Saturday, April 14, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

How Democracy Disappears

If one wants to see what Donald Trump and enablers want as the new template for America, look no farther than the nation of Hungary where democracy has died.  True, a veneer of democratic forms remains, but the country is in essence run by a strongman/dictator.  In some ways, it should not be surprising that Hungary has fallen to such a fate give the country's history - it was a constant problem for the imperial government of the Austrian Empire and even helped sabotage the war effort in WWI (the book Ring of Steel looks at this in depth) and played up ethnic tensions.  But, back to the present day and how Hungary's democracy has died with the help of reactionary forces much like the base of today's Republican Party which prefers an autocrat over a democracy where those deemed "other" have rights and equal say.  Andrew Sullivan looks at the insidious process in a piece in New York Magazine.  Here are article highlights that ought to galvanize decent, moral Americans (which excludes evangelicals) to action, especially in the 2018 mid-term elections:
. . . . how you turn a prosperous 21st-century liberal democracy into an illiberal one, and then into a de facto dictatorship. There are no tanks; no mass arrests of opposition politicians; no coups; no direct assaults on the rule of law; and no new totalizing ideology. There is, in fact, no moment where you can definitively say that the liberal democracy has ceased to exist. But in Hungary, an upstanding member of the European Union, liberal democracy is now dead.
[Hungary] has now completed a process … that has mostly remained theoretical until now: It was once a liberal democracy. As Orbán undermined the rule of law, dismantled the separation of powers, and massively violated the rights of ethnic minorities, it turned into an illiberal democracy. Now, it is effectively a dictatorship with a thin electoral veneer.
The recipe is a familiar one by now. In a society where social mores, especially in the big cities, appear to be changing very fast, there is a classic reaction. More traditional voters in the heartland begin to feel left behind, and their long-held values spurned. At the same time, a wave of unlawful migrants, fleeing terror and deprivation, appear to threaten the demographic and cultural balance still further, and seem to be encouraged by international post-national entities such as the European Union. A leftist ruling party in disarray gives a right-wing demagogue an opening, and he seizes it.
Orbán to amend the constitution in 2011, reducing the number of seats in the parliament from 386 to 199, gerrymandering them brutally to shore up his party’s standing in future elections, barring gay marriage in perpetuity, and mandating that in election campaigns, state media would take precedence over independent sources. He also forced a wave of early retirements in the judiciary in order to pack the courts with loyalists.
As Mounk notes, Orbán also tapped into deep grievances rooted in Hungary’s loss of territory in the 20th century, by giving the vote to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring Romania and removing it from more culturally progressive expats. But it was in response to the migration crisis in 2015, that Orbán truly galvanized public opinion behind him.
Orbán responded by spreading fears of an influx of terrorists and criminals, of a poisoning of Hungarian culture, and expressing visceral nationalist hostility to the diktats of the European Union. Added to all that, of course, was a generous salting of classic central European anti-Semitism. Voters especially in rural areas flocked to him.
He further shifted the public discourse by creating and advancing new media outlets that amplified his propaganda, while attacking, harassing, and undermining all the others. He erected a huge fence to keep Muslim immigrants out, and refused to accept any of the 50,000 refugees the EU wanted to settle in his country. His political allies began to get very rich, as crony capitalism spread.
If you find many of these themes familiar, you’ve been paying attention. In the middle of a reaction against massive social change and a wave of illegal immigration, a right-wing party decides to huff some populism. A charismatic figure emerges, defined by hostility to immigration, becomes an iconic figure, and even though he doesn’t win a majority of votes, comes to office. His party is further shored up by gerrymandering, giving it a structural advantage in gaining and keeping power, including a seven percentage-point head start in the House of Representatives. That party does what it can to further suppress the vote of its opponents, especially ethnic minorities, and focuses on packing the courts, even rupturing long-standing precedents to deny a president of the opposing party his right to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat.
Openly propagandist media companies emerge, fake news surges, while the president uses the powers of his office to attack, delegitimize, and discredit other media sources, even to the point of threatening a company like Amazon. A mighty wall is proposed against immigrants on the border, alongside fears of a mass “invasion” from the South. Social conservatives are embraced tightly. The census is altered to ensure one party’s advantage in future district-drawing. Courts are disparaged and the justice system derided as rigged by political opponents.
The difference, of course, is that Orbán is an experienced politician, and knows exactly what he’s doing. Trump is a fool, an incompetent, and incapable of forming any kind of strategy, or sticking to one. The forces arrayed against the populist right, moreover, are much stronger in the U.S. than in Hungary; our institutions more robust; our culture much more diverse. Our democracy is far, far older.
And yet almost every single trend in Hungary is apparent here as well. The party of the left has deep divisions, and no unifying leader, while the ruling party is a loyalist leader-cult. [Trump] The president’s supporters now support a purge in the Department of Justice and the FBI, to protect the president from being investigated.
[Trump] The president himself has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for liberal norms; and despite a chaotic first year and a half, is still supported by a solid and slightly growing 42 percent of the public. Meanwhile, the immigration issue continues to press down, the culture wars are intensifying again, and the broad reasons for Trump’s election in the first place remain in place: soaring social and economic inequality, cultural insecurity, intensifying globalization, and a racially fraught period when white Americans will, for the first time, not form a majority of citizens.
History is not over; and real, profound political choices are here again. My hope is that the descent into illiberalism across the West might shake up the rest of us in defending core liberal democratic principles, wherever they are threatened, bringing us to the ballot box in huge numbers this fall, and abandoning the complacency so many have lapsed into.
We cannot take anything for granted anymore. What was once a theoretical collapse of a liberal democracy now has a proof of principle. Do not ask when this choice between liberalism and illiberalism will come to America. It is already here.

