Saturday, April 08, 2023

Matthew Kacsmaryk: The Worst Federal Judge in America

Not only did Donald Trump, a/k/a De Trumpenfuhrer, appoint three religious extremists to the Supreme Court who seek to make all Americans live subject to their religious beliefs (the real reason Roe v. Wade was oveturned), but he also packed lower federal courts with similar extremists - many deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association - who are now hell bent to inflict Christofascists beliefs on all citizens.  With Roe overturned, Republican judges and Republican controled state legislatures, as noted in prior posts, care nothing for the views or rights of the majority of Americans, but instead - much like the mullahs in Tehran - are using their power to strip away rights and enforce a version of "Chrstian" sharia law on all.  (Note, I use Christian in quotations because there is NOTHING Chrstian about these people).  A case in point is Matthew Kacsmaryk (pictured above left), a long time anti-abortion fanatic appointed to the federal bench in Texas by Donald Trump.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at Kacsmaryk who should never have been appoited to a judgship at any level much less a lifetime federal appointment.  It goes without saying that Kacsmaryk opposes LGBT rights and even contraception.   Here are highlights:

Congratulations are in order for Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk. The competition is fierce and will remain so, but for now he holds the title: worst federal judge in America.

Not simply for the poor quality of his judicial reasoning, although more, much more, on this in a bit. What really distinguishes Kacsmaryk is the loaded content of his rhetoric — not the language of a sober-minded, impartial jurist but of a zealot, committed more to promoting a cause than applying the law.

Kacsmaryk is the Texas-based judge handpicked by antiabortion advocates — he is the sole jurist who sits in the Amarillo division of the Northern District of Texas — to hear their challenge to the legality of antiabortion medication.

And so he did, ruling exactly as expected. In an opinion released Friday, Kacsmaryk invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of the abortion drug mifepristone and, for good measure, found that antiabortion medications cannot be sent by mail or other delivery service under the terms of an 1873 anti-vice law.

Even in states where abortion remains legal. Even though study after study has shown the drug to be safe and effective — far safer, for instance, than over-the-counter Tylenol. Even though — or perhaps precisely because — more than half of abortions in the United States today are performed with abortion medication.

My fury here is not because I fear that Kacsmaryk’s ruling will stand. I don’t think it will, not even with this Supreme Court. Indeed, another federal district judge, just hours after Kacsmaryk’s Good Friday ruling — issued a competing order, instructing the FDA to maintain the existing rules making mifepristone available. Even Kacsmaryk put his ruling on hold for a week; the Justice Department has already filed a notice of appeal; and the dispute is hurtling its way to the Supreme Court.

No, my beef is with ideologues in robes. That Kacsmaryk fits the description is no surprise. Before being nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017, Kacsmaryk served as deputy general counsel at the conservative First Liberty Institute. He argued against same-sex marriage, civil rights protections for gay and transgender individuals, the contraceptive mandate and, of course, Roe v. Wade.

Given the nationwide attention to the case, you might have thought that Kacsmaryk would have taken pains to appear as judicious as possible. But no: A dozen sentences into the opinion, his personal views about abortion become unmistakable. Mifepristone, Kacsmaryk writes, “is a synthetic steroid that blocks the hormone progesterone, halts nutrition, and ultimately starves the unborn human until death.”

Not appropriate — not even close. Unborn human and unborn child are loaded terms — and Kacsmaryk goes on to use those phrases multiple times, as in “the unborn humans extinguished by mifepriston” and “expelling the aborted human.” This does not demonstrate the judge’s scientific bona fides; it reveals his bias.

Even the majority in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — “other jurists” who are Kacsmaryk’s actual superiors — understood this. . . . .But Kacsmaryk is more advocate than judge. His second footnote launches into supposed ties between abortion rights advocates and the eugenics movement.

He veers out of his way to raise, sympathetically, the tangential question of “fetal personhood” — the argument that the Constitution protects fetal life from the moment of conception and therefore precludes states from allowing abortion. This man really can’t help himself. He is a true believer, miscast in a judicial role.

Kacsmaryk’s legal reasoning is as irresponsible as his rhetoric. He breezes past every barrier to getting to the merits of the case. The physicians’ group concocted to bring the lawsuit has standing “because they allege adverse events from chemical abortion drugs can overwhelm the medical system and place ‘enormous pressure and stress’ on doctors during emergencies and complications.” (There is no such evidence.)

He cites, as supposedly objective sources, studies conducted by antiabortion activists . . . I could keep going, but you get the point: This is a judge who knows what conclusion he wants to reach and is going to do what he must to get there — facts, fairness and law be damned.

More Saturday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Guns: The Next Disaster for the GOP?

The striking down of Roe v. Wade and newly enacted Republican legislation seeking to ban or limit abortion - something Glenn Youngkin and Virginia Republicans tried unsuccessfully this past seession - has generated a growing backlash by a majority of voters in numerous states.   Yet, Republicans continue to refuse to get the message that what thrills the GOP's lunatic and extremist base doesn't sell so well to those not living inside the Fox News and Christofascist and white supremacist bubble when it comes to book banning, demonizing gays, anti-abortion extremism, and perhaps next the GOP quest to put the wants of gun fanatics over the safety of the majority of citizens.   Part of what prompted the Tennessee Republican's racist ouster of two Democrats from the legislature is the unexpected (at least in GOP circles) reaction of thos seeking sensible gun laws in the wake of the latest school slaughter in Nashville. Simply put, Republicans have contempt for the will of the majority of voters.   As a column by a former Republican in the Washington Post points out, Democrats and gun control activists need to turn GOP insanity on gun laws into the next GOP policy disaster at the polls.  Here are excerpts:

In Tennessee, Republican lawmakers expelled two Black Democratic state representatives who exercised their constitutional rights by joining a protest in the state Capitol in response to a mass shooting at a school. The stunning sight of White lawmakers condescendingly dismissing two young Black men should be a wake-up call.

The expulsion of two Black male lawmakers, but not a White female representative, in a state with a history of virulent racism should shock the conscience of all Americans. How did we get here?

The slaughter of six people at a Christian school in Tennessee last month spurred a large demonstration mostly by young people in Nashville. High school students walked out of class, and throngs went to the state Capitol. . . . “More than a thousand people joined the protest organized by local mothers, packing the building’s rotunda and forcing highway patrol troopers to clear paths in the crowd for lawmakers to walk through. . . . “Demonstrators held aloft placards reading ‘No More Silence’ and ‘We have to do better’ while chanting ‘Do you even care?’ and ‘No more violence!’ ”

It seems there is new energy and intensity in the generation that has grown up with lockdown drills and horror stories.

Rather than heed the public’s demands, Republican lawmakers voted to expel two members who peacefully protested. That’s rich for a party that claims people need guns to protect themselves from tyrannical government. It might be simpler to vote the tyrants out.

Republicans have shown their true colors — not only reflexively against lifesaving reforms but also thoroughly intolerant of dissent. The effort to short-circuit democracy predictably earned the scorn of everyone from the local ACLU to ordinary citizens to civil rights and gun-reform organizations around the country. (Even before the lawmakers’ expulsion, Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action organized several hundred walkouts in 42 states and D.C. on Wednesday.)

Democrats have the national electorate on their side. Polling consistently shows sky-high support even among Republicans for common-sense gun reforms such as background checks, red-flag laws and raising the minimum age for gun purchases. Support for a total ban on semiautomatic weapons ebbs and flows but has generated strong support in states that have passed such laws.

And yet, some Republicans remain stubbornly opposed to public sentiment. They utter the same inane excuses after each mass school shooting.

And despite opposition of almost 80 percent of residents in deep-red Florida, Republican presidential-wanna-be Gov. Ron DeSantis championed a bill to legalize permitless concealed carry in his state. The White House rightfully called him “shameful” for signing the bill behind closed doors.

Republicans would rather ignore data showing red states with lax gun laws have higher murder rates than blue states with stricter laws. . . . For the past 21 years, the top 10 murder rate states have been dominated by reliably red states, namely Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri. . . . If one really is pro-life, regulating or banning weapons of war that rip children’s bodies to shred might be a good place to start.

If gun-safety advocates were savvy, they would strike while the iron is hot, staging larger rallies and protests and putting gun safety — along with abortion and democracy — at the top of the list of concerns for the 2024 election.

Gun-safety activists and civil rights groups should embrace the message of the post-Dobbs activist community: Democracy still matters.

Ultimately, we have no democracy if the people cannot decide what laws they want to live under and whom they want to represent them. And if Republican officials refuse to listen to the voters, they should join the growing list of defeated Republican politicians.

More Saturday Male Beauty


The "Tennessee 3" Highlight the GOPs Longing to Revive Jim Crow

The Republican Party of today bears no resemblance to the party I grew up in and later in which I was very active.  This reality has been underscored over and over again with ultra-reactionary and fascist judicial rulings and legislation, ranging from a Trump appointed extremist judge's ruling to overturn FDA approval of an abortion drug, to the erasure of common sense gun laws, to signals that much of today's GOP base - principally evangelicals and Christofasist and white supremacists - want a return to the Jim Crow era when blacks "knew their place" as evidenced by the Tennessee Republicans expulsion of two black representatives from that state's lower house.  The real "crime" these to individuals committed was speaking out and showing the craveness of Republicans to the gun industry and the hypocrisy of Tennessee Republicans who have overlooked far worse (and criminal) conduct committed by white legislators.   In today's GOP and among the hideous MAGA base, no dissent can be allowed and those who speak out must be slienced and/or disenfranchised. Driving this is the evangelical/Christofascist and white supremacist hatred of minorities (both racial and sexual) and anyone or fact that shows the falsity and/or ugly bigotry of their beliefs.  On every front, these people want a return to the early 1950's, yet with each new culture war outrage they are awaking younger voters and minorities to the fact they must turn out and vote and purge Republicans from elected office as happened this past week in Wisconsin.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are highlights:

The Tennessee state legislature’s expulsion of young Democratic lawmakers as punishment for protesting gun violence is being widely described as an extraordinary outlier. President Biden declared the move “without precedent.” Others see it as a rare throwback to hardball tactics largely not seen since the civil rights era or even the Civil War.

All of that is true enough, but the Tennessee events are also part of a larger story that is unfolding all around the country: GOP state legislatures are resorting to increasingly novel, overbearing and indefensible power plays to hold off the rising tides of backlash unleashed by their descent into reactionary rule.

The GOP-controlled Tennessee House voted late Thursday to expel two of the “Tennessee 3.” That trio of Democratic lawmakers had committed the transgression of presiding over protests at the capital — with one wielding a bullhorn — demanding action on guns after the horrific mass shooting in a Nashville school that left six people dead, including three children.

Two of the three Democrats — both young, Black and representing urban areas — were ousted by overwhelmingly White and conservative majorities. The third, a White woman, narrowly survived the vote. . . . the protests, while raucous, were peaceful, and according to the Tennessean, no lawmaker has ever been expelled for breaching decorum rules.

At bottom, this hysterical GOP overreaction was triggered, as it were, by mass citizen dissent over the ugly realities of right-wing rule. Before the shooting, Tennessee Republicans had been weakening gun laws every which way. After it, one Republican went viral for declaring that “we’re not going to fix” the problem, which for many protesters typified GOP pro-gun mania and helped inspire their response to it.

All of this mirrors a larger story. Red states are sinking deeper into virulent far-right culture-warring — banning books, limiting classroom discussion of race and gender and prohibiting gender-affirming care for transgender youth. GOP legislatures passing these things were of course legitimately elected by majorities, though in some cases gerrymanders increase their power.

Those legislatures are also finding onerous ways to use power to tamp down on the unexpectedly ferocious dissent their culture war has unleashed among numerical minorities, largely concentrated in cities and suburbs inside red states. As analyst Ron Brownstein argues, this often pits an overwhelmingly White, older, rural and small-town Republican coalition against an increasingly diverse, younger and more urban coalition.

“These Republican legislatures are stacking sandbags against a rising tide,” Brownstein told CNN. Call it the GOP retreat into Fortress MAGA.

In Florida, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis concocted a phony rationale to fire a local elected prosecutor over his abortion stance. DeSantis is also scrambling to exert power over Disney’s local governance structure to punish it for opposing his “don’t say gay” law, in effect using the state to retaliate against a corporation for responding to a genuine shift in the culture.

In Georgia, after Democrats scored statewide victories in 2020, the GOP legislature passed an onerous voter suppression law partly targeted at Black voters. When corporations opposed that law, congressional Republicans vowed retaliation, again threatening state action against private companies getting culturally in step with consumers and employees by pushing for more Black political participation.

Yet this retreat into Fortress MAGA faces a problem: Whenever state-level Republicans undertake another reactionary lurch, it often goes national in a big way. Attention has poured down on everything from insanely broad book bans to shockingly harsh proposed punishments for abortion to anti-transgender crackdowns with truly creepy implications.

Tennessee illustrates the point: If Republicans hadn’t sought to expel the Tennessee 3, you might never have heard of them. As commentator Charlie Sykes puts it, Republicans both “look horrible” and have turned the Tennessee 3 into national “superstars.”

This sort of thing only perpetuates youthful awareness of — and resistance to — ongoing GOP radicalization. Young voters often get their political news through this sort of viral circulation. All this will surely color their perceptions of the national GOP. Is this what Republicans want, after losing a Supreme Court race in ultra-divided Wisconsin by a stunning margin, partly because abortion rights drove uncommonly robust youth turnout?

The GOP retreat into Fortress MAGA will continue apace. But how high will Republicans have to build those walls?

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, April 07, 2023

More Friday Male Beauty - Pt 2


The Abortion Ban Backlash Is Freaking Out Republicans

On Tuesday Wisconsin voters by a wide margin sent a resounding message that they do not support anti-abortion activist/extremists.  Following on the heels of the Republican Party's poor showing in the 2022  mid-terms where abortion played a significan role as a backlash against the overturning of Roe v. Wade, one would think Republicns would have gotten the message that while a majority of their primary voting base want near comlete bans on abortion - here in Virginia Youngkin and the GOP House;s effort to curtail abortion rights failed only due to the Democrat held Virginia Senate - the majority of general election voters do not.  At some point gerrymandered districts will likely not be enough to contain the voter backlash.  Yet, the GOP seemingly cannot escape the demands of its ever more strident and out of touch party base that threatens a primary challenge for any office holder who does not drink their Kool-Aid.  A column in the New York Times looks at the dilema Republicans have created for themselves and which hopefully will continue to equate to election losses.  Here are excerpts:

After the Republican Party’s disappointing performance in the 2022 midterms, fueled in large part by a backlash to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Republican National Committee recommitted itself to anti-abortion maximalism.

A resolution adopted at the R.N.C.’s winter meeting in January urges Republican lawmakers “to pass the strongest pro-life legislation possible.” Addressing their party’s poor showing in November, it said that Republicans hadn’t been aggressive enough in defending anti-abortion values, urging them to “go on offense in the 2024 election cycle.”

The 11-point loss of the Republican-aligned candidate in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election on Tuesday has influential conservatives rethinking this strategy. “Republicans had better get their abortion position straight, and more in line with where voters are, or they will face another disappointment in 2024,” said a Wall Street Journal editorial.

Ann Coulter tweeted, “The demand for anti-abortion legislation just cost Republicans another crucial race,” and added, “Please stop pushing strict limits on abortion, or there will be no Republicans left.” Jon Schweppe, policy director of the socially conservative American Principles Project, lamented, “We are getting killed by indie voters who think we support full bans with no exceptions.”

But having made the criminalization of abortion a central axis of their political project for decades, Republicans have no obvious way out of their electoral predicament. A decisive majority of Americans — 64 percent, according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey — believe that abortion should be legal in most cases. A decisive majority of Republicans — 63 percent, according to the same survey — believe that it should not.

Now that the end of Roe has awakened a previously complacent pro-choice majority, anti-abortion passion has become a liability, but the Republican Party can’t jettison it without tearing itself apart.

The reason voters think Republicans support full abortion bans, as Schweppe wrote, is that many of them do.

In the last Congress, 167 House Republicans co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, conferring full personhood rights on fertilized eggs. In state after state, lawmakers are doing just what the R.N.C. suggested and using every means at their disposal to force people to continue unwanted or unviable pregnancies.

The Texas Senate just passed a bill that, among other things, is intended to force prosecutors in left-leaning cities to pursue abortion law violations. South Carolina Republicans have proposed a law defining abortion as murder, making it punishable by the death penalty.

In Florida, which already has a 15-week abortion ban, Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to soon sign a law banning almost all abortions at six weeks. This isn’t something Florida voters want — polls show a majority of them support abortion rights — but it’s a virtual prerequisite for his likely presidential campaign.

Republican attempts to moderate abortion prohibitions even slightly have, for the most part, gone nowhere.

It’s true that this week Tennessee’s Legislature passed a bill permitting abortion to save a patient’s life or prevent “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” But the legislation is meaningless to the point of perversity, since it places the burden of proof on doctors rather than on the state, so that they must still fear prosecution for treating pregnant people in severe medical distress. Language that would allow women to end “medically futile pregnancies” was stripped out.

More Friday Male Beauty


Clarence Thomas" Arrogant and Corrupt

Clarence Thomas - who I have never viewed as qualified to be a Supreme Court justice - has once again displayed his arrogance and seeming corruption in new disclures of Thomas' (and his lunatic wife) acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury trips around the globe for more than two decades, including travel on a superyacht, from a Republican mega donor.  None of these gifts were reported as required by the Court's flimsy ethical requirements.  Thomas - who in some ways is the Courts Donald Trump when it comes to arrogance and belief that he is above all rules - has long flouted the reporting rules and made no effort to appear unbiased in cases before the Court.  Worse yet, he has refused to recuse himself from cases before the Court involving many of his wife's political and far right ideological associates.   He - along with Samuel Alito - have made the Supreme Court appear to be little more than a kangaroo court with the result that public confidence and respect for the Court has plummeted.   It is long past time that (i) Thomas be removed from the Court and (ii) the Supreme Court justices be made subject to the ethical rules that bind the rest of the federal judiciary.  A piece and a column in the Washington Post look at Thomas' latest scandal and his unfitness for office.  First these highlights for the Post article:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted luxury trips around the globe for more than two decades, including travel on a superyacht and private jet, from a prominent Republican donor without disclosing them, according to a new report.

ProPublica reported Thursday on an array of trips funded by Harlan Crow, a Dallas businessman. The publication said Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks. It said the justice also has vacationed at Crow’s ranch in East Texas and has joined Crow at the Bohemian Grove, an exclusive all-male retreat in California.

ProPublica cited a nine-day trip that Thomas and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, took to Indonesia in 2019, shortly after the court released its final opinions of the term. That trip, which included flights on Crow’s jet and island-hopping on a superyacht, would have cost the couple more than $500,000, if they had paid for it themselves, the publication said.

Federal law mandates that top officials from the three branches of government, including the Supreme Court, file annual forms detailing their finances, outside income and spouses’ sources of income, with each branch determining its own reporting standards.

Judges are prohibited from accepting gifts from anyone with business before the court. Until recently, however, the judicial branch had not clearly defined an exemption for gifts considered “personal hospitality.”

According to ProPublica, Thomas’s trips funded by Crow do not appear on his financial disclosures.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) vowed in a statement that his panel would take action in response to the ProPublica report, calling the behavior of Thomas “simply inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any public servant, let alone a Justice on the Supreme Court.”

Durbin and other Democrats renewed calls for the Supreme Court to adopt a strict ethics code that would include a process for investigating alleged misconduct, and some Democrats called on Thomas to resign.

“The Supreme Court should have a code of ethics to govern the conduct of its members, and its refusal to adopt such standards has contributed to eroding public confidence in the highest court in the land," Van Hollen said in a statement.

“Is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas corrupt? I don’t know,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House leadership team, said in a tweet. “But his secretive actions absolutely have the appearance of corruption. … For the good of the country, he should resign.”

The Post column looks at why Thomas needs to leave the Court to help save its legitimacy:

The Supreme Court’s legitimacy crisis just entered a new chapter in the form of a shocking report that Justice Clarence Thomas apparently violated ethics laws by accepting luxury trips for more than two decades without disclosing them. In response, Richard J. Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed that his panel “will act.”

But what would it look like if the Illinois Democrat and his committee actually do act to the full extent of their authority? Is there any hope for accountability — or, barring that, reforms that could place limits on such apparent misconduct and restore public faith in the high court?

The report from ProPublica details that Thomas enjoyed extensive luxury gifts from billionaire and GOP donor Harlan Crow, from vacations on Crow’s superyacht to flights on his private jet to sojourns at various exclusive retreats around the country.

This largesse did not appear on Thomas’s financial disclosure forms, ProPublica reports, which ethics experts say violates a post-Watergate law requiring various federal officials, including justices, to disclose many gifts. One retired federal judge called the moves “incomprehensible.” A former government ethics lawyer added: “When a justice’s lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust.”

ProPublica notes, failure to disclose the trips might violate a law requiring justices to divulge information on “anything of value,” with some exceptions. Durbin, for his part, blasted Thomas for the disclosure failure, labeling this “inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any public servant, let alone a justice on the Supreme Court.”

If so, that seems to demand an aggressive response from the Judiciary Committee. Legal experts say the committee could act to shed light on the situation in many ways that would fit squarely within its authorities.

“If the committee’s investigation of the facts that have been exposed by journalists warrants it, Justice Thomas should definitely be subpoenaed, as should any other witness relevant to patterns of unlawful or unethical activity,” Feldman told me.

Thomas recently failed to recuse himself in a case involving the plot to subvert the 2020 election outcome in Arizona, even though his wife, Virginia Thomas, advocated for such subversion. As a Post editorial noted at the time, the justices could set for themselves the same type of ethical standards that lower-court judges face, including disclosure and recusal guidelines. Congressional scrutiny of the new Thomas revelations might make that harder for them to resist.

Last fall, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. fretted aloud about critics questioning the legitimacy of the court. But the justices themselves could act to shore that up. And, if they don’t, that scrutiny could build pressure for Congress to create new ethical checks on the court.

Democrats sometimes seem uncomfortable with the core principle that Congress has a legitimate oversight role when it comes to the courts, including the highest in the land. As Stephen Vladeck, a law professor who writes a Substack about the high court, points out, Congress has historically embraced that role but badly abdicated on it only in recent decades.

“The result has been a court that isn’t looking over its shoulder — and justices who don’t seem to see any reason why this kind of behavior raises eyebrows,” Vladeck told me. The Thomas revelations, Vladeck added, are only the latest iteration of “the same basic problem — the lack of meaningful congressional oversight.”

This seems like as good a moment as any to begin setting that right.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, April 06, 2023

More Thursday Male Beauty


A Huge Progressive Win in Wisconsin

Despite numerous electoral defeats in 2020, 2022, and other races where extreme MAGA candidates and/or darlings of the Christofascists have gone down to defeat, the Republican primary voter base continues to nominate ever more extreme candidates and those Republicans in office,  embrace ever more extreme positions. This despite the fact that poll after poll and survey after survey show that najorities of voters (at least outside of backwaters like southwest Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi to name a few) oppose the GOP war on abortion, gays, accurate history, and voting rights, Republican primary voters nominate candidates that not that many years ago would have been prevented from being on the ballot.  Driving to work Joe Scarborough, a former conservative Republican in Congress lamented that the GOP primary voters and their elected political whores seem unable to look beyond their right wing news bubble and grasp reality.  This propensity to nominate extremists received a sharp rebuke in Wisconsin in a state supreme court race where the progressive candidate annihilated the far right Republican candidate. The race results will have huge impacts on Wisconsin and is yet another message that Republicans around the country will likely ignore to their peril (and the benefit of the rest of us).  A column in the Washington Post looks at the progressive candidates huge victory:

In a state so evenly divided that a 1- or 2-point margin is a resounding victory, Wisconsin voters turned out in droves on Tuesday to deliver an unmistakable blow to right-wing judges and politicians pushing forced-birth laws, hyper-gerrymandering, voter suppression and union-busting. Progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz clobbered former right-wing state Supreme Court justice Dan Kelly by 11 points. That gives liberal judges a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court, a dramatic shift for a court that in recent years had delivered one victory after another to right-wing politicians and activists.

The race turned primarily on two issues: An 1849 abortion ban triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade and a radical gerrymander plan. The latter, possibly the most extreme gerrymander in the country, turned a 50-50 state into a 6-to-2 Republican advantage in congressional seats. The state Supreme Court race, given the issues involved — the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization backlash and the fact the court could play a critical role in determining the certification of Wisconsin’s 2024 presidential electors — had broken all spending records for judicial races, with tens of millions raised and spent by the candidates and third-party groups.

Pundits who thought defeated former president Donald Trump’s indictment would set off some sort of backlash to Kelly’s benefit were engaged in wishful thinking. Wisconsin voters are savvy enough to understand the former president’s legal debacles have nothing whatsoever to do with their state courts.

Democratic state party chairman Ben Wikler, who mounted a mammoth turn-out-the-vote operation, told me Tuesday, “The GOP machine thought they had broken Wisconsin’s democracy enough that they could rip away fundamental rights from half the population and never suffer the consequences. Tonight, an enraged electorate proved them wrong. In the state that tips the country, Dobbs, the crowning achievement of the far right, became its undoing.”

“Republicans here warn that ‘the rule of law’ might be replaced by ‘the rule of Janet,’ and that if she wins, hyperpartisan court races will become the norm,” intoned Semafor’s David Weigel, as if the right’s evisceration of voting rights and reproductive freedom is the norm and exemplifies the rule of law.

Kelly paid lip service during the campaign to the “rule of law,” but he has left little doubt that he is a right-wing champion, not a neutral jurist. He provided legal advice to the state GOP on the phony elector scheme and worked for antiabortion activists. His application to former governor Scott Walker “included a writing sample that likened affirmative action to slavery,” Wisconsin Public Radio reported. No one could be confused about his ideological bent. . . .

Protasiewicz explained in a recent interview for Wisconsin Public Radio, “I tell you what my values are because I think that Supreme Court candidates should share with the community and the electorate what their values are.” However, she added: “Nonetheless, I will uphold the law [and] follow the Constitution when I make any decisions. Nothing is prejudged.”

Frankly, after years of right-wing judges dissembling about their respect for precedent and their supposed open-mindedness (despite public advocacy against abortion), there is something refreshing about progressive judges going to voters to set out their values.

The intellectual dishonesty we get from the Federalist Society’s embrace of cherry-picked originalism (that inevitably leads to results conservatives favor) and the glaring intellectual dishonesty in service of partisanship from the current U.S. Supreme Court have made clear that the “game” is to reason backward from results.

Perhaps it’s time to end the charade wherein right-wing judges pretend not to be right-wing (while their Senate allies bombard any Democratic president’s nominee with QAnon-based conspiracy theories and blatant distortions). Judges on the right have been roving through the judicial landscape to turn back the clock on 150 years of social progress. It’s time to recognize that our courts were long ago politicized.

If voters overwhelmingly elect judges such as Protasiewicz who clearly articulate their values while vowing to consider each case on its merits, then we are witnessing something far too rare: informed democracy. When everyone lays their cards on the table, it turns out that an honest appraisal of judicial philosophies overwhelmingly benefits Democrats.

“The results couldn’t be more clear: Reproductive freedom was the deciding factor in this election. Wisconsinites turned out because they understood that when abortion rights are under attack, the attacks won’t stop there.”

Elected judges around the country should perk up: If they want to hijack democracy by acting like MAGA legislators in robes, they’ll find themselves out of office. And the warning to Republicans could not be more blunt: If you keep pushing right-wing judges widely out of step with the 21st-century United States to trample on cherished civil rights, voters will boot you out, up and down the ballot.

Republicans have every right to panic that Dobbs might usher in a new era of Democratic dominance in critical swing states.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, April 05, 2023

More Wednesday Male Beauty


The Red State Death Surge

Most of the the media continues to be obsessed with covering every aspect of Donald Trump's indictment and arrest and the circus it is generating.  Meanwhilr, other important issues are given less coverage that due.  One example?  How Republican policies in red states are lowering the life expectancy of red state citizens.  In general, advanced nations are seeing further increases in life expectancy yet, in America life expectancy is falling overall.  On closer inspection, life expectancy in liberal blue states is almost the same as in peer nations.  The real decline is concentrated in red states where Republican policies are increasing the death rate and driving down life expectancy. This disparity has not always existed and has increased as Republican policies deprive poor residents of health care and in general are far less supportive of public health.  Thus, red state voters who vote for Republicans and anti-health care for all policies are literally voting for those who are killing them prematurely.  It's insanity yet the Reality of today's far right culture wars.  Here are excerpts from a column in the New York Times:

Last Friday the Medicare trustees released their latest report on the system’s finances, and it contained some unexpected good news: Expenditures are running below projections, and the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund won’t be exhausted as soon as previously predicted.

But one important reason for this financial improvement was grisly: Covid killed a substantial number of Medicare beneficiaries. And the victims were disproportionately seniors already suffering from severe — and expensive — health problems. “As a result, the surviving population had spending that was lower than average.”

Now, Covid killed a lot of people around the world, so wasn’t this just an act of God? Not exactly. You see, America experienced a bigger decline in life expectancy when Covid struck than any other wealthy country. Furthermore, while life expectancy recovered in many countries in 2021, here it continued to fall.

And America’s dismal Covid performance was part of a larger story. I don’t know how many Americans are aware that over the past four decades, our life expectancy has been lagging ever further that of other advanced nations — even nations whose economic performance has been poor by conventional measures. Italy, for example, has experienced a generation of economic stagnation, with basically no growth in real G.D.P. per capita since 2000, compared with a 29 percent rise here. Yet Italians can expect to live about five years longer than Americans, a gap that has widened even as the Italian economy flounders.

What explains the American way of death? A large part of the answer seems to be political.

One important clue is that the problem of premature death isn’t evenly distributed across the country. Life expectancy is hugely unequal across U.S. regions, with major coastal cities not looking much worse than Europe but the South and the eastern heartland doing far worse.

But wasn’t it always thus? No. Geographic health disparities have surged in recent decades. According to the U.S. mortality database, as recently as 1990, Ohio had slightly higher life expectancy than New York. Since then, New York’s life expectancy has risen rapidly, nearly converging with that of other rich countries, while Ohio’s has hardly risen at all and is now four years less than New York’s.

There has been considerable research into the causes of these growing disparities. A 2021 paper published in The Journal of Economic Perspectives examined various possible causes . . . . the best explanation lay in policy: “The most promising explanation for our findings involve efforts by high-income states to adopt specific health-improving policies and behaviors since at least the early 1990s. Over time, these efforts reduced mortality in high-income states more rapidly than in low-income states, leading to widening spatial disparities in health.”

There is, in fact, a strong correlation between how much a state’s life expectancy rose from 1990 to 2019 and its political lean, as measured by Joe Biden’s margin over Donald Trump in the 2020 election . . . . There are several reasons to believe that America’s death trip is largely political rather than economic. One is the comparison with European nations, which have had much better health trends even when, as in Italy, their economies have performed badly.

Another is the fact that some of the poorest states in America, with the lowest life expectancy, are still refusing to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would cover the bulk of the cost (and the failure to expand Medicaid is killing many hospitals). This suggests that they’re failing to improve health because they don’t want to, not because they can’t afford to.

Finally, since Covid struck, residents of Republican-leaning counties have been far less likely to get vaccinated and far more likely to die of it than residents of Democratic-leaning counties — even though vaccines are free.

All of this seems relevant to our current era of culture war, with many Republican politicians praising rural and red-state values while denigrating those of coastal elites. . . . . the culture these politicians want all of America to emulate seems to have a problem with one of society’s most important functions: keeping people from dying early.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, April 04, 2023

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Fox News Just Suffered a Huge Blow

Lost in the media frenzy surrounding Donald Trump's arrest today - something I will enjoy immensely as he is fingerprinted and a mug shot taken - is the huge blow Fox News suffered in the Dominion Voting Systems libel lawsuit.  Not only did the court reject Fow News' motion to dismiss the case - meaning the case will go to trial - but the court also found that on at least 20 occassions Fox made false accusations that Dominion tampered with voting results.  Stated another way, Dominion has met its burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact as to falsity, something that almost never happens before a libel case even goes to trial.  All of this means the likelihood of Dominion winning the case and a jury saddling Fox News with a major judgment has increased radically.  Adding to the fun for critics of Fox News is the fact that there is yet a larger judgment sought against Fox in a second libel case.  Combined, the two cases are seeking over $4 billion from Fox News.  Two columns in the Washington Post look at the situation and the reality that “Fox News” is a misnomer and that the cable network isn’t really a news organization. It merely plays one on television — and deserves to lose the $1.6 billion suit to Dominion.   Here are highlights from the first column

It’s not just Democrats who believe that Fox News hosts and their guests lied repeatedly about Dominion Voting System efforts to “steal” the 2020 election. It’s also the opinion of Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis.

Davis in a ruling on Friday regarding Dominion’s defamation suit against the network held that on 20 occasions, Fox made false accusations that Dominion tampered with voting results.

“Through its extensive proof, Dominion has met its burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact as to falsity,” the judge wrote. Since Fox never disputed falsity, Davis concluded: “The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.” Fox’s motion for summary judgment was rejected, meaning the suit will go to trial.

It cannot be repeated enough: Plaintiffs almost never win on the issue of falsity before the trial even begins. Usually, there is some defense that the facts were plausibly true — or at least that the comments were opinion (therefore, not actionable). Not in this case.

Fox’s lawyers and executives have suggested that Fox wasn’t responsible for what its star hosts said. Davis flatly rejected this. “FNN [Fox News Network] is not a passive entity. FNN controls what is broadcast on its various networks. FNN does this through its employees as agents of FNN,” Davis held. He added, “FNN did in fact publish the statements to its viewers.”

“Even if the neutral report privilege did apply, the evidence does not support that FNN conducted good-faith, disinterested reporting.” He added, “failure to reveal extensive contradicting evidence from the public sphere and Dominion itself indicates its reporting was not disinterested.”

Overall, Davis’s ruling means that even before the first witness is heard in Fox’s defamation trail, the jury will be told the network repeatedly published false statements about Dominion that injured its business reputation. That is not exactly saying that Fox acted with malice, which Dominion’s lawyers will have to prove to win the case. Still, a jury might well come to that conclusion considering that the entity didn’t bother to check out an outrageous, obvious lie. Dominion now starts with a powerful advantage: Who’s going to believe anything Fox says at this point?

The ruling is as significant for Fox News as it is for the whole of right-wing media,” said Angelo Carusone, CEO of Media Matters and who has documented Fox’s antics for years. “For Fox, the ruling underscores their incredibly weak legal position and dramatically increases the likelihood that they Fox will lose at trial.” He added, “Regardless of how this shakes out legally, Fox is on its heels, which means the right-wing echo-chamber is currently without its conductor at a moment when it needs it the most.”

On the issue of malice, Davis’s damning recitation of the facts shows that Fox knew it was lying. . . . . Fox’s arguments appear weak. It claims there’s a difference between not knowing something is true and knowing it’s false. But running something without any evidence that it is true sounds like the very definition of malice — i.e., reckless disregard for the truth.

 The pretense that Fox is a real news organization is being blown to smithereens — as is a great deal of the right’s narrative about everything from stolen elections to race to immigration. Discredit Fox, and you discredit a huge portion of the right-wing echo chamber and the MAGA pols who thrive in it.

Credible media, elected officials and voters can now stop treating Fox as a legitimate news outlet. If Fox doesn’t believe its own propaganda, why should anyone else?

The second column is similarly damning to Fox News:

What Fox did to Dominion was not journalism. It was more like a mugging.

After the 2020 election, Fox repeatedly aired wild, unsubstantiated and patently false allegations about Dominion’s voting machines having “stolen” votes — and, by extension, the presidency — from incumbent Donald Trump.

In a ruling on Friday sending the case to trial, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis wrote that the evidence produced so far makes it “CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.”

The lies pushed by Fox’s hosts and guests included claims that Dominion was created in Venezuela to rig elections for dictator Hugo Ch├ívez, who died in 2013, and that the company’s machines used some kind of algorithm to change Trump ballots into votes for Joe Biden. These and other false statements, Davis ruled, were presented by Fox as fact rather than opinion and — to state the obvious — were harmful to Dominion’s reputation.

What is most stunning about the voluminous evidence presented thus far by Dominion is how differently Fox operates from any news organization I’ve encountered in all my years as a journalist.

Text messages, emails and other internal Fox communications show that in the weeks after Election Day, as Trump and his advocates pushed the “stolen election” lie, the network’s most senior executives — including Murdoch himself — and its most popular hosts were less concerned about reporting the truth than about having Fox’s huge, lucrative, Trump-supporting audience stolen away by even more MAGA-friendly outlets, such as Newsmax and One America News (OAN), with even fewer journalistic scruples.

At legitimate news organizations, senior figures do not seek to have staff members fired for telling the truth. At Fox, however, this appears to be business as usual. During the 2020 vote count, Fox was the first network to call Arizona for Biden — which all but extinguished any chance for Trump to win an electoral majority and sent him into a rage. Real news organizations take pride in being first — and right — on an election call. Fox, by contrast, ended up firing the politics editor who oversaw the Arizona call, ostensibly as part of a bureaucratic reorganization.

[T]he network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, complained in early December 2020 about an anchor who had fact-checked some of Trump’s false “stolen election” claims. “This has to stop now,” Scott wrote. “This is bad business and there clearly is a lack of understanding [of] what is happening in these shows. The audience is furious and we are just feeding them material. Bad for business.”

I don’t believe this case threatens the protections accorded to journalists. My only worry is that some people might get the idea that actual news organizations think and act like Fox. We do not.

Anyone who watches Fox News is either a total fool or is allowing themselves to be played for fools. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, April 03, 2023

More Monday Male Beauty


Africa is Marching Backward on LGBT Rights

Much of Africa remains a hell hole where ignorance flourishes and, if one is LGBT, the best option is to leave the continent entirely.   With leaders and legislators utterly ingnorant to the fact that anti-gay policies and homophobia were European imports, not indiginous to the continent, and American evangelicals and Christofascists working hard and spending lavishly to spread their anti-LGBT posion, prospects for improvement are bleak.   Adding to the ominous situation are Russia's and China's embrace of anti-gay policies as a wedge issue against American human rights policies.  Putin in particular has gone all in when it comes to anti-LGBT laws as he has pandered to the long anti-democractic and anti-modernity Russian Orthodox Church as a means to shore up political support on the home front. Leading the way in anti-gay extremism is Uganda where now simply being gay can lead toinprisonment.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the horrible reality across much of Africa.  Here are highlights:

The Ugandan parliament’s discriminatory bill making it a crime to identify as gay is an abhorrent assault on personal freedom and human dignity, and the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, should not sign it into law. That may be too much to hope, since he has regularly made homophobic remarks, including last month calling LGBT people “deviants.” Also, this draconian bill passed to applause and cheers in the legislative chamber, with all but two of the 389 lawmakers at the session in favor.

Sadly, Uganda is not an outlier in Africa, posing a challenge for President Biden and other Western leaders as they seek to engage with countries on the continent — and keep them from joining China’s orbit.

Uganda’s 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill would not only make it illegal to identify as gay, punishable by prison time, it would also place a duty on friends and family members to report anyone in a same-sex relationship. Journalists and media outlets found to publish or broadcast supposed gay content could be prosecuted. Funding for any LGBT-related activities would be outlawed. And anyone found engaging in “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as abusing children or vulnerable people, would be subject to the death penalty.

Sadly, while this bill is extreme, Uganda is hardly alone in its anti-LGBT posture. Of the 64 or so countries that still criminalize same-sex relationships, at least half — at least 32 by most counts — are in Africa. While generally the world is moving toward more acceptance on LGBT rights, Africa forms a near-unanimous block of intolerance. A core group of African states nearly derailed the appointment and renewal of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Near, but not unanimous. South Africa, which held its first Pride march in 1990, became the first country on the continent to legalize same-sex marriages. Five other countries have recently decriminalized same-sex relationships: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Seychelles.

The Spartacus Blog’s regular Gay Travel Index, which advises LGBT vacationers on the best places to enjoy themselves and where to avoid, lists only South Africa and the French island of Reunion as secure destinations in Africa for gay travelers. The worst-ranked countries are Niger, Mali, Lesotho, Cape Verde and Botswana. In four countries, Nigeria, Mauritania, Somalia and South Sudan, being gay is punishable by death.

Egyptian security forces in recent years have been accused by human rights organizations of detaining and torturing LGBT people. Rwandan authorities reportedly detained LGBT people in the lead-up to the 2021 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, saying they did not represent “Rwandan values.” Gay people in Nigeria are regularly arrested.

Vice President Harris, on her recent three-nation trip to the continent, rightly talked about the need for African countries to ensure “all people be treated equally.” She spoke first in Ghana, where the parliament is considering a bill almost as bad as Uganda’s that would imprison people who identify as gay and make it a crime to advocate for LGBT rights. Harris said she raised the issue of human rights in private talks with President Nana Akufo-Addo. . . . . But even that “quiet diplomacy” approach provoked fierce criticism. The Biden administration’s advocacy of LGBT rights is likely to come across as another example of the United States lecturing Africa and not listening.

China under President Xi Jinping and Russia under President Vladimir Putin have both taken a more conservative, backward turn on LGBT rights, trying to depict homosexuality as another example of a decadent West in decline. That message is likely to find resonance in Africa. U.S. evangelical religious groups operating on the continent are also reportedly pushing homophobic views.

The best approach is to emphasize that LGBT rights are human rights and to showcase those countries, such as South Africa, that have taken a different path. Biden has announced plans to make his first visit to the continent as president this year. He should not reward countries with abysmal records on LGBT rights with a presidential visit. In the face of such blatant discrimination, staying silent is not an option.