Saturday, May 12, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

The Accelerating End of American Hegemony

Trump and Idi Amin - same delusions, different skin color.

The mantra of Der Trumpenführer and his white, evangelical Christian nationalist supporters is to "make America great again," yet the foreign policies the malignant narcissist in the White House is pursuing will likely have  the exact opposite effect on the international stage.   Trump, of course, is so utterly ignorant of history and the need for alliances and while he envisions himself as a fabulous reincarnation of France's Louis XIV, he is in reality more akin to a tin pot African dictator - I think of Idi Amin who had a physique like Trump's and a similar obsession with self-importance and lacked a grasp on objective reality - with little credibility on the world stage.  A column in the Washington Post looks at how Trump is likely accelerating America's loss of hegemony in the world.  Here are highlights:

In retrospect, the era of American hegemony — the moment of the “sole superpower,” when the United States was the “essential” country — was remarkably brief. It began in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, probably peaked just before 9/11, and for the past decade — under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — it has been drawing slowly and unevenly to an end. Even while it lasted, this hegemony was partly a game of smoke and mirrors. It depended on perceptions: belief in American wealth, fear of American military power, admiration for American values. It depended on the absence of opponents: the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relative weakness of China.
Above all, it depended on an American willingness to invest: in diplomacy, in military power — but above all in alliances. By forging mutually advantageous agreements with Germans or South Koreans, the United States had far greater influence than it would have had otherwise. By creating and then expanding NATO, by maintaining troops in South Korea and Japan, the United States kept parts of Europe and Asia free to choose democracy, and open for commerce and trade. 
Trump knows no history and does not have any idea how the United States became an “essential” country, let alone a superpower. But he seems to believe that he can maintain that status, and even increase it, without making investments — diplomatic, military or monetary — at all. This week, the outline of what this means — call it “hegemony on the cheap” — suddenly came into sharp focus.
Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal exposed America’s weak hand. For we left — but then what? In different circumstances — after negotiations, after obtaining proof that Iran was in violation of the deal — it might have been possible to recreate the international coalition that imposed sanctions so successfully in the first place. In different circumstances, it might also have been possible to change the deal . . .
Instead, we are now in the worst of all possible worlds. We have broken the agreement with Iran, but we are unable to impose a new sanctions regime in its place. Instead of making a diplomatic investment, we are shouting and barking orders. Just after Trump’s announcement, the American ambassador to Germany issued a threat on Twitter: “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.” As a result, European leaders are not talking about Iran. They are talking about how they can protect their companies from American sanctions, and how they might retaliate.
Courtesy of the Iranian government, we have just learned that Trump recently sent a letter to Arab allies, demanding that they commit more military resources to solve Middle Eastern problems. Fair enough — but if they aren’t your resources, then you don’t get to decide how they will be used. In fact, quite a few Arab governments are already participating in Middle Eastern wars. Saudi Arabia is already fighting in Yemen, where we don’t have much say in what happens. We don’t have any control over what happens in Libya, either, where the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other states are already participating in a proxy fight. If conflict spreads to Iran, the same will be true.
That moment of American hegemony really was impressive, and there are many places where the aura has yet to fade. It will take quite a bit of time for Europeans, not to mention Russians and Chinese, to find their way around U.S. sanctions on Iran, to invent alternative ways to invest, to create new sources of credit outside the existing international banking system. It will take time before the rearmed nations of the Middle East realize that there is no reason, any longer, to consult the U.S. government before going to war. It will take time before U.S. economic policy becomes so erratic that others decide not to preserve the dollar as the reserve currency, or not to reserve a space for Americans at the top table.
It may be many years before Americans finally notice that “hegemony on the cheap” means they no longer have much say in what happens outside their borders. But sooner or later that moment will come. Trump may have accelerated its arrival.
The irony is the parallel between Trump and his evangelical supporters who claim to be saving and protecting Christianity in America even as now almost 40% of Millennials have abandoned religion, mostly because they view conservative Christianity as something ugly and repulsive. The Chinese in particular must be relishing Trump's trashing of America's standing in the international order. 

More Racial Ugliness: Breaking Up Immigrant Families

During his campaign and since occupying the White House, one of the pillars of Donald Trump's policies has been racism and prejudice aimed at non-whites and non-Christians.  Things once thought beneath America are now the norm.  And Trump's evangelical Christian base relishes in the reprehensible, proving to me yet again that there are few segments of American society more morally bankrupt than "conservative Christians."  Nowhere is this targeting of non-whites more cruel than in the case of the Trump/Sessions policy - I'm sure Mike Pence is applauding from the sidelines - of separating immigrants seeking asylum from their children.  What would be considered horrible and certainly raise an outcry if done to lily white families, is seemingly just fine by Der Trumpenführer and his "godly folk" supporters.  Indeed, he/they seem to view immigrants and their families much as Hitler viewed Jews.  Many of those being subjected to this family destroying policy come from Honduras (my own mother's birthplace) and El Salvador, the basket cases of the Western Hemisphere, and have good reason to be fleeing and seeking asylum.  Their real crime: brown skin.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this vicious policy.  Here are excerpts:    
Ramping up a promised “zero tolerance” immigration policy on the Southwest border, the Justice Department said that 11 members of a caravan of migrants from Central America were being criminally prosecuted for crossing the border illegally.
At least four of those facing criminal charges had children taken from them and placed into separate custody, lawyers for the migrants said, highlighting one of the most contentious aspects of the Trump administration’s new border policies: family separations.
Hundreds of immigrant children have already been separated from their parents at the border since October, and the new policy calling for criminal prosecutions of all those who cross illegally promises to increase that number drastically.
President Trump and his aides at the White House have pushed a family separation policy in order to deter Central American families from trying to cross the border illegally, according to administration officials.
The new policy on criminal prosecutions became official on Monday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Arizona and California.
With few exceptions, the United States has historically treated immigration violations as civil, rather than criminal, offenses, and thus parents have not typically been separated from their children when they enter the legal system.
“This is an additional punitive measure the administration is imposing on parents in an effort to frighten Central Americans, to discourage them from seeking asylum,” said Reuben Cahn, executive director of the Federal Defenders of San Diego, who is representing several of the caravan migrants.
Mr. Sessions said his department would criminally prosecute everyone who illegally enters the United States. If a mother or father is with a child when apprehended for the crime of illegal entry, the minor must be taken from the parent. The child cannot remain with a parent in the criminal court system.
The majority of apprehended migrants hail from Honduras and El Salvador, two countries wracked by violence. Children are often targeted for recruitment by gangs, and their families seek safe haven in the United States.  Nearly 80,000 people came as members of family units between October, the beginning of the current fiscal year, and April. About 14,000 came in March; about 15,000 in April.
[F]amily separations began after Mr. Trump took office pledging to crack down on illegal immigration, though a very small number occurred during previous administrations.  The practice gained momentum in the last two months, particularly in Texas, where many families from Central America seek to cross, they say.
The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking a nationwide injunction against the practice. The organization argues in its lawsuit that it is a violation of due process to separate parents and children simply as a means to deter illegal immigration. Only parents who are abusive or unfit to care for their children can legally have them taken away, the suit argues. . . . . the A.C.L.U. accused the Homeland Security Department of unlawfully separating a Congolese woman and her 7-year-old daughter who had sought asylum.
Another plaintiff — a Brazilian woman who crossed with her 14-year-old son and asked for asylum — was prosecuted for the misdemeanor of illegal entry. She received 25 days of jail time in Texas; her son was sent to the Chicago facility. They were not reunited even after the mother returned to immigration custody. They have been apart for seven months.
The government has acknowledged that about 700 children have been separated from their parents since October 1. But that number appears to be increasing.
Studies have shown that children who are separated from their parents can suffer from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as exhibit behavioral problems and poor educational outcomes.
In an affidavit attached to the A.C.L.U. lawsuit, the heads of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Welfare League of America, among others, strongly urged the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, not to break up families.
“Separation from family leaves children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, no matter what the care setting. In addition, traumatic separation from parents creates toxic stress in children and adolescents that can profoundly impact their development,” they said.
Some abuses have been documented. Beginning in 2013, minors were fraudulently plucked from shelters by men who posed as friends or family, promised to provide them shelter and transport them to their immigration court hearings, then made them work on egg farms in Ohio.
Imagine the terror suffered by these children.  With young grandchildren of my own, I cannot imagine how much such an experience would harm them.  If you support Trump, you support this policy, plain and simple.  And if  you then park your ass in a church pew each week and feign piety, you are truly far more despicable than the Pharisees of the New Testament.  You are, indeed, a morally bankrupt monster. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, May 11, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

The Trump/"Conservative" War on the Poor

In addition to pushing policies that will cause many poor Americans to lose health care coverage, Trumpenführer, his boot licker, Mike Pence - who pretends to be a devout Christian - and much of the conservative establishment also seeks to gut the the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a/k/a the food stamps program.   To justify attacks on the needy, the mythology that the program takes away incentives to work and that blacks disproportionately are recipients - neither is true - is continually put out by hypocrisy filled politicians like Paul Ryan and right wing pundits and leaders of "family values groups, both of which constitute a class of societal parasites. in my view.  That Trump backs cuts and restrictions is particularly obscene given his great wealth, and his large inheritance that launched his con-man like career.  The phenomenon underscores my growing belief that one cannot be a moral person and remain a Republican much less at Trump supporter.  A column in the New York Times debunks the myths peddled by the political right and looks at the true motivation: simple cruelty and contempt for those less fortunate.  That evangelicals remain the strongest supporters of this agenda demonstrates their true moral bankruptcy despite feigned religiosity and sexual prudishness. Here are column excerpts:

In general, Donald Trump is notoriously uninterested in policy details. It has long been obvious, for example, that he never bothered to find out what his one major legislative victory, the 2017 tax cut, actually did. Similarly, it’s pretty clear that he had no idea what was actually in the Iran agreement he just repudiated.
In each case, it was about ego rather than substance: scoring a “win,” undoing his predecessor’s achievement.
But there are some policy issues he really does care about. By all accounts, he really hates the idea of people receiving “welfare,” by which he means any government program that helps people with low income, and he wants to eliminate such programs wherever possible.
Most recently, he has reportedly threatened to veto the upcoming farm bill unless it imposes stringent new work requirements on recipients of SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still commonly referred to as food stamps.
Let me be upfront here: There’s something fundamentally obscene about this spectacle. Here we have a man who inherited great wealth, then built a business career largely around duping the gullible — whether they were naïve investors in his business ventures left holding the bag when those ventures went bankrupt, or students who wasted time and money on worthless degrees from Trump University. Yet he’s determined to snatch food from the mouths of the truly desperate, because he’s sure that somehow or other they’re getting away with something, having it too easy.
But however petty Trump’s motives, this is a big deal from the other side. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that new work requirements plus other restrictions proposed by House Republicans would end up denying or reducing nutritional aid to around two million people, mostly in families with children.
Why would anyone want to do that? The thing is, it’s not just Trump: Conservative hatred for food stamps is pervasive. What’s behind it?
The more respectable, supposedly intellectual side of conservative opinion portrays food stamps as reducing incentives by making life too pleasant for the poor. As Paul Ryan put it, SNAP and other programs create a “hammock” that “lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”
But this is a problem that exists only in the right’s imagination. Able-bodied SNAP recipients who should be working but aren’t are very hard to find: A vast majority of the program’s beneficiaries either are working — but at unstable jobs that pay low wages — or are children, elderly, disabled or essential family caregivers.
Is it about the money? The enactment of the budget-busting 2017 tax cut proved once and for all, for anyone who had doubts, that Republicans don’t actually care about deficits.
But even if they did care about deficits, the C.B.O. estimates that the proposed cuts to food stamps would save less than one percent, that’s right, one percent, of the revenue lost due to that tax cut. In fact, over the next decade the entire SNAP program, which helps 40 million Americans, will cost only about a third as much as the tax cut. No, it’s not about the money.
What about racism? Historically, attacks on food stamps have often involved a barely disguised racial element . . . . I suspect that Trump himself still thinks of food stamps as a program for urban black people.
Nationally, significantly more whites than blacks receive food stamps, and participation in SNAP is higher in rural than in urban counties. Food stamps are especially important in depressed regions like Appalachia that have lost jobs in coal and other traditional sectors.
And yes, this means that some of the biggest victims of Trump’s obsession with cutting “welfare” will be the very people who put him in office.
Consider Owsley County, Ky., at the epicenter of Appalachia’s regional crisis. More than half the county’s population receives food stamps; 84 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2016. Did they know what they were voting for?
In the end, I don’t believe there’s any policy justification for the attack on food stamps: It’s not about the incentives, and it’s not about the money. And even the racial animus that traditionally underlies attacks on U.S. social programs has receded partially into the background.
No, this is about petty cruelty turned into a principle of government. It’s about privileged people who look at the less fortunate and don’t think, “There but for the grace of God go I”; they just see a bunch of losers. They don’t want to help the less fortunate; in fact, they get angry at the very idea of public aid that makes those losers a bit less miserable.
I feel sadness for the children who will be harmed - evangelicals, of course, only care about children prior to birth - but the adults who voted for Trump and Republicans truly deserve to suffer since they allowed racism and bigotry to sway them to vote against their own best interests.  Am I being cruel?  Perhaps, but far less so than your Trump supporters and typical Republican.

George Will: Pence, the Worst Person in Washington

Over the years at times I have seen political pundit George Will as more and more extreme and damaging to the concept of "conservative" political thought.  That said, compared to pretty much all of the Republican Party and the racists and religious extremists that now comprise the bulk of the GOP base, George Will nonetheless comes across as a true conservative of the old mold.  Mr. Will reflects a time when honor, honesty, and a measure of decency still counted for something within the Republican Party.  As Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell drag the Republican Party and conservatism in general further and further into the moral and ethical cesspool, a small rear guard of conservatives of the old mold struggle to resist the moral disintegration of conservatism.  Part of this effort involves calling out  those doing incalculable harm to the nation and society.  In a Washington Post column, Will calls out a man in some ways more sinister and dangerous that Trump himself: Mike Pence, a man who feigns piety yet turns a blind eye to immoral and illegal conduct.  Two telling sentences:  "Trump is what he is,  . . . . which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying."  Here are more column highlights: 
Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.
Last June, a Trump Cabinet meeting featured testimonials offered to Dear Leader by his forelock-tugging colleagues. . . . . The vice president chimed in but saved his best riff for a December Cabinet meeting when, as The Post’s Aaron Blake calculated, Pence praised Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes . . . .
Between those two Cabinet meetings, Pence and his retinue flew to Indiana for the purpose of walking out of an Indianapolis Colts football game, thereby demonstrating that football players kneeling during the national anthem are intolerable to someone of Pence’s refined sense of right and wrong. Which brings us to his Arizona salute last week to Joe Arpaio, who was sheriff of Maricopa County until in 2016 voters wearied of his act.
Arpaio, a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right, is also a criminal, convicted of contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to desist from certain illegal law enforcement practices. Pence’s performance occurred eight miles from the home of Sen. John McCain, who could teach Pence — or perhaps not — something about honor.
Henry Adams said that “practical politics consists in ignoring facts,” but what was the practicality in Pence’s disregard of the facts about Arpaio? His pandering had no purpose beyond serving Pence’s vocation, which is to ingratiate himself with his audience of the moment. 
[O]n Jan. 27, 1838, Lincoln, then 28, delivered his first great speech, to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield. Less than three months earlier, Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist newspaper editor in Alton, Ill., 67 miles from Springfield, was murdered by a pro-slavery mob. Without mentioning Lovejoy — it would have been unnecessary — Lincoln lamented that throughout America, “so lately famed for love of law and order,” there was a “mobocratic spirit” among “the vicious portion of [the] population.” . . . . Pence, one of evangelical Christians’ favorite pin-ups, genuflects at various altars, as the mobocratic spirit and the vicious portion require.
It is said that one cannot blame people who applaud Arpaio and support his rehabilitators (Trump, Pence, et al.), because, well, globalization or health-care costs or something. Actually, one must either blame them or condescend to them as lacking moral agency. Republicans silent about Pence have no such excuse.
There will be negligible legislating by the next Congress, so ballots cast this November will be most important as validations or repudiations of the harmonizing voices of Trump, Pence, Arpaio and the like. Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.
As dangerous as Trump is, Pence is perhaps the more sinister evil.  BOTH Trump and Pence need to be taken down by the Russiagate/obstruction of justice/Michael Cohen investigations. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, May 10, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty

Russia-linked Company Created Alt-right Websites During Election

Donald Trump can bray all he wants that "there was no collusion with Russia," but circumstances increasingly seem to indicate otherwise, with Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, seemingly being one of the possible epicenters of Trump/Russia activities not otherwise readily explicable in the normal course of above board business. First we learn of large payments by a Russia linked firm to Cohen.  Now we learn that that firm was registering alt-right websites during the 2016 presidential election to possibly disseminate fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton and push bigoted voters towards Trump.  One can only hope that the Mueller investigation speeds up its investigation and gets to the bottom of what more and more looks like illicit activities.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post on these newest revelations: 
A company at the center of widening questions involving President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen is listed as the organization behind a string of websites targeted toward white nationalists and other members of the alt-right.
Columbus Nova, a company whose U.S. chief executive, Andrew Intrater, and Russian investment partner Viktor Vekselberg have both reportedly been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, is listed as the registrant behind a handful of domains for websites named after the alt-right that were created during the 2016 election.It is unclear if any of these websites were launched or ever hosted content.
These sites include,,,, and other similar combinations, which were all registered in the two days following a speech given by then candidate Hillary Clinton in August 2016 in which she excoriated the far-right movement known for its extremist, racist, anti-Semitic and sexist viewpoints. 
Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, circulated a document on Tuesday that purported to show that Columbus Nova gave $500,000 to Cohen in the first half of 2017.
A spokesman for the company told The Washington Post that Frederick Intrater was not acting on behalf of Columbus Nova when he registered the sites, even though he had used his company email address and listed the organization. The spokesman said that Columbus Nova was not aware that the sites had been registered before Wednesday.
Avenatti’s document appeared to herald the potential that two explosive story lines could converge: the Russia investigation and the $130,000 payout to Daniels, with Cohen at the center.
Avenatti claimed that Vekselberg may have provided funds that “replenished the account” following Cohen’s payments to Daniels. Vekselberg has denied through a spokesman that he or the company he founded, Renova Group, have had any “contractual relationship” with Cohen.
If one looks at Trump's entire career, one sees a constant disregard for the law and associations with sleazy - if not criminal - individuals  and entities.  No one should be surprised that the patterned continued through the election through to today. #Notmypresident.

False Assumptions that Lead to Iraq War Are Being Recycled on Iran

Trump and war monger John Bolton who was 100% wrong on Iraq.
Two things that always strike me about America's governance are (i) a constant refusal to learn from other nations, and (ii) a refusal to learn from past catastrophic mistakes.  In many ways the Iraq disaster occurred due to a failure to have learned from what should have been the lessons of Vietnam.  Now, the same false assumptions that took America to war in Iraq based on lies are being repeated - in many cases by some of the very same players - with respect to Iran.  Among the frightening aspects of what we are seeing is that those who very so very wrong in the lead up to disaster in Iraq are seemingly not going to be challenged about their past mistakes and failures.  Mistakes and failures that cost American taxpayers over $1 trillion and lead to the deaths of thousands of American military members.  And that doesn't even consider the tens of thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives due to an unjustified and horrendously executed war.   A long piece in The Atlantic looks at the disturbing reprise of the lead up to the Iraq fiasco.  Here are highlights:

Last week, while watching Benjamin Netanyahu unveil secret information that supposedly proved that Iran is deceiving the world about its nuclear-weapons program, I had a flashback. It was to February 5, 2003, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell unveiled secret information that supposedly proved that Iraq was deceiving the world about its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. Like Netanyahu’s, Powell’s presentation was dramatic. . . . He later presented a photo of bunkers that allegedly held “active chemical munitions” but were “clean when the inspectors get there.” Saddam, Powell insisted, wants “to give those [of] us on this Council the false impression that the inspection process was working.” Powell’s presentation was designed to prove that it was not.
The parallels between that moment and this one are uncanny. In both cases, American leaders feared that a longtime Middle Eastern adversary was breaking free of the fetters that had previously restrained it. In both cases, American leaders pursued a more confrontational policy, which they buttressed with frightening statements about the regime’s nuclear program. In both cases, international inspectors contradicted those alarmist claims. In both cases, America’s European allies defended the inspectors and warned of the chaos America’s confrontational policy might bring. In both cases, hawks in America and Israel responded by trying to discredit the inspection regime. And in both cases, two leaders of that effort were John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Which raises a disturbing question: How is it possible—15 years after the launch of one the greatest catastrophes in American history—that so many of the assumptions that guided America’s march to war in Iraq still dominate American foreign policy today?   
Answering that question requires remembering the history that Netanyahu, Bolton, and their political and journalistic allies would likely prefer that Americans forget. Powell’s presentation constituted a key moment in the struggle between the Bush administration and international weapons inspectors. . . . President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had taken office convinced that Saddam Hussein—who had spent most of the 1990s subjected to international sanctions and weapons inspections—was breaking free of the constraints that kept him from rebuilding his weapons programs . . . The answer, they concluded, was regime change.
Empowered by the belligerent public mood following 9/11, and America’s apparent success in toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Bush administration in 2002 turned to that goal. Cheney worried that sending weapons inspectors back into Iraq would complicate the path to war. . . . Netanyahu, no longer in government after having lost his bid for reelection as Israeli prime minister, agreed. “It is not very difficult,” he testified to Congress that September, “to deceive inspectors.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed later that month, he warned that because Saddam had constructed “centrifuges the size of washing machines … even free and unfettered inspections will not uncover these portable manufacturing sites of mass death.”
Germany and France tried to help the inspectors verify whether Saddam was pursing weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration, eager for war, insisted they could not.
On December 21, the inspectors issued their first report. While criticizing Saddam for not being more transparent about his past activities, they claimed to be making progress. . . . . On January 9, John Bolton—a Cheney ally who before joining the Bush administration had attacked the “discredited idea that U.N. weapons inspectors can eliminate Iraq’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction”— declared that “There’s no doubt if [the inspectors] had enough people in Iraq, if they had enough facilities, that they would find the hidden weapons of mass-destruction production facilities and dual-use items that Iraqis still possess.
On January 27, Hans Blix—the Swedish diplomat who led UNMOVIC—reported that his inspectors had visited more than 230 sites and . . . . to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear-weapons programme,” he declared, and promised that “we should be able within the next few months to provide credible assurance that Iraq has no nuclear-weapons programme.”
In his next report, on February 14, Blix rebutted Powell’s claim that Iraq was moving its WMD before inspectors arrived. “All inspections were performed without notice,” he explained, “and access was almost always provided promptly.” ElBaradei reiterated that, “We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear-related activities in Iraq.”
On March 17, in a primetime speech, he [Bush] told the American people that the inspectors had been “systematically deceived.” American intelligence, he insisted, “leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Two days later, America invaded Iraq. 
There’s a postscript to this story. In late 2004, a year and a half after the Iraq War began, ElBaradei—who would soon win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work leading the IAEA—learned that the Bush administration was trying to deny him a third term as head of the Agency. In its effort to find incriminating information, the United States even tapped ElBaradei’s phone. The effort’s ringleader: John Bolton.
Fast forward 11 years. Bolton is back in government as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Netanyahu is again Israel’s prime minister. And they are making the same arguments about the futility of the international inspections regime in Iran that they once made about the futility of the international inspections regime in Iraq.
Their argument begins, once again, with the claim that a fearsome adversary is breaking free of the constraints that previously held it in check. In the run-up to the Iraq War, Bolton warned that because of weakening international sanctions and a feckless Clinton administration, Saddam “represents a serious and growing security threat.”
Bolton last year claimed that, “Tehran is trying to cement an arc of control from its own territory, through Baghdad-controlled Iraq and Mr. Assad’s Syria, to Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon.” The irony, which neither Netanyahu nor Bolton acknowledge, is that Iran’s growing regional strength stems in large measure from the Iraq War they championed, which turned Iraq from a bulwark against Iranian power into a close Iranian ally.  
As with Iraq, Bolton and Netanyahu want the United States to meet this supposedly growing threat with a more confrontational policy. Key to that policy shift is withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal, which would leave the U.S. free to reimpose sanctions, and perhaps, as Bolton has suggested, even bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
And, as with Iraq, it’s easier for Bolton and Netanyahu to achieve that goal if they discredit the current system of international inspections.
Netanyahu and Bolton’s problem, as with Iraq, is that the inspectors don’t think they’re being cheated. ElBaradei’s successor as director general of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, has said his organization “now has the world’s most robust verification regime in place in Iran.” The IAEA has certified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal nine times. And, as in 2003, key European governments are defending the inspectors.
Just as the Bush administration could not prove that Iraq was still pursuing a nuclear-weapons program in 2003, the Netanyahu and Trump administrations cannot prove that Iran is pursuing one today. So, like the Bush administration, they keep shading the truth. . . . Bolton has repeatedly declared—despite the IAEA’s findings and without proof—that Iran is still actively seeking nuclear weapons.
How is this possible? How is it possible that Trump—who during the presidential campaign boasted about his supposed opposition to the Iraq War—has now embraced an outlook so similar to the one that guided Bush in 2002 and 2003? How can Bolton and Netanyahu remain unrepentant about their role in promoting war with Iraq and yet be taken seriously when they make similar arguments about the supposed nuclear threat from Iran? Why can’t America learn from its recent past?
Part of the explanation is partisanship. . . . Since many Republicans won’t even admit the Iraq war was wrong, it’s hard to apply its lessons to the current debate over Iran. It’s particularly hard since doing so would mean admitting not only that Bush was wrong in waging war with Iraq but that Obama was right in striking a deal with Iran.
The second reason Bolton and Netanyahu can so easily recycle the arguments they made about Iraq in the current debate about Iran is the influence of pro-Israel sentiment in American foreign-policy debate.
The third reason for America’s inability to apply the lessons of Iraq to the current debate over Iran is the media, especially television. It’s rare to see non-Americans on political talk shows. That matters because non-Americans overwhelmingly think pulling out of the Iran deal is nuts. And non-Americans are more likely to raise fundamental questions about American nuclear policy—like why America isn’t pushing for inspections of Israel’s nuclear program, and why America keeps demanding that other nations denuclearize while building ever more nuclear weapons of its own.
Television interview shows also focus obsessively on the news of the moment. When Bolton or Netanyahu go on a Sunday show to peddle their current views on Iran, they can be confident they won’t be questioned much about their past views on Iraq. Thus, viewers hear arguments that sound reasonable in isolation without realizing that they’ve already proved disastrous in practice.
It would be comforting to believe that those arguments, which once helped lead to tragedy, are returning merely as farce. But they’re not. Withdrawing from the nuclear deal could easily put the United States or Israel, or both, on the path to war with Iran. As long as John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu retain their current influence, another Middle Eastern war is entirely possible. Where it might lead is anyone’s guess. The greatest current threat to American national security is not Iran, North Korea, or ISIS. It’s amnesia. And Americans need a strategy to fight it.
Be very, very afraid.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Trump’s Takes America Closer to War in Middle East

Apologists for Donald Trump's reckless action in announcing that that America will withdraw from the nuclear deal struck with Iran three years ago are engaging in all kinds of untruths and gyrations to avoid the obvious.  Namely, that Trump's action in trying to abrogate the agreement - an agreement that every other member of the UN security council signed - will (i) serve to further isolate America diplomatically (one of Vladimir Putin's dreams/goals) and (ii) open the way to potential war which will delight the Christofascists who yearn to start armageddon and the neocons who learned absolutely nothing from the Iraq War disaster where America threw away more than a trillion dollars and thousands of military members' lives.  Equally delighted will be military contractors like Halliburton - Dick Cheney must be salivating - and  oil company interest who foolishly believe they might get their hands on Iran's oil reserves.  I am very happy that my son-in-law left the military after his severe injuries in Afghanistan.   While he may be safe, other men and women will likely end up dead or maimed before Trump's misrule is over.  A main editorial in the Washington Post looks at the dangers Trump's actions pose to America and the world.  Here are excerpts:
THE NUCLEAR deal struck with Iran three years ago was far from perfect, but President Trump’s decision to abrogate it over the opposition of our European allies and without a clear strategy for replacing it is reckless and, most likely, self-defeating. Mr. Trump has opened a rift with Britain, Germany and France, who were partners to the pact along with Russia and China, and he has handed Iran’s Islamic regime some unfortunate opportunities.
What he [Trump] did not acknowledge is that international inspectors as well as senior members of his own administration have confirmed that Iran has complied with the accord, which has vastly reduced its stock of enriched uranium and made it extremely difficult for the regime to develop nuclear weapons in the next decade. The president held out the prospect of “a new and lasting deal” that would cover not just nukes but also Iran’s development of missiles and interventions in Middle Eastern wars. But he offered no road map for achieving that ambitious goal.
The first consequence of Mr. Trump’s decision could be conflict with the Europeans. . . . . European governments, which have said they will not renounce the nuclear deal, may fight any U.S. attempt to enforce the restrictions, including with their own sanctions. Having tried and failed to satisfy Mr. Trump’s objections to the agreement without breaking it, they are unlikely to willingly collaborate in a new U.S. attempt to crush the Iranian economy.
Iran and European governments could agree to continue the pact in defiance of Washington. But Iran’s hard-line military and security apparatus, which has always opposed the accord, will press to resume uranium enrichment, restrict inspections or perhaps even race for a bomb. How would Mr. Trump stop such a breakout, short of war? One reason the nuclear deal was struck was a conclusion by the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama that military action was a risky and uncertain means to prevent an Iranian bomb.
Mr. Trump was pushed to exit the deal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman, whose countries are already engaged in low-level wars with Iran. But the chief of staff of Israel’s own army has said that the nuclear deal is “working and putting off realization of the Iranian nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years.” Mr. Trump’s decision could eliminate that grace period . . . .
[Trump] has frequently said that he has no wish for further Mideast wars; his decision has made one more likely.
Let's be clear on something else: neither Netanyahu nor Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman are true friends of America.   Netanyahu suffers from his own form of megalomania and the Saudis, not Iran, remain the main financiers of Islamic extremism across the globe.  Neither cares about the damage done to America and the squandered monies and American lives that Trump may yet cost the nation.

Firm with Kremlin Ties Made Payments to Cohen Firm that Paid Stormy Daniels

While Donald Trump was seemingly hoping that his announcement to blow up the Iran nuclear deal would keep the mainstream news media completely preoccupied so that other breaking news reflecting badly on Trump and/or stories that make the Trump/Michael Cohen operations look even more suspicious and sinister.   Among the stories Trump did not want noticed are (i) Penthouse Magazine's interview with Stormy Daniels - a must read - and (ii) suspicious Russian payments to Michel Cohen's shell entity which ultimately paid hush money to Stormy Daniels.  Risking new wars in the Middle East seemingly is less concern to Trump than covering his large, nasty ass. Here are highlights from a piece in the New York Times that looks at the attention getting payments by a Russian oligarch to Cohen's shell entity:
A shell company that Michael D. Cohen used to pay hush money to a pornographic film actress received payments totaling more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations with business before the Trump administration, according to documents and interviews.
Financial records reviewed by The New York Times show that Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, used the shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., for an array of business activities that went far beyond what was publicly known. Transactions totaling at least $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants starting shortly before Mr. Trump was elected president and continuing to this January, the records show.
Among the previously unreported transactions were payments last year totaling about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, an investment firm in New York whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch.
Other transactions described in the financial records range from hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments by Fortune 500 firms with business before the Trump administration, to small amounts related to unexplained activities in foreign countries.
References to the transactions first appeared in a document posted to Twitter on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film star who was paid $130,000 by Essential Consultants to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump.
The Times’s review of financial records confirmed much of what was in Mr. Avenatti’s report. In addition, a review of emails and interviews shed additional light on Mr. Cohen’s dealings with the company connected to Mr. Vekselberg, who was stopped and questioned at an airport earlier this year by investigators for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Mr. Cohen for possible bank fraud and election-law violations, among other matters, according to people briefed on the investigation. Stephen Ryan, a lawyer representing Mr. Cohen, declined to comment.
Mr. Cohen also used the same company to collect $250,000 after arranging payments in 2017 and 2018 by a major Republican donor, Elliott Broidy, to a former Playboy model he allegedly impregnated, according to news reports last month.
Among the other payments to Mr. Cohen’s company described in the financial records were four for $99,980 each between October 2017 and January 2018 by Novartis Investments SARL, a subsidiary of Novartis, the multinational pharmaceutical giant based in Switzerland.
AT&T made four payments totaling $200,000 between October 2017 and January 2018, according to the documents. AT&T, whose proposed merger with Time Warner is pending before the Justice Department, issued a statement on Tuesday evening confirming that it made payments to Mr. Cohen’s firm. 
“Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” the statement said. “They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.”
So far, no proof of criminal activities, but many of the payments would seem inexplicable other than providing a slush fund to Cohen/Trump.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

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The Ongoing GOP Effort to Take Away Health Care for Millions

America stands alone among developed nations when it comes to not having a national health insurance system. America also stands alone in terms of the high level of claimed religiosity of its citizens, especially those comprising the Republican Party base.  Yet, America's healthcare system - if one can even call it a system since it is mostly driven by corporate greed - treats less well of Americans as basically disposable garbage, left to depend on the most expense, least cost effective means of meeting their healthcare needs.  The result is millions without coverage and Americans paying many times more than those in any other developed nation.  And Republicans want to make the system even worse as the go about sabotaging the remaining aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act - even as they mouth claims of supporting "Christian" values.  One has to wonder if they have ever actually read the New Testament teachings on caring for the less fortunate.  A column in the New York Times looks at the ongoing sabotage.  Here are highlights:  

Republicans still hate the idea of helping Americans get health care. So instead of releasing the kraken, they’ve brought on the termites. Rather than trying to eliminate Obamacare in one fell swoop, they’re trying to undermine it with multiple acts of sabotage — while hoping voters won’t realize who’s responsible for rising premiums and falling coverage.
Which is why it’s important to place the blame where it belongs.
The first thing you need to understand is that Obamacare has been a highly successful program. When the legislation was passed, Republicans insisted it would fail to cut the number of uninsured and would blow a huge hole in the federal budget. In fact, it led to major gains in coverage, reducing the uninsured rate to its lowest level in history, at relatively low cost.
[I]nsurers found that the people signing up were sicker, on average, than they expected, leading to higher premiums. But as of last year, the markets appeared to have stabilized, with insurers generally profitable.
Nobody would claim that Obamacare is perfect; many Americans remain uninsured, and too many of those with coverage face troublingly high out-of-pocket expenses. Still, health reform delivered most of what its advocates promised and caused none of the disasters its opponents predicted.
Yet Republicans still want to destroy it. One reason is that much of the coverage expansion was paid for with taxes on high incomes, so repeal would be a way to cut taxes on the wealthy. More broadly, conservatives hate Obamacare precisely because it works. It shows that government actually can help tens of millions of Americans lead better, more secure lives, and in so doing it threatens their low-tax, small-government ideology.
But outright repeal failed, so now it’s time for sabotage, which is taking place on two main fronts.
One of these fronts involves the expansion of Medicaid, which probably accounted for more than half the gains in coverage under Obamacare. Now a number of Republican-controlled states are trying to make Medicaid harder to get, notably by imposing work requirements on recipients.
What is the point of these work requirements? The ostensible justification — cracking down on able-bodied Medicaid recipients who should be working but aren’t — is nonsense: There are very few people meeting that description. The real goal is simply to make getting health care harder, by imposing onerous reporting and paperwork requirements and punishing people who lose their jobs for reasons beyond their control.
The other front involves trying to reduce the number of people signing up for private coverage. Last year the Trump administration drastically reduced outreach — the effort to let Americans know when and how to get health insurance.
The administration is also promoting various dodges that would in effect let insurance companies go back to discriminating against people in poor health. And when Congress passed a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, it also eliminated the individual mandate, the requirement that people sign up for insurance even if they’re currently healthy.
Preliminary evidence suggests that these efforts at sabotage have already partially reversed the coverage gains achieved under Obama, especially among lower-income Americans. (Curiously, all the coverage losses seem to have happened among self-identified Republicans.) But the worst is yet to come.
You see, G.O.P. sabotage disproportionately discourages young and healthy people from signing up, which, as one commentator put it, “drives up the cost for other folks within that market.” Who said that? Tom Price, President Trump’s first secretary of health and human services.
Sure enough, insurers are already proposing major premium hikes — and they are specifically attributing those hikes to G.O.P. actions that are driving healthy Americans out of the market, leaving a sicker, more expensive pool behind.
So here’s what’s going to happen: Soon, many Americans will suffer sticker shock from their insurance policies; federal subsidies will protect most of them, but by no means everyone. They’ll also hear news about declining insurance coverage. And Republicans will say, “See, Obamacare is failing.”
But the problem isn’t with Obamacare, it’s with the politicians who unleashed this termite infestation — who are doing all they can to take away your health coverage. And they need to be held accountable.

Yet more evidence of the moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party, especially the evangelical Christians who make up a core constituency. To call them modern day Pharisees is far too kind.  Republicans need to be voted out of office in November, 2018.