treated the outcasts of their time. The wisest question those of us who are Christians could ask ourselves isn’t why we are so much more humane and enlightened than they were; rather, it is to ask ourselves who the modern outcasts are and whether we’re mistreating them.

“How Christians, including me, responded to the AIDS crisis in the ’80s haunts me,” my longtime friend Scott Dudley, senior pastor of Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Wash., recently told me. “Had we, like the first Christians, cared first and cared most for modern day ‘plague’ victims, I think we’d be in a whole different conversation with the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

Jesus’ teachings are so challenging, so distinct from normal human reactions and behaviors, that we constantly have to renew our commitment to them. Every generation of Christians need to think through how his example applies to the times in which they live. We need our sensibilities to align more with his. Otherwise, we drift into self-righteousness and legalism, even to the point that we corrupt the very institution, the church, which was created to worship him and to love others.

The lesson from Jesus’ life and ministry is that understanding people’s stories and struggles requires much more time and effort than condemning them, but it is vastly more rewarding. And the lesson of Christmas and the incarnation, at least for those of us of the Christian faith, is that all of us were once outcasts, broken yet loved, and worth reaching out to and redeeming.

If God did that for us, why do we find it so hard to do it for each other?

Merry Christmas to all.  May we follow Christ's example be we Christian or not.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

More Christmas Eve Male Beauty


Military on Red Alert Over Trump's Talk of Illegal Use of Martial Law

Members of the military take an oath to defend the nation and the U.S. Constitution, not an oath of personal fealty to the president. This concept and reality is lost on Donald Trump who appears to view himself the equivalent of some Roman emperor or absolute monarch.  As Trump grasps at ways to remains in office to avoid criminal prosecution and hold off creditors, senior members of the U.S. military worry that he may attempt some illegal act involving a declaration of martial law as a last ditch effort to avoid leaving office.  Should such an attempt occur, hopefully, members of the military will recognize the illegality of any such action and refuse to act (the more likely scenario would be the military having to put down a revolt by Trumpists and far right militias). That Trump is even contemplating such actions underscores his unfitness for office and the reality that he should never hold any political office in the future. A piece in Newsweek looks at the military's unease with a insane would be despot in the the White House for less than a month.  Here are excerpts:

Pentagon and Washington-area military leaders are on red alert, wary of what President Donald Trump might do in his remaining days in office. Though far-fetched, ranking officers have discussed what they would do if the president declared martial law. And military commands responsible for Washington DC are engaged in secret contingency planning in case the armed forces are called upon to maintain or restore civil order during the inauguration and transition period. According to one officer who spoke to Newsweek on condition of anonymity, the planning is being kept out of sight of the White House and Trump loyalists in the Pentagon for fear that it would be shut down.

"I've been associated with the military for over 40 years and I've never seen the discussions that are being had right now, the need for such discussions," says a retired flag officer, currently a defense contractor who has mentored and advised his service's senior leaders. He was granted anonymity in order to speak without fear of reprisal.

A half-dozen officers in similar positions agree that while there is zero chance that the uniformed leadership would involve itself in any scheme to create an election-related reversal, they worry that the military could get sucked into a crisis of Trump's making, particularly if the president tries to rally private militias and pro-Trump paramilitaries in an effort to disrupt the transition and bring violence to the capital.

“But martial law," says the lawyer, "is the wrong paradigm to think about the dangers ahead." Though such a presidential proclamation could flow from his order as commander-in-chief, an essential missing ingredient is the martial side: the involvement and connivance of some cabal of officers who would support the president's illegal move.

Such a group doesn't exist, he and other experts agree, but there could still be room for mischief, confusion, and even use of military force. It would just not be in the way Trump might intend, particularly if he continues his quest to destabilize the democratic process.

[O]fficers who were willing to speak about the subject insisted on anonymity, fearful that use of their names might provoke the ire of the president. They feared that publicly stated opposition to the president's scheme to undermine the election—whether that is to proclaim martial law, to seize voting machines, or even to halt Congress from ratifying state elector's results on January 6—could actually embolden Donald Trump to act.

"At this point there's no telling what [Trump] the president might do in the next month," says a former Northern Command (NORTHCOM) commander, one who has been intimately involved in the development of domestic civil planning. "Though I'm confident that the uniformed military leadership has their heads screwed on right, the craziness is unprecedented and the possibilities are endless."

Military lawyers say that threats to public safety and order have to exist beyond the capacity of the federal government or state and local government to resolve. But they point out that in Portland, Oregon, and other cities across America, the Department of Homeland Security has already declared that the local governments have lost control, necessitating federal intervention, even without the state's permission. That precedent could embolden the White House to believe it has the right to act.

