Saturday, July 15, 2017

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Not usually into facial hair, but I might make an exception for this guy.

Trump’s Pious and Dangerous Enablers

Following up on the theme of the last post is a very much on point op-ed in the New York Times that focuses much deserved condemnation on evangelicals and Republican shysters who wear religion on their sleeve when convenient yet do violence to the Christian message on virtually a daily basis. These people indeed make the Pharisees of the Bible look down right virtuous and we all know what Christ purportedly thought of the Pharisees whom he called vipers among other things. One irony is that since I am gay - something that I can assure you I never chose - according to these "godly" Trump supporters, I am damn to hell, am morally bankrupt and inclined towards evil.  Yet it is I, not them, that can see the common humanity in others, be they black, Hispanic, Muslim or Hindu, etc. Further, I am horrified at the prospect of taking health care assess away from millions, including countless children, yet the "godly folk" are cheering it on. As the previous post asked, what is wrong with these people?  Throughout history people have been faced with moral decisions - e.g., 1930's Germans, white Southerners in the 1960's - and many failed the test.  Especially those professing their religiosity the loudest.  We are witnessing such a failure again and the harm that will come from it is incalculable.  As noted many times before, there's a reason so many are walking away from religion entirely: the self-anointed godly Christians.  Their moral bankruptcy is chilling.  Here are column highlights:
Patriotism is supposed to be the last refuge of scoundrels, but religion surely is a close second. So there was President Trump this week with evangelical leaders laying hands on him [see the image above with Mike Pence in the middle of it], and granting a rare non-Fox interview to the doddering founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
That interview was with the televangelist Pat Robertson, who is to news professionalism what Chris Christie is to constituent diplomacy. Robertson, you may recall, felt that feminists and gays were among the guilty parties in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. These days, he says that Trump’s critics are going against “God’s plan” and may be influenced by — who else — Satan.
One assumes that God’s plan includes the biblical admonition to treat the bedraggled, the poor, the hungry — “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” — as you would treat him. Did I miss something when Trump said he was salivating at the chance to take health care away from 22 million Americans and the 87-year-old Robertson merely responded with his trademark chucklehead chuckle?
The most odious of those who are letting Trump drag America into the gutter include Vice President Mike Pence, the leaders in Congress and the pious shepherds of a white evangelical community that continues to give an awful man a pass for every awful thing he does.
Pence is the choirboy who leaves the room when the nasty boys take over, and then helps clean up later.  . . . Pence has said he would never dine alone with a woman who is not his wife, which raises questions about how he would handle a diplomatic dinner with Angela Merkel. If only Pence’s probity extended to his view of the man he works for. Through every degrading statement, every Oval Office insult, every one of the more than 500 demonstrable lies told (so far) by this president, Pence has remained silent or defended the offender.
Like other Trump sycophants, he had insisted that there was no evidence that the 2016 Republican campaign colluded with Russia to affect the outcome of the election. And once the evidence of collusion with a foreign power came to life in billboard-level proof, and the lying about that evidence was exposed for what it is, Pence said not a peep.
And if the White House is blackmailed because the Kremlin has something even more damning on, say, Jared Kushner — who attended that meeting where the subject in the email was “very high level and sensitive information” that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” — Pence will be further exposed as a gutless cipher.
Another boy scout in hiding is House Speaker Paul Ryan. Golly gee, he just wants to cut taxes on the rich, destroy the health care system, and work on his abs and guns. The man who loves to lecture the poor on their “lives of dependency and complacency” through a safety net that can become a hammock has not a word about an unprecedented attempt to sell out his country to a hostile nation.
Ryan is a politician; hypocrisy is his first language. But these church ladies and their pastors dish up a special kind of moral quackery. Trump trashes the dignity of his office on a daily basis. He lies and lies and lies, and then lies about his lies. He would take vital care away from the most vulnerable among us. And the response from these representatives of righteousness?
“President Trump is the greatest thing that’s happened to this country,” said Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. “I consider it a biblical miracle that he’s here.”
A true miracle would be for one of the enablers among the 81 percent of white evangelicals who gave their vote to Trump to follow their conscience, or at least the Scriptures they profess guide them.
Yes, there are "good Christians" but sadly they remain far too quiet and sit on their hands as their co-religionist destroy the country not to mention the Christian brand.  Bad things happen when good people remain silent and the good Christians are contributing to America's train wreck by remaining far too silent. They need to be confronting and condemning evangelicals and the Republican agenda loudly and on a daily basis.   If they do not, then, if we are lucky, Christianity may become a dead religion, which would be a good thing given what evangelicals and fundamentalists have done to the brand.

What’s Wrong With Republicans/Trump Supporters?

With the release of the latest version of Trumpcare which, as was the case with the previous versions, will harm millions of Americans, one has to ask what is wrong with those who voted for this foul, inhuman, hate filled agenda?  Yes, some will accuse me of demonizing others with whom I disagree politically, but I truly believe that the 2016 presidential and congressional elections were different than those in the past.  And that difference comes down to an issue of morality.  I often argue that today's Republican Party, and certainly its titular head, Der Trumpenführer, is morally bankrupt.  Supposed "friends" voted for a regime that they knew would harm members of the LGBT community that they feign to like or at least somewhat care about.  Worse yet, through Trumpcare, they have demonstrated a willingness to harm millions of children, elderly and low income workers.  Meanwhile, the go to church on Sundays and congratulate themselves on their piety even though the actions of those they put into elective office show that they are enemies of Christ's social gospel message.  A column in the Miami Herald rightly asks, what is wrong with us and with America.  I for one do not want to be counted among the morally bankrupt since I and a majority of voters voted against Trump.  The real question is what is wrong with Republicans and those who voted for Trump. Here are column excerpts:
So here we are, six months later. How time has trudged.
But the calendar does not lie. On Thursday, we will be half a year through the Trump Era. And, contrary to his signature promise, America seems less great by the day. Nor are his other promises faring particularly well.
There is no sign of progress on that border wall, much less any idea how he is going to make Mexico pay for the thing. His promise to preserve Medicaid and provide healthcare for everyone has dissolved into a GOP bill that would gut Medicaid and rob millions of their access to healthcare.
But for all that Trump has not achieved, there is, I think, one thing he indisputably has. He has taught us to live in a state of perpetual chaos and continuous crisis. Six months later, the White House commands the same horrified attention as a car wreck or a house fire.
In that sense, last week’s revelation that the Trump campaign, in the person of Donald Trump Jr., did in fact collude with a hostile foreign power to influence the 2016 election was just another Tuesday. Sure, it might have been shocking from the Bush or Obama campaigns. But under Trump, we live in a state of routine calamity. . . . a few days from now, there will be something else. With Trump, there inevitably is. Things can always get worse — and usually do.
And when they can do, we can count on the GOP, that inexhaustible fount of righteous outrage, to stand tall and courageously look the other way. For almost 20 years,the party has never seen a minor episode (“Travelgate”), a sheer nothing (Whitewater) or even an international tragedy (Benghazi) it could not turn into Watergate II. Yet, as credible accusations of treason, obstruction, collusion, and corruption swirl about this White House, the GOP has been conspicuous in its acquiescent silence. It seems the elephant has laryngitis.
Dozens of theories have been floated, all aimed at answering one question: What is wrong with him?
But I have come to believe that question misses the point. Sixty-three million people voted for this. And make no mistake, they knew what they were getting. It was always obvious that Trump was a not-ready-for-prime-time candidate, but they chose him anyway. And the rest of us need to finally come to grips with the reason why.
It wasn’t economic anxiety. As a study co-sponsored by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic reported in May, people who were worried for their jobs voted for Hillary Clinton. But people who dislike Mexicans and Muslims, people who oppose same-sex marriage, people mortally offended at a White House occupied by a black guy with a funny name, they voted for Trump.
That’s the reality, and it’s time we quit dancing around it.
This has been said a million times: Donald Trump is a lying, narcissistic, manifestly incompetent child man who is as dumb as a sack of mackerel. But he is the president of the United States because 63 million people preferred that to facing inevitable cultural change. So I am done asking — or caring — what’s wrong with him. Six months in, it’s time we grappled a far more important question.  What in the world is wrong with us?
A Facebook friend and fellow activist summed it up well:
This was a moral choice. Over half of the country was horrified to learn how nonexistent the moral compass of our "conservative" associates really is. . . . we've never felt that way. Not with bush voters. Not with Romney voters. Not with McCain voters. This is different.  There was a moral test. A common decency test. A human test. And they failed.  Yes, we are questioning whether we want our children around people who voted for him.
I suspect that many across the globe are similarly horrified at the moral bankruptcy that America has put on display.  Who can trust an ally so lacking in any moral compass? 

If Republicans Love Their Country, When Will They Show It?

Republicans bloviate ad nausea about loving America and feign support for the U.S. Constitution and the "rule of law," yet by their actions tell a very different story.   In a piece in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan asks the question posed in the title of this post: when will Republicans show that their words are not totally empty?  When will they put America and the U,.S. Constitution first? Frighteningly, the answer to that question is not anytime soon given the moral bankruptcy of  today's Republican Party.  A column in the Washington Post by a conservative columnist who seems to belatedly opened her eyes to the true nature of today's Republican Party and the moral bankruptcy of today's GOP, connects the dots and argues that it is the party's moral rot that set the stage for the rise of Trump.  First these highlights from Sullivan's piece:
My mind keeps traveling back to that moment in the second presidential debate when both candidates were asked what they admired about each other. I have to say, sitting at home, the question stumped me. I guess in a pinch I could say I admired Clinton’s tenacity, doggedness, and ambition. They’re all good qualities in a politician. But Trump? Racked my brain. Has he done a single redeeming thing in his entire life? None that I could find in any biographies or news reports. Clinton’s answer — that she admired his kids — was a good try, but also manifestly untrue. Trump’s kids seem to me to have close to no moral compass, are utterly absorbed into the family cult, and follow the same truth-churning, money-grubbing, corner-cutting, ethics-free recklessness of their father. They’re a walking argument for a hike in the estate tax. 
Which brings me to Don Jr. . . . . Now I agree with David French, one of the less tribal writers at National Review: “If you had told me last week that there existed an e-mail chain where a Trump contact explicitly tried to set up a meeting between a purported Russian official and the Trump senior team to facilitate official Russian efforts to beat Clinton, I’d have thought you’d been spending too much time in the deranged corners of Twitter.” And yet here we are.
These are the words that will resonate for quite a while, typed just 17 minutes after Don Jr. was told the Clinton dirt was coming from the Kremlin: “If it’s what you say I love it.”
This is not about being dumb. It’s not about being ruthless. It’s not about oppo research. It’s not even about dirty tricks. This is about a very basic level of patriotism. It’s about a deep question of how you were brought up and what your values are. And Trump values are foul. Yesterday, as if to prove the point, the paterfamilias revealed his own view of a case in which a foreign despot offered his campaign dirt on his opponent: “If you got a call and said, ‘Listen I have information on Hillary and the DNC,’ or whatever it was they said, most people are going to take that meeting, I think.” Even when it’s coming from a foreign enemy. And so we learn one more time: If it ever comes to a choice between Trump and America, Trump will pick Trump. There is a reason the Founders made the presidency — alone of all the offices of state — reserved for a natural-born American. There’s a reason every new citizen must swear this oath: “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.” The Founders were deeply worried that the republic could be corrupted by foreign influence, money, or power. No office was more critical in this than that of commander-in-chief. And it was in part for this exact contingency that impeachment was included in the Constitution. As ultra-right Republican Andy McCarthy just wrote in National Review:
The standard for impeachment, the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” is not concerned with criminal offenses found in the penal statute books and suitable for courtroom prosecution. It relates instead to the president’s high fiduciary duty to the American people and allegiance to our system of government. . . . . The bickering over collusion ‘crimes’ misses the point. If an unfit person holds the presidency, the danger to our society is that he will abuse the power that he wields. The imperative is to remove him from office.
No crime need be committed. The question is whether we can trust this president to put the interests of the U.S. before himself or a foreign enemy — or some horribly compromised combination of the last two. If there is any doubt about this, the doubt has to be removed. That is what impeachment was invented for. It is to remove an unfit person who has proven himself willing and able to abuse the power entrusted to him.
And so we begin to get the answer to a particularly pointed question: How much do Republicans actually love their country? And when exactly will they prove it?
As for the GOP's moral bankruptcy that set the stage for Trump. here are highlights from the Post column:
The key insight from a week of gobsmacking revelations is not that the Russia scandal may finally have an underlying crime but that, as David Brooks suggests, “over the past few generations the Trump family built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.”
We now see that, sure enough, the Trump legal team (the fastest-growing segment of the economy) has trouble restraining its clients, explaining away initial, false explanations and preventing self-incriminating statements. (The biggest trouble, of course, is that the president lied that this is all “fake news” and arguably committed obstruction of justice to hide his campaign team’s misdeeds.)
Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. . . . the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”
Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric.
Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America. . . . .Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate.
“Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.
We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House. It took elected leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the Republican National Committee (not to mention its donors and activists) to wave off Trump’s racists attacks on a federal judge, blatant lies about everything from 9/11 to his own involvement in birtherism, replete evidence of disloyalty to America (i.e. Trump’s “Russia first” policies), misogyny, Islamophobia, ongoing potential violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause (along with a mass of conflicts of interests), firing of an FBI director, and now, evidence that the campaign was willing to enlist a foreign power to defeat Clinton in the presidential election.
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives
It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”
The assessment is brutal, yet true, and I say this as a former GOP activist who is sickened by what the GOP has become.  As noted many times, the catalyst for this descent into something foul was the hijacking of the GOP base by the Christofascist.  Sadly, no one lies more frequently and evidence hatred towards others more than the self-anointed "godly folk."  

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, July 14, 2017

Quatorze Juliet Male Beauty - Vive La France

Watching the Downfall of a Presidency

Watching the events unfold around Russiagate I am repeatedly reminded of Watergate except the current scandal has a much more sinister nature given that the apparent crime was conspiracy with a hostile foreign government.   Both Richard Nixon and Donald Trump display mental health issues, in my opinion, that rang from deep paranoia to megalomania not to mention a sense that they are smarter than everyone else and above the law. But with Russiagate, we see a similar arrogance and sense of something much more than mere entitlement on display by Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner.  Frank Rich, in a piece in New York Magazine  looks at the continuing unfolding of events. A piece in Talking Points Memo attributes the behavior of the main players to the ethos of the New York City real estate moguls where the wealthy see themselves as above the law and where shady dealings are far too prevalent.  The latter piece also argues that the Trump family players have no idea of the magnitude of the trouble that they are in as a consequence of this bubble like reality.  Some will ask where does Mike Pence fit into all of this despite his efforts to feign ignorance about everything even though he was in the midst of the Trump campaign?  From years of watching the self-anointed "evangelical Christian" leadership crowd, I believe that Pence's motivation stems from something different: the Christofascist view that the end justifies the means, be it lying or, in this case conspiring with an enemy nation.  The goal for Pence is furthering a quasi-Christian theocracy and special rights for Christofascists and this end justifies any means.  Here are excerpts from Rich's lengthy column:
There will be no single smoking gun that will bring down this White House. It will be death by firing squad — or perhaps a sequence of firing squads — as the whole story inexorably pours out of the administration’s smoldering ruins. This week’s bombshell has the feel of gallows humor. Trump Jr.’s panicked release of the self-incriminating emails is tantamount to picking up a loaded gun and shooting himself in the head. Why did Little Donald not do what the Trumps always do in these situations — let the press (in this case the Times) go ahead and report its incriminating findings, rail against leakers, and then dismiss the latest incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing as “fake news”? Was Little Donald trying to protect his father from even worse revelations? To take down his brother-in-law even as his brother-in-law (a possible source of the emails) tried to take down him? To deliver a message from or to the Kremlin? For all we know, the released email chain may be only a small and relatively minor part of a much larger criminal web that stretches from Donald Trump’s tax returns to his and the Kushner family’s respective real-estate dealings in Russia and beyond. The authorities who matter — the investigators at the special counsel’s office and the FBI — are not telling us what they are up to. They may already know — or may soon know — of evidence far more incriminating than the revelations of the past 72 hours. Even this morning we are learning via McClatchy’s estimable Washington bureau that investigators are looking into possible coordination between the Jared Kushner–run Trump campaign digital operation and Russia’s “sophisticated voter targeting and fake-news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.” The good news for those who want to see justice done is that this scandal not only resembles Watergate but also The Godfather — albeit a Godfather where every Corleone is a Fredo and not a single lawyer is as crafty as Tom Hagen, despite the fact that Little Donald’s private attorney has a history of defending clients from mob families. The level of stupidity of the conspirators is staggering: Not the least of the week’s news is that Kushner thought he could get away with omitting this Trump Tower meeting on the government questionnaire he filed to get his security clearance. (The $2.5 million that Charles Kushner donated to Harvard to gain his son admission was not money well spent.) Now it’s every man (and his lawyer) for himself as the president, having hidden from the press and the public ever since he returned home from his Yalta-themed tête-à-tête with Vladimir Putin, escapes to France, of all places. His press secretary is also in hiding, as is his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who as recently as Sunday dismissed the Donald Jr. story as a “nothingburger” — Trumpspeak for the Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler’s designation of Watergate as a “third-rate burglary.” About the only administration stalwart not remaining silent is the vice-president, whose statement following the release of the Donald Jr. emails let it be known that he was “not aware” of the Trump Tower meeting and that it had taken place before he joined the campaign. Mike Pence has clearly been boning up on Gerald Ford, and may already be brooding about the risks entailed if he should eventually be in the position to pardon the 45th president. Republicans in Congress have been slow to respond to this story, if they’ve commented at all. Is silence an effective strategy?  It’s not a strategy. It’s desperation. Much like their predecessors in the Nixon era, they keep hoping somehow it will all go away so they can get back to business as usual. After all, it was less than a month ago that David Brooks, writing in the Times, reassured them that there was “little evidence” of “any actual collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russians” and that “most voters don’t really care” anyway. Prominent Republicans continued to use this script after the release of the Trump Jr. emails . .  . A furrowed brow is still what passes for bravery among Republican politicians these days.
They can run from reality and reporters, but they can’t hide indefinitely. As I’ve written before, the closer we get to the 2018 midterms, the faster Republicans in the House — and some of those up for reelection in the Senate — will scramble for the lifeboats. But by the time they wake up and see the looming iceberg, it may be too late to save their careers.
Trapping the Senate in Washington is not going to lead to the passage of the latest rewrite of the Senate health-care bill (whatever is in it). What we are likely to get instead is two weeks’ worth of television shots of Republican senators scurrying down the halls or shutting their office doors to escape reporters. Other things not happening this summer: tax reform, an infrastructure initiative, or the raising of the federal debt ceiling. The vacuum will be filled by the steady drip, if not flood, of White House revelations that neither the president nor his Capitol Hill enablers, apologists, and collaborators can stop. If McConnell were really canny, what he’d be doing right now is gaming out how his party will respond to the next looming constitutional crisis: Trump’s inevitable version of the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Robert Mueller is fired, and Rod Rosenstein along with him. For all of us, a little perspective is in order. Little Donald is not the story here any more than G. Gordon Liddy and those third-rate burglars were the story in Watergate. We are likely to reach a point when this week’s firestorm will be remembered mainly as a warm-up for conflagrations yet to come.

For the sake of the nation, I hope all of them fall, including Pence.  Some say but that would leave us with Paul Ryan, a man I see as utterly amoral.  This may be true, but a hopefully chastened Ryan and a severely damaged GOP reeling from Trump's fall may still be the lesser of the evils. 

Revised GOP Healthcare "Reform" Still Harms Millions

Mitch McConnell has unveiled his latest abortion of a healthcare "reform" bill that at the moment has failed to secure the support of 51 Republican Senators.  Why?  Because it still harms millions of Americans and would force them off of healthcare coverage - McConnell and his cronies describe this as  a "voluntary" decision ignoring the fact that tax cuts are worthless if one is not making enough income to pay significant amounts in income tax or pay insurance premiums - and seemingly double or triple counts various funds in a pathetic attempt to disguise the negative impact on citizens. The CBO is supposed to release its scoring of the bill on Monday and the  likely outcome is that the harm will be significantly worse than what is claimed by McConnell and his fellow GOP liars sycophants.  Meanwhile, Republicans continue to disingenuously  claim to care about "working families" and "Christian values." A piece in Talking Points Memo looks at the GOP's difficulties in selling a foul rotten fish.  Here are excerpts:
GOP leaders unveiled the Senate’s revised health care bill on Thursday, and the updated legislation included a version of a controversial amendment drafted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would allow insurers to offer cheap, bare-bones plans that cover few health care services as long as at least one plan per state complies with Obamacare’s regulations. To address concerns that Cruz’s amendment would lower prices for the young and healthy by making them skyrocket for the people who need a comprehensive insurance plan or have a pre-existing condition, the amendment purports to allocate billions in additional funding that states could use “to assist such health insurance issuers in covering high risk individuals.”
But as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told reporters on Thursday, there is no additional money. Instead, the amendment takes money already appropriated in the bill for other needs and says it can be used for these payments to insurers under the Cruz Amendment.
“It seems to me you’re using that money over and over again,” she said. “It’s supposed to relieve the cost of high premiums. It’s supposed to solve the problem with deductibles being unaffordable. It’s supposed to be available for high-risk or reinsurance pool. It’s supposed to be available under the Cruz Amendment to help prevent a huge increase in rates for people with pre-existing conditions.”
Matthew Fiedler, a fellow at Brookings Institute’s Center for Health Policy, confirmed this double-dipping to TPM.
“The overall bill adds $70 billion to the stability fund,” he said. “But the Cruz amendment then redirects that same money to make payments to insurers designed to mitigate the problems that the Cruz amendment would create in the ACA-compliant market.”
“That funding will, of course, not be available to serve the stability fund’s other purposes,” he added.
Those other purposes include assisting the people booted off of Medicaid due to hundreds of billions of cuts in funding for the federal health care program, easing their transition into the individual health insurance market. It is also meant to provide funding for health savings accounts (HSA) that people could use to pay their insurance premiums.

Another piece in Huffington Post sums up the latest bill as follows:
At its core, however, the revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act ― which McConnell pulled two weeks ago because too few Republican senators planned to vote for it ― remains a vehicle for massive cuts to Medicaid, less financial assistance for people who buy private health insurance, and the return of skimpy junk insurance policies and discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. Taxes on the rich would remain, but health care companies would enjoy a major tax cut.
This part of the bill is in addition to the sweeping changes the underlying measure would make to the health insurance system, including allowing insurers to sell policies with less coverage but higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs than are permitted under the Affordable Care Act.
The bill also would repeal the law’s individual mandate that most Americans obtain health coverage or face a tax penalty and its requirement that large employers offer health benefits to workers.
States would be allowed to waive that law’s requirements for coverage of core benefits ― such as hospitalizations, prescription drugs, maternity care and mental health. This would undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions, who could be offered plans that don’t cover medical services and products needed to treat their ailments. People whose health coverage lapses for more than 63 days would be locked out of the insurance market for six months.
And insurers could charge older customers five times what they charge younger people, up from three times under the Affordable Care Act.

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

A Facebook friend I first met in NYC.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

More Thursday Male Beauty

The Closing of the Republican Mind

It is almost humorous nowadays to hear Republican "friends" describe me as a liberal.  Actually, by most standards other than those of today's Republican Party, I am not.  I still believe in fiscal conservatism, responsible government and judicious use of America's military power.  Pretty much the same things my parents and grandparents believed in.  Where I run afoul of today's GOP is that I believe in the Gospel message of caring for the poor, feeding the hungry and that all citizens are entitled to access to healthcare (the irony is that while I believe in this part of the Gospel message, I do not even see myself as Christian if it means being equated with the Christofascists). I also believe that constitutional and civil rights extend to all people, gay or straight, black or white, Christian or non-Christian - not just white conservative Christians.  My belief in the power of knowledge and science also disqualifies me from being a Republican given the party's enthusiastic embrace of ignorance.  A column in the New York Times looks at the descent of the GOP into something unrecognizable from even 30 years ago where education and intellect are abhorred.  Here are highlights:
The election of President Trump has coincided with a reaction among Republican voters against open-mindedness, open borders and an open society in general — not to mention a growing hostility to cognitive elites.
Take a recent survey showing a fundamental shift in the attitude of Republicans toward the value of higher education.
Between 2010 and 2017, the Pew Research Center asked voters whether colleges and universities have a positive or negative effect “on the way things are going in the country.”
From 2010 to 2015, solid majorities of Republicans and Democrats agreed that institutions of higher learning had a positive effect on America. In 2010, Republicans were 58-32 positive and Democrats 65-22. For Democrats, this pattern grew stronger over time, reaching 72-19 in the most recent polling in June.
That was not the case for Republicans, who flipped from positive to negative on college education.
In a survey that was conducted from Aug. 23 to Sept. 2, 2016 — a month after Trump accepted his party’s nomination — Republicans’ positive assessment of colleges and universities fell to 43 percent, while negative assessments rose to 45 percent. By June of this year, 58 percent of Republicans had a negative view of higher education and 36 percent a positive view.
Wariness toward homegrown cognitive elites now parallels suspicion of foreign-born entrepreneurs, including those who generate jobs and wealth for Americans.
On July 10, the Department of Homeland Security proposed the dismantling of a federal regulation that would have encouraged more entrepreneurs to build start-ups and to finance high-tech ventures in the United States.
[T]he International Entrepreneurship Rule infuriated the high-tech industry. Bobby Franklin, the president and C.E.O. of the National Venture Capital Association declared in a statement:
At a time when countries around the world are doing all they can to attract and retain talented individuals to come to their shores to build and grow innovative companies, the Trump Administration is signaling its intent to do the exact opposite.
Trump did not campaign against economic elites. Instead, he built a fire under animosity toward what has been called “the creative class” by Richard Florida, the demographer; the “plutonomy” by three analysts at Citigroup; and the “cosmopolitan class” by Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale.
In recent decades, this class has become increasingly influential in setting cultural standards and in shaping contemporary values. Its success has provoked deepening resentment, to say the least.
Simon Kuper, in a May Financial Times essay, captured the sources of this resentment among the less well educated:
Picture a coffee shop in a big city almost anywhere on earth. It is filled with stylish, firm-bodied people aged under 50 drinking $5 coffees. Fresh from yoga class, they are reading New Yorker magazine articles about inequality before returning to their tiny $1.5 million apartments. This is the cultural elite.
Trump, Kuper explains, labels this constituency:
“the elite” but not all class members are rich. Adjunct professors, NGO workers and unemployed screenwriters belong alongside Mark Zuckerberg. Rather, what defines the cultural elite is education. Most of its members went to brand-name universities, and consider themselves deserving rather than entitled. They believe in facts and experts.
Richard Florida, in an email to me, was harsh in his assessment of consequences of the current anti-elite reaction:
The United States is the first advanced nation since Japan and Germany during World War II to turn its back on progress and liberalism.
In doing so, the United States threatens its status as “the most innovative, most knowledge driven, most powerful nation on earth,” according to Florida:
The political backlash from this divide can kill us. It is the only thing that can hold back our cities and stop talented and ambitious people from coming here.
One of the more interesting findings that came out of the 2016 election in the United States — a finding that reinforces Goodhart’s thesis — is that voters who never left, or remain close to, their hometowns tended to vote for Trump, while those who moved away were inclined to support Hillary Clinton. Those who choose to leave such communities and find their fortune elsewhere are, in Stimson’s view, ambitious and confident in their abilities. Those who are fearful, conservative, in the social sense, and lack ambition stay and accept decline.
Given that, Stimson says:
I don’t see them as once proud workers, now dispossessed, but rather as people of limited ambition who might have sought better opportunity elsewhere and did not. I see their social problems more as explanations of why they didn’t seek out opportunity when they might have than as the result of lost employment.
Stimson then poses another question: “Should the Democratic Party cater to these voters?” His answer is an unequivocal no:
The [rural] working class was once mainstream America, the most common and typical of all of us. It is now the residue of failed social mobility, when most have been mobile. After decades of social mobility, that residue is now more distinctive, it is those who are not willing to grab the ring, but rather to remain in the hometown and fear change and others. These people should be Trump voters.
While Stimson’s analysis is harsh — criticizing as it does many hardworking men and women whose loyalties to family, friend, community and church may supersede personal ambition — he captures a crucial element of contemporary politics. This is the potential of an angry electorate to provide a key base of support to a politician like Trump who capitalizes on resentment, intensifies racial and ethnic hostility and lies with abandon as a means to his ends.
If Democrats have one thing to be grateful for, it’s Trump’s failure to live up to his campaign promises on health care and taxes, at least so far.
In practice, Trump is going in the opposite direction, pressing for a radical alteration of health care policy that directly conflicts with the interests of millions of his supporters, and for legislation catering to the demands of the wealthiest Republicans for reduced tax burdens.
Trump promised at least five times during the campaign that he would not cut Medicaid. These promises included a tweet on May 7, 2015:
I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.
Democrats, then, have both demographic trends and Trump’s abandonment (for now) of the moderate and lower income wing of his coalition to boost their prospects in 2020 — and perhaps in the 2018 midterms.
American politics has become fluid and volatile. Income differences have been supplanted by cultural and social practices closely linked to levels of educational attainment. Political partisanship is now firmly linked to race, with whiteness defining one of the two major political parties. Religiosity has taken on new meaning — if one can call it that — with devout churchgoers supporting an avowed libertine. The question that remains is whether President Trump can continue to exploit the fissures he opened as candidate Trump. The answers history provides are not altogether reassuring.

Note the comparison to the rejection of knowledge and education in Germany and Japan during  WWII.  Dictatorships and reactionary regimes need an ignorant and resentful population to take root and thrive.  Trump has found this base among the basket of deplorables that Hillary Clinton aptly, if not diplomatically, described. I very much fear for this country if the majority does not wake up and defeat this embrace of ignorance and bigotry.

Will Republicans Get of the Trump Train Before it Derails?

Other than perhaps John McCain - who has predicted more than once that additional shoes will drop before the Russiagate saga ends - and Lindsey Graham, most Congressional Republicans seem hell bent to go down with the the Trump ship or to use another analogy, to cling to the train as it flies off the washed out bridge.  Indeed, they seem willing to risk everything to ram through aspects of the party's reverse Robin Hood agenda before the Trump/Pence regime crashes and burns. I truly do not understand the mindset which would seem - barring a coup by Trump - to lead to self-immolation at some point down the road when even the most brain dead and/or race driven Trump supporters are going to realize that they have lost health care coverage and received a pittance in tax relief while millionaires have made out like bandits.  A column in the Washington Post makes the case for jumping off the train before it crashes and burns.  Here are excerpts:
“Will he tell the president ‘no’?”
This question was at the heart of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s opening statement at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for Christopher A. Wray, President Trump’s nominee as FBI director. Wray was there because the man who appointed him had fired James B. Comey for failing, as Feinstein put it, to “pledge his loyalty” to Trump and to soft-peddle inquiries involving Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.
The test for Wray, Feinstein (D-Calif.) said, will be his “willingness to stand up in the face of political pressure.”
There is good reason to feel uneasy about having anyone appointed by Trump lead the FBI at this moment. It is obvious to all except the willfully blind that we now have a president who observes none of the norms, rules or expectations of his office and will pressure anyone at any time if doing so serves his personal interests.
We also know beyond doubt that this team will lie, and lie, and lie again whenever the matter of Russia’s exertions to elect Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton arises.
Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer connected to the Putin regime after he received an email from an intermediary promising “sensitive information” about Clinton that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Almost as instructive were the number of outright lies the Trump camp concocted to try to disguise the motivation behind the encounter.  Feinstein’s suggestion that telling this president “no” has become the true measure of patriotism applies far beyond Wray. So far, Republican politicians, with a precious few exceptions, are failing this ethics exam. The revelations about Trump Jr. might have been the moment when Republican leaders at least started to grab their luggage in preparation for disembarking from the Trump train. After all, as Post blogger Greg Sargent underscored, there is evidence that the president himself cooperated in putting out the original lies about his son’s meeting. This may prove to be the wedge that opens up a larger examination of the president’s determination to cover up. Yet the GOP is having trouble kicking its Trump habit. . . . Vice President Pence’s effort to stay loyal to Trump while tiptoeing away from the latest disclosures is another sign of chaos. Marc Lotter, Pence’s press secretary, attempted to draw a bright line, saying of the vice president: “He is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket.” But there is no bright line. This statement should widen, rather than narrow, interest in Pence’s behavior because denying any relationship with Russia was central to the campaign that he was part of. It was also Pence who (in theory, at least) was in charge of vetting Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who had to resign after 24 days because of his own dissembling about Russian contacts.  Pence cannot be allowed to slink away from the administration whose cause he has advanced. If he’s starting to see reasons for breaking with Trump, he’ll have to do it outright and end his own collusion with one of the most disingenuous White Houses in our history.
The same applies to Republican leaders in Congress. When will they tell the president “no”? Feinstein’s question is the right one for Wray. It should haunt Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, too. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Sessions Spoke Behind Closed Doors to an Anti-Gay Hate Group

My "friends" who voted for Donald Trump and his anti-LGBT agenda remain shocked that I harbor anger toward them.  Some claim ignorance about the promises made by Der Trumpenführer to the Christofascists and evangelical Christians and expect me to forgive their laziness and intellectual sloth.  Others try to pretend that they can simply ignore the situation which only makes me believe that they fell for Trump's open calls to racism.  Neither will convince me to give them a pass for their treachery.  Now, the New Civil Rights Movement is reporting that Attorney General Jeff Session - a man with a long history of racial bigotry and contempt and loathing for LGBT Americans - spoke last night to a closed door session of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a leading anti-LGBT hate group. The media was barred for the event which suggests that something improper likely came down given the pending litigation before the Supreme Court over "religious freedom" claims of anti-gay zealots. Here are highlights on Sessions' inappropriate appearance: 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions Tuesday evening will address an anti-gay hate group at a private, closed to the public function, and the Dept. of Justice is refusing to explain why. Worse, the group, Alliance Defending Freedom, is involved in a Supreme Court same-sex marriage case, leaving open the very real question of why would the Attorney General allow such an appearance of impropriety? 
Buzzfeed's Dominic Holden first reported the event . . . Holden also notes he reached out to the DOJ, which refused to comment on why Sessions was speaking to the ADF. More importantly, he asked, "if it signaled [a] new DOJ position in court."  "Decline comment," was the DOJ's response, Holden says.
Right Wing Watch's Peter Montgomery reports tonight's event is the ADF's Summit on Religious Liberty in Orange County, California. He notes the ADF "is the largest of the Religious Right legal groups, engaging in culture war battles against LGBTQ equality and reproductive choice in the U.S. and increasingly around the globe. So why would the address of the attorney general to ADF, a group not normally shy about taking credit for its work, be closed to the media?" he asks.
"The Alliance Defending Freedom actively helped draft discriminatory legislationworked to preserve laws criminalizing same-sex relations, and attacked the separation of church and state. ADF has been previously designated a hate group and Sessions’ appearance at this event, as the top law enforcement official in the country, brings in to question whether the attorney general intends to protect all Americans."
It's a valid question.
Sessions from the beginning of his tenure as Attorney General has made clear he has little intention to protect the most vulnerable of Americans, our children. In a joint decision with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, he chose to rescind the Obama-era guidelines protecting the civil rights of transgender students.
Education Week, in noting Sessions' speech tonight, Tuesday elaborated on his decision to rescind the transgender guidelines, and ADF's reaction at the time. . . . "The Trump administration's move won praise from Alliance Defending Freedom, . . . 

When Will Republicans Admit They Have a Huge Trump/Russia Problem?

Neither the Trump campaign nor the Trump presidency have been normal by any measure.  When it comes to lying and unacceptable behavior and the trashing of America's role in the world, there are truly no comparisons from the nation's past.  Even the paranoia driven Nixon presidency looks normal compared to the debacle that we are now witnessing - a debacle that seems to be accelerating with every new news cycle.  Yet few Republicans want to admit the obvious: Trump was never fit for office and that they are now faced with a choice of backing Trump and by extension Vladimir Putin of defending the U.S. Constitution from both domestic and foreign enemies.  Yesterday's revelation of Donald Trump, Jr.'s email exchange has removed all other options. Mealy mouthed statements and equivocation no longer work.  Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker basically makes this point in a column in the Washington Post.  It is time for Republicans to pick between their party and a demonstratively unfit - and possibly traitorous - individual or the Constitution and the nation. We are at the point where Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will show that they have some shred of patriotism left or instead act in a manner akin to the Vichy French who chose accommodation with Hitler (and a short term retention of power).  Here are column highlights:
Not only did Donald Trump Jr. meet with a Russian attorney who, he was told, had damaging information about Hillary Clinton, but also there are emails indicating that he knew in advance that the opposition research was part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Donald Trump become president.
If that’s not collusion, it seems at least “collusioney,” a newly minted term surely destined to erase all memory of Monday’s exhaustively used “nothing-burger.”
Smoking guns don’t need to be nearly this hot to capture Washington’s attention, but these latest revelations should be enough to make every American take a deep breath. Whether Trump Jr. is merely stupid is yet to be determined, but he wasn’t alone in that meeting. Joining him were his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul J. Manafort, then Trump Sr.’s campaign manager, who is known to have had business dealings in Russia for a number of years.
After Goldstone said that the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had information that would incriminate Clinton, Trump Jr. replied that he’d “love it.” Who wouldn’t? You’re the namesake son of the man on track to become the Republican nominee and possibly president — and Russia wants to help him win? Hell da !
The fact that the alleged opposition research was part of Russia’s war on Clinton, as indicated in one of the emails, would have raised flags for most people — no, make that for all but these people. I’m confident that, if the nice Ace Hardware man who recently helped me select a mailbox were to receive such an email, he’d contact the FBI as soon as possible.
[W]e can presume that all three knew better than to attend such a meeting. After all, it could well have been a trap — and I’m not sure it wasn’t. But to the inexperienced minds of Kushner and Trump Jr., the calculation may have been as simple (and feeble) as: Why not? Defeating Clinton was in the national interest, wasn’t it? And the Trumps have (or had) no pique with Russia.
Trump Jr.’s claim that he didn’t tell his father about the meeting rather strains credulity, don’t you think? Ditto Veselnitskaya’s claim that she has never worked for the Kremlin and has no idea what all the fuss is about. She was here to lobby against American legislation that her client finds objectionable.
[A]pparently, the future of the Trump presidency is in the hands of Goldstone. He set up the meeting; he brought Trump Jr. into a damning email exchange; he promised dirt. Wait, who is this guy again?
Well, that’s a very good question. He’s an intermediary for Veselnitskaya, who either (a) works for the Kremlin and possibly even Vladimir Putin; or (b) is just a lawyer/lobbyist interested in U.S. policy. Wouldn’t we like to know? Also possible is that President Trump knew all along about the meeting, which may be why he acts like a cocker spaniel at a Doberman rally whenever the name Putin comes up. What did Veselnitskaya really come to say? For whom?
More shock waves are doubtless coming. Meanwhile, we know for certain: When a Russian lawyer meets privately with the future president’s son, his son-in-law and his campaign manager on a third-party promise of Clinton-disabling intel, it’s hard to say the Trump campaign had nothing to do with Russia. 
 Watergate involved lies and cover ups for a"third rate burglary."  Here we have lies and a now much clearer  effort to cover up collusion with an enemy power.   The new developments certainly make it much more understandable why Trump wanted to fire James Comey and stop the Russiagate investigation.  Republicans can try to cling to denial, but the media which Trump loves to trash now smells blood in the water.  Republicans need to do the right thing NOW or be consumed in the growing feeding frenzy.  Oh, and don't for a minute believe Mike Pence's claims that he knew nothing.  Like Trump, he's a pathological liar.