Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

The Salvation Army's History of Anti-LGBT Discrimination

As we move into the beginnings of the holiday season, it is again good to be reminded that not all charities are worthy of support by the LGBT community.  One charity to be avoided is the Salvation Army which has a long history of anti-gay bigotry.  In short, there are many much more deserving charities that do not make LGBT discrimination one of their cornerstones. Here are highlights from a post at Huffington Post that merits a revisit as the holiday season nears:
In recent years, the Salvation Army has come under fire for its lengthy history of anti-LGBT political maneuvering and other incidents. The church has publicly articulated its belief that homosexuality is unacceptable, stating:
Scripture opposes homosexual practices by direct comment and also by clearly implied disapproval. The Bible treats such practices as self-evidently abnormal. ... Attempts to establish or promote such relationships as viable alternatives to heterosexually-based family life do not conform to God's will for society.
While such statements were recently removed from the Salvation Army's website, the church has yet to repudiate any of its explicitly anti-gay beliefs. And though these positions may seem to be limited to the group's internal doctrines, they've become a persistent element of the church's overtly political activities -- activities which have negatively impacted the Salvation Army's ability to provide charitable services, and have aimed to limit the rights and benefits of LGBT citizens in multiple nations.

"Without discrimination" -- myth or fact?

The Salvation Army has recently attempted to counter this perception of the church as homophobic, scrubbing explicitly anti-gay statements from its websites and issuing missives purportedly "debunking" the "myth" of its anti-LGBT stances.

Yet these efforts at cleaning up their image still fail to address the most substantial criticisms of the church's policies. The Salvation Army states that numerous clients at its soup kitchens and homeless shelters are members of the LGBT community, and that these individuals are served without discrimination. They further add: "The Salvation Army embraces employees of many different faiths and orientations and abides by all applicable anti-discrimination laws in its hiring."

These statements completely ignore the reality that the Salvation Army continues to maintain anti-gay theological stances, and continues to discriminate against its own employees and their partners. They also neglect to mention that the organization historically "abides" by anti-discrimination laws by way of shutting down services in areas where such laws apply. The Salvation Army has given no indication that it intends to change any of these anti-LGBT policies.

Supporting the Salvation Army this season, whether by tossing your change in their red kettles or donating your used goods to their resale shops, means assisting an aggressively anti-gay church in furthering its goals of discrimination. Would-be donors should consider whether "doing the most good" might mean supporting one of the many other effective and reputable charities that provide for the needy without engaging in anti-gay beliefs, policies, or political activities.

Lazy Morning - Back Yard Beauty

I am definitely running slow today.  Perhaps it's because it's the first really cold morning we've had (at least by Hampton Roads standards).    I will concede that it is pretty as this back yard photo of the crape myrtles and creek with the tide out suggests.  I need to get moving and run errands, go to the gym, hit the office for a while and then get ready for the "Tennis Ball" black tie event for the Achievable Dream Foundation this evening.  The event is always amazing and a great opportunity to mingle with the "who's, who" of the area.   As I run errands, however, my mind will be on some place tropical - like the scene at the top of the blog which is a scene from near Puetro Castilla, Honduras where my late mother was born.

Will Elizabeth Warren Transform the Democrat Party?

In most instances Democrats ran from Barack Obama and the liberal policies of the Democrat Party in the campaign leading up to the disastrous 2014 midterm elections.  Far too little was said about the progress made under Obama - improved economy, dropping unemployment, dropping gas prices, and so forth.  Playing moderate, in short, did nothing to stop losses.  Some are suggesting that had these failed candidates done more to talk up successes and embrace popular liberal policies, the results might have been different - and might have motivated more of the base which stayed home. A piece in Salon raises the question of whether Elizabeth Warren can lead the Democrats back to liberal issues that find wide popular support out side of Christofascist circles.  Here are excerpts:
Twenty years from now, assuming climate change has not yet ended the world as we know it, most American liberals won’t think of this fall as the time when Republicans finally retook control of the U.S. Senate. And they won’t think of it as the brief pause that separated the era of Barack Obama from that of Hillary Clinton. Instead, when the liberals of our near future look back on the current moment, they’ll remember it as the hour when the Democratic Party began to move decisively to the left, thanks in no small part to the continued ascendance of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

At this point, it’s not entirely clear what the folks nominally in charge of this infamously disorganized party are trying to do by elevating Warren. Because the former Harvard Law professor has been prominent in liberal circles since the launch of her brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it can be easy to forget that she’s only been in Congress for a couple of years. And coming as it does after a truly disastrous midterm showing, this seeming vote of confidence from Democratic bigwigs has the risk of being a “glass cliff” situation. My former colleague Brian Beutler, for example, has guessed that Senate Dem leadership may have opted to bring Warren into the fold because they’ll need a popular spokeswoman to deliver the next two years’ worth of bad news to the “professional left.”

After many years of kvetching about their paltry influence — and following decade after decade of enviously watching the conservative movement refashion the GOP in its own image — lefty ideologues and organizers now have the chance to turn Warren into a kind of trojan horse for a resurgent politics of economic populism (or, as it used to be called, liberalism). And if they adapt and adhere to the script used many years ago by visionary right-wingers, who famously responded to an electoral drubbing in 1964 by staying the course and propelling a true believer to the White House less than 20 years later, it just might work.

I still think the conservative example offers activist liberals unhappy with the Obama record –which is most of them — some valuable lessons.For one, if left-wing troublemakers want to make Sen. Warren a Goldwater of their own, they’ll have to ignore the 2016 presidential race as much as possible. That doesn’t simply mean giving up on the lost cause of forcing Wall Street favorite Hillary Clinton to reinvent herself as a true progressive. And it certainly doesn’t mean wasting resources on a quixotic primary challenge, which in the present circumstances will do little more than help Clinton get back in the swing of triangulation. Instead, it means building institutional support from the bottom up by creating funding networks and community spaces outside of the Democratic Party’s reach, so lefties can feel personally invested in their cause without having D.C. grandees step in and tell them to be “serious.” 