So it's also conceivable that in the District of Columbia a commander could independently invoke martial law to restore order were there a complete breakdown. All the sources Newsweek spoke to, from the Pentagon military leadership down to the Joint Task Force already activated for coronavirus and used to suppress the George Floyd riots, agree that such a declaration is unlikely—that is, unless there is an armed rebellion undertaken on behalf of Donald Trump.

"The greatest danger is that the very existence of these layers of secret directives might convey the impression of powers and authorities that don't really exist in peacetime," the former Justice Department lawyer says.

In years of writing on this subject, I have never heard so many officers—active and retired—willing to talk openly about the need for professional military officers to review their sacred obligations to refuse to follow unlawful orders and to think through their roles and duties given the Donald Trump wild card, even though he is still president.

"You've got to recognize an illegal order when it comes your way," says another retired flag officer, saying he has been involved in unprecedented internal discussions going on right now about this subject. The officer, who declined to speak on the record, says that though lawful and unlawful orders are a part of officer training from the beginning, "the principles of loyalty to the Constitution hammered home from the start of every career, ... we've never had the real thing, never someone who occupied the White House who conducted themselves anything like President Trump."

Should Trump try any such illegal move, he needs to be charged with treason, convicted and given the harshest penalty available. 

Christmas Eve Male Beauty


Republicans Just Voted to Defund the Police

What Republicans claim to support and what they actually support are typically two very different things. They claim to support working Americans, yet their agenda is all about helping the rich and huge corporations and policies ]that shift wealth from the working and middle class to the rich. They claim to support the military yet send our troops off to unwinnable wars. And they claim to support the police even as they refuse to help state and local governments in dire financial need due to the pandemic with the direct result that many police forces will have to furlough officers for lack of funding. A case in point is the new Covid-19 pandemic relief bill - assuming Trump doesn't scuttle it - which fails to give sufficient aid to states and localities. The lesson?  Never believe Republican rhetoric and bloviating.  Instead, watch their actions.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the GOP's de facto defunding of police departments across the country:

President Trump and Republicans campaigned in 2020 by scaring Americans into thinking Democrats would “defund the police” and unleash a crime spree.

This helped Republicans keep control of the Senate (for now) and grow their numbers in the House. So what are they doing to celebrate? Why, they’re defunding the police — as violent crime surges.

GOP leaders over the past week defeated efforts to help states and cities that are facing cutbacks to public safety and other services because of the pandemic-caused budget crisis. They claimed this would amount to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called a “blue state bailout.” In reality, it was more of a “blue bailout” — and police in blue and red states alike are now on the chopping block.

[T]he bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors protested this week, “Congress chose to turn its back on first responders, police, firefighters and other essential workers.”

This isn’t theoretical. In large part because of the federal government’s months-long refusal to help, localities across the country are involuntarily defunding the police in real time.

Dayton, Ohio, is no longer planning to hire a new class of police in 2021 because of the budget crisis. Though trying to protect public safety, Dayton reportedly plans a small reduction in existing police jobs.

This week, 12 local elected officials in Georgia wrote the state’s two U.S. senators (who both face runoff elections) to say the covid-19 package “fails to provide vital funds for essential workers in local governments: workers like teachers, firefighters and law enforcement.”

Oakland, Calif., announced Sunday that it was cutting “$20 million in public safety expenditure.” The city’s police chief had warned that “each of these critical overtime and program cuts reduce vital prevention, intervention, and safety services.”

Los Angeles has been wrestling with possible cuts to the LAPD of more than 600 officers and employees. The city is reducing policing programs — not, primarily, because of “defund” activists but because the city is broke.

Pittsburgh has considered cutting 200 police officers. Jurisdictions ranging from sprawling Dallas to little Hazelton, Pa., have moved toward reducing police pay and overtime. Illinois is contemplating $71 million in cuts to public safety. In Michigan, cities are begging the state for help avoiding cuts to police.

Compounding the problem, he told me, is “you have this huge spike in violent crime” after decades of decline. Though federal statistics lag, PERF calculates that homicides were up 28 percent in the first nine months of 2020. (Aggravated assaults increased, too — though, happily, rapes and robberies declined.)

There are various explanations: economic collapse, closed schools, police holding back because of police-misconduct criticism or numbers stretched thin by demonstrations. Whatever the cause, “the reality on the ground is significant spikes in homicides across the country, and that just seems to be being missed,” Wexler said.

It’s easy to miss as Trump and his aides stir up chaos in the final weeks of his presidency: throwing the just-passed covid relief bill into doubt, risking a government shutdown, pardoning lawbreaking former aides and Republican lawmakers, handcuffing the Federal Reserve, undermining faith in the election, and winking at a Russian cyberattack on the United States.

Washington’s refusal to help states and localities is, ironically, doing more to defund the police than the left’s “defund” movement could. Though there are exceptions (New York, Austin, Seattle), a Bloomberg News study in September concluded that, overall, the defund “rallying cry hasn’t translated into reality.”

Trump and Republicans were correct when they warned of a threat to public safety. But the perpetrators weren’t “leftist” militants or Black Lives Matter activists. The culprits are Republicans who promised “law and order” but, with their votes, defunded the police.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Wednesday Male Beauty


Trump is Betraying is Republican Enablers In The 11th Hour

If one follows Donald Trump's business career one readily find a pattern of behavior  that is a cross between a school yard bully and a Mafia crime boss, with threats and extortions the norm and a sea of unpaid creditors. Somehow many Congressional Republicans insanely believed they would be able to control Trump - just as they insanely thought they would be able to control Christofascists allowed into the party - only to discover that Trump would knife them in the back in a heart beat and that only a fool or demented idiot would ever trust the man.  Now, Trump is poised to derail the Covid relief bill approved by Congress and perhaps tank the GOP senatorial campaigns in Georgia as he tries to blackmail Congressional Republicans to basically find a way to engage in a coup to overturn the 2020 election results.  But for the harm done to Americans in need of another round of pandemic relief and the threat Trump comprises to American democracy as long as he continues to draw breath, the situation would be comical and would cheer seeing the likes of Mitch "Moscow Mitch" McConnell getting screwed over by Der Trumpenfuhrer.  A piece in Salon looks at the self-created situation Republicans find themselves in:

Trump really does believe that Republicans know some super secret method for nullifying the election he just lost, and that they're just not revealing it to him for some reason. In reality, Republicans probably would help him steal the election if they could, but they can't. But Trump refuses to accept this so he is constantly wheedling GOP officials to do more and whining publicly that they're holding out on him. He's even considering canceling a Mar-A-Lago trip and staying in D.C. for Christmas, probably because he's talked himself into believing he can strike a "deal" to nullify the election. 

Trump is particularly incensed at McConnell right now for not doing more to make Trump's failed coup successful. On Monday, Trump's office sent out emails to congressional Republicans in which Trump took credit (falsely) for McConnell's successful re-election, and implied that McConnell should show his gratitude by doing more to steal the presidential election for Trump. Trump believes that Congress will have an opportunity to overturn the election on January 6, by refusing to certify the Electoral College vote. We know he believes this, even though it's false because he's been scheming with House Republicans on how to do it. We also know — because Trump keeps tweeting about it — that Trump believes Senate Republicans are, for whatever reason, not doing enough to help him and need so more threats to get motivated to back his coup.

McConnell believes that this $900 billion coronavirus bill is needed to help Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the two Georgia Republicans trying to retain their Senate seats in the January 5 run-offs. McConnell told Senate Republicans last week that "Kelly and David are getting hammered" by their Democratic opponents for not passing a bill. This $900 billion package, which is only a fraction of the spending Democrats in the House passed months ago, is the smallest bill McConnell can get away with while still saving those two Senate seats he needs to keep his majority. Trump's most ardent supporters have singled out the Republicans' desire to win in Georgia as a leverage point, and keep threatening to tank that race if Republicans don't do more to help Trump steal the election

To be clear, this isn't 11th level chess. It's actually Trump employing junior high school bully logic: McConnell wants a thing (this paltry coronavirus relief bill), and so Trump is threatening to take it away unless Trump gets what he wants (a successful coup).  Trump, being very dumb, has not considered the possibility that McConnell couldn't give in to the extortion if he tried because there's actually no secret file in McConnell's office labeled "How To Steal Any Election." Nor has Trump apparently given much consideration to how Democrats might react to him threatening McConnell by pretending that he wants a more generous bill. 

Democrats have called Trump's bluff.  Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis confirmed that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is planning the unanimous consent vote Christmas Eve, which will force Republicans to go on the record against mailing $2,000 checks to Americans. Considering that McConnell is hoping $600 checks will be enough to buy off Georgia voters on January 5, a vote against a more generous bill is clearly something Republican politicians likely hope to avoid. 

