Monday, December 31, 2018

Former General’s New Broadside Against President Trump

There are a multitude of things to dislike - perhaps dislike is to mild a term - about Donald Trump, but one thing that flows through all of them is his blatant dishonestly and immorality. Dishonesty and immorality permeate everything the man does with anywhere between 7 to 15 lies per day which makes one have to question those who continue to support him be they so-called old school Republicans who engage in the fantasy that the GOP is still the political party that it once was or the evangelical Christians who seek to police everyone else's sex life, don't drink alcohol, don't dance and/or put on falsely pious airs (modern day Pharisees, in short) who embrace a sexual predator and pathological liar. Decent people don't support individuals like Trump, nor as a retired Army general noted, should they work for them.  The Atlantic looks at the latest denunciation of Trump by a former senior military officer (note he also blast service members who engage in partisan politics while deployed on active duty).  Here are excerpts: 

Stanley McChrystal has a history of speaking plainly about American presidents and their leadership. His military career ended in 2010 after a Rolling Stone profile quoted him and his aides as criticizing Obama-administration officials, mocking the civilian leaders and painting them as indecisive. McChrystal quickly offered his resignation, which President Barack Obama accepted.
But while the retired four-star Army general’s complaints about the Obama administration centered on its military strategy, his concerns about the current White House, which he articulated in an ABC News interview on Sunday, are rooted in President Donald Trump’s character.
McChrystal, whom Obama had selected to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in the interview that he would not work for Trump. “I think it’s important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth as best they know it,” McChrystal explained.
“Do you think he’s a liar?” asked Martha Raddatz, the co-host of ABC’s This Week. McChrystal raised his eyebrows, shook his head, and responded, “I don’t think he tells the truth.” When Raddatz asked whether McChrystal considers the president “immoral,” the former general replied, “I think he is.”
In the interview, McChrystal told Raddatz he hopes Mattis’s exit has caused the American public to “take a pause.”
“If we have someone who is as selfless and committed as Jim Mattis resigning his position, walking away from all the responsibility he feels for every service member in our forces, and he does so in a public way like that, we ought to stop and say, ‘Okay, why did he do it?’” McChrystal said. “We ought to ask what kind of commander in chief he had that Jim Mattis, ‘the good Marine,’ felt he had to walk away.”
McChrystal also echoed recent criticism of Trump’s holiday visit to troops serving in Iraq. . . . . “When leaders visit soldiers … there’s a sacred interaction that occurs,” McChrystal said. “You don’t use that as a time to tout your politics or your personal opinions. You use that as a time to reassure them that what they’re doing is appreciated.” He also chided service members who brought Trump paraphernalia to the event—including “Make America Great Again” hats and a Trump 2020 patch—saying that they at least “violated the spirit” of military rules against political activity while serving on active duty.
McChrystal is not the only ex-military leader to recently rebuke Trump. William McRaven, the retired admiral who oversaw special operations—including the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed—criticized the president for attacking the media and pulling the security clearance of a former CIA chief who spoke out against him.
Given how [Trump] the president loves to spar, it’s possible a volley is still on the way. He has fodder to dismiss McChrystal as just another spiteful Democrat: In the fateful profile that cut the general’s career short, Rolling Stone reported that he voted for Obama in 2008.

Every day that individuals continue to support Trump is an indictment of their morality and decency - something the rest of us need to remember in our daily interactions with them.

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Small-Town Cost of Trump’s Shortsighted Trade Wars

Midwest farmers are seeing an end of Chinese soybean purchases as China moves to Brazil as a new source of the commodity.  Automakers are decrying steel and aluminum tariffs that will increase auto prices by thousands of dollars and likely push auto manufacturers to look for savings through employee layoffs. And in numerous small towns important manufacturing concerns are facing economic turmoil and possible plant closings all so Der Trumpenführer can feel like a "tough guy" and stroke his sick ego.  A piece in The New Yorker looks at one small town in Arkansas - which voted heavily for Trump - which is now reaping the ill fruits of supporting an unfit malignant narcissist.  As noted before on this blog, while I worry about the children who will be adversely impacted, I hold no sympathy for the adults who voted for this malignant individual and now, in a form of divine justice, are being punished.  Here are article highlights:
In May, when President Trump announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada and Mexico, Chris Pratt, the plant manager at Mid-Continent Nail, the largest nail manufacturer in the U.S., was caught in a bind. Poplar Bluff, Missouri, Mid-Continent’s home, is a sprawling town of seventeen thousand on the eastern edge of the Ozarks, a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of St. Louis. It’s a quiet place and notably conservative. . . . . In 2016, nearly eighty per cent of the county went for Trump. “Did I like the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’?” Pratt said to me. “I sure did.”
And yet the President’s shoot-first, ask-questions-later economic policies have already cost the town hundreds of jobs. Since the tariffs were implemented, in June, the price of imported steel has risen by twenty-five per cent. Mid-Continent, which had to raise its prices on nails nearly as much, soon lost half of its orders and had to let go of almost half its workforce. If they don’t get any relief, Pratt has said, the factory will likely close.
Mid-Continent’s unexpected role in Trump’s trade wars highlights the tangled knots of the global economy. Before 2012, the firm was owned by two local brothers, who sold it to Deacero, a Mexican steel manufacturer (also owned by brothers), which now supplies Mid-Continent with the wire needed to make nails. When Pratt learned of the sale, he worried that the Mexican firm would close the Poplar Bluff factory and move the jobs there south of the border. But the new owners made a commitment to continue making nails in the U.S. In the next six years, the number of employees at Mid-Continent more than doubled, from two hundred and forty-seven to five hundred and seven. Last December, at the factory’s Christmas party, Pratt was feeling so optimistic about the future that he announced hopes to grow to a thousand employees.
Pratt’s effort to save his company—and the jobs of his employees, many of whom are friends—has prompted appearances on NPR, Fox News, and other media outlets. In July, he told a reporter for the Washington Post, “We’re in a situation where we’re fighting against our own country.” He has also met with members of Congress, U.S. senators, and even the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross.
Unfortunate, yes.  But these people who voted for Trump brought this economic disaster on themselves when they embraced Trump's racist and xenophobic agenda.

More Sunday Male Beauty

The Problem of Ageism in the Gay Community

Ageism is a problem in American society as a whole which puts so much emphasis on youth and beauty and slim and toned bodies.  This can be multiplied ten fold in much of the gay community outside of the so-called "bear" community where ageism remains but some of the other fixation on body perfection is diminished (in my view).  Coming out in mid-life, this was a reality that hit me head on since in the minds of younger gays anyone my age was already a has been. Two things bring the issue to mind.  First, a friend's birthday party on Friday night where we had attendees ranging in age from their twenties to one in their early 70's - something not always witnessed in the gay community.  Second, a piece in Gay Star News that looks at the issue which is gaining more attention as more "out" gays are aging and suggest that many in the the younger generations are missing out by summarily dismissing their elders.  Many of the issues/views translate over to the straight world as well.  Here are article excerpts:
Over the last two years, getting older has started to scare me. . . . . . maybe it’s because I’ve always associated getting older with being written off; with being tossed out by society and not being able to enjoy a healthy, active social life anymore.
The other night whilst out I met an older man. He’d hidden himself in the shadowy corner of the club, swaying awkwardly while nursing his drink, trying to avoid being seen. I recognized these traits as the hallmarks of social anxiety. It’s an affliction I’ve battled with more times than I care to admit. Never one to see someone standing alone, I wandered over and struck up conversation.
A few minutes into the basic chit-chat and he tells me his age. ‘I’m 62’, he says sheepishly. He then goes on to express worry that he ‘feels too old’ to be here.  I shrug off this comment and try to soothe his concerns off by assuring him that he has the same right as anyone else to be here. He goes on tell me that he’s new to the city and that, when younger, he never had the opportunity to do ‘this’ (clubbing.)
However, a moment later, the conversation stopped mid-sentence when a younger gay (whose face was so smoothed over he resembled a malnourished Ken doll) shot a disparaging glare over towards the man. The look said it all; he was judging this man based purely on his age.
I’ve seen it so many times; judging glares from youthful gays at older gay men because they think it’s ‘weird’ or ‘creepy’ that they’re in the same bar.
What they fail to realize is that they’ll one day be that age. Ageism takes root in denial, in pretending that we’ll never get old. But everyone wakes up a day older.  You don’t hit 40 and find the urge to visit a bar suddenly eradicated. Nor do you have to retire your social life and commit to a hermit lifestyle.
We are a community composed of all ages, genders and races. We should not be complicit in our further marginalization.
The best people I’ve ever met are the ones who follow the mantra ‘age is just a number.’ Eighteen or 85, you can go to a gay bar or club and have drinks. You should be able to let loose and dance in a joyous way; you aren’t dead yet, so why the hell not?  We need to beat back that ‘you’re too old’ and ‘that guy is creepy because he’s older’ mentality like the medieval dragon it is.
But what I feel is more important is that we realize what we can learn from each other. After talking to that older man, I gained perspective and a better understanding of the struggles his generation battled – and he also bought me a drink, so it was a double win! You can find common ground with anyone, so don’t write people off because of their age. We are all a part of the same community.
What is lost on too many younger gays is the fact that the rights and social acceptance they enjoy is largely due to the efforts of the older generation they look down on or dismiss.  Locally, it is us "old guys" and "old gals" who continue to do much of the work raising funding for the annual pride event, support Equality Virginia financially, and who blaze trails of acceptance in social organizations and settings that once excluded gays. 

A friend has an interesting piece here on the issue as well.

Is Something Neurologically Wrong With Donald Trump?

Trump and Wilson: mentally incapacitated occupants of the White House?
Many mental health professionals believe Donald Trump suffers from mental illness - e.g., malignant narcissism disorder - including Virginia's governor who is a neurologist by profession.  A recent post , in fact, set out the attributes of this mental disorder all of which appear to apply to Trump in every detail.  But a very lengthy piece in The Atlantic suggests that Trump may have other mental health impairments and looks at the USA's shocking lack of any mandatory system to evaluate the mental health of a sitting occupant of the White House, something that is important in any would be application of the 25th Amendment as a means to protect the nation.  The issue is one of long standing and goes back 100 years to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who suffered a serious stroke which left he largely incapacitated and caused many to believe that his wife Edith came to function as almost de facto president.  A century later, we still have no method to determine a president's mental competence and Trump has brought the need for such a system back front and center.  Here are lengthy higligts from the article (read the entire piece): 

Donald Trump’s decision to brag in a tweet about the size of his “nuclear button” compared with North Korea’s was widely condemned as bellicose and reckless. The comments are also part of a larger pattern of odd and often alarming behavior for a person in the nation’s highest office.
Trump’s grandiosity and impulsivity have made him a constant subject of speculation among those concerned with his mental health. But after more than a year of talking to doctors and researchers about whether and how the cognitive sciences could offer a lens to explain Trump’s behavior, I’ve come to believe there should be a role for professional evaluation beyond speculating from afar.
I’m not alone. Viewers of Trump’s recent speeches have begun noticing minor abnormalities in his movements. In November, he used his free hand to steady a small Fiji bottle as he brought it to his mouth. Onlookers described the movement as “awkward” and made jokes about hand size.
Then, in December, speaking about his national-security plan in Washington, D.C., Trump reached under his podium and grabbed a glass with both hands. This time he kept them on the glass the entire time he drank, and as he put down the glass. This drew even more attention. The gesture was like that of an extremely cold person cradling a mug of cocoa. Some viewers likened Trump to a child just learning to handle a cup.
Then there was an incident of slurred speech. Announcing the relocation of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a dramatic foreign-policy move—Trump became difficult to understand at a phonetic level, which did little to reassure many observers of the soundness of his decision.
The neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta described it as “clearly some abnormalities of his speech.” This sort of slurring could result from anything from a dry mouth to a displaced denture to an acute stroke.
Though these moments could be inconsequential, they call attention to the alarming absence of a system to evaluate elected officials’ fitness for officeto reassure concerned citizens that the “leader of the free world” is not cognitively impaired, and on a path of continuous decline.
Proposals for such a system have been made in the past, but never implemented. The job of the presidency is not what it used to be. For most of America’s history, it was not possible for the commander in chief to unilaterally destroy a continent, or the entire planet, with one quick decision.
Today even the country’s missileers—whose job is to sit in bunkers and await a signal—are tested three times per month on their ability to execute protocols. They are required to score at least 90 percent. Testing is not required for their commander in chief to be able to execute a protocol, much less testing to execute the sort of high-level decision that would set this process in motion.
The lack of a system to evaluate presidential fitness only stands to become more consequential as the average age of leaders increases. The Constitution sets finite lower limits on age but gives no hint of an upper limit.
After age 40, the brain decreases in volume by about 5 percent every decade. The most noticeable loss is in the frontal lobes. These control motor functioning of the sort that would direct a hand to a cup and a cup to the mouth in one fluid motion—in most cases, without even looking at the cup. These lobes also control much more important processes, from language to judgment to impulsivity.
An annual presidential physical exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is customary, and Trump’s is set for January 12. But the utility of a standard physical exam—knowing a president’s blood pressure and weight and the like—is meager compared with the value of comprehensive neurological, psychological, and psychiatric evaluations. These are not part of a standard physical.
Even if they were voluntarily undertaken, there would be no requirement to disclose the results. A president could be actively hallucinating, threatening to launch a nuclear attack based on intelligence he had just obtained from David Bowie, and the medical community could be relegated to speculation from afar.
With declining support for fact-based discourse and trust in expert assessments, would there be any way of convincing Americans that these doctors weren’t simply lying, treasonous “liberals”—globalist snowflakes who got triggered?
The downplaying of a president’s compromised neurological status would not be without precedent. Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously disguised his paralysis from polio to avoid appearing “weak or helpless.” He staged public appearances to give the impression that he could walk . . . .
Unfortunately, the public medical record available to assuage global concerns about the current president’s neurological status is the attestation of Harold Bornstein, America’s most famous Upper Manhattan gastroenterologist, whose initial doctor’s note described the 71-year-old Trump as “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”  The phrasing was so peculiar for a medical record that some suggested that Trump had written or dictated the letter himself.
The frontal lobes also control speech, and over the years, Donald Trump’s fluency has regressed, and his vocabulary contracted. In May of last year, the journalist Sharon Begley at Stat analyzed changes in his speech patterns during interviews over the years. . . . He also more frequently finished sentences and thoughts.
Ben Michaelis, a psychologist who analyzes speech as part of cognitive assessments in court cases, told Begley that although some decline in cognitive functioning would be expected, Trump has exhibited a “clear reduction in linguistic sophistication over time” with “simpler word choices and sentence structure.”
[T]hough it is not possible to diagnose a person with dementia based on speech patterns alone, these are the sorts of changes that appear in early stages of Alzheimer’s. Trump has likened himself to Ronald Reagan, and the changes in Trump’s speech evoke those seen in the late president. Reagan announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 1994, but there was evidence of linguistic change over the course of his presidency that experts have argued was indicative of early decline.
[A]fter Reagan’s diagnosis, former President Jimmy Carter sounded an alarm over the lack of a system to detect this sort of cognitive impairment earlier on. “Many people have called to my attention the continuing danger to our nation from the possibility of a U.S. president becoming disabled, particularly by a neurologic illness,” Carter wrote in 1994 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “The great weakness of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is its provision for determining disability in the event that the president is unable or unwilling to certify to impairment or disability.” 
[I]t generally assumed that the president would be willing to undergo diagnostic testing and be forthcoming about any limitations.  This might not happen with a person who has come to be known for denying any hint of weakness or inability. Nor would it happen if a president had a psychiatric disorder that impaired judgmentespecially if it was one defined by grandiosity, obsession with status, and intense aversion to being perceived as weak.
It was for these reasons that in 1994, Carter called for a system that could independently evaluate a president’s health and capacity to serve. At many companies, even where no missiles are involved, entry-level jobs require a physical exam. A president, it would follow, should be more rigorously cleared. Carter called on “the medical community” to take leadership in creating an objective, minimally biased process—to “awaken the public and political leaders of our nation to the importance of this problem.”
[Q]uestions and concern around Trump’s psychiatric status have spurred proposals anew. In December, also in the Journal of the American Medical Association, mental-health professionals proposed a seven-member expert panel “to evaluate presidential fitness.” Last April, Representative Jamie Raskin introduced a bill that would create an 11-member “presidential capacity” commission.
The real-world application of one of these systems is complicated by the fact that the frontal lobes also control things like judgment, problem-solving, and impulse control. These metrics, which fall under the purview of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, can be dismissed as opinion. In a hospital or doctor’s office, a neurologist may describe a patient with Parkinson’s disease as having “impaired impulse control.” The National Institute on Aging lists among the symptoms of Alzheimer’s “poor judgment leading to bad decisions.”
[T]housands of mental-health professionals have mobilized and signed petitions attesting to Trump’s unfitness to hold office. Some believe Trump should carry a label of narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or both. The largest such petition has more than 68,000 signatures—though there is no vetting of the signatories’ credentials. Its author, the psychologist John Gartner, told me last year that in his 35 years of practicing and teaching, “this is absolutely the worst case of malignant narcissism I’ve ever seen.”
A presidential-fitness committee—of the sort that Carter and others propose, consisting of nonpartisan medical and psychological experts—could exist in a capacity similar to the Congressional Budget Office. It could regularly assess the president’s neurological status and give a battery of cognitive tests to assess judgment, recall, decision making, attention—the sorts of tests that might help a school system assess whether a child is suited to a particular grade level or classroom—and make the results available.
That math and polling can be ignored or disputed, or the CBO can be attacked as a secretly subversive entity, but at least some attempt at a transparent analysis is made. The same cannot be said of the president’s cognitive processes. We are left only with the shouts of experts from the sidelines, demeaning the profession and the presidency.

Sunday Morning Male Beauty

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Trump's Fixation on Pleasing His Base May Torpedo 2020 Chances

As a former Republican I have been complaining for years that the GOP seemingly has no long term plan for survival as it increasingly focuses on the hatreds and bigotries of a shrinking base of aging, religiously extreme, low education whites. Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, is taking this losing approach no new levels as he ignores the House results in the 2018 midterm elections, his toxicity among Millennials and the increasing revulsion with which he is viewed by the college educated and suburbanites.  And that doesn't even consider the Midwest voters who are now facing a collapse in the soybean market or workers losing their jobs due to steel and aluminum tariffs and might not give Trump his 70,000 vote margin spread over three rust belt states that gave him his Electoral College win (the failure of the Electors to do their duty as envisioned by the Founding Fathers and reject Trump is a topic for another post).   A piece in the Washington Post looks at Trump's hopefully failing focus.  Here are highlights:

President Trump’s headstrong refusal to reopen the federal government without new border wall funding has set him on a risky and defiant path for 2019, relying on brazen brinkmanship to shore up his base support and protect him ahead of a challenging year for his administration.
The latest overtures in the wake of the midterm elections, which brought about sweeping Democratic gains and the end of GOP control of Congress, stand in stark contrast to the historical behavior of modern presidents, who have moved at least briefly toward the political center after being humbled at the ballot box.
But Trump — counseled by a cadre of hard-line lawmakers and sensitive to criticism from his allies in the conservative media — has instead focused on reassuring his most ardent supporters of his commitment to the signature border pledge that electrified his followers during his 2016 presidential run even though it is opposed by a majority of voters.
Trump’s fervent appeals to his supporters — not just on the wall but in his sharpening criticism of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome H. Powell, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Democrats — leave him both emboldened and hamstrung heading into the new year, according to top Republicans and Democrats. While he is galvanizing his base amid political and economic uncertainty, he is also making it difficult to work with Democrats or recast his own presidency.
Republican critics, such as veteran strategist Mike Murphy, say Trump is threatening the GOP by “learning nothing from November and playing to the third of the country that he already has.”
“He’s trapped,” Murphy said. “He’s playing poker holding two threes and suddenly putting all of his chips in. It’s pure emotion, the mark of a panicking amateur.”
Democrats see a president unready for the siege coming in the new year from empowered House Democrats and developments in the special counsel probe of Russia’s role in the 2016 election — and flailing as the financial markets endure a roller-coaster of highs and lows.
Democrats have also pointed to another recent online poll by Morning Consult showing a six-point decrease in Trump’s approval rating since mid-November as evidence that their position remains strong even as the effects of the shutdown become more severe. . . . . “Talking only to your base while alienating the rest of the entire country is not a recipe for success.”
Pelosi, in a recent interview with USA Today, mocked Trump’s ultimatum as the battle cry of a weakened executive searching for a legislative fig leaf: “Now he’s down to, I think, a beaded curtain or something, I’m not sure where he is.”
Some Republican pollsters have also been watching the president’s tactics with concern, noting that there is little evidence he has grown his electoral coalition after the 2016 election, when he won the White House despite losing the popular vote.
“The problem is that the base is nowhere close to a majority of the nation,” GOP pollster Whit Ayres said. “In a government of the people, for the people and by the people, it sure helps to have a majority of the people behind what you are trying to do.”
As Trump has rallied [while at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq], House Democrats say they believe their leverage has only increased. They have repeatedly highlighted Trump’s claim this month that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security,” which was made in a televised meeting with congressional leaders where Trump expressed dismay with Democrats by acting as an avatar for his base voters.
One longtime Trump adviser, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said Trump has been “spooked” not by the midterms but by a brewing rebellion on the right earlier this month when he was considering accepting a deal from Democrats to fund the government through early February.
“He’s spooked by what the world would be like for him if the base wasn’t there” for whatever comes from the Mueller probe or House investigations, the Trump adviser said, adding that the volatility of Wall Street has increased Trump’s private frustrations to include not just Democrats and the media but the Federal Reserve.
Trump’s current border stance has polled poorly. A Quinnipiac University poll in mid-December found that 62 percent of the country, including 65 percent of self-identified independents and one in three Republicans, oppose shutting down the government over wall funding. The same poll found that Americans oppose building a wall on the Mexican border by a margin of 54 to 43 percent.
Trump’s 2016 victory was dependent on winning over white voters in the Midwest who did not attend college by using populist and nativist pitches, and some officials and allies continue to believe he can repeat the same success.
In a 2018 study of the nation’s changing demographics, Brookings Institution political scientist Ruy Teixeira concluded with his colleagues that increasing margins and maintaining turnout among this group provided Republicans the greatest opportunity to continue to win the White House. . . . “It’s the way to finesse the structure of the electoral college,” Teixeira said. “White non-college, in the center of the country.”

If Trump ends up causing a recession in the middle of the country, all bets will be off.  And that assumes he doesn't get indicted or impeached. 

Trump: Give Me a Wall or I’ll Engineer a Recession

Malignant narcissism is defined as asyndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression, with symptoms including an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity).  While Donald Trump has not been diagnosed by a physician, the traits and symptoms of malignant narcissism are constantly on display for anyone taking even a small amount of time to pay attention and inventory his behavior (both before and after the 2016 presidential election).  Consider Trump's threat that he will engineer a recession if he doesn't get his "Wall"  - which utterly ignores the many years required for condemnation lawsuits that would be needed to acquire land for the wall.  New York Magazine looks at this sick threat which ignores the harm a recession would mean for many Americans and underscores that for Trump, it's all about him and his ego.  Here are article excerpts:
Trump declared himself qualified for the world’s highest office in 2016, on the grounds that his exceptional deal-making acumen and economic expertise more than compensated for his lack of conventional credentials.
On Friday morning, [Trump] the president tweeted that if Democrats refuse to fund his wall, he will engineer a massive recession (that would all-but ensure Democratic victory in 2020) – because he is under the impression that the United States would “profit” by closing its southern border to all commerce, since the U.S. runs trade deficit with Mexico: We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall . . . .
This is not the first time Trump has threatened to “close the border” if Congress defies his will. But until now, what the president meant by that phrase has been ambiguous. His latest tweets confirm that he has, in fact, been threatening to end (virtually) all commerce between the U.S. and Mexico, our nation’s third-largest trading partner. Upward of $30 billion worth of goods are shipped across the U.S. southern border on a monthly basis; interrupting that flow of goods for any significant period of time would paralyze major corporate supply chains, drive countless small businesses into insolvency, and terrorize global markets with the specter of American autarky.
Such a scheme would be so economically devastating — and politically suicidal — it is safe to assume that Trump’s threat is entirely empty. Or, at least, that is what investors appear to believe; hours after the president’s tweetstorm, the Dow and S&P 500 were both up in early trading.
And yet, “Trump would never do X because that would be stupid and politically counterproductive” isn’t the world’s most reliable heuristic. After all, the current (partial) government shutdown is itself the product of the president deciding that he could secure leverage over congressional Democrats by doing something stupid and politically counterproductive.
[Trump] sabotaged the basic functioning of his own administration to draw attention to the fact that the Democratic Party does not support an extremely unpopular immigration policy, out of the ostensible belief that doing this would force Chuck Schumer to do his bidding immediately (instead of, say, waiting for Nancy Pelosi to collect the Speaker’s gavel next week).
This plan proved to be less than airtight. Recent polling shows that a large plurality of Americans blame Trump for the shutdown, and oppose his border wall. Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating in Morning Consult’s polling just dipped below 40 percent for the first time since he defended the “very fine” neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017.
Trump’s threat to “close the border” appears to be a desperate attempt to secure some kind of leverage over negotiating partners who show no signs of caving.
[Trump] is the kind of demented nihilist who threatens to use his national security powers to inflict suffering on the American people, for the sake of narrow legislative gains — not the kind who would actually do so! Or, probably not, anyway!
And that is apparently enough to persuade congressional Republicans that they have no responsibility to remove a demented nihilist from the Oval Office.

More Saturday Male Beauty

Indicted Russian Firm Says Mueller Has Collected "Nude Selfie"

With the investigations swirling around the Trump/Pence regime already resembling something out of a David Baldacci novel or movie thriller (remember the alleged pee tape?), many likely believed that things could not get much stranger.  But then again, we are talking about Donald Trump, so nothing should be deemed beyond the realm of possibility.  A prime example is the current legal battle being waged by a Russian owned company - with a very deceptive American sounding name - resisting discovery subpoenas in the Russiagate investigation where a "nude selfie" has become part of the fray.  So far there is no word on who is in the photo or where and when it was taken, but with Trump one can certainly find one's imagination running amok (the prospect of a nude photo of Der Trumpenführer borders between frightening and nauseating).  The Washington Post looks at this latest bizarre twist in the ongoing saga.  Here are article excerpts: 
A Russian company accused of bankrolling efforts to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign says that a “nude selfie” is among the materials collected by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in his ongoing probe.
An attorney for the firm Concord Management and Consulting made an offhand mention of the purported photo in a court filing Thursday.
“Could the manner in which he [Mueller] collected a nude selfie really threaten the national security of the United States?” attorney Eric A. Dubelier said in the filing. The document provides no further details on the selfie, such as who is depicted in the photo and when or where it was taken.
Concord is owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian businessman known as “Putin’s chef” because of his close relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The firm has pleaded not guilty to a February indictment charging it, 13 Russian individuals and two other companies with conspiracy in an online effort to trick Americans into following and promoting Russian-fed propaganda that pushed 2016 voters toward then-candidate Donald Trump and away from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Thursday’s filing was related to Concord’s motion to disclose discovery in the case. Earlier this year, a federal judge approved a request to tightly control how evidence is shared with the firm, ruling that prosecutors had provided “ample good cause” that sharing sensitive case materials could imperil ongoing U.S. national security investigations.
Concord’s attorneys said at the time that it was critical that their defense strategy include Prigozhin. But prosecutors warned Concord’s requests would reveal government investigative techniques and identify cooperating individuals and companies, as well as personal information of U.S. identity-theft victims whose data was used in the plot.

Former Catholic Cardinal Said to Have Abused Child During Confession

2018 may well go down as the year that at last saw the beginning of the end of the Roman Catholic Church's continued efforts to cover up rampant sexual abuse of children and youths by Catholic priests in the United States.   The Church hierarchy has previously been exposed as thoroughly morally bankrupt in Ireland and Australia (where Cardinal Pell was convicted of molestation) and the movement begun by the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report earlier this year has created long needed momentum for investigations in dioceses across the USA.   With roughly 17 states mounting investigations and a federal investigation in the works, the true scope of the abuse and the lengths bishops, cardinals, and yes, popes, went to deceive the authorities and sheep like parishioners  hopefully will be revealed.  Meanwhile, The Daily Beast looks at allegations against the former Archbishop of Washington, DC:
The Catholic Church’s sexual abuse case against an ex-cardinal from has broadened after an accuser testified that he was groped for years, including during confession, according to reports. Theodore McCarrick, who was the archbishop of Washington, D.C., had been accused of groping an altar boy in the 1970s. The New York Archdiocese previously said that this allegation was credible, the Associated Press reports.
James Grein on Thursday told the judicial vicar of New York City's archdiocese that McCarrick had abused him for years. Grein told the judicial vicar that McCarrick repeatedly groped him during confession, his lawyer reportedly said. “He touched James’ genitals as part of the confessional. That became the course, it happened almost every time,” Grein’s lawyer, Patrick Noaker, reportedly said. The New York Times first reported on Grein’s allegations. McCarrick, who now resides at a religious residence in Kansas, has denied the allegation that he groped an altar boy.
Yes, I am a former Catholic and yes I am bitter at all the psychological abuse I suffered as a closeted gay youth as I foolishly bought the lie that one can "pray away the gay." And do not get me started on the hypocrisy of the Church leadership which continues under Pope Francis who still clings to a 12th century knowledge of sexuality and sexual orientation. My regret is that I did not walk away years earlier. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Inevitability of Impeachment

Chaos continues to reign in Washington, DC, most of it stemming from the out of control occupant of the White House who has forced portions of the federal government into shut down and roiled the stock market making it look like a roller coaster.  At some point even Congressional Republicans will likely say enough is  enough.  Therefore, a well reasoned column in the New York Times lays out an argument as to why Trump will eventually be impeached or forced to resign before the end of his term. Simply put, at some point Trump becomes too big a liability for the GOP and fears of his unwashed, knuckle dragging base will be overwhelmed by more pressing concerns for self preservation.  It is a prospect that many long for even with the specter of Pence moving to the White House - assuming Robert Mueller doesn't have the goods on him as well as Trump.  Here are column highlights:

An impeachment process against President Trump now seems inescapable. Unless the president resigns, the pressure by the public on the Democratic leaders to begin an impeachment process next year will only increase. Too many people think in terms of stasis: How things are is how they will remain. They don’t take into account that opinion moves with events.
Whether or not there’s already enough evidence to impeach Mr. Trump — I think there is — we will learn what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has found, even if his investigation is cut short. A significant number of Republican candidates didn’t want to run with Mr. Trump in the midterms, and the results of those elections didn’t exactly strengthen his standing within his party. His political status, weak for some time, is now hurtling downhill.
The midterms were followed by new revelations in criminal investigations of once-close advisers as well as new scandals involving Mr. Trump himself. The odor of personal corruption on the president’s part — perhaps affecting his foreign policy — grew stronger. Then the events of the past several days — the president’s precipitous decision to pull American troops out of Syria, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s abrupt resignation, the swoon in the stock market, the pointless shutdown of parts of the government — instilled a new sense of alarm among many Republicans.
The word “impeachment” has been thrown around with abandon. The frivolous impeachment of President Bill Clinton helped to define it as a form of political revenge. But it is far more important and serious than that: It has a critical role in the functioning of our democracy.
Impeachment was the founders’ method of holding a president accountable between elections. Determined to avoid setting up a king in all but name, they put the decision about whether a president should be allowed to continue to serve in the hands of the representatives of the people who elected him.
Lost in all the discussion about possible lawbreaking by Mr. Trump is the fact that impeachment wasn’t intended only for crimes. For example, in 1974 the House Judiciary Committee charged Richard Nixon with, among other things, abusing power by using the I.R.S. against his political enemies. The committee also held the president accountable for misdeeds by his aides and for failing to honor the oath of office’s pledge that a president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
The current presidential crisis seems to have only two possible outcomes. If Mr. Trump sees criminal charges coming at him and members of his family, he may feel trapped. This would leave him the choice of resigning or trying to fight congressional removal. But the latter is highly risky.
I don’t share the conventional view that if Mr. Trump is impeached by the House, the Republican-dominated Senate would never muster the necessary 67 votes to convict him. Stasis would decree that would be the case, but the current situation, already shifting, will have been left far behind by the time the senators face that question. Republicans who were once Mr. Trump’s firm allies have already openly criticized some of his recent actions, including his support of Saudi Arabia despite the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and his decision on Syria. They also openly deplored Mr. Mattis’s departure.
In the end the Republicans will opt for their own political survival. Almost from the outset some Senate Republicans have speculated on how long his presidency would last. Some surely noticed that his base didn’t prevail in the midterms.
But it may well not come to a vote in the Senate. Facing an assortment of unpalatable possibilities, including being indicted after he leaves office, Mr. Trump will be looking for a way out. It’s to be recalled that Mr. Nixon resigned without having been impeached or convicted. The House was clearly going to approve articles of impeachment against him, and he’d been warned by senior Republicans that his support in the Senate had collapsed. Mr. Trump could well exhibit a similar instinct for self-preservation. But like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Trump will want future legal protection.
While Mr. Trump’s case is more complex than Mr. Nixon’s, the evident dangers of keeping an out-of-control president in office might well impel politicians in both parties, not without controversy, to want to make a deal to get him out of there.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Proposed DC and Virginia Laws Would Mandate Clergy Report Sexual Abuse

In reaction to the ongoing sex abuse scandal embroiling the Roman Catholic Church not to mention sex abuse by athletic coaches and physicians, and other authority figures, bot the District of Columbia and Virginia will take up proposed legislation that will strengthen reporting requirements for clergy.  The proposed DC bill will be the far tougher of the two and, sadly, the Virginia proposal contains a carve out for priest-penitent confessional disclosures.  While understandable from a political perspective, the exemption leaves a huge loop whole for Catholic clergy to circumvent the laws.  Long time friend Senator Janet Howell is the main sponsor of the Virginia bill.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the proposed legislation in each state.  Here are highlights:

In response to recent Catholic Church clergy sex abuse scandals, lawmakers in the District and Virginia say they will soon propose legislation that adds clergy to the list of people mandated by law to report child abuse or neglect.
Both efforts hit at the hot-button intersection of child protection and religious liberty, but lawmakers are expected to give them an open reception at a time when recent sexual abuse scandals in churches and others involving athletes have prompted conversation about broadening legal responsibility to extend beyond positions such as teachers and doctors.
The ideas under consideration by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine include not exempting confidential conversations for any mandatory reporters, possibly including those that occur in the Catholic Church’s confessional. . . . . Under D.C. law, anyone 18 or over who knows or has reason to believe that a child under 16 is a victim of sexual abuse is required to report it to civil officials. But the requirements of mandated reporters are more extensive, and Racine is considering taking them much further.
It also suggested requiring mandated reporters to tell their own boards of directors so their institutions become responsible as well; increases the penalties for people who fail to report and requests funding for training so mandatory reporters understand what that term obliges.
Virginia’s narrower proposal, which will be considered by the state legislature after the session begins Jan. 9, is sponsored by Sen. Janet D. Howell (Fairfax County) and delegates Karrie K. Delaney (Fairfax County) and Wendy Gooditis (Clarke), all Democrats.
As written, it will simply add clergy to the list of “persons who are required to report suspected” abuse, with an exception for when a faith’s doctrine requires the report “to be kept confidential.” The carve-out, lawmakers said, was added specifically to protect the confessional – a sacrament in Catholic doctrine.
Twenty-eight states make clergy mandatory reporters, according to the Children’s Bureau, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services that works to combat child abuse. Those measures vary widely on allowances given religious leaders – in particular whether their confidential conversations are protected.
Experts and lawmakers who have followed this issue for years say the climate has changed. Recent child sex abuse scandals, including those involving athletes and Catholic clergy, and the overall decrease in power of and deference towards religious institutions, are making it harder for faith groups who want to limit civil oversight.
Howell has been unsuccessfully proposing similar measures since 2003. She called the issue a “major brawl” in the past, with Catholic and Baptist organizations opposing such measures – for either the protection of the confessional or because, she said in the case of Baptist clergy, they felt it was a secular intrusion and “they answered only to God.”
Howell thinks the new measure has a good chance of passing this upcoming session. “Between the investigations going on [of the Catholic Church] with attorneys general and the outrage of the public about what’s happened, the times have changed a lot,” she said.

The 10 Biggest Homophobes and Transphobes of 2018

Homophobes Dallin H. Oaks, Mary Fallin, and Roger Severino.
As is common as December 31st approaches, many news outlets are looking back for significant events of the past year as well as heroes and villains.  In the last category should be included those who peddle hatred of others, especially LGBT individuals, under the smoke screen of religion or political self-prostitution to haters and hate groups.  A piece in The Advocate looks at some of the worse homophobes and and purveyors of hate towards those who are transgender.  Not surprisingly, the faux "Christian" Alliance Defending Freedom, the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormon Church and Republican politicians and apparatchiks that the prizes as the most hate-filled groups/individuals domestically.  The following are article highlights that look at these hate merchants and religious zealots:
LGBTQ people have made great strides toward equality in the U.S. and around the world, but we still have homophobes and transphobes trying to roll back our progress, and unfortunately some of them are running the country. We of course have had the usual suspects to deal with -- Mike Pence, Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, Louie Gohmert, Pat Robertson, and many more -- but here we'll spotlight some of those who particularly made news this year. 
Alliance Defending Freedom  The year's top Phobie Aware goes to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal nonprofit that specializes in causes important to the religious right. . . . . The ADF is still fighting for the right to discriminate. It's asked the Supreme Court to take up cases where ADF is trying to end a Pennsylvania school district's transgender-inclusive restroom policy and advocating for a funeral home's right to fire a trans employee. Oh, and it's got another case involving Masterpiece Cakeshop, for a refusal to make a birthday cake that celebrates a trans woman's gender transition. The ADF contends that the state of Colorado is harassing Philllips by expecting him to obey the antidiscrimination law.
Dallin H. Oaks [Mormon Chrch]  It's not news that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, known informally as the Mormon Church, isn't accepting of LGBTQ people, but one of its top leaders, Dallin H. Oaks, took the homophobia and transphobia to new heights this year. “Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose many of the current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage or to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women,” . . . . Those pressures, he said, come from none other than Satan, who “seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing, especially by parents who will raise children in truth.” . . . . There's an epidemic of suicide among LGBTQ youth in the church's home state of Utah, and much of the blame can be placed on the denomination's hatred.
Right-wing Catholics  It has been a banner year for homophobia in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis, who once said “Who am I to judge?” about gay priests, said gay people don’t belong in the clergy. Not that the church has ever been truly accepting of gay clergy, but their presence has been an open secret for eons. With the church rocked by sex abuse scandals, Cardinal Gerhard Müller blamed gays for abuse, even though there’s no correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia.
Roger Severino [Trump Appointee] Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, is overseeing the Trump administration's effort to define transgender people “out of existence,” as The New York Times put it in an October story breaking the news of a memo circulating among federal government agencies to legally define gender as something immutable and fixed at birth, as indicated by a person’s genitalia. He's also spearheading HHS's "conscience protection" efforts, aimed at aiding health care workers with religious objections to serving certain patients, which could well result in denial of care to LGBTQ people. Severino has a long history of working for far-right groups and opposing LGBTQ rights. He has opposed marriage equality, defended “ex-gay” therapy, and objected to allowing transgender people to serve in the military.
Mary Fallin and Jeff Colyer [GOP Governors]  As governors of Oklahoma and Kansas, respectively, Mary Fallin and Jeff Colyer signed bills into law that will allow adoption and foster care agencies that provide state-funded services to reject prospective parents who offend the agencies' religious dogma. They could be interfaith couples, single parents, or, yes, same-sex couples or single LGBTQ people. That's discrimination funded with tax dollars. For Fallin, the action was one more notch in a long record of anti-LGBTQ governing.

Texas Republican Party  Whenever the Texas Republican Party approves a platform, it's sure to be anti-LGBTQ. This year's may be its most hateful yet, though. At its biennial convention in June, the party adopted a platform that again endorses “ex-gay” therapy, as it has since 2014, as well as opposing marriage equality and supporting business owners’ right to discriminate against anyone who offends their religious sensibilities. It makes a new call for the state to repeal its hate-crimes law and opposes all efforts to recognize transgender people’s identity. 

More Thursday Male Beauty

O'Rourke and Castro on Collision Course in Texas

Beto O'Rourke and Julian Castro.
Following up on the theme of the last post, two possible 2020 Democrat contenders are on a collision course in their home state of Texas of all places: Beto O'Rourke and Julian Castro.   Ironically, Castro may have hurt himself by not running against the loathsome Ted Cruz, thereby giving O'Rourke the opening to become a surprising darling of Democrats both within and outside of Texas. Where the contest between the two will go is anyone's guess, but should be interesting to watch.  The goal for Democrats, of course, should be selecting a candidate to defeat Trump and/or Pence if  they avoid indictment or impeachment.  A piece on Politico looks at the coming collision course.  Here are excerpts:

The Democratic Party’s dream of a resurgence in Texas has long run squarely through San Antonio and the Castro brothers — Joaquin, the third-term congressman, and Julián, the city’s ambitious former mayor.
But that was before Beto O’Rourke catapulted himself into the party’s national consciousness this year.
Now, O’Rourke and Julián Castro are both inching toward presidential campaigns, an unlikely bounty for Texas Democrats accustomed to near-irrelevance at the statewide and national levels. O’Rourke and Castro would likely run on different platforms and rely on different donors, limiting the likelihood of direct combat.
But assuming they both run and don’t flame out, the presence of the two Texans in the race would test the allegiances of state Democrats in a way that could be a significant factor in the fight for the nomination. Texas will hold its primary relatively early in the 2020 calendar, timing that will likely make the diverse and delegate-rich state a big prize in a competitive contest.
Until now, the two have operated worlds apart despite their home-state ties. In San Antonio, Castro cultivated a local following while steeping himself in policy and traditional fundraising practices. Five hundred miles and one time zone to the west in El Paso, O’Rourke became an instant sensation with his charismatic, closer-than-expected U.S. Senate run and a national following of small-dollar donors.
“They’re not only from two different parts of Texas, they’re from two different parts of the country,” said Colin Strother, a Texas Democratic strategist who has advised Castro in previous campaigns. “This idea that there’s a finite constituency that they’re going to chop up, I just don’t see it … I see them as two completely different types of candidates.”
Castro and O’Rourke have cast each other as nonfactors in their decisions whether to run. But Castro has moved aggressively to climb out from under O’Rourke’s shadow.
But the uphill climb facing Castro has been exacerbated by O’Rourke’s attention-grabbing run against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. O’Rourke is now soaring in early 2020 polls, often running behind only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, while Castro is barely a blip on the national landscape.
Even in Texas, the last time Castro appeared in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, when he was still mayor of San Antonio in 2013, a majority of Democrats statewide did not know him well enough to form an opinion of him. In the midst of a supercharged Senate race five years later, O’Rourke’s favorability rating among Texas Democrats hit 93 percent.
Jeff Roe, who was Cruz’s chief strategist, said after the November election that Democrats “don’t have anyone of [O’Rourke’s] caliber on the national stage.”
Castro, on the other hand, is “the Bobby Jindal of the Democrat cycle,” Roe said. “He’s pound cake. He’ll run, he’ll raise like $3.2 million, he’ll be out by August and they’ll recruit him to run against [Republican Sen. John] Cornyn” in 2020.
Castro could hardly have foreseen O’Rourke’s rise. Long viewed by Democratic Party activists and donors as an emerging star in Texas, Castro was a significant surrogate for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign and made her shortlist for vice president, while O’Rourke served in relative anonymity as a backbench member of the House minority.
But in a cruelty of political timing, the Castros themselves may have helped open a door for O’Rourke. Many Democrats were courting Joaquin to run for U.S. Senate, and had he opposed O’Rourke in the primary, his appeal in heavily Latino swaths of the state — areas where O’Rourke struggled — might have stamped out O’Rourke.