Saturday, January 12, 2019

More Saturday Male Beauty

Are the Walls Closing on Bernie Sanders?

I will be honest, and state for the record that I do not want Bernie Sanders, a Democrat only when convenient for himself, to mount a 2020 presidential campaign.  I'm not alone in this opinion.  Indeed, recently, the Barrie-Montpelier, Vermont Times Argus ran a main editorial begging Bernie Sanders NOT to run for the White House in 2020.  Here are some highlights:
Bernie Sanders should not run for president. In fact, we beg him not to. That is an unfavorable opinion, especially among most Vermonters and progressives who support the platform that has come to define him. But at this point, there are more things about another Sanders run at the White House that concern us than excite us.
We fear a Sanders run risks dividing the well-fractured Democratic Party, and could lead to another split in the 2020 presidential vote. There is too much at stake to take that gamble. If we are going to maintain a two-party system, the mandate needs to be a clear one. There is strength in numbers, and if anything has been shown in recent years, it is that unless tallies are overwhelming, there can always be questions or challenges raised over what “vote totals” really mean: popular vote vs. Electoral College results.
For us, this comes down to principle over ego. It is one thing to start a revolution, but at a certain point you need to know when to step out of the way and let others carry the water for you.
[T]here have been progressive candidates, many of whom have been running under Sanders’ “revolution” banner (and with his endorsement) who are spreading the tenets of Sanders’ decades-old agenda: Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; reversing climate change; creating worker co-ops; growing the trade-union movement; raising the minimum wage; pay equity for women workers; trade policies that benefit American workers; making college affordable for all; taking on Wall Street; health care as a human right; protecting the most vulnerable Americans; and tax reform.
As a platform, it is massive. As a candidate, Sanders is exhausting.
[H]is personality is abrasive. He is known to be difficult to work with. The 77-year-old can be bombastic and prickly. He can be dismissive and rude in his arrogance. You are either with Bernie Sanders or you are not.
That no-nonsense approach and his politics are endearing to many. But it is as extreme, on the other end of the spectrum in its policy elbow-throwing and idealism, as what we face today from the right in their standard bearer, Donald Trump.
Taken together — ego, electoral math, a tired message and a prickly media darling — Sanders is convincing himself that he’s the person who can win the White House in 2020. We are not convinced he should.

Ouch!!  Then there are the swirling allegations of sexual improprieties  surrounding Sanders' 2016 campaign that could alienate women voters.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at this other troubling aspect of a potential 2020 run.  Here are highlights:
As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) weighs a possible second bid for the White House, his political standing has grown shakier amidst an account of alleged sexual assault and accounts of alleged misconduct by staffers on his 2016 campaign.
Some former aides to that campaign had already balked at joining another run. And while outside groups are actively drafting him again—with meetings scheduled across the country this weekend—Sanders remains notably behind some of his Senate colleagues in the process of launching or preparing to launch a presidential bid. Even some of his former aides acknowledge the worsening political conditions.
“I think he still runs and I do think it’s going to be a lot harder,” a former staffer, who had decided not to return to the campaign prior to the surfacing of any of the allegations, told The Daily Beast.
For weeks, former staffers had been having private conversations about allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted advances on female staffers by Robert Becker, the head of Sanders’ Iowa operation. Those conversations primarily centered around ways to ensure that another bid didn’t bring the same problems as the previous one, including naming the 2016 bad actors and establishing a better structure for dealing with any such claims in a 2020 campaign.
On Thursday, a Politico story aired some of those claims about Becker, who has denied them, including allegations of forcible kissing, ogling prospective hires and a $30,000 settlement stemming from a federal discrimination complaint.
Masha Mendieta, a member of Sanders’ 2016 Latino outreach team . . . . said she was upset that the women making accusations hadn’t yet heard directly from the senator or his team. Last month, she had penned a Medium post expressing outrage that another 2016 campaign alum, Arturo Carmona, had been photographed at a Sanders Institute gathering in Vermont. Mendieta had accused Carmona, who ran for Congress in a special election, of sexual harassment, an allegation that he has denied.
Mendieta and another staffer also said that they had concerns about Rich Pelletier, Sanders’ former national field director, remaining in the senator’s political orbit. The New York Times reported that Pelletier allegedly failed to act swiftly after Giulianna Di Lauro, a Latino outreach strategist on the ‘16 campaign, complained to him of harassment by a campaign surrogate in Nevada.
Additionally, Jeff Weaver, the former campaign manager, said this week that he will not reprise his role should Sanders run again in 2020. The decision had been previously in the works and was not in response to the surfacing of harassment and assault allegations, sources said. But Weaver did acknowledged that a future prospective campaign needed more diversity.
“Was it too male? Yes. Was it too white? Yes,” he told The New York Times. “Would this be a priority to remedy on any future campaign? Definitely, and we share deeply in the urgency for all of us to make change.”
I support many of the policies Sanders talks about, but I simply do not believe he can win in 2020.  Thus, the question is whether Sanders will put the best interests of the policies he espouses first or will he put his ego ahead of them?  I hope it is not the latter.  The Democrats MUST win in 2020.

