Saturday, August 18, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

White House Counsel Don McGahn Has “Cooperated Extensively” With Robert Mueller

White House Counsel Donald McGahn is cooperating with Robert Mueller's investigators
While attorneys have a duty of loyalty to their client and in general are barred from sharing information derived from a client with investigators and/or tribunals, there are exceptions - e.g., when a client intends to commit a crime, when a client intends to defraud a tribunal/investigation, or when a client intends to illegally defraud a third party.  In these situations,  an attorney's duty to uphold the law and prevent the commission of a crime and/or the defrauding of the legal system a superior to an attorney's duty to uphold client confidentiality.  Whether or not these principles are at play in White House Counsel Don McGahn's cooperation with Robert Mueller's Russiagate investigation remains to be seen.  What is striking, is that the cooperation began at the urging of Der Trumpenführer's previous personal legal counsel.  Now, as a piece in the New York Times suggests, McGahan may also be motivated by his fears that Trump may try to blame Trump's obstruction of justice efforts on McGahn who seems to have no desire to go to prison like John Dean, Richard Nixon's White House counsel during the Watergate investigation.  Here are article excerpts:
The White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter.
In at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, Mr. McGahn described the president’s furor toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged Mr. McGahn to respond to it. He provided the investigators examining whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice a clear view of the president’s most intimate moments with his lawyer.
Among them were Mr. Trump’s comments and actions during the firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and Mr. Trump’s obsession with putting a loyalist in charge of the inquiry, including his repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of it. Mr. McGahn was also centrally involved in Mr. Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, which investigators might not have discovered without him.
For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual. Lawyers are rarely so open with investigators, not only because they are advocating on behalf of their clients but also because their conversations with clients are potentially shielded by attorney-client privilege, and in the case of presidents, executive privilege.
Mr. McGahn’s cooperation began in part as a result of a decision by Mr. Trump’s first team of criminal lawyers to collaborate fully with Mr. Mueller. The president’s lawyers have explained that they believed their client had nothing to hide and that they could bring the investigation to an end quickly.
Mr. McGahn and his lawyer, William A. Burck, could not understand why Mr. Trump was so willing to allow Mr. McGahn to speak freely to the special counsel and feared Mr. Trump was setting up Mr. McGahn to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction, according to people close to him. So he and Mr. Burck devised their own strategy to do as much as possible to cooperate with Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that Mr. McGahn did nothing wrong.
Mr. McGahn has overseen two of Mr. Trump’s signature accomplishments — stocking the federal courts and cutting government regulations — and become a champion of conservatives in the process.
But the two rarely speak one on one — the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and other advisers are usually present for their meetings — and Mr. Trump has questioned Mr. McGahn’s loyalty. In turn, Mr. Trump’s behavior has so exasperated Mr. McGahn that he has called the president “King Kong” behind his back, to connote his volcanic anger, people close to Mr. McGahn said.
Mr. McGahn’s route from top White House lawyer to a central witness in the obstruction investigation of the president began around the time that Mr. Mueller took over the investigation into whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia’s interference in the presidential election.
When Mr. Mueller was appointed in May 2017, the lawyers surrounding the president realigned themselves. Mr. McGahn and other White House lawyers stopped dealing on a day-to-day basis with the investigation, as they realized they were potential witnesses in an obstruction case.
In the following weeks, Mr. Trump assembled a personal legal team to defend him. He wanted to take on Mr. Mueller directly, attacking his credibility and impeding investigators. But two of his newly hired lawyers, John M. Dowd and Ty Cobb, have said they took Mr. Trump at his word that he did nothing wrong and sold him on an open-book strategy. As long as Mr. Trump and the White House cooperated with Mr. Mueller, they told him, they could bring an end to the investigation within months.
Mr. McGahn, who had objected to Mr. Cobb’s hiring, was dubious, according to people he spoke to around that time. As White House counsel, not a personal lawyer, he viewed his role as protector of the presidency, not of Mr. Trump.
Though he was a senior campaign aide, it is not clear whether Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned Mr. McGahn about whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia’s effort to influence the election.
Mr. McGahn’s decision to cooperate with the special counsel grew out of Mr. Dowd’s and Mr. Cobb’s game plan, now seen as misguided by some close to [Trump] the president. . . . . Mr. Burck has explained to others that he told White House advisers that they did not appreciate the president’s legal exposure and that it was “insane” that Mr. Trump did not fight a McGahn interview in court.
Even if the president did nothing wrong, Mr. Burck told White House lawyers, the White House has to understand that a client like Mr. Trump probably made politically damaging statements to Mr. McGahn as he weighed whether to intervene in the Russia investigation.
At the same time, Mr. Trump was blaming Mr. McGahn for his legal woes, yet encouraging him to speak to investigators. Mr. McGahn and his lawyer grew suspicious. They began telling associates that they had concluded that [Trump] the president had decided to let Mr. McGahn take the fall for decisions that could be construed as obstruction of justice, like the Comey firing, by telling the special counsel that he was only following shoddy legal advice from Mr. McGahn.
Worried that Mr. Trump would ultimately blame him in the inquiry, Mr. McGahn told people he was determined to avoid the fate of the White House counsel for President Richard M. Nixon, John W. Dean, who was imprisoned in the Watergate scandal. . . . Mr. McGahn decided to fully cooperate with Mr. Mueller. It was, he believed, the only choice he had to protect himself.
“This sure has echoes of Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, John Dean, who in 1973 feared that Nixon was setting him up as a fall guy for Watergate and secretly gave investigators crucial help while still in his job,” said the historian Michael Beschloss.
To investigators, Mr. McGahn was a fruitful witness, people familiar with the investigation said. He had been directly involved in nearly every episode they are scrutinizing to determine whether [Trump] the president obstructed justice. To make an obstruction case, prosecutors who lack a piece of slam-dunk evidence generally point to a range of actions that prove that the suspect tried to interfere with the inquiry.
Needless to say, I hope McGahn has provided Mueller with information very damaging to Der Trumpenführer.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Prayers Will Not Stop Sex Abuse in the Catholic Church

Some readers will likely roll their eyes and think "there he goes again" as I again look at the continuing sex abuse scandal that envelops the Catholic Church literally on a global basis.  The findings of the grand jury report released this past week in Pennsylvania mirrors what has been the norm across the globe from Australia, Guam, South America, Europe, parts of Africa and, of course, across America.  There is a systemic problem within the Catholic Church, much of it deriving, in my view and in the view of a number of mental health professionals, from the Church's more or less Medieval doctrines on sexuality and anti-women mindset. If one reads about the development of these bizarre views on sexuality - -the book The Origins and role of Same Sex Relations in Human Societies does an excellent job - the conclusion is that many of the so-called Church fathers had very serious mental issues.  Why must this be addressed and ended?  One reason, of course, is so that such rampant sex abuse of children and youths ceases to be a norm with far too many of the Catholic clergy.  The second is to end the emotional and psychological damage being done even as I write this post as more Catholic youth is brainwashed with the Church's bizarre and unhealthy sexual mores that push many toward constant self-hate and, in some instances, suicide. A third reason is to end the Church's and right wing Catholics' efforts to scapegoat gays rather than admit that the Church's warped teachings and forced celibacy are at the root of the problem.  Several pieces represent the reverberations from Tuesday's release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.  One comes from Canada's Globe and Mail:  
The church has reacted of course, but always slowly, usually reluctantly and often incorrectly. It still treats offenders leniently, still covers up when it thinks it can and still refuses to address the major causes of abuse. One horribly regrettable response, for example, has been to try to link sexual abuse with homosexuality. It’s probably more difficult for a celibate gay man to enter a seminary under the allegedly progressive Pope Francis than it was under his more conservative predecessors. It’s not only an odious fallacy, but also a painful digression.
In fact, there are three genuine issues. First is enforced celibacy. Men denied sex do not become abusers, but abusers do look for places where they can disguise their crimes. There are a large number of gay priests – estimates are between 25 per cent and 50 per cent – and these men, some in relationships and some not, have to live a lie. Abusers exploit this culture of obfuscation to hide their crimes. A solution would be to ordain married men and to allow gay clergy to be open and honest.
Second is the extraordinary patriarchy that exists within the church. Women are not ordained, have very little influence and are excluded from decisions. While the presence of women doesn’t make abuse impossible, it certainly reduces the likelihood. The vast majority of abusers in any situation are men; women are more often survivors and have greater empathy and sensitivity to the issue, and they inject a gender balance that makes an abusive context more difficult to maintain.
Third is the rigid sense of authority that permeates the church, even under more liberal-minded pontiffs. This is still a clerical church, and until it is democratized, closed circles of secrecy will be formed whenever leadership is challenged.
The reality, however, is that the church will almost certainly continue to regard loving same-sex relationships as sinful, will never ordain women, and as Roman Catholicism is based on absolute central authority, will not genuinely empower the laity.
[U]nless we admit that child sexual abuse within Roman Catholicism is due to systemic problems rather than human failing, the obscenity will not stop. Prayers simply aren’t enough.
A second piece comes from Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic - I left the Church in 2000 - in New York Magazine.  Here are excerpts:
After a while, I couldn’t continue reading the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse in six dioceses in the Catholic Church. Apart from the rising nausea, I realized the horror of each incident had begun to numb my conscience, and the sheer number of cases had numbed it still further. One case is a tragedy; thousands of cases can too easily become a statistic. Like dealing with Trump’s lies, you can get dizzy following the specific horrors committed against children, and the excuses and prevarications and silence of so many in the hierarchy. Which is why specifics matter. They reveal the core nature of the evil involved. 
And then the kicker: the diocese was aware of Zirwas’s abuses as early as 1987. Zirwas continued in the priesthood until 1994, when he was placed on leave, citing “personal reasons.” Bishop, soon-to-be Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua did nothing to punish or report this man for molesting countless children. Then he was actually re-appointed as a priest by Bishop Donald Wuerl, who is now a cardinal in my own archdiocese of Washington. When another complaint of abuse found its way to Wuerl, he removed Zirwas, who then moved to Florida, fled to Cuba, and was found strangled to death in Havana in 2001. Nonetheless Wuerl presided at Zirwas’s funeral and made some remarks: “According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wuerl described how Zirwas was a kind man, and had preached a message of salvation through faith in Jesus. ‘A priest is a priest,’ Wuerl said that day. ‘Once he is ordained, he’s a priest forever.’”
 This case is, in many ways, a microcosm of the entire wicked business: the abuse, the cover-up, the continued abuse, the conspiracy of silence. But more deeply for this Catholic: the cynicism. The giggling priests — by their very actions — could not possibly believe in the Gospels. They were merely using the Gospels to commit unspeakable crimes. The upper ranks, by their indifference and cover-up, are also deeply suspect. There is simply no way to square a belief in the Gospels and enabling, promoting, and covering up the rape of children. All of these men come off as cynics, incapable of summoning the overwhelming sense of outrage any nonbeliever, or any decent human being, would feel in the face of this kind of accusation; all protecting their own ranks, all far more committed to good public relations than saving children. There is simply something deeply wrong with these people.
All I can say is that I cannot understand why any human being — let alone a bishop — wouldn’t immediately suspend the priest and call the cops after a credible allegation. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 1980s, 1990s, or 1890s. You save the children first. And instead of PR, what about shame, penitence, taking responsibility and begging for forgiveness? Are those only for the laity?
How much of a role did homosexuality play in all this? There is of course a vital distinction to be made here between sexual orientation and sexual abuse, and between being gay and being a pedophile, hebephile, or ephebophile. Many gay priests are fine and honorable servants. It horrifies me they are tarred by association, by some of the more reactionary voices in the church. It’s also true that one reason young men and boys were targeted was that they were far more readily available to priests than girls.
And the way in which homosexuality has been treated by Catholicism — the only option for all gays is a life of celibacy and emotional repression — is not likely to lead to healthy homosexual lives, let alone priests.
Homophobia may also have increased the proportion of priests over the centuries who have been gay, because the priesthood has always been a reliable cover for not dating women. And these closeted, fucked-up gays are the ones who may well have internalized many of the slurs against gays in the past, hated themselves, never come to terms with themselves, and seen no real difference between sexual abuse and sex. . . .  When no form of sex is allowed, all forms of sex can seem equally immoral. And if your celibacy has ever slipped, you sure don’t want to snitch on someone else, do you?
It’s a vicious, destructive, evil circle. Which is why, it seems to me, that the clerical closet has to end. Secrecy and shame abet sexual dysfunction. Openness and self-respect are the cure.
Allowing married people and women to be priests is also a no-brainer. We have long discovered that secretive, hierarchical cabals of single men are usually trouble in any context and I have a feeling that a female priest would not react to the news of an abused child with concern for the abuser. The church’s moral credibility is now close to zero. All the more reason to throw open the doors and let the light in.
 We may still believe in Jesus. But precisely because of that, we can no longer believe in the church. No one is untouched. Even Pope John Paul II personally advanced and championed one of the worst abusers in the church, the Legionaries of Christ’s Marcial Maciel Degollado, because of the money he brought in, and the rigid ideology he upheld. And they made John Paul a saint! This is no time to shore up the institution. It’s time to open it up and cleanse it. We could start with Cardinal Wuerl.

