Saturday, January 26, 2019

Trump’s Wall Retreat Bewilders His Racist Supporters

It's a relief to have the government shutdown over for now, especially since I have family members who have been furloughed or forced to work without pay. Beyond that, it is truly delicious to see the shocked reactions of Trump's MAGA hat wearing supporters (wearing a MAGA hat is today's equivalent of donning KKK robes) at his surrender to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat controlled House of Representatives. Making it even more delicious is the perception of Trump's angry male base is that Trump lost to a woman - a 78 year old grandmother no less. A piece in Politico looks at the shrieks and angst among Trump's racist, anti-immigrant base.  Note how one former aid describes Trump's surrender as watching a house burn down. Here are excerpts:

Before President Donald Trump finished speaking from the Rose Garden, putting a temporary end to the five-week government shutdown, a running group text between several of his former aides lit up with complaints.
“[Speaker Nancy] Pelosi ordered everything off the menu and left Trump hanging with the bill,” one Trump ally texted to the group.
“President Nancy Pelosi, she runs the country now,” said a former White House official. “We went from indefinite shutdown, to down payment, to cave — all within a span of 24 hours.”
That official said that Trump’s core supporters and former aides are “furious” and “melting down.”
[S]ome of his most loyal supporters fretted that Trump was in danger of losing his fervent base that has fueled his presidency. It didn’t help that special counsel Robert Mueller had just released more details about the Trump campaign’s alleged attempts to backchannel with WikiLeaks during the election.
It all left Trump staring at a tough road ahead. Having staked his nascent 2020 reelection messaging to the wall fight, Trump now can’t claim victory as Democrats start entering the field. After stumbling in his first bout with Pelosi, Trump must now face an invigorated Democratic-led House keen to investigate the White House. And following Mueller's reveal of more evidence that Trump’s 2016 team tried to furtively gather intel about hacked Democratic emails, Trump will have to fend off increasing calls for impeachment.
During the month-long shutdown, Trump’s approval ratings dropped to record lows, his much-touted economy lost steam because of the shutdown and conservative immigration activists rolled their eyes over the his wall fixation.
“FAA shutting airports is a losing card,” said a former Trump adviser who remains close to the White House. “He doesn’t care about federal workers. But pissing off travelers — watch out.”
“I’m not sure allies are going along with it, more just letting it happen. It’s like watching a house completely engulfed in flames; there’s nothing you can do except watch,” a former campaign aide told POLITICO when asked about the reaction from hard-line immigration groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, whose president Dan Stein appeared to tepidly endorse Trump’s latest strategy.
Three former Trump aides disagreed with Stein’s assessment, claiming [Trump] the president raised a white flag on Friday and surrendered the already-limited leverage he had left. All three expressed dismay at the president’s strategy over the past 72 hours — from him submitting to Pelosi’s request to delay the State of the Union until the government reopened to endorsing a wall-less spending bill while congressional Democrats and Republicans hash things out.
The White House allies said their chief concern going forward is a situation in which Trump backpedals again if a deal isn’t struck in the coming weeks. The White House has left a national emergency declaration on the table, suggesting the president could still invoke executive authority to secure funding for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. Attorneys in the White House counsel’s office have spent weeks reviewing the legality of such a move, parsing the various options, according to one Republican close to the White House.
“He’s going to cave again in [three] weeks,” predicted the former campaign official. “Democrats have Trump by the balls.”
Anything that makes Trump's and his supporters' day hell, warms my heart.

Poll: Majority of Virginia Republicans Back LGBT Protections

As the Washington Blade reports, a new poll indicates that a majority of Virginia Republicans support the enactment of LGBT non-discrimination protections.  Sadly, that does not guarantee passage at long last of such protections by the Virginia General Assembly.  Why? Because the Virginia GOP remains under the control of The Family Foundation, Virginia's leading hate group, and Christofascist extremists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Jr. Of course, at the national level, Trump has sold his soul - if he has one, which I doubt - to a who's who of Christofascists even as Mike and Karen Pence celebrate anti-LGBT discrimination as they play their false false Christian martyr roles.  Time will tell if the pending non-discrimination bills survive the GOP controlled House of Delegates.  The best solution long term is to flip control of both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates to Democrats come November 2019. Here are excerpts from the Blade article:

A new poll finds a majority of Virginia Republicans support efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination.
Mason-Dixon Polling between Jan. 7-9 asked Republicans voters in Virginia whether they supported protections for LGBT individuals in housing and public employment. The survey found 53 percent of Republicans would support “legislation at the General Assembly this year that would update Virginia’s nondiscrimination laws to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination in housing.” And 63 percent would support similar legislation in public employment.
These results come 11 months after The Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm, conducted a similar survey. The February 2018 survey found 55 percent of Republican voters believed discrimination against gay and transgender people in housing should be illegal and 59 percent believed similar discrimination in public employment should be forbidden.
The Republican Party of Virginia’s 2016 platform makes no mention of LGBT people or protections. It explicitly opposes same-sex marriage and “condemns” the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the Windsor and Obergefell cases that paved the way for same-sex marriage across the nation. And in its discussion of religious liberty, it implies that businesses should be able to discriminate against LGBT people.
The idea that a majority of Republican voters in any state would support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people would be ludicrous based on this document alone, but many are saying they expected these survey results.
“This is a trend we’re seeing across the country. Voters simply have no appetite for discrimination and want to be sure that their friends and neighbors are protected the same way they are,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof. “The ground really has shifted on these issues of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. There is much more support for these anti-discrimination efforts.”
Winterhof noted legislation in most states hasn’t caught up to this new level of public support.
Virginia is one of 31 states that lacks protections for LGBT people in housing and public employment. “The ground has shifted, but lawmakers … didn’t get that memo, and we’re certainly trying to educate and share more of that information,” said Winterhof.
[James] Parrish [of Equality Virginia] said Republican support for LGBT equality has lagged behind that of the general public but that “support for LGBT issues among all Americans has been inching up for decades.” In Virginia specifically, Parrish pointed to two instances from the past five years that he believes led to a shift in attitudes toward LGBT issues.
In Bostic v. Schaefer, a U.S. district court ruled the Marshall-Newman Amendment in Virginia’s Constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2014 decision, and in October of that same year, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case. Bostic v. Schaefer legalized same-sex marriage in Virginia before it was permitted in much of the rest of the country.
Danica Roem, the first openly transgender member of the state House of Delegates, in 2017 defeated consistently anti-LGBT Bob Marshall who Parrish noted introduced “quite a number of bills to harm our community.”
“That also brought change,” said Parrish. Equality Virginia has focused some of its recent efforts on gathering favor for LGBT protections among Republicans.
Trump has banned transgender individuals from serving in the military, and Vice President Pence recently defended his wife’s decision to take a job at a school that forbids LGBT employees and students. As an entity, the GOP remains staunchly opposed to any legislation that would advance LGBT equality. Individual politicians may be changing their tune, but the Republican Party’s official stance looks to be set in stone for at least the next two years and likely longer.

More Saturday Male Beauty

A Toxic "Conservatism" on Both Sides of the Atlantic

In a post earlier in the week I did a post about the looming economic crisis in the United Kingdom - a crisis brought on by the hate and bigorty of largely rural white voters who hate immigrants and hold delusions of restoring the forever gone British Empire. These are the voters who voted to leave the European Union. The parallels with Trump's supporters is striking: hatred of others, xenophobia and dreams of a lost past are their motivation despite efforts to claim otherwise.  In both nations this toxic outlook is labeled "conservative" although the attributes of these so-called conservatives is anything but classic conservatism.   Webster's defines conservatism as follows: "a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change."  The toxic conservatism, if you will of both the UK and the USA seek to destroy everything.  They also share another common denominator: both the Republican Party and the Conservatives (or Tories) in the UK now place party ahead of the national interest.  Their claims of patriotism are false and both parties are for the most part morally bankrupt.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this sad reality,  Here are highlights:
In the capital cities of the two great anglophone powers, public business has ground to a halt. On one side of the Atlantic, federal workers are lining up to receive free food while the president holds the government to ransom. On the other side, the House of Commons, a legislative body that likes to call itself the “mother of parliaments,” is completely frozen by its inability to legislate. The government cannot pass the Brexit deal it has negotiated. The opposition cannot unseat the government. The stiff and uncharismatic British prime minister, Theresa May, might as well be living on a different planet from the vulgar and mendacious President Trump. Yet there is nevertheless something curiously parallel about the two crises: Both are being driven by post-ideological conservative parties, the American Republicans and the British Conservatives, transatlantic cousins who have both lost their way. Their double failure is no mere coincidence. . . . . Pummeled by events — the financial crisis, the wars in Iraq and Syria — both parties have lost that faith. But they have failed to find anything else to replace it. Instead, they have been captured by angry minorities. They are easily manipulated by big funders and special interests. They have stopped thinking about the good of the nation and can focus only on what’s good for the party — or for themselves. Certainly this is true in Britain, where May’s main focus since 2016 has been party management, not British interests. . . . . Had she been willing to reach across the aisle and forge a compact with the Labour Party, she could have ended the stalemate already: There is a majority in the House of Commons for Britain to remain inside a customs union with Europe, a solution that would let trade continue and avoid the need for a hard border with the island of Ireland. . . . . Her party, not the country, is what matters to her most.
At least until now, Republican leaders in Congress have also refused to embrace a pragmatic solution — pass legislation to reopen the government, make a compromise on border security — for exactly the same kinds of reasons. Like May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to reach across the aisle in order to pay civil servants because he fears a split in his party. Like the British Conservatives, American Republicans answer only to their own voters, not to the population at large. . . . .  Trump’s personal narcissism leaves no room for concern for anyone ­— not government workers, not his party colleagues. His voters seem motivated by tribalism, not ideas, to support him.
[E]ven when the stalemates in Washington and London come to an end, this moment should not be forgotten. The collapse of any motivating ideas on the center-right in the two great anglophone powers will have broader consequences. By losing the ability to think and act in the name of national interest, British Tories and American Republicans have also lost the ability to think internationally. For Europeans accustomed to thinking of Anglo-American politicians as pragmatic and outward-looking, it has come as a shock to learn just how little British Tories actually know about Europe and about trade, just how little Republicans really care about far-flung allies, and just how much conservative politics in both countries has given way to self-dealing and self-interest. I don’t believe that May honestly thinks her Brexit deal is any good, just as I don’t believe that McConnell thinks his tax cut benefited anyone except wealthy friends and donors. These are nihilists who have abandoned one set of values and failed to acquire any others.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

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Trump's Greatest Blunder

Outwardly Donald Trump has made one blunder after another since January, 2017, but most were not blunders if he is indeed a Russian asset.  Rather, they have all been pieces in the agenda of weakening the USA and the West - e.g., disrupting NATO, trade wars that harm the US economy, and pushing Russian talking points - much to Vladimir Putin's delight.  Some have had the added benefit of thrilling the white supremacists and Christian extremists who now comprise the shrunken base of the  Republican Party.  His game of chicken over his border wall - perhaps he saw it as a monument to himself - and the government shutdown, however, was just plain stupid given the opposition it faced from a strong majority of Americans, 71% of whom viewed the wall as not worth the economic havoc of the shutdown. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Trump's caving happened the same day that air traffic controllers began to cancel flights on the East coast.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the stupidity of Trump's blunder and self-inflicted harm - harm that also extends to the worthless GOP.  Here are excerpts:
There is no way around it: President Trump lost.  He lost his gamble on shutting down the government. And though he will pretend otherwise, he has also lost his grandiose plan to build a border wall that most of the country does not want.
Trump walked away with nothing more than an assurance from congressional Democrats that they will sit down with Republicans for three weeks and try to come up with a border security plan that both parties can agree upon. There’s a reasonable chance they will come up with a solid proposal. But there’s just as much likelihood that Trump’s dream for a wall will die a quiet death there.
Nonetheless, this is the consequence of Trump’s obsession with satisfying the red-hatted, nativist throngs who chanted “build the wall” at so many of his rallies.
Not only do 6 in 10 Americans now disapprove of the job that [Trump] the president is doing, but his party has also lost the 10-point edge it once held over the Democrats on the question of which party to trust on border security, according to a fresh Post-ABC News poll.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has shown that she better than Trump understands the art of the deal in Washington. She is the one who succeeded in building a wall — and Trump ran right into it.
Now, as Trump surveys the shambles that his greatest blunder has made of his presidency, the question is whether he and the Republicans learned anything from the five-week calamity that they caused. Will his party be as willing to follow him the next time he leads them toward the edge of a cliff?
If there is even a thin silver lining to the travesty of the longest-ever government shutdown, it is this: The Republicans’ slander of public servants has been exposed for what it is. . . . By its final day, there was turmoil at airports, slowdowns at the Internal Revenue Service and countless individual stories of federal workers who were forced to find sustenance at food pantries and face agonizing choices between whether to pay for heat or medicine this month.
Republicans have long portrayed them [government employees] as the enemies of reform and efficiency. But Trump targeted them as no one did before. From his earliest months in office, he and his allies have portrayed those who dedicate their lives to serving their country as the corrupt, subversive “deep state” — the bottom-feeders of a swamp in need of draining.
Where a little empathy might have been in order as the shutdown continued, Trump’s team revealed a callousness that would have made Marie Antoinette blush.
So it was noticeable that when Trump made his Rose Garden announcement Friday that the government was opening again, he began it by thanking federal workers who had displayed “extraordinary devotion in the face of this recent hardship. You are fantastic people. You are incredible patriots.” . . . . Which is why they deserve much better than a chief executive who would wager so recklessly with their lives and their livelihoods.

Friday, January 25, 2019

More Friday Male Beauty

Trump Co-Conspirator, Roger Stone Indicted in Mueller Investigation

Trump and Stone - both working for Russia?
If Donald Trump has been having bad days as his approval ratings have plunged to only 34% and 71% of Americans say his wall is not worth the damage of the government shutdown, today is likely far worse with the indictment of Roger Stone, the likely go between between Russian intelligence operatives, Wikileaks, and the Trump campaign, by a federal grand jury.   If there was a conspiracy with Putin's Russia, Stone could be the keystone in bringing the details into view.  And that's without considering what the new investigations of Deutsche Bank and Russian  money laundering to perhaps benefit Trump will reveal.  Stone was arrested by the FBI at 6:00 am this morning at his home.  The New York Times looks at this stunning development in the Russiagate probe (the indictment can be viewed here).  Expect Trump to rant and do something to try to distract media coverage.  Here are article highlights:

Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime informal adviser to President Trump who has spent decades plying the dark arts of scandal-mongering and dirty tricks to help influence American political campaigns, was indicted Friday in the special counsel investigation.
Mr. Stone was charged with seven counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, making false statements and witness tampering, according to the special counsel’s office.
Stone, a self-described dirty trickster who began his career as a campaign aide for Richard M. Nixon and has a tattoo of Nixon on his back, has long maintained that he had no connection to Russia’s attempts to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. He sometimes seemed to taunt American law enforcement agencies, daring them to find hard evidence to link him to the Russian meddling campaign.
[T]he special counsel’s investigators spent months encircling Mr. Stone, renewing scrutiny about his role during the 2016 presidential race. Investigators interviewed former Trump campaign advisers and several of his associates about both about Mr. Stone’s fund-raising during the campaign and his contacts with WikiLeaks, one of the organizations that made thousands of Democratic emails public in the months before the election.
Three senior Trump campaign officials have told Mr. Mueller’s team that Mr. Stone created the impression that he was a conduit for inside information from WikiLeaks, according to people familiar with their witness interviews. One of them told investigators that Mr. Stone not only seemed to predict WikiLeaks’ actions, but also that he took credit afterward for the timing of its disclosures that damaged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
In social media posts and numerous interviews before the 2016 election, Mr. Stone indicated that he had advance knowledge that a trove of information damaging to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign might be about to spill into public, and even suggested that he had personally spoken to the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. . . . in the weeks before the election, Mr. Stone was messaging on Twitter with Guccifer 2.0, a pseudonym used by one or more operatives in the Russian intelligence scheme to steal the emails and funnel them to WikiLeaks. The tumultuous relationship between Mr. Stone and Mr. Trump goes back decades, with Mr. Stone acting as an informal adviser to Mr. Trump as he considered running for president several times. When Mr. Trump formally announced during the spring of 2015 that he was running for president, Mr. Stone was one of the first members of the team, but within months, he had a public dispute with Mr. Trump and left the campaign.  The two men have remained close, though, speaking often by telephone.

Britain Begins Stockpiling for Its Self-Inflicted Brexit Apocalypse

If you want a glimpse of where Donald Trump and his base are taking America, look no farther than the United Kingdom where the Russian manipulated Brexit vote is inching closer and closer to bringing economic ruin to that nation.  The forces that brought this disaster parallel those that placed the utterly unfit Trump in the White House: (i) anti-immigrant animus, and (ii) angry rural whites with delusions of restoring an empire and white privilege lost forever. The parallels between the pro-Brexit voters and Trump's base are truly remarkable.  The irony in both cases is that the economic harms will in many cases harm those who voted based on bigotry and a hatred of modernity itself.  The other parallel is that in both instances, Vladimir Putin is smiling broadly - if not laughing out loud - the self-inflicted harm occurring in the UK and Trump's America,  A piece in at Vanity Fair looks at the impending harm about to befall the UK if the Brexit vote is not quickly reversed.  Here are excerpts:
While Brexit negotiations have stalled, British businesses are heaving with activity—though not of the freewheeling, entrepreneurial variety that Brexiteers once promised. Instead of rejoicing in the cutting of European red tape, top executives now find themselves making preparations for the United Kingdom to crash out of the E.U. with no plan, no customs union, and no way to conduct trade with its single biggest market. “This is a disaster for business,” according to Business Minister Richard Harrington, who is presumably in a position to know. 
The crisis isn’t just playing out in Parliament, but in boardrooms across London and Leicester, Luton and Loughborough. Every time Theresa May fields a vote of no confidence, top supermarket brass are strategizing about stockpiling tins of tuna. As Jeremy Corbyn continues to deny voters clarity as to Labour’s stance on the impending divorce, somewhere outside Westminster, a top pharmaceutical honcho is drawing up plans to accumulate medicine. Pets at Home is collecting cat food. Associated British Foods, which produces the beloved Twinings tea, is pre-buying ingredients. One savvy businessman has begun selling emergency “Brexit Boxes,” which contain freeze-dried favorites like chicken tikka, plus a water filter and a fire starter, in the event of a no-deal economic apocalypse.
All these hasty preparations have sparked another problem: Britain, morphing into an oversize warehouse, is running out of storage capacity. According to Harrington, “nearly every square meter” of warehouse space in the country is now full. The drab image of Britain’s warehouses overflowing with life-saving supplies and tin pots of peas is a far cry from the smooth, sparkling vision outlined by Vote Leave leaders. “Britain is a great country. We will be even greater if we take back control of our own democracy,” cheered Brexiteers Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and Gisela Stuart in an online post just before the 2016 referendum vote. . . . . there won’t be a sudden change that disrupts the economy.” With Brexit scheduled to arrive in nine weeks, and Parliament still divided over May’s withdrawal deal, the British food sector is trying desperately to take back control. Tesco, the largest supermarket chain, has rented an emergency supply of refrigerated units. Marks & Spencer, already in significant financial trouble, is stockpiling nonperishable items. . . . . The government has slapped non-disclosure agreements on multiple companies to keep them from revealing the severity of the crisis. The automobile industry is suffering from a similar problem. . . . . BMW’s supply chain relies on small parts being imported from the E.U. and used at a specific time in the assemblage process. “We are looking for additional [warehouse] space, but in the end, it’s not possible. A key frustration for businesses is that, while they are funneling their resources down a black, Brexit-shaped hole, politicians might suddenly stop fighting, strike up a compromise, and avert a no-deal. . . . Still, it’s understandable why businesses are intent on taking precautions. The government’s contingency planning hasn’t exactly been reassuring . . . .
 [O]thers have decided that Brexit Britain isn’t an economically viable option, and have announced plans to set up shop elsewhere. Among those fleeing are Sony (moving its European HQ to Amsterdam); P&O (registering its English Channel ferries in Cyprus); and, perhaps most controversially, Dyson. Rebranding as a “global technology company” rather than a British hoover brand, it is “future-proofing” by heading to Singapore, which, as The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland points out, recently signed a trade agreement with the E.U. James Dyson, of course, is not only Britain’s wealthiest man, but also an unrepentant Brexiteer who, in 2017, said of a no-deal with Europe, “They’ll come to us.” He must be hoping that the public will accept the official line that Dyson’s move has “nothing to do with Brexit.” Then again, by the time Brexit happens, he’ll be cushioned from accusations of hypocrisy by more than 6,000 miles—and, presumably, a steady income in euros.

This is what Trump - and Putin - want to bring to America.  They must be stopped. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Setting the Stage for a Possible Global Recession.

Racism and greed were, in my view, the main motivations for those who voted for Trump in 2016.  The racists were the angry whites fearful of lost white privilege while never looking in the mirror to see their own role in the plight.  The other group was comprised of the very wealthy and others of a similar mindset who want to horde their money and never contribute to the best interests of the nation.  Now, thanks to the actions of Der Trumpenführer - trade wars, tax cuts ballooning the federal deficit, and the government shutdown - , actions  of like minded anti-immigrant racists in the UK and other parts of Europe, and China's structural economic problems, these same people may be about to see the start of a recession that will worsen their plights.  A column in the New York Times looks at the potentially coming Trump/GOP recession.  Here are highlights: 
The last global economic crisis, for all its complex detail, had one big, simple cause: A huge housing and debt bubble had emerged in both the United States and Europe, and it took the world economy down when it deflated. 
[The slump] in 1990-91, was a messier story. It was a smorgasbord recession — a downturn with multiple causes, . . . . The best guess is that the next downturn will similarly involve a mix of troubles, rather than one big thing. And over the past few months we’ve started to see how it could happen. It’s by no means certain that a recession is looming, but some of our fears are beginning to come true. Right now, I see four distinct threats to the world economy. (I may be missing others.)
China: Many people, myself included, have been predicting a Chinese crisis for a long time — but it has kept not happening. China’s economy is deeply unbalanced, with too much investment and too little consumer spending; but time and again the government has been able to steer away from the cliff by ramping up construction and ordering banks to make credit ultra-easy.
But has the day of reckoning finally arrived? Given China’s past resilience, it’s hard to feel confident. Still, recent data on Chinese manufacturing look grim.
And trouble in China would have worldwide repercussions. We tend to think of China only as an export juggernaut, but it’s also a huge buyer of goods, especially commodities like soybeans and oil; U.S. farmers and energy producers will be very unhappy if the Chinese economy stalls.
Europe: For some years Europe’s underlying economic weakness, due to an aging population and Germany’s obsession with running budget surpluses, was masked by recovery from the euro crisis. But the run of good luck seems to be coming to an end, with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and Italy’s slow-motion crisis undermining confidence; as with China, recent data are ugly.
And like China, Europe is a big player in the world economy, so its stumbles will spill over to everyone, the U.S. very much included. Trade war: Over the past few decades, businesses around the world invested vast sums based on the belief that old-fashioned protectionism was a thing of the past. But Donald Trump hasn’t just imposed high tariffs, he’s demonstrated a willingness to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of existing trade agreements. . . . . For now, corporate leaders reportedly believe that things won’t get out of hand, that the U.S. and China in particular will reach a deal. But this sentiment could turn suddenly if and when business realizes that the hard-liners still seem to be calling the shots.
 The shutdown: It’s not just the federal workers not getting paid. It’s also the contractors, who will never get reimbursed for their losses, the food stamp recipients who will be cut off if the stalemate goes on, and more. Conventional estimates of the cost of the shutdown are almost surely too low, because they don’t take account of the disruption a non-functioning government will impose on every aspect of life.
As in the case of a trade war, business leaders reportedly believe that the shutdown will soon be resolved. But what will happen to investment and hiring if and when corporate America concludes that Trump has boxed himself in, and that this could go on for many months?
So there are multiple things going wrong, all of which threaten the economy. How bad will it be?
The good news is that even taking all these negatives together, they don’t come close to the body blow the world economy took from the 2008 financial crisis. The bad news is that it’s not clear what policymakers can or will do to respond when things go wrong.
Monetary policy ­— that is, interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve and its counterparts abroad — is normally the first line of defense against recession. But the Fed has very limited room to cut, because interest rates are already low, and in Europe, where rates are negative, there’s no room at all.
Fiscal policy — temporary hikes in government spending and aid to vulnerable workers — is the usual backup to monetary easing. But would a president who’s holding federal workers hostage in pursuit of a pointless wall be willing to enact a sensible stimulus?
Finally, dealing effectively with any kind of global slump requires a lot of international cooperation. How plausible is that given who’s currently in charge?
Again, I’m not saying that a global recession is necessarily about to happen. But the risks are clearly rising: The conditions for such a slump are now in place, in a way they weren’t even a few months ago.

Trump Appointees and Family Show They Are Clueless About Average Americans

"Let them eat cake" is the traditional translation of the French phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche." While the phrase is commonly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette, there is no record of her having said it.  Indeed, the first attributions did not arise until the 1840’s and was used by pro-democrat factions against the reign of Louis Phillipe. That said, the derogatory phrase could well apply to Donald Trump who suggested that grocery stores would “work" with unpaid federal.  See how far that gets you at your local Walmart, Kroger, Food Lion or Publix.  And his arrogant out of touch family members and political appointees are no better and have made it clear that they have no clue of real life for the vast majority of Americans.  A column in the Washington Post by former Republican Jennifer Rubin looks at the out of touch batshitery.  Here are excerpts:

The Trump cohort is living up to its reputation as a gang of heartless rich people who don’t care about the pain of others. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross declared on Thursday that he couldn’t understand why unpaid federal workers were resorting to food banks. (Because they have no money?) This follows equally clueless and uncaring comments by Lara Trump (“This is so much bigger than any one person. It is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country”), and economic adviser Kevin Hassett, who explained the shutdown was like having a long vacation. (Minus the money to pay for the vacation. And if you are designated as essential personnel, minus the time off.)
Meanwhile, the shutdown’s effects on critical parts of society — such as air travel — get more and more perilous. . . . A group of former Homeland Security secretaries, including John F. Kelly, warned that the shutdown is threatening public safety and impairing border protection.
Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) went to the Senate floor to excoriate the commerce secretary. “Those comments are appalling, and reveal the administration’s callous indifference towards the federal workers it’s treating as pawns. Secretary Ross’ comments are the 21st-century equivalent of ‘let them eat cake,’” he said. “Many of these federal employees live paycheck to paycheck. Secretary Ross, they can’t just call their stock broker and ask them to sell some of their shares. They need that paycheck.”
Schumer continued . . . We support stronger border security. President Trump believes the best way to do that is an expensive and ineffective wall. We disagree sharply over that — but there’s no reason we can’t negotiate and figure it out.” [Trump’s] package, which included $5.7 billion for a wall, impediments for asylum seekers, and only temporary help for “dreamers,” bombed in the Senate. . . . . The 52-to-44 vote wasn’t enough to reach the 60-vote cloture threshold, but it’s an indication that Trump’s party is sliding away from him.
It would be a bitter pill for the anti-immigrant zealots and for Trump’s pride, but, without caving, the shutdown goes on, inflicting more pain and risking a calamity of some type. The damage to Trump and the GOP may not dissipate after this is over.
In 2020, be prepared to hear a lot about the Republican Party’s cruelty and contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans. There will be plenty of ammunition, but none more powerful than the GOP’s conduct during the shutdown. Listen, if Republicans can’t keep the lights on and don’t much care about the harm they cause, why should they have the Senate majority and White House? 
 Mortgage companies, grocery stores and landlords do NOT cavalierly give away products or waive payments.  These horrid individuals who are so clueless should never been in positions of power in governing the country.

More Thursday Male Beauty

Young Voters Keep Moving to the Left on Social Issues

In other good news - unless one is a Christofascist or an older Republican - are findings that among the younger generations, voters are moving to the left on social issues and rejecting the ignorance and bigotry that defines the political and social right.   Better yet, even young Republicans are moving away from the dogma of their elders making it increasingly difficult for Christofascists to inflict their hate and bigotry on society.  The other good news found by the Pew Research survey is that Donald Trump is accelerating the exodus of younger generations from the GOP.  For years I have been arguing that the GOP has placed short term gain ahead of a long term strategy, hoping that disenfranchising voters and gerrymandering districts would compensate for policies viewed as toxic by growing numbers of Americans, especially the younger generations. As the older racists and religious extremist so important to the GOP die off, there simply will not be enough voters to replace them.  Here are highlights from the New York Times on the survey findings:

As a self-described political conservative, Reagan Larson might seem to be a natural fit for the Republican Party. The 19-year-old college student from South Dakota grew up in a Catholic household that objected to same-sex marriage, and she remains firmly opposed to abortion.
But in many ways, that is where the ideological similarities end. Ms. Larson, a dual major in biology and Spanish at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., does not oppose the legalization of marriage equality. She views climate change as undeniable, believes “immigrants make our country richer,” and disagrees with her parents on the need for a border wall.
Ms. Larson is part of Generation Z, one of the most ethnically diverse and progressive age groups in American history. People born after 1996 tend to espouse similar views to the age cohort just ahead of them, the Millennials, but they are far more open to social change than older generations have been, according to the findings of a new report by the Pew Research Center. The findings mark a shift that could substantially reshape the nation’s political and economic landscape. [O]nly 30 percent of Generation Z respondents said they approved of President Trump’s performance; more than half believed humans were fueling climate change; and 70 percent said they wanted the government to do more to solve the nation’s problems. Those views roughly mirror attitudes held by Millennials, and together, the two age groups may add up to a powerful voting bloc at odds with Republican orthodoxy, political scientists say. “This should be an alert to the Republican Party as they think about generational replacement,” said Elizabeth Bennion, a professor of political science at Indiana University South Bend.
Each succeeding generation of Americans tends to be more progressive than those that came before, Ms. Bennion noted, a trend that potentially poses a long-term threat to the Republican Party’s power.
“If there isn’t a will to change within the party,” she said, “it could become permanently in the minority moving forward.”
Democrats of all ages tend to align fairly closely on major social and political issues, but the report highlights a sharp generational divide among Republicans. For example, more than half of the youngest Republicans surveyed said that racial and ethnic diversity was good for American society . . . . Young Republicans are also more likely to approve of same-sex marriage and accept transgender people.
Michael Schaefer, 18, a politically conservative college freshman from Youngstown, Ohio, said he was in the sixth grade when some classmates came out as gay, and had a number of transgender students as friends in high school.  “For over half my life, I’ve been shown the other side of sexuality and gender,” he said. “I don’t care about their sex or gender, I just care about the individual.”
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Americans’ political and social views do not tend to drift to the right as they age, according to Kim Parker, who oversees research into social demographic trends at the Pew Research Center.
“The differences we see across age groups have more to do with the unique historical circumstances in which they come of age,” she said, noting that demographers have not seen a generational pattern of growing more conservative or more Republican over time.
The Republican Party has lost younger Americans like Travis Gaither, though, as it has moved farther to the right on issues like immigration, gun control and climate change.
Mr. Gaither, who grew up in Tennessee, described his parents as “typical southern white Republicans” who belong to two country clubs and are active in the Chamber of Commerce. But Mr. Gaither, 20, was chairman of the High School Democrats of Tennessee during his senior year, a political transformation fueled by his liberal social views and cemented by his outrage over Mr. Trump’s hard-line policies.
The Pew study found that two-thirds of Mr. Gaither’s generation believe, as he does, that black people are treated less fairly than whites in the United States.
“I feel like I’ve moved toward the left, as the Republican Party has shifted toward the right,” he said.
Good!  Let's hope the phenomenon accelerates and that the GOP goes the way of the Whigs sooner as opposed to later.

Virginia Board of Psychology Votes to Ban Gay Conversion Therapy

Expect shrieks and screams and even possible lawsuits as Christofascists and charlatans who support so-called gay conversion therapy for political propaganda and/or self-enrichment through fraud react to the Virginia Board of Psychiatry's vote to ban conversion therapy for minors.  The usual smoke screen of "religious freedom" will no doubt be used to defend this form of child abuse and in some cases what borders on torture. The Board vote does not immediately end this dangerous practice but does set in motion the process to achieve a ban.  A piece in WUSA 9 looks at the development.  Here are highlights (note the comparison of conversion therapy to snake oil and tainted food): 
The Virginia Board of Psychology voted Tuesday to begin the process of banning its licensees from providing gay conversion therapy to minors in the state.
The Board of Psychology is the first of five professional licensing boards to take up the issue following a joint workgroup in October that brought together members of the psychology, counseling, social work, nursing and medical professions. The workgroup was convened at the Board of Psychology’s request after multiple legislative attempts at banning conversion therapy failed in the Virginia General Assembly.
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. Last week, New York voted to become the 15th state to ban the practice on minors. New York City banned conversion therapy for anyone of any age last year.
On Tuesday, the Board of Psychology voted to send a notice of regulatory action to the attorney general’s office – the first step in a roughly 18-month process to enact new regulation. The board also voted to issue a guidance document, which will go up for public comment next month, about possible penalties if a licensed practitioner is found to be providing conversion therapy to minors.
Dr. Herb Stewart, chairman of the Board of Psychology, said he believes a regulatory ban is necessary to protect Virginia youth.
“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.”
Jaime Hoyle, executive director of the Boards of Psychology, Counseling and Social Work, said she expects the rest of the boards in the workgroup to take up similar regulatory language during their next meetings. The Board of Counseling will meet next on Feb. 8, followed by the Board of Social Work on March 15. A joint meeting of the Boards of Nursing and Medicine is schedule for Feb. 13.
In addition to the support of the professional boards, regulation banning conversion therapy for minors would also have to receive approval from the governor, attorney general, secretary of health and human services and the Department of Planning & Budget before going into effect.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Local Mayors, Transportation Planning Board Call for End to Elizabeth River Crossings Tolls

One of the worse fiascoes that former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his Republican cohorts in the Virginia General Assembly have inflicted on Hampton Roads is the "public-private partnership" that granted Elizabeth River Crossings ("ERC") the ability to fleece Hampton Roads commuters with ever increasing tolls in exchange for McDonnell and the Virginia GOP from avoiding tax increases - e.g. an increase in the gasoline tax - to pay for infrastructure that is a governmental responsibility. To call ERC greedy and rapacious is far too kind and their outrageous late fees ultimately forced the state of Virginia to demand reductions in tolls and late fees that quickly totaled in the thousands and thousands of dollars.  Compounding the distress to working class and poor commuters was the DMV's refusal to renew auto registrations until ERC receive its exorbitant demands which subjected commuters to traffic summonses as well. Now, a number of local mayors and members of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Board Commonwealth of Virginia are demanding that the economy crushing tolls be lifted.  Such a move will required action by the Virginia General Assembly.  A piece in Channel 13 News looks at this issue and the need to rescind these tolls that screw the public while enriching private interests.  Here are excerpts: 
Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe said local leaders must find a way to reverse an agreement between Elizabeth River Crossings and the Commonwealth of Virginia before rising toll prices cripple the region's economy.
Rowe, Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck and five others have formed a committee to study how the state could possibly change or back out of the agreement with ERC.
The committee was formed at a Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization meeting, where the mayors and others voiced concerns about toll prices and other aspects of the agreement. HRTPO director Bob Crum Jr. said he supports the new committee's opinion that something needs to change.
"Those tolls will continue to increase over time, I think the concern is what impact that will have," Crum said. "We need to investigate what options are on the table and work with the state and general assembly to get those things addressed."
Rowe said he feels like local leaders are now recognizing the tolls as a regional issue, and not just a "Portsmouth issue." An Old Dominion University study found Portsmouth lost about $8.8 million each year after the implementation of the tolls in 2015. 
However, Crum and Rowe said any changes would likely need to be made in Richmond via the general assembly. The current agreement was made between the Commonwealth of Virginia and ERC. Crum said it was not signed by the local city governments. 
Elizabeth River Crossings responded to statements from public officials that the contract needs to end. The company said in a statement that it assumed more than $4 billion in costs when it agreed to expand, renovate and maintain the Midtown Tunnel, Downtown Tunnel and MLK Freeway facilities.
 Crum said another section of the agreement between the state and the ERC is worrying for local governments. Due to a non-compete clause, ERC could claim damages and lost revenue when other transportation projects are completed within the region, requiring the state to pay compensation to ERC.
With the High Rise Bridge expansion underway and the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel expansion coming soon, Crum said the board is worried about additional costs or repercussions. He said this understanding provides the new committee additional motivation to find a way to end the current agreement between the state and the ERC.

The Covington Catholic Students - a Calculated Art of Making People Uncomfortable?

