Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017: Russian LGBT Persecution Defied Belief

As noted many times on this blog, Donald Trump's most enthusiastic supporters are evangelical Christians whose self-styled "leaders" met with Trump in New York in June, 2016, where they were basically promised the moon by Trump.  Among the promises made were an unrelenting attack on LGBT rights and so far Trump has delivered through rescinding Obama pro-LGBT executive orders and even having the U.S. Department of Justice argue in briefs to the United States Supreme Court that anti-gay discrimination is perfectly fine.  But there is another place where the government's anti-gay agenda is being loudly applauded by these same evangelical "leaders": Russia.  Indeed, by prostituting himself to the reactionary and homophobic Russian Orthodox Church, Vladimir Putin has been described by these "leaders" as defending Christianity.  Thus, it is instructive to look at what has transpired in Putin's Russia where saying anything construed as being LGBT supportive can lead to one's arrest.  A piece in the New Yorker reminds of the horrors occurring in Russia.  Horrors the evangelicals would like to bring to America.  Here are article excerpts:
I can think of only two times it’s happened to me: I read a news story, or even a series of stories, and thought that it contained such extreme exaggerations that it had to be, essentially, false. . . . I have known violence to be insidious, messy, trivialized by all participants, even as it happens, and these stories seemed to paint the exact opposite picture. These stories were preposterous—the word Hannah Arendt used in explaining why the world was so slow to understand the murderous threats posed by Hitler and Stalin.
The first story emerged in Russia about four years ago. Reports claimed that organized groups of young men were entrapping gay men, torturing them on camera, and posting the videos. I had a hard time believing that the effort was as well organized and widespread as the reports claimed. I have since learned that it was much more widespread than initially reported. Vigilante groups continue to entrap gay men in several Russian cities.
This spring, I didn’t believe a story that claimed that authorities—no longer vigilantes but actual police—in Chechnya were rounding up and torturing gay men, and that some of these men had apparently been killed, while others were released to their relatives, who were instructed to kill the men themselves.
I flew to Moscow in late May to report the story of the men who had been able to flee Chechnya, and at that time I still couldn’t quite imagine the scale of the purges. I dropped my bag at a hotel and immediately headed to one of the safe houses. It had been difficult to get people to agree to talk with me, and I feared giving them time to change their minds. I spent the rest of the evening and half of the night talking to victims of the Chechen attacks, and went back again the next day, and the day after that. . . . . I developed short-hand notations for the executioners’ repertoire: electrocution, solitary-confinement cells, beatings, dunking in a vat of cold water, starvation.
Back in New York, I sorted through my notes on the men’s personal tragedies. There was the guy whose name had been given up by someone he seemed to have loved—and who was now presumed dead. There was the man who had left his lover behind. And there were several men who were married to women, and had children they adored, who were struggling to figure out how to save their own lives and keep their families. There were several very young men who desperately missed their mothers but also knew that their families would probably kill them if they made contact.
By the end of the year, the Russian L.G.B.T. Network and the Moscow L.G.B.T. Community Center had succeeded in getting a hundred and six people out of Chechnya and then out of Russia altogether. A handful of people with no special training and very little funding at the start managed to save a hundred and six people from certain death. . . . . Toward the end of the summer, my contacts in Moscow told me that they were wrapping up their effort. They thought that they were about to send the last of their charges out of the country. But then people kept coming. 
So far, most of the men they have helped have gone to Canada. A few have landed in Latin America and in Europe. Many of them fear going to countries with large Chechen diasporas, where they are likely to be targeted again in exile. None of the men appear to have made it to the United States. . . . with the Trump Administration reshaping this country’s immigration landscape, it’s hard to imagine this country welcoming many Muslim gay men, even when they are fleeing mortal danger.