Welcome to Act III of America's Tragedy

An America tragedy began on November 8, 2016, when an unfit, malignant narcissist won roughly 70,000 more votes spread over three states despite losing the popular vote by 3 million votes.  The tragedy was made cemented when the Electoral College certified Trump's fluke win, ignoring the intent of the Founding Fathers that electors protect the nation from electing an individual who was demonstratively unfit for office and dangerous to national security.  Since that day, the nation has been gripped in an ongoing tragedy that is only intensifying as Vichy Republicans continue to support a would be despot much as the Vichy French collaborated with their Nazi overloads during WWII.  With a large part of the federal government shutdown due to a tyrannical temper tantrum, the nation is moving into Act III, with the growing possibility of a constitutional crisis exploding any day.  Many saw this disaster on the horizon from moment the result were clear on the morning of November 9, 2016.  The question now is whether constitutional democracy will survive.  Andrew Sullivan reviews the growing tragedy and threat to American democracy.  Here are excerpts:   
When is the moment we can say that Trump has clearly gone over the line in erasing democratic and constitutional restraints on his personal power?  I’d say declaring a national emergency when there isn’t one to fund a project he can’t get through Congress pretty obviously qualifies. Wouldn’t you?
He couldn’t manage to get his wall funded when his own party controlled the entire government. He even turned down a bipartisan offer to build a “wall” in return for a path to citizenship for Dreamers last year, because he wanted a reduction in legal immigration as well. He petulantly refuses to accept greater funding for border control and immigration enforcement if his symbolic wall isn’t part of the package. He says he intends to use the military to do what a civilian border force is constitutionally designed for. He even intends to seize private land in order to construct the Great Wall of America, using a military version of “eminent domain.”
His benchmark for when an emergency begins? When Nancy Pelosi refuses to budge. Which is proof that this “emergency” is pulled out of his giant, shapeless ass.
And for all this, he has shut down much of the federal government as leverage to get his way, jeopardizing public safety and health, disrupting the lives (and now paychecks) of millions.
The words he has used to justify all of this are an assault on liberal democratic norms and the rule of law. Emergency powers do exist in the event of a national security crisis — but, as David French has noted, they only apply in an actual national emergency that “may require” the use of the military and even then only for “already authorized” construction projects “essential” to “national defense.” These laws were designed to restrain the executive through the law, not to give him carte blanche to appropriate funds Congress has designated otherwise. The laws were never designed to enable [Trump] the president to do things the Congress had never authorized (the 2006 funds for border fencing have already been used up), and which the Congress actively, indeed strongly, opposes.
There is indeed a crisis at the border — caused by a big increase in the numbers of families with children from Central America applying for asylum. But they are not trying to evade a wall, and even if they were, you couldn’t build one fast enough to stop them. Regular economic migration from Mexico is way down. The overwhelming majority of drugs come through routine ports of entry, not the open border, or, like fentanyl, through the mail from China. Almost everything [Trump] the president has said about all of this is a lie . . . . He just wants his goddamn wall, and he will shut down the government and violate the Constitution if he cannot get it. I’m not against fortifying the southern border. I would have given the man his funds to start his beloved wall a long time ago, as part of a package that would also provide much more funding for immigration courts, detention facilities, more judges, and a path to citizenship for so many caught in the horrible DACA limbo. It’s also vital to see this in a broader context. The Executive branch has been getting more and more powerful and unilateral for a long time, through Bush’s torture program up to Obama’s unconstitutional moves with respect to DACA. But Obama resorted to that in part because tribalism had spiraled, especially on the right, and what should have been complicated but manageable compromises became impossible. Our system has broken down. The Congress is effectively not functioning, elections merely rearrange the tribal deadlock, and reasoned discourse has been tweeted out of existence in the wider public space. This democracy has no effective means to govern itself, except through bitter paralysis or executive fiat.
Now we’ve added an instinctive tyrant to this equation, and the last two years have been blinking bright red for constitutional corrosion and collapse.
It was bad enough when he was fighting his own party, his own Cabinet, and all of our allies. Now he’s lost the House and fired everyone who disagreed with him in his own Cabinet. He runs the country by impulsive, often contradictory diktat, and grips other tyrants— from MBS and Sisi to Putin and Bolsonaro — more closely to his chest. With the Mueller report pending, a docile new attorney general in the wings, and a majority on the Supreme Court inclined to give the executive the benefit of the doubt, we are about to enter Act III of this tragedy.
We all knew this was coming. Our liberal democracy is in abeyance. We now wait to see what the replacement will be. It could come sooner than we think.
Be very, very afraid.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

FBI Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Is a Russian Agent

While Donald Trump continues to bleat (and likely lie) that there was no collusion with Russia by himself or his campaign, the New York Times is reporting that the FBI was so concerned with what security officials were seeing that it opened an investigation of whether Trump was in fact working for Russia - a concern that every patriotic and sane American should continue to have as Trump destroys relations with allies, continues a government shut down that is costing the economy over $1 billion per week, and has created trade wars wreaking havoc on portions of the economy. All of this is  a dream come true for Vladimir Putin who seemingly pictures himself as Russia's once and future tsar (Putin is actively rehabilitating Russia's last imperial family to the delight of the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy). In addition to his efforts to seemingly fulfill Russian's objectives of harming America's standing in the world, one thing about Trump's behavior doesn't ring true: if he were innocent, he should want the investigation to be completed and clear his name.  Instead he wants to kill, strongly suggesting he has something to hide.  Here are highlights from the Times piece:
In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by [Trump's] the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether [Trump's] the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.
Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But [Trump's] the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, . . . .
The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.
If [Trump] the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017.
No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials. An F.B.I. spokeswoman and a spokesman for the special counsel’s office both declined to comment.
The F.B.I. conducts two types of inquiries, criminal and counterintelligence investigations. Unlike criminal investigations, which are typically aimed at solving a crime and can result in arrests and convictions, counterintelligence inquiries are generally fact-finding missions to understand what a foreign power is doing and to stop any anti-American activity, like thefts of United States government secrets or covert efforts to influence policy. . . .
Trump had caught the attention of F.B.I. counterintelligence agents when he called on Russia during a campaign news conference in July 2016 to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump had refused to criticize Russia on the campaign trail, praising President Vladimir V. Putin. And investigators had watched with alarm as the Republican Party softened its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia.
In the months before the 2016 election, the F.B.I. was also already investigating four of Mr. Trump’s associates over their ties to Russia. The constellation of events disquieted F.B.I. officials who were simultaneously watching as Russia’s campaign unfolded to undermine the presidential election by exploiting existing divisions among Americans.
“In the Russian Federation and in President Putin himself, you have an individual whose aim is to disrupt the Western alliance and whose aim is to make Western democracy more fractious in order to weaken our ability, America’s ability and the West’s ability to spread our democratic ideals,” Lisa Page, a former bureau lawyer, told House investigators in private testimony reviewed by The Times.
“That’s the goal, to make us less of a moral authority to spread democratic values,” she added. Parts of her testimony were first reported by The Epoch Times.
And when a newly inaugurated Mr. Trump sought a loyalty pledge from Mr. Comey and later asked that he end an investigation into the president’s national security adviser, the requests set off discussions among F.B.I. officials about opening an inquiry into whether Mr. Trump had tried to obstruct that case.
After Mr. Comey was fired on May 9, 2017, two more of Mr. Trump’s actions prompted them to quickly abandon those reservations.
The first was a letter Mr. Trump wanted to send to Mr. Comey about his firing, but never did, in which he mentioned the Russia investigation. In the letter, Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Comey for previously telling him he was not a subject of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation.
The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interview two days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry.

Many involved in the case viewed Russia as the chief threat to American democratic values.  “With respect to Western ideals and who it is and what it is we stand for as Americans, Russia poses the most dangerous threat to that way of life,” Ms. Page told investigators for a joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committee investigation into Moscow’s election interference.
F.B.I. officials viewed their decision to move quickly as validated when a comment [Trump] the president made to visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey was revealed days later.  “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Someone innocent does not behavior the way Trump acted and continues to act. Moreover, he continues to further Putin's strategic objectives. Treason is perhaps the best description.  And yes, I delete all references to Trump as "president" because it degrades the office to use the term in in conjunction with Trump's name.

Friday, January 11, 2019

More Friday Male Beauty

Shutdown Is Pushing Farm Country to Breaking Point

Rural areas predominantly voted for Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, and now the chickens are coming home to roost as farming communities find themselves reeling as the Trump forced government shutdown grinds on.  Not that Trump has the slightest empathy for those being harmed since his sole concern is to be viewed as "winning" by his despicable base.  Yes, in many cases these voters brought their misfortunes upon themselves by voting for an individual utterly unfit to occupy the White House, but I do worry about the children and youths bearing the cost of their elders' bigotry and racism.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the spreading financial pain being experienced in farm country where some are set to default on mortgages or not receive payments key to their financial survival.  Here are article highlights:
In Georgia, a pecan farmer lost out on his chance to buy his first orchard. The local Farm Service Agency office that would have processed his loan application was shut down.
In Wisconsin’s dairy country, a 55-year-old woman sat inside her new dream home, worried she would not be able to pay her mortgage. Her loan had come from an Agriculture Department program for low-income residents in rural areas, but all of the account information she needed to make her first payment was locked away in an empty government office.
And in upstate New York, Pam Moore was feeding hay to her black-and-white cows at a small dairy that tottered on the brink of ruin . . . .  their last lifeline was an emergency federal farm loan. But the money had been derailed by the government shutdown.
Farm country has stood by President Trump, even as farmers have strained under two years of slumping incomes and billions in losses from his trade wars. But as the government shutdown now drags into a third week, some farmers say the loss of crucial loans, payments and other services has pushed them — and their support — to a breaking point.
While many rural conservatives may loathe the idea of Big Government, farmers and the federal government are welded together by dozens of programs and billions of dollars in spending.
Now, farmers and farm groups say that federal crop payments have stopped flowing. Farmers cannot get federally backed operating loans to buy seed for their spring planting, or feed for their livestock.
“This is real,” said Jeff Witte, president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and New Mexico’s agriculture secretary. “You had farmers who were in the process of closing a loan or getting an operating loan. Now there’s nobody there to service those.”
All week, Joe Schroeder has been listening to shutdown stories pouring into Farm Aid’s hotline. There was the cotton farmer who could not get disaster assistance to help him recover from Hurricane Michael. The woman in her 90s facing foreclosure on her family farm. The dairy farmer trying to make one last attempt to renegotiate her loan with the Farm Service Agency.  “You cannot reach anybody,” Mr. Schroeder said.
Many farmers, including David Nunnery, 59, of Pike County, Miss., have stayed unflinchingly loyal to Mr. Trump and his demands for $5.7 billion for a border wall, even as the shutdown threatens their livelihood.  “I may lose the farm, but I strongly feel we need some border security,” Mr. Nunnery said.
But Davinder Singh, 41, the Georgia pecan farmer, said the border wall was not worth the price he had already paid — losing out on the chance to finally buy his own orchard instead of working other people’s land.
States like Wisconsin, which lost at least 638 dairy farms last year, are particularly vulnerable.  The new farm bill passed in December contained programs to help dairy farmers weather swings in the market, and to help farmers struggling with stress and depression get mental health services. But those programs cannot be put in effect during the shutdown, said Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin.
“We’re being played the stooge,” he said.
In New York’s farming communities, the shutdown is heaping additional pain onto farmers after a year of tariff losses, destructive weather and labor shortages because of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdowns.
In Ovid, N.Y., it has left John Myer seething at Mr. Trump as he waits for at least $15,000 owed to him under the trade bailout. . . . “You could hardly call it a political stunt,” said Mr. Myer, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “It’s a personal power stance because he doesn’t really care about anything, I don’t think, besides himself.”
This week, as Ms. Moore, the struggling dairy farmer, sipped coffee at Sallie’s Country Kitchen on Main Street in the 2,500-person town of Nichols, she said it felt like her financial problems were closing in. . . . . With little money left for food, she went to a food pantry on Thursday afternoon, picking out frozen fruits and vegetables, pasta, bread, dried beans and some onions to cook when her 9-year-old grandson visited later in the week.
For those who voted for Trump and continue to support him, I will pull out my tiny violin.  For others who oppose Trump's toxic regime and are suffering harm, especially children, I do feel great sympathy, even as Trump cares nothing about their pain.  All that matters is "winning" to satiate his foul ego.  Not my president.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, January 10, 2019

As Trump Threatens "National Emergency" Declaration, Texans Brace for Eminent-Domain Battles

A historic church Trump wants to seize and level for his "wall."
Donald Trump - a malignant narcissist - claims he can inexpensively and expeditiously take privately owned land and build his wall so that his knuckle dragging, racist supporters will remain loyal to him and continue to believe his lies. In doing so, Trump lays bare his utter ignorance of what hundreds - if not thousands - of eminent domain lawsuits will entail.  Numerous eminent domain cases launched under George W. Bush's administration are still pending and unresolved. The other as yet unaddressed issue is how Trump thinks he can take tribal lands granted to tribes by treaties which grant the tribes and their lands as sovereign nations.  Expect litigation that will go on for decades at huge taxpayer cost.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at how Texans, including a Catholic diocese, are already preparing to fight Trump's attempt to seize their lands.  Here are excerpts:
Nayda Alvarez wants nothing to do with any border wall, but her acre of land in Rio Grande City, Tex., where she lives in a brown house along the dividing line between the United States and Mexico, has become of great interest to the U.S. government.

She, along with dozens of other landowners in the Rio Grande Valley, received surprise letters from the federal government in recent months, requests from officials who are seeking access to their properties for surveys, soil tests, equipment storage and other actions. It is, lawyers and experts say, the first step in the government trying to seize private property using the power of eminent domain — a contentious step that could put a lengthy legal wrinkle into President Trump’s plans to build hundreds of miles of wall, some of which passes through land like Alvarez’s.
Previous eminent domain attempts along the Texas border have led to more than a decade of court battles, some of which date to George W. Bush’s administration and have yet to be resolved. Many landowners, like Alvarez, are vowing to fight anew. Alvarez refused to sign over access to her property, which was handed down from her grandfather. . . . “I’m against the wall because I’m going to get evicted by it,” said Alvarez, a 47-year-old high school teacher. Efrén C. Olivares, racial and economic justice program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said approximately 100 landowners have received new government letters seeking access to private property for the purposes of determining how — and where — the wall could be built. The letters are the first of a two-step process the government uses in cases of eminent domain, lawyers involved in the cases and experts said. It first requests to survey the land, a step to which landowners often agree. If the land is suitable for the government’s intended use, it moves to take the land either by convincing the owners to sell or turning to the courts to force the sale. South Texas residents are familiar with this fight. When Bush signed legislation in 2006 known as the Secure Fence Act, authorizing hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, court battles quickly began between people in the region and the government.  But much of the land the Bush administration requested was already owned by the federal government, said Gerald S. Dickinson, an assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh who focuses on land use and constitutional law. The wall Trump wants to build would be different, he said. “If it’s going to be a contiguous wall across the entire southwest border, you’re talking about a massive land seizure of private property,” he said. Most people, he said, are not willing to voluntarily hand over their land, even with a fair market price, forcing the government to go to court to obtain it. “You’re talking about thousands and thousands of eminent domain proceedings that would have to run through federal district courts in Texas for the most part, but also places such as Arizona and New Mexico.” The Texas Civil Rights Project is now trying to let people know that they are not required to sign over access to their land. They are going door-to-door in some neighborhoods, letting people know their rights, and they are running digital ads and spots on local radio stations. They also plan to host town-hall style meetings. Trump has long defended using eminent domain claims, which he once invoked — unsuccessfully — in trying to force a New Jersey widow from her Atlantic City home, saying that “without eminent domain, you wouldn’t have any highways.” The Atlantic City Casino Redevelopment Authority sent the woman a notice offering her $250,000 for her property and threatened an eminent domain seizure. Trump was trying to build a limousine parking lot next to his Trump Plaza casino.  A New Jersey court ruled against Trump and the authority.
[A]according to a 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. “Gaining access rights and acquiring nonfederal property has delayed the completion of fence construction and may increase the cost beyond available funding,” the watchdog wrote, describing the act of taking over property as “a costly, time-consuming process.”
Those in court fighting the government include the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Tex., which is contesting a request to survey land that includes La Lomita chapel, a small church built more than 150 years ago where Mass, weddings and funerals are held and a Palm Sunday procession takes place each year. . . . . Taking the land to build a wall, McCord said, substantially burdens the exercise of religion, and the government hasn’t articulated a compelling reason it needs to build a wall there. Alvarez also is girding for a legal battle, ready to protect what is hers and to fight against what she believes is an unfair process. She feels as though politicians in Washington don’t understand the way of life in the Rio Grande Valley, where residents cross international boundaries regularly and ride four-wheelers in the woods along the border. And she does not want to leave her home.
“I think they assume we’re ignorant. . . . They’re threatening. They say, ‘You sign, or we’ll take it away,’ ” she said. “This is my house.”
The only fun aspect of this sad saga is that Trump is alienating Texas voters not to mention other "red states" where federal employees will be going without pay and facing financial ruin - e.g., both Texas and Utah have large IRS centers where employees are on furlough and going unpaid. And meanwhile, many federal court cases have ground to a halt including one where clients have sued the federal government.  Due to the shutdown, the government lawyers are asking for extensions and delays because their offices are closed. 

All of this so Trump can stroke his insatiable ego and posture for his foul and ignorant base of supporters. 

More Thursday Male Beauty

Shutdown’s Economic Damage: $1 Billion a Week

The current federal government shutdown derives from one thing only: Donald Trump's desperate desire to have a "win" to keep his racist, religiously extreme, white supremacist base loyal.  Nothing else really matters in Trump world - including the damage being done to federal workers and their families or the larger U.S. economy.  A majority f Americans recognize this reality and the question becomes one of when Mitch McConnell ceases his political fellatio of Trump and yields to demands of the American public and Republicans who are coming under growing pressure from angry constituents.  A piece in Politico looks at the growing economic cost of Trump's temper tantrum.  Here are excerpts:
As federal workers face the prospect of missed paychecks during the partial government shutdown, their financial reality is rippling into the broader economy.
The roughly 800,000 government employees who are either furloughed or working without pay will be forced to start slashing their consumer spending when paychecks don’t appear this week. Private-sector contractors and other workers tied to the government are already seeing damage from lost business.
And a hit to the nation’s financial standing is on the horizon with a warning from Fitch Ratings on Wednesday about downgrading the government’s credit rating if the shutdown persists.
Estimates from President Donald Trump’s chief economist peg the cost to the overall U.S. economy at about $1.2 billion for each week the shutdown persists.
The shutdown — now in its 19th day — could also cost the U.S. government more than a billion dollars in lost productivity for 350,000 workers who are forced to stay home.
The government will likely give back pay to furloughed workers in addition to those forced to perform their duties without pay during the partial shutdown. The Obama administration estimated that the payroll cost alone for the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013 cost $2.5 billion, not counting lost revenue from government entities like national parks that were unable to collect fees.
The shutdown comes at a time when the U.S. economic outlook was already highly uncertain.
Global growth is slowing, trade tensions are simmering, the effects of the Fed’s steady interest rate hikes are starting to take hold, and the manufacturing and housing sectors are showing some signs of weakness.
All those factors were already leading economists to predict slower growth in 2019 than last year, which still might fall short of Trump’s 3 percent goal.
The jobs number could be a lot weaker in January if the shutdown continues through next week, when the department conducts its payroll survey; most of the furloughed workers would be counted as unemployed.
Additionally, jobless claims of private contractors have probably already increased by as much as 15,000, according to Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan.
That all means monthly jobs could decline in January for the first time since 2010.

There's No Making the Catholic Church "Great Again"

The Roman Catholic Church is facing perhaps its greatest crisis since the Reformation in the wake of a never ending cascade of sexual abuse by clergy and cover ups by high ranking Church officials, some of whom engaged in abuse themselves. Recently, it was disclosed that Opus Dei, an extreme far right element in the Church, had paid a $1 million settlement in respect to one of its most visible priest in response to abuse allegations. Over a dozen state attorneys general are investigating clerical sexual abuse and Church cover ups in their states and bomb shell stories hit the press nearly daily (my Google search agent delivers numerous stories every day).  The response of the far right elements in the Church such as "Church Militant" - which would bring back the Spanish Inquisition if it could - is to call for a return to the the Latin mass and blaming gays for all of the sins of the Church.  They want to make the Church "great again" in the same blind and fraudulent way that Trump has convinced his white supremacist followers that he can take them back to a better time that never really existed. A piece in the National Catholic Reporter looks at the foolishness and dishonesty of this approach.  Here are highlights:

