Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday Morning Male Beauty

The New Gilded Age: Middle Class Shrinks Further

The GOP policies of aiding the wealthy, blocking funding for infrastructure repairs, and the destruction of labor unions continue to bear fruit and the American middle class continues to shrink.  It's all in keeping with the GOP's apparent desire to bring back the worse aspects of the Gilded Age when the wealthy lived like aristocrats and the rest of us were the peasants and serfs.  The shortsightedness, of course, is that as the middle class shrinks, the purchasing power that drives the overall economy shrinks.  Not that Republicans seem to care given all of the political bribes contributions they receive from wealthy and vulture capitalists.  The New York Times looks at the alarming trend.  Here are highlights:

The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century.

Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to fall, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets.

But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom.

The definition here starts at $35,000 — which is about 50 percent higher than the official poverty level for a family of four — and ends at the six-figure mark. Although many Americans in households making more than $100,000 consider themselves middle class, particularly those living in expensive regions like the Northeast and Pacific Coast, they have substantially more money than most people.

However the lines are drawn, it is clear that millions are struggling to hang on to accouterments that most experts consider essential to a middle-class life.

“I would consider middle class to be people who can live comfortably on what they earn, can pay their bills, can set aside something to save for retirement and for kids in college and can have vacations and entertainment,” said Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project . . .

Even as the American middle class has shrunk, it has gone through a transformation. The 53 million households that remain in the middle class — about 43 percent of all households — look considerably different from their middle-class predecessors of a previous generation, according to a New York Times analysis of census data.

In recent years, the fastest-growing component of the new middle class has been households headed by people 65 and older. Today’s seniors have better retirement benefits than previous generations. Also, older Americans are increasingly working past traditional retirement age. More than eight million, or 19 percent, were in the labor force in 2013, nearly twice as many as in 2000.

The growing prominence of older people in the middle class reflects, in part, the way Social Security and Medicare — originally set up as safety nets to protect seniors from falling into poverty after retirement — have provided a substantial cushion for them against hard times.

Married couples with children — who make up a category that is shrinking over all — are diminishing even faster as a share of the middle class. In the late 1960s, about 45 percent of all households included married adults and their offspring. But among middle-class households, more than 60 percent had that traditional family arrangement.

Today, married couples with children at home make up just a quarter of households.

The most recent recession put a halt to the advances of even that generally successful group. Its share in the middle class has fallen by three percentage points and the share earning less than $35,000 has increased.

“In the Great Recession, we lost a lot of middle-income jobs and we gained a lot of low-paying jobs,” said Michael R. Strain, resident scholar at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute.
According to a New York Times poll in December, 60 percent of people who call themselves middle class think that if they work hard they will get rich. But the evidence suggests that goal is increasingly out of reach. When middle class people look up, they see the rich getting richer while they spin their wheels.

“The middle has basically stayed the same; it hasn’t improved,” said Lawrence F. Katz, an economist at Harvard University.

What is the most frustrating to me is how the GOP continues to use religion and racism to sucker idiot voters to vote for Republicans even as the GOP pushes policies that will harm those very same voters.  Thus, if one wants upward social mobility, nowadays, one needs to move to Europe.

Virginian Pilot: Ban State Agencies from Discriminating Against Gay Employees

So far this legislative session, virtually every gay friendly bill in the Virginia General Assembly to be considered in committee has been killed by straight line party vote with the Republicans - always ready political whores only too happy to prostitute themselves to the Christofascists at The Family Foundation, an organization that thoroughly needs to be certified as an anti-gay hate group.   The sole exception?  A bill that would ban state taxpayer funded agencies from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation.  That bill barely survived for now based on a tie vote and will be taken up again.  The Virginian Pilot calls upon the General Assembly to do the right thing and pass the bill.  Here are highlights from the main page editorial:
Twenty-one states have passed laws that ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Virginia should be the 22nd.

A proposal to ban public employers from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation is set to draw a vote as early as today in a Senate committee. Last week, SB785 stalled on a 7-7 vote but was set aside for consideration again by the full General Laws committee because Democratic Sen. Chuck Colgan missed the vote.

The measure survived only because Republican Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel broke ranks with her party, as she did last year on the same proposal, and voted to ban public agencies from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

Lawmakers, however, could end the uncertainty by specifying that employers funded by taxpayer dollars cannot dismiss or refuse to hire qualified employees simply because they are attracted to members of the same sex.

It's a view that private employers have increasingly adopted, demonstrating the power of understanding and compassion to make the workplace and society a more welcoming, more inclusive environment. Nearly every Fortune 500 company has enacted policies prohibiting discrimination based on orientation to ensure that they have access to the best-qualified employees. Virginia government should do the same.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Vogel, Republican lawmakers have largely failed to endorse protections for gay employees in state and local governments. Another bill, which would've extended fair housing protections to include sexual orientation, has already failed.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, the chamber's only openly gay member, has noted the lack of statutory protection for gay and lesbian workers has led some to forgo job opportunities in Virginia or depart for more welcoming states.  That's Virginia's loss.

