Thursday, July 27, 2017
As a history major I've often wondered what people living during times when dictators came to power and democratic norms must have felt. Examples of such times include the the fall of the Roman Republic and, of course, the rise of Adolph Hitler. Now, it seems, I know some of their distress and fear for the future as I watch a presidency out of control, normal political behavior throw in the trash, and the Republican controlled Congress acting much as the Roman Senate did as Augustus Caesar made himself the first Roman emperor. The main difference is that Augustus was a man of intelligence who sought to stabilize the empire and outwardly followed the practices of the Republic. With Trump, we are witnessing a man devoid of morality and driven only by self interest and the apparent need to cover up his own criminality. A column in the Washington Post looks at the destruction of the rule of law taking place before our very eyes. Here are excerpts:
On both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, we are witnessing a collapse of the norms of governing, constant violations of our legitimate expectations of political leaders, and the mutation of the normal conflicts of democracy into a form of warfare that demands the opposition’s unconditional surrender.Trump’s latest perverse miracle is that he has progressives — along with everyone else who cares about the rule of law — rooting for Sessions. The attorney general is as wrong as ever on voter suppression, civil rights enforcement and immigration. But Sessions did one very important thing: He obeyed the law.
When it was clear that he would have obvious conflicts of interest in the investigation of Russian meddling in our election and its possible links to the Trump campaign, Sessions recused himself, as he was required to do.
Trump’s attacks on Sessions for that recusal are thus a naked admission that he wants the nation’s top lawyer to act illegally if that’s what it takes to protect the president and his family. Equally inappropriate are Trump’s diktats from the Oval Office calling on Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton and those terrible “leakers” who are more properly seen as whistleblowers against Trump’s abuses.
Our country is now as close to crossing the line from democracy to autocracy as it has been in our lifetimes. Trump’s ignorant, self-involved contempt for his duty under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” ought to inspire patriots of every ideological disposition to a robust and fearless defiance.
But where are the leaders of the Republican Party in the face of the dangers Trump poses? They’re trying to sneak through a health-care bill by violating every reasonable standard citizens should impose on public servants dealing with legislation that affects more than one-sixth of our economy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan have little time for worrying about the Constitution because they are busy doing Trump’s bidding on health care.
Let it be said that two Republican senators will forever deserve . . . . In voting upfront to try to stop the process, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski demonstrated a moral and political toughness that eluded other GOP colleagues who had expressed doubts about this charade but fell into line behind their leaders.
The most insidious aspect of McConnell’s strategy is that he is shooting to pass something, anything, that would continue to save Republicans from having a transparent give-and-take on measures that could ultimately strip health insurance from 20 million Americans or more. Passing even the most meager of health bills this week would move the covert coverage-demolition effort to a conference committee with the House.
The Senate’s unseemly marathon thus seems likely to end with a push for a “skinny repeal” bill that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer mandates and its medical device tax. But no one should be deluded: A vote for skinny repeal is a vote for an emaciated democracy.
But McCain could yet advance the vision of the Senate he outlined in his floor speech and rebuke “the bombastic loudmouths” he condemned by casting a “no” vote at the crucial moment. Here’s hoping this war hero will ultimately choose to strike a blow against everything he said is wrong with Congress.
And when it comes to the ongoing indifference to the law in the White House, Republicans can no longer dodge their responsibility to speak out against what Trump is doing. They should also examine their own behavior. The decline of our small-r republican institutions can be stopped only if the party brandishing that adjective starts living up to the obligations its name honors.
I for one am not optimistic about the future. Once again I find myself wonder whether the husband and I should emigrate - like many Germans did in the 1930's under Hitler's growing menace - before the bottom falls out. The main concern if we take that course is how to get my children and their families out while there is still time to do so. I have no faith that Republicans will do their sworn duty and uphold the U.S. Constitution while there is still time to do so. Be very afraid.
While Der Trumpenführer's diktat against transgender members of the military is receiving the most media attention, another sinister effort is being pushed by Trump's Department of Justice that would declare that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not afford any protections to LGBT individuals targeted for discrimination. Specifically, Attorney General Jeff Sessions - a man with a long history of both racism and anti-LGBT animus - filed an amicus brief filed in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The case involves an employee, Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, who filed suit against his employer in federal court in New York, alleging that the company terminated him for his sexual orientation in violation of Title VII. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") supported Zarda last month in its own court filing. BuzzFeed looks at the case and Trump/Sessions' effort to leave LGBT with no non-discrimination protections (something that would thrill Christofascists and evangelical Christians). Here are highlights:
The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday argued in a major federal lawsuit that a 1964 civil rights law doesn’t protect gay workers from discrimination, thereby diverging from a separate, autonomous federal agency that had supported the gay plaintiff’s case.
The Trump administration’s filing is unusual in part because the Justice Department isn’t a party in the case, and the department doesn’t typically weigh in on private employment lawsuits.
But in an amicus brief filed at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, lawyers under Attorney General Jeff Sessions contend that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, does not cover sexual orientation.
The Justice Department also contends that Title VII only applies if men and women are treated unequally.
"The essential element of sex discrimination under Title VII is that employees of one sex must be treated worse than similarly situated employees of the other sex, and sexual orientation discrimination simply does not have that effect," the brief says.
After a lower court ruled and the case was appealed, the 2nd Circuit invited outside parties to weigh in. Zarda v. Altitude Express is now before before a full panel of judges at the court.
Among Zarda’s boosters is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a largely autonomous federal agency that handles civil rights disputes in the workplace, which supported Zarda last month in its own court filing.
For several years, the EEOC has declared in federal court that Title VII bans anti-gay discrimination, saying it is based on sex stereotyping, and therefor discrimination on the basis of sex.
If Zarda’s argument were to prevail — despite his death in base-jumping accident in 2014 — it would set new precedent in the circuit by overturning two cases from the 2000s.
Further, it would give momentum to the argument as a general matter, given that the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of lesbian in April who made the same claim.
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump announced he would end all transgender military service.
“On the day that will go down in history as Anti-LGBT Day, comes one more gratuitous and extraordinary attack on LGBT people’s civil rights," said a statement from James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT & HIV Project. "The Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination."
Let it not be forgotten that every friend, family member or neighbor of an LGBT American voted for this attack on our basic civil rights when they voted for Donald Trump. Do NOT give them a pass or forgive them for the harm that they set in motion and will be continuing to support as long as they continue to support Trump and the GOP more generally. With "friends" like these Trump supporters, one doesn't need an enemy.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Donald Trump made many promises during the 2016 presidential campaign. So far, other than putting anti-gay Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, Trump has delivered on few of his promises. At least the publicly made ones. Time will tell what promises he may have made to Vladimir Putin, but today we witnessed Trump delivering on one of his promises to Christofascist leaders in June, 2016. Today, Trump issued a
fiat ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military - much to the near orgasmic joy of hate group leaders such as Tony Perkins. Pleasing the evangelical Christians who bear responsibility for Trump's presidency is far more important than delivering jobs to those in Youngstown, Ohio, or western Pennsylvania who he played for fools. So too is causing distractions to divert media attention from the increasingly serious Russiagate scandal. A piece in The New Yorker looks at Trump's cruel and cynical action against one of the most beleaguered segments of society. Here are excerpts:
Nearly a half century ago, young Donald Trump—a Wharton graduate, and an avid player of squash, football, and tennis—scored a 1-Y medical deferment. Hundreds of thousands of young men were being deployed to Vietnam. Trump had some bone spurs. He then limped happily into his father’s real-estate business without delay.
When Trump was interviewed by the Times about his deferment during the 2016 campaign, he admitted that the foot condition was “temporary” and “minor”—usually orthotics or stretching eased the pain—and yet, “I had a doctor that gave me a letter—a very strong letter on the heels.” He promised the paper that he would look for the letter. Amazingly, it never turned up.
On Wednesday morning, the Commander-in-Chief declared by tweet-fiat that, “after consultation with my Generals and military experts,” he had decided to reverse an Obama Administration decision and bar transgender individuals from serving in the military “in any capacity.” Trump tweeted further, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming . . . victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Let’s begin with the retrograde cruelty. There are thousands of transgender people already serving among the 1.3 million active-duty members of the military. These are people who have volunteered their service and have potentially put their lives on the line, and yet their President, who managed to come up with a flimsy doctor’s note back in the day, denies them their dignity, their equality. He will not “accept or allow” them in the military. Imagine the scale of this insult.
However, today’s outrage—they seem to come at least once daily—is not merely one that reflects on Trump’s low character. It also reveals yet another layer of his political cynicism, and his willingness to use any tactical means available to try to emerge whole from his current predicament.
The President is in the midst of a colossal scandal, and the country, to an increasing measure, knows it. It’s not merely a matter of poor popularity polls. A sizable portion of the country wants to be rid of him and suspects he is unworthy of his office. Six months into his Presidency, according to a USA Today/Media Ethics poll, the country is split on whether or not he should be impeached . . . . The scandal is broad-based, but it surely includes (but is not limited to) contacts with Russian officials during the campaign and potential collusion . . . . the accumulating evidence of a history of sleazy business practices and partners; and the level of sheer incompetence in the West Wing.
It is implausible that Trump paid much attention to his highest-ranking generals, or to experts, generally; Secretary of Defense James Mattis has supported transgender individuals joining the military. And the hardly radical Rand Corporation has published an in-depth study refuting the idea that transgender soldiers are somehow expensive, or that they undermine the morale and cohesion of the military over all. Trump’s decision to bar transgender people from the military is pure politics, cheap and cruel politics, a naked attempt to divert attention from his woes, to hold on to support from his base . . . . In other words, it is a decision straight out of the Steve Bannon playbook. Cue the organs of the alt-right press.
Not my president.When you begin to consider the meanness of what Trump has done, it is worth remembering him saying that he was “smarter” than the generals on military matters, and that he mocked John McCain’s service in Vietnam because “I like people who weren’t captured.” When you begin to think about the scale of this offense, it is worth remembering Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who lost a son in Iraq, addressing Trump directly from the lectern of the Democratic National Convention: “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
The latest tactic of anti-LGBT hate groups is to lie - lying is one of their hallmarks - and claim that they are being persecuted and slandered because of their religious beliefs. The tactic is part of the organized effort to create the myth in America that Christians are facing persecution and, therefore, need to have "religious freedom" laws enacted in their favor. As noted numerous times, these laws are in fact a license to discriminate and simply allow Christofascists to exempt themselves from non-discrimination laws and ordinances. They undermine the rule of law and establish a de facto national religion in the form of extremist Christianity. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a piece that looks at what these hate groups all have in common: spreading know lies and untruths and working endlessly to subject LGBT citizens to discrimination and, sometimes, criminalization. It is a part of the Christofascists effort to destroy anything and anyone who does not comport with their fear and based beliefs and/or might make others question such beliefs. Here are highlights from the piece which shows the deliberate dishonesty and viciousness of Alliance Defending Freedom (the same agenda applies to Family Research Council and a host of "family values" groups):
In 2016, The Southern Poverty Law Center added the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF; formerly Alliance Defense Fund until 2012) to its list of anti-LGBT hate groups.
The designation is a result of ADF’s propagation of known falsehoods about LGBT people over the years (including the conspiracy theory that there is a “homosexual agenda” or “homosexual legal agenda” to undermine “the family” and Christianity), its demonization of LGBT people, its support of criminalization of gay sex in the U.S. and abroad and its continued attempts to create state and local policies and legislation (so-called “religious liberty” laws) that allow Christians to deny goods and services to LGBT people in the public sphere and marginalize LGBT students in schools.
The SPLC does not name groups to its anti-LGBT hate list simply for having biblical objections to homosexuality or for opposing same-sex marriage.
Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally. . . . . Since its founding, the ADF has expanded its operations abroad as it battles abortion, LGBT equality, and what it considers the “myth” of the separation of church and state.
The ADF’s longstanding antipathy toward LGBT people has become public through its work on lawsuits, various statements it has made, and materials it has offered on its website over the years. It has also promoted the idea of a “homosexual agenda” — a nefarious scheme to destroy Christianity and, eventually, civilization through LGBT people’s efforts to secure equality under the law. To those who believe in this conspiracy theory, LGBT people are not really seeking equality; rather, they are actually seeking to destroy such things as Christianity, the family and culture.
ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley at the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage conference, 2014: “Alliance Defending Freedom seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.
Alan Sears, then-president of ADF (he was president until January, 2017) publishes a book he co-wrote with then-ADF colleague Craig Osten titled The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, which was heavily advertised for sale on the ADF website and offered in fundraising pitches for years. The book is the authors’ attempt to describe how far the conspiracy of “the homosexual agenda” has infiltrated the country and undermined Christianity through things like media and educational institutions. Sears and Osten described the media campaign conducted by LGBT activists in the 70s and 80s (as summarized in the account After The Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s) to "a war of propaganda, just as Hitler did so masterfully in Nazi Germany."
Sears and Osten also claim that homosexual activists are attempting to “indoctrinate children” as early as kindergarten. (p. 52) The authors link homosexuality to pedophilia . . . .
Lawrence v. Texas amicus briefs . . . ADF files two friend-of-the-court briefs in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case, which struck down anti-LGBT sodomy laws in the United States. Both briefs support retaining criminalization. One, with ADF attorney Glen Lavy, is a litany of graphic descriptions of sex acts and how dangerous same-sex sexual activity is (more so than opposite-sex sodomy, the brief argues), ultimately claiming that the state (Texas) should continue to criminalize same-sex sexual acts in the interest of public health and “morality.”
A pamphlet titled “The Truth about Homosexual Marriage” — available on the ADF’s website — claims that same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships are dangerous to children. . . . . The pamphlet promotes ex-gay ministry Exodus (Exodus International shut down in 2013) for its role in “helping thousands of individuals stop homosexual behavior.”
According to the ADF website, “The homosexual legal agenda is one of the greatest threats to religious freedom in America today.” The strategy of proponents of this agenda “is twofold: dilute moral values so that homosexual behavior is thought to be normal, natural and good, while suppressing the religious and free speech rights of those who disagree.” Clearly, the ADF says, “The homosexual agenda is at odds with religious freedom.”
Alan Sears speaks in a plenary session (PDF) at the anti-LGBT World Congress of Families gathering in Madrid, Spain. The session is titled “The Homosexual Agenda” and Sears states that, “the homosexual legal agenda” reveals “an extremism that seeks out and persecutes any soul, in any corner of our society, who refuses to publicly embrace and aggressively promote homosexual behavior.”
ADF attorney Piero Tozzi addresses (PDF) an anti-LGBT conference in Jamaica, where he voices his support for the continued imposition of the Jamaican anti-sodomy law which, he says, is a “the bulwark” against a “larger agenda” and falsely links childhood trauma to homosexuality.
ADF attorney Erik Stanley speaks in Tennessee at a conference titled “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” where he pushes the myth that Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder was “fabricated” and had nothing to do with his homosexuality. Rather, the story about his murder being a hate crime was to advance the “homosexual legal agenda.”
ADF sends a letter to school districts around the country stating that no school is legally beholden to implement trans-inclusive policies and allow trans students to access bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify. The letter denies the gender identity of such students and claims that such inclusive policies are allowing opposite sex students to access the facilities, which is “dangerous.”
ADF legal counsel Douglas Wardlow testifies in an Anoka-Hennepin school board meeting in Minnesota against allowing trans students to access facilities in accordance with their gender identities. Prior to his testimony, he sent a letter to the board in which he used the discredited research of Mark Regnerus and Paul McHugh to falsely claim that protecting trans students from discrimination is not supported by medical science (it is).
ADF's lies are endless. Here in Virginia, The Family Foundation spreads the same untruths and amazingly to date has escaped a formal hate group designation, perhaps because its propaganda is limited to within Virginia. Both groups seek to spread anti-LGBT hatred and to give Christian extremists special rights and need to be recognized as a menace to true religious freedom..
Most American presidents are invited to the Boy Scout National Jamboree, but while many attend the event and speak, a significant do not. Would that Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, had passed up the invitation. What ensued when Trump addressed the Scout gathering sounded more akin to Adolph Hitler addressing a gathering of Hitler Youth members. Rather than being uplifting and talking about good citizenship and living by the Scout Law, Der Trumpenführer attacked the mainstream news media, sought to illicit boos against Barack Obama, and made the speech into a political case of verbal diarrhea aimed at harming anyone not swearing fealty to "Dear Leader." While cheers were heard on the audio of Trump's rant, many in attendance and others with strong ties to the Boy Scouts were not happy and the supposedly non-partisan non-profit organization felt compelled to distance itself from Trump's political and personal attacks. Coverage in the Washington Post looks at this vile and inappropriate screed by a man who sounded more like a peevish child that the president of a global super power. Here are highlights:
Trump’s speech at the Jamboree in Mount Hope, W.Va., broke with years of tradition — presidential traditions and Scouting traditions both. Past presidents had used these moments to extol American exceptionalism and civic virtues — such as service and honesty — that have long been pillars of the Boy Scout ethos.
Trump did a little of that before veering into a speech about his own exceptionalism.
“It pivoted to essentially a typical Trump rally. And it was not a campaign-rally audience. It was an audience of young boys and young men, who’ve come from around the country to celebrate Scouting,” said Robert Birkby, a former Eagle Scout who wrote three editions of the Boy Scout Handbook. “He did not share in the event. He shared of himself.”
By Tuesday, Trump’s speech had prompted a backlash from many current and former Scouts and their families, who say it was not only inappropriate but also undermines efforts to diversify and modernize the century-old organization.
On social media and in interviews, many said they thought national leaders should have cut short or condemned the speech, which included strong language — “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” — and a reference to cocktail parties attended by “the hottest people in New York.” Trump at times tried to raise issues more traditionally discussed at Boy Scout gatherings, such as character and perseverance. But he also lingered on his campaign fight against Democrat Hillary Clinton and seemingly joked about firing his health and human services secretary over Republicans’ inability, so far, to pass health-care legislation.
By midday Tuesday, the organization’s Facebook page included hundreds of comments from former Scouts and parents of Scouts, calling for the organization to make a stronger statement condemning the speech. Many threatened to pull out of Scouting.
The controversy comes as the venerable organization, which has promoted civic engagement and character development among children since 1910, strives to stay relevant and appear inclusive. Membership in the Boy Scouts has dwindled by a third since 2000, to just more than 2 million as of 2016.
The organization has sought to reach out to Hispanics through its Valores para Toda la Vida (Values for Life) program. It founded its co-ed Venturing program, which focuses on outdoor exploration for teens and young adults, in 1998 and has opened some of its other programs to girls, though so far not its prestigious Eagle Scout program. The organization rescinded its ban on gay members in 2014 and in January announced that it will allow transgender members.
The efforts have in part been an effort to keep from driving away parents and students in more liberal areas of the country, said Alvin Townley, a Georgia-based author who wrote “A Legacy of Honor,” a history of the Eagle Scouts, who have earned the highest level of achievement in the organization. He suggested that the political nature of Trump’s speech undermines that goal.
“No president has used the Jamboree as a backdrop to advance a political agenda. . . . . And Scouting’s vitality relates directly to its inclusion of people from different backgrounds and different perspectives.”
Trump’s remarks were the last straw for at least one former Scout. Eric Styner, 31, who works in quality assurance at a technology company in Seattle, said Tuesday that he had decided to renounce his status as an Eagle Scout.
Styner said he gradually became alienated from the Scouts, beginning at age 14, when he was rankled by the requirement that a Scout profess a belief in God to pass his Eagle Scout Board of Review. He was further disillusioned when the Scouts held fast to a gay ban even after many states had legalized same-sex marriage. Trump’s speech clinched it, he said.
Some defended the organization, saying that it did the right thing by inviting Trump. The problem, they said, was Trump.
For the record, I was a scout as was my son. That said, I have become increasingly disillusioned with the Boy Scouts which seems to aligned with Christofascists and pushes an anti-gay, anti-minority agenda. That Trump was allowed to engage in such an inappropriate and dishonest rant makes me more resolved to make sure that my grandsons are not scouts.