Despite political slogans to the contrary, there has never been a time when America was "great." The same thing could be said about the Roman Catholic Church.
There has never been a "great" time, a "golden age," a context in which the church was actually a "perfect society" or anything apart from what it always has been and remains: a pilgrim community of the baptized. It has always been simultaneously holy and sinful (a theme theologian Brian Flanagan takes up in his recent book Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church) because it is composed of imperfect, weak and ordinary human beings like you and me and everybody else.
While many Catholics, especially those in ecclesiastical leadership, have focused a lot of attention on the sanctity of the church over the centuries, the real sinfulness of the church can no longer be merely brushed off or avoided altogether. 
In the wake of the crises of faith and trust renewed by the revelations of the abuse and assault allegations against former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and witnessed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, women and men of faith have had to grapple with why they continue to identify as Catholic and what that identity means to them. And the responses have varied.
A lot of attention has been paid to those who have opted out of Catholicism entirely. . . . . I understand this decision and the feelings that precipitate such a serious choice. I, too, have had my own struggles with how to square my faith in the God of Jesus Christ and the church with the darkest and most-disturbing criminality of some of its leaders.
[S]ome Catholics have proposed constructive pathways and calls for change. Among these, I think increased lay leadership and ministerial oversight in numerous forms makes tremendous sense and its implementation is long overdue.
Others have suggested dramatic and, at times, unrealistic responses. While well-intentioned, calls for widespread episcopal resignations or even just that of Pope Francis alone do not adequately address the structural issues that were the conditions that make possible such egregious abuse, assault and cover-up. 
And still others have taken a different approach entirely. Which brings me to what we might call the ecclesial equivalent of the Trumpian rally cry to "Make America Great Again."
While not an overwhelming number, there is a small but vocal group of Catholics who have taken the latest revelations as an opportunity to suggest the source of the crises in the church are the theological and liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. This sort of conjecture is as incredible as those who claim gay clergy are the problem (a preposterous assertion that has been incontrovertibly disproven by scientific research).
What I find extremely disturbing with this sort of logic — and it is not limited to Roman Catholics, as one recent piece in The Times of London showed — are the ahistorical and untenable theological foundations it presupposes.
Change can be a terrifying prospect. So too is the realization that what so many of us generally presumed about the goodness, virtue and moral standing of our religious leaders might not be as accurate as we rightly hoped. But change in itself is not the problem and reactionary attitudes of yearning for a greater time that never was is also not the answer. The desire to return to what some see as past liturgical perfection, for example, reflects the fear of change in unfamiliar times seen today in broader society. It is a symptom of something more troubling: a desire for control presented as authentic reform.
There's no going back to this reverie of some past great church, because the only church that exists is the pilgrim one composed of all the baptized on a journey forward. The question for us this year is how exactly do we let the Holy Spirit lead us forward?

Rigid doctrine that ignores modern science and knowledge and condemnation of anyone who disagrees is not going to solve the current Church crisis.  Just as Trump's chanting MAGA is not going to sweep the nation back to the segregated and often brutal 1950's. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Why Paul Manafort's Information Sharing With Russian Agents is a Big Deal

Thanks to a redaction error by Paul Manafort’s legal counsel in a filing in the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference we now know that Manafort shared highly confidential internal polling data about the 2016 campaign with a Russian-linked operative.  Driving to work today Republican Senator James Langford of Oklahoma – who seeming loves every right wing cause and conspiracy theory – waived off this bombshell as nothing, trying to say that since Manafort had know the Russia-linked operative for years, the disclosure was just old friends talking. Sadly, Lankford embodies just how far Vichy Republicans are willing to close their eyes and more or less lie and betray the country.  A piece in CNN argues why this new information is a big deal.  Here are highlights: 
On Tuesday we learned -- thanks to a redaction error in a filing in the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference -- that Paul Manafort met with a Russian-linked operative named Konstantin Kilimnik during the course of the 2016 campaign. And in that meeting, according to special counsel Robert Mueller's office, Manafort discussed policies related to the Russia-Ukraine relationship and shared polling data about the 2016 campaign with Kilimnik.
That. Is. Huge. You'll remember that President Donald Trump's constant refrain when it comes to Manafort, who has already been convicted of a series of financial crimes related to his dealing with the Ukrainian government, is that any and all charges against him happened well before he entered Trump's orbit. . . . . Which, until we got a look at the accidentally unredacted material on Tuesday, was true! Except, not now. Manafort, according to the filings, had conversations with Kilimnik, who is suspected to be a member of the Russian intelligence organization, while he was serving as the head of Trump's campaign. (Manafort's official title was "campaign chairman" but functioned as campaign manager during his time with Trump.) Those conversations apparently came even as Russian officials were hacking into the email servers at the Democratic National Committee -- which led to a series of damaging leaks via the website WikiLeaks later in 2016.
 Not only that, but Manafort's legal team also acknowledges that he shared polling information with Kilimnik in those conversations, a fact that seems to make clear -- as if it needed to be made any more clear -- that this wasn't simply a social call between two old friends. House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff told CNN Wednesday that the revelation raises "profound questions about why all the secrecy, why all the lies. And most seriously, why is a campaign manager of a US presidential candidate providing campaign polling data to someone linked to a foreign adversary's intelligence agency?'' [M]ake no mistake: The Manafort filings on Tuesday do matter in a major way -- in that they rebut two central claims that Trump makes ad nauseam: 1)      All of Manafort's criminal activity and wrongdoing came years before he was formally involved in the Trump campaign
2)        There wasn't even the whiff of collusion between anyone in his campaign and the Russians.
 On that second point, it's not clear from the filings whether or not Mueller believes that the meetings and conversations between Manafort and Kilimnik constitute collusion to aid Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton between the Russians and Manafort. But given Manafort's role in the campaign, the timing of the meetings and the Russia hacking and the unanimous conclusion of the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, there's a whole lot of reasons to suspect at least the possibility of collusion. [Trump’s] constant lamentations about the probe's lack of material evidence are belied seemingly on a weekly basis these days by release -- accidental or purposeful -- of details of the Mueller investigation we didn't know before. What we learned on Tuesday puts Manafort back at the very center of all of this. Which is a very big deal given not only his prominent place in the Trump campaign but the fact that he was one of three top Trump aides in that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in which Russians had promised dirt on Clinton. Put simply: This latest Manafort news is a very big deal.

Evangelicals Lobby Against Anti-Lynching Law

Evangelical Christianity has become something truly foul and ugly.  The latest example? Liberty Counsel, a hate group masquerading as a "Christian" charity, is leading the charge in opposition to the “Justice for Victims of Lynching Act” that was introduced by the U. S. Senate's three black Senators.  Why the opposition?  Because the language of the proposed act includes LGBT victims (I would also suggest that given the racism of a majority of evangelicals, in my opinion, they support lynching in general).  A piece in LGBT Nation looks at this hate motivated effort by evangelicals.  Here are excerpts:
Proving once again that white evangelicals are no longer a religious group, but a political entity, one of the religious right’s most active organizations has announced they are lobbying against a proposed federal anti-lynching law.
Why? Because it includes LGBTQ people.
“The old saying is once that camel gets the nose in the tent, you can’t stop them from coming the rest of the way in,” Matt Staver, founder of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel, told the far right outlet OneNewsNow. “And this would be the first time that you would have in federal law mentioning gender identity and sexual orientation as part of this anti-lynching bill.”
Federal law already includes gender identity and sexual orientation in hate crimes protections.
Staver observes, “but this is a way to slip it in under a so-called anti-lynching bill, and to then to sort of circle the wagon and then go for the juggler at some time in the future.”
The proposed legislation passed the Senate in a rare unanimous vote last month. The “Justice for Victims of Lynching Act” was introduced by the chamber’s three black Senators: California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker.
The bill describes lynching as “the ultimate expression of racism in the United States.”
Staver says his organization is currently lobbying Congress members against the bill before it can pass the House of Representatives.
Liberty Counsel masquerades as a legal charity, but has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It has deep ties to other extremist religious right organizations.

Virginia's Professional Licensing Boards to End Conversion Therapy for Minors

In further confirmation that elections matter and every vote needs to be cast and counted, Virginia's professional licensing boards under Democrat Governor Ralph Northam plan to take steps to ban "ex-gay" conversion therapy for minors. Time will tell whether the General Assembly will take a further step and enact legislation making the ban permanent or whether Republicans will continue to prostitute themselves to The Family Foundation, a foul anti-hate group based in Richmond. As noted repeatedly on this blog, EVERY legitimate medical and mental health association - i.e., those not staffed by and funded by Christofascist quacks - condemns the practice.  The fraudulent nature of this "therapy" was spotlighted in the recent movie "Boy Erased."  Expect wailing and gnashing of teeth from the usual hate merchants and Christian Dominionist extremists.  Here are highlights from a piece in WUSA9-TV on this development:
As early as this month, Virginia’s professional licensing boards could take the first steps toward ending the practice of conversion therapy for minors in the state.
A workgroup of representatives from five professional boards – psychology, counseling, social work, nursing and medicine – convened in October to hash out regulations that would prohibit state-licensed members of their professions from providing therapy intended to change a person’s sexual orientation.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), is a practice – viewed by most mental health organizations as not just ineffective, but potentially harmful – that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, or at least to diminish what supporters call “unwanted same-sex attraction.” It is illegal to perform conversion therapy on minors in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and on anyone of any age in New York City.
Every major professional mental health organization in the country opposes conversion therapy; over the past two decades, all of them have released some version of a statement echoing the American Psychiatric Association, which said in 2013 that, “No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.”
The National Association of Social Workers says, “…no data demonstrate that reparative or conversion therapies are effective, and in fact they may be harmful.” The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that youth should “avoid any treatments that claim to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation.”
In Virginia, bills have been proposed for the past several years by state Sen. Scott Surovell and Del. Patrick Hope, both Democrats, to add the Commonwealth to the list of states banning conversion therapy for minors – the latest effort being Senate Bill 245, submitted in 2018. So far, no such legislation has been able to overcome opposition by Republican members of the legislature and conservative religious groups in the state – the latter of which say they believe banning conversion therapy is an infringement upon their religious liberty.
Another opponent of the bill, representing the Virginia Catholic Conference, said the organization feared outlawing conversion therapy for minors could put clergy who are also licensed therapists at risk of losing their license.
Dr. Herb Stewart, the Board of Psychology chairman, said he believes the five boards left that workgroup generally supportive of passing their own regulations banning the practice. Stewart said he’s heard the testimony from conversion therapy supporters, but believes a regulatory ban is the right move for Virginia.
“Some of these therapists are well-meaning. Some of them are driven much more by ideology,” Stewart said. “But the bottom line is, I think that it’s sufficiently harmful and clearly ineffective, and I think it’s the role of the state to come in and say it’s not OK. You can’t do that. Whether it’s peddling bad food or peddling snake oil or providing conversion therapy. I think it’s an important role for us to take, and I hope that we can move this forward.”
I would estimate that there are likely hundreds of adolescents who would undergo this harmful and ineffective intervention without change in regulation,” he said. “We also heard public comment at the conversion therapy work group stating that licensees were engaged in this work in Virginia."
Stewart said he anticipates the Board of Psychology, which will meet first of the five boards in 2019, will take up the issue at its quarterly meeting in January. If the board is in agreement, the members could adopt a notice of intended regulatory action (NOIRA), which would then begin a roughly 18-month process ending with the implementation of new regulation.
Virginia won’t be alone in looking at banning or regulating conversion therapy in 2019. Last month, Denver’s mayor and members of its city council announced a bill that would make it the first city in Colorado to ban the practice for minors. And in Texas, a Democratic lawmaker is proposing a bill that would ban the practice for minors statewide.

Note the opposition by the Virginia Catholic Conference which represents an institution that has conspired to cover up the sexual abuse of children and youths by Catholic clergy. What parent in their right mind would want a Catholic priest counseling their child on sexual matters?  Why offer a potential predator a chance to molest a child or youth? 

More Wednesday Male Beauty

The Crisis Is in the Oval Office, Not at the Border

I will admit that I did not watch Trump's oval office address last evening.  Frankly, even the mere sound of his voice makes me want to retch, plus everything he says is a lie and/or distortion of the true facts.  Hence when driving and listening to satellite radio, I either quickly change the station or hit the "disc" button the moment I hear his voice.  I suspect that I am not alone in this and from what I can tell, many friends likewise opted out of listening to the liar-in-chief. Hopefully, polls will confirm that Trump's latest round of lies - which seemingly were merely a restatement of past lies - did nothing to dupe Americans into supporting his "wall" that only delights his racist base and does nothing to create the crisis his own policies have created. One publication ran with this headline: “There Is No Endgame”: White House Aides Fear Trump Has Turned the Border Wall into His Alamo." A main editorial in the New York Times looks at the real center of the crisis in America: the occupant of the White House.  Here are highlights:
How fitting is it that President Trump’s first Oval Office address, which he requested be televised live in prime time by every major network, was aimed at stirring up the American public about a crisis largely of his own making?
Not that the border crisis is one of Mr. Trump’s self-serving political fictions — like the deep state or widespread voter fraud. It may have started out that way, but the situation has, with the president’s nurturing, become something far more tragic.
Pursuing poorly thought-out and even more poorly executed policies on the pretext of battling a nonexistent national security crisis, Mr. Trump has helped create a pressing humanitarian one. Desperate migrant families being detained en masse at the border are overwhelming a system pushed beyond its limits by an administration that chose to ignore the implications of its actions — overcrowding, children falling gravely ill and, paradoxically, the haphazard release of throngs of detainees into border communities stretching from California to Texas.
Mr. Trump is now invoking the urgency of the situation as a justification for pursuing more wasteful, hard-line measures that most Americans do not support, chiefly the ludicrous border wall over which he has shut down critical pieces of the government. [Trump] The president and his enablers have been busily knitting together inaccurate data, misleading anecdotes, exaggerations and other “alternative facts” about the flow of criminals, drugs and terrorists across the southern border.  He seems to hope he can paint a dystopian landscape of security threats and human suffering so dire that the American people will rally to his side. . . .
Failing that, Mr. Trump has also been floating the possibility of stiff-arming Congress altogether. With his advisers increasingly anxious that Republican lawmakers are poised to abandon them on the shutdown, [Trump] the president has raised the threat of declaring a national emergency, which he thinks would allow him to command the Pentagon to build his wall.
Such a move would prompt a swift and furious legal challenge, if not a full-blown constitutional crisis, that could drag on indefinitely. It would, however, also give Mr. Trump a way to reach a wall-free funding deal with Congress without losing face, thus weaseling out of the shutdown box into which he has nailed himself.
The border wall began life as an applause line at Mr. Trump’s rallies, and it has endured as the rare — perhaps even sole — policy objective that actually matters to him. The substance of true border security may not interest him much, but this symbol sure does.
Two years in, he remains ill suited to the complicated, thankless, often grinding work of leading the nation. Governance clearly bores him, as do policy details both foreign and domestic. He has proved a poor judge of talent. He prefers grandstanding to negotiating, and he continues to have trouble with the whole concept of checks and balances. While the Republican base remains enamored of him, most of the electorate has grown weary of his outrages and antics.
Which is why, with his wall on the line, Mr. Trump so desperately needs to convince the American people that they are facing an acute crisis — maybe even a bona fide emergency.
Shutting down the government is only the most recent effort at getting what he wants by traumatizing the nation he has sworn to serve.
Were Mr. Trump truly interested in securing the border, and easing the suffering his policies are making worse, there are immediate steps he could take. For starters, he could end this wretched shutdown so that the people responsible for protecting the border can get paid, immigration judges can return to processing asylum claims and, yes, the physical and virtual barriers already in place can be maintained and perhaps even improved.
Beyond that, he would need to ease up on the my-way-or-the-highway swagger and sit down for a real discussion with lawmakers about how to address the deep dysfunction of this nation’s immigration system.