Thursday, June 24, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


 

Giuliani's Lies on Behalf of Trump Disgraced His Profession and America

Like I suspect countless attorneys who strive to provide diligent yet ethical legal services to their clients  - often despite client demands to cross ethical limits - I am most pleased that Rudi Giuliana has had his law license suspended by New York State's highest court for making "demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former president Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign."   Sadly, other attorneys who engaged in similar conduct have yet to have their licenses suspended or, more appropriately, permanently disbarred.  Giuliani seemingly knowingly put forth falsehood seemingly only so he could receive payments to the malignant narcissist who once occupied the White House. If Giuliani believed his own lies, then he also needs to be place in a mental institution for much needed care.  Others, including members of Congress who hold law licenses - think Josh Hawley - likewise engaged in knowing lies and need to be similarly stripped of their law licenses.   A column in the Washington Post looks at the harm Giuliani did to the legal profession and the nation at large.  Here are column highlights:

Attorneys are supposed to — they are ethically bound to — zealously represent their clients, however unpopular. As a general matter, we should salute this zealousness, not punish it, for fear of chilling representation of those who need it most.

But advocacy has its limits, and Rudy Giuliani, it is safe to say, is no John Adams. One man defended the defenseless in the greater service of the rule of law; the other asserted the indefensible in the service of overturning the results of an election. And so, on Thursday, New York State Bar authorities took the extraordinary step of ordering Giuliani, once the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, immediately suspended from the practice of law as he faces the prospect of being permanently disbarred.

“We conclude that there is uncontroverted evidence that [Giuliani] communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former president Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020,” the judges overseeing the disciplinary proceedings wrote in a 33-page ruling. “These false statements were made to improperly bolster respondent’s narrative that due to widespread voter fraud, victory in the 2020 United States presidential election was stolen from his client. We conclude that respondent’s conduct immediately threatens the public interest.”

It ordinarily takes quite a bit — stealing client money, or obstructing justice — to get yourself disbarred, and even more to have your license to practice law suspended pending resolution of the proceedings. As a practical matter, Giuliani doesn’t have a booming legal practice; at this point, any client would be a fool to have him for a lawyer. And he has bigger problems than losing a law license he doesn’t really use, including a criminal investigation into his activities by the office he used to oversee.

Still, this is a welcome and entirely justified development. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Giuliani wasn’t the only Trump lawyer to make unsupportable claims about voter fraud, but he was the most prominent. Both in and out of court, Giuliani made repeated false statements . . . .

The disciplinary panel found that these statements violated ethics rules that prohibit lawyers from knowingly making false claims to courts or third parties, and from engaging in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” or “that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer.”

As the panel concluded, “this disciplinary proceeding concerns the professional restrictions imposed on respondent as an attorney to not knowingly misrepresent facts and make false statements in connection with his representation of a client.” The First Amendment doesn’t protect that.

Giuliani says his license shouldn’t be suspended while the proceedings continue because he poses no continuing threat — the election litigation is over and “he has and will continue to exercise personal discipline to forbear from discussing these matters in public anymore.” As the panel recognized, this is no more trustworthy than the rest of Giuliani’s false claims — “persistent and pervasive” statements that he kept making even after disciplinary proceedings were underway.

“False statements intended to foment a loss of confidence in our elections and resulting loss of confidence in government generally damage the proper functioning of a free society.” Coming from Giuliani, “acting with the authority of being an attorney, and using his large megaphone, the harm is magnified.”

Giuliani’s lawyers predicted that he “will be reinstated as a valued member of the legal profession that he has served so well in his many capacities for so many years.” Let’s hope not. He hasn’t suffered obloquy enough.

What should be Giuliani’s final chapter as a lawyer was a disservice to his profession. But unlike the case of John Adams, it was a disservice to his country.

I hope Giuliana is but the first of the Trump attorneys to lose their license for promoting deliberate lies. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


 

America Is Its Own Worse Enemy

We are a little more than a week away from the Fourth of July when many Americans will fly American flags and decorate their homes with patriotic bunting and some - Republican politicians especially -  will blather about American exceptionalism.  Truth be told, assuming America ever was truly exceptional - something that requires amnesia to the ugly aspects of the nation's past - America is becoming increasingly tattered and worn.  Republican refusal to invest in the nation's physical infrastructure and more importantly human capital is not helping matters and, on a number of scales, the nation is no longer near the top compared to other developed nations.  The GOP agenda of embracing ignorance, furthering far right Christian opposition to anything or anyone who threatens fairy tale beliefs, and reverse Robin Hood policies will only further erode America's standing.   To be a true patriot, one needs to be willing to face the nation's flaws and strive to make the nation better for all citizens instead of merely repeating politically expedient sound bites.  A column in the New York Times looks at how America is harming itself.  Here are excerpts:

“America is back” became President Biden’s refrain on his European trip this month, and in a narrow sense it is.

We no longer have a White House aide desperately searching for a fire alarm to interrupt a president as he humiliates our country at an international news conference, as happened in 2018. And a Pew Research Center survey found that 75 percent of those polled in a dozen countries expressed “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing,” compared with 17 percent a year ago.

Yet in a larger sense, America is not back. In terms of our well-being at home and competitiveness abroad, the blunt truth is that America is lagging. In some respects, we are sliding toward mediocrity.

Greeks have higher high school graduation rates. Chileans live longer. Fifteen-year-olds in Russia, Poland, Latvia and many other countries are better at math than their American counterparts — perhaps a metric for where nations will stand in a generation or two.

As for reading, one-fifth of American 15-year-olds can’t read at the level expected of a 10-year-old. How are those millions of Americans going to compete in a globalized economy? As I see it, the greatest threat to America’s future is less a surging China or a rogue Russia than it is our underperformance at home.

We Americans repeat the mantra that “we’re No. 1” even though the latest Social Progress Index, a measure of health, safety and well-being around the world, ranked the United States No. 28. Even worse, the United States was one of only three countries, out of 163, that went backward in well-being over the last decade.

Another assessment this month, the I.M.D. World Competitiveness Ranking 2021, put the United States No. 10 out of 64 economies. A similar forward-looking study from the World Bank ranks the United States No. 35 out of 174 countries.

So it’s great that we again have a president respected by the world. But we are not “back,” and we must face the reality that our greatest vulnerability is not what other countries do to us but what we have done to ourselves. The United States cannot achieve its potential when so many Americans are falling short of theirs.

“Europeans may envy America’s corporate dynamism but can comfort themselves that they are doing a much better job on a host of social outcomes, from education to health to the environment.

Biden’s proposals for a refundable child credit, for national pre-K, for affordable child care and for greater internet access would help address America’s strategic weaknesses. They would do more to strengthen our country than the $1.2 trillion plan pursued by American officials to modernize our nuclear arsenal. Our greatest threats today are ones we can’t nuke.

America still has enormous strengths. Its military budget is bigger than the military budgets of the next 10 countries put together. American universities are superb, and the dynamism of United States corporations is reflected in the way people worldwide use their iPhones to post on their Facebook pages about Taylor Swift songs.

But they also comment, aghast, about the Capitol insurrection and attempts by Republicans to impede voting. American democracy was never quite as shimmering a model for the world as we liked to think, but it is certainly tarnished now.

Likewise, the “American dream” of upward mobility (which drew my refugee father to these shores in 1952) is increasingly chimerical. “The American dream is evidently more likely to be found on the other side of the Atlantic, indeed most notably in Denmark,” a Stanford study concluded.

“These things hold us back as an economy and as a country,” Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said Tuesday.

We can’t control whether China builds more aircraft carriers. We can’t deter every Russian hacker.

But to truly bring America back, we should worry less about what others do and more about what we do to ourselves.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

More Tuesday Male Beauty


 

Senate Republicans Just Proved That Systemic Racism Exists

This morning's post looked at the reality that systemic racism has existed and continues to exist in America.  Today, all fifty of the U.S. Senate Republicans proved that the system is in fact rigged to keep some citizens in a subordinate while others are maintained in a superior position when they voted to block voting on the  which would bar many of the state level voting restrictions being enacted by GOP controlled legislatures that (despite their at first blush race neutrality) have the real world effect of restriction voting by minorities and the less affluent.  The New York Times reports as follows:

Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked the most ambitious voting rights legislation to come before Congress in a generation, using the filibuster to deal a blow to a bid by President Biden and Democrats to counter a wave of state-level ballot restrictions and fueling a political battle that promises to shape the 2022 elections.

Mitch "Moscow Mitch" McConnell and those pictured with him in the image above might just as well be wearing full KKK robes and regalia since they know full well  - despite their disingenuous blather - what the state level laws seek to do and how it would weaken the GOP and its shrinking racist base.  Worse yet, these modern day advocates of Jim Crow laws are opposing non-white White House nominees. A column in the Washington Post further elaborates on what the Senate Republicans' actions spotlights - that the GOP wants an America where white, heterosexual right wing "Christians" rule.  Here are excerpts:

It was a good day for the insurrectionists.

Senate Republicans voted in lockstep on Tuesday to block the landmark voting rights bill, in effect embracing the disenfranchisement of non-White voters under the “big lie” justification that widespread voter fraud denied Donald Trump reelection.

Even as they did so, Senate Republicans also embraced the latest Fox-News-generated conspiracy theory: that a shadowy network of America haters — suspiciously similar to antifa, BLM and the deep state — had taken over the Biden administration with a nefarious ideology known as critical race theory, or “critical theory.”

“Critical theory is, in fact, very real,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the man who pumped his fist in solidarity with the people who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, declared on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “It is very influential. And it appears to have become the animating ideology of this administration.”

In short, Hawley explained, the Biden administration hates America. “President Biden is nominating for federal office individuals who do not share a view of America as a good and decent place,” Hawley announced. His nominees instead “believe that this is a country founded in racism and shot through with corruption.”

Hawley offered zero evidence for his claims, beyond Biden reinstating racial sensitivity training and his nomination of an Indian American woman, Kiran Ahuja, to run the Office of Personnel Management. Hawley alleged that critical race theory “appears to be her fundamental ideology.” This wild claim is based on a Boston University professor’s lecture on “antiracism” at the charity she ran, and her linking to an article of his claiming Trump’s election was an example of white supremacy.

But Republicans rallied behind Hawley’s demagoguery anyway. They voted unanimously Tuesday against her confirmation, requiring Vice President Harris to break the Senate’s tie. Ahuja was the latest of several non-White Biden nominees to run into Republican opposition.

Critical race theory (at its core, the belief that racism in America is systemic) had been around for decades in academic circles without attracting much attention — until Fox News took it up last summer.

The irony, of course, is that Republicans are now proving that systemic racism exists — and they, along with Fox News, are the primary offenders. With their united stand against the voting-rights bill and their united votes against Ahuja on the bogus justification of critical race theory, they’re the ones reducing Americans “to their racial identity alone,” as Hawley put it. The Proud Boys who attacked the Capitol must be filled with pride anew.

The Republican leadership’s opposition to the voting-rights bill was so rote that they didn’t bother dividing up their talking points.

Now that the Republican filibuster has blocked the voting-rights bill, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) will try to sell Republicans on a scaled-back version that addresses key GOP complaints. But McConnell made clear Tuesday that he isn’t interested in any voting-rights legislation. Asked why he wouldn’t even allow a debate on the bill, he told reporters: “This is not a federal issue.”

Republicans will instead focus on the real federal issue: accusing the Biden administration of opposing the flag, family businesses, merit, grace, Christianity, your dreams, your family and America.

I am continual ashamed that I was ever a Republican.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


 

Admitting That Systemic Racism is Real

Having grown up through high school in Central New York, I suffered cultural shock when I came to Virginia to attend the University of Virginia.  The most shocking aspect was the open racism - my class started at the University a mere two years after the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia.  My small public school system had include some blacks and a number of members of the Onondaga Indian tribe not due to desegregation or busing but merely as a result where people lived within the district boundaries.  So yes, Virginia was a shock to me.  Virginia has changed radically over the intervening years and is now perhaps the most progressive state in the Old South (to remain so, Democrats must win across the board in the November elections).  But the past has a lingering impact that doesn't miraculously disappear through court rulings and new laws on their face mandating equality.  This is a reality is recognized in a column in the Washington Post by a conservative former Republican driven like so may by disgust of what the GOP has become.  He lays out the case of why systemic racism exists even if most of us have no direct guilt for its existence.  He argues we all, however, have a responsibility to first recognize its existence and to then work to end it.  Here are highlights: 

The phrase “systemic racism,” like “climate change” and “gun control,” has been sucked into the vortex of the culture war. The emotional reaction to these words seems to preclude reasoned debate on their meaning.

But a divisive concept can be clarifying. I know it has been for me: I don’t think it’s possible to be a conservative without believing that racism is, in part, structural.

Most on the American right have dug into a very different position. They tend to view racism as an individual act of immorality. And they regard the progressive imputation of racism to be an attack on their character. In a free society, they reason, the responsibility for success and failure is largely personal. They’re proud of the productive life choices they’ve made and refuse to feel guilty for self-destructive life choices made by others.

It’s an argument that sounds convincing — until it’s tested against the experience of our own lives.

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of a middle-class suburb in a Midwestern city. I went to a middle-class high school, with middle-class friends, eating middle-class fried bologna sandwiches. And for most of my upbringing, this seemed not only normal but normative. I assumed this was a typical American childhood.

Only later did I begin to see that my normality was actually a social construction. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, St. Louis no longer had legal segregation. But my suburb, my neighborhood and my private high school were all outcomes of White flight. The systems of policing, zoning and education I grew up with had been created to ensure one result: to keep certain communities safe, orderly and pale.

I had little hint of this as a child. It seemed natural that I hardly ever met a person of color in a racially diverse city or seldom met a poor person in a place with some of the worst poverty in the country. All I knew was that I shouldn’t get lost in certain neighborhoods or invite Black people to the private pool where we were members. (My brother did once, and there was suddenly a problem with processing our membership card.)

But none of this was neutral or normal. Systems had been carefully created to ensure I went to an all-White church, in an all-White neighborhood, while attending an all-White Christian school and shopping in all-White stores. I now realize I grew up in one of the most segregated cities in the United States.

Was this my fault? Not in the strictest sense. I didn’t create these systems. But I wish I had realized earlier that these systems had created me.

This is what I mean by systemic racism. If, on my 13th birthday, all the country’s laws had been suddenly, perfectly and equally enforced, my community would still have had a massive hangover of history. The structures and attitudes shaped during decades and centuries of oppression would still have existed. Legal equality in theory does not mean a society is justly constituted.

For me, part of being a conservative means taking history seriously. We do not, as Tom Paine foolishly claimed, “have it in our power to begin the world over again.” We live in an imperfect world we did not create and have duties that flow from our story.

There is an important moral distinction between “guilt” and “responsibility.” It is not useful, and perhaps not fair, to say that most White people are guilty of creating social systems shaped by white supremacy. But they do have a responsibility as citizens, and as moral creatures, to seek a society where equal opportunity is a reality for all.

[A]s a conservative, I believe that equal opportunity, rather than mandated economic equality, is the proper goal of a free society. But what if we are (to employ a football analogy) not 30 yards away from the goal of equal opportunity in the United States, but 70 yards? What if equal opportunity is a cruel joke to a significant portion of the country? Shouldn’t that create an outrage and urgency that we rarely see, and even more rarely feel?

Though our nation is beset with systemic racism, we also have the advantage of what a friend calls “systemic anti-racism.” We have documents — the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the 14th Amendment — that call us to our better selves. We are a country that has exploited and oppressed Black Americans. But we are also the country that has risen up in mass movements, made up of Blacks and Whites, to confront those evils. The response to systemic racism is the determined, systematic application of our highest ideals.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


 

Senate Republicans Remain Enemies of LGBT Americans

For decades the Republican Party has used the three "G's" - god, guns and gays - to motivate the gullible and bigoted among the public and, even more importantly, to distract them from paying attention to the fact that GOP policies have worked against the economic interests of working Americans.   The result is that 28 states continue to lack non-discrimination protections in housing, health care access and public accommodation. On the surface, the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County granted employment non-discriminations protections to LGBT Americans by ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” includes LGBT employees.  Other forms of discrimination remain legal in states without state law protections.  To remedy this situation, The Equality Act was introduced in Congress and passed the House of Representatives.  Now, Senate Republicans appear united in killing the Act to appease their Christofascists in their base.  Meanwhile, Republican controlled legislatures are passing anti-LGBT laws in a number of states.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the deadlock in the U.S. Senate.  Here are highlights:

The long march toward equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender Americans — whose advocates have eyed major advances with complete Democratic control in Washington — has run into a wall of opposition in the Senate.

Foundering alongside other liberal priorities such as voting rights, gun control and police reform, legislation that would write protections for LGBTQ Americans into the nation’s foundational civil rights law has stalled because of sharpening Republican rhetoric, one key Democrat’s insistence on bipartisanship and the Senate’s 60-vote supermajority rule.

While Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) hinted at potential action this month — the annual LGBTQ Pride Month — Senate aides and advocates say there are no immediate plans to vote on the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes of the 1964 Civil Rights Act alongside race, color, religion and national origin.

The House passed the legislation in February, 224 to 206, with only three Republicans joining all 221 Democrats in support. The Senate companion bill is sponsored by 49 Democrats and no Republicans. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is the Democratic holdout, and the lone Republican who had sponsored a previous version of the bill, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), is not yet doing so in this Congress.

The partisanship around the issue on Capitol Hill stands in contrast to the wide-ranging support for LGBTQ rights among the public at large, in corporate America, and even in the federal judiciary, which has delivered a string of rulings expanding those rights — including a landmark Supreme Court opinion last year written by conservative Justice Neil M. Gorsuch that effectively banned employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity.

[S]ignificant obstacles to progress on the Equality Act remain, including polarized views on how to protect the rights of religious institutions that condemn homosexuality and Republicans’ increasing reliance on transgender rights as a wedge issue.

Schumer last month said the bill was “one of the things we’re considering” for a vote during Pride Month but added, “it’s a very busy June.” And while individual conversations are taking place, according to Baldwin and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lead Senate author, there appears to be no organized negotiation underway as there has been on other hot-button issues.

The backdrop is a new Republican push to target LGBTQ rights. Advocates count at least 17 state laws passed this year targeting the community, most of them specifically aimed at transgender Americans. When the House debated the Equality Act earlier this year, numerous Republicans came to the floor to warn of dire consequences if the bill were enacted.

Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) said passing the bill would be “opening the door for predatory men to prey on [women] in the most vulnerable of places — in shelters, changing rooms and showers.”

The corps of advocates who see the Equality Act as the capstone of a 50-year struggle for LGBTQ civil rights say they remain optimistic that progress can be made on a lawmaker-by-lawmaker basis. They say that at least 10 Republicans will ultimately be open to passing the law, vaulting a potential filibuster, and that Manchin will support the bill once a critical mass of Republicans get on board.

“We’ve had the First Amendment on the books for decades. We’ve had a clear separation between church and state for decades. The Equality Act does not change the fundamental principles that support religious freedom,” he said. “We heard some of the same arguments, if you will, in the 1960s when the Civil Rights Act was amended — that this would really radically affect how religious institutions function. That didn’t happen.”

The push has been complicated by the federal courts, which have taken up major cases dealing with LGBTQ rights in recent years. Some Republicans have cited last year’s surprise decision banning employment discrimination in declaring that they no longer see a need for broader civil rights legislation. And on Thursday, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected a Philadelphia agency’s decision to sideline organizations that refused to place foster children with same-sex couples on religious grounds — a narrow decision that did not establish a broad new religious freedom doctrine.

But the advocates argue that the courts have left major gaps in LGBTQ rights — such as excluding discrimination in housing, public accommodations and jury service — while also pointing out that existing statutes and court decisions do plenty to preserve religious freedom.

In explaining his opposition to the bill in 2019, Manchin expressed general support for ­LGBTQ rights but cited the discomfort of school officials in his home state with the bill’s gender implications, saying he was “not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it.” He promised to “build broad bipartisan support and find a viable path forward for these critical protections.”

The bill’s proponents have been reticent to discuss any changes that would address the GOP objections about transgender sports and other issues they have used as political cudgels. Instead, they have focused on convincing lawmakers that their fears are simply misplaced.

Don't hold your breath hoping the GOP will relent.  Decades of history shows the GOP is the enemy of LGBT Americans.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


 

"Italygate" and the Dumbing Down of the Republican Mind

Over two decades ago when I was still and active Republican with a seat on the City Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach, crackpots and Christofascists were viewed with derision and generally blocked from being elected to the Committee.  Sadly, that started to change and when a conservative coup of sorts ousted the moderate City Committee chairwoman, I knew it was time to exit the Committee and the GOP.  A similar phenomenon occurred across the country and the party that once honored knowledge, required people to have legitimate credentials, respected science and reason began its descent into insanity.   Trump was merely the end piece of what and started over a decade earlier.   Now, the bigger lunatic and liar one is, the better one's chances for rising within the GOP, a party that now clings to every insane conspiracy theory no matter how far fetched.  A perfect example is the "Italygate" conspiracy theory - namely, that an Italian defense contractor, in coordination with senior CIA officials, used military satellites to switch votes from Trump to Joe Biden and swing the result of the election - put out by a grifter and fraud and gobbled up by many in the GOP base.  Frighteningly, these people will believe anything no matter how utterly ridiculous.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the fraud behind the conspiracy theory.  Here are excepts:

Late last December, as President Donald Trump pressed senior officials to find proof of election fraud, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows emailed acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen a letter detailing an outlandish theory of how an Italian defense contractor had conspired with U.S. intelligence to rig the 2020 presidential contest.

The letter, which was among records released by Congress this past week, was printed under the letterhead of USAerospace Partners, a little-known Virginia aviation company. In early January, a second Virginia firm, the Institute for Good Governance, and a partner organization released a statement from an Italian attorney who claimed that a hacker had admitted involvement in the supposed conspiracy.

According to the conspiracy theory known as “Italygate,” people working for the Italian defense contractor, in coordination with senior CIA officials, used military satellites to switch votes from Trump to Joe Biden and swing the result of the election.

[B]oth Virginia organizations are led by Michele Roosevelt Edwards, according to state corporate filings reviewed by The Washington Post. . . . Edwards was formerly known as Michele Ballarin but changed her name last year, court records show. In 2013, The Post’s magazine explored how Edwards, once a struggling single mom, had reinvented herself as a business executive and then as a well-connected horse-country socialite. . . .

The Institute for Good Governance’s registered headquarters since late last year has been the historical North Wales Farm, a 22-bedroom mansion in Warrenton, Va., state records show. The property is listed for sale at just under $30 million.

On the day after the 2020 election, Edwards sat for an interview at North Wales with a television crew from Iceland,  . . . . . Edwards told the crew that the estate was her property, according to their footage.

But North Wales was then — and is now — owned by a company formed by David B. Ford, a retired financier who died in September. Ford’s widow said in an interview that she did not know Edwards. The Post showed her the footage of Edwards inside the property.

“She’s in my house,” the widow said. “How is she in my house?”

The North Wales mansion was for sale at the time, and Edwards was a licensed Realtor in the area, according to the firm’s website. Hers was not the firm Ford’s widow had hired to sell the property.

Edwards declined to comment. “I am not giving media interviews at this time,” she said in a text message.

The discovery of the role Edwards’s two firms had in spreading the Italygate conspiracy theory, as well as the roles others played, sheds new light on its origins and on how the claims made their way from feverish online speculation to some of the most powerful figures in the government. As Trump refused to concede defeat, his die-hard supporters pushed the conspiracy theory on social media and other channels as part of an effort to discredit Biden’s presidency that continues today.

Prosecutors in Rome told The Post that they are now investigating whether false claims were made against the Italian defense contractor. The prosecutor’s office said it was examining “various subjects, both Italian and non-Italian.” A conservative Italian news site owned by a politician who has written about Italygate reported this month that the politician and Edwards are among those under investigation.

In a story published Saturday, Talking Points Memo reported that, in a brief interview, Edwards denied any knowledge of the letter.

Several current and former Trump advisers said they were shocked that Meadows would pass along such a fantastical conspiracy theory, but one former senior administration official said Meadows “bought into some of the more bizarre claims and would push them to the president as well.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

It was not clear from the emails released by Congress how Meadows obtained the USAerospace letter. A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment.

Chatter about the conspiracy theory exploded among Trump’s base. Among other influential figures, the former Trump advisers Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos — both of whom Trump pardoned for lying to the FBI during the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference — posted about the conspiracy theory on Twitter. “Italy did it,” Flynn wrote.

“Pure insanity,” Justice Department official Richard Donoghue wrote to his boss, Rosen, after Meadows sent his emails containing the claims, the records released by Congress show.

Even Capezzone, the Italian journalist whose Dec. 1 article set off speculation about the conspiracy theory, said he has since concluded that it was false. In an email to The Post, Capezzone said Italygate was “fake news, a conspiracy theory, [a] poisoned chalice.”

Pure insanity, but much of the GOP base believes such batshit craziness. It's as if they have all had lobotomies.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


 

The GOP Remains in Deep Trouble in the Suburbs

The Republican Party is busy across America striving to disenfranchise minority voters yet, as a very long piece in Politico Magazine describes by way of looking at a one time GOP bastion in Michigan, the GOP is in crisis in America's suburbs.  Indeed, as the GOP increases its embrace of ignorance and open racism - prerequisites of appealing to the Trump base - more and more suburban voters look at the GOP with revulsion. America's suburbs are increasingly populated by college educated residents and are increasingly racially mixed with minority doctors, attorneys, and other professionals. The GOP's devotion to and promotion of of far right Christian extremism and white supremacy is anathema to such individuals.  Its noteworthy that former Republicans in the piece describe what happened to me: "I didn't leave the GOP, the GOP left me."  I was raised in a mostly Republican family and now few, if any of us, vote Republican.  Here are article excerpts:

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Republican National Committee opted not to order an autopsy into what exactly led to the party’s decline in suburban communities that were, until recently, considered deep red.

But if RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel wanted to understand what happened, she could do worse than to look back at the place she was raised: Oakland County, Michigan.

“Oakland County was kind of the quintessential suburban Republican stronghold over the postwar period,” says Jeff Timmer, a longtime GOP strategist who was executive director of the state party from 2005-2009. . . . . “When I ran the Michigan Republican Party, we always pointed to Oakland: ‘These guys have got their shit together,’” says Timmer. To put it bluntly, the shit is no longer together.

Ten years ago, Republicans held two of the four GOP-drawn U.S. House seats in Oakland (the other two were safe Democratic); now, all four are in Democratic hands. Democratic women now represent the Romney family’s hometown in the state House, state Senate and U.S. House (Rep. Haley Stevens). Ten years ago, Brooks Patterson, the silver-tongued sun-God around whom all local politics orbited, was county executive, and Republicans held four of the six countywide elected posts; Democrats now hold five of them, including the executive. After GOP-controlled redistricting in 2012, Republicans had a 14-7 majority on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners; now, Democrats have an 11-10 edge and will control the county-level redistricting process for the first time in a half-century.

The change is happening in lush, sylvan communities like Birmingham and Bloomfield—a place at least three generations of Romneys, McDaniel included, have called home. Here, generations of families with auto-baron surnames set roots.

This was “‘Romney Republican’ territory, but the Republican Party has gone so far away from that,” says Mallory McMorrow, the Democrat who represents the area in the state Senate. “Even looking at the types of things Mitt Romney is proposing on the federal level right now, I think if he were still at home, he’d be a Democrat. The party has shifted so much.”

To the casual observer, this change happened overnight. But the change is less the flip of a switch than a stovetop dial cranked on high—it took a while to heat up but the pot is boiling now.

Between Barack Obama’s campaign in 2012 and Joe Biden’s in 2020, the margin of victory for Democratic presidential candidates in Oakland grew by roughly 55,000 votes. Few have noticed it, but Oakland’s share of the statewide Democratic vote now exceeds that of the city of Detroit. . . . That’s a problem for Republicans in a state that has played a pivotal role in the last two presidential elections. But Oakland is also a national warning light for the Republicans at the highest levels of the party.

Oakland County “represents the dominant trend in the country because it combines the most affluent and college graduates in increasingly diverse suburbs becoming increasingly and emphatically Democratic,”. . . . And there are Oakland Counties all around the nation—affluent, longtime Republican suburbs that have been trending Democratic for a long time, but where the Trump years marked a tipping point. “Look at why the Republicans are so obsessed with reversing Maricopa [County, Arizona]—but also Gwinnett [County, Georgia]—both key to Biden and Democrats winning the states and Senate,” says Greenberg.

These key suburban populations are mostly white but increasingly diverse, highly educated and relatively affluent. They aren’t scared by immigration; they support it in their own communities—especially with highly skilled immigrants, attracted to work at businesses lured to these suburbs, in many cases, by business-minded Republican politicians. They are repelled by white-grievance politics and culture-war clashes, and concerned about the rise of violent right-wing anti-government plots, like the Jan. 6 insurrection and the thwarted plan to kidnap and execute Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. They used to think of themselves as Republicans, but nowadays the GOP seems disconnected from the things they care about; it talks less about affordable child care or student debt than banning transgender student athletes or making it harder to vote. It’s the inverse of what President Ronald Reagan said in Macomb County all those years ago: They didn’t leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left them.

[T]he Biden Republicans didn’t spontaneously sprout up in 2020; their emergence is part of a longer story—or, more precisely, several interlocking stories.

It’s the story of how demographic trends are changing America’s suburbs, not simply in making them more diverse, but in making them more highly educated at the same time educational attainment has become a defining predictor of how Americans vote. It’s the story of how the GOP playbook—which often defaults to the tactic of demonizing cities as bastions of out-of-touch liberal elites—has missed an important shift: Suburbs aren’t at war with their cities any longer, and claiming they are has alienated potential Republican voters.

And, critically, it’s a warning of what happens when a political party is associated with one charismatic figurehead and doesn’t invest in candidates with their own identities; and of the strategic blunder of responding to a tidal shift of demographic change by rewriting voting rules instead of fixing a tone-deaf message.

This is the story of how Oakland County went blue—and what that tells us about the Republican Party’s continuing collapse in America’s suburbs.

Between 1990 and 2010, the portion of Oakland’s population comprised by people of color had more than doubled; almost 55 percent of its residents had at least an associate’s degree. By 2014, more than 1 in 10 of Oakland’s 1.2 million residents were foreign-born. For Republicans, it was a demographic time bomb.

And it ticked down just as the Republican Party—nationally and locally—was about to be taken over by someone whose politics were uniquely tailored to turn off people with college degrees, people in diverse and well-to-do suburbs, people who had immigrated to the country; someone who would make it radically easier for Democrats to recruit donors, volunteers and voters from those same groups; someone who would replace Brooks Patterson as the Republican Party’s indispensable man—just as he did with local Republican power-brokers throughout the country: Donald J. Trump.

But it’s not simply that diversity brought in new voters, diluting the strength of the Republican electorate. The new diversity actually affected the political preferences of the mostly white residents who already lived there. Republicans became less Republican. . . . . even if you are a straight, white, Christian person who lives in Oakland County, you don’t want to demonize somebody who’s an immigrant, because they live next door to you and you work with them. … I think that’s the difference: I don’t think my constituents see diversity as a threat.”

In places like Oakland, the Republican Party’s continuing focus on culture-war issues even puzzles former Republican officeholders.

“It’s the opposite of a big-tent party right now,” says Martin Howrylak, a Republican who represented Troy in the state House from 2012-2018. “That was really the game plan of Trump: to create lines: ‘You’re either with me or against me. And if you’re not with me, you might as well—politically speaking—die.’ And that ‘take no prisoners’ approach is the antithesis of what’s needed here. As long as the party continues to embrace the former president, it’s going to have trouble in Oakland County.”

That ‘Biden Republican’ exists, and they call themselves that—out here, they do,” Markham says. “They were pretty comfortable … but they kind of woke up and went, ‘Holy crap, this is not the future that I want for my kids.’ A lot of these new folks—doctors, lawyers, young people—[are] coming to us and saying, ‘The Republican Party doesn’t represent us.’ That's how I ended up being a Democrat.”

Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


 

The Handmaid’s Tale: How the Unthinkable Can Become Ordinary

 

While by most standards Joe Biden's European trip was a success and Biden and other's stated that "America is Back," meaning the country will again work with long time allies and slavish pandering to Vladimir Putin is over.   But on another front, America is anything but back.  Specifically, American democracy remains under steady attack by the Republican Party and its base dominated by white supremacists, Christofascists and conspiracy theory devotees.  As a  column in the Washington Post notes, America's image remains damaged and we are no longer seen as a premier example of democracy.   Here are highlights:

One aspect of the United States’ power remains substantially diminished: its role as a beacon of democracy. Among countries surveyed, 57 percent of people said the United States is no longer the model for democracy it used to be. Young people worldwide are even more skeptical about America’s democratic institutions.

 

In one fundamental way, things look worse now than in prior periods of crisis. After Watergate, many were surprised that the world looked up to the United States for facing and fixing its democratic failures. It was a sign of the country’s capacity to course-correct. But imagine if after that scandal, the Republican Party, instead of condemning Nixon, had embraced him slavishly, insisted that he did absolutely nothing wrong, settled into denial and obstructionism and proposed new laws to endorse Nixon’s most egregious conduct? Imagine if the only people purged by the party had been those who criticized Nixon?

 

The decay of American democracy is real. It’s not a messaging or image problem. Until we can repair that, I’m not sure we can truly say America is back.

Along this line, a piece in The Atlantic looks at how democracy is eroding and what was once unthinkable is slowly being normalized much in the way that a slide toward dictatorship was shown in the book and TV show The Handmaiden's Tale.  Frighteningly, too many people - perhaps out of shear exhaustion - think that with Trump out of office the threat is over.  It is anything but over and people need to wake up before it is too late.  Here are column excerpts:

When the TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale premiered in 2017, the show was a textbook piece of Trump-era resistance art—a direct reply to the preening misogynies of the newly elected president. Both the book and the show were timely parables of gendered violence, reminders that history can also move backwards. And they retain that power today: The Trump administration may have concluded, but its encroaching cruelties have not. State leaders are currently attempting to legislate away the rights of, among many others, trans people, of other LGBTQ people, of women. But The Handmaid’s Tale is urgent again for another reason as well. Lawmakers in several states, empowered by the nearly friction-free spread of Trump’s Big Lie, are attempting to limit people’s ability to vote—and building the power to cast as “fraudulent” those electoral outcomes they find politically inconvenient. They are doing much of this in a way that might be familiar to Atwood’s readers: They are treating these elemental threats to democracy as if they were business as usual.

“This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time, it will,” Aunt Lydia, whose job is to indoctrinate young women into the ways of Gilead, assures her charges. “It will become ordinary.” She means this as a promise, but in truth, it is a threat. Gilead, like many of the real-world regimes that inspired it, uses ordinariness as a tactic of oppression. Much of its propaganda is aimed not at angering people, but at soothing them. Its invented language is strategically casual. In this world, ritualized rapes are known as “ceremonies”; murders of dissidents are dismissed as “salvagings”; violence is made so routine that it becomes unremarkable. In a story full of villains, ordinariness is its own kind of enemy.

The regime that has conquered much of America in The Handmaid’s Tale takes advantage of the fact that, in times of crisis, people’s desire for normalcy can be so deep that it can easily edge over into complacency. “The new normal,” in this universe, is not a cliché. It is a concession.

“There was little that was truly original about Gilead,” the coda to the novel, a retrospective academic presentation about the workings of Gilead, observes. “Its genius was synthesis.” You might say something similar about the novel itself. It is powerful in part because its fictions flow from the hard facts of history: Atwood’s story blends lessons from Iran’s theocratic revolution, from Nazi propaganda, from the perfunctory playbook of 20th-century autocrats. But some of the book’s deepest insights are human-scaled. Atwood pays a lot of attention to the fact that Offred spends much of her time as a victim of Gilead merely … bored. “There’s time to spare,” Offred notes. “This is one of the things I wasn’t prepared for—the amount of unfilled time, the long parentheses of nothing.”

“Shocking but not surprising” was one of the truisms of the Trump era, a means of conveying how readily his aberrant—and often abhorrent—behavior had been normalized. Trump proved that shamelessness can work as a smoke screen. Other politicians have learned that lesson. Earlier this month, a group of democracy scholars produced a joint statement of concern about threats facing the American electoral system. As of this writing, nearly 200 experts have signed it. “We … have watched the recent deterioration of U.S. elections and liberal democracy with growing alarm,” they wrote. They cited in particular Republican-led efforts to pass laws that could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election. Further, these laws could entrench extended minority rule, violating the basic and longstanding democratic principle that parties that get the most votes should win elections.

Many of these affronts to election integrity are being enacted, in the name of preserving election integrity. They are extensions of Trump’s Big Lie. They are systematic. “We did it quickly and we did it quietly,” Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, told donors about voter-suppression measures that the Iowa legislature had passed in February. She described the template the firm had produced that served as a model for Iowa’s and other state-sponsored voting restrictions. The overall effort, she suggested, had been remarkably straightforward. “Honestly, nobody even noticed,” she said. “My team looked at each other and we’re like, ‘It can’t be that easy.’”

It can be that easy. It should not be that easy. One of the paradoxes of this moment of democratic emergency is that the threat, strictly speaking, doesn’t always look like the crisis it is. Laws being passed by lawmakers: This would seem to be business as usual. The whole thing is, for the most part, very orderly. Part of the challenge, for the public, will be to see the emergency for what it is—even if the encroachments are bureaucratic rather than outwardly violent, and even if the changes come slowly before they come suddenly. There are many ways to attempt a coup. And there are many ways for the unthinkable to become, finally, banal.

Be very afraid for the future.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

More Wednesday Male Beauty


 

Moderates Score a Win for Now in the Southern Baptist Convention

In a surprise result, the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville yesterday saw the election of a moderate as the new SBC president.  Seemingly, younger members who turned out in larger numbers than anticipated swayed the vote and rejected for now the machinations of "conservatives" - those who want to turn a blind eye to sex abuse and racism within too many SBC churches - at least for now.  Having seen what reactionary elements in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church did in the wake of not getting their way in those denominations, it's a foregone conclusion that the SBC will continue to experience division and a possible exodus of far right churches.  Moreover, the pollicization of religion by and allegiance to Trump among the right wing elements will likely continue to fuel the exodus of younger members from the SBC.  The SBC remains no friend to LGBT Americans.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at what could be a short term victory for moderates - a decidedly relative term - within the SBC. Here are article excerpts:

The Southern Baptist Convention elected Ed Litton as their president on Tuesday, signaling a defeat for the hard right within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

Litton narrowly defeated Mike Stone, the favored candidate of the far-right. For the past few years, the convention has been mired in debates over racism, politics and sexual misconduct that mirror many of the same debates in the Republican Party. The election took place at the convention’s annual meeting in Nashville.

In recent weeks, as leaked letters and backroom deals dominated conversations among Southern Baptists, Litton, pastor of First Baptist Church North Mobile in Alabama, pitched himself as someone who would lead the convention toward more racial reconciliation.

In a runoff, Litton received 52 percent of the vote, while Stone received 47.81 percent.

Stone had the support of a group called the Conservative Baptist Network that formed in 2020 to try to steer the convention in a hard-right direction. The CBN hosted its own gathering Tuesday at a nearby hotel featuring speakers who lamented the direction of the country and convention, including the state of public schools, how young people are leaving churches, and “woke” ideologies.

Ahead of the meeting, there was concern that there would be a backlash against some of the racial reconciliation of Southern Baptist leaders, said Ed Stetzer, who used to head the SBC’s LifeWay Research, its research arm. Instead, the convention voted for a president known for his efforts on race relations.

“The crowd was younger and more diverse then most expected, and that crowd carried the day,” Stetzer said.

The election result is unlikely to end the divisiveness within the convention or satisfy attendees like Judd Saul, a filmmaker from Cedar Falls, Iowa, traveled to Nashville because he wanted to warn Southern Baptists of the “drastic slide” into the political left and into CRT and was distributing pamphlets about the “woke SBC.” He said he was kicked out of his Southern Baptist church three years ago for promoting conspiracy theories and now attends a non-denominational church.

Another key issued raised at the meeting was how Southern Baptists have handled sex abuse both in their churches and at the highest levels of leadership. Because churches operate independently from one another, they have struggled to know how to prevent people who have been credibly accused of sex abuse from moving to other churches.

The convention, which is known for adopting resolutions on all kinds of political and cultural issues, also adopted resolutions opposing tax-payer funding for abortion and opposing an LGBT rights measure called the Equality Act.

In his speech, outgoing president Greear warned against getting too closely aligned with partisan politics.

“God hasn’t called us primarily to save America politically; he’s called us to make the gospel known to all," Greear said. "Whenever the church gets in bed with politics, it gets pregnant. And the offspring does not look like our Father in heaven.

From my perspective, a weakened SBC is a net positive.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


 

Saudi Arabia Helps Its Citizens Escape Criminal Justice in America

This issue has appeared on this blog in the past and sadly the problem continues as America's false ally, Saudi Arabia aids and abets its citizens facing criminal charges - even murder charges - in fleeing the country and returning to Saudi Arabia which has no extradition treaty with the United States.  In short, a Saudi citizen can commit murder and mayhem and the Saudi embassy will provide funds and diplomatic protection to whisk them away so to avoid all consequences.  It is, in my view, one more example of America being played for a fool by a false ally - an "ally" that provided the majority of the 9-11 hijackers who killed thousands of Americans after being radicalized by Saudi funded madrassas.   The Saudi's must laugh at Americans as they protect criminals and engage in human rights abuses and outright murder at home.  I for one can't wait for electric cars to greatly reduce America's need for oil so that false allies like Saudi Arabia can be kicked to the curb. A piece in the Washington Post again looks at how Saudi citizens literally get away with murder.  Here are highlights:

On the night of Oct. 13, 2018, Raekwon Moore was stabbed during a street fight with two strangers in the popular Uptown district of Greenville, N.C. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died. Police quickly apprehended and questioned Abdullah Hariri and Sultan Alsuhaymi, both citizens of Saudi Arabia, whom eyewitnesses and surveillance camera footage placed at the scene of the Saturday night brawl.

Initially, police thought the men may have acted in self-defense and released them from custody. After further investigation, prosecutors charged both with first-degree murder.

But Hariri and Alsuhaymi will probably never stand trial, because days after their alleged crime and before they were charged, they left the country and returned to Saudi Arabia, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

The murder charges against Hariri and Alsuhaymi are the most serious known against dozens of Saudi citizens, many of them students, who are wanted in the United States; their alleged offenses include first-degree manslaughter, vehicular hit-and-run, rape and possession of child pornography. Many fled to their homeland with the assistance of Saudi officials, and for some, their path out of the United States was eased by the negligence of prosecutors or police who failed to consider flight risk.

Travel records obtained by The Washington Post show that Alsuhaymi flew out of Dulles International Airport on Oct. 17, 2018, four days after he allegedly stabbed and killed Moore. It’s not clear whether Hariri was on the same flight.

The Saudi government’s assistance to its citizens who are accused of violent crimes has drawn scrutiny from federal law enforcement and condemnation from members of Congress.

The FBI has concluded that Saudi government officials “almost certainly assist US-based Saudi citizens in fleeing the United States to avoid legal issues, undermining the US judicial process,” according to an intelligence bulletin issued in August 2019, which was declassified following legislation written by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to extract more information on the Saudi government’s role.

At the Saudi Embassy in Washington, that assistance has been overseen by a mid-level official who has managed a network of American criminal defense lawyers and self-described “fixers” paid to keep Saudis charged with crimes out of prison, an investigation by The Post has found.

This network has provided traditional consular services such as arranging for bail, interpreters and legal representation for people accused of violent crimes. But it has also gone far beyond the traditional role of embassies and helped the accused evade court-ordered probation, and arranged for travel and flights out of the United States when Saudi nationals have absconded from justice, . . .

In Virginia, Hussam Aleidi, who had been enrolled as a student at Radford University, is wanted for violating the terms of his probation after he was convicted on charges including assault in 2018. People familiar with his case said he returned to Saudi Arabia with the embassy’s help.

There is currently a warrant for Aleidi’s arrest, according to court records and a prosecutor in Prince Edward County.

It is a federal crime to flee the United States to avoid criminal prosecution, including under state law.

Saudi officials, the FBI said in its bulletin, “perceive the embarrassment of Saudi citizens enduring the US judicial process is greater than the embarrassment of the United States learning the [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] surreptitiously removes citizens with legal problems from the United States.”

A December 2019 advisory from the Justice Department’s criminal division warned about foreign governments “providing monetary aid to enable the posting of bail, help in obtaining or replacing travel documents, or arranging undetected travel outside the United States. Such assistance could occur at any time: in anticipation of arrest, while pending trial, or even after conviction.”

For years, U.S. officials have declined to confront Saudi Arabia, a close ally and partner in counterterrorism operations, according to articles in the Oregonian, which identified Saudis who have fled justice in Oregon and at least seven other states, as well as Canada.

But recently, the Biden administration has demanded that the kingdom stop helping accused criminals flee.

In meetings with their Saudi counterparts, senior State Department officials have “made clear that such individuals must face proceedings in the United States and that any Saudi government interference with the integrity of the U.S. criminal justice system is unacceptable,” Naz Durakoglu, the acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, wrote in a letter to Wyden in March.

Wyden, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and has worked closely with Schiff and House lawmakers, called on the Biden administration not to take the Saudis “at their word” that they will stop their citizens from fleeing.

“You’ve got to hold the country accountable,” Wyden said. “I am going to press the Biden administration at every single opportunity to make sure justice is done here.”