Saturday, July 28, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty


Georgia's Gubernatorial Race - Will Georgia Follow Virginia?

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia,
would become the nation’s first female African-American governor if elected.
Virginia has received much attention in the media as it has moved from a reliable Republican state to a state where no Republican has been able to win state wide election for nine years.  Part of that result has been the GOP's selection of horrific candidates - e.g., Ken Cuccinelli and now, Corey Stewart who is expected to lose to Tim Kaine - and campaign platforms repulsive to non-knuckle dragging voters.  The other factor is the growth of population in Virginia's urban and close in suburban areas as rural areas, now the GOP base, see a continuing declines in population.  But, as a piece in the New York Times notes, similar things are happening in Georgia and this year's gubernatorial election pitting a black Democrat against a mini me Trump style racist Republican.  One can only hope that the Democrat mirrors Ralph Northam's 2017 ground game and pulls off a victory sending shock and terror throughout the GOP.  Here are story highlights:
The Republican won the nomination Tuesday after branding himself a politically incorrect conservative who would “round up criminal illegals” and haul them to the border in his very own pickup. The Democrat all but opened her campaign by demanding that the iconic carvings of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson be sandblasted off Stone Mountain.
Almost overnight, Georgia’s captivating governor’s race between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams has taken on the dimensions of a defining moment, one that will, regardless of outcome, determine what the state represents and how it is perceived. That voters chose these two candidates reflects how Americans are embracing politicians on the basis of culture and identity, and how Georgia’s politics are catching up with its rapid demographic change: The nonwhite population has grown to 40 percent from 29 percent since 1990.
But Georgia’s political middle, long the dominant force behind the state’s thriving commerce and pragmatic leadership, suddenly finds itself all but abandoned.
More starkly than in most midterm campaigns, the contest between Mr. Kemp, the two-term Republican secretary of state, and Ms. Abrams, a former Democratic leader in the State Legislature, has come to mirror the disorienting polarization of the Trump era and expose the consequences of a primary system that increasingly rewards those who appeal to the fringes.
[T]he 2018 campaign is a point of demarcation. In the five decades since the death of legal segregation, the image-conscious state has been led by a succession of white male centrist governors — first moderate Democrats, then, for the last 16 years, right-leaning Republicans. They have more often than not been steady and bland, focused on improving education, corporate recruitment and job growth.
The race has come to be seen, in the words of Mr. Kemp at a Republican unity rally near Atlanta on Thursday night, as a battle for “literally the soul of our state.”
Ms. Abrams, 44, a brainy Yale Law graduate from Atlanta, has leveraged the prospect of becoming the country’s first female African-American governor to nationalize her campaign and its fund-raising. By contrast, Mr. Kemp, 54, is a drawling agri-businessman from Athens who has revived a populist style that has lain dormant in Georgia since the late 1960s. Both campaigns say they are committed to maximizing turnout by their most rabid supporters rather than moderating in order to broaden their appeal to centrists and independents.
Mr. Kemp, the Democrats fear, will take Georgia the way of North Carolina and Indiana, which were tarnished by recent legislative battles over issues like gay rights and the use of public restrooms by transgender people.
Former Gov. Roy E. Barnes, the last Democrat to hold the office, mourned what he depicted as the disenfranchisement of the state’s political center. . . . Mr. Barnes asserted that neither he nor his two Democratic predecessors, Zell Miller and Joe Frank Harris, could have won their party’s nomination today. Nor, he speculated, could the state’s center-right senior United States senator, Johnny Isakson, win in a Republican primary if he were running without the benefit of incumbency.
Ms. Abrams streaked into the general election after taking 76 percent of the vote in a two-person primary in May. The results seemed to validate her strategy of registering thousands of young and minority voters and exciting them with an unapologetic appeal to the left. Turnout in the Democratic primary was two-thirds higher than in 2014, nearly equaling that in the Republican primary for the first time in a dozen years.
The state’s demographics are shifting rapidly in Ms. Abrams’ favor. Over the last 20 years, when the state’s population ballooned nearly 30 percent to 10.4 million, the share of registered voters who are not white increased to 46 percent from 27 percent, state election data shows. Two of the suburban Atlanta counties that fueled the Republican rise — Cobb and Gwinnett — are now so populated by immigrants and African-Americans that they voted for Hillary Clinton over Mr. Trump.
[T]he question for Ms. Abrams will be whether the electorate has changed enough that a well-funded ground operation can transform a trend into victory.
Mr. Kemp tied himself inseparably to Mr. Trump. And with shotguns, chain saws and a Ford F-350 as props, his ruthlessly effective ads transformed a man largely unknown into a swaggering defender of restricted borders and the Second Amendment.
It is an image, once cemented, that may be tough to soften for female suburban swing voters, a potential opportunity for Ms. Abrams. She said on Friday that she would not be “engaging in divisive culture arguments about who’s angrier or who’s meaner.”
Mr. Kemp reiterated his support for state legislation that would replicate a federal law providing legal protection to individuals and businesses who tailor business practices to their religious beliefs. Opponents of the laws, which exist in several neighboring states, argue that they allow discrimination against serving or employing homosexuals and transgender people.
That pledge, and the countrified image Mr. Kemp created for himself in his ads, has prompted nervousness among some business leaders, particularly in Atlanta. . . . Concerned about condemnation and boycotts, business leaders convinced Mr. Deal to veto so-called “religious freedom” legislation in 2016, but some wonder whether they would have the same success with Mr. Kemp. A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown business group, said industries that normally support Republicans were waiting to learn more.
“The main thing is, let’s not do anything to mess up our historic business environment, particularly discriminatory practices of any kind,” Mr. Robinson said. “People have seen what it’s done in other states.”
State Representative Brenda Lopez, a Democrat from Gwinnett County, said voters needed to consider the long-term consequences of the campaign and November’s vote.
“It’s not just about one election cycle of the next governor,” she said. “It’s about what the image of Georgia is going to continue to be nationally and internationally.”
Virginia's image has been enhanced nationally and internationally by the rejection of GOP hate, bigotry and focus solely on the wealthy and religious extremists.  Georgia has an opportunity to do the same. I will be keeping my fingers crossed for Ms. Abrams.

Donald Trump: Portrait of a Con Man


In his latest column, former Republican Andrew Sullivan has a hard hitting, but in my view very accurate portrait of Donald Trump for what he is - and has always been: a con man who things that laws apply to "little people" but not to him. Indeed, his entire real estate career has involved skirting the law wherever possible.  The pattern was learned from his father who had a business partner who was a front for Mafia interests.  Ethics and legality have never figured high on the Trump priority list.  The Donald merely took things to a whole new level.  His difficulty, especially in the White House is that the much more detail scrutiny is making it harder and harder to maintain the con, with the requisite number of lies mushrooming. With Michael Cohen's apparent intent to flip on Trump, they lies are moving into stratospheric levels.  Here are column highlights:

The leaked tape recording of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump discussing how to handle the payoff to silence yet another extracurricular paramour, Karen McDougal, is more important, it seems to me, than has been generally acknowledged.
It’s only a shade under three minutes long. But unlike the Billy Bush tape, Trump is not performing or bragging or trying to charm someone he doesn’t know that well. He’s at work, with an intimate, trusted wingman, every single guard down. It really feels like the actual Trump, the man behind the curtain. And this Trump is quite clearly in charge. He’s not some addled 70-something, delegating large swathes of responsibility for day-to-day operations to underlings. . . . He talks about how some issue will blow over: “I think this goes away quickly … in two weeks; it’s fine.” He then asks Cohen, “Can we use him anymore?” referring to an Evangelical pastor, and Cohen says absolutely.
Then they briefly discuss “the financing” for the National Enquirer’s capture and withholding of the McDougal story.
What this tiny glimpse into reality reveals is something quite simple. It’s not that it’s a shock that Trump has been lying about this incident from the very beginning. That has long been clear. But there’s something about listening to his voice acknowledging this in such a breezy, matter-of-fact tone that exposes the purity of the cynicism behind the lies. “We have no knowledge of any of this,” Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks, had, after all, originally told The Wall Street Journal when it broke the story days before the 2016 election. The idea that Trump had had an affair at all, let alone organized hush money to the National Enquirer, was “totally untrue.” And yet here, as the curtain is pulled back, we hear Trump himself figuring out how to finance its cover-up.
It’s a world-weary operator in sleaze and outright deception, dealing with an item of everyday business. The euphemisms — “info,” “financing,” “our friend David,” etc. — are those of people who know they’re doing something shady. He even talks of “using” a religious-right figure. It’s the tape of a con man, discussing the con with an underling in a kind of consigliere code. And this revelation is therefore dangerous. It demonstrates that Trump is, in fact, just another crooked pol — and does so in his own voice.
Con men usually know that a con has a life span, and not a long one. At some point, it will collapse because it is, in fact, bullshit. By then, the best con men have made the sale — think of “Trump University” — and moved on. They also know that keeping the suckers sealed off from other sources of contrary information is essential until the deal is done. You have to maintain a fiction relentlessly, dismiss or delegitimize external information that might get your marks to think differently, and constantly make the sale.
It has worked many times before. It’s at the root of his entire shady business career. His problem now, however, is that this is the biggest of all cons, if you’re playing at a presidential level, and is also the longest. It has to be sustainable for at least four years. And that’s an extremely long time to keep it alive.
This is why, it seems to me, Trump tweets so often and so aggressively. It’s his chief mechanism for keeping his dupes under his spell, for sustaining the narrative of the con while reality tugs at it. He’s making the sale every news cycle of every day because the alternative is the whole thing crashing to the ground. It’s also why he keeps holding rallies. You need that kind of mass crowd hysteria to sustain a con . . .
And it’s why he has to lie, and lie with greater and greater intensity and frequency.
And sure enough, the rate of Trump’s lies is accelerating, as the con ages. All six of the last six weeks rank in the top ten most dishonest of his presidency, as the indefatigable Daniel Dale has noted. Last Tuesday, Trump actually made the subtext text, in a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention: “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening … It’s just a con man getting a little rattled, as his trade war is beginning to wreak havoc in the Midwest.
When you have brazenly declared that such wars are easy to win, and agriculture in the heartland is nonetheless reeling, and manufacturing is increasingly jittery about the cost of imported steel, what else are you going to do? Well, you can bribe the farmers with some $12 billion. Or ask companies and their workers to be patient. But some in the middle of the country will still start doubting — and his polling in three Midwest swing states that gave him the presidency is now slipping.
That VFW appeal — and his visit to Illinois and Dubuque, Iowa, yesterday — is a sign, it seems to me, of a little desperation.
Desperate is insisting that what is clearly the word would — from the tape and the tone and the sentence structure of his Helsinki press conference — is actually the word wouldn’t. Desperate is responding to the Carter Page FISA documents by insisting that they say the opposite of what they actually say.
Desperate is banning a CNN reporter from a press conference because she had previously asked difficult reality-based questions about Michael Cohen — and then quibbling over the term ban.
Desperate is the attempt by some House Republicans to impeach Rod Rosenstein, a move that has not even been cheered by the far-right media, and that is swiftly deflating.
Desperate is doubling down on the “witch-hunt hoax,” while the chief money guy for the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, gets a subpoena, and Michael Cohen’s lawyer says of his client, who knows far too much, “He has hit the reset button; he’s made a turn — to be on his own, speaking the truth.”
No, this is not an unraveling. But the con is definitely fraying badly. And it is not going to get easier to keep patching it up as time goes steadily by.
Sadly, Trump's marks - his base - are only too happy to continue to believe the con.  The only other option is to admit that they were played for fools and they happily assumed that role. Their egos make this an unacceptable option, at least for now.  But should Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg unload what they know, the con will fall apart to the point where denial is near impossible. May that day come very soon. 

Hampton's Battle Against Sea-Level Rise - Lessons for Others

Map of Hampton - our home is at the bottom of the map near the designation :elevation in progress."
2009 Nor'Ida storm flooding.

As I have noted in numerous posts on this blog, climate change and rising sea levels are real for those living on the Virginia coast as my husband and I do even if Donald Trump and most Republicans (including those in the Virginia General Assembly) deny these objective realities.   The image above shows our home during the 2009 Nor'Ida storm - a northeaster which teamed up with the remnants of Hurricane Ida to wreak havoc on many coastal properties in Virginia.  Repairs to our home - which took 6 months to complete  - made our home flood resistant to minimize future flood damage.  Later additions included industrial sump pumps to fend off standing water in our home and a whole house generator to power the pumps.  As a piece in the Washington Post reports, across the City of Hampton, both city officials and private citizens are working to deal with the reality that Republicans and Trump deny is occurring. Here are article highlights (read the entire piece and keep in mind that our home is NOT as low lying as some addressed in the article):
 — A pair of nor’easters in early 1998, and Hurricane Isabel in 2003, awoke this low-lying Chesapeake Bay city to the impact of rising waters caused by climate change. A few years later, as Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, and Hurricane Sandy raked the New Jersey-New York coastline, scientists warned that Hampton and its neighbors could be next.

So this small city, about the size of Alexandria, embarked on studies of what was happening and what it could do.
Six years later, the city has changed its building codes, razed some houses and elevated others, and is finalizing a plan to address the oft-flooded Newmarket Creek in its densely developed center. In neighborhoods that line the bay, homeowners are taking action, too.
How Hampton copes with rising sea levels could provide lessons for other localities at a critical time:recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists predicted that 300,000 existing homes and businesses in the United States will be at risk of chronic, disruptive flooding within the next 30 years.
“Nobody is underestimating what this is,” said Terry O’Neill, director of community development in Hampton and the lead person shaping the city’s response to sea-level rise. “If you make smart decisions and change the way you think about living with water, you can find solutions.”
In forming their plans, city leaders gleaned ideas from Dutch engineers who have protected their low-lying country from seawater inundation for centuries, as well as scientific gatherings and community meetings.
They now require first floors of new buildings to be three feet higher than the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requirement, and they are considering “no-runoff” pervious pavement for sidewalks and parking lots, which will allow standing water to drain into the soil slowly. The city is working on creating breakwaters in parts of the bay, dredging certain channels and replenishing beaches to make them more resilient to waves.
No matter how it’s done, addressing sea level rise is expensive. In November, the Army Corps of Engineers told the much-larger city of Norfolk, just across the James River, that it would cost $1.8 billion to build flood walls, storm-surge barriers and tidal gates around the city. Norfolk has secured a $120 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Rockefeller Foundation to begin that work.
Both Hampton and Norfolk participate in the 17-city Hampton Roads Regional Planning Commission, which focuses on research and coordination rather than setting standards or requirements for addressing sea level rise.
City officials also are banking on the fact that if their flood-mitigation plans work, property values will rise, boosting tax revenue that could help pay for the effort.
Unlike some of the homes in the article, our home cannot be readily raised due to the nature of its construction.  Therefore, we had to improvise and find others methods for dealing with flood threats.  Thus, after the 2009 Nor'Ida storm, everything on the first floor from the chair rail level down is non-water absorbent - living areas, laundry room, pantry.  Everywhere. Similarly, all water absorbent flooring was removed and marble floors were added in their place. The marble floors throughout do not absorb water and require a simple sweep of a mop for clean up.  The generator powered sump pumps should prevent standing water in the house from ever occurring in future storms.  The overall effect is elegant but so very practical and purpose designed.

A large industrial sump pump sits under the multi-color vase.

The marble floors and composite/PVC wainscoting do not absorb water.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, July 27, 2018

Clericalism and a Derelict Hierarchy Fuel Catholic Church Sex Abuse

Accused sexual predator Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Even as far right Catholic sites such as Church Militant - ironically edited by a self-loathing closet gay man - continue to blame the Church's seemingly never ending sex abuse scandal that is finally creeping up into the ranks of the Church hierarchy on "gay priests," Commonweal, yet another legitimate site is pointing the finger at the Church hierarchy and the Church's insane doctrine on human sexuality.  A derelict, if not actively involved, Church hierarchy abetted and/or covered up sexual abuse. Adding to the problem was the Church's desperate recruitment of psychologically unfit individuals as it struggled to fill ballooning shortages of candidates for the priesthood.  None of this was unknown to the highest levels at the Vatican as the scandal surrounding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick continues to unfold.  Here are excerpts from Commonweal:

Emerging details about the scope and duration of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexually abusive behavior once more underscore the fact that an institutional sickness afflicts the Catholic Church. A predator priest can ascend to princely rank only if the clerical culture around him enables those who are complicit by their silence and failure to act.
The behavior of “Uncle Ted,” as the cardinal insisted he be called by his preferred victims, was something of an open secret at elite levels of the church. As the New YorkTimes noted, multiple reports about McCarrick’s sexual encounters with seminary students were made between 1994 and 2008—to American bishops, to the pope’s representative in Washington, and even to Pope Benedict XVI.  . . . . He even played a prominent role as a spokesperson for the church’s “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual abuse.
The causes of clerical abuse are complex and multilayered. Some Catholic conservatives and others on the right seem not to take this sufficiently into account. [*] First Thingssenior editor Matthew Schmitz recently tweeted: “It will be impossible to address sexual abuse in the Church if bishops and priests do not clearly affirm the Church’s teaching on sex, including same-sex activity. 
A 300-page report, prepared by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the request of the U.S. bishops seven years ago, found no statistical evidence that gay priests were more likely to abuse minors. What’s more, researchers found that the uptick in the number of gay priests from the late 1970s corresponded with “a decreased incidence of abuse-not an increased incidence of abuse.” The disproportionate number of adolescent male victims, according to the report, was linked to opportunity, not to preference or pathology.
A witch-hunt mentality demonizes the vast majority of celibate gay men who are faithful to their vows, serve the church, and are as horrified as anyone at the abuses committed. 
If the church removed all gay priests from ministry today, it would suffer for that loss. Nor would it bring an end to the abuse crisis. The problem is with those bishops, and others with influence in the church, who at best are asleep at the wheel and at worst willing to excuse predatory behavior. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley this week acknowledged a “major gap” in procedures for how the church deals with a bishop or cardinal accused of abuse, and called for specific new steps. “
There were plenty of red flags about McCarrick, more than enough to stop his ascent into the College of Cardinals. That it was nevertheless allowed to proceed is an institutional failure on a massive scale. No scapegoating will make this mess go away.
And no single step—ending celibacy requirements or allowing priest to marry—will serve as a panacea. The significant spike in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s, the John Jay researchers found, had much to do with psychologically unhealthy priests who were not properly screened, and who became clergy at a time when seminary education lacked a focus on psychological-emotional development. Improved seminary training and education in the 1980s, according to the report, contributed to a “sharp and sustained decline” in abuse cases since then.
More important is changing a clerical culture that prizes secrecy and loyalty over truth and transparency. That will be tedious, challenging and essential work. In the ongoing wake of the McCarrick scandal, it’s time to take up that task with greater urgency than ever.

More Friday Male Beauty

A young Colton Haynes

2018: Will Voters Continue to Act Against Their Own Economic Interest


Historically when wealth disparities have become too great, the lower classes have risen up and the top tier of the population hoarding most of the wealth has fared badly.  The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution are but two examples of catastrophic consequences for the top classes.  Britain in contrast - and partly as a result of the terror the French example provided - managed to avoid the French example by making changes that improved the lot of the lower classes.  Those lessons seem lost on today's Republican Party which, combined with pro-rich and pro-corporation policies are overseeing the stagnation of wages for the majority as the top 0.01% ranks in increasing wealth.  Bizarrely, many Americans continue to vote Republican and against their own economic interests.  As a column in the New York Times explores, the carrot(s) that induce such short sighted behavior are views on race, religion, abortion, LGBT rights and immigration.   As the 2018 midterm elections near, the question becomes whether such short sighted voting will continue. Here are column excerpts: 

Even as corporate America has unleashed insatiable consumer demand for innovative low-cost goods and technology, it has driven economic trends that continue to increase inequality, stall wage growth and strengthen the power of business. 
Nearly half the country’s voters support a president who embraces upwardly redistributive policies that many of them do not benefit from.
Why? Because on race, religion, abortion, LGBTQ rights and immigration, President Trump — unlike previous Republican presidents — has given his voters exactly what they want.
This is patently true in the case of immigration. As The Washington Post reported in June, “The Trump administration has ramped up arrests of illegal immigrants, slashed refugee programs, criminalized unauthorized border crossings” and secured a ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim nations.
But recent scholarly research shows how the interests of those on top of the economic pyramid are gaining strength.
“Industries are increasingly characterized by a ‘winner take most’ feature where a small number of firms gain a very large share of the market,” David Autor, an economist at M.I.T., and four co-authors, write in “The Fall of the Labor Share and the Rise of Superstar Firms.”
They go on: Markets have changed such that firms with superior quality, lower costs, or greater innovation reap disproportionate rewards relative to prior eras. Since these superstar firms have higher profit levels, they also tend to have a lower share of labor in sales and value-added. As superstar firms gain market share across a wide range of sectors, the aggregate share of labor falls.
According to Autor and his colleagues, the decline in the size of the pie going to labor — known among economists as “labor share” — coincides with the rise of superstar firms and increasingly with the use of outsourcing to “temporary help agencies and independent contractors and freelancers for a wider range of activities previously done in-house, including janitorial work, food services, logistics and clerical work.” . . . Together, these workplace trends account “for a significant portion of the increase in U.S. wage inequality since 1980.”
Policymaking, judicial decisions and structural changes in the economy have functioned in concert to weaken the clout of voters, consumers, workers and minorities — with considerable support and little or no objection from a key part of the electorate.
The Supreme Court has played a well-documented role in this process, especially in decisions on campaign finance and business law that have empowered corporations and the super rich.
“The Court has given the green light to restrictive voter identification laws, without requiring states to prove that such laws prevent any appreciable amount of voter fraud or promote public confidence in the fairness of the electoral process,” Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine, wrote in an email in response to my inquiry . . . .
The downstream consequences of concentration for employees are substantial, Shambaugh et al write: “Concentration in product markets can be mirrored by its labor market equivalent — monopsony — that exists when employers face limited competition for workers.” Firms dominating concentrated labor markets “face relatively inelastic labor supply” (i.e., job choices are limited) which, in turn, allows employers to “reduce wages without losing all (or even a large fraction) of their workforces.”
Among economists, one of the most discussed developments is the precipitous decline in the percentage of total economic output flowing to labor, . . . . In other words, shareholders and business owners amassed profits amounting to $1.35 trillion or $17,000 per employee as a result of the increase in profit share.
This bleak tale does not end here, as new pieces of evidence accumulate. Dominique Guellec and Caroline Paunov, senior economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, argued in a 2017 paper, “Digital Innovation and the Distribution of Income,” that without government intervention, increased inequality is virtually inevitable:
The growing importance of digital innovation — new products and processes based on software code and data — has increased market rents, which benefit disproportionately the top income groups. In line with Schumpeter’s vision, digital innovation gives rise to ‘winner-take-all’ market structures, characterized by higher market power and risk than was the case in the previous economy of tangible products.
Increased profits, in turn, “accrue mainly to investors and top managers and less to the average workers, hence increasing income inequality.”
In the United States, the top 0.01 percent holds 9.9 percent of the nation’s total wealth excluding deposits in tax havens. When wealth in tax havens is included, the share held by the top 0.01 percent rises to 11.2 percent.
While an increase from 9.9 to 11.2 percent amounts to a 1.3 percentage point increase, in real dollars that translates to $1.06 trillion, or roughly $40 million for every adult in the top 0.01 percent.
A continued failure of wages to advance, despite job growth, while corporate profits shoot up to record levels would give Democrats a significant counterargument to legitimate Republican claims of overall economic improvement.
[T]he question for 2018 will be which demographic and generational groups will see their turnout climb or drop the most.
Since 2016, Trump has successfully angered millions of voters, especially women, who have been mobilizing in support of Democratic House and Senate candidacies. Vilified and insulted members of racial and ethnic minorities are seething. At the same time, millions of others — a majority of them men — have been infuriated by economic and cultural developments they feel have devastated neighborhoods, local environments and workplaces so that they can no longer recognize them.
How many Americans will yield to apathy and how many will believe with conviction that each vote matters?

Michael Cohen: Trump Knew in Advance of 2016 Trump Tower Meeting


I truly hope that Michael Cohen, Trump's long time "fixer" has a good security detail. If I were him, I be worried about possible Russian assassins and/or a hit team hired by Donald Trump. What must be driving Trump to distraction is that many of the potential charges Cohen is facing are crimes under New York State law - crimes for which Trump cannot pardon Cohen as a "payoff" for continued silence.   While Cohen has not yet "flipped," it increasingly looks like that will be the final result. Obviously, if Cohen can document that Trump pre-approved the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents, it would (i) document that Trump's past denials have been lies, and (ii) bolster Robert Mueller's case that Trump illegally colluded with Russia with a goal of damaging Hillary Clinton to Trump's advantage. Indeed, instead of "lock her up," the chant should be "lock Trump up."  Here are excerpts from CNN:
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, claims that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton, sources with knowledge tell CNN. Cohen is willing to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller, the sources said.
Cohen's claim would contradict repeated denials by Trump, Donald Trump Jr., their lawyers and other administration officials who have said that the President knew nothing about the Trump Tower meeting until he was approached about it by The New York Times in July 2017. Cohen alleges that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians' offer by Trump Jr. By Cohen's account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians, according to sources. [T]hese sources said Cohen does not have evidence, such as audio recordings, to corroborate his claim, but he is willing to attest to his account.

Even if Cohen doesn't have audio tapes, he can name those who were present and then they will have to decide if committing perjury is worth saving Trump's very large and nasty ass. 

Russian Hackers Target Vulnerable Democrat Senator in 2018 Midterms

Senator Claire McCaskill - targeted by Russian hackers in lead up to 2018 midterms.

Some wonder whether we will ever lean what was discussed during Donald Trump's tete a tete  with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.  Based on new stories about Russian efforts to undermine Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, it seems a safe bet that Trump wasn't laying down the law to Putin about ceasing Russian interference in American elections. Trump's detractors might even conjecture that the two discussed what Russia might do to keep Congress under Republican control and thereby allow Trump to avoid Democrat chaired hearings and hard hitting Congressional subpoenas.  Perhaps even articles of impeachment,  As the Washington Post reports, Russian hackers have targeted Missouri Democrat, Senator Claire McCaskill in an apparent attempt to throw that seat in the U.S. Senate to McCaskill's Republican challenger.  The good news, is that the attempt failed.  The bad news is that the effort will likely persist and one can just imagine the Russia bot generated fake news that McCaskill will face.  That Trump and Congressional Republicans are doing nothing to stop these efforts - Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell at best have their thumbs up their butts, although I suspect McConnell is applauding if not abetting the Russian effort - borders on treasonous.  Here are highlights from the Post piece:
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for reelection this year, was targeted by Russian government hackers who sought but failed to compromise her Senate computer network.
“Russia continues to engage in cyber warfare against our democracy,” McCaskill said in a press release Thursday evening. “While this attack was not successful, it is outrageous that they think they can get away with this. I will not be intimidated. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Putin is a thug and a bully.”
The hackers, who belong to Russia’s military spy agency GRU, targeted two other candidates running in the midterms, according to a Microsoft executive, Tom Burt, who spoke at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last week. He did not identify the candidates. None were compromised, he said.
McCaskill, who is the ranking Democrat on the homeland security committee and also sits on the armed services panel, has been critical of President Trump’s statements that appear to discount the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia used information warfare in an attempt to influence the 2016 election.
Just two weeks ago, the Justice Department announced the indictments of 12 GRU officers charged with hacking Democratic Party email networks and releasing stolen material in an effort to affect the election.
Top U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, have warned that they expected the Russians to try again this year.
“Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor — no question,” Coats said in recent remarks at the Hudson Institute. “And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Microsoft discovered “a fake Microsoft domain” or website that the hackers had created to which spearphish victims were directed.  “We took down that domain, and working with the government actually were able to avoid anybody being infected by that particular attack,” he said.
McCaskill is expected to face Josh Hawley, Missouri’s attorney general and the leading GOP contender for the Senate seat, in November.

What I find most disturbing is that far too many Republican voters are willing to overlook possible treason and election interference as longs a the benefited candidates hates blacks, gays and Hispanics as much as they do.  And yes, many of these Republicans are evangelical Christians. I have long argued that they constitute a threat to constitutional government and now, they are willing to support a Russian backed de facto putsch. (For Fox News viewers, a putsch is a secretly plotted and suddenly executed attempt to overthrow a government.)

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, July 26, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty


What Trump's Tariffs Have Unleashed for Farmers


Like most would be autocrats - and certainly most malignant narcissists - Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenf├╝hrer, thinks he knows everything about all things.  As a historical note, Hitler and Nicholas II both thought they knew more than their top generals and the end results ended badly for both of them.  In Trump's case his Waterloo - for Fox News viewers, that was a horrific military defeat suffered by Napoleon - may be in the Mid-West in the center of "Trump country" and so-called flyover country.  The match that started the conflagration will likely be Trump's self-created trade war that is well on the way to decimating farming operations in places like Iowa.  States where the populace fell for Trump's siren song of racism and xenophobia and voted against their economic self-interest.  A piece in the New York Times by the  news director for the radio stations KNIA and KRLS in Marion County Iowa looks at the economic coming disaster Trump has unleashed, the beginnings of which should be evident before the vote in the midterm elections in November.  Here are excerpts:

Today President Trump is visiting Dubuque, Iowa, where every year at harvest time, millions of tons of grain come via rail and truck to be loaded onto barges on the Mississippi River and shipped to Mexico, China and much of the rest of the world. Harvest puts coin into the hands of farmers, and they and their communities — indeed all of America — profit. Not this year.
The president is here to trumpet a $12 billion plan to aid American farmers. Why do they need aid? For Iowans, it’s because 33 percent of our economy is tied, directly or indirectly, to agriculture, and Mr. Trump recklessly opened trade wars that will hit “Trump country” — rural America — hardest and that have already brought an avalanche of losses. Indeed, the impact of his tariffs will probably be felt by family farms and the area for generations.
The cost of being shut out of overseas markets for soybeans, beef, pork, chicken and more will be in the billions. Once those markets are gone, they will be difficult to recover. Commodity prices continue to drop, and good weather suggests an excellent crop is in the making, which will drive prices further down.
Brazil is ready to step in with increased soybean production, and China has already shifted its purchasing power there.
In farm country, U.S.A., the Trump tariffs have poured gas on what has been a slow-burning conflagration.  Rural America is about to undergo a major demographic shift. President Trump didn’t start it, but he has accelerated a crisis that might have taken a generation or two to play out. Now it might take only a few years. Rural America is going to be hollowed out very quickly. Farms will become consolidated, and towns that are already in trouble will certainly die.
Iowa’s farmers are aging, and younger farmers aren’t replacing them proportionately. Sixty percent of Iowa farmland is owned by people 65 years or older, and 35 percent of farmland is owned by people 75 or older. . . . This isn’t because young people in rural America don’t want to farm; it’s because, if it isn’t already the family business, the costs are much too high to allow many of them to get into it.
A friend, a small-town Iowa banker who specializes in working with farmers, offered a local example. It’s time for Mom and Dad to retire, get off the farm and move to town. Much of the time, if no heir is interested in continuing the operation, the farm is auctioned to the highest bidder. . . . but a big operation “bid it up more than it was worth, some guy from out of town no one knew — probably from one of the big operations up north. The kid didn’t have a chance. It was heartbreaking.”
I use Iowa in my examples, but much of rural America will be affected in a similar way. In the worst possible outcome of this scenario, losses and farm consolidation accelerated by Mr. Trump’s tariffs will make the devastating 1980s farm crisis look like a bump in the road as it drives a significant rural-to-city migration.
In my community, I learned this week that a hog operation I drive by every day is folding. The confinements are being dismantled, and anything portable can be found on Craigslist. A friend close to the family told me pork prices have been down for years, and with the tariffs it’s just not worth it anymore.
Another casualty: our community banks. As farms get larger, farm loans are less likely to be local. A big operation with farms in dozens of counties that maybe even cross state lines probably won’t use local banks for credit.
At a certain point, populations won’t be enough to support rural hospitals and clinics, and they, too, will be gone. Rural hospitals are one of the major employers in the community. Even if you have a good manufacturing company in town, if you lose the hospital, they won’t be able to attract the employees they need.
Those plants may be forced to leave as well — especially since the tariffs have hit them hard also. One friend who has a small manufacturing business says his costs have doubled since Mr. Trump announced tariffs on aluminum and steel, and that his business is down 40 percent.
Some of the farmers I speak with are unwavering in support of the president; they’d vote Republican even if Mr. Trump personally slapped the heck out of the preacher at the church potluck. But others are starting to recognize how the economic impact of the tariffs is hitting them personally.
This is why, earlier this summer, Vice President Mike Pence came to the Midwest for a reassuring visit and why Sonny Perdue, Mr. Trump’s secretary of agriculture, offered his $12 billion band-aid of a handout Tuesday. . . . Trump is here now, crowing of those billions. What farmers really want are the markets restored.
Farmers take out lines of credit in the spring — usually due the following Jan. 1 — to pay for seed and other input costs, and then pay the loans back after harvest. Like any other loan, there are consequences to not paying, including losing the farm. Farmers are going to know before the midterm elections if they are going to be able to pay back loans.
[W]hen the Trump payments are made to farmers, the larger operations will be the ones that gobble them up.
Mr. Perdue, and likely President Trump, know the $12 billion won’t make a difference, even in the short term. Farmers and others in the industry know the offer is meaningless. But most rural Republicans aren’t farmers, and many are Fox News devotees.
The destruction of a way of life cuts as deep now as it did back then, especially when it comes from this president. The only thing he knows about food is that it always comes served to him on a silver, or maybe gold, platter.
As I have noted before, while I worry about children and youths in these areas and what happens to them, for the adults who voted Trump/Pence, they need to reap the whirlwind of their actions and the suffering needs to be intense. 

Delaware Becomes 15th State to Ban Conversion Therapy


As The Advocate is reporting, Delaware has become the 15th state (plus the District of Columbia), to ban use of the discredited practice of "conversion therapy" or "ex-gay therapy" on those under 18 in an effort to "change" them into heterosexuals.  The practice is universally condemned by legitimate mental health and medical associations even as it is lauded by Christofascists who view the "ex-gay myth" as a political tool and a cash cow for fraudulent "ministries" that fleece desperate parents seeking to turn their gay children straight.  This past legislative session here in Virginia, similar bills  - SB 245 and HB 363 - were killed by Republicans as once again Virginia Republicans in the General Assembly put self-prostitution to The Family Foundation (Virginia's largest hate group) ahead of science and the welfare of LGBT youth.  Here are highlights from The Advocate:
Delaware Gov. John Carney today signed into law a bill prohibiting licensed mental health professionals in the state from subjecting minors to so-called conversion therapy, aimed at turning LGBT people straight. . . . .
The signature by Carney, a Democrat, makes Delaware the 15th state, plus the District of Columbia, to ban use of the discredited practice on young people. The law classifies performing conversion therapy as unprofessional conduct and grounds for discipline, reports Delaware Public Media.
Rep. Debra Heffernan, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Delaware Public Media the practice “is pseudoscience and child endangerment, plain and simple.” Indeed, it has been repudiated as ineffective and harmful by every major medical and mental health group.
LGBT rights groups lauded the legislation. “So-called conversion therapy is dangerous, cruel and uniformly rejected by every major mental health and child welfare organization,” said Human Rights Campaign national press secretary Sarah McBride, a Delawarean, in a press release. “Today’s signing is a critical step forward in the fight to ensure that Delaware is a safe and affirming state for all LGBTQ youth, and we hope that the values and progress reflected in this law guide the ongoing conversation in Delaware about protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination.
“This bill sends an important message that a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity is neither capable of being changed nor does it need to be changed, and efforts to try to do so in the name of therapy have no place in our state,” added Mark Purpura, an Equality Delaware board member, in the same release. “Instead, we should strive to understand and support each child’s unique personal identity to better empower them to thrive in school, at home, and in our community.
Bans on the use of conversion therapy on minors have been signed into law in the past few months by Republican governors in Maryland and New Hampshire and a Democratic governor in Hawaii. However, Republican Gov. Paul LePage recently vetoed a similar bill in Maine.
While much needed, the passage of such a bill in Virginia will likely be impossible until Democrats win a majority in both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Trump Adopts Orwellian Approach to Censoring History/Reality


Speaking at the VFW national convention, which became his latest equivalent of a campaign rally - paid for by the American taxpayers, of course - Trump urged those in the crowd not to believe anything they read or saw coming out of the mainstream media, saying that all of it is lies.  Those words would more aptly apply to anything coming out of the Trump White House and right wing news outlets such as Fox News that increasingly are adopting the tactic once employed by Hitler's Nazi regime and, of course, Vladimir Putin's Russia: delete any news that doesn't comport with the glorious leader's agenda or which reveals inconvenient truths.  A case in point is the White House live stream or transcript of Trump's "summit" in Helsinki with his KGB handler. Amazingly, both have been scrubbed to delete Putin's statements (i) that he wanted Trump to win the 2016 presidential election, and (ii) that he worked to help him win. It's all there if one watches the original news feeds and non-Trump/Fox News transcripts.  The Atlantic looks at this latest totalitarian technique embraced by the Trump White House.  Here are highlights:
It was perhaps the most explosive exchange in an incendiary press conference: Russian President Vladimir Putin appearing to frankly admit to a motive for, and maybe even to the act of, meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, despite repeatedly denying Russian interference in American politics during the rest of his appearance with Donald Trump in Finland on Monday.
But the exchange doesn’t appear in full in the White House’s live-stream or transcript of the press conference, and it’s missing entirely from the Kremlin’s transcript of the event. The White House did not immediately provide an explanation for the discrepancy.
Understanding what Putin said depends on what you watch or where you look. If you watch the video of the news conference provided by the Russian government, or by news outlets such as PBS and the Associated Press, you will hear the Reuters reporter Jeff Mason ask a bombshell of a question: “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”
Putin then responds with a bombshell of an answer, according to the English translation of his remarks that was broadcast during the press conference: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
if you watch the White House live-stream of the press conference or look at the transcript published by the White House, the first half of Mason’s question is not there. Without it, the meaning of the exchange is substantially different.
Compare this transcript, of what actually happened, to the White House’s version. Here is the record of what took place, starting with the last part of Putin’s comments before Mason’s questions. Putin is describing his willingness to assist with Robert Mueller’s probe (bolding is mine):
Jeff Mason: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
Putin: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.–Russia relationship back to normal.
Q: And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
PRESIDENT PUTIN:  Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.–Russia relationship back to normal.
The discrepancies in the accounts of what was said also underscore the extent to which the Trump presidency has challenged a common understanding of reality. Even if the omission was accidental, it appears suspicious at a moment marked by the president’s repeated claims that legitimate news reports are “fake.”
The safest approach?  Believe nothing Trump or his administration - or Fox News, et al - says unless and until independently corroborated. The lies and misinformation campaign is endless. It's like out of George Orwell's novel, 1984. 

Catholic Church Perpetuates Sex Abuse Crisis Through Its Own Policies


I have followed the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal closely since it first exploded in Boston in 2002. Indeed, I have a Google Search agent that sends me daily up to a dozen stories from across the globe on the still roiling scandal that has begun to claim high Church clerics who participated in the abuse or aided and abetted it. The Church hierarchy and right wing Catholic extremists (e.g., the site Church Militant) have made a concerted effort to blame the abuse epidemic on gay priests and homosexuality rather than the western rite celibacy requirement and the Church's utterly bizarre stances on sex and sexuality - the true cause in the minds of a number of mental health experts and the Australian Royal Commission investigating the scandal in Australia.  Now, a piece by a long time journalist for La Croix International, an online Catholic paper republished in the Washington Post belatedly throws responsibility back on the Vatican and its perverse and bizarre policies.  While the author addresses some of the root problems in Church, he overstates the role of homosexuality.  Most experts classify the predator priests and pedophiles and/or psycho-sexually maladjusted, not gays in the common sense.  Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see someone correctly pointing the finger at the Vatican and its unsound polices and dogma.  Here are excerpts:
The Catholic Church is being rocked — again — by high-level sexual abuse scandals, with allegations in recent weeks surfacing in Chile, Honduras and the District [of Columbia], home to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a once-super-popular cleric who is facing accusations by five males of harassment or abuse.
And again, people say they are shocked and outraged, which shows how Catholics still refuse to see that there is an underlying issue to these cases. It is the fact that almost all of them concern males — whether they are adolescents, post-pubescent teens or young men.
And while no adult who is of sound psychosexual health habitually preys on those who are vulnerable, there is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis.
But let me be very clear: psychologically healthy gay men do not rape boys or force themselves on other men over whom they wield some measure of power or authority.
However, we are not talking about men who are psychosexually mature. And yet the bishops and officials at the Vatican refuse to acknowledge this. Rather, they are perpetuating the problem, and even making it worse, with policies that actually punish seminarians and priests who seek to deal openly, honestly and healthily with their sexual orientation.
Our problem in the Church is of the abuse of power, an abuse that happens as a result of homophobia that keeps gay men in the closet, bars them from growing up and results in distorted sexuality for many gay priests. We need to address this elephant in the rectory parlor. They are products of a clerical caste and a priestly formation system that discourages and, in some places, even forbids them from being honest about their homosexual orientation.
Sadly, many of these men are or have become self-loathing and homophobic. Some of them emerge as public moralizers and denouncers of homosexuality, especially of the evil perpetrated on society by the so-called gay lobby.
As recently as 2005, just a few months after the election of Benedict XVI, the Vatican issued a document that reinforced the “stay in the closet” policy by saying men who identified as gay should not be admitted to seminaries.
In fact, one of the prime authors of that document — Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a priest-psychotherapist from Paris — was recently stripped of his priestly faculties after being credibly accused of abusing seminarians and other young men in his care.
[A]ll gay people, indeed the entire Church — would benefit greatly if these healthy gay priests could openly share their stories. But their bishops or religious superiors have forbidden them from writing or speaking publicly about this part of their lives.
This, too, only encourages more dishonesty and perpetuates a deeply flawed system that will continue to produce unhealthy priests. 
 Having been raised Catholic, I am all too aware of how badly Catholicism's approach to human sexuality can screw one up.  I was in therapy for a couple of years to undo the damage.  Trapped in seminary high schools and colleges, then seminary, where sex - and women - were viewed as sinful in almost every respect, it is little wonder so many priest were psycho-sexually damaged.