Saturday, March 03, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

Huckabee Booted from Country Music Association Foundation

Sarah Huckabee Sanders learned to lie from one of the most proficient liars in the country, her father Mike Huckabee.  But not only is Huckabee a liar, he's a bigot as well, especially when it comes to LGBT individuals.  Like most Christofascists, we seeks to inflict his hideous version of Christianity on all Americans.  In Huckabee's world, only right wing Christian extremists have rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Thankfully, the Country Music Association had enough of Huckabee's bigotry and he was booted from the board of its charitable arm, the CMA Foundation.  One can only hope that more and more organizations will see those like Huckabee for what they are: undesirable and and anti-American principles.  The Advocate looks at Huckabee's welcomed ejection from the CMA Foundation board.  Here are highlights:
Mike Huckabee’s homophobia has struck a sour note with the country music industry.
After outcry against his presence on the board of directors of the CMA Foundation — the charitable arm of the Country Music Association — the former Arkansas governor and failed presidential candidate resigned from the board today, one day after his election, reports Nashville newspaper The Tennessean.
“The announcement follows pointed criticism from members of the country music industry, as well as fans — much of it stemming from Huckabee's stance on LGBT issues,” the paper reports.
Among other anti-LGBT stances, Huckabee is a longtime opponent of marriage equality and has made offensive jokes about transgender people. He has likened marriage equality to U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 1856 Dred Scott decision upholding slavery, and he once characterized gender-confirmation surgeries as strictly cosmetic, like implants for a woman who wants larger breasts.
He also opposes gun control and abortion rights, and he recently said his daughter, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is a victim of feminists who are seeking to discredit her.
While the country music industry may be one of the more conservative portions of the entertainment world, there are numerous country music executives, artists, and fans who are LGBT or allies, and they were quick to object to Huckabee’s election to the board of the foundation, which is “devoted to growing and supporting music education programs across the country,” according to The Tennessean.
“Huckabee speaks of the sort of things that would suggest my family is morally beneath his and uses language that has a profoundly negative impact upon young people all across this country,” said Jason Owen, a married gay father who is co-president of Monument Records and owner of Sandbox Entertainment, in an email to CMA officials, The Tennessean reports. “Not to mention how harmful and damaging his deep involvement with the [National Rifle Association] is. What a shameful choice.”
Whitney Pastorek, who manages Sugarland singer Kristian Bush, also objected to Huckabee’s presence on the board. “What a terrible disappointment to see [the CMA Foundation’s] mission clouded by the decision to align with someone who so frequently engages in the language of racism, sexism, and bigotry,” she told CMA executives via email.
Huckabee, a former Fox News Channel host, now has a talk show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, an evangelical Christian outlet. . . . He was not immediately available for comment on his resignation, The Tennessean reports.
No doubt Huckabee will claim that his a victim of "anti-Christian bigotry" when in fact he's the one who is the bigot.  Kudos to CMA for giving im the boot.  

Will Millennials Finally Destroy the Political Status Quo?

The majority of the bad decisions and policies of older Americans - especial so-called conservatives and Republicans - will disproportionately harm Millennials and other younger generations.  They are being saddled with the now likely $2.5 trillion increase in the national debt flowing from Trump/GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, they see wages remaining stagnating while their counterparts in Europe have better chances of upward social mobility, and they far too many older voters clinging to their guns and bibles as they push an agenda that is the antithesis to the gospel message. Indeed, one-third of those under 30 are now "Nones" who have walked away from organized religion and one truly cannot blame them.  Now, in the wake of the Parkland school massacre, just maybe Millenials are on the point of saying "no more!"   An op-ed in the New York Times looks at how, if the nation is lucky, the Millenials will rise up and over turn the current corrupt political scene.  Here are highlights:
As with all historic tipping points, it seems inevitable in retrospect: Of course it was the young people, the actual victims of the slaughter, who have finally begun to turn the tide against guns in this country. Kids don’t have money and can’t vote, and until now burying a few dozen a year has apparently been a price that lots of Americans were willing to pay to hold onto the props of their pathetic role-playing fantasies. But they forgot what adults always forget: that our children grow up, and remember everything, and forgive nothing.
Those kids have suddenly understood how little their lives were ever worth to the people in power. And they’ll soon begin to realize how efficient and endless are the mechanisms of governance intended to deflect their appeals, exhaust their energy, deplete their passion and defeat them. But anyone who has ever tried to argue with adolescents knows that in the end they will have a thousand times more energy for that fight than you and a bottomless reservoir of moral rage that you burned out long ago.
The young — and the young at mind — tend to be uncompromising absolutists. They haven’t yet faced life’s heartless compromises and forfeitures, its countless trials by boredom and ethical Kobayashi Marus, or glumly watched themselves do everything they ever disapproved of. Yet this uprising of the young against the ossified, monolithic power of the National Rifle Association has reminded me that the flaws of youth — its ignorance, naïveté and passionate, Manichaean idealism — are also its strengths. Young people have only just learned that the world is an unfair hierarchy of cruelty and greed, and it still shocks and outrages them. They don’t understand how vast and intractable the forces that have shaped this world really are and still think they can change it. Revolutions have always been driven by the young. To those of us who have lived with certain grim realities our whole adult lives — the widening moat between the rich and the rest of us, the sclerotic influence of money on politics, the N.R.A.’s unassailable coalition of greed and fear — they seem like facts of life as unalterable as death itself. . . . We spend $60 billion a year on pets but won’t go to any inconvenience to keep second graders from getting slaughtered. Despite all our competitive parenting and mommy machismo and trophy kids, we don’t really give a damn about our children — by which I mean, about one another’s. When a race stops caring for its young, its extinction is not only imminent but well deserved. But maybe my bitter complacence about our civilization’s irreversible decline is just a projection of my feelings about my own. Harvey Weinstein ultimately wasn’t the one enforcing the code of silence around his predations: It was all the agents and managers and friends and colleagues who warned actresses that he was too powerful to accuse.  Once people stopped believing in his invulnerability, his destruction was as instantaneous as the middle school queen being made a pariah. Watch: As soon as the first N.R.A. A-rated congressman loses an election, other politicians’ deeply held convictions about Second Amendment rights will start rapidly evolving.
The students of Parkland are like veterans coming home from the bloody front of the N.R.A.’s de facto war on children. They’ve seen their friends, teachers and coaches gunned down in the halls. To them, powerful Washington lobbyists and United States senators suddenly look like what they are: cheesy TV spokesmodels for murder weapons. It has been inspiring and thrilling to watch furious, cleareyed teenagers shame and vilify gutless politicians and soul-dead lobbyists for their complicity in the murders of their friends.
One of my students once asked me, when I was teaching the writing of political op-ed essays, why adults should listen to anything young people had to say about the world. My answer: because they’re afraid of you. They don’t understand you. And they know you’re going to replace them.
My message, as an aging Gen X-er to millennials and those coming after them, is: Go get us. Take us down all those cringing provincials who still think climate change is a hoax, that being transgender is a fad or that “socialism” means purges and re-education camps. Rid the world of all our outmoded opinions, vestigial prejudices and rotten institutions. . . . — rip it all to the ground.

Perhaps I've always been an idealist, but one with a large dose of pragmatism.  Between our children and our large circle of friends that includes many of younger generations, I like to think I have not become ossified and willing to settle for the status quo.  All Millennial need to do to make a true political revolution happen is get out in mass and vote.  They are now the largest generation.  They can start by voting against every politician (generally Republicans) who continues to cower before the NRA and/or take its money. 

Study: "Conservatives" Got Played by Russian Trolls 30 Times More than "Liberals"

Russian troll factory near St. Petersburg, Russia
Republicans and "conservatives" - which in today's political atmosphere equates to white supremacists, white nationalist and evangelical Christian extremists - like to claim that they are the "real Americans" and the true American patriots.  All this despite their allegiance to a man who, in my mind, likely committed treason during his campaign and who is doing severe harm to America, both domestically and internationally.  All that is needed to win such people over is incendiary - and generally untrue - information that attacks their favorite targets: immigrants, blacks, gays, liberals, etc.   Thrown this bait, these "conservatives" seemingly will believe anything.  As a new study reveals, Russian efforts to throw the 2016 presidential campaign to Trump knew this and played Trump supporters for fools (not something too difficult) and these folks retweeted Russian trolls thirty (30) times more than political "liberals."  That's the findings of a new study.  Here are highlights from a piece that looks at how Russian trolls duped mindless and/or bigoted "conservatives":
Over the past two weeks, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three companies for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. The spotlight fell on one company, the Internet Research Agency and its so-called Russian trolls, who wrote fake news articles, impersonated Americans on social media and worked to manipulated people to promote certain agendas.
Now, a band of computational social scientists at the University of Southern California has measured the influence of those faceless trolls and bots in the Twitterverse.
They report in an early-release study that American conservatives shared tweets and content from Russian trolls about 30 times more often than liberals right before the 2016 election.
Badawy’s team looked at 2,752 now-deactivated Twitter accounts owned by Internet Research Agency trolls and found that 221 of these accounts showed up in their dataset.
The team found 40,000 different American users retweeted Russian trolls more than 80,000 times. And though some tweets showed bias toward both liberals and conservatives, pro-Trump and conservative-leaning messages made up a majority of the messages. Most of the retweets of Russian trolls came from two southern states — Texas and Tennessee. Texans shared more than 26,000 Russian tweets and Tennesseans shared nearly 50,000. The issue here is how much we believe what we read,” Badawy said. “There is going to be a lot of content that we’re not sure of anymore, and this problem opens up more room for doubt in American politics and politics around the world.”
“These manipulations and sharing of fake news affects the free and open exchange of information in the market,” Menczer added. “And democracy rests on the assumption of a well-informed citizenry. If others can manipulate how information circulates, then they’re able to manipulate our democracy.”
Sadly, most of the "conservative" news outlets - think Fox News and Breitbart among others - specialize in fake news and/or carefully edited and propaganda that are the antithesis to having a well informed citizenry.

Are We Witnessing the Beginning of Trump’s End?

I make no effort to hide the utter contempt that I hold for the current occupant of the White House.  Without a doubt, he is the most foul and toxic individual to every occupy that august residence.  In my view, the man is devoid of any redeeming qualities whatsoever and, unless one is a Christofascist extremist, white supremacist or white nationalist, I truly do not comprehend how the less than 28% of registered voters who put him in office can claim any kind of moral high ground at all.  He is one of the worse things to happen to America in my life time and is the epitome of what I would want my grandchildren not to be; selfish, vulgar, intellectually lazy, a bully, and speaks on an elementary school level.  And then there is his rank dishonesty which is rivaled only by the dishonesty of "professional Christians" like Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. Like these modern day Pharisees, if Trump's lips are moving, it is most likely he is lying.  I say all of this as a former Republican who once respected Christianity before the Christofascists and the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal showed that a majority of its leaders and followers are frauds.  I am not alone in this negative assessment.  In a column in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan lays out the case against Trump and what, if the nation is lucky, will be the beginning of the end of the man.  Here are column highlights:
[T]his last week suggests to me is that there is a quickening in the crisis of the Trump presidency. I’m not sure where it will lead, but something is stirring.
Everything we’re seeing from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, suggests the growing possibility, at the very least, that Trump is implicated in a conspiracy with a foreign power to defraud the United States of America (that’s a better way of describing it than “collusion”). We can intuit this because we now know that the Trump campaign official George Papadopoulos knew by April 2016 that Russia had thousands of allegedly incriminating emails from Hillary Clinton, and planned to release them. It’s extremely hard to believe Papadopoulos didn’t share this information with his confreres on the Trump campaign. Why on earth would he not?
Trump then went out of his way repeatedly in the campaign to draw the media’s attention to the hacked emails, kept denying they were definitively the result of Russian interference, then publicly urged Russia, on national television, to release them. That summer, Donald Trump Jr. was thrilled to meet with Kremlin-connected Russians who might provide more information about the hacked emails, hoping that they could be released later in the campaign. He subsequently lied about this in a statement reportedly co-written by the president and Hope Hicks. Then there’s Mueller’s successful bid to get Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s right-hand man, to cooperate with the ongoing case against Trump’s former campaign manager. Gates knows everything about that sleazeball’s money-raking over the years, and his enmeshment with some of the most repellent tyrants on the planet (not including Trump). His testimony could be devastating. All of this lends considerably more credibility to the notion that Trump may have effectively committed treason during his campaign, and that Mueller may hit pay dirt. I have to say I’ve become much less skeptical of this idea as time has passed and the evidence has accumulated. It reached a tipping point for me last week. Then there’s the New York Times story this week detailing Jared Kushner’s obvious conflict of interest in meeting with subsequent lenders to his company in his White House capacity. It’s one of the more damning exposés of a White House official that I’ve ever read. It reveals the character of the man (he’s just like his dad), and the removal of this gilded, mute grifter’s top security clearance is a sign that some small constraints on the unprecedented corruption in Trump’s orbit are beginning to emerge. The swift departure of Hope Hicks after Trump berated her for telling the truth to the House Intelligence Committee — he reportedly asked her how she could “be so stupid” — is another sign of unraveling. (If true, by the way, then Trump’s interference with an individual’s possible future testimony under oath, is also, strictly speaking, a crime.)
At the same time, a remarkable [and totally unlikely] hero is emerging in the fight for the norms of liberal democracy: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. He has steadfastly refused to act as Trump’s personal point man at the Justice Department . . . . Money quote: “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.” Translation: Fuck off, Mr, President. Having a nice public dinner with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Wednesday night was the cherry on top of this DOJ sundae.
Trump is flailing on policy matters, too. The reckless tax cut, we now know, has benefited shareholders far, far more than the middle or working class, the mounting debt is putting pressure on interest rates, and a sudden spree of tariffs is a further unknowable disruption. On the opioid crisis, Trump’s primary focus, as he revealed in his drop-by meeting at the White House yesterday, appears to be a Duterte-like assassination squad for drug-dealers.
Then there was the staggering open meeting this week with senators on gun-control proposals. Trump revealed that he’s an authoritarian liberal on the issue, rather than a constitutional conservative, which is why Ben Shapiro, among many others on the right, regarded the performance as “a complete and utter disgrace.” (I’ve rarely seen Dianne Feinstein more chipper.) But Trump’s infatuation with gun control makes perfect sense to me, given what we know of him. Have we ever seen him decline “control” of anything? So why not guns? His blithe dismissal of “due process” in backing the government’s right to enter someone’s home and confiscate their weapons is also completely consistent with his contempt for liberal democratic norms in every other area.
He’s violated some core GOP beliefs on guns and immigration. It’s telling, it seems to me, that Drudge buried this news and Sean Hannity managed to cover the session without ever mentioning Trump’s extraordinary gaffe. Drudge and Hannity are, for me, the best indicators of when Trump is in trouble. The more they bury news, the more important and dangerous it is for the Trump agenda. And there’s a lot to bury right now: metastasizing scandal, an administration at war with itself, a chief of staff looking wobbly, egregious corruption, and open rhetorical betrayal of the base. It’s not that we haven’t seen all of this before — but it’s the combination of all these in a sudden and accumulating pile that seems more ominous than usual.
Trump’s best bet is that he can gin up another culture-war distraction and that the cult behind him — and the cult’s fear and loathing of the other tribe — will render him immune to the usual political crosswinds. All the evidence reveals that, so far, he would be right. His 85 percent approval rating from Republicans remains and probably will never decline — regardless of anything he does or might do. I suspect that even if there were a tape of him conspiring with Putin himself to tip the 2016 election, Fox would call it fake news, Trump would say it’s not his voice, and the GOP base would side instinctively with their newly beloved Kremlin over the Democrats. But I’ve begun to wonder if there’s a chance that the cultish following may falter as the reality of Trump’s ideological fickleness, managerial incompetence, and boundless corruption begins to seep through. At some point, surely even his supporters will have to say that this is finally enough.
Perhaps Sullivan is too optimistic, but there does seem to be a gathering momentum against Trump.  Should he be forced from office, one can only hope that Pence gets dragged down with him.   As a true Christofascist who thinks god tells him what to do, having Pence in the White House would be a terrifying prospect. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, March 02, 2018

More Friday Morning Male Beauty

Chaos and Corruption Define the Trump White House

I have been a political junkie for the most part since the Watergate days when, like many others, I watched the televised hearings whenever possible.  Since then, I follow politics pretty much daily and have been politically active on education issues, as a Republican activist, and now as a die in the wool opponent to Republicans and most wrongheaded Republican policies.  Never in all these years did we have a spectacle such as the one that surrounds the Trump White House.  Chaos, incompetence and corruption define the place and too few Americans seem to understand the damage being done both domestically and internationally. A column in the Washington Post looks at the endless display flowing from Trump and his minions.  Here are highlights:

The ceaseless barrage of news — both real and fake — from the Trump administration can be numbing, so it’s important to step back every once in a while and look at the big picture: Never have we seen such utter chaos and blatant corruption.
None of what’s happening is normal, and none of it should be acceptable. Life is imitating art: What we have is less a presidency than a cheesy reality show, set in a great stately house, with made-for-television histrionics, constant back­stabbing and major characters periodic­ally getting booted out.
Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, decided Wednesday to self-eject. Was it because she had spent the previous day testifying on Capitol Hill and was forced to admit having told “white lies” for President Trump? Was it because the man she had been dating, Rob Porter, lost his important White House position when the Daily Mail revealed he faced multiple allegations of wife-beating? Or was Hicks simply exhausted?
Among those now with limited [security clearance] access is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose heavily indebted real estate empire and grudging disclosure of his many foreign contacts worried FBI investigators. Kushner is a senior adviser to the president whose many assignments include forging peace in the Middle East — but who now is not cleared for documents or meetings that discuss what’s really happening in the Middle East or anywhere else. So why is he still there?
Why was he there in the first place? Because of Trump’s appalling nepotism.
Trump also brought his daughter Ivanka into the White House as an adviser. What does she do? What qualifies her to do it? In a real administration, conservative or liberal, Kushner’s office and Ivanka Trump’s office would be occupied by experienced professionals who actually know something about diplomacy or administration or some government function.
Never before have we had a president openly at war with his own attorney general. The Post reported Wednesday that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating whether Trump’s attempts to force Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of his job last summer were part of a pattern of attempted obstruction of justice.
Sessions was photographed at a posh Washington restaurant dining with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein — who oversees the Mueller investigation — and Solicitor General Noel Francisco. If it wasn’t a deliberate display of unity at the Justice Department, it sure looked like one.
Any other president who displayed such cavalier disregard for previous policy positions and total ignorance of basic facts would have provoked an uproar. Trump barely gets a shrug. Nobody expects him to be consistent. Nobody expects him to know anything about anything. He is defining the presidency down in a way that we must not tolerate.
I spent years as a foreign correspondent in Latin America. To say we are being governed like a banana republic is an insult to banana republics. It’s that bad, and no one should pretend otherwise.

Trump's Likely Costly Tariff Blunder

America's modern day version of Nero likes to boast about the highs on the stock market, yet seemingly knows little about economics (his only understanding appears to be of real estate deals propped up with underworld and Russian oligarch funding) and yesterday gave the stock markets a big jolt that led to a sell off.  The cause was Trump's announcement of steel and aluminum tariffs based seemingly on ads on Fox & Friends and a desire to appear to give something to thrill his knuckle dragging white nationalist base.  Then, of course, there may have been a desire to change the media conversation - at least temporarily - from Russiagate and the travails of Jared Kushner.  As a piece in The Atlantic notes, the  parallels between Trump and Nixon continue to grow with average Americans being the big losers in the long term.  Here are article excerpts:
Trump just raised the price of cars, beer, vacations, and apartment rentals. 
That’s not what most headlines say. Those headlines say that Trump will raise tariffs on steel and aluminum. Higher tariffs mean higher prices for those inputs—and therefore for the products ultimately made from those outputs. Automotive and construction top the largest users of steel in the United States. Aluminum is heavily used to make airplanes, cars and trucks, and beverage containers, and also in construction.
The last time the U.S. imposed steel tariffs, back in 2002, the project was abandoned after 20 months. A 2003 report commissioned by industries that consumed steel estimated that the Bush steel tariffs cost in excess of 200,000 jobs—or more than the total number of people then employed in the entire steel industry at the time.
This time the cost-benefit ratio is likely to skew much worse. There are fewer steel jobs to protect this time. Auto sales growth has stalled. The first warnings of consumer price inflation are appearing.
Even by Trump standards, the decision-making process was a chaos. As late as 9 p.m. last night, it remained undecided whether there would be an announcement today at all—never mind what that announcement would be. Key congressional committee chairs were unconsulted and uninformed.
The president [Trump] as so often relied on junk information. . . . Industries seeking protection reportedly bought commercials on Fox & Friends. Apparently a decisive event in the debate was the firing of staff secretary Rob Porter, after revelations that he had engaged in spousal abuse. Porter had also chaired the weekly trade debate, forcing the president to confront the costs and harms of protectionism. His removal also empowered Trump’s worst instincts.
The Department of Defense intervention in the debate shredded the logic of protectionists like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, himself a former steel man.
U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum each only represent about 3 percent of U.S. production. Therefore, DoD does not believe that the findings in the reports [of harm to domestic steel and aluminum producers from foreign competition] impact the ability of DoD programs to acquire the steel or aluminum necessary to meet national defense requirements. What did alarm the Department of Defense about proposed steel and aluminum tariffs was potential harm to vital U.S. alliances.
Trump’s unpredictability and threatening language have not only jolted U.S. financial markets, but have done further damage to the U.S.-led alliance system. European Union trade ministers agreed earlier this week to retaliate if the U.S. imposes steel tariffs, further degrading a U.S.-EU relationship already badly damaged by Trump’s hostility to NATO and deference to Russia.
Donald Trump is often compared to Richard Nixon in his disdain for law and ethics. The parallel applies to economics too.
Nixon governed not according to what would work in the long term, but according to “the prevailing mood of the two-thirds of the country he called the ‘constituency of uneducated people.’”
Nixon did indeed win in 1972. He also bequeathed his country not only the worst political scandal in its history to date, but a decade of stagflation that bore most heavily upon the very people Nixon claimed to champion. We’ve been there before; it looks like we’re returning there again.

Trump's rust belt and hill billy supporters will likely cheer their "dear leaders" move without realizing that yet again they are seeing a result directly against their own best economic interest.  Feeling good about "punching back" on someone will not make up for the economic pain.  Sadly, Trump supporters are too stupid to grasp this reality. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, March 01, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty

Hope Hicks, Long Time Trump Aide Resigns After Admitting to Lies

Only a day after she admitted telling "white lies" for Donald Trump while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, Hope Hicks - Trump's long time associate and until yesterday White House Communications Director - is resigning her position.  It goes without saying that there is lots of speculation over what the "backstory" behind her resignation might be.  Did Trump want her out?  Did her attorneys tell her it was time to bail?  Was the cost of lawyering up in the face of the Russiagate investigation becoming too much? Does she know where the proverbial bodies are buried?  We do know (i) that she sent a memo about making sure damning emails about Russian communications with Trump, Jr., not getting out, and (ii) she played a role in preparing the false statement drafted on Air Force One by Der  Trumpenführer about the Trump Tower meeting with apparent Russian agents.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the swirling questions.  Here are highlights:
We were just speculating as to why President Trump seemed particularly agitated over the past 24 hours, reaffirming his reelection plans and then lashing out at his attorney general. Now we learn (coincidence?) from a New York Times report that longtime confidante Hope Hicks is leaving the White House. When one leaves to pursue other opportunities, but doesn’t identify any, chances are there is a backstory to the departure.
The timing is curious, to say the least. She told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that she’s told “white lies,” but not on anything “substantive” for Trump. Whether that remark or something else she said in the presence of Trump’s favorite errand boy, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), may have triggered her departure is unknown, nor is it clear on what topics she declined to provide answers. Her resignation also comes the day after Jared Kushner’s day from hell,. . . . four foreign government have spoken about using his financial interests (recall, he’s heavily in debt) to gain influence with the administration. (Might this have been an effort to draw attention away from that fiasco?)
It is hard to believe that Trump, who’s depended on her assistance for years — well before the 2016 campaign — wanted her to go. . . . . but chances are it was she who wanted to leave, not anyone in the White House who wanted her to go. Now, the reason for her decision, if it was her choice, may be innocuous. It’s exhausting working in the White House, especially this one. 
Will her departure matter? On a political level, likely not.  . . . Her departure, however, may be bad news for Trump from a legal standpoint. She is a direct witness to much of the day-to-day goings on in the White House. She was present on Air Force One for a critical episode in the Russia affair. She reportedly was involved in the drafting of a memo that did not accurately recount the reason for the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. Beyond that we do not know what more she has heard or has knowledge of regarding either “collusion” or Trump’s repeated attempts to throw the Russian investigation off track.
 [S]he has already spoken to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, . . . She also, and this is key, worked with Trump in his real estate business — in fact she knew very little about politics before the 2016 campaign. As Mueller begins to delve deeper and deeper into Trump’s financial affairs and his connection to Russian money, she may have an unusual inside account as to how he operated and the people with whom he interacted.

Walmart Raising Age for Gun and Ammo Purchases; Gun Control Support Surges

Yesterday was a bit of a perfect storm of the negative kind for the NRA and its political whores within the GOP as (i) Der Trumpenführer seemingly endorsed a Democrat gun control proposal, (ii) Walmart joined Dick's Sporting Goods  in saying that it will raise the age for purchasing firearms to 21, and (iii) new polls show a surge in support for gun control measures. True, Trump may well reverse course once the NRA and/or his GOP handlers chew his ass out.  But the other developments cannot be promising for the NRA and the gun manufacturers for which it is a front organization.  A piece in Politico looks at Walmart's announcement.  Here are excerpts:
Walmart, one of the nation’s leading retailers, announced on Wednesday that it would no longer sell guns and ammunition to those younger than 21.
“In light of recent events, we’ve taken an opportunity to review our policy on firearm sales,” according to a company statement. "Going forward, we are raising the age restriction for purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21 years of age. We will update our processes as quickly as possible to implement this change.”
The announcement came the same day that Dick’s Sporting Goods also announced it would no longer sell guns to anyone under the age of 21.
Unlike Dick’s, however, Walmart has not sold AR-15 or other assault-style rifles since 2015, and it does not sell handguns, except in Alaska. The company also said it does not sell so-called bump stocks, high-capacity magazines or similar accessories.
“We take seriously our obligation to be a responsible seller of firearms and go beyond federal law by requiring customers to pass a background check before purchasing any firearm,” Walmart said in its statement.
The company noted that unlike federal law, which would allow the sale of a firearm if no response to a background check request had been received within three business days, the company prohibited the sale until the request was approved.
I am not typically a fan of Walmart, but kudos to the company for these gun policies.  As for the surging polls showing support for gun control reform, here are highlights from a second piece from Politico:
Support for stricter gun laws has spiked in polls conducted after the fatal South Florida school shooting, hitting its highest level in at least a quarter-century.
Roughly 2 in 3 Americans now say gun control laws should be made more strict in the wake of the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to a number of polls, including a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that shows support for stricter gun laws among registered voters at 68 percent, compared with just 25 percent who oppose stricter gun laws.
[T]here appears to be a clear trend in all the post-Parkland, Florida, polling: This time is different. The percentage of Americans who want more restrictive gun laws is greater now than after any other recent shooting.
Morning Consult polling goes back only two years, but support for stricter gun laws was at 58 percent following the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 people, 64 percent following the 2017 mass shooting that resulted in 58 deaths at a country-music festival in Las Vegas and 60 percent last November, after a shooter killed 26 people inside a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Much of that increased support comes from Republicans, according to Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer.
"Republican support for tougher gun laws is at its highest point since Morning Consult and POLITICO began tracking the issue," said Dropp. "In this week's poll, 53 percent of Republicans indicated they supported stricter gun laws, compared to 37 percent [of Republicans] who said the same following the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016.”
A CNN poll released this week recorded support for stricter gun control laws at 69 percent — the highest mark since 1993. It’s up from just 52 percent last October, shortly after the Las Vegas shooting. Nearly half of Republicans, 49 percent, support stricter gun laws, up from 30 percent in October. 
Raising the age limit on gun purchasers is also widely popular. Eighty-two percent think the age limit should be 21 to purchase an assault-style weapon, and 81 percent support requiring purchasers of all firearms to be 21.
More than 3 in 4 voters, 78 percent, want to create a national database with information about each gun sale. The same percentage support a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases, and 77 percent support a ban on bump stocks, which President Donald Trump has called a priority for his administration.

Kushner Companies Received Loans After White House Meetings

I actual had thought that I knew what I would be writing about in this post as I headed to mork yesterday morning. But then numerous things happened throughout the day.  Trump made statements that likely gave the NRA a stroke, Hope Hicks resigned as White House communications director after admitted she had told "white lies" for Trump, Walmart has stated it will not sell rifles to those under age 21, and then the bombshell that Jared "Prince Jared" Kushner's companies received hundreds of millions of loans following Kushner's meetings with individuals and businesses in his capacity as a senior White House official.  So much for Der Trumpenführer's claims that his family members have not benefited from his occupancy of the the White House.  And this after reports that four (4) different foreign countries viewed Kushner as particularly vulnerable to manipulation - think bribes and/or blackmail - which is why he was unable to get top secret security clearance. Here are excerpts from the Washington Post on Kushner's vulnerability:
Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter. 
Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said. 
It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.
And that was before today's revelations about the unusual loans made to Kushner companies in the wake of meetings at the White House.  Here are highlights from the breaking news piece in the New York Times:
Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House.  Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris.
The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.
Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities filings show.
It was one of the largest loans Kushner Companies received last year. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.
There is little precedent for a top White House official meeting with executives of companies as they contemplate sizable loans to his business, say government ethics experts.
“This is exactly why senior government officials, for as long back as I have any experience, don’t maintain any active outside business interests,” said Don Fox, the former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration and, before that, a lawyer for the Air Force and Navy during Republican and Democratic administrations. “The appearance of conflicts of interest is simply too great.”
The White House referred questions to Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, who did not dispute that the meetings between Mr. Kushner and the executives took place. This blurring of lines is now a potential liability for Mr. Kushner, who recently lost his top-secret security clearance amid worries from some United States officials that foreign governments might try to gain influence with the White House by doing business with Mr. Kushner.
Investigators working for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election, have asked questions about Mr. Kushner’s interactions with potential investors from overseas, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Kushner’s firm has sought investments from the Chinese insurer Anbang and from the former prime minister of Qatar.
Mr. Kushner resigned as chief executive of Kushner Companies when he joined the White House last January, and he sold a small portion of his stake in the company to a trust controlled by his mother.
But he retained the vast majority of his interest in Kushner Companies. His real estate holdings and other investments are worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics filings. They are likely worth much more, because that estimate has his firm’s debt subtracted from the value of his holdings.
Public filings show that Mr. Kushner still owns part of the company that received the Apollo loan. The loan was used to refinance a Chicago skyscraper that is the Midwest headquarters for AT&T. Mr. Kushner also still holds a stake in the entity that owns the Brooklyn buildings and received the loan from Citigroup. Mr. Fox, the ethics expert, said Mr. Kushner risked violating the regulations in his meetings with Citigroup and Apollo executives. All of the executives who met with Mr. Kushner have lots to gain or lose in Washington.
Apollo has sought ways to benefit from the White House’s possible infrastructure plan. And its executives, including Mr. Harris, had tens of millions of dollars personally at stake in the tax overhaul that was making its way through Washington last year.
Citigroup, one of the country’s largest banks, is heavily regulated by federal agencies and, like other financial companies, is trying to get the government to relax its oversight of the industry.
Shortly after Kushner Companies received the loan from Apollo, the private equity firm emerged as a beneficiary of the tax cut package that the White House championed. Mr. Trump backed down from his earlier pledge to close a loophole that permits private equity managers to pay taxes on the bulk of their income at rates that are roughly half of ordinary income tax rates. The tax law left the loophole largely intact.

I suspect that Prince Jared ma not be sleeping very well at the moment.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Have Trump and GOP Caused the Forces of Decency to Awaken?

Donald Trump is perhaps the most vile and corrupt individual to ever occupy the White House.  Meanwhile, the Republican Party has become the party of constant lies which may have finally over played its hand with the Trump tax cut that voters are discovering - albeit it a bit belatedly - was a scam and a massive give away to the very wealthy and ruthless large corporation.  Seemingly, other than the 36-37% of the population made up of rabid Christian extremists, gun fanatics and white supremacists who continue to support Trump as their "dear leader," the rest of the country is increasingly recognizing Trump and the GOP for what they are: corrupt and bad people.  The NRA's near full ownership of Republicans in the wake of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting has perhaps been the straw that will break the GOP's back, especially if it cause young anti-GOP voters to surge to the polls come November.  What's powering the surge of opposition to Trump and the GOP?  A column in the New York Times argues that it is people's realization that many share their revulsion toward Trump and Republicans and this is causing them to mobilize to push for a return of decency and some semblance of honesty and an end to politicians bought by special interest such as the NRA.  Here are column highlights:

A funny thing is happening on the American scene: a powerful upwelling of decency. Suddenly, it seems as if the worst lack all conviction, while the best are filled with a passionate intensity. We don’t yet know whether this will translate into political change. But we may be in the midst of a transformative moment.
You can see the abrupt turn toward decency in the rise of the #MeToo movement; . . . You can see it in the reactions to the Parkland school massacre. For now, at least, the usual reaction to mass killings — a day or two of headlines, then a sort of collective shrug by the political class and a return to its normal obeisance to the gun lobby — isn’t playing out. Instead, the story is staying at the top of the news, and associating with the N.R.A. is starting to look like the political and business poison it should have been all along.
And I’d argue that you can see it at the ballot box, where hard-right politicians in usually reliable Republican districts keep being defeated thanks to surging activism by ordinary citizens.
This isn’t what anyone, certainly not the political commentariat, expected.
After the 2016 election many in the news media seemed all too ready to assume that Trumpism represented the real America, even though Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote and — Russian intervention and the Comey letter aside — would surely have won the electoral vote, too, but for the Big Sneer, the derisive tone adopted by countless reporters and pundits. There have been hundreds if not thousands of stories about grizzled Trump supporters sitting in diners, purportedly showing the out-of-touchness of our cultural elite.
[T]hose pink pussy hats [at the Women's March] may have represented the beginning of real social and political change.
Political scientists have a term and a theory for what we’re seeing on #MeToo, guns and perhaps more: “regime change cascades.” . . . . When people see the status quo as immovable, they tend to be passive even if they are themselves dissatisfied. . . . . but once they see others visibly taking a stand, they both gain more confidence in their dissent and become more willing to act on it — and by their actions they may induce the same response in others, causing a kind of chain reaction.
Such cascades explain how huge political upheavals can quickly emerge, seemingly out of nowhere.
[N]othing says that such cascades have to be positive either in their motivations or in their results. The period 2016-17 clearly represented a sort of Alt-Right Spring — springtime for fascists? — in which white supremacists and anti-Semites were emboldened not just by Donald Trump’s election but by the evidence that there were more like-minded people than anyone realized, both in the U.S. and Europe
I nevertheless find the surge of indignation now building in America hugely encouraging. And yes, I think it’s all one surge. The #MeToo movement, the refusal to shrug off the Parkland massacre, the new political activism of outraged citizens (many of them women) all stem from a common perception: namely, that it’s not just about ideology, but that far too much power rests in the hands of men who are simply bad people. . . . Exhibit A for that proposition is, of course, the tweeter in chief himself.
At the same time, what strikes me about the reaction to this growing backlash is not just its vileness, but its lameness.  Trump’s response to Parkland — let’s arm teachers! — wasn’t just stupid, it was cowardly, an attempt to duck the issue, and I think many people realized that.
Or consider the growing wildness of speeches by right-wing luminaries like Wayne LaPierre of the N.R.A. They’ve pretty much given up on making any substantive case for their ideas in favor of rants about socialists trying to take away your freedom. It’s scary stuff, but it’s also kind of whiny; it’s what people sound like when they know they’re losing the argument.
Again, there’s no guarantee that the forces of decency will win. In particular, the U.S. electoral system is in effect rigged in favor of Republicans, so Democrats will need to win the popular vote by something like seven percentage points to take the House. But we’re seeing a real uprising here, and there’s every reason to hope that change is coming.
Personally, I have been surprised to discover some who I never viewed as "liberal" or "progressive" are disgusted by what they are seeing flow daily from the White House and the GOP controlled Congress.  Here in Virginia, the last election cycle underscored that if people get angry and mobilize, they can over come the toxicity of the right and vote the bad guys out of office.  This resolve and motivation needs to go nationwide in 2018 and the GOP needs to become the minority party.  Hand in hand with this is a growing knowledge - which has yet to dawn on much of the media - that evangelical Christians are numbered among the bad guys. They have supported a totally immoral regime and deserve no deference or respect. 

Voters Are Starting to See the GOP Tax Bill Was a Scam

If one listened to the sales pitch given by dishonest Republicans - think Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell for starters - middle class Americans were supposed to see noticeable increases in their take home pay.  But something is happening: those promised take home pay increases are being realized.  While my own net pay has increased very slightly, two things are relevant: (i) my income is above the average, so any increase I see is likely higher than what many are experiencing, and (ii) the net increase I have received might at best cover the cost of gassing up my above average fuel efficient car once or twice per month.  The result?  Voters who were played for fools by congressional Republicans are beginning to realize that the Trump tax bill was what many of us saw it to be from the outset: a massive scam.   A piece in Salon and a column in the Washington Post look at this welcomed development.  First this from Salon:
Donald Trump and the Republicans sold their slapdash effort at tax reform as a boon to the middle class. As the law goes into effect, however, new polling suggests that most Americans are struggling to see any benefit at all in their paychecks.
A survey from Politico and Morning Consult found that only 37 percent of employed people have seen an increase in their paychecks since the law went into effect, while 53 percent of people have not noticed a change.
One big difference between the people who are seeing a pay increase and those who aren't? Income.  “Our polling shows high-income earners are more likely to have noticed an increase in their paychecks as a result of the tax bill," said Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer.
Only 16 percent of people with an income under $50,000 a year said they noticed a pay increase. That number rises to 33 percent of people with income between $50,000 and $100,000, and 40 percent for people who make more than $100,000.
These findings emphasize the fact that the bill was never designed to be a tax cut for working Americans. It was designed, first and foremost, to be a massive giveaway for corporations.  Once again, the GOP sold a policy to the American people that was a total bait-and-switch.

The column in the Washington Post continues the exposure of the GOP scam.  Here are excerpts:
When Republicans put together their tax bill last year, it was not much of a surprise to see that its centerpiece was a gigantic corporate tax cut, lowering the statutory corporate rate from 35 percent down to 21 percent. This cut accounted for about $1 trillion of the bill’s total $1.5 trillion cost, but Republicans said it really wasn’t about helping corporations at all.
No, the real target was the workers: Corporations would take the money and use it to create new jobs and raise the wages of those working for them, as trickle-down economics did its magical work.
Democrats, on the other hand, said it was a scam. They charged that workers would see only a fraction of the benefits, and instead corporations would use most of their windfall for things like stock buybacks, which increase share prices and benefit the wealthy people who own the vast majority of stocks. [I]t has been only two months since President Trump signed the bill into law, and we’re already learning what anyone with any sense knew at the time: Everything Democrats predicted is turning out to be right. Let’s look at this report in the New York Times, which describes how stock buybacks are reaching record levels: Almost 100 American corporations have trumpeted such plans in the past month. American companies have announced more than $178 billion in planned buybacks . . . .
 Those so-called buybacks are good for shareholders, including the senior executives who tend to be big owners of their companies’ stock. A company purchasing its own shares is a time-tested way to bolster its stock price.
But the purchases can come at the expense of investments in things like hiring, research and development and building new plants — the sort of investments that directly help the overall economy. 
This is exactly what Democrats warned would happen. How could Democrats have been so clairvoyant? Do they own a time machine?
Well, no. They applied logic, looked at data and understood history. Republicans, on the other hand, were spinning out a ludicrous fantasy with no basis whatsoever.
Among the things Democrats pointed out was that even before the tax cut, corporations were making near-record profits and sitting on mountains of cash; if they wanted to invest, create jobs and raise wages, they already had the means to do it. They also observed that even before the tax cut passed, corporations were saying publicly that they intended to use the money for stock buybacks.
How many times do we have to play this game? When a new policy debate emerges, Democrats try to make an argument that has some connection to reality, while Republicans make absurd claims in the knowledge that even if they get debunked in the occasional “news analysis” piece, on the whole they’ll be treated with complete seriousness, no matter how ridiculous they are.

Much of this con job was made possible by the main stream media which still continues to present GOP talking points as truthful statements even when all the facts and circumstances show them to be intentional lies.  This false equivalency of the parties needs to end.  Republicans nowadays are simply liars and need to be exposed as such.