Lastly, a letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune gets to what may be the only way to force the Church to change: everyday parishioners need to end their financial support of the Church and, better yet, cease attending mass and find a different denomination if they feel compelled to attend church:  

It’s hard to be a Catholic. In response to the recently released Pennsylvania grand jury report on some 300 priests accused of abuse, let it be known — let it be shouted from the rooftops — that those warped, vile, disgusting clerics who have violated children over the past several decades have made victims not only of the children but of all Catholics everywhere. Their victims number tens of millions.
As a church-going Catholic, I have found nothing more maddening over the last couple of decades than recurring revelations of priestly abuse and the church’s attempts to hide it. I think of the donations, which the faithful give at Mass every week, going now not to maintain churches, pay staff or upgrade schools, but to compensate plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases and enrich the lawyers who represent them. Why should I give?
I think of the harm to the church’s moral credibility on matters such as the roles of women inside and outside the church, gay marriage, gender dysphoria, in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem-cell research. How can an institution that has harbored so much sexual abuse over so many years purport to instruct others on anything involving sex?
I must suspect that the requirement that its clergy be celibate — a requirement that among religious organizations seems all but unique to the Catholic Church — not only disqualifies many otherwise capable men from the priesthood but, more ominously, tends to select in favor of men who lack healthy libidinal drives.

