Friday, December 15, 2017

Trump Ignores Intelligence, Courts Putin, and Leaves America Vulnerable to Attacks

The Washington Post has a very long article on Donald Trump's maniacal rejection of the findings of America's intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Frighteningly, the article also looks at Trump's efforts to block meaningful actions to protect America from future Russian attacks. The article relied on interviews with 50 past and present White House and intelligence personnel.  The question raised by the article obviously becomes one of why?  Some point to Trump's narcissism that prevents him from any admission that his election to the White House may have been due to anything other than his own magnificence.  The more sinister explanation is, of course, is that the Trump/Pence campaign did collude with Russia and was fully aware of the extent of subversive efforts of Vladimir Putin's henchmen.  This latter explanation seems all the more likely given Trump's efforts to leave America vulnerable to future Russian attacks.  Here are article highlights (read the entire piece):
In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.
Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6. . . . they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.
But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma. . . . . Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”
Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.
The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.
Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.
His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference . . . Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.
His position has alienated close American allies and often undercut members of his Cabinet — all against the backdrop of a criminal probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
This account of the Trump administration’s reaction to Russia’s interference and policies toward Moscow is based on interviews with more than 50 current and former U.S. officials, many of whom had senior roles in the Trump campaign and transition team or have been in high-level positions at the White House or at national security agencies. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.
Michael V. Hayden, who served as CIA director under President George W. Bush, has described the Russian interference as the political equivalent of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an event that exposed a previously unimagined vulnerability and required a unified American response.
“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again,’ ” Hayden said in an interview. Trump “has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”
The feeble American response has registered with the Kremlin.  U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 “active measures” campaign — as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations — as a resounding, if incomplete, success.
But overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives — destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.
The bottom line for Putin, said one U.S. official briefed on the stream of post-election intelligence, is that the operation was “more than worth the effort.”
The Russian operation seemed intended to aggravate political polarization and racial tensions and to diminish U.S. influence abroad. The United States’ closest alliances are frayed, and the Oval Office is occupied by a disruptive politician who frequently praises his counterpart in Russia.
“Putin has to believe this was the most successful intelligence operation in the history of Russian or Soviet intelligence,” said Andrew Weiss, a former adviser on Russia in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It has driven the American political system into a crisis that will last years.”
U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.
The CIA continues to stand by its conclusions about the election, for example, even as the agency’s director, Mike Pompeo, frequently makes comments that seem to diminish or distort those findings.
In October, Pompeo declared the intelligence community had concluded that Russia’s meddling “did not affect the outcome of the election.” In fact, spy agencies intentionally steered clear of addressing that question.
The president’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, moved to undermine support for NATO within weeks of arriving at the White House.  . . . . Bannon and his allies also maneuvered to sabotage displays of unity with the alliance. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived for an April visit at the White House, McMaster’s team prepared remarks for Trump that included an endorsement of Article 5 — the core NATO provision calling for members to come to one another’s defense.  But the language was stripped out at the last minute by NATO critics inside the administration
On sensitive matters related to Russia, senior advisers have at times adopted what one official described as a policy of “don’t walk that last 5½feet” — meaning to avoid entering the Oval Office and giving Trump a chance to erupt or overrule on issues that can be resolved by subordinates.
“Look at our actions,” a senior administration official said in an interview. “We’re pushing back against the Russians.”  Senior Trump officials have struggled to explain how. In congressional testimony in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed on whether the administration had done enough to prevent Russian interference in the future. “Probably not,” Sessions said. “And the matter is so complex that for most of us we are not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.”

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Quote of the Day: Some Virginia Republicans See a Blue Wave Coming

As noted in a prior post, so far the only announced Republican challengers to Senator Tim Kaine can easily be categorized as "far right," "extremists" and with other adjectives which will likely totally alienate moderate Republicans and independent voters.  The Virginia GOP base - nowadays largely comprised of Christofascists and thinly veiled white supremacists - will likely love these unhinged candidates.  As a post at Bearing Drift (which calls itself the "conservative voice of Virginia") notes, last month's Virginia election results combined with Alabama's shocker on Tuesday ought to have set off alarm bells and sirens within the GOP.  The piece then goes on to predict that the Virginia GOP will not get the message.  Here are the money quote:
[Roy Moore] lost a race in a state that has not elected a Democrat statewide for over 25 years. He had the endorsement of the President of the United States, the off-and-on endorsement of the Republican National Committee, and he handily beat a primary opponent who also had the endorsement of the President and the RNC. Most of all, he had Corey Stewart and Cynthia Dunbar from Virginia in Alabama aggressively campaigning for him. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, what went wrong was that Roy Moore is behind the times.  He didn’t keep up with what is happening in the Deep South:
-Donald Trump is about as popular as loud flatulence in church.
-The Republican Southern Strategy is deader than Jim Crow.
-Democrats have an equal claim on God, guns, and family values in the South.
-You can’t balance the Federal budget by raising taxes on the middle class and cutting entitlements spending.
-Most voters are a lot smarter than the average politician thinks that they are.  That is why 40% of them are Independents and will not blindly vote for the Republican or Democrat without reason.
Yes, Roy Moore is behind the times and his political life is most probably over.  The same thing can be said of the Republican Party of Virginia if they don’t wake up and join the 21st century.
 I particularly like the "loud flatulence in church" comment - even though it is completely true!!

More Thursday Male Beauty

click image to enlarge

Alabama: A Warning to the Virginia GOP

Neo-confederate, would be Trump mini-me, Corey Stewart
One question for the Republican Party of Virginia is whether or not it learned anything from the defeat of extremist nut case Roy Moore in Alabama this past Tuesday.  At present, the two announce GOP primary candidates seeking to challenge Senator Tim Kaine are extremists and whack jobs much akin to Moore.  One is a neo-Confederate would be Trump mini me named Corey Stewart who is popular with the rabid dog Virginia GOP base.  The other is self-styled "bishop" E.W. Jackson who went down to a crushing defeat in 2013 to Ralph Northam in the Lt. Governor race. Jackson is a virulent homophobe and ,in my view, is utterly un-tethered from objective reality - something that makes him the perfect for Virginia Christofascists.  A column in the Virginian Pilot questions whether the Virginia GOP will nonetheless select one of these extremists or someone else far from normalcy to challenge Kaine.  Given the lunacy of the Virginia GOP base, it is very possible Kaine will be given the gift of a lunatic as his opponent in November, 2018.  Here are column highlights:
Roy Moore's defeat in ruby-red Alabama may spell trouble for Virginia Republican Senate hopefuls Corey Stewart and E.W. Jackson, both of whom, like Moore, have pursued platforms far from the party's establishment wing.
Both Virginia hopefuls entered the Republican primary campaigning to the right of fellow GOP candidates: Stewart as a self- professed mini Donald Trump who has voiced support for Confederate statues and Jackson a firebrand preacher who has called gay people ill.
After the results were tallied in Alabama - first-time candidate Doug Jones bested Moore by more than 20,000 votes - Stewart, who had stumped for Moore, sounded off against GOP leaders who he said "colluded" with Republicans to undermine the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Jackson, an African-American minister, tweeted: "The black vote did not turn out against Roy Moore because of the sex scandal, but because of alleged racially insensitive remarks & perceived disdain for black voters."
But experts say such attention-grabbing statements don't represent a version of the Republican Party that can topple Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., next year.
"Extremist messaging is problematic in Virginia, but it's even problematic in Alabama," said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. Of Virginia, he said: "An evangelical message or a nativist-focused message might get you a nomination, but it'll be toxic in a general election."
The Virginia GOP's craving for a not-so-extreme candidate could be why Del. Nick Freitas, Culpeper, an Army veteran and tea party-style conservative, is picking up early buzz as an alternative to Stewart.
An hour after the results in Alabama came in, Freitas chose to post on Facebook about a youth counseling program and not the election. He did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.  
In a 2012 interview with the group Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, which has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jackson called gay people "perverted" and "very sick people psychologically and mentally and emotionally." Later in the same interview he called homosexuality a "horrible sin" that "poisons culture" and "destroys families."  
[E]arlier this week Jackson suggested Stewart had "some dealings" with the Muslim Brotherhood - a jab Stewart labeled vintage Jackson.
"He's a crackpot," Stewart said in a phone interview Wednesday from Alabama. "He's getting even crazier." Stewart said Democrats would not let Jackson off the hook despite his attempts to moderate his comments on gay and transgender people - and neither would he.
Stewart shows no signs of backing off his self-described anti- politically correct soapbox.  In a minute-long video on Facebook shortly after the results came in, Stewart promised to never surrender to the "Republican establishment," which "colluded together with the Democrats to undermine Judge Moore" and will follow suit in his race next year.

