Saturday, February 18, 2017

Russian Readership Soars

Thanks to the blogger template I use for this blog, I can track traffic from around the world.  As in the past, when I write about Trump, Putin and treason, the level of Russian readership soars.  Indeed, during the last week, readership from Russia almost equals the level of that from the USA.  Always reliable France comes in in third place (it is usually in second place).  The UK and Germany round out the top 5 countries.  Funny how trashing Trump plays well in Russia.    I guess I need to keep it up. :)

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

The Trump/Putin Threat to the West

When he had his blog, The Dish, I was a daily reader.  Now, Andrew Sullivan is back with a weekly "conversation" at New York Magazine.  As he was want to do on his blog, he again gets to the heart of matters from a moderate conservative perspective.  He is horrified at the spectacle of Der Trumpenführer and the twin menace that he and Vladimir Putin pose to the West as we have known it for my entire lifetime.  Frighteningly, Sullivan gets to the reality that Trump wants to be the American equivalent of Putin and to rule and loot the nation as Putin has done to Russia.  His attacks on the media and constant bleating about fake news is a critical first step in his authoritarian agenda. Meanwhile, I continue to feel as if the country is living a Tom Clancy or David Baldacci novel. Can America's institution defeat this foul effort?  Here are excerpts from Sullivan's latest column:
The question that remains, of course, is the motive.
Why on Earth would any campaign for president be in constant, secret touch with the intelligence agents of a hostile foreign power?
I cannot know. Maybe Flynn is a rogue loner. It’s also possible, I guess, that the Trump campaign just wanted to keep in touch with the intelligence services of one of this country’s nemeses, if only to wish them Merry Christmas — five times in one day. It’s also conceivable that Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort’s deep ties to the Putin regime were utterly irrelevant to the sudden amendment, this past summer, to the GOP party platform that removed a call to send arms to Ukraine. It’s also possible, I suppose, that deep down I’m straight.
But there’s one explanation that chills me even more than a foreign power’s potential blackmail over an American president. And it is that Trump and Putin are natural allies in their fight against the postwar, U.S.-led international order that has kept the peace for 70 years. Putin and Trump, after all, share a Bannonite foreign policy: a robust defense of nationalism; a view that NATO is obsolete; support for far-right parties throughout Europe; and the goal of smashing the European Union so that Russia can once again extend its tentacles into Eastern Europe, and the U.S. can play one European power off another. I have no idea if Putin has kompromat on the president, but Trump’s actions need no such motivation. Trump and Putin want to form a pincer movement to destroy what we have known for a long time as the West.
Their domestic politics also have disturbing parallels. Trump would love nothing more, it seems to me, than to be an American Putin, treating the country as he long treated his own corporate fiefdom. He once explained he admired the autocrat because Putin has “great control over his country.” Like Putin, Trump would love to control the media. Like Putin, he has developed a leadership cult, devoted to the masses. Like Putin, he believes in a government that has “killers.” Like Putin, he threatens his geographic neighbors. Like Putin, he has cultivated an alliance of convenience with reactionary religious conservatives, to shore up his power. Like Putin, he believes there’s no moral difference between American democracy and Russia’s. Like Putin, he is enriching himself by public office. And, like Putin, he has targeted a minority as a scapegoat — Putin targeted the gays to gin up support while Trump targets the Muslims and Mexicans. And as Putin has RT as his conduit, so Trump has the Murdoch empire.
Steve Bannon, on the other hand, is quite something. I’ve read and reread his 2014 speech at the Vatican to see if I can find any coherence in it, and I confess I failed. It’s a hodgepodge of melodrama, hysteria, and a defense of some kind of “enlightened capitalism” along Judeo-Christian lines, in the face of an imminent Islamist takeover of the planet. It’s the 1950s versus jihad, an attempt to convey the gist of the entire Drudge Report every day and turn it into a thesis. He argues that we are just “at the very beginning stages of a global conflict” that could eradicate 2,000 years of Western civilization. It reads like the apocalyptic, paranoid fantasies of someone who writes letters to the editor, single-spaced, in all caps.

Be very afraid if Trump and Putin are not stopped.

Erick Erickson: We Need a Special Prosecutor

It is very rare that right wing pundit Erick Erickson and I agree on much of anything.  Yet in an op-ed Erickson makes the case that it is crucial that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate Der Trumpenführer's ties to Russia and precisely what transpired in all of the communications between his campaign and Russian intelligence.  Erickson doesn't know if Trump, et al, are guilty or not but argues that only a independent prosecutor can get to the bottom of things and set the stage for the nation to move forward on important issues. I have to agree.  If Trump proves guilty, let things fall where they may.  If not, at least the American public can move on without having doubts about a traitor in the White House.  Personally, I suspect that Trump is guilty and needs to be exposed and dealt with extremely harshly.  Ditto for his accomplices.  Here are op-ed highlights:
The press has long reported that Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's one-time campaign manager, had ties to Russia. Rick Gates, who worked for Manafort at the Republican convention in Cleveland, was named as an "agent of a Ukrainian oligarch" in a 2011 lawsuit. Likewise, Carter Page, a Trump adviser, had ties to Russia.
The intelligence community, through a series of leaks, made clear that members of the Trump campaign had been in contact with Russian agents. Given the pre-existing ties, it begs the question if those contacts were about Trump and the presidential campaign or other matters.
Perhaps there is something to the allegations. Perhaps not. Perhaps, given holdovers from the Obama administration, some in the intelligence community have a vested interest in trying to sabotage Trump's agenda. A few reports in Washington suggest intelligence agents who supported former President Barack Obama's deal with Iran made it their mission to undermine Gen. Mike Flynn as national security adviser.
There is a lot of speculation, but only a few things are known for certain. We know about the Trump campaign staff ties to Russia. We know about the leaks from the intelligence community. We know there is thus far no evidence of collaboration. We know Democrats are convinced Trump urged Russian cooperation in stealing the election. We know Republicans are convinced members of the intelligence community resistant to change and reform are trying to undermine the president.
We know that Trump won the presidency by winning several states with less than one percent of the vote, which means Democrats have every incentive to raise doubts about the president. We know Trump, based on his own tweets, no longer trusts the intelligence community. We know that members of the intelligence community have previously leaked information to put both Obama and former President George W. Bush on defense.
Given this knowledge, we know this situation is going to breed further distrust. A president must be able to trust the intelligence community. The American people must be able to trust the president won his election without foreign assistance. Americans do not trust Congress, and no congressman has any incentive to get to the truth if it means he is unable to advance his own self-interest.
The logical course here is for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a special prosecutor in a limited capacity to examine two questions. First, did the Trump campaign collaborate with Russian intelligence to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign? Second, is the intelligence community leaking information in order to undermine Trump?
Until these questions are answered, the partisan feuding and allegations are only going to get worse. The president's distrust of the intelligence community is going to get worse. That, in turn, will jeopardize the safety of the American people.
The American people deserve better than this. A special prosecutor with no partisan agenda would be the best means of obtaining the truth of the matter. Sessions, for the sake of both the American people's trust in the president and the president's trust in the intelligence community, should appoint a special prosecutor quickly.

John McCain: One of the Few Remaining Patriotic Republicans

We hear bluster - and lies - from Congressional Republicans all the time when it comes to pretending to be patriotic Americans.  We hear incessant whining about "supporting our troops" even as funds to veterans and the military are either cut or squandered.  Sadly, when push comes to shove, these false patriots put their political party and their own ambitions ahead of the the country and the best interest of all of America's citizens.  Now, with the specter of possible treason by Der Trumpenführer and some of his minions, the true level of contempt for the U.S. Constitution and the interests of the country is on high display.  With few exceptions, Congressional Republics seem to be doing all that they can to ignore or, worse yet, cover up for possible crimes by the occupant of the White House.  One of the few exceptions is John McCain who may yet redeem himself for having selected Sarah Palin, "Idiot of the North", for his VP running mate.  The Washington Post looks at McCain's trashing of Trump without having ever said his name.  Here are highlights:
John McCain is increasingly mad as hell about President Trump. And on Friday, he went after Trump — hard.
During a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, the Republican senator from Arizona delivered a pointed and striking point-by-point takedown of Trump's worldview and brand of nationalism. McCain didn't mention Trump's name once, but he didn't have to.
And even considering the two men's up-and-down history and the terrible things Trump has said about McCain, it was a striking display from a senior leader of a party when it comes to a president of the same party.
In his speech, McCain suggested the Western world is uniquely imperiled this year — even more so than when Barack Obama was president — and proceeded to question whether it will even survive.
“In recent years, this question would invite accusations of hyperbole and alarmism; not this year,” McCain said. “If ever there were a time to treat this question with a deadly seriousness, it is now.”
In case there was any doubt that this was about Trump. Here's what followed:
·        "[The founders of the Munich conference] would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarianism.”
·        “They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see towards immigrants and refugees and minority groups -- especially Muslims.”
·        “They would be alarmed by the growing inability -- and even unwillingness -- to separate truth from lies.”
"They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent."
McCain continued: “But what would alarm them most, I think, is a sense that many of our peoples, including in my own country, are giving up on the West, that they see it as a bad deal that we may be better off without, and that while Western nations still have the power to maintain our world order, it's unclear whether we have the will.”
Then McCain invoked some of those close to Trump and emphasized that his message won't square with theirs:
I know there is profound concern across Europe and the world that America is laying down the mantle of global leadership. I can only speak for myself, but I do not believe that that is the message you will hear from all of the American leaders who cared enough to travel here to Munich this weekend. That's not the message you heard today from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. . . . 
McCain then concluded with another direct shot at Trump.
“I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries,” he said. “I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the West, and I believe we must always, always stand up for it. For if we do not, who will?
McCain didn't fight back when Trump questioned his war-hero status long ago — perhaps because both men were trying to win elections — but the battle between McCain and the White House is picking up steam.
And on Friday, McCain traveled across the Atlantic to deliver a calculated, planned attack on Trump's entire system of beliefs.
We need an independent investigation of Trump ties to Russia and a thorough review of his tax returns and business dealings.  If that happens, I suspect that Trump will end up impeached or jailed for treason.  Frankly, nothing is more delicious than the thought of Trump spending his remaining days in a maximum security prison.  

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, February 17, 2017

More Friday Male Beauty

Alliance Defending Freedom Added to Certified Hate Group List

In a long over due move (at least in my opinion), the Southern Poverty Law Center ("SPLC") has added the Alliance Defending Freedom ("ADF") - a purported "Christian" law firm - to its list of certified hate groups. ADF is the group that represented those seeking to uphold Virginia's unconstitutional Marshall-Newman Amendment.  For those unfamiliar with SPLC, it describes itself as follows:

The SPLC is the premier U.S. non-profit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists – including the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, antigovernment militias, Christian Identity adherents and others.  We’re currently tracking more than 1,600 extremist groups operating across the country. We publish investigative reports, train law enforcement officers and share key intelligence, and offer expert analysis to the media and public.

