Friday, March 23, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

With Bolton's Appointment, It’s Time to Panic

Unhinged war monger John Bolton.
Donald Trump and his base of support centered on Christian extremists, white supremacists and general misogynists all live in an alternate, objective fact free universe.  Their world view which is full of  hate and paranoia is fanned by Fox News and other right wing "news" outlets that  present a daily dose of propaganda that would have made Joseph Goebbels proud.  Now, Trump has appointed John Bolton to be National Security Advisor.  Bolton is just as unhinged as the ugliest elements of Trump's base and, more frighteningly, is trigger happy and sees military action rather than diplomacy as a solution for  every foreign dispute.  He was a strong advocate of the Iraq War and seems to have learned nothing from that debacle.  A piece in Slate looks at why sane Americans and members of the military should be very, very afraid of where Trump/Pence may take the country.  Another piece in New York Magazine voices similar concerns.  First, here are highlights from Slate:
It’s time to push the panic button.
John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser—a post that requires no Senate confirmation—puts the United States on a path to war. And it’s fair to say President Donald Trump wants us on that path.
After all, Trump gave Bolton the job after the two held several conversations (despite White House chief of staff John Kelly’s orders barring Bolton from the building). And there was this remark that Trump made after firing Rex Tillerson and nominating the more hawkish Mike Pompeo to take his place: “We’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things I want.”
Bolton has repeatedly called for launching a first strike on North Korea, scuttling the nuclear arms deal with Iran, and then bombing that country too. He says and writes these things not as part of some clever “madman theory” to bring Kim Jong-un and the mullahs of Tehran to the bargaining table, but rather because he simply wants to destroy them and America’s other enemies too.
His agenda is not “peace through strength,” the motto of more conventional Republican hawks that Trump included in a tweet on Wednesday, but rather regime change through war. He is a neocon without the moral fervor of some who wear that label—i.e., he is keen to topple oppressive regimes not in order to spread democracy but rather to expand American power.
In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney finagled Bolton a job as undersecretary of state for arms control—an inside joke, since Bolton has never read an arms-control treaty that he liked. But his real assignment was to serve as Cheney’s spy in Foggy Bottom, monitoring and, when possible, obstructing any attempts at peaceful diplomacy mounted by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
When Powell got the boot, Cheney wanted to make Bolton deputy secretary of state, replacing Richard Armitage, who resigned along with his best friend Powell. But Powell’s replacement, Condoleezza Rice, who had been Bush’s national security adviser, blocked the move, fully aware of Bolton’s obstructionist ideology.
As a compromise, Bush nominated Bolton to be United Nations ambassador, but that move proved unbearable to even the Republican-controlled Senate at the time. . . . . he was hostile to the idea of international law, having once declared, “It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so—because over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrain the United States.”
These might be quaint notions for some eccentric midlevel aide to espouse, but the United Nations is founded on international law, Security Council resolutions are drafted to enforce international law, and . . . some of those resolutions were proving useful for expressing, and sometimes enforcing, U.S. national security interests. How could someone with these views serve as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.?
In his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton put on a dreadful show, grumbling and scowling through his walrus mustache.
[A]t least McMaster assembled—and often listened to—a professional staff at the National Security Council and insisted on ousting amateur ideologues, several of them acolytes of Flynn.
Bolton is not likely to put up with a professional staff, and the flood of White House exiles will soon intensify. One subject of discussion at Bolton’s Senate hearings, back in 2005, was his intolerance of any views that differed from his own. He displayed this trait most harshly when, as undersecretary of state, he tried to fire two intelligence analysts who challenged his (erroneous) view that Cuba was developing biological weapons and supplying the weapons to rogue regimes.
Nor is Bolton at all suited to perform one of a national security adviser’s main responsibilities—assembling the Cabinet secretaries to debate various options in foreign and military policy, mediating their differences, and either hammering out a compromise or presenting the choices to the president.
Then again, there may now no longer be many differences to mediate in this administration. The last of the grown-ups is Secretary of Defense James Mattis . . . . [Trump] didn’t know that Mattis regularly consulted a personal library of some 7,000 volumes on history and strategy, that (like most generals) he’s not too keen to go to war unless he really has to, and that (also like most generals) he takes the Geneva Conventions seriously and opposes torture.
With Tillerson out, Bolton in, and Pompeo waiting in the wings for confirmation, Trump is feeling his oats, coming into his own, like Trump is free to be Trump. Finding out just who that is may make the rest of us duck and cover.
The New York Magazine piece contains this:
From the outset of his presidency, to which he was elevated with barely any preparation, Donald Trump was surrounded by a protective cordon of advisers, as a child monarch might. In return for absorbing his tantrums, they would educate their unsteady charge, who would wind up, after pratfalls and drama, inflicting no more ruin on the country than a normal modern Republican president might. . . . Somehow it seemed we might muddle through.
Now Trump is breaking through the protective cordon. The people who joined the government to save Donald Trump from himself, or to save the world from Trump, are leaving. Gary Cohn and Rex Tillerson are gone. Trump is reorganizing his legal team, mobilizing for war against the special counsel. And now he has finally cast off his most important minder, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and replaced him with John Bolton.
Bolton . . . is a true believing ideologue firmly encamped on his party’s right flank, who appears regularly on Fox News to propound ultra-simplistic solutions to the world’s problems, which Trump can easily grasp on his sofa.
Bolton’s foreign policy notions can be quickly operationalized, given the near-total command the executive branch has over foreign policy. What’s more, those ideas have the potential to kill large numbers of people.
Bolton has long been estranged from a substantial segment of his own party, which regards him as dangerous. . . . . while many of his colleagues came away at least somewhat chastened by their errors, Bolton did not. “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” he said in 2015.
Bolton is considered so dangerous, even by many Republican hawks, because he is a true believer, deeply in the grips of black and white notions of simple morality that are difficult to reconcile with the messy reality that is the world. There is a long history of ideologues joining a presidential administration and terrifying the establishment, only to be assimilated into its bureaucratic routines. But Bolton’s character and history seem to defy any such domestication.
The combination of Bolton and Trump poses an especially potent danger. Trump once declared “I love war, in a certain way.” Both men think in terms of zero-sum conflict and harbor an obsession with dominating their adversaries. They are temperamental twins. In North Korea or elsewhere, Bolton could goad Trump into dangerous reaction.
It has been the tail risks – any number of low-probability, high impact events that are far more likely to occur with an authoritarian buffoon in the White House than under a normal president. Trump has spent his presidency surrounded by people who were at least attempting to contain these risks – say, a Constitutional crisis, or a meltdown of the international order. As awful and comically surreal as the first year and a quarter of his term has been, after Trump has taken full command of his administration, we may see it as a golden age.
Be very afraid.  Those of us who live in an area like Hampton Roads, Virginia, with a huge military personnel do not want to see the lives of friends and neighbors thrown away yet again.  Just as importantly, we should not want to see Trump by either mistake or design authorize the use of nuclear weapons.  

