Wednesday, May 23, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

GOP Freedom Caucus’s Plan Could Hand the House to Democrats

One phenomenon I have noted over the years both during my time in the GOP and since is that it is nearly impossible to reason with ultra-conservatives and Christofascists.  Tellingly, both groups cannot seem to grasp that their views/beliefs are NOT mainstream and that outside of the bubble of Fox News and batshit crazy evangelical churches, the majority of Americans do not subscribe to their beliefs.  Indeed, I suspect the majority of Americans find them frightening if not repulsive.  Now the infamous GOP "Freedom Caucus" in the U.S. House of Representatives wants to withhold campaign funding from moderate Republicans ("moderate being a relative term) as punishment for supporting a discharge petition that might get immigration reform acceptable to all but the Trump base passed by Congress.  It's a case of cutting off one's nose to spite their face.  But, such is the irrationality of the far right.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the idiocy - which I frankly hope prevails - roiling the GOP conference.  Here are highlights:

For years the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus has been a thorn in the side of the GOP leadership. Now, in a twist, GOP moderates have banded together in an effort to force votes on immigration, including a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The Freedom Caucus will not stand for a vote on so-called “amnesty,” so they’re calling for harsh punishments for moderates who dare to defy party leaders – though that could make it even likelier that Democrats win control of of the House in November.
The moderate Republicans have banded together with House Democrats to support a discharge petition, a rare maneuver that would allow them to circumvent Speaker Paul Ryan and force a vote on four immigration measures. This would include a measure that protects young undocumented immigrants in exchange for border security funding, without provisions from Representative Bob Goodlatte’s conservative immigration bill, like legal-immigration cuts and money for Trump’s border wall.
The Freedom Caucus already derailed passage of the Farm Bill last week over Ryan’s failure to meet their demand for a vote on the Goodlatte bill, and now the immigration issue is plunging the House GOP deeper into chaos. Though by definition, a discharge petition means members are acting without the leadership’s consent, conservatives are holding Ryan responsible for the moderates’ efforts, claiming he and other party leaders could be doing more to stop them.
 So the conservatives are suggesting that months before an election in which Republicans may lose control of the House by just a few seats, the leadership should punish their weakest members by withholding campaign money.
In general, threatening engaging more intra-party squabbling isn’t a smart strategy for the midterms. During a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning, Ryan told members of the caucus that they need to remain united and act like they’re the majority party . . .
For now it’s unclear whether Republicans will be voting on one, two, or four immigration proposals in the coming weeks, and in the meantime they’re engaging in yet another form of self-destructive behavior: floating the idea of replacing Ryan as speaker prematurely.
But there’s little evidence that ousting Ryan is the solution to the caucus’s problems. While Ryan has endorsed McCarthy and he’s the frontrunner for the job, many aides and lawmakers told the Washington Post on Tuesday that there currently isn’t anyone who could easily win a race for speaker.
“If we have a speaker’s race, then it takes everyone’s eye off the ball of what’s most important, and that is keeping the majority,” said Representative Rodney Davis, chair of the centrist Republican Main Street Caucus. “It would be the most short-lived time in the speaker’s chair that anyone could have asked for.”
Let the insanity continue!

Another Big Shoe Drops in the Mueller Probe

One thing that supporters of Der Trumpenführer - including far too many Congressional Republicans - seemingly do not want to discuss is how their claims that the Mueller probe is a "witch hunt" simply do not match up with the number of individuals in the Trump orbit, including some involved in the 2016 campaign, who continue to cop guilty pleas.   Congressional Republicans and many in their brain dead base want renewed investigations of Hillary Clinton, yet don't bat an eye that Trump apparently surrounded himself with a bunch of criminals.  Given Trump's past in New York City and elsewhere, of course, his affinity for criminals should come as little or no surprise.  Trump's nouveau riche status was never the only reason old New York society finds Trump so distasteful.  Now, one of Trump consigliere Michael Cohen's business partners has likewise agreed to take a plea and cooperate with prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York.  This event doesn't bode well for Cohen or Der Trumpenführer.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post:  
When it comes to seminal moments in the Russia investigation that we will one day look back upon, Tuesday could be one.
The Post's Rosalind S. Helderman confirms that Michael Cohen's one-time business partner, Evgeny "Gene" Freidman (a.k.a. the "Taxi King"), has reached a plea deal with prosecutors and will cooperate with the government (the news was first reported by The New York Times):
Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union long known as the “taxi king” of New York, pleaded guilty to criminal tax fraud in Albany County Court. He is a former business partner of Cohen who managed taxis owned by the president’s lawyer for several years.
Both the timing and the circumstances are key. Freidman faced allegations that he failed to pay $5 million in taxes, including four counts of tax fraud and one of grand larceny. As part of the deal, he will serve no jail time. That suggests that he has been able to provide information of some value when it comes to Cohen, who is widely seen as a target for prosecutors to, in turn, flip against Trump.
“Do you understand the nature of the benefit your attorneys have accomplished on your behalf?” Judge Peter Lynch asked Freidman on Tuesday, according to the Times. That question that should frighten both Cohen and President Trump's legal team.
There is no official indication that Freidman has agreed to inform specifically on Cohen, but it's not difficult to connect the dots. . . . . If anybody knows about what Cohen has done wrong, Freidman may have been the most likely candidate — especially if Cohen did keep Trump in the dark about his Stormy Daniels payment and other matters.
Just as it has been clear that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was a target for flipping against Trump, Cohen's fate seems to revolve around whether he might be pressured into taking a deal, like Freidman was.
Cohen has said that won't happen, and Trump wagered last month that Cohen won't flip. But it looks increasingly like we're about to find out just how much pressure Cohen can withstand.
Money launderers and tax cheats - not to mention those with suspicious Russian ties - are the norm in Trump's orbit.  One can only imagine what Trump and/or his family members have done. 

Federal Court Rules for Gavin Grimm

Gavin Grimm and his amazing mother - proud to know both of them.

It has been a long legal saga for Gavin Grimm and has family as they have fought the Gloucester County, Virginia, School Board which sought to discriminate against Gavin, an individual that we know personally, rather than stand up to a faction of LGBT hating Christofascists who forced that Board due to its cowardice to rescind the original policy applied to Grimm.  Gavin's mother noted on Facebook following the latest federal ruling as follows:
So 4 years ago the Gloucester County School Board chose to single out my son to discriminate against instead of doing the right thing by protecting his rights as a transgender boy and now once again the judge has said that he and all transgender kids ARE protected under Title IX of our constitution so let’s see if the school board will now change their policy and protect those that come after Gavin or if they will continue to discriminate against transgender people in our district. This case will be far reaching in this country so I think it is HIGH TIME this school board does what is right! My son had dedicated the last 4 years of his life to this cause and this school board ruined his high school experience!   
A press release by the ACLU looks at the court's ruling (which can be found here).  Here are excerpts:
A federal court today denied the Gloucester County School Board’s motion to dismiss a case brought by former student Gavin Grimm, holding that Title IX and the Constitution protect transgender students from being excluded from the common restrooms that align with their gender identity.
The court directed the parties to schedule a settlement conference within 30 days. The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia. 
Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT &HIV Project, had this reaction:
"The district court’s ruling vindicates what Gavin has been saying from the beginning. Federal law protects Gavin and other students who are transgender from being stigmatized and excluded from using the same common restrooms that other boys and girls use. These sorts of discriminatory policies do nothing to protect privacy and only serve to harm and humiliate transgender students.”
Gavin Grimm had this reaction:
“I feel an incredible sense of relief. After fighting this policy since I was 15 years old, I finally have a court decision saying that what the Gloucester County School Board did to me was wrong and it was against the law. I was determined not to give up because I didn’t want any other student to have to suffer the same experience that I had to go through.”
Having wasted who knows how much taxpayer money and brought worldwide derision to Gloucester County, the Gloucester County School board needs to come into the 21st century and stop kissing the asses of local Christofascists.  

Interestingly enough, a piece in LGBTQ Nation reports on a new study led by a Belgian neurologist that found that transgender individuals how functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender,” said Bakker. . . . .nd that brain activity in transgender people resembles that found in heterosexual individuals of their identifying gender more than their sex assigned at birth. . . . they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender,” said Bakker.  Obviously, the study - and many others - exposes the arguments of anti-science, anti-knowledge Christofascists such as those in Gloucester County to be fraudulent and based on little more than bigotry and an embrace of ignorance.  Here are article excerpts:
Their brain scans were compared to people of comparable age who were not diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The study found that transgender boys’ brain activity resembled cisgender boys’, and transgender girls’ brains resembled cisgender girls’.
The researchers said that their technique could be used to help transgender children at an earlier age.
“Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with GD, as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender,” said Bakker.
“We will then be better equipped to support these young people, instead of just sending them to a psychiatrist and hoping that their distress will disappear spontaneously.”
The study’s results, which were presented at the European Society of Endocrinology’s meeting, fall in line with previous neurological studies that showed that transgender adults have similar brain structures to cisgender people of their gender.
Again, the Gloucester County School Board needs to kick the Christofascists to the curb where they belong, embrace modern science and knowledge, and put in place the polices sought by Gavin Grimm.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Stop Giving Republicans and Trump the Benefit of the Doubt

One of the phenomenons that drives me to distraction is the false equivalency much of the news media gives to the Republican agenda and the contortions engaged in to give the GOP leadership and Donald Trump in particular the benefit of the doubt.  One need only look at the history of today's GOP and the career of Trump in New York City, replete with Mafia  connections and other sordid alliances to know that these are NOT nice or decent individuals who have a shred of concern for average citizens.  Sure, their talking points will claim that they are, but actions speak louder than words and in Trump's case, ties with despicable people speaks volumes. A column in the New York Times looks at this reality and the need for the media - and everyone else - to stop giving these individuals the benefit of the doubt.  Their motivations are not good or well intended and they are not honorable.  Here are column highlights:

After Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December, a number of companies gave their employees one-time bonuses, ostensibly sharing their new corporate windfall. As a PR stunt, these checks were a savvy investment; they allowed the companies to pander to the administration and made themselves look beneficent without incurring any long-term obligation to their workers.
Critics of the new law tried to point out that one-time bonuses are not the same as pay increases, and that the overwhelming majority of corporate savings from the tax cut was likely to go to shareholders. Nevertheless, in parts of the media, the idea that Republicans had been vindicated took hold.
Five months later, everything liberals said about the tax bill turned out to be true. Contrary to Republican claims, wage growth has been anemic. Instead of sharing the wealth with employees, companies have spent record amounts of money buying back their own stock. The tax cuts are creating larger deficits than Republicans predicted, and those deficits are now being cited as a pretext for cutting spending on the poor. They remain unpopular. Republicans in some districts have abandoned them as an election issue.
Watching this unfold should have helped inoculate commentators against Trumpist bamboozlement. It has not. In March, Trump spontaneously accepted an offer, conveyed to him by a South Korean envoy, to meet directly with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea has sought a one-on-one meeting with a sitting American president for years, believing it would legitimate it as a global power, but previous administrations have refused.
Nevertheless, credulous commentators praised Trump for bringing North Korea to the table, as if a seat at the table wasn’t what North Korea wanted all along. And pundits, including some who are broadly critical of the president, hectored us to give him credit.
Due to Trump’s ignorance and vanity, South Korea’s dovish leader, Moon Jae-in, has been able to manipulate him into a position where he might make concessions to North Korea that no other president would dare. Given the risk of war, Moon’s maneuvering has been admirable. “In South Korea, it’s basically an open secret that this whole thing is flattering Trump,” Kelly said. “It kind of amazes me that Trump’s staff hasn’t picked up on this.”
Now, three weeks away from a summit that may or may not actually happen, reports show [Trump] a president terrifyingly unprepared for high-stakes diplomacy.  . . . “Mr. Trump’s aides have grown concerned that the president — who has said that ‘everyone thinks’ he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts — has signaled that he wants the summit meeting too much,”. . . . it’s now the American president who craves legitimation from the North Korean dictator.
Even a casual newspaper reader — which, of course, Trump is not — knows that when North Korea talks about “denuclearization,” it doesn’t mean unilaterally giving up all its nuclear weapons. A hastily arranged meeting between two bellicose egomaniacs, premised on a basic misunderstanding, is unlikely to resolve one of the world’s most intractable geopolitical conflicts; a flimsy agreement that roughly preserves the status quo seems like a best-case scenario. Yet for weeks, the pull to give Trump pre-emptive credit for a hypothetical victory has felt like a cultural undertow; you had to plant your feet firmly to resist it. . . . . Trump, whose only real talent is the manipulation of reality, exploits this impulse.
Of course, we all have a motive in playing along with the fiction that Trump has achieved a Korean breakthrough — it might stop him from starting a war. But it’s one thing to humor our idiot president, and another to let the gravitational pull of presidential power, and the deep desire for a minimally competent leader, warp reality. We all want to be open-minded, but con men should never be given the benefit of the doubt.

How Democracy Dies: The Constitutional Crisis Is Here

Day after day we see Donald Trump behaving little better than a loud mouthed school yard bully - or more appropriately, like a banana republic or African dictator from years ago.  Lies, boasting, and seeing the government apparatus as merely existing to protect and appease him alone.  No one else has rights and concerns for constitutional government and the rule of law are of no consequence.  Indeed, Trump views himself as above the law - a trait demonstrated throughout much of his real estate career - as he tries to torpedo an investigation into his own wrongdoing sparked in no small measure by the sleazy and possibly treasonous minions that he used to staff his 2016 campaign.  Manafort, Page and Gates were ALL on the FBI radar long before they joined the Trump campaign.  In the case of Page, years before Trump ever announced his candidacy.  If anyone is to blame for the investigation, it is Trump himself through his poor choices and, as we have learned, his sycophants' efforts to collude with foreign powers.  Now, Trump, to protect himself, is moving to destroy the rule of law and ultimately democracy in America.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this dangerous crisis.  Here are excerpts:
Stop waiting for the constitutional crisis that President Trump is sure to provoke. It’s here.
On Sunday, via Twitter, Trump demanded that the Justice Department concoct a transparently political investigation, with the aim of smearing veteran professionals at Justice and the FBI and also throwing mud at the previous administration. Trump’s only rational goal is casting doubt on the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which appears to be closing in.
Trump’s power play is a gross misuse of his presidential authority and a dangerous departure from long-standing norms. Strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin use their justice systems to punish enemies and deflect attention from their own crimes. Presidents of the United States do not — or did not, until Sunday’s tweet:
“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes — and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”
Rather than push back and defend the rule of law, Justice tried to mollify [Trump] the president by at least appearing to give him what he wants. The Republican leadership in Congress has been silent as a mouse. This is how uncrossable lines are crossed.
The pretext Trump seized on is the revelation that FBI source Stefan A. Halper made contact with three Trump campaign associates before the election as part of the FBI’s initial investigation into Russian meddling.
The informant was not embedded or implanted or otherwise inserted into the campaign. He was asked to contact several campaign figures whose names had already surfaced in the FBI’s counterintelligence probe. It would have been an appalling dereliction of duty not to take a look at Trump advisers with Russia ties, such as Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, when the outlines of a Russian campaign to influence the election were emerging.
This conspiracy theory has so many holes in it that it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s start with the glaringly obvious: If the aim was to make Trump lose, why wasn’t all the known information about the Trump campaign’s Russia connections leaked before the election, when it might have had some impact?
The truth appears to be precisely the opposite of what Trump says, which is not uncommon. The record suggests that Justice and the FBI were so uncomfortable investigating a presidential campaign in the weeks and months before an election that they tiptoed around promising lines of inquiry rather than appear to be taking a side. . . . . we had no idea that such a mature investigation of the Trump campaign was underway.
Now that the Mueller probe has bored into Trump’s inner circle — and federal authorities have raided the homes and office of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen — [Trump] the president appears to be in a panic. The question is whether he sees this “spy” nonsense as a way to discredit Mueller’s eventual findings, or as a pretext for trying to end the investigation with a bloody purge akin to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.
The Justice Department answered Trump’s tweeted demand by announcing that an existing investigation by its inspector general will now “include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation” by the FBI. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein may hope that is enough to avoid a showdown. I fear he is wrong.
None of this is normal or acceptable. One of the bedrock principles of our system of government is that no one is above the law, not even the president. But a gutless Congress has refused, so far, to protect this sacred inheritance.
Trump is determined to use the Justice Department and the FBI to punish those he sees as political enemies. This is a crisis, and it will get worse.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty