Saturday, September 23, 2017

More Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Did John McCain Kill Obamacare Repeal?

As noted yesterday, the latest GOP effort to kill Obamacare is perhaps the most heinous to date as noted in a post yesterday.   I still remain disgusted with what the GOP has become and just how vicious its agenda has become.  Thankfully, John McCain has shown that a few in the GOP have not utterly thrown away their integrity and morality.  With his announcement yesterday that he will not support the latest Trumpcare travesty, with luck the GOP repeal effort is dead.  A piece in the New York Times looks at McCain's announcement.  Here are excerpts:
Senator John McCain of Arizona announced on Friday that he would oppose the latest proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving Republican leaders with little hope of succeeding in their last-ditch attempt to dismantle the health law and fulfill their longstanding promise to conservative voters.
For Mr. McCain, it was a slightly less dramatic reprise of his middle-of-the-night thumbs-down that killed the last repeal effort in July. This time, the senator, battling brain cancer and confronting his best friend in the Senate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, issued a statement saying that he could not “in good conscience” support the proposal by Senators Graham and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” Mr. McCain said. “Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”
With two other Republican senators likely to vote no, Mr. McCain’s opposition to the bill could be fatal. With Democrats united in opposition, Senate Republicans can afford to lose only two of their members.
A bill of this magnitude “requires a bipartisan approach,’’ Mr. McCain added.  Those concerns were compounded by the decision of Republican leaders to press forward with a vote next week before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office could complete a full analysis of the Graham-Cassidy legislation. The budget office is expected to provide a preliminary fiscal assessment early in the week, but it indicated that it would not be able to complete an analysis of the bill’s effects on health insurance coverage or premiums by Sept. 30.
McCain has reminded us that sometimes one person can make a difference.  Each of us needs to remember this as we oppose the ugliness of what the GOP and Der Trumpenführer are seeking to do to America.  Another piece in the Times looks at why the GOP is so hell bent to harm millions:
As more than 40 subdued Republican senators lunched on Chick-fil-A at a closed-door session last week, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado painted a dire picture for his colleagues. Campaign fund-raising was drying up, he said, because of widespread disappointment among donors over the inability of the Republican Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act or do much of anything else.
Mr. Gardner is in charge of his party’s midterm re-election push, and he warned that donors of all stripes were refusing to contribute another penny until the struggling majority produced some concrete results.
“Donors are furious,” one person knowledgeable about the private meeting quoted Mr. Gardner as saying. “We haven’t kept our promise.”
The backlash from big donors as well as the grass roots panicked Senate Republicans and was part of the motivation behind the sudden zeal to take one last crack at repealing the health care law before the end of the month.
This was not what Republicans had envisioned. Preparing for the 2018 midterm elections, they had thought they were in a strong position to maintain or expand their majority. Democrats must defend 25 seats — including 10 in states won last year by President Trump — while just eight Republican-held seats will be on the ballot. But their governing struggles — and attacks on congressional leaders by Mr. Trump — have soured their base, leaving the Senate majority feeling desperate.
Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, was even more blunt in a conversation with Vox. “If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections, and whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel,” he said.
Republicans say the fund-raising drop-off has been steep and across the board, from big donations to the small ones the party solicits online from the grass roots. They say the hostile views of both large and small donors are in unusual alignment and that the negative sentiment is crystallized in the fund-raising decline.
Republicans are also set to roll out their income tax overhaul plan next week in an effort to build support for it and find something the party can deliver to the president’s desk. They see the tax plan as their best opportunity to win back the allegiance of donors.
With health care repeal teetering yet again, the one thing they know for sure is that they need to show some accomplishments, and they need to do so fast.

What shocks me is that these Republicans seemingly fail to realize that perhaps some of the fund raising drop off is due to the ugliness of what the GOP is trying to pass. Not everyone is like the Koch brothers who happily want to restore the Gilded Age while the vast majority of Americans suffer.

OBX Pridefest - Day 1

Looking towards the ocean

The husband and I drove down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the 7th annual OBX Pridefest last evening.  While I make an effort NOT to spend money in North Carolina, we make an exception for Dare County which, other than the state's larger cities, was the only area to vote against anti-gay legislation.  We are stay at the home of friend who are letting six of us use their place for the weekend.  We kicked off the Pridefest weekend with a party in Nags Head.  The main event is this afternoon in Manteo on the waterfront.  The weather this morning is gorgeous, so we will likely hang by the pool this morning.   A few photos are set out above and below.
Yes, alcohol was involved
Me with Queen Mary
Jennifer Warner

Saturday Morning Male Beauty Pt 1

Friday, September 22, 2017

More Friday Male Beauty

Click image to enlarge

The Catholic Alt-Right Attacks Pro-Gay Catholics

As the previous post noted, today's GOP base is largely controlled by those who claim to be Christian yet seem to hate nearly everyone who thinks, looks or loves differently than they do.  The same holds true for what I believe is a minority of Roman Catholics in America and certainly across Europe. While proclaiming their piety and wearing their religion on their sleeves, their conduct would likely shock even the hypocritical Pharisees of the New Testament.  Indeed, the New Testament message of loving others is nowhere to be seen in their agenda of clinging to outdated customs, denigrating women, embracing 12th century ignorance and hating others, especially LGBT individuals.  As noted in prior posts, Jesuit author James Martin is finding out just who vicious and un-Christian these alt-right Catholics can be. Indeed, many remind one of the German Catholics who rallied to Adolph Hitler' message of hate more than 80 years ago.  Martin takes a shot back at these vicious elements in the Catholic Church in a column in the Washington Post.  Here are excerpts:
After a gunman killed 49 people at Pulse, a predominantly gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016, I found myself disappointed that more Catholic leaders did not offer support to the LGBT community. And that the few who did found it difficult to acknowledge that LGBT people specifically had been targeted for murder.
For me, that silence highlighted a certain failure to be compassionate to the LGBT community even in a moment of tragedy. It also revealed that the LGBT community was still largely invisible to some church authorities. In response, I recorded a brief video that was posted on Facebook. It offered some support for the LGBT community during a terribly difficult few weeks.
Not long afterwards, New Ways Ministry, an organization that ministers to and advocates for LGBT Catholics, invited me to accept their Bridge Building Award. Until then, I had never done what you might call formal ministry with LGBT Catholics, besides the counseling that almost every church worker does in his or her ministry. But the Catholic Church’s response to the events in Orlando encouraged me to do so in a more public way. So, with my Jesuit superiors’ permission, I accepted the award and offered a lecture on how to build a “two-way bridge” between LGBT Catholics and the institutional church — that is, the church’s hierarchy and decision-makers.  From that talk came the first half of my book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.”
Now, in the past few weeks, three lectures I was invited to have been canceled, and I have been targeted by some far-right groups whose actions betray a level of homophobia that is hard to fathom. These groups, a kind of Catholic alt-right, are increasingly attempting to substitute themselves for legitimate Church authority by passing judgments on which Catholics are orthodox and which are not. “Heresy” is a word they use as frequently as “and” and “the.”
My reflections, which can be summarized as a call for respect on both sides, were based on the gospel, and on the Catechism’s call for the Church to treat “homosexual persons” with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” As with all my books, I sought the formal ecclesial approval of my Jesuit superiors, who vetted my what would become “Building a Bridge.” Perhaps to the disappointment of some critics, it is about dialogue and prayer, not about sexual morality or the sexual practices of LGBT people. On sexual matters, the LGBT community and the institutional church are simply too far apart at this moment. 
What I didn’t know was that, in a few quarters, the pushback would be hysterical, vicious and immediate. . . . The vast majority of people have responded positively, both in person and online. And people in the pews, especially LGBT Catholics and their parents, have told me that they are grateful that a priest is raising this topic. Many of these conversations have transpired through tears.
This makes any backlash worth it.  But the backlash from the far right is more intense than anticipated. I’ve been accused of heresy, ridiculously, by some critics (I’m not contradicting any revealed truths); there have been over-the-top condemnations (I should be removed from the priesthood) and name-calling that I thought was confined to 1950s playgrounds (faggot, fairy, pansy and worse.) Here’s a quote from a letter received just this week: “You’re leading souls to hell where you will surely reside in a few years.” 
[R]eflection on various biblical passages and an invitation to prayer seems to be of no interest to them; perhaps they feel that LGBT people do not, and should not, have access to the Holy Spirit.
 The far-right backlash has led, perhaps inevitably, to the cancellation (or rescheduling) of several speaking events . . . Each of these talks was not about LGBT issues, but about Jesus. And in each of the cities in which the talk was scheduled, the local bishop (in each case a cardinal) had no qualms about the upcoming lecture. . . .  the organizers admitted that they were responding to people who had been persuaded by online campaigns of far-right sites designed to lead people to view me as a heretic, even though I am what Catholics call a “priest in good standing” and the book had been vetted and endorsed by legitimate Church authorities.
There is such widespread homophobia in some dark corners of the Church that it causes people to become enraged by a book that they have never read. These individuals and sites trafficking in such obvious homophobia operate through means of vicious social media campaigns, relentless personal attacks, gross misrepresentations, as well as simple lies and deceit. They end up trying to be so Catholic that they are barely Christian.
Ironically, these groups, like the website Church Militant, which tout their desire for “traditional” Catholic practices consistently set themselves against bishops and religious superiors. Thus, groups that have zero legitimacy in the Church (and which have often been criticized by Church leadership) are setting themselves up against legitimate authorities. Pope Francis himself, for example, is a frequent target.
I am trying to do what Jesus did, in reaching out to people on the margins and telling them that God created them, God loves them and God welcomes them. And that is the truth.

Like the Protestant Christofascists, these alt-right Catholics ceased to be Christian long ago.

Today's GOP: Cruelty, Incompetence and Lies

As I note frequently, I am a former Republican.  Once upon a time I held a city committee seat for the Republican Party of Virginia Beach.  I even was the original incorporator of that entity as filings at the Virginia State Corporation Commission confirm.  Yet now I find myself embarrassed to ever have been a Republican give the hideousness of today's Republican Party.  A hideousness starkly revealed by the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill currently in the U.S. Senate which would have millions of Americans and leave those with pre-existing conditions without coverage.  Virtually every part of the healthcare industry opposes the bill as does AARP which will hopefully go on a rampage against Republicans in the 2018 election cycle if this travesty passes (if it does, it will be based solely on Republican votes).  So why is the GOP leadership pushing so hard for this bill?  Two main factors, in my view: thanks to Citizens United, the big money players in the GOP donor class want its passage and will punish the GOP if this massive tax cut for the wealthy disguised as "reform" is not passed.  The other factor is the make up the GOP base which is controlled by Christofascists and racists, groups best defined by their hatred of others and their hatred of Barack Obama.  In their warped and hate-filled minds, this bill will punish minorities and others they despise.  The irony will be, of course, that they themselves will end up suffering greatly when many find themselves without health care at some point down the road.  A column in the New York Times looks at the cruelty, incompetence and lies behind this foul bill.  Here are excerpts:
Graham-Cassidy, the health bill the Senate may vote on next week, is stunningly cruel. It’s also incompetently drafted: The bill’s sponsors clearly had no idea what they were doing when they put it together. Furthermore, their efforts to sell the bill involve obvious, blatant lies.
Nonetheless, the bill could pass. And that says a lot about today’s Republican Party, none of it good.
The Affordable Care Act, which has reduced the percentage of Americans without health insurance to a record low, created a three-legged stool: regulations that prevent insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, a requirement that individuals have adequate insurance (and thus pay into the system while healthy) and subsidies to make that insurance affordable. For the lowest-income families, insurance is provided directly by Medicaid.
Graham-Cassidy saws off all three legs of that stool. Like other Republican plans, it eliminates the individual mandate. It replaces direct aid to individuals with block grants to states, under a formula that sharply reduces funding relative to current law, and especially penalizes states that have done a good job of reducing the number of uninsured. And it effectively eliminates protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
[E]veryone, who knows anything about health care warns [the bill] would cause chaos.  It’s not just progressives: The American Medical Association, the insurance industry and Blue Cross/Blue Shield have all warned that markets would be destabilized and millions would lose coverage.
How many people would lose insurance? Republicans are trying to ram the bill through before the Congressional Budget Office has time to analyze it — an attempt that is in itself a violation of all previous norms, and amounts to an admission that the bill can’t bear scrutiny. But C.B.O. has analyzed other bills containing some of Graham-Cassidy’s provisions, and these previous analyses suggest that it would add more than 30 million people to the ranks of the uninsured.
Both Cassidy and Graham insist that their bill would continue to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions — a claim that will come as news to the A.M.A., Blue Cross and everyone else who has read the bill’s text.
Independent analyses find that most states would, in fact, experience serious cuts in federal aid — and everyone would face huge cuts after 2027.
So we’re looking at an incompetently drafted bill that would hurt millions of people, whose sponsors are trying to sell it with transparently false claims. How is it that this bill might nonetheless pass the Senate?
One answer is that Republicans are desperate to destroy President Barack Obama’s legacy in any way possible, no matter how many American lives they ruin in the process.
Another answer is that most Republican legislators neither know nor care about policy substance. This is especially true on health care, where they never tried to understand why Obamacare looks the way it does, or how to devise a nonvicious alternative.
I’d add that the evasions and lies we’re seeing on this bill have been standard G.O.P. operating procedure for years. The trick of converting federal programs into block grants, then pretending that this wouldn’t mean savage cuts, was central to every one of Paul Ryan’s much-hyped budgets. The trick of comparing dollar numbers over time to conceal huge benefit cuts has, as I already noted, been around since the 1990s.
In other words, Graham-Cassidy isn’t an aberration; it’s more like the distilled essence of everything wrong with modern Republicans. . . . even if the handful of Republican senators who retain some conscience block it — we’re looking at you, John McCain — the underlying sickness of the G.O.P. 
I again find myself how any one morally decent vote Republican given what the GOP has become both at the state and at the federal level.  It epitomizes moral bankruptcy and cruelty towards others. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Austin Victoria - Click image to enlarge

Thursday, September 21, 2017

More Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Trump Nominee's Illegal Vote Exposes the Voter-Fraud Charade

If one listens to Republicans - especially the vulgarian-in-chief in the White House - voter fraud is rampant and millions of illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 presidential election.  The truth, of course, is something very different with study after study showing that voter fraud is rare and not a pressing concern for anyone other than Republicans who are increasingly desperate to disenfranchise voters as their aging white voter base literally dies off.  To win, the GOP must decrease the votes of minorities and younger voters who wisely see the GOP as an enemy of their own future and prosperity.  Thus, it is delicious irony that one of Der Trumpenführer's nominees cast an illegal vote in Virginia in last year's presidential election.  True, it wasn't part of any insidious plan, but it shows the farce of the Republican charade that voter fraud is a pressing national concern.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at the issue and Jeffrey Gerrish's illegal vote.  Here are highlights:
Jeffrey Gerrish made a mistake. Not a big one, although he did break the law. But it’s a mistake many people make, and for the most part, they aren’t called out by the Senate Finance Committee and in the pages of The New York Times.
Most of the people who make the error, however, are not nominees of a president who has alleged that there were 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 election, or who empaneled a commission to consider voter fraud that is on a dubious hunt to try to validate that wild, unsubstantiated claim. Jeffrey Gerrish, however, is President Trump’s nominee to be deputy U.S. trade representative, so it happens that investigators realized he cast his vote in the 2016 election in Virginia, even though he had moved to Maryland—a far less competitive state in national elections.
Actually, Gerrish broke two laws. Although Virginia allows people to vote there 30 days after moving—after all, they probably know the candidates and issues in their old home best—he was outside that grace period. The Times adds: “A Trump administration official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the case in detail, said that Mr. Gerrish had a Virginia driver’s license at the time of the election and was under the impression that the state granted a longer grace period for former residents.” But Maryland also requires that new residents get a Maryland license within 60 days of moving, which he had not done. Of course, such laws about getting new licenses are routine and routinely ignored. Many people just wait for their old license to expire before getting a new one, no one gets hurt, and no one launches a commission of inquiry. But that’s just the point about Gerrish’s old vote. The story isn’t so much a gotcha on Gerrish as it is a statement about the folly of Trump’s vote-fraud commission. The commission is chaired by Vice President Pence, but its co-chair and driving force is Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas. Kobach is a long-time advocate for tighter voting laws, which he says are needed because of widespread voter fraud. In particular, he’s concerned about what’s known as in-person voter fraud: Someone actually shows up and casts an unlawful ballot, either because they aren’t registered, because they’re registered unlawfully, or because they vote in someone else’s name. The problem is that this is highly unusual. Repeated studies have shown that voter fraud is extremely rare, . . .
 Kobach is particularly into the idea of databases of voter lists from various states, which can then be crosschecked against each other to find people who are unlawfully double-voting—or at least double-registered—in several states. That was the motivation behind his controversial request that states provide full voter rolls to the commission. The problem is that the technique has repeatedly failed to find widespread fraud, even as it produces lots of false positives from similar names. In one instance, Kobach dramatically announced more than 2,000 dead voters who were still on rolls, only for the supposedly dead to be revealed as still alive quite quickly. More recently, Kobach declared in a Breitbart column that there was proof of widespread fraud in New Hampshire, then saw the state’s secretary of state shred his claim. Many people, including some of Trump’s closest relatives and advisers, are registered in two states (probably because they, like most people, didn’t bother to cancel their old registrations), but also almost certainly don’t vote twice. When there really is in-person voter fraud, however, it’s probably more likely something like what Gerrish did. He’s not the first person to decide to vote in his old home in the hopes of casting a more consequential vote. . . . . This is illegal, but it’s unlikely to be prosecuted, and it’s also naively idealistic: Those occasional ballots mailed back home to Nevada and Ohio and Florida are unlikely to swing any election. The same is true for Gerrish’s ballot. Even with his vote, Clinton won Virginia by more than 200,000 votes, and she won Maryland by more than 700,000. Contra the Trump voting commission’s starting assumptions, there’s very little in-person voter fraud, and where it occurs, it’s usually individuals exercising poor judgment—not massive, coordinated campaigns that stuff the ballot boxes with Trump’s fictitious millions of illegitimate votes. Then again, that doesn’t make much of a story, does it?

I have heard Kobach in a number of interviews and try as much as he might to  pretend he's not a racist, he most certainly is one.  He's a white supremacists in all but formal affiliation with a white nationalist group.  Sadly, Kobach is all too representative of more and more of the GOP.  If one is not a white, heterosexual right wing Christian, they don't view you as fully human or someone they want having the right to vote. Just one more example of the "Christian values" of today's Republican Party. 

Manafort Offered Putin Ally "Private Briefings" on 2016 Presidential Race

If there is any doubt that members of the Trump campaign were willing to put electing Der Trumpenführer and/or lining their pockets with money ahead of America, increasingly one need only look at former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.  With details are so far lacking as to whether Russia accepted his efforts to collude, Manafort certainly left little doubt that he and his allegiance to America were for sale.  When combined with the Manafort/Kushner/Trump, Jr. meeting with Russians with Kremlin ties, it obviously paints a questionable picture of the Trump campaign's claims that there was no collusion with Russia.  Add in the question of who was coordinating anti-Clinton Facebook ad buys by apparent Russian operatives - some of the payments to Facebook were even made in Russian rubles - and the circumstantial evidence appears increasingly damning.  Meanwhile the vast majority of Trump voters seem utterly unconcerned that they may have put Vladimir Putin's minion in the White House).  Here are highlights from a Washington Post article that looks at the growing clouds of possible collusion - let's call it what ir is, treason - by Manafort and likely others:

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.
“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.
The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.
[I]nvestigators believe that the exchanges, which reflect Manafort’s willingness to profit from his prominent role alongside Trump, created a potential opening for Russian interests at the highest level of a U.S. presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the probe. Those people, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters under investigation.
Several of the ex­changes, which took place between Manafort and a Kiev-based employee of his international political consulting practice, focused on money that Manafort believed he was owed by Eastern European clients.
The notes appear to be written in deliberately vague terms, with Manafort and his longtime employee, Konstantin Kilimnik, never explicitly mentioning Deripaska by name. But investigators believe that key passages refer to Deripaska, who is referenced in some places by his initials, “OVD,” according to people familiar with the emails. One email uses “black caviar,” a Russian delicacy, in what investigators believe is a veiled reference to payments Manafort hoped to receive from former clients.
In one April exchange days after Trump named Manafort as a campaign strategist, Manafort referred to his positive press and growing reputation and asked, “How do we use to get whole?”
Collectively, the thousands of emails present a complex picture. For example, an email exchange from May shows Manafort rejecting a proposal from an unpaid campaign adviser that Trump travel abroad to meet with top Russian leaders. “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips,” Manafort wrote, according to an email read to The Post.
The email exchanges with Kilimnik add to an already perilous legal situation for Manafort, whose real estate dealings and overseas bank accounts are of intense interest for Mueller and congressional investigators as part of their examination of Russia’s 2016 efforts. People close to Manafort believe Mueller’s goal is to force the former campaign chairman to flip on his former Trump associates and provide information.
Mueller has also summoned Maloni, the Manafort spokesman, and Manafort’s former lawyer to answer questions in front of a grand jury. Last month, Mueller’s team told Manafort and his attorneys that they believed they could pursue criminal charges against him and urged him to cooperate in the probe by providing information about other members of the campaign. 
The emails now under review by investigators and described to The Post could provide prosecutors with additional leverage.
Deripaska, one of Russia’s richest men, is widely seen as an important ally of President Vladi­mir Putin. A U.S. diplomatic cable from 2006, published by WikiLeaks, referred to Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis.”  . . . 
The billionaire has struggled to get visas to travel to the United States because of concerns he might have ties to organized crime in Russia, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The emails under review by investigators also show that Manafort waved off questions within the campaign about his international dealings, according to people familiar with the correspondence. Manafort wrote in an April 2016 email to Trump press aide Hope Hicks that she should disregard a list of questions from The Post about his relationships with Deripaska and a Ukrainian businessman, according to people familiar with the email.
When another news organization asked questions in June, Manafort wrote Hicks that he never had any ties to the Russian government, according to people familiar with the email.
People close to Manafort told The Post that he and Kilimnik used coded language as a precaution because they were transmitting sensitive information internationally.
In late July, eight days after Trump delivered his GOP nomination acceptance speech in Cleveland, Kilimnik wrote Manafort with an update, according to people familiar with the email exchange.
Kilimnik wrote in the July 29 email that he had met that day with the person “who gave you the biggest black caviar jar several years ago,” according to the people familiar with the exchange. Kilimnik said it would take some time to discuss the “long caviar story,” and the two agreed to meet in New York.
Investigators believe that the reference to the pricey Russian luxury item may have been a reference to Manafort’s past lucrative relationship with Deripaska, according to people familiar with the probe. Others familiar with the exchange say it may be a reference to Ukrainian business titans with whom Manafort had done business.
Kilimnik and Manafort have previously confirmed that they were in contact during the campaign, including meeting twice in person — once in May 2016, as Manafort’s role in Trump’s campaign was expanding, and again in August, about two weeks before Manafort resigned amid questions about his work in Ukraine.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Can America Survive Right Wing Tribalism?

