Thursday, February 16, 2017

News, Politics & Current Events: Round-Up

American Intelligence Community Pushes Back Against a White House It Considers Leaky, Untruthful and Penetrated by the Kremlin

Our Intelligence Community is so worried by the unprecedented problems of the Trump administration—not only do senior officials possess troubling ties to the Kremlin, there are nagging questions about basic competence regarding Team Trump—that it is beginning to withhold intelligence from a White House which our spies do not trust. That the IC has ample grounds for concern is demonstrated by almost daily revelations of major problems inside the White House, a mere three weeks after the inauguration. The president has repeatedly gone out of his way to antagonize our spies, mocking them and demeaning their work, and Trump’s personal national security guru can’t seem to keep his story straight on vital issues.

FRANCE: 32% of Gay Married Couples Support Far-Right Presidential Candidate Marine Le Pen Even Though She's Pledged to End Same-Sex Marriage... File this under WTF?!

Leader of The National Front, Marine Le Pen
and her openly gay deputy, Florian Philippot

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has pledged to end same-sex marriage, despite gaining support from the country's gay voters. The far-right leader said she would abolish same-sex marriage in a long list of 144 pledges released this week. President Francois Hollande signed a law that legalized gay marriage in 2013. Le Pen, who is currently leading the polls for the spring elections, said the reversal of the same-sex marriage law would not be retroactive. The National Front leader is proposing to revert back to the system in place prior to 2013. This would mean gay couples are only able to enter into civil partnerships (PACS), according to legal experts at Marilyn Stowe. Despite the pledge to abolish the same-sex marriage law - which was buried at number 87 on the list - the far-right leader has gained the support of LGBT voters in France. Her support from gay married couples rose from from 19 percent in 2012 to 32 percent in 2015, the Guardian reported. It has been suggested that one of the reasons behind the growing support among gay voters is the party's presentation of Islam as a threat to LGBT rights. The party also has several gay men in senior positions, including Le Pen's deputy Florian Philippot. However, the majority of voters are against a reversal of the same-sex marriage law, with an Ifop poll in August suggesting 65 per cent would be against a repeal.

HRC anticipates that, as in 2016, anti-equality activists will push for legislation giving a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of religion; measures specifically targeting transgender people; and proposals to eliminate local LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, among others. The new analysis also highlights opportunities to advance LGBTQ equality in 2017. In recent years, the steady increase in public support for LGBTQ equality has been met with a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation being introduced in state legislatures. As lawmakers begin new sessions in state capitols around the country, HRC is bracing for a repeat of the 2015 and 2016 sessions, with hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills filed. In 2016, legislators in 38 states filed more than 250 bills meant to restrict the rights of LGBTQ individuals and their families. With hard work, collective cooperation, and tight focus throughout the state and national LGBTQ equality movement, only 8 of those bills passed both legislative chambers, and after gubernatorial vetoes, just 5 bills actually became law. However, with the 2016 election results, 2017 has the potential to be even more challenging. As the 2017 legislative sessions begin, more states will have Republican single-party control in the House, Senate, and Governor’s office than in the previous legislative period. The discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTQ people is taking many different forms across the country. They range from measures specifically targeting transgender people and seeking to prevent them from accessing sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity; legislation aimed to authorize individuals, businesses, and taxpayer-funded agencies to cite religion as an excuse to refuse goods or services to LGBTQ people; and bills seeking to eliminate the ability of local governments to protect LGBTQ residents and visitors from discrimination, among other proposals.

How Vladimir Putin and Russia are Using Cyber Attacks and Fake News to Try to Rig Three Major European Elections This Year

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia

Governments and security services across Europe have sounded public warnings about Russian interference in upcoming elections, amid mounting concern about a spate of cyber attacks on political parties and government institutions. Officials and security officers in France, Germany, and the Netherlands have agreed to share information as they brace for “influence operations,” including the leaking of hacked emails and using internet bots to spread fake or misleading news on social media, in the run up to presidential and general elections this year. "[It is] a way not to convince people, but to confuse them, not to provide an alternative viewpoint, but to divide public opinion and to ultimately undermine our ability to understand what is going on.”

Vermont tops a new ranking of states by the portion of adults in 2015 and 2016 who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) at 5.3%. Massachusetts (4.9%), California (4.9%), Oregon (4.9%) and Nevada (4.8%) round out the top five. The District of Columbia's 8.6% LGBT exceeds that of any of the states. States with the lowest percentage of LGBT-identifying residents include South Dakota (2.0%), North Dakota (2.7%), Idaho (2.8%), South Carolina (3.0%) and Montana (3.0%). At 4.9%, the Pacific region, which includes the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, has the highest portion of LGBT-identifying adults among eight regions in the U.S.

