Saturday, February 17, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

There’s a Good Chance Trump Is Being Blackmailed

In the wake of the Stormy Daniels sex scandal swirling around serial adulterer and self-proclaimed sexual predator Donald Trump, a new story of illicit sex and payoffs has come out, this time involving a former Playboy playmate.  As in the Daniels sexcapade, this latest affair to be revealed,   took place while Trump's youngest child was an infant and steps were taken to payoff Trump's sex partner to guarantee her silence.  All of which makes some wonder: were the sex stories in the Steele dossier true and, if so, is Trump being blackmailed by Vladimir Putin?   One can just imagine Putin reminding Trump of what a sensation the alleged "golden shower" video would be.   A second question, at least in my mind, is when are evangelical Christians going to disavow Trump.   A piece in New York Magazine looks at the question of Trump being blackmailed.  Here are excerpts:
We have no idea if the wildest and most memorable allegation Christopher Steele picked up in his investigation of Donald Trump — that the future president is vulnerable to Russian blackmail related to his paying Russian prostitutes in 2013 — is true. There are two common grounds for skepticism. One is that Trump, who is known both for his affairs and for grabbing women, would pay for sex. The second is that a man so happily associated with infidelity and vice could be blackmailed at all. We now know neither of these objections holds water.
Ronan Farrow’s new story shows that Trump habitually pays for sex. He had an affair with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, and offered her money after sex, which she turned down. At another point in the story, he offered adult entertainer Jessica Drake $10,000 for “her company.”
Farrow’s reporting also implies, without quite establishing as an absolute certainty, that Trump maintained a system for silencing his sexual partners. A network of sleazy operators, sometimes working in conjunction with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Trump’s close friend, would pay off women to prevent their stories from seeing the light of day. 
So, we know Trump habitually pays for sex, and we also know he is willing to pay to keep embarrassing secrets from going public. That is to say, these secrets could be leveraged against him. One of Pecker’s former employees tells Farrow, “In theory, you would think that Trump has all the power in that relationship, but in fact Pecker has the power — he has the power to run these stories. He knows where the bodies are buried.” What else do we know? We know Russia has a decades-old system for gathering compromising sexual secrets on prominent foreign visitors. We also know Trump harbored a burning resentment of President Obama in the wake of Obama’s mocking him at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. And many reports of Trump’s decision-making suggest that the strongest consideration in any decision is the chance to defile or destroy something associated with Obama.
Far from being bizarre, imagining Trump paying prostitutes to pee on a bed Obama used as a primitive revenge ritual, and Russians taping the episode, is perfectly consistent with what we know about both parties.  That exact scenario may not have happened. Indeed, sex is not the only kind of secret Trump harbors.
Some of that information is in the hands of his business partners, many of whom are associated with Russia or are unsavory in some other way. All in all, the odds are disconcertingly high that Russia, or somebody, has blackmail leverage over the president of the United States.
Disgusting and frightening as well.  And remember, evangelical Christians who want to dictate what others do in their bedrooms, support this foul and disgusting individual.  They have ZERO moral authority.  Absolutely ZERO! 

A Gates Deal Should Terrify Trump

In the wake of yesterday's bombshell release of indictments of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian organizations for detailed efforts to throw the 2016 presidential election to Trump - spending by some estimates of over $1 million per month - all eyes on Robert Mueller with questions of what his next surprise revelations will be. Part of the speculation revolves around whether former Trump campaign official Rick Gates will be flipped by Mueller to testify against his former co-conspirator Paul Manafort - just as Mueller flipped members of the Gambino crime family.  If Gates flips, it could put pressure on Manafort to decide to go states evidence against Trump as well. A piece Vanity Fair looks at why Der Trumpenführer should be very worried.  Here are highlights: 
Even among some of Donald Trump’s allies, there is a sense of astonishment at the White House’s handling of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. . . . . Indeed, Mueller, who led the F.B.I. takedown of the infamous crime family in the early 1990s, famously cutting a deal with Sammy the Bull to flip on mob boss John Gotti, appears to be executing what some have called a “Gambino-style roll-up.” First, he flipped former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos; then, he turned ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. Now, CNN reports, Mueller appears to be in the final stages of a plea deal with Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman . . .
 The White House reportedly views Gates’s testimony as a threat to Manafort, and not to the president. “There'd be no anxiety here,” a White House official told CNN when asked about the possibility that Gates will cut a deal. But Gates, who has also pleaded not guilty, has been grappling with financial troubles and difficulties with his legal team. According to CNN, he has been in plea negotiations with Mueller’s team of F.B.I. investigators for about a month, and has already given an interview in which he would have revealed any knowledge he might have of criminal activity that could be traded for leniency or immunity in sentencing. Manafort and Gates ran the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, during which Donald Trump Jr. held his infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. They were also on board during the Republican National Convention, where a number of Trump campaign officials and surrogates met with Russian officials and campaign officials altered the language of the official G.O.P. platform on Ukraine to be more sympathetic to Russian interests. . . . . Gates continued to work with the Trump campaign through the transition, and served as a senior official on Trump’s inaugural committee. As he did in the Gotti case, Mueller has moved systematically through the lower ranks of Trumpworld up through the president’s inner circle in his efforts to shake out the truth. . . . Mueller is presumably gathering evidence he can leverage higher up the food chain, and potentially against Trump. While Gates may only flip on Manafort, it is entirely possible that Manafort might then be compelled to give up something better. Adam Schiff, the top ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that the panel has discovered evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians during the 2016 campaign, as well as evidence of subsequent obstruction. “There is certainly an abundance of non-public information that we’ve gathered in the investigation,” Schiff told reporters.

Bombshell Russia Indictments - Russian Interference Was Real

Donald Trump - one of the biggest liars in Washington, D.C., if not the world - continues to argue that claims that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election are all a "hoax."  The indictments handed down today against thirteen Russian defendants ans organizations pretty much blow Trump's lies to hell. Indeed, it is clear that Russian interference was very real and overall sought to throw the election to Trump.  Along the way, the Russian efforts also sought to increase Bernie Sanders' chances against Hillary Clinton and also sought to boost Jill Stein - the same individual who had dined with Putin in Moscow along with Mike Flynn who has struck a guilty plea with special counsel Robert Mueller.  Not surprisingly, Fox News is hyping the indictments as Russian efforts to undermine American democracy but there is nary a mention of Russia's efforts to throw the election to Trump.  Conservative columnist and former Republican Jennifer Rubin has a column in the Washington Post that looks at some of the bombshells disclosed by the indictments which also suggests that their are as yet unindicted co-conspirators.  Here are excerpts:
Making the first documented case of a complex plot by Russians to influence our elections and specifically to bolster President Trump, special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III has indicted 13 Russians and obtained a plea bargain from a cooperating U.S. witness accused of identity theft. The special counsel’s actions raise a host of questions, but here is what we can say with confidence:
  • There is no “hoax,” and Trump’s insistence that the Russia investigation is about nothing only reinforces the perception that his ego won’t allow him to concede that he received Russian help and/or that he’s been trying to disable the Russia investigation, precisely because he did not want this plot of interference to come out.
  • It will be exceptionally hard, if not impossible, for Trump now to fire Rosenstein or Mueller.
  • Mueller and his team are moving with remarkable speed, wrapping up witnesses and substantiating a conspiracy to influence the election. There is much more to this than “just” evidence of obstruction. There is an embarrassing scheme to fix our election by a hostile foreign power that certainly could have been the motive for Trump’s effort to thwart the Russia investigation. Mueller has multiple cooperating witnesses: Michael FlynnRichard Pinedo(the indicted American), George Papadopoulos and soon, we are told, Rick Gates). Trump and his legal team should be exceptionally worried about what else Mueller has.
  • The president’s failure to take action to protect the U.S. election system and prevent another assault on our democracy — a real and ongoing concern voiced by the unanimous testimony of his top intelligence officials — appears to be a gross dereliction of Trump’s duties and an abrogation of his oath.
  • The Russian plan was specifically aimed at helping Trump.
  • While Rosenstein said there was no evidence that the actions in the indictment affected the election outcome, such an assertion, he surely must know, is not a provable fact and is legally immaterial. No one can prove how many people were affected by what the Russians put out.
  • A plan of this magnitude involving so many people and so much money could not have feasibly been conducted without the knowledge or assistance of the Kremlin.
  • Carter Page is largely irrelevant to the larger plot to undermine the U.S. election system.
Republicans’ efforts, led by the clownish Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), to assist and enable Trump now look foolish or worse. What has been implicit is now explicit: They are doing the Russians’ work for them. “We are hopeful that these new facts will finally drive the White House and Republicans in Congress who have worked to hamper the investigation to admit the reality and the scope of the attack and the threat from Russia which is ongoing today as we approach our next election. It is time for Congress and the White House to put their country before their party. The attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators are disgraceful and must cease.” Rosenstein described help afforded to the Russians by “unwitting” figures linked to the Trump campaign. However, as one Russia guru points out to me, “on the ‘unwitting’ Trump campaign officials, we know there was a hell of a lot of ‘witting.’ That is effectively what the June 9 meeting [at Trump Tower] and [outreach to Russians from] Papadopoulos show.” Once more, we are reminded how little we know about what Mueller has already found. If he has this much evidence just on the quadrant of a Russian troll farm, what else is out there? Stay tuned. We are nowhere near the end of this investigation.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, February 16, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

No Surprise: NRA Lies About AR-15 Assault Rifles

The NRA holds itself out as a group representing hunters and sportsman.  The truth, of course, is something much different and the NRA receives massive funding from gun manufacturers who have one goal: sell as many weapons as possible and maximize monetary profits.  Any restrictions on gun sales no matter how sensible and appropriate is to be resisted and blocked.  The lives of innocent individuals simply do not matter when weighed against profits.  Now, the NRA is lying about AR-15 assault rifles - the weapon of choice among mass shooters - and claiming that they are "useful for hunting and home defense."  I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone that basically uses a machine gum while dear hunting, duck hunting or skeet shooting. A piece in Slate looks at the truth about AR-15's - M-16 in military parlance - and this latest ridiculous NRA lie.  Here are excerpts: 
[A]n AR-15 rifle was believed to be used in a school shooting Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which at least 17 people were killed. The AR-15 is the same weapon used by Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people, 20 of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Justin Peters wrote that “the AR-15 is very good at one thing: engaging the enemy at a rapid rate of fire.” The original piece is reprinted below.
 On Dec. 24, in Webster, New York, an ex-con named William Spengler set fire to his house and then shot and killed two responding firefighters before taking his own life. He shot them with a Bushmaster AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle—the same weapon that Adam Lanza used 10 days earlier when he shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary. James Holmes used an AR-15-style rifle with a detachable 100-round magazine this past summer when he shot up a movie theater in Colorado. Three makes a trend, as we all know, and many people have reacted by suggesting that the federal government should ban the AR-15 and other so-called assault weapons. . . . . NRA president David Keene blasted those critics who “neither understand the nature of the firearms they would ban, their popularity or legitimate uses.” Keene noted there are several valid, non-murderous uses for rifles like the AR-15—among them recreational target shooting, hunting, and home defense . . . .
 I nevertheless find Keene’s arguments disingenuous. It’s odd to cite hunting and home defense as reasons to keep selling a rifle that’s not particularly well suited, and definitely not necessary, for either. Bolt-action rifles and shotguns can also be used for hunting and home defense. Unfortunately, those guns aren’t particularly lucrative for gunmakers. The lobby’s fervent defense of military-style semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 seems motivated primarily by a desire to protect the profits in the rapidly growing “modern sporting rifle” segment of the industry. The AR-15 was designed in 1957 at the behest of the U.S. Army, which asked Armalite to come up with a “high-velocity, full and semi auto fire, 20 shot magazine, 6lbs loaded, able to penetrate both sides of a standard Army helmet at 500 meters rifle,” according to When it entered Army service in the 1960s, it was renamed the M16, . . .
 But the AR-15 is not ideal for the hunting and home-defense uses that the NRA’s Keene cited today. Though it can be used for hunting, the AR-15 isn’t really a hunting rifle. Its standard .223 caliber ammunition doesn’t offer much stopping power for anything other than small game. Hunters themselves find the rifle controversial, . . . As one hunter put it in the comments section of an article on, “I served in the military and the M16A2/M4 was the weapon I used for 20 years. It is first and foremost designed as an assault weapon platform, no matter what the spin. A hunter does not need a semi-automatic rifle to hunt, if he does he sucks, and should go play video games. In terms of repelling a home invasion—which is what most people mean when they talk about home defense—an AR-15-style rifle is probably less useful than a handgun. The AR-15 is a long gun, and can be tough to maneuver in tight quarters. When you shoot it, it’ll overpenetrate—sending bullets through the walls of your house and possibly into the walls of your neighbor’s house . . .
 AR-15–style rifles are very useful, however, if what you’re trying to do is sell guns. In a recent Forbes article, Abram Brown reported that “gun ownership is at a near 20-year high, generating $4 billion in commercial gun and ammunition sales.” But that money’s not coming from selling shotguns and bolt-action rifles to pheasant hunters. [T]he guns also appeal to another demographic that doesn’t get nearly as much press—paranoid survivalists who worry about having to fend off thieves and trespassers in the event of disaster. In his piece at Human Events, Keene ridiculed the notion that AR-15-style rifles ought to be banned just because “a half dozen [AR-15s] out of more than three million have been misused after illegally falling into the hands of crazed killers.” But the AR-15 is very good at one thing: engaging the enemy at a rapid rate of fire. When someone like Adam Lanza uses it to take out 26 people in a matter of minutes, he’s committing a crime, but he isn’t misusing the rifle. That’s exactly what it was engineered to do.
 Wednesday’s carnage in Florida illustrates the problem caused by this collective failure to see the existential threat posed by guns to Americans. As long as it remains easy for malicious people to acquire weapons like those used in Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, or San Bernardino, Americans will die by the dozens.
A pattern has emerged after each mass shooting: gratuitous offering of hopes and prayers, followed by proposals for stricter controls on guns or purchases thereof, followed by lobbying by gun advocates and manufacturers for the scuttling of those proposed controls. The net effect is the same, every damned time: Nothing changes. It is as easy to obtain a semi-automatic military-style rifle today as it was two years ago when Omar Mateen used one to kill 49 at an Orlando nightclub; it remains legal to buy bump stocks today, just as it was four months ago when Stephen Paddock used one to murder 58 in Las Vegas. The thunderous hail of bullets is always followed by the silence of a nation that cannot bring itself to do anything besides offer hopes and prayers.
Perhaps presenting gun violence as a national security threat will finally galvanize America to act. On his way out as director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen mused, “We find ourselves in a more dangerous situation because our population of violent extremists has no difficulty gaining access to weapons that are quite lethal.” He’s right—but the threat does not just come from violent extremists. It comes from Americans like Stephen Paddock and Nikolas Cruz, too—and the time has come for us overcome the powerful people who insist on pretending that threat doesn’t exist.

The reality is that spokesman for the NRA are like Christofascists: if their lips are moving, it's near a 100% likelihood that they are lying. 

How to Stop Gun Violence: Vote Against Republicans

The bodies of the mass shooting victims at Marjory Stoneman High School in Florida (see the image of the victims above) were barely cold before Republicans like Marco Rubio - who received over $3 million from the NRR - or Richard Burr - who has received over $6 million in NRA money - began their worthless mantra of "thoughts and prayers" about victims and their families while making it clear that they will do nothing to change America's federal gun control laws to lessen the slaughter of innocents.  The NRA and the gun manufacturers who lurk behind it in the shadows are their true masters.  Children, families and average Americans mean nothing to them despite disingenuous pretence to the contrary.   So how do Americans end needless gun violence and decrease the prevalence of mass shootings.  As a column in the Washington Post notes, the solution is pretty straight forward.  Vote every Republican at every level of government possible out of office. That is the only way that meaningful change will occur. Even David Jolly, a former Republican Congressman from Florida has admitted this truth and said it was urgent that Democrats retake the majority in the House of Representatives.  Here are column highlights: 

Last night, as the country watched the aftermath of yet another mass shooting at an American school — the 239th school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012 — word came that President Trump didn’t want to make a statement about it. Apparently his aides prevailed upon him, so this morning he came before the cameras and monotonically read some words off the teleprompter, none of which addressed what we might do to make more school shootings less common.  Trump offered a slightly extended version of “thoughts and prayers”
If we actually want to do something about gun violence, both the dramatic mass shootings and the relentless toll of 30 or so gun homicides we experience each and every day, there is something we can do. It’s simple and straightforward. Are you ready? Here it is: Don’t vote for Republicans.
I’m sorry if you find that too partisan. And I realize that there are many reasons you might have for voting for candidates of one or the other party that have nothing to do with guns. But the fact is that one of our two parties has in recent years decided that it will stop any and all efforts to address gun violence, no matter how reasonable they are and no matter how much of the public favors them, even something like universal background checks that is supported by more than 90 percent of Americans.
So if you vote for Republicans, you are voting to make sure we do absolutely nothing about this problem, a problem that kills around 30,000 Americans every year. . . . . if you vote for Republicans, you are most certainly voting to make sure we do nothing about gun violence.
Again and again, in the aftermath of these massacres, media figures lament that “Washington” and “politicians” and “Congress” can’t seem to get it together to act.
But it is Republicans who have stopped any attempt to address gun violence. Not the city of Washington, not the system, not the institutions — Republicans. The Senate doesn’t filibuster every gun safety bill — Republicans do. The House doesn’t refuse to allow those bills to come to a vote — Republican leaders do. Washington didn’t pass a bill last year making it easier for people with mental illnesses to buy guns — Republicans in Congress did, and Trump signed it.
The NRA is made up of loathsome ghouls, but it’s also an interest group like any other. Doing its bidding is a choice. Whatever power the NRA has flows through elected officials, nearly all of whom are Republicans who have made a choice to ally themselves with the organization. . . . . The NRA can be beaten, and all it takes is for people who don’t agree with its goals to get out and vote. . . .
I’m not saying that voting for Democrats will in and of itself solve the gun violence problem. . . . . Because they’re politicians, they have to be pushed and prodded and made to fear for their jobs if you want them to do the right thing. 
But while voting for Democrats is no guarantee that we’ll begin to solve the gun violence problem, voting for Republicans is a stone-cold, absolute, ironclad, 100 percent guarantee that we won’t.
[I]f you actually care about gun violence, every time you step into a voting booth you have a choice about whether you’re going to at least make an attempt to do something about it. Or whether you’re going to cast a vote for doing nothing.

As a former Republican myself, the sad reality is that today's GOP (and its Christofascist and white supremacist base) is a blight on America.  Worse yet, the GOP will not change from within.  Only repeated electoral losses and marginalization of all things Republican offer any hope for long term change.  Next time you step into a voting booth, picture the faces in the image above, or those of the victims in Las Vegas or the Pulse night club and then vote against the Republican candidates.  It truly is that easy.  And you can start in your local elections and then again in November, 2018 and in every election cycle thereafter.

Third Trump Campaign Adviser Close to Plea Deal with Mueller

Rick Gates, Manafort Putin and Trump

With so much media focused on the entirely preventable tragedy in Florida, it is easy to lose focus on the ongoing Russiagate investigation which, if successful, might purge the nation from the deadly cancer of the Trump/Pence regime.  As CNN is reporting, Trump campaign adviser Robert Gates appears close to striking a guilty plea deal with special investigator Robert Mueller.   Gates will be the third Trump campaign adviser to plead guilty in exchange for spilling his guts against other targets of the investigation, including Der Trumpenführer himself.   Here are article excerpts:
Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case.
Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a "Queen for a Day" interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed.
Gates' cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against President Donald Trump or key members of his team. Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller's sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Gates' co-defendant Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller's indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign.
It's still unclear what Gates, who outlasted Manafort in the campaign and later worked on the Trump inaugural efforts, could share that would be of value to the Russian collusion investigators, outside the Manafort case. The value of what a defendant says factors into the plea negotiation as both sides finalize the deal.
Gates' plea deal could be announced in the next few days, given that he's asked a judge for an extension until Wednesday to discuss his in-flux legal representation.
At the same time, investigators with the special counsel's office are preparing to file new charges against him, according to people familiar with the probe. The additional charges are tax-related, these people say, which could increase the fines and prison time Gates faces in court. More charges are also being prepared against Manafort   . . . .
 The three trial lawyers who took on Gates' case shortly after his indictment asked to part ways with their client on February 1. The legal team drama culminated in two long sealed hearings in front of the judge last week and on Wednesday. The two-and-a-half hours spent on that topic suggest the lawyers' situation with Gates is more complicated than a typical attorney changeover. Manafort and Gates were at the helm of the campaign during the critical summer 2016 period when senior campaign officials, including Manafort, met a group of Russians at Trump Tower who had promised damaging information on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They were also in charge during the Republican National Convention when a handful of Trump campaign associates met with the Russian ambassador, and when Trump campaign officials intervened to change language on the platform about the Ukraine crisis.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, February 15, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty

Quote of the Day: Florida Student to Trump

America yet again finds itself stunned by another totally preventable mass shooting.  Seventeen are dead, many young high school students with their entire lives ahead of them, and we find Republicans who continue to block any common sense gun control legislation giving out the same bullshit responses of "condolences and prayers" to the victims.  One student at who survived the carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,  summed things  up well when she tweeted the following to Donald Trump: 
I don’t want your condolences you fucking price of shit, my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.

The student is 100% correct in her assessment.  However, while directed to Trump, the message could apply to almost every Republican at the state and federal level who continues to be the willing political whore of the NRA and the gun manufacturers for which it is a front organization.  Here in Virginia, Republicans in the General Assembly killed a measure which would have banned bump stocks such as those use to deadly effect in the Las Vegas mass shooting.   No ordinary citizen needs an automatic rifle, the weapon of choice among mass shooters.   A piece in Vox looks at the ridiculous number of guns in America: 
The US makes up about 4.4 percent of the global population but possesses 42 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. And the empirical research shows that places with more guns have more homicides.
Criminal justice experts widely recognize that America’s unusually high levels of gun violence are a result of cultural and policy decisions that have made firearms far more available in America than in most of the world. For the US, that means not just more mass shootings, but more gun violence in general.
 A piece in the New York Times continues the analysis and provides in part as follows:
Why, they ask, does it [America] experience so many mass shootings?
Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.
These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.
The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns. The top-line numbers suggest a correlation that, on further investigation, grows only clearer.  Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.
Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people — a distinction Mr. Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.
Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence. A 2015 study estimated that only 4 percent of American gun deaths could be attributed to mental health issues. And Mr. Lankford, in an email, said countries with high suicide rates tended to have low rates of mass shootings — the opposite of what you would expect if mental health problems correlated with mass shootings.
Whether a population plays more or fewer video games also appears to have no impact. Americans are no more likely to play video games than people in any other developed country.
Racial diversity or other factors associated with social cohesion also show little correlation with gun deaths. Among European countries, there is little association between immigration or other diversity metrics and the rates of gun murders or mass shootings.
America’s gun homicide rate was 33 per million people in 2009, far exceeding the average among developed countries. In Canada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively, which also corresponds with differences in gun ownership.A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.  They concluded that the discrepancy, like so many other anomalies of American violence, came down to guns.
[G]un control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.  This suggests that the guns themselves cause the violence.. . . So while mass shootings can happen anywhere, they are only a matter of routine in the United States.
In 2013, American gun-related deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths caused by an accidental discharge. That same year in Japan, a country with one-third America’s population, guns were involved in only 13 deaths.
After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 shooting. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.
That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.

In short, we know how to greatly reduce these tragedies.  When will a majority of Americans say "enough!" and vote pro-gun politicians and the political whores of the NRA out of office?  Until that happens and strict gun control is enacted, expect the blood to continue to flow in our schools and other public places.

At Least 17 Killed in Florida School Shooting

We are 45 days into 2018 and yesterday, by some reports the 29th mass shooting in America took place, taking at least 17 lives in a South Florida high school.  True to form, the shooter has an assault weapon, something that no law abiding citizen needs for  self-protection.  These weapons have one purpose: kill a large number of people rapidly.  As noted many, many times on this blog, NO OTHER ADVANCED NATION EXPERIENCES SUCH REGULAR GUN CARNAGE. As one commentator asked, what will it take to make Americans - and Republican politicians in particular - realize that America's gun laws are irresponsible and the underlying cause of such massacres.  Less guns, not more guns, in the hands of civilians the the first meaningful step in stopping all the needless deaths.  And frankly, if one is a "strong 2nd Amendment" politician, you have blood on your hands and indirectly are just as guilty as the shooter in today's horror.  Not surprisingly, Der Trumpenführer, tweeted about meaningless "prayers and condolences" to families of victims.  If he truly gave a damn, he'd be demanding strict changes to America's insane gun control laws. That, of course, will never happen (lest we forget, there are still rumors that Russia funneled money to Trump's campaign through the NRA)..  When are families of victims going to reject the disingenuous bloviation of Trump and his GOP cohorts who kill gun control legislation and tell them to go fuck themselves?  Better yet, when will the stop voting for Republicans?  Here are excerpts from the Washington Post:
A heavily armed 19-year-old who had been expelled from a South Florida high school opened fire on campus shortly before classes let out Wednesday, killing 17 people while terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, police said.
The violence unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, a school of more than 3,000 students in a tony suburb northwest of Fort Lauderdale where houses sit on broad lots.
The Broward County sheriff identified the suspect as Nikolas Cruz, who had recently attended the school but had been kicked out for “disciplinary reasons.” He was captured after a manhunt that transfixed the region and forced a nearby school into a lockdown, said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Students recalled terror and confusion in the aftermath of the shooting.
“It’s catastrophic. There really are no words,” said Israel, whose own triplets graduated from the well-regarded high school. The victims included several students and adults, authorities said.
Kids were crying; some people were freaking out,” Kadel said. “I’m kind of surprised it happened here, but I’m not really shocked. School shootings happen all the time, and then the news just forgets about them.”
The gunman started firing before even entering the school, leaving a trail of carnage across the sprawling campus, Israel said. A dozen of the dead were found inside the school, and three were found outside. Two others succumbed to their injuries at a hospital.
.The shooter came to the school armed with weaponry that evoked a battlefield, not a school located down the street from an equestrian park. He carried “countless magazines” and an AR-15 rifle, Israel said. It was unclear if the shooter had a second weapon, the sheriff said.
Jim Gard, a math teacher at Stoneman Douglas High, which is named for an icon of the South Florida environmental movement — said he taught the shooting suspect last year.
“I had him almost all year. He just looked like a regular high school kids. Nothing outstanding. He didn’t act up in class, wasn’t loud or boisterous,” Gard said.
But at some point during the school year, Gard said, the school administration sent out a note with a vague suggestion of alarm, asking teachers to keep an eye on Cruz. “I don’t recall the exact message, but it was an email notice they sent out.”
Authorities who were beginning to analyze his motives had unearthed social media postings that “are very, very disturbing,” Israel said.
An Instagram account that appeared to belong to the suspect showed several photos of guns. One appeared to show a gun’s holographic laser sight pointed at a neighborhood street. A second showed at least six rifles and handguns laid out on a bed with the caption “arsenal.” Other pictures showed a box of large-caliber rounds with the caption “cost me $30.” 
This is at least the third school shooting this year, and one of the deadliest on record. Beginning with Columbine 19 years ago, more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus, according to a Washington Post analysis of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures, and news stories.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, summed up the responsibility of pro-gun members of Congress wee;  Here is an excerpt from CNN:
Sen. Chris Murphy said Wednesday that Congress bears responsibility for the "epidemic of mass slaughter" in the US, addressing the Senate floor while news of a school shooting unfolded in Florida.
"This epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting," Murphy said, "it only happens here not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else."
The Connecticut Democrat has been an outspoken supporter of gun control legislation for years, representing the state where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred in 2012, in which 20 children were fatally shot. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

America's Top Spies Challenge Trump's Lies on Russia Election Interference

One of Donald Trump's most persistent lies has been that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  Why so?  Personally, I suspect it is because he knows that the interference took place and that he and his campaign collude with and participated in the effort.  Otherwise, why deny what everyone other than Trump's Kool-Aid drinking base can see?  John McCain has stated that it happened.  So has George W. Bush, not the brightest bulb on the shelf, as have countless others, including the heads of America's intelligence agencies - its top spies, if you will - who testified before Congress yesterday about the ongoing Russian efforts. Efforts that will likely seek to sway the 2018 midterms and cause more distrust in America's electoral process.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the testimony by Trump's own agency heads that directly contradicts Trump's continued lies.  Here are article excerpts:
On Tuesday, the top intelligence officials in the United States briefed senators on their annual assessments of the threats facing the country in the year ahead. Although most of these principals were Trump appointees, their testimony reflected the consensus of what some Trump supporters would probably tar as the “deep state,” the shadowy world of Washington bureaucrats and spooks operating at a remove from the public.
The headline concern of their report was something that exasperates the president: the role of Russian meddling in U.S. politics, whether in the form of direct attempts to interfere with the electoral system or the proliferation of Kremlin-sponsored social media bots and "news" websites.
“Russian hackers are already scanning American electoral systems, intelligence officials have said, and using bot armies to promote partisan causes on social media,” wrote Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times. “Russia also appears eager to spread information — real and fake — that deepens political divisions, including purported evidence that ties Mr. Trump to Russia, and its efforts to influence the 2016 election.” “Trump has shown no interest in investigating what actually happened two years ago and bolstering America’s defenses against it happening again.”  But for his top spies, it's deadly serious.
“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” said Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats to the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Under attack by entities that are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the United States.” He added that “there should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.”
That verdict, my colleagues noted, “was echoed by all five other intelligence agency heads present at the hearing, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who two weeks ago stated publicly he had 'every expectation' that Russia will try to influence the coming elections.”
In a report released in conjunction with the hearing, Coats cast Russia as a leading destabilizing actor in the West. “Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrade democratization efforts, weaken U.S. partnerships with European allies, undermine Western sanctions, encourage anti-US political views, and counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions,” the report read. Trump's opponents in the Senate took the opportunity to pounce. “Make no mistake: This threat did not begin in 2016, and it certainly didn’t end with the election,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.). “What we are seeing is a continuous assault by Russia to target and undermine our democratic institutions, and they are going to keep coming at us.”
“Despite all of this, the president inconceivably continues to deny the threat posed by Russia,” he continued.  
Likewise, the intelligence community's threat assessment suggests sharp divergences from Trump's agenda. For one, it concluded that the nuclear deal signed with Tehran is largely working. “Iran’s implementation of the [nuclear deal] has extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about one year, provided Iran continues to adhere to the deal’s major provisions,” the report noted. It added that the agreement has “also enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities.”
Then there's the question of climate change. Much as the Pentagon has in recent years, the threat assessment warned that rising global temperatures are “likely to fuel economic and social discontent — and possibly upheaval.” Rising seas, scarcer resources and collapsing ecosystems, it said, will “raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages.”
The warnings are ones that Trump, who is seemingly fixated on restoring American primacy in the world, theoretically ought to heed. But if we have learned anything over the past year, it's how unlikely he is to listen.

The word treason is bandied about too lightly at times, but in the case of Trump's refusal to address the threat that even his own appointees have confirm does raise the question of whether the word applies to Trump, who seemingly is only too happy to have Russia continue its attacks on America's constitutional system - something Trump swore to uphold and protect.  His continued failure to admit and address the Russian efforts must be called what it is in fact. 

Trump's Infrastructure Scam

A post yesterday looked at Donald Trump's irresponsible budget proposal.  It also looked at Trump's infrastructure "plan" which amounts to little more than a scam and seeks to privatize much of the task, leaving taxpayers hostage to rapacious private interests.  Here in Hampton Roads Virginia, the Elizabeth Rivers Tunnels scam has demonstrated the greed with which such "public/private" projects enrich the private interests while screwing over the public.  In my view, after defending the nation from hostile outside forces, a main responsibility of government is to provide the roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, etc., that serve the interests of the public and which allow economic growth and prosperity for all, not just certain greed motivated private interests.  As for tolls, they are little more than a way for government to dodge its responsibility to fund and build much needed infrastructure through tax revenues and bind issues. A piece in Fortune looks ate the scam nature of Der Trumpenführer's infrastructure proposal.  An second piece in a column in the New York Times by a Nobel Prize winning economist similarly, calls out Trump's "plan" as a scam.  First, these highlights from Fortune:
Trump’s infrastructure plan hinges on a $100 billion matching grant program for states and cities to launch their own projects, with additional funds coming from a $50 billion rural investment program, along with a few other line items. That’s supposed to entice private companies to come out of the woodwork and rebuild America to the tune of $1.5 trillion.
Just like Mexico won’t pay for a border wall, private investors won’t pay for roads, bridges, and energy infrastructure just because the president says they will. Kicking federal obligations to private companies doesn’t work that way.
Private investors care about only one thing, and that’s maximizing profit. They won’t be drawn to projects that won’t make them enough money, no matter how badly needed the projects are.
And even for projects that do materialize, private investors’ need for profit means the costs of building new infrastructure are often passed along in the form of road tolls or other fees—sometimes, these can be exorbitant. This dispels the commonly held myth that privately financed projects are always a better deal for taxpayers. As another corporate giveaway, the plan would encourage putting major public infrastructure (like, say, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) up for sale, and would loosen environmental rules designed to protect local communities.
It came as part of a budget package that would also cut $48 billion in federal funding for other programs and services that won’t be matched by a paltry $20 billion per year in infrastructure investments. Among other things, the president once again called for the total elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program, and major cuts to Amtrak, Superfund environmental cleanups, and other programs. You better believe that Americans would suffer under this plan.

The piece in the Times is similarly harsh and calls out Trump's proposal as a con job.  Here are highlights:
Donald Trump doesn’t give a dam. Or a bridge. Or a road. Or a sewer system. Or any of the other things we talk about when we talk about infrastructure.
But how can that be when he just announced a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan? That’s easy: It’s not a plan, it’s a scam. The $1.5 trillion number is just made up; he’s only proposing federal spending of $200 billion, which is somehow supposed to magically induce a vastly bigger overall increase in infrastructure investment, mainly paid for either by state and local governments (which are not exactly rolling in cash, but whatever) or by the private sector.
And even the $200 billion is essentially fraudulent: The budget proposal announced the same day doesn’t just impose savage cuts on the poor, it includes sharp cuts for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy and other agencies that would be crucially involved in any real infrastructure plan.
One section says that it would “authorize federal divestiture of assets that would be better managed by state, local or private entities.” Translation: We’re going to privatize whatever we can. It’s conceivable that this would be done only in cases where the private sector really would do better, and contracts would be handed out fairly, without a hint of cronyism. And if you believe that, I have a degree from Trump University you might want to buy.
At one level, none of this should be a surprise. The current infrastructure nonplan looks a lot like the sketchy proposal the Trump campaign laid out in 2016, back when he was still pretending to be a different kind of Republican. 
Yet there is something puzzling about Trump’s failure to come up with a remotely plausible infrastructure plan.
First, the economics: America desperately needs to repair and upgrade its deteriorating roads, water systems, power grid and more. . . . massive infrastructure spending would have been an even better idea five years ago. But it’s still something that needs doing.
Where would the money come from? . . . . Despite a modest rise in interest rates, the federal government can still borrow very cheaply: The interest rate on inflation-protected long-term bonds . . . . So borrowing now to pay for essential infrastructure would still be good economics.
And as I said, there would be political advantages, too. If Trump just pushed ahead with a straightforward, conventional public investment plan, he could trumpet the number of workers employed on new projects.
[A]nd another point: Public spending can yield a lot of private profit. An infrastructure program involving real money could be very lucrative for Trump cronies, or for that matter Trump himself. Yes, there are rules that are supposed to prevent that kind of profiteering, but does anyone think those rules would be enforced under current management?
So why isn’t Trump proposing something real?
Part of the answer is that in practice Trump always defers to Republican orthodoxy, and the modern G.O.P. hates any program that might show people that government can work and help people.
But I also suspect that Trump is afraid to try anything substantive. To do public investment successfully, you need leadership and advice from experts. And this administration doesn’t do expertise, in any field. Not only do experts have a nasty habit of telling you things you don’t want to hear, their loyalty is suspect: You never know when their professional ethics might kick in.
So the Trump administration probably couldn’t put together a real infrastructure plan even if it wanted to. And that’s why it didn’t.