Saturday, February 26, 2022

Vladimir Putin: War Criminal

Earlier in the week Vladimir Putin went on a diatribe reminescent of the rantings of Adolph Hitler which caused many to question whether he is losing it mentally.   Putin's wild rantings aren't the only parallels with Hitler.  Based on his invasion of Ukraine and damage to civilian property and deaths of civilians, Putin is a war criminal under the Geneva Conventions and international law.  Ideally, he needs to be captured, tried, and with luck found guilty and, in my view, executed, sending a message to other would be war criminals.  A revolution within Russia that leads to Putin's demise would be similarly welcome as well. The relevant definition of war crimes reads in part as follows

        Article 8     War Crimes

  1. The [International Criminal] Court shall have jurisdiction in respect of war crimes in particular when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.
  2. For the purpose of this Statute, ‘war crimes’ means:
    1. Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention:
      1. Wilful killing
      2. Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments;
      3. Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health;
      4. Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; . . . .

b.       Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts: . . . .

iv.       Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will     cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated;

                     v.      Attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or                                      buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives;.  

The news and social media coverage coming out of Ukraine document that the foregoing events are occurring.  A piece in the New Yorker looks at Putin's transgressions of international law.  Here are excepts:

In the eyes of the world and almost certainly history, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday was an epic miscalculation, drawing comparisons to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein for cold-blooded aggression that could challenge the world order and change its borders. The Russian leader appeared almost delusional in a pre-dawn speech from the Kremlin announcing a “special military operation” to “protect” Donbas, the eastern region where Russian-backed separatists have waged a war for eight years. Putin, instead, immediately ordered Russian tanks into Ukraine and air strikes on the capital and more than a dozen cities in a country of forty million people. “Peace on our continent has been shattered,” the NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. “We now have war in Europe on a scale and of a type we thought belonged to history.” Putin’s “reckless” attack risks “countless innocent lives,” Stoltenberg warned.

Putin is now, at minimum, a pariah condemned by leaders across the world. “Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war,” President Biden said in a speech to the nation announcing new sanctions on Russian financial institutions and élites. He charged that Putin “has much larger ambitions than Ukraine.” “He wants to, in fact, reëstablish the former Soviet Union,” Biden said. . . . French President, Emmanuel Macron, called the attack “a turning point” in history that will have a profound and lasting impact across the continent.

Putin may now also qualify as a war criminal, according to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. War crimes include willful killing and extensive destruction of property “not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” The term has been inconsistently interpreted and unevenly applied to leaders or countries—including to the U.S. and its officials—who have initiated aggression for reasons considered unjustified. In Ukraine, Putin’s “war of choice” has clearly violated international law through his invasion of a sovereign country and attempt to oust its government. After an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting, on Wednesday, the Secretary-General, António Guterres, warned that the Russian invasion could be the “worst war” of the century “with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation” but for the entire world.

Putin has lied at every stage of the Ukraine crisis . . . As he spoke, however, his military was setting up field hospitals near the Ukrainian border stocked with fresh blood supplies. “You don’t need blood unless you plan on starting a war,” President Biden noted on Tuesday.

Putin’s invasion is based on wild accusations, including a claim that he needed to “denazify” Ukraine, a country led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is, in fact, Jewish. Putin vowed to end the “humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime,” when, in fact, separatists backed by Russia have for years waged a war in eastern Ukraine. . . . . He described the government in Kyiv as a “junta,” even though it was democratically elected in 2019. And Zelensky, in fact, won in a landslide with seventy-three per cent of the vote, defeating thirty-eight others who ran for President.

Putin was, in fact, the one who sparked the crisis with an erroneous—even fictional—claim that Ukraine would soon gain membership in NATO. Joining the Western military alliance is an aspirational goal for Ukraine, which it enshrined in a constitutional amendment in 2019. But NATO’s leadership has openly said that Ukraine does not yet qualify for membership. It would have to introduce and enact multiple reforms that may be years away.

As Russian forces advance across the country, Putin’s goal now appears to be regime change by military force—a step that he criticized the U.S. for taking in Iraq. In a reflection of his paranoia, Putin even suggested that the invasion of Ukraine was to protect Russia from the U.S. . . . And he brazenly reminded the world, “Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states.”

Russia experts and former U.S. officials increasingly question Putin’s stability, especially as he has surrounded himself with like-minded advisers and yes-men who encourage his ambitions to rewrite history.

Nina Khrushcheva, an international-affairs professor at the New School in New York and the great-granddaughter of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, told me. She said the Russian leader appears to “have lost all grip on reality, more so than I was willing to admit only yesterday.” She added, “I didn’t think he was suicidal, but he clearly is, and is taking the world and us with him.” She described Putin as a “ruthless megalomaniac with a giant imperialist agenda” akin to Stalin and Mao.

Others compared him to Hitler. “There are many parallels between Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022,” Michael McFaul, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, who is now at Stanford University, tweeted on Thursday. Putin no longer appears to be a rational actor on the international stage, experts say. “I hate comparing people to Hitler, but Putin’s crazy talk is making it hard to avoid,” . . . . My Russian friends suggest something different—is this guy losing it?”

Putin is betting his political future on whether Russia can prevail long-term in Ukraine. “Putin’s gamble seems to be that he can be in charge of what comes next, how far and wide this spreads,” Karen J. Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, told me. “That is a foolish lack of appreciation for the power NATO and the other countries have to contain his incursion—and in that lies his miscalculation.”

Holding Ukraine, given its vast size and population, will be a challenge militarily and politically. Russia has the largest land army in Europe, but it would need to send in many more troops than it already has to occupy the entire country, which is roughly the size of Texas. The Ukrainian government has called up reservists and promised weapons to civilians to form a public resistance force. They could create an insurgency challenging Russian control of part or all of Ukraine, experts predict.

Russia propaganda outlets will keep trying to hide the truth and claim success for its military operation against a made-up threat,” he said. “But history has shown time and again how swift gains in territory eventually give way to grinding occupations, acts of massive mass civil disobedience, and strategic dead ends.”

Be very afraid of what this unstable individual with delusions of grandeur may do.  He needs to be taken out by whatever means necessary.  Western governments need to be much more aggressive in going after the oligarchs who help keep Putin in power by confiscating assets - homes, bank accounts, yachts, investments, etc. - and perhaps taking those  in western nations into custoday as accomplices to war crimes.  Too much is at stake to take only half measures.  As the lead up to WWII demostrated, giving into bullies and despots only encuages them to take further lawless actions.

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Putin's Unfinished Goals in America

As sane and decent people - which excludes Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and most of the talking heads at Fox News - watch with horror as Vladimir Putin violates international law and savages Ukraine on the ridiculous claim among others that Ukraine is lead by Neo-Nazis aiming at attacking Russia, sane and decent Americans need to be mindful that Putin still has unfinished work in theis country.  His goal: further destabilize the country, breed hate and division  - something far too many Republican politicians are only too happy to assist with as they push racist and homophobic legislation - tear the country from NATO and, in all likelihood, see Donald Trump reelected in 2024 so that America becomes a democracy in name only.  As a piece in The Atlantic notes, Putin has plenty of useful idiots among the GOP who continue to pander to and make insane excuses for Russian aggresion and Putin's dictatorship. Here are some highlights:

Mike Pompeo is of two minds about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On the one hand, the former secretary of state is critical of America’s failure to deter the attack. . . . On the other hand, Pompeo has a great deal of respect for the man who has ordered the invasion. Those are his words, not mine: “I have enormous respect for him.” Even though Pompeo says he saw the attack coming, he’s spent the lead-up lavishing praise on Vladimir Putin. In an interview last week, he called the Russian president “very savvy” and “very shrewd,” adding, “I consider him an elegantly sophisticated counterpart and one who is not reckless but has always done the math.” In January, he said, “He is a very talented statesman. He has lots of gifts … He knows how to use power. We should respect that.”

You can guess which of Pompeo’s takes on Putin entered heavy circulation on Russian state television.

Trump’s statements about Ukraine are as confusing as ever, at least if you try to read them for anything other than improvisatory self-aggrandizement. Trump’s Ukraine policy was all over the place: . . . This week, Trump has said that “Putin is playing Biden like a drum,” and also, “I know Vladimir Putin very well, and he would have never done during the Trump Administration what he is doing now, no way!” Yet at an event at Mar-A-Lago last night, Trump, like Pompeo, praised Putin’s strategic genius: “I mean, he’s taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart.”

What is galling about these comments from Pompeo and Trump is not their break with the White House but their insistence on heaping praise on Putin, a habit that springs from Trump’s personal affection for Putin as well as his admiration for authoritarian politics. . . . A West Point grad and Army veteran, Pompeo knows better.

Tucker Carlson, another orthodox Trumpist and the dominant conservative pundit of the moment, is unreservedly pro-Putin. . . . . Democrats are not alone in hating Putin, who is a likely war criminal who has repeatedly broken international law, poisoned dissidents, and killed journalists, to pick just a few offenses. Carlson is smart enough to know all of that, so maybe he’s playing dumb, or maybe he doesn’t find those things objectionable.

Frighteningly, I believe the answer is that Trump, Pompeo, and Carlson do not view murder and lawlessness as objectionable if it furthers their personal agendas.  Equally frightening is the reality that Russian interference in the 2022 mid-terms and 2024 presidential elections will likely pale compared to what we witnessed in 2016 and those in MAGA land and thrall to Fox News will be oblivious to how they are being manipulated to harm America's best interests. With Putin now threatening Sweden and Finland - the latter once the Grand Duchy of Finland in the pre-Bolshevik revolution Russian Empire - everyone who values democracy and the rule of law ought to realize that Putin must be stopped through any means necessary.  A column in the Washington Post looks at what may well happen in the future elections.  Here are excerpts:

Maybe now that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is well underway, the implications of President Vladimir Putin’s actions against the United States in 2016 will finally sink in, especially for Republicans in Congress. The Vladimir Putin who planned, staged and launched a large-scale war on Ukraine is the same Vladimir Putin who ordered an aggressive, multifaceted, clandestine campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Putin’s Ukraine goal: pull that country from the West and back into Russia’s sphere of influence. His U.S. goal in 2016: undermine the democratic process, disparage and undercut Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president, and help elect Donald Trump.

The outcome of his Ukraine campaign is yet to be decided. His U.S. effort found full success. . . . Putin was clearly playing a long game: put in place a U.S. president who would pursue policies that weaken the European Union and NATO, the bulwarks against Russian expansion into former Soviet countries. Trump was the answer.

In Trump, Putin finally had a U.S. president who generated more anti-American sentiment in Europe than the Kremlin could ever have hoped to produce on its own.

Perhaps now, Republicans will reappraise reports — which many of them discounted — of Russian social media campaigns aimed at provoking discord in this country. The Russian disinformation campaign to bolster domestic support for an invasion into Ukraine reminded me of the targeted disinformation operations in the 2016 election . . . . .

Now that it has been reported that Russian propaganda and misinformation campaigns have been launched on social media platforms and have targeted websites, including those of Fox News in the United States, Le Figaro in France, La Stampa in Italy, and Der Spiegel and Die Welt in Germany, maybe more people in this country will believe findings that the Internet Research Agency purchased political advertisements on social media in the names of Americans and U.S. organizations, and even staged political rallies within the United States in support of Trump.

The simple truth is that Putin believed Russia would benefit from having Trump in the White House, and he pushed his intelligence services to help secure that outcome. Just as he perceives that a subjugated Ukraine benefits Russia and is now working to achieve that end.

There’s a lesson in this for the United States.

Putin said he would not invade Ukraine. He lied. He said Russia did not interfere in our 2016 presidential election. He lied about that, too.

In the present crisis, President Biden has been stalwart in rallying a unified response from NATO and the West. If Americans didn’t believe it before, they sure should believe it now: Putin sees Biden, as he saw Clinton, as an impediment to what he wants.

And Trump, who calls Putin a “genius” and accepts his lie about the presidential election, wants back in.

Russia had success with its information-warfare playbook in 2016. Count on a Russian influence operation conducted through social media to disparage Biden, undermine his leadership and stoke support for his opposition. The goal: defeat an American political enemy.

It worked once before. Wake up, America, to another Russian threat. This time, no one can claim to have not seen it coming.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, February 25, 2022

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Defeat Trump, Now More Than Ever

If there was any question left about the depts of depravity that define Donald Trump, his cheering of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine ought to have made it crystal clear that he is throughly amoral and devoid of even a shred of decency.  Trump's cheerleading also ought to make it perfectly clear that if he were to again access the White House he wants his second term to see American democracy replaced by a Putin style dictatorship with Trump as dictator for life.  The best thing that can happen to America and the world is that both Putin and Trump are no longer in it. Both are depraved and care nothing about those they harm or, in Putin's case, literally kill.  Frighteningly, Democrats and western national leaders refuse to see the the degree of danger - e.g., why Russia has not been kicked out of SWIFT to paralyze its economy.  At home, Democrats flail about unable - or unwilling - to craft a defining social message to counter the lies and promises of anti-democracy Republicans.  An op-ed in the New York Times by a former Republican looks at the urgency of Democrats getting their act together and facing objective reality, particularly among those in the far left of the party who live, in  my view, in a fantasy world.  Here are column excerpts:

The democratic nations of the world are in a global struggle against authoritarianism. That struggle has international fronts — starting with the need to confront, repel and weaken Vladimir Putin.

But that struggle also has domestic fronts — the need to defeat the mini-Putins now found across the Western democracies. These are the demagogues who lie with Putinesque brazenness, who shred democratic institutions with Putinesque bravado, who strut the world’s stage with Putin’s amoral schoolboy machismo while pretending to represent all that is traditional and holy.

In the United States that, of course, is Donald Trump. This moment of heightened danger and crisis makes it even clearer that the No. 1 domestic priority for all Americans who care about democracy is to make sure Trump never sees the inside of the Oval Office ever again. As democracy is threatened from abroad it can’t also be cannibalized from within.

Thinking has to be crystal clear. What are the crucial battlegrounds in the struggle against Trump? He won the White House by winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin with strong support from white voters without a college degree. Joe Biden ousted Trump by winning back those states and carrying the new swing states, Arizona and Georgia.

So for the next three years Democrats need to wake up with one overriding political thought: What are we doing to appeal to all working-class voters in those five states? Are we doing anything today that might alienate these voters?

Are the Democrats winning the contest for these voters right now? No.

At the start of 2021 Democrats had a nine-point advantage when you asked voters to name their party preference. By the end of 2021 Republicans had a five-point advantage. Among swing voters, things are particularly grim.

Are Democrats thinking clearly about how to win those voters? No.

This week two veteran Democratic strategists, William A. Galston and Elaine Kamarck, issued a report for the Progressive Policy Institute arguing that Democrats need to get over at least three delusions.

The first Democratic myth is, “People of color think and act alike.” In fact, there have been differences between Hispanics and Black Americans on issues like the economy, foreign policy and policing. Meanwhile working-class people have been moving toward the G.O.P. across racial lines.

“Today, the Democrats’ working-class problem isn’t limited to white workers, . . . “The party is also losing support from working-class Blacks and Hispanics.”

The second Democratic myth is, “Economics trumps culture.” This is the idea that if Democrats can shower working- and middle-class voters with material benefits then that will overwhelm any differences they may have with them on religious, social and cultural issues — on guns, crime and immigration, etc. This crude economic determinism has been rebutted by history time and time again.

The third myth is, “A progressive ascendancy is emerging.” The fact is that only 7 percent of the electorate considers itself “very liberal.” I would have thought the Biden economic agenda, which basically consists of handing money to the people who need it most, would be astoundingly popular. . . . Distrust in government is still astoundingly high, undercutting the progressive project at every turn.

What do Democrats need to do now? Well, one thing they are really good at. Over the past few years a wide range of thinkers — across the political spectrum — have congregated around a neo-Hamiltonian agenda that stands for the idea that we need to build more things — roads, houses, colleges, green technologies and ports. Democrats need to hammer home this Builders agenda, which would provide good-paying jobs and renew American dynamism.

But Democrats also have to do something they’re really bad at: Craft a cultural narrative around the theme of social order. The Democrats have been blamed for fringe ideas like “defund the police” and a zeal for “critical race theory” because the party doesn’t have its own mainstream social and cultural narrative.

With war in Europe, crime rising on our streets, disarray at the border, social unraveling in many of our broken communities, perceived ideological unmooring in our schools, moral decay everywhere, Democrats need to tell us which cultural and moral values they stand for that will hold this country together.

The authoritarians tell a simple story about how to restore order — it comes from cultural homogeneity and the iron fist of the strongman. Democrats have a harder challenge — to show how order can be woven amid diversity, openness and the full flowering of individuals. . . . . It doesn’t matter how many nice programs you have; people won’t support you if they think your path is the path to chaos.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, February 24, 2022

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It's Time for Clarence Thomas to Resign

In retrospect, Clarence Thomas should never have been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The man is a mental midget in my view and he holds nothing but contempt for judicial ethics and maintaining at a minimum the appearance of impartiality. Over the past five to six years Thomas' ethical misconduct has increased ten fold and his wife is openly involved with far right organizations - many with Christofacscist ties - with cases before the Supreme Court.  At a minimum, Thomas should recuse himself from such cases.  As for his wife, she needs to walk away from these groups or Thomas needs to resign from the Court.  There really is no middle ground on the matter.  Meanwhile, the already damaged credibility of the Court continues to be further undermined.  An opinion piece at CNN looks at the problem and suggests Thomas begin recusing himself from cases or that Congress impose ethical requirements on Supreme Court justices.  While the latter is needed in all events, Thomas' conduct has been so agregious that only resignation will address his improper behavior.  Here are highlights from the op-ed:

The biggest threat to the legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court is not its potential expansion, nor even what seems to be a likely reversal of Roe v. Wade in what would be a devastating scaling-back of women's rights.

It's Ginni and Clarence Thomas. 

Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, who is married to Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, has become an increasingly visible and increasingly radical far-right activist at the same time that her husband has pushed Supreme Court jurisprudence far to the right. Clarence Thomas has crossed a whole series of ethical lines related to his wife's work, and it's far past time for Congress to act. We need a basic ethics law that sets out transparency rules for organizations that file amicus briefs to the Supreme Court, and standards for recusal among Supreme Court justices.

Ginni Thomas works directly with organizations that are taking cases to the Supreme Court -- cases that will be heard and decided by her husband. In a groundbreaking story published earlier this year, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer detailed the many ways in which Thomas is heavily involved with a number of cases heading to or already heard before the Supreme Court. She is tied to groups that have written amicus briefs supporting the conservative side of Supreme Court cases on everything from immigration to abortion rights to affirmative action. In some cases, she serves on a group's advisory board. In others, her consulting group has been paid by the same people whose names appear on amicus briefs filed with the Court. And in others, partners in one of her advocacy organizations have petitioned the Court or filed amicus briefs before it on a variety of matters.

And in another shocking story published in the New York Times Magazine this week, reporters document the Thomases mutual involvement in right-wing organizing, and their work to shift Supreme Court jurisprudence radically rightward. (Both Clarence and Ginni Thomas declined to be interviewed for the New Yorker piece, and both declined to comment for the New York Times piece).

Judges are supposed to evaluate cases impartially. Given his wife's involvement, there is no way for the public to trust that Thomas will impartially judge the cases she's tied to. And Thomas himself has defied a whole series of ethical guidelines that apply to every other judge in the country, appearing at events for right-wing organizations and causes, and, according to the Times report, being in contact with at least one conservative politician, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, at the same time he was facing battles in federal court (DeSantis did not respond to the Times' request for comment). 

[T]he justices themselves -- like any other judge on the bench -- are imbued with the public's trust and all of the obligations that come with that. That Clarence Thomas has made no effort to recuse himself from cases in which his wife has an interest is profoundly unethical. It threatens the public's already-waning trust in the Supreme Court because of the appearance of impropriety and conflicts of interest -- not to mention the potential for actual impropriety and conflicts of interest.

There is one clear and obvious path here: Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from all cases his wife has involved herself in. 

But Thomas has already heard and decided cases that his wife has involved herself in. He has already demonstrated that he does not hold himself to the same ethical standards set forth for judges by the American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct. This is why Congress has to step in. The Supreme Court is rightly largely unencumbered by the other branches of government. But Supreme Court justices should not be entirely free to flout the ethical norms and rules of their profession. 

A foundation already exists for Congress to build upon. Ethical guidelines are already written by the American Bar Association. The federal courts also have an ethical code of conduct applicable to every single judge on the federal bench -- except for the nine who sit on the Supreme Court. Congress should apply these ethical rules, with legal binding, to the Supreme Court, too. And they should do so now: While public outrage may build after a disastrous Supreme Court decision, by then it will be too late. 

Both ethical codes make clear that if a judge's spouse has a substantial interest in a case, then that judge should recuse themselves from hearing it. That is certainly the case with Ginni Thomas. And yet, her husband persists in hearing cases she has an interest in. 

The US is in a fragile state. Four years of Donald Trump have left us more divided than at just about any time in recent history. Trump has led a campaign of lies claiming that the 2020 election was stolen -- an all-out falsity. . . . . (Ginni Thomas, it's worth mentioning, has also agitated against the results of the 2020 election). Americans are distrustful of each other and increasingly distrustful of our most important institutions, including the Supreme Court.

A democracy is only as strong as its institutions and its elections. Representative democracies are defined by the right of the people to vote in free and fair elections; democracies need both public trust in those elections and strong institutions to survive. In the US, the public's trust in our elections is low thanks to right-wing politicians who have intentionally undermined it, and our institutions have been badly battered. We need Clarence Thomas to put his country before his political beliefs and recuse himself from cases his wife is involved in [and resign from the Court]. And if he won't do that -- and all evidence points to the conclusion that he won't do that -- then we need Congress to step up and make sure that all judges in America, no matter how powerful, are not above behaving ethically.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, February 22, 2022

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Warning Signs for Republicans Could Boost Democrats

Virginia GOP gevernor Glenn Youngkin took office less than a month ago and already his approval rating is less than that of embattled Joe Biden.  Why?  Several reasons, the first being Youngkin's incompetence.  Second, Virginia voters apparently are waking to the reality that Youngkin ran a very deceptive campaign which played them for fools,  More importantly, Youngkin has foolishly acted as if he had a mandate - something a less than two percentage point win doesn't make - and has over reached and pushed measures loved by the ugliest elements of the Virginia GOP base but anathema to sane and moderate voters.  A similar phenomenon is happening in other states where GOP governors are push agendas that please the Christofascists and white supremacist base of today's GOP but are increasingly unpopular with the majority of their state's voters.  As a column in the Washington Post lays out, this GOP over reach and pandering to a delusional and anti-democratic minority ought to be caplitalized on by Democrats going into the mid-term elections where warnings of similar over reach could dissuade moderate voter's from making the same mistake that befell Virginia.  Here are excerpts:

Some of the highest-profile Republican governors are unpopular. Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia (41 percent approve, 43 percent disapprove), who once kept the defeated former president at arm’s length, immediately embraced MAGA base-pleasing policies that have proved unpopular and drawn a swift backlash. Large majorities in Virginia support environmental laws Youngkin wants to repeal. They also oppose Youngkin-favored bans on teaching about racism and GOP proposals to prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Likewise, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is losing ground in a general-election matchup against Beto O’Rourke. In January, O’Rourke trailed by 11 points; the gap is now down to seven points, according to a survey by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, and 49 percent of Texans think the state is on the “wrong track.”

“While the GOP is pushing to expunge any teaching of critical race theory in classrooms,” the Morning News reported, “59 percent of all Texas voters say they agree that K-12 teachers should be permitted to discuss how historical examples of discrimination in U.S. laws apply to racial inequalities today.” Abbott’s anti-immigration hype is also losing favor: “53 percent of voters say the wall spending is wasteful or could be better spent.”

Yet there is no drumbeat warning Republicans not to overreach. They seem to believe voters will ignore their excesses.

It bears mentioning that the GOP’s unfavorability is considerably higher than that of the Democratic Party, according to YouGov polling. And Democrats should draw a few lessons from this.

For starters, voters remain ornery, seemingly having grown frustrated with their choices within months, if not weeks, of electing them. Perhaps they don’t pay enough attention to substance during the campaign, prompting buyer’s remorse as soon as their candidate starts doing what he said he would. Alternatively, as in the case of Youngkin, campaigning deceptively to hide one’s actual agenda turns out poorly when voters realize they’ve been had. It might behoove the media to start covering more substance during campaigns.

Second, we are in an era — very much evident in the 2016 election battle between two candidates with high unfavorables — when voters don’t like both parties. That might be a function of politicians’ cluelessness and failure to build broad coalitions. It might also be that voters have unrealistic expectations that politicians can quickly solve immense, multifaceted problems. Perpetual impatience breeds perpetual dissatisfaction

Third, a result of excessive minority power is gridlock at the national level. While voters tend to hold incumbents responsible for “failing to get things done,” they avert their eyes from the main sources of paralysis: anti-majoritarian features of our government (e.g., the filibuster, or a Supreme Court unrepresentative of the country ready to rewrite laws to fit the minority agenda). In any case, voters have a point: The current system impedes bold, popular measures (gun safety, for instance) to address big challenges. 

Democrats, especially those in the White House, need to get over their reluctance toward hardball politics. They face an extreme, authoritarian opponent but remain fixated on bipartisan agreement and decline to devise a single accurate attack (e.g., that the GOP has become an anti-democratic cult).

If they are to minimize losses in November, Democrats need to make gubernatorial election referendums on Republican incumbents and their radical, unpopular policies (e.g., Texas’s antiabortion bounty law). In addition to putting together a compelling message about their own accomplishments, Democratic candidates for the House and Senate need to make Republicans’ reckless conduct — willingness to default on our debt, plans to impeach President Biden, nonstop obstruction and anti-democratic impulses — front and center in their campaigns.

It might not be a winning slogan for a bumper sticker, but it does boil down to: “At least we’re trying. The other guys are nuts.”

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, February 21, 2022

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16 "Don't Say Gay" Bills Are Pending Nationwide

While many Republicans, Fox News talking heads and right wing pundits are wring their hands and scare mongering about critical race theory, the effort to re-write American history goes far beyond simply matters of race and sanitizing the nation's ugly history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and the continued disproportionate criminalizing of black Americans.  The Christofascist elements behind the deseptively labeled "parental rights" movement has a much wider agenda that seeks to erase gays and others from public school libaries and public libraries.  And the effort is not limited to censoring books.  Indeed, in sixteen states, with Florida perhaps the most reported on, Republican efforts are pushing bills that would completely ban even mentioning gays, other LGBT individuals and issues of sexual orientation from public school curriculums.  These forces want the LGBT community, same sex parents, and anything that offends Christofascist sensibilities to simply disappear. It is part and parcel with the Christofascist effort to make right wing Chrisitianity the de facto established religion of the USA.   A piece in The Hill looks at the "don't say gay" bills now under consideration and likely passage in red states where life will be made even more horrific for LGBT youth.  Here are highlights:

Since Florida’s House committee passed the Parental Rights in Education bill – known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – in January, a national spotlight has turned on the state as it proposes banning school instruction on LGBTQ+ people and issues.

President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten condemned the bill as hateful and dangerous; actress Kerry Washington said she was “horrified by what’s happening;” and activists say the law would effectively “erase young LGBTQ students across Florida.”

Yet Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill is one part of a nationwide trend. There are 15 similar bills moving through state legislatures that restrict how textbooks and curriculums teach LGBTQ+ topics, who can be hired and what teachers are allowed to say around gender identity and sexual orientation.

A House bill in Tennessee would ban textbook and instructional materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) lifestyles” in K-12 schools. Another, in Kansas, seeks to amend the state’s obscenity law to make using classroom materials depicting “homosexuality” a Class B misdemeanor. Legislators in Indiana are working to bar educators from discussing in any context “sexual orientation,” “transgenderism” or “gender identity” without permission from parents.

Bills like these are “anti-people,” Barbara Simon, head of news and campaigns for the LGBTQ+ media advocacy group GLAAD, told Changing America. “They divide schools and businesses when those should be safe spaces to learn and earn a living.”

While Florida is currently a poster state for anti-LGBTQ+ curriculum laws, others are proposing and moving faster on farther-reaching bills. Oklahoma legislators have put five measures before its Congress that regulate how schools from K-12 to higher education teach LGBTQ+ issues. Two bills, SB 1142 and SB 1654, would prohibit librarians and teachers from distributing materials on or outright discussing “any form of non-procreative sex,” gender identity, and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues.” 

Another Oklahoma Senate bill would ban public schools from employing anyone who “promotes positions in the classroom or at any function of the public school that is in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.”

Simon said voters should be “wide awake to what's going on here,” accusing conservative lawmakers like DeSantis of pushing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to “score points for their own careers at the expense of citizens.” DeSantis has already launched a bid for reelection this year, and has been discussed as a potential 2024 presidential candidate for Republicans.

Earlier this month, more than a hundred people gathered in Florida’s capital to debate the bill, where parents like Dan Van Trice spoke on how it could censor kids: “They take pictures of their family to school and they put them up on the bulletin board, and they talk about their families. Well, my kids won’t be able to participate in that,” ABC3 reports. 

Others, like Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), stressed that the bill gives parents more control of their children in school: “These children belong to families. They are not wards of the state,” he said. 

Still, advocates worry that the passage of legislation like “Don’t Say Gay” will come at the expense of LGBTQ+ youth in particular, who are already at greater risk of mental health issues, self-harm and suicide.

A recent report from the LGBTQ+ suicide prevention and crisis intervention group The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ+ youth who learned about LGBTQ+ people or issues in school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the last year.

“We know that what happens in schools impacts mental health and suicide risk,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, told Changing America. “We know that youth learning about themselves, being able to see themselves reflected in their curriculum, being able to speak openly about who they are to their classmates and their teachers reduces suicide risk significantly.”

Ames said striking LGBTQ+ figures and stories from the classroom would mean stamping out swaths of American history.

“We are seeing entire chapters of textbooks being erased,” they said. “Do you not talk in a civics class about Pete Buttigeig? Do you not talk in a history class about Harvey Milk or Marsha P. Johnson? These are fundamental moments, not just in LGBTQ history, but in American history, that are being written out of existence.”

Of course, the Christofascists could care less about the harm done to LGBT youth.  Having followed the "Christian Right" for three decades, there are few people more cruel and self-centered than the falsely pious "godly folk."  They are a menace to equality under the law and even democracy itself. 

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, February 20, 2022

More Sunday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Why Trump's Accountants' Withdrawal Is A Big Deal

Mortgage fraud and/or wire fraud convictions can carry $1 million fines with up to 30 years in prison.  While the current New York State investigations into Der Trumpenfuhrer and his business practices are in the civil realm, there remains the possibility that things could flip to criminal investigations and the action this week by the Trump organizations long time accounting firm Mazars USA LLP certainly has increased the possibility.  In a letter filed in the New York court proceeding, not only did Mazars sever its relationship with Trump, but it also stated that Trump’s financial statements, from 2011 to 2020, “should no longer be relied upon,”  This all but admits that the accounting firm now believes it was provided with false and likely fraudulent information inorder to create false pictures of the Trump organization's finances and property values as it sought loans,insurance coverage and various tax treatments. Put another way, the accountants had to choose between Trump and saving their own ass, and they opted for the latter option.  An op-ed in the Washington Post by constant Trump critic George Conway lays out why this could prove were damaging for Trump and his vile spawn and leave Trump with the choice of (i) lying under oath and facing perjury charges or (ii) invoking the 5th Amendment and refusing to testify and fostering an appearance of guilt.  Here are highlights:

It has often been tempting, but never a safe wager, to predict the demise of Donald Trump.

He lost the presidency and both houses of Congress, and was impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors twice. He’s being investigated in New York for business fraud, and in Georgia for election fraud. He’s being probed by the House’s Jan. 6 select committee — and, one would hope, ultimately by the Justice Department — for whipping up a riot and attempting a self-coup.

Yet somehow he has managed to survive, legally, financially and politically. . . . .But maybe, just maybe, this time will be different.

On Thursday, a judge in New York ordered Trump, along with his daughter Ivanka and his son Donald Jr., to testify within 21 days at civil depositions in the New York attorney general’s investigation of potential fraud at the Trump Organization. The judge’s opinion brutally rejected Trump’s arguments for blocking the depositions: It would have been “blatant dereliction of duty” for the attorney general not to take the testimony, the judge explained, because prosecutors have unearthed “copious evidence of possible financial fraud” in Trump’s business.

That evidence includes a letter that might turn out to be, as a practical matter, the biggest blow Trump has ever suffered, even bigger than his six corporate bankruptcies and two presidential impeachments. A blow dealt not by prosecutors, plaintiffs, politicos or the press — but by his own longtime accountants.

Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars, sent a letter on Feb. 9 to the Trump Organization terminating its relationship with Trump. The letter was astounding in many respects.

Mazars said that 10 years of Trump’s financial statements, from 2011 to 2020, “should no longer be relied upon,” and that Trump should tell that to the people he gave them to. The accountants explained that they reached this conclusion based upon court filings previously made by the New York attorney general, as well as the accountants’ own investigation and other sources.

And then they quit. Under the “totality of the circumstances,” Mazars wrote, “we have also reached the point such that there is a non-waivable conflict of interest with the Trump Organization. As a result, we are not able to provide any new work product to the Trump Organization.”

Translated from legal-accountingese, the letter was an unmitigated disaster for Trump, far beyond his possibly having to file late returns. By saying the statements “should no longer be relied upon,” the accountants effectively announced, You misled us. By “totality of the circumstances,” they likely meant, The prosecutors investigating you, and the case they’re making, are serious.

By pronouncing “a non-waivable conflict of interest,” they were all but saying, We’re on team A.G. or we might have to join someday soon. And by saying no “new work product” and quitting, they essentially declared, We don’t trust you — and we’re certainly not going to jail for you.

All this could threaten Trump’s livelihood — his all-important mogulhood — in a way no setback ever has before. Even a guilty verdict in a Senate impeachment trial would have affected only his entitlement to temporary government housing.

Now the man who long has had trouble finding decent legal representation might find it all but impossible to find new auditors and tax preparers. It’s hard to imagine that any reputable accounting firm will touch his tax returns, let alone fix and bless his financials for a decade or more.

Even if lenders don’t exercise any rights they might have to call in their loans, Trump apparently still needs to refinance hundreds of millions’ worth of them soon. As Trump biographer Timothy L. O’Brien of Bloomberg Opinion puts it, “Good luck refinancing your debt when the accountants” — who have just declared a decade of your financials utterly worthless — have “just walked out the door.”

So Trump would face a heap of problems even if the New York attorney general (and the Manhattan district attorney she’s working with) closed up shop tomorrow. No wonder Trump’s son Eric was all but crying when he mentioned the prosecutors this week on Fox News.

But as Thursday’s ruling makes clear, the prosecutors aren’t going away anytime soon. And in 21 days, absent some relief from a higher court, Trump will face a profound conundrum at his deposition.

Will he testify and (assuming he’s even capable of it) tell the truth, and possibly implicate himself in crimes? Or will he provably lie under oath, and virtually guarantee himself an indictment for perjury?

Or will he do the sensible thing — plead his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination hundreds of times, as Eric Trump and the company’s finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, already have done — and face the political embarrassment (and, in civil litigation, the negative inferences) that would entail? In court Thursday, Trump’s lawyer said that he was advising his client to do precisely that.

Stay tuned. Could this be, at long last, the beginning of the end for Trump?  As always, don’t bet on it — but this time, don’t be surprised if it is.

More Sunday Male Beauty


The Catholic Church Remains Incapable of Reform


As a long time critic of the Roman Catholic Church I was not the least surprised when a new report out of Germany found that the former Benedict XVI was guilty of covering up sexual abuse by Catholic clergy while he was archbishop of Munich and Freising, from 1977 to 1982.  Nor was I surprised when Benedict - the head of what was once known as the Inquisition under the less than saintly John Paul II at first lied about his culpability.  Once caught in the lie, Benedict issued a mealy mouthed response that was short on contrition and reflected the larger inability of the Church hierarchy to admit past grievous wrongs and a refusal by the majority of the heirarchy to let go of 12th century dogma based on ignorance and a rejection of modern knowledge on sexual orientation among a host of other issues. Some German bishops have been speaking out for wholesale change, including a total re-writing of the Church's continued jihad against gays.   Though needed, I doubt these reforms will come to pass and the Church will continue to hemmorage membership in modern nations and become increasing centered in Africa where an ignorant populace allows the heirarchy to continue under its 12th century dogma.  Sadly, others will suffer the harms this engenders (it took years of therapy to undo the emotional and psychological harm I suffered). A piece in The New Yorker looks at the situation:

In Germany, lately, powerful bishops have been speaking of prospects for change in Catholic life with a frankness not seen from the Church hierarchy anywhere else in a long time. When some hundred and twenty-five priests and other Church employees collectively “came out” as gay last month—with a manifesto faulting the Church’s “defamatory” teachings on sexuality and gender—Jean-Claude Hollerich, a Jesuit who is the archbishop of Luxembourg, told the German news outlet KNA that the foundation of Catholic teaching on homosexuality “is no longer true,” and called for a “fundamental revision of the doctrine.”

Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising—who last year spoke approvingly of the prospect of some form of Church blessings for same-sex-unions—said, “I think that things as they are cannot continue,” and that allowing some priests to marry “would be better for everyone.” Another bishop announced that gay people employed by his diocese, including priests, can profess their sexual identity without fear of discipline. Meanwhile, a process of Church renewal called the Synodal Way has led to formal proposals for laypeople in Germany to take a role in choosing bishops—a change that would alter the Church power structure profoundly.

Those are openings of the kind that progressive Catholics have sought from the hierarchy for decades. The issues they raise are so complex and controversial that a serious effort to address them could break the Church apart. Yet they’ve been overtaken by a different controversy—one about the role of Benedict XVI, the Pope emeritus, in enabling priestly sex abuse when he was an archbishop in Germany, and whether his “heartfelt request for forgiveness” is an admission of guilt.

Benedict turns ninety-five in April. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he served for more than two decades as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that oversees Church teaching. He was elected Pope in 2005, resigned in 2013 (the first Pope to do so since 1415), and, after Pope Francis succeeded him, took up residence in a monastery behind St. Peter’s Basilica. His request for forgiveness came earlier this month, in a personal letter (“Dear Sisters and Brothers”), following a report that included a section on his handling of priestly sexual abuse while he was archbishop of Munich and Freising, from 1977 to 1982.

The report was prepared by a team of outside lawyers, and commissioned by Cardinal Marx, who was prompted by a 2018 report on abuse in Germany as a whole, which estimated that roughly four per cent of priests had committed sexual abuse of minors in the seven decades after the Second World War. The new report runs to nearly two thousand pages, and chronicles at least four hundred and ninety-seven victims and at least two hundred and thirty-five abusers.

Marx, who submitted his resignation to Pope Francis last June over the “catastrophe” of clerical abuse (it was declined), said that he was still prepared to do so. “I am not clinging to my job,” he said.

During the report’s preparation, the authors sought testimony from Benedict, and received a written eighty-two-page statement in response. The report concludes that the Pope emeritus “can be accused of misconduct in cases of sexual abuse,” for allowing, in four instances, priests suspected of sexually abusing minors to continue in pastoral ministry. (Benedict has denied wrongdoing over the cases.)

“We do not find the testimony or the statement of Pope Benedict that he was not at this meeting to be credible,” he said. Reaction was swift. Benedict was accused of lying and covering up. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an American advocacy group, suggested that, having resigned as Pope, Benedict should also resign as Pope emeritus.

The report has forced the German Church to ponder its recent past, a period shaped by Ratzinger’s view of Catholic doctrine as inviolable and the Church as the last redoubt of order and stability in a rapidly changing world. . . . With John Paul, he maintained that Church teachings on sexuality and on the priesthood belong to an inalterable “magisterium,” or body of official teaching, and he saw to it that only men who affirmed that position were chosen as bishops. His rigorous defenses of the magisterium and his silencing of theologians who took positions other than his (which earned him the nicknames Ratzweiler and the Panzer-Cardinal) have affected Catholicism ever since—to the extent that the current German bishops can be said to be dealing at last with long-standing issues that he had used his supervisory powers to prevent their predecessors, and so the Church as a whole, from dealing with.

Four days after the press conference about the Munich report, Benedict’s secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, issued a statement saying that Benedict’s false claim was “the result of an oversight in the editing of his statement,” for which the former prelate was very sorry, . . . That response was seen as evasive, and not just by Benedict’s longtime critics.

It wasn’t the first time that Benedict had engaged in controversy from his monastery quarters via a personal letter. In 2019, he issued a six-thousand-word missive on clerical sexual abuse, which he attributed to a range of causes: the sexual revolution and the “new normalcy” of sexual permissiveness, the liberalizing of theology after the Second Vatican Council, the rise of “homosexual cliques” in Catholic seminaries, and the decline in religious belief in the West.

The new letter, by contrast, runs to just a page and a half, . . . . The letter is a “mea maxima culpa” with minimal “culpa” and no “mea” to speak of. “At no time does he ask for personal forgiveness for any actions of his own!” the prominent Irish clerical-abuse survivor Marie Collins told the Catholic news site Crux. As if to make that clear, the letter’s release included an “addendum” from Benedict’s legal team, which sought again to clear him of any responsibility.

Benedict’s supporters point out that he was the first Pope to act directly against sexual abuse: defrocking priests, streamlining the process for discipline, meeting with survivors, and banishing the Mexican serial abuser Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who had been close to John Paul II. For those supporters, and there are many of them, Benedict’s legacy is now at stake. They see the Pope emeritus as a traditionalist counterweight to Pope Francis, whom they regard as bent on shattering the unity of the faith in a vain attempt to make the Church relevant.

More than a Pope’s legacy is at stake, however. The situation in Germany is a bellwether for Catholicism elsewhere. The German Church’s Synodal Way is headed toward a global synod in Rome next year, where other nations may decide to follow its path. Following on the reports in Germany, and one in France last fall—which estimated that more than two hundred thousand people had been abused by Catholic clergy in the seven postwar decades—the Church in Italy, long resistant to scrutiny, is under pressure to commission a report on abuses there.

There’s no telling how the process of change will play out, but it will take profound honesty, not the lofty and defensive approach to truth that the Pope emeritus has practiced and required of others for so long.