[T]he success of right-wing activists from the past and present indicates that there can be long-term benefits in a short-term stint as the minority. To be clear, it’d be taking things too far to say that it’s a good thing Democrats now only control the White House. As the last four years have taught us, the powers of the imperial presidency don’t seem to extend very far into the realm of the domestic (at least not yet). So having a majority in Congress is vital, still. At the same time, there’s value, to a degree, in having a party with ideological coherence — increasingly so, I’d argue, in an era of institutional failure and partisan polarization. Most of the Democrats dissolved in the red tides of ’10 and ’14 were “blue dog” conservatives,

[W]hat lefty activists should learn from their right-wing counterparts is this: In a dysfunctional two-party system such as ours, in which voters are perpetually unhappy and ready for any excuse to throw the bums out and start all over, it’s only a matter of time until the losers of yesterday are once again ascendant. And as the GOP has shown in the years since its back-to-back wipeouts in ’06 and ’08, responding to electoral defeat by moderating is no longer necessary, while moving further away from the center is no longer a death sentence. Now that they have a political superstar and ideological true believer as their behind-the-scenes agent, lefty activists with an eye on the long term have a chance to, in the words of Warren, “frame the issues for the next few elections” and ultimately make the Democratic Party truly progressive.

Will the GOP Self-Destruct Over Immigration?

With Barack Obama having thrown down the gauntlet on immigration reform and his promise that he will address immigration issues via executive order, the Republican Party seems headed towards possible self-destruction thanks to the Christofascist,Tea Party/white supremacist base of the party. The seething hatred of racial minorities, especially Hispanics, may be more than the so-called GOP leadership can control.  Now, the insanity and dysfunction which have racked the House of Representatives thanks to the GOP majority may well over take the Senate after January.  The talk of government shut downs and other spittle flecked lunacy may well prove that the GOP is in fact incapable of governing and force voters to realize the party belongs to vulture capitalists, corporate polluters, racists and religious fanatics.  Average Americans need not apply. The New York Times looks at the GOP quandary.  Here are highlights:
A rerun of the 2013 shutdown battles over the Affordable Care Act has the potential to drown out the new Republican message before the party even takes control of Congress. . . . “I think we need to go all the way,” said Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho, referring to what steps Republicans should be prepared to take to prevent the president from acting unilaterally on immigration. “What I think is a mistake is for any Republican to take any option off the table.”

The president’s decision has broad support among members of his own party on Capitol Hill. While they have quibbled about the best moment for Mr. Obama to announce the plan — some are pushing him to delay until at least mid-December, in order to give the must-pass spending bill a better chance of success — Democrats appear eager for him to do it.

Democrats are already exploiting the divisions among Republicans by painting them as the leaders of government obstruction and gridlock.

“Just over one week after elections, Republicans are back to true form by talking about shutting down the government over an issue the vast majority of Americans support and 68 senators already passed — a comprehensive compromise on immigration,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

So far Republicans believe their best path to blocking the president’s immigration actions is a spending bill that must pass by Dec. 11 in order to fund the government through the next year. In the Senate, three Republicans — Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama — have taken the lead in urging their colleagues to oppose any spending bill unless it includes provisions to stop the president from acting on immigration.

If the spending bill does not contain their desired language, Republicans say another option would be to pass a short-term spending measure to fund the government into early next year, when Republicans will control both chambers and believe they will have more leverage.

[M]any Republican strategists worry about political damage if the party’s first action on Capitol Hill is a protracted budget battle that leads to a shutdown — much as occurred after the shutdown over Mr. Obama’s health care law in 2013. Even many Republicans who have been vocal opponents of the president over immigration say that such an outcome is not their goal.

Meanwhile, Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is an outspoken opponent of any immigration overhaul, said he was huddling with his conservative allies in “back-of-the-room, outside-the-room” conversations. He is also readying legislation that would be triggered by Mr. Obama’s unilateral immigration action, defunding that executive action, as well as the protected status Mr. Obama has already provided for undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children.
Note how the party of supposed Christian values is ready to target children yet again.   The GOP has become increasingly the antithesis of the Gospel message.   Hate, hypocrisy and extremism is now the GOP norm.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Southern Baptist Leader: Being Gay Is a Sin In and of Itself

The swamp fever afflicting the Southern Baptist Convention ("SBC") is apparently intensifying as Albert Mohler - who is frighteningly viewed as a leading intellect -  has finally conceded that sexual orientation is not a choice but in the next breath decreed that being gay in and of itself is a sin.  Never mind if one doesn't act on one's feelings.   The good news, of course, is that the  SBC's membership is falling, so that fewer individuals will give a damn about Pious Albert's rantings.  Here some of his batshitery from his blog (Note how being heterosexual is not automatically sinful):
I recently addressed a major national conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” held by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Subsequent to the conference, it became clear that the vast coverage of the conference in the national press raised some issues that need to be considered further.
One of these issues is sexual orientation. As I explained in my address, I had previously denied the existence of sexual orientation. I, along with many other evangelicals, did so because we did not want to accept the sexual identity structure that so often goes with sexual orientation. I still reject that notion of sexual identity. But I repented of denying the existence of sexual orientation because denying it was deeply confusing to people struggling with same-sex attraction.. . . most people experiencing a same-sex attraction tell of discovering it within themselves at a very early age, certainly within early puberty. As they experience it, a sexual attraction or interest simply “happens,” and they come to know it.

Given the depth of the Bible’s teachings on sin and this fallen world, this should not surprise us. In some sense, each of us finds within ourselves a pattern of desires — sexual and otherwise — we did not ask for, but for which we are then and now fully responsible. When it comes to a same-sex attraction, the orientation is sinful because it is defined by an improper object — someone of the same sex.  Of course, those of us whose sexual orientation is directed toward the opposite sex are also sinners, but the sexual orientation is not itself sinful.

It [homosexuality] is not something that is, in itself, freely chosen. That does not mean that the individual is not completely responsible before God for how that orientation is then handled.
 I suppose Pious Al blames all of this ultimately on original sin.  The problem, of course, is that Adam and Eve never existed and, therefore, there was n "Fall."  I'd argue that one of the biggest sins is refusing to utilize ones intelligence and instead cling to ignorance and bigotry.  Pious Al is one of the biggest sinners of all. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

The Virginia GOP's Coming Civil War

The infighting in the Republican Party will not be limited to the national level.  Here in Virginia the lunatic Christofascist/Tea Party base has been emboldened by the defeat of Eric Cantor by a Tea Party extremists and all indications are that an effort will be made to drag the Virginia GOP even further into looney bin territory.  While the national debate on immigration should hopefully make it clear to minorities of every stripe that they are not welcomed in the GOP, the fight in Virginia will also likely have insane far right religious overtones as the theocrats at The Family Foundation pressure the Republican members of the Virginia General Assembly to enact "turn away the gays" bills to grant special rights to Christofascists to discriminate at will under the smoke screen of "religious liberty."  An article in the Washington Post looks at the coming fray.  Here are highlights:

Virginia’s fractured GOP will be drawn into yet another skirmish between the conservative grass roots and party establishment next year, when its top Republican will face a primary challenge from the right.

Just five months after the stunning defeat of former House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell finds himself fending off a similar threat.

Virginia has gained national attention as a swing state where, after a string of losses, Republicans are working furiously to position themselves to compete in the 2016 presidential election. One of their challenges is to unite a state GOP deeply divided between moderates and a coalition of activists and tea party faithful who want the party to stand stronger on such rallying issues as reducing government spending and opposing abortion and immigration reform.

[T]he right wing continues to control many of the state GOP’s leadership posts and retains the power to guide candidate nominations. The lesson many Republicans are taking from Cantor’s defeat, and from Howell’s impending primary fight, is that anything goes in the topsy-turvy world of Virginia politics — and no one should assume he or she is safe.

Not everyone thinks Howell is any more at risk this election cycle than in the past — and Stimpson has her own set of detractors, some of them Howell loyalists who resent her for turning against her patron.

“Howell will beat Stimpson like a rented mule,” said Ray Allen, a Republican consultant and Cantor loyalist who has tangled with the conservative coalition.

Stimpson is part a chorus of conservatives who believe that Howell orchestrated a compromise that ensured passage of a sweeping transportation bill last year — and secretly cleared the path for the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Howell led Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion and denied any secret effort to let it pass. But Stimpson and others objected to the creation of a 10-member commission that they feared would bolster the case for expansion.
[Howell] called the transportation bill vital for residents’ safety as well as economic development.  “That’s important, particularly in the part of the commonwealth where I live and where Susan lives,” he said. “People are desperate for transportation improvements. Conservatives don’t like to raise taxes, but they also don’t like to borrow money or not fund things.”
For those not living in Virginia, the state's Interstates were crumbling in many areas  and but for the money raised in the transportation bill would now be down right dangerous.  The lunatics of the GOP base care nothing about safety or sustaining the economy.  They are motivated solely by greed and hatred of others.

The GOP's Poisonous Choices on Immigration

Given the extreme animosity that the Christofascists/Tea Party base of the Republican Party holds for anyone not born with lily white skin (as well as those not born into Christian homes and heterosexual), Republicans face a difficult choice as to how to respond if President Obama signs an executive order on immigration.  Especially those Republicans planning to seek the 2016 presidential nomination which requires that they prostitute themselves to the racists and knuckle draggers of the Christofascists/Tea Party base in a way that would make a tawdry whore blush.  The result?  There may be no long term positive manner in how to respond.  Meanwhile, the issue will further rile the waring factions in the GOP.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the GOP dilemma.  Here are excerpts:
Congressional Republicans have split into competing factions over how to respond to President Obama’s expected moves to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, which are likely to include protecting millions from being deported.

The first, favored by the GOP leadership, would have Republicans denounce what House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has called “executive amnesty” and use the party’s new grip on Congress to contest changes to the law incrementally in the months ahead.

The second, which has become the rallying cry for conservatives, would seek to block the president’s decision by shutting down the government for an extended period until he relents.

“It’s a big test for the leadership. We cannot listen to the loudest, shrillest voices in our party,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican who represents the Philadelphia suburbs. “At some point we have to fund the government, and we should not fight to attach some demand. I don’t want to stand by and watch as our party gets driven into a ditch.” 

Among the options under [Obama's] consideration are proposals that could potentially shield as many as 6 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, according to several people familiar with Obama’s plans.

In a nod to the business community that Republicans would be hard pressed to oppose, Obama is likely to expand visa programs for immigrants working for high-tech firms. Doing so would fulfill the wishes of Silicon Valley executives, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many GOP lawmakers who have sought to make it easier for high-tech firms to recruit skilled workers from overseas.

Democrats reminded reporters Thursday that several of Obama’s predecessors have acted without congressional support.

“Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and there was much to be said about it at the time. But he led with executive action,” said Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.), adding later: “When Truman signed the order desegregating the military, there was much being said. But it desegregated the military.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), an advocate for an overhaul of immigration law, has been counseling House Republicans this week about the need to show empathy for undocumented workers as the party rails against the Obama administration, according to GOP aides familiar with his deliberations. He is concerned that too much vitriol could send the wrong message to Hispanic voters.

A group of centrist Republicans told Boehner and his leadership team at a conference meeting Thursday that they must avoid another fiscal impasse and that this is the moment to take on the more extreme elements in their party. They argued that unless Boehner confronts Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and other conservatives pushing for a hard-line response, he risks seeing his conference unravel, much as it did last year during the 16-day shutdown that was cheered by the tea party.

McConnell, who will lead the Senate starting next year, has made clear that he is not willing to hold up government funding to settle scores with the president on immigration. “We’ll not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt,” McConnell twice told reporters Thursday.
Expect a blood bath within the GOP.  I agree, however, that it is time for what few sane Republicans still exist to take a stand.  the Christofascist/Tea Party ranks must be defeated.  Better yet, they need to be kicked out of the GOP entirely.  Meanwhile, I hope Hispanic Americans watch the GOP closely so that they will see just how much the today's GOP is the party of hate and racists.

The China-America Climate Summit: Expect Right Wing Hysteria

The Koch brothers - perhaps the foulest excuses for human beings out side of the leadership of ISIS and perhaps Vladimir Putin - have spent huge amounts of money to fight (i) any recognition that climate change is happening and (ii) any regulatory changes that would limit the rapacious greed and polluting inflicted on the nation by the fossil fuel industries.  Sadly, there are many in the Christofascist/Tea Party base of the Republican Party only too happy to believe these lies even as the Kochs and their allies work against the long term best interests of these cretins of the GOP base.  A column in the New York Times looks at the Kochs agenda in the light of the initial agreement between China and America to face the reality of climate change and to do something about it.  Here are highlights:
The agreement between China and the United States on carbon emissions is, in fact, a big deal.

To understand why, you first have to understand the defense in depth that fossil-fuel interests and their loyal servants — nowadays including the entire Republican Party — have erected against any action to save the planet.

The first line of defense is denial: there is no climate change; it’s a hoax concocted by a cabal including thousands of scientists around the world. Bizarre as it is, this view has powerful adherents, including Senator James Inhofe, who will soon lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Indeed, some elected officials have done all they can to pursue witch hunts against climate scientists.

Still, as a political matter, attacking scientists has limited effectiveness. It plays well with the Tea Party, but to the broader public — even to non-Tea Party Republicans — it sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory, because it is.

The second line of defense involves economic scare tactics: any attempt to limit emissions will destroy jobs and end growth. This argument sits oddly with the right’s usual faith in markets; we’re supposed to believe that business can transcend any problem, adapt and innovate around any limits, but would shrivel up and die if policy put a price on carbon. Still, what’s bad for the Koch brothers must be bad for America, right?

Like claims of a vast conspiracy of scientists, however, the economic disaster argument has limited traction beyond the right-wing base. . . . The real war on coal, or at least on coal miners, was waged by strip-mining and natural gas, and ended a long time ago. 

Which brings us to the last line of defense, claims that America can’t do anything about global warming, because other countries, China in particular, will just keep on spewing out greenhouse gases. This is a standard argument at think tanks like the Cato Institute and among conservative pundits.

But now we have it straight from the source: China has declared its intention to limit carbon emissions.   I know, I know. The language is a little vague, and the target levels of emissions are much higher than environmental experts want. 

But consider the situation. America is not exactly the most reliable negotiating partner on these issues, with climate denialists controlling Congress and the only prospect of action in the near future, and maybe for many years, coming from executive orders. 

But the principle that has just been established is a very important one. Until now, those of us who argued that China could be induced to join an international climate agreement were speculating. Now we have the Chinese saying that they are, indeed, willing to deal — and the opponents of action have to claim that they don’t mean what they say.

Needless to say, I don’t expect the usual suspects to concede that a major part of the anti-environmentalist argument has just collapsed. But it has.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

More Thursday Male Beauty

Is the Catholic Church in Free Fall in South America?

I have stated a number of times that unless the Roman Catholic Church makes some dramatic changes soon, it faces the long term prospect of becoming a black church centered in Africa.  Now, a new Pew Survey adds fuel to this prediction by noting the huge drop in Church membership in South America, one of the heretofore bastions of Catholicism.  Among the reasons for sharp decline in membership are losses to evangelical protestant denomination.  But among the younger generations, as else where, including America, is the growing numbers of "nones" - those with no religious affiliation.  If these trends continue, the future does not look good for the Catholic Church (and deservedly so) and those in the hierarchy who oppose change may be hastening the demise of the Church.  Here are some highlights from the New York Times:

These are heady days for Roman Catholics in Latin America. For the first time, one of their own is serving as pope, providing a visible reminder of the importance the region plays in the global church.
But after a century in which nearly all Latin Americans identified as Catholic, the church’s claim on the region is lessening.

A sweeping new survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, finds that 69 percent of Latin American adults say they are Catholic, down from an estimated 90 percent for much of the 20th century. The decline appears to have accelerated recently: Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said they were raised Catholic, meaning there has been a 15-percentage-point drop-off in one generation.
The findings are not a total surprise — it has been evident for some time that evangelical, and particularly Pentecostal, churches are growing in Latin America, generally at the expense of Catholicism. . . 

[I]t’s a consistent trend across the region — it’s not just a Central American phenomenon.”Latin America remains home to an estimated 40 percent of the world’s Catholic population. But the survey finds that 19 percent of Latin Americans now describe themselves as Protestants. And Protestant churches in Latin America are filled with former Catholics. . . .

The change has political and religious implications. According to the survey, Protestants in Latin America are more religious and more conservative than Catholics: The Protestants pray more, go to services more often and are more likely to tithe. They are also more strongly opposed to same-sex marriage.

In most countries, a majority of Catholics say the church should allow contraceptive use and divorce. A majority of Catholics in Brazil, Chile, Puerto Rico and Uruguay support ordaining women as priests and allowing priests to marry, . . . .

The decline in Latin American Catholics has parallels in the United States, where significant numbers of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic residents were raised Catholic but have left the church. But in the United States, 18 percent of American Hispanics say they are religiously unaffiliated, compared with 8 percent of Latin Americans.
Among the other findings: The most Catholic country among those measured in the region is Paraguay, where 89 percent of adults are Catholic, and the least is Uruguay, where 42 percent are Catholic. Pew describes Uruguay as “far and away Latin America’s most secular country,” with 37 percent of the population religiously unaffiliated, after more than a century of secularization fueled by state policy.

[T]he study is a reminder that, even as Europe and North America become more secular, the Catholic Church also faces significant challenges in some of the regions of the developing world it has long considered to be its future.
I suspect that much of the problem is the same as what is driving the Church's decline:  a more educated population is increasingly put off by the Church's refusal to embrace modern knowledge.  Meanwhile, the ignorant, uneducated portions of the population are falling prey to the evangelical and Pentecostal churches that celebrate ignorance and a rejection of modernity in general..

Washington Refuses To Admit It Lost Two Wars

Two years ago today, one of my sons-in-law was badly wounded in Afghanistan.  At the time, the U.S. Army was less than truthful and it was several emotional days before he was flown out to Germany for first phases of major treatment.  To this day we don't know if inquires made on our behalf by Senator mark Warner helped get him out of Afghanistan more quickly.  After that, it was months of treatment and recovery.  Thankfully, he had a largely full recovery.  Many, including some of his friends whom I had the opportunity to meet, were not so lucky.  He has since left the military and just completed the Warrior Hike to "walk off the war"up the Pacific Crest trail from Mexico to Canada.  Sadly, the mindset in Washington that set the stage for the fool's errands in Afghanistan and Iraq is alive and well and puts the lives of other young Americans at Risk.  Andrew Sullivan has a good take down of these morons and hypocrites who continue to admit that both wars have been disasters and that the USA lost them.  Here are excerpts:
Let me put this as baldly as I can. The US fought two long, brutal wars in its response to the atrocity of September 11, 2001. We lost both of them – revealing the biggest military machine in the history of the planet as essentially useless in advancing American objectives through war and occupation. Attempts to quash Islamist extremism through democracy were complete failures. The Taliban still has enormous sway in Afghanistan and the only way to prevent the entire Potemkin democracy from imploding is a permanent US troop presence. In Iraq, we are now confronting the very same Sunni insurgency the invasion created in 2003 – just even more murderous. The Jihadism there has only become more extreme under a democratic veneer. And in all this, the U.S. didn’t just lose the wars; it lost the moral high-ground as well.  The president [Bush] himself unleashed brutal torture across all theaters of war – effectively ending any moral authority the US has in international human rights.

These are difficult truths to handle. They reveal that so many brave men and women died for nothing. And so we have to construct myths or bury facts to ensure that we maintain face. But these myths and amnesia have a consequence: they only serve to encourage Washington to make exactly the same mistakes again. To protect its own self-regard, Washington’s elite is prepared to send young Americans to fight in a war they cannot win and indeed have already lost. You see the blinding myopia elsewhere: Washington’s refusal to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture merely proves that it cannot face the fact that some of the elite are war criminals tout simple, and that these horrific war crimes have changed America’s role in the world.

What infuriated me about the decision to re-start the Iraq War last August – by a president explicitly elected not to do any such thing – was its arrogance, its smugness, and its contempt for what this country, and especially its armed forces, went through for so many long years of quagmire and failure.

My point is this: how can you behave this way after what so many service-members endured for so long? How can you simply re-start a war you were elected to end and for which you have no feasible means to achieve victory? 

Has Hephaestion's Grave Been Found?

Jared Leto as Hephaestion

I love history and I've read everything I can get my hands on about Alexander the Great and by extension, Hephaestion, Alexander's life long friend, second in command of the empire for a time,  and many believe Alexander's lover.  It is well documented that when Hephaestion died, Alexander was inconsolable and his mourning was extreme.  Alexander's own tomb which was in Alexandria, Egypt under the Ptolemaic dynasty, has been lost, but now some suggest that Hephaestion's tomb may have been discovered.  Discovery has details.  Here are excerpts:
A skeleton has emerged from the Alexander the Great-era tomb in Amphipolis in northern Greece, according to a news announcement by the Greek Ministry of Culture on Wednesday.

At least one archaeologist has suggested that the remains, if male, could belong to Hephaestion, a close friend and possible lover of Alexander the Great -- or someone like him.

Archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri found the human remains in a box-shaped grave. The 10.6 by 5.1-foot limestone burial was found at about 5.3 feet beneath the floor of the third chamber in the massive tomb site.

According to Dorothy King, a classical archaeologist not involved in the excavation, . . . . noted the finding points to the deceased being someone uniquely important.  “A burial like this in a sarcophagus, a whole body rather than a box with ashes, is unusual in Macedonia,” King told Discovery News.

According to the scholar, most people who died abroad were buried in foreign land and only very important people like Alexander and Hephaestion, Alexander the Great’s close friend and possible lover, were embalmed to be returned.

“I think that if the bones are male, they are most likely to be those of someone like Hephaestion,” King wrote in her blog.

“The remains show that the sarcophagus was very elaborate and made of precious materials, as the sources say his funerary cortege was,” she added.

Hephaestion was a Macedonian nobleman and a battlefield general in the army of Alexander and was Alexander’s closest friend since childhood. The two were tutored under Aristotle.

Although more than one historian has suggested that the handsome Hephaestion had a physical relationship with his emperor, no contemporary source states that Alexander and Hephaestion were lovers.

Yet, according to Guy MacLean Rogers, professor of history at Wellesley College and the author of "Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness," modern sexual categories like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual did not exist at the time.

Whatever the nature of their relationship, when Hephaestion died in Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in western Iran in October 324 B.C., Alexander mourned his loss by shaving his own hair, not eating for days, executing Hephaestion's doctor, and commissioning an expensive funeral.

King on her blog also notes in part as follows:
I have been wondering for a while whether Hephaestion could also have been buried at Amphipolis. The size to me makes people like Nearchos unlikely, and whilst the idea that it was built for Alexander the Great is still the most likely possibility now that most other suggestions have been discarded, the one other possibility has been Hephaestion. 

Alexander the Great modeled himself on his hero Achilles, and visited his tomb at Achilleion. Achilles had Patroclus, and Alexander had Hephaestion.

Hephaestion died before Alexander, and Alexander ordered his body returned to Macedonia in an elaborate funerary cortege to be buried in a magnificent tomb there. We know that if the tomb had been started, Perdiccas cancelled work on it once Alexander died (here).

Also we know that Alexander ordered a cult to Hephaestion - not as an important god like Alexander, but still honours and so forth.

In Egypt the cult of Alexander is very well attested, and Hephaestion was often honoured alongside him.

So that's why I think that if the bones are male, they are most likely to be those of someone like Hephaestion.

The Republican Party's Ongoing Racism

Try as it might outwardly to pretend that racism isn't one of its twin pillars of its modern day agenda, the Republican Party continues to have batshitery eruptions that make the sad truth only too visible.  In some ways it's not surprising given the Christofascists' hold over the party.  Virtually every "family values" organization that I have followed over the years seems to be run by descendants of segregationists and they all seem to have a strong anti-minority mindset except for when they want to dupe black pastors into doing their water carrying, especially on anti-gay efforts (The Family Foundation here in Virginia excels at this when not supporting GOP voter disenfranchisement efforts aimed at blacks and minorities).  A column in the New York Times looks at the endemic racism in the GOP.  Here are excerpts:
Last week, the economist and former Richard Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein went on Fox News and delivered a racial tirade completely detached from the the anchor’s line of questioning.

When asked by the anchor about a Fox News poll showing the economy was the No.1 issue for voters, and how that poll result might work for or against Democrats in the midterms, Stein skirted the question altogether and instead spewed an extraordinary string of psychobabble about how “what the White House is trying to do is racialize all politics” by telling lies to African-Americans about how Republican policies would hurt them. He continued: “This president is the most racist president there has ever been in America. He is purposely trying to use race to divide Americans.”

Pat Buchanan, the two-time Republican presidential candidate, assistant to Richard Nixon and White House director of communications for Ronald Reagan, wrote a column this week accusing Democratic strategists of “pushing us to an America where the G.O.P. is predominantly white and the Democratic Party, especially in Dixie, is dominated by persons of color” in their last-minute get-out-the-vote appeals to African-Americans, by invoking Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Jim Crow.

This glosses over a hundred years of history that will be tucked quietly away into some attic of amnesia.

Let’s review how we got to this point where African-Americans vote so overwhelmingly Democratic and are suspicious of Republican motives.

As NPR reported in July, “If you’d walked into a gathering of older black folks 100 years ago, you’d have found that most of them would have been Republican” because it was the “party of Lincoln. Party of the Emancipation. Party that pushed not only black votes but black politicians during that post-bellum period known as Reconstruction.”

But allegiances flipped.  The first wave of defections by African-Americans from Republican to Democrat came with Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal in the 1930s. . . .  By the mid 1930s, most blacks were voting Democratic, although a sizable percentage remained Republican. Then came the signing of the Civil Rights Act by the Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson — although he wasn’t perfect on the issue of race, and the bill passed partly because of Republican support.

In response to the bill, Barry Goldwater waged a disastrous campaign built in part on his opposition. As NPR put it: “Goldwater can be seen as the godfather (or maybe the midwife) of the current Tea Party. He wanted the federal government out of the states’ business. He believed the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. . . .

As Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times Magazine in 1970: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”  That’s right: Republicans wanted the Democrats’ “Negrophobes.”

It is clear that our politics were “racialized” long before this president came along . . . 

The growing share of the Democratic Party composed of historically marginalized populations — minorities, women, Jews, L.G.B.T.-identified persons — pushes the party toward more inclusive language and stances. The Republican Party, on the other hand, doesn’t have that benefit. They can’t seem to stop the slow drip of offensive remarks, like those of the Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, who referred to the president’s policies last week as “tar babies” or the obsessive-compulsive need to culturally diagnose and condemn black people, like Stein’s saying this week that “the real problem with race in America is a very, very beaten-down, pathetic, self-defeating black underclass.”

At that rate, Republicans will never attract more minorities, try as they may to skip over portions of the racial past or deny the fullness of the racial present.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Kansas and South Carolina Join Marriage Equality States

Despite what looks to be a brief victory in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals under an opinion that is making some White supremacists proud, the opponents of gay marriage had another losing day yesterday as (i) the U.S. Supreme Court refused to continue a stay delaying marriage equality in Kansas and (ii) a federal court in South Carolina struck down that states marriage ban based on the precedent of Bostic and the state's inability to any rational basis for the ban.   Metro Weekly looks at the news.  First highlights on Kansas which would suggest that Judge Sutton's anti-gay ruling at the 6th Circuit is fated for reversal:
The U.S. Supreme Court ended the hold on same-sex marriages in Kansas Wednesday, thus allowing same-sex nuptials to proceed in the state.

In an order issued this afternoon, the nation’s highest court denied the request for a stay by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt of a lower court ruling striking the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Schmidt had filed the request with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees the 10th Circuit. Sotomayor issued a temporary stay while the request was considered and referred the stay request to the entire Supreme Court. The order notes that Supreme Court Justices Anthonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would have granted the stay.

Kansas is one of the states in a circuit impacted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month declining to hear arguments in cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in five states — Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin — thus allowing lower court decisions legalizing marriage equality in those states to stand. Because the Supreme Court left intact rulings by the 4th Circuit, 7th Circuit and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals striking down same-sex marriage bans in those five states, those appeals courts’ decisions applied to six other states in those three circuits: West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.

Note that only Scalia and Thomas would have granted the stay.  Yet, not surprisingly, Kansas GOP governor Sam Brownback, homophobe extraordinaire, says he will appeal, although its unclear where he can appeal to.   South Carolina finds itself in a similar posture as Kansas: the ruling in the 4th Circuit which was allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court is binding on that state.  A federal judge made that official yesterday.  Despite the inevitable, Republicans say that they will appeal.  Again, the question is where to - the 4th Circuit and Supreme Courts have spoken.  Here are additional highlights from Metro Weekly.
A federal judge struck down South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage in a ruling handed down Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mark Gergel found South Carolina laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying “unconstitutionally infringe on the rights of Plaintiffs under the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and are invalid as a matter of law.”

According to Gergel, the decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban “controls the disposition of the issues before this Court and establishes, without question, the right of Plaintiffs to marry as same sex partners.”

Although Gergel denied a stay pending appeal due to the unlikelihood that the South Carolina ban will be upheld, he did grant a temporary stay until noon on Nov. 20 to allow South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to petition either the 4th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court for a longer stay.
The willingness of Republican officials to seek appeals that are clear dead ends underscore the desperate desire of these individuals to prostitute themselves to the Christofascists.  Meanwhile, all they are doing is wasting taxpayer funds which they might just as well place in a pile and set on fire. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Coal is a Dead End for Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia continues to be the basket case of Virginia.  Unemployment is high, too much reliance exists on the coal industry - which does anything but give back to the community - and the region remains educationally and socially/culturally backwards.  Not surprisingly, other than a few of the cities, the region remains a Republican bastion even as GOP policies help hold the area back economically and socially.  Parts of the region are truly beautiful - e.g., the Blue Ridge Parkway and some of the national forests - but many people choose not to travel to a region that in someways still fits the mold of something out of the movie Deliverance.  An editorial in the Roanoke Times by a Catholic nun makes the case for change in what is a vicious downward spiral.  Here are excerpts:
The Oct. 29 commentary (“New carbon rules are all pain, no gain”) from Kevin Crutchfield, Steve Smith, Jim McGlothlin and John Tickle continues to miss the mark about “the disconnect.” The disconnect isn’t with D.C. It is within us.

We continue to underappreciate our full Appalachian culture, the incredible biodiversity of our coalfield region. We are more than the coal in the coalfields. We have survived a climatic extinction twice; yet, we continue to be led in a cycle of singular, over-reliance on coal as the solution to our economic and cultural survival.

This is a dead end and much of the reason we are facing the current and future losses named in the energy magnates’ letter and blamed on the EPA. We need a new landscape and business leaders with broader vision. Decisions today cannot be taken solely from geological perspectives or the possible economic benefits for investors and for the states in which the companies are based.

We need an honest acknowledgment, by business and local political leaders and ourselves, of what we far Southwest Virginians know, deep down, to be true. It will only be in restoring the land that we will restore the people and the economy of our area, and our state. A restoring the land, restoring the people initiative happens when we advance practical solutions that integrate simultaneously both ecologically sustainable and economically viable practices. These practices require giving priority to ecological economics as the means to creating a culture of sustainability.

We cannot continue with a “do the damage now and reclaim it later mentality.” Principles of reduce, reuse, recycle, reclaim and restore are necessary at every stage of the economic development plans. Practicing an ecological economics includes a commitment to going green, doing green.

Our IDA plans and commitments require more than promoting discrete projects like Appalachian Culture, music and crafts, tourism, ATV trails and outdoor activities. These are important, but in addition to their promotion there needs to be a link to how that content contributes to the total restoration of our region. In practice, whatever initiatives we take, they need — from start to finish, in every aspect of the business plans — to follow principles that are friendly to the natural environment and sustainable for the Earth.

Stop blaming D.C., EPA and the proposed clean energy power plan. Stop using “traditional air emissions” to buttress the argument that says the coal industry is lessening carbon pollution.
In fact, the coal industry has done little if anything to reduce its carbon pollution despite its contribution to global warming. When the production of our goods and services depends on the extraction of material from our ecosystems, then that dependence causes resource depletion on the one hand, and excess pollution on the other.

The disconnect we are experiencing in far Southwest Virginia is that we continue to ignore the biophysical basis that underpins the economy. We need to conserve resources, conserve energy, reduce waste, reduce pollution and the release of harmful substances into the environment and protect the Earth’s ecological balance with other living things. Anything or anyone who undermines this reality undermines us.

Southwest Virginia has lived in the past for far too long.  Of course, the Christofascists and the GOP like it that way.  However, it is a dead end for the local residents.  When will more of them open their eyes to this reality? 

The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 Years

The 2014 midterm elections were a disaster for Democrats largely because their base stayed home and did not vote.  The pundits have all kinds of reasons for the low turn out.  In the end, however, much of it has to do with a lazy and uninformed populace.  There, I've said it.  It takes little time to go vote, yet demographic groups most likely to be harmed by GOP policies sat home on their asses or drove on by the polling stations without stopping.  It's maddening and also frightening that so many care so little for democracy.  It's also disturbing that Republicans were able to successfully harness the racism of the GOP base and ignorance of whites who are too stupid to realize that while, yes, the Affordable Health Care Act has shifted funding sources for health care, they have already been paying for the uninsured through sky high health care costs compared to the rest of the world under a system that is also the least financially efficient in the world.  The New York Times laments the situation in a main page editorial. Here are highlights:

The abysmally low turnout in last week’s midterm elections — the lowest in more than seven decades — was bad for Democrats, but it was even worse for democracy. In 43 states, less than half the eligible population bothered to vote, and no state broke 60 percent.

In the three largest states — California, Texas and New York — less than a third of the eligible population voted. New York’s turnout was a shameful 28.8 percent, the fourth-lowest in the country, despite three statewide races (including the governor) and 27 House races.

Over all, the national turnout was 36.3 percent; only the 1942 federal election had a lower participation rate at 33.9 percent. The reasons are apathy, anger and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns.

Republicans ran a single-theme campaign of pure opposition to President Obama, and Democrats were too afraid of the backlash to put forward plans to revive the economy or to point out significant achievements of the last six years. Neither party gave voters an affirmative reason to show up at the polls.

The turnout among young and minority voters was slightly higher than it was in the 2010 midterms, perhaps reflecting new organizing efforts, but the number remained far too low. (Republicans have continued their effort to suppress the turnout of young, poor and minority voters, although it was hard to make a definitive link between those laws and Democratic losses this year.)

There was one useful lesson: When voting is made easier, more people vote. Colorado switched to a mail ballot system this year, and it had the fourth-highest turnout in the nation, substantially larger than in 2010. (It had a highly competitive Senate race, but did much better than many states with equally hot races.) Oregon, which also votes by mail, had the fifth-highest turnout, and Washington State, with a similar system, did better than the national average, though it had no major statewide races.

Early voting — which tends to be more popular among Democratic voters than mail balloting — also did well this year, despite Republican efforts to curb it. In North Carolina, early voting increased by 35 percent from 2010, even though Republican legislators cut the number of early-voting days to 10 from 17.

Showing up at the polls is the best way to counter the oversized influence of wealthy special interests, who dominate politics as never before. But to encourage participation, politicians need to stop suppressing the vote, make the process of voting as easy as possible, and run campaigns that stand for something.


Andrew Sullivan's Misguided Deference to Religious Bigots

Bigots Cynthia and Robert Gifford - Photo: Shannon DeCelle
I frequently agree with many of Andrew Sullivan's thoughts and positions and enjoyed meeting him several years back.  But from time to time he flat out gets it wrong - especially when it comes to giving too much deference to religious belief and those who choose to be ignorant bigots.  Public accommodation laws stand for the simply proposition that if one operates a business that is open to serve the public, then one has to serve all of the public, not just whoever one might like or choose to allow in one's establishment.  Of all of the classes typically protected under public accommodation laws - race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, etc - only one is in fact a voluntary class: religious belief. All of the rest are inherent to a person.  Religion can be picked and discarded at will and certainly enough information is available via the Internet and other outlets where one could shed their religious based ignorance (and bigotry) if they but wanted to. Sadly, far too many "godly folk" seemingly revel in their ignorance and bigotry.  Yet Sullivan would give deference to such people and asks that gays not seek the services of businesses owned by anti-gay bigots.  Would he offer the same advice to blacks, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and other groups that the godly Christian crowd dislikes?  I suspect not. Indeed, in the South, we would still have segregated restaurants if blacks all heeded Sullivan's advice. 

What got a burr up Sullivan's ass is the case of a lesbian couple suing a family business that refused to rent out their property for a same-sex wedding.    Sullivan's advice to gays:
[I]t makes sense to me – as someone interested in a civil society – not to press conflict on culture war issues when a less aggressive and counter-productive strategy is perfectly possible. Also because you deny the New York Post and the victimhood-right a chance to crow about gay suppression of religious freedom. We are winning the argument; we are winning the culture. There’s no point on forcing our opponents to lose face as well as losing the debate. Magnanimity, restraint and gradual progress. It’s gotten us a very long way already. We should trust this strategy to the end.
No, Andrew, you've got it wrong.  Giving deference to bigots is never the right course of action.  I'd also note that it's easy to give such advice when living in a liberal city.  Here in Virginia, we have no employment protections and no public accommodation protects, all because the legislature gives undeserved deference to religious based bigotry.  The irony is that the family business at issue claims that it doesn't discriminate:
“We respect and care for everyone!’’ Cynthia Gifford told me. “We had an openly gay man working for us this past season,’’ she said.  “We’ve had a woman who’s transitioning to be a man. We don’t discriminate against anyone.’’
Except, of course, they did discriminate.  I suppose they also claim that some of the best friends are black too.   Freedom of religion means being free to worship as one chooses and not having to support an established church.  It does not mean that one gets special exemption from non-discrimination laws. Period.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Texas GOP Legislator Seeks "License to Discriminate" Against Gays

Campbell with Nutcase closet case, Rick Santorum
Jumping on the bandwagon of trying to legislate special rights for right wing Christian extremists, Texas state Sen. Donna Campbell (R) has introduced a proposal would strengthen existing protections in Texas for the “right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief."   While dressed up as a way to protect "religious freedom," Campbell's proposal seeks to create a license to discriminate.  While gays are perhaps the first intended target, non-Christians and minorities had best get prepared to face discrimination based on feigned religious belief.  As usual, it's all part of the Christofascists' self-centered selfishness and view of themselves above the law.  Here are highlights from Think Progress:
Texas businesses would be allowed to fire LGBT employees and turn away LGBT customers under a new proposal issued Monday by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R).

Campbell’s proposal would strengthen existing protections in Texas for the “right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief,” a legal maneuver that critics have described as a “license to discriminate.” This year, many state legislatures have considered putting the religious rights of business owners over the civil rights of would-be customers. Similar proposals in Kansas, North Carolina, South Dakota, Arizona, and Oregon ultimately failed this year, while a number of other states have held that the law protects LGBT folks from discrimination even if that discrimination is based in scripture.

These laws have come into vogue after numerous anti-LGBT small business owners have refused service to LGBT clients in Kentucky, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Iowa, Colorado, and other states in recent years. Many of these disputes involve bakeries and other vendors who refuse to contract for services at same-sex weddings, but some businesses have refused to print Pride t-shirts or put rainbow frosting on an order of cookies.

Conservative political forces have leaped to these companies’ aid, arguing that their religious convictions about sexuality trump everyone else’s civil rights against discrimination. Those calls grew louder after this summer’s Supreme Court decision that a retailer called Hobby Lobby did not have to provide health insurance that covers birth control due to the company’s religious views, a ruling that reversed decades of precedent whereby legal protections tied to religious faith were limited to actions that did not impede other people’s rights.

Sen. Campbell’s new proposal in Texas is her second bite at the license-to-discriminate apple. Her first, in 2013, didn’t go very well. Critics pointed out that by amending the state constitution as she proposes, lawmakers would empower Westboro Baptist Church protesters to attend military funerals rather than protesting them from afar.
While many conservatives are convinced that the religious liberty to discriminate against LGBT coworkers and clients is under attack, there are still 29 states where it is completely legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation. Workplace discrimination against transgendered people remains legal in 32 states.

Putin Has Plunged Russia Into Economic Decline

While seemingly having based his foreign (invading Ukraine of flimsy claims of protecting "ethnic Russians) and domestic policies (making gays the equivalent of Jews in Germany) on Adolph Hitler's ultimately disastrous agenda during the 1930's, Vladimir Putin apparently forgot what Hitler ultimately brought down upon Germany.  With energy prices dropping across the globe and economic sanctions kicking in, Russia's economy seems headed toward melt down.  One can only hope that Russians will open their eyes and realize that the nation's problems are not due to the west, but rather the result of Putin's failed leadership.  Like so many despotic Russian rulers of the past, Putin has harmed Russia and the Russian people.  He needs to be overthrown.  A piece in Vox looks at the worsening economic picture for Russia.  Here are excerpts:
The Russian economy is in bad shape. On Monday morning, Russia's central bank announced that it expects the Russian economy to grow zero percent in 2015 and 0.1 percent in 2016. The value of Russia's currency, the ruble, plummeted more than 8 percent in the past week alone — and it's down more than 40 percent since the beginning of this year.

The fall in the ruble appears to be mainly the result of two factors: a sharp decline in global oil prices and sanctions that Western countries put on Russia in retaliation for invading Ukraine. Those two things might not appear connected, but in a sense one led to the other. Many Russia-watchers believe that, when Russia's economy began weakening, and, thus, so did Putin's approval ratings, Putin responded in part by trying to increase his popular support by stirring up nationalism. That is likely one of the reasons why he invaded Ukraine, which also distracted from the poor economy.

If that's right, then that would mean that the sanctions meant to weaken Russia's economy are also a result of Russia's weak economy. And that, in turn, should prompt questions about what Putin might do to shore up his support in the face of this new bad economic news.

[T]he value of the Russian Ruble has plummeted since the beginning of the year. It's down more than 40 percent against the dollar since January and down more than 8 percent in the last week alone.

That's a problem for Russian consumers, who have seen the prices of food and other necessities shoot up in recent months. According to the Wall Street Journal, consumer prices rose by 8.3 percent in October, 8 percent in September, and 7.6 percent in August. Food prices have risen especially quickly because Moscow banned imports of Western meat, dairy products, fish, fruit, and vegetables in August. The government is reportedly considering imposing price controls on "socially important" goods.

Falling oil prices have hit Russia hard because the Russian economy is heavily dependent on energy exports. In 2013, oil and gas accounted for a stunning 68 percent of Russia's total export revenues.

Russia's other big problem is that it's under economic sanctions as a result of its occupation of Crimea and other military adventures in eastern Ukraine.   The sanctions cut off a number of major Russian companies and individuals from international capital markets, including the energy giant Rosneft and financial institutions like Gazprombank and Vnesheconombank. The sanctions appear to be accelerating the economy's decline.

Since taking power in 2000, Putin's power has been based on an implicit agreement with the Russian public, in which he delivers high economic growth, and in return Russians accept his government's abuses, which include corrupt cronyism and authoritarian crackdowns on civil and political rights.