Sexual orientation has no bearing on an employee's ability to perform any state or municipal job. Workers shouldn't have to worry about whether they'll be fired, or denied opportunities, simply because of whom they love.

[T]he state gains nothing - indeed loses much - by continuing to sanction the firing of employees because of their sexual orientation.

Vogel is one of the few Republicans in Richmond to recognize as much, and she has set a positive example for members of her party. They should follow her lead.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ben Carson Jokes About Poisoning Wedding Cakes for Gays

The prior post looked at the problem of the inability of some, especially on the American right to see the common humanity of others who are different.   For an example of this sickness, as I see it, look no father than would be GOP presidential nominee Ben Carson who, after speaking at the misnamed "Freedom Summit" in Iowa, joked about poisoning the wedding cakes for same sex couples.  Never mind that many others besides the gay couples would be harmed, including children and family members.  While it may seemed far fetched that someone might actually follow through on such a suggestion, one must remember that from many pulpits individuals hear that gays are worthy of death and similar messages against abortion providers have indeed resulted in murder.  The Hill looks at Carson's foul "joke."  Here are highlights:

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson (R) delivered a rousing speech to the conservative faithful, earning the first standing ovation of the day at the Iowa Freedom Summit and showing why he's generating buzz with conservative activists.

But the former doctor and Fox News commentator may need to sharpen his policy chops if he wants to become a top-tier player. Carson struggled at times through a post-speech press availability, offering vague answers on a number of topics and refusing to answer how he thinks abortion should be criminalized.

Carson also criticized political correctness as he answered a question about gay marriage — and followed up by flaunting decorum with the type of comment that endears him with the base but could hurt his cross-party appeal.

"What I have a problem with is when people try to force people to act against their beliefs because they say 'they're discriminating against me.' So they can go right down the street and buy a cake, but no, let's bring a suit against this person because I want them to make my cake even though they don't believe in it. Which is really not all that smart because they might put poison in that cake," he said to chuckles from some of his staff and dead silence from the journalists in the room.

Americans' Blindness and Moral Failing

Perhaps growing up gay and in the closet for 37 years made me more sensitive to the plight of others knowing that, like blacks and other racial minorities, for example, I was part of a group hated by many and seen as a "sinner" and somehow less than human.   Those who hate gays, blacks, the foreign born suffer from an inability - indeed, a refusal at times - to see others as equally human. The consequences can be deadly and even extend to failed foreign policy decisions and horrific brutality towards civilians in war.  A piece at by Brian Turner, a former member of the U.S. military and the author of "My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir," looks at the American failing in the context of the furor over the film, American Sniper, being embraced and lauded by the likes of Sarah Palin.  Here are the telling excerpts:

The film made me remember something else, too: the oft-repeated phrase We should just drop a nuke and turn this whole goddamn place into a glass fucking parking lot. This was an enlargement of what I’d regularly heard prior to deploying from Ft. Lewis, Washington: I’m going to go over there and shoot somebody in the face. And so, what started as an erasure of the signature of one’s identity, their face, evolved into the complete erasure of a civilization. But the thing is, I don’t think there was any clue about what was actually being erased in the first place. And in that cluelessness lays the problem with American Sniper.

I get American Sniper. I do. But it’s myopic. . . . . Once the dust settles, though, what do we learn from American Sniper?

The biggest problem I have with American Sniper is also a problem I have with myself. It’s a problem I sometimes find in my own work, and it’s an American problem: We don’t see, or even try to see, actual Iraqi people. We lack the empathy necessary to see them as fully human. In American Sniper, Iraqi men, women, and children are known and defined only in relation to combat and the potential threat they pose. Their bodies are the site and source of violence. In both the film and our collective imagination, their humanity is reduced in ways that, ultimately, define our own narrow humanity. In American Sniper, Iraqis are called “savages,” and the “streets are crawling” with them. Eastwood and his screenwriter Jason Hall give Iraqis no memorable lines. Their interior lives are a blank canvas, with no access points to let us in. I get why that is: If Iraqis are seen in any other light, if their humanity is recognized, then the construct of our imagination, the ride-off-into-the-sunset-on-a-white-horse story we tell ourselves to push forward, falls apart. 
If we saw Iraqis as humans, we’d have to learn how to live in a world far, far more complicated and painful than the difficult, painful one we currently live in. Messy, trauma-filled, beautiful, and altogether human; all of us breathing the oxygen of our time. We’d have to learn something more than how to return home and how to reintegrate our warrior class in America — which, to its credit, is a problem that American Sniper acknowledges. We’d have to let go of our fascination with Odysseus and the hero’s return. We’d have to see everyone — not just Americans (or the ones we agree with politically, anyway) — as the family they’ve always been to us. And we’d to have to, as they say, get back to the world.
For the Christofascist and mental midgets like Sarah Palin - and even some people in my own neighborhood - seeing others as equally human and possessing the same innate rights is beyond inconvenient because suddenly things are no longer black and white and one must think and make independent moral judgments.   Sadly, I don't see these people opening their eyes any time soon.  Thinking and not going with the hoard of lemmings as they run for the moral cliff is too frightening.  I will also add that they Islamic extremist suffer from the same moral blindness.  However, two wrongs don't make a right.

Sunday Morning Male Beauty

Bobby Jindal's Hate Group Relationship

Among the would be Republican presidential nominees the willingness to prostitute themselves to the Christofascist/Tea Party element of the party base seems to no few limits.  But even among these self-prostitution individuals, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal seems to take self-prostitution to new levels.  Hence his agreement to headline a rally organized by The American Family Association, one of the vilest of the Southern Poverty Law Center certified hate groups.  What makes Jindal's pandering all the more disgusting is the fact that he's not some uneducated rube.  He's Ivy League educated but is only too happy to embrace ignorance in the quest for political power.  A piece in Media Matters looks at Jindal's shameless embrace of hate and ignorance.  Here are excerpts:
Louisiana Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal is the keynote speaker for a rally funded and organized by an anti-LGBT group that has blamed gay people for causing the Holocaust and advocated imprisoning homosexuals.  So why isn't his appearance garnering national media attention?

On January 24, Jindal will keynote a six-hour prayer event at Louisiana State University called "The Response: A Call To Prayer For a Nation In Crisis." The event is sponsored and funded by the American Family Association (AFA), one of the most extreme anti-gay hate groups in the country. It's also being staffed by a number of notorious anti-LGBT activists.

The event has drawn protests from members of the LSU community. On January 22, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution expressing displeasure with the event, and a university spokesperson has clarified that the rental of an LSU facility "does not imply any endorsement."

Jindal has thus far dismissed criticism of the event, according to The Clarion-Ledger:
Asked if he agreed with the American Family Association's agenda, Jindal sidestepped that question and said, "The left likes to try to divide and attack Christians."
Jindal said the protesters themselves should consider joining the prayer rally. He said they "might benefit from prayer."
AFA's status as a hate group is largely thanks to the work of its spokesman, Bryan Fischer, whose anti-LGBT remarks go well beyond mainstream social conservatism. Fischer's inflammatory comments about gay people include:
  • Repeatedly calling for the criminalization of homosexuality
  • Blaming gay people for the Holocaust
  • Linking homosexuality to pedophilia
  • Arguing gay people are disqualified from holding public office
[A]side from a few outlets noting AFA's "controversial" stances, national coverage of Jindal's association with the hate group has similarly been glossed over by the media. It's a stark contrast to the tremendous media attention surrounding GOP House Majority Whip Steve Scalise's infamous 2002 speech to a white nationalist group. When it comes to GOP politics, media outlets have a hard time seeing what's newsworthy about a hate group like AFA being used to cement the campaign of a potential presidential candidate.  

GOP Clown Car Has Become a Clown Van


Yesterday's "Freedom Summit" in Iowa orchestrated by Rep. Steve King, was as expected a gathering of far right extremists.   Some described the event as a "Extremist Ring Kissing" event.  One has to wonder how those in attendance who pandered to the ugliest elements of the GOP base can have any chance of drawing votes from sane, moderate and minority voters in the general election.  A piece in Politico states that the Republican Party’s clown car has become a clown van.  Here are article excerpts:

The Republican Party’s clown car has become a clown van.  With nearly two dozen possible presidential candidates, the GOP is having a seriousness deficit. There can’t possibly be that many people who are real candidates.  But they can ride in the clown car from event to event, and nobody can stop them.

At the Freedom Summit here Saturday, two dozen speakers ground through 10 hours of speeches in front of more than 1,000 far-right Republicans.

As it turned out, clown car candidates are not necessarily funny. Since they have nothing to lose, they can attack their fellow Republicans with abandon.

Usually they attack from the right, which can force the eventual nominee farther to the right than the nominee wants to go. This risks losing moderate voters in the general election.

This was not a concern at the Freedom Summit, however. The farther to the right, the better.
It was a classic cattle call, with speaker after speaker pandering to the crowd. Sometimes, however, pandering was not enough.

In the circus, the worse thing clowns lob is confetti. In the political circus, the clowns lob grenades. Verbal, to be sure, but they still can be deadly.

Neither Bush nor Romney bothered to show up at the summit, so they missed a day of attacks.

