Saturday, January 14, 2023

Paul Ryan: Why Is George Santos Still in Congress

Donald Trump mainstreamed blatant, endless lying within the Republican Party but newly elected congressman George Santos seems to have taken lying to a level on par with that of Der Trumpenfuhrer.  Seemingly, NOTHING in his biography is true other than yes, he was born in Brazil.   Not surprisingly, many voters in his New York state district are furious they were played for fools especially as it is becoming clear that some in Republican leadership positions knew he was an utter fraud.  Yet Kevin McCarthy - who happily sold his soul to gain the speaker's gavel - and other congressional Republicans refuse to call on Santos to resign no doubt because they need every Republican member possible and fear a special election to replace Santos could see a Democrat winner.  Despite the abject moral bankruptcy of McCarthy and his lieutenants, some Republicans want Santos gone, including former House speaker Paul Ryan.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at the still raging controversy.  Here are article excerpts:

While House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is still defending Representative George Santos, whose web of biographical lies continues to unravel as we speak, the last Republican to wield the gavel is siding with the handful of Republicans who want Santos out. “This isn’t an embellished candidacy, it’s a fraudulent candidacy,” former House Speaker Paul Ryan told CNN’s Jake Tapper in a Thursday interview. “He hoaxed his voters. So, of course, he should step down.”

“I can’t imagine the guy is going to stay very long,” he added, apparently not accounting for the current Speaker’s desperation for every Republican vote he can get a hold of.

McCarthy, who is leading the smallest Republican majority since 2001, has not called for the resignation of Santos, the freshman lawmaker from New York whose life story has proven to be a Mr. Ripley–esque fabrication. Instead, he’s argued that––barring criminal charges––Santos still “has a right to serve.”

“The one thing I do know is you apply the Constitution equal to all Americans,” McCarthy told reporters on Thursday. “The voters of his district have elected him. He is seated. He is part of the Republican conference. There are concerns with him, so he will go before [the House Ethics Committee]. If anything is found to be wrong, he will be held accountable exactly as anyone else in this body would be.”

The GOP leadership’s current calculus could change if criminal charges are leveled against Santos, who is under investigation by New York prosecutors and faces a separate campaign finance complaint. Additionally, prosecutors in Brazil, where his family emigrated from, said last week they intend to revive years-old fraud charges against Santos after he popped back on their radar this month.

Since winning a Long Island congressional seat last year, a trickle of recent reporting has exposed Santos as a serial liar who embellished or fabricated a shockingly large part of his life story during his congressional campaign. He wildly inflated his professional and academic record; deceptively described his ethnic and religious background; suggested that his mother both died in and survived the September 11 terrorist attacks; and made up a host of other personal details. When confronted with this ballooning scandal, Santos has repeatedly said he has no interest in leaving Washington.

 The New York Times piece cited above has this:

In late 2021, as he prepared to make a second run for a suburban New York City House seat, George Santos gave permission for his campaign to commission a routine background study on him.

Campaigns frequently rely on this kind of research, known as vulnerability studies, to identify anything problematic that an opponent might seize on. But when the report came back on Mr. Santos, the findings by a Washington research firm were far more startling, suggesting a pattern of deception that cut to the heart of the image he had cultivated as a wealthy financier.

Some of Mr. Santos’s own vendors were so alarmed after seeing the study in late November 2021 that they urged him to drop out of the race, and warned that he could risk public humiliation by continuing. When Mr. Santos disputed key findings and vowed to continue running, members of the campaign team quit, according to three of the four people The New York Times spoke to with knowledge of the study.

The existence of the vulnerability study underscores one of the most vexing questions still surrounding the strange saga of George Santos: How did the gate-keeping system of American politics — Republican leaders, adversarial Democrats and the prying media — allow a fabulist who boasted about phantom mansions and a fake résumé get away with his con for so long?

The answer to last question is easy: the media increasing just parrots what candidates say and never do investigative report in a timely manner.

More Saturday Male Beauty


Are Book Bans a Prohibited Form of Discrimination?

Across the country and here in Virginia right wing parent groups - some funded by dark money - and Republican candidates and elected officials (think Glenn Youngkin) are pushing the banning of books with LGBT themes and/or that address non-white racial identity and all too often accurate history.   The motivations are two fold: (i) white Christofascists and white supremacists seek the removal of any books that go against their archaic beliefs or depict the horrors of parts of America's - and Virginia's - past and (ii) Republican candidates and officer holders seek to pander to their party base and primary voters who tend to disproportionately be far right extremist, Christofascists and white supremacists. This anti-LGBT and anti-minority jihad strives to deprive students of these minority groups of books that recount experiences like their own and shine a spotlight on America's often ugly past.  Now, based on complaints filed with the Office of Civil Rights of U.S. Department by the Texas ACLU investigations are underway as to whether such book bans are motivated by anti-LGBT and/or racial animus and constitute discrimination.   Should the actions be found to be discriminatory, the penalties against offending school divisions could range from mandatory training to a cut of off federal funding - the latter of which could enrage the majority of parents who find their schools penalized because of the demands of a loud minority of parents who harbor animus towards gays and racial minotities.   A piece in the Washington Post looks at what could be a game changer in turning back the efforts of religious extremists and racists.  Here are article highlights:

The federal government has opened an investigation into a Texas school district over its alleged removal of books featuring LGBTQ characters — marking the first test of a new legal argument that failing to represent students in school books can constitute discrimination.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating the Granbury Independent School District, department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said this month. The probe is based on a complaint of discrimination lodged last summer by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said ACLU attorney Chloe Kempf.

If the government finds in the ACLU’s favor, the determination could have implications for schools nationwide, experts said, forcing libraries to stock more books about LGBTQ individuals and requiring administrators, amid a rising tide of book challenges and bans, to develop procedures ensuring student access to books that some Americans, especially right-leaning parents, deem unacceptable. The books most often targeted explore sometimes-challenging themes of sexual and racial identity.

The Texas ACLU’s complaint alleges that Granbury school officials directed the removal of all LGBTQ books from school libraries, in part citing remarks by Superintendent Jeremy Glenn in a January 2022 closed meeting. As reported in an article published jointly by the Texas Tribune, NBC News and ProPublica, Glenn said his staff would be “pulling out ... the transgender, LGBTQ, and the sex — sexuality — in books.” The district later removed from library shelves at least 130 books, three-quarters of which featured LGBTQ characters or themes, according to the article.

These actions, attorneys for the Texas ACLU argue, violate Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in public schools on the basis of sex. The Biden administration recently interpreted this law as forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — a finding that is key to the ACLU chapter’s argument.

“The book removals and also the comments create this pervasively hostile environment,” attorney Kempf said. “Both send a message to the entire community that LGBTQ identities are inherently obscene, worthy of stigmatization — and the book removals uniquely deprive LGBTQ students of the opportunity to read books that reflect their own experiences.”

Experts say the argument advanced by the Texas ACLU is unprecedented — but may stand up well to federal scrutiny and in court, should the investigation develop into a lawsuit.

“I think it’s gonna hold,” said John Doherty of the School Liability Expert Group, a firm that provides expert witness testimony and legal consultations to schools. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up at the Supreme Court eventually.” . . . . He also predicted that the federal probe is likely to proceed slowly, taking one to two years, and could generate penalties for the school district ranging from nothing to a reduction in federal funding to government-mandated training on inclusivity.

Already, though, the Texas ACLU’s contention that removing books featuring certain kinds of students may amount to discrimination is drawing attention — at a moment when school book bans and challenges have surged to historic levels nationwide and school officials are clandestinely pulling texts from shelves to avoid controversy. Analyses from PEN America and the American Library Association show that the vast majority of books drawing complaints are written by or about people of color and LGBTQ individuals.

The Texas ACLU has already filed a second complaint with the Office for Civil Rights making the same argument, this one against Texas’s Keller Independent School District. That complaint, filed in November, targets a decision by the school board last year to ban library materials that discuss or depict “gender fluidity.” The Texas ACLU contends that this amounts to discrimination against LGBTQ students because it “seeks to erase transgender and non-binary identities ... and sends the message that transgender and non-binary students do not belong in the Keller ISD community.”

Meanwhile, library and free speech advocates are taking notice. John Chrastka, who heads the national political action committee EveryLibrary, said he was thrilled when he realized the scope and implications of the Texas ACLU’s argument that book banning could violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

This year, Chrastka said, EveryLibrary plans to repeat that contention in amicus briefs it will file in lawsuits against school book banning. As an example, he pointed to the ongoing suit filed by two students in Wentzville, Mo. that alleges their school district removed books representing the viewpoints of people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

Added Kempf, of the ACLU: “Instances of curricular censorship that we’ve seen are motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus, and we think this is a powerful tool in our tool belt to fight this politicized hostility towards LGBTQ students.”

The only real certainty in the Granbury investigation so far, Harouni said, is that the Texas ACLU’s argument has opened yet another battlefront in the fierce education culture wars.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, January 13, 2023

More Friday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Virginia Bill Would Force "Outing" of Transgender Students

The 2023 session of the Virginia General Assembly is only a few days old and Republican members are introducing bills aimed at pandering the the Republican Party of Virginia's extremist, knuckle dragging base with a view of either avoiding a primary challenge or enticing extremist primary voters to support them.  Hence the flurry of bills that have no chance of passage in the Virginia Senate that range from anti-abortion bills to gratutious anti-gay bills and bills attacking transgender students.  One such bill would force public school staff to "out" students to their parents, a number of who would likely be homophobic bible thumpers.   While school can be difficult as a gay or transgender student - I lived it as a closeted gay, so I know first hand - at the same time school teachers and counselors can often be the sole source of support for such students.  Under the bill introduced by Del. Tara Durant (R-Fredericksburg), pictured above, who is angling for the nomination for a state sente seat, these would be allies and sources of support would be mandated to out students to parents.  A a piece in the Los Angeles Blade looks at this disturbing Republican effort to boost politicians own political ambitions while potentially harming the lives of students already dealing with adverse circumstances.  Ms. Durant obviously cares nothing about the suicides the policies she is pushing could trigger if enacted.  It is disgusting, but then again, so is today's GOP.  Here are article excerpts:

RICHMOND – Virginia state Del. Tara Durant (R-Fredericksburg) on Monday introduced a bill that would require school personnel to notify a student’s parents if they are transgender.

House Bill 1707 would require “any person licensed as administrative or instructional personnel by the Board of Education and employed by a local school board who, in the scope of his employment, has reason to believe, as a result of direct communication from a student, that such student is self-identifying as a gender that is different than his biological sex to contact, as soon as practicable and in accordance with board guidelines, at least one of such student’s parents to ask whether such parent is aware of the student’s mental state and whether the parent wishes to obtain or has already obtained counseling for such student.” 

The Fredericksburg Republican who is running for the Virginia Senate introduced HB 1707 two days before the Virginia General Assembly’s 2023 legislative session begins.

State Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach) has introduced a bill that would ban trans athletes from school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. State Del. Jason Ballard (R-Giles County)’s House Bill 1434 would ban “any school board member or school board employee from changing the name of a student enrolled in the local school division on any education record relating to such student unless the member or employee receives a change of name order for such student that was issued in accordance with relevant law.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin last September announced his plans to revise guidelines for trans and nonbinary students that his predecessor, Democratic Ralph Northam, signed in 2020. The Virginia Department of Education has not announced when the proposed changes will take effect.

State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly trans woman elected to a state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview that HB 1707 would forcibly out trans students. The Manassas Democrat who is also running for the state Senate further noted HB 1434 would “prevent trans kids from being acknowledged as who they are in school.”

“This is what happens when straight people, never in their lives, have worried about being outed to other people,” said Roem.

Hopefully, Durant and her bill will both go down to defeat. 

More Friday Male Beauty


Republcans Again Seek to Slash Social Security and Medicare

Older voters tend to vote Republican either out of habit and a blindness to the reality that the GOP they once knew is long dead and gone or because of culture war issues with Republicans time and time again holding up the bogeymen of gays, blacks, Hispanics and those older white voters view as "other" and not "real Americans."  Stupidly, these voters are induced to vote against their own economic best interests even as the Republican Party has become increasingly extreme and ever more fixated on tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations while seeking to  gut the social safety net - including Social Security and Medicare, programs very popular with so-called senior voters.  Now, with Republican extremists with a slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and holding Speaker McCarthy hostage, the House GOP appears poised to seek to slash both Social Security and Medicare along with Medicaid which funds much of the nursing home care in the nation.  While the Democrat majority in the U.S. Senate can ostensibly block these efforts, there are serious concerns that the House extremists will block an increase in the debt ceiling and cause a government shut down and default on America's debt obligations if their demands to slash Social Security and Medicare are not met.   This insanity ought to upset all Americans but ought to truly terrify retirees who could see their finances utterly wrecked.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this GOP threat to millions (in the interests of full dislosure, I am now receving Social Security and am on Medicare after paying into the systems for well over 45 years and still have payroll deductions taken for both programs while also paying a Medicare premium every month - the programs are anything but free).  Here are column excerpts:

The Republicans who now control the House will soon try to slash Social Security and Medicare. They plan to achieve this by holding the economy hostage, threatening to create a financial crisis by refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling. The interesting questions are why they want to do this, given that it appears politically suicidal, and how Democrats will respond.

Before I get into the puzzles, let me start by pointing out that the plot against the social safety net isn’t a conspiracy theory. The general shape of the scheme has been widely reported for months. The arithmetic is also clear: It isn’t possible to achieve huge reductions in the budget deficit, while at the same time depriving the I.R.S. of the resources it needs to go after tax cheats, without deep cuts in popular social programs.

And beyond all that, we now have it in black and white — well, blue on blue. CNN has obtained a screenshot of a slide presented at a closed-door Republican meeting on Tuesday. The first bullet point calls for balancing the budget within 10 years, which is mathematically impossible without deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The second calls for reforms to “mandatory spending” — which is budget-speak for those same programs. And the final point calls for refusing to raise the debt limit unless these demands are met.

So the plan isn’t a mystery. I would add only that if Republicans try to assure currently retired Americans that their benefits wouldn’t be affected, this promise isn’t feasible — not if they’re serious about balancing the budget within a decade.

But where is this determination to gut programs that are crucial to well over 100 million Americans coming from? These programs are, after all, extremely popular — even among Republican voters.

It’s true that self-identified Republicans say that they are vehemently opposed to “socialism.” But when an Economist/YouGov poll asked them which programs they considered socialistic, none of the big-ticket items made the cut. Social Security? Not socialism. Medicare — which is, by the way, a single-payer national health insurance program, which we’re often told Americans would never accept — also isn’t socialism.

One reason even Republicans support major social programs may be that G.O.P. support comes disproportionately from older voters — and most of America’s social spending goes to seniors. This is obviously true for Social Security and Medicare, which kick in primarily when you reach a minimum age. But it’s even true for Medicaid: Most of Medicaid’s beneficiaries are relatively young, but almost two-thirds of the spending goes to seniors and the disabled, many in nursing homes.

Which means that the priorities of the new House majority are wildly out of line with those of its own voters, let alone those of the electorate as a whole.

So where is the push to gut Social Security and Medicare coming from? Ronald Reagan left the White House 34 years ago. The modern G.O.P. seems much less animated by small-government ideology than by the desire to wage culture war. And there’s no necessary connection between culture war and right-wing economics. For example, France’s anti-immigrant National Rally has, in effect, staked out an economic position somewhat to the left of the Macron government.

Here’s what I think is going on: Even now many, perhaps most Republicans in Congress aren’t culture-war zealots. Instead, they’re careerists who depend, both for campaign contributions and for post-Congress career prospects, on the same billionaires who have supported right-wing economic ideology for decades. They won’t stand up to the crazies and conspiracy theorists, but their own agenda is still tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor and middle class.

And the culture warriors go along because they basically aren’t interested in policy substance.

I’m not completely sure that this analysis is right. But all indications are that at some point this year the Biden administration will have to deal with a full-scale effort at economic blackmail, a threat to blow up the economy unless the safety net is shredded. And I worry that Democrats still aren’t taking that threat seriously enough.

The conclusion: vote Democrat in EVERY election and do not be duped by culture war lies and propaganda.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, January 12, 2023

More Thursday Male Beauty


Next Frontier in the Abortion Wars: Your Local Drug Store

In their never ending quest to control the lives and bodies of others and to inflict their religious beliefs on all Americans, the anti-abortion forces and Christofascists are now targeting drug store chains that stock and dispense abortion pills in states where they’re legal.  Never mind the last part, namely drug stores in states where such drugs are legal since god forbid someone living in a red state embracing 12th century dogma might purchase such drugs in another state.   The irony, of course, is that many of these same militant "pro-life" anti-abortionists vote Republican and oppose funding programs to aid the poor and support unlimited assess to gus and oppose any meaningful gun control measurse.   Once children are born, all bets are off and getting kicked to the gutter is just fine.  The hypocrisy of these "pro-lifers" is mind numbing.  The sad reality is that the biggest threat to religious freedom for the majority of Americans is evangelicals and Christofascists who insist only they deserve "religious freedom" while the rest of us must live in accordance with their beliefs.  A piece in Politico looks at the new effort taegeting drug stores.  Here are highlights:

Fresh off winning their decades-long battle to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion-rights opponents are pinpointing their next targets: the nation’s biggest pharmacy chains.

Anti-abortion advocates are organizing pickets outside CVS and Walgreens in early February in at least eight cities, including Washington, D.C., in response to the companies’ plans to take advantage of the Food and Drug Administration’s decision last week allowing retail pharmacies to stock and dispense abortion pills in states where they’re legal.

The demonstrations aim to bring the same chants, signs and tense confrontations to drug store parking lots that groups have long used to try to deter visits to abortion clinics. The protests will coincide with a call-in campaign and planned national boycott of the chains.

“We want people to be uncomfortable going into a CVS that has a demonstration going on and to consider going to a different pharmacy,” said Caroline Smith, a leader of the group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising. “We also want to put enough pressure on the companies to retract this decision and not get certified to sell abortion pills.”

A Walgreens spokesperson declined to comment on the protests. CVS did not respond to a request for comment.

The anti-abortion movement is zeroing in on pharmacies as the pills have become the most popular method for terminating a pregnancy in the U.S. and a key way people are accessing abortion in states where it’s banned.

The upcoming protests are just one piece of a broader strategy that, if successful, could further fray the national patchwork of access to abortion.

As legislatures reconvene this month — many for the first time since Roe v. Wade was overturned — Missouri and Kansas are among several states weighing bans on mail delivery and pharmacy dispensing of mifepristone, the first of two pills used to terminate a pregnancy.

Members of the new House Republican majority will also put forward a bill on Wednesday, first shared with POLITICO, that would expand the rights of pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for the drug.

And conservative advocates are threatening legal action against pharmacies that opt to dispense the pill as other pending lawsuits seek to ban their use nationwide.

These conservative plans threaten to curtail what progressives call an already limited effort to expand access to abortion — and discourage patients from seeking the pills even if pharmacies opt to provide them.

Progressive lawmakers and abortion-rights advocates initially cheered the FDA’s January announcement, saying it could make the drugs more widely available, even as more states move to impose restrictions. They also expressed hope that the policy could reduce stigma around the use of the pills by treating them more like other prescription medications.

But as details of the policy came to light, many on the left raised concerns that its impact would be limited for several reasons, including low participation from pharmacies due to red tape, cost to patients, and new state laws targeting the pills’ distribution. . . . both the American Pharmacists Association and the National Community Pharmacists Association said it’s too early to know how many pharmacists will jump through those hoops and risk being targeted by anti-abortion groups.

“The safety of pharmacy teams is really important, and that’s something they’re going to take into consideration when they decide whether or not to become certified,” said Ilisa Bernstein, the interim CEO for the American Pharmacists Association. “In some communities, that may be more of a concern than others, but it is a concern.”

Rachel Rebouché, a reproductive health law expert and dean of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, said she doesn’t think the certification process FDA has outlined for pharmacies is “super onerous,” but the tracking and records requirements may deter pharmacies that aren’t accustomed to handling these sorts of restrictions from seeking certification, especially small independent operations.

The prospect that some pharmacies might be dissuaded from dispensing the pills even in states where they remain legal has some medical groups and progressive advocates arguing the FDA should have dropped all of its restrictions.

“The FDA could have taken the opportunity to greatly simplify the process,” said Ushma Upadhyay, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco’s school of medicine and researcher with the group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health. Medication abortion is extremely safe. Many studies have found severe complication rates of less than half of one percent. And we know pharmacies dispense other drugs with much greater risks without all these restrictions and certification requirements.”

Cost could prove another barrier to patients accessing the pills.

The biggest reason the pills won’t be available at all pharmacies, however, will likely be the growing number of state laws dictating how patients can obtain them or banning them outright.

Pharmacies in 18 states are barred from dispensing the drugs either because abortion is illegal in most circumstances or because patients can only get the pills directly from a physician. More GOP-controlled states are expected to enact pill-specific restrictions this year — including states where abortion is already banned.

Some of these laws under consideration, in Texas and other states, are focused on expanding federal laws that allow health care providers, including pharmacists, to opt out of providing services to which they have a moral or religious objection.

Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) plans to reintroduce a federal version on Wednesday that bars employers or the government from penalizing any health worker who refuses to fill a prescription for any medication that he or she “in good faith believes may be used to cause an abortion.”

Though it’s not expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, medical groups have raised concerns that such a policy could exacerbate the already acute problem of patients being denied drugs prescribed for other purposes — from lupus to arthritis to miscarriage management — because they also can be used to end a pregnancy.

Even if they can’t enact new laws or block the new pharmacy distribution policy in court, anti-abortion forces say they will continue working to chip away at its impact, employing the “death by 1,000 cuts” strategy they relied on for decades that eventually brought about the elimination of abortion access in a quarter of the country.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Conservative "Christians" Asking Courts to Eliminate Rights for Others

Over the three decades or more that I have tracked the activities of the so-called "Christian Right"  - I call these people Christofascists - two of the things that has become glaringly obvious is that these people (i) care nothing about the rights of other citizens and are totally self-centered, and (ii) are best defind by hatred of others and cruelty towards the targets of their dislike.  Perhaps even more frightening is the growing number of rulings by hard right judges - many appointed by Donald Trump - and the extremist majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to side with these people even if it means undermining government programs supported by the majority of citizens.  To these extremist judges and justices, the rights o the few supersede the rights of the many.  As a piece in Religion Dispatches lays out, a number of pending lawsuits have the potential to destroy common sense and/or popular government programs in order to appease exteme crackpots.   The trend of demanding special rights for only "conservative Christians" is disturbing and one can only hope that in time there will be a severe backlash against these religious extremists and their supporters (in my view both "Christian" and Islamic extremists are a blight on mankind).  Here are article highlights:

Last week, the Texas Tribune reported that 156 federally-funded family planning programs in Texas must now require parental consent in order to provide teen patients with contraceptive services. Why? Because one Texas parent wants to raise his daughters “in accordance with Christian teaching on matters of sexuality,” something he claims is not possible so long as anyone under the age of 18 has access to contraception.

How can a single faith practitioner’s right to “religious liberty” allow them to stymie an entire government program that provides healthcare to millions? This alarming prospect is now at issue, not just in the family planning case mentioned above, but in multiple lawsuits in which plaintiffs argue that the mere existence of government programs they oppose wrongfully burdens their religious exercise.

Seizing the opportunity to vastly expand religious rights in an era when the courts are increasingly sympathetic toward claims brought by conservative Christians, we’re now seeing plaintiffs argue that the existence of a government social or health program that benefits the public at large violates their religious exercise. Rather than requesting personal religious exemptions from government policies, they are demanding that entire government systems be altered or shut down to accommodate their religious beliefs.

In 2020, Texas father Alexander Deanda—represented by Jonathan F. Mitchell, the architect of Texas’s S.B. 8 abortion ban—filed a lawsuit in an attempt to obstruct Title X, the federal government’s long standing family planning program.

In his complaint, Deanda argued that the “administration of the Title X program substantially burdens the exercise of religion by subverting the ability of parents to raise their children in accordance with Christian beliefs on matters of sexuality, which require unmarried children to practice abstinence and refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage.” 

While Deanda’s children never sought contraception from a Title X grant recipient he nevertheless claimed that the program’s operation burdens his religious rights, and removes the “assurance that his children will be unable to access prescription contraception or other family planning services that facilitate sexual promiscuity and pre-marital sex.”

What was his proposed solution to this supposed burden? Deanda requested that the federal court prevent the government from funding any project that “fails to obtain parental consent” before distributing family planning services to minors. In other words, an individual parent is demanding a religious right to upend teens’ ability to access contraception nationwide.

A few weeks ago, Deanda won his case before an arch-conservative District Court judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, who previously worked at the Christian Right law firm First Liberty Institute. . . . While an appeal is likely, at least for now teens in Texas no longer have access to contraception at Title X clinics without parental approval.

Nor is this case the only example of such far-reaching religious liberty claims. In December, a nurse at a Veterans Association hospital in Texas, represented by First Liberty Institute, filed a legal complaint alleging that it violated her religious beliefs to “work in a facility that performs abortion services for reasons other than to save the life of the” patient.

The nurse isn’t merely requesting that she be permitted to opt out of abortion care, which would make the complaint utterly unremarkable. Rather, she demands that the new rule allowing patients to access some forms of abortion care in VA hospitals not be applied at the entire facility where she works (never mind the beliefs of her coworkers, who may feel religiously motivated to provide abortion care, or to be patients themselves).

If the case is successful, there’s no question that conservative law firms will attempt to replicate the suit in VA hospitals nationwide.  If a single religious adherent is able to cut off access to reproductive healthcare for thousands or millions of people, what comes next? A claim that the ability of women to access contraception under Title X without their husband’s permission violates the husband’s religious liberty? A complaint by a public-school teacher arguing that it violates their religious beliefs to work at a school that teaches evolution, sex-ed, or multiculturalism—or to work alongside LGBTQ teachers? . . . These examples may sound farcical—but this is the direction that law is now being pushed.

Of course, not all faith groups are likely to benefit from an expanding definition of what constitutes a “substantial burden” on religious exercise. For example, in case after case over decades, courts have held that the destruction of sacred Native American religious sites by the government does not constitute a “substantial burden” on tribal members’ religion.

Other cases from the past year found no substantial burden where Muslims were subject to targeted questioning by immigration officials, leading them to modify their religious practices. None of these cases, had they won, would have posed the threat to public benefits present in Deanda v. Becerra or Carter v. McDonough.

There are serious concerns with expanding the legal definition of what constitutes a “substantial burden” on religious exercise. Not only could an overly-expansive definition allow individual religious practitioners to transform entire government programs or institutions, but it also stands to quash the rights of many other religious practitioners—such as the medical providers who believe it’s immoral to turn away patients in need of reproductive healthcare, or the patients who view their own reproductive decision-making as a religious right. 

The absolute worst-case scenario, however, is the path we appear to be on now—where conservative Christians are able (even temporarily) to shut down government programs they oppose, while religious minorities are left unprotected from even grievous threats to their religious practice. This development threatens to turn the entire structure of religious exemptions on its head: morphing from an individual right to opt-out of laws that apply to the general public, to an ability to transform public programs to conform to one’s personal religious beliefs.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, January 10, 2023

More Tuesday Male Beauty


The GOP Is Ramping Up Its Anti-Gay Jihad

Across the country Republican legislators - including here in Virginia - are ramping up their efforts to stigmatize and erase LGBT students and individuals, often under the smoke screen of "parental rights" even though some evangelical and far right parents pose a severe danger to their LGBT children.  LGBT youth continue to make up roughly 40% of homeless youth, typically because they are thrown out by their parents or find living in Christofascists homes too disturbing and/or violent.  The mind set is that children are chattel property of their parents and the best interests of the welfare of children and youthis subordinate to parental property rights.  Not surprisingly, Texas is in the forefront of demonizing gays and is seeking passage of its own "don't say gay: law in the upcoming legislative session.  But Texas is not alone in the jihad against LGBT students and individuals. At least 10 other states  to enact anti-LGBT legislation this year with zero regard to the damage done to LGBT youth and individuals.  Many of the bills label homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice,” despite medical and mental health knowledge to the contrary.  We are simply deemed disposable and something that needs to disappear regardless of the damage done or suicides that will be prompted.  The Texas Tribune looks at the anti-LGBT efforts in Texas:

Two bills that would ban classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in Texas public schools before certain grade levels are poised to receive top Republican backing in this year’s legislative session. But critics warn that the legislation could further marginalize LGBTQ students and families while exposing teachers to potential legal threats.

The two bills — authored by Reps. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Jared Patterson, R-Frisco — closely resemble legislation out of Florida that critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. House Bill 631 and House Bill 1155 are among a flurry of anti-LGBTQ legislation awaiting lawmakers when they return to the Capitol on Tuesday.

Their proposals would also prohibit lessons on sexuality and gender identity at any grade level if they are “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” Patterson’s bill doesn’t define what is appropriate for various age groups. Toth’s bill requires the lessons to align with state standards but doesn’t specify which standards.

Like Florida’s law, the two Texas bills don’t explicitly ban the use of the word “gay” in schools. The bills’ authors also maintain that the legislation would protect “parental rights” by allowing parents to more directly control what their children learn in school, including the existence of different sexual orientations and gender identities. . . . parents must review and sign off on any health-related services.”

Critics of the legislation argue that the bills’ vague nature would suppress discussion related to LGBTQ issues and representation.

“The reality is that everybody has a gender identity and sexual orientation; avoiding those conversations is incredibly difficult,” Adri Pérez, an organizing director with Texas Freedom Network, told The Texas Tribune. “What it becomes is a tool to be leveraged specifically against LGBTQIA+ people, because what stands out is not the people who fit in but the people who are being specifically targeted and attacked as being different.”

The bills come amid a political environment in which LGBTQ people are seeing increased hostility. Texas Republican lawmakers this session are backing legislation targeting gender-affirming care for trans youth and drag shows. The state GOP’s official party platform explicitly opposes “efforts to validate transgender identity.” It also labels homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice,” even though most people have “little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation,” according to the American Psychological Association.

Texas, as noted, is hardly the only state where Republicans are seeking to erase LGBT individuals and/or make our lives more of a living hell - all to pander to the ugliest elements of the GOP base and GOP primary voters.  A piece in the Virginian Pilot which quotes my friend Cathy Renna looks at this largr war against LGBT individuals.  Here are highlights:

After a midterm election and record flow of anti-transgender legislation last year, Republican state lawmakers this year are zeroing in on questions of bodily autonomy with new proposals to limit gender-affirming health care . . . . More than two dozen bills seeking to restrict transgender health care access have been introduced across 11 states — Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia — for the legislative sessions beginning in early 2023.

Bills targeting other facets of trans livelihood have been filed in many of the same states and are expected in several others with GOP majorities.

Gender-affirming health care providers and parents of trans youths are the primary targets of these bills, many of which seek to criminalize helping a trans child obtain what doctors and psychologists widely consider “medically necessary care.”

[S]tatehouses where Republicans expanded their margins in the midterms will likely double down on anti-trans legislation this year and reintroduce some of the more drastic measures that didn’t pass in previous sessions.

Of the 35 anti-LGBTQ bills already introduced in Texas, three would classify providing gender-affirming care to minors as a form of child abuse, following a directive last year from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that ordered child welfare agents to open abuse investigations into parents who let their children receive gender-affirming care.

In Tennessee, the GOP-controlled legislature announced after Election Day that its first priority would be to ban medical providers from altering a child’s hormones or performing surgeries that enable them to present as a gender different from their sex. The pre-filed bill would replace present law with more stringent restrictions.

Legislation pre-filed this week in Republican-controlled Oklahoma, which passed restrictions last year on trans participation in sports and school bathroom usage, seeks to ban gender-affirming care for patients under age 26 and block it from being covered under the state’s Medicaid program.

Cathy Renna, spokesperson for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said she views these bills as the product of “a permissible climate of hate,” driven by disinformation and fearmongering, that made anti-LGBTQ rhetoric more palatable in the years since former President Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

“We have politicians, celebrities and just folks in our communities who were given permission under Trump to kind of pick that scab and do and say harmful things without consequence,” Renna said. “It unleashed a nightmare Pandora’s box of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism.”

“When you look at the last few years,” she said of the LGBTQ community, “we feel like we’re under attack in a way that we have not for decades.”

Meanwhile, Democrats in some states are taking a more aggressive approach to transgender health protections.

A new California law, effective as of Jan. 1, shields families of transgender youth from criminal prosecution if they travel to California for gender-affirming health procedures, such as surgeries or hormone therapy, from states that ban such treatments for minors. 


Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, January 09, 2023

More Monday Male Beauty


America’s Culture Wars Have Overtaken Health Care

Numerous studies have revealed that thousands of Republican leaning Americans needlessly died during the Covid epidemic due to their refusal to get vaccinated and/or take other medically recommended steps to avoid infection.  Theirinsistence on exercising their "freedom" took them to the graveyard.  Sadly, health care and medicine in general are becoming increasingly politicized, especially in the realm of health care for transgender individuals and in vaccinations in general where anti-vaxers label themselves as "anti-woke" and "patriots."   With the exodus of moderates and the more educated from the Republican Party, theat party's agenda is increasing driven by anti-knowledge, anti-modernity evangelicals and Christofascist who have long seen modern knowledge and science as a threat to their fragile, not factual belief system.  Enter politicians within the GOP who place promoting themselves to this ignorance embracing party base - think Ron DeSantis and those like him - and the situation has only worsened as noted in a piece in The Economist.  Here are article excerpts:

ASIDE FROM public schools, another covid and culture-war casualty, no institution had a steeper fall in public confidence in 2021 than the medical establishment, according to Gallup, a pollster. In 2022 this downward trend continued: only Americans’ confidence in the Supreme Court and the presidency fell faster. And politics is making matters worse.

The decline is not new. In 1966 seven in ten Americans said they had great confidence in “the people in charge of running medicine”; by 2012 just three in ten did. Historically, Republicans trusted the system more than Democrats . . . . Then came covid-19. Whereas in 2018 public faith was nearly identical in both camps, by 2021 it had split, rising to 46% among Democrats and falling to 32% among Republicans. More than four in five Democrats now trust medical advice from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), compared with less than one in three Republicans.

One politician to have tapped into these feelings is Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, who sprang to prominence during the pandemic by keeping his state open in the face of establishment pressure for lockdowns. He looks likely to run for president on an “anti-woke”, “anti-migration” and “anti-mandates” platform. In December he all but added “anti-vax” to his schtick . . . . He also promised that a Public Health Integrity Committee would scrutinise advice from the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

The state supreme court has since approved his request for a grand-jury probe. His state boards of medicine and osteopathy are soon expected formally to endorse guidance to ban transgender treatment for minors, a move seen by some as a political takeover of medical institutions.

“A lot of such political stances boil down to social identity and virtue signalling,” says Myiah Hutchens, at the University of Florida. Pledging allegiance to the “correct” answers on masking, mandates and transgender care has become a badge of identity for firebrands . . . .

Notable about Mr DeSantis’s approach is that, as part of his attack on mainstream scientists, he presents himself as a guardian of true science. . . . . Many countries struggled with imperfect decision-making between scientists and politicians during the early stages of covid-19. But whereas others mostly got through without seriously harming science’s reputation, America did not.

Few areas of medicine have become as politically heated, and in need of cool-headed research, as transgender care for children. Neither side seems to be engaging in good faith. Some Democrats have misrepresented the medical consensus around how best to help children with gender-related distress, presenting this as a closed matter when there is no global scientific consensus. The cherry-picking of evidence by medical bodies such as the American Academy of Paediatrics helps explain why Republicans have become twice as likely as Democrats to believe scientists have agendas beyond the pursuit of scientific fact.

Several southern governors have sought similar bans, but most have seen their efforts blocked in courts. By going through his state’s board of medicine, Mr DeSantis not only ensures the ban is more likely to get through, he will also be able to claim it is based in science. “Florida appears to be the focus group for now,” warns Brandon Wolf, from Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ rights group, “If successful I can guarantee you will see other states replicate it.”

Political opportunism, with both parties loving science where it suits them and spitting it out where it does not, is nothing new to James Cantor, a sex researcher who has seen “fair-weather friends” come and go.

All this has real consequences. Republican voters are less likely to get a covid-19 booster. They have also become more hesitant about other vaccines, including flu shots . . . An outbreak of measles in Ohio in November and December seemed entirely down to unvaccinated children. “We haven’t had politicised epidemics before,” says Robert Blendon, at Harvard University. “There were never Republican views of polio, or H1N1 or smallpox, and Democrat views.”

Whether the genie of “blue” and “red” science can be put back into the test tube will depend in part on the medical establishment, as well as on politicians. But neither political party seems to have much interest in doing so, as both thrive on each other’s seeming unreasonableness. Americans’ health will suffer as a result.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, January 08, 2023

Kevin McCarthy: Speaker in Name Only

To be a Republican elected official nowadays requires that one (i) be amoral and devoid of any defining principles other than a lust for power, and (ii) be willing to debase and prostitute one's self to the ugliest and most insane elements of the hideous base of today's GOP.   To win the position of Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy demonstrated this sad reality in spades and basically set himself up for endless hostage taking by lunatics who now hold elected office in the House of Representatives.  Going forward, expect dysfunction among the slim GOP majority in the House that will likely guarantee that nothing meaningful gets accomplished and a GOP forced shutdown of the federal government is a real possibliity.  The lunatic MAGA elements could care less that severe damage to the U.S. economy and average American could be the result.  It's all about "owning the libs" and putting on performances for the benefit of the insane elements of the GOP that votes in primary elections. It is hard to see how things end well over the next two years given that McCarthy has empowered the most irresponsible elements of his caucus.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at the situation.  Here are are excerpts:

Having at long last put down a rebellion from within his party, Kevin McCarthy is now House speaker. He finally has the gavel he’s long coveted, but the job he secured after 14 consecutive drubbings is not the one he envisioned.

Last night, he suffered one more indignity to get it, perhaps the most stunning in a week’s worth of humiliations. McCarthy had to literally beg his most hated Republican foe, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, for the deciding vote, and a fight nearly broke out on the House floor. But after 14 failed votes, it was finally over.

McCarthy’s victory on the 15th ballot concluded an extraordinary week of defeats that froze half of Congress and turned the California Republican into a national laughingstock. The denouement was the most dramatic scene yet, as the House reconvened for what McCarthy assured reporters would be the final victorious vote. Earlier yesterday, McCarthy had convinced all but six of his GOP opponents to support him, and he needed only to turn two more. But Gaetz, who had repeatedly vowed never to support him, waited until the very end and withheld his vote one more time.

Dejected and confused, McCarthy’s allies moved to adjourn the House until Monday. But while that vote was going on, McCarthy secured the acquiescence of Gaetz and the remaining holdouts. . . . McCarthy’s remaining GOP opponents all voted “present” and allowed McCarthy to clear the majority threshold without their explicit support.

With the speaker’s gavel in hand, McCarthy will soon find out whether it was all worth it. To end the crisis, he cut a deal that essentially traded away a sizable chunk of power from the position, placing the new speaker at the mercy of the very hard-liners who had thwarted him.

Under the agreement McCarthy struck, any Republican will be able to demand a vote on his ouster. McCarthy is reportedly guaranteeing the far-right House Freedom Caucus enough seats on the Rules Committee to give the group an effective veto over most legislation that comes up for a vote. He’s committing the party to pursue steep—and, in all likelihood, politically unpopular—budget cuts while ensuring a partisan brawl over the debt ceiling that could damage the nation’s economy. . . . his capitulation to the far-right holdouts could make the House all but ungovernable.

For many, if not most, of the renegades, that was precisely the point. They saw the modern speakership, whether in Republican or Democratic hands, as a vessel for corrupt deals that resulted in too much spending and a bloated federal government. If a by-product of decentralizing power in the House is dysfunction, they reasoned, so be it.

McCarthy’s concessions have frustrated and angered some of his fellow Republicans.

Earlier this week, it looked as if McCarthy’s bid for speaker had stalled and that, for the second time in eight years, he might be forced to withdraw his nomination in the face of conservative opposition. But having evidently determined that a weakened speakership was better than no speakership, McCarthy persisted, dispatching emissaries to a flurry of meetings between failed floor votes.

McCarthy will likely receive some credit for sticking it out. He can also take some solace in the fact that expectations for what House Republicans can accomplish with a narrow majority are already quite low.

Ask most House Republicans what they realistically hope to do over the next two years, and the answer is some variation of the phrase “Hold Joe Biden accountable.” In the near term, that means issuing subpoenas and holding hearings focused on everything from the administration’s southern-border policy to Hunter Biden’s personal life and business dealings. Some members of the House GOP conference want to pursue the impeachment of Biden Cabinet officials such as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and potentially even the president himself, but it was already questionable whether Republicans could muster the votes for those moves with such a small number to spare.

McCarthy must confront how to raise the debt ceiling and how to keep the government open when the current fiscal year ends on September 30. His opponents have extracted promises that he’ll seek deep spending cuts alongside each task, which will undoubtedly be opposed by Democrats, who hold an equal share of power in the Senate and in the White House. Even before reports of his concessions were confirmed, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, issued a statement warning that the GOP’s proposed budget cuts were “all but guaranteeing a shutdown.”

For McCarthy, however, those are crises for another day. For now, he has won over just enough of his critics, and with them, the speakership. All he had to do was sacrifice power, and no small part of his dignity, to get it.

More Sunday Male Beauty


Youngkin Puts Appeasing the Party Base Ahead of School Safety

The neighboring city of Newport News is all over the national media following the shooting of a teacher by a six (6) year old who brought a hand gun to school and used against his teacher.  While the administration of former governor Northam and the then Democrat controled General Assembly made some improvements to Virginia's gun control laws, Virginia's laws remain lax and there is no strict requirement that guns be stored safely nor strict legal liability applied to gun ownes whose weapons are used to commit crimes and violence.   Maddeningly, little of the media coverage has raise what to me is the largest question: how the hell did a six year old get possession of the gun and where were the child's parents/guardians in the picture?  Glenn Youngkin, Virginia's current governor, who doesn't want any subject taught in schools that might offend the evangelical/Christofascist and white supremacist base of the Virginia GOP and has issued an executive order censoring the discussion of race and slavery and, of course LGBT individuals shows far less concern about restricting the availability of guns and keeping schools safe.  Indeed, he has done the ususal GOP stunt of blaming mental heath rather than the fact that the commonwealth is awash with guns (not a morning goes by in Hampton Roads when there are not multiple accounts of shootings in local cities).  A piece in the New York Times looks at the shooting and Youngkin's wholly inadequate response:  

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The scene was heartbreakingly familiar. Inside Richneck Elementary School, children and teachers hunkered down in fear. At a family reunification center nearby, desperate parents waited for answers. Some were so panicked that they struggled to breathe. Once again, a school shooting had left a community reeling.

Only this time, the authorities said, the gun had been fired by a 6-year-old boy.

The 6-year-old, a first grader at Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., shot a teacher with a handgun on Friday afternoon, the Newport News Police Department said, in an incident that the police said was “not an accidental shooting.” The boy and the teacher had been involved in an altercation in a classroom before the boy shot the teacher once, the police said. The teacher suffered “life-threatening” injuries but had improved by Saturday and was in stable condition.

It took only six days for the country to register its first school shooting of 2023, according to a tracker by Education Week, a count that is almost certain to grow as school shootings become more common in the United States. Outside Richneck Elementary, a sprawling, green-roofed building in a quiet neighborhood of Newport News, the school’s sign on Saturday still read “Happy New Year.”

The situation in Newport News left many shaken, with major questions still unanswered.

Among them: How did a 6-year-old child obtain access to a gun? The authorities have not publicly identified the child or the teacher, detailed the nature of the altercation or offered information about whether the gun was taken from home, school or elsewhere.

The boy was in police custody Friday evening, the authorities said, but the unusual nature of the situation leaves the path forward far from clear. While it is possible that the child could be criminally charged, legal scrutiny could also fall on the child’s parents or another adult. Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to children under the age of 14.

The shooting renewed calls from teachers’ unions and gun control groups for tougher laws to keep guns out of schools, including laws requiring safe storage. “When will the shock of gunshots in school be enough to inspire the action necessary to prevent guns in schools and the shattering of lives it causes?” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

Virginia, unlike some other states — notably Oregon and Massachusetts — does not have a broad law that requires all guns to be safely stored in homes.

“Virginia’s law is on the weaker end of the spectrum of these types of laws,” said Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The state’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, said on Saturday that he believed Virginia already had “some of the toughest gun laws in the nation” but that the next step was to invest more money in mental health treatment and to pass tougher penalties for crimes committed with guns.

He also said on Saturday, during a brief interview in Virginia Beach, that he wanted the Legislature to enact tougher penalties for gun crimes, though it was unclear whether either initiative would address how a 6-year-old was able to wield a loaded handgun in school.

To Youngkin and other MAGA Republicans, ridiculously easy access to guns guns and lack of strict accountability for gun owners are never the problem.  Meanwhile, the carnage continues.