In no way does this theory require believing Trump is crafty, clever, or heaven forbid, intelligent. Trump is a moron who is employing what he thinks is a clever Roy Cohn-style scheme to blackmail McConnell. It is, however, an idiotic misfire, because he's trying to extort something McConnell simply doesn't have, that is some deeply buried secret method to steal the election. 

The best part about this is that Democrats handed Republicans a chance to get rid of Trump a year ago, when the Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump for, yep, another one of Trump's many extortion schemes to keep himself in office. . . . . But rather than accept this golden opportunity to rid themselves of an erratic and disloyal narcissist in favor of a more easily controlled President Mike Pence, Senate Republicans chose to acquit Trump and keep him around. 

To thank them, Trump is now blowing up their spot on this coronavirus bill. Because Trump is loyal to no one and can only be failed. To him, you're only as good as the last illegal or unethical thing you did to help him. 

And boy, it's hard not to wonder if McConnell isn't regretting his choice to acquit Trump. Because if he'd just taken the chance Democrats gave him back then, he'd have President Pence happily just doing what he's told. But no, like so many discarded lawyers, staffers, and other Trump enablers, McConnell made the mistake of thinking he could somehow protect and enable Trump without Trump screwing him over. But Trump will always betray his allies in the end. It's like the moral of the story Trump loved telling at campaign rallies: Republicans knew Trump was a snake when they picked him up. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Will Principled (and Moral) Conservatives to Start Their Own Party?

By all appearances Donald Trump has been using his lies and conspiracy theory rants about the "stolen" 2020 election to rake in cash in a major way from the dumb, the gullible and spineless and immoral Republicans who are afraid to become a target of Trump's wrath.  Trump seemingly wants to remain the driving force in the now morally bankrupt GOP through both the money he is amassing and the fealty his base of deporables gives to him.  What is a principled and oral conservative to do?  A column in the New York Times speculates that just maybe a third political party will be born for those sick of Trump and the racism and embrace of ignorance that defines Trump's base - a trend that began when Christofascists began to rise within the GOP during the 1980's and 1990's and solidified with evangelical support for Trump in 2016 and 2020.  Perhaps the column is overly optimistic, but at the moment, the GOP is no longer a political home for those who are not willing to debase themselves for Trump, shred the U.S. Constitution and throw morality overboard.  Here are column excepts:

As the Trump presidency heads into the sunset, kicking and screaming, one of the most important questions that will shape American politics at the local, state and national levels is this: Can Donald Trump maintain his iron grip over the Republican Party when he is out of office?

This is what we know for sure: He damn well intends to try and is amassing a pile of cash to do so. And here is what I predict: If Trump keeps delegitimizing Joe Biden’s presidency and demanding loyalty for his extreme behavior, the G.O.P. could fully fracture — splitting between principled Republicans and unprincipled Republicans.

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But here’s why it’s not entirely fanciful: If Trump refuses to ever acknowledge Biden’s victory and keeps roasting those Republicans who do — and who “collaborate” with the new administration — something is going to crack.

There will be increasing pressure on the principled Republicans — people like Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and the judges, election officials and state legislators who put country before party and refused to buckle under Trump’s demands — to break away and start their own conservative party.

If that happens, the unprincipled Trump Republicans — like the 126 House members who joined with the Texas attorney general in a shameful Supreme Court case to nullify Biden’s victory could have a harder time winning office. That would be a good thing in its own right.

More important, even if just a few principled conservatives came together and created a kind of third party in Congress, they could be kingmakers. With the Senate so finely balanced, moderates on each side have significant leverage.

Imagine Biden’s center-left Democrats and principled center-right conservatives working together on fixes for infrastructure, immigration, Obamacare or climate.

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But one thing I learned covering the Middle East is that there is only one reliable thing about extremists — they don’t know when to stop. So, in the end, they almost always go over the cliff, taking a lot of people with them.

Donald Trump is a political extremist. He does not stop at red lights. He does not abide by norms, ethics or the truth. As a result, . . . his attacks on Republican officeholders and right-wing media that won’t parrot his lies and conspiracy theories, is already fracturing the party at the state level in places like Georgia and Arizona.

It’s drawing a sharp distinction between principled Republicans who chose to put their constitutional obligations before Trump’s interests and the unprincipled ones who either are too cowardly to speak up or eagerly hopped into the Trump clown car to secure his blessings for their next election.

On Saturday, CNN described the civil war that has broken out in Arizona: “G.O.P. party leaders and elected officials who’ve gone all-in for Trump, backed by right-wing media, have relentlessly attacked those who can’t bring themselves to go along with the lame-duck president’s refusal to concede. To be sure, similar splits exist across the G.O.P. nationwide. But the infighting in Arizona offers a clear picture of why some Republicans fear that if Trump continues stirring up and directing his followers once he’s out of office, the party may cripple itself at the state and local level.”

To be sure, calling Ducey a “principled Republican” is a low bar, considering that he had no problem backing Trump all the way until now. Unlike other Trump-friendly Republicans, though, he was ready to draw a constitutional redline he would not cross.

But every day that goes by Trump shows us that as his power decreases, he surrounds himself with more and more unprincipled crackpots, who fan his delusions and propose more and more extreme actions, like Michael Flynn’s neofascist suggestion of declaring martial law and rerunning the election in some states Trump lost.

Therefore, the stress that Trump creates will surely get only worse after he leaves the White House, when, to stay relevant, he’ll need to say ever more extreme things that keep his base — now fully marinated in his conspiracy theories — energized and ready to attack any principled Republican who deviates from Trump. Also, all those Fox News commentators who prostituted themselves to Trump (and their ratings), helping to make his extreme base even more extreme, can’t stop now. They’ll lose their audience.

They’re all extremists who can’t stop, and principled conservatives understand that.

“Even though Mr. Trump has been defeated, there is still no home for Republicans committed to representative government, truth and the rule of law, nor is one likely to emerge anytime soon,” wrote McMullin in this newspaper. “So what’s next for Republicans who reject their party’s attempts to incinerate the Constitution in the service of one man’s authoritarian power grabs? … The answer is that we must further develop an intellectual and political home, for now, outside of any party. From there, we can continue working with other Americans to defeat Mr. Trump’s heirs, help offer unifying leadership to the country and, if the Republican Party continues on its current path, launch a party to challenge it directly.”

Call me mad, but my gut tells me that when Trump is just the monarch of Mar-a-Lago — just spewing venom — some Republicans will say “enough.” Somewhere in there a new party of principled conservatives might just get born.

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But what a blessing that would be for America.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


The GOP's False Pretense of Being For Working Americans

One of the continued political ironies is that the Republican Party - especially under Der Trumpenfuhrer - claims to be the party of working Americans yet time after time the policies it pushes do little or nothing for working families.  Rather it's corporations and the wealthy that benefit over and over again.  Shockingly, working class whites still allow themselves to be blinded by the GOP's calls of racism and Christian religious extremism and vote against their own best financial interests.  Provisions of the $900 billion Covid relief bill just approved underscores that the GOP still devalues working Americans while seeking to continue its reverse Robin Hood agenda of taking from the poor to give to the rich and large corporations.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are excerpts:

At long last, Congress has a deal on fiscal relief. Both parties recognized the political urgency of preventing the sudden, simultaneous expiration of dozens of safety-net programs in the days after Christmas. Both parties also exploited this urgency as an excuse to demand other concessions.

The wish lists the parties held out for say a lot about their respective priorities.

The GOP has lately tried to rebrand itself as the party of populists. It’s for the little guy, not the big bullying corporation; the working class, not Wall StreetIf that’s true, though, wow, do congressional Republicans have a weird way of showing it.

Consider two main sticking points that had prevented a deal for several months: Democrats wanted aid for state and local governments, which both red and blue jurisdictions have pleaded for. This would prevent more layoffs of teachers, firefighters, paramedics, police officers, hospital employees, sanitation workers and others. (Since February, 1.3 million public-sector jobs have been eliminated.) Meanwhile, Republicans demanded that businesses not face consequences if employees became ill with covid-19 due to unsafe working conditions.

Which of these policies seems more pro-Forgotten Man to you?

Last week, the parties compromised by excising both these proposals from the deal. Then, over the weekend, lawmakers agreed to an even more revealing horse trade. Democrats wanted expanded tax credits for low-income families; Republicans refused, unless they got an expanded tax deduction for corporate meals, sometimes known as the “three-martini lunch” tax break.

Bleeding-heart Democrats, per usual, championed working parents (through a more flexible application of the earned-income tax credit and child tax credit); meanwhile, Republicans pushed to fatten corporate expense accounts.

Truly, it’s hard to come up with a stimulus provision less stimulative or more tone-deaf.

At a moment when 27.4 million U.S. adults — nearly 13 percent — report that they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the previous week, Republicans are literally subsidizing executives’ steak dinners. These meals are already subsidized — and have been since the 1980s — to the tune of 50 percent; Donald Trump, who has always seen his presidency as a for-profit venture, demanded that the entirety of these meals be made deductible.

