Saturday, August 09, 2014

Mark Herring Asks Supreme Court To Hear Same-Sex Marriage Case

Following up on his prior statements Virginia General Mark Herring has filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.  The goal?  To get a prompt resolution once and for all as to the constitutionality of gay marriage bans in Virginia and, by extension, the entire nation.  Personally, I hope the Court grants certiorari and strikes down bans on same sex marriage nationwide.  There is no guarantee that the Court will do so, but if the reasoning of United States v. Windsor is applied to the states, I do not see how the Court has any option - if it seeks to maintain any intellectual honesty - but to strike down all gay marriage bans.  BuzzFeed has details.  Here are excerpts:
Following on the heels of Utah officials and an Oklahoma clerk, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Friday asked the Supreme Court to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of his state’s ban on same-sex couples’ marriages.

What distinguishes Herring’s filing, representing Virginia State Registrar of Vital Records Janet Rainey, is that his is the first request to the Supreme Court by a party that backs the position of same-sex couples that the ban is unconstitutional.

Of the reason for hearing the claim, Herring’s filing, led by Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael, argues that the Supreme Court should accept certiorari in the case because “[t]he question presented is vital to a large population of same-sex couples, to their children, and to their fellow Americans who believe that discriminating against gay people is both unfair and unconstitutional. They may fairly call this ‘the defining civil rights issue of our time.’”

As to why the Supreme Court should hear the case challenging the Virginia ban, specifically, the brief states, “Virginia’s same-sex-marriage ban is one of the most stringent in the country. It goes further than [California’s] Proposition 8 by barring and refusing to recognize civil unions and by preventing same-sex couples from adopting children. It also goes further than Utah’s ban, which at least preserves contractual rights exercised independently of the same-sex-marriage restriction. Virginia law voids ‘any contractual rights created by’ same- sex marriages entered into in another State.”
 Yes, I have a vested interest in seeing Virginia's anti-gay hate based Marshall-Newman Amendment struck down because at the moment, my marriage to my husband in the District of Columbia is a nullity under Virginia law.

Mark Herring at our home last October

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Did the USA Have to Intervene Against ISIS?

Iraq has been more or less a disaster since it was artificially created in the aftermath of World War I.  From the outset, Iraq has tried to contain ethnic/religious groups that hate each other and in some cases carry grudges against each other tracing back for centuries.  If all of that wasn't bad enough. like fundamentalist Christianity, Islam has seen an upsurge in extremism and a desire by so-called conservatives who have nothing but contempt for the religious freedom of others.  Instead, they want to inflict their beliefs on all and, if one doesn't convert to their belief system, their solution is to eliminate you.  It is a pattern that we have seen over and over again throughout history.  A piece in Slate looks at the case of ISIS and the terrifying approach it seeks to take toward those who do not convert to its belief system.  Here are excerpts:
The war that is now unfolding in Iraq is something different, and something much scarier. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria steals with the best of them, and I don’t doubt that some of the fighters who’ve attached themselves to its cause are thrill-seeking psychopaths like those you’ll find in any lawless hellhole. On the whole, however, you get the impression that its fighters aren’t killing for fun and profit, and they’re certainly not killing to protect themselves from other crazies. Instead, they are killing because they are utopians. They want to live in a world that is quite literally cleansed of those who do not share their deranged beliefs, and by killing Yazidis and Christians and members of other religious minorities, they believe that they are serving a noble and just cause. 

The Taliban are awful, but given their willingness to cut deals with the Afghan government and the United States and its allies, they aren’t quite so insane. Even al-Qaida is more tolerant of religious minorities than the lunatics of ISIS. Now, with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stolen loot, ISIS is on the march, closing in on stranded pockets of women and men they see as pagans and slowly starving them to death. The Kurdish peshmerga, the only Iraqi fighting force capable of holding ISIS at bay, has put up a brave resistance, yet they are starting to buckle.

And now, without a moment to spare, President Obama has decided to do something. For months, the president has resisted committing U.S. military forces to the fight against ISIS. But ISIS’s campaign of extermination against Iraq’s religious minorities has stirred him to action. In a nationally televised address on Thursday night, the president announced that he had authorized a limited bombing campaign against ISIS as well as a humanitarian effort on behalf of the stranded Yazidis.

Though I’ve criticized the Obama administration for withdrawing from Iraq at the tail end of 2011, I recognize that the decision to intervene militarily now is a thorny one. ISIS has succeeded in no small part because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has failed to win the confidence of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who’ve suffered mightily from his sectarian chauvinism. Coming to the Iraqi government’s rescue looks a little too much like forgiving Maliki for his sins.

But the prospect of genocide changes things. What President Obama understands, I hope, is that if ISIS succeeds in routing the Kurds and collapsing the fragile Iraqi state, there will be no end to the killing. American military power cannot make Iraq whole again. It can, however, help give the Kurds a fighting chance to beat back ISIS, and to establish a safe haven for the members of religious minorities fleeing from ISIS-held territory. And in doing so, it can buy time for Maliki to think hard about his legacy: whether to avoid sharing power he is truly willing to let Iraq once again become a slaughterhouse.

