Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Republicans Once Again Seek to Throw Millions Off of Healthcare Coverage

Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, a/k/a the Palmetto Queen - cohorts in cruelty

Apparently the zeal of Republicans to give a huge tax cut to the wealthiest Americans is never ending.  Hence, yet another effort to cobble together 50 votes for perhaps the ugliest GOP repeal and "replace" Trumpcare bill yet.  As with the previous GOP bills, this latest abomination would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose health care coverage and punish states that expanded Medicaid and sought to bring health care attainability to the working poor and others previously not qualifying for coverage.  Once again, it may be Republican women who may block the most cruel and heartless agenda of male Republicans in the U.S. Senate although that verdict is still out.  John McCain is remaining mum on his view of this latest example of the GOP's reverse Robin Hood effort to bring about a new Gilded Age.  The New York Times lets loose on Republicans in a main editorial.  Here are editorial excerpts:
Republican lawmakers have wasted much of the year trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a move that would deprive millions of people of health insurance. They’re back at it. Like a bad sequel to a terrible movie, a proposal whose main architects are Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would in many ways be worse than bills that came before. It would punish states like California and New York that have done the most to increase access to health care and set in motion cuts to Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides insurance to nearly 70 million people, many of whom are disabled and elderly.
This is not an idle threat. President Trump wants this bill passed by the end of next week, before the expiration of a budget rule that allows the chamber to pass a health care bill with only 50 votes (and a tiebreaker from the vice president). It’s unclear whether the votes are there, . . .
It is hard to overstate the cruelty of the Graham-Cassidy bill. It would eliminate the mandate that even healthy people buy health insurance, end the subsidies that help people purchase coverage and stop the expansion of Medicaid. It would offer states block grants they could use to help people get insurance but would leave people at the mercy of individual state legislatures and, over all, would provide $239 billion less than what the federal government would spend under current law between 2020 and 2026, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Worse, the formula for determining state grants would penalize the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under the A.C.A. so as to provide more money to the 19 states that did not. This is a cynical attempt to win votes by taking money from generous states that are more likely to be governed by Democrats and giving some of it to representatives of stingier states that are more likely to elect Republicans.
Graham-Cassidy would further cripple Medicaid by putting a per-person cap on what the federal government spends on the program. Under current law, federal spending increases automatically to keep up with the rise in medical costs; a per-capita cap would leave governors, who are ultimately in charge of administering Medicaid, in the unenviable position of denying care to poor and older Americans.
The rush job proposed by Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Graham and endorsed by the president is deeply unfair and leaves other lawmakers with little time to understand what’s in the bill or its true costs. The Congressional Budget Office says it will not be able to determine the full impact of the legislation, including its effect on premiums and the number of people who have insurance, for several weeks.
The Senate should show a little patience; a better, more humane option awaits it. Senators Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, and Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, are working on a bill that would strengthen the A.C.A. by appropriating money for health subsidies that help low-income families; Mr. Trump has threatened to end those payments administratively. Mr. Alexander and Ms. Murray expect to produce their legislation this week.
 Let's hope that the Cassidy/Graham bill fails and that the Alexander/Murray bill moves forward.   Meanwhile, it is needful to remember that a hallmark of today's GOP is cruelty to the less fortunate not to mention the coddling of white supremacists. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

More Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Did Jared Kushner's Data Operation Assist Russians?

Paul Manafort may be indicted any day now, Facebook has been served with search warrants for specific foreign owned - read Russian - accounts and questions grow as to how Russians could so specifically target their anti-Hillary posts and fake news that sought to push voters to the Trump campaign.  One possible source of assistance to the Russians receiving growing scrutiny is Jared Kushner's data operation he created to assist in Der Trumpenführer's campaign efforts.  If this can be proven, obviously the charges that the campaign colluded with Russians who were in effect giving illegal contributions to the campaign, pretty boy Prince Jared could find himself in very serious trouble.   A piece in Vanity Fair looks at the growing focus on Kushner and his data operation.  Here are highlights:
The headlines were about Facebook admitting it had sold ad space to Russian groups trying to sway the 2016 presidential campaign. But investigators shrugged: they’d known or assumed for months that Facebook, as well as Twitter and other social-media platforms, were a tool used in the Kremlin’s campaign. “The only thing that’s surprising is that more revelations like this haven’t come out sooner,” said Congressman Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “And I expect that more will.”
Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics?
“By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh. Indeed: probers are intrigued by the role of Jared Kushner, the now-president’s son-in-law, who eagerly took credit for crafting the Trump campaign’s online efforts in a rare interview right after the 2016 election.
Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.”
Senator Martin Heinrich is leading the charge to update American election laws so that the origins of political ads on social media are at least as transparent as those on TV and in print. Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is also part of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is tracing Russia’s 2016 tactics. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich said, . . . . . “Suddenly he finds himself in the middle of this campaign. If there is a person who I think is very sophisticated in this stuff, and runs in pretty dicey circles, that is the place where I would dig.”
(Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. . . . . And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”
Or perhaps the chaotic Trump campaign unwittingly enlisted Russian-connected proxies who were eager to exploit any opening to damage Hillary Clinton’s run. It’s also plausible that Trump’s long-shot, anti-establishment bid was willing to take on assistance without asking too many questions. “Are we connecting the dots? I’m finding more dots,” said Quigley, who recently traveled to Prague and Budapest to learn more about the history of Russian influence campaigns. “I believe there was coordination, and I’m going to leave it at that for now.”

Indictment of Trump Campaign Chair May Be Imminent

Having worked as a special consultant to the the FBI and the U.S Attorney's Office on several occasions, I have seen first hand that sometimes one of the tactics prosecutors may utilize is to indict one target with the goal of causing the targeted individual to opt to go "state's evidence" against other possible targets in exchange for the workout of the a plea deal for the benefit of the initially indicted target.  As the New York Times is reporting, Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort may be facing an imminent indict in connection with Manafort's dealings with Russia and his communications with Der Trumpenführer.  Reports at CNN seem to confirm the fact that Manafort was under surveillance both before the November 8, 2016, election AND after that date.  Obviously, part of special prosecutor Robert Mueller's plan maybe to convince Manafort that it is in his best interests to testify Trump and other Trump campaign members in order to save his own ass (self-preservation often trumps - no pun intended - loyalty to others).  It must also be remembered that search warrants are only issued after prosecutors have convinced a judge that there is probably cause that crimes have been committed. Here are highlights from the Times story:
Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.
The moves against Mr. Manafort are just a glimpse of the aggressive tactics used by Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors in the four months since taking over the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election, according to lawyers, witnesses and American officials who have described the approach. Dispensing with the plodding pace typical of many white-collar investigations, Mr. Mueller’s team has used what some describe as shock-and-awe tactics to intimidate witnesses and potential targets of the inquiry.
Mr. Mueller has obtained a flurry of subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury, lawyers and witnesses say, sometimes before his prosecutors have taken the customary first step of interviewing them. One witness was called before the grand jury less than a month after his name surfaced in news accounts. The special counsel even took the unusual step of obtaining a subpoena for one of Mr. Manafort’s former lawyers, claiming an exception to the rule that shields attorney-client discussions from scrutiny.
“They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. “You want people saying to themselves, ‘Man, I had better tell these guys the truth.’”
Few people can upend Washington like a federal prosecutor rooting around a presidential administration, and Mr. Mueller, a former F.B.I. director, is known to dislike meandering investigations that languish for years. At the same time, he appears to be taking a broad view of his mandate: examining not just the Russian disruption campaign and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates assisted in the effort, but also any financial entanglements with Russians going back several years. He is also investigating whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice when he fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director. The wide-ranging nature of Mr. Mueller’s investigation could put him on a collision course with Mr. Trump, who has said publicly that Mr. Mueller should keep his investigation narrowly focused on last year’s presidential campaign. Mr. Mueller’s team also took the unusual step of issuing a subpoena to Melissa Laurenza, a specialist in lobbying law who formerly represented Mr. Manafort, according to people familiar with the subpoena. Conversations between lawyers and their clients are normally considered bound by attorney-client privilege, but there are exceptions when lawyers prepare public documents that are filed on behalf of their client. To get the warrant, Mr. Mueller’s team had to show probable cause that Mr. Manafort’s home contained evidence of a crime. To be allowed to pick the lock and enter the home unannounced, prosecutors had to persuade a federal judge that Mr. Manafort was likely to destroy evidence.
Said Mr. Gurulé, the former federal prosecutor, “Clearly they didn’t trust him.”
As for the high surveillance of Manafort, here are excerpts from the CNN piece:
US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is leading the investigation into Russia's involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications.A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party, the sources told CNN. he FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.
Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI's efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power. The FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves, that reignited their interest in Manafort, the sources told CNN. As part of the FISA warrant, CNN has learned that earlier this year, the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort. It's not known what they found. The conversations between Manafort and Trump continued after the President took office, long after the FBI investigation into Manafort was publicly known, the sources told CNN. They went on until lawyers for the President and Manafort insisted that they stop, according to the sources.
It's unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance.
 Manafort was ousted from the campaign in August. By then the FBI had noticed what counterintelligence agents thought was a series of odd connections between Trump associates and Russia. The CIA also had developed information, including from human intelligence sources, that they believed showed Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered his intelligence services to conduct a broad operation to meddle with the US election, according to current and former US officials.
The FBI surveillance teams, under a new FISA warrant, began monitoring Manafort again, sources tell CNN.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Monday, September 18, 2017

More Monday Male Beauty

The A.I. “Gaydar” Study and the Real Dangers of Big Data

Photograph by Jochen Tack / Alamy
As if LGBT individuals did not already have enough to worry about when it comes to facing discrimination and bigotry, a new study claiming that it can use facial recognition computer programs to identify whether or not one is LGBT would seemingly add to the arsenal of bigoted employers who seek to make the lives of closeted employees even more of a living hell.  Other frightening uses: anti-gay religious affiliated colleges might decide to screen applicants; Christofascists parents seeking to determine whether they have a gay child; right wing churches screening members.  The list goes on and on. The other danger of the software is that it still has a significant margin of error so a goodly number of straights could find themselves incorrectly identified as gay.  The New Yorker looks at this dubious and possible dangerous study and its technology.  Here are excerpts:
In the twenty-first century, the face is a database, a dynamic bank of information points—muscle configurations, childhood scars, barely perceptible flares of the nostril—that together speak to what you feel and who you are. Facial-recognition technology is being tested in airports around the world, matching camera footage against visa photos. Churches use it to document worshipper attendance. China has gone all in on the technology, employing it to identify jaywalkers, offer menu suggestions at KFC, and prevent the theft of toilet paper from public restrooms. Michal Kosinski, an organizational psychologist at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, told the Guardian earlier this week. The photo of Kosinski accompanying the interview showed the face of a man beleaguered. Several days earlier, Kosinski and a colleague, Yilun Wang, had reported the results of a study, to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggesting that facial-recognition software could correctly identify an individual’s sexuality with uncanny accuracy. The researchers culled tens of thousands of photos from an online-dating site, then used an off-the-shelf computer model to extract users’ facial characteristics—both transient ones, like eye makeup and hair color, and more fixed ones, like jaw shape. Then they fed the data into their own model, which classified users by their apparent sexuality. When shown two photos, one of a gay man and one of a straight man, Kosinski and Wang’s model could distinguish between them eighty-one per cent of the time; for women, its accuracy dropped slightly, to seventy-one per cent. Human viewers fared substantially worse. They correctly picked the gay man sixty-one per cent of the time and the gay woman fifty-four per cent of the time. “Gaydar,” it appeared, was little better than a random guess. The study immediately drew fire from two leading L.G.B.T.Q. groups, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, for “wrongfully suggesting that artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to detect sexual orientation.” They offered a list of complaints, which the researchers rebutted point by point. Yes, the study was in fact peer-reviewed. No, contrary to criticism, the study did not assume that there was no difference between a person’s sexual orientation and his or her sexual identity; some people might indeed identify as straight but act on same-sex attraction. “We assumed that there was a correlation . . . in that people who said they were looking for partners of the same gender were homosexual,” Kosinski and Wang wrote.
 True, the study consisted entirely of white faces, but only because the dating site had served up too few faces of color to provide for meaningful analysis. And that didn’t diminish the point they were making—that existing, easily obtainable technology could effectively out a sizable portion of society. To the extent that Kosinski and Wang had an agenda, it appeared to be on the side of their critics. As they wrote in the paper’s abstract, “Given that companies and governments are increasingly using computer vision algorithms to detect people’s intimate traits, our findings expose a threat to the privacy and safety of gay men and women.” The objections didn’t end there. Some scientists criticized the study on methodological grounds. To begin with, they argued, Kosinski and Wang had used a flawed data set. Besides all being white, the users of the dating site may have been telegraphing their sexual proclivities in ways that their peers in the general population did not. . . . . Was the computer model picking up on facial characteristics that all gay people everywhere shared, or merely ones that a subset of American adults, groomed and dressed a particular way, shared?
Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, a pair of professors at the University of Washington, in Seattle, who run the blog Calling Bullshit, also took issue with Kosinski and Wang’s most ambitious conclusion—that their study provides “strong support” for the prenatal-hormone theory of sexuality, which predicts that exposure to testosterone in the womb shapes a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation in later life. In response to Kosinki and Wang’s claim that, in their study, “the faces of gay men were more feminine and the faces of lesbians were more masculine,” Bergstrom and West wrote, “we see little reason to suppose this is due to physiognomy rather than various aspects of self-presentation.” Regardless of the accuracy of the method, past schemes to identify gay people have typically ended in cruel fashion—pogroms, imprisonment, conversion therapy. The fact is, though, that nowadays a computer model can probably already do a decent job of ascertaining your sexual orientation, even better than facial-recognition technology can, simply by scraping and analyzing the reams of data that marketing firms are continuously compiling about you. Do gay men buy more broccoli than straight men, or do they buy less of it? Do they rent bigger cars or smaller ones? Who knows? Somewhere, though, a bot is poring over your data points, grasping for ways to connect any two of them. Therein lies the real worry. Last week, Equifax, the giant credit-reporting agency, disclosed that a security breach had exposed the personal data of more than a hundred and forty-three million Americans; company executives had been aware of the security flaw since late July but had failed to disclose it. (Three of them, however, had off-loaded some of their Equifax stock.) Earlier this week, ProPublica revealed that Facebook’s ad-buying system had enabled advertisers to target their messages at people with such interests as “How to burn jews” and “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’ ” The categories were created not by Facebook employees but by an algorithm—yet another way in which automated thinking can turn offensive. “The growing digitalization of our lives and rapid progress in AI continues to erode the privacy of sexual orientation and other intimate traits,” Kosinski and Wang wrote at the end of their paper. They continue, perhaps Pollyannaishly, “The postprivacy world will be a much safer and hospitable place if inhabited by well-educated, tolerant people who are dedicated to equal rights.” A piece of data itself has no positive or negative moral value, but the way we manipulate it does. It’s hard to imagine a more contentious project than programing ethics into our algorithms; to do otherwise, however, and allow algorithms to monitor themselves, is to invite the quicksand of moral equivalence.

I am not paranoid.  I am "out" socially and at work.  My most important client base knows I am gay and simply could care less.  Many gays, however are not so fortunate and many have good reason to want to stay in the closet at work given the utter lack of employment protections at the federal level and in 29 states, including Virginia.  

Nothing Has Really Changed for Gays in the Catholic Church

Pope Francis has made a few statements deemed by a gushing media to indicate a softening of the Roman Catholic Church's centuries old anti-gay jihad (even as the ranks of the clergy remain packed with self-loathing gays) and a majority of everyday Catholics in America are supportive of gay rights and even gay marriage, yet as far as official Church dogma and policy go, we remain more or less untouchables.  If we want any possibility of inclusion, we are demanded to live a lonely, loveless life - in short, to be a miserable as much of the clergy that cannot let go of childhood brainwashing and the Church's "natural law" which in essence is based on ignorance and at best 11th century knowledge.  One Jesuit has written a book to try to usher in much needed changes, but he has been met with a backlash from the bitter old men in dresses within the clergy and among the lunatic far right of Catholicism which much like white supremacists always need some one they can condemn and feel superior to. A piece in the New York Times looks at the situation which underscores to me that the best thing gay Catholics and their families can do is to leave Catholicism.  Here are highlights:
The Rev. James Martin knew his latest book – which urges a dialogue between the Catholic Church and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics who feel estranged from it – would be provocative. Even though the book was approved by his Jesuit superior as being in line with church teachings and was endorsed by several cardinals, he did not expect everyone to agree. That’s fine, he said. That’s why dialogue was needed.
His public position on this hot-button issue – most recently in the book, “Building a Bridge,” but also in speeches, articles and social media – has earned him the gratitude of parents of gay children or adults who feel unwelcome at church because of their sexual orientation. But his stance has also led to “joking” threats of violence and insults against him. Conservative Catholics have called him “effeminate,” a “homosexualist,” “pansified” and guilty of “leading young men to perdition.” In recent weeks, campaigns by people opposed to him have prompted three high-profile Catholic groups to disinvite him from events where he was to be the featured speaker.
On Friday, Theological College, the national seminary at the Catholic University of America in Washington, withdrew its invitation to Father Martin, who was scheduled to deliver a speech on Jesus in early October. The seminary said in a statement that the decision was made after “increasing negative attacks” on social media. And while seminary officials “in no way” agreed with the critics, the college wanted to avoid “distractions” during centennial events, the statement said. Of his critics, Father Martin said that even an invitation to listen to L.G.B.T. people has “unleashed this torrent of hatred.”  “It’s insane. This is about reaching out to people on the margins. But on that issue it tells us that we have a lot to learn. If we can’t even begin a dialogue without a charge of heresy, then we need to take a good look at how we understand the gospel.”. . . . . “It’s reaching people where they are. Jesus went to where the people were and spoke to them in their language. And he was always going to the margins.” He had long received desperate messages and impassioned emails seeking counsel or prayer through life’s difficulties, and the publication of “Building A Bridge” prompted even more. He gets about 50 messages daily, in which people talk about things like how a priest would not anoint a dying man in hospice care because he was gay; or how someone was fired from a job at a Catholic institution because of their sexual orientation.
But he has also been the victim of ad-hominem attacks, even from other Catholics who, he said, do not seem to remember Pope Francis’s remark that “who am I to judge” if a member of the clergy was gay.
Despite the name-calling, innuendo and canceled speeches, Father Martin said he will press on. He has received support from bishops – who request boxes of his book — and from his religious order. He will not step back from social media, saying it is part of his order’s tradition to “find God in all things.” “We are not afraid of going to the margins,” he said. “That is what Pope Benedict and Pope Francis asked us to do. As Francis said to us, go to the peripheries where the church has not been serving people or where people need it the most. There is no one more marginalized in the church than L.G.B.T. Catholics. So, I’m right where I should be.”

As I noted above, the best move for gay Catholics and their families is to walk away.  The Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (I technically remain a member) offer wonderful alternatives.  Meanwhile, as history has shown us time and time again, if enough people walk away and cease their financial support to the Church, the fossilized and bitter hierarchy will suddenly have a revelation and adjust its dogma.  Money is and always has been the real god of the Vatican. 

Monday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1