Donald Trump, who definitely rides in the clown car — or maybe the clown limo — strongly indicated he might actually run for president. What mattered, however, was his grenades.
“It can’t be Mitt,” Trump said, the bright overhead stage lighting, not favoring, his elaborate comb-over. “Mitt ran and failed!”  Applause from the crowd.

Jim Gilmore, former governor of Virginia, did the same attacks, though without using any names, on Jeb Bush for supporting Common Core, a nationwide educational initiative, and on Romney for his health plan as governor of Massachusetts.   

But then Gilmore added another enemy of the GOP right wing. “Do we want a nominee who wrapped his arms around Barack Obama?” Gilmore said.

The clear reference to Chris Christie brought bellows and barks of approval from the crowd.

[T]he day was filled with Republicans acting like third graders.


Obama Describes Being Gay as a "Lifestyle Choice"

As much as he may have "evolved" on same sex marriage and pushed for LGBT rights, Barack Obama still doesn't grasp that being gay is NOT a lifestyle choice.  Or at least not any more of a "choice" than being born black, having blue eyes or being left handed.  Yes, some light skinned blacks my chose to "pass as white", tinted contact lenses can outwardly change eye color and in the past some lefties were forced to learn to write with their right hands.  None of these efforts however, changes one's underlying traits.  So too with sexual orientation.  Thus, it is disappointing that Obama is still using the language favored by our enemies to continue the lie that sexual orientation is a "choice."  Sadly, in their rush to brown nose Obama, many LGBT rights organizations which would condemn the same language if it was uttered by enemies of LGBT equality are giving Obama a pass.  Apparently "access" is more important than the truth.  The Washington Blade looks at the sell out by our self-anointed "leaders."  Here are highlights:

President Obama deviated this week from the language considered acceptable for talking about gay people when he described the lives of same-sex couples as a “lifestyle choice” — but virtually no one cares.

The Washington Blade reached out to various LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force and GLAAD, to ask whether they objected to Obama’s use of the phrase. None of those groups responded to a request to comment on that language, which is widely considered unacceptable and offensive because it suggests that sexual orientation is a choice.

Obama also said he hopes the Supreme Court makes the “right decision” on pending litigation seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“I’m hopeful the Supreme Court comes to the right decision, but I will tell you, people’s hearts have opened up on this issue,” Obama said. “I think people know that treating folks unfairly, even if you disagree with their lifestyle choice, the fact of the matter is, they’re not bothering you. Let them live their lives, and under the law, they should be treated equally.”

Obama’s faux pas comes the same week that he made history by becoming the first president ever to say the words “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” in a State of the Union address.
LGBT rights groups have taken Republicans to task when GOP officials and political hopefuls have made similar comments. In 2011, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza Herman Cain, then the front-runner in the race to become the Republican presidential nominee, ignited a firestorm of controversy when he said in an interview on “The View” that being gay is a choice.
 I'm sorry, but I don't expect our supposed allies to use the terminology of our enemies.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

California Judges Barred from Boy Scouts

It has been common for quite some time for state and local judges to resign memberships from discriminatory organizations - e.g., one former law partner almost left a club that barred blacks when he was named to a federal court seat until the club changed its policy - on the theory that a judge cannot be seen as unbiased in court cases if he/she belongs to a club or organization that discriminates against blacks, those who are Jewish and more recently gays.  Now, the California Supreme Court has ruled that California state judges cannot belong to the Boys Scouts due to the organization's continued anti-gay policies.  Here are highlights from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The state Supreme Court has voted to prohibit judges in California from belonging to the Boy Scouts because the 2.7 million-member youth organization bars gays and lesbians from becoming troop leaders.

The court announced Friday that its seven justices had voted unanimously to accept a February 2014 recommendation from its ethics advisory committee to ban Boy Scout membership. As of Wednesday, judges affiliated with the Scouts were in violation of the state Code of Judicial Ethics, which the court oversees, and could face removal from office.

California has been among 23 states with an ethical code that prohibits judges from belonging to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
“The people of California have a right to an impartial and unbiased judiciary,” Richard Fybel, a state appeals court justice in Santa Ana and chairman of the high court’s ethics advisory committee, said Friday. “This is important to accomplishing that.”

[T]he California Judges Association, which represents 1,575 of the state’s 2,000 judges, supported the ban.

The new rules would still allow judges to belong to religious organizations whose beliefs or practices were discriminatory. Many Boy Scout troops are affiliated with churches, and Fybel, the committee chairman, said some judges have argued that their troop was a religious organization that should remain exempted.

The Boy Scouts could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

The Boy Scouts also ban atheists and agnostics as members. California’s judicial ethics code forbids membership in organizations that discriminate based on religion, among other categories, but has not applied it to the Scouts in the past because of the exemption for nonprofit youth groups.

Other State Supreme courts should follow suit, but don't expect any such action from Virginia Supreme Court - which in my opinion is the anti-gay - any time soon.