Saturday, February 22, 2020

More Saturday Male Beauty

Russia Is Interfering to Aid Bernie Sanders

It has been documented that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to aid Donald Trump - who since election has appeared to further Putin's agenda - and propped up third party candidates such as Jill Stein to siphon off support from Hillary Clinton.  Now, Russia is at it again and is working to aid Trump's re-election and, for now to aid Bernie Sanders who Russia sees as the least electable of those seeking the Democrat nomination.  Trump - who is lying if his lips are moving - disputes Russia's efforts, but the smart money is that the Russians are doing precisely what intelligence officials are alleging.  One looming threat to knowing the truth is Trump's appointment of Trump ideologue Richard Grinell to the position of acting director of national intelligence where he will likely undermine or eliminate anyone not parroting Trump's preferred propaganda. Meanwhile, Democrat primary voters need to be mindful of who Russia is aiding and why.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this latest Russian threat and Sanders' unconvincing disavowal of Russian efforts. Here are highlights:
Russia has been trying to intervene in the Democratic primaries to aid Senator Bernie Sanders, according to people familiar with the matter, and Mr. Sanders said on Friday that intelligence officials recently briefed him.
The disclosure came a day before the Nevada caucuses, where Mr. Sanders is a favorite, and followed revelations a day earlier that Moscow was interfering on President Trump’s behalf this year, as it did in 2016.
“The intelligence community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign right now in 2020,” Mr. Sanders separately told reporters in Bakersfield, Calif., where he held a rally on Friday. “And what I say to Mr. Putin: ‘If elected president, trust me, you are not going to be interfering in American elections.’”
On Friday, [Trump] the president aggressively disputed that Russia was interfering on his behalf. He called the disclosures a hoax and part of a partisan campaign against him. At a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Mr. Trump suggested that Mr. Putin would prefer Mr. Sanders, “who honeymooned in Moscow.”
Russia’s interference on behalf of both Mr. Trump, the dominant force in the Republican Party, and Mr. Sanders, a stalwart of the left, underscores its efforts to sow chaos across the political spectrum. Undermining the democratic system remains at the core of Russia’s effort to raise its own stature by weakening the United States, according to current and former officials.
Russia’s interference measures and their intensity remain murky, even as intelligence officials sound alarms.
In briefings to House Intelligence Committee members last week and to Mr. Sanders, officials said that Russia was actively interfering in the campaign, and people at the House briefing said intelligence officials said that Russia had a preference for Mr. Trump.
Revelations about the House briefing enraged [Trump] the president, who complained that Democrats would use Moscow’s support for him against him, people familiar with the matter said. Days later, he replaced the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, though administration officials have said it was not a direct result of the briefing.
Richard Grenell, the American ambassador to Germany whom Mr. Trump appointed this week to replace Mr. Maguire, asked the agencies under his purview on Friday to provide the raw information and analysis that went into the briefing, people familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Grenell’s appointment has drawn criticism from former intelligence officials who question his lack of experience and his record as a partisan ideologue. . . . . officials have hastened planned exits, as Mr. Grenell looks to install his own team.
[P]eople who heard the briefing said that the intelligence officers presenting the material said, in response to questions from lawmakers, that Russia was trying to get Mr. Trump re-elected.
[S]ome current and former officials expressed doubt that Russian officials think that Mr. Sanders has a hidden affinity for Moscow. Instead, they said that a Russian campaign to support Mr. Sanders might ultimately be aimed at aiding Mr. Trump. Moscow could potentially consider Mr. Sanders a weaker general election opponent for [Trump] the president than a more moderate Democratic nominee, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Russia also worked to support — or at least not harm — Mr. Sanders in 2016. Operatives at a Russian intelligence-backed troll factory were instructed to avoid attacking Mr. Sanders or Mr. Trump, according to the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and an indictment he secured of 13 Russians working on the operation.
Both the indictment and Mr. Mueller’s report quoted internal documents from the Internet Research Agency ordering operatives to attack Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest except for Sanders and Trump — we support them,” the document said.
Russian operatives used the troll factory in 2016 to pose on social media as Americans and sow divisions among already divisive issues like immigration, religion and race. It was one part of the Kremlin’s multipronged attack on the election that also included hackings of Democratic emails, payments to unsuspecting Americans to stage pro-Trump rallies in battleground states and at least one scouting trip to the United States in 2014.
His [Sanders’] online army of supporters is both coveted by his rivals and a source of complaints because of what they say is abusive behavior online.
Sadly, I see Sanders' ego as out of control as Trump's and doubt that he or his most militant supporters will face the fact that they are playing right into Putin's agenda.  Be very, very afraid of where this all ends. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Trump Unleashed: We Should be Deeply Afraid

The Nazi regime did not take control in Germany and turn that nation into a dictatorship overnight. Rather, there was a slow but steady destruction of the free press, including allegations of "fake news" and that the press was the enemy of the people, and the elimination of honorable individuals from government when they refused to parrot Nazi lies or throw away their sense of morality. Meanwhile, a majority of Germans were indifferent to what was happening around them or, worse yet, allowed prejudice and bigotry to convince them in the short term to ignore where Hitler and his regime were taking the country.  It is terrifying to behold, but we are seeing something similar as Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, moves to make the Department of Justice his own weapon against those who do do swear total loyalty and seeks to remake America's intelligence agencies into a tool to further his personal interests over those of the nation.  Trump seemingly believes that a saying of Louis IV - L'état, c'est moi" (I am the nation) - applies to him.  A column in the Washington Post by the now retired admiral who oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden sounds the alarm.  Here are excerpts:
Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and philosopher, once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Over the course of the past three years, I have watched good men and women, friends of mine, come and go in the Trump administration — all trying to do something — all trying to do their best. Jim Mattis, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Sue Gordon, Dan Coats and, now, Joe Maguire, who until this week was the acting director of national intelligence.
I have known Joe for more than 40 years. There is no better officer, no better man and no greater patriot. He served for 36 years as a Navy SEAL. In 2004, he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral and was chosen to command all of Naval Special Warfare, including the SEALs. Those were dark days for the SEALs. Our combat losses from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the highest in our history, and Joe and his wife, Kathy, attended every SEAL funeral, providing comfort and solace to the families of the fallen.
In 2018, Joe was asked to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, a job he knew well from his last assignment as a vice admiral. He accepted, but within months of his arrival came the announcement of Coats’s departure as director of national intelligence. Maguire didn’t seek to fill the job; he was asked to do it by the president. At first he declined, suggesting that Sue Gordon, Coats’s deputy, would be better suited for the job.
But the president chose Maguire. And, like most of these good men and women, he came in with the intent to do his very best, to follow the rules, to follow the law and to follow what was morally right. Within a few weeks of taking the assignment, he found himself embroiled in the Ukraine whistleblower case. Joe told the White House that, if asked, he would testify, and he would tell the truth. He did. In short order, he earned the respect of the entire intelligence community. They knew a good man was at the helm. A man they could count on, a man who would back them, a man whose integrity was more important than his future employment.
But, of course, in this administration, good men and women don’t last long. Joe was dismissed for doing his job: overseeing the dissemination of intelligence to elected officials who needed that information to do their jobs.
As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.

This frightening situation is where America finds itself.  Trump is unleashed, he is threatening John Bolton if he speaks the truth in his new book, and is poised to silence anyone who speaks the truth or puts the nation first. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

More Friday Male Beauty

Richard Grenell’s Frightening Appointment as DNI

Trump's new toady who will subvert
America's intelligence agencies.
Many homocons - gays who loyally support the GOP despite its virulent anti-gay agenda and harm that it does to the larger LBGT community - are likely applauding the appointment of Richard Grenell who is gay and a homocon if there ever was one  to the position of acting Director of National Intelligence.  Never mind that Grenell has zero experience in the field of intelligence.  His appointment bf Trump stems from two things: his ultra-right wing ideology, and his willingness to do whatever Trump tells him to do.  In some old movies gays were depicted as scary and dangerous characters or those willing to betray their country.  Grenell frighteningly fits that mold and will likely work to turn America's intelligence agencies into Trump's personal tools to further enrich himself while blocking any investigations into Trump's betrayal of the national interest.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at this very disturbing appointment while the Washington Post slams Grenell's appointment here.  Here are highlights from the NYM article: 
After 9/11, reformers created the position of director of National Intelligence to improve coordination between America’s sprawling intelligence bureaucracies, and prevent the kinds of oversights that allowed U.S. spies to miss an imminent terror attack.
It’s fair to say they weren’t thinking that the person who held the job should also be coordinating the embassy in Berlin and American efforts to help keep the peace between Serbia and Kosovo — while simultaneously aiding a sitting president’s efforts to squeeze foreign governments to investigate his rivals. But, like the product of some late-night infomercial, Ambassador Richard Grenell now seems poised to do all that and more for the Trump White House.
Grenell’s tenure as ambassador to Germany has been rocky, at least from Berlin’s perspective. He has palled around with far-right groups, spoken openly of a desire to change Angela Merkel’s government, and made statements about U.S. views that sounded like direct orders to sensitive German ears. Last spring, leaders of two German political parties called him a “brat” and a “failure” and urged his ouster. Even in the annals of awkward things done by Trump appointees overseas, this was unprecedented. But if anything, those controversies have only helped Grenell’s reputation in the eyes of President Trump.
He popped up in all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect for someone in his position. . . . . He also made appearances in the scheming of Rudy Giuliani and his allies, according to now-indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. Parnas told the Daily Beast that he was told to ask Grenell for advance notice if the Department of Justice were to move to extradite an indicted Ukrainian oligarch, Dmytro Firtash, from whom Giuliani hoped to get compromising information. Parnas also claims Grenell said he would comply. It would, to put it mildly, not be normal or legal for an ambassador to tip off a private citizen to a law-enforcement move. It would also be odd, because Firtash was not in Germany, and so one wouldn’t have expected the U.S. ambassador there to know anything about criminal procedures involving him.
Media coverage so far has focused on the concerns of intelligence professionals, allied countries, and Democrats that Grenell lacks intelligence qualifications. But that line of critique misses the point. One might argue that Grenell has been serving, unrecognized, as Trump’s high commissioner to Europe, and this Cabinet-level appointment gives him more authority in that role. But it also places an absolute loyalist in a position to, from Trump’s perspective, manage the intelligence community so that it cannot do him harm.
[Trump] The president has made it clear, again and again, that he seeks to remake the national security infrastructure so that it does his bidding and promotes his ends. He does not recognize the idea — sacred to national security professionals — of a higher national interest to which even a president must subordinate her or himself.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Joseph Maguire, a previous favorite for the job, was dropped by Trump because of his perceived personal disloyalty. It has been reported that Grenell will hold the job only in an acting role because he is too controversial to be confirmed.
But in fact, the Senate has already given its advice and consent to this future for our security bureaucracy, by voting to acquit Trump of charges stemming from his misuse of U.S. power in Ukraine.
Apparently the many Republican senators who created the director of National Intelligence position in order to have a senior, impartial leader enabling U.S. intelligence agencies to speak with one, non-politicized voice, also think it is fine to have a president who openly and repeatedly turns the tools of intelligence, law enforcement, and national security to his personal ends.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, February 20, 2020

San Diego Union-Tribune Endorses Buttigieg

The animosity of Amy Klobuchar towards Pete Buttigieg on display last night during the Las Vegas debates will likely heighten in the wake of many seeing Buttigieg's performance as "more presidential" than hers and now Buttigieg's endorsement by the San Diego Union Tribune in a lengthy and reasoned editorial. While I remain conflicted in some ways as to which candidate to back - a friend had us to a Bloomberg event on Tuesday yet I have donated to Buttigieg - the Union-Tribune's reasoning makes the case as to why Buttigieg may be the one who can defeat Trump. Yes, the Trump base will never vote for a gay politician, but then again, they will never vote for a Democrat. Any Democrat.  Thus, the question becomes whether Americans of good will (I believe they are still in the majority) will vote for a gay man just as they voted for Barack Obama. We need a generational change in the leadership of this nation.  My generation and the even older one of many of  the Democrat candidates has left America truly damaged. Here are highlights as to why the Union-Tribune sees Buttigieg as the best choice:
Among the biggest questions in the 2020 presidential election are these:
How will liberals, moderates and independents winnow the Democratic field in the primary election on March 3 when California and 14 other states and territories vote on Super Tuesday?
If the economy stays strong through the general election, can any Democrat defeat Donald Trump, who is building that wall, claims to be the most pro-life president in U.S. history and who in three years has already ensured conservative dominance of federal courts for generations?
What would the United States even look like in 2024 if Trump is re-elected on Nov. 3?  It might be unrecognizable.
America is at a crossroads, even if that is of little or less concern to conservatives given their judicial and social gains under Trump. The sad truth is that four more years of President Donald Trump mean the White House will keep alienating allies, ignoring climate change, sabotaging institutions, tolerating cruelty on Twitter and in real life, and vilifying immigrants at the heart of the American story.
The alternative is a nation that rebuilds its good standing globally and restores decency to a presidency bereft of it while also moving toward a more expansive health care system, more comprehensive and humane immigration reform, reduced carbon emissions, increased gun safety, less national debt and an economy that works for everyone.
There are essentially two paths forward for Democrats, but one on the far left may alienate too many Americans to constitute progress. A middle road is more likely to bring Americans together.
Two candidates can lead the nation down that road with success: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 59, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 38. Both are relatively young, have a Midwestern appeal and will try to work across the aisle — Klobuchar has passed more than 100 bipartisan bills in three terms in the U.S. Senate, Buttigieg emphasizes “how it’s being done” is as important as what gets done, and underscores a need to not have “some kind of equal-and-opposite meanness.” Their approaches paid off in the first two states to vote. . . . . They would also be trailblazers, as the first woman president or first gay president.
It’s close, but in the view of The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, Buttigieg is best suited to beat Trump because of his centrist policies, his military experience, his (admittedly small-scale) executive experience and the enthusiasm he’s inspired, with better fundraising and national polling, bigger campaign crowds and more news coverage than Klobuchar. He has shown he can manage a national campaign successfully. And in a nation that only legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, his message of generational change could actually inspire change.
Of the six strong Democratic candidates left, half are 77- or 78-year-old men, two are women, one of whom is 70, and then there is Buttigieg.  He may have only been mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana, but his fresh approach is transformational. He came out in an op-ed in a local newspaper while seeking reelection in 2015, choosing his ability to love openly over his presumed ability to advance more easily in politics.
At this early stage of the 2020 election, what is clear (and what fills us with hope) is that voters seem more eager to choose a moderate candidate than a progressive candidate to beat Trump. The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, which is generally centrist and highly critical of Trump’s harsh rhetoric and evisceration of civic norms, evaluated the field this month and decided that our endorsement would go to either Buttigieg or Klobuchar.
Sanders inspires passion among those who want dramatic changes but in our view is too far to the left and there are lingering concerns about his health after a heart attack. Former Vice President Joe Biden was solid in that role, but he has been an uninspiring candidate every time he’s run for president; in this cycle, he has seemed uneven and out of touch with modern America and its political climate.
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg . . . his overdue and ultimately inadequate disavowal of discriminatory stop-and-frisk policies, combined with comments in 2008 about the value of “redlining” and in 2015 about the value of Xeroxing descriptions of “male minorities 15 to 25,” and throwing young men of color “against the wall,” gave us greater pause.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is an intellectual giant with a mountain of policy proposals, displaying a tremendous preparation for the job, but her Medicare for All proposal ultimately proved a bridge too far for us, particularly when she mishandled the rollout of the details of its cost. Sweeping changes make sense, but they must be sold to the public, not imposed.
That led us to Klobuchar and Buttigieg. Importantly, she has something that he lacks: experience in Washington, D.C., and a long record of bipartisanship. But a report in The New York Times that she is a demanding and “often dehumanizing” boss is troubling. And her prior career as an aggressive prosecutor is worrisome in an era when the long-term fallout from the overly harsh punishment of redeemable people has given new momentum to criminal justice reform. . . . Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, told The Washington Post. “Rather than taking steps to help mitigate some of those concerns and issues, during her tenure in office, her policies exacerbated the situation.”
Questions about African American support have also dragged on Buttigieg, whose record as mayor shows his top staff didn’t mirror his city’s diversity and includes a controversy with an African American police chief whom Buttigieg demoted. But the way Buttigieg addressed the fatal shooting of a black man by a white officer in his hometown during this campaign suggests he’ll approach tests directly — that he’ll show up and step up.
Michael Patton, president of the local NAACP chapter, supports him, saying, “Pete is someone who has done significant work in our community.”
Then there’s something progressives should keep in mind: Buttigieg is running as a moderate, but he points out his “Medicare for all who want it” proposal would make him the most progressive president in 50 years. He also points out that when Democrats have been elected to the White House in that span, they have been young, first-time presidential candidates who were new to the national scene and “calling the country to its highest values.” He offers a message of hope and change when the nation needs both.
There’s lots to like about Buttigieg, so let’s look at what may make some voters uncomfortable.
Should his age matter? French President Emmanuel Macron was elected at age 39. The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, and the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, were 37 when they were elected. So … no, relative youth shouldn’t matter.
Is he inexperienced? While 16 presidents have been senators, three — Calvin Coolidge, Andrew Johnson and Grover Cleveland — have been mayors. Executive experience is executive experience. Buttigieg has it. And like all other presidents, he could choose smart Cabinet members.
Lastly, his sexuality. Buttigieg’s election would be something to celebrate because it would smash a ceiling and inspire a range of people to be themselves, but his sexuality is irrelevant to this job, to any job.
There are some people who will say Americans won’t elect a gay president. As they said of Barack Obama that Americans wouldn’t elect a black president. As they say of Klobuchar and Warren (and said of popular vote winner Hillary Clinton) that Americans won’t elect a woman president.
That is true only until it isn’t. . . . . People who discount Buttigieg because of his sexuality are just behind the times. People who discount him because of his youth or inexperience are just behind another candidate. That can change quickly, too, as votes get counted and campaigns get suspended ahead of a convention.
The New York Times Editorial Board asked Buttigieg how he would balance his devout Episcopalian faith with his duties as commander in chief, and he showed both his wisdom and his eloquence: “I think you have to accept the reality that you are living and working in a broken world just as we are all broken human beings and try to order your steps in a way that brings greater good than harm.”
That resonated with us, for its lofty rhetoric and grounding in humanity and hope: “greater good.”
It’s time for a generational change. It’s time to make America good again.  Vote Pete Buttigieg for president of the United States.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Bloomberg's First Debate is a Bust

Michael Bloomberg joined the Democrat debate stage for the first time last evening and it was not pretty.  Bloomberg has held himself out as the savior of the Democrats and the best person to defeat Donald Trump in November, yet his rivals were unmerciful in their attacks and Bloomberg confirmed what I had heard one commentator say: debates are not his strong suit. Who actually won the debate may be in the eye of the beholder since all took incoming fire from the rival candidates, but Bloomberg seemingly was the big loser. It is essential that Donald Trump be defeated in November, but I remain uncertain who is the best Democrat - which rules out Sanders who isn't really a Democrat and never has been - to take on Trump. A column in the New York Times looks at Bloomberg's trashing last evening.  Here are excerpts:
You can buy ads and saturate the airwaves with them. You can buy allies, especially with the right budget.
But you can’t buy a debate performance, and that’s why Mike Bloomberg’s on Wednesday night mattered so much. This was the man talking, not the money.
And the man needed rescue — from his bloodthirsty rivals and even more so from himself.
Making his first appearance alongside other contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bloomberg knew that he would be under furious attack and had clearly resolved not to show any negative emotion. But that meant that he often showed no emotion at all. Or he looked vaguely bemused, and that didn’t communicate the coolness that he intended. It signaled an aloofness that he very much needed to avoid.
He repeatedly — and laughably — suggested that he wouldn’t tear up nondisclosure agreements with women who have sued him or his company because they wanted the silence as much as he did. Elizabeth Warren hammered and hammered him on this point, but he wouldn’t budge, and that left the impression that he couldn’t budge. The truth would be too ugly.
Ugly: That’s the word for this ninth debate of the Democratic primary season. It had the fewest candidates — six — but the most nastiness, because those candidates clearly felt an urgency to diminish their competitors and elevate themselves before it was too late. A meager haul of votes in the Nevada caucuses this coming Saturday could effectively undo one or more of them; a poor showing on Super Tuesday less than two weeks from now would definitely be the end of the road.
So Pete Buttigieg went after Amy Klobuchar. Bernie Sanders went after Buttigieg. Joe Biden went after Sanders. Elizabeth Warren went after everybody, a Sherman tank bent on flattening everything in her path. And all of them went after Bloomberg. Dear God, how they went after Bloomberg. I’ve seen chum treated with more delicacy by great white sharks. It was the first time since Bloomberg announced his run for the presidency that he was within reach. For three high-spending, high-flying months, he campaigned essentially as a phantasm, ubiquitous in television commercials but averse to interviews, a supposed paragon of electability who had yet to put himself before voters, more idea than actuality, able to be seen but not touched.
But on Wednesday night, that changed abruptly. The apparition became flesh. And it was bruised from the get-go and bloodied soon after.
It was as if the candidates had made a private pact to eviscerate Bloomberg, who has spent hundreds of millions of his roughly $60 billion fortune to climb in the polls and is poised to spend hundreds of millions more before the nomination is decided.
Is he trying to purchase it? Absolutely. But, as he said at the debate, there’s a great cause behind that expenditure — his determination to deny Donald Trump a second term — and his funding of his own presidential bid at least means he’s beholden to no one.
Buttigieg arguably showed Bloomberg some mercy by denigrating him and Sanders together in one stroke. He called them “the two most polarizing figures on this stage,” one of whom thinks that “capitalism is the root of all evil” and the other of whom thinks that “money ought to be the root of all power.”
“We shouldn’t have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out,” Buttigieg said. “We can do better.”
That line was obviously scripted but no less fascinating for it, because it affirmed the nutty extent to which Bloomberg, by dint of financial swagger and aggressive public relations, has created the narrative that he is the leading moderate alternative to Sanders and the most fearsome adversary for Trump. There’s no real proof yet of either. But it’s a notion with enough currency that Buttigieg, who actually leads the Democratic contest so far in terms of accrued delegates, felt the need to chip away at it.
Maybe Bloomberg never stood a chance, not given how prepared his rivals were to tear him apart and the particular exuberance and eloquence that Warren brought to the task. She savaged him not only for his mistakes but for his explanations of those mistakes, so that his apologies were all but erased.
You thought there was acrimony between Warren and Sanders? They’re honeymooning sweethearts compared to her and Bloomberg.
Sanders was the big winner of the night, because he entered the debate as the front-runner but evaded the kind of harsh treatment that a front-runner usually gets. Bloomberg got it instead.
So while Bloomberg warned direly that Sanders would be a disastrous nominee and possibly guarantee Trump’s victory, Bloomberg’s presence onstage may have bettered Sanders’s odds of getting to the general election. It certainly didn’t better Bloomberg’s.
There was another winner: Trump. The candidates flexed so much disdain for one another that they had a limited reserve for him, and I can imagine Trump and his advisers scouring the night’s transcripts for tips on how to take down whoever the eventual Democratic nominee is.
I don’t know how Democrats escape the uncomely chaos of their contest. But I do know that it’s not the ideal run-up to November, and Bloomberg’s billions aren’t magically going to make it all better.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Limbaugh Demonstrates the Continued Evil of Homophobia

Rush Limbaugh - a thrice divorced study in misogyny - who is a sycophant and cheerleader of Donald Trump (another man who cares little about the sanctity of marriage) recently attacked Pete Buttigieg and maligned his marriage to his husband. This after Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, thereby severely denigrating the value of the award.  In doing so, Limbaugh - and by extension Trump - clearly was pandering to the anti-gay Christofascists who, along with white supremacists make up the core of Trump's base.  The entire episode underscores the continuing evil of homophobia and hate based religion belief that continues to foster it.  A piece at CNN reminds us of the work that needs to be done to rid the world of the evil of homophobia and those who continue to fan the flames of hate and bigotry.  Here are highlights: 
This week lawmakers in Iowa are debating whether a teacher can say "Pete Buttigieg is gay" in the classroom without first notifying parents.   I wish I were kidding but I am not.
The bill, which was introduced by 13 Republicans and advanced to the full House Education Committee on Monday, would require that lessons touching on the topic of sexual orientation or gender identity first be approved by parents, who would then have the option of sending a note to the principal excusing their children from class. It's the kind of story that supports the uncomfortable truth Rush Limbaugh spoke of during a homophobic rant he delivered on his radio show Wednesday, a week after Melania Trump hung a Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck. Limbaugh mused about the discomfort some voters would experience watching Buttigieg kiss his husband on the debate stage, especially if he's standing next to, as he put it, "Mr. Man, Donald Trump."
As offensive as Limbaugh's remarks about Buttigieg were (and as ironic as his holding up Trump as the epitome of manliness were, considering it was the gay dude who volunteered to fight for this country and the straight one who pleaded "bone spurs"), the reality is homophobia is not theoretical. As the lawmakers in Iowa are showing, it is actively practiced. There will be people who will see Trump's many alleged infidelities (which he denies) as well as his well-documented bullying as quintessential masculine behavior and will dismiss Buttigieg's levelheadedness and affection toward his husband as effeminate. And because homophobia is ultimately an extension of misogyny — that is, to be female is to be less than a man — some of the same prejudices that women seeking the highest office face also plague Buttigieg. That doesn't mean fair-minded people should placate homophobes, misogynists and or racists to win an election — although that does happen. It only means that when a loudmouth like Limbaugh spews his vitriol, people should not be surprised. Remember, he would not be a millionaire if a significant number of people didn't agree with him. So, the question isn't whether or not we should chastise the blowhard messenger, it's what are we doing to challenge the hateful message? Prejudice did not go away.  The people who listen to Limbaugh did not and will not go away. This is not meant to conflate supporting Buttigieg with fair mindedness. Only to remove who he loves off the list of reasons to not vote for him. Limbaugh recently revealed he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He may survive it. He may not. But one thing for sure is the attitudes of those who delight in his hateful speech will remain.
So be mad at Limbaugh all you want. Just know there is a difference between how things are and how things should be. The bridge between the two is not constructed from denial and despair but rather acknowledgement of the enemy — in this case, it's prejudice — and a determination not to allow it to prevail.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Trump is Behaving Like a Dictator

I believe Donald Trump is an existential  threat to American democracy.  Sadly, today's Republicans' only concern is staying in office and avoiding the wrath of Trump and his hideous base of support , so behavior that would never have been tolerated even five years ago is shrugged off leaving the nation to slide towards fascism.  Yes, I will vote for any Democrat in November running against Trump in the hope that he will be defeated and forced from office - assuming he will leave voluntarily if he loses the election. Frighteningly, many Americans seem indifferent to what is happening and are all too reminiscent of Germany's citizenry as Hitler rose to power.  A piece in Salon from this past Saturday looks at Trump's conduct last week and why Americans must act to stop him before it is too late.  Here are article highlights:
There will come a time when we look back on this week as the moment in our history when we finally understood that we have a man as president who is acting like a fascist dictator. Just look at the headlines from one day's New York Times alone: "Alarm in Capital as Axes Swing in Growing Post-Acquittal Purge," "Justice Dept. Acts to Ease Sentence for a Trump Ally." If either one of those headlines had run on the front page of a major American newspaper before now, not to mention both of them at once, we would have believed as a people, as a citizenry, that we were facing a national crisis. But this week? Wednesday was just another day in Donald Trump's America.
The day before that, in what became known as the "Tuesday night massacre," all four prosecutors in the case against Trump's longtime friend and political bad boy Roger Stone had resigned in protest of the intervention by Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, to reduce the sentence recommended by the Department of Justice in Stone's conviction for lying to congressional committees and tampering with witnesses. 
All of this followed closely the "Friday night massacre" of last week, when Trump fired two of the impeachment witnesses against him, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council and Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union. 
But two "massacres" in a row was just the beginning. By mid-week, Trump was suggesting that Army officials with court-martial authority over Vindman should "take a look at" punishing him for testifying at the impeachment hearing. On Thursday, the New York Times front page trumpeted, "U,S. Lawyers Fear Removal of a Guardrail: Stone Case Stirs Worry of What's to Come."
Folks, let's not mince words: This is the kind of stuff we read about happening in dictatorships like Russia and North Korea and Iran. And yes, it's the kind of rule by strong-arm fiat that was  practiced by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany.  Before this week, I would have thought it an exaggeration to compare Trump's frequent rallies to the infamous Nuremberg rallies Hitler held during the1930s. No longer. Trump's rallies are unnervingly close to those held in Nuremberg. The MAGA hat has become a kind of Trumpian Nazi  helmet. The denunciations of hated minorities are the same. As is his insane bellowing before a crowd screaming its slavish obeisance.  To call for the imprisonment of political opponents without trial is not playing with rhetoric for effect. It's not political gimmickry. It's not cute. It's not funny. It's not clever. Let's say out loud what it is: It's pure fascism, plain and simple.  The man who stands before those rallies and encourages such idolatry isn't merely running for president. He is calling, directly and without apology, for the kind of obedience and loyalty demanded by dictators. He is commanding worship and submission. It must be why he attracts so completely the support of evangelical Christians. He truly is the false idol their Bible warned them against. They have fallen for him in the same way the most conspicuously devout worshipers commit sins. The inevitability of Trump and his evangelical masses is jaw-dropping, and yes, biblical.  It's hard to put a finger on the worst thing Trump has done since taking office, but right up there is the complete destruction of the idea that the person in the Oval Office is the president of all the people. He isn't. He doesn't want to be. If you didn't vote for him, if you're not out there wearing a MAGA hat and screaming at his rallies, you're a non-person. If your state didn't go for him in the 2016 election, forget about it. Just ask California, or Puerto Rico, still waiting for federal assistance after natural disasters. Or ask New York, which Trump is now extorting like a domestic Ukraine, by denying New Yorkers access to the "Trusted Traveler" program unless the state "stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment" [sic].  
To divide the country into those Trump approves of and those he does not is inherently fascistic. That way lies the singling out of non-supporters and minorities for special treatment.
Donald Trump is an existential threat to the virtues of the democracy we have enjoyed for more than two centuries. He is a real threat to the things we have thought we shared as Americans: the love of variety and dissent, and a belief in the consent of the governed. The capacity of all citizens to respect each other's opposing positions, even amid vigorous disagreement. A respect for the disadvantaged and a scorn for the absolutism of the strong. A universal contempt for the public lie. Trump stands in outright opposition to all of this, and he is a threat to us all. It's time for another Moratorium [Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam] march, this time against Donald Trump. It's not enough to vote against him in November. We're sliding into a fascist dictatorship. The time to act is now.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Boy Scouts of America Files for Bankruptcy

There are stark parallels between the Boy Scouts of America and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.  The leadership of both organizations put protecting their reputations over the safety of children and youths and both maintained extensive records of abuse cases that remained hidden from the public.  Meanwhile, little was done to make sure pedophiles - which is something markedly different from being gay despite Christofascist and Catholic Church efforts to conflate the two even though the vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexual - did not find positions within the organization.  In the end, it was the deliberate cover ups and lies to the public and police authorities that have lead to the disgrace of the institutions and now a bankruptcy filing by the Boy Scouts much like numerous Catholic Church dioceses. The New York Times looks at this development.  Here are highlights:
The Boy Scouts of America, an iconic presence in the nation’s experience for more than a century, filed for bankruptcy protection early Tuesday, succumbing to financial pressures that included a surge in legal costs over its handling of sexual abuse allegations.
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have long maintained internal files at their headquarters in Texas detailing decades of allegations involving nearly 8,000 “perpetrators, according to an expert hired by the organization. Lawyers have said in recent months that former scouts have come forward to identify hundreds of other abusers not included in those files.
The bankruptcy filing, in Delaware, is expected to disrupt continuing litigation and establish a deadline for when former scouts can pursue claims.
Jim Turley, the national chair of Boy Scouts of America, said in an open letter that the organization was entering bankruptcy in order to equitably compensate all victims of abuse through a trust.
It is unclear how much of an overhaul the bankruptcy process will bring to the Boy Scouts, which reports having 2.4 million youth participants, but Mr. Kosnoff said the filing seemed necessary given the totality of the claims that have emerged. At a minimum, Mr. Kosnoff said he would like to see the organization clean out its management and end lucrative salaries for leaders, some of whom earn more than half a million dollars annually.
Even then, Mr. Kosnoff said that he finds it “difficult to impossible” for him to envision a new structure that would give him confidence that the nonprofit has sufficiently changed. He said the organization, which has operated under a congressional charter since 1916, may need to liquidate and allow some new organization with better controls come in to fill the void.
Other organizations, including Catholic dioceses and U.S.A. Gymnastics, have also sought bankruptcy protection in recent years as they have faced sexual-abuse lawsuits.
The Boy Scouts’ troubles have lingered for decades. In a 1935 article in The New York Times, the organization described having files on hundreds of people who had been leaders in the scouts but had been labeled “degenerates.”
While their records date back a century, the Boy Scouts fought the release of some of the files in an Oregon case in the early 2000s — a case that led a jury to hold the Scouts liable in 2010 for $18.5 million in punitive damages. The records in that case stayed private until a ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court in 2012 made them public.
Paul Mones, a lawyer in that case, said he recalled musing with his co-counsel at the time that the files may just be the tip of the iceberg that could ultimately send the Boy Scouts toward bankruptcy. But instead of trying to establish a compensation fund for victims over the years, he said, the organization continued trying to protect its reputation.
Mr. Mones said that the bankruptcy filing will deny other victims an opportunity to hold the scouts accountable in court.
Victims and their lawyers have argued that the files hid the problem and left scouts at risk. Mr. Pierce said he did not know until much later that there was a systemic problem in the Boy Scouts. He said that while the organization helped shape him and gave him many positive experiences, he now believes it must be abolished or radically changed.
“It provides pedophiles with access to boys,” Mr. Pierce said. “That has to stop. I don’t know if that means getting rid of the Boy Scouts or some new oversight.”
Once again, its a case of those irresponsibly seeking to protect an organization being the ones to destroy it. Yet, over and over again we see the same pattern. especially in religious organizations. 

GOP Nutcase Amanda Chase Announces Bid for Virginia Governor

Like the far left of the Democrat Party, the far right of the Virginia GOP cares more about right wing ideological purity than it does about actually winning election.  A case in point is the announcement by GOP Sen. Amanda F. Chase, a Trump-style Republican nutcase in my opinion, that she will run for governor next year as a Republican.  Better yet, if she doesn't get the GOP nomination, Chase says she will run as an independent and virtually guarantee another Democrat governor commencing in January, 2022.  One would think that the GOP rout in the Virginia 2019 elections, not to mention the GOP losses in Virginia in 2018 would be a blaring clarion that what Chase stands for is not wanted by the vast majority of Virginians.  Whether she gets the GOP nomination or not, Chase represents all that is insane and reactionary in today's Virginia GOP.  The Washington Post looks at Chase's announcement which must have been met with glee by Democrats in Richmond.  Here are article excerpts:
State Sen. Amanda F. Chase, a Trump-style Republican at odds with both parties in Richmond, announced on Monday that she will run for governor next year as a Republican — and failing that, as an independent.
“I can’t take it anymore,” Chase (Chesterfield), said, referring to “the liberal, socialistic agenda that has taken control of the Capitol.”
She said she would seek the GOP nomination but would pursue an independent bid if the party denies her the nod.
Chase, 50, made the announcement on the sunny South Portico of the state Capitol before a cheering crowd of more than 100 supporters, many wearing orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers.
Chase first won attention last year for wearing a holstered .38 special on her hip on the Senate floor. Then came a string of controversies, including cursing at a Capitol Police officer over a parking spot, calling the Senate clerk “Miss Piggy,” and declaring rape victims to be “naive and unprepared.
The episodes led to her ouster from her local GOP committee and alienated Chase from Senate GOP leadership, which called her a threat to its efforts to hang onto its razor-thin majority in the chamber in the November elections.
But Chase — who embraced the criticism as a proof of fearless, politically incorrect straight talk — easily won a second term.
In the Senate this year, Chase has continued to infuriate Republicans and Democrats alike. She quit the GOP caucus. She’s been stripped of all but one committee assignment — the lowly Local Government panel. Every one of the bills she sponsored solo this year was killed.
Chase, who has a background in finance, vowed to snap the GOP’s decade-long slide by “doubling down” on conservative issues such as gun rights.
“People are tired of weak-kneed Republicans,” she said. “They get in there and moderate to the middle. And so we have a brand and identity problem now. People don’t know if you’re a real Republican or a fake Republican. Well baby, I’m a real Republican.”
Chase is the first Republican to formally enter the race to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who by law cannot seek back-to-back terms. Pete Snyder, a Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur, has been publicly mulling a bid. Republicans have not won a statewide race since 2009. Chase has been one of the most vocal advocates for gun rights in the Virginia Senate. . . . . As other suburban Republicans stuck to “kitchen table” issues during pivotal legislative races last year, Chase played up her staunch support for President Trump and gun rights and her fierce opposition to abortion. Her clash with the Capitol Police officer and other controversies drew public rebukes from leaders of her own caucus. But that only bolstered her standing with some GOP activists, who rallied around her Trumpian bravado. Some GOP Senate colleagues reacted skeptically. “Amanda just doesn’t have a level of substance, maturity or seriousness that Virginians expect in a gubernatorial candidate,” said state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham).

I welcome Chase's candidacy since it will splinter the GOP vote and meanwhile remind the rest of Virginian why they do NOT want a Republican in the Executive Mansion. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

More Monday Male Beauty

click image to enlarge

Catholic Hierarchy Continues to Abuse Clergy Abuse Victims

Cardinal Valasio De Paolis
Despite Pope Francis' conflicting efforts to move the Catholic Church out of the 12th century and to impose some minimal level of accountability for the global clergy sex abuse scandal, many in the Church hierarchy - the princes of the church, if you will - remain utterly oblivious to reality and the sensibilities of every day Catholics (my family has now fully left the Church largely in disgust over the sex abuse scandal plus the continuing anti-gay jihad).  Another prime example of this obtuseness and separation from everyday morality has come to light in the context of efforts to settle the lawsuits against the Legion of Christ whose founder was a sexual predator of the highest order who was protected by the late and less than saintly John Paul II.   In speaking to the mother of one of the sex abuse victims, Pope Benedict XVI's personal representative at the time conditioned a relatively meager settlement payment on the victim recanting his allegations - or, stated more bluntly, lying about what happened to him.  Thankfully, the conversation was wiretapped and the Vatican will not be able to claim the conversation never happened as the matter goes to court shortly.  Here are highlights from coverage of this incredibly foul action which was but a part of an elaborate, systematic effort to cover up abuse and crimes against children and youths:
The cardinal’s response was not what Yolanda Martínez had expected — or could abide. Her son had been sexually abused by a priest of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis -- the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion and to clean it up -- to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage.
The terms: Martínez’s family would receive 15,000 euros ($16,300) from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order’s youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie.
The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation.
Instead, he chuckled. He said she shouldn’t sign the deal, but should try to work out another agreement without attorneys: “Lawyers complicate things. Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement.”
The conversation between the aggrieved mother and Pope Benedict XVI’s personal envoy was wiretapped. The tape — as well as the six-page settlement proposal — are key pieces of evidence in a criminal trial opening next month in Milan. Prosecutors allege that Legion lawyers and priests tried to obstruct justice, and extort Martínez’s family by offering them money to recant testimony to prosecutors in hopes of quashing a criminal investigation into the abusive priest, Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez.
Lawyers for the five suspects declined to comment.
Benedict had entrusted De Paolis, one of the Vatican’s most respected canon lawyers, to turn the Legion around in 2010, after revelations that its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had raped his seminarians, fathered three children and built a cult-like order to hide his crimes.
There had been calls for the Vatican to suppress the Legion. But Benedict decided against it, apparently determining in part that the order was too big and too rich to fail. Instead, he opted for a process of reform, giving De Paolis the broadest possible powers to rebuild the Legion from the ground up and saying it must undergo a profound process of “purification” and “renewal.”
But De Paolis refused from the start to remove any of Maciel’s old guard, who remain in power today. He refused to investigate the cover-up of Maciel’s crimes. He refused to reopen old allegations of abuse by other priests, even when serial rapists remained in the Legion’s ranks, unpunished.
More generally, he did not come to grips with the order’s deep-seated culture of sexual abuse, cover-up and secrecy — and its long record of avoiding law enforcement and dismissing, discrediting and silencing victims. As a result, even onetime Legion supporters now openly question his reform, which was dismissed as ineffective by the Legion’s longtime critics.
Now, victims of these other Legion priests are coming forward in droves with stories of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse, and how the Legion’s culture of secrecy and cover-up has remained intact.
Martínez, a 54-year-old mother of three, chokes up when she recalls the day she received the phone call from her son’s psychologist. It was March of 2013, and her eldest son had been receiving therapy on the advice of his high school girlfriend. Martínez thought she was about to learn that she would be a grandmother; she thought her boy had gotten the girl pregnant.
Instead, Dr. Gian Piero Guidetti told Martínez and her husband that during therapy, their son had revealed that he had been repeatedly sexually molested by Reséndiz starting in 2008, when he was a middle schooler at the Legion’s youth seminary in Gozzano, near Italy’s border with Switzerland. Guidetti, himself a priest, told them he was required by his medical profession to report the crime to prosecutors.
His complaint, and the testimony of Martínez’s son, sparked a criminal investigation that resulted in Reséndiz’s 2019 conviction, which was upheld on appeal in January.
The investigation, however, netted evidence that went far beyond Reséndiz’s own wrongdoing. Documents seized by police and seen by AP in the court file showed a pattern of cover-up by the Legion and the pope’s envoy that stretched from Milan to Mexico, the Vatican to Venezuela and points in between.
Personnel files, for example, made clear Resendiz was known to the Legion as a risk even when he was a teenage seminarian in the 1990s, yet he was ordained a priest anyway in 2006 and immediately sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary.
When police finally did get wind of the case in March 2013, they uncovered elaborate efforts to keep Reséndiz’s crimes quiet. According to one email seized by Italian police — written March 16, 2011, or 10 days after the Austrian claim was first received by the order — a Legion lawyer recommended to one of the Legion’s senior behind-the-scenes bureaucrats, the Rev. Gabriel Sotres, that a Legion priest visit with the victim in Austria.
The aim of the visit, prosecutors wrote in summarizing the email exchanges, “was to speak to the (victim’s) older brother and convince him to not tell their parents and not go to police because this could cause serious problems not only for the Legion but also Father Vladimir, all the other priests involved and the victim and his family.”
The document the Legion wanted Martínez’s family to sign states that her son ruled out having been sexually abused by Reséndiz and regardless didn’t remember. It said he denied having any phone or text message contact with him, and that his ensuing problems were due to the fact that he left the seminary and was having trouble integrating socially into his new public high school.
The document set out payments for the son’s continuing education and therapy and required “absolute” secrecy. If the family were called to testify, they were to make the same declarations as contained in the settlement -- denying the abuse.
A few months later, the Legion realized it had erred in leaving the proposal with Martínez and proposed a revised settlement acknowledging the abuse occurred. Now, though, it required the family to pay back double the 15,000 euro ($16,300) settlement offer if they violated the confidentiality agreement.
The mother would have none of it. “It’s not a very nice agreement, signing a lie,” Martínez told the cardinal. “Aside from the fact that I don’t want any money, I’m not signing the letter.”

Multiply this outrage by the number of dioceses and Catholic orders around the world and one begins to get an inkling of just what a cesspool the Church hierarchy continues to be.  Indeed, thoughts of a crime syndicate spring to mind when one reads through the efforts to threaten and intimidate victims and their families. Thank god I and my children are no longer Catholics and that my grandchildren will not be at risk of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.