Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Deep Denialism of Trump and His Followers

On occasion I have wondered how the knowledge of the Roman Empire was lost and Europe descended into the Dark Ages.  Part of it was a rejection of knowledge that conflicted with beliefs, the Roman Catholic Church leading the way in banning inconvenient facts. Another part of it was opportunistic leaders, both religious and secular, who benefited from an ignorant and more easily led populace.  Frighteningly, were are seeing a recurrence of these phenomenon in the person of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Fuhrer, and his ignorance embracing followers who prefer to accept "alternate facts" when the truth and reality undercut their beliefs and prejudices. It's as if they live in an alternate universe that is protected by propaganda outlets like Breitbart and Fox News that maintain a bubble detached from objective reality.  A piece in The New Yorker looks at the disturbing trend and the danger it poses.  Here are highlights:
[T]this White House, unlike any other, has already crossed the threshold into a space where facts appear to mean nothing.
Eventually, the President’s daily policy outrages, his caustic insults, and his childish Twitter rants will fade into history. But it will take years to gauge the impact of having a habitual liar as President. When words like “science” and “progress” become unmoored from their meaning, the effects are incalculable. And let’s not kid ourselves: those words today are under assault with a ferocity we have not seen for hundreds of years.
The United States is now a country with dozens of unofficial government “resistance” Twitter accounts.
What happens to a society that accepts denialism as a way of life? Nearly a decade ago, I published a book about the growing number of people who, when confronted with an unpleasant reality, chose to embrace a more comfortable lie. Denialism—whether it stems from suspicions about vaccines, dread of G.M.O.s, or even confusion about climate science—is often rooted in fear. . . . . Reason, patience, and education don’t always work. But they go further in confronting those fears than self-satisfied condescension.
But we are now led, in an age of unimaginable scientific achievement, by the most narcissistic and thoughtless denialist ever to have entered public life. His denialism is not based in fear, it’s based in arrogance. And it must not be forgotten that denialism kills. Climate change, which Trump has denied and dismissed, has already had a grave impact on the world’s poorest people. Far from making America safer, Trump’s immigration plan will cause clear harm, not least to American soldiers.
How many of our country’s schoolteachers must consider, every day, whether to explain to their students that the President is a liar? The alternative—simply accepting those lies—would be devastating. It would change our language and change us, if we let it.
On April 22nd, Earth Day, scientists will march on Washington to show their fealty to facts. There are people, in science and out of it, who are opposed to the idea of theoretically detached researchers showing themselves to be political in this way. They might better ask in what world would Americans have to stage a march to honor reality. Unfortunately, that world is now upon us. Facts deserve our support. And lies do not.