Being gay, one quickly becomes accustomed to being viewed as "other" - and even worthy of death according to numerous "godly Christian" pastors.  So for me, it is easy to understand the term tribalism which drives us to identify with and surround ourselves with those like us or with similar beliefs.  But the downside is that it can cause divisions in society as a whole.  America now finds itself largely as a divided camp with those on the right, namely religious extremists, racists, those  embracing ignorance and the greed driven facing off against those who are secular, educated, and accepting of those who are different in terms of skin color, religious faith (or no faith) and ethnicity.  In a very lengthy piece in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan poses the question of whether or not America can survive this new tribalism.  Sadly, in my view, he gives a false equivalence to the far right and the far left when it is the far right that deserves the most severe condemnation.  It is on the right, not the left that one sees racism and religious based hatred as two of the pillars of the dogma of the right which results in a total denial of the common humanity we all share.  Add to this the greed of the GOP agenda that would literally throw millions into the gutter so that the wealthy can enjoy enormous tax cuts, and there simply is no equivalence between the agenda/tribalism of the right and that of the liberals and left.  Here are highlights from Sullivan's column:
From time to time, I’ve wondered what it must be like to live in a truly tribal society. Watching Iraq or Syria these past few years, you get curious about how the collective mind can come so undone. What’s it like to see the contours of someone’s face, or hear his accent, or learn the town he’s from, and almost reflexively know that he is your foe? How do you live peacefully for years among fellow citizens and then find yourself suddenly engaged in the mass murder of humans who look similar to you, live around you, and believe in the same God, but whose small differences in theology mean they must be killed before they kill you? In the Balkans, a long period of relative peace imposed by communism was shattered by brutal sectarian and ethnic warfare, as previously intermingled citizens split into unreconcilable groups. The same has happened in a developed democratic society — Northern Ireland — and in one of the most successful countries in Africa, Kenya.
Tribal loyalties turned Beirut, Lebanon’s beautiful, cosmopolitan capital, into an urban wasteland in the 1970s; they caused close to a million deaths in a few months in Rwanda in the 1990s; they are turning Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, into an enabler of ethnic cleansing right now in Myanmar. British imperialists long knew that the best way to divide and conquer was by creating “countries” riven with tribal differences. Not that they were immune: Even in successful modern democracies like Britain and Spain, the tribes of Scots and Catalans still threaten a viable nation-state. In all these places, the people involved have been full citizens of their respective nations, but their deepest loyalty is to something else.
Over the past couple of decades in America, the enduring, complicated divides of ideology, geography, party, class, religion, and race have mutated into something deeper, simpler to map, and therefore much more ominous. I don’t just mean the rise of political polarization (although that’s how it often expresses itself), nor the rise of political violence (the domestic terrorism of the late 1960s and ’70s was far worse), nor even this country’s ancient black-white racial conflict (though its potency endures).
I mean a new and compounding combination of all these differences into two coherent tribes, eerily balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to provoke, condemn, and defeat the other.
I mean two tribes where one contains most racial minorities and the other is disproportionately white; where one tribe lives on the coasts and in the cities and the other is scattered across a rural and exurban expanse; where one tribe holds on to traditional faith and the other is increasingly contemptuous of religion altogether; where one is viscerally nationalist and the other’s outlook is increasingly global; where each dominates a major political party; and, most dangerously, where both are growing in intensity as they move further apart.
The project of American democracy — to live beyond such tribal identities, to construct a society based on the individual, to see ourselves as citizens of a people’s republic, to place religion off-limits, and even in recent years to embrace a multiracial and post-religious society — was always an extremely precarious endeavor. It rested, from the beginning, on an 18th-century hope that deep divides can be bridged by a culture of compromise, and that emotion can be defeated by reason. It failed once, spectacularly, in the most brutal civil war any Western democracy has experienced in modern times. And here we are, in an equally tribal era, with a deeply divisive president who is suddenly scrambling Washington’s political alignments, about to find out if we can prevent it from failing again.
For the overwhelming majority of our time on this planet, the tribe was the only form of human society. . . . Tribal cohesion was essential to survival, and our first religions emerged for precisely this purpose. . . . Religion therefore fused with communal identity and purpose, it was integral to keeping the enterprise afloat, and the idea of people within a tribe believing in different gods was incomprehensible. Such heretics would be killed.Comparatively few actual tribes exist today, but that doesn’t mean that humans are genetically much different. . . . Successful modern democracies do not abolish this feeling; they co-opt it. Healthy tribalism endures in civil society in benign and overlapping ways. We find a sense of belonging, of unconditional pride, in our neighborhood and community; in our ethnic and social identities and their rituals; among our fellow enthusiasts.
None of this is a problem. Tribalism only destabilizes a democracy when it calcifies into something bigger and more intense than our smaller, multiple loyalties; when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole; and when it turns rival tribes into enemies. And the most significant fact about American tribalism today is that all three of these characteristics now apply to our political parties, corrupting and even threatening our system of government.
[I]n the first half of the 20th century, with immigration sharply curtailed after 1924, the world wars acted as great unifiers and integrators. Our political parties became less polarized by race, as the FDR Democrats managed to attract more black voters as well as ethnic and southern whites. By 1956, nearly 40 percent of black voters still backed the GOP.
But we all know what happened next. The re-racialization of our parties began with Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964, when the GOP lost almost all of the black vote. It accelerated under Nixon’s “southern strategy” in the wake of the civil-rights revolution. By Reagan’s reelection, the two parties began to cohere again into the Civil War pattern, and had simply swapped places.
Mass illegal Latino immigration added to the tribal mix as the GOP, led most notably by Pete Wilson in California, became increasingly defined by white immigration restrictionists, and Hispanics moved to the Democrats. Newt Gingrich’s revolutionary GOP then upped the ante, treating President Bill Clinton as illegitimate from the start, launching an absurd impeachment crusade, and destroying the comity that once kept Washington from complete partisan dysfunction. Abortion and gay rights further split urban and rural America.
Then there were other accelerants: The arrival of talk radio in the 1980s, Fox News in the ’90s, and internet news and MSNBC in the aughts; the colossal blunder of the Iraq War, which wrecked the brief national unity after 9/11; and the rise of partisan gerrymandering that allowed the GOP to win, in 2016, 49 percent of the vote but 55 percent of House seats. (A recent study found that a full fifth of current districts are more convoluted than the original, contorted district that first gave us the term gerrymander in 1812.) The greatest threat to a politician today therefore is less a candidate from the opposing party than a more ideologically extreme primary opponent. The incentives for cross-tribal compromise have been eviscerated, and those for tribal extremism reinforced.
The result of all this is that a lopsided 69 percent of white Christians now vote Republican, while the Democrats get only 31. In the last decade, the gap in Christian identification between Democrats and Republicans has increased by 50 percent. In 2004, 44 percent of Latinos voted Republican for president; in 2016, 29 percent did. Forty-three percent of Asian-Americans voted Republican in 2004; in 2016, 29 percent did. Since 2004, the most populous urban counties have also swung decisively toward the Democrats, in both blue and red states, while rural counties have shifted sharply to the GOP. When three core components of a tribal identity — race, religion, and geography — define your political parties, you’re in serious trouble.
Some countries where tribal cleavages spawned by ethnic and linguistic differences have long existed understand this and have constructed systems of government designed to ameliorate the consequences. Unlike the U.S., they encourage a culture of almost pathological compromise, or build constitutions that, unlike our own, take tribal conflict seriously. They often have a neutral head of state — a constitutional monarch or nonpartisan president — so that the legitimacy of the system is less easily defined by one tribe or the other. They tend to have proportional representation and more than two parties, so it’s close to impossible for one party to govern without some sort of coalition.
The United States is built on a very different set of institutions. There is no neutral presidency here, and so when a rank tribalist wins the office and governs almost entirely in the interests of the hardest core of his base, half the country understandably feels as if it were under siege. Our two-party, winner-take-all system only works when both parties are trying to appeal to the same constituencies on a variety of issues.
Our undemocratic electoral structure exacerbates things. Donald Trump won 46 percent of the vote, attracting 3 million fewer voters than his opponent, but secured 56 percent of the Electoral College. Republicans won 44 percent of the vote in the Senate seats up for reelection last year, but 65 percent of the seats. To have one tribe dominate another is one thing; to have the tribe that gained fewer votes govern the rest — and be the head of state — is testing political stability.
And so by 2017, 41 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats said they disagreed not just with their opponents’ political views but with their values and goals beyond politics as well. Nearly 60 percent of all Americans find it stressful even to talk about Trump with someone who disagrees with them. A Monmouth poll, for good measure, recently found that 61 percent of Trump supporters say there’s nothing he could do to make them change their minds about him; 57 percent of his opponents say the same thing. Nothing he could do.
Conservatism thrived in America when it was dedicated to criticizing liberalism’s failures, engaging with it empirically, and offering practical alternatives to the same problems. It has since withered into an intellectual movement that does little but talk to itself and guard its ideological boundaries. To be a conservative critic of George W. Bush, for example, meant risking not just social ostracism but, for many, loss of livelihood. . . . so, among tribal conservatives, the Iraq War remained a taboo topic when it wasn’t still regarded as a smashing success, tax cuts were still the solution to every economic woe, free trade was all benefit and no cost, and so on. Health care was perhaps the most obvious example of this intellectual closure. Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act was immediate and total. Even though the essential contours of the policy had been honed at the Heritage Foundation, even though a Republican governor had pioneered it in Massachusetts, and even though that governor became the Republican nominee in 2012, the anathematization of it defined the GOP for seven years. After conservative writer David Frum dared to argue that a moderate, market-oriented reform to the health-care system was not the ideological hill for the GOP to die on, he lost his job at the American Enterprise Institute.
As for indifference to reality, today’s Republicans cannot accept that human-produced carbon is destroying the planet, . . . . Republicans cannot own the fact that big tax cuts have not trickled down, or that President Bush authorized the brutal torture of prisoners, thereby unequivocally committing war crimes.
And then there is the stance of white Evangelicals, a pillar of the red tribe. Among their persistent concerns has long been the decline of traditional marriage, the coarsening of public discourse, and the centrality of personal virtue to the conduct of public office. In the 1990s, they assailed Bill Clinton as the font of decadence; then they lionized George W. Bush, who promised to return what they often called “dignity” to the Oval Office. And yet when a black Democrat with exemplary personal morality, impeccable public civility, a man devoted to his wife and children and a model for African-American fathers, entered the White House, they treated him as a threat to civilization. . . . . And when they encountered a foulmouthed pagan who bragged of grabbing women by the pussy, used the tabloids to humiliate his wife, married three times, boasted about the hotness of his own daughter, touted the size of his own dick in a presidential debate, and spoke of avoiding STDs as his personal Vietnam, they gave him more monolithic support than any candidate since Reagan, including born-again Bush and squeaky-clean Romney.
How to unwind this increasingly dangerous dysfunction? It’s not easy to be optimistic with Trump as president. And given his malignant narcissism, despotic instincts, absence of empathy, and constant incitement of racial and xenophobic hatred, it’s extremely hard not to be tribal in return. There is no divide he doesn’t want to deepen, no conflict he doesn’t want to start or intensify. How on earth can we not “resist”?

Republicans Once Again Seek to Throw Millions Off of Healthcare Coverage

Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, a/k/a the Palmetto Queen - cohorts in cruelty

Apparently the zeal of Republicans to give a huge tax cut to the wealthiest Americans is never ending.  Hence, yet another effort to cobble together 50 votes for perhaps the ugliest GOP repeal and "replace" Trumpcare bill yet.  As with the previous GOP bills, this latest abomination would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose health care coverage and punish states that expanded Medicaid and sought to bring health care attainability to the working poor and others previously not qualifying for coverage.  Once again, it may be Republican women who may block the most cruel and heartless agenda of male Republicans in the U.S. Senate although that verdict is still out.  John McCain is remaining mum on his view of this latest example of the GOP's reverse Robin Hood effort to bring about a new Gilded Age.  The New York Times lets loose on Republicans in a main editorial.  Here are editorial excerpts:
Republican lawmakers have wasted much of the year trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a move that would deprive millions of people of health insurance. They’re back at it. Like a bad sequel to a terrible movie, a proposal whose main architects are Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would in many ways be worse than bills that came before. It would punish states like California and New York that have done the most to increase access to health care and set in motion cuts to Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides insurance to nearly 70 million people, many of whom are disabled and elderly.
This is not an idle threat. President Trump wants this bill passed by the end of next week, before the expiration of a budget rule that allows the chamber to pass a health care bill with only 50 votes (and a tiebreaker from the vice president). It’s unclear whether the votes are there, . . .
It is hard to overstate the cruelty of the Graham-Cassidy bill. It would eliminate the mandate that even healthy people buy health insurance, end the subsidies that help people purchase coverage and stop the expansion of Medicaid. It would offer states block grants they could use to help people get insurance but would leave people at the mercy of individual state legislatures and, over all, would provide $239 billion less than what the federal government would spend under current law between 2020 and 2026, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Worse, the formula for determining state grants would penalize the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under the A.C.A. so as to provide more money to the 19 states that did not. This is a cynical attempt to win votes by taking money from generous states that are more likely to be governed by Democrats and giving some of it to representatives of stingier states that are more likely to elect Republicans.
Graham-Cassidy would further cripple Medicaid by putting a per-person cap on what the federal government spends on the program. Under current law, federal spending increases automatically to keep up with the rise in medical costs; a per-capita cap would leave governors, who are ultimately in charge of administering Medicaid, in the unenviable position of denying care to poor and older Americans.
The rush job proposed by Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Graham and endorsed by the president is deeply unfair and leaves other lawmakers with little time to understand what’s in the bill or its true costs. The Congressional Budget Office says it will not be able to determine the full impact of the legislation, including its effect on premiums and the number of people who have insurance, for several weeks.
The Senate should show a little patience; a better, more humane option awaits it. Senators Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, and Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, are working on a bill that would strengthen the A.C.A. by appropriating money for health subsidies that help low-income families; Mr. Trump has threatened to end those payments administratively. Mr. Alexander and Ms. Murray expect to produce their legislation this week.
 Let's hope that the Cassidy/Graham bill fails and that the Alexander/Murray bill moves forward.   Meanwhile, it is needful to remember that a hallmark of today's GOP is cruelty to the less fortunate not to mention the coddling of white supremacists. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

More Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Did Jared Kushner's Data Operation Assist Russians?

Paul Manafort may be indicted any day now, Facebook has been served with search warrants for specific foreign owned - read Russian - accounts and questions grow as to how Russians could so specifically target their anti-Hillary posts and fake news that sought to push voters to the Trump campaign.  One possible source of assistance to the Russians receiving growing scrutiny is Jared Kushner's data operation he created to assist in Der Trumpenführer's campaign efforts.  If this can be proven, obviously the charges that the campaign colluded with Russians who were in effect giving illegal contributions to the campaign, pretty boy Prince Jared could find himself in very serious trouble.   A piece in Vanity Fair looks at the growing focus on Kushner and his data operation.  Here are highlights:
The headlines were about Facebook admitting it had sold ad space to Russian groups trying to sway the 2016 presidential campaign. But investigators shrugged: they’d known or assumed for months that Facebook, as well as Twitter and other social-media platforms, were a tool used in the Kremlin’s campaign. “The only thing that’s surprising is that more revelations like this haven’t come out sooner,” said Congressman Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “And I expect that more will.”
Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics?
“By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh. Indeed: probers are intrigued by the role of Jared Kushner, the now-president’s son-in-law, who eagerly took credit for crafting the Trump campaign’s online efforts in a rare interview right after the 2016 election.
Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.”
Senator Martin Heinrich is leading the charge to update American election laws so that the origins of political ads on social media are at least as transparent as those on TV and in print. Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is also part of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is tracing Russia’s 2016 tactics. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich said, . . . . . “Suddenly he finds himself in the middle of this campaign. If there is a person who I think is very sophisticated in this stuff, and runs in pretty dicey circles, that is the place where I would dig.”
(Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. . . . . And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”
Or perhaps the chaotic Trump campaign unwittingly enlisted Russian-connected proxies who were eager to exploit any opening to damage Hillary Clinton’s run. It’s also plausible that Trump’s long-shot, anti-establishment bid was willing to take on assistance without asking too many questions. “Are we connecting the dots? I’m finding more dots,” said Quigley, who recently traveled to Prague and Budapest to learn more about the history of Russian influence campaigns. “I believe there was coordination, and I’m going to leave it at that for now.”