Saturday, August 27, 2022

More Saturday Male Beauty


Donald Trump Is Not Above the Law

Far too many in the mainstream media - many being the same ones who for years have engaged in false equivalency when comparing Democrat positions and GOP lies and thus aided in the transformation of the GOP into a semi-fascist party - are wringing their hands and about to fall on the fainting sofas at the prospect of Donald Trump at long last being indicted for his many crimes while in office and since his departure from the White House.  These spineless individuals, many of whom would not know true investigative reporting if it smacked them in the head, say indicting Trump even if guilty would be "too divisive" and harm the country.  As if Trump's crimes and the white nationalist and "Christian" extermist agenda of today's GOP in and of itself isn't highly divisive.  Moreover, giving Trump yet another pass would merely set the stage for more crimes and send a dangerous message that if one is wealthy and/or has held high office that they are above the law - something that is already a problem but which would be writ large if Trump is not indicted if the facts warrant it.  And increasingly, the facts appear to warrant indictment both for the January 6, 2021 coup attempt and now the criminal possession of top secret documents which I personally can only believe Trump was going to seek to monetize.  A very long main editorial in the New York Times makes this very argument and deserves to be read in its entirety.  Here are highlights: 

Over the course of this summer, the nation has been transfixed by the House select committee’s hearings on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and how or whether Donald Trump might face accountability for what happened that day. The Justice Department remained largely silent about its investigations of the former president until this month, when the F.B.I. searched his home in Palm Beach, Fla., in a case related to his handling of classified documents. The spectacle of a former president facing criminal investigation raises profound questions about American democracy, and these questions demand answers.

Mr. Trump’s unprecedented assault on the integrity of American democracy requires a criminal investigation. The disturbing details of his postelection misfeasance, meticulously assembled by the Jan. 6 committee, leave little doubt that Mr. Trump sought to subvert the Constitution and overturn the will of the American people. The president, defeated at the polls in 2020, tried to enlist federal law enforcement authorities, state officials and administrators of the nation’s electoral system in a furious effort to remain in power. When all else failed, he roused an armed mob that stormed the Capitol and threatened lawmakers.

The Justice Department is reportedly examining Mr. Trump’s conduct, including his role in trying to overturn the election and in taking home classified documents. If Attorney General Merrick Garland and his staff conclude that there is sufficient evidence to establish Mr. Trump’s guilt on a serious charge in a court of law, then they must seek an indictment too.

No American president has ever been criminally prosecuted after leaving office. When President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, he ensured that Nixon would not be prosecuted for crimes committed during the Watergate scandal; Ford explained this decision with the warning that such a prosecution posed grave risks of rousing “ugly passions” and worsening political polarization.

That warning is just as salient today. Pursuing prosecution of Mr. Trump could further entrench support for him and play into the conspiracy theories he has sought to stoke. It could inflame the bitter partisan divide, even to the point of civil unrest. . . . The risks of political escalation are obvious. The Democratic and Republican parties are already in the thick of a cycle of retribution that could last generations.

There is an even more immediate threat of further violence, and it is a possibility that Americans should, sadly, be prepared for. In the hours after federal agents began a court-approved search of Mr. Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, based on a warrant investigating possible violations of three federal laws, including one that governs the handling of defense information under the Espionage Act, his most fervent supporters escalated their rhetoric to the language of warfare.

Mr. Garland has been deliberate, methodical and scrupulous in his leadership of the Justice Department’s investigations of the Jan. 6 attack and the transfer of documents to Mr. Trump’s home. On Friday a redacted version of the affidavit used to obtain the warrant was released, revealing that the Justice Department asked to search the premises to recover documents because of concerns that their disclosure could compromise “clandestine human sources” of intelligence and because it had probable cause to believe it would find “evidence of obstruction” at the premises.

No matter how careful Mr. Garland is or how measured the prosecution might be, there is a real and significant risk from those who believe that any criticism of Mr. Trump justifies an extreme response.

Yet it is a far greater risk to do nothing when action is called for. Aside from letting Mr. Trump escape punishment, doing nothing to hold him accountable for his actions in the months leading up to Jan. 6 could set an irresistible precedent for future presidents. Why not attempt to stay in power by any means necessary or use the power of the office to enrich oneself or punish one’s enemies, knowing that the law does not apply to presidents in or out of office?

More important, democratic government is an ideal that must constantly be made real. America is not sustained by a set of principles; it is sustained by resolute action to defend those principles.

Immediately after the Jan. 6 insurrection, cabinet members reportedly debated privately whether to remove Mr. Trump from power under the authority of the 25th Amendment. A week after the attack, the House impeached Mr. Trump for the second time. This editorial board supported his impeachment and removal from office; we also suggested that the former president and lawmakers who participated in the Jan. 6 plot could be permanently barred from holding office under a provision of the 14th Amendment that applies to any official who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or given “aid or comfort” to those who have done so. But most Republicans in the Senate refused to convict Mr. Trump, and Congress has yet to invoke that section of the 14th Amendment against him. As a result, the threat that Mr. Trump and his most ardent supporters pose to American democracy has metastasized.

Even now, the former president continues to spread lies about the 2020 election and denounce his vice president, Mike Pence, for not breaking the law on his behalf.

Mr. Trump’s actions as a public official, like no others since the Civil War, attacked the heart of our system of government. He used the power of his office to subvert the rule of law. If we hesitate to call those actions and their perpetrator criminal, then we are saying he is above the law and giving license to future presidents to do whatever they want.

In addition to a federal investigation by the Justice Department, Mr. Trump is facing a swirl of civil and criminal liability in several other cases . . . The specific crimes the Justice Department could consider would likely involve Mr. Trump’s fraudulent efforts to get election officials in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere to declare him the winner even though he lost their states . . . . The government could also charge Mr. Trump with seditious conspiracy, a serious charge that federal prosecutors have already brought against leaders of far-right militia groups who participated in the Capitol invasion.

Other evidence points to other crimes, like obstruction of Congress, defined as a corrupt obstruction of the “proper administration of the law.” The fake-elector scheme that Mr. Trump and his associates pushed before Jan. 6 appears to meet this definition. That may explain why at least three of Mr. Trump’s campaign lawyers were unwilling to participate in the plot. People involved in it were told it was not “legally sound” by White House lawyers, but they moved forward with it anyway.

If Mr. Garland decides to pursue prosecution, a message that the Justice Department must send early and often is that even if Mr. Trump genuinely believed, as he claimed, that the election had been marred by fraud, his schemes to interfere in the certification of the vote would still be crimes. And even though Mr. Trump’s efforts failed, these efforts would still be crimes. More than 850 other Americans have already been charged with crimes for their roles in the Capitol attack. Well-meaning intentions did not shield them from the consequences of their actions. It would be unjust if Mr. Trump, the man who inspired them, faced no consequences.

No one should revel in the prospect of this or any former president facing criminal prosecution. Mr. Trump’s actions have brought shame on one of the world’s oldest democracies and destabilized its future. Even justice before the law will not erase that stain. Nor will prosecuting Mr. Trump fix the structural problems that led to the greatest crisis in American democracy since the Civil War. But it is a necessary first step toward doing so.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, August 26, 2022

More Friday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Mini-Trumps Are a Midterm Disaster

As always, despite his intensifying legal problems, Donald Trump's primary focus is on supporting those who give him unquestioning loyalty and who are willing to prostitute themselves to constantly stroke his malignant narcissist ego.  The result is that a number of Trump endorsed candidates won their primaries but given their lunacy are increasingly likely to lose their general election contests.  The situation has been made even worse by the Dobbs ruling of the Supreme Court now dominated by the religious extremists appoited by Trump and rubber stamped by the then GOP controlled U.S. Senate which is breathing new life into Democrat chances of reducing losses in both the House of Representatives and provided an opening to gain seats in the U.S. Senate.  The MAGA cultists living in their Fox News bubble remain blind to the reality that a larger number of American's hate Trump and his mini-me candidates.  One can only hope that these insane and/or racist and religiously extreme  candidates go down to defeat in November.   A piece in The Atlantic looks at the growing chances for a GOP debacle in the Senate races.  Here are highlights:

Donald Trump may no longer have the death grip on the GOP that he had while in office, but when it comes to the party’s base, his power remains unmatched. Nowhere has Trump’s sway been clearer than in the success of his GOP Senate endorsements: Eight out of nine Trump-handpicked candidates in competitive races have won their primaries.

Alas, the former president has crafted a slate of Senate hopefuls that each reflect some aspect of Trump back to their Dr. Frankenstein—and to everyone else. Mehmet Oz, J. D. Vance, and Herschel Walker are all, like Trump, semi-celebrities. Both Walker and Oz have their own histories of making sketchy business-related claims, while Vance—who was, up until the past few years, a Never Trumper—has proved he shares Trump’s mercenary willingness to shift allegiances to get elected. Then there’s Blake Masters, who, like Trump, has gone on the record with a wildly racist claim.

Trump and his Senate picks also share the same electoral liability. The nationalistic rhetoric that delights Trump’s base—which, at this point, is also the base of the Republican Party—turns off the people you need to win elections in tighter races. That is, everyone else.

Republicans can’t win purple states merely as mini-Trumps. The GOP establishment knows this; in purple state Virginia, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin strenuously avoided campaigning with the former president. Trump’s purple state Senate candidates like Ron Johnson and Adam Laxalt, in addition to Oz, Vance, Masters, and Walker, are beginning to figure out for themselves that going full MAGA spooks the electorate. But the bigger problem these candidates have is that they are just terrible candidates—a reality that’s only becoming more obvious as the campaign season continues.

Oz might be the perfect case in point. Once a reasonably likable, if medically unreliable, television celebrity, the Pennsylvania Senate candidate has ended up looking pretentious, spiteful, and petty under the scrutiny of campaign coverage. His campaign has been a parade of gaffes. .  . . even Trump seems to have lost faith in Oz, reportedly lamenting, according to two sources that spoke with Rolling Stone, that the TV doctor was going to “fucking lose” his race. Oz is polling on average around 10 points below Fetterman, according to FiveThirtyEight.)  

The sorry outlook for Trump’s Senate candidates has not escaped the notice of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who reportedly said in an event last week, “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different, they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” While McConnell didn’t specify by name which candidates he found lacking, many read between the lines . . . . it’s clear McConnell’s criticism hit a nerve. Last night, Trump released another anti-McConnell statement, saying, “Mitch McConnell is not an Opposition Leader, he is a pawn for the Democrats to get whatever they want.”  