Washington Court Rules Against Bigoted Florist in Gay Wedding Case

Curt Freed, left, and his husband Robert Ingersoll
 (Source:AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Washington Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that a florist who refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding broke the state's antidiscrimination law, even though she claimed doing so would violate her religious beliefs. Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Washington, had been fined by a lower court for denying service to a gay couple in 2013. Stutzman said she was exercising her First Amendment rights. But the court held that her floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage. "As Stutzman acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism," the opinion said. Stutzman's lawyers immediately said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, has just gone and released a government-sanctioned video that basically encourages gay Muslims that they should go on the ‘straight’ path. The video is entirely in Malay, and was posted by Syed Azmi, whom Malay Mail Online classes as a ‘social activist’. The video compares sexuality with horse racing, saying that people who find they have a different orientation, and wish to change it, they should receive extensive training and guidance. Gay conversion therapy has been banned in multiple countries, and its efficacy has been debunked by numerous scientific studies. Watch video here.

'Alliance Defending Freedom' Has Been Designated a Hate Group by The Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday announced it has designated an anti-LGBT legal organization as a hate group. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is based in Montgomery, Ala., describes the Alliance Defending Freedom as “a legal advocacy and training group that specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed dozens of religious freedom lawsuits in the U.S. and challenged efforts to protect transgender students in public schools. The organization also represented Prince William County (Va.) Circuit Clerk Michèle McQuigg, who was a defendant in the Bostic case that challenged Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Things Are Pretty Screwed Up At the National Security Council Right Now

Historically, the National Security Council has served as the President’s primary resource for determining issues of national security and foreign policy. In a volatile global climate, it is an especially critical forum for strategy and advising. So, it’s all the more disconcerting that ever since Trump’s inauguration, the council’s organizational structure has crumpled. According to the New York Times, a number of conditions have coalesced to engender uncertainty and dishevelment. Donald Trump’s daily cascade of tempestuous tweets requires damage control — that is to say, staff members must seek to make them coherent with extant policy. But this task is difficult, to say the least, when most of the council is not privy to what Trump tells foreign leaders during official calls.

People in the country have been tweeting the hashtag, ‘I love gays and I’m not one of them’. Saudi Arabia is ruled under sharia law where homosexuality is condemned and those guilty of engaging in gay sex can be executed. But there appears to be scores of ‘straight’ supporters showing solidarity for the nation’s gay citizens. Homophobic campaigners in Saudi Arabia recently called for tougher anti-gay laws after social media was blamed for ‘making too many homosexuals’. Men found guilty of having sex with other men also face life in prison, torture, chemical castrations and whipping. Some people found the hashtag offensive and accused tweeters of ‘going against god’s creation’.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson Refuses to Stay Silent About Donald Trump

Dwayne "The Rock: Johnson 
Many people look up to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the epitome of athleticism. The wrestler turned actor has looked like the ultimate personal trainer since he was fifteen years old. As popular athletic brand Under Armor’s CEO Kevin Plank said Trump could be a “real asset” to the country, The Rock took to Instagram to disassociate from the political stance of a brand he once endorsed. The message included the statement: “We don’t partner with a brand casually. I partner with brands I trust and with people who share my same values. That means a commitment to diversity, inclusion, community, open-mindedness and some serious hard work. But it doesn’t mean that I or my team will always agree with the opinion of everyone who works there, including its executives.”

The nearly century-old American Civil Liberties Union says it is suddenly awash in donations and new members as it does battle with President Donald Trump over the extent of his constitutional authority, with nearly $80 million in online contributions alone pouring in since the election. That includes a record $24 million surge over two days after Trump banned people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The organization said its membership has more than doubled since the election to a record of nearly 1.2 million, and its Twitter following has tripled.

A 29-year-old Ghanaian asylum seeker's fate is in limbo in Canada on the basis that he was a gay being persecuted in Ghana. Authorities of Immigration and Refugee Board in Canada said the man's application was rejected because he had fake identity documents and so his identity could not be established. "He has been accused by the member [of the board] to have had fraudulent identity documents and his identity is not clear. That is entirely incorrect and we disagree. He will not be at risk of deportation, but certainly he will live with the mental fear of how much longer, what's going to happen in the end," said the claimant's lawyer, Bashir Khan. The man, who has asked not to be identified, says he is gay and that he fears for his safety if he has to return to Ghana. Khan said his client plans to appeal the ruling and can remain in Canada until his appeal application is reviewed and a new decision is made, according to report by CBC news.