Evangelical Christians: the Biggest Losers in Alabama Election

In the wake of yesterday's special election results in Alabama, the back biting, blame game, and back stabbing across various elements of the Republican Party is in full swing and will likely  intensify in the coming days.  While the Republican Party and Der Trumpenf├╝hrer were the obvious losers, as a piece in Christianity Today makes the case (despite efforts to make apologies for evangelicals) that the biggest loser over all was evangelical Christianity, a segment of Christianity already viewed as repulsive, hate-filled and hypocrisy-filled by ever growing segments of American society.  As previously noted in previous posts, 36 percent of Millennials have walked away from Christianity/organized religion and the percentage of Millennials who see evangelical Christians unfavorably exceeds over 80%.  On top of this already bad situation, evangelical Christians' support of Roy Moore has further underscored that this segment of society is abhorrent and  hopefully will see its political influence plummet as decent, moral people walk away.  Here are article excerpts:
No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.
[The election of] Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy.
From moderate and liberal brothers and sisters, conservatives have received swift and decisive condemnation.
This is not to excuse some statements by conservative leaders that cannot be interpreted in any other way than as a slur against gays, Muslims, Mexicans, and others. Some conservatives are fearful beyond reason. Some conservatives clearly worship political power as much as they do Jesus Christ. But too often, we mistake the inarticulate groanings of certain foolish conservative leaders for the actual beliefs and behavior of the mass of evangelicals who vote for Donald Trump or Roy Moore. Our concern here is with a cabal of noisy conservatives, whom the press has apparently (and unjustly) appointed as spokesmen for all conservatives. This group pretends that the choice for someone like Moore represents unalloyed godliness and refuses to unmistakably criticize immorality in other leaders they admire. To justify or ignore the moral failings of a politician because he champions your favored policies—well, that is to step onto the path of self-deception and hypocrisy, which according to Jesus, leads to no less place than hell (Matt. 23:15). As suggested above, some of the critiques by the Left and center (matched by a fair amount of critiques by leading conservatives, by the way), are hard to argue with. Hypocrisy is again the most salient charge.
As recently as 2011, PRRI found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by late 2016, when Donald Trump was running for president, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent—the biggest shift of any US religious group.
The logic is then inexorable: “Where does that leave evangelicals? It leaves them with a choice. Do they sacrifice a little bit of that ethical guideline they’ve used in the past in exchange for what they believe is saving the culture?”
Apparently yes. This is precisely why, when serious and substantial allegations of sexual abuse of minors were made against Roy Moore, many doubled down on their support for him.
[M]any conservative Christians simply don’t believe the many news accounts and chalk it up to a secular, liberal, Democratic conspiracy against Moore. Others acknowledge that while the charges may be true, they are minor in nature or happened so long ago they don’t matter today. Some are simply Machiavellian, saying they are not electing Mother Teresa but a man who can look out for the interests of conservative Christians.
The problem with many Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.
They have forgotten that old evangelical idea (and, before that, a Jewish idea) of putting a “hedge around the law.” That refers to behavior that is not wrong in itself but is practiced so as to not give even a hint of wrongdoing.
When combative conservative Christians refuse to suffer patiently in the public square, retaliate when insults are hurled at them, and do not refrain from the appearance of evil, they sabotage not only their political cause but the cause they care about the most: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What events of the last year and a half have shown once again is that when Christians immerse themselves in politics as Christians, for what they determine are Christian causes, touting their version of biblical morality in the public square—they will sooner or later (and often sooner) begin to compromise the very principles they champion and do so to such a degree that it blemishes the very faith they are most anxious to promote.
And one of the biggest blemishes—for it is an open refutation of Jesus’ prayer that we be one—is when we start divorcing one another over politics. . . . . No wonder few believe much of anything we say anymore.

One can only hope that more and more Americans will realize that evangelical Christians today are the antithesis of what it means to be a true, believing Christian.  Meanwhile, as older evangelicals die off and younger generations walk away in disgust over Christian lies, hypocrisy and homophobia, if America is lucky, the influence of evangelicals will continue to go down the toilet figuratively and literally.   

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tourism Authority Opposes Bermuda Parliament's Same-Sex Marriage Repeal

While Christofascists lost their effort in Alabama, in Bermuda, aided by American hate merchants and fraudulent "experts" they won the day as the Bermuda Parliament voted to repeal same sex marriage.  The Bermuda Tourism Authority - which in contrast functions in the real world and objective reality - has sounded the alarm that the move will wreak significant damage on the nation's tourism business and pleads with the governor to veto the bill.  Two years ago the husband and I cruised to Bermuda with numerous friends two of whom were the only Americans to ever own 100% of a resort in Bermuda.  It was beautiful and the people outwardly friendly, but if this bill is enacted, we will never go back.  Indeed, I am letting the the tourism Authority know how I feel.  I would encourage other readers to do the same by using the link here.     Here are highlights from Joe Jervis' blog:
Minutes ago the Bermuda Senate voted 8-3 to repeal same-sex marriage and replace it with domestic partnerships. Last week the Bermuda House approved the bill in a 24-10 vote. The bill now goes to the governor and if he signs it, Bermuda will become the second place in the world where same-sex marriage was repealed after having been legal. The first place was California.
In June 2016, Bermudan voters overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriage by a 2-1 margin in a non-binding public referendum. The opposition had been rallied with the support of US hate groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom, which provided materials featuring quotes from anti-LGBT activists Ryan T. Anderson and Mark Regnerus.
However in May 2017, the Bermudan High Court ruled in favor of a gay man who challenged the ban on same-sex marriage, arguing that Human Rights Act guaranteed his right to marry his Canadian boyfriend. (Their photo is above.) Marriages conducted since that ruling will reportedly remain intact if the governor signs the bill.
The Bermuda Tourism Authority expressed great concern in a statement issued before the Senate vote:
“Since last Friday’s vote, we have seen ample evidence of negative international headlines and growing social-media hostility towards Bermuda that we feel compelled to express our concern about what the negative consequences could be for tourism if the Domestic Partnership Bill passes the Senate this week. We believe the Bill poses an unnecessary threat to the success of our tourism industry.
“We urge you to vote no and appreciate the opportunity to lay out the reasons why. Importantly, we do not view domestic partnerships as a negative in isolation. In fact many jurisdictions permit domestic partnerships without adverse impacts on their economies.
“The circumstance in Bermuda is different — and troubling — in one important way: same-sex marriage is already the law of our island and to roll that back for what will be seen as a less equal union will cause us serious reputational damage. We are convinced it will result in lost tourism business for Bermuda.” 
If this becomes law. let's make sure that the loss in tourism business is huge. 

More Wednesday Male Beauty

The GOP Fallout from Alabama's Special Election

The fallout for the Republican Party from yesterday's loss in Alabama is multi-fold.  Perhaps the most serious issue is how the GOP will be able to nominate candidates with a chance of winning in a general election when the party's base of primary voters now display the temperament of dogs suffering from rabies.  There simply are not enough racists and religious extremists to put extreme GOP candidates over the finish line in a general election - even it seems in Alabama.  Here are thoughts from Politico for what this means for the GOP:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A Democrat has been elected to the Senate from Alabama for the first time in a quarter-century, and the political earthquake has just begun. 
The shock result presented Republicans a brief opportunity for relief, as they would not have to stand by Moore. But Election Night reshaped the political landscape: one in which Republicans’ majority in the Senate is down to one seat, and in which one of the most conservative states in the nation has a Democrat representing it.
Here are POLITICO’s five takeaways after Alabama’s wild, ugly, controversial, and historically unparalleled Senate race:
Bannon's bruisingFormer White House chief strategist Steve Bannon went all-in for Moore — and then some. . . . Moore’s loss deals a serious blow to the anti-establishment campaign Bannon had been planning for next year’s midterms, one that was predicated on defeating incumbents and other mainstream Republicans that are being propped up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The ever-defiant Bannon may not back down, but Moore’s loss gave ammunition to McConnell allies, who called the Alabama race proof that Bannon’s insurgent favorites were unelectable.
What black voter problem?All the chatter across Alabama for the final week of the race focused on Democrats’ alleged problems turning out black voters. But after a blockbuster turnout operation designed by Jones’ campaign and national Democrats, African-American voters turned out in massive numbers for the former U.S. attorney.  . . . . with strong minority support energized by both hatred of Donald Trump and Roy Moore, Jones provided Democrats with a model for 2018, even in the deep South.
Trump loses capital
The president [Trump] put his political capital on the line – and lost. .
. . . Trump jumped in for Moore. Just days before the election, he went to the Florida Panhandle, just outside the Alabama state line, to campaign for Moore. He also cut a robo-call for the candidate and he tweeted his support.
Yet his endorsement wasn’t enough to pull the embattled candidate over the line, just like when he backed Strange in the primary.
That the loss took place in Alabama only adds salt to the wound: the conservative state helped to catapult Trump’s 2016 primary win.
Revenge of the soccer mom
The other primary reason for Jones’ win was strong antipathy toward Moore among white, suburban, college-educated conservatives.
Many of them chose to sit out the election or follow the lead of Sen. Richard Shelby and write in an option other than Moore. That follows the pattern of Republican under-performance in the suburbs during earlier races in 2017, and it creates a clear opportunity for Democrats in 2018 — especially given their enormous turnouts.
[D]iscomfort with Trump among educated voters outside of cities — especially women — has now propelled Democratic candidates to closer-than-expected margins or victories in multiple races so far this year, from Virginia’s gubernatorial race to the close special U.S. House race outside of Atlanta in June. . . . . said Zac McCrary, a Democratic pollster based in Montgomery. “You do have to ask yourself, if you’re a Republican, if you’re on the verge of losing a critical part of the Republican coalition.”
Democrats to Trump: Watch outJones' euphoric victory party in Birmingham on Tuesday night quickly spilled over into a dance party, reflecting the kind of rumbling Democratic enthusiasm that's punctuated statewide races across the country in 2017.
Riding what they are increasingly convinced could be a blue tsunami powered by millennials, furious women, and minority voters, Democrats are newly eyeing opportunities to take back the House and Senate, as well as governors' mansions from Maine to Arizona.
The eye-popping turnout numbers coming from Democratic strongholds like Birmingham and Montgomery in Alabama . . . . are giving Republicans reason to sweat in the Trump era, as they face up to a potential backlash.