Trump and allies have claimed this expanded tax break would help rescue the struggling restaurant industry. But insufficient tax deductibility of business meals is hardly the main reason C-suiters aren’t cutting deals at high-end sushi bars right now. They aren’t wining and dining clients because a deadly pandemic is raging, and clients understandably want to stay home.

[T]his tax cut is still unlikely to help most restaurants. Deductible corporate meals may normally be a major source of revenue at, say, Trump properties, but they probably don’t bring a ton of business to your local diner or pancake house. The venues that stand to benefit, if any at all, are a tiny subset of the struggling hospitality industry. . . . If the goal is to help small-business restaurateurs and their workers, then Congress should give money directly to small-business restaurateurs and their workers — whether they operate a steakhouse or a greasy spoon.

Whatever populist bona fides Republicans claim now, their policies have consistently deprioritized working families.

Almost exactly three years ago, when Congress passed Trump’s unfunded $2 trillion tax cuts, Republicans billed that, too, as a “middle-class” tax cut. Curiously, their tax cuts for corporations were permanent; those for middle-income households, meanwhile, were temporary. Let them eat steak, I suppose.

Of course, helping “the little people” might mean something different to a party that believes corporations are people too.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Final Monday Male Beauty


With Luck Trump’s Enablers Will Meet A Shakespearean End

While some us will not breath a final sigh of relief until Joe Biden is sworn in as president and Trump is left to slink off to either his New York or Florida residence, many now assume no matter what half-baked attempt Trump and his circle of idiots and crackpots dream up, the sun is setting on MAGA world and outside of covens of cultists, Trump will increasingly become a fading legend in his own mind.  But what of his enablers and sycophants who aided and abetted in the attacks on morality, decency and the rule of law. As prior posts have noted, some Trump staffers are already feeling the adverse impact of their complicity in evil as hoped for employers turn a cold shoulder.  But there are others form whom one can only hope a Shakespearean end.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at this hoped for result.  Here are highlights (note how it trashes Trump):

It is a mark of these astounding times that news of heated meetings at the White House considering, among other things, the confiscation of voting machines, declaration of martial law, and use of the military to preside over an election outcome more to the president’s liking were met with a collective yawn by the American people. The news of the FDA’s approval of the Moderna vaccine for the coronavirus was much more enthralling, and recipes for single batches of holiday punch, suitable for COVID-imposed isolation, were more immediately relevant.

This could indicate the apathy of the American people, battered by President Donald Trump’s antics, the pandemic, and an imperiled economy. More likely, it represents a reasoned confidence that if Trump were to order General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to arrest President-elect Joe Biden and occupy the capitals of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, the stocky general would report sick for the next 30 days. Judges would block the orders, governors would laugh at them, Republican senators would demurely pretend they had not heard of them. So is there nothing left to be said about the final scene of the final act of this dismal play?

Trump, it bears repeating, is no Shakespearean villain—he is too willful, ignorant, undisciplined, and shallow for that. What we are watching is not the despair of Macbeth . . . . It is, rather, a malignant narcissist’s psyche collapsing in on its hollow core. That process may be of clinical or purely malevolent interest, but it’s not the stuff of tragedy, because Trump is really only a few shards of a genuine human being.

But Shakespeare does have something yet to offer us about this moment when treason against the constitutional order is a matter for serious Oval Office debate. The Bard had a rich sense of the creeps and criminals, sycophants and slimeballs, weirdos and wing nuts who hang around power.

Of course, the cast of characters in Trump’s mad court was much wider than this. Pious hypocrites? Jerry Falwell Jr. could probably take a lesson or two from Angelo in Measure for Measure. After preaching a rather austere morality (death as punishment for premarital sex), he tries to commit rape and judicial murder, thinking he can cover up his adventures. He cannot. . . . while Falwell is alleged to have merely watched rather than indulged, the ruin is similar, and equally well deserved.

But it would be wrong to think that bad behavior in Trump’s court is a masculine matter only. There is, after all, an odd mix of female political advisers, television personalities, and preachers who have, as does Queen Margaret, “a tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide.” They have not gone mad, as Margaret does, but they do have Joan of Arc’s misplaced self-confidence, and there is time yet.

And then there is the mob. In Henry VI, Part 2, the followers of Jack Cade—played in this production by Rudy Giuliani—call for killing all the lawyers. They also seem to have a desire to kill anyone who can speak French or Latin, or who has any learning at all. But Jack Cade ends up with his head on display to warn others about the price of rebellion against lawful order, as do so many in Shakespeare’s plays. More interesting are the Roman mobs that love Caesar, then approve his murder, then, after some masterful manipulation by Mark Antony, turn on Brutus and the conspirators. They are not particularly picky.

But if Shakespeare takes a dim view of the Make Rome Great Again populace, his scorn for their manipulators is far deeper. Mark Antony is brilliant at crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war, but he throws away his leading role in the Roman state once he meets Cleopatra. His lust derails a promising career as aspiring global dictator.

The Trump family should not take a great deal of comfort from Shakespeare, either. Yes, Henry V succeeds Henry IV (albeit not without some difficulty), but orderly succession is the exception in his plays. And indeed, Henry V’s own son, Henry VI, turns out to be something of a political dope. Inheriting power is tougher than it looks. . . . Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Jared take note.

Finally, the henchmen. They’re lucky if they get sent packing with their heads still attached to their shoulders . . . It would be pleasant to contemplate a parade of senatorial and congressional lickspittles, craven fixers, nutcase advisers, and unprincipled hangers-on meeting their comeuppance, albeit in considerably less stark terms than befalls most Shakespearean characters. No doubt many will be able to minimize the damage done by their association with Trump. Many will safely monetize their government experience . . . But let’s face it: Once the play is over, the supporting roles rarely get reevaluated, and all the lesser villains can hope for, like Iago, is a bit of wonder at their motivations and eventual fate.

And what of Trump himself? How might Shakespeare summarize his presidency? Let me suggest this: “A tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing.”

More Monday Male Beauty


Confessions of a Lawyer in the Trump Justice Department

In a post yesterday I argued that those who chose to work in the Trump administration deserved the pariah status many are experiencing as they seek employment now that the most foul and toxic presidential regime is coming to an end. Like it or not they were complicit in the attacks on the rule of law and basic morality that have defined the Trump/Pence regime. Whatever justifications that they raise in their own minds or publicly for their complicity are not enough to undo the damage they assisted in wreaking on the nation.  An op-ed in the New York Times by a former Trump Justice Department attorney bears this out shows that the only moral and honorable option was to either refuse the job offer or to resign. Here are op-ed highlights:

I was an attorney at the Justice Department when Donald Trump was elected president. I worked in the Office of Legal Counsel, which is where presidents turn for permission slips that say their executive orders and other contemplated actions are lawful. I joined the department during the Obama administration, as a career attorney whose work was supposed to be independent of politics.

I never harbored delusions about a Trump presidency. Mr. Trump readily volunteered that his agenda was to disassemble our democracy, but I made a choice to stay at the Justice Department — home to some of the country’s finest lawyers — for as long as I could bear it. I believed that I could better serve our country by pushing back from within than by keeping my hands clean. But I have come to reconsider that decision.

My job was to tailor the administration’s executive actions to make them lawful — in narrowing them, I could also make them less destructive. I remained committed to trying to uphold my oath even as the president refused to uphold his.

But there was a trade-off: We attorneys diminished the immediate harmful impacts of President Trump’s executive orders — but we also made them more palatable to the courts.

This burst into public view early in the Trump administration in the litigation over the executive order banning travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, which my office approved. The first Muslim ban was rushed out the door. It was sweeping and sloppy; the courts quickly put a halt to it. The successive discriminatory bans benefited from more time and attention from the department’s lawyers, who narrowed them but also made them more technocratic and therefore harder for the courts to block.

After the Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision upholding the third Muslim ban, I reviewed my own portfolio — which included matters targeting noncitizens, dismantling the Civil Service and camouflaging the president’s corruption — overcome with fear that I was doing more harm than good. By Thanksgiving of that year, I had left my job.

Even after I left, I advised others that they could do good by staying. News reports about meaningful pushback by Justice Department attorneys seemed to confirm this thinking.

I was wrong.

Watching the Trump campaign’s attacks on the election results, I now see what might have happened if, rather than nip and tuck the Trump agenda, responsible Justice Department attorneys had collectively — ethically, lawfully — refused to participate in President Trump’s systematic attacks on our democracy from the beginning. The attacks would have failed.

Unlike the Trump Justice Department, the Trump campaign has relied on second-rate lawyers who lack the skills to maintain the president’s charade. . . . Even judges appointed by Mr. Trump have refused to throw their lots in with lawyers who can’t master the basic mechanics of lawyering.

The story of the Trump campaign’s attack on our elections could have been the story of the Trump administration’s four-year-long attack on our institutions. If, early on, the Justice Department lawyers charged with selling the administration’s lies had emptied the ranks — withholding our talents and reputations and demanding the same of our professional peers — the work of defending President Trump’s policies would have been left to the types of attorneys now representing his campaign. Lawyers like Mr. Giuliani would have had to defend the Muslim ban in court.

Had that happened, judges would have likely dismantled the Trump facade from the beginning, stopping the momentum of his ugliest and most destructive efforts and bringing much-needed accountability early in his presidency.

I’m haunted by what I did. The trade-off wasn’t worth it.  In giving voice to those trying to destroy the rule of law and dignifying their efforts with our talents and even our basic competence, we enabled that destruction.

No matter our intentions, we were complicit. We collectively perpetuated an anti-democratic leader by conforming to his assault on reality. We may have been victims of the system, but we were also its instruments. No matter how much any one of us pushed back from within, we did so as members of a professional class of government lawyers who enabled an assault on our democracy — an assault that nearly ended it.

We owe the country our honesty about that and about what we saw. We owe apologies. I offer mine here.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Trump White House Staff Were Not Good People

As the nightmare of the Trump/Pence regime lurches towards an end, many of the regime's White House staffers are seeking and exit and future employment.  Many are finding themselves viewed as pariahs by many potential employers.  Outside of far right fringe organization, rather than White House experience enhancing their career options, those who on their own volition worked in the Trump White House are finding it a detriment to their futures.  It's hard to harbor much sympathy for these individuals, some of whom are disingenuously claiming things would have been even worse but for their efforts.  I'm sorry, but one does not get to work - by choice - for an evil and toxic regime and then get to claim one is a good person and not deserving of the condemnation their choice brought down on them.  A column in the Washington Post makes the case that these Trumpists are not worthy of sympathy or forgiveness.  Here are excerpts:

Former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly — the man who enthusiastically presided over the separation of children at the border; defended President Trump’s lies and accommodation toward Russia; and enabled arguably the most destructive president in our history — told the Atlantic: “The vast majority of people who worked in the White House were decent people who were doing the best they could to serve the nation.” He added, “They’ve unfortunately paid quite a price for that in reputation and future employment. . . . They deserve better than that, because they kept the train from careening off the tracks.”

This is dead wrong. These people are not victims. Their reputations have been besmirched for the best of reasons: They participated in an administration unparalleled in its corruption, meanness, racism and authoritarianism.

The excuse that things would have been worse without White House aides is weak, at best. Would we have lost even more than the 312,000 Americans who died from covid-19 if not for them? Would we have been even more lax in failing to respond to Russia’s interference in our election, its bounties on U.S. troops or its hacking of our government?

Self-congratulatory aides did not stop the child-separation policy. Nor did they prevent Trump from trying to delegitimize the election. Or from lying about hush money to pay off an adult-film actress. Or from failing to warn the public early on that covid-19 was far worse than the flu. Or from refusing to wear a mask. Or from encouraging Chinese President Xi Jinping in his efforts to place millions of Uighurs in concentration camps. Or from spewing more than 20,000 lies. . . . Or from defaming our intelligence community. Or from using tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the White House. I could go on, but you get the point: Their hands are dirty because they enabled a dishonest president and allowed him to continue his reign of chaos, death and authoritarianism.

The number of senior officials who quit on principle is close to zero. The number of former Cabinet officials who came forward during the impeachment to give testimony is zero. In many cases, aides personally broke norms and laws. How many Hatch Act violations did they commit?

There were a handful of officials who behaved commendably and arguably did prevent greater harm. Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, did his best to shoot down disinformation about the election and call out efforts to discredit the results. He was fired as a result, a badge of honor in my book. Likewise, we saw honorable public servants such as Fiona Hill, Alexander Vindman and Marie Yovanovitch step forward to provide testimony about Trump’s impeachable conduct at the expense of their jobs. Christopher Wray performed heroically as director of the FBI. Beyond that, however, it is hard to think of someone in this administration who did more good than harm.

The notion that a lowly aide is exempt from condemnation because he or she “just” typed memos or “just" made travel arrangements or “just” set up meetings is misguided. When a regime routinely sets out to undermine our democracy, neglect its obligations to defend the Constitution and lie, it must rely on all the middle- and low-level aides to do all the tasks that produce its horrible results.

That these people are suffering damage to their credibility and condemnation from their fellow Americans is a positive sign our body politic still retains an appreciation for democracy and a moral compass.

These Trumpists are akin to Nazi's who claimed they were mere underlings and not responsible for the horrors the Nazi regime unleashed, yet without them, the Nazi system would not have been able to do its evil deeds.