We need to start thinking about the Yazidis and the Christians and the other persecuted Iraqis who will need to find shelter somewhere other than Iraq. The United States welcomed as many as 130,000 refugees from South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975. We might have to welcome just as many from Iraq in the years to come.
Religion - once again we see it as the root cause of much of the violence and evil in the world.  An earth utterly free of religion would likely be a far better place.

Christofascists Go Berserk Over Black Jesus

Adult's Swim's new Black Jesus series has sent many a Christofascist berserk, including the hateful bitches at "One Million Moms."  Ostensibly, these folks claim that it is “the foul language used in the trailer, including using the Lord’s name in vain, is disgusting. In addition, there is violence, gunfire and other inappropriate gestures which completely misrepresent Jesus.”  The real issue?  That Jesus is depicted as black because in the minds of these racists - racism and conservative Christianity always seem to go hand in hand, especially in Virginia - only white conservatives are real Christian/real Americans, so Jesus cannot be anything but a fair skinned Caucasian.  Never mind the historic reality that, if Jesus was born in Palestine, he was almost guaranteed NOT to look like the depictions we see so frequently (nor, if the Gospel stories are true, did he hang around the "godly folks" of his day).  The Daily Beast looks at the furor.  Here are highlights:
Black Jesus will be immortalized in a new Adult Swim show of the same name, but He existed long before Aaron McGruder thought him up. The idea of a dark-skinned, possibly woolly-haired lord and savior is a stark contrast to the blond-haired and blue-eyed depiction that is the accepted, if inaccurate, frontman of Christianity, but it has existed at least since the 19th century. Historians, forensic scientists, and Biblical scholars have long suggested that Jesus, whose racial appearance was not specified by the Bible, was unlikely to have had porcelain-hued skin and long, flowing hair; rather, that rendering was the result of a lengthy and complex racist mission.

But, in recent decades, black Jesus has crept his way into pop culture as a shape-shifting rebuke to the whitewashing of history. He has been referenced in television, film, and music, sometimes simply as a cultural flashpoint, other times as a liberator. In most instances, he serves as a response to the fallacy of white Jesus.

Unsurprisingly, it has not been without its criticisms. Conservative Christian group One Million Moms, for instance, has objected to Black Jesus on the grounds that “the foul language used in the trailer, including using the Lord’s name in vain, is disgusting. In addition, there is violence, gunfire and other inappropriate gestures which completely misrepresent Jesus.”

Is a critique of church and of the broader fallibility of organized religion forthcoming? Does he intend to use the racial tropes the show’s characters are based on to make a larger point? Is subversion on the horizon or will Black Jesus sacrifice a historically political concept for the sake of a stoner comedy? Only God knows.

Koch Brothers' Effort to Oust Tennessee Supreme Court Justices Fails

Personally, I have a problem with elected judges and Supreme Court justices.    When I first was practicing law in Alabama there was one local judge who while a good campaigner proved to be not only a terrible judge but perhaps insane to boot.  Things finally got so bad that the Alabama Supreme Court had to step in and have the judge removed.  Sadly, similar things can happen with appointed judges - one Norfolk District Court judge likewise proved insane (at least in my opinion) and was not reappointed.  My real problem with elected judges comes down to the problem of money - huge amounts of money that can be used to defeat competent judges  and set the stage for their replacement by those who will prostitute themselves to religious  or to political contributors.  In Tennessee, luckily voters saw this danger and rejected the efforts of the Koch brothers to remove three justices the evil brothers perceived to be insufficiently craven to their political agenda of creating a new Gilded Age.  Here are highlights from the New York Times:

Participants in Tennessee’s judicial elections on Thursday rejected a malodorous effort to oust three capable sitting state Supreme Court justices: Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee.

Conservative Republican groups, including the Republican State Leadership Committee and Americans for Prosperity — part of Charles and David Koch’s big-dollar political operation — underwrote a campaign against the judges. For weeks before Thursday’s election, they bombarded Tennessee with ads depicting them as “soft on crime,” hostile to business interests and supporters of “the Obama agenda” and “Obamacare.” But this was all nonsense: In fact the judges never ruled on a case involving the health care law.

Tennessee voters apparently saw through the lies, a victory not only for the three judges but for elected judges everywhere. The outcome of the election is a sign that judges can sign on to controversial decisions without losing their jobs — despite attack ads.

The downside of the judges’ success is that, to achieve it, they raised more than $1 million, much of it from lawyers who may appear before them. The judges’ next challenge is to be diligent about avoiding the appearance and reality of improper conflicts-of-interest by recusing themselves from cases involving significant financial backers.

“People can smell court tampering and tend to get their backs up,” says Bert Brandenburg of Justice at State, a group that advocates for the preservation of fair and impartial courts. But he warned that if judges take away from it the need to go out and raise lots more money, courts and ultimately justice will lose.

Friday, August 08, 2014

More Friday Male Beauty

Is A Raising Children in a Religiously Conservative Home Child Abuse?

I have said before that in my view raising children in a religiously ultra conservative - particularly a Christian fundamentalist home - is a form of child abuse.   Strict conservative Catholic homes are not much better and I have often thought that no one can f*ck up a child's mind (and life) more than the priests and nuns of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1950's and early 1960's.  Luckily, my family was not fanatically Catholic but given the era of my childhood, plenty of damage was nonetheless done.  With the benefit of hindsight, I regret that I made my children attend church as much as I did during the years that I was trying so desperately to "pray away the gay."  ave My intentions were good and, thankfully, my children seem to have put religion behind them and have moved on to value intellect, logic, reason and seem to be able to deal with objective reality.  A piece in Salon looks at one former Evangelical Christian's change of heart once he adopted children.  Here are excerpts:

Before I became a father, at the age of 36, I never suspected that adopting a young child, Nathan, would so powerfully dismantle my fortress-like evangelical beliefs. Nor did I anticipate the storm of turmoil, anger, and grief I would soon experience, as I relived my own childhood and confronted the dogmas I grew up with.

From day one, Nathan’s innocence, mischievousness, inquisitiveness, explosiveness, and affection fascinated and challenged me. He was so different from me, so much livelier, so able to live in the moment, and so unstunted in his capacity to enjoy life. Yes, Nathan desperately needed to develop communication, social and behavioral skills. But I didn’t want to destroy his spark. On the contrary, I hoped to learn from Nathan how to enjoy life and live in the moment.

As I contemplated my deep parental bond with Nathan and how I ought to raise him, I began reexamining the Christian dogmas with which I was reared. Childhood memories of the dreadful dogmas I had been taught at Nathan’s age boiled up to the surface. I recoiled with bewilderment, grief and anger.

So there I was, alone in my bedroom. My five-year-old mind pondered with terror and horror a God who hated disobedience so much that He would condemn people to a place of eternal fire and torment. I felt abandoned and alienated. I stared toward the window. The sunlight that once warmed me felt alien, hostile and cold. The sun’s rays symbolized the distant foreboding flickers of a hateful eternal fire waiting to torment the souls of the lost.

I stood there in that room all alone, condemned, diminished and stripped of all human dignity. God hated me for who I was. I didn’t stay in my bedroom long. I went out to the kitchen and asked Mom to help me pray Jesus into my heart. And so I became a Christian. But the alienation I felt on that summer afternoon stayed with me. It became the fearful cornerstone of my understanding of God.

Next, painful memories surfaced of the countless stories from Good News Club lessons I attended every week of every summer between the ages of 7 and 10. . . .  GNC presents these stories with terrifying, unmitigated detail. These are not whitewashed versions suitable for young children.Lessons about God’s commands to Abraham to sacrifice his son (Gen. 9) and to Saul to slaughter all of the Amalekites (I Sam. 15) exemplify God’s demand for total obedience. Lessons about Lot’s wife being transformed into a pillar of salt for stealing a last glance at Sodom (Gen. 19:26), of Aaron’s sons being consumed with fire for offering strange incense to God (Lev. 10:1-3), of Uzzah being struck dead for reaching out his hand to stabilize the ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 6), and of 42 children being mauled for mocking Elisha’s bald head (2 Kings 3:23-25) exemplify God’s terrible punishment for even trivial sins.

Almost every GNC lesson intones that sin—“anything you think, say, or do that breaks God’s laws”—must be punished. The worst sins, of course, are thought crimes: doubt and unbelief. The punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God. The lessons repeatedly admonish children that they deserve death. 

GNC’s repeated themes about sinfulness and unworthiness are always “balanced” by reminders of God’s “love,” manifested by the opportunity that each child has, through submissive “belief” in the dogmas with which they are being indoctrinated, to be saved.

As I read through the GNC lesson books, my childhood memories of those stories, and the terror and shame they inspired, came flooding back. For the first time, I recognized how evangelism artfully harnesses the phenomenon known as the Stockholm Syndrome. Named after a famous incident in 1973 in which robbery victims held hostage for six days grew emotionally attached to their captors, and defended them after they were freed, the Stockholm Syndrome frequently manifests when a captor strips the victim of all forms of independence, self-worth and dignity, alternately terrorizing and offering kindness to the victim. The victim embraces the kindness and views the captor as giving life simply by not taking it.

Evangelical Christianity employs the Stockholm Syndrome to full effect. God gains obedience and worship by reminding humans of their utter unworthiness, dangling them over hell, and then “saving” them, in exchange for submission, from the very torments he threatens.

I pondered these dogmas with the newly acquired insight and sensitivity of a father. As a vulnerable child, these dogmas had repeatedly attacked, and ultimately destroyed, my self-image and sense of intrinsic value. As early as my pre-teen years, I struggled with low self-image, depression and suicidal ideation. Now it was unmistakably clear: my religious upbringing was the cause.
For the first time in my life, I understood how abusive, degrading and destructive those dogmas had been.

It took me more than 30 years to begin consciously processing the damage I suffered as a child. Nathan has not yet begun that process. Although Nathan knows he is adopted, he does not yet know the tragic details of his first years of life. It is incumbent on me, as a father, to continually love and affirm him so that he develops a secure enough sense of identity and value to weather the facts he will eventually come to know.

Sometimes I gather Nathan into my arms, and look into his eyes. I tell him: You are precious; you are beautiful; we longed for you before we ever saw you; before we ever knew who you were, and in the month you were born . . .
My childhood was not as grim as the author's, but damage was indeed done and it took years to recover from it.  I hope I did not damage my own children by trying to raise them as "good Catholics."   Folks like Victoria Cobb, the members of the Catholic Church hierarchy, and the professional Christian crowd have not recovered from the damage they suffered.  Worse yet, they seek to inflict that damage on all of society. 

What Does Ed Gillespie Not Want You To Hear?

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Even as Mark Warner publicly and unashamedly states his positions, Ed Gillespie is apparently reprising Mitt Romney's approach of saying some things in public - that is when he can be pressed to take a position - while displaying his pandering to extremists behind closed doors.  As recent events show, Gillespie seems fearful that he will suffer his own "47%" fiasco if the press hears him courting the ugliest elements of the Virginia GOP's know nothing, racist base.  Blue Virginia sums it up well:

From the Democratic Party of Virginia:

Last week, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Patriots Tea Party invited community members to an event billed as a town hall and forum with Ed Gillespie and Barbara Comstock. Oddly enough, just recently, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Patriots felt compelled to make the speaking engagement "more private" due to the possibility of "liberal press" and "supporters of the opponents" who could be in attendance.

But why is Ed Gillespie so afraid to speak with news reporters in the room? What is really being said behind closed doors in a room full of tea party supporters that can't be said in front of the media?

Looks like another case of Ed Gillespie trying to dodge, duck, dip, dive the Virginia press corps on the multitude of issues he has yet to address in his attempts to forge relationships with the extremist members of the GOP.
It seems to me that if something cannot be said in front of the press, perhaps it should not be said at all.

How Virginia's Changing Demographics Allow Democrats to Ignore Rural Voters

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The last couple of statewide elections in Virginia have underscored the demographic change that has swept the state.  With the growth of the urban crescent from Northern Virginia down through Hampton Roads, increasingly Democrats can win statewide office without courting the rural - and I would say backward/reactionary - areas of the state.  While Virginia Beach remains an anomaly and was found to be one of the most conservative cities in America, most of the urban voters reject the God, guns, homophobia, anti-contraception and racism that are main themes of Republicanism  in Virginia nowadays.  The consequence is that while Republicans still hold sway in the General Assembly thanks to obscenely gerrymandered districts, statewide contests are increasingly theirs to lose for Democrats.  The current contest between Mark Warner and his GOP challenger who continues to embrace reactionary, anti-gay and anti-woman is a case in point.  Here are highlights from a piece in the Washington Post that looks at this new reality:

Turkey hunting, NASCAR and a bluegrass campaign ditty: not the most obvious path to the governor’s mansion for a multimillionaire raised in Connecticut. Yet it worked for Mark R. Warner, running in Virginia in 2001, and still looks like a stroke of genius to many an admiring Democrat.
It’s up to Steve Jarding, manager of that campaign, to set the record straight.

“We weren’t geniuses at all. We were desperate,” Jarding said. “We had to figure out how to get votes in Southside and all of rural Virginia or we weren’t going to win.”

Today, as Warner seeks a second term in the U.S. Senate in a deeply changed Virginia, rural voters are not nearly as receptive to Democrats as they used to be — and Democrats no longer need them.

Explosive population growth in the Washington suburbs and near-stagnant rural numbers have allowed other Democrats — President Obama, U.S. Sen. Timothy M. Kaine and Gov. Terry McAuliffe — to win with little support outside of Northern Virginia and other urban centers.

All of which helps explain how a man who long ago branded himself a “radical centrist” found himself on a debate stage this summer celebrating gay marriage, injecting abortion and birth control into the discussion, and pushing for a higher minimum wage. Warner even went after his opponent, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, for avoiding taking a position on climate change.

In other words, Virginia has changed so much that Mark Warner has changed, too.

[W]hen Warner met Gillespie for their first debate at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia late last month, the Democrat made his usual overtures toward rural Virginians, with lots of mentions of moderate positions on energy, federal spending and foreign affairs.

But with just three minutes left in the question-and-answer segment, in the middle of a discussion on same-sex marriage (which Gillespie opposes and Warner has publicly supported since early 2013), the Democrat sharply pivoted to abortion and birth control.

Warner said Gillespie, who opposes abortion in most cases, would seek to ban not only abortion but also “certain common forms of contraception.”  Warner’s campaign said those assertions were based on the fact that the Republican platform adopted in 2004, during Gillespie’s tenure as party chairman, called for both a personhood amendment and for overturning Roe v. Wade.

McAuliffe got clobbered last year in Southside and southwest, two regions Warner won 13 years ago. But because Northern Virginia had grown tremendously bigger and bluer, McAuliffe was able to more than make up ground there, winning the Washington area by more than twice the margin that Warner had in 2001.

Those trends might look like pure electoral gravy for Warner, who left the governor’s office with soaring approval ratings and remains the state’s most popular politician. But Warner has probably lost support in what is now bright-red rural Virginia.
What is happening in Virginia is also happening in states like Texas.  In Texas, the tide hasn't turned as much yet, but over time it will.  Does the GOP have a game plan other than trying to disenfranchise blacks and Hispanics?  If it does, it is not apparent.  As time goes by, pandering to aging, angry whites and religious extremists is not a prescription for long term survival of the GOP.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Will Religion Yet Again Lead to Genocide in Iraq

Time and time again throughout history religion has lead to the genocide of others of different faiths or even different sects within a faith tradition.  Anyone or anything that threatens the typically blindly followed dogma of the aggressors must be destroyed and rooted out so that no challenge conceivably exist to the generally ignorance based religious teachings.  Now, in Iraq, we see the phenomenon yet again as the minority Yazidi sect faces slaughter because they are seen as devil worshipers by Sunni extremists.  The impending slaughter has prompted Barack Obama to announce a US airlift of food and water to stranded Yazidis and targeted airstrikes against the ISIS extremists.  Here are excerpts from The Guardian:
Tens of thousands of members of one of Iraq's oldest minorities have been stranded on a mountain in the country's north-west, facing slaughter at the hands of jihadists surrounding them below if they flee, or death by dehydration if they stay.

UN groups say at least 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect, many of them women and children, have taken refuge in nine locations on Mount Sinjar, a craggy, mile-high ridge identified in local legend as the final resting place of Noah's ark.

At least 130,000 more people, many from the Yazidi stronghold of Sinjar, have fled to Dohuk, in the Kurdish north, or to Irbil, where regional authorities have been struggling since June to deal with one of the biggest and most rapid refugee movements in decades.

At least 500 Yazidis, including 40 children, have been killed in the past week, local officials say. Many more have received direct threats, either from the advancing militants or members of nearby Sunni communities allied with them. "They were our neighbours and now they are our killers," said Atyas.

The Kurdish minority Yazidis have long been regarded as devil worshippers by Sunni jihadists who have targeted them since the US invasion. As the extremists' latest and most potent incarnation, the Islamic State (Isis), has steadily conquered Iraq's north, the small, self-contained community has been especially vulnerable.

"Iraq is spiralling out of control," said Ali Khedery, the former longest-serving US official in Baghdad. "The centrifugal forces are spinning so quickly. They are on one timeline and Washington is on another. I am beyond concerned."

Khedery, who reported to five US ambassadors and three US central command generals and is now chairman of the Dubai-based consultancy Dragoman Partners, said: "Everybody is retreating to their corners. And there is no credible international actor that I can see that is trying to bring it together again.

"It definitely is an existential threat to the Iraqi government and I think it represents yet another manifestation of the disintegration of Iraq as we know it.

"Iranian overreach, the genocide in Syria, [Nouri] al-Maliki's consolidation of power in a very sectarian way, have all led to the disillusionment, the disenfranchisement of the Sunni Arabs, who have fatally, but perhaps understandably, chosen to consummate a deal with the devil. Now we are locked in a race to the bottom."
It is critical to remember that Iraq's spiral into utter chaos was triggered by  the Bush/Cheney regimes invasion which was based on deliberate lies to the American people.  It is also important to remember that Bush and Cheney also saw Iraqis as less than human because they were Muslim.  Indeed, Chimperator Bush seemingly saw himself on a modern day crusade against the infidel. On all fronts religious based bigotry (and greed in the case of Dick Cheney)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

More Thursday Male Beauty

Putin Launches New Cold War

Seeking to do something to distract average Russians from the growing isolation that he has created for their nation, Vladimir Putin has announced a ban against US and EU imports of foods stuffs and meats.  While the pundits debate who will suffer more economic harm from Putin's game of tit for tat, common sense suggests that Russia will ultimately be the bigger loser.  Reportedly, Putin is also prepared to introduce measures in the aviation, shipbuilding and automobile sectors which might kill France's sale of ships to Russia and force wealthy oligarchs to have to drive Russian made cars rather than the high end Rolls Royces and Mercedes that are their preference.  A piece in The Guardian looks at Putin's escalation of a new cold war to satiate his enormous ego and delusions that he is Russia's new Tsar.  Putin might do well to remember that Nicholas II's views of Russian power and his own rightness did not translate into reality and ended disastrously.  Here are excerpts:
Russians will no longer be able to buy fruit, vegetables, meat, fish or dairy products from the EU and the US, as the full scope of Moscow's food import ban became apparent on Thursday.

President Vladimir Putin told officials on Wednesday to come up with a list of western agricultural products and raw materials to be banned, in reaction to western sanctions over Russia's policies in Ukraine.

Russia's prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said the ban was effective immediately and would last for a year. It covers most foodstuffs from the US, the 28 EU countries, Canada, Australia and Norway.

The key question is whether the import ban would hurt European producers more than Russian consumers. The Kremlin's English-language channel, Russia Today, said the food ban could spark a "crisis in Europe" and would cost billions of pounds in lost revenues.  There was less musing on the cost to ordinary Russians, who have become used to readily available imported foods.

"I am sure that our market will be filled with fresh quality Russian products, which anyway many Russians prefer to the imported ones," said Medvedev.

The agriculture minister, Nikolai Fyodorov, said more Brazilian meat and New Zealand cheese would be imported to offset the newly prohibited items. He also said Moscow was in talks with Belarus and Kazakhstan to prevent the banned western foodstuffs being exported to Russia from the two countries.

Medvedev said Russia was prepared to introduce further measures in aviation, shipbuilding and automobile sectors, but said it would do so carefully. Moscow has already floated the idea of banning European airlines from flying over Russian airspace, which could add several hours to some flights between Europe and Asia.

Financial markets were quick to react to Putin's tit-for-tat move. Moscow's main two share indices extended Wednesday's sharp declines, with retail and banking shares among the biggest fallers. The RTS index lost 1.9%, and the rouble-denominated Micex fell 1.5%. European indices were also weaker.

Russia is carrying out military exercises near the border with Ukraine this week, and there are fears that the option of a ground invasion is still on the table. Nato said earlier this week that Moscow had amassed around 20,000 troops near the border and could be planning an invasion under the guise of a humanitarian intervention.
By isolating Russia Putin seems to be demonstrating the mindset that prevailed at times in Russia prior to Peter the Great when isolation only served to marginalize Russia and make it more backwards compared to Western Europe.  But then again, Putin seems to see himself as the new Ivan the Terrible.  Historically, Russia has flourished the most when it has been most open to the West as under Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander I, and even Nicholas II under whose reign Russia reached a pinnacle in the arts and was rapidly industrializing.   Putin reportedly likes to read about Russian history but he seems to be ignoring periods that might teach him that he is on a course backwards in time, but not in a positive way.

Marriage Equality and the Factually Challenged

Two different posts, one in the Huffington Post and the other in the Washington Post, underscore the idiocy and blatant ignoring of facts that are the norm among gay marriage opponents.  All of the opposition ultimately boils down to the Christofascists' obsession with sex and the goal of ideally banning all sexual activity except between heterosexual couples in their child bearing years. And even then, the couple best not enjoy the intimacy or engage in it for any reason other than to procreate children.  Otherwise, in the view of the fathers of the Catholic Church's "natural law" theory devised in the 12th century, they will be guilty of fornication.  The piece in the Huffington Post looks at the lies - there really is no other term for it - of those who claim that same sex marriage harms families/children.  The one in the Washington Post looks at how the Christofascist arguments - if they were to succeed threaten the marriages of some heterosexuals.  First, these highlights from the HuffPo piece:
Anti-gay campaigner John Eastman, Chair of the hateful National Organization for (sic) Marriage, says: "We keep making the argument of the importance of marriage, that it takes a man and a woman to make a child and that the state can't continue to redefine that if civilization's policy goal is to support families rather than water down marriage to be about any adult relationship. These judges keep saying that's not what marriage is. Based on what? It's like we're in Stalinist Russia." The mere fact that Eastman could say something so absurd is evidence that we are NOT "in Stalinist Russia."

It is useful to remember what happened there. You might remember things such as the massive string of Siberian concentration camps. Secret police would round people up to be convicted without evidence and denied any kind of reasonable defense. There was genocide in the form of a planned famine against Ukraine. Stalin invaded the Baltic States and began a campaign against Jews there. Millions were imprisoned, starved or executed; free speech was impossible, and political opposition banned. 

Eastman confuses losing a legal argument with not being allowed to make one. Given how NOM-types have been cheering anti-gay repression by Stalin Jr., Vladimir Putin, it is a bit hypocritical to whine about being victims of a Stalinist legal system.

The reality is that civilization has had many different policies regarding marriage and the purpose of marriage has continually changed. There was no one goal, but rather many goals.The Apostle Paul's view of marriage was it was inferior to celibacy, justified only if individuals were unable to resist evil sex. "NOW concerning the thing whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband..

The goal of marriage was legitimizing sex, of which children might be a consequence. It wasn't a pro-family inspiration, however; it was an anti-sexual one. John Witte Jr. noted that Paul's anti-sexual views became more and more widespread so that the "late Church Fathers... revealed an increasing preference for virginity, celibacy, and monastic chastity -- sometimes pressing their preference to the point of outright opposition to intercourse and even to marriage itself.

Eastman has argued same-sex marriage somehow undermines support for families and will "water down marriage." Eastman and his fellow campaigners never explain the magical process by which this takes place. How does preventing gay parents -- who are raising a family -- from marrying, "support families?" Do the means -- banning marriage -- lead to the goal of protecting families?

What does Eastman mean by families? Are older childless couples a family or not? Do young couples only become a "family" after giving birth? If the prime purpose of marriage is having children then many marriages are NOT legitimate marriages. Couples unable to have children, due to medical reasons or age, are not married. Some would argue it is Eastman who is changing marriage.

Eastman's comparison of the judicial system to "Stalin's Russia" is almost as ludicrous as the legal arguments he uses. NOM is factually challenged, in that they twist facts or just make them up to serve their ends.

Eastman argued the reason he is losing isn't because he's full of crap, but because a cadre of "activist political judges" are ruling against him. He claims Democrats appointed these judges, "This is just raw politics." Sadly for him, however, he is once again making up facts. Reporter Steve Friess notes, "just seven of the 22 federal judges who have ruled in the various cases since Windsor were appointees of Democrat presidents;" Republicans appointed the rest.   Nor should we forget that a Reagan appointee decided the Prop 8 case and Justice Anthony Kennedy, another Reagan appointee, wrote the Windsor decision. 
As I say so often, no one lies more - other than perhaps Vladimir Putin - than  the Christofascists.  The piece in the Washington Post picks up on the danger the Christofascists pose to many heterosexual marriages:
Why does this upset me so? Well, you see, I got married two years ago, a few days shy of my 60th birthday. My friends (and new husband) tell me I still look super awesome, and I can still do a pretty good downward dog. But the inescapable fact is that — under normal circumstances (more about that later) — I am way past reproductive age. I have the hot flashes to prove it. If, as Niemeyer says, the whole point of marriage is not the mere parenting of kids but actual biological reproduction, it is clear to me that he believes that my marriage is invalid. To opponents of gay marriage, marriage is all about breeding. Since my breeding days are over, it looks like, marriage-wise, I should be, too.

And it isn’t just Virginia. Kentucky used the same argument. So did Georgia. And Texas. This argument is surely going all the way to the Supreme Court.

Think of the implications of this, ladies. . . . . Marriage is thus not about friendship. Not commitment. Not companionship. Not even tax breaks. Just procreation. And love? I love my husband. I’m pretty sure he loves me. But according to the state of Virginia, without childbirth, what’s love got to do with it? Virginia has no interest in “licensing adults’ love,” Niemeyer quotes.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Dedicated to Texas Republicans

63 Texas Republicans Sign Brief Saying Gay Marriage Will Lead To Incest and Pedophilia

If the gathering in Ames, Iowa mentioned in the last post doesn't do enough to convince you that the Republican Party has become a sectarian party, then pay attention to Texas Republicans, 63 of whom just signed onto a brief filed with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that alleges that legal same sex marriage will lead to the legalization of incest and pedophilia.  Yes, you read that right.  A piece in the Huffington Post looks at the batshitery and shameless self-prostitution of these Republicans who, other than the dictates of the Christofascists they pander to, have nothing to back up their claims.  Here are article highlights:

In support of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s efforts to reinstate the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, more than 60 Texas lawmakers signed an amicus brief Monday arguing that recognition of gay marriage could lead to the legalization of incest, pedophilia and polygamy. 

Filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 63 members of the Texas Conservative Coalition, the state legislature’s conservative caucus, advanced the notion that legalizing same-sex marriage could provide legal justification for the recognition of various moral taboos, including incest and pedophilia.

“The district court broadened the definition of the ‘existing right to marry’ as one that includes the right of people to ‘select the partners of their choosing’ for marriage, without regard to sex,” the brief contends. “If the right to select ‘partners of their choosing’ is the criterion used to invoke marriage as a fundamental right, then marriage restrictions on age, polygamy, and consanguinity are also ripe for challenge.”

As first reported by Lone Star Q, signatories include the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Pro Tempore Dennis Bonnen (R) and state Sen. Ken Paxton, the Republican nominee for attorney general. 

“Another ground cited by supporters of Texas’s marriage laws and subsequently dismissed by the district court is that recognition of same-sex marriage ‘could lead to the recognition of bigamy, incest, pedophilia, and group marriage,’” the brief continued. “As already discussed in this brief, restrictions on marriage relating to these moral considerations remain valid. Thus, the goal of actively trying to prevent those practices from becoming valid is entirely rational public policy."

While the Republican lawmakers concede that “recognition of pedophilia or other morally reprehensible actions” may not actually be the “logical next step” following marriage equality, they maintain that legislators enacted Texas’ marriage laws "with the intention of supporting marriage arrangements that they believe support valid goals related to those concerns.”

The friend-of-court brief comes one week after Abbott’s office filed an appellants brief urging the appeals court to reverse U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s February decision, which deemed the state's same-sex marriage ban in violation of the 14th Amendment’s due-process and equal-protection clauses.
Not surprisingly, the brief cites the discredited "research" of Mark Regnerus which has been disavowed by even his own department at the University of Texas.

Iowa Family Leadership Summit - A Hate Fest By Any Other Name

If one wants to see the Republican agenda of hate and division in action look no farther than the Iowa Family Leadership Summit taking place in Ames, Iowa.   While participants call themselves "social conservatives," in reality they are a bunch of religious extremists and white supremacists.  Gays, non-whites, non-Christians, non-racists are all equally despised by these "godly Christian" folks.  Not surprisingly, many of the usual GOP suspects are flocking to Ames to either desperately try to remain relevant - e.g., Ken Cuccinelli - or prostitute themselves to the hate merchants orchestrating the gathering.  Note that the hate group Family Research Council is a co-host of the event.  It would only be fitting if KKK robes and Bibles were handed out simultaneously to all participants.  Here are highlights from the Ames Tribune:

A who’s who of social conservatives, among them a handful of potential presidential contenders, will descend on Ames Saturday for the annual Family Leadership Summit at Stephens Auditorium.

The event is organized by Iowa activist Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, an umbrella organization of family policy groups known best for its opposition to same-sex marriage and influence over the GOP’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.

Those scheduled to speak at the event include Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his father Rafael, a pastor; Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott; and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad — all of them Republicans.

Vander Plaats’ ability to attract high-profile politicians to Iowa and his influence over its presidential caucuses have earned him the title of social conservative kingmaker from the national news media.
The past two caucus winners — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 — were both endorsed by Vander Plaats.

Both have been floated as possible 2016 contenders and also plan to attend Saturday’s event.

The Family Leader has long been a lightning rod for criticism because of its unwavering commitment to deeply conservative, biblical views on marriage, abortion, education and other issues. 

Progress Iowa, a liberal advocacy group, condemned Vander Plaats’ organization as an “anti-LGBT hate group” in an email criticizing Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds for participating in the event. In an email titled “Good luck this week, Republicans,” the Iowa Democratic Party used the summit as an opportunity to slam the GOP’s “far right base” and the records of Cruz, Jindal and Perry.

The Family Leadership Summit is co-hosted by the legislative action arm of the Family Research Council, a national organization similar to The Family Leader, and Citizens United, the group whose Supreme Court challenge overturned laws limiting independent political spending by corporations and unions.

Other speakers scheduled include baseball players-turned-entrepreneurs David and Jason Benham; former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli; Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr.; FRC President Tony Perkins; and evangelical author Joel Rosenberg.

The GOP Myth of a "War on Whites"

If there is any unifying theme to the Republican Party base - over and above greed, of course - it is the resentment of others and a longing for the days when whites, no matter how ignorant and trashy, had a place of privilege in society, especially in the South.  While not all Southerns supported unconditional white privilege - my New Orleans grandmother thought "poor white trash was the lowest of the low - in general being white gave one a boost up on all those deemed "other" and non-white.  Now, that unquestioned privilege is eroded and one's success and place in society isn't automatically enhanced by one's skin color.  This loss of undeserved privilege is at the heart of the claims of white supremacists' and GOP politicians' whining that there is a war on whites.  Similarly, the white Christofascists are hysterical over the fact that they are increasingly unable to ride rough shod over the rights of others be they gays or non-Christians.  A column in the New York Times looks at the disingenuous myth that a war on whites exists.  Here are excerpts:
When Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, claimed earlier this week that Democrats were waging a “war on whites,” he lifted the lid on a simmering resentment that is very real and very resilient and feeds on anxiety — and fear — about a changing America, and the possibility of those changes upending historical architectures of privilege.

On Monday, Brooks was on Laura Ingraham’s radio show to talk about Republicans’ deportation policies. She played a clip of Ron Fournier of The National Journal on Fox News saying:

“The fastest-growing voting block in this country thinks the Republican Party hates them. This party, your party, cannot be the party of the future beyond November if you’re seen as the party of white people.”

Ingraham asked Brooks to respond to the clip, and he did:
“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”
This is a paranoid delusion wrapped in a staggering deflection inside an utter lack of personal — or party — accountability.

Republicans have been digging a trench between themselves and racial minorities for decades.
The racial divisiveness became part of the party plan in the 1970s with the “Southern Strategy,” when Richard Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times Magazine: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

Then Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971, which is one of the longest-running, most disastrous programs — in both wasted money and wasted lives — in the history of this country.

[T]he antidrug campaign has become increasingly focused on arrests for marijuana — a substance that is now legal in some states and whose potential legality is picking up steam in others — and among those arrested exists an unconscionable racial disparity. . . . African-Americans are incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that of whites.”

The racial divisiveness . . . . continues as Republicans trade racial terms for culture-centric euphemisms. Newt Gingrich, in 2011: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” although most poor people of working age work. Paul Ryan, earlier this year: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

[I]n the Obama era — despite what Mo Brooks says — Republicans are not only solidifying their division with blacks but solidifying a divide with Hispanics as well.

Whites are not under attack by Democrats; Republicans like Brooks are simply stoking racial fears to hide their history of racially regressive policies.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Suddenly Wall Street Realizes that Income is Bad for Wall Street

It seems pretty elemental to economic projections that having wealth concentrated in a tiny percentage of the population while everyone else struggles to survive is not going to stimulate spending on consumer goods and other expenditures that keep corporate America in business.  Yet all too belatedly Wall Street seems to be catching on to the reality that the creation of a new Gilded Age as envisioned by the GOP is not going to bode well for the captains of industry or Wall Street itself.  While the Koch brothers continue to court cretins in the GOP base like the authors of the signs in the image above, others seem to be having second thoughts.  Here are highlights from a piece in Mother Jones:

There's a lot of evidence that record-high income inequality has gutted the United States' post-recession recovery. But on Tuesday, the argument was made by an unexpected source: Standard & Poor's (S&P), a Wall Street firm providing ratings and analysis on stocks and bonds, issued a report pointing out economic disparity's role in "dampening US economic growth."

Over the next decade, S&P forecasts that the economy will expand at just a 2.5 percent annual rate, a downgrade from the 2.8 percent growth it predicted just five years ago. One explanation: "At extreme levels, income inequality can harm sustained economic growth over long periods. The US is approaching that threshold."

The gap between the richest and poorest Americans has been skyrocketing for decades, with no end in sight. How exactly does this widening wealth gap affect the economy? "Higher levels of income inequality increase political pressures, discouraging trade, investment, and hiring," the report explains. It leads extremely wealthy households to save more and consume less, while lower-income households must borrow to sustain consumption. "When these imbalances can no longer be sustained, we see a boom/bust cycle such as the one that culminated in the Great Recession."

S&P suggests focusing on education to increase national productivity. According to the report, one additional year of education in the American workforce could increase GDP by $525 billion—about a 2.4 percent boost—over the next five years.

As S&P ominously concludes the report, "A lifeboat carrying a few, surrounded by many treading water, risks capsizing."