Trump's Degradation of the Honorable

Draft dodger versus war hero.

With five young grandchildren, I shudder to think of the example they are witnessing on display by the current occupant of the White House, a man who embodies everything that one would NOT one's grandchildren to grow up to be.  Constant lies, unbridled worship of money, zero social consciousness, an apparent inability to keep his zipper done up, and the endless trashing of honorable people.  That is not who I want my grandchildren to emulate - indeed, I wish they did not even know about such morally reprehensible people.  The irony is that neither I nor my children are church goers, yet we have a higher sense of morality than the evangelical Christians who pack the pews on Sunday morning, falsely profess piety and endlessly condemn others, especially gays and non-Christians, while supporting the foul individual in the White House.  Indeed, they give a daily witness of why not to wear the Christian label.  A column in the Washington Post by Joe Scarborough - a former Republican like myself - reminds us of how Trump is attacking and seeking to degrade honorable men and women in his quest to hide his crimes from view.  Here are highlights:

These are desperate times for the quislings of Trump. The cost of collaborating with President Trump in the continued debasement of American democracy is becoming far too high. Fifteen months into his presidency, Trump has seen a national security adviser, a former campaign chairman, a foreign policy adviser and another high-ranking campaign official face charges of serious crimes. This week, [Trump] the president must have felt the walls closing in even more tightly around him when FBI agents searched the home, office and hotel room of his longtime personal lawyer, whom associates call Trump’s “fixer.”
[Trump's response] was to reflexively trash law-enforcement officers, undermine the rule of law and slander a Vietnam War hero who has committed his adult life to the service of America. . . . . But this week provided insight into just how desperate Trump and his courtiers have become in their defenses of an indefensible administration. [Trump] The president promoted a Fox News show via Twitter that starred a steady stream of sycophants who slandered special counsel Robert S. Muller III.
Mueller, who led a Marine rifle platoon in Vietnam, has been awarded a Bronze Star, two Navy commendations, a Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After being shot through the leg, the young Princeton grad continued leading his troops in battle. Later he would continue his service in Vietnam even after he was given the opportunity to go home.
Despite playing tennis, golf and football during his college days, Trump took five deferments, four for college and one for bone spurs in his feet. On the day Trump graduated from college, 40 Americans were killed in Vietnam.
Newt Gingrich, who went on Fox News and compared “the American FBI” to Joseph Stalin and Nazis, also did not serve. And Joe DiGenova, who now spends his days sliming law-enforcement officers who investigate crimes in Washington, took student deferments, even admitting in 2003 that anyone who did the same should seriously consider never seeking public office “when you didn’t serve, when you had a chance to.”
In fact, Mueller’s record has been so spotless that none other than Gingrich himself tweeted 11 months ago, “Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down.”
What a difference a year makes. Gingrich has now joined the chorus of collaborators attacking Mueller. 
Even the most terrified politician must know that Trump and his stooges have reason to be rattled. And an ABC News-Washington Post poll shows that almost 7 in 10 Americans want Mueller to continue his investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. Sixty-four percent support the special counsel’s investigation into Trump’s past business dealings. And nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe that the special counsel must continue investigating Trump’s payoff to women for the purpose of keeping them quiet during the 2016 election.
Trump will one day leave Washington. And when he does, the steady stream of attacks on Justice Department professionals, FBI agents and all the honorable men and women who daily defend Americans against enemies foreign and domestic will forever stain the reputations of Trump’s most shameless apologists. All this for a man who has spent decades showing loyalty to little else but his ravenous pursuit of money and fame.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, April 13, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

The Paul Ryan Story: From Flimflam to Fascism

Retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan has always pretended to be a good, devout Catholic, true to the Church's teachings, yet throughout his years in Congress he has pursued an agenda that has sought to shred the Church's social gospel and which has unrelentingly sought to harm the poor, the hungry, the sick and the homeless which seeking to shower huge tax cuts and benefits on the very wealthy.  To say that Ryan is a complete hypocrite is beyond an understatement. Of course, he has been in good company with a majority of Republicans who not only ignored the Christian values they claimed to champion but also sold their souls to Donald Trump, perhaps one of the most immoral individuals in America. They were aided in this trashing of morality by evangelical Christians who deserve to be viewed by history as a pestilence on America.  Lastly, they were all aided and abetted by a large portion of the pundit class who always pretended that there was a false equivalency between the ugly agenda of the right and the compassionate agenda of the left.  A column in the New York Times looks at the realty of Paul Ryan.  Here are highlights:

Why did Paul Ryan choose not to run for re-election? What will be the consequences? Your guess is as good as mine . . . On the other hand, I do have some insight into how Ryan — who has always been an obvious con man, to anyone willing to see — came to become speaker of the House. And that’s a story that reflects badly not just on Ryan himself, not just on his party, but also on self-proclaimed centrists and the news media, who boosted his career through their malfeasance.
Incredibly, I’m seeing some news reports about his exit that portray him as a serious policy wonk and fiscal hawk who, sadly, found himself unable to fulfill his mission in the Trump era. Unbelievable.
Look, the single animating principle of everything Ryan did and proposed was to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. Can anyone name a single instance in which his supposed concern about the deficit made him willing to impose any burden on the wealthy, in which his supposed compassion made him willing to improve the lives of the poor?
[H]is “deficit reduction” proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so the pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from “magic asterisks”: extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs. I called him a flimflam man back in 2010, and nothing he has done since has called that judgment into question.
So how did such an obvious con artist get a reputation for seriousness and fiscal probity? Basically, he was the beneficiary of ideological affirmative action.
Even now, in this age of Trump, there are a substantial number of opinion leaders . . . whose professional brands, rest on the notion that they stand above the political fray. For such people, asserting that both sides have a point, that there are serious, honest people on both left and right, practically defines their identity.
Centrists who couldn’t find real examples of serious, honest conservatives lavished praise on politicians who played that role on TV. Paul Ryan wasn’t actually very good at faking it; true fiscal experts ridiculed his “mystery meat” budgets. But never mind: The narrative required that the character Ryan played exist, so everyone pretended that he was the genuine article.
[T]he same bothsidesism that turned Ryan into a fiscal hero played a crucial role in the election of Donald Trump. How did the most corrupt presidential candidate in American history eke out an Electoral College victory? . . . it wouldn’t have been close if much of the news media hadn’t engaged in an orgy of false equivalence.
[Commentators] also seem shocked at the apparent indifference of Ryan and his colleagues to Trump’s corruption and contempt for the rule of law. What happened to their principles?
The answer, of course, is that the principles they claimed to have never had anything to do with their actual goals. In particular, Republicans haven’t abandoned their concerns about budget deficits, because they never cared about deficits; they only faked concern as an excuse to cut social programs.
[I]f you look at Ryan’s actions, not the character he played to gullible audiences, he has never shown himself willing to sacrifice anything he wants — not one dime — on behalf of his professed principles. Why on earth would you expect him to stick his neck out to defend the rule of law?
So now Ryan is leaving. Good riddance. But hold the celebrations: If he was no better than the rest of his party, he was also no worse. It’s possible that his successor as speaker will show more backbone than he has — but only if that successor is, well, a Democrat.

Elderly White Voters Are Starting to Turn on the GOP

With all of the bad news that has racked the GOP - losing special elections, record numbers of Republicans opt ing to retire, almost unprecedented Democrat energy, and, of course, the Trump/Pence shitshow - polls suggest that a new menace is forming: defections of elderly whites repelled by the GOP threats to access to health care and the Trump/GOP tax cuts.   True, poor whites more prone to fall for GOP racism and/or pandering to Christian extremism are stay true to the GOP, but educated aging whites seem to belatedly coming to the realization that the GOP is working against their interests - actually for years now - and poses a threat to their future and retirement years.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at this new defection from the GOP.  Here are highlights:

One of the many odd features of American politics, circa 2018, is that the primary beneficiaries of our nation’s social safety net are also the core supporters of the party that wants to slash it. No age group derives a bigger benefit from our welfare state than America’s elderly; but no cohort is as susceptible to the cultural paranoia and racial resentment that sustain the modern right, either. Thus, conservatives can’t shrink “big government” without retaining the allegiance of the voters who stand to lose most from the erosion of social insurance.
The tensions inherent to this arrangement grew conspicuous during last year’s fight over Obamacare repeal — when congressional Republicans tried to pass a health-care bill that would have drastically increased the cost of health insurance for older, working-class voters in rural America (a core GOP constituency) while dramatically lowering premiums for 20-something city-dwellers (an overwhelmingly Democratic demographic). Many purple-district Republicans voted for the bill, anyway, effectively betting that it was more politically hazardous to thwart the ideological goals of their big-dollar donors, than to betray the material interests of their gray-haired voters.
This may have been costly mistake.
According to polling from Reuters/Ipsos, the percentage of college-educated white voters who say “health care” is their top issue rose from 8 percent in 2016 to 21 percent today; over that same period, the demographic went from favoring a Republican Congress by ten points, to backing a Democratic one by two.
[T]he Ryan agenda does seem to have played a role in alienating college-educated white Republicans, whose educational backgrounds already rendered them a less-than-ideal audience for Trump’s anti-intellectual shtick.
John Camm has been a Republican since the Nixon Administration, but the 63-year-old Tucson accountant says he will likely support a Democrat for Congress in November. He is splitting with his party over access to health insurance as well as its recent overhaul of the nation’s income tax system. He also supports gun control measures that the party has rejected.
“I’m a moderate Republican, and yet my party has run away from that,” Camm said. “So give me a moderate Democrat.”
Voters between the ages of 60 and 65 are particularly worried about healthcare, said Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at Montclair State University in New Jersey, because they are paying ever higher private health insurance premiums and are not yet eligible for Medicare.
Republicans have sought consolation in the fact that core Democratic constituencies (like nonwhite and younger voters) have historically failed to turn out for midterms in high numbers. But the Democrats’ turnout advantage in the past year’s special elections put a dent in that hope — and the leftward lurch of elderly whites all but eviscerates it. Older, college-educated whites are among the most reliable voters in the nation.
Republicans were already at risk of losing the House due to shifts in turnout patterns, alone — but if those shifts are accompanied by significant defections among reliable GOP constituencies, the party could suffer historic losses up and down the ballot.
“The real core for the Republicans is white, older white, and if they’re losing ground there, they’re going to have a tsunami,” political scientist Larry Sabato told Reuters. “If that continues to November, they’re toast.”
Remarkably, even as Republicans have lost ground with this key demographic — and Democratic candidates have won improbable special election victories while painting their Republican opponents as enemies of Medicare and Social Security — Paul Ryan has persisted in calling for sweeping cuts to entitlement spending.
Ryan and his reverse Robin Hood agenda may yet prove to be the death of the GOP.  Add in revulsion toward Trump, and it could be a perfect storm for the GOP's annihilation.

Trump Allies Worry That Michael Cohen Kept Tapes

The shitshow that is the Trump/Pence regime seemingly knows no limits.  Indeed, the regime has become a real life reality show with one insane revelation following the next. It would almost be entertaining but for the severe menace that Trump poses to American democracy and the peace and security of the nation and the world.  The latest shoe to drop - which would explains why Trump is so enraged - is the specter that Trump consigliere Michael Cohen may have kept tapes of his conversations and phone calls.   If the tapes included efforts to commit crimes or fraud, there would be no attorney-client privilege would not apply.  Again, a possible explanation as to why Trump is acting so anxious and out of control.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the possibility of Cohen's possession of tapes which might now be in the hands of federal prosecutors.   Here are article highlights:
President Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of [Trump] the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen’s office and residences this week.
Cohen, who served for a decade as a lawyer at the Trump Organization and is a close confidant of Trump, was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues, according to people who have interacted with him.
“We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes,” said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. “Now we are wondering, who did he tape? Did he store those someplace where they were actually seized? . . . Did they find his recordings?” 
It is unknown whether Cohen taped conversations between himself and Trump. But two people familiar with Cohen’s practices said he recorded both business and political conversations. One associate said Trump knew of Cohen’s practice because the attorney would often play him recordings Cohen had made of his conversations with other top Trump advisers.
“It was his standard practice to do it,” this person said. 
Legal experts said Cohen’s taped conversations would be viewed by prosecutors as highly valuable.  “If you are looking for evidence, you can’t do any better than people talking on tape,” said Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor.
Such recordings “would be considered a gold mine,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University who specializes in legal ethics.
“The significance is 9.5 to 10 on a 10-point scale,” he added, noting that investigators know “that when people speak on the phone, they are not guarded. They don’t imagine that the conversation will surface.”  [T]he privilege accorded to attorney-client communications does not apply if the conversation was conducted to further commission of a crime or fraud.
Cohen wanted his business calls on tape so he could use them later as leverage, one person said. Cohen frequently noted that under New York law, only one party had to consent to the taping of a conversation, this person added.
During the 2016 race, Cohen — who did not have a formal role on the campaign — had a reputation among campaign staff as someone to avoid, in part because he was believed to be secretly taping conversations.
Frankly, if Cohen taped his conversations with Trump, I don't blame him.  He probably did it for self-defense if Trump ever turned on him.  And if he did make tapes, I hope the feds have all of them now. :)

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Times Dispatch Runs Mealy Mouth Response to Publishing Hate Speech

Image from GayRVA.