More Saturday Male Beauty

Rural vs. Urban America - A Nation Divided

The Commonwealth of Virginia is a microcosm  of the larger divide in America.  Virginia's urban centers - which can now out vote the rural regions - value diversity, modernity, knowledge and science, and tend to be less religious.  They also are the economic powerhouse that funds the rest of the state and end up supporting the rural regions that are most reliant of welfare and Medicaid payments.  Meanwhile, the rural regions tend to hate the residents of the urban centers and cling to "traditional values" that often equate to embracing ignorance and bigotry.  On a national level, states like California and New York send far more funds to the federal government than they receive back and as a result are forced to support the cretins in the Bible Belt and many red states who survive by virtue of the federal dole. It's little wonder why some in California would like to break away from America.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at this growing divide and one has to wonder when the progressive cities and states will say "enough!" to supporting the dead weight.  Here are highlights:
Republican reliance on suburbs and the countryside isn’t new, of course, but in the presidential election, the gulf between urban and nonurban voters was wider than it had been in nearly a century. Hillary Clinton won 88 of the country’s 100 biggest counties, but still went down to defeat.
American cities seem to be cleaving from the rest of the country, and the temptation for liberals is to try to embrace that trend. With Republicans controlling the presidency, both houses of Congress, and most statehouses, Democrats are turning to local ordinances as their best hope on issues ranging from gun control to the minimum wage to transgender rights. Even before Inauguration Day, big-city mayors laid plans to nudge the new administration leftward, especially on immigration—and, should that fail, to join together in resisting its policies.
But if liberal advocates are clinging to the hope that federalism will allow them to create progressive havens, they’re overlooking a big problem: Power may be decentralized in the American system, but it devolves to the state, not the city. Recent events in red states where cities are pockets of liberalism are instructive, and cautionary. Over the past few years, city governments and state legislatures have fought each other in a series of battles involving preemption, the principle that state law trumps local regulation, just as federal law supersedes state law. It hasn’t gone well for the city dwellers.
Close observers of these clashes expect them to proliferate in the years to come, with similar results. “We are about to see a shit storm of state and federal preemption orders, of a magnitude greater than anything in history,” says Mark Pertschuk of Grassroots Change, which tracks such laws through an initiative called Preemption Watch. By the group’s count, at least 36 states introduced laws preempting cities in 2016.
Most of these laws enforce conservative policy preferences. That’s partly because Republicans enjoy unprecedented control in state capitals—they hold 33 governorships and majorities in 32 state legislatures. The trend also reflects a broader shift: Americans are in the midst of what’s been called “the Big Sort,” as they flock together with people who share similar socioeconomic profiles and politics. In general, that means rural areas are becoming more conservative, and cities more liberal. Even the reddest states contain liberal cities: Half of the U.S. metro areas with the biggest recent population gains are in the South, and they are Democratic. Texas alone is home to four such cities; Clinton carried each of them. Increasingly, the most important political and cultural divisions are not between red and blue states but between red states and the blue cities within.
Nowhere has this tension been more dramatic than in North Carolina. . . . . HB2 was different, though—it set off a fierce nationwide backlash, including a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit and boycotts by businesses, sports leagues, and musicians. Since corporate expansions, conventions, and concerts tend to take place in cities, North Carolina’s cities have suffered the most. Within two months of HB2’s passage, Charlotte’s Chamber of Commerce estimated that the city had lost nearly $285 million and 1,300 jobs—and that was before the NBA yanked its 2017 All-Star Game from the city. Asheville, a bohemian tourist magnet in the Blue Ridge Mountains, lost millions from canceled conferences alone.
Today’s clampdowns on cities echo 19th-century anxieties about urban progressivism, demographics, and insolvency. Many of the southern cities that have been targeted for preemption are seen as magnets for out-of-state interlopers. Republican officeholders have blasted nondiscrimination ordinances like Charlotte’s as contravening nature and Christian morality. They’ve argued that a patchwork of wage and sick-leave laws will drive away businesses, and that fracking bans will stifle the economy.
Yet the economic reality that underpinned rural-urban distrust in the 19th century is now inverted: In most states, agriculture is no longer king. Rural areas are struggling, while densely packed areas with highly educated workforces and socially liberal lifestyles flourish. In turn, rural voters harbor growing resentment toward those in cities, from Austin to Atlanta, from Birmingham to Chicago.
In this context of increasing rural-urban division, people on both sides of the political aisle have warmed to positions typically associated with their adversaries. The GOP has long viewed itself as the party of decentralization, criticizing Democrats for trying to dictate to local communities from Capitol Hill, but now Republicans are the ones preempting local government.
An important lesson of last year’s presidential election is that American political norms are much weaker than they had appeared, allowing a scandal-plagued, unpopular candidate to triumph—in part because voters outside of cities objected to the pace of cultural change. Another lesson is that the United States is coming to resemble two separate countries, one rural and one urban.  Only one of them, at present, appears entitled to self-determination.
The situation underscores the urgency in states like Virginia to have their residents turn out in force to elect Democrats to statewide levels so that the ignorant and bigotry based agenda of rural legislators can be vetoed and stopped.  The question is how to convince the non-politically involved that it is urgent that they get to the polls on election day?  

Trump's Dangerous Foreign Policy Games

Thankfully, my son-in-law is no longer in the military given the dangerous and reckless games that the delusional Der Fuhrer is playing.  That said, living in Hampton Roads with its huge military presence, we know many men and women who may find themselves in harm's way because of the mentally ill commander-in-chief occupying the White House. Indeed, for the first time in many years some residents of the region are once again conscious that the area would be a first strike target if Trump were to trigger a nuclear war. Obama's steady hand is gone and madness now reigns in the White House.   Much of the world now worries what this foul individual might unleash either deliberately or through his own delusions.  A column in the New York Times looks at Trump's dangerous games which are likely to continue to distract his cretinous base from the reality that coal jobs and others promised by Der Fuhrer are never coming back.  Indeed, the strategy mirrors that of Putin who seeks to distract the average Russian from the reality of the economic disaster over which he presides.  Here are article excerpts:
For the past couple of months, thoughtful people have been quietly worrying that the Trump administration might get us into a foreign policy crisis, maybe even a war.
Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments. But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.
The most likely flash point seemed to be China, the subject of much Trumpist tough talk, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea could easily turn into shooting incidents.
But the war with China will, it seems, have to wait. First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)
And while there may be an element of cynical calculation in some of the administration’s crisismongering, this is looking less and less like a political strategy and more and more like a psychological syndrome.
The Australian confrontation has gotten the most press, probably because it’s so weirdly gratuitous. Australia is, after all, arguably America’s most faithful friend in the whole world, a nation that has fought by our side again and again. . . . . But this is the age of Trump: In a call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, the U.S. president boasted about his election victory and complained about an existing agreement to take some of the refugees Australia has been holding, accusing Mr. Turnbull of sending us the “next Boston bombers.”
[A]t least Mr. Trump didn’t threaten to invade Australia. In his conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, however, he did just that.
The blowups with Mexico and Australia have overshadowed a more conventional war of words with Iran, which tested a missile on Sunday. This was definitely a provocation. But the White House warning that it was “putting Iran on notice” raises the question, notice of what? Given the way the administration has been alienating our allies, tighter sanctions aren’t going to happen. Are we ready for a war?
There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House said nothing at all about Russia’s actions until Nikki Haley, the United Nations ambassador, issued a condemnation late Thursday night to the Security Council. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?
Oh, and one more thing: Peter Navarro, head of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, accused Germany of exploiting the United States with an undervalued currency.
[W]hat we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.
America and the world can’t take much more of this. Think about it: If you had an employee behaving this way, you’d immediately remove him from any position of responsibility and strongly suggest that he seek counseling. And this guy is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.
As noted in past posts, America could not prevail in Iraq yet Trump seems to want war with Iran - a far larger and more advanced country than Iraq ever was.  Yes, it would make the white supremacists and Christofascists happy and distract the bubba's in the hinterland, but how many American lives would be thrown away and how many billions of dollars squandered?  And that doesn't even factor in the countless innocent civilians that would likely be killed.  Oops, I forgot.  With Trump's base, if you aren't a white, heterosexual right wing Christian, you're not really human, so your death doesn't matter.  Trump needs to be removed from office NOW!

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, February 03, 2017

Friday Male Beauty - Pt 2

Why "Waiting Calmly" For Trump to "Moderate" Will Fail

The presidency of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Fuhrer, is terrorizing many across the globe but perhaps nowhere more than Germany which knows from history the dangers of people like Trump and the price of that complacency and failure to act early to prevent the advance of evil.  Donald Trump has been in office a mere 14 days yet it already seems like an eternity in some ways.  With each day we have seen more autocratic and bizarre behavior coming from the current occupant of the White House. First the Muslim ban - which excludes, of course Muslim nations where Trump has investments - and now a likely license to discriminate law that will give special rights and preferences to Christian extremists.  Then there is the threat to send American troops into Mexico, the threat to take military action against Iran, the threatening and rude telephone conversation with the Prime Minister of Australia, a steadfast American ally for over 100 years. Oh, and let's not forget the threat to take away federal funds from the University of California at Berkley and the appointment of Christian Right extremists Jerry Falwell Jr. to head an education reform task force.  A piece in the German publication Zeit looks at the mistakes made by 1930's Germans.  The same mistakes are now being made on 2017 America.  Here are article excerpts:
Is there reason to worry? No, thought Nikolaus Sieveking, an employee at Hamburg’s World Economy Archive. "I find the act of viewing Hitler’s chancellorship as a sensational event to be childish enough that I will leave that to his loyal followers," he wrote in his diary on Jan. 30, 1933.
Like Sieveking, many Germans didn’t initially recognize this date as a dramatic turning point. Few sensed what Hitler’s appointment as chancellor actually meant, and many reacted to the event with shocking indifference.
The chancellor of the presidential cabinet had changed twice in 1932 -- Heinrich Brüning was replaced in early June by Franz von Papen, who was replaced in early December by Kurt von Schleicher. People had almost gotten used to this tempo. Why should the Hitler government be anything more than just an episode?  In the Wochenschau news programs shown in cinemas, the swearing-in of the new cabinet came last, after the major sporting events. 
This, despite the fact that Hitler had plainly explained in "Mein Kampf" and countless speeches before 1933 what he wanted to do once in power: to abolish the democratic "system" of Weimar Germany, to "eradicate" Marxism (by which he meant both social democracy and communism) and to "remove" the Jews from Germany. As for foreign policy, he made no secret of the fact that he wanted to revise the Versailles Treaty and that his long-term goal was the conquering of "Lebensraum in the East."
German President Paul von Hindenburg’s camarilla, which had hoisted him to power through a series of intrigues, agreed with Hitler’s goals of preventing a return to parliamentary democracy, of cutting the chains of the Versailles Treaty, massively arming the military and once again making Germany the dominant power in Europe. As for the rest of Hitler’s stated intentions, his conservative coalition partners were inclined to dismiss them as mere rhetoric. Once he was in power, they argued, he would become more reasonable.
Hitler’s thirst for power couldn’t have been more grossly underestimated. . . . . Big-business representatives shared the same illusion. In an editorial in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, which had close ties to heavy industry, editor-in-chief Fritz Klein wrote that working together with the Nazis would be "difficult and exhausting," but that people had to dare to take "the leap into darkness" because the Hitler movement had become the strongest political actor in Germany. The head of the Nazi party would now have to prove "whether he really had what is needed in order to become a statesman." The stock market didn’t seem spooked either -- people were waiting to see what would happen. 
The conservatives who helped Hitler rise to power, and his opponents in the republican camp, were wrong in their assessment of the true division of power. 
The big liberal newspapers also argued that nothing truly terrible would happen. Theodor Wolff, the editor-in-chief of the Berliner Tageblatt saw the cabinet as the embodiment of what the united right-wing political groups had wanted since their meeting in Bad Harzburg in 1931. He opened his editorial on Jan. 31 by writing: "It has been achieved. Hitler is the Reich Chancellor, Hugenberg is the economics dictator and the positions have been distributed as the men of the ‘Harzburger Front’ had wanted." The new government, he argued, would try anything to "intimidate and silence opponents." A ban on the Communist Party was on the agenda, he thought, as well as a curtailing of the freedom of the press. But even the imagination of this otherwise so clear-sighted journalist didn’t go far enough to conceive the power of a totalitarian dictatorship. He argued there was a "border that violence would not cross." The German people, who were always proud of the "freedom of thought and of speech," would create a "soulful and intellectual resistance" and stifle all attempts to establish a dictatorship. 
With their strict insistence on the legalities of the constitution, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership overlooked the fact that the previous presidential governments had already hollowed the constitution and that Hitler would not hesitate to destroy its last vestiges. 
The dangers emanating from Hitler could not have been more grotesquely misread. Most of the leading Social Democrats and unionists had grown up in the German Kaiserreich. They could imagine repression similar to Bismarck’s anti-socialist law, but not that someone would seriously try to destroy the workers’ movement in its entirety. 
The fact that Hitler’s appointment meant that a fanatical anti-Semite had come to power should have made Germany’s Jews, above all, nervous. But that was not the case at all. In a statement given on Jan. 30, the chair of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith said, "In general, today more than ever we must follow the directive: wait calmly." He said that although one watches the new government "of course with deep suspicion," President Hindenburg represents the "calming influence." He said there was no reason to doubt his "sense of justice" and "loyalty to the constitution." As a result, he said, one should be convinced that "nobody would dare" to "touch our constitutional rights." 
Foreign diplomats also made false assumptions about the nature of the change of power. The American consul general in Berlin, George S. Messersmith, believed that it was difficult to make a clear prediction about the future of the Hitler government and spoke of his assumption that it represented a transitional phenomenon on the road to a more stable political situation. To British Ambassador Horace Rumbold, it seemed like the conservatives had managed to successfully fence in the Nazis. But he also predicted that there would soon be conflicts between the unequal coalition partners because Papen’s and Hugenberg’s goal of restoring the monarchy could not be reconciled with Hitler’s plans. He recommended that the Foreign Office should take a wait-and-see attitude toward the new government. 
Rarely has a political project so rapidly been revealed to be a chimera as the idea that the conservatives would "tame" the Nazis. In terms of tactical cunning, Hitler towered high above his cabinet allies and opponents. In a short time, he had upstaged them and driven them against the wall, dislodging Papen from of his preferential position with Hindenburg and forcing Hugenberg to resign.
Hitler needed only five months to establish his power. By the summer of 1933, fundamental rights and the constitution had been suspended, the states had been forced into conformity, the unions crushed, the political parties banned or dissolved, press and radio brought into line and the Jews stripped of their equality under the law. Everything that existed in Germany outside of the National Socialist Party had been "destroyed, dispersed, dissolved, annexed or absorbed," François-Poncet concluded in early July. Hitler, he claimed, had "won the game with little effort." "He only had to puff -- and the edifice of German politics collapsed like a house of cards."
 I shudder to think where things will be in five months if Americans do not quickly wake up. 

Trump Vows to ‘Destroy’ Ban on Political Endorsements by Churches

If there were any big winners in the 2016 presidential election it was the Christofascists who appear well on their way toward achieving a Christian dominionist America.  Reportedly, Christian extremist Jerry Falwell Jr., a man who is anti-science and who supports the teaching of creationism will head an education reform task force under Donald Trump and is keen to cut university regulations, including rules on dealing with campus sexual assault.  With Trump's potential "religious freedom" executive order and/or the passage of the "First Amendment Defense Act," Christofascists will be above a myriad of non-discrimination laws and state and local nondiscrimination protections will be voided.   Now, Trump said his administration would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that prohibits churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. As noted in a column in the Washington Post, Christian Sharia law is coming to America.  The New York Times looks at Trump's latest frightening promise to Christofascists.  Here are highlights:
President Trump vowed on Thursday to overturn a law restricting political speech by tax-exempt churches, a potentially huge victory for the religious right and a gesture to evangelicals, a voting bloc he attracted to his campaign by promising to free up their pulpits.
Mr. Trump said his administration would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that prohibits churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.
“Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us,” Mr. Trump told religious leaders at the National Prayer Breakfast. “That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”
Repealing the law would require approval by Congress, which could prove challenging given that Democrats, and even some Republicans, would resist what many view as an erosion of the separation between church and state.
Eliminating the measure has been a goal of many social conservatives, who argue that it unfairly restricts clergy members from expressing themselves by endorsing, or speaking out against, political candidates.
Many see government persecution in limits on their official religious activities at work, and complain that the Internal Revenue Service — an agency that the right views with a special ire — singles out churches dominated by Christian conservatives.
It was one of several checklist items that religious conservative leaders told Mr. Trump were important to them. And they reacted to his announcement with delight.
Few Americans had even heard of the Johnson Amendment when Mr. Trump turned it into a rallying cry during the campaign. He told a crowd at the Iowa fairgrounds last August, “It denies your pastors their right to free speech, and has had a huge negative impact on religion.”
No one lobbied Mr. Trump to make the amendment an issue, said Johnnie Moore, a Christian publicist who serves on the president’s evangelical advisory board. He said Mr. Trump himself fixed on it in his first campaign meeting with the board members last June at Trump Tower.
Mr. Trump asked them why they did not have the courage to speak out more during elections. When the pastors informed him that they could lose their tax-exempt status, Mr. Trump declared the law unfair.
In meetings since then between Mr. Trump and pastors, whether in public or private, Mr. Moore said, Mr. Trump consistently says, “Everybody in this country has freedom of speech, except for you.” 
Churches and clergy members are free to speak out on political and social issues — and many do — but the Johnson Amendment was intended to inhibit them from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
Separately, the Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced in the House and the Senate on Wednesday. The bill would modify the Johnson Amendment by allowing churches and other charities to engage in political expression.
However, most Americans, and even most clergy members, say they do not want churches and houses of worship to engage in partisan politics. Nearly 80 percent of Americans said it was inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate in church, and 75 percent said churches should not make endorsements, according to a survey released in September by LifeWay Research, an evangelical polling group based in Nashville.

As with everything else with Trump, what a majority of Americans want and/or support means nothing.  Rather it is all about empowering the ugly minority that put him in office due to a fluke in the Electoral College that made Hillary Clinton's winning of the popular vote meaningless. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

How to Build an Autocracy in America

As each day passes and we seem more autocratic behavior coming from the current occupant of the White House, I continue to be stunned and terrified by the number of people who show no concern or alarm over what is happening.  First the Muslim ban, now a likely license to discriminate law that will give special rights and preferences to Christian extremists - and the Republican Party just shrugs and allows the Frankenstein monster to careen down the road towards a death of American democracy.  I feel as if I am reliving the history of earl 1930's Germany or an episode of the Twilight Zone, except it is really happening.  Conservative David Frum has a very lengthy piece in The Atlantic that paints a picture of where America may find itself under an defacto autocracy, and not a benevolent one.  Here are excerpts, but read the entire piece:
IT’s 2021, and president donald trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
The president’s critics, meanwhile, have found little hearing for their protests and complaints. A Senate investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign sputtered into inconclusive partisan wrangling. Concerns about Trump’s purported conflicts of interest excited debate in Washington but never drew much attention from the wider American public.
Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements. . . 
The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.
The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.
Meanwhile, social media circulate ever-wilder rumors. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true.
Nobody’s repealed the First Amendment, of course, and Americans remain as free to speak their minds as ever—provided they can stomach seeing their timelines fill up with obscene abuse and angry threats from the pro-Trump troll armies that police Facebook and Twitter. Rather than deal with digital thugs, young people increasingly drift to less political media like Snapchat and Instagram.
Trump-critical media do continue to find elite audiences. Their investigations still win Pulitzer Prizes; their reporters accept invitations to anxious conferences about corruption, digital-journalism standards, the end of nato, and the rise of populist authoritarianism.
Yet somehow all of this earnest effort feels less and less relevant to American politics. President Trump communicates with the people directly via his Twitter account, ushering his supporters toward favorable information at Fox News or Breitbart.
People crack jokes about Trump’s National Security Agency listening in on them. They cannot deeply mean it; after all, there’s no less sexting in America today than four years ago. Still, with all the hacks and leaks happening these days—particularly to the politically outspoken—it’s just common sense to be careful what you say in an email or on the phone. When has politics not been a dirty business? When have the rich and powerful not mostly gotten their way? The smart thing to do is tune out the political yammer, mind your own business, enjoy a relatively prosperous time, and leave the questions to the troublemakers.
Everything imagined above—and everything described below—is possible only if many people other than Donald Trump agree to permit it. It can all be stopped, if individual citizens and public officials make the right choices. The story told here, like that told by Charles Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is a story not of things that will be, but of things that may be. Other paths remain open. It is up to Americans to decide which one the country will follow.
No society, not even one as rich and fortunate as the United States has been, is guaranteed a successful future. When early Americans wrote things like “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” they did not do so to provide bromides for future bumper stickers. They lived in a world in which authoritarian rule was the norm, in which rulers habitually claimed the powers and assets of the state as their own personal property.
Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford, has described the past decade as a period of “democratic recession.” Worldwide, the number of democratic states has diminished. Within many of the remaining democracies, the quality of governance has deteriorated.
What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example—and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.
The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s rule over Hungary does depend on elections. These remain open and more or less free—at least in the sense that ballots are counted accurately. Yet they are not quite fair. Electoral rules favor incumbent power-holders in ways both obvious and subtle. Independent media lose advertising under government pressure; government allies own more and more media outlets each year. The government sustains support even in the face of bad news by artfully generating an endless sequence of controversies that leave culturally conservative Hungarians feeling misunderstood and victimized by liberals, foreigners, and Jews.
You could tell a similar story of the slide away from democracy in South Africa under Nelson Mandela’s successors, in Venezuela under the thug-thief Hugo Chávez, or in the Philippines under the murderous Rodrigo Duterte. A comparable transformation has recently begun in Poland, and could come to France should Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s candidate, win the presidency.
[T]he American system is also perforated by vulnerabilities no less dangerous for being so familiar. Supreme among those vulnerabilities is reliance on the personal qualities of the man or woman who wields the awesome powers of the presidency. A British prime minister can lose power in minutes if he or she forfeits the confidence of the majority in Parliament. The president of the United States, on the other hand, is restrained first and foremost by his own ethics and public spirit. What happens if somebody comes to the high office lacking those qualities?
Donald Trump, however, represents something much more radical. A president who plausibly owes his office at least in part to a clandestine intervention by a hostile foreign intelligence service? Who uses the bully pulpit to target individual critics? Who creates blind trusts that are not blind, invites his children to commingle private and public business, and somehow gets the unhappy members of his own political party either to endorse his choices or shrug them off? If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.
DONALD TRUMP will not set out to build an authoritarian state. His immediate priority seems likely to be to use the presidency to enrich himself. But as he does so, he will need to protect himself from legal risk. Being Trump, he will also inevitably wish to inflict payback on his critics. Construction of an apparatus of impunity and revenge will begin haphazardly and opportunistically. But it will accelerate. It will have to.
If Congress is quiescent, what can Trump do? A better question, perhaps, is what can’t he do?

Trump’s "Religious Freedom" Order Reveals Sweeping Plans to Legalize Discrimination

A post yesterday suggested that folks should not be tricked by Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Fuhrer's, purported decision to leave President Obama's LGBT supportive executive orders in place.  Based n a leaked draft of Der Fuhrer's proposed "religious freedom" executive order, any rights left in place by virtue of Obama's executive orders will be wiped out.  Thus, Trump can claim he maintained LGBT protections even as he issue a plan to legalize massive anti-LGBT discrimination.  The man is a foul douche bag - and that description is far too kind.  A leaked draft executive order titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” reveals frightening and sweeping plans by the Trump administration to legalize discrimination.  Such has always been the goal of the Christofascists who backed Trump and extracted promises from him in return.  The Nation looks at the details of this foul plan.  Here are article highlights:
A leaked copy of a draft executive order titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” obtained by The Investigative Fund and The Nation, reveals sweeping plans by the Trump administration to legalize discrimination. 

The four-page draft order, a copy of which is currently circulating among federal staff and advocacy organizations, construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and protects “religious freedom” in every walk of life: “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”
The draft order seeks to create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act. 
Language in the draft document specifically protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”

The breadth of the draft order, which legal experts described as “sweeping” and “staggering,” may exceed the authority of the executive branch if enacted. It also, by extending some of its protections to one particular set of religious beliefs, would risk violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
“This executive order would appear to require agencies to provide extensive exemptions from a staggering number of federal laws—without regard to whether such laws substantially burden religious exercise,” said Marty Lederman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and an expert on church-state separation and religious freedom.
The exemptions, Lederman said, could themselves violate federal law or license individuals and private parties to violate federal law. 
The leaked draft maintains that, as a matter of policy, “Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the Federal Government into participating in activities that violate their conscience.”
It sets forth an exceptionally expansive definition of “religious exercise” that extends to “any act or refusal to act that is motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the act is required or compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” “It’s very sweeping,” said Ira Lupu, a professor emeritus at the George Washington University Law School and an expert on the Constitution’s religion clauses and on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). “It raises a big question about whether the Constitution or the RFRA authorizes the president to grant religious freedom in such a broad way.”
In particular, said Lupu, the draft order “privileges” a certain set of beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity—beliefs identified most closely with conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians—over others. That, he said, goes beyond “what RFRA might authorize” and may violate the Establishment Clause.
[T]he new draft order codifies a laundry list of claims advanced by the Christian right in recent years as indicating that the advance of LGBT rights has put the religious freedom of conservative Christians at risk. “They would say this is a nondiscrimination order,” said Lambda Legal’s Pizer. “We disagree. We would say being denied the ability to discriminate against others is not discrimination against you.”

Images of the draft executive order are here: 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Don't Be Fooled By Trump's Trick on LGBT Executive Orders

Perhaps it was the result of not wanting to ignite further street protests or an effort to be able to pretend that he wasn't targeting LGBT citizens, but for now Der Fuhrer has reversed course and indicated that he will not reverse President Obama's pro-LGBT executive orders.  While at first glance, many in the LGBT community are giving a shy of relief.  My advice: don't be fooled.  Trump has made it very clear that he intends on delivering on his promises to leading Christofascist groups and there is no conflict between leaving the executive orders in place for window dressing while forging ahead with broadened religious exemptions and/or the pending Firs Amendment Defense Act ("FADA") before Congress which Trump has promised to sign. Stated another way, Trump can leave the executive orders in place while indirectly wiping them with FADA that will give immense rights to discriminate against LGBT citizens.  A piece in LGBTQ Nation looks at this simple reality.  Here are excerpts: 
The White House said on Monday that they will keep in place former president Barack Obama‘s executive order banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination among federal contractors.
“President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, just as he was throughout the election,” the statement reads. “The president is proud to have been the first ever G.O.P. nominee to mention the L.G.B.T.Q. community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression. The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump.”
The White House statement came in response to growing concerns after LGBTQ Nation reporting that sources close to the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, were declaring that an executive order allowing for discrimination against the LGBTQ community based on religious beliefs was coming soon, perhaps this week.
Yet there are still reasons to be concerned, as Trump could still sign an executive order carving out a religious exemption which would allow for discrimination, while still keeping Obama’s order in place.
There are also real fears over the First Amendment Defense Act, which would similarly allow for discrimination so long as those doing the discriminating cite a religious belief as the cause of their actions. It has been reported that it will soon be introduced to Congress and Trump has already pledged he would sign it if it were to pass. His pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions also recently defended the proposed legislation.
Advocacy groups, aware of this possibility, and citing concern of the travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries, remain unimpressed.
“Today’s statement says only that President Trump does not intend to take the extreme step of abolishing existing anti-discrimination protections for federal employees and contractors, some of which have been in place for nearly twenty years,” said Kate Kendell, Executive Director at The National Center for Lesbian Rights. “That is not a step forward. We remain concerned by reports that the President intends to issue an order creating new religious exemptions that will permit discrimination against LGBT people and others. This is also a distraction from the imminent announcement of a Supreme Court nominee, which is the most important issue for our community. The Senate must reject any nominee who will turn back the clock on our nation’s commitment to the equality and freedom of LGBT people, including the fundamental right to marry and to be treated equally to other married couples.”
The American Civil Liberties Union mirrored these concerns.   “Actions speak louder than words. President Trump has surrounded himself with a vice president and cabinet members who have repeatedly sought to sanction discrimination against LGBT people in the name of religion, and nothing in the White House’s statement makes clear that these efforts are behind us.
“Donald Trump is no friend to the LGBTQ community — regardless of what he or the White House leakers may be suggesting in the media,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund. “We need look no further than his extremist anti-LGBTQ Vice President Pence and Cabinet picks to see the real agenda at play.
There are rumors circulating that Vice President Mike Pence, who backed a religious freedom law in Indiana, has been pushing for the anti-LGBTQ executive order, while Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is said to be pushing back against it.  A recent report by Vanity Fair suggests that Kushner is losing influence in a White House dominated by far-right voices, and that he is aware and upset by the situation.
 With the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and his special rights for Christofascists mentality, fears of what is to come are all to justified.  

Neil Gorsuch's Hostile Record Towards LGBT People

Without exception, every one of Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court nominees had a record of hostility towards LGBT citizens.  Neil Gorsuch is no exception.  Worse yet, with his support of Hobby Lobby's ridiculous claim that for profit business corporations can hold religious beliefs, Gorsuch has signaled that he is all in favor of granting special rights to Christian extremists and that should the "First Amendment Defense Act" be enacted and come before the Supreme Court, that he would rule for special rights for right wing Christians and uphold a blanket licence to discriminate law such as that act.  Lambda Legal has taken the formal position of opposing Gorsuch and lays out an explanation of why it has done so.  Here are excerpts:
Following President Donald J. Trump’s nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch, Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, to the U.S. Supreme Court today, Lambda Legal took the difficult step of formally opposing his nomination, citing his record of hostility towards LGBT people and other marginalized communities. This is the first time Lambda Legal has opposed a Supreme Court nomination before a confirmation hearing.
In opposing Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, Lambda Legal cited his anti-LGBT rulings as well as his record on critical issues like religious exemptions.
“Judge Gorsuch’s opinion in the 10th Circuit Hobby Lobby decision is disqualifying,” said Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal. “The Hobby Lobby decision set a terrible and destructive standard for bosses being allowed to meddle in our sex lives and decide whether or not birth control is covered by the employer’s insurance plan. In Judge Gorsuch’s decision, he calls the inclusion of health coverage that includes birth control – ‘complicity…in the wrongdoing of others.’  Even the Supreme Court, affirming that case, acknowledged how dangerous this line of thinking is: it creates a nation in which some religions are obliged to follow the law and others are not.  Troublingly, Judge Gorsuch does not even see this as a problem.
“We absolutely must not confirm a Supreme Court nominee who has ruled that the religious beliefs of employers can trump the law. It is a short hop from birth control restrictions to restrictions on the intimate relationships and health care needs of LGBT people.
“Through his decisions, Judge Gorsuch has promoted a vision of a society where some religions prevail over others, and are invited to flout the law. Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record is hostile toward LGBT people and his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is unacceptable—we oppose.”
Lambda Legal also cited a troubling ruling from Gorsuch in a recent transgender rights case in Oklahoma.
Additionally, protections against employment discrimination affecting LGBT people are likely to come before the Court very soon, as cases Lambda Legal has filed on behalf of math teacher Kim Hively and security guard Jameka Evans—both fired for being lesbians—make their way through the federal court system.
“Judge Gorsuch may very well be the decisive vote in these cases and others, and his extreme record suggests he could roll back the tremendous progress our country has made towards recognizing the fundamental rights LGBT people and everyone living with HIV,” said Tiven. “While any nominee would be difficult to accept given that this is a seat stolen from a democratically-elected president, we believe that Judge Gorsuch is an especially dangerous jurist to place on the highest court in the land.”
Judge Gorsuch has supported religious exemptions from laws based on ‘complicity’—the wrongheaded idea that adhering to the law makes the objector complicit in the allegedly sinful conduct of others. He troublingly described the issue in his 10th Circuit Hobby Lobby opinion as follows: ‘All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others.’
Judge Gorsuch has expressed disapproval of civil rights impact litigation, writing in 2005 that “American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom … as the primary means of effecting their social agenda on everything from gay marriage” to other issues. It is telling that Judge Gorsuch saves his criticism for “American liberals,” even as the U.S. Supreme Court routinely has heard conservative challenges to constitutionally protected rights.  
One set of religious belief should never trump non-discrimination and other laws.  Yet, this is what Gorsuch's record shows he believes to be perfectly fine.  The perverse part of me longs for the day when Christians are a minority in America and when perhaps they will have to face the legal discrimination that they have dished out to others for so long.  That would be divine justice.