Monday, February 19, 2018
Donald Trump - along with his chief sycophant, Mike Pence - continues to be a blight on America. Outside the toxic core of the Republican Party base which is comprised of religious extremists and white supremacists, Der Trumpenführer remains unpopular and it would seem that he is doing all in his power to further alienate minorities, the LGBT community, those concerned about gun control or moral decency. Indeed, the list goes on and on, leaving Republicans up for reelection forced to choose between embracing Trump to appease the ugliest elements of the party base or distancing themselves from him at the risk of those same ugly elements staying home on election day. Meanwhile, Democrats have been raking up surprise wins in a number of traditionally red districts. A piece in Vanity Fair looks at the choices facing the GOP as the 2018 mid term elections approach. Here are highlights:
These races are like canaries in the coal mine,” Steve Israel, a former New York congressman and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told me last week. “For Republicans, the canaries are dying.”
The day before we spoke, Democrats had picked up a statehouse seat in a deep red district in Missouri, the latest in a series of electoral upsets the G.O.P. has suffered across the country in recent months.
Republican candidates are facing an impossible strategic choice, one that is to some degree independent of the president’s approval rating or any economic factor: tack toward Trump, and potentially lose the center, or forgo Trumpian red meat and watch the base stay home. “What you do when you appeal to that 33 percent is you peel off another 50 percent of the voters who will go, ‘Fuck you, I will crawl over broken glass to vote against you because you are a goddamn Donald Trumper,’” Rick Wilson, a G.O.P. strategist and vocal Never Trumper, told me, adding that without Clinton, Trump “has to stand on his own two feet.” And although Trump won’t be on the ballot in 2018, every Republican candidate this fall will be viewed as a Trump proxy. Meanwhile, Democrats will have the luxury of focusing their energy elsewhere. “They get to do that because they’re out of power. That’s a big advantage to them,” the Republican strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me. “They let the national environment take care of it and they run on issues that are local and important.”
Since Donald Trump took office, Democrats have flipped 36 statehouse seats from red to blue—a solid down payment on the the ones they lost under Obama—and are aiming to rob the G.O.P. of 24 House seats to secure the majority in the lower chamber. Holding the upper chamber, however, is a lighter lift for the G.O.P., which enjoys several structural advantages.
“It’s a poor environment for us. I think the real question is, do we hang onto the Senate?” Terry Sullivan, a G.O.P. strategist who served as Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign manager, told me. “I don’t think it’s a guarantee. I know the math is in our favor, but I don’t think it is a foregone conclusion that we do.”
A string of Democratic upsets in conservative strongholds in special elections since the New Year have opened G.O.P. eyes to the challenge. Last month, Democrat Patty Schachtner secured a nine-point victory in a contentious battle for a state Senate seat in Wisconsin’s 10th District, which Mitt Romney and Trump won by 6 points and 17 points, respectively. Trygve Olson, a G.O.P. strategist who previously managed campaigns in the district, warned on Twitter, “A wave is coming . . . This a suburban-rural district. If the G.O.P. is losing WI-10 lookout!”
Republicans were similarly rattled by the Democratic performance in two Missouri special election races. Democrat Mike Revis edged out his opponent by three points in Missouri’s 97th District, which Trump won by 28 points and Romney won by 12 points. Strategists have also noted a trio of elections for bellwether seats in Florida—the state’s 40th Senate District in Miami-Dade, the St. Petersburg’s mayoral race, and Florida’s 72nd House District—in which Democrats triumphed. “This is beyond a trend. The results are in.
Also troubling for the G.O.P. is the rate at which Democrats are outraising Republicans. In the final quarter of 2017, more than 40 House Republicans were outraised by at least one, if not multiple, Democratic opponents. The fear is that the Republican Party will be forced to defend traditionally safe states, such as Texas where Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke outraised Senator Ted Cruz last quarter in the race for the former presidential hopeful’s Senate seat.
The Democratic Party is also recruiting higher quality candidates than in past cycles. “One of the effects of the Trump administration’s negativity is that [there is] a record-breaking number of people who want to run for office . . . . And, Israel noted, whether it’s a result of higher quality Democrats or Trump fatigue, Republican incumbents are bailing.
Thirty-five House Republicans have called it quits—roughly half of whom are vacating vulnerable seats—and three G.O.P. senators, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Orrin Hatch of Utah, have announced plans to retire.
While the political environment may seem primed for a blue wave in the fall, anti-Trump sentiment alone won’t be enough to flip the House. And, fortunately for Republicans, Democrats have struggled to coalesce around a party message.
For Republicans, meanwhile, the political calculus becomes whether Trump suppresses turnout, or whether voters—Republican women, in particular—ignore the current White House occupant and vote on other issues. “I think [suburban Republican women] voters are critical in order for Republicans to win their seats because it’s whether they turn out or not. It’s not that they’re going to necessarily vote for the Democrat, it’s whether they stay home,” Sullivan said. “It’s a demographic that Donald Trump did not do well with at all. We’ve got to.
The contours of any potential blue wave will begin to show over the summer. Wilson says Republican lawmakers will begin putting daylight between themselves and the president around August, while television-advertising buys closer to the election will reveal where both parties are focusing their efforts. “You will start to see some Republicans finally start to discover that they weren’t Donald Trump sycophants all along—they were actually strong, principled Republicans,” he said, the sarcasm palpable.
Growing up I had negative experiences with gun owners in the form of hunters trespassing on my family's property in Central New York notwithstanding numerous "No Trespass" and "Posted" signs on the parameter of the roughly 50 acres. Then as now, gun owners put their own desires over the rights of others in terms of property rights and even physical safety on one's own property, not to mention the safety of one's horses in the face of trigger happy "sportsmen.". In the intervening decades, the situation has grown far worse as anyone seemingly can buy a AR-15 assault rifle far easier than someone under age 21 can buy an alcoholic beverage. The result has been carnage that one would expect to find in a war zone rather than in a suburban high school or a laid back country music festival. The only ones happy with current circumstances are (i) right wing gun fanatics, (ii) gun manufacturers focused on revenues rather than lives needlessly lost, and (iii) Republican elected officials prostituting themselves to the NRA for large campaign contributions. Everyone else loses. Now, students of last week's latest school mass shooting are seeking to organize a nationwide protest against America's insane gun laws. A piece in New York Magazine looks at what will hopefully be a successful effort. Here are highlights:
A group of teenagers who survived Wednesday’s school mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, have a message for America about the lack of gun control: “Follow us.”
On Sunday morning, student organizers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School announced that they will lead a nationwide demonstration on March 24 called the “March for Our Lives,” explaining to ABC News and other news organizations that they were now determined to make the Stoneman Douglas shooting the turning point in the U.S. gun control debate. They expect the student-led demonstration to take place in Washington, D.C., and every other city in the country.
Explained 11th-grader Cameron Kasky to ABC, “People keep asking us, what about the Stoneman Douglas shooting is going to be different, because this has happened before and change hasn’t come? — This is it.”
“We are going to be marching together as students, begging for our lives,” Kasky continued, insisting that the message to America’s adults was that the young people whose lives are on the line feel neglected, and that, “at this point, you are either with us or against us.”
The students say they will be targeting any politicians who receive support from the National Rifle Association, with the aim of creating “a new normal where there’s a badge of shame on any politician who’s accepting money from the NRA.”
Kasky was joined by David Hogg, Alex Wind, Jaclyn Corin, and Emma Gonzalez. All five survived Wednesday’s shooting at Stoneman Douglas, in which a 19-year-old gunman, armed with a legally purchased AR-15-style assault rifle, killed 17 people, including 14 students. Gonzalez, a senior, delivered an impassioned, widely shared speech at a gun-control rally in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. That speech concluded with an excoriation of America’s politicians:
The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS.
She also promised that Stoneman Douglas students “are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks — not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because … we are going to be the last mass shooting.”
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Neither of America's out gay athletes made the podium in their individual events, but as a piece in the New York Times and the Washington Post note, both were winners at the 2018 Olympic Games in a much more personal way: they were free to be their authentic selves without hiding or apologies. Indeed, a broadcast of Gus Kenworthy giving his boyfriend a quick kiss - see the image above - won much praise on Tweeter (yes, naturally, the usual hate merchants are not pleased). As I have tried to stress over the years on this blog, living in the closet is soul killing. Moreover, even if it doesn't lead to suicide, the energy and emotion wasted on self-hate and living a life like that of an actor on a stage is utterly exhausting, not to mention destructive of finding happiness. Hopefully, the examples of Kenworthy and Rippon will help many young gays from suffering in the closet wracked by needless unhappiness. First this from the Times piece:
Gus Kenworthy was nursing a hip hematoma, a broken right finger and a bruised ego after a 12th-place finish in the men’s ski slopestyle final, the same event where he won the silver medal four years ago.
Speaking on Sunday while the ceremony introducing the medalists proceeded without him at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Kenworthy said, “It’s all good.”
This is Kenworthy’s second Olympics but his first as an openly gay athlete. He and Adam Rippon, the only other openly gay male athlete on the United States team, will not leave here with individual gold medals, but they are among the biggest American stars at these Games.
Here at the Pyeongchang Games, Kenworthy, 26, has engaged in physical displays of affection with men in public. He gave Rippon a peck on the cheek during the opening ceremony and kissed his boyfriend, Matthew Wilkas, before Sunday’s qualifying runs.
If Kenworthy had to choose between winning a medal while leading a closeted existence or failing to grace the podium while living an authentic life, it wouldn’t be close.
“If you look at me, I’m bummed but I’m not sulking, I’m not crying,” he said, adding, “Being out at these Games has kind of meant the world to me, just getting to really be myself and be authentic. And I think landing a run in the final and getting on the podium obviously would have been icing on the cake, but even though it didn’t happen for me I still had a wonderful Olympic experience.”
On the eve of the slopestyle final, Kenworthy and his boyfriend attended the men’s free skate to support Rippon, where they proudly waved a rainbow flag. Kenworthy said he was unaware that a television camera had recorded his pre-competition kiss with Wilkas.
“I think that’s amazing,” he said. “That’s something I wanted at the last Olympics, to share a kiss with my boyfriend at the bottom and it was something I was too scared to do for myself. And so to be able to do that, to give him a kiss and have that affection broadcast for the world is incredible.”
“That’s not something I had as a kid,” he added. “I didn’t see a gay athlete at the Olympics kissing their boyfriend. I think if I had it would have made it a lot easier for me.”
Adam Rippon, the openly gay figure skater who helped the United States win a bronze medal in team competition and became one of the biggest breakout stars of the PyeongChang Olympics, has gotten his first big break before the Winter Games have even concluded.Rippon, a darling of the competition for saying things that have been at turns smart, creative and refreshing for viewers, has been hired by NBC as a correspondent for the rest of the Games. NBC confirmed the news, first reported by USA Today, with Rippon expected to work on TV as well as the digital and social media platforms.
Hiring Rippon is not without controversy, though. He is at odds with Vice President Pence over gay rights and has said he will not go with the U.S. team to visit President Trump if invited to the White House.
He has been a must-see as an interview subject, whether he’s speaking about being bullied as a kid or just kidding around. It is, as he has said, “really fun to be me,” and that has been clear from his very first TV moments.
I love these guys!
With the information set forth in the indictments on Friday of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian companies, there should be little questions in the minds of sentient Americans that (i) Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and (ii) that Russia wanted a Trump victory because it viewed Trump as more friendly to Russia and/or more likely to destroy America's institutions. Yet many - including almost all of the anchors on Fox News, a/k/a Faux News, a/k/a Trump News, continue to do precisely what Putin wants: breeding distrust of the government in general and the FBI, CIA and the judiciary in general. It is also telling that the Russian effort sought to bolster the campaigns of Bernie Sanders (will Bernie supporters ever admit they were played?) and Jill Stein who personally, I suspect colluded with Putin. Lastly what is disturbing is House Republicans - think Devin Nunes - who seem to be playing directly into Russia's hands and fulfilling Russian goals of destabilizing America. A column in the New York Times looks at Putin/Russia's objectives. Here are excerpts:
It’s a Hollywood cliché that’s been adopted by villains from the trickster god Loki in Marvel’s “The Avengers” to James Bond’s “Skyfall” nemesis Raoul Silva: They are captured, only for the heroes to realize — too late! — that being caught was part of the villain’s evil plan all along. With Friday’s release of an indictment detailing Project Lakhta — the information operations component of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election — it’s worth asking whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has been reading from a similar script.If there were any lingering doubts that Russia’s intervention was aimed at harming Hillary Clinton’s campaign and bolstering Donald Trump’s, an internal directive quoted in the indictment spells it out explicitly: “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).”
That Russia should have preferred Mr. Trump’s victory to Mrs. Clinton’s is hardly a surprise: The real estate mogul had long been open in his fawning admiration for autocratic leaders generally and Mr. Putin in particular. But in any game of strategy, the best moves are those that accomplish multiple objectives. Friday’s indictment should serve as a reminder that Project Latkha didn’t merely aim to influence the outcome of the election, but also its tone, and Americans’ attitudes toward their own democratic institutions.
There’s a critical back story to Russia’s interference: A longstanding Kremlin grudge against Mrs. Clinton, cemented in 2011 when, as secretary of state, she cast doubt on whether Russia’s parliamentary elections, plagued by allegations of fraud and vote rigging, had been “free and fair.”
The bulk of the Russian team’s online trolling efforts were directed at Mrs. Clinton, but the indictment notes that they also took aim at other Republican candidates; Mr. Trump, Bernie Sanders and the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, were spared. The trio had something more than opposition to Mrs. Clinton in common: A central theme of their campaigns was that the American political system is fundamentally rigged — the same claim that had so incensed Mr. Putin.
One of the more memorable stunts the Russian team sponsored — hiring an American to attend rallies dressed as Mrs. Clinton in prison garb, toting an ersatz jail cell — fits the same pattern: She had to be cast not merely as an inferior candidate, but as a criminal who could win only through corruption.
In hindsight, it’s natural to think that Russia’s primary aim was to achieve the upset Trump victory we now know occurred. But if they were relying on the same polls as the rest of the world, they would have regarded that as a long-shot. It seems at least as likely that they hoped a strong showing would position a defeated Mr. Trump as a thorn in Mrs. Clinton’s side, casting a pall over the legitimacy of her administration by fuming publicly about how he had been cheated.
If we run with the hypothesis that Russia’s core goal was to sow doubt about the integrity and fairness of American elections — and, by implication, erode the credibility of any criticism aimed at Russia’s — then the ultimate exposure of their interference may well have been viewed not as frustrating that aim but as one more perverse way of advancing it.
United States intelligence officials themselves have voiced suspicions that Russia intended to be caught. . . . . . If this sounds plausible, we should also consider that our political response, too, may have been part of the plan. With President Trump dutifully refusing to implement retaliatory sanctions imposed on Russia by a large bipartisan majority in Congress, legislators have begun eyeing the online platforms on which so much disinformation spread. “You created these platforms,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, railed at a panel of lawyers for Google, Facebook and Twitter in November, “and now they’re being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it — or we will.”
That would be a final irony, and an unpleasant one. No less than our “meddling” in their internal elections, Russia has long resented United States criticism of the country’s repressive approach to online speech. Their use of online platforms to tamper with our presidential race reads not only as an attack, but as an implicit argument: “The freedoms you trumpet so loudly, your unwillingness to regulate political speech on the internet, your tolerance for anonymity — all these are weaknesses, which we’ll prove by exploiting them.”
Urgent as it is for the United States to take measures to prevent similar meddling in the next election, we should be careful that our response doesn’t constitute a tacit agreement.
Recently through one of the Google search agents I use to aggregate news stories, I came across a review of the movie "Call Me By Your Name" in the National Catholic Register - which is NOT to be National Catholic Reporter which realizes it is the 21st century, not the 12th century - wherein the reviewer was responding to attacks by Catholic extremists for not strongly condemning the movies strongly enough. As I am inclined to do, I left several comments on the piece which were for the most part were not greeted kindly (frankly, I was surprised the moderator even published my comments).
What struck me by many of the comments was an apparent need on the part of many to have someone to condemn and look down upon in order that they could feel superior - much like poor whites that my southern belle grandmother would have deemed "poor white trash" that desperately need to discriminate against blacks due to a similar desperate need to feel superior to someone else.
The second thing that struck me was the blind embrace of ignorance and a refusal to even slightly admit that medical and medical knowledge has progressed light years from what was know at the time the Church fathers - many of whom seemingly needed mental health care themselves by modern standards - concocted the Church's bizarre rules on human sexuality. Some even cited writings of the far from holy John Paul II to justify their hatred and bigotry, conveniently forgetting that Popes have proven wrong on moral issues before - e.g., the Popes that issued determination upholding slavery. The truth is that the Church is wrong in its anti-gay animus and that it is causing countless younger Catholics to leave the Church. A piece in the National Catholic Reporter looks at the dilemma facing the Church which could well decide whether the Church largely collapses in modern nations. Here are excerpts:
In a recent radio interview, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising said the Catholic Church needs to provide better pastoral support for lesbian or gay people but stopped short of endorsing blessings for same-sex couples as a general practice or policy.
At the same time, he appeared to leave open the possibility of such blessings in individual cases. Marx is the third German bishop, and the highest-ranking by far, to have raised the possibility of same-sex blessings in recent months.
Marx, the archbishop of Munich, is one of the most influential leaders in the Catholic Church. He serves on Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals, heads the German Bishops' Council, and is president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community.
Marx's struggle to articulate a coherent strategy for addressing the needs of the church's gay and lesbian members (the interview does not seem to have included any reference to transgender, intersex or bisexual people) once again shows the dilemma for those trying to work within the framework of current doctrine, church structure and political polemic of institutional Catholicism. There seems to be a recognition by the cardinal that current dogma and practice are failing many in the church, and a desire to find ways to respond to their needs. Marx sees pastoral responses to individual situations as the solution.
The problem with this approach is that it reinforces the church's official view of lesbian and gay individuals and same-sex couples as less than full members of the body of Christ. It requires priests and other pastoral workers to determine whether an individual situation merits the risk of a secret blessing, and implicit validation of the person's sexual orientation and intimate relationships.
Perhaps the only way for the institution to change is through an incremental approach, whereby the number of individual cases gradually increases, and the experience of those involved somehow convinces a sufficient number of those in authority that a change in doctrine is merited. Then the process of debating the theology and tradition that might support such a change could begin. How long such discernment might take is anyone's guess.
In the meantime, the official church's persistent inability to fully embrace LGBTQI people and their families will continue to drive away not only many of them, but also many members of their extended families, friends, and allies — not to mention massive numbers of young people in general.
It bears noting that, in the United States and many other parts of the world, the people of the church are far ahead of its leadership on LGBTQI issues. In countries where same-sex marriage is legal, tens of thousands of Catholics have rejoiced in witnessing the civil marriages of their children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, cousins and friends, many in ceremonies that include a spiritual blessing.
Countless others, especially where marriage equality has yet to be achieved, have joined their loved ones in rituals that celebrate the commitments lesbian and gay couples have made to each other. Their presence and pledge to honor and support these couples represent the triumph of love over law.
It is a hopeful sign that Marx, other German bishops, and indeed numerous Catholic Church leaders around the world are grappling openly with the place of LGBTQI people in the church. An even more hopeful step will occur when church leaders finally engage the true experts in this struggle in genuine dialogue, and we begin to work out solutions together.
Personally, I view anyone who is LGBT that remains in the Catholic Church as engaging in a form of masochism or still suffering greatly from internalized homophobia (sorry, Andrew Sullivan, but why continue to torture yourself?). Indeed, one former acquaintance continues to remain a Catholic and not surprisingly has the attendant emotional psychological conflicts and damage one would expect. The simple solution is to walk away. As for family members of LGBT individuals who remain in the Church, deliberately or not, they are harming their LGBT relatives. Only massive losses in membership - and most importantly, revenues - will hasten change in the Church.