Leaks and Chaos Reign At White House

Yesterday I posted about the perils of serving on Der  Trumpenführer's legal team.  Later the same day John Dowd, Trump’s lead lawyer for the special counsel investigation, resigned his position in the face of Trump's signaling that he was prepared to ignore Dowd's advice and wanted a sit-down with investigators (and likely lie through his teeth).  Replacing Dowd is a yet another bombastic Fox News commentator who would be viewed as sleazy and disreputable by many reputable law firms - which means Trump will love him. 

Also out yesterday was National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster who announced his exit.  Whether a mere coincidence or not, McMaster like Rex Tillerson had made strong anti-Putin/Russia statements.  Frighteningly, McMasters replacement will be the delusional and hawkish John Bolton who, if given his way, would likely get America into a war with both Iran and North Korea.    Adding to the chaos, Trump announced $80 billion in tariffs against China causing the Dow to plunge 742 points. 

A column in the Washington Post suggests that what few sane people are left in the White House staff are now panicking.  Here are highlights:
As a former presidential staffer, I have little patience for leaks. . . . . Leaks are an abuse of power and position, generally by people who are unelected and self-serving.
But motivations matter, and the taxonomy of White House leakage is a worthy study. A surprising number of leaks are the result of simple vanity — the desire to appear in the know. Other leakers are trying to embarrass or sabotage a rival. Some leaks result from deviousness — the attempt to box the president in on a policy matter.
The exposure of a White House briefing document telling President Trump “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Russia’s Vladimir Putin on his sham election victory — leaked after Trump congratulated Putin on his sham election victory — falls into a different category. It seems to have been motivated by desperation. Someone at the White House, presumably on the national security team, has taken a large personal risk to call attention to Trump’s mysteriously cozy relationship with a strategic rival. This is extraordinary — and extraordinarily frightening. In most administrations, the aides closest to the president have the greatest sense of loyalty. In this case, an aide close to the president is expressing panic. He or she cannot explain the hold that Putin has over Trump. This leak is a cry for help from within the White House itself. 
The problem is Trump’s strange inability to confront Putin personally — about his oppressive rule, the disruption of America’s electoral process, human rights violations and even attempted murder on the soil of a NATO ally. Trump’s initial instinct is to explain such abuses away.
It deepens the mystery that all of Trump’s political interests push in the opposite direction. A president pulled into an investigation of improper ties to Russia might be expected to distance himself from disturbing Russian behavior. Such public criticisms are an easy and cheap form of damage control. But at every stage, Trump has been dragged kicking and screaming into the pursuit of self-interest.
Trump has not provided an adequate explanation for his radical departure from the diplomatic norm. . . . . And it is rich for Trump to accuse other presidents of lacking “smarts” about U.S.-Russian relations in the course of a foreign policy explanation at the length and level of a fortune-cookie saying.
Into this vacuum of plausible explanation have flooded other theories. “I think he is afraid of the president of Russia,” former CIA director John Brennan recently speculated. “The Russians may have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.” This might seem incredible, except for the fact that Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced out over blackmail fears, and one of his principal foreign policy advisers, Jared Kushner, has been denied top secret security clearance because he might be susceptible to undue influence.
In the absence of adequate explanation from Trump himself, it is up to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to provide clarity. 
 Be very, very afraid of where the country is lurching.  Trump now has, in my view, a show boating lunatic leading his legal team and second lunatic as National Security Advisor - a man who could well lead America into one or more disastrous war.   There is only one person smiling at all of this: Vladimir Putin.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, March 22, 2018

New Sex Abuse Scandals as US Catholic Bishops Back Federal Anti-Gay Law

Despite the crocodile tears of Pope Francis and other high Catholic hierarchs - some of whom looked the other way to protect predators - the Catholic Church leadership remains a moral cesspool.   Sex abuse of children and youths continue literally across the globe and far too many bishops and cardinals put "protecting the Church" and predators above the rights and lives of abuse victims.  Among the stories about sexual abuse by priests today, two stand out.  One involves police raiding Bishop Joseph Cistone's residence, the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan offices and St. Mary's Cathedral in Saginaw.  Why?  Because authorities grew frustrated with Bishop Cistone and the diocese's failure to cooperate in investigations of sexual abuse allegations.  Here are highlights from ABC News 12:
A contingent of law enforcement officials from multiple agencies raided Bishop Joseph Cistone's residence, the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw offices and St. Mary's Cathedral in Saginaw.
Police obtained the three search warrants that were being executed as part of the investigation that started Feb. 25 with the arrest of the Rev. Robert DeLand.
Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner said Cistone and the diocese have not lived up to promises to support investigators looking into sexual abuse allegations against DeLand and other church officials.
"Contrary to the statements from the diocese and the bishop that they would fully cooperate with law enforcement, they did not," Gaertner said. "Therefore, it was necessary for law enforcement to utilize other investigative tools, including search warrants."
The second story focuses on the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo under pressure disclosing the names of 42 priests facing allegations of sex abuse, including 27 priests whose names had not previously been linked in public to molestation complaints.  The Buffalo News has details:  
Bishops for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo refused to acknowledge anything about priests who were accused of molesting minors.
Bishop Richard J. Malone altered course Tuesday morning by disclosing the names of 42 priests facing allegations of sex abuse, including 27 priests whose names had not previously been linked in public to molestation complaints. The diocese joined about 30 other dioceses in the country that have disclosed the names of clergy accused of sexual misconduct.
Most of the priests on the list were never prosecuted on criminal charges or sued in civil courts. Some of the priests were quietly removed from ministry under the guise of early retirements or medical leaves. The diocese on Tuesday did not provide any information about the specific allegations against each priest, or disclose where the living priests are residing.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo News has this: 
Malone was in the state Capitol lobbying with other Catholic bishops from across the state against a provision in the proposed Child Victims Act that would allow victims of child sexual abuse to sue dioceses decades after the alleged abuse occurred.

These two stories are just part of the dozen plus stories from around the world that my Google search agent delivers to me each and every day.

But what are the Conference of Catholic Bishops focused on?  Not cleaning their own ranks of enablers and abetters of sexual predators or cleansing the priesthood of predators or justly compensating victims of abuse.  No, their focus is on backing a proposed federal law that would legalize discrimination against law abiding LGBT citizens under the ruse of "protecting religious liberty."   It's enough to make one want to vomit and certainly explains why the younger generations are walking away from Catholicism (and organized Christianity in general).  Here are highlights from blogger friend Joe Jervis' blog:
Via press release:  Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, gave their strong support for the First Amendment Defense Act, which was recently introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) in the U.S. Senate:
We welcome and applaud the recent reintroduction of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). The USCCB has been vocal in support of the legislation since its inception. FADA is a modest and important measure that protects the rights of faith-based organizations and people of all faiths and of no faith who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
“The Church will also continue to stand for the ability of all to exercise their religious beliefs and moral convictions in public life without fear of government discrimination. We are pleased to support the First Amendment Defense Act, and we urge Congress to pass this important legislation.”

 What of the civil rights and religious freedoms of those with differing beliefs?  To the bitter old men in dresses, they simply do not matter.  Only the beliefs of modern day Pharisees deserve protection. The hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy is staggering.

More Thursday Male Beauty

The Legal Nightmare of Representing Trump

Ted Olsen who refused to join Trump's legal team
Earlier in the week news came out that Donald Trump had approached super lawyer Ted Olsen about joining Trump's legal team.  Olsen wisely declined the invitation apparently concerned about how history might view him and also likely aware of the dangers in representing a pathological liar.  It is one thing to provide a client with a vigorous legal defense and something quite different to participate in a deliberate effort to lie to a legal tribunal or governmental investigative authorities.  With Trump, it would seem the latter sooner or later would become unavoidable and thereby put members of his legal team at risk for disbarment or worse.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at efforts of Trump's legal team to restrain Trump from engaging in out right lies to Robert Mueller and how such efforts may still fail to stop Trump's legal jeopardy.  Here are excerpts: 
Representing President Donald Trump is not exactly a lawyer’s dream job. True, there are high stakes and lots of media attention. The downsides, though, include a slippery client who barely listens to your advice and who might not pay your bill. That combination has forced Don McGahn, Ty Cobb, and John Dowd to make some unusual strategic choices in trying to fend off Robert Mueller. The most recent was sending the special counsel a written summary of the White House version of key events in the Russia saga. The gambit is intended to get Mueller to narrow the range of a possible Trump interview. And it’s almost certainly doomed.
“I think it’s the nuttiest thing I’ve ever heard,” says Solomon Wisenberg, the former federal prosecutor who elicited the damning “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” answer from President Bill Clinton during grand-jury testimony for the Monica Lewinsky investigation. “I’ve never heard of defense attorneys doing that. If you’re Mueller, it’s highly unlikely you accept what somebody’s lawyer said, when that somebody is a subject, at the least, of your investigation. . . . . when people are interviewed in a criminal investigation, they don’t get to narrow the topic.”
The chances are actually stronger that the maneuver will backfire, helping Mueller refine not just any questioning of the president but the investigation as a whole. “Mueller is learning a lot by letting this little passion play over Trump and the interview proceed,” says Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney for Alabama.
Negotiations will continue, and will likely grow more complicated with the addition of a new lawyer on the Trump side, Joe diGenova, who has suggested that the F.B.I. set out to frame Trump. Attorneys familiar with Mueller or his current team increasingly wager that this protracted dance over presidential testimony ends up in court—that Trump will eventually refuse to talk to the special counsel and that Mueller will subpoena him to appear. “I think Trump will chicken out, and his lawyers will dissuade him from talking because he’s not capable of doing the homework and staying on track,” . . . his side has all kinds of issues. They don’t know what Michael Flynn has told the government. They don’t know exactly what James Comey and Andrew McCabe have said, what Rick Gates has overheard. Normally you tell your client, ‘Just tell the truth.’ But the truth could be really bad for Trump.”
[I]f Mueller wants to question Trump, he has little incentive to cede ground on the scope. “There’s no reason to negotiate your ability to ask questions for the simple reason you can issue a subpoena and the defendant has to submit to any and all questions you want to ask,” . . . You want to ask the president in person what he knew, and eyeball his appearance of truthfulness when he responds. If an interview matters to Mueller, he gets his interview, whether voluntarily or under the compulsion of a subpoena.”
The courts would be likely to expedite hearings, with the case reaching the Supreme Court probably inside of two months after Mueller files to compel Trump’s cooperation. Two things could short-circuit that scenario, however: Trump fires Mueller, setting off a different, explosive legal and political battle. The second possibility? Mueller doesn’t even ask for Trump’s testimony, because he’s made the president a target of the probe, rather than just a subject, as was Bill Clinton in the Ken Starr investigation.
If the special counsel doesn’t subpoena Trump, that might be a signal right there that Mueller thinks he’s got sufficient evidence and that they view Trump as a target.” The months-long buildup toward a melodramatic face-to-face confrontation between Trump and Mueller would vanish. But the second act curtain would fall with a compelling twist.
Over my 40+ years as an attorney, other than non-payment of fees, every time I have fired a client it was because I caught them lying to me. Nothing is worth disbarment or, worse yet, facing criminal prosecution.  I cannot help but question the judgment of the members of Trump's legal team. Trump has a documented history of lying about just about everything.  He could well take them down with him.  

Insiders See Democrats Retaking the House in 2018 Midterms

In addition to his fears of what special counsel Robert Mueller may expose to the light of day, Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, ought to be worried about what will happen if Democrats retake control of the House - and with luck, the U.S. Senate as well.  The irony, of course, is that Trump's foul behavior and normalization of the despicable is one of the strongest factors driving large Democrat turnouts at elections such as the one in Alabama that saw Doug Jones and the one last week in Pennsylvania.  The more "Trump is Trump," the more repulsed and angrier voters outside of white supremacist and Christofascists circles become thereby guaranteeing more huge Democrat  surges at the voting booths.  A piece in Roll Call looks at the predictions that Democrats will win more than enough seats to retake control of the House of Representatives.  Here are highlights:
Seven and a half months before the midterm elections, the combination of attitudinal and behavioral evidence leads to a single conclusion: The Democrats are very likely to win control of the House in November.
Just as important, Republican and Democratic campaign strategists also agree that an electoral wave has already formed. The attitudinal evidence begins with national polling.
President Donald Trump’s job approval rating has settled into a relatively narrow range, with between 39 percent and 42 percent of registered voters approving of his performance. Only 33 percent to 37 percent of respondents say that the country is headed in the right direction, another bit of evidence that reflects the extent of support for Trump and the Republican Party.
The current congressional generic ballot question suggests that Democrats have an 8- or 9-point advantage, a significant margin even if it is at least a couple of points below what Democrats would ideally want going into the midterms.
Taken together, these numbers paint a dangerous picture for [Trump] the president and his party.
The new March 10-14 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of adults is consistent with other surveys over the past six months. It shows Democrats with a large generic ballot advantage among younger voters, women, whites with at least a college degree and voters age 65 and older.
The GOP’s great strength in the generic ballot is among two pro-Trump groups, men and whites without a college degree. Unfortunately for the party, the survey also shows Democrats, whites with a college degree and older voters as having the greatest interest in the election (and therefore the greatest likelihood of voting). Each of those groups prefers a Democratic Congress.
Moreover, while independents don’t traditionally turn out in big numbers in midterms, one veteran Republican strategist sees them as a huge problem this year. “They are tired of the drama,” he said.
The behavioral part of the equation is just as troubling for Republicans, since it confirms the survey data.
Election results in the Virginia governor’s race last year, the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District last week, and other state legislative special elections around the country have shown Democratic energy and turnout, particularly in suburban areas.  Hillary Clinton won Virginia by 5 points in 2016, but Democrat Ralph Northam took the gubernatorial contest last fall by almost 9 points.
Trump carried Pennsylvania’s 18 District by 20 points, but GOP nominee Rick Saccone ran about even with his Democratic opponent last week.  And in a Wisconsin state Senate special election in January, a district Trump carried by 17 points went Democratic by about 10 points.
But the recent trend is clear — Republicans are swimming against a strong current.“It’s baked in now,” one veteran Republican campaign veteran told me, noting the GOP’s problems with women and college-educated voters. “We knew single women hated [the Republican Party]. We couldn’t do anything about that. But married women were different. We figured out how to deal with them by talking about pocketbook issues. But now college-educated women hate us. Even with the current economy. It’s the bullying, the nastiness, the tweeting. It’s all about Trump’s behavior.”
Republican insiders also worry that a chunk of “Trump voters” won’t turn out in November even though they still like the president personally.  . . . .[T]he campaign season is likely to lead to more Trump political rallies, where his freewheeling style and off-the-cuff comments can create more controversies.
So, what is the current trajectory of the 2018 midterms? I interviewed a wide range of campaign professionals, including some sympathetic to the president. All insisted on anonymity, and almost all believe the House will flip.
The veterans generally expect GOP losses in the 30- to 45-seat range, far more than the two-dozen seats House Democrats need for majority control.  The retirement of longtime Republican incumbents from competitive districts is adding to the problem, as is candidate fundraising.
The burden is on Republicans — and [Trump] the president — to change the cycle’s current trajectory. If they don’t, the House will flip.

While I worry about the damage that he may do between now and November, the very best thing for Democrats will be for Trump to continue being his nasty, lying, bullying, incompetent self.  A Democrat controlled House and Senate are the only way to restrain Trump and, if the nation is lucky, remove both Trump and Pence from office.  Yes, I believe Pence is up to his eyeballs in Trump's dirty business despite his vomit inducing efforts to appear priggist and sanctimonious.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty