Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

100 Days of Russiagate and No End in Sight

With almost no accomplishments to show 100 days into his misrule, Trump has managed to do something few presidents have done so quickly: trigger and on going FBI investigation and four Congressional investigations into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence operatives and thus the Kremlin to throw the 2016 election to Trump.  It's about the only "huge" thing Der Trumpenführer has managed and the good news is that there is no end in sight for the Russiagate investigations which, I personally hope will find collusion and treason and end the Trump/Pence nightmare for the country.  A piece at CNN looks at the ongoing saga (read the whole piece):
Russia's influence is currently the subject of four separate congressional probes, and has led to the resignation of the national security adviser and the recusal of the attorney general for the Justice Department investigation into the matter.
The steady drip of leaks coming from intelligence sources familiar with the federal investigation has turned into a consistent stream of embarrassing news for the new administration.
As the Trump White House heads into the 100th day, House and Senate investigators are on a slow, methodical track, pulling together the many threads of Russia's ties to a core group of Trump's top advisers, all of which promises to extend the steady stream of news related Russia much farther into the President's term.
The White House has consistently argued there is no connection between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. In an amusing exchange during his daily briefing last month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer made the point that overzealous reporters are seeking something that doesn't exist.
The Russia investigations stand at a juncture now -- with questions of whether they will turn out more like Watergate, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon (a president Trump is often compared to stylistically) or closer to Whitewater -- a fiasco which harangued President Bill Clinton through his first term in office, but ended with no criminal charges against the president.
The one thing that is certain is this cloud of Russia questions is not moving from over the administration any time soon.
The very run-up to Trump's 100-Day mark was dominated by news first that former national security adviser Michael Flynn may have broken the law by not disclosing payments from RT-TV on his security clearance application -- a revelation not from the House intelligence committee, but instead the House oversight committee.
We've already seen this coverup behavior for the last few months: the number of people who met with Russians who didn't disclose it, the information that we've asked for -- whether it's Flynn, or Sessions, or Kushner -- that they won't turn over is concerning."
The White House has distanced itself from the four major targets of both the FBI probe and Congressional investigators -- Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page and former Trump aide Roger Stone.
Veteran congressional investigators say the best answer is to simply not fight the inquiries, by either withholding documents or distracting. . . . . The White House does not appear to heeding at least some of that advice, telling the House oversight committee earlier this week that for several reasons it would not be handing over documents they requested related to Flynn.
The peril for the Trump administration is that it now faces not just an active FBI investigation, but two major, functioning Congressional probes and additional inquiries -- all churning slowly in quiet, digging deeper into the Trump campaign's ties to Russian operatives.
Meanwhile, outside the Capitol, "Tax Returns!" has become a chant in rowdy town hall meetings where Democratic and Republican lawmakers are bombarded with questions about Trump's financial holdings that, progressive activists say, could easily show Trump's own ties to Russia.
So far, Republicans in the House and Senate have resisted calls to subpoena Trump's tax returns. But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has noted that, if Democrats win back the House in 2018, they could easily seek his tax returns.
The 100-Day benchmark is typically a victory lap for a new administration -- but the parade of Russia stories from this fledgling White House and the outstanding questions -- almost guarantees the story far away from its ending.

100 Days: Trump Fails Even Low Expectations

100 days into the misrule of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, thankfully little has been accomplished.  I say thankfully, because so much of the Trump/Pence and GOP agenda is bad and threatens to harm average Americans, including those who were stupid enough to fall for Trump's racist and xenophobic campaign rhetoric.  Thankfully, the renewed GOP to destroy health care for millions is as of this morning once again on the back burner.  As for the Trump "tax plan" a New York Times headline describes the one page exercise in irresponsible behavior this way:  "Plan Redistributes America’s Wealth to Its Richest Families." Among those families, of course is Trump's own.  The atmosphere that is net result of this incompetent and deranged presidency is aptly described in a New York Times op-ed this way:  

"Fans of old TV series may remember a classic “Twilight Zone” episode titled “It’s a Good Life.” It featured a small town terrorized by a 6-year-old who for some reason had monstrous superpowers, coupled with complete emotional immaturity. Everyone lived in constant fear, made worse by the need to pretend that everything was fine. After all, any hint of discontent could bring terrible retribution. . . . . Actually, it feels a bit like that just living in Trump’s America."

What is most baffling - until one looks at and understands to white rage that powered Trump to office and his legitimizing of the same - is that surveys show that 96% of voters are happy with Trump's performance even though he has delivered little or nothing to date.  A column in the Washington Post by a conservative columnist looks at Trump's inability to meet even exceedingly low expectations.  Here are highlights:
As we cross the finish line of President Trump’s first 100 days, no leader in recent memory has benefited more from low expectations. A more typical president who tumbled from an approval rating in the high 60s to one in the low 40s would be in a political crisis. Trump’s current performance is only a slight dip from his divisive norm.
A president with pretensions of rhetorical coherence would be embarrassed by gaffes and mediocre speeches. For Trump, gaffes and inarticulateness are part of the package. A president with high standards of integrity would be mortified by a brewing scandal that seems to involve smarmy aides and a foreign government. For Trump, well, what would you expect?
The president is particularly proud of the consequential elevation of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But this action invites a comparison. Trump’s one unquestioned achievement consists of appointing another man who actually has thoughtful convictions.
Much of Trump’s 100-days defense could have been employed by the pharaoh who ruled after the one in the book of Exodus. The cattle haven’t all died. We’ve seen less fiery hail. And pestilence has been kept to an acceptable minimum.
[A]t least, in polling language, he is a “strong and decisive leader.” This is a conceit that becomes harder and harder to maintain. . . .  Consider Trump’s interaction with China. On the campaign trail, the Chinese were currency manipulators who were too weak on North Korean nukes. In his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the American president got his first glimpse of the Chinese perspective and was transformed.
It seems the case that one of America’s main strategic rivals was, quite literally, schooling the American president on economics and foreign policy.
A similar picture has emerged in Trump’s dealings with Congress. When the Freedom Caucus defied him on health care, the administration’s blustery threats against the dissenters came to nothing. House Republicans ignored his tantrum and continued their work. 
Ultimately, Trump is failing because he has little knowledge of the world and no guiding star of moral principle. The best of our leaders — think Abraham Lincoln — have been sure about the truth and uncertain about themselves. Trump is the opposite. His mind is uncluttered by creeds. He knows what he wants at any given moment, but it can bear little relation to the moment following. Who really believes that he would be sleepless if the wall were not built or if NAFTA ultimately survived? Who believes he would not be sleepless because of a nasty joke at his expense during a dinner party?
Trump clearly wants to be judged by a frenetic level of activity. But the issue at hand is direction, not momentum. It is useful to undo some past liberal excesses, as Trump has done. But negation can’t be confused with inspiration. There can be no measure of political progress without a measuring stick of political conviction. Instead, we are treated to hysterical self-praise. Appalling — but, hey, what did we expect?

Racism: Why Many Whites Give Trump/the GOP a Pass on Giveaways to the Rich

As noted in prior posts, Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer's "tax plan" is based on fairy tale assumptions and will result in huge new deficits if passed and throw the vast majority of the tax cuts to the very wealthy and large corporations.  But one example is the elimination of the estate tax that currently only impacts married couples with a net estate of over $11 million.  Average Americans simply get no benefit from a repeal of the estate tax, yet many foolishly support its elimination.  Similarly, many working class whites voted for Trump and Republican candidates even though for the last 37 years most of the GOP's policies have worked against the working class. So why the support for those who are behind the economic destruction of these people?  In a word, racism.  The GOP for decades now has played off of white racial animosities.   For an added bonus, the GOP and now Trump have also played to Christian extremists, LGBT rights being but one of the favored whipping boys to get out the GOP base on election day.  A piece in Slate looks at this disturbing phenomenon which has no sign of abating.  Here are excerpts:
Donald Trump wants to give himself a tax cut.
His new tax plan, a one-page summary unveiled on Wednesday in the last-minute scramble for an accomplishment before the end of his first 100 days, would cut the business rate down to 15 percent. Now, Trump isn’t a business, but he owns one, and it’s not structured like a typical one. Instead, it’s a “pass-through” corporation, meaning its earnings are passed through to the owners’ individual returns and then taxed at the appropriate marginal rate. Trump’s tax cut is structured to slash rates on pass-throughs as well other corporate forms. In other words, if passed, the president will save himself a nice chunk of change, on the order of tens of millions of dollars.
Trump’s plan would slash individual and business rates, repeal the estate tax, and end the alternative minimum tax (which hits a number of affluent households, in addition to the highest income earners). What’s more, Trump would eliminate the 3.8 percent investment surtax found in the Affordable Care Act, another break for the wealthiest households and estates.
Together, these tax cuts would cost an estimated $5.5 trillion over the next 10 years, according to a preliminary analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.  . . . with $20 trillion added to the national debt by 2036.
This is just gravy for the rich: The large bulk of these cuts will go to the highest earners and wealthiest Americans. More than 30 percent of income gains accrue to those with annual incomes more than $200,000, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, with 14.3 percent accruing to those with incomes above $1 million.
His budget would slash tens of billions of dollars from anti-poverty programs; his health care plan would leave tens of millions of Americans without health insurance; and his tax proposals would blow a hole in the federal budget, starving the government of revenue and leaving future Americans the burden of attempting to re-knit the social safety net.
At first glance, it’s an odd populism that takes from the many to give to the few, that abandons the anxious and suffering in favor of the wealthy and comfortable. But remember, Trump’s populism wasn’t just an appeal to jobs and economic interest—it was a racial appeal.  Trump cast blame on Muslims, Hispanic immigrants, and foreign others; he pledged to reopen the mines, recover the factories, and restore the white male industrial wage-earner to his perceived place at the top of the material and social hierarchy.
If nothing else, the racial interests of white Americans have always been at the forefront of white politics, a powerful force across class and social lines. The collapse of support for all kinds of public goods, from robust schools to neighborhood pools, is tied to the perceived beneficiaries. When the majority of white Americans believed those beneficiaries looked like themselves, they backed those investments. When they didn’t, they rejected them, either explicitly or eventually under the guise of “color blind” ideologies.
[N]ow would not be the first time that millions of white Americans backed racial demagogues in the destruction of public goods as a means to restore white hegemony over a smaller, more limited public. We would, in a way, be reverting to form, extending to the country what has defined those regions where race hierarchy was most rigid.
 Yes, many Americans are just plain stupid - and bigots to boot.

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Congressional Republicans Shamelessly Prostitute Themselves to Christofascists

The self-prostitution to Christofascists that I saw Republican elected officials engage in prior my leaving the GOP years ago pales in comparison to what now passes for normal within the party.  The irony, of course, is that over time those elected officials who most loudly proclaim their support of "Christian values"  and maintain the most anti-LGBT voting records are the same folks that one sees being arrested for child porn or sexual misbehavior with underage boys as happened recently with a strident "family values" state level Republican. As Right Wing Watch reports, two dozen Congressional Republicans took self-prostitution to new lengths when they joined Religious Right activists in Washington, D.C., for the annual “Washington – A Man of Prayer” event, held in Statuary Hall inside the U.S. Capitol.  Rep. Randy Weber of Texas literally broke into crocodile tears and begged God to forgive this nation for the “sin” of marriage equality in an effort no doubt to win Christofascist votes.  Here are highlights:
Last night, nearly two dozen members of Congress joined Religious Right activists in Washington, D.C., for the annual “Washington – A Man of Prayer” event, held in Statuary Hall inside the U.S. Capitol.
Organized by The Jefferson Gathering, which is a project of right-wing pastor Jim Garlow’s Skyline Church in California, the prayer event was kicked off by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan while Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., served as honorary hosts.
Over the course of an hour and a half, 20 different members of Congress took to the podium to lead the gathering in prayer, including Rep. Randy Weber of Texas, who repeatedly choked up while begging God to forgive this nation for the “sins” of legal abortion and marriage equality.
Modifying the Lord’s Prayer to declare that “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth here in the halls of Congress,” Weber confessed the “sins our nation has been so emboldened to embark upon” and pleaded with God to forgive us.
“We have endeavored to try and kick your word out of public schools,” Weber said. “Father, we have endeavored to take the Bible out of classrooms, the Ten Commandments off the walls. Oh, Lord, forgive us. Father, we think we’re so smart, we have replaced your word and your precepts with drug-sniffing dogs, with metal detectors, with uniformed police officers in our schools. Oh, Lord, forgive us.”
“Father, we have trampled on your holy institution of holy matrimony and tried to rewrite what it is and we’ve called it an alternate lifestyle,” Weber continued, his voice cracking. “Father, oh Father, please forgive us.”
“Lord, we have gone to killing the most innocent amongst us,” he wept. “Your servant Moses warned in Deuteronomy 19 for us to choose life so that we and all our descendants might live. Father, we’re killing our descendants and we’re calling it a choice. Oh, God in heaven, forgive us, please.”
Many of these same Republicans, however, despite last night's performance show their real view of true Christian values as they push legislation that will thrown millions off of health insurance, cut social safety net programs, take from the needy to give to the wealthy, and lie with abandon.  The biblical Pharisees were upstanding in comparison.  These Republicans are yet another reason that I do not want the label "Christian" attached to me in any way.  A tawdry whore likely has more integrity and honesty than these political prostitutes.  

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Trump's Fairy Tale Tax Plan

Like House Republicans, Der Trumpenführer is utterly desperate to get some form of legislation passed and to change the topic of conversation away from Russiagate.  Whenever talk about his possible treason and collusion with a foreign enemy heats up, something is floated to distract the  media which continues to suffer from something akin to attention deficit disorder.  Trump's tax reform proposal is a case in point.  The fact that it is based on fairy tale claims and assumptions is not relevant so long as it changes the topic of conversation.  The "plan" also underscores that Republicans have learned nothing since 1980 when Reagan promised that tax cuts would pay for themselves.  They didn't and the deficit ballooned. An op-ed in the Washington Post by the director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 to 2005 eviscerates Trump's "tax plan."  Here are excerpts:
President Trump is correct to press for tax reform, correct to argue that corporate rates should be reduced and correct to look for policies that boost the United States’ anemic economic growth rate. But the “rough draft” of Trump’s tax plan, rolled out at the White House on Wednesday, falls short of being a real tax reform suitable to tax-cutting conservatives such as me.
Proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts and then casually asserting that such a plan would “pay for itself with growth,” as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, is detached from empirical reality. A real tax-reform plan would include specifics on how to broaden the tax base — not leave that hard work to Congress. A responsible tax plan would not ignore the threat of increasing a national debt that is already on an unsustainable course.
Accelerating the pace at which the federal budget bleeds red ink must be avoided, and building a tax plan based solely on the premise of future economic growth is dangerous. Sailing straight into a sovereign debt crisis is not a pro-growth strategy. What firm would want to headquarter in a country that is toying with financial meltdown accompanied by emergency austerity and tax hikes?
Typically, the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office analyze the economic growth potential of proposed policies through “dynamic scoring.” . . . . never has a dynamically scored analysis concluded that a proposal would “pay for itself with growth,” and no serious economist would make such a claim. At best, according to the prevailing consensus, the positive feedback effect from tax cuts would recoup in the range of 25 to 35 percent of the cost.
Real tax reform, however, takes on tough choices to broaden the base and is not built on implausible claims for the impact on growth. Congress has a rare opportunity to boost American competitiveness and productivity growth with a sensible tax-reform package. But that package must be built on realistic growth assumptions, not economic fairy tales.

GOP Senators May Yet Kill Obamacare Repeal

Word around Washington is that the fractious House Republicans may be able to cobble together a new bill to "repeal and replace" Obamacare.  Like its predecessor, this concoction would likely throw millions off of health insurance and allow premiums to soar for many even as disingenuous House members bloviate (read lie) about reducing costs, etc., etc.  Frankly, only a total fool would believe the claims since the number one goal in the House is a massive tax cut for the wealthy.  That said, anything that does manage to pass the House - likely on a pure party line vote - still faces sever obstacles in the Senate and not just from Democrats.  As a piece in Politico reports, a number of Republican Senators may be the bill's biggest obstacle.  Here are article highlights:
The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.
The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate.
“The Freedom Caucus has done a good job of trying to make the bill less bad,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the lead Senate agitators against the House health care push, said Wednesday. “For me, it’s a big stumbling block still that there’s taxpayer money that’s being given to insurance companies, and I am just not in favor of taxpayer money going to insurance companies.”
Phil Novack, a spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz , also indicated that the conservative Texas firebrand isn't sold, saying “significant work remains” in the Senate, “specifically to address Obamacare’s insurance mandates and enact major patient-centered reforms that will further reduce the cost of health care.”
Sources say it may take more than a month for any House health care bill to run through the traps in the Senate, including internal party discussions and an analysis of how the measure would affect the deficit and insurance rolls. No committee hearings are planned because Republicans don’t want to give Democrats a public forum to bash an effort they are not involved in. And similar to the Senate's dim view of the House's proposal, the lower chamber may not ultimately be able to pass whatever the Senate is able to produce on Obamacare.
Weeks after the spectacular collapse of Obamacare repeal efforts last month, MacArthur and Meadows struck a deal with new language that would allow states to opt out of several key Obamacare provisions, such as its ban on charging sick people higher premiums and the so-called essential health benefits mandate that requires insurers to provide a set of minimum benefits.
The new language was enough to earn the formal endorsement of the Freedom Caucus, but House moderates who were opposed to the previous plan remain wary of backing a proposal that could cause constituents with pre-existing conditions to lose affordable health care coverage. In fact, the new plan may be having the reverse effect on some centrists: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) had supported the initial Obamacare replacement but now says he’s a “maybe.”
Influential Senate Republicans also raised doubts about whether the new House proposal is workable. . . . Senators are likely to make Medicaid cuts less severe, deliver more money for opioid funding, make tax credits for the middle class more generous and rework the House’s waivers from Obamacare’s requirements.
In interviews with senators across a broad ideological range, there was growing irritation with attempts to ram complicated legislative language through the House and expect the Senate to clean it up. Some GOP senators suggested that a bipartisan bill may be the only way to overhaul the health care system in a lasting manner.
“I don’t know if this bill is better … the worst thing we can do is replace it with a Republican-only alternative that doesn’t drive down costs, that doesn’t improve access to care,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). 
Republicans in the House are desperate to pass a bill.  The fact that it would harm many seems to be irrelevant as long as they can say they passed something - and, of course, delivered a big tax cut to the most wealthy.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1