Friday, August 17, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

Faux Christian Jack Phillips Again Proves He's A Bigot

Likely emboldened by the Supreme Court's refusal to squarely address the issue of whether claimed or feigned religious belief allows ones to be exempt from non-discrimination laws and public accommodation laws - and encouraged by the hate group, Alliance Defending Freedom ("ADF") - Jack Phillips, the owner of the infamous Masterpiece Cakeshop is back in federal court.  This time he is suing the State of Colorado and defending his refusal to create a cake to celebrate a milestone in the life of a sexual minority.   Let's be blunt.  Phillips is a self-centered bigot who sadly now feels he has a platform from which to encourage similar modern day Pharisees to insult and reject those they don't like. Meanwhile, his legal counsel at ADF won't be happy until homosexuality is re-criminalized.  Anything and anyone who challenges the Christofascists' Bronze Age myth based beliefs must be attacked and crushed. A piece in Politico looks at the new round of bigotry and pretense of martyrdom on display from Phillips.   Here are highlights:
Difficult decisions can be deferred, but not ultimately avoided. So it is that Jack Phillips, the owner of the famous Masterpiece Cakeshop is back in federal court, again defending his refusal to create a cake to celebrate a milestone in the life of a sexual minority.
This time, it’s a birthday cake celebrating a gender transition he’s declining to bake, and it’s not clear how the courts will balance the parties’ competing interests. That’s because of the Supreme Court’s dithering on the issue earlier this summer.
Just two months ago, the Supreme Court confounded expectations on all sides with its side-stepping decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It looked like the case had nicely teed up the question of how to accommodate two competing interests. On the one side stood a gay couple that wanted to buy a wedding cake from a business that had an obligation under Colorado state law not to discriminate against them on the basis of sexual orientation. On the other stood the owner of the cake shop, Jack Phillips, who claimed that requiring him to create a cake in celebration of a same-sex wedding would violate his constitutionally protected rights of religion and free expression. How would the court resolve these competing claims?
It didn’t. . . . . The case didn’t even provide useful guidance for another case that was then before the court. A florist had refused to create an arrangement for the gay wedding of a couple she’d known for years, citing her religious belief. After sitting on the case for many months, the court finally decided not to hear it, vacated the judgment in favor of the couple, and directed the lower courts to resolve the matter in accordance with its Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. But that is no help at all, unless the case is also found to have involved anti-religious animus.
Now comes Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis. Phillips, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian [hate] group that represents clients in lawsuits that involve challenges to religious freedom, contests a finding by Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, that there is “sufficient evidence” to support a claim of discrimination in the case.
Sardina revealed that she wanted the cake to have a pink interior and a blue exterior. Then she added that the colors were to celebrate her coming out as transgender on her birthday, some years earlier. At that point, Debi Phillips (Jack’s wife, and the co-owner of the cake shop) declined to create the cake because of the Phillipses’ belief that gender was biological, and immutable.
If that’s all there is to the case, it’s not hard: Sardina should win under the Colorado anti-discrimination law, which protects customers in certain enumerated classes—including sexual orientation and transgender status—from the denial of service in places of public accommodation (like a bakery). . . . . If she had told Debi Phillips that she wanted the blue/pink cake for a gender-reveal party, as a clever way of announcing that she was going to deliver boy/girl twins, we can safely assume the request would have been honored. The complaint admits that the “problem” with the cake is its association with a message the owners don’t agree with. But a pink/blue cake, without more, doesn’t send a “message” about gender transition.
It would be a different story if Sardina had also requested that Jack Phillips write “Happy Gender Transition Day!” because the government can’t compel a business owner to engage in speech he finds objectionable. But the simple act of creating a blue-pink cake doesn’t send any message at all—unless that message is that Phillips refuses to create a given cake for one class of people (those hosting gender-reveal parties) but not for others.
In short, Phillips’ refusal here is the very essence of discrimination, and the court should have no part of endorsing it. In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, there was a lively exchange in concurring opinions between Justices Neil Gorsuch and Elena Kagan about this very question—whether Phillips’s right to freedom of expression would allow him to refuse to create a cake he knew would be used for a gay wedding, even if that cake were identical to a cake he might make for a “traditional” wedding.
Kagan’s position is that a business owner can’t refuse to bake a cake for one customer, but not another. That doesn’t mean Phillips would have to create a cake reading “I love gay marriage!”, but, as she noted, in the case before the court the couple “requested a wedding cake that Phillips would have made for an opposite-sex couple.” She properly rejected Gorsuch’s view that the controversial confection would have been “a cake celebrating same-sex marriage” because of its significance to the couple and Phillips alike. As Kagan noted: “It was simply a wedding cake – one … suitable for use at [all] weddings.” That’s the only interpretation of the law that can keep it from collapsing into a free-for-all, in which the mere invocation of free expression is enough to defeat any claim of discrimination.
If a business owner can refuse to serve one customer the exact same product that he’d willingly sell another based on an objection to the use to which the product would be put, we might just as well admit that anti-discrimination laws are toothless.
That doesn’t mean Sardina will win the case if it does get to the Supreme Court, though. With Kennedy out of the picture—and Brett Kavanaugh his likely replacement—the conservative justices will be more apt to grant review of close cases, knowing they have the five votes they need to roll back the court’s more progressive decisions.
[I]t’s easy to forget that the discrimination laws are in place for a reason, and that the same logic that would allow religious objectors to deny service to the LGBT community would also permit turning away a couple that wanted to celebrate an interracial wedding.
Personally, I wish decent people would simple boycott Phillips' bakery and allow it to wither away or limp along with only a bigoted Christofascist client base.  I'd prefer to have no cake than have one baked by a foul, self-centered, grandstanding bigot.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Omarosa’s Publisher to Trump: If You Sue Us, You’ll Be Sorry During Discovery

Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer on this blog, has a long history of threatening to sue those who cross him, including the large number of women who have accused Trump of sexual assault, yet Trump never follows through on such threats?  Why?  As an attorney familiar with the discovery process in the context of litigation, the answer is easy: once a lawsuit is filed, opposing counsel can make discovery requests - that the trial court can enforce - that include written responses to (interrogatories is the legal term) and force a plaintiff to turn over documents.  Once litigation is underway, individuals can also be subpoenaed and forced to testify or else face contempt of court charges and jail time.  Now, with the release of Omarosa Manigault Newman has released her book and tapes embarrassing to Der Trumpenführer is again threatening litigation.  Thankfully, her publisher is calling Trump's bluff and is flat out warning Trump that should he sue, he will live to be very sorry.  The Washington Post and other outlets look at the response to Trump's threats and bullying.  Here's the telling quote via Joe Jervis' blog:
“While your letter generally claims that excerpts from the book contain ‘disparaging statements,’ it is quite telling that at no point do you claim that any specific statement in the book is false. Your client does not have a viable legal claim merely because unspecified truthful statements in the Book may embarrass the president or his associates. At base, your letter is nothing more than an obvious attempt to silence legitimate criticism of the president.

“My clients will not be intimidated by hollow legal threats and have proceeded with publication of the Book as scheduled. Should you pursue litigation against S&S, we are confident that documents related to the contents of the Book in the possession of President Trump, his family members, his businesses, the Trump Campaign, and his administration will prove particularly relevant to our defense.” – Simon & Schuster counsel Elizabeth McNamara.
Again, there is a reason Trump's threats of lawsuits never follow through.  Only an utter fool - which may describe Trump has he lurches more and more out of control - would initiate litigation that could allow the opposing side to gain all kinds of documentation and testimony that could prove horrific to Trump's interests.  I doubt any competent attorney would advise Trump to file suit against Omarosa  or any  one else on his enemies list for the simple reason that the discovery process could prove disastrous to Trump, a man so blinded by his ego that believes he knows more and is smarter than anyone else. 

More Thursday Male Beauty

John Brennan: Trump’s Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash

Yesterday in a peevish temper tantrum akin to something one would have expected from Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, or tin pot African dictator, Donald Trump revoked the security clearance for former CIA Director, John Brennan.  Why?  Simply because Brennan has been criticizing Der Trumpenführer and telling the truth, including the truth about Trump's betrayal of America.   Others are on Trump's target list for the same reason that they are challenging Trumps perpetual lies and placing country - and I would argue decency and morality - above party loyalty.  In a column in the New York Times Brennan assails Trump's action and calls on loyal, truly patriotic Americans to demand answers and support the Robert Mueller through to its logical conclusion, which, I believe, with document Trump/Pence criminal conspiracies with Russia/Vladimir Putin and, likely, treason.  Here are column excerpts:
When Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s internal security service, told me during an early August 2016 phone call that Russia wasn’t interfering in our presidential election, I knew he was lying. Over the previous several years I had grown weary of Mr. Bortnikov’s denials of Russia’s perfidy — about its mistreatment of American diplomats and citizens in Moscow, its repeated failure to adhere to cease-fire agreements in Syria and its paramilitary intervention in eastern Ukraine, to name just a few issues.
When I warned Mr. Bortnikov that Russian interference in our election was intolerable and would roil United States-Russia relations for many years, he denied Russian involvement in any election, in America or elsewhere, with a feigned sincerity that I had heard many times before. President Vladimir Putin of Russia reiterated those denials numerous times over the past two years, often to Donald Trump’s seeming approval.
Russian denials are, in a word, hogwash.
Before, during and after its now infamous meddling in our last presidential election, Russia practiced the art of shaping political events abroad through its well-honed active measures program, which employs an array of technical capabilities, information operations and old-fashioned human intelligence spycraft. Electoral politics in Western democracies presents an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives. The very freedoms and liberties that liberal Western democracies cherish and that autocracies fear have been exploited by Russian intelligence services not only to collect sensitive information but also to distribute propaganda and disinformation, increasingly via the growing number of social media platforms.
Having worked closely with the F.B.I. over many years on counterintelligence investigations, I was well aware of Russia’s ability to work surreptitiously within the United States, cultivating relationships with individuals who wield actual or potential power. . . . . They troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters. Too often, those puppets are found.
We knew that Russian intelligence services would do all they could to achieve their objectives, which the United States intelligence community publicly assessed a few short months later were to undermine public faith in the American democratic process, harm the electability of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and show preference for Mr. Trump. We also publicly assessed that Mr. Putin’s intelligence services were following his orders.
The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, however, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton. By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.
While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware — thanks to the reporting of an open and free press — of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.
Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.
The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of “Trump Incorporated” attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.
Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him.
Now more than ever, it is critically important that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference — from Mr. Trump or anyone else — so that all Americans can get the answers they so rightly deserve.
I remain amazed at how many Republican "friends" refuse to open their eyes to reality.  Are they so driven by racial animosity and/or fear of loss of white privilege that they will ignore treason and conspiring with a hostile foreign power?  The moral bankruptcy and willingness to support a man who operates like a Mafia crime boss is mind-numbing.

Ex-GOP Chairman: Republicans Have Abandoned their Principles.

The exodus of traditional, moral, thinking Republicans from the Republican Party - which in my view has become a moral cesspool - continues.  One can only hope that as these individuals leave the GOP they will either (i) stay home on election day in November, 2018, or (ii) hold their noses and vote for Democrats.  As I have long argued, only through sustained electoral losses will today's Republican Party either wither away to permanent minority status or find the moral gumption to eject the Christofascists - who, in my view, triggered the party's descent into madness - and the white supremacists from the party ranks.  Under Trump/Pence, the Republican Party has become nothing less than evil and dangerous.  USA Today has an op-ed by a former Ohio POP county chairman who sums up why so many decent people are leaving the GOP.  Hate, bigotry and the open embrace of lies and ignorance are not the principles the GOP once stood for.  Here are column highlights: 

My tweet last month was simple enough:  “I remain a proud conservative and Republican, but I resigned today as Belmont County Ohio GOP Chairman. I did so as a matter of conscience, and my sense of duty.”
That was all I wrote. Little did I know 6.2 million people would view this otherwise innocuous tweet. Not Beyoncé-level worthy, admittedly. But it was nonetheless remarkable that so many souls cared that a Republican county chairman, from a rural county in southeastern Ohio, had resigned to protest President Donald Trump’s capitulation in Helsinki. Interview requests from Fox, CNN, MSNBC, BBC and NPR poured in, as did quotes in The New York Times and The Washington Post. I was even mentioned in a Vanity Fair piece.
Amid the sudden notoriety, I quickly realized my resignation had become a political Rorschach test. To some, I was a patriot, standing tall in a true Profiles in Courage moment. To many others (i.e. most Republicans), I was traitor, a RINO or an obvious "Never Trumper." 
As the Twitter war raged, I saw my fellow Republicans, the heirs to Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution, repudiating the very foundational and aspirational principles he used to truly "Make America Great Again" in the 1980s.
I looked in the distance and thought I saw Reagan’s ‘Shining City on a Hill,’ so I headed that way. It shone in the early morning, glowing in freedom’s unmistakable light. It was fortified, not with a wall, but with the strength that comes from moral clarity, the rule of law and the unwavering demand for truth. It prospered from its embrace of free markets, equal opportunity for all and the celebration of human aspiration.
Sadly, today, President Trump would beat Ronald W. Reagan, head-to-head, in a Republican primary — and I’m not sure it would be close.
Republicans, do you care that Ronald Reagan would no longer be welcome in Donald Trump’s Republican Party? According to Gallup, 89% of my fellow Republicans are just fine with this reality, as they approve of the president's job performance. In the space of a generation, have 89% of Republicans really forgotten the powerful force for good that was the Reagan Revolution? Perhaps even more disheartening, this same 89% are content, if not intent, on driving away anyone not fully on board on the Trump Train, branding them traitors to America in the process.
Well,” as Reagan would begin, to my fellow Republicans, to those who hate me because of what I did, to those who consider me a RINO or worse, I say to you: You need me, and people like me. Proud conservatives. Proud Reagan Republicans. Even more so, President Trump and Congressional Republicans need people like me to survive both the midterms and in 2020. The electoral math is that simple. “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.” Or, has hate already won, and Reagan is lost?

Democrats May Be Poised to Take Back Multiple Governorships

The Democrat goal: electing more Ralph Northams to governorship's across America. 
The far left of the Democrat Party - think Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren - has been taking it on the chin in many state level primaries where moderate, common sense approach Democrats have been winning the primary elections.  Elections, after all are about WINNING as opposed to anointing one's perfect candidate or staying home in a huff if one's preferred candidate doesn't win the Party nomination.  This concept was lost by many in 2016 and, as a result, we have the utterly foul and toxic Trump/Pence regime in the White House.  In the run up to the 2018 midterm elections - as was the case in Virginia in 2027 where the more moderate candidate won the primary and went on to win the general election - moderate Democrats who can appeal to independents and even moderate Republicans sickened by Trump's lies and moral bankruptcy  are winning gubernatorial nominations.  If they win in November, such successes could cause major problems for the GOP as Democrat governors are poised to block Republican gerrymandering of districts.  The long term impact could be significant.  Yes, Democrats need to retake control of Congress, but they also need to win back governorship's.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the Democrat opportunity.  Here are highlights:

The backlash against President Trump and the steady rightward journey of the Republican Party could sharply shift the distribution of political power in state capitals across the nation in this fall’s elections. And because reapportionment is coming, this could change the contours of American politics for more than a decade.
Strengthening that possibility is the success of pragmatic Democrats in gubernatorial primaries who are stressing issues that appeal simultaneously to the center and the left.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin Democrats chose Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent, to face two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker. In Minnesota, Democrats nominated Rep. Tim Walz to defend his party’s hold on the state’s governorship. Both Evers and Walz advance progressive priorities in areas such as education and health care but cannot be cast as ideologues.
Democratic gubernatorial nominees are similarly positioned in Ohio, Iowa and Michigan, all pickup opportunities.
At the same time, Trump’s dominance of the Republican primary electorate and the long-term flight of moderates from an increasingly conservative party have led to victories by right-wing candidates who may not be attractive to a broader electorate.
One of Tuesday’s headline results was the defeat of former governor Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota by Trump-supporting Jeff Johnson, a county commissioner who castigated Pawlenty for criticizing Trump toward the end of the 2016 campaign following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape.
And in Kansas on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer finally conceded the GOP primary race to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, after a week of tallying ballots. Kobach is a Trump loyalist with far-right views on immigration and restricting access to voting. Kobach’s victory greatly increases the chances of the Democrats’ nominee, state Sen. Laura Kelly. The Cook Political Report immediately reclassified the race as a toss-up in a traditionally Republican state.
Like many Democrats, Kelly is focusing on schools. It’s an issue with particular power in Kansas. Former governor Sam Brownback (R) — he left office before his term was out — had reduced education spending to pay for large tax cuts.
The program became so unpopular that it was rolled back on a bipartisan vote in the legislature, and Kelly has targeted the Brownback plan (she calls it his “big tax-cut experiment”) in her advertising. “Sam Brownback’s massive education cuts weren’t numbers on a spreadsheet,” she says. “They were an attack on who we are as Kansans.”
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, says Kansas offers a particularly dramatic example of what is happening in many other Republican-led states. “Everyone knows about the Trump effect, but the untold story is Republican governors going on ideological tears in their states,” Inslee said in a telephone interview. “You have a one-two punch to Republican prospects both from the White House and from the damage that’s been wrought out of the statehouses.”
11 of the Republicans’ 26 governorships at stake this year appear vulnerable. Illinois and New Mexico already lean Democratic, and seven others are toss-ups. These include the powerhouse states of Florida, Michigan and Ohio. The GOP will also have to struggle to hold on to Wisconsin and Georgia.
The governments elected this year will be key to drawing congressional and state legislative district lines after the 2020 Census. So even Republicans who demonstrated slavish loyalty to Trump to win primaries are likely to regret his presidency (and their own ideological enthusiasms) if 2018 leads to a statehouse catastrophe. They have been playing with fire, and it could consume them.
One can only hope that these pragmatic Democrats replicate the ground game used by Ralph Northam in 2017.  While defeating Republican gubernatorial candidates is the goal, defeating the by significant margins would be even sweeter - and would send terror through the GOP.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Trump/GOP Seek to Cut Veterans Health Care

One of the great political myths is that Republicans are more supportive of America's military and veterans than Democrats.   In reality, its the opposite with the GOP and Trump Hell bent to slash funding for everything ranging from Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security to veterans health care benefits - calls all the more urgent give the Trump/GOP $1.5 trillion tax cut give away to the very wealthy and large corporations.  Average working Americans and veterans simply do not count in today's GOP.  Yes, one hears Republicans bloviating about "supporting our troops" and waiving the flag and bashing "unpatriotic" NFL players, but where the rubber hits the road, their actions do not reflect the talking points they toss out.  As the saying goes, talk is cheap.  Actions are what count.  As a piece in New York Magazine notes, a Trump/GOP effort is underway to cut veterans health care benefits under the guise of addressing the ballooning budget deficit - the deficit that is ballooning in no small part due to the Trump/GOP tax cuts - cuts that have not trickled down in any significant way to working Americans or small businesses. Sadly, rather than "do their homework" and discover the truth, many Republican "friends" simply allow themselves to be taken in by GOP ruses and fail to ferret out the facts.  Here are highlights on the threat to veterans benefits:  
Last year, the Trump administration insisted that its regressive tax cuts were so important, it was worth adding $1.5 trillion to the national debt to ensure their passage. Now, the White House is warning Congress that the United States cannot afford to add $1.6 billion to the deficit to expand health-care options for veterans.
In a letter Monday, the Trump administration demanded that lawmakers fund a popular veterans’ health-care program — which allows former troops to spend public funds on private doctors and hospitals — with cuts to other parts of the budget. Democrats, and some top Senate Republicans, prefer to raise the current caps on discretionary spending instead.
The case for the latter option is straightforward. Congressional spending falls into two categories: mandatory (funding for programs like Social Security, which increases automatically as more Americans qualify for benefits) and discretionary (spending that Congress must actively renew). When Congress passed its omnibus budget bill back in March, the private veterans’ health-care program was on the mandatory side of the ledger. Thus, although lawmakers knew that federal spending on the program was going to increase, they didn’t have to account for its cost when setting a discretionary budget.
But last month, president Trump signed a law that reorganized veterans’ health care, and shifted funding for the private program into the discretionary column. This did not significantly increase the overall cost of domestic spending — but it did lift the price tag on the discretionary budget above previously set caps. Which is to say: It produced a budget shortfall that wasn’t a product of changes in fiscal reality, so much as in accounting practices.
Relitigating funding levels for various domestic programs — which Congress had found consensus on just months ago — is not a fight that most lawmakers want to have.
And it’s hard to see why the White House does. The administration’s desire to repent for its sins against fiscal responsibility is understandable enough (even if their gesture is roughly akin to a serial arsonist buying a single brownie from a local fire department’s bake sale). But why they would want to center their performance of deficit hawkery on the issue of veterans’ health care is baffling.
Yes, their official position is that the program must be funded with reductions in other appropriations. But the administration has already established that it believes corporate tax cuts are so important, they’re worth enacting at any fiscal cost. Given that context, it shouldn’t be difficult for Democrats to paint the White House’s current hard line on deficits as a tacit admission that it sees caring for America’s retired troops as less important than increasing corporate America’s allowance.

With a family member still dealing with the consequences of injuries suffered in Afghanistan, I know that these veterans' benefits are crucial.  Sadly, flag waving Republicans and the foul individual in the White House do not - or perhaps they simply do not care about "little people" - people like veterans. 

Trump’s (and the Right's) Dangerous Dehumanization of the "Other"

Throughout history one of the tools of autocrats and those seeking to commit genocide has been to dehumanize those disliked or inconveniently in the way o,f grandiose plans is to depict them as "other" and less than human.  America has a great deal of experience with this effort in its past, ranging from dehumanizing Native Americans as "savages" and heathens" to consistently dehumanizing blacks subjected to slavery as being "less intelligent" and "brutes" or worse, including the myth that black males sought to sexually violate white women.  More recently, American Christofascists have employed similar tactics against gays and have even gone so far as to recycle Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda and merely replace the word "Jews" with "gays" or "homosexuals."  Muslims have been similarly targeted and depicted as would be terrorists.    Donald Trump has taken this dehumanization campaign to new heights, getting pointers no doubt from some of the Christofascists to whom he has sold his soul (assuming, of course, he has one).  Kathleen Parker is on point - and off the GOP reservation - in a column condemning Trump's dehumanization efforts.  Here are highlights:
No sooner had I ordered the 2011 book “Less Than Human” for a late-summer read than President Trump called Omarosa Manigault Newman a “dog” and a “lowlife.” Those two slurs fit nicely into author David Livingstone Smith’s philosophical study of man’s capacity to inflict cruelty by first dehumanizing the “other.”
Trump’s personal template is familiar. He likes someone, then doesn’t, then reduces the object of his scorn to something less than human. The mononymously known Omarosa, whose friendship with Trump began when she appeared on “The Apprentice,” was fired last year from her job as a White House aide.
During the past few days, she has released secretly taped recordings of her firing as well as a later conversation with Trump, published a tell-all account of her time in the White House and told MSNBC’s Chris Matthewsthat she’s willing to cooperate with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

All things considered, it sounds as if Trump and Omarosa may deserve each other. . . . Whatever her motivations, Omarosa seems set on exposing Trump as a racist. (Congratulations, Omarosa, you’re the last to know. He’s also a misogynist.) Trump may not be an n-word-hurling racist, though Omarosa claims to know of a tape from his reality-show days when he used the term. (Trump denies having used the epithet. But his pattern of speaking about African Americans, among others not of his race or ethnicity, suggests that racism taints his mental processes.)

It’s fair to say that most whites who are racist usually don’t think they are. This is because they don’t use the n-word or actively seek to bring harm to nonwhites. But racism is a pernicious, passive plague. You don’t have to burn crosses in people’s yards. All you have to do is see African Americans (or Asians or Latinos) in stereotypically demeaning ways. Thus, when Trump became angry with Omarosa, he didn’t say she was a disgruntled former employee — or make some other dismissively neutral comment. 
Directing such vitriol toward any woman is repellent. But what makes the [Trump's] president’s remarks especially repugnant is that they were aimed at a minority woman and followed a spate of similar insults targeting African Americans: He recently said that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has a low IQ, “somewhere in the mid-60s.” In a twofer on Aug. 3, he attacked both CNN anchor Don Lemon and Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, tweeting: “Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do.”

It’s a simple matter of fact that certain insults have greater or lesser impact when applied to particular individuals or groups of people. Comparing Mitt Romney or Stephen K. Bannon to a dog, as Trump previously did, obviously isn’t the same as calling a black woman a dog. Questioning the intelligence of African Americans is especially blistering.
[Trump] He’s the president of the United States and should be able to muzzle his schoolyard impulses. He should also know that dehumanization — or “othering,” to use current vernacular — leads to marginalization, which can lead to cruelty (say, separating young migrant children from their parents), which can lead to far worse.
As Smith explains in his book, it’s much easier to hurt, maim or kill another when you no longer see them as quite human. World history’s catalogue of atrocities confirms this. Which is why no one living today should be comfortable with the language of dehumanization, no matter how relatively minor the degree.
Sadly, the core of Trump's base, in my opinion, are just as racist as he is.  True, most don't burn crosses in the yards of blacks, but they go along - some enthusiastically - with Trump's racism and misogyny. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Perverted Values of the Roman Catholic Church Hierarchy

Today the much anticipated grand jury report into six of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania was finally released and it was damning.  Sex abuse crimes against at least 1000 some victims - many belief the true numbers is in to the thousands - by over 300 priests were systematically covered up by bishops who maintained secret archives and files that thankfully were subpoenaed by the grand jury.  Over 500,000 church documents were reviewed that showed the clear and deliberate cover ups of crimes against children and youths.  Not surprisingly, its the same pattern that was seen in the Archdiocese of Boston, dioceses after diocese in Ireland, across dioceses in Australia and Chile and pretty much everywhere across the globe.  

Yet what are Catholic bishops lamenting?  Certainly not the victims of large scale sex abuse crimes.  Rather, as my Google search agent revealed, in Costa Rica, the Catholic News Agency is reporting on Catholic bishops are decrying that country's ruling legalizing same sex civil marriage.  Per the Indianapolis StarRoncalli High School in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, is obsessed with firing a long time guidance counselor after it was discovered she is married to a woman.  Meanwhile, The Guardian is reporting that a LGBT Catholic group has been denied permission for a vendor stall at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which Pope Francis is attending on August 25th.  

What can one expect in the wake of the release of the damning Pennsylvania grand jury report.?  More crocodile tears and disingenuous apologies and lamentations of regret even as nothing is done to punish or remove from office the bishops and cardinals that engaged in the cover ups of sex crimes against children and youths.   It is little wonder that younger generations are walking away from Catholicism in droves.  And it is not just the younger generation (many of whom are not having their children baptized at all).  Not long ago, the last member of my extended family who had remained a Catholic Church member walked away.   Many older generations are leaving as well either out of disgust for the Hierarchy's moral bankruptcy or the Hierarchy's continued anti-gay and anti-contraception jihads.  Here are excerpts from the Allentown Morning Call about the grand jury report:
A scathing grand jury report released Tuesday reveals accusations of sexual abuse against 301 priests — 37 from the Allentown Diocese — whose actions went unchecked for decades in dioceses across Pennsylvania, including Allentown.
Instead of reporting pedophiles, dioceses routinely shuffled them from parish to parish, enabling them to prey upon new victims, the document shows. The statewide grand jury, launched by former Attorney General Kathleen Kane, spent two years on the most exhaustive investigation of the church taken on by a state. It covered allegations in the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses, which collectively minister to more than 1.7 million Catholics.
Among those cited as enablers was Allentown’s bishop, Alfred Schlert, who played a role in the diocese’s handling of complaints when he was vicar general under Bishop Edward Cullen. Shapiro pointed out that Schlert was among those promoted in the years since he handled abuse allegations. The 23 members of the grand jury took testimony from dozens of witnesses. But it was in the church’s own files — more than half a million pages of internal diocesan documents in “secret archives” — that the grand jury found the names of more than a thousand children who were victimized, most of them boys.
“We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands,” the report noted.
Shapiro said the abuse was “systematically covered up by church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.” He said those officials weaponized the faith, using it against victims and to protect the institution at all cost. Shapiro highlighted the case of the Rev. Thomas D. Skotek, who sexually assaulted a girl in the Scranton Diocese while he was pastor of St. Casimir in Freeland in the 1980s and then aided her in getting an abortion when she became pregnant. Bishop James C. Timlin, then head of the diocese, wrote a letter to Skotek informing him that he would be sent for treatment, adding: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief. … Please be assured that I am most willing to do whatever I can to help.” That letter, Shapiro said, was in the diocese’s files.
Arthur Long, a Harrisburg Diocese priest at the time, admitted to a sexual relationship with four or five girls, telling a church official, “God wants us to express our love for each other in this way.”
And in graphic detail, Shapiro summarized an allegation against Monsignor Thomas Benestad, former pastor of Notre Dame of Bethlehem and St. Francis of Assisi in Allentown, who is accused of sexually abusing a boy for two years beginning when the child was 9 and taking catechism classes at St. Bernard's. A nun brought the boy to Benestad because he had worn shorts to class, which was against the rules. Benestad, the report says, told the boy to get on his knees and pray. The priest then forced the boy to perform oral sex on him. And afterward, washed the child’s mouth out with holy water, the report says. Benestad later retired and moved to Florida.
Among the most tragic cases was that of “Joey B,” who was so severely sexually assaulted by the Rev. Edward Graff in the Allentown Diocese that he injured his back and later became addicted to painkillers and overdosed. Before his death, Joey wrote, "Father Graff did more than rape me. He killed my potential.”
Shapiro said the investigation reveals that law enforcement as well as church officials failed to protect children. The “coverup,” he said, “was sophisticated.” There have been other reports about child sex abuse in the Catholic church, he said, but never on this scale.
"They claim to have changed their ways. They claim to have put appropriate safeguards in place," Shapiro said of the dioceses. "Statements are one thing. The proof of their claims will be if they support the grand jury recommendations."
Mitchell Garabedian, who represented many of the Boston victims and was featured in the movie “Spotlight,” said those who spoke up about being abused should be commended for having the courage to come forward. He added that the report, “lays out the standard blueprint of dishonesty, immorality, criminality and coverup of the Catholic Church which has been previously revealed in Boston and archdioceses and dioceses worldwide.”  He called the Vatican “complicit in the coverup.”
Since the Vatican has proven itself incapable of enacting change and punishing bishops and cardinals involved in cover ups, three things will have to take place before any real change occurs in the sick  priorities of the Vatican and Church hierarchy: (i) criminal prosecutions and imprisonment of guilty bishops and cardinals, (ii) a mass exodus of Church members, and (iii) massive declines in financial contributions to the Church, especially in America, one of the main financial supporters of the Vatican worldwide.  The Catholic Church may be growing in poor and uneducated areas of Africa, but those regions do not have money to support the bloated Church bureaucracy.   If you are Catholic and want to see meaningful change, walk away and stop writing checks to your local parish and diocesan appeals.