More Saturday Male Beauty

How We Know Climate Change Is Real

The recent short term cold snap in the Midwest and Northeast US caused Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, a/k/a the idiot-in-chief, to tweet mocking the science behind climate change and touting his decision to pull out of a global deal to combat planetary warming.   The stupidity and ignorance of the tweet prompted the Weather Channel to shoot back and explain the difference between weather (short term events) and climate (long term phenomenon), and reconfirm that that 2017 is still projected to be the warmest year on record and that, in fact, the eastern cold snap Trump referenced in his tweet was actually evidence of a warming climate.  Sadly, Trump and his ignorance embracing evangelical base despise science and knowledge that counter their strongly held prejudices or, in the case of evangelicals, fantasy world.  A column in the New York Times looks at how we know climate change is real and that it is increasing severe climate events.  Here are highlights:
This was a year of devastating weather, including historic hurricanes and wildfires here in the United States. Did climate change play a role? Increasingly, scientists are able to answer that question — and increasingly, the answer is yes. 
Consider Hurricane Harvey, which caused enormous destruction along the Gulf Coast; it will cost an estimated $180 billion to recover from the hurricane’s storm surge, high winds and record-setting precipitation and flooding. Did global warming contribute to this disaster?
The word “contribute” is key. This doesn’t mean that without global warming, there wouldn’t have been a hurricane. Rather, the question is whether changes in the climate raised the odds of producing extreme conditions.
It is therefore critical to examine all of the contributing factors. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, these include the warm ocean that provided energy for the storm; the elevated sea level on top of which the storm surge occurred; the atmospheric pressure pattern that contributed to the storm’s stalling over the coast; and the atmospheric water vapor that provided moisture for the record-setting precipitation.
 The first step is to ask whether historical changes have been observed in any of the factors. For example, ocean temperatures have increased in recent decades. Applying the same statistical techniques used in engineering, medicine and finance, we can analyze whether those increases have changed the odds of achieving this year’s warm temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
 Based on previous warm years, we can expect to find that human-generated warming influenced this year’s ocean temperatures.  We also know that global warming is increasing the moisture in the atmosphere, meaning that a given storm can produce more precipitation.
 Further, Hurricane Harvey’s stalling over the coast was critical for the record rainfall. The exact meteorological causes are complex, but the pattern of atmospheric pressure across North America played an important role. We have found that global warming increased the odds of the pressure pattern that contributed to the 2010 Russian heat wave that killed more than 50,000 people. We can likewise look back at pressure patterns during past hurricane seasons and examine whether global warming has altered the odds of patterns similar to Hurricane Harvey’s.
In addition to the heavy rainfall, storm surge contributed to coastal flooding. When hurricanes make landfall, low pressure and strong winds push water onto land. By increasing the mean sea level, global warming has “raised the floor” from which storm surge occurs. As a result, a storm is more likely to cause extensive flooding. Sea-level rise tripled the odds of Hurricane Sandy’s flood level in 2012. A similar analysis can be applied to the Hurricane Harvey storm surge.
Our scientific framework can also be applied to other events. Like Harvey’s devastation, California’s ravaging wildfires arose from a confluence of factors. Strong, dry winds were the most immediate contributor. In addition, the protracted drought that killed millions of trees created substantial fuel. After the drought, an extremely wet winter was followed by severely hot, dry conditions in the summer and fall, which together produced near-record fuel for fires. Although each of these specific factors will need to be analyzed, we already know that global warming has increased fuel aridity in the West, meaning that fires are more likely to encounter large amounts of dry fuel.
There is now ample evidence that global warming has influenced extremes in the United States and around the world through such factors as temperature, atmospheric moisture and sea level. This doesn’t mean that every event has a human fingerprint. But it does mean that we can expect more years like this one, when our old expectations no longer apply.

Trump NYT Interview: Incoherent, Authoritarian and Uninformed

Der Trumpenführer gave an interview to the New York Times after being told that the interview was being recorded.   The results of the interview have many further convinced that not only is Trump unable to speak coherently, but he is authoritarian and shockingly uninformed on a host of issues.  Worse yet, some mental health experts believe he is mentally ill.   I have thought the latter for a long time and believe it should have been obvious to anyone not charmed by his call outs to racists and promises to religious extremists.  A piece in Vox concludes that Trump is not well mentally.  The take away is that sane and rational Americans - and the entire world - ought to be very, very afraid with Trump in the White House.  Here are article excerpts:
The president of the United States is not well. That is an uncomfortable thing to say, but it is an even worse thing to ignore.
Consider the interview Trump gave to the New York Times on Thursday. It begins with a string of falsehoods that make it difficult to tell whether the leader of the free world is lying or delusional. Remember, these are President Donald Trump’s words, after being told a recording device is on:
Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up. If you look at what’s going on — and in fact, what it’s done is, it’s really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it’s ever been. 
It almost goes without saying that literally zero congressional Democrats have said that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Zero.
What key Democrats are actually saying is closer to the opposite. On December 20, for instance, Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and thus the Senate Democrat leading the investigation into collusion, said, “despite the initial denials of any Russian contacts during the election, this Committee’s efforts have helped uncover numerous and troubling high-level engagements between the Trump campaign and Russian affiliates — many of which have only been revealed in recent months.”
Nor is Trump’s base strengthening, or even holding steady. In a detailed analysis of Trump’s poll numbers, FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten concluded that the president is losing the most ground in the reddest states . . .
CNN took a different angle on the same question and also found slippage among Trump’s base. It looked at the change in Trump’s approval ratings from February to November among the demographic groups that formed the core of Trump’s electoral coalition — in every group, there’d been substantial declines. Trump’s numbers have fallen by 8 points among Republicans, by 9 points among voters over 50, by 10 points among whites with no college, by 17 points among white evangelicals.
As for Trump’s contention that “it’s been proven that there is no collusion,” it’s hard to even know how to begin responding to that. In recent months, Trump’s former campaign manager and national security adviser have both been charged with crimes by Robert Mueller, and the investigation is not just ongoing but apparently widening in its scope and ferocity. . . . . Sen. Feinstein has not said that she, or any of the ongoing investigations, has concluded that there was no collusion. What she has said is that investigators believe Trump may have obstructed justice in his efforts to derails inquiries into collusion . . .
It would be comforting, on some level, to believe that Trump is simply lying, that he is trying to convince us of what he knows to be untrue. It is scarier to believe that Trump is delusional, that he has persuaded himself that Democrats have said things they’ve never said, that his base has strengthened when it has actually weakened, that it’s really his opponents under investigation for collusion, that his campaign has been cleared of wrongdoing when the circumstantial case for collusion has only grown stronger.
But that is far from the end of the interview.   Trump: “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department”
Read Trump’s phrasing carefully: “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” It’s a statement that speaks both to Trump’s yearning for authoritarian power and his misunderstanding of the system in which he actually operates.
And it’s followed by something yet scarier. “For purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter,” he says.  . . . . He appears to believe that he is engaged in some explicit or implicit quid pro quo with the Department of Justice: He doesn’t fire Jeff Sessions, or demand prosecution of his political enemies, or whatever it is he imagines doing with his “absolute right to do what I want to do,” so long as they treat him and his associates “fairly,” which likely means protecting him from Mueller’s investigation.
Trump does not know what he doesn’t know, and he overestimates what he does know:
I know more about the big bills. … Than any president that’s ever been in office. Whether it’s health care and taxes. Especially taxes. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred. … You ask Mark Meadows [inaudible]. … I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred congressmen to go along with the bill. The first bill, you know, that was ultimately, shockingly rejected ... I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.
In psychology, there’s an idea known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. It refers to research by David Dunning and Justin Kruger that found the least competent people often believe they are the most competent because they “lack the very expertise needed to recognize how badly they’re doing.” This dynamic helps explain comments like the one Trump makes here.
Over the course of reporting on the Trump White House, I have spoken to people who brief Trump and people who have been briefed by him. . . . In all cases, their judgment of Trump is identical: He is not just notably uninformed but also notably difficult to inform — his attention span is thin, he hears what he wants to hear, he wanders off topic, he has trouble following complex arguments. Trump has trouble following his briefings or even correctly repeating what he has heard.
As the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests, he doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know, and that, combined with his natural tendency toward narcissism, has left him dangerously overconfident in his own knowledge base.
Whatever the cause, it is plainly obvious from Trump’s words that this is not a man fit to be president, that he is not well or capable in some fundamental way. That is an uncomfortable thing to say, and so many prefer not to say it, but Trump does not occupy a job where such deficiencies can be safely ignored.

Saturday Morning Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, December 29, 2017

Ft. Lauderdale Get Away - Day Two and Day Three

A portion of Mix - great and unusual men's clothing
Our second full day in Ft. Lauderdale began with rain and then shifted to cloudy, with the sun finally coming out in the late afternoon.   As a result, our day consisted of hanging out at the Windamar and then taking a long walk down A1A to Las Olas Boulevard and then up Las Olas a good way before turning back and stopping for lunch at the Casablanca Cafe for lunch and very, very good margaritas.  The afternoon finished with us by the pool and then dinner at the Cuban/Spanish themed Mario's Catalina on Federal Boulevard.   After two carafes of sangria and great food(one on the house by the owner who knows us from visits with friends who are regulars) we headed back to Mix on Wilton Drive for a little more shopping.  We finished the evening at Boardwalk Bar not too far away. where I was unfortunately "over served" a bit  

Our third day found me dealing with a mild case of the "alcohol flu" and some client issues that arose both in the morning and then again in late the afternoon.  The rest of the day we hung bu the pool and got to know other guests who come from a variety of states. Like it seems most of the guest houses in this part of Ft. Lauderdale, the patrons are more mature guys, many couples, who like the husband and I have sought an escape to warmer weather.  We finished the day with dinner at the Lauderdale Yacht Club.  As is always the case, we received a temporary membership card for the balance of our stay in town and dinner was great.   After suffer from the "flu" I used discretion and we headed home to the Windamar for a laid back and early bedtime.

Today saw us at Sebastian Beach again .  Now we are getting ready for drinks and dinner with friends and, hopefully, some dancing at Hunters in Wilton Manor later tonight.   

More Friday Male Beauty

Trump Fires Entire HIV/AIDS Council

Trump surrounded by anti-gay evangelicals.

As Newsweek is reporting, Der Trumpenführer has fired the entire White House HIV/AIDS Council notifying the members of the council via letters delivered via FedEx.  In my view, this, combined with other proposals made over the last eleven months is a continuation of Trump's war on the LGBT community.  Why the funding cut proposals and firings?  In the minds of Trump's evangelical base, HIV/AIDS is a gay disease that gays deserve to suffer. for their "sinfulness."  For those who do realize that it is a heterosexual disease rampant in the black community in America and large parts of Africa, sadly, the  racism that seems to motivate a majority of white evangelicals makes the consequences of drastic funding cut backs of no concern.  As for Trump, his history of anti-black racism makes it easy to understand why he cares nothing about the horrific consequences that funding cut backs would wreak on Africa and minority populations.  Here are highlights from the Newsweek piece:
President Donald Trump fired the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) Wednesday, reportedly informing them without explanation with a letter delivered by FedEx.
The mass dismissal of the advisors marked another nadir in the administration’s dealing with the council. In June six members resigned from PACHA writing in an open letter, published in Newsweek, saying the Trump White House was pushing for legislation that would harm people living with HIV.
Scott A. Schoettes, a Chicago-based HIV/AIDS activist and one of the members of the advisory panel who resigned over the summer, tweeted yesterday that the remaining council members had been fired for calling President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “dangerous.”
“Remaining #HIV/AIDS council members booted by @realDonaldTrump. No respect for their service,” Shoettes wrote on the social media site. “Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed,” he added.
Sources with knowledge of the terminations told the Washington Blade that council members had been fired despite having more time on on their appointments.
Gabriel Maldonado, CEO of the LGBT and HIV/AIDS group Truevolution and a remaining member of PACHA said the reasons for the firings remain unclear but may have been borne of a desire by the Trump administration to clear out appointments made by his predecessor Barack Obama.
HIV/AIDS activists have been deeply critical of the White House’s approach over the past year. In the 2018 fiscal year budget Trump has sought huge cuts to programs including $150 million on HIV/AIDS at the Centers of Disease Control. The administration has also sought more than than $1 billion in cuts from global programs like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria.
Just under a year into his first term, Trump is also yet to appoint an HIV/AIDS chief, the first time since Bill Clinton created the position in 1993 that a president has failed to do so.

America's Flawed Health Care System Fuels the Opioid Epidemic

I will be honest right up front.  I fully support a single payer health care system that would put healthcare insurance companies as we know them out of business.  Having done legal work for a hospital system and physicians in the past, the former, like health insurers, care only on maximizing profits despite advertisements to the contrary, while the latter are largely restricted in the practices by what health insurers will pay.  Prescribing a pill to mask the symptom is so much cheaper than addressing the true under lying cause.  And, of course, the insurers care nothing about a preventative approach to medicine.  Put all of this in the context of the opioid crisis in America and there's a reason why other advanced industrialized nations are not experiencing a similar crisis: they have universal health care systems that take an entirely different approach to health care.  America's health care system is literally killing tens of thousands of citizens.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at this reality - something that neither Trump or Congressional Republicans will admit, much less address.  Here are article highlights:
For the second year in a row, life expectancy in the United States has dropped.
It is not hard to understand why: In 2016, there was a 21 percent rise in the number of deaths caused by drug overdoses, with opioids causing two-thirds of them. Last year, the opioid epidemic killed 42,000 people, more than died of AIDS in any year at the height of the crisis.
“We should take it very seriously,” Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, told my colleagues Lenny Bernstein and Christopher Ingraham. “If you look at the other developed countries in the world, they’re not seeing this kind of thing. Life expectancy is going up.”
In other words: In no other developed country are people taking and dying from opioids at the rates they are in the United States. We have about 4 percent of the world's population but about 27 percent of the world's drug-overdose deaths.
What explains the discrepancy?  The U.S. medical system.
Americans are prescribed opioids significantly more often than their counterparts in other countries. In the United States, 50,000 opioid doses are taken daily per every million residents. That is nearly 40 percent higher than the rate in Germany and Canada, and double the rate in Austria and Denmark. It is four times higher than in Britain, and six times higher than in France and Portugal.
That is in large part a result of our health insurance structure. Unlike countries that provide universal health care funded by state taxes, the United States has a mostly privatized system of care. And experts say insurers are much more likely to pay for a pill than physical therapy or repeat treatments. “Most insurance, especially for poor people, won't pay for anything but a pill,” Judith Feinberg of the West Virginia University School of Medicine told the BBC.  . . . . the best thing is physical therapy, but no one will pay for that. So doctors get very ready to pull out the prescription pad. . . . . . As a result, Americans were being prescribed opioids. Often, they were given several more pills than they could be expected to use, to avoid repeat visits. 
[D]octors in the United States are much more likely to provide painkillers than are doctors in other countries. One comparative study found that Japanese doctors treated acute pain with opioids about half the time. In the United States, the number was 97 percent of the time.
There are other culprits, too. The United States is one of only two countries that allow prescription drug companies to advertise on television. (The other is New Zealand.) The companies do advertise, a lot. In 2016, pharmaceutical companies spent $6.4 billion on advertising. Experts say, too, that U.S. medical schools have not done enough to educate students on pain management, addiction and opioid use and abuse.
Drug companies also try to woo physicians with gifts. Some companies host fancy dinners, and others sponsor conferences and junkets. In 2016, for example, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma spent $7 million on gifts to doctors and teaching hospitals. . . . .  In the same period, the company doubled its sales force, distributing coupons so doctors could offer patients 30-day supplies of OxyContin and other highly addictive drugs. In those six years, prescriptions for OxyContin jumped from 670,000 to more than 6 million.
That alarmed at least one public-health group, which ran a 2009 bulletin titled, “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy.”  By then, it was too late.

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, December 28, 2017

More Thursday Male Beauty

Mueller Reportedly "Collecting a Mountain of New Evidence"

Even as Trump and company are laying plans to smear former Trump BFF Mike Flynn, other reports suggest that special counsel Robert Mueller is amassing a great deal of new evidence and that Trump's claims that the investigation is winding down are pure fantasy.  Of equal fun is the talk that Jared Kushner is hiring a crisis management PR firm indicating that he may be fearful of being indicted (personally, I would have loved to see Kushner indicted the Friday before Christmas!).  Hence the increasing Republican attacks on Robert Mueller and the FBI - anything to distract the public and/or to endeavor to build a case plausible to the Trump/Pence base - but not to sane and rational people - for firing Mueller.  Yahoo News has a summary of where things stand at the moment.  Here are highlights:
As described by sources familiar with various aspects of the investigation, the Mueller probe is fast approaching a critical crossroads. The president’s lawyers, Ty Cobb and John Dowd, are pressing Mueller to wind down the investigation and exonerate their client, which they have assured the president will happen by early next year.
But the sources familiar with the probe say that such a rapid conclusion is — as one put it — “fanciful.” Mueller and his team, they say, are pursuing new leads, interrogating new witnesses and collecting a mountain of new evidence, including subpoenaed bank records and thousands of emails from the campaign and the Trump transition.
In just the last few weeks, his prosecutors have begun questioning Republican National Committee staffers about the party digital operation that worked with the Trump campaign to target voters in key swing states. They are seeking to determine if the joint effort was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate, according to two of the sources.
In what is potentially another ominous sign for the White House, the lawyer for Jared Kushner, the president’s son in law and senior adviser who was in charge of the campaign’s digital operation, recently began searching for a crisis public relations firm to handle press inquiries — a step frequently taken by people who believe they may be facing criminal charges. Even if the new lines of inquiry don’t result in additional indictments — something unknowable at this point — the new material all but guarantees the Mueller investigation will stretch on for months, if not years, likely provoking Trump to revisit his decision not to fire the special counsel.
And if the president does take that step, many lawmakers and legal veterans say, it will cause a political explosion unlike any the capital has seen in decades. “It will be cataclysmic,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor who lived through the so-called Saturday night massacre when President Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “It will create a constitutional crisis.”
[F]or Democrats, the attacks on Mueller and the FBI are a distraction tactic meant to obscure how much has already been uncovered about the Trump team’s contacts with the Russians. Back in January, when the issue first starting getting political traction, the president and his top aides denied that he and his campaign had any connections to Moscow. “I have nothing to do with Russia,” Trump tweeted at the time.
Since then, Mueller’s team and congressional investigators have detailed numerous contacts, meetings and email exchanges between Trump’s campaign and Russian-connected operatives and officials that were unknown to the public when voters went to the polls in November 2016.
“Just from what’s been made public, it’s pretty clear the Trump campaign and family were willing and eager to work with the Russians,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “They showed almost no restraint in engaging with the Russians to see what they had to offer on their opponent. It was a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality.”
Whether all this adds up to “collusion” — the sensational charge of active collaboration between the Trump campaign and Moscow that was first laid out in the controversial dossier commissioned by the Clinton campaign — is far from clear. But for Swalwell and quite a few others, it is already clear that the Russian probe has been far more than a witch hunt.

Trump, Liar-in-Chief, to Depict Flynn As Liar

In the political realm - and perhaps in any circumstance imaginable - few liar more often than Donald Trump, a/k/a  Der Trumpenführer.  Indeed, if his lips are moving, the safest approach is to assume he's lying.  Yet now that Mike Flynn is seemingly prepared to go state's evidence on Trump, Der Trumpenführer legal team is reportedly planning to smear Flynn as a liar should he reveal damaging information against Trump.  It's all indicative of the utter moral bankruptcy that now reigns at the White House and gives new meaning to the old adage that there is no honor among thieves.  One can only hope that Trump's attacks move Flynn to truly "spill his guts" and show where the bodies are buried so to speak.  One can further hope that Flynn has plenty of damaging emails and correspondence tracing back to Trump.  As for the member's of the legal team, I hope they remember that committing a fraud on a tribunal can lead to disbarment. A piece in the Washington Post looks at the coming effort to trash Flynn.  Here are highlights:
President Trump’s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy.
The approach would mark a sharp break from Trump’s previously sympathetic posture toward Flynn, whom he called a “wonderful man” when Flynn was ousted from the White House in February. Earlier this month, the president did not rule out a possible pardon for Flynn, who is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Attorneys for Trump and his top advisers have privately expressed confidence that Flynn does not have any evidence that could implicate the president or his White House team.
But since Flynn’s cooperation agreement with prosecutors was made public earlier this month, the administration has been strategizing how to neutralize him in case the former national security adviser does make any claims. . . . . The lenient terms of his plea agreement suggest he has promised significant information to investigators, legal experts said. “He’s said it himself: He’s a liar,” said one person helping craft the strategy who was granted anonymity to describe private conversations.  Robert Kelner, an attorney for Flynn, declined to comment. Ty Cobb, the White House attorney overseeing the response to the special counsel investigation, also declined to comment.
Defense lawyers have said privately that Flynn will be unable to point to White House or campaign records turned over in the probe to bolster any claims of a criminal scheme. None of those records suggest a conspiracy by Trump or his inner circle to improperly work with Russians . . .  according to people who have reviewed the documents.
“It’s pretty predictable,” said Randall D. Eliason, a former public corruption prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington. “Defense will always argue that a cooperator who lied previously should not be believed, and that there is insufficient evidence of the conspiracy. It’s Defense Strategy 101.”
Exactly what Flynn might offer Mueller about what he saw inside the Trump operation remains a mystery. Van Gelder noted that in the way the special counsel structured Flynn’s plea agreement, prosecutors avoided sharing the guts of their ongoing investigation.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Will 2018 Be the End of the Trump Presidency?

As 2017 comes to an end, the usual predictions for the coming year are being made.  One issue that bookies are still taking wagers on is whether 2018 will see the end of the presidency of Donald Trump.  As much as I detest Trump - and Pence as well - and as much as I would be thrilled to see him exit the White House, as a piece in Vanity Fair lays out, 2018 will likely not see that dream realized.  As for 2019, the results of the 2018 midterm elections could shift things should the Democrats sweep and regain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Until we know that result, prognostications for 2019 would be premature.   Here are article highlights:
At this point, London bookies still think it’s likelier than not that Trump will exit before his first term is over, something no president has done while still alive. So it’s time to revisit the betting terrain and prognosticate for the coming year.
Will Donald Trump be impeached in 2018?  Mighty, mighty unlikely. If you don’t stand to multiply your investment by 20, I’d skip the bet. Impeachment is a political act, and the Republican majority will remain in place through 2018. If the investigations into collusion with Russia were yielding anything seriously damning (and if journalistic blunders on the subject weren’t outpacing scoops), it’d be different. As things stand, however, special counsel Robert Mueller seems to have found little in the way of collusion—at least that we know of—and instead shifted his focus to the obstruction of justice.
Obstruction of justice is a significant crime in itself, of course, but people are more willing to punish it if it’s part of the concealment of a bigger crime rather than the sum of the crime. As people are starting to notice, independent counsel investigations have a tendency to start by focusing on one thing and then indicting people for something else, after the process itself has made them trip over their own feet. Republicans are not going to join a pile-on over what role Donald Trump played in the false statements that former national security adviser Michael Flynn made to the F.B.I. Even Democrats are likely to flinch from impeachment talk, recalling what happened during the Clinton years.  In sum, make sure you get a big return on any Trump-impeachment bets.
Will Donald Trump be removed by the 25th Amendment?  Again—very, very unlikely. To remind readers, the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lays out an elaborate palace-coup process with which to depose a sitting president. Such an ouster is arguably even harder to pull off than impeachment, except in cases of obvious emergency. Unless Trump interrupts a state visit to tear off all his clothes and run down Pennsylvania Avenue in winter, the palace coup won’t happen.
Will Trump resign in 2018?  Still very unlikely. To be fair, the odds of resignation are slightly better than those of impeachment or of a 25th Amendment palace coup. It requires only one powerful man, Donald Trump, to sign on. . . . . The odds of this happening with Trump, however, are mighty low. Donald Trump, while thin-skinned and incapable of rising above provocation, is indefatigable as a fighter, reminiscent of Clinton, Nixon, and other presidents in his resilience. Resignation would wound his pride too severely, because there’s no face-saving way to do it.
Will the Democrats sweep the midterms? Yes and no. They’ll do great in the House. Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics predicts a 40-seat gain, which would give Democrats a handy majority. Midterm elections have favored the incumbent president’s party only twice in the past 60 years—the first in 1998, when Republicans pushed to impeach Bill Clinton, the second in 2002, when Americans were rallying after 9/11. Trump has poor approval ratings, and there are many vulnerable House Republicans.  Flipping the Senate, though, is a lot harder.
Will Trump destroy much of life on earth?  Trump could go to war with Iran. As the fiercely anti-war Pat Buchanan has warned, U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley seems to be helping Trump to lay the groundwork for it. That would destroy Trump’s presidency, kill countless Iranians, and hasten the collapse of the United States as a great power. A bad outcome, to be sure. But it probably wouldn’t end in nuclear fire or mass civilian death in the United States.
As for North Korea, we may, ironically, be safer now that its nuclear program is nearly complete. It reduces Trump’s temptation to attack the country pre-emptively.

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Virginia 94th District Race to Drag Out Further

The continuing saga of the 94th District race appears to be headed for further delays as Democrat Shelly Simonds has petitioned the Newport News Circuit Court to reconsider its decision to award a vote to her Republican opponent even though the ballot had BOTH candidates marked.  One would think that the ballot should have been thrown out completely rather than awarded on a subjective analysis of what the voter might have intended.   In truth, the individual casting the vote should have asked for a new ballot.  The larger lesson is that voters need to get to the polls, especially those in the Democrat base.  The Virginian Pilot looks at the continuing saga.  Here are excerpts:
Democrat Shelly Simonds says elections officials didn’t follow procedure in a recount that could swing the balance of power in the House of Delegates, and she will ask a court to declare her the winner of the 94th District race, according to court documents she plans to file Wednesday.
The winner – either Simonds or Republican Del. David Yancey – was to be determined by a drawing at 11 a.m. in Richmond. After Simonds’ comments Tuesday, it was postponed.
Simonds will ask the Newport News Circuit Court to reconsider the decision to count one disputed ballot in Yancey’s favor last week and name her the winner.
Simonds’ team planned to ask that the drawing be delayed and for an expedited decision from the court.
“While our planned drawing for tomorrow was in full compliance with the Code of Virginia, neutral election administrators should not be choosing election winners — or influencing the next Speaker of the House,” State Board of Elections Chairman James Alcorn said Tuesday via Twitter. The drawing is a last resort, he said, and any concerns regarding the election or recount should be resolved before it takes place.
“This will best serve the voters of HD94 and the rest of the Commonwealth,” he said.
After the Nov. 7 election, Yancey led Simonds by 10 votes. She requested a recount, which resulted in a win by one vote for her. The morning those results were supposed to be certified, Yancey’s lawyers showed the court a ballot they thought should be counted.
On it, the voter filled in both candidates’ bubbles. Simonds’ bubble had a single diagonal slash mark through it. It originally was not counted for either candidate.
Under Virginia law, Simonds’ filing says, votes in a recount can only be redetermined once.
In all, the ballot in question has been reviewed three times, according to the filing.  “This really breaks the recount process in Virginia if this precedent stands,” said Simonds’ lawyer, Ezra Reese.

Ft. Lauderdale Get Away - Day One

We arrived on schedule on Monday afternoon (Christmas Day) and had good luck with our first attempt at using Turo - sort of an air bnb for cars - with no delays in having the car dropped off to us.  The guest house we are staying at - the Windamar - exceeded our expectations as well (booking online one never knows what the reality will be versus the website) and is located two blocks in from the beach about five blocks north of Sebastian Beach pictured above.  

Monday evening after dinner, we went and saw the movie "Call Me By Your Name" which was excellent, although I liked the book even better.  I can see why there is buzz about both Armie Hammer - who is very "hot" - and Timothée Chalamet doing well during awards season.  Sadly, the movie has not yet played in perennially backwards Hampton Roads.  If it does come to the area after we return, I will likely see it again. 

Yesterday, we went by the home of some friends and picked up beach chairs and an umbrella before heading to Sebastian Beach for several hours.  Later we went shopping in Wilton Manor and bought tuxedo jackets to wear to the Inaugural Ball on January 13th at Mix, a men's clothing store that we always visit when in Ft. Lauderdale.  We followed that outing with dinner at Ethos, a wonderful Greek restaurant on Wilton Drive.    After that, we went back to the guest house and crashed.

Not sure what we will do today as yet. Thursday evening, we will dine at the Lauderdale Yacht Club, pictured below.

Click image to enlarge

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Hope for 2018 Despite Trump and an Annus Horribilis

The hypocrisy-filled Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, described 2017 as “annus horribilis” because of euthanasia laws in Victoria, the exposure of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church, and the legalization of same-sex marriage (for Fox News viewers, "annus horribilis" means horrible year.)  Here in America sane, rational and moral Americans likewise largely view 2017 as an annus horriblis thanks to Der Trumpenführer presence in the White House and a Republican controlled Congress that shows less spine and concern for American values of decency than the Roman senate under Augustus Caesar did for at least maintaining the traps of the Roman Republic.  Yet, despite the depressing year, there may be hope that America can clean its house and attempt to restore what has been lost.  A column in the New York Times looks at all the bad that has transpired but also why there is still cause for hope.  Once again, Virginia's election results are seen as one of the beacons of hope.  Here are column highlights:
Many of us came into 2017 expecting the worst. And in many ways, the worst is what we got.  Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.
Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda.
Yet I’m ending this year with a feeling of hope, because tens of millions of Americans have risen to the occasion. The U.S. may yet become another Turkey or Hungary — a state that preserves the forms of democracy but has become an authoritarian regime in practice. But it won’t happen as easily or as quickly as many of us had feared. 
Early this year the commentator David Frum warned that the slide into authoritarianism would be unstoppable “if people retreat into private life, if critics grow quieter, if cynicism becomes endemic.” But so far that hasn’t happened.
What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance. That resistance made itself visible literally the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration. If American democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil.
And in case anyone wondered whether the vocal anti-Trump crowds and Trump’s hugely negative polling would translate into political action, a string of special elections — capped by a giant Democratic wave in Virginia and a stunning upset in Alabama — has put such doubts to rest.
Let’s be clear: America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.
This obviously goes for Trump himself, who is clearly a dictator wannabe, with no respect whatsoever for democratic norms. But it also goes for Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated again and again that they will do nothing to limit his actions.
The worse things look for Trump, the more closely Republicans tie themselves to him. . . . . And the growing evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia doesn’t seem to have induced any prominent Republicans who weren’t already anti-Trump to take a stand. Instead, we’ve seen erstwhile critics like Lindsey Graham become obsequious toadies promoting Trump propertiesSo we can’t count on the consciences of Republicans to protect us.
[A]s long as Republicans control Congress, constitutional checks and balances are effectively a dead letter.
So it’s going to be up to the American people. They may once again have to make themselves heard in the streets. They’ll certainly have to make their weight felt at the ballot box.  It’s going to be hard, because the game is definitely rigged. Remember, Trump lost the popular vote but ended up in the White House anyway, and the midterm elections will be anything but fair.
And even if voters rise up effectively against the awful people currently in power, we’ll be a long way from restoring basic American values. Our democracy needs two decent parties, and at this point the G.O.P. seems to be irretrievably corrupt. . . . it’s going to take a long struggle to turn ourselves back into the nation we were supposed to be. Yet I am, as I said, far more hopeful than I was a year ago. America is not yet lost.

Russian Cyber Attacks on America Continue

America may find itself in the midst of the Christmas/New Year's holiday season, but that doesn't mean that America's foes, especially Vladimir Putin's Russia, takes a  holiday from efforts to undermine American democracy or power across the globe.  A disturbing piece in the Washington Post authored by Michael Morell, a former deputy director and twice acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, who served in the House from 2001 to 2015 and was chairman of the Intelligence Committee, ought to make Americans wonder why so little is being done to combat cyber attacks on America, especially through Russian propaganda being disseminated via social media.   These attacks are being used to subvert American institutions and whip up a frenzy among the Fox News viewing Trump base, a group only too happy to believe fake news that plays to the prejudices.  Are American efforts to deter such attacks being undermined by an occupant of the White House who refuses to admit Russian interference in the first place and/or who is a Russian intelligence asset himself?  I will let readers ponder the question.  Here are article excerpts:
Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure.
And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.
There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day. This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy. In a single week this month, Moscow used these accounts to discredit the FBI after it was revealed that an agent had been demoted for sending anti-Donald Trump texts; to attack ABC News for an erroneous report involving President Trump and Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser; to critique the Obama administration for allegedly “green lighting” the communication between Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak; and to warn about violence by immigrants after a jury acquitted an undocumented Mexican accused of murdering a San Francisco woman. This continues a pattern of similar activity over the past year. Russian operatives have frequently targeted Republican politicians who have been critical of Trump, including Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.). In September, they also attacked Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) after his decisive “no” vote against the Republican health-care bill.
And in mid-November, after Keurig pulled its advertising from Sean Hannity’s Fox News show for comments the host made defending Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the Russians used their social media accounts to urge a boycott of the company. For two days, #boycottkeurig was the most used hashtag among Kremlin-influenced Twitter accounts. 
 More troublingly, other countries are beginning to follow Russia’s lead on social media, according to research provided by the Alliance for Securing Democracy. The Chinese are doing so in Taiwan, . . . While those information operations have not yet reached the United States, they most certainly will. Russia’s use of social media as a political weapon will continue, and more countries will follow suit — until deterrence is established.
 The sanctions that the Obama administration and Congress put in place in the aftermath of the 2016 election are steps in the right direction, but they were not significant enough to check Russian President Vladimir Putin. True deterrence requires policies that prevent adversaries from achieving their objectives while imposing significant costs on their regimes. So far, we have done neither.