Saturday, May 26, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

Virginia GOP Congressman Used Staff as Servants

Tom Garrett (R-Va) - treats staff like servants.

If one wants an example  of the self-centered arrogance of elected officials, look no farther than Virginia 5th District Congressman, Tom Garrett.   Not surprisingly, Garrett is a Republican.  A major story in Politico reports on how Garrett and his wife treated Garrett's congressional staffers as virtual servants during business hours when they should have been performing governmental duties.  While mostly rural, Garrett's district - the largest territorially in Virginia - includes the cities of Charlottesville and Danville.  It goes without saying that sane voters would not reelect someone like Garrett, but never underestimate the idiocy of Virginia's rural Republican voters.  Here are highlights from Politico:
Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett and his wife turned the congressman’s staff into personal servants, multiple former employees to the freshman Republican told POLITICO — assigning them tasks from grocery shopping to fetching the congressman’s clothes to caring for their pet dog, all during work hours.
POLITICO has spoken with four former staffers who detailed a deeply dysfunctional office in which the congressman and his wife, Flanna, often demanded that staff run personal errands outside their typical congressional duties. The couple called on staff to pick up groceries, chauffeur Garrett’s daughters to and from his Virginia district, and fetch clothes that the congressman forgot at his Washington apartment. They were even expected to watch and clean up after Sophie, their Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix, the aides said.
The staffers said they feared that if they refused Garrett‘s or his wife’s orders — both were known for explosive tempers — they would struggle to advance in their careers. It wasn't just full-time staff: many of the allegedly inappropriate requests were made of interns, the former aides said.
“I didn’t know who I was working for: Was I working for him? Was I working for her?” said one of those staffers who, like others interviewed for this story, asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “We became their gofers.”
The behind-the-scenes turmoil boiled over Tuesday evening, when Garrett’s chief of staff, Jimmy Keady, abruptly parted ways with the congressman. His exit, multiple sources say, came amid a dispute with Garrett over the couple’s alleged misuse of official resources. Multiple sources raised the issue with the congressman, and senior staffers tried to rectify the situation repeatedly.
On Wednesday, Garrett, a 46-year-old Army veteran and former state senator, began telling associates that he was considering not running for reelection — stunning Republicans in Virginia and Washington.  But a day later, he reversed course, saying during a rambling 30-minute news conference that he would in fact seek another term.
Aides also grew acquainted with the couple’s dog, who often came to the office with the Garretts. Staffers were expected to watch the dog during office hours, and one aide did so over a weekend. Several aides said the couple would sometimes seem to forget the dog was in the office. When that happened, at the end of the day, aides were responsible for transporting it back to Garrett’s Washington apartment.  One source said the dog occasionally defecated on the floor and aides had to clean up the mess.
Aides also served as drivers for the congressman’s older daughters from a previous marriage, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
Garrett’s conduct could raise ethics concerns. The House Ethics manual prohibits lawmakers from using staff for anything other than official congressional duties. Members are explicitly barred from instructing aides to do personal errands in the manual, which also recounts situations in which staff were wrongly told to fetch personal mail, clean a member’s home and pay a member’s bills.
Staffer say the atmosphere in the office was toxic, however, and the demands were far outside what should reasonably be expected of congressional aides. Flanna would reach out to aides at all hours of the night, according to two former staffers. One person recalled an incident in which Flanna lashed out at a staffer for not picking up the congressman from his apartment after he overslept.
Since taking office in January 2017, Garrett has had among the highest levels of turnover in the House, according to records compiled by legislative data company LegiStorm. More than 60 percent of his staff left in 2017, compared with the House’s typical 25 percent turnover rate that year, making the office fourth out of more than 400 legislative shops.
Obviously, Garrett must be using Der Trumpenfuhrer as his role model.

In Rebuke to Church, Ireland Votes to End Abortion Ban

In a sharp rebuke to the Roman Catholic Church - which while ostensibly neutral had numerous Catholic organizations campaigning hard for a retention of Ireland's near total ban on abortion - Irish voters appear to have voted by a landslide for repeal.  The result while not yet formal is yet a further underscoring of the Catholic Church's near total collapse of power in Ireland, once a bastion of Catholicism.  The abortion vote comes roughly three (3) years after Irish voters voted to legalize same sex marriage despite the Church's vociferous opposition (Ireland currently has an openly gay Prime Minister).  A live blog on the Irish Times can be found here.  Another  piece in the Irish Times looks at the projected results.  Here are highlights:
Counting is under way in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, with a result due to be declared this afternoon.
On Friday night, an exit poll carried out for The Irish Times by Ipsos/MRBI indicated a landslide victory for the Yes side, with 68 per cent, versus 32 per cent for No.
Early tallies in constituencies across the Republic have indicated a strong lead for the Yes side and campaigners on both sides of the debate have been reacting to the forecasts on Saturday morning.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “I think what we’ve seen today really is the culmination of a quiet revolution that’s taken place in Ireland for the past 10 or twenty years. This has been a great exercise in democracy and the people have spoken.
“The people have said we want a modern constitution for a modern country, that we trust women and we respect them to make the right decision, the right choices about their own healthcare.”
Mr Varadkar told RTÉ the results so far show the nation is united, not divided. When asked what he believed the key factors were influencing people’s vote, the Taoiseach said: “Most of all and above all, it was the very many brave women and men who told their personal stories as to how the Eighth Amendment impacted on them, and impacted on them adversely.”
Iona Institute spokesman David Quinn has acknowledged that many people who voted Yes were not pro-abortion, but were pro-choice. He told RTÉ’s Marian Finucane show: “Even the expectations of the Yes side were surpassed.”  This was a complete reverse of the 1983 result, he said. “I don’t think anyone expected it to this extent.”
Ireland has become a modern, educated nation.  This, combined with the horrific sex abuse by Catholic clergy and the now fully revealed horrors of the Church run children's homes and homes for unwed mothers put the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the Church on display for all to see. And for the record, I believe abortion should be rare and that science based sex education - something opposed by the Church and evangelicals in America - should be the main method of avoiding unwanted pregnancies.  That said, the government should not be making choices for women and their doctors. 

Publix's Self-Inflicted PR Disaster

Survey after survey has shown that a large majority of Americans support common sense changes to America's gun laws - even strong majorities of NRA members support universal background checks.  One lone force stands in the way of such much needed and publicly supported reforms: the NRA (which is a front for gun manufacturers) and politicians - mostly Republican - that the NRA has bought and paid for and who are willing to disregard the desires of the majority of voters.  Thus, it might not have been very wise for a grocery store chain to throw  campaign support to a vociferous NRA supporter for governor of Florida.  Yet some mental midget at Publix made that decision and a PR disaster rained down on the chain causing it to reverse course and disavow the former recipient of its monetary largess.   A piece in the Washington Post looks at this idiotic decision and its reversal.  Here are excerpts:
The supermarket chain Publix on Friday announced that it would suspend its political contributions to Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for Florida governor, after being faced with overwhelming pressure to cut ties with him because of his fierce support for the National Rifle Association.
“We would never knowingly disappoint our customers or the communities we serve,’’ Publix said in a statement Friday. “As a result, we decided earlier this week to suspend corporate-funded political contributions as we reevaluate our giving processes.’’
The announcement came moments before “die-in” protests organized by 18-year-old gun-control activist David Hogg began at several Publix supermarkets, forcing store managers to reroute shoppers around the protesters, who lay on the floors of the aisles. 
At two Publix supermarkets in Parkland, survivors of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shouted “USA, not NRA!” as customers navigated their shopping carts around them on the floor, according to the Associated Press.
This most recent protest came one week after a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Southeast Texas killed 10 people, and on the same day that an Indianapolis middle school student opened fire in his classroom, injuring a student and a teacher.
The protesters were calling for an end to Publix’s support for Putnam, Florida’s agricultural commissioner, who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout.”
“A lot of people don’t support who Publix is supporting,” Haylee Shepherd, a 15-year-old sophomore at Stoneman Douglas, told the Associated Press. “It’s going to reflect on them as a brand and people shopping there.”
Publix has faced increasing backlash since the Tampa Bay Times reported that the company had given $670,000 to Putnam in the past three years. Another $147,000 was donated on top of that, including $78,000 from Carol Barnett, the daughter of Publix’s founder; $49,000 from former Publix executive M. Clayton Hollis Jr.; and $20,000 from Publix executive Hoyt Barnett, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Industry experts disagree on how Publix will be impacted by the protests and the suspension of political contributions.
Phil Lempert, who heads the website Supermarket Guru, told the Orlando Sentinel that Publix’s recognition of the protesters’ demands was unusual. “But we live in unusual times, and when we look at gun violence, all the rules are being rewritten,” he said. “I think the impact will affect their bottom line in the very short term due to the protests, but canceling all political contributions is a very smart move.”
“Publix is a cult. Employees and customers are members,” Livingston said. “Publix will probably have a positive reaction. Everyone knows they are a standup company, especially after a hurricane.”
Livingston was referencing the outpouring of gratitude customers showed Publix during Hurricane Irma last summer. The grocery chain set up hurricane landing pages on its websites, responded to customers on social media . . .  
 Backing something opposed by a majority of customers is never a wise move.  It's one thing to ignore a boycott by NRA members - or Christofascist "family values" groups since they simply do not command the loyalty of significant numbers of people in comparison.  Indeed, most companies that have been targeted by Christofascist groups have seen improved bottom lines as large numbers of consumers decide to support them because they are ignoring the Christofascists demands.  Someone at Publix obviously had their head up their ass when they decided to make these ill-advised contributions. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, May 25, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

The Right's Dangerous Obsession With the "Good Old Days"

One of the obsessions of the far right is the desire the "good old days" - a mythical time that never truly existed save for the fact that white privilege was still at its zenith.  For the Republican Party part of this obsession is restoring the Gilded Age when the excesses of millionaires knew few limits and in a pre-work regulation world, the lives of many workers were brutal and life expectancies were short.  None of these harsh and ugly realities seemingly lessen the far right's desire to restore this mythical time when the few had things good but the masses did not. Donald Trump's greed, racism, worship of money, and indifference to the many embodies some of the ugliest attributes of this far right longing.  A piece column in the Washington Post uses the recent anti-gay incident at Nichols Hardware in Purcellville, Virginia, as a launching point to review just how cruel the past the far right and white supremacists was for most Americans.  Here are excerpts:
From the handwritten receipts to the tin ceilings and worn wooden floors, Nichols Hardware — opened in this small Virginia town in 1914 and still open today, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — oozes nostalgia.
And that can be a dangerous thing. Because those good old days weren’t so good for many people.
Lynchings were still occurring in the Virginia Piedmont region when the store opened. Women couldn’t vote. Anyone suspected of being gay was regularly fired, arrested, jailed and prosecuted. Ten percent of all babies died in their first year of life, and the average life expectancy was just 54 years. Workplace deaths were common, and there was “virtually no regulation, no insurance, and no company fear of a lawsuit when someone was injured or killed” on the job, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on what those days were like 100 years ago.
It can be easy to forget the brutality and cruelty of those old-timey days when we wrap ourselves in a chalk-painted, custom-distressed longing for mason-jar lemonade and a simpler, kinder time that never really was.

One of the employees of the Loudoun County hardware store gave the nation a disturbing reminder of that over the weekend when an aspiring Eagle Scout looking for donations at the store for a project was served up a bygone-era rant about “homos” and co-ed scouting, then “thrown out” of the store, according to the boy’s father.

The employee was reacting to recent news that the Boy Scouts of America now welcome girls, that the organization has changed its name to Scouts BSA and that three years ago, it lifted a ban on all gay members and leaders.

How easily the man forgot the other times the Boy Scouts of America made news, such as when a court ordered the organization in 2012 to release about 2,000 pages of sex abuse reports from its “perversion files,” created in the 1920s in the Scouts’ halfhearted hunt for child abusers preying on boys. . . . . The most consistent part of the reports was the coverup. Parents, kids, leaders all hush-hushing the abuse and moving the abusers along — quietly, Catholic Church-style — to the next group of victims.
[W]ith the termination [of the bigoted employee], the Nichols family firmly reminded folks of how far we’ve come and how absurd it is to gloss over the ugliest pieces of our past.

Historian Stephanie Coontz wrote a book debunking our mythology about the past. The title: “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap.”

“Knowing there was no golden age of family life, I believed, would enable people to deal more effectively with the problems facing today’s families than if they continued to romanticize the ‘good old days,’ ” she wrote.

Coontz reminded readers that in those romanticized days, half of all mills and factories were filled with child workers, when kids as young as 6 pulled 12-hour shifts. Colonial families were rarely nuclear, as most kids experienced the death of at least one parent. And then there are the white folks who have fond memories of childhoods filled with warm and nurturing black women who had to leave their own children behind to care for them.

There it is, the ability to forget how great America is while longing to make it somehow great again. . . . . What couldn’t happen in those allegedly romantic times?

A black man couldn’t shop at many stores, let alone serve as the town’s mayor — no, three-term mayor — the way Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser, an immigrant from Guyana, has.

868 Estate Vineyards couldn’t tout itself as friendly to LGBT weddings. There would be no LGBT weddings.

There would be no wine. And taking a walk to the Nostalgia boutique would be quite gross, because Main Street was known as Polecat Hollow, an unpaved byway for animal waste.  Not too charming, right?
 The real agenda of the right: to revert to a past time and in the process strip millions of Americans of their civil rights and reinstitute a modernized version of the Jim Crow laws.  All so those clinging to antiquated and perverted theology and racial prejudice can feel superior about themselves. 

Republicans Are Abetting a Demagogue - Or Something Worse

Other than a few email exchanges, I do not know Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson - a former George W. Bush White House official - but we do share some views on (i) the harm being done to Christianity by evangelical Christians/Christodascists, and (ii) the harm - almost treason, in my view - being done by Donald Trump's enablers and apologists in the Republican Party (like me, I suspect Gerson is now a former Republican).  In a column in the Washington Post, Gerson takes to task the Republicans - an certain media outlets (think Fox News) - who are aiding in the agenda of a dangerous demagogue at best and, at worse, potential autocrat.  All patriotic Americans should be alarmed and pressure Republicans in their districts to put the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law above protecting Trump.  Here are column excerpts:
Much about the future of American politics — and the historical judgment that will be visited on those associated with it — depends on the answer to one question: Is President Trump an instinctual demagogue or an instinctual authoritarian?
On most days, the evidence favors the former interpretation. Trump often acts like a desperate, self-interested politician, convinced that his enemies fight dirty and determined to out-slime them. So he pursues a strategy of character assassination against the special counsel . . .
Then there are other days — and more and more of them — that justify the latter interpretation. Rather than a politician trying to muddy the waters, Trump seems more like a strongman probing the limits of democracy. He seems less like Clinton and more like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeking to dismantle institutional checks on his authority. 
The current flashpoint is the FBI probe of Russian influence on the Trump campaign — an investigation that has made use of an informant in pursuit of information from suspicious Trump associates. Trump has transformed this person into a “spy” who was “implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign,” constituting one of the “biggest political scandals in history.” This is accurate, except there was no spy, who was not implanted in the Trump campaign, in the course of an entirely legitimate investigation. And Trump’s charge of political motivation is absurd on its face . . .
But [Trump's] the president’s evident goal has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with power. Since the early days of his administration, Trump has believed that federal law enforcement should be under his personal control. He has sought loyalty oaths and tried to make FBI investigations stop and start. Now he has seized on a conspiracy theory to undermine public confidence in the FBI. And the future of that institution now hangs by the thread of a few officials committed to the rule of law and the independence of law enforcement.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), which has become a laughably partisan alibi factory for [Trump] the president. Or the Republican Party, which has become a pathetic propaganda tool for a leader who reviles his own party. For Trump, this is what loyalty looks like: subservience. Putting federal law enforcement under his personal, political control would be a danger to the constitutional order.
There is an authoritarian playbook, used (with some variations) in Hungary, Turkey, Venezuela and Russia. Dismantle checks on executive power. Control the criminal-justice system. Scapegoat minority groups. Co-opt mainstream parties. Discredit the independent media. Call for opponents to be jailed. Question the legitimacy of elections. Claim to be the embodied soul of the people.
Trump has praised and congratulated leaders who have done all these things . . . . And he has attempted some parts of the authoritarian playbook himself, particularly in his systematic attacks on law enforcement and the media, and his self-conception as the voice for “real Americans.”
If his ambitions are autocratic, the cowardice of elected Republicans is indefensible and near to unforgivable. Trump’s enablers in politics and the media are reducing the political cost of undemocratic rhetoric and behavior. They are hurting the country in sad and lasting ways. And it has become urgent to wake their sleeping courage.

Sadly, I believe Gerson over estimates the "courage" and moral decency of today's Republicans. I hope that I am wrong, but suspect that today's GOP will continue to aid and abet in the destruction of America's democracy and constitutional government. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, May 24, 2018

More Identify as LGBT, Especially Among Millennials

click image to enlarge chart
While evangelical Christians and Mormons remain the most consumed by anti-LGBT animus - in my view, because the mere existence of gays threatens their Bronze Ade based world view - and Christofascists continue to peddle the fraudulent myth that gays can "change"  for both monetary and political purposes, a new Gallup survey indicates that the percentage of American adults self-identifying as LGBT is increasing, particularly among Millennials who at 8.2% are nearly twice as likely to identify as LGBT than older generations.  Personally, I still believe the true number is even higher in all age brackets given the number of LGBT individuals who continue to "live in the closet." While Gallup doesn't analyze the marked increase in Millennials identifying as LGBT, I suspect two factors are in play: (i) Millennials have grown up with exposure to increased LGBT rights, and (ii) close to 40% of Millennials have walked away from religion, the sole underlying cause from anti-LGBT animus and discrimination.  Here are some of the Gallup findings:
The percentage of American adults identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) increased to 4.5% in 2017, up from 4.1% in 2016 and 3.5% in 2012 when Gallup began tracking the measure. The latest estimate is based on over 340,000 interviews conducted as part of Gallup's daily tracking in 2017.
Extrapolation to the latest census estimate of adults 18 and older in the U.S. suggests that more than 11 million adults identify as LGBT in the country today.
The expansion in the number of Americans who identify as LGBT is driven primarily by the cohort of millennials, defined as those born between 1980 and 1999. The percentage of millennials who identify as LGBT expanded from 7.3% to 8.1% from 2016 to 2017, and is up from 5.8% in 2012. By contrast, the LGBT percentage in Generation X (those born from 1965 to 1979) was up only .2% from 2016 to 2017. There was no change last year in LGBT percentage among baby boomers (born 1946 through 1964) and traditionalists (born prior to 1946).
Women continue to be more likely to identify as LGBT than men, and this gender gap expanded last year.
Overall, 5.1% of women in 2017 identified as LGBT, compared with 3.9% of men. The change among men over time has been minimal, with the LGBT percentage edging up from 3.4% in 2012 to 3.7% both last year and this year. On the other hand, the percentage of women identifying as LGBT has risen from 3.5% in 2012 to 5.1% today, with the largest jump occurring between 2016 and 2017.
The LGBT percentage has risen among all race and ethnic groups since 2012, although not on an equal basis. Hispanics and Asians have seen the greatest increase, thus contributing the most on a relative basis to the uptick in LGBT identification nationwide. Whites and blacks have seen the least change. . . . . At 6.1%, Hispanics continue to be the single race or ethnic group most likely to identify as LGBT, while the 4.0 % of whites who identify as LGBT remains the lowest. LGBT identification among blacks and Asians, 4.9% and 5.0%, respectively, is essentially midway between the estimates for Hispanics and whites.
This 2017 update on LGBT identification underscores two significant conclusions. First, the percentage of adults in the U.S. who identify as LGBT has been increasing and is now at its highest point across the six years of Gallup's tracking of this measure. Second, the increase has been driven almost totally by millennials, whose self-reports of being LGBT have risen from 5.2% six years ago to 8.1% today.
As the older generations die off, the overall percentage of the population identifying as LGBT will continue to increase. Compounding this trend will be the fact that Millennials are the most LGBT accepting of the generations.  Christofascists will be fighting an increasingly fighting a losing rear guard action and, with luck, may in time find themselves faced with a harsh backlash by those in society not motivated by hate, bigotry, and the embrace of ignorance. who have had enough of false Christian nastiness. 

More Thursday Male Beauty

Virginia Hardware Store Fires Anti-Gay Employee

On Monday I did a blog post that looked at the ugly anti-gay incident that occurred at Nichols Hardware in Purcellville, Virginia.  Faced with calls for a boycott and a deluge of upset phone calls, the store management announced that it had fired the offending employee who had thrown an Eagle Scout candidate out of the store after launching into an anti-gay tirade. The lesson, of course, is that if one is a business in the public square, all customers should be welcome and treated courteously. No doubt the lesson will be lost on Christofascists who will parade the employee - whose name has not been released - as the latest martyr in an effort to stir up anti-gay outrage.  The Washington Post reports on this development:

A historic hardware store in Purcellville, Va., announced Tuesday morning it has fired an employee accused of using an anti-gay slur while kicking out a teenage Boy Scout seeking donations for a service project.
“The Nichols Hardware family regrets that this even has come to pass,” the store said in a Facebook post. “The employee in question has been terminated and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Nichols Hardware.”
“He told them, ‘Your organization is not the ‘Boy Scouts’ anymore. We will not support you and you need to leave,’ ” Carlyn Hamilton wrote in her post. Then the employee, she said, turned to her and continued, “You know they let homos in, right? They are not the ‘Boy’ Scouts anymore. We do not support any homos.”
The store manager, who would only identify himself as Glenn, said in an interview Tuesday that this wasn’t the first time the employee had angered customers with his politically charged comments.
Months ago, he said, he had told the employee to stop talking to customers like that and thought the problem had been resolved until the incident Friday. . . . He described the employee as “set in his ways,” and added that he would like to apologize in person to the boy and his father but didn’t know their names or phone numbers. “It was uncalled for,” he said.
The clash marked another skirmish in the nationwide culture war over the rapid expansion of gay rights in the United States. Few organizations have been more emblematic of this than the Boy Scouts. In 2013, the organization ended its prohibition on openly gay youths . . . . The moves haven’t been universally popular. Many religious conservatives have seen the Boy Scouts as a pillar of traditional values. This month, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches that gay relationships are immoral, ended its century-long relationship with the organization.
People have demanded a boycott of the store on social media, and its phones have been deluged with calls.  The store has now moved to quell the firestorm.  “The family, who has been in Loudoun County since 1742, and which expresses tolerance in all areas of life, deeply regrets any disrespect to any organization or person,” it said in its statement Tuesday.

Collusion With Russia Happened

The Hill recently reported that 59% of Americans do not believe that the Mueller investigation has revealed any crimes.  In light of the over a dozen indictments handed down and multiple guilty pleas that have occurred, that percentage is shocking.  Obviously, far too many Americans are too lazy and/or stupid and bigoted to keep themselves politically informed - it baffles me how men in particular can talk about sports teams yet know nothing about activities in Congress or the General Assembly.  Add to this laziness/idiocy the constant bellowing of Der Trumpenführer that no collusion occurred despite facts to the contrary that resonates all too well with his base that eats up every racist taunt Trump throws out or the Christofascists thrilled by every anti-LGBT action taken by the Trump/Pence regime.  Indeed, a piece in The Atlantic lays out why Trump's claims of "no collusion" are lies, just like so much of what comes out of his braying mouth.   Here are article highlights:

Trump aides colluded with foreign governments.  This is a simple, straightforward statement, and by this point, it ought to be an uncontroversial one. There’s ample evidence on many fronts, from legal documents to reliable reporting. . . . . it  . . . . mean that attempts to dismiss the Russia investigation as a witch hunt that lacks any evidence are not merely disingenuous—they’re simply wrong.
What do we mean by collusion? As the Columbia Journalism Review explored last year, there are a range of meanings, but a clean synthesis would be a secret compact or conspiracy with an illegal or deceitful aim. The examples of such cooperation, between Trump aides and agents of foreign governments, abound. So far, three people have pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about it. The unresolved question, at this stage of the investigation, is not whether such cooperation was attempted; it’s how successful it proved, how large an impact it actually had, who was involved, and whether they broke any laws.
There is, most prominently, the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, where Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer they believed had damaging information to offer about Hillary Clinton. In another meeting in August 2016, also at Trump Tower, former Blackwater chief Erik Prince (the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) brought together an Israeli social-media specialist and an emissary who said the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi wanted to aid the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos carried on conversations with at least two people he believed had substantial connections to the Russian government. Roger Stone, an on-again, off-again Trump adviser, exchanged messages with the hacker Guccifer 2.0, a Russian intelligence agent who released emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee.
This leaves out plenty of other examples of peculiar but less fleshed-out stories, including Trump campaign aide Carter Page’s mysterious trips to Russia and Hungary; fired National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s post-election discussions with Russia; and Jared Kushner’s reported attempt to establish a “back channel” to allow the Trump transition team to communicate with Russia outside of standard channels. There may be other examples that are not yet known to the public.
In June 2016, for example, publicist Rob Goldstone wrote to Donald Trump Jr.:
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.
Trump Jr. infamously replied, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Yet despite the evidence, and despite people like Steve Bannon acknowledging it, the question of whether or not collusion occurred persists well past its expiration date, lingering like a flat-earth theory. That there is still a debate is a testament to [Trump's] the president’s persistence in saying that no collusion occurred loudly and repeatedly, and in his strongest supporters’ willingness to believe him and take up the banner.
Giuliani, who joined Trump’s legal team about a month ago, is taking a different line of argument: instead of denying that the Trump campaign colluded, saying it simply doesn’t matter because that didn’t break the law.
This is all actually a replay of last summer’s arguments. The emails that Trump Jr. released about the June 2016 meeting made clear that the Trump campaign was perfectly willing to collude, and was in fact frustrated that Veselnitskaya couldn’t deliver the goods Goldstone had implied.
[T]here were a couple of flaws with the claim. First, it wasn’t clear that everyone would react that way. Former campaign staffers of both parties expressed shock that the Trump team had gone forward with the meeting, bringing up concrete examples where campaigns had gone to law enforcement in less egregious circumstances. Furthermore, although there is no crime of “collusion” per se, it is quite possible that a campaign-finance law could have been violated. Despite what Giuliani says about the source of the information not mattering, foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing to campaigns, and opposition research could represent an in-kind contribution.
This week, Trump is in a tizzy over the revelation that there was an informant passing information to the FBI about the ties between some Trump campaign staffers and Russia.Trump contends that there was no collusion, and that his campaign was being spied upon by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department for political reasons. The accusation of political spying has no evidence to back it up.
If there was no collusion, and not even any evidence of collusion, it would be strange and disturbing for the FBI to be interested in what was going on inside the Trump campaign.
Yet we know that isn’t the case, because there was collusion. There was the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, the August 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Papadopoulos’s contacts (which triggered the FBI’s investigation) and more. . . . . it gives a plausible reason why the FBI was interested in the Trump campaign.
There are many questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election that remain unanswered. Whether there was collusion between Trump aides and foreign governments is not one of them.

Remembering the HMS Hood and Her Gallant Crew

HMS Hood at flank speed
HMS Hood

One of the last photos of Hood from May 23, 1941, as she steamed to meet
Bismark and destiny, taken from the Battleship Prince of Wales 

Perhaps I am a bit of a history nerd (growing up gay and deeply in the closet, books were one of my means of escape), but one of the things that has always fascinated me since I was a child is ships and the ocean.  There are certain ships that achieve iconic status due to their magnificence or their tragic ends or a combination of the two.  Ships such as the French super liner Normandie, perhaps the most beautiful liner ever built, the super liner S.S, United States built just miles from where I sit at the moment, the Lusitania, the Titanic, and in the military realm, the U.S.S Arizona, the Bismark, Houston, Lexington, and for me, the HMS Hood.  To paraphrase an eloquent member of a Facebook page who wrote:

On this day 77 years ago at around 6:00 am Britain and the Royal Navy suffered their most terrible loss.  HMS Hood, British battle cruiser, the largest warship in the world (she was larger than the German battleship Bismark), a 21 year veteran and pride of the Fleet and indeed the entire British Empire, was lost in combat against the Germans in the Battle of Denmark Strait. She went down , fighting for our survival against tyranny and evil, and of her ships company of 1418 galant men and boys, only 3 survived the tragedy. A freak, one in a million hit, from Bismark caused a fire on Hood which caused it to explode and sink in mere minutes.
So many of her crew were so young, some as young as 17 who had enlisted as Britain stood alone against Hitler's Nazi Germany.  The HMS Hood Association is compiling a pictorial roster of the crew that went down with Hood in the battle of the Denmark Straits.  The roster can be found here.
My reverence for HMS Hood in no way diminishes my respect for for other ships that fought valiantly or their gallant crews who strove to do their best for their countries.  May all of them rest in peace. 
A photo of but one of the 1,415 men lost:

The lesson, at least to me, is that war is Hell and should be avoid.  At the time of Hood's loss, few comprehended the horrors of the next 4 years - e.g., Pearl Harbor, the fall of British and French Indochina, D Day, etc.) - much less the full nightmare of the Holocaust. A pox on politicians who recklessly send members of the military to war without just cause or to satiate their meglomanical and/or narsarcist egos.  WWII was perhaps one of the last wars were the causes of good and evil were starkly drawn. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

GOP Freedom Caucus’s Plan Could Hand the House to Democrats

One phenomenon I have noted over the years both during my time in the GOP and since is that it is nearly impossible to reason with ultra-conservatives and Christofascists.  Tellingly, both groups cannot seem to grasp that their views/beliefs are NOT mainstream and that outside of the bubble of Fox News and batshit crazy evangelical churches, the majority of Americans do not subscribe to their beliefs.  Indeed, I suspect the majority of Americans find them frightening if not repulsive.  Now the infamous GOP "Freedom Caucus" in the U.S. House of Representatives wants to withhold campaign funding from moderate Republicans ("moderate being a relative term) as punishment for supporting a discharge petition that might get immigration reform acceptable to all but the Trump base passed by Congress.  It's a case of cutting off one's nose to spite their face.  But, such is the irrationality of the far right.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the idiocy - which I frankly hope prevails - roiling the GOP conference.  Here are highlights:

For years the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus has been a thorn in the side of the GOP leadership. Now, in a twist, GOP moderates have banded together in an effort to force votes on immigration, including a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The Freedom Caucus will not stand for a vote on so-called “amnesty,” so they’re calling for harsh punishments for moderates who dare to defy party leaders – though that could make it even likelier that Democrats win control of of the House in November.
The moderate Republicans have banded together with House Democrats to support a discharge petition, a rare maneuver that would allow them to circumvent Speaker Paul Ryan and force a vote on four immigration measures. This would include a measure that protects young undocumented immigrants in exchange for border security funding, without provisions from Representative Bob Goodlatte’s conservative immigration bill, like legal-immigration cuts and money for Trump’s border wall.
The Freedom Caucus already derailed passage of the Farm Bill last week over Ryan’s failure to meet their demand for a vote on the Goodlatte bill, and now the immigration issue is plunging the House GOP deeper into chaos. Though by definition, a discharge petition means members are acting without the leadership’s consent, conservatives are holding Ryan responsible for the moderates’ efforts, claiming he and other party leaders could be doing more to stop them.
 So the conservatives are suggesting that months before an election in which Republicans may lose control of the House by just a few seats, the leadership should punish their weakest members by withholding campaign money.
In general, threatening engaging more intra-party squabbling isn’t a smart strategy for the midterms. During a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning, Ryan told members of the caucus that they need to remain united and act like they’re the majority party . . .
For now it’s unclear whether Republicans will be voting on one, two, or four immigration proposals in the coming weeks, and in the meantime they’re engaging in yet another form of self-destructive behavior: floating the idea of replacing Ryan as speaker prematurely.
But there’s little evidence that ousting Ryan is the solution to the caucus’s problems. While Ryan has endorsed McCarthy and he’s the frontrunner for the job, many aides and lawmakers told the Washington Post on Tuesday that there currently isn’t anyone who could easily win a race for speaker.
“If we have a speaker’s race, then it takes everyone’s eye off the ball of what’s most important, and that is keeping the majority,” said Representative Rodney Davis, chair of the centrist Republican Main Street Caucus. “It would be the most short-lived time in the speaker’s chair that anyone could have asked for.”
Let the insanity continue!

Another Big Shoe Drops in the Mueller Probe

One thing that supporters of Der Trumpenführer - including far too many Congressional Republicans - seemingly do not want to discuss is how their claims that the Mueller probe is a "witch hunt" simply do not match up with the number of individuals in the Trump orbit, including some involved in the 2016 campaign, who continue to cop guilty pleas.   Congressional Republicans and many in their brain dead base want renewed investigations of Hillary Clinton, yet don't bat an eye that Trump apparently surrounded himself with a bunch of criminals.  Given Trump's past in New York City and elsewhere, of course, his affinity for criminals should come as little or no surprise.  Trump's nouveau riche status was never the only reason old New York society finds Trump so distasteful.  Now, one of Trump consigliere Michael Cohen's business partners has likewise agreed to take a plea and cooperate with prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York.  This event doesn't bode well for Cohen or Der Trumpenführer.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post:  
When it comes to seminal moments in the Russia investigation that we will one day look back upon, Tuesday could be one.
The Post's Rosalind S. Helderman confirms that Michael Cohen's one-time business partner, Evgeny "Gene" Freidman (a.k.a. the "Taxi King"), has reached a plea deal with prosecutors and will cooperate with the government (the news was first reported by The New York Times):
Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union long known as the “taxi king” of New York, pleaded guilty to criminal tax fraud in Albany County Court. He is a former business partner of Cohen who managed taxis owned by the president’s lawyer for several years.
Both the timing and the circumstances are key. Freidman faced allegations that he failed to pay $5 million in taxes, including four counts of tax fraud and one of grand larceny. As part of the deal, he will serve no jail time. That suggests that he has been able to provide information of some value when it comes to Cohen, who is widely seen as a target for prosecutors to, in turn, flip against Trump.
“Do you understand the nature of the benefit your attorneys have accomplished on your behalf?” Judge Peter Lynch asked Freidman on Tuesday, according to the Times. That question that should frighten both Cohen and President Trump's legal team.
There is no official indication that Freidman has agreed to inform specifically on Cohen, but it's not difficult to connect the dots. . . . . If anybody knows about what Cohen has done wrong, Freidman may have been the most likely candidate — especially if Cohen did keep Trump in the dark about his Stormy Daniels payment and other matters.
Just as it has been clear that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was a target for flipping against Trump, Cohen's fate seems to revolve around whether he might be pressured into taking a deal, like Freidman was.
Cohen has said that won't happen, and Trump wagered last month that Cohen won't flip. But it looks increasingly like we're about to find out just how much pressure Cohen can withstand.
Money launderers and tax cheats - not to mention those with suspicious Russian ties - are the norm in Trump's orbit.  One can only imagine what Trump and/or his family members have done. 

Federal Court Rules for Gavin Grimm

Gavin Grimm and his amazing mother - proud to know both of them.

It has been a long legal saga for Gavin Grimm and has family as they have fought the Gloucester County, Virginia, School Board which sought to discriminate against Gavin, an individual that we know personally, rather than stand up to a faction of LGBT hating Christofascists who forced that Board due to its cowardice to rescind the original policy applied to Grimm.  Gavin's mother noted on Facebook following the latest federal ruling as follows:
So 4 years ago the Gloucester County School Board chose to single out my son to discriminate against instead of doing the right thing by protecting his rights as a transgender boy and now once again the judge has said that he and all transgender kids ARE protected under Title IX of our constitution so let’s see if the school board will now change their policy and protect those that come after Gavin or if they will continue to discriminate against transgender people in our district. This case will be far reaching in this country so I think it is HIGH TIME this school board does what is right! My son had dedicated the last 4 years of his life to this cause and this school board ruined his high school experience!   
A press release by the ACLU looks at the court's ruling (which can be found here).  Here are excerpts:
A federal court today denied the Gloucester County School Board’s motion to dismiss a case brought by former student Gavin Grimm, holding that Title IX and the Constitution protect transgender students from being excluded from the common restrooms that align with their gender identity.
The court directed the parties to schedule a settlement conference within 30 days. The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia. 
Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT &HIV Project, had this reaction:
"The district court’s ruling vindicates what Gavin has been saying from the beginning. Federal law protects Gavin and other students who are transgender from being stigmatized and excluded from using the same common restrooms that other boys and girls use. These sorts of discriminatory policies do nothing to protect privacy and only serve to harm and humiliate transgender students.”
Gavin Grimm had this reaction:
“I feel an incredible sense of relief. After fighting this policy since I was 15 years old, I finally have a court decision saying that what the Gloucester County School Board did to me was wrong and it was against the law. I was determined not to give up because I didn’t want any other student to have to suffer the same experience that I had to go through.”
Having wasted who knows how much taxpayer money and brought worldwide derision to Gloucester County, the Gloucester County School board needs to come into the 21st century and stop kissing the asses of local Christofascists.  

Interestingly enough, a piece in LGBTQ Nation reports on a new study led by a Belgian neurologist that found that transgender individuals how functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender,” said Bakker. . . . .nd that brain activity in transgender people resembles that found in heterosexual individuals of their identifying gender more than their sex assigned at birth. . . . they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender,” said Bakker.  Obviously, the study - and many others - exposes the arguments of anti-science, anti-knowledge Christofascists such as those in Gloucester County to be fraudulent and based on little more than bigotry and an embrace of ignorance.  Here are article excerpts:
Their brain scans were compared to people of comparable age who were not diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The study found that transgender boys’ brain activity resembled cisgender boys’, and transgender girls’ brains resembled cisgender girls’.
The researchers said that their technique could be used to help transgender children at an earlier age.
“Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with GD, as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender,” said Bakker.
“We will then be better equipped to support these young people, instead of just sending them to a psychiatrist and hoping that their distress will disappear spontaneously.”
The study’s results, which were presented at the European Society of Endocrinology’s meeting, fall in line with previous neurological studies that showed that transgender adults have similar brain structures to cisgender people of their gender.
Again, the Gloucester County School Board needs to kick the Christofascists to the curb where they belong, embrace modern science and knowledge, and put in place the polices sought by Gavin Grimm.