Wednesday, November 22, 2017

More Thanksgiving Eve Male Beauty

Trump's Judicial Appointments Are Frightening

Lost to many in the daily media circus over Roy Moore, natural disasters and the lead up to the holidays is the frightening appointments that Donald Trump is making to the federal judiciary.  These are lifetime appointments and Trump is appointing many who are unfit, totally lacking in experience, and/or are alt-right ideologues.  Sadly, Republicans in the Senate seem only too happy to confirm those who only a few years ago would never have received a nomination to such important provisions.  The danger this phenomenon posed makes it all the more urgent that Democrats retake the U.S. Senate in 2018, to prevent a further perversion of the federal judiciary.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the danger Trump and a feckless Republican Party pose to the rule of law.  Here are excerpts:
Leo, after all, had a central role in advising first the Trump campaign and the Trump administration on judicial prospects, in conjunction with the Heritage Foundation. It’s a job he had spent many years preparing to perform as he helped build the Federalist Society from a group for conservative law students into a highly influential network of right-wing judges and law professors, bankrolled by the Koch Brothers and other wealthy interests concerned with reining in Big Government and inhibiting progressive cultural developments.
The guest speaker at this year’s Federalist Society bash was the American Beauty Rose of Leo’s careful judicial gardening effort: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Safely planted on the High Court, Gorsuch was able to dispense with the cautious non-partisan pieties of his confirmation hearings and acknowledge his deep kinship with Leo and the “originalist and textualist” thinkers who were busily working to reverse old liberal precedents and prevent others.
Even before Trump’s election enabled a new wave of carefully vetted conservative judges, the Republican Senate had ensured it would be enormous by systematically obstructing Barack Obama’s judicial appointments, particularly during the last year of his presidency (thwarted SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland was just one casualty). When Gorsuch was appointed, that same GOP majority made his confirmation easy by abolishing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Subsequently Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley sped up confirmation of Trump’s and Leo’s Court of Appeals and district court appointments by reversing his past position and junking the “blue slip” precedent letting individual senators hold up or veto judges from their states.
Yes, it’s a sweet moment for the Federalist Society and its beneficiaries, from social conservatives wanting to re-criminalize abortion to libertarians who view federal regulation of businesses as largely illegitimate. But there is a threat on the horizon that could grow much larger on December 12: the specter of a Democratic Senate.
With a Democratic wave election next year appearing more likely every day, and the GOP’s Roy Moore disaster in Alabama making Democrat Doug Jones the front-runner for Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat, there is now for the first time a plausible path to a Democratic majority next year. If Democrats win Alabama and the five 2018 Senate races that the Cook Political Report rates as toss-ups–not at all an unlikely scenario in a “wave” election–and don’t lose any of the races in which they are now favored, then they’ll enter the 116th Congress with 51 senators.
What would that mean for Trump’s judicial appointments and the Federalist Society’s agenda? There’s no way to know for sure, but with all 48 Democrats voting against the abolition of SCOTUS filibusters earlier this year, Democrats could bring back that great obstacle to a fifth Justice ready to overturn Roe v. Wade–the great prize conservative evangelical leaders hoped for in backing the heathenish Trump for president–right away.
Even if Republicans do hang on to the Senate in 2018, the road ahead would become very quickly rocky for conservatives. The Senate landscape in 2020 is unfavorable: Republicans will be defending 22 of the 33 seats up that year. And in a presidential election year, particularly if Donald Trump is running for reelection, Democratic turnout should be maximized.
Neil Gorsuch will likely be on the Supreme Court for many years, and every week brings new arch-conservative lifetime appointees to the bench at lower levels. But the Right’s conquest of the judiciary could come to a halt as early as a year from now, with Leonard Leo returning to his old digs as a power broker in exile.

Having been an attorney for over 40 years, I understand how serious the situation is.  Many do not grasp how these right wing extremist appointments could effect their legal rights in ways ranging from the trashing of safety regulations, to restricting the rights of minorities, to literally aiding in the disenfranchisement of those who vote against Republicans.  It is crucial that Democrats retake the Senate and stop this destruction of a competent and impartial judiciary.

Why Do Weinstein, Rose and Moore Deserve Banishment, But Not Donald Trump?

Perhaps it is because I have two daughters and three granddaughters but I find it outrageous - as well as disgusting - that while many men now find themselves without jobs and subject to a state akin to being a societal outcast, Der Trumpenf├╝hrer, who is on tape boasting of his sexual harassment of women, is not facing similar consequences for his misdeeds.  To make matters worse, evangelical Christians, the very same element of society that wants to police everyone else's bedrooms and sexual activities, continue to support a man who has demonstrated that he is amoral at best.  To me, this state of affairs reveals the utter moral bankruptcy of today's evangelicals as well as that of the Republican Party.  A column in the Washington Post asks the question that every moral and decent person who values the women in their life should be asking.  It also makes the case that Trump needs to face consequences for his self-professed foul behavior.  Here are column highlights:
Let’s stipulate that all alleged cases of sexual harassment are not the same. Kevin Spacey is alleged to have sexually assaulted male minors. Glenn Thrush of the New York Times allegedly made unwelcome passes at adult women. These are not in the same moral universe. Likewise, we can acknowledge that crude behavior, including an unwanted kiss and alleged groping of women, as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is accused of, are unacceptable and obnoxious. Still, a 30-something district attorney allegedly preying on teenage girls is in another category. Harvey Weinstein is accused of rape and other sexual abuses as he wielded his power to make and break careers of vulnerable women. President Trump is accused of groping and forcibly kissing women over a period of time — which one could say is less heinous than Weinstein but worse than Franken (as the facts are now known).
And, then there’s Charlie Rose. The Post now reportsPBS said Tuesday it was parting ways with Charlie Rose and CBS announced it fired the 75-year-old broadcaster for “extremely disturbing and intolerable behavior” following an extensive Washington Post report that detailed his alleged unwanted sexual advances toward women.
 The severity of the offense(s) and the need to protect the integrity of institutions (the press, the Congress, the presidency) should warrant permanent banishment for repeated actions of unwelcome physical conduct, even as we understand morally that some actions are worse than others. Congress is entitled to and should have a higher standard than Hollywood or even a run-of-the-mill workplace where an offending employee might be docked pay, demoted or suspended rather than dismissed. We still hold out hope that the White House should be held to at least that standard.
We should in other words have a zero tolerance for any sexual harassment or abuse but a graduated scale for doling out punishment. So far in Hollywood and the media, the accused generally have paid a steep price, in some cases suffering a career-ending moment when the accumulated accusations are too gross and too credible to ignore.
Inside the Beltway the precedent has yet to be set in stone.  . . . . . Moreover, we have an unknown number of cases settled with taxpayer money in which the identities of the accused are unknown. Lawmakers would be wise to set a zero-tolerance standard to which they hold members of both parties. While they may choose to spare some the equivalent of the political-career death penalty, no decent public servant should welcome someone of Moore’s ilk into office or disregard Trump’s complainants. As to the latter, is it unreasonable to demand an independent investigation in advance of the 2020 election — if Trump is still in office? Trump’s opponents should do so and remind voters that it is not too late to establish or reestablish a standard for the presidency.
Decent Americans should not avert their eyes from the harm perpetrated on multiple women over decades. Alabama will send an important message, but unless politicians start self-policing and demonstrating greater transparency, the voters in 2018 may decide to throw the whole lot of them out of office.
The complete moral ruin of the GOP is now evident to all who care to see. It seems, contrary to Kellyanne Conway’s previous statement, that the GOP officials will trade a child — many children and women, too — for a vote on the tax bill. Decent Americans will have to reject this mentality on Dec. 12 and in a series of elections and primaries over the next three years.

Coming Out for the Holidays: Family Acceptance Could Save Lives

As I noted in my most recent VEER Magazine column, studies indicate gay men are significantly more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts, with the numbers increasing exponentially during the holidays.  To me, the reason for this phenomenon is: (i) the family rejection many gays have experienced, (ii) alienation from the religious backgrounds in which they were raised and (iii) the forced effort to be "happy" during the holiday season.  Indeed, my holiday seasons during the first years of my "coming out" journey could be best described by two words: depression and therapy.  It took literally years of therapy to overcome the emotional and psychological damage I suffered from my Catholic upbringing.  And deep depression can lead to suicide attempts.  I survived two such attempts, both of which sent me to the hospital.  Thankfully, that was years ago and I have moved on in my life and I now find myself in a very different place emotionally and psychologically. But many in the LGBT community, especially those still in the early stages of "coming out" still find the holiday season to be challenging at best.  As a piece in USA Today notes, how families react to those coming out can literally make a difference at times between life and death.  Here are article highlight:
Holiday gatherings feel fraught for many families, but around-the-table affairs can put distinct pressures on those newly out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Maybe your cousin is going by different pronouns than last year. Perhaps a nephew makes first mention of a boyfriend from school. How a family reacts to such revelations can seriously impact that relative's wellbeing, said Jaime Grant, director of the LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG.
Grant, a lesbian, was shunned by her mother when she came out in the early '80s. She missed a decade of holiday gatherings thereafter, she said, carrying a rejection that led to years of drug addiction. LGBT youth who feel highly rejected by families are three times as likely to use illegal drugs, according to 2009 research from San Francisco State University's Family Acceptance Project. They're eight times as likely to have attempted suicide. 
"It’s not just a feel-good thing. It’s a life-saving thing," said Grant, now a mother herself. "One of my kids is bi, and he is coming home for Thanksgiving to talk to me about his first semester at college — new crushes, student government, the whole bit."
Here's how to best offer support should a newly out guest join your table for the holidays, according to PFLAG.
First: Thank them for opening up to you“The first thing to say is, 'I feel so honored, blessed, happy, like a treasured person in your life that you want to share this with me,'" Grant said. "And then listen." Show interest and empathy. For some, coming out is a struggle, she said. For others, it's exciting. The person may offer up preferred pronouns, or mention a previously undisclosed partner, but don't rush the process or overstep by asking prying questions, Grant said.
Set the tone for acceptance among your familyReactions from family members may vary from surprise, to gladness, to dismay. Let them know how to address this new-to-them aspect of your guest's identity and that you expect them to be treated no less than anyone else at the table, said Marsha Aizumi, a PFLAG national board member from Pasadena, Calif. If a relative's coming out announcement came at the dinner table, "I would jump up and immediately give them a hug," she said. If unkind remarks fly, call them out; the brief discomfort doesn't outweigh any potentially damaging effects.
Help relatives process the new infoWhen Aizumi's transgender son came out during the holidays, she dealt with feelings of shame, fear and doubt. Family members might need time beyond a holiday to fully process the new information, she said. You can lift some burden from a newly out family member by having a dialogue and educating family members who have questions or seem less accepting. While it's important to allow space to reflect for yourself and others, Aizumi said, make clear to the newly out relative that you still love that person. "My son needed to hear it more than ever," she said.
Own your mistakes with graceEven family members striving to be inclusive can let an unintentional pronoun slip. Opportunities for fumbles and unintentional hurt abound as family members adjust and learn more about a newly out relative's orientation or identity. Fostering grace is key for all parties. There's nothing wrong with simply owning a mistake. 
Follow up after the holidayIn the days following a holiday gathering, check in with your newly out family member. Remind them you appreciated their presence. Ask them how they thought it went. Understand their journey with your family goes beyond this first holiday. Ben Hodges, the son of PFLAG President Jean Hodges, first introduced his partner to his family 21 years ago. "Remember that telling family and friends you are LGBTQ is a process," he said. "This is a healthy dialogue that will not be resolved over the holiday meal."

Sadly, far too many families do not follow this wise advice.  I was lucky and was fully accepted by my parents and siblings and aunts and uncles.  Even with such support, coming out was a difficult process.  Roughly 40% of homeless youths in America are LGBT, most having been disowned and discarded by their falsely pious parents who call themselves "Christian" or, in some cases, devout Muslims.  With three children of my own, I truly cannot fathom how anyone "Christian" can discard their own children due to the writings of ignorant, uneducated and unknown Bronze Age herders.   In memory of my parents, I endowed a scholarship fund to help graduating LGBT high school seniors who may have found themselves without parental financial support.  If you are inclined to donate to the fund, you can do so here.  The donation is tax deductible.

Thanksgiving Eve Male Beauty - Pt 1

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Republican Lies, Rage and Tax Cuts for the Very Rich

Paul Ryan - one of the biggest liars in Congress

One of the main characteristics of today's Republican Party is the willingness of those who pretend to care about the lives of average Americans to outright lie as they push an agenda that harms the majority while piling benefits on the 1%.  The brazenness of the lies seemingly increases by the day and Republicans like Paul Ryan simply care nothing about the truth. Perhaps the most disingenuous statements came from GOP Senator Orrin Hatch exploded when confronted by his Democrat counterpart Sherrod Brown with the reality of what the GOP tax cut plan would do.  Hatch whined and ranted about not coming from wealth and claimed that he has always fought for the benefit of working class Americans  even though the facts show a very different story. I'm sorry, but feigned indignation and shouted lies do not magically turn untruths into something else.  A column in the New York Times looks at the very dangerous and untrue agenda driving the GOP lie machine.  Here are excerpts:
One thing you can count on in 21st-century U.S. politics is that Republicans will lie about taxes. They did it under George W. Bush, they did it under Barack Obama and they’re still doing it under Donald Trump.
Yet this time is different. It’s not just that the lies have gotten even more brazen. There’s now a combination of incoherence and rage that we, or at least I, haven’t seen before. These days, they can’t even seem to get their fake story straight — and they literally start yelling obscenities when someone tries to point out the facts.
G.O.P. lies about taxes generally involve two issues: who is hurt or helped by tax changes, and what these changes will do to the budget.
As in the Bush years, Republicans are claiming to be offering a middle-class tax cut. But where Bush truly was cutting taxes on the middle class, just much less than he was on the wealthy, current Republican plans would raise those taxes on many lower- and middle-income families, even as they go down for the wealthy. (Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, claims that only “million-dollar earners” would see tax increases. This is the opposite of the truth.)
[A]nd a memo to journalists: If you play it safe by reporting this as “Democrats say” that middle-class taxes will go up, you’re misleading your readers: Those estimates come from the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s own nonpartisan scorekeeper.
How can Republicans like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, pretend to be helping the middle class? It depends crucially on a new kind of budget gimmick: Both the House and Senate tax-cut bills do contain some middle-class tax breaks — but only for the first few years. Then they expire.
Take one of Ryan’s favorite examples, a family with two children and earning $59,000 a year. That family would indeed get a tax break next year. But the break would rapidly dwindle and turn into a tax increase by 2024.
Not long ago, leading Republicans claimed to be deeply concerned about budget deficits. Only fools and centrists took the Republicans seriously. Still, the abrupt shift to nonchalance about adding trillions to the debt in order to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy is causing a bit of whiplash even among cynics. How do they justify the shift?
Well, they don’t seem to have settled on a story. Mnuchin keeps asserting that tax cuts will pay for themselves, going so far as to claim (falsely) that Treasury has released a study showing this. Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, cheerfully acknowledges that they’re using gimmicks to pass a bill that permanently cuts taxes on corporations, and not to worry. Whatever works, it seems.
So we’re really looking at an unprecedented level of dishonesty here. But what happens when you try to explain what’s going on? When Senator Sherrod Brown tried to point out, correctly, that the Senate G.O.P.’s tax bill heavily favors the rich, Senator Orrin Hatch exploded, calling it “bull crap” and asserting that he grew up poor (which is relevant why, exactly?).
Sorry, but this isn’t the righteous anger of a man falsely accused of wrongdoing. It’s the rage con men always exhibit when caught out in their con.
But what’s the con about? The very incoherence of the arguments Republicans are making for their plans shows that it’s not about helping the economy, let alone ordinary families. It really is about making the rich richer, at everyone else’s expense. If this be bull crap, make the most of it.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

The Dangerous Rise Of Christian Nationalism

Trump minion Sebastian Gorka applauds as he campaigns for Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore
In numerous posts I have noted the growing overlap between white supremacists and Christofascists.  True, the link has long been visible to anyone who has regularly followed "family values" organizations who claim to be Christian for any period of time.  Be it Family Research Council and its president, Tony Perkins, with well documented ties to white supremacist groups, or The Family Foundation based it Richmond which traces much of its linage back to segregationists who supported "Massive Resistance" and the closure of all public schools, beneath the surface a strong level of racism has been present.  Enter the Trump?pence campaign and its open call for racism and bigotry and what had once remained under the surface has flowed to the surface.  Worse yet, evangelical Christians are now openly aligning themselves with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and white nationalist.  The result is a dangerous form of Christian nationalism that excludes more Americans than it accepts as legitimate citizens.   A piece in Huffington Post looks at this dangerous development.  Another piece in the Charlotte Observe looks at Franklin Graham who is openly embracing this toxic ideology.  First these highlights from Huffington Post:

Many have believed the accusations against Roy Moore of sexual assault and harassment against teen girls to be massively hypocritical since for years he’s presented himself as a hardcore evangelical man of faith, and he has a loyal white Christian evangelical following.

But what if Moore’s alleged actions actually meld with a religious belief among some evangelicals, even if the adherents won’t outright admit it?

Moore in fact represents an extremist wing of an already theocratic-leaning base of the GOP that believes all women must be subservient and submit ― as Mike Huckabee, who hasn’t pulled his full-throated endorsement of Moore, infamously once said of women with regard to their husbands, expressing his own “Handmaid’s Tale” dream come true ―  and that would no doubt include young women such as teen girls.
And since the advent of Donald Trump, this more extreme group of evengelicals has cleaved away from others and joined the alt-right and white nationalists, led by former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon ― who is a front line warrior for Moore’s election campaign ― and which include white supremacists and racists like those we saw in Charlottesville. 

Jack Jenkins, senior religion reporter at Think Progress, has been charting the growth in the Trump era of Christian nationalism ―the melding of some evangelicals and their beliefs with nationalistic movements and ideologies ― in several excellent and important articles. He, too, puts Roy Moore at the nexis of the white nationalist movement and the extremist evangelical movement. 

As someone who has covered the Family Research Council’s annual Values Voters Summit (VVS) for years, I, along with other observers, saw a marked difference in the speakers and in the crowd this past October, . . . . Some long-time leaders like those from the Southern Baptist Convention ― whose Russell Moore is a Never Trumper ― were not there, along with their followers. They were replaced by Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and other white nationalists and their followers who never had an interest in VVS and are far from what anyone would think of as devout Christians.

White Nationalism and Christian Right Unite at Values Voter Summit,” was the headline of Adele Stan’s piece on Bill last month.

It’s no secret that the alt-right and white supremacists like those we saw in Charlottesville aren’t just about white supremacy; they’re about male supremacy as well, as we saw in their brutal, misogynistic attacks on Heather Heyer after her murder by a white supremacist. Let’s not forget last year’s headlines on Breitbart ― then and once again led by Steve Bannon ― from “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy” to “Would You Rather Have Your Child Have Feminism or Cancer?”

The Moore evangelical defenders, and the politicians who pander to them, mostly claim that they do not believe the allegations from nine women to be true, and that the charges are part of some wide-ranging political hit job. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas said the allegations were all concocted to destroy Bannon.

But Alabama GOP governor Kay Ivey actually admitted she has reason to believe the allegations but also believes it’s still important to elect a Republican and will vote for Moore. This no doubt reflects the belief of many Alabama voters who continue to support Moore in polls, and many evangelicals and white nationalists across the country who still support Moore ― and still support Donald Trump, who of course is an accused sexual assaulter as well. 

It’s becoming clear that, for many evangelicals and many in the alt-right and white nationalist movements, sexual assault against women and girls is not only not a deal-breaker for a candidate but is also perfectly acceptable, whether they want to admit this or not. The uniting of white nationalists and the religious right, and the rise of Christian nationalism, is premised not only on the false idea that people of color, LGBTQ people and other minorities are exerting too much control, but also very much so on the belief that women ― coming forward now and speaking out about sexual assault and demanding equality ― must be put in their place. 
The piece in the Charlotte Observer links Franklin Graham - who is someone in the Christian Right only because of his famous father - to this toxic trend.  Here are highlights:

Franklin Graham came under fire Friday when he took to Twitter to defend Roy Moore, the GOP’s embattled Alabama U.S. Senate hopeful who in recent weeks has had several women accuse him of sexual misconduct from decades ago when they were teenagers.
In a tweet that has been shared thousands of times, Graham slammed Moore’s critics and claimed some of Moore’s biggest detractors in Washington have done “much worse” things.

The Charlotte faith leader’s defense of Moore was met with criticism by many who saw the tweet as dismissive of the seriousness of child molestation. People wondered why Graham hadn’t alerted authorities if he is aware of Congress members who’ve done worse than what Moore is accused of.

“A reminder that Moore has been accused of sexually molesting a 14 year old girl and sexually assaulting a 16 year old girl,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper responded on Twitter. “Who’s guilty of ‘doing much worse than’ that, Reverend? Seriously, this is a matter for law enforcement.”

“You literally just defended sexual contact with minors,” Rick Wilson, a Republican political strategist, tweeted. “You're a brand, not a pastor.”  “You know you've gotten off mission when you’re defending allegations of sexual assault and molestation for the sake of a culture war,” writer David Roark responded.

A coalition of religious leaders in Alabama issued a letter in support of Moore and condemning the media for reporting the story, CBS News reported.

"We stand with Judge Roy Moore, a man of integrity who has never wavered from his valiant defense of the unborn, the Ten Commandments, and the Constitution. We are confident the voters of Alabama will not be fooled by suspiciously timed accusations without evidence and will reject the politics of personal destruction led by the Washington Post," the letter stated, referencing The Washington Post story that interviewed Moore’s initial accusers.

Meanwhile, other religious leaders were in Alabama on Saturday to oppose Moore’s run for congress.  The Rev. William Barber, former North Carolina NAACP leader, took aim at Moore’s values as a Christian, reported. “True evangelicalism is not what you say, but what you do and how you challenge the systems of the world,” Barber said.