In the remaining weeks leading up to November 8, Republicans are hoping a last-minute infusion of cash manages to obscure their candidates’ terribleness. And maybe it will. . . . . But I’m not convinced that money can solve an electability problem. The problem with a party being ruled by one figure is that, sooner or later, every vote tends to become a referendum on that one person, who in this case happens to repulse more people than he inspires. And Trump would rather burn the GOP to the ground than surrender his control over it.

More Friday Male Beauty


Hate Group's Donor Records and Pro-Trump Activities Exposed

One of the biggest scams and tax dodges are right wing "charities" and "religious ministries" that use the tax laws to shelter their incomes from taxation and donor bases from scrutiny.   Section 501(c)(3) charities are barred under the tax code and IRS regulations from engaging in political activities if they want to maintain their tax-exempt status the theory being that members of the public should not be forced to indirectly underwite the activities of political operations. Yet among right wing Christian organizations this prohibition is blatantly violated almost daily in some cases as political activities are undertaken and candidate endorsements are made either explicitly or by implication.  Adding insult to injury is the reality that many of the leaders of these false charities pay themselves very plush salaries and cushy benefits - all underwiten by the taxpaying public.  The IRS needs to investigate and yank the tax-exempt status of these groups and their nefarious and outright political activities need to be exposed.  Sadly, it is often difficult to gain information on such groups and organizations that woud render themtaxable and educate the public about the true nature of their activities.  One such organization is Liberty Counsel, a certified hate group, that under the radar has been spreading malicious untruths and activiely supporting Republican candidates, including Donald Trump.  Thankfully, as The Intercept reports, hackers have copied Liberty Counsel's donor base, political emails and other data and are making the information available to media outlets - and one can hope, IRS and Treasury Department officials.  Here are highlights of the ugly truth about this vicious organization and its self-enriching leadership:

Liberty Counsel, an evangelical Christian nonprofit that provided a brief cited by the Supreme Court in its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, has been hacked, revealing a 25-gigabyte internal database that contains nearly seven years’ worth of donor records. The hacker, who identifies with the Anonymous movement, released the data on the hacktivist site Enlace Hacktivista, and the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets is providing it to journalists who request access.

“Noticing a worrying trend of far-right and anti-abortion activists aligning themselves with the evangelical Christian movement, hiding their funding sources behind laws that allow church ministries to keep their donations secret,” the hacker wrote in a press release, “we decided to bring about some much-needed radical transparency.”

In addition to fighting abortion, Liberty Counsel — a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group — has focused its legal efforts on challenging LGBTQ+ rights and vaccine mandates in the name of religious freedom. Because it is registered with the IRS as an “association of churches,” Liberty Counsel is not required to file a public tax return, meaning that its finances are largely shielded from the scrutiny applied to other tax-exempt organizations.

The records show that 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations controlled by Liberty Counsel encouraged supporters to vote for former President Donald Trump despite IRS rules that prohibit such entities from directly or indirectly endorsing candidates for political office. They also reveal how Liberty Counsel has skillfully employed misinformation and partisan polarization over election integrity and the Covid-19 pandemic to build its email list and raise millions of dollars in small contributions — and done so at a breakneck pace since November 2020.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Peggy Nienaber, vice president of Liberty Counsel’s Faith & Liberty ministry, was caught on a hot mic at an evangelical victory party bragging that her ministry prayed with sitting Supreme Court justices. Nienaber’s claim, first reported by Rolling Stone, suggested a troubling conflict of interest, considering that the court cited a Liberty Counsel brief in its decision to end 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion.

The organization’s amicus brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, filed on behalf of a group of religious organizations, was a work of dubious scholarship that argued that abortion is a racist tool of eugenics.

Liberty Counsel has also defended so-called sidewalk counselors, who troll outside abortion clinics creating a hostile environment for those seeking care, and challenged the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, enacted in the wake of the 1993 murder of Florida abortion provider Dr. David Gunn.

Liberty Counsel’s virulently anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and efforts to legalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom led the Southern Poverty Law Center to designate it as a hate group. “The organizations on our hate group list vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity — this includes Liberty Counsel and their vilification of LGBTQ+ people,” said Rachel Carroll Rivas, interim deputy director of research for the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.

Staver has advocated criminalizing homosexuality with harsh punishments as well as “curing” LGBTQ+ people, “a practice that has been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization in the country,” . . . .

More recently, Liberty Counsel has been involved in other right-wing causes. The day after the deadly January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Staver sent an email to supporters stating that “our research and legal staff have been deeply engaged in stopping the steal of our 2020 elections.” The email, later published as a blog post, stressed that Trump could remain in power if God intervened . . . .

Liberty Counsel, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, serves as an umbrella to a number of smaller groups, including Liberty Counsel Action, Faith & Liberty, and Christians in Defense of Israel, all of which share the same hacked database. Of these, only Liberty Counsel Action, a 501(c)(4), has an IRS status that allows it to endorse or oppose candidates for office.

While churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to take stands on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and gun control, the IRS’s Internal Revenue Code prohibits these organizations from engaging in political campaign activity. “Because the IRS has not been very diligent in enforcing the law, many 501(c)(3) groups are pushing the envelope when it comes to politics,” Rob Boston, a senior adviser at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told The Intercept.

After reviewing the email newsletters and blog posts in the Liberty Counsel data, The Intercept found communications in which both Faith & Liberty and Christians in Defense of Israel encouraged their supporters to vote for Trump during the 2020 election.

The Anonymous hacker first discovered vulnerabilities in Liberty Counsel’s Site Stacker website — among them, an administrator user who worked for WMTEK used the password “Password1” — and then realized that the rest of WMTEK’s clients were also vulnerable. So the hacker made off with membership and donor records for more than 90 other Christian nonprofits.

In all, the data shows donations to the organizations totaling over $748 million from roughly 409,000 donors, the earliest dating to September 2015. It also includes private information like names, addresses, and phone numbers for about 1.3 million people.

While Liberty Counsel is best known for legal battles over abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, the hacked data shows more than $1.6 million in donations resulting from petition and fax campaigns built around dubious claims about the pandemic and election integrity. These campaigns — from Liberty Counsel and its 501(c)(4) affiliate, Liberty Counsel Action — drew more than 15,000 unique donors.

Some donors used their official government email accounts to make contributions, the hacked records show. Email addresses associated with the departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs were among those included in the data.

Email addresses associated with state and local governments also made an appearance, including one belonging to Republican Terry Rice, a current Arkansas state senator, whose donation came via a petition decrying “the Democrat push to legalize election fraud.”

Liberty Counsel and organizations like it need to lose their tax exempt status immediately.  Better yet, they need to be shut down.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Friday Morning Male Beauty


More Thursday Male Beauty


The New Republican Big Lie

There is something seriously wrong with America's income tax system when a middle class couple like the husband and myself paid more than 81 times in 2021 federal taxes than what Donald Trump reportedly paid in 2016.  Trump, of course, is hardly the only individual of super wealth who pays nowhere near their fair share in taxes.   The system is truly broken.  But like in so many other things the GOP pushes, the middle class - and even working class - get left holding the bag and treading water financially while the wealthy get exponentially more wealthy.  There's a reason "Old Europe" now has more social upward mobility than America.  In part to address this shameful situation the recent bill passed by Democrats in Congress provides funding to add staffing to the IRS to (i) provide better customer service - call the IRS currently and be prepared to hold on the phone for an hour or more, generally more - and (ii) add agentds totarget wealthy tax cheats like Trump. Despite this common sense approach, leading Reoublicans are spreading deliberate lies and acting as if the bill will unleash thousands of IRS agents armed with AR-15's to terrorize everyday citizens acting as Nazi storm troopers.  It's all a lie and they know it's a lie yet the paranoia of the lunatic GOP base is being stoked and it's likely only a matter of time before some deranged right wing nut engages in violence.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the new big GOP lie.  Here are excerpts:  

So many lies, so little time. It is impossible to keep up with the volume of disinformation churned out by the MAGA-occupied Republican Party. But sometimes it’s worth pausing to examine the anatomy of a particularly egregious fabrication, to understand the broader “alternative fact” ecosystem that misinforms tens of millions of Americans.

Let’s consider the lie, endlessly repeated by Republicans and the Fox News-led echo chamber, that new legislation enacted by Democrats funds the hiring of “87,000 armed IRS agents.” Like the “death panel” fabrication during the Obamacare debate, this is a whole-cloth invention designed to stoke paranoia.

Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.) [who made much of his great wealth through insurance fraud], head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, sent an open letter last week warning Americans not to work for the IRS. He falsely claimed that the Democrats’ climate, energy and tax bill would add “roughly 87,000 agents” at the IRS, creating “an IRS super-police force” . . . .

The IRS certainly isn’t adding 87,000 armed agents. It isn’t even adding 87,000 agents. In fact, it’s not even adding 87,000 employees.

When you figure in attrition (current funding doesn’t let the IRS fill all vacancies), Treasury officials tell me, the expected increase in personnel would be more like 40,000, over the course of a decade — which would merely restore IRS staffing to around the 117,000 it had in 1990.

Only about 6,500 of the new hires would be “agents.” The rest would be customer-service representatives, data specialists and the like.

And fewer than 1 percent of the new hires would be armed. (The IRS job posting Scott cited, which predated the new law, was specifically for such law-enforcement personnel.) Such officers, who go after drug rings and Russian oligarchs, have been part of the IRS for more than a century.

As for the IRS coming after “hardworking Americans,” Treasury says the new law will result in a “lower likelihood of audit” for ordinary taxpayers, because technology upgrades will enable the IRS to target the actual tax cheats — the super-rich — for more audits. The wealthiest 1 percent defraud the government, and fellow taxpayers, of more than $160 billion a year.

So here we have a Republican Party leadership figure generating false hysteria about armed government agents, hysteria that has increased threats against the people who collect the funds for the U.S. military, among everything else. And he’s dishonestly fomenting antigovernment fury in the service of protecting filthy-rich tax cheats.

It isn’t just Scott.  Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), fantasizing about an “army of 87,000 IRS agents,” proclaimed that “we WILL NOT FUND these 87k armed new IRS agents who will target the American people.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) mused on Fox News about “a strike force that goes in with AK-15s [sic] already loaded ready to shoot some small-business person.”

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) warned that “Democrats’ new army of 87,000 IRS agents will be coming for you.”

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel saw an “IRS ‘SWAT team’ ” invading “your kids’ lemonade stand.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) claimed “87,000 new IRS agents.” Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia alleged “87,000 armed IRS agents.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called it a “middle finger to the American public.”

Republican members of Congress tweeted the “87,000 agents” falsehood hundreds of times, while Fox News has repeated it more than 90 times this month, according to the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer — all unmoved by fact checks repeatedly debunking the nonsense.

[T]hey could have told the truth: that the administration plans to add a few thousand IRS agents over 10 years, and a few hundred armed officers, to go after super-rich tax cheats. But the lie is so much scarier.

Once again, average everyday members of the GOP base is being played for fools while the super wealthy sit back and laugh.  Nowadays, one cannot be a Republican without being a shameless liar and - in my view - morally bankrupt. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Ukraine's Real Threat to Putin

Having studied Russian history in college and followed events in that country ever since, from the time of the Bolshevik revolution onward, the biggest threat to Russia's dictatorial leaders has been the inability to deliver an ever improving standard of living to the population and/or having the Russian citizenry learn that other nations - especially democracies - provide a better lifestyle and standard of living than Russians (save for the oligarchs) enjoy.   The Internet has made the task of supressing the truth from the Russian population more difficult and despite Russian xenophobia and a cynical alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin and his cronies face a difficult task in continuing the lie that Russia is exceptional.  Ukraine's young democracy and better standard of living have made the task even more difficult and now rank and file members of the Russian military in Ukraine are seeing for themselves, despite the destruction they are inflicting, that Ukraine provides its people a better life.  Hence Putin's obsession with making the nation cease to exist.  A column in the New York Times looks at this reality and the threat it poses to Putin's dictatorship.  Here are highlights:

In early April I walked into Andriivka, a village about 40 miles from Kyiv, with my battalion in the Ukrainian territorial defense forces. We were among the first Ukrainian troops to enter the village after a Russian occupation that had lasted about a month. Shell casings and boxes of ammunition were scattered everywhere, and the houses were in various states of ruin. In one of the yards we passed there was an abandoned burned-out tank sitting on the grass.

The Russians killed civilians in Andriivka, and they ransacked and looted houses. The locals told us something else the Russians had done: One day they took mopeds and bicycles out of some of the yards and rode around on them in the street like children, filming one another with their phones and laughing with delight, as if they’d gotten some long-awaited birthday present.

A few days earlier we were in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kyiv that was subjected to an infamously brutal occupation. The people there told us that when the first Russian convoy entered the town, the troops asked if they were in Kyiv; they could not believe that such idyllic parks and cottages could exist outside a capital. Then they looted the local houses thoroughly. They took money, cheap electronics, alcohol, clothes and watches. But, the locals said, they seemed perplexed by the robotic vacuum cleaners, and they always left those.

This war is Vladimir Putin’s fatal mistake. Not because of economic sanctions and not because of the huge losses of troops and tanks but because Mr. Putin’s soldiers are from some of the poorest and most rural regions of Russia. Before this war, these men were encouraged to believe that Ukrainians lived in poverty and were culturally, economically and politically inferior.

Now the invaders have seen the reality: The Ukrainians live better than they do.

The war has brought that reality home to me, too. When Ukraine and Russia left the Soviet Union about 30 years ago, we had the same resource-based economies, the same endemic corruption and poverty. Foreigners would often think Ukraine was part of Russia, and even Ukrainians did not always understand the fundamental differences between Russians and us. But at some point, our paths diverged.

Ukraine has learned how to build roads, schools and hospitals. Ukrainians have been able to travel to the European Union without a visa since 2017. And when Volodymyr Zelensky, a political outsider, was elected president in 2019 on an anticorruption, pro-European platform, the incumbent president, Petro O. Poroshenko, conceded immediately.

Of course, Ukraine still has its problems. There is still corruption. We cannot say that we are satisfied with our justice system: Our courts are not independent. Before the war, large numbers of Ukrainians left to work in Poland and other countries every year. We still have a long list of work that needs to be completed.

But these problems are not the same as those in Russia, where Mr. Putin has been more or less in charge for more than 20 years and elections are basically meaningless, where badly maintained roads crisscross the country — except when they just end — and where a person can be sentenced to prison for merely expressing an opinion, like Aleksei Gorinov, a member of a local council who was recently sentenced to seven years in prison for speaking out against the war in Ukraine.

Ten years ago Ukrainians could drink beer with Russians after the European Championship soccer matches, but we didn’t realize then that Ukraine was moving forward and Russia was moving in the opposite direction. Ukraine was trying to build a path to freedom, and Russia was building a path back to the Soviet Union with Kremlin TV and petrodollars. Eventually we grew too far apart, and something snapped.

Every day for months, I have been carrying Ukrainians who have been wounded in the fight to protect what we’ve built. Now the invaders have seen what we’ve built, too. That’s a truth that they can take home with them.

Hopefully, one day the Russian populace will rise up and overthrow Putin.  Putin sees himself as the new Tsar - may he meet the same fate as the last Tsar under the Bolsheviks. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Grifter-in-Chief’s Dangerous Gambit

With confirmation in numerous news otlets that Donald Trump had some 300 top secret documents at his Florida estate, it is hard not to ponder how he was seeking to monetize the materials since they only thing more important to Trump than stroking his ego is money.  These two motivations - along with keeping his ass out of prison - are fueling his actions in the wake of the FBI raid to seize classified government documents Trump had refused to return to the proper government authorities.  Especially, making money and shaking down his mind-dead, conspiracy embracing followers who seemingly would jump off a cliff if he told them to do so.   Most disturbing is that Trump cares nothing about the damage he does or how he ruins individual lives.  It is - as always with Trump - only about himself and lining his pockets.  A column in the New York Times looks at Trump's dangerous game.  Here are excerpts:  

If there’s one thing a top-notch grifter knows how to do, it’s exploit a crisis.

So it is that Donald Trump has transformed the F.B.I.’s search of his Mar-a-Lago home from a potentially debilitating scandal into a political bonanza — one that threatens to further divide a twitchy, polarized nation.

His formula for this alchemy? The usual: playing on pre-existing grievances among his followers — in this case, the right’s bone-deep suspicion and resentment of federal authority. . . . Once Mr. Trump donned his trusty cloak of victimhood, which by now must be threadbare from overuse, the Republican response to the search was predictable: His base roared in outrage, a display of blind fealty featuring threats of lethal violence against their savior’s perceived persecutors. Party leaders tripped over themselves to fuel the fury, lobbing attacks at the F.B.I. for which they should forever hide their faces.

Even better, from the perspective of a veteran snake-oil salesman, the money has come pouring in. In the immediate aftermath of the so-called raid, fund-raising by Mr. Trump’s political action committee spiked, even topping $1 million on at least a couple of days, according to The Washington Post. Compare this with the more modest daily haul of around $200,000 to $300,000 in recent months.

This bump was no accident: Mr. Trump is a master at bilking his fans, and the F.B.I. had barely left Mar-a-Lago when his fund-raising machine kicked into overdrive. In the 10 days after the search, Trump World sent more than 120 fund-raising emails mentioning the episode, reports USA Today. Others featured more general references to persecution by the left. Several solicitations cited the “Official Trump Defense Fund” — which smells suspiciously like the “Official Election Defense Fund” for which Trump World once cadged donations but that, as best as anyone can tell, was never a real thing.

And so the grift grinds on.

As with so many Trump cons, this one goes beyond being shameless and self-serving. The former president and his allies are engaged in something deeply pernicious: an aggressive disinformation campaign that is ginning up anti-government anxiety and animus on the right by painting Mr. Trump as beset by evil, out-of-control feds.

On one level, the conservative assault on law enforcement feels discordant, ironic, even hypocritical. Especially when you consider that the F.B.I. has an achingly conservative culture and has long enjoyed a chummy relationship with the Republican Party. More specifically, it bears noting that the F.B.I.’s director, Christopher Wray, was picked by Mr. Trump.

But on another, this development makes perfect sense. The political right, which increasingly controls the party, has long had … issues … with federal authority, which periodically bubble up in nasty, dangerous ways.

Think back to the early 1990s, when the F.B.I.’s clashes with white separatists at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and later Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas — both of which ended in bloodshed — fueled conspiracy theories and anti-government sentiment on the right.

Going back still farther, federal troops played a prominent role in dismantling the segregated South. In his 1963 inaugural address, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama delivered his infamous pro-segregation rallying cry and whined that, after the Civil War, the South was “set upon by the vulturous carpetbagger and federal troops, all loyal Southerners were denied the vote at the point of bayonet, so that the infamous illegal 14th Amendment might be passed.” Even now, plenty of white Southerners — the aggrieved heart of today’s Republican Party — cling to their sense of being oppressed by highhanded federal meddlers.

Responsible political leaders work to lessen these kinds of tensions for the good of the nation. Mr. Trump cares nothing about that. He has spent years working to delegitimize the entire Department of Justice, claiming political persecution by the Deep State to advance his own ambitions.

The G.O.P. may fancy itself the party of law and order, but Mr. Trump has endeavored to redefine which laws matter and what kind of order is legitimate. Short answer: only ones that ensure he comes out on top. It is the ultimate grift, and one that grows ever more dangerous.

More Tuesday Male Beauty


A Murder in Russia and A Swirl of Kremlin Lies

It has been almost six months since Russia invaded Ukraine in violation of international law and the Russian attrocities continue with civilians constantly targeted - again inviloation of international law and the rules of war.  Vladimir Putin, Russia's paranoid dictator who sees himself as Russia's new Tsar appears motivated by delusions of granduer and consistently bad advice by boot licking advisers.  Challenging the war within Russia leaves one with no option but to flee the country as has been done by a former Russian paratrooper who has let loose about Russia's aggression and attrocities to CNN and elsewhere:

The Kremlin's justification for invading Ukraine "is a lie," a Russian paratrooper who previously publicly condemned his country's war in Ukraine has told CNN.

Two weeks ago, Pavel Filatyev spoke out against the conflict in a 141-page-long testimony posted to his VKontakte social media page, then fled Russia. He is the first serving member of the Russian military to publicly criticize the invasion of Ukraine and leave the country.

Now he tells CNN that his fellow troops as tired, hungry and disillusioned -- and that the Kremlin's war effort is "destroying peaceful lives."

"We understood that we were dragged into a serious conflict where we are simply destroying towns and not actually liberating anyone," Filatyev told CNN's Matthew Chance.

Meanwhile, in Russia the daughter of an ultra-nationalist ideologue who applauded the Russian invasion has been killed in a car bombing thought to have targeted her father.  Naturally, Putin blames Ukraine for the bombing - likely for propaganda purposes given the growing difficulty in hiding Russian military deaths and casualties.  Some even suspect that Russia's secret police may have been responsible.  Indeed, with a paranoid dictator in charge anything is possible.  The only guaranteed reality is that (i) lies will continue to flow from the Kremlin and that (ii) nothing Putin and his minions say can be believed.  Pieces in The Atlantic and Washington Post look at the car bombing and the endless lies.  This from The Atlantic:

A car bomb exploded in one of Moscow’s wealthy neighborhoods on Saturday night, killing Darya Dugina, the daughter of Aleksandr Dugin, the spiritual godfather of Russia’s surging fascism. Her death may have an impact far beyond the Russian capital. Or it might not; this may have been part of yet another tangled vendetta among Russia’s elites. We won’t know the truth for a while—if ever—but following this story requires some context about the Dugins.

It’s possible (if unlikely) that this might not have been about politics. Dugin’s daughter was driving her father’s car, but in Moscow, people with money and proximity to power live with a certain amount of generic risk from any number of potential enemies. To be involved in anything of material or political importance in Russia is to court risk.

But the Dugins are not ordinary propagandists. Aleksandr Dugin is part of a weird strain of Russian imperial hypernationalism that somehow manages to venerate Russian Orthodoxy, Stalin, the Nazis, and the occult all at the same time. You can read more here about the late-1980s trends in the U.S.S.R. that produced this vicious and deeply weird school of thought . . . . Much of it is warmed-over Russian messianism and mystical gobbledygook, the product not only of 19th-century Russian grievances against Europe and Western Christianity but also of late-20th-century Soviet resentments against the “Atlantic” world led by the United States.

Underneath it all is the simple and brutal belief that Russia—specifically white, Christian Russia—is destined to rule Eurasia as the first step to contesting world domination with the decadent Americans and Europeans. Dugin’s ravings are as unreadable in Russian as they are in English, but the Russian General Staff assigns Dugin’s book as a required text, and understandably so. It is an almost perfectly Orwellian view of total and permanent war, a perfect ideology for a country afflicted by both a deep inferiority complex and a dark spiritual vacuum.

Ukraine, of course, is at the top of the list of regions to be recaptured. Kyiv is the birthplace of Slavic Christianity, and for people like Dugin (and Vladimir Putin), the existence of Ukraine as an independent state is intolerable. Dugin doesn’t mince words about Ukraine; back in 2014, he said that Ukrainians “must be killed, killed, killed.”

Dugin’s 29-year-old daughter ran a disinformation website in Russia and was already under U.S. sanctions. . . . . She shared her father’s ideology and his loathing for Ukraine.

So who killed her? Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB, by its Russian initialism) claims that a Ukranian woman named Natalia Vovk moved into Dugina’s apartment block a month ago, planted the bomb, and fled to Estonia. This seems pretty quick and convenient, and the Russian news service TASS has already declared the case solved.

It’s true that Russian officials in Ukraine have been killed by car bombs, which are old-school hits by modern Russian standards. It’s not clear, however, why the Ukrainians would want to go to Moscow to take out second-stringers like Dugin or his daughter; his star has dimmed over the years, in part because he was critical of Putin for not being brutal and imperialistic enough. . . . . Dugin isn’t a nobody, but he wasn’t exactly running the war in Ukraine, either.

Kyiv denies Moscow’s charges. Meanwhile, a former Russian parliamentarian and dedicated Putin opponent, Ilya Ponomarev, claimed in a broadcast from Kyiv that the bombing was the work of a group calling itself “the National Republican Army” that is dedicated to overthrowing Putin, but this is not verifiable.

Could the FSB have hit Dugina while trying to kill Dugin, perhaps as a plot—the kind Russian spies have been accused of in the past—to spin up fresh hatred against Ukraine and get some of the heat off itself for its botched advice six months ago?

Unless someone with more credibility claims responsibility, or more evidence emerges in Russia, we’re unlikely to know much more anytime soon, no matter how quickly TASS or Twitter declares the case closed. The one certain outcome is that the Russians will use Dugina’s death to press on with their campaign of atrocities and destruction.

The Post piece sums up the situation this way:

And that brings us to the most important point — that we shouldn’t take Kremlin statements at face value. Russia is a paranoid dictatorship prosecuting one of the most brazen acts of international aggression in decades. . . . . six months after the start of the invasion, it remains a crime to state the truth that Russia is waging “war” in Ukraine. Dictatorships, by their nature, do not deal in truths. Any information released by the Russian authorities should be treated less as a description of reality than as a political tool.

Putin - like his asset, Donald Trump - simply never deals in the truth.  

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, August 22, 2022

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America's Teacher Shortage: Is Virginia Next?

With family members and friends who work in the public schools I am well aware of the complaints of teachers when it comes to poor pay, lack of respect and now in red states fears of reprisals and/or firing if they mention subjects - or even accurate history - that ruffles the feathers of Christofascist and/or white supremacist parents who cannot tolerate Johnny or Jane learning the truth or about those who are different.   A piece in The Economist looks at the teacher shortage in America and finds that the shortages are real in some states - typically red states that have underfunded public education for decades - and in schools that serve poor and minority students given that most schools are funded through property taxes and school taxes based on real estate values.  The other threat to teachers - censorship and disiplinary actions for teaching the truth - may be coming to Virginia as noted in a piece in the Cavalier Daily (UVA's student newspaper) that looks at a new Virginia law that could potentially erase LGBT individuals from the schools if utilized by far right parents and, of course Glenn Youngkin's secret "tip line."  While Youngkin talks about improving public education, many of his political allies seek to dismantle public education.   First this from the Cavalier Daily

Governor Glenn Youngkin signed into law SB 656 a few months back. The legislation requires Virginia teachers to identify “sexually explicit” content within their curriculums and mandates that principals notify parents about the explicit content, prior to their classroom introduction. In accordance with the law, the Virginia Department of Education released its model guidelines for sexually explicit instruction this past month, and its language has raised serious concerns. By referencing an obviously outdated section of Virginia code, the new law creates the potential for all content mentioning same-sex relationships — in all grade levels — to require parental approval, effectively robbing Virginia students of the diverse and inclusive education to which they are entitled.

In part, the new law defines “sexually explicit content” as representations of pornography, coprophilia, bestiality and fetishism as well as any form of “sexual conduct” outlined in a specific subsection of Virginia code, § 18.2-390. This section of Virginia code happens to include the term “homosexuality” in its list of inherently sexual conduct. Which means — as the Pride Liberation Project deftly points out — the law could be interpreted to categorize all mentions of people in same-sex relationships as “sexually explicit” content — and thus require parental approval to be taught.

If any of this sounds eerily familiar to you, it is because earlier this year Florida Governor Ron Desantis signed a bill that famously gained traction as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Among other things, the bill “prohibit[s] classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade. While that bill was very open about its intent to ban certain kinds of classroom conversations and very limited in the age demographic it targeted, the bill that was signed in our state was far more clandestine in its efforts and affects students at every single grade level. Virginia’s version of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is much farther reaching and — if teachers can’t get a whole bunch of waivers signed — it could be a lot more destructive.

It’s hard to say with certainty that further erasure of the LGBTQ+ narrative from school curriculums was an intended effect of this law. However, given the actions of Republican controlled state legislatures across the country, it isn't crazy to think that this was a concerted effort on the part of Virginia Republicans to exacerbate the marginalization of Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth.

Schools exist to give kids the tools necessary to change the world. This will become fundamentally impossible if parents are “empowered” such that they can exclude any competing worldviews from the minds of their children. Diverse and inclusive curriculums aren’t only vital to the success of marginalized students — they are also the bedrock of a more equitable society, a society destined to break the cycles of bigotry perpetuated by generations past.  

Unfortunately for the students of the Commonwealth, the Youngkin administration — in collaboration with Virginia Republicans — appears to have declared a war on love, on acceptance and on progress.

As far as the larger teacher shortage, The Economist reports the problem is the worse in red states that historically have not funded public schools - e.g., Alabama.  Here are article excerpts: 

The narrative goes as follows. America is suffering from a nationwide teacher shortage. Teachers have been leaving the profession for years, but recent stresses from the pandemic and the culture war have caused the entire profession to hit a tipping point. Educators are leaving in droves. School leaders are using desperate measures to recruit. Some districts are offering five-figure bonuses. Florida is allowing military veterans without the usually required qualification of a bachelor’s degree to teach while taking college classes. Some rural schools are even resorting to four-day school weeks.

These stories are true. Some schools and subjects are facing desperate shortages. But the problem is hardly national and certainly not new.

[R]esearchers from Kansas State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign gathered information from state education departments and news media. Among the 18 states with vacancy information for the last school year, only three (Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia) needed to fill 5% or more teaching positions. A shortage of teachers does exist, but it is not nationwide.

States that have historically invested in public education face fewer labour challenges. New Jersey ranks highly on many measures—test scores, per-pupil spending, graduation rates—and the state was fully staffed last year. By contrast Alabama ranks low on achievement (it comes 49th on national maths scores, for example). The state needed to fill over 3,000 vacancies last year, about 7% of its teaching positions. Its troubles have continued into the current school year.

Typically hard-to-staff areas and subjects continue to experience short supply. A government survey in June found that 47% of schools needed to fill a vacancy in special education, compared with only 11% in physical education. Non-white schools and schools in areas of high poverty face more pressure to hire than whiter and richer schools, and they have struggled with teacher shortages for decades.

This problem is not new. But for some states it is getting worse. In 2021-22, Mississippi needed to fill 3,036 of its positions (nearly 10% of its staff). Three years before, the state needed 1,063 teachers.

As in previous years, the shortage is largely confined to certain areas and subjects. Yet recently it has been perceived as a national problem.

Some of the hysteria might stem from teacher surveys indicating a more widespread issue: 74% of educators were dissatisfied with their jobs in June, according to a survey by the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers’ union. In February, a survey by the National Education Association, America’s largest labour union, estimated that 55% of teachers were considering leaving. No wonder. The pandemic was a tough time for everyone, but especially for educators who had to switch from in-class learning to remote learning without warning. But there is a difference between intending to leave and actually doing so.

The shortage narrative is politically expedient for education activists on both sides. Democrats, whose supporters favour spending more on public schools than Republicans, point to massive teaching shortages as proof that public schools are underfunded. . . . . “You have the most educated workforce in the nation. Educators have the most advanced degree, but they cannot have a liveable wage.”

But conservatives use the nationwide narrative for their own purposes, too. They point to the supposed shortage as proof that the entire state-school system is failing. They push for lowering teaching-certification standards and removing teachers’ unions. And they say privatisation provides an answer.

In truth, the schools that are struggling to hire teachers are the usual suspects. Nationwide, public schools are doing quite well: most pupils will have a teacher, and overall family satisfaction with their child’s school will probably stay high this year as in past years. The problems remain where the problems tend to exist—in the underfunded schools serving the most disadvantaged pupils.

Monday Morning Male Beauty