Saturday, March 25, 2017

Quote of the Day - Calling Out Christofascist Misogyny

My blogger friend Bob Felton - a straight man living in North Carolina who is an engineer by training - and I have never met.  We have read each other's blogs for years now and occasionally exchange e-mails or Facebook communications.  Like me, Bob holds a very dim view of religion, especially fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity.   He credits me with changing his thinking on gays and gay rights.  He often comes up with very apt summations of the evils of religion and the foulness of the "godly folk."  He hit a bulls-eye with this quote responding to one of my posts:
WE DO KNOW now that there is a lot more to sexuality than plumbing, that sexual orientation is a biological switch that is set before birth; virtually every biologist and medical researcher on earth will tell you that. The refusal to accept that, and instead constrict the lives of others in deference to the things written by some Bronze Age anonymity, goes to character.
Let me elaborate so that there is no confusion about what I’m saying: When Pastor Bubba or your Auntie Grizelda howls and bellows that it doesn’t matter what scientists say because Leviticus says everything anybody needs to know about the subject, he or she is exhibiting bad character and decent, educated adults should avoid them.
In addition to taxing churches, one of the main ways the evils of fundamentalist Christianity is to make its adherents social and political outcasts.  Truly decent people should avoid them and give them no deference whatsoever.  

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Kansas Republicans Vote to Expand Medicaid Under Obamacare

Even as Republican efforts in the House of Representatives to repeal Obamacare were crashing and burning, Kansas Republicans were taking steps to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.  Why? Because it is backed by the hospital industry and the business community and because it will aid many of Kansas' poorer citizens.  This is a sharp turn around from the Kansas GOP's agenda that cut taxes and cut funding to public education and other critical programs only to leave the state a financial basket case, proving that a "pure" GOP economic plan is the road to disaster. A piece in Mother Jones looks at this ironic approach by Kansas Republicans that is moving forward in spite of the threatened veto by nutcase GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, an architect of the state's economic and budgetary disaster.  Here are excerpts:
On the same day the House was supposed to pass a bill dismantling Medicaid, Kansas Republicans took a big step toward expanding the program in their state.
In a voice vote Thursday morning, a committee in the Kansas Senate approved legislation that would enable the state to take advantage of an Obamacare provision offering Medicaid health insurance coverage to a wider group of poor people. The federal government would provide the vast majority of the funding.
Many deep-red states like Kansas have rejected Medicaid expansion based largely on their ideological objections to Obamacare. But as I reported earlier this week, a new bloc of moderate Republicans in the state—backed by the health care industry and business community—have teamed up with Democrats to push Medicaid expansion. They point out that the state has given up, to date, nearly $2 billion in federal funds that could have helped both improve the health of the state's low-income communities while also boosting its economy.
The Kansas House overwhelming passed Medicaid expansion earlier this year. The full state Senate is expected to vote on the issue Monday, according to KCUR. But they would likely need to cobble together a veto-proof majority, since Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has vocally opposed to adopting the program.

More coverage on this development is here at Mother Jones:
According to a study by the nonpartisan Kansas Health Institute, about 152,000 people would join KanCare, the state's Medicaid program, if Kansas adopted the ACA expansion. Roughly 80,000 of those people currently lack health insurance coverage, while 71,000 would ditch their current coverage to jump onto Medicaid.
Now, Eplee has joined a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats that is trying to make that happen. They want their state to accept everything Obamacare has to offer before their brethren at the national level can tear it apart—and they've got the state business and medical communities on their side. Voters agree, too, with 82 percent supporting Medicaid expansion in a poll sponsored by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
"I'm out here in the rural area practicing [medicine], and I see it every day," Eplee says. "When I gave my testimony [in favor of Medicaid expansion], I gave examples of the working poor and their inability to get health insurance and to get the help they need. It puts them in very dire, precarious financial situations of being made medically bankrupt by one illness or one disease. It just takes one event, and then they're wiped out financially."
When the Kansas House collected testimony on the issue earlier this year, more than 160 organizations and individuals supported expansion. Just four offered testimony that opposed the idea—mostly national conservative organizations.
Koesten was part of a group of moderate Republicans that last year reclaimed control of the state legislature from the far right of the party. Five years earlier, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback had waged an electoral war to purge the party of legislators who opposed his ambitious tax cuts, ushering in a conservative takeover executed with the help of the Koch brothers' organization Americans for Prosperity. But after Brownback's policies left an enormous hole in the state budget, the moderates roared back in the 2016 elections. Moderate Republicans primaried sitting conservatives, and Democrats knocked off others. Out of 165 total lawmakers in the state Senate and House, there are 49 new members this year.
The consequences became clear late last month, when the state House voted 81-44 in favor of Medicaid expansion. "There was just enough change in the primary and the general election that tweaked the control over to the moderate side, where this was unstoppable at this point in time," explains Robert St. Peter, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Institute.
The hospitals have good reason to be upset about the money the state is leaving on the table. Many hospitals, especially in rural parts of the state, are under increasing financial strain from treating uninsured patients. In 2015, Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kansas, closed. Independence has just 9,500 residents, but the closure attracted media coverage from around the state. . . . an industry advisory group, found that out of 107 rural hospitals in Kansas, 31 are considered "vulnerable" and at risk of closure. The report didn't name the hospitals in trouble, leaving each community worried that its hospital could be next.

Kansas is one of the last places one would expect to see Republicans regaining a grasp on objective reality and actually pushing policies that help poorer citizens.  It is the exact opposite of Paul Ryan's reverse Robin Hood agenda. 

Trump Supporters - Today's Equivalent to 1930's/1940's Germans?

As I have recounted, I have little sympathy for Trump supporters who, in my view, were motivated by foul emotions that boil down to hatred towards others and irresponsible selfishness.  With the collapse of Republicans' Obamacare "repeal and replacement," effort, many Trump supporters may dodge the bullet of losing healthcare coverage.  But there is much else that may yet come home to roost for them before the Trump/Pence nightmare is over.  Trump's proposed budget cuts could hit Appalachia especially hard and poor/working class whites who voted for Trump may yet pay a high price for giving into their racism and embrace of ignorance, not to mention their open willingness to ignore the uglier aspects of  the Trump/GOP agenda.  Besides seeking to destroy the social safety net, this agenda is marked by its effort to dehumanize non-whites, LGBT citizens, and non-Christians. Personally, I cannot grasp the mind set that willingly sees others as less than human and/or undeserving of what each of us wants for ourselves and our loved ones.  Worse of all, is the participation of supposed Christians in this open hatred of those deemed "other."  The phenomenon is especially foul when directed at children who had no role in determining the race of their birth, the religion of their parents or where they were born.  Transgender youth are another disturbing target of Republicans and these self-anointed "godly folks." 

How does one buy into such malignant treatment of others?  An op-ed in the New York Times offers a possible glimpse.  The piece is authored by the granddaughter of a German member of the Nazi Party in the late 1930's and first half of the 1940's. It focuses on the deliberate refusal to admit the horrors being done and the refrain of "we did not know" despite all the evidence that shows that it was impossible not to know.  I see a similar mindset and denial in "friends" who voted for Trump - some of whom I have now severed relationships with - and who truly should have known better. Here are op-ed highlights:
My grandparents were Nazis. It took me until recently to be able to say — or write — this. I used to think of and refer to them as “ordinary Germans,” as if that was a distinct and morally neutral category. But like many “ordinary Germans,” they were members of the Nazi Party — they joined in 1937, before it was mandatory.
Understanding why and how this woman I knew and loved was swept up in a movement that became synonymous with evil has been, for me, a lifelong question.
They joined the Nazi Party to be youth leaders in an agricultural education program called the Landjahr, or “year on the land,” in which teenagers got agricultural training. My grandmother always maintained that she had joined the Nazis as an “idealist” drawn to the vision of rebuilding Germany, returning to a simpler time and, perversely, promoting equality.
In the Landjahr, sons and daughters of factory workers would live and work side by side with sons and daughters of aristocrats and wealthy industrialists. She liked the idea of returning to “traditional” German life, away from the confusing push and pull of a global economy.
Through research, I understand the Landjahr program was part of Hitler’s larger “Blut und Boden” (“blood and soil”) vision of making Germany a racially pure, agrarian society. The “racially pure” part was not something my grandmother ever mentioned.
“We didn’t know” was a kind of mantra for her on the long walks we took when I visited her at the farm she lived on, not far from where she grew up. “But didn’t you hear what Hitler was saying?” I would ask, grappling with the moral paradox of a loving grandmother who had been a Nazi.
My grandmother would shrug and answer something like, “He said a lot of things — I didn’t listen to all of them.” . . . . And anyway, she was focused on her own problems, on making ends meet and, once the war began, protecting her children.
This insistence on her own ignorance was an excuse, and I didn’t and still don’t accept it. It is impossible that she wouldn’t have known of Hitler’s virulent anti-Semitism and the Nazis’ objective of ousting Jews, whom Hitler had falsely (but successfully) linked to a Bolshevik terrorist threat. But did she follow what she knew of Hitler’s plan to its horrific, unimaginable end? In the late 1930s there was talk of sending Jews to Madagascar and to “settlements” in the east. But even if she believed this, why wasn’t she appalled at the injustice? At the dangerous stripping of rights?
In German there are two words for knowing: “wissen,” which is associated with wisdom and learning, and “kennen,” which is like being acquainted. Acquaintance is, by definition, a surface understanding, susceptible to manipulation.
When you are “acquainted with” something it’s much easier to see only part of the whole. Especially if the other half of what you hear and see is appealing. Hitler brought back jobs and opportunity, restored national pride and told seductive, simplifying lies . . . .
“But what did you think when you started hearing the rumors about concentration camps?” I would press her. “Didn’t you ever listen to the foreign news reports?”
“Allied propaganda” was my grandmother’s answer. That’s what Hitler said it was. And she, like many Germans, trusted him. Her trust, apparently, relieved her of the need to understand.
My grandmother heard what she wanted from a leader who promised simple answers to complicated questions. She chose not to hear and see the monstrous sum those answers added up to. And she lived the rest of her life with the knowledge of her indefensible complicity.

"Friends" who voted for Trump would be most upset to be likened to Nazi Party members, but in my view the parallels are on point.  They heard what they wanted to hear, made a deliberate effort not to know the truth by remaining in the Fox News/Breitbart bubble, and some sadly bought into the racism and white supremacy hook line and sinker.  They are complicit in a foul agenda and, if FBI investigations reveal Trump/Pence collusion with Russia, treason.  They deserve no sympathy, no efforts to be understood and they need to be held accountable. 

It's Time to Follow the Russian Money

I have worked with the FBI on several occasions in the past.  All of these cases involved real estate and financial improprieties and what ultimately constituted wire fraud and receipt of illicit funds.  On one occasion I was a witness in a federal court trial and in the others, I was the real estate expert that literally gave FBI special agents and .attorneys in the U. S. Attorneys office a tutorial, if you will, on real estate transactions and who money and document recordings should be done if a transaction is above board. One of the targets received a 30 year sentence. When all else fails, often wire fraud can be the hook to take down crooked real estate players.

All of this brings me to the topic of Russian money and how it flowed into numerous Trump properties - a post from  roughly a week ago noted the almost $100 million that had flowed into Trump properties in South Florida - and how Trump associates are alleged to have been swimming in Kremlin directed monies.  As in the cases I worked on with the FBI, often the flow of monies can build a fuller picture of what is really going on and who is receiving illicit funds, often knowingly by those who viewed themselves as smarter than everyone else and above the law.  Sound like Donald Trump?  A column in the Washington Post looks at the need for the FBI and IRS to "follow the money."  Here are excerpts:
As the Watergate probe was heating up in the summer of 1973, the special prosecutor’s office gained a silent partner: the Treasury Department’s Internal Revenue Service. The Watergate scandal had engulfed the activities of corporations and corporate officials. An IRS investigation found tax violations committed with campaign contributions to the 1972 presidential campaign of Richard M. Nixon.
With information gained from the IRS, the special prosecutor’s probe resulted in 18 corporate officials and 17 corporations pleading guilty to violations of campaign contribution laws.
This week, FBI Director James B. Comey told Congress that the bureau is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Based upon what has come to light thus far, expect the FBI to be joined by Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the IRS. They are the agencies best equipped to conduct financial investigations into any possible crimes dealing with or motivated by money — as in money laundering.
Case in point: The Post’s March 21 article on a Ukrainian lawmaker’s release of financial documents allegedly showing that former Trump aide Paul Manafort laundered payments from the party of an ex-leader of Ukraine with ties to Russia using accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan.
If the financial documents are accurate and, as alleged by Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko, Manafort falsified an invoice to a Belize company to legitimize a $750,000 payment to himself, then the FBI and Treasury may come calling. . . . . Treasury agents, the Associated Press reported , have already obtained information about offshore transactions involving Manafort in connection with a federal anti-corruption investigation into his work in Eastern Europe.
The Financial Times reported in October that an investigation that it conducted had turned up evidence of ties between one Trump venture and an alleged international money-laundering network. Title deeds, bank records and correspondence showed that a Kazakh family accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars bought apartments in a Manhattan building part-owned by Trump and pursued business ventures with one of his partners.
Real estate provides a safe haven for overseas investors. It has few reporting requirements and is a preferred way to move cash of questionable provenance. Amid the turmoil, buyers found a dearth of available projects. Trump World Tower, opened in 2001, became a prominent depository of Russian money.”
Trump may be correct when he says he has no money in Russia and has never invested there. He can’t say, however, that Russians haven’t invested in his real estate properties.
His son Donald Jr. said no less, claiming in 2008 that Russian investments were “pouring in” to Trump’s business ventures.
So the feds must “follow the money trail” wherever it leads. Check records, bank accounts and real estate files where laundered money can ooze like water through a sponge. Who gave it, who got it, and when? Where is it now? And what was received in return?
Can federal agents under Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin count on Mnuchin’s defense against outside interference?
Congress strongly protected the integrity of federal investigations into Watergate. What about now?

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

No Sympathy for Working Class Trump Voters

Some Democrats and liberals are whining and contemplating their navels as they seek ways to "understand" poor and working class whites who voted for Donald Trump so as to win them back over to supporting Democrat/liberal policies.  I am decidedly not a member of that group.  Perhaps it's because in many ways I remain a conservative and support the concepts of personal responsibility and that actions - or in this case votes - have consequences.  In my view, poor whites and working class whites fell prey to their racism, religious extremism and desire to blame others for their failed state in life while never facing the reality that their own bad choices, embrace of ignorance and bigotry were in fact the root cause of many of their current ills. To these folks, sexual orientation is a "choice" but somehow abusing drugs and alcohol and dropping out of school are not a choice. In short, I find it difficult to have zero sympathy for such folks (although I do worry about their children) and hope they suffer greatly for the consequences of their misguided votes.  A piece in New York Magazine makes the case that rather than trying to be "understanding" Democrats and liberals need to see these people for what they are: deplorables who cannot be reached. .  Here are  excerpts:
On the morning after, traumatized liberals set out hunting for answers as if Election Day were 9/11 all over again. The ubiquitous question of 15 years earlier — “Why do they hate us?” — was repurposed for Donald Trump’s demolition of the political order. Why did white working-class voters reject Hillary Clinton and the Democrats? Why did they fall for a billionaire con man? Why do they hate us?
There were, of course, many other culprits in the election’s outcome. Comey, the Kremlin, the cable-news networks that beamed Trump 24/7, Jill Stein, a Clinton campaign that (among other blunders) ignored frantic on-the-ground pleas for help in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the candidate herself have all come in for deserved public flogging. But the attitude among some liberals toward the actual voters who pulled the trigger on Election Day has been more indulgent, equivocal, and forgiving. Perhaps those white voters without a college degree who preferred Trump by 39 percentage points the most lopsided margin in the sector pollsters define as “white working class” since the 1980 Ronald Reagan landslide — are not “deplorables” who “cling to guns and religion” after all.
While many, if not most, of those in #TheResistance of the Democratic base remain furious at these voters, the party’s political class and the liberal media Establishment are making a concerted effort to convert that rage into empathy. 
But for those of us who want to bring down the curtain on the Trump era as quickly as possible, this pandering to his voters raises a more immediate and practical concern: Is it a worthwhile political tactic that will actually help reverse Republican rule? Or is it another counterproductive detour into liberal guilt, self-flagellation, and political correctness of the sort that helped blind Democrats to the gravity of the Trump threat in the first place? 
After the debacle of 2016, might the time have at last come for Democrats to weaponize their anger instead of swallowing it? Instead of studying how to talk to “real people,” might they start talking like real people? No more reading from wimpy scripts concocted by consultants and focus groups. . . . . Say in public what you say in private, even at the risk of pissing people off, including those in your own party. Better late than never to learn the lessons of Trump’s triumphant primary campaign that the Clinton campaign foolishly ignored.
This is a separate matter from the substantive question of whether the party is overdue in addressing the needs of the 21st-century middle class, or what remains of it. The answer to that is yes, as a matter of morality, policy, and politics.  . . . . But it’s one thing for the Democratic Party to drain its own swamp of special interests and another for it to waste time and energy chasing unreachable voters in the base of Trump’s electorate. For all her failings, Clinton received 3 million more votes than Trump and lost the Electoral College by the mere 77,744 votes that cost her the previously blue states of Michigan (which she lost by .2 of a percentage point), Wisconsin (.8 point), and Pennsylvania (.7 point).
[T]he Trump vote is overwhelmingly synonymous with the Republican Party as a whole. . . . That makes it all the more a fool’s errand for Democrats to fudge or abandon their own values to cater to the white-identity politics of the hard-core, often self-sabotaging Trump voters who helped drive the country into a ditch on Election Day. They will stick with him even though the numbers say that they will take a bigger financial hit than Clinton voters under the Republican health-care plan. 
While you can’t blame our new president for loving “the poorly educated” who gave him that blank check, the rest of us are entitled to abstain. If we are free to loathe Trump, we are free to loathe his most loyal voters, who have put the rest of us at risk.
 The toughest critics of white blue-collar Trump voters are conservatives. Witness Kevin D. Williamson, who skewered “the white working class’s descent into dysfunction” in National Review as Trump was piling up his victories in the GOP primaries last March. Raised in working-class West Texas, Williamson had no interest in emulating the efforts of coastal liberals to scale empathy walls. Instead, he condemns Trump voters for being “in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.” He chastises them for embracing victimhood by blaming their plight on “outside forces” like globalization, the Establishment, China, Washington, immigrants — and “the Man” who “closed the factories down.” He concludes: “Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”
The conservative contempt for Trump voters — omnipresent among the party’s Establishment until the Election Day results persuaded all but the most adamant NeverTrumpers to fall into line — would seem to give the Democrats a big opening to win them over.
 There’s zero evidence that they will. The dug-in Trump base shows no signs of varying its exclusive diet of right-wing media telling it that anyone who contradicts Trump, Rush, or Breitbart is peddling “fake news.” 
There’s no way liberals can counter these voters’ blind faith in a huckster who’s sold them this snake oil. The notion that they can be won over by some sort of new New Deal — “domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance),” as Mark Lilla puts it — is wishful thinking. These voters are so adamantly opposed to government programs that in some cases they refuse to accept the fact that aid they already receive comes from Washington — witness the “Keep Government Out of My Medicare!” placards at the early tea-party protests.
Perhaps it’s a smarter idea to just let the GOP own these intractable voters. Liberals looking for a way to empathize with conservatives should endorse the core conservative belief in the importance of personal responsibility. Let Trump’s white working-class base take responsibility for its own votes — or in some cases failure to vote — and live with the election’s consequences.
So hold the empathy and hold on to the anger. 

A Great Take Down of Paul Ryan - And the Media That Created Him

With the GOP proposal to repeal and "replace" Obamacare, we are seeing a shining example of the lies and hypocrisy of Paul Ryan that one can hope will once and for all expose the cruelty and meanness of the man and his party.  One can also hope that the train wreck that is Ryancare or Trumpcare (whichever label you prefer) will finally get the mainstream media to stop its game of false equivalency once and for all.  The sad reality is that one political party holds the poor, minorities, and the middle class in contempt and the other does not. One political party wants to loot the nation to benefit the wealthy and the other does not. Yet inexplicably, the media has acted as if GOP proposals - and GOP elected officials - need to be treated as if they were serious and something other than what they are: an effort to give lavish tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations while gutting programs that serve the majority of citizens and removing regulations that protect the public safety and the environment.  A column in the New York Times looks at the falsity of Paul Ryan and the irresponsible media that has contributed to the debacle that has overcome the nation.  Here are excerpts:
Many people are horrified, and rightly so, by what passes for leadership in today’s Washington. And it’s important to keep the horror of our political situation up front, to keep highlighting the lies, the cruelty, the bad judgment. We must never normalize the state we’re in.
At the same time, however, we should be asking ourselves how the people running our government came to wield such power. How, in particular, did a man whose fraudulence, lack of concern for those he claims to care about and lack of policy coherence should have been obvious to everyone nonetheless manage to win over so many gullible souls?
No, this isn’t a column about whatshisname, the guy on Twitter, who’s getting plenty of attention. It’s about Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House.
Whatever happens in the House and the Senate, however, there’s no question that the A.H.C.A. is one of the worst bills ever presented to Congress.
It would deprive tens of millions of health insurance — the decline in the number of insured Americans would be larger than what would result from simple repeal of Obamacare! — while sharply raising expenses for many of those who remain. It would be especially punitive for lower-income, older, rural voters.
In return, we would get a small reduction in the budget deficit. Oh, and a tax cut, perhaps as much as $1 trillion, for the wealthy.
This is terrible stuff. It’s made worse by the lies Mr. Ryan has been telling about his plan.
He claims that it would lower premiums; it would actually increase them. He claims that it would end the Obamacare death spiral; there isn’t a death spiral, and his plan would be more, not less, vulnerable to a vicious circle of rising premiums and falling enrollment.
Some people seem startled both by the awfulness of Mr. Ryan’s plan and by the raw dishonesty of his sales pitch. But why? Everything we’ve seen from Mr. Ryan amid the health care debacle — everything, that is, except the press coverage — has been completely consistent with his previous career. That is, he’s still the same guy I wrote about back in 2010, in a column titled “The Flimflam Man.” . . . all of these proposals share a family resemblance: Like his health plan, each involved savage cuts in benefits for the poor and working class, with the money released by these cuts used to offset large tax cuts for the rich. All were, however, sold on false pretenses as plans for deficit reduction.
So how did Mr. Ryan reach a position where his actions may reshape the lives of so many of his fellow citizens, in most cases very much for the worse? The answer lies in the impenetrable gullibility of his base. No, not his constituents: the news media, who made him what he is.
You see, until very recently both news coverage and political punditry were dominated by the convention of “balance.” This meant, in particular, that when it came to policy debates one was always supposed to present both sides as having equally well-founded arguments. And this in turn meant that it was necessary to point to serious, honest, knowledgeable proponents of conservative positions.
Now, however, the flimflam has hit a wall. Mr. Ryan used to be able to game the Congressional Budget Office, getting it to produce reports that looked to the unwary like proper scores of his plans, but weren’t. This time, however, he couldn’t pull it off: The C.B.O. told the devastating truth about his plan, and his evasions and lies were too obvious to ignore.
This false symmetry — downplaying the awfulness of some candidates, vastly exaggerating the flaws of their opponents — isn’t the only reason America is in the mess it’s in. But it’s an important part of the story. And now we’re all about to pay the price.

Paul Ryan's Hypocrisy and the GOP's Cruelty to the Poor

I have voiced my contempt for Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and his hypocrisy and utter contempt for millions and millions of Americans.   Ryan claims deep religious faith, yet acts in manners that are diametrically opposed to the Gospel's social message.  His budget proposals time and time again seek to shift money from the lower classes and give it to the wealthiest Americans.  Yet incredibly, many in the media act as if Ryan is a serious and decent individual.  But Ryan is not alone in his hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy.  The same behavior and character flaws extend throughout the Republican Party.  Indeed, they have intensified as the Christofascists have risen in power within the GOP.  A piece in Salon looks at both the despicable aspects of Ryan, but also identifies the sick psyches of "conservatives" that incline them to care nothing about others.  Her are article highlights:
Republican Paul Ryan, like most other members of the United States Congress, is a millionaire.
Christa Patton is 68 years old. She is frail and no longer able to leave her home. She lives on a fixed income. Patton told Van Jones on a recent episode of his CNN show “The Messy Truth” that she would not be able to eat without the Meals on Wheels program.
Paul Ryan is the speaker of the United States House of Representatives. By his own account, in college he used to hang out with his friends and drink beer while sharing his dreams of cutting Medicaid. When Ryan was 15 years old, his father died from a heart attack caused by alcoholism. Ryan and his family then received his father’s Social Security survivor’s benefits. Ryan used that money to attend college. This was not the only money that Paul Ryan received from federal government. His family built its wealth from receiving government contracts.
Paul Ryan has combined meanness, cruelty and callousness towards the weak and the vulnerable with gross and unapologetic hypocrisy.
Republicans like Ryan — along with the millionaires and billionaires who comprise Donald Trump’s Cabinet and inner circle — literally want to take food, shelter and health care away from poor people like Christa Patton. Today’s Republicans view these Americans as useless eaters to be disposed of by means both passive and active.
It is normal to feel aghast at and disgusted by the Republican Party’s war on the poor. The more challenging and perhaps even more disturbing task is to ask why today’s conservatives feel such antipathy, disregard and hostility towards poor and other vulnerable Americans. Certainly greed and a slavish devotion to a revanchist right-wing ideology are part of the answer. But they may not be sufficient
Conservatives are more likely to exhibit social dominance and bullying behavior. This is a function of their authoritarian tendencies. The election of Donald Trump  exemplifies this phenomenon.
Conservatism is a type of motivated social cognition that by its very nature is hostile to those groups located on the lower rungs of the social hierarchy.
Conservatives are more likely than liberals or progressives to believe in what is known as the “just world fallacy,” where people who suffer misfortune are viewed as somehow deserving their fates. Conservatives are also more likely than liberals or progressives not to use systems-level thinking as a means of understanding that individuals do not exist separate and apart from society.  Conservatives are also more likely to defend social inequality as “fair and legitimate.”
Social psychologists have shown that, in effect, poor people are invisible to the rich and upper classes.
The psychological dynamic known as the “diffusion of responsibility,” in which individuals tend to ignore people who are in crisis — especially if they are perceived to be a member of a different social group, race, ethnicity or class — also encourages a lack of empathy and concern. It undercuts policies meant to offer direct assistance to vulnerable and marginalized individuals and communities. A perverse corollary to the “diffusion of responsibility” can also be used to legitimate punitive policies that target specific individuals and groups.
Conservative media — and sometimes mainstream media as well — routinely uses false and misleading information to discuss the social safety net. For example, President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives were extremely successful in terms of alleviating poverty and improving the general welfare of the American people. Yet right-wing media consistently tells its public that such programs were failures, a narrative that intentionally ignores the Republican Party’s efforts to undermine the effectiveness of those programs.
Among evangelical Christians, what is called the “prosperity gospel” has become increasingly influential. This grotesque interpretation of Christian doctrine assures its adherents that poor people deserve their circumstances because God has chosen not to bless them with money. Conversely, rich people have more money because God has deemed them worthy. Christian evangelicals — especially those who believe in the prosperity gospel — were a key constituency in Donald Trump’s winning coalition.
Conservatives are capable of being empathetic. However, conservatives focus those feelings on their in-group such as immediate family and community. Liberals have a different biological inclination: They are able to feel empathy for those people and groups who are not part of their close social circle and community.
On the level of practical politics, there have been no substantial negative electoral consequences to Republicans’ decades-long war on the social safety net and the common good. Thus, there is no reason in terms of electoral calculus for the Republican Party to stop pursuing such policies. Moreover, it is unlikely that conservative red-state voters will “wake up” and stop supporting a political party that actually leaves them less economically prosperous and financially secure. Here, poor and working-class Republican voters are like Pavlov’s dogs, seeking out abuse from their masters in the hope that the latter will hurt other Americans even more so.
Unfortunately, the Republican war on the poor is but one sign of the deep moral rot at the heart of American society. This crisis extends well beyond the election of Donald Trump and the cruelty both promised and so far enacted by his cadre and the Republican Party. If a society is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable and weak, America is a country in decline, a country whose citizens should be ashamed of their leaders — and, in some cases, ashamed of themselves.
At least for now, passage of the repeal of Obamacare has been delayed.  Sadly, given the sickness of so many in the GOP, the effort to throw millions off of health insurance coverage and to deprive needed aid to the needy in order to further enrich the wealthy will not be abandoned. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

There’s a Smell of Treason in the Air

I make no bones about it:  I despise Donald Trump and believe that he is unfit to occupy the White House.  I'd go even further and state that he is unfit for polite and decent society.  He is a crude, self-absorbed narcissist who cares nothing about anything but himself and own aggrandizement.  If the choice before him was satiating his own ego and throwing his children under the bus, his kids would merit less than a moments thought.  Add to this moral bankruptcy, Trump's long history of ignoring the law and connections with Mafia figures and sleazy Russian mafia characters, is there really a question as to whether or not he'd commit treason to benefit himself?  I think not.  The issue before America now is whether a true, independent investigation will be done to ferret out possible treason by Trump and his henchmen.  Re. Devin Nunes made it clear yesterday that he is doing all that he can to sabotage such and investigation by the House Intelligence Committee.  A column in the New York Times looks at the disturbing situation and the need for Nunes' removal from his position on the investigating committee.  Here are highlights:
[T]he F.B.I. confirms that we have had an investigation underway for eight months into whether another presidential campaign colluded with a foreign power so as to win an election. To me, that, too, would amount to treason.
I’ve been speaking to intelligence experts, Americans and foreigners alike, and they mostly (but not entirely) believe there was Trump-Russia cooperation of some kind. But this is uncertain; it’s prudent to note that James Clapper, the intelligence director under Barack Obama, said that as of January he had seen no evidence of collusion but that he favors an investigation to get to the bottom of it.
I’m also told (not by a Democrat!) that there’s a persuasive piece of intelligence on ties between Russia and a member of the Trump team that isn’t yet public.
A bit of conjecture:  The Russians for years had influence over Donald Trump because of their investments with him, and he was by nature inclined to admire Vladimir Putin as a strongman ruler. Meanwhile, Trump had in his orbit a number of people with Moscow ties, including Paul Manafort, who practically bleeds borscht.
As The A.P. puts it, Manafort offered to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.” (Manafort told The A.P. that his work was being falsely portrayed as nefarious.)
This is guesswork, but it might have seemed natural for Trump aides to try to milk Russian contacts for useful information about the Clinton campaign. Likewise, the Russians despised Hillary Clinton and would have been interested in milking American contacts for information about how best to damage her chances.
At some point, I suspect, members of the Trump team gained knowledge of Russian hacking into Clinton emails, which would explain why Trump friend Roger Stone tweeted things like “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
This kind of soft collusion, evolving over the course of the campaign without a clear quid pro quo, might also explain why there weren’t greater efforts to hide the Trump team’s ties to Russia, or to camouflage its softening of the Republican Party platform position toward Moscow.
One crucial unknown: Did Russia try to funnel money into Trump’s campaign coffers? In European elections, Russia has regularly tried to influence results by providing secret funds. I’m sure the F.B.I. is looking into whether there were suspicious financial transfers.
The White House is already distancing itself from Manafort, claiming that he played only a “very limited role” in the campaign — even though he was Trump’s campaign chairman!
Treason isn’t necessarily spelled out as a quid pro quo, and it wasn’t when Nixon tried to sink the Vietnam peace initiative in 1968.
In the past, as when foreign funds made their way into Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, Republicans showed intense interest in foreign interference in the political process. So it’s sad to see some Republicans (I mean you, Devin Nunes!) trying to hijack today’s House investigation to make it about leaks.
Really? Our country was attacked by Russia, and you’re obsessed with leaks? Do you honestly think that the culprit in Watergate wasn’t Nixon but the famed leaker Deep Throat? Republicans should replace Nunes as head of the House Intelligence Committee; he can’t simultaneously be Trump’s advocate and his investigator.
[T]he crucial question is as monumental as it is simple: Was there treason? . . . the issue cries out for a careful, public and bipartisan investigation by an independent commission.
“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” Douglas Brinkley, the historian, told The Washington Post. He’s right, and we must dispel that stench.

The New Plot To Make Transgender Kids’ Lives Hell

I have noted countless times by now that the claims of Christian persecution so loved by Christofascists and bought into hook line and sinker by so many Republican elected officials is a lie. The truth is, Christofascists are the ones persecuting others and their main source of outrage is that increasingly the larger society is saying no to their desire to abuse and persecute others. They play the victim while in fact striving to victimize those the deem as "other" and/or who refuse to subscribe to their foul religious dogma.  Save for the level of violence they are willing to use against others - at least for the most part - these people share the same mindset as Islamic extremists.  In both cases, it is all about them and all about stamping out anything and anyone that challenges their myth and legend based beliefs. Nowhere is this phenomenon more visible than in a new lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania by the Alliance Defending Freedom - a certified hate group - targeting transgender students.  At in Huffington Post looks at this despicable new tactic of claiming the persecutor is the victim.  Here are excerpts:
On Tuesday, a teenage boy in Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against his school district in federal court because he doesn’t want to share a locker room with a transgender student.
The teen, known in the lawsuit as “Joel Doe,” claims that using the same locker room as a trans student has caused him “embarrassment and humiliation.” He is asking for damages and he wants the school district to rescind its current policy that allows trans students to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds with their authentic gender identity.
Doe believes “unconsented exposure to persons of the opposite sex in various states of undress creates a sexually harassing, hostile environment,” which violates his rights under the federal Title IX law that prohibits sex discrimination. 
In other words, the cis student believes he is being discriminated against.  I know. This is some next level “Twilight Zone” grade shit going on right here. But it’s not just twisted, it’s also diabolically brilliant.
Doe and his legal team are asserting that “people who oppose the equal participation of transgender people in society are the ones being victimized,” Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Bellware.
Essentially, this means that instead of claiming that trans people are (only?) a physical danger to cisgender (non-trans) people ― an argument proven baseless ― the lawsuit is positing sexual harassment and mental anguish as a possible side effect a cis student might experience upon seeing trans students being treated like human beings.
So now it’s not (just?) being raped or attacked in bathrooms that cis people are afraid of. Now it’s not (just?) the wives and daughters we’re trying to protect. Now we must look out for men and boys who are so terrified by the idea of maybe getting a glimpse of body parts that might not match their own that they can’t even function.
Doe, on the other hand, is not being barred from any situation or location. Instead, he simply wants his discomfort with transgender people to be privileged over the discrimination that keeps trans people out of locker rooms and rest rooms in the first place. . . . his case was filled by Alliance Defending Freedom ― an organization has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center ― makes me question who is really driving this crazy train and what the ultimate goal of this lawsuit really is.
So here’s what I think: If Doe can’t give this teen in his class the same respect he’d give any other person — and who I would bet both of my testicles just wants to get in and out of that locker room as quickly than Doe does ― Doe shouldn’t get to use the locker room. It’s time we start singling out those who want to make trouble and misery for others and forcing them to live their lives differently as a result instead of the other way around. If you don’t want to play nicely (a.k.a treat everyone equally no matter what they look like or how they identify), then you shouldn’t be allowed to play. See ya. Bye.
The bottom line is this: trans people aren’t looking for special or “extra” rights. Trans people are not haunting bathrooms. They aren’t looking to inflict harm or psychosis or anything else. And they have it hard enough as it is without being accused of sexually harassing cis people simply by existing.
I agree with the author - it is far past time that "Doe" and those of his ilk be the ones treated as outcasts and social lepers.  Absolutely no deference or respect should be afforded to them or their hate and bigotry fueled religious beliefs.  Clinging to ignorance and falsehoods is a choice.  Being born transgender or gay is not. And while we are at it, it is way past time that churches lose their tax-exempt status.  Overall, they do far more harm than good and do not deserve to be treated as charities. 

Support Attorney General Mark Herring's Re-election

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With Virginia's 2017 elections this November, it is critical that Democrats be elected to state wide offices as a firewall against Republican efforts to role back LGBT and women's rights and further reverse Robin Hood efforts.  Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has been a wonderful ally to those that the GOP and its Christofascist masters seek to denigrate and marginalize.  Please make an effort to attend this event and meet Mark Herring if you have not previously met him.  Yes, the husband and I are on the host committee.  Watch for future events for Mark Herring, Ralph Northam and other Democrats.

Trump Associates May Have Coordinated with Russians

Disturbing information on possible Trump/Pence campaign officials colluding with Russian hackers and Russian intelligence continues to leak and suggest that contrary to Der Trumpenführer's denials collusion and treason may have well occurred.  Just as disturbing are the actions of GOP co-hair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes (who served on Trump's transition committee), in running to the White House to share information with the target of his committee's investigation. Anyone who believes that a thorough and honest investigation will be undertaken with Nunes involved is delusional.   Even John McCain has stated that we need a select committee to get the job done and done properly.  The irony in Nunes' behavior, of course, is that on Monday Nunes bitched and whined about the problem of "leaks" even as he ran to the White House and released classified information to those being investigated.  The Hill states as follows concerning allegations that evidence of Trump?Putin collusion is "more than circumstantial:
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that there is "more than circumstantial" evidence pointing to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In an interview with "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, Rep. Adam Schiff(D-Calif.) said evidence suggesting that members of President Trump's campaign conspired with the Kremlin to influence the presidential election in Trump's favor was "more than circumstantial," and needed to be thoroughly probed.
"I can tell you that the case is more than that," Schiff said. "And I can't go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now."
"I don't want to go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of investigation. So that is what we ought to do."

CNN has more details that in my view, ought to make obvious to patriotic Americans that it is essential that an independent prosecutor be appointed to thoroughly investigate collusion/treason by Trump and his minions.  Here are are excerpts:
The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN.
This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source.
The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.
One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests "people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready." But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it's premature to draw that inference from the information gathered so far since it's largely circumstantial.
The FBI cannot yet prove that collusion took place, but the information suggesting collusion is now a large focus of the investigation, the officials said.
The FBI has already been investigating four former Trump campaign associates -- Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page -- for contacts with Russians known to US intelligence. All four have denied improper contacts and CNN has not confirmed any of them are the subjects of the information the FBI is reviewing.
One of the obstacles the sources say the FBI now faces in finding conclusive intelligence is that communications between Trump's associates and Russians have ceased in recent months given the public focus on Russia's alleged ties to the Trump campaign. Some Russian officials have also changed their methods of communications, making monitoring more difficult, the officials said.
Investigators continue to analyze the material and information from multiple sources for any possible indications of coordination, according to US officials. Director Comey in Monday's hearing refused to reveal what specifically the FBI was looking for or who they're focusing on.
US officials said the information was not drawn from the leaked dossier of unverified information compiled by a former British intelligence official compiled for Trump's political opponents, though the dossier also suggested coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives.