Saturday, August 13, 2022

More Saturday Male Beauty


Republicans' Idiotic Defense of Trump and the Stolen Records

Personally, I always have viewed Donald Trump as a national security threat - a view shared by many in the national intelligence community.  With him thankfully out of office, there was no legitimate reason for him to take top secret government materials to his Florida residense, records that some experts say had to have been specifically selected and copied/printed thus eliminating any claim that taking them was an inadvertant error. One can only speculate why Trump wanted them: to shae with Vladimir Putin or sell to the highest bidder?  I cannot believe it was for any good purpose that would aid America's interests.  Given the apparent seriousness of what Trump unlawfully took to Florida, the Republicans who immediately sprang to Trump's defense and ranted and bloviated about the misdeeds of the "deep state"and "Nazi like FBI" look increasingly ridiculous and idiotic.  Among those now looking very foolish are a number of Virginia Republicans including Glen Youngkin who went off half cocked without knowing any of the facts just so he could pander to the MAGA base in Virginia (he and other Virginia political whores were rightly critized here).  Others, including talking heads on Fox News, a/k/a Faux News, rather than admit they were yet again made to look like fools by Trump, are now widly claiming the stolen documents were planted by the FBI.  Anything rather than admit their own idiocy.  A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at the GOP idiocy.  Here are excerpts (the image above is from the Wall Street Journal):

The more we learn about the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, the sillier — and more sinister — the overcaffeinated Republican defenses of former president Donald Trump look.

A genius-level spinmeister, Trump set the tone with a Monday evening statement announcing: “These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents. Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before.”

That description allowed his followers to imagine a scene straight out of a Hollywood action picture, with agents in FBI jackets busting down the doors and holding the former president and first lady at gunpoint while they ransacked the premises. Although Trump’s team had a copy of the search warrant, he gave no hint of why the FBI might have been there . . . .

His followers — which means pretty much the whole of the Republican Party — took up the cry based on no more information than that. Fox News host Mark Levin called the search “the worst attack on this republic in modern history, period.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called it “corrupt & an abuse of power.” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) compared the FBI to “the Gestapo.” Not to be outdone, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Whackadoodle) said the FBI was the “American Stasi,” and compared its agents to wolves “who want to eat you.”

Only now, as Paul Harvey used to say, are we hearing the rest of the story — and what has been reported so far bears no relation to the persecution fantasies of Trump and his cult followers. On Thursday evening, The Post reported that FBI agents were searching for highly classified documents relating to nuclear weapons and signals intelligence — two of the most sensitive areas in the entire U.S. government. Months ago, Trump received a subpoena for documents, and the Justice Department was not convinced that he had complied with it.

Trump at first claimed “Nuclear weapons is a hoax, just like Russia,” even though his 2016 campaign’s collusion with Russia was well-documented, and then all but admitted he had done it by alleging (falsely) that “President Barack Hussein Obama” took nuclear documents. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the FBI removed 11 sets of classified documents, including some marked as top secret.

The club was closed, and Trump was not there. He was in New York, where he would plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination more than 400 times during a deposition with the New York attorney general. But according to Trump’s lawyer, Trump and his family were able to watch the entire search on Mar-a-Lago’s closed-circuit security cameras. So much for the crackpot claim that the FBI could have planted evidence!

This new information turns the Trump narrative — that he is being treated worse than anyone ever in all of U.S. history — on its head. Imagine what would have happened to a lower-level government employee who was suspected of taking highly classified documents without authorization. I very much doubt that the FBI would have dealt with such a person as gently as they dealt with Trump. Anyone else caught with top-secret documents — and suspected of obstructing justice and violating the Espionage Act — would probably be in federal custody by now.

The right now appears to be in disarray. The ex-president’s old story has been rendered “inoperative,” as Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler used to say, and they need a new one.

But the damage has been done. The right’s hysterical, hyperbolic reaction has weaponized their unhinged followers. On Thursday, an armed man died in a standoff with police after trying to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati office. The gunman was evidently a prolific contributor on Trump’s Truth Social site. After the FBI search, a user with his name wrote that this was a “call to arms” and “we must respond with force.”

This should be a gut check moment for responsible Republicans — if any are left — to step back and take a deep breath before more violence erupts. But sadly, most Republicans don’t seem to care what furies they have unleashed in their devotion to the principle that their supreme leader must remain above the law.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, August 12, 2022

More Friday Male Beauty


Justice Alito's Militant - and Frightening - Religious Beliefs

This post follows up the theme of yesterday and the threat now posed to religious freedom for non-believers and non-Christians by the extremist majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, particularrly Justice Alito who seemingly would have felt at home with the Spanish Inquisition.  Alito's position is basically you will give deference and special privileges to his religious beliefs and the beliefs of other far right "Christians" even if it means the denegration of the rights of others, both in terms of religion and basic rights.  In Alito's view, religious freedom for the minority trumps all else and if you disagree with him, too bad.  Alito's mindset is akin to that who over the centuries caused Christianity to inflict all kinds of evils ranging from genocide against Native Americans to imposing Christianity across vast portions of the world.  Those who opposed this militant Christianity were marginalized or, more often killed and eliminated.  A column in the New York Times by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist looks at Alito's militancy and the danger he and his fellow extremists pose to the nation. Here are highlights:

Barely a month after handing down the majority opinion that erased the right to abortion, Justice Samuel Alito traveled to Rome to give a keynote address at a “religious liberty summit” convened by the Religious Liberty Initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s law school. As the video that Notre Dame posted of the bearded justice delivering his remarks made clear, this was a victory lap.

The press coverage of that speech last month mainly focused on his snarky comments about world leaders who had the effrontery to criticize what the Supreme Court had done in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. . . . . One can debate the degree of bad taste displayed by such a remark, but that’s not my concern. What interests me about his talk was its substance: a call to arms on behalf of religion.

“The challenge for those who want to protect religious liberty in the United States, Europe and other similar places,” Justice Alito said, “is to convince people who are not religious that religious liberty is worth special protection.”

On one level, there is nothing surprising about such a declaration from Justice Alito. We know where he stands on religion. He is the author of a long string of opinions that have elevated the free exercise of religion above civil society’s other values, including the right not to be discriminated against and the right to enjoy benefits intended for all.

He was a vigorous dissenter during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the court upheld the attendance limits that governments were placing on religious as well as secular gatherings.

[H]e was part of the five-member majority that established a new “most favored nation” status for religion — meaning that any time the government, for whatever reason, grants a secular entity an exemption from a restriction or regulation, the failure to offer religion a similar exemption is presumptively unconstitutional.

But Justice Alito’s Notre Dame speech still merits close examination for what it reveals about the assumptions built into his worldview. What does it mean, for example, to assert that it is “people who are not religious” who need to be persuaded that religion is worthy of special treatment? Do all religiously observant people naturally believe that religion merits more protections than other values? There’s scant evidence for that; in any event, that has not been our law, at least not until recently.

Justice Alito followed his observation with a scornful appraisal of law professors (presumably exempting the many in attendance at his speech). “A dominant view among legal academics,” he said, was that society should treat religion “just like any other passionate personal attachment, say rooting for a favorite sports team, pursuing a hobby or following a popular artist or group.”

Justices and legal scholars alike have struggled for decades to identify the right balance for religion within a pluralistic society, an effort Justice Alito reduced to a cartoonish either/or. . . . . He offered no acknowledgment, none, of the harm that can occur when religion is elevated above all other claims to recognition and respect.

For example, in the aftermath of his opinion in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, tens of thousands of women have never received the contraception coverage to which the Affordable Care Act entitled them because they work for employers with objections to particular forms of birth control. His opinion in 2020 extending the so-called ministerial exception to cover nonministerial employees of religious organizations stripped those employees of the protection of federal laws that prohibit job discrimination. And, of course, the very opinion he bragged about to his audience in Rome, an opinion that as I have recently explained was grounded in religious doctrine rather than constitutional law, took no account of its devastating impact on women.

This was the Alito of his opinion dissenting from the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which recognized a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. He predicted then that “those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such.”

In Rome, more clearly than in the past, Justice Alito provided his own definition of religious liberty, an expansive definition that mirrored the court’s holding in this summer’s praying coach case. . . . . The court, which in the past was notably stingy when it came to the free speech rights of public employees, endorsed this expression of militant Christianity.

In his Rome speech, Justice Alito did not refer explicitly to that case, but his definition of religious liberty underscored and explained the court’s remarkable departure. Religious liberty must mean more than simply “freedom of worship,” he said. “Freedom of worship means freedom to do these things that you like to do in the privacy of your home, or in your church or your synagogue or your mosque or your temple. But when you step outside into the public square, in the light of day, you had better behave yourself like a good secular citizen.” And he added, “That’s the problem that we face.”

If that is a problem, it’s one that Justice Alito has solved for himself. His religion does not reside in the quiet recesses of his home or chambers. His is religion on the march. And that’s the problem the rest of us face now.

Be very afraid where the extremist majority on the Court want to take the nation.  Do NOT expect similar deference to other religious tradions.  Only far right "Christians" enjoy "religious freedom" with this group of zealots. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Friday Morning Male Beauty


More Thursday Male Beauty


The SCOTUS Majority Wants to End the Separation of Church and State

True freedon in one's personal life and in freedom of religion are under severe threat in America as (i) the Republican Party increasingly embraces white Christian nationalism which seeks to impose a tyranical form of Christianity upon the nation, and (ii) an extremist majority seems hell bent on erasing the separation of church and state so as to impose "conservative" Christianity as the de facto established religion.  Meanwhile a growing majority of Americans want little to do with what the GOP and far right justices are peddling and rightly recognize right wing Christianity for what it is: a source of hatred toward others, division, and and an example of hypocrisy and false piety on steroids. A column in Politico Magazine looks at the efforts of the current majority on SCOTUS to wipe away the separation of church and state and to similarly erase the right to privacy and freedom from far right religious dogma.  Be very afraid of where these fanatics, especially Alito and Thomas want to take the nation.  The Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade is only the beginning. Here are column highlights:

Many legal scholars in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s radical decision to reverse Roe v. Wade have focused on the dangerous implications of the court’s centuries-old worldview on protections for things such as same-sex marriage and contraception. This concern is real, but there is another issue with equally grave constitutional consequences, one that portends the emergence of a foundational alteration of American government itself.

Considered alongside two First Amendment rulings last term, the Dobbs decision marks a serious step in an emerging legal campaign by religious conservatives on the Supreme Court to undermine the bedrock concept of separation of church and state and to promote Christianity as an intrinsic component of democratic government.

The energy behind this idea was apparent in Justice Samuel Alito’s speech last month for Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative in Rome. . . . Alito spent the bulk of his remarks lamenting “the turn away from religion” in Western society. In his mind, the “significant increase in the percentage of the population that rejects religion” warrants a full-on “fight against secularism” — which Alito likened to staving off totalitarianism itself. Ignoring the vast historical record of human rights abuses in the name of religion (such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and even his own Catholic church’s role in perpetuating slavery in America), Alito identified the communist regimes of China and the Soviet Union as examples of what happens when freedom to worship publicly is curtailed. Protection for private worship, he argued, is not enough.

Alito and his fellow conservatives evidently pine for a return to a more religiously homogenous, Christian society but to achieve it they are deliberately marginalizing one pillar of the First Amendment in favor of another. The dots connecting Alito’s personal mission to inculcate religion in American life and what the conservative majority is doing to the Constitution are easy to see. They begin with Dobbs.

Dobbs is significant not just because it reversed 50 years of precedent under the “due process clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment (under which the Court has recognized certain rights, even if unenumerated in the Constitution, as so bound up with the concept of liberty that the government cannot arbitrarily interfere with them). In Dobbs, Alito subverted that notion and fashioned a brand-new, two-part test for assessing the viability of individual rights: (1) whether the right is expressed in the Constitution’s text, and if not, (2) whether it existed as a matter of “the Nation’s history and tradition.” This second part of the test is the crucial one when it comes to religion — and in particular, its installation in government.

Under Dobbs’ step two, Alito time-traveled back to the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification in 1868, when women could not even vote and, in his words, “three quarters of the States made abortion a crime at all stages of pregnancy.” Alito then regressed even earlier, to 13th century England (before America’s birth), to shore up his dubious quest to excavate historical authority rejecting abortion rights. Alito gave no guidelines for identifying which chapter of history counts in this calculus. Nor did he grapple with ancient law that actually went the other way. All we know going forward is that, for this majority, text is paramount and, barring that, very old history is determinative.

Except if the text appears in the First Amendment’s “establishment clause.” In a pair of other decisions, the same conservative majority pooh-poohed explicit constitutional language mandating that “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion,” holding that a competing part of the First Amendment — which bars the federal government from “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion — is the more important and controlling.

Up until this term, the answer was that government employees can worship freely like the rest of us, just not necessarily in their official capacities. In Employment Division, Department of Human Resources v. Smith, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court in 1990 that so long as a generally applicable law is not written in a way that targets specific religious practices, it is constitutional under the free exercise clause even if it affects religious practices. And under Lemon v. Kurtzman, the Court held in 1971 that for establishment clause purposes, the government can touch upon religion only for secular reasons, such as busing children to parochial schools, and not to promote religion, inhibit religion or foster excessive entanglement with religion.

In June, a 6-3 majority in Carson v. Makin buried the establishment clause under the free exercise clause. . . . As Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out in dissent, “this Court has long recognized” that “the establishment clause requires that public education be secular and neutral as to religion.” By “assuming away an establishment clause violation,” she argued, the majority decision forces Maine taxpayers to fund religious education — in that case, schools that embrace an affirmatively Christian and anti-LGBTQ+ ideology. “[T]he consequences of the Court’s rapid transformation of the religion clauses must not be understated,” she warned, because it risks “swallowing the space between the religion clauses.”

But there’s more. In an opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the same majority in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District championed a public high school football coach’s insistence on publicly praying on the field after a game, effectively overruling Lemon as an “ahistorical approach to the establishment clause.” “Here,” Gorsuch wrote, “a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance . . . . The problem again, as Sotomayor complained in another dissent, is the pesky establishment clause: “This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the framers fought to build.”

After Dobbs, history and tradition at the time of the framing of the Constitution are now the linchpin of constitutional interpretation. And Thomas has explicitly connected the founding period — and national identity — with Christianity. . . . In his recent speech, Alito recounted a personal experience in a Berlin museum when he encountered a “well-dressed woman and a young boy” looking at a rustic (presumably Christian) wooden cross. The boy asked, “Who is that man?” Alito perceived the child’s question as “a harbinger of what’s in store for our culture” — “hostility to religion or at least the traditional religious beliefs that are contrary to the new moral code that is ascendant in some sectors.”

Although less publicly explicit than Alito and Thomas about his views on religion in government, Gorsuch privately spoke in 2018 to the Thomistic Institute, a group that “exists to promote Catholic truth in our contemporary world by strengthening the intellectual formation of Christians . . . in the wider public square.” Justice Amy Coney Barrett has written that “[Catholic judges] are obliged . . . . to adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters,” and gave a commencement address to Notre Dame law graduates advising that a “legal career is but a means to an end, and . . . . that end is building the kingdom of God.”

Historical accounts at the time of the 1787 Constitutional Convention indicate that the Framers and political leaders largely believed that governmental endorsements of religion would result in tyranny and persecution. There was a “concerted campaign” from the Anti-Federalists to “discredit the Constitution as irreligious, which for many of its opponents was its principal flaw,” along with repeated attempts to add Christian verbiage to the Constitution. The ultimate rejection of religious language demonstrates that the Founders intended constitutional secularity.

Keep in mind, too, that as Elizabeth Dias recently chronicled for the New York Times, the push for a Christian government is sweeping GOP politics, as well. At Cornerstone Christian Center, a church near Aspen, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) received a standing ovation after urging that “[t]he church is supposed to direct the government.” Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, Doug Mastriano, likewise called the separation of church and state a “myth.” “In November we are going to take our state back,” he said. “My God will make it so.”

Although polls show that declaring the United States a conservative Christian nation is a minority view, the same was said about the reversal of Roe. This Supreme Court clearly doesn’t care.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

More Wednesday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Youngkin: Teachers Should Out LGBT Kids To Parents

According to numerous studies, LGBT youth make up in the neighborhood of 40% of the homeless youth nationwide.  Many are homeless because they were driven out or discarded by their parents, especially far right evangelical parents.  Virginia governor Glen Youngkin seemingly wants to exacerbate the problem here in Virginia by requiring teachers to out LGBT students to their parents - something not currently done but likely to change as Youngkin puts right wingers on the Virginia Board of Education.   Never mind the potential negative consequences be it youth thrown out of their homes or driven to suicide.  With Youngkin, it is all about pandering to the Christofascists and extremists with the Republican Party of Virginia base and positioning himself for a possible White House run.  Sadly, to Youngkin, homeless or dead LGBT youth is not on his radar as revealed by an interview with WJLA News.  Here are story excerpts:  

In several school districts in Virginia, teachers are strictly prohibited from informing parents of their kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity without the student’s permission.

For instance, if a Fairfax County or Loudoun County student identifies as transgender at school, teachers aren’t allowed to tell the student’s parents unless the student says it’s OK.

Now that Youngkin has a majority on the Virginia Board of Education, 7News asked the governor if he thinks the board will pass new guidance for school districts.

"With regards to informing parents with most important decisions about their children, I think everybody knows where I stand, parents matter," said Youngkin. "Parents should be at the forefront of all of these discussions. And I firmly believe that teachers and schools have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed about what's happening in their kids' lives. And one of the things we learned last year during the campaign is that parents were tired of being pushed to the background in their child's education."

LGBTQIA+ advocate Robert Rigby said Fairfax County Public School's policy protects and preserves the communication and relationship between students and their parents and guardians. . . . No one [including school staff] should take this crucial discussion of 'coming out' away from the students and parents by 'outing' someone. It feels and is really intrusive and can be damaging to the parent/child relationship, sometimes permanently."

A Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson said Regulation 8040 states this:

"Student Privacy and Confidentiality. Staff shall follow and adhere to legal standards of confidentiality relating to information about a student’s gender identity, transgender status, legal name or sex assigned at birth. Staff must support student privacy and safety and not disclose a student’s gender identity or transgender status to other students or other parents. A student’s gender identity or transgender status should not be shared without the student’s consent, even internally among school personnel except to those with a legitimate educational interest or need to know.

Youngkin’s state Department of Education is developing a policy that will require schools to notify parents of sexually explicit materials in schools.  . . . "We're so pleased this year, to be able to sign legislation on a bipartisan basis to give parents the ability to decide where their children wear a mask, to give parents the ability to whether materials are appropriate for their children in their instruction," said Youngkin. . . . I firmly believe that parents should be informed on all aspects of their children's lives. And it's an obligation of our school system and teachers in order to do that."

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Trump, Fox and The GOP Spin Lies Following the FBI Search Warrant

Many in the mainstream media - typically the same ones who for years have engaged in false equivalency and a pretense that the GOP has not perversely changed - are breathless in the wake of the FBI execution of a search warrant against Doanld Trup at Mar-A-Lago, seemingly searching for stolen federal documents (some thought to be top secret) removed from the White House in violation of federal statutes.  Yes, the action was unprecedented but so to has been Trump's corruption and lawlessness so comparisons to other former presidents is a comparison of apples and organges.   Meanwhile, Trump is doing what Trump always does: LYING.  Sadly, the political whore that now fill almost all of the ranks of today's GOP are acting as an echo chamber, fearful of both Trump's wrath and the wratth of the vever more hideous GOP party base.  The facts and the process needed tom secure such a warrant are ignored both by those in the GOP rushing to give Trump his demanded politico fellatio and the faint hearted in the media who would not recognize responsible and courageous journalism if it beat them about the head.  These cowards also ignore the reality that if the rule of law is to survive, it must be demonstrated that no one is above the law.  No one, not even Trump.  Pieces at The Atlantic and CNN look at the truth behind the FBI search and that this is anything but a weaponization of the Justice Department or politically motivated.   First this from the CNN piece authored by former prosecutors:

The search warrant executed on former President Donald Trump's premises at Mar-a-Lago represents a seismic shift in the overall landscape of the investigations against him. We have long forecast his deepening legal peril, but this puts an exclamation point on his exposure. As a nation, we are now rapidly headed into barely charted waters.

Trump reacted with predictable outrage, claiming that his home was "under siege, raided, and occupied" and that "Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before."

He's correct on that last point. But we have never seen evidence of this kind of behavior by a president before either. CNN is reporting that the focus of the search warrant is on documents that Trump removed from the White House, including some 15 boxes of materials that have now been recovered. These materials reportedly included classified documents. 

As former prosecutors and defense attorneys, we know that, to conduct this court-ordered search, the government would have had to go through a demanding process of establishing probable cause that an offense had occurred. The search warrant materials would have had to be approved at multiple senior levels of the FBI and DOJ. Given the profile of the target, we have little doubt that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and likely Attorney General Merrick Garland would have been briefed. 

But that is not the end of the process. A district court judge or federal magistrate had to independently review the supporting affidavit and make a finding of probable cause to believe that evidence, fruits or instrumentalities of a crime would be found on Trump's premises. 

While the reported basis of the search warrant related to the removal or misdhandling of official documents, that does not mean that those potential offenses are the only ones that prosecutors are looking at. . . . . even before Monday's seizure of the documents, Trump's lawyers were in communication with DOJ officials, according to CNN sources, to discuss assertions of executive privilege. That seems unlikely to relate only (if at all) to Trump's mishandling or removal of official documents. Instead, it signals a sharp interest in issues like the false electoral slates that give rise to the likely crimes of conspiracy to defraud and obstruction of congress. 

If some thought he [AG Garland] was moving slower than they would have liked, he's now clearly moving faster than we all expected. If you believe that no one is above the law, and that the powerful and the powerless should be treated the same in the face of probable cause of crime, the new pace of Garland's investigation is profoundly reassuring.

Of course, today's Republican Party no longer believes in the rule of law or, sadly in democracy, if it threatens GOP control.  The party likelise no longer belives that the views and desires of the majority of Americans matters be it on matters of abortion, voting rights and a host of other issues.   Hence, it is little surprise that Republicans quickly begans shouting out lies and threats merely to stay in the good graces of the ugly party base.  This from The Atlantic:

The merits of a potential government case against Donald Trump, and of the basis for the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, cannot yet be evaluated, despite the assertions of many of Trump’s supporters and critics. A federal search warrant can be obtained only with probable cause and with the approval of a federal magistrate . . . . . the reflexive Republican insistence that the investigation is politically motivated is itself unmoored from the available evidence.

On Fox News, pundits warned of a “preemptive coup,” proclaimed a “dark day for the republic,” and compared the FBI to “the gestapo.” Other conservative-media figures grimly suggested that political violence was imminent, while a few right-wing intellectuals tweeted menacingly in the same tone that a mid-level functionary on the Death Star uses right before he gets choked out by Darth Vader. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that the FBI was in a “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization” and threatened to investigate if Republicans take back Congress in the midterms.

[T]he certainty that Trump is being politically persecuted cannot be supported by evidence. It is instead based on ideology: There are people against whom law-enforcement action or abuse is always justified, and there are people against whom it can never be justified. That is, if law-enforcement officials want to murder an unarmed Black man in the street, brutalize protesters against police misconduct, or investigate a Democratic presidential candidate, conservatives will insist that such officers are infallible and that any criticism of their conduct is outrageous. But when the law is used to investigate or restrict the conduct of people deemed by conservatives to be above its prohibitions, that is axiomatically an abuse of power.

This is why, for example, it was perfectly permissible for Trump to order his attorney general to prosecute his political opponents, to even campaign on that basis, but it is intolerable politicization for him to be investigated, regardless of the basis. . . . . Law enforcement is legitimate and deserving of unconditional support only as long as it enforces the law against groups conservatives want it to target and exempts those they do not.

Ironically, Trump has continually received favorable treatment from the FBI. . . . conservatives believe that the law does not apply to Trump. (The centrist version of this argument is that any politician with sufficient political support becomes an unaccountable caudillo who possesses legal immunity, a position that mocks the bedrock democratic principle of political equality.)

Trump himself publicly encouraged cops to physically assault those in their custody, while his administration abandoned any pretense of federal oversight of police misconduct. Ultimately, conservatives believe this unfairness in the justice system to be a virtue, as long as they are never on its losing end.

The Trump supporters outraged about the Mar-a-Lago raid are not lamenting that those protections have been curtailed. They simply believe that Trump should not be subject to the law at all. Political systems with such exemptions exist, but democracy is not one of them.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


More Tuesday Male Beauty


Liz Cheney is the Obi-Wan to Trump’s Darth Vader

If anyone had told me 15 or more years ago that I would be applauding the actions of Liz Cheney much less her father, Dick Cheney who I frequently compared to Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars on this blog, I would have insisted that such a thing could and would never happen. Yet, fast forward to today and one see's Dick Cheney in a scathing political ad excoriating Donald Trump and Liz Cheney continues to display a political courage  and strength worthy of Princess Leia as she seeks to hold those responsible for the first coup attempt in America's history responsible. It's as if the universe has shifted in a way unimaginable just a few years ago.  A column in the Washington Post looks at Dick Cheney's full on attack on Trump:

It is not often that you see Democrats tear up over a message from former vice president Dick Cheney. However, his campaign ad for his eldest daughter, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) — part swan song, part defiance, part nostalgia — tells us more about the decrepit state of the GOP than any Democrat’s ad has this cycle:

“In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump,” he declares. Coming from a former vice president and defense secretary responsible for defending America against hostile nations and foreign terrorists, that’s quite a statement.

Cheney focuses solely on Trump’s danger to democracy. “He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him. He is a coward,” Cheney says. “A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters.

By contrast, Cheney says, his daughter Liz “is fearless.” And in a rebuke to the cringing careerists and Trump toadies, he declares, “There is nothing more important she will ever do than lead the effort to make sure Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office, and she will succeed.”

A second Washington Post column uses the Star Wars analogy and looks further at Liz Cheney's efforts which have made her an outcast in today's Republican Party where giving Trump the political equivalent of fellatio is sadly the norm.  Here are excerpts:

Star Wars fans, remember that scene in “Episode IV: A New Hope” when Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Sith lord Darth Vader are light-sabering it out on the Death Star? Kenobi and Vader are monologuing over the crackle of their clashing weapons when Kenobi declares, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Then, in an act of self-sacrifice he hopes will hasten the destruction of the evil Empire, Kenobi allows Vader to do just that.

A version of this battle is playing out in real life with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as Kenobi and former president Donald Trump as Vader. Now, I realize that Cheney’s father, former vice president Dick Cheney, has traditionally been known as Darth Vader, what with the Iraq War and “enhanced interrogation” techniques and all that. But work with me, people.

Ever since Trump summoned a mob to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Liz Cheney has made it her mission to destroy him. Well, by “destroy,” I mean hold him accountable for his violation of the Constitution and his oath to protect it — and ensure he never holds the high office ever again.

As the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, Cheney has been merciless in that endeavor. Her remarks at the beginning and the end of each of the eight public hearings were a warning to the nation and a clarion call to her fellow Republicans about the danger to the republic that Trump remains.

And like any power-mad wannabe despot, Trump has targeted Cheney for political elimination. Not satisfied by her removal from Republican House leadership, Trump endorsed her GOP primary challenger, who leads her by a whopping 22 points. There you have Trump’s Vader-like striking down; that the official vanquishing won’t occur until Wyoming’s Aug. 16 primary doesn’t much matter.

But follow the analogy a little further: Cheney’s presumptive defeat won’t be the end of the story. As with Obi-Wan, it will make her more powerful than Trump and his enablers can possibly imagine. Thanks to her fearlessness against Trump in defense of the Constitution, the congresswoman from Wyoming’s lone district now has a national stature independent of her famous last name. And that has led to the inevitable and growing chatter that Cheney should run for president, which will only intensify once she is in all likelihood politically martyred.

[W]hen asked about the possibility of Trump capturing the Republican nomination again, Cheney sounded like someone lacing up for the next fight. “He cannot be our nominee, and he certainly cannot ever be elected president again,” Cheney said. “I intend to be a big part of making sure that we protect the nation from the threat that he poses.”

Right now, I can’t think of another Republican with the guts and ferocity to do a better job of challenging Trump (or the dime-store substitutes putting a smiley face on Trumpism). You hear names such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan or former New Jersey governor Chris Christie as possible entrants, but the former pales in comparison to Cheney and the latter is compromised by his work for Trump.

I never thought I’d say this, but I long for the days of the Republican Party that Cheney represents. The old-school GOP that championed limited government, fiscal restraint, and the defense of the ideals of democracy at home and abroad was far from perfect; the party’s social conservatism excluded millions of Americans who didn’t fit its cramped views of society. But even though the Cheney Republicans flirted with the fringe, they kept it at bay. Trump ushered the fringe into the mainstream.

“If defending the Constitution against the threat that he poses means losing a House seat,” Cheney said in that CNN interview, “then that’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.” The Force is strong with this one.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, August 07, 2022

More Sunday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Racism, Hate and Mysogyny Reign at CPAC

If one wants to see the true extremism of today's political right in America, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas offers a window into a world dominated by racism, homophobia, religious extremism and general mysogyny.  The contrast from the days of the so-called country club Republicans of my youth and young adulthood could not be more stark.  Things that would once have never been mentioned are now shouted and embraced publicly.  Sadly, far too many older Republicans remain locked in a fantasy that their party has not morphed into something unrecognizable and down right ugly.  One of the stars of this year's gathering - a coven of extrmists - is Hungary's dictator in all but name Viktor Orbán (pictured above left) who has largely destroyed democracy in his country and eliminated a free press (which explains why Orbán remains a fan of Vladimir Putin).   Indeed, Orbán's racist views are so extreme that he'd like support a ban on interracial marriage (Clarence Thomas are you paying attention?).  As for gays, he'd simply eliminate us if given the opportunity. A piece in Salon looks at the poison Orbán is peddling which the right is lapping up.  Here are higlights:

The Democratic Party and "globalist ruling class" both "hate and slander" conservatives in the U.S. and abroad. "Progressive liberals and communists are the same." The U.S. presidential and European Parliamentary elections in 2024 are "the two fronts in the battle being fought for Western civilization." So the right must boldly fight immigration, LGBTQ rights and "the clash of civilizations," secure in the knowledge that "a Christian politician" can never be racist.

That, effectively, is how this week's three-day Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the most prominent gathering of the American right-wing, began in Dallas yesterday afternoon. While the first speaker on stage, out of deference to its host state, was Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott . . . . the clear commencement of the conference came with the speaker who followed him: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Over the last two years, Orbán has become an icon of American conservatives rivaled only by Donald Trump himself. That's so much the case that this week's CPAC is bookended by Orbán's opening speech and Saturday night's closer by Trump, who earlier this week posted pictures of him and Orbán meeting at his New Jersey golf course along with the caption, "Great spending time with my friend." Thursday's opening speech was the most high-profile appearance Orbán has made since igniting international controversy two weeks ago over comments he made condemning the notion of "mixed race" nations as an "ideological ruse" of the "internationalist left," and urging supporters to read one of the most infamously racist books of the last 50 years.

In May, the group held its first-ever European conference in Budapest, where Orbán, serving as host, offered a 12-point "open source" plan for Americans to emulate Hungary's "Christian conservative success" and reject "progressive dominance." (Among Orbán's recommendations were that conservatives commit to playing "by our own rules," embrace the values of "national conservatism," build their own media, and "expose the intent" of their enemies.) In Dallas, Orbán struck a similar tone . . . .

While Orbán and his administration frequently adopt a posture of modesty — what could their small Central European nation possibly teach the U.S.? — in reality, the mantle of authority the right has conferred upon him is no surprise to anyone who's watched American conservatives' deepening love affair with Hungary's proudly "illiberal democracy." . . . . Fox News' Tucker Carlson devoting multiple specials to the Hungarian miracle and rank-and-file conservatives calling for "nothing short of an American Orbánism." 

As New York University historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of the 2020 book "Strongmen," noted this week on Twitter, "Orbán's appearance today at CPAC is the outcome of a carefully cultivated relationship. He can be the Big Man mentoring the GOP in how to wreck a democracy."  And so he did.

Declaring Hungary "the Lone Star state of Europe," Orbán assured CPAC that, "We Hungarians know how to defeat the enemies of freedom." Politics, he said, were not enough. "This war is a culture war." . . . . The only thing we Hungarians can do is show you how to fight back by our own rules." 

In large part, apparently, that means dismissing all criticism out of hand. Telling CPAC attendees that his presence was surely confounding "the leftist media" ("I can already see tomorrow's headlines: 'Far-right European racist and antisemite strongman, the Trojan horse of Putin, holds speech at conservative conference'"), . . . Orbán suggested that any such critiques were invalid on their face. 

All of this is happening in the aftermath of the international scandal Orbán caused in late July when he said, during a speech in neighboring Romania, that "we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race." Invoking the "great replacement" conspiracy theory that claims there is an intentional effort to replace white populations in Europe and North America with non-white immigrants . . . . Any liberal claims that Europe is, and for centuries has been, "mixed-race," Orbán argued, are "a historical and semantic sleight of hand" conflating the notion of intra-European migration with "a world in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe." The difference, Orbán continued, is "we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race."

In promoting Hungary's pronatalist family policy — which includes provisions like tax amnesty for women who bear four or more children — he's long argued that Hungary doesn't merely "need numbers" but rather "Hungarian children," and that Hungarians "want our children, not foreign children, to inherit this country." 

Yet the length at which Orbán spoke against "race-mixing" in July — as well as a joking aside about calls to reduce energy consumption that some interpreted as making light of Nazi gas chambers — prompted unusually sharp condemnation across Europe and America, with Jewish leaders warning that he had invoked "dangerous" historical ideologies and journalists comparing the remarks to the Nuremberg Race Laws of Nazi Germany.

On Facebook, Orbán's predecessor, former Hungarian prime minister and opposition member Ferenc Gyurcsány, wrote that "Orbán is the tragedy of Hungary. We will die if it stays this way. We're going to be pariahs. A nation with no morals." Days after his remarks, one of Orbán's longest-serving advisors, Zsuzsa Hegedüs, quit, writing in a resignation letter published by the Hungarian press, "I don't know how you didn't notice that your speech you delivered is a purely Nazi diatribe worthy of Joseph Goebbels." 

He would go on to assure CPAC that his, and their, Christian faith precluded their being racist. "If you believe in God, you also believe that humans were created in God's image. Therefore, we have to be brave enough to address even the most sensitive questions: migration, gender and the clash of civilizations. Don't worry. A Christian politician cannot be racist, so we should never hesitate to heavily challenge our opponents on these issues. Be sure Christian values protect us from going too far." 

The intended takeaway, Perry explained, is that "When Orbán says that 'a Christian politician cannot be racist,' he's saying that if we conservatives have the right values, the Christian values, then we don't have to second-guess our hard stances on things like immigration, transgender issues or other culture war issues. We're the good guys. We're on the right side." 

All the "good German Christians" who supported Hitler and the Nazi regime show the lie to this bogus claim.

More Sunday Morning Male Beauty


Culture Wars: A Winning Issue for Democrats

The Republican Party has long used culture wars - god, abortion, guns and gays - to motivate its reactionary, knucle dragging base to go to the polls.  Now, however, as a majority of Americans begin to graps what the GOP and its religious extremist/racist base wants to inflict on the nation, it may be time for Democrats to use culture war issues to get its base to register to vote and go to the polls before we all find ourselves living a versio of "A Handmaiden's Tale."  The extremism of today's GOP cannot be overstated and the danger it poses to personal freedoms and the right to privacy likewise cannot be overstated. The extreme abortion ban just signed into law in Indiana by the GOP controled state legislature (picture at above left) is a glimpse of things to come if the GOP is not defeated. And make no mistake, gay rights and the right to contraception remain targets of the Christofacists within the GOP base and, I suspect the extremist majority on the Supreme Court nothwithstanding their disingenuous claims to the contrary. I believe Clarence Thomas' desire to erase a constitutional righ to privacy shows the real agenda of both the GOP base and the majority on the Court.  People need to wake up to this reality.  A column in the Washington Post looks at how Democrats can use this new reality to their possible advantage.  Here are excerpts:

The top lines for Democrats continue to be brutal heading into the November midterm elections: Voters are furious about inflation, they overwhelmingly believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, and President Biden is not at all a popular figure.

But based on recent polling, the issue matrix has shifted enough to provide Democrats some hope that they can limit some of their potential losses and outperform expectations, especially in statewide races for the U.S. Senate and governorships.

In an ironic twist, those issues giving them a fighting chance are what traditionally would be considered elements of the “culture wars” that Republicans previously considered their winning talking points. But a wave of mass shootings and the Supreme Court’s watershed ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade have vaulted gun violence and abortion rights way up the charts in terms of voter importance. Those two matters now rank just below the most important issue concerning voters: inflation and stabilizing the economy.

“Election 2022 will hinge on which party is able to show they are taking meaningful action to stabilize the economy, lower inflation costs (housing, gas, and food), reduce gun violence and protect a woman’s right to choose,” Joel Benenson and Neil Newhouse write in a summary of their new, bipartisan research.

In late July, they studied voters in 14 battleground states, compiling both a traditional data set on all voters and then a 37-page examination of “non-prime voters” in those states — that is, people who do not vote in every election.

[T]heir work also shows a surging interest among Democratic voters and many independents toward gun control and protecting abortion rights. It’s the type of polling and research that backs up what happened Tuesday in Kansas, when voters in the otherwise very conservative state overwhelmingly approved retaining abortion rights in their state constitution.

Benenson and Newhouse found that on that same voter-priority question, 26 percent chose “protecting a woman’s right” to abortion access as a top issue — essentially tying border security as the No. 2 issue, behind the economy. Just 9 percent of voters chose the antiabortion position as a top-tier issue, giving Democrats a big edge on this front.

Democratic voters in these battleground states now rank abortion rights as, far and away, their most important policy topic, selected by 45 percent as one of their two most important national issues. Perhaps more important for Democratic candidates, independent voters chose protecting abortion rights as their second-most important issue (trailing inflation/the economy), giving their candidates an opening to appeal to those voters.

“When it comes to extremism, Republicans have the bigger problem as a party, not the Democrats,” Benenson said in a joint interview with Newhouse on Tuesday afternoon, before the Kansas results came in.

Earlier, in their October surveys, Newhouse and Benenson essentially foreshadowed the disastrous off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey by noting how out of line the Democratic agenda and Democratic voter interests were with independent voters.

Independent voters in the fall chose the inflationary economy and border security as their top two issues, with pandemic recovery as their third issue; Democratic voters chose climate change, taxing the rich and pandemic recovery as their top concerns.

“The conversation in Washington doesn’t match the conversation that’s happening around the country,” Newhouse said at the time.

Now, Democrats appear better aligned with independent voters on their issues.

Beyond just what should be the top priorities, the polling duo also measured issues on the basis of what will most motivate voters to choose candidates. Independents top motivators are, of course, addressing inflation and the economy, but their fourth and sixth most animating subject matters are stricter gun laws and protecting abortion rights.

Those latter two issues have now vaulted to the very top of the most motivating issues for Democrats, followed by inflation, while the perennial key issue for liberals, climate change, fell into the bottom tier.

[I]f liberals in cities and inner suburbs turn out in bigger numbers than their current malaise suggests, Democratic candidates for Senate and governor could receive key boosts from what used to be the GOP’s secret weapon: cultural issues.