So why has ADF been added to the list of SPLC hate groups?  Because it fosters hatred towards LGBT individuals, seeks to have us re-criminalized, and spreads deliberate lies and untruths about LGBT individuals and our lives that range from claims about greatly reduced life spans, to equating homosexuality with pedophilia even though most pedophiles are heterosexual men.  With ADF (and most of the "family values groups I have monitored for close to 20 years), the truth simply doesn't matter.  ADF wants nothing less than a Christian theocracy in America and other parts of the world.  It describes the separation of church and state to be a myth.  Here are highlights on what ADF is all about and the untruths it disseminates:  
Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally. 
In Its Own Words: 
The only surprise is the rapidity with which this degradation of our human dignity has occurred. It has occurred, with raging effect, and within twelve months, on the heels of government mandated recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ – an oxymoronic institution if ever there was one. And, for its radical adherents, this has led to a deification of deviant sexual practices. It has further resulted in the inevitable and aggressive persecution of devout Christians who refuse to bow to the false god of sexual license.”—ADF-affiliated attorney Charles LiMandri, “The Tyranny of Made-Up Sexual Identities, 2015
“[C]ontrol of the educational system is central to those who want to advance the homosexual agenda. By its very nature, homosexual acts are incapable of bearing fruit – indeed, strictly speaking, they are not sexual, as they are incapable of being generative or procreative. Thus there is the need to desensitize and corrupt young minds, both to undermine resistance to the agenda and for recruitment among those that are at an emotionally vulnerable stage of development.
— Then-senior ADF Legal Counsel (Global) Piero Tozzi, speaking at the World Congress of Families gathering in Madrid, Spain, 2012
“We mention the new promotion of pedophilia in the context of talking about the influence of homosexual behavior on college campuses, because, despite all objections to the contrary, the two are often intrinsically linked.”
—Alan Sears and Craig Osten, The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, 2003
The founding board and original funders included James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ; D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries (now D. James Kennedy Ministries); and Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association. Its original purpose was to oppose the ACLU and other “radical groups” as well as to fight for “religious liberty.” Since its founding, the ADF has expanded its operations abroad as it battles abortion, LGBT equality, and what it considers the “myth” of the separation of church and state.
[T]he ADF is attempting to do away with the separation of church and state and graft its version of conservative Christianity onto the legal profession and the culture at large through its legal strategies and the training of thousands of attorneys and by advocating for policy changes on state and federal levels.
The ADF’s longstanding antipathy toward LGBT people has become public through its work on lawsuits, various statements it has made, and materials it has offered on its website over the years. It has also promoted the idea of a “homosexual agenda” — a nefarious scheme to destroy Christianity and, eventually, civilization through LGBT people’s efforts to secure equality under the law. To those who believe in this conspiracy theory, LGBT people are not really seeking equality; rather, they are actually seeking to destroy such things as Christianity, the family and culture.
[T]hey then go on to warn people about homosexuality, to support the pseudoscientific and dangerous practice of so-called “ex-gay” therapy, to falsely link homosexuality to pedophilia, and to claim that schools are “indoctrinating children” into homosexuality. “Lately,” the authors breathlessly claim, “homosexual behavior on college campuses is taking a dangerous new turn — the promotion of sexual relations between adults and children, known as pedophilia.” Despite all objections to the contrary — virtually all real medical associations have debunked the once-common claim that gay men molest children at higher rates than straight men — Sears and his co-author insist that homosexuality and pedophilia “are intrinsically linked.”

As I said, this designation as a hate group is very long overdue.  The next group that needs to be added to the list is The Family Foundation based in Richmond to which all Virginia Republicans bow and genuflect. 

Washington State Supreme Court Unanimously Rules Against Anti-Gay Florist

Gay-hating bigot, Barronelle Stutzman
In a unanimous ruling the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that professed religious belief does not exempt businesses from comply with public accommodation laws and that if one is open for business to the general public, then you need to serve all of the general public.  It was a sharp rebuke faux Christian martyr to Barronelle Stutzman who has become the darling of the gay hating set who believe that they are above the laws that apply to the rest of society. Under the sick reasoning of these people, not being allowed to persecute others is a form of persecution toward them.  As is always the case, the Christofascists are among the most selfish and self-centered individuals that one will likely ever meet.   To the Christofascists like Stutzman, the rights and very lives of others mean nothing despite much feigned piety and public display of religiosity.  The Seattle Times looks at this strong message to Christofascists that they are not above the law.  Here are excerpts:
A Richland florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated anti-discrimination law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. 
The court ruled unanimously that Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against longtime customers Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to do the flowers for their 2013 wedding because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them. Stutzman and her attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also held out hope that President Donald Trump would issue an executive order protecting religious freedom, which was a campaign pledge. In its decision, the state’s highest court rejected Stutzman’s claims that since other florists in the area were willing to provide flowers, no harm resulted from her refusal. Writing for the court majority, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud said, “We emphatically reject this argument. We agree with Ingersoll and Freed that ‘this case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases were about access to sandwiches.’ … As every other court to address the question has concluded, public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace.” The court also rejected Stutzman’s claims that her floral arrangements were a form of artistic expression and so protected by the First Amendment. Citing the case of a New Mexico photographer who similarly refused to take pictures at a gay marriage, the court said, “while photography may be expressive, the operation of a photography business is not.” In December 2012, soon after the state legalized gay marriage, Ingersoll and Freed began planning a large wedding. Stutzman, who had provided flowers to the couple numerous times over the years, refused, citing her religious belief that marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman.
Stutzman is a self-centered bigot.  Note how she hopes  Der Trumpenführer will sign an executive order granting Christofascists special rights. These people are at threat to religious freedom of other citizens and need to be stopped. 

The Alabamafication of America

As long time readers know, early in my legal career I worked at a large corporate law firm in Mobile, Alabama.  When I first started work, George Wallace was still governor and the state, while reactionary in some ways, was more progressive that it is today and its government worked and constant scandal did not surround every branch of the state's government.  Now, Alabama is a basket case and lunacy prevails, thanks largely to the ascendancy of the Christofascist.  Simply put, logic, reason, and good government are mutually exclusive of Christofascists in control of public institutions and setting social and governmental policy.  As a piece in Harvard Political Review argues, the forces that have ravaged Alabama are now destroying the nation as a whole.  Here are article highlights:
The 2016 presidential election looked, more than anything else, like an Alabama election. Donald Trump’s relentless appeals to populist conservative ideas echo decades-long trends in the South. The current worries about Trump’s irresponsible governing style are similar to concerns Alabama commentators have been expressing about their often-demagogic leaders since before the 1940s. To understand the Trump administration, in which Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will likely serve as attorney general, we should look to Alabama, and the reasons why the state government is teetering toward collapse.
Leaders in all three branches of Alabama’s government are either under investigation or have been recently removed from office. After using his position to obtain over $1.1 million in financial favors, Mike Hubbard, the former speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, was convicted of 12 felony corruption charges in July 2016. He has been described by many as “the most powerful man in Alabama,” a state where the governor has relatively little authority and the legislature holds all the cards—a simple majority is all that is required to override most vetoes. The Hubbard trial was full of fireworks, including testimony from former Governor Bob Riley, but ended in a sentence of only four years in prison.
The drama of the Hubbard case stirred up another scandal which otherwise might have gone unnoticed. Governor Robert Bentley, a man who ran his 2010 campaign on family values, divorced his wife of 50 years after allegedly having an affair with his powerful chief advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Although neither admit to a “physical affair,” sexual voicemails the governor left for Mason say otherwise.
In 2016, Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was removed from the bench for ethics violations after he ordered the state’s probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. The result has been mass confusion in courthouses across the state, several of which stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether. Moore was previously removed from the same office in 2003, after erecting a stone monument of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building and ignoring a court order to have it removed.
Montgomery, the state capital, has become dominated by special interests, creating an environment where corruption is the norm. Far-right swings in the electorate have enabled extremists like Moore to come to power. But the forces destabilizing Alabama are not unique to the state. Donald Trump’s cabinet selections suggest that moneyed interests will be given influence in the federal government, and that far-right voices, like Steve Bannon, will be given a stage. Montgomery’s fate may be Washington’s future.
The lesson is simple: populism rises above all other concerns in Alabama. Demagoguery has a long track record of success in the South, and a politician who sufficiently channels that energy can say and do most anything—“grab them by the pussy,” for example—and still win by a landslide. George Wallace’s racism cost Alabama millions in economic development and outside investment, yet his populist appeal won elections. He served several nonconsecutive terms as governor, including one as late as the 1980s.
Why is Alabama, a place known for social conservatism, evangelical Christianity, and strong emphasis on family values, a hotbed for corruption and sex scandals, where removal from office serves to prove one’s conservative bona fides? To Fording, the answer lies in Alabama’s traditionalistic culture, a hierarchical system where citizens fall in line with authority and accept “an elite class entitled to power.” This results in low rates of citizen participation.
Religion is an important tenet of traditionalism. . . . “the Evangelical church is not concerned with social justice.” Personal ethics are also not important—“Southern Baptists have one of the highest divorce rates in the U.S. When it comes to premarital sex and children out of wedlock, Alabama doesn’t do well.” This leaves only theology, which Flynt sees as strict adherence to the text of the Bible.
Despite his public failures in social and personal ethics, Trump, like Moore, gives off strong traditionalist airs. He may not know the books of the bible, but his strong stance against Islam is a classic evangelical stance—traditionalist Christians stand up to those that do not accept the text of the bible, a pillar of traditionalist Christianity.
The root of Alabama’s unusually toxic political climate dates back to the anti-populist movement orchestrated by plantation owners and industrialists which culminated in the Constitution of 1901. While an anti-populist force and Donald Trump may seem antithetical, the political strategy used in 1901 remains relevant today.
Following the Civil War, Alabama industrialized rapidly. Wealthy “Bourbon” Democrats, worried about labor insurrections, called for a new constitutional convention to cement their interests and power. While the suppression of the black vote figured largest in convention (John B. Knox, president of the convention, opened by saying: “And what is it that we do want to do? Why, it is, within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State”), the suppression of the white populist vote was important as well.
After the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, Southern states promptly started to pass voter ID laws. There is plenty of evidence that voting fraud is negligible, but politicians claimed that it was a pressing issue, and capitalized on those fears to pass legislation that previously would have been struck down as a civil rights abuse. Recently, Alabama has closed DMV offices in largely poor, black, Democratic counties, curbing access to driver’s licenses just as the strict new voter ID law came into practice. The move has been defended as necessary to balance the budget.
Trump’s recent claim that millions voted illegally fits soundly into this tradition. His statements are already changing perceptions of facts—about half of Americans believe that voter fraud is at least somewhat widespread. Trump’s prowess in media, coupled with a chance to fill vacant seats in the Supreme Court, leaves little to prevent Alabama-like changes in election law.
Alabama columnist Kyle Whitmire warned this past May that Donald Trump was part of what he called the “Alabamafication of America.” Like Alabama, America is full of promise, great ideas, and diverse people. But it is in danger of the same fate as the Yellowhammer state, hit with scandal after scandal until its citizens lose hope.

Admit It: Trump is Unfit to Serve

A column in the Washington Post that was published before Der Trumpenführer's bizarre and reality free press conference today makes the point that Donald Trump is simply unfit for office.  His press conference contained such gems as "the leaks are real" but  then insisted that the news reports on the leaked information were "fake."  Before the rambling batshitery ended, it was clear that  Der Trumpenführer continues to be obsessed with the fact that his inaugural crowd was a bust, that he clings to fluke polls to pretend that a majority of Americans approve of him, and is incapable of any error.  Indeed, he described his dysfunctional administration as running like a well oiled machine.  What decade in remote history that machine seemingly is from was not mentioned.  Driving home from a evening business meeting, even reporters that in the past have bent over backwards to cut Trump slack described the press conference as insane.  Here are highlights from the piece in the Post (which, again, was published BEFORE today's lunacy):
Let’s not mumble or whisper about the central issue facing our country: What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?
The Michael Flynn fiasco was the entirely predictable product of the indiscipline, deceit, incompetence and moral indifference that characterize Donald Trump’s approach to leadership.
Even worse, Trump’s loyalties are now in doubt. Questions about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia will not go away, even if congressional Republicans try to slow-walk a transparent investigation into what ties Trump has with Putin’s Russia — and who on his campaign did what, and when, with Russian intelligence officials and diplomats.
Party leaders should listen to those Republicans who are already pondering how history will judge their actions in this wrenching moment. Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seem to know it is only a matter of time before the GOP will have to confront Trump’s unfitness. They also sense that Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser for lying about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States raises fundamental concerns about Trump himself.
The immediate political controversy is over how Congress should investigate this. Republican leaders say attention from Congress’s intelligence committees is sufficient, and for now Democrats have agreed to this path. But many in their ranks, along with some Republicans, argue it would be better to form a bipartisan select committee that could cross jurisdictional lines and be far more open about its work.
Those pushing for the select committee have reason to fear that keeping things under wraps in the intelligence panels could be a way to bury the story for a while and buy Trump time. Letting Americans in on what went on here, and quickly, is the only way to bolster trust in this administration, if that is even possible. And let’s face the reality here: It could also hasten the end of a presidency that could do immense damage to the United States.
In this dark moment, we can celebrate the vitality of the institutions of a free society that are pushing back against a president offering the country a remarkable combination of authoritarian inclinations and ineptitude. The courts, civil servants, citizens — collectively and individually — and, yes, an unfettered media have all checked Trump and forced inconvenient facts into the sunlight.
It is a sign of how beleaguered Trump is that his Twitter response on Wednesday morning was not to take responsibility but to assign blame. His villains are leakers and the press: “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.”
It is notable that in acknowledging that the news reports are based on “information,” Trump effectively confirmed them. At the same time, he was characteristically wrong about Russia, whose government prevents transparency and punishes those who try to foster it.
[T]he Trump we are seeing now is fully consistent with the vindictive, self-involved and scattered man we saw during the 17 months of his campaign. In one of the primary debates, Jeb Bush said of Trump: “He’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president.” Rarely has a politician been so prophetic.
As a country, we now need to face the truth, however awkward and difficult it might be.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, February 16, 2017

More Thursday Male Beauty

America's Allies Conduct Intelligence Operations Against Trump

While many Trump voters continue to make apologies and grasp at anything to avoid admitting that they made a grievous mistake in voting for Der Trumpenführer, many of America's allies recognize that not only is the man unfit for office but a danger to world stability.  Trump apologists are whining about "leaks" rather than what the leaks are revealing about possible illegal actions at least and treason in the worse case.  And then there are the Congressional Republicans who for the most part are trying to stifle any independent investigation of potential law breaking and/or treason.  As a result, America's allies meanwhile are running their own intelligence operations and as Newsweek reports are corroborating the illicit communications.  So, no, this is not a plot by Obama hold overs in USA intelligence offices.  Here are highlights from the Newsweek piece:
As part of intelligence operations being conducted against the United States for the last seven months, at least one Western European ally intercepted a series of communications before the inauguration between advisers associated with President Donald Trump and Russian government officials, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.
The sources said the intercepted communications are not just limited to telephone calls: The foreign agency is also gathering electronic and human source information on Trump’s overseas business partners, at least some of whom the intelligence services now consider to be agents of their respective governments. These operations are being conducted out of concerns that Russia is seeking to manipulate its relationships with Trump administration officials as part of a long-term plan to destabilize the NATO alliance.
Moreover, a Baltic nation is gathering intelligence on officials in the Trump White House and executives with the president’s company, the Trump Organization, out of concern that an American policy shift toward Russia could endanger its sovereignty, according to a third person with direct ties to that nation’s government.
These sources spoke on condition that they not be identified because they were not formally authorized to disclose the information. While Newsweek was told which allied nations intercepted the communications and are gathering intelligence on Trump associates, the sources did so on condition that the countries not be identified out of concern those governments would incur the president’s wrath.
The Western European intelligence operations began in August, after the British government obtained information that people acting on behalf of Russia were in contact with members of the Trump campaign. Those details from the British were widely shared among the NATO allies in Europe. The Baltic nation has been gathering intelligence for at least that long, and has conducted surveillance of executives from the Trump Organization who were traveling in Europe.
These operations reflect a serious breakdown in the long-standing faith in the direction of American policy by some of the country’s most important allies. Worse, the United States is now in a situation that may be unprecedented—where European governments know more about what is going on in the executive branch than any elected American official. To date, the Republican-controlled Congress has declined to conduct hearings to investigate the links between Trump’s overseas business partners and foreign governments, or the activities between Russia and officials in the Trump campaign and administration—the very areas being examined by the intelligence services of at least two American allies.
Some details about Trump’s business partners were passed to the American government months ago. For example, long before the president’s inauguration, German electronic surveillance determined that the father of Trump’s Azerbaijani business partner is a government official who laundered money for the Iranian military; that information was shared with the CIA, according to a European source with direct knowledge of the situation.
Of equal concern to our allies is Trump’s business partner in the Philippines, who is also the special representative to Washington of that country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte. This government official, Jose E.B. Antonio, is the head of Century Properties, which in turn is a partner with the president’s business in the construction of Trump Tower at Century City in Makati, Philippines. According to people with direct knowledge of the situation, a European intelligence service has obtained the contracts and other legal documents in the deal between the Trump Organization and Antonio. That deal has already resulted in large payments to Trump’s business, with millions of dollars more on the way—all coming from an agent of the Philippine president.
These intelligence operations against the United States come as a result of allied concern about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s designs to damage NATO and whether Trump intends to follow a policy path that would embolden Russia. In addition, they are apprehensive about whether a newly strengthened Moscow would use its energy weapon—Western Europe obtains almost 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia—to push aggressive policies with little objection from the Trump White House.
[T]he Baltic nation also launched an investigation by its intelligence service into the relationship between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his longtime personal friend, Igor Sechin, the head of the Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft. Sechin and Rosneft are on the blacklist of people and entities designated for sanctions following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. He was Tillerson’s main business partner when he worked as the chief executive of Exxon Mobil and is a powerful figure in Russia who is both a former member of the FSB (the federal security service that is the primary successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB) and the former head of presidential administration in charge of the security services. 

It is beyond disturbing that our allies are doing what Congressional Republicans are refusing to do: determine if we have traitors in the White House.   

Russian Readership Surges Again

As an interesting side note, traffic to this blog from Russia has soared again. I wonder what the attractions is - not.  Normally, after the USA, which is always the highest in readership, France takes second place in the number of readers, followed by other western European countries.  At the moment, however, Russia is a close second to USA readership.  Bizarrely a few weeks ago, Russian readership actually exceed that for the USA.  It seems comments and stories about Trump/Putin ties and possible treason on the part of Der Trumpenführer is of high interest in Russia.   

James Comey Has Some Serious Explaining to Do

A piece in GQ looks at an issue that continues to bother me:  when is FBI Director James Comey - who I would like to see resign and then be investigated himself except for fear over who Der Trumpenführer would nominate to replace him - going to be forced to explain why he sought to sabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign while hiding information on the Trump/Russia communications and possible collusion to throw the election to Trump?  Clinton's actions pale compared to the possible treason that we are now contemplating.  Yet, Comey kept it under wraps.  Why?  When will he be forced to explain what appears to be his complicity in the Trump/Putin effort?  Here are article excerpts:
You remember James Comey, right? The FBI director who dropped a live hand grenade into the toilet that was the 2016 presidential race by disclosing just eleven days before Election Day that the Bureau was investigating