At the risk of diving into the debate of what really happened in the confrontation between a group of white Covington Catholic High students and Native Americans, I suspect many individuals will interpret what they saw take place based on their own prejudices and allegiances to Donald Trump or their contempt and animus towards Trump.  Personally, I view wearing a Trump MAGA hat as the nearest thing one can do to donning KKK robes without actually doing so. My Republican "friends" will object, but supporting a vile racist who espouses racist policies, like it or not, makes one a racist or at best a white supremacist sympathizer. Thus, the Covington students wearing MAGA hats to me do not merit the benefit of the doubt.  Moreover, as a column in the Washington Post points out, one can sometimes be intimidating and threatening without violence.  A smug smile or sneer can speak volumes as many in the LGBT know from first hand experience. Given other stories surfacing about the bigotry and homophobia rampant at Covington Catholic, I suspect these students who are now proclaiming their innocence may, in fact, have know precisely what they were doing.  Here are column highlights:
“Rorschach test” already feels like such a weary metaphor for what happened last weekend on the Mall between a Covington Catholic High School student and a Native American elder. But it’s hard to think of another recent incident that’s metastasized so quickly and been interpreted so disparately — an insight into how you see the world and how you understand your place in it.
Meanwhile, the story grows, or maybe it finishes: On Wednesday morning Nick Sandmann, the smiling teenager at the center, sat for an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. “My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips,” he told Savannah Guthrie.
We could quibble about his word choices — is “listening to him and standing there” what really happened? — but that’s the point: We quibble. Conversations unravel. All week long, personal experiences have been unpacked like suitcases and brought forth as evidence.
A man I know who went to an all-boys Catholic school saw only typical adolescence in the videos: a group of kids, already hyped up by an encounter with the profanity-yelling Black Hebrew Israelites, firing off testosterone like careless sparklers.
I floated this with another friend, a woman, who raised an eyebrow. Maybe some of the other students were caught up in a fog of poorly supervised hormones, but Sandmann wasn’t, this friend pointed out. He wasn’t screaming. He was making the conscious decision to stand in Phillips’s path, and to smile.
It's the smile that we've been dissecting all week. Sandmann meant it to defuse the situation, he told Guthrie.
Is provocation a chant and a drum, or is provocation a flat smile and a decision not to move? (“As far as standing there, I had every right to do so,” Sandmann said.) Which one of them is the peaceful act, which one could be misinterpreted?
Here’s where the Rorschach test comes in: As much as we might try to see what happened from Sandmann’s perspective, or from Phillips’s, the perspective we’re ultimately seeing it from is our own.
The most insidious bully in my junior high wasn’t someone who stuffed smaller kids in lockers, but a smaller kid himself: slender, handsome, with a last name that appeared on a big building in town. What he would do, mostly, was stare. Stare and smile, and walk very close to his less-rich, less-handsome targets. Not touching, but close enough to show that he could have touched them if he wanted to.
And it’s funny, how awful “not doing anything” can feel to the person it’s not being done to. How infuriating or unsettling.
It’s funny, what a slender rich kid’s vehement denial can do to your mind-set: Maybe he wasn’t doing anything. Maybe he was just smiling. Maybe he was just smiling even when you made it clear you were trying to pass, and you were on the verge of tears? Maybe he was trying to defuse the situation, and you’re the one who was crazy.
That scene in front of the Lincoln Memorial was a circus . . .That interview with Sandmann was measured, and filled with the right words: “in hindsight,” “respect.”  But I don’t think my friends and I were crazy in junior high. I think our classmate knew exactly where the line was, and how to walk up to it. I think making people uncomfortable wasn’t the point; the point was making sure the uncomfortable people knew there was nothing they could do about it.
The Covington Catholic students were minors who were apparently mature enough to participate in the abortion debate — one of the most complicated issues of our time, and what brought them to Washington — but not mature enough to walk away from hecklers.
Does it matter that they were in MAGA hats? It’s hard for me to imagine anyone wearing them now, in 2019, wouldn’t understand they’re not just a sartorial choice.
It’s hard for me to talk about what happened on the Mall without bringing in every experience I've ever had: the knowledge that people who are used to having power know how to wield it in subtle ways. The knowledge that I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and once or twice, the giving end of it.
Maybe you think Sandmann didn’t do anything and is a victim of an Internet mob.
Or maybe you think, as Guthrie wondered aloud in the interview Wednesday, that standing there was its own act of aggression. The appearance of doing nothing while actually doing something.
It’s hard to imagine anyone’s minds changing by this point, though.
Perhaps my perspective is colored by the bullying I received in high school as a gay kid trying desperately to hide in the closet.  Or perhaps I flash back to the smiling homophobes who forced me from a law firm for being gay. Then again, perhaps I am influenced by the toxicity of Roman Catholicism.  Whatever Sandmann claims, I continue to believe that he knew exactly what he was doing.  The nature of his smile said all I needed to see/hear.

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Poll: Shutdown, Russia Drive Trump to All-Time High Disapproval

As the federal government shutdown drags on leaving 800,000 employees increasingly desperate financially - I have family members who have been furloughed - and the safety of air travel is being threatened and more and more government contractors feel financial strain, one has to wonder what is in the minds of Congressional Republicans - especially Mitch McConnell - who insist on continuing to give political fellatio to Der Trumpenführer.  A new poll shows that 57% of Americans disapprove of Trump's job performance.  A similar percentage of the population believes that Russia has "kompromat" - i.e., blackmail material - on Trump.  One would think that fear of general election defeat would at some point outweigh fears of a primary challenge.  Here are highlights from Politico on the new poll findings:

Donald Trump's disapproval rating is at an all-time high amid a historically long partial government shutdown and concerns about the president's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
Nearly 6-in-10 voters — 57 percent — disapprove of Trump's job performance, compared to the 40 percent that approve. In addition, 54 percent of voters blame Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill for the government shutdown. Only 35 percent blame congressional Democrats.
“As the government shutdown enters its second month, President Trump continues to carry the bulk of the blame among voters for the stalemate,” said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president. “In this week’s poll nearly half of voters (49 percent) say the president is responsible — up 6 points since the shutdown began.
While 43 percent support the construction of a border wall — compared to 49 percent who oppose construction — only 7 percent of voters said that they support dedicating funding to a border wall if it was the only way to end the government shutdown.  That’s compared to 72 percent who oppose dedicating funding to a border wall if it was the only way.
When asked whether they will approve of dedicating funds to border security, but not a wall, to end the shutdown, 34 percent supported. Fifty-one percent, however, still opposed that plan.
A majority of voters also believe that Russia has incriminating information against [Trump] the president. According to the poll, 57 percent believe it’s likely that Russia “has compromising information“ on Trump, compared to 31 percent who don't think it's likely.
If there is any good news, it is the reality that Republicans may be setting their Virginia counterparts up for another disastrous election in November 2019.  Trump is already hugely unpopular in Virginia and many suffering as a result of the shutdown may seek their revenge on the Virginia GOP.