Saturday, December 23, 2017

More Saturday Male Beauty

How High Could That 2018 Democratic Wave Rise?

Eleven months is an eternity in politics, but if current attitudes and perceptions of the Republican continue on track, November, 2018, for some Republicans may fell like a reprise of the Battle of the Little Big Horn - personally, I love the figurative imagery of Paul Ryan in place of Errol Flynn in "They Died with Their Boots On" as the movie ends  -  as a potentially huge Democrat wave sweeps over them.  If the mood that prevailed in Virginia last month continues and Democrats wake up and utilize a coordinated ground game that worked so well for the Virginia Democrat ticket, Paul Ryan, one of the most despicable individuals in Washington after Trump himself, could find himself loosing the House speaker-ship or worse.    A piece in New York Magazine looks at what hopefully will be a nightmare for the GOP.   Here are highlights:
As 2017 approaches its end, Republicans can celebrate a year in power and passage of their unpopular but savory-to-donors tax bill. For Democrats, the happy talk will mostly be about this year being the harbinger of an extremely successful midterm election.
Before it all gets very real, Democrats probably owe themselves the pleasure of fantasizing about how high a 2018 wave they could get if everything goes right. When it comes to House races, forecaster Harry Enten has an interesting way of thinking about the high side of potential Democratic gains, operating from an assumption that the current 12.2 percent Democratic congressional generic ballot advantage holds or actually goes higher:
There are 58 Republicans in seats with a partisan lean of +12 points Republican or less. This includes representatives like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Dave Brat. […]
Now, I’m not saying all or any of these particular Republicans will lose. Most incumbents win — even in wave elections. . . . . What I am saying, though, is that when the generic ballot is showing this large of a lead for one party, the playing field of competitive races also tends to be correspondingly huge. Consider the 2010 election, when Republicans won the national House vote by 7 percentage points. Heading into that election, there were 101 Democrat-held seats with a partisan lean of +7 Democratic or less. Republicans won 65 of them (or 64 percent). If Democrats netted a similar percentage of 58 potentially vulnerable seats, they’d pick up 37 of them, or 13 more than they need to hand the gavel to Nancy Pelosi. And unlike some other calculations, this takes fully into account the GOP’s advantage in individual districts because of redistricting or efficient voter concentration or whatever.
But if it’s the high end of the congressional generic ballot polls that is most accurate — like, say, the 56/38 percent advantage for Democrats in the latest CNN survey — then things could get crazy:
There are an astronomical 103 seats that have a partisan lean of +18 Republican or less. This expanded list includes the highest-ranking woman in the House, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and the longest-serving House member, Don Young.
That large a Democratic wave may be very unlikely. But the point is that Republicans can’t just intone “redistricting” or “incumbency” and assume their House majority can withstand any conceivable national Democratic advantage. An 18-point Democratic advantage is already conceivable, and a double-digit advantage is now actually likely. So Republicans better hope they are right that the public’s frowns over their precious tax bill turn into smiles before next November. The GOP may need all the help it can get.

The Media Must Stop Legitimizing Anti-Gay Hate Groups

With LGBT Americans under open assault by the Trump/Pence regime, once again it is critical that the mainstream media cease legitimizing anti-LGBT hate groups and allowing them to pretend to be "conservative" or "religious" organizations. Too often these groups are given a platform by networks and others and receive to challenge about their nefarious activities or, for example in the case of FRC's Tony Perkins, white supremacist ties. Here in Virginia, Victoria Cobb of The Family Foundation (Virginia's leading hate group in all but formal designation) will get interviewed and never is asked about the deliberate lies and falsehoods constantly disseminated by her organization against LGBT Virginians. Likewise, when organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom decry their much deserved hate group designations, the media has a responsibility to make it clear why the designation was made.  It takes far, far more than being a religious based organization to win the hate group label.  A piece in Media Matters looks at the media's failure to exposes these groups for what they are in fact: hate merchants seeking exempts from the laws binding on the rest of the citizenry.  Here are article excerpts:
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) began 2017 by being designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and finished the year arguing before the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commision. Throughout that time, ADF fervently opposed LGBTQ equality at every step while also moving its hardline extremism more and more into the mainstream. The media, in turn, aided the group’s efforts by largely failing to contextualize its unrelenting campaign against queer and trans people. . . . Masterpiece Cakeshop is just the tip of the iceberg of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ work this year, all of which has one thing in common: seeking to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens. ADF’s representation of the plaintiff in Masterpiece Cakeshop case did not occur in a vacuum. The group and its allied lawyers have worked on at least eight other legal cases involving religious exemptions this year. Religious exemptions are often used by anti-LGBTQ groups and people to justify discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.” ADF helped write, promote, and justify Mississippi’s sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemption law and fought for it in court, and it worked with Attorney General Jeff Sessions before he issued religious exemptions guidance in October. In addition, ADF has been leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the United States, including by influencing anti-trans “bathroom bills” in at least eight states.
SPLC labeled ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group in February due to a history of the group’s leaders and affiliated lawyers “regularly demoniz[ing] LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” The hate group designation was also conferred in part for ADF’s history of supporting anti-sodomy laws, which effectively criminalize homosexuality. In 2003, the group filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas that defended state sodomy laws and called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF also supports attempts to turn LGBTQ people straight through dangerous conversion therapy, which every mainstream medical group has discredited for decades and which has severe mental and medical health consequences for its victims.
Media Matters has found that major newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times tend to avoid using SPLC’s “hate group” label when it comes to anti-LGBTQ groups but frequently identify other hate groups designated by SPLC, particularly white nationalist groups. ADF and its allies have taken advantage of media’s hesitancy to use the label and actively worked to discredit SPLC’s designation, especially when media outlets do use it.
 When ABC News and NBC News used the “hate group” designation to describe ADF in June reports, ADF demanded a retraction from ABC and began an aggressive media strategy to attack SPLC and attempt to discredit ABC’s and NBC’s reports. Right-wing media figures joined the chorus and echoed ADF's and others’ attacks on the designation, and ADF representatives soon made the rounds on Fox News, appearing on Fox & Friends, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson Tonight. The network has proven to be a safe space for the group to push this narrative. But it’s not just right-wing media that has been sympathetic to this campaign to discredit the “hate group” label. CNN changed a headline from “Here are all the active hate groups where you live” to “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups” after pressure from right-wing figures and media. News outlets are more than just hesitant to use the “hate group” label, though, and often fail to give any context to ADF’s work at all. Media outlets owe it to their audiences to, at the very least, contextualize ADF and groups like it. Yet a lot of coverage has been lacking in that context. Much of the reporting around the Masterpiece Cakeshop case fell into this trap. Time and time again, media outlets failed to contextualize ADF, instead simply noting that it was arguing the case or sometimes calling it “conservative.” In their reports on the case, The Washington Post, NPR, Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times all mentioned ADF’s role in the case but failed to mention its years-long campaign against LGBTQ equality, and those compose just a small sampling of a larger problem. A report by Time explicitly said that ADF “is making the argument that [the case] is fundamentally not about LGBTQ discrimination but about free speech” but also failed to note any of ADF’s other work combating LGBTQ equality. Leaving out important context about ADF can give readers an impression that the case, or even ADF’s work as a whole, may truly be about “free speech” rather than discrimination against LGBTQ people. ADF’s history proves that, for the group, the Masterpiece case is not about so-called “artistic freedom” or the First Amendment; it’s about preventing LGBTQ people from being fully recognized citizens in public and even private life. If news outlets won’t call it hate in 2018, they can at least give enough information for their readers to see it for themselves.

Why the GOP/Trump Tax Bill is So Unpopular

I continue to be dumbfounded by the manner in which Republicans seemingly believe that the tax bill - many are referring to it as a tax scam - signed into law by Der Trumpenführer will help them in the 2018.   At present, the bill, which is a massive give away to the very wealthy and large corporations, remains hugely unpopular (recent polls show 2/3rd's of the population views the bill negatively).  And this in a climate where almost the same percentage view Trump negatively.  On what planet are Republicans living?  Are they so lost in the Fox News, a/k/a Faux News, bubble that they truly do not get the fact that most voters realize that they are getting the equivalent of table scraps while the wealthy and large corporations are getting filet mignon with Dom Perignon?  A piece in Politico looks at the bill's unpopularity and makes the case that it fails a basic sense of fairness and that, therefore, most voters look beyond their own meager short term gains to the huge windfall to those already living a lifestyle far beyond most people's experience.  I suspect this bill will be a huge albatross to the GOP come November, 2018.  Here are article excerpts:
Undoubtedly, it’s no single thing. For example, Trump is considerably less popular than Reagan and Bush were when they and their party pushed through their own tax-relief packages, and some of this ill will is presumably spilling over to legislative initiatives he is associated with. What’s more, the bill received far less bipartisan support than previous tax overhauls, particularly the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s. Not a single Democrat joined the GOP in supporting the new bill in either the House or the Senate. With solid opposition like this, Democratic partisans among the general public may have received a stronger signal than in previous eras of tax legislation that the bill is unworthy of their support. And, as conservative pundits have complained, the media coverage of the effort has been overwhelmingly negative. But there may be another factor behind the lack of public support for the tax overhaul: the public’s perception that some people are more likely to cash in than others. Though the bill will offer most taxpayers some relief in the near term, analysts believe that the benefits to corporations and relatively wealthy taxpayers will be much greater—especially over the long haul. Importantly, the public seems to see this: Recent polling suggests that most people see the bill as a boon to the wealthy above all. Still, even if the rich are likely to benefit the most from the new tax cuts, shouldn’t the promise of some tax relief generate at least some enthusiasm for the bill in the broader public? As it turns out, many years of research in both psychology and political science suggest not. For the most part, studies indicate that self-interest in the pocketbook sense matters a lot less than we assume: Citizens are not moved to political action by perceived shifts in how they are doing as isolated individuals. They can, however, be roused to political anger when they think others will end up doing better in comparison to people like them—that is, when they experience what social scientists refer to as “relative deprivation.” Thus, even the promise of a few more dollars in one’s wallet might be dissatisfying if other folks end up with thousands more. Relative deprivation can produce an especially strong reaction when a policy seems to make one’s own group worse off compared with some other group of people. This group element seems to be present in people’s thinking about the GOP tax bill. Since most people tell pollsters that the wealthy and large corporations will benefit disproportionately from the tax rewrite, it’s quite likely that many citizens have concluded that this round of tax relief will benefit “them” (the wealthy and large corporations) more than “us” (average Americans). Psychologists also find that relative deprivation can be especially powerful when it appears to violate some standard of fairness. . . . . polls suggest that most Americans do not believe that upper-income people and corporations pay enough in federal taxes. For example, according to Gallup’s 2017 Economy and Finance Survey, when asked whether they felt various groups paid their “fair share” of federal taxes, 63 percent felt that the wealthy paid too little in taxes. Sixty-seven percent felt the same way about corporations. In contrast, 51 percent felt that middle-income people paid too much in federal taxes. Other recent research indicates that tax provisions that appear to help the wealthy avoid taxes are seen as especially unfair. . . . . the level of opposition we are seeing to the bill should be no surprise. Even if many taxpayers knew that they would personally see a lower tax bill in the next few years, they might still feel like they had gotten a raw deal—and perhaps an unfair deal—relative to the well-off. [C]hanges made by the bill will have a big impact on certain taxpayers. For instance, the overhaul’s trimming of the state and local tax deduction is likely to increase the taxes of many citizens living in high-tax states like California, New Jersey and New York. Should Democrats choose to highlight this change when campaigning in these states next year, voters might act on more than a mere distaste for how much the tax plan’s tilt toward the wealthy—potentially adding to the headwinds the GOP is facing going into the 2018 elections.

Put another way, most Americans realize that the small temporary  tax break they will receive adds up to less than the very wealthy pay for a pair of shoes or dress.  Meanwhile the very same wealthy will see tens of thousands (or in the case of Der Trumpenführer, millions) in tax breaks.  Again, I hope this bill bites the GOP firmly in the ass come November, 2018.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, December 22, 2017

Putin’s First Year in the White House

As a student of history and a long time political activist - first for the GOP and now against the GOP - I find it chilling to watch what has been transpiring over the past eleven months.  The lessons of history from the Russian Revolution - first the overthrow of a monarchy and then the overthrow of a short lived democracy - and the rise of Hitler are utterly ignored by much of the American population or thought as irrelevant.  Viewers of Fox News, of course, have no grasp of what is even happening given the alternate universe that Fox presents, not to mention it's function as the American equivalent of Pravda under the Soviet Union.  Worse yet, Republicans are aiding and abetting in the threats to our democracy with abandon and helping American oligarchs to loot the country.  In a piece that is dead on, Andrew Sullivan looks at the first year of Putin's asset in the White House.  The entire piece is set out below and ought to be mandatory reading for anyone who doesn't have their head in the sand or up their posteriors. 
What are we to make of Vladimir Putin’s first year in the White House? How has he done.
I’m only slightly kidding. Or rather I’m just channeling a CNN interview earlier this week with James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence. Here’s what Clapper said: “I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president […] You have to remember Putin’s background. He’s a KGB officer. That’s what they do. They recruit assets. And I think some of that experience and instincts of Putin has come into play here in his managing of a pretty important account for him, if I could use that term, with our president.”
Clapper clarified his statement by saying he was being figurative, rather than literal. So let’s just ask a figurative question, shall we? How successful has the Kremlin’s figurative investment been this past year? Pretty damn impressive.
Look first at Putin’s domestic goals. His core concern, as with any despot, is the legitimacy of his pseudo-democratic autocracy - which means, in turn, discrediting the very different features of the liberal democracies of the West. And in this, he must be scarcely able to believe his luck. After decades of the West’s championing of liberal democracy, the American president has spent his first year attacking it. Trump has exhibited contempt for a free press, describing the bulk of Western journalism as “fake news,” words that have gladdened the hearts of dictators across the planet. He has minimized Putin’s assassination of critical journalists, saying that America has no moral standing to criticize. He has treated the judiciary either as instruments of loyalty — hence his packing of the federal bench — or as pests to be slandered or dismissed. He prefers total loyalty from law-enforcement officials to the actual rule of law. For good measure, Trump has legitimized Putin’s core model of governance — that of a benevolent cult hero of the nation, shored up by religious reactionaries — by plagiarizing it. As for the other critical aspect of Putinism — the looting of the treasury by oligarchs — I give you the latest tax bill. It even carves out special goodies for real-estate investors.
Then there is Russia’s permanent interest in deepening the racial and partisan divides in America — the better to force the United States to be more concerned with internal strife than with foreign affairs. On this, Putin’s success is even more impressive. What better propaganda could the Kremlin get than the Charlottesville horrors, the racial divide crippling the NFL, or the candidacy of Roy Moore? In the Cold War, the Kremlin constantly cited America’s racial strife as proof that, whatever its democratic pretensions, the country was still a bastion of white supremacy. Now, much of American academia and an entire rising generation agree with what the Soviets long argued. As for the stability and legitimacy of liberal capitalism, Putin could scarcely do better than the GOP tax proposal. When economic inequality is at record highs, undermining the social compact that undergirds capitalism, the GOP is making things far worse. It would also add well over a trillion dollars to the U.S. debt. Trump is not just looting the Treasury for himself and his buddies, he is looting the younger generation as well.
Internationally, Putin has had an even bigger year. One of his central goals — the disintegration of the European Union and the entire concept of the West — has been advanced by Washington in ways never seen before. Trump backed Brexit, breaking the U.K. away from its European partners; he supported Marine Le Pen in France for the same reason; and he has routinely lambasted Merkel, whose power is now hanging by a thread. He chose Poland, where an authoritarian party is busy dismantling judicial independence, as the site for his major foreign-policy address. He has permanently undermined the core Article 5 commitment that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all of them, by being the first U.S. president to equivocate on it. America has also broken with its European allies by withdrawing from the Paris Accords on climate, threatening the Iran nuclear deal, and backing the ethno-nationalist extremists who now run Israel on the status of Jerusalem. Last week, the U.S. found itself utterly isolated at the U.N. on the question, and openly threatening all its allies with payback. In the Middle East, Russia has never been stronger — it is now the key player in the future of Syria, while Putin’s naked annexation of Crimea and sections of eastern Ukraine remains in place, unmentioned by the White House.
What more could Putin ask for? Well, he could hope that his grotesque attack on the last U.S. election would lead to no serious effort to prevent it happening again. And lo, an American president has emphatically refused to lift a finger to defend the Constitution he is duty bound to protect. There’s been no attempt by the White House to protect the integrity of our elections — just a constant disdain for those who worry about them, and a general, somewhat egregious, complacency.
No American president in history has ever given Russia so much in so short a time. Congrats, Vladimir. You’ve achieved what no Soviet dictator ever managed to. Your asset in the White House, figurative or not, has given more than all the British and American traitors in the history of the Cold War.

More Friday Male Beauty

Republicans Warn Trump of 2018 Bloodbath

As a previous post noted, Der  Trumpenführer has stated that he wants to spend much of 2018 on the campaign trail for congressional Republicans running for re-election.  If this happens, it will be a huge gift to Democrats, especially in states like Virginia where Trump and GOP policies have motivated grass roots Democrats to get out and vote in record numbers.  Trump, of course, blinded by his own perception of his own magnificence, seemingly doesn't grasp that his base in most states makes up 27-30% of the voting population is cannot propel Republicans to re-election.  A piece in Politico looks at the dire warnings Republicans are giving to Trump about what will hopefully be a historic bloodbath for the GOP.  Personally, I hope Democrats replicate Ralph Northam's "field game" as he calls it  to get out minority and younger voters in record numbers.  Both demographics hate Trump and dislike the GOP.  2018 is their opportunity for revenge, if you will.  We can make the GOP's feared bloodbath a reality.  Here are highlights from the Politico piece:
A few weeks before Alabama's special Senate election, President Donald Trump’s handpicked Republican National Committee leader, Ronna Romney McDaniel, delivered a two-page memo to White House chief of staff John Kelly outlining the party’s collapse with female voters.
The warning, several people close to the chairwoman said, reflected deepening anxiety that a full-throated Trump endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore in the special election — which the president was edging closer to at the time — would further damage the party’s standing with women. McDaniel’s memo, which detailed the president's poor approval numbers among women nationally and in several states, would go unheeded, as Trump eventually went all-in for the ultimately unsuccessful Republican candidate.
The backstage talks provide a window into how those closest to Trump are bracing for a possible bloodbath in the 2018 midterms, which could obliterate the Republican congressional majorities and paralyze the president’s legislative agenda. The potential for a Democratic wave has grown after Republican losses this fall in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama, and as the president’s approval ratings have plummeted to the 30s. In recent weeks, some of the president’s advisers have taken it upon themselves to warn him directly about the fast-deteriorating political environment. Among GOP leaders, however, there is widespread concern heading into 2018. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said privately that both chambers could be lost in November. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has told donors that he fears a wave of swing district Republican lawmakers could retire rather than seek reelection.
During a conference meeting last week, House Republicans listened as the past five chairmen of the party’s campaign arm addressed the political environment. One endangered lawmaker said his main takeaway was that incumbents should spend little time worrying about Trump or the White House and focus only on controlling what they can.
As they raft a 2018 campaign plan, White House officials are cognizant that the president isn’t popular in some parts of the country. Trump is most likely to hit the trail in conservative states like Missouri or Montana with an eye toward mobilizing his core supporters. Discussions are underway, for example, about sending Trump and Pence to campaign in a southwestern Pennsylvania congressional district that the president won by nearly 20 percentage points that's holding a special election in March. While the president’s numbers are cratering in some swing states, he's expected to take on an expanded role on the fundraising circuit in 2018, which Republicans hope will allow them to swamp Democrats in campaign spending. Behind the scenes, though, the White House has been racing to find solutions to the electoral challenge. Following the Virginia gubernatorial race, the administration commissioned an after-action report to examine why the party under-performed among suburban voters. “There are 10 months to improve the fundamentals here, and the Senate map is, on paper, good. But maps don’t make majorities and I think there’s a realization that there’s at least a 50 percent chance one or both chambers could fall,” Jennings said. “In less than one year, this first term could be, for all intents and purposes, over if the Democrats take control of either chamber.” 

The Stench of Trump’s Self-Dealing

Reportedly years ago Donald Trump stated that if he ever ran for the presidency, he's run as a Republican because "they will believe anything."  With the passage of the Trump tax bill on a party line vote in both houses of Congress, Trump's purported statement has been prove true.  Of course no one should be surprised that Trump and his despicable offspring will all make out like bandits under the bill even as average Americans see a few paltry crumbs that will do little to ease their financial struggles.  Even a cursory review of Trump's past business dealings makes it clear that the man lies incessantly and always puts his financial interest first.  Indeed, America seems rapidly headed towards wealth inequalities only seen in former banana republics, pre-revolutionary France, and Britain before reforms were made to avid a French style revolution of its own.  What is most amazing is how Congressional Republicans to the man/woman are lying and saying that this bill is good for average Americans and the Middle class.  I guess that's what happens when Christofascists, the most dishonest segment of American society in my experience, take over the party base.  A column by former Republican Joe Scarborough excoriates Trump and the GOP.  Here are excerpts:
The political system is rigged for the richest insiders in America.
When we talk about the insider, who are we talking about? It’s the comfortable politician only looking out for his own interest. It is the lobbyist who knows how to put that perfect loophole in every single bill to get richer and richer and richer at your expense.
The richest Americans are paying nothing, and it is ridiculous. These guys shift paper around, and they get lucky. These hedge-fund guys are getting away with murder, when you have one who is making $200 million a year and paying very low taxes. It’s not fair. And it tells people a lot. The middle class is getting absolutely destroyed. This country won’t have a middle class soon. It’s got to end.

Those jumbled words [above] came from the campaign speeches and interviews of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. The excoriations of hedge-fund managers rolled off his tongue, and the promises to force billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes were an integral part of his populist platform.

What fools Trump made of those Midwestern voters who wanted the reality star to go after Washington and New York elites. As “Too Big to Fail” author Andrew Ross Sorkin reported this week, “If you’re a billionaire with your own company and are happy to use your private jet so you can ‘commute’ from a low-tax state, the plan is a godsend. . . . Private equity and real estate executives, as has been well documented, will make out like bandits.”
Those rich insiders whom Trump walloped on his way to the White House will get more than 80 percent of this tax plan’s benefits at the end of a decade. Over that same period, most Americans will see their tax rates go up. Middle-class voters and small-business owners already burdened by prohibitive medical bills, crushing student debt or high state and local taxes will face the greatest burden, while President Trump and his family will waltz away with a windfall that could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Trump clan will rake in this fortune from “pass-through” deductions, estate tax giveaways and top-rate tax reductions all because of this Republican tax cut. For a president already dogged with accusations that he is personally profiting off the presidency, such a massive giveaway to the very hedge-fund managers and real estate executives he promised as a candidate to confront only adds to the stench of self-dealing that engulfs all things Trump. Like autocrats across the world, the 45th American president has perfected the art of the self-deal.

Trump’s Republican Party looks no better, nor will it when an economic reckoning finally comes to pass in a bankrupt America. There will be no justification for having thrown on an additional $1.5 trillion to our existing $20 trillion debt — at a time when unemployment was low, consumer confidence was high and Wall Street was setting records by the day.
It should be painfully obvious to a first-year economics student that there is no rational reason to pass massive tax breaks for billionaires when the economy is humming along. The only justification can be political. Republican lawmakers have been desperate for some time to reward the same wealthy political donors whom candidate Trump bashed during the 2016 primary process.
Trump was right to say then that the political system is rigged for the richest of Americans. Unfortunately, it is now Trump’s working-class supporters who will pay the highest price for believing any promise that tumbled out of the mouth of the phony plutocratic populist.
As for my "friends" who claim to vote Republican because they are "fiscal conservatives," that excuse has been blown to Hell by the Trump tax bill.  It's time they were honest and admitted that they are motivated by one of three things when they support the GOP: (i) overriding greed, (ii) racist bigotry, or (iii) religious fanaticism.  Claims of fiscal conservatism are outright lies. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, December 21, 2017

More Thursday Male Beauty

Why White Evangelical Christianity is in Big Trouble

Roy Moore's home church.
White evangelical Christians have become the mainstay of the Republican Party and the toxic Trump/Pence regime even as the GOP controlled Congress and Trump/Pence both engage in behavior and push policies that are the antithesis of the Gospel message and Christs teachings on the treatment of the poor, the sick, the homeless and the hungry.  As posts on this blog and numerous op-ed columns have noted, the consequence is the killing of the Christian brand as evangelicals give the faith reputation for hypocrisy, selfishness and a hatred of others.  As evangelicals cheered the GOP's passage of a bill that will lavish millions in tax cuts on the obscenely wealthy, including Der Trumpenführer, the failure of the GOP to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, now leaves health care access for 9 million children in doubt.  A piece in the Washington Post sums the situation up as follows: 
Congress appears unlikely this week to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which has become a crucial element in broader negotiations over how to fund the government.

For the Smiths, who are Republicans, the congressional stalemate over the $15.6 billion program is bigger than a question how to pay. It is also a question of who — or what — to believe.
Over the course of the year, their faith in the GOP-led Congress has eroded. Their general disenchantment became more pronounced when lawmakers, including even their home-state senator, Orrin G. Hatch, an architect of the CHIP program, failed to secure the funding.
The tangible effects of that inaction reverberated from the Smiths’ home to doctors’ offices and statehouses across the country. Nine million children use CHIP to help lower their medical costs.
Federal funding for CHIP stopped flowing on Sept. put out by the Kaiser Family Foundation published on Wednesday noted that states are running out of money faster than anticipated. Half will have no money for the program by January’s end if nothing is done.
Nearly 2 million children would lose insurance by the end of January, according to the Georgetown Health Policy Institute. 
Seemingly, aiding sick children is not a priority with evangelicals who place a higher priority on a license to discriminate against others than following Christ's dictates.  As an op-ed in the Washington Post notes, if Christianity is dying in America, it is thanks to white evangelicals.  Here are column highlights:
It’s that time of year again, when we hear about the profanity of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and about Starbucks’ covert “war on Christmas,” run through their seasonal coffee cups. . . . . This year, however, it’s increasingly difficult not to notice that the main threat to Christianity in America comes from American Christians themselves.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard a case from a baker who argued his Christian convictions led him to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Last week, we witnessed the spectacle of white Christians in Alabama who convinced themselves either that the man they hoped to elect as their senator was not so creepy around young girls as to get himself banned from a mall (fact check: he was), or that the behavior that got him banned is actually biblical in character, and therefore okay (exegesis check: it isn’t). In the end, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Moore.
When we’ve reached a place where good Christian folk think it’s a matter of major theological principle not to sell pastries to gay people but are willing to give pedophiles a pass, I think it’s safe to say that American Christianity today — white American Christianity in particular — is in a pretty sorry state.
We’re remarkably ignorant of the history and the current state of the world we inhabit, and no better with scientificknowledge either. We don’t believe the media, but we’ll believe the most incredible Twitter rumor or Facebook post, curated for us by Vladimir Putin. We are surprisingly ignorant about religion, not only other people’s, but even our own.
White evangelical Christians like guns, for example, and do not especially like immigrants. Compared to other demographics, we’re excited about the death penaltyindifferent to those who are impoverished or infirm, and blind to racial and gender inequalities. We claim to read the Bible and hear Jesus’ teachings, but we think poor people deserve what they (don’t) get, and the inmates of our prisons deserve, if anything, worse than the horrors they already receive. For believers in a religion whose Scriptures teach compassion, we’re a breathtakingly cruel bunch.
Indeed it’s hard to know who we do feel pity toward, except ourselves — for we believe that we are the real victims in today’s world. 
The tyranny of fear in white Christian life is especially visible among white evangelicals, who stand out in their opposition to pluralism in America. While all other religious groups, like Americans overall, oppose letting small business owners refuse to serve gay and lesbian people — by margins of roughly two to one — white evangelicals, by 56 percent to 39 percent, say shopkeepers should be allowed to so discriminate. 
Ironically, it may well be that it is Christians’ fears about losing control of the culture that have accelerated the rise of secularism itself. (This has been an open secret in the sociology of religion for almost two decades.) Consider the rise of the “Nones” in American public life — those adults, especially younger adults, who when asked about their religious affiliation, say “none.” For decades that number was very low, but then it began to increase rapidly in the 1980s. Why was that? It seems to be caused by the tight alliance of Christianity, especially conservative white Christianity, with conservative politics over the past several decades . . . . that alliance has repelled many younger people from religion out of a distaste at seeing religion so eagerly bend the knee to short-term political gain. That is to say, Christians’ response to a misperceived crisis have become, in fact, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
 As the Christmas holiday approaches, I will celebrate being with family and friends.  One thing I will not be doing, however, is calling myself a Christian give what a hideous connotation that label has come to hold - thanks to evangelicals in particular. 

Secret GOP Congress Members Seek to Subvert FBI and CIA

Is Nunes conspiring with Trump to derail the Russia investigation?
I love to read spy and espionage thrillers.  Books like those written by David Baldacci or Nelson DeMille which have plots that pale in comparison to what is now taking place in Washington, D.C.  Between possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives to just released news that a group of Congressional Republicans have been using materials gathered by the House Intelligence Committee investigating collusion with Russia to run their own effort to discredit the FBI, the U.S. Justice Department and the CIA.  The beneficiary of the effort? Der Trumpenführer, of course, and perhaps Republicans who knew of illicit communications between Trump personnel and Russian operatives.  Politico broke the news of this pernicious GOP undertaking.  Note how Democrats were kept in the dark even as the White House was involved in the effort.  Here are excerpts:
A group of House Republicans has gathered secretly for weeks in the Capitol in an effort to build a case that senior leaders of the Justice Department and FBI improperly — and perhaps criminally — mishandled the contents of a dossier that describes alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia, according to four people familiar with their plans.
A subset of the Republican members of the House intelligence committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes of California, has been quietly working parallel to the committee's high-profile inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. They haven't informed Democrats about their plans, but they have consulted with the House's general counsel.
The people familiar with Nunes' plans said the goal is to highlight what some committee Republicans see as corruption and conspiracy in the upper ranks of federal law enforcement. The group hopes to release a report early next year detailing their concerns about the DOJ and FBI, and they might seek congressional votes to declassify elements of their evidence.
That final product could ultimately be used by Republicans to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether any Trump aides colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign — or possibly even to justify his dismissal, as some rank-and-file Republicans and Trump allies have demanded. Tuesday, his son Donald Trump Jr. told a crowd in Florida the probes were part of a “rigged system” by “people at the highest levels of government” who were working to hurt the president [Trump]. The sources familiar with the separate inquiry said it was born out of steadily building frustration with the Justice Department's refusal to share details of the way the Trump dossier was used to launch the FBI's investigation of his campaign team last year — or whether it was the basis for any court-ordered surveillance of Trump associates. It's unclear how many members of the intelligence committee are participating in the side effort. Lawmakers on the full committee interviewed by POLITICO refused to discuss it. A congressional aide with knowledge of the meetings said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was not among the participants. ”While he does believe the FBI and DOJ have recently made decisions worth looking into, he is and will always be a defender of the FBI, DOJ and the special counsel," the aide said. DOJ and FBI officials also declined to comment. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended the FBI and Mueller's team at a recent hearing on Capitol Hill. "The special counsel investigation is not a witch hunt," he said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said he wasn't aware of the Nunes effort but said it fit with what he sees as an increasingly destructive bent in Republicans’ rhetoric and actions.
The Nunes-led group is the latest evidence of an increasingly toxic and bruising confrontation between Republicans on Capitol Hill and the highest ranks of the justice system. Some Hill Republicans are irate about the Justice Department's refusal to provide more details about its investigation of Trump associates' ties to Russia. To Democrats, the GOP offensive is an attempt to distract from the investigation of Trump associates by Mueller, who has already indicted Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and secured a guilty plea from his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. There are indications he's investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey, whose exit led to Mueller taking over the Russia probe.
The more dangerous Mueller's probe has seemed to become to the White House, the louder the attacks have gotten from Trump allies on Capitol Hill, Democrats say.
“Republicans are terrified that Special Counsel Mueller is getting closer to the truth, and they are desperate to grind his investigation to a halt — even if they undermine the foundations of our democracy," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement after Republicans requested the FBI interviews.
Schiff said committee rules require consultation between Republicans and Democrats, but House Speaker Paul Ryan must enforce bipartisan cooperation if he wants it to occur.  "And at this point, you have to conclude that he doesn’t," Schiff said. Ryan’s office declined to comment.

One of the ways that Hitler and the Nazis increased their power in the early 1930's was to attack the integrity of those who opposed them in government agencies or sought to expose the truth about Nazi activities and lies.  Be very, very afraid if Trump/the GOP  manage to silence those seeking evidence and the truth.

Vladimir Putin - Investor of the Year

Donald Trump - or Der Trumpenführer, if you prefer since I will never use the title "president" in conjunction with his name - continually boasts about the record high stock market and how well investors have done over the last eleven months.  He, of course, ignores the way the market had been soaring under Barack Obama and the role that Obama played in setting the stage for future market increases.  And as foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, points out, Forbes or some other financial publication will likely be naming an "investor of the year" for 2017.  But the man who has likely reaped the biggest return on his investment made in 2016 and into 2017 is likely Vladimir Putin.  Putin, who has an ego as big as Trump's, and who views himself as Russia's new Tsar, wants to return Russia to its lost glory days on the international arena and to check America's power.  For his investment in meddling in the 2016 presidential election (by some estimates it was a paltry investment of $500,000), Putin has seen America diminished on the global stage and torn asunder domestically by Trump and the GOP Congress who seem obsessed with plundering the nation environmentally and financially to benefit 1% of the population.  None of this will make America great again.  Here are highlights from Friedman's column:
At the end of this banner stock market year, you can bet that major business publications will be naming their investor of the year. You can stop now. I have the winner, and nobody is even close when it comes to his total return on investment: Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.
A recent report in The Washington Post, quoting intelligence sources, said Putin may have spent less than $500,000 to hack our last election and help (though Hillary helped much more) Donald Trump become president. And Putin’s payoff is Trump’s first year: a president who is simultaneously eroding some of our most basic norms, undermining some of our most cherished institutions and enacting a mammoth tax bill that will not make America great again.
If you assume, as I do, that Putin wants to see an America that is not an attractive model for his own people or others to emulate, and that he wants an America run by a chaos president who cannot lead the West, then Trump is his dream come true, whether or not there was any collusion between them.
Just do the math:
On norms, we’ve grown numb to a president who misleads or outright lies every day. Different newspapers measure this differently. The Washington Post says Trump has averaged 5.5 false or misleading claims every day in office, putting him on pace for 1,999 in his first year. According to The Times, Barack Obama told 18 “distinct falsehoods” over his entire eight-year presidency, while Trump, in his first 10 months in office, “has told 103 separate untruths, many of them repeatedly.”
[I]t’s chilling to imagine what four years and 8,000 lies or misleading statements from Trump will do to trust in government in America — and how deeply that will filter into society, giving permission to anyone and everyone to lie with impunity.
In terms of institutions, Trump has personally disparaged the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the Justice Department. His head of the Environmental Protection Agency has turned the E.P.A. over to the fossil fuel industry. Ditto at Interior. His I.R.S. is being starved of funding to do its job. And his secretary of state is gutting the State Department, shedding our most experienced diplomats and replacing them with … no one.
The Treasury secretary’s economic “analysis” of the G.O.P. tax bill consisted of a one-page — fewer than 500 words — assessment, claiming that the $1.5 trillion plan would more than pay for itself, assuming a whole set of perfect circumstances come true. Your kid’s third-grade book report was longer than the Treasury’s analysis of our biggest tax overhaul in 30 years.
And then there’s the future: Putin never could have dreamed up this deformed Trump-G.O.P. tax bill, but it is precisely how you don’t make America great again. . . . .
First, we’ve always educated our citizens up to and beyond whatever the main technology of the day was — when it was the cotton gin, that meant universal primary education; when it was the factory, that meant universal high school; and now that it is the computer and artificial intelligence, it should be some form of postsecondary education for all — and then lifelong learning. . . . . Instead, this bill will spend money preserving unfair tax breaks for hedge fund billionaires and shrinking the inheritance tax on their heirs.
Second, we invested in the best infrastructure — roads, rail, ports, airports, telecom. This tax bill not only makes no provision for that, it actually erodes such investments in many states.
Third, we had the best rules to incentivize risk-taking and to prevent recklessness. I am all for cutting corporate taxes — and payroll taxes — but I’d offset them with a carbon tax that would simultaneously combat climate change and stimulate renewable energy, the next great global industry, to make us more resilient and innovative. It never occurred to Trump.  Trump and his allies actually tried to get rid of all the regulatory subsidies to stimulate wind, solar and electric car production . . . .
On health care regulations, though, the whole G.O.P. bought into Trump’s nonsense, eliminating the Obamacare requirement that all individuals buy health insurance. It means we are returning to socialized medicine. Now lots of healthy young people, and others, will forgo health care, and when they get sick, they’ll go to hospital emergency wards to get treated — and those of us with health insurance will pay for their care through higher premiums or higher hospital bills. That’s called socialism.
Fourth, we had, in the last century, the most open immigration policy to attract the most high-I.Q. risk-takers, the people who often start new business, as well as high-energy lower-skilled workers. I don’t have to tell you where Trump is on that.
Fifth, we had the most government-funded research to push out the boundaries of science so our companies could pluck the best ideas — witness the internet and GPS — to start new industries. The surge in the deficit created by this tax bill will curtail precisely such research.
So there you have it: a tax “reform” bill that defies all five principles that made us great for two and half centuries.
Even Putin surely could not have imagined that Trump would be this foolish and the G.O.P. this cynical. It’s just the extra dollop of caviar on Vladimir’s Christmas blini.