Earlier in the week I wrote about the Richmond Times Dispatch's publish of an anti-LGBT advertisement place by the Virginia Christian Alliance ("VCA"), a certified hate group.  In response to the overwhelming negative action to the ad, the Times Dispatch issued basically a non-apology and gave a mealy mouthed response about "freedom of speech" although that does not guaranty one the right to have hate speech published.  I strongly suspect that had the ad been a rant against blacks, Jews or other minorities, it would not have been published. Especially if the Times Dispatch had bothered to check out the facts on the Virginia Christian Alliance the way the Southern Poverty Law Centered has done.  Once again, I suspect what was in play was undeserved deference to religion and those who bandy about the "Christian" label even though their behavior and beliefs are the antithesis to Christ's message.  A column in GayRVA looks at the disappointing response of the Times Dispatch and the ugliness of the Virginia Christian Alliance. Here are column excerpts (NOTE what Republicans are in bed with VCA):
[T]he Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an advertisement from the Virginia Christian Alliance in their Tuesday, April 10 edition. The ad was full of anti-LGBTQ hate . . . If you did miss our article about it, it seems you were in the minority; indeed, the RTD saw it themselves and issued a “response” — they didn’t call it an apology, because it wasn’t one.
In the brief response from Times-Dispatch Publisher Tom Silvestri, which you can read in full here, Silvestri said the Virginia Christian Alliance ad “does not represent the views of The Times-Dispatch” and that the decision to run it “was guided by First Amendment freedoms that allow for a divergence of viewpoints and opinion.” He then stated that response from staff and others “has prompted us to begin a review of our content guidelines for future paid advocacy advertising.”
As I wrote on Tuesday, the ad was “written in the kinds of hateful terms that any reputable publication should think twice about printing — even if they did get paid for it.”
Indeed, Times-Dispatch reporter Graham Moomaw seemed to agree with us, tweeting yesterday in response to the issue that “there is no First Amendment right to have your views printed in a privately owned newspaper. The First Amendment is what gives newspapers the right to reject submissions (paid or unpaid) that don’t meet their standards.”
Standards should particularly be brought to bear on any content submitted by Virginia Christian Alliance (VCA), the group who placed the ad. They were listed as a hate group earlier this year by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). At the time of this designation, VCA president Don Blake told the Baltimore Sun that VCA are “as opposite as you can get from a hate group,” and that “we’re pro-Christ and pro-Bible. We aren’t anti-anything.”
The Sun then pointed out that the group’s website linked to articles with headlines like “Fear Of Muslims Is Not A Phobia, But Rational,” and “Islam Is Satanic, Says Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress.” To this list, we’d add our own discoveries: “The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality,” and “Homosexual Behavior Is Inherently Destructive,” for starters.
Why is a group like this even getting the time of day from the Richmond Times-Dispatch?
Virginia politicians including Congressman Dave Brat and Delegate Nick Freitas (who is currently running for Tim Kaine’s Senate seat) have previously been awarded the VCA’s “Courageous Leadership Award.” Keep that in mind next time you go to the voting booth.
Most politicians are smart enough not to enthusiastically accept awards from groups that boldly touted white supremacist views. By the same token, it would be shocking for a newspaper to accept advertising from white nationalist groups, regardless of how overtly they pointed out that it was just an advertisement. Why should anti-LGBTQ hate be different?
Hateful views toward marginalized groups of any kind should never be tolerated as part of public discourse. This was the message we were sending with our first article. And we will continue to repeat it until the Richmond Times-Dispatch gets it.
 Kudos to GayRVA and shame on the Times Dispatch, Dave Brat and Nick Freitas.

More Thursday Male Beauty

The Approaching Political Armageddon

Even at his worse, Richard Nixon still had some modicum of respect for the law and America's justice system.  Hence, his decision to resign as the Watergate investigation began to put him in a corner from which he could not escape.  Such is not the case with Donald Trump who James Comey has tellingly compared to a Mafia boss.  Trump cares for no one or nothing but himself and it matters nothing to him what harm he does to the nation or the world.  Now, with both Robert Mueller and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York - a man appointed by Trump himself - appear to be closing in on revealing the ugly filth and criminality that define Trump, thinking Americans ought to be very worried about the future of our democracy and the rule of law.  In a prior time, Republicans could have been trusted to put the country first, but such is no longer the case.  A column in the New York Times looks at the likely political armageddon we are facing.  Here are highlights: 
Donald Trump can feel the breath on the back of his neck. Aggressive federal investigators . . . are getting closer to knowing things that I am sure Trump thought no one but the parties involved would ever know.  This has frightened and enraged [Trump] the president.
There are reports that Trump is thinking of ways to thwart or constrict the Robert Mueller investigation, including the possibility of firing and replacing Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein, to whom Mueller reports.  As The New York Times has reported, Trump has at least twice sought to fire Mueller.
[T]here is a pattern here: When the investigation verges into Trump’s areas of vulnerability, he seeks to squash it.
This is not the behavior of an innocent man. This is not the behavior of a “normal” president.
There is no doubt in my mind that a strong case could be made that Trump has consistently sought to obstruct justice.  . . .  Furthermore, no president should be made nervous about his or her financial dealings being made public. Indeed, almost every major party nominee for president in the last 40 years has released his or her tax returns. Trump, however, has refused.
There is clearly something there that he doesn’t want America to know, something damning and catastrophic. He will do anything to keep it from view, including bringing the government to its knees.
And now investigators have raided the room and office of his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen and will have access to the verboten.
There were always things that Trump bragged about, true, but even there he often did so with no proof. They were things that he thought grew his legend as a tycoon, cad and pop culture icon.  The truth always seemed far less glamorous and far dodgier.
That truth, the part that he has kept shoved into the shadows, is his vulnerability. Trump clearly views full knowledge of whatever that truth is as mortally injurious to his own sense of repute and renown.
If Trump has lied to the people who still support him about the most central parts of his character, not just months or years ago, but on a consistent basis, and if those lies can be proved by actual documentary evidence of some sort, the whole house of cards crumbles.
Trump’s options for keeping his secrets concealed are shrinking by the day. Therefore, Jeff Sessions is not safe. Rosenstein is not safe. Mueller is not safe. The rule of law is not safe. Our democracy is not safe.
What happens from here will truly test this country. It will test the Constitution, our protocols and our conventions.
Maybe the founders and the hundreds of years of politicians following them should have predicted that a person like Trump could ascend to the presidency, but they didn’t, so they didn’t build in sufficient constraints and strictures.
If America must be damaged for him to escape unscathed, he will take that bargain without batting an eye.
And it is by no means clear that his cowardly Republican accomplices in Congress would do anything to prevent or punish him.
The country is in a perilous position. It is in the hands and under the thumb of a man now motivated by a primal survival instinct, a consuming egotism and a petrifying fear of ignominy.
At this point, nothing is beyond the possible, no matter how ill advised and how ultimately destructive. In Trump’s mind, I can only imagine, he has settled on a strategy in the case of his own administration’s Armageddon: If he’s going down, the whole system is going down with him.
 Actually, the Founders did create a safeguard.  It is called the Elector College and it envisioned the electors blocking an unfit demagogue from the White House.   Sadly, in the 2016 election, the Electors failed their moral and civic duty and certified an unfit and dangerous individual.  Those who did so, need to be held accountable.  As for Congressional Republicans, if they do not act soon, they need to be held accountable by being replaced via the 2018 mid-term elections so that Congress can do what must be done to remove the Trump/Pence cancer.  Yes, I suspect Pence is up to his eyeballs in all of this despite his Sergeant Schultz shtick . 

Paul Ryan: Abandoning Ship before the GOP Sinks

I have always loved ships, especially the transatlantic liners of yesteryear and classic military ships (my screen saver is a gorgeous photo of the HMS Hood).  Given this background, when I heard the news that Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan was not going to run for re-election, I immediately had the image in my mind's eye of a man disguising himself as a woman (rumors persist to this day that White Star Line Chairman Bruce Ismay did just that) in order to gain entrance to one of the lifeboats on the Titanic. Ryan obviously sees the GOP about to strike the iceberg of the 2018 midterms  - or himself losing his re-election bid - and decided that it was best to abandon ship.  Personally, I view Paul Ryan as one of the most despicable members of Congress.  Just as some men on the Titanic took a "to hell with women and children first" tradition, so too has Ryan thrown countless women and children overboard in his quest to steal from the poor to give to the rich - a reverse Robin Hood, if you will.  In short, Ryan deserves no good words and the damage he helped to inflict will take years to undo if Democrats flip the House of Representatives and Senate in November.  A column in the Washington Post looks at Ryan's inglorious behavior.   Here are excerpts:
The Post reports: House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has told friends and several colleagues that he has decided not to seek reelection this year and will soon inform colleagues of his plans, according to several people familiar with his plans.
The decision comes ahead of mid-term elections that were already looking treacherous for Republicans, who risk losing control of the House.
The party has seen a large number of retirements, and Ryan’s exit is certain to sap morale as Republicans seek to contain a surge in enthusiasm from Democrats, whose fortunes have been buoyed by the unpopularity of President Trump.
In a written statement, his longtime adviser Brendan Buck said, “After nearly twenty years in the House, the speaker is proud of all that has been accomplished and is ready to devote more of his time to being a husband and a father.  
The political reality is less noble. One can hardly imagine a more obvious signal that Ryan fears the prospect, if not of losing his own seat, than of losing the majority and hence his speakership. In the past, speakers — understanding the demoralizing impact that premature white-flag-waving would have on their troops — had the good sense to wait until after the election to announce that they would exit the leadership of their party. Ryan’s move has several consequences.
First, Democrats (who were heavily spending to defeat Ryan) can declare victory in that race and save the money it would have taken to knock out a sitting speaker. Get ready for Democrats’ taunts that Ryan lacked the courage to stand before the voters with a record like his.
Second, this is a flashing light to donors and candidates on both sides. For Republican money-men, the message is: Don’t throw away cash trying to save the House . . . . For Democrats, it will be further encouragement to add to the record number of candidates and to get on board for a Democratic sweep. In a wave year with the GOP leaderless, why not throw your hat into the ring?
Third, this will be seen in some quarters as a sign that Ryan cannot bear defending the president from potential impeachment. It has been a chore to act as Trump’s lead apologist, ignoring Trump’s outbursts and justifying his zigzags.  . . . .  it is effectively an admission: “I can’t take it anymore!” Imagine how much more stressful it will be if and when the special counsel returns a report that makes the case for impeachment.
Fourth, as we have noted, it is highly unlikely that Trump is going to deliver any more items on the GOP domestic wish-list. 
Fifth, Ryan’s departure makes his refusal to remove from committees characters such as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — who colluded with the White House in smearing the FBI and wrecking the intelligence-oversight system — all the more inexplicable. Why not take the heat to do the right thing, especially if Ryan is not going to run anyway? The lack of political courage still stuns onlookers who regarded Ryan at one time as a genuine policy wonk and serious leader.
In sum, Ryan retreats from the scene after loading the country up with debt and leaving virtually every other agenda item save tax cuts undone. 
Instead of achieving the entire GOP agenda, Ryan will leave a besmirched legacy defined by his decision to back, enable and defend Trump, no matter how objectionable Trump’s rhetoric and conduct. Ryan has come to embody the nasty scourge of tribalism that dominates our politics. The inability to separate partisan loyalty from patriotic obligation — or to assess the interests of the country and the need to defend democratic norms and institutions — is proving to be the downfall of the Republican Party and the principal threat to our liberal (small “l”) democracy. And no one is more responsible for this than Ryan. No one.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Turning Revulsion of Trump Into Votes

On election day 2016, more registered voters stayed home than voted for Donald Trump.  Others who voted, threw their votes away on third party candidates motivated by some misguided sense of ideological purity.  By not voting or throwing away one's vote on a third party candidate with no chance in Hell of winning is in effect the same as voting for the least appealing candidate of the two major parties.  Had these non-voters voted or third party voting not occurred, America would not now be undergoing the daily nightmare of Donald Trump in the White House.  Hopefully, this reality is sinking in and now the task is to translate revulsion for Trump into votes at the polls come November, 2018.  In Virginia in 2017, Ralph Northam's campaign managed to do this via an incredible ground game that coordinated with all of the House of Delegates campaigns.  It's a pattern that can be replicated in 2018 provided voters belated grasp that their vote does matter and may be a bulwark against the worse excesses of Trump and the hideous GOP agenda.  A column in the New York Times looks at the need to turn hatred of Trump into votes in November.  Here are highlights:

During the 20 years that he has led the social democratic Working Families Party, Dan Cantor has waited for the left to get serious about building power through local politics. “People, sophisticated people, barely know who their state senator is,” he told me. A significant portion of nonmilitary spending in America is done at the state and local levels, he pointed out, “so it’s not like these are trivial offices. This is where people live.”
The religious right has long understood this. It became a major part of the Republican Party by systematically capturing seats on school boards and city councils. But many on the left either disdained electoral politics altogether — preferring demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street that quickly turned into ends in themselves — or gravitated toward nihilistic spoiler campaigns like those of Ralph Nader and Jill Stein.
Donald Trump’s election has changed that, spurring progressives to search for ways to exert power in the face of terrifying powerlessness. They have flooded into down-ballot races, bringing them unprecedented attention.
According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, one in five Americans have either protested or attended a political rally since the start of 2016. These activists, many newly minted, are overwhelmingly anti-Trump. Mitchell aims to make sure they turn their revulsion into votes. . . . . much of the anti-Trump resistance is made up of middle-aged suburban women, and most identify as Democrats.
 Building a party that can simultaneously encompass feminist actresses in Manhattan, black liberationists and white Appalachian strikers is no small thing.
All over the world, right-wing populism is ascendant, and so far we have little evidence that multiracial left-wing populism can successfully challenge it. But one thing that Trump’s election taught us is that just because something has never happened doesn’t mean it can’t. “Can we merge these ideals with serious electoral heft?” Mitchell asked. People dreaming of a country that’s egalitarian, cosmopolitan and humane have no choice but to try.

Richmond Times Dispatch Prints Anti-LGBT Ad

image via William Mccormack/Facebook
The Richmond Times Dispatch has long been viewed as a "conservative" newspaper - the paper's former right wing editorial columnist James Kilpatrick was even ridiculed on for years Saturday Night Live for his bigotry - but in recent years the paper seemed to be belatedly coming into the 21th Century.  Apparently, such was not the case given that the newspaper recently published an ad by a Christian extremist group attacking LGBT rights and pushing deliberate lies against the LGBT community.  Richmond has made great strides towards becoming a modern, progressive city.  It is a shame that its newspaper continues to lag behind.  One can only wonder if an ad by white supremacists or Neo-Nazis will be next. Perhaps no coincidentally, the ad was run shortly before Equality Virginia's Commonwealth Dinner that takes place this coming Saturday in Richmond.  Gay RVA looks at the disturbing ad that should never have been published by a reputable newspaper.  Here are highlights:
There’s hate speech in today’s paper. It’s right there in black and white, in the Richmond Times Dispatch. Headlined “Homosexuality (LGBTQ) & Culture Change,” there is a small line of text above the black-bordered essay that reads “Paid Advertisement.” But what follows is a clear-cut attack on LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom, written in the kinds of hateful terms that any reputable publication should think twice about printing — even if they did get paid for it.
The advertisement was paid for by the Virginia Christian Alliance, and the essay it contains is attributed to Greene Hollowell, listed on Virginia Christian Alliance’s Board Of Directors page as Founder and Web Editor of the group.
Painting the struggle for LGBTQ rights as a sinister plot, the essay says that “the homosexual community saw how the culture was changed by using slogans like ‘a woman’s right to health care’ and ‘choice’… they organized and have been very successful in changing people’s minds by demonstrations, appeals for ‘fairness,’ comparisons to the African-Americans’ fight for freedom, and again, the Supreme Court’s rulings” At this point, things go from dog-whistle implications to outright anti-LGBTQ propaganda. “This has occurred despite the universal feeling of the not-so-distant past that the acts were so gross that they were referred to as ‘unmentionables.’ Through the years, it has been referred to as sodomy, homosexuality, gay, and now LGBTQ.” That’s right, folks — the newspaper just told you and everyone who cares about you that attempting to treat LGBTQ people fairly is a sure path to burn in the fires of hell. Either that, or they’re saying that supporting the LGBTQ community will straight-up get you killed — that last line could really be read either way. Regardless, not the sort of thing anyone wants to read in their hometown’s biggest and best-known print publication.
Virginia Christian Alliance previously grabbed headlines when they sponsored a 2015 bill introduced by the unlamented former delegate, Bob Marshall. The bill, 2015′s HB 1414, was known as a “conscience clause” bill, and was intended to allow for discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community under the guise of “religious freedom.” These sorts of bills continue to bedevil the LGBTQ community in this state and others to this day, though thankfully none have yet been passed here in Virginia.
LGBTQ people and their allies who read the Richmond Times-Dispatch today got to hear about how they were courting damnation. I hope the money that paid for that ad was worth risking a loss of support from the significant majority of Americans who support marriage equality (64 percent according to a 2017 Gallup poll). Maybe they were just hoping we wouldn’t notice.
Shame on the Times Dispatch.  Hopefully, the Virginian Pilot and Daily Press will not participate in publishing lies and hate-based propaganda if such an ad is submitted to them.  

Kathleen Parker: We’ve Seen this Before. It Ended with Impeachment.

Trump appointee, U. S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman
 who headed the FBI raid on Michael Cohen 
As I have noted before, I am of an age where I clearly remember the Watergate saga that led to Richard Nixon's resignation from the presidency to avoid impeachment, not to mention the Whitewater investigation that in turn led to the Monica Lewinsky debacle and Bill Clinton's impeachment.  It would seem that history is barreling down a path to repeat itself since Donald Trump and his sycophants - not to mention Fox News viewers - seemingly learned nothing from the prior political disasters.   In a column in the Washington Post, conservative (an a one time Republican) reminds all of us that we have seen this "movie" before and it will likely not end well for Trump and will damage the country in the process.  Here are excerpts:
We’ve seen this movie before.  It would seem but a matter of time before Trump the president of the United States is asked a question under oath and gives a false answer. A lie, in other words. In the prequel, starring Bill Clinton, impeachment followed.
When the FBI, after a referral from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, raided the offices and hotel room of Trump attorney Michael Cohen , the thud of the other shoe dropping sent ripples along Pennsylvania Avenue, down the Mall and over the Potomac River into Northern Virginia, where more than a few veterans of earlier political wars probably grimaced at what could come next.
No one should feel good about what’s happening now.
This isn’t to say the raid wasn’t necessary or proper — it was ordered not by Mueller but by the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. But it shows that we’ve reached a point that apparently made it necessary. The timing, given world affairs, couldn’t be worse.
As President Trump himself pointed out amid lamentations of a witch hunt, “We’re talking about a lot of serious things.” Indeed, we are, especially as concerns the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad reportedly executed a chemical attack on civilians, including children, near Damascus.
Trump risks the plausible perception, given history and his often impulsive decision-making process, that he would strike to create a distraction from the personal chaos surrounding him. Back to the prequel, you’ll recall Clinton’s 1998 missile strikes in Sudan, where a pharmaceutical factory was destroyed, as well as simultaneous strikes in Afghanistan. According to U.S. intelligence, the Sudan facility was part of Osama bin Laden’s empire and was believed to be a chemical weapons site, which turned out not to be so.
Recall, too, that Starr’s original mandate was to investigate an allegedly questionable land deal in Arkansas known as “Whitewater.” But, well, one thing led to another, and you know the rest. Sexual relations did take place in the Oval Office, but Whitewater was a bust. And the 9/11 Commission concluded that the rationale for the bombings had been credible given information at the time. My, but history does seem to enjoy repeating itself.
As for the alleged Mueller “break-in” — Trump’s characterization — the perps were FBI investigators, not burglars, who came equipped with a warrant approved by a judge. Also, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein personally approved the raid, even though he wasn’t required to do so.
Of this much one can be fairly certain: The agents knew what they were after and were convinced that Cohen wouldn’t voluntarily hand it over. Whether Cohen’s $130,000 payment to the porn actress Stormy Daniels can be shown to have been an illegal “campaign donation” — or that he violated banking laws — remains to be seen. But he’s now in the grip of the Justice Department — and possibly Mueller — and soon it could behoove Cohen to become a witness in the special investigation.
It has been observed that most movies end with a repetition or variation of the opening scene. Increasingly, this plot seems to be foreshadowing a day when Trump, exposed and possibly impeached, is shown going back up the down escalator — alone, perhaps, but glad to be home.
What is remarkable is that every individual who authorized the FBI raid - despite Trump's lies - was a Republican and/or Republican appointee.  Two having been appointed by Trump himself.  Fox News may lie and say it is a Democrat witch hunt, but the hunters were all Republicans.  I hope they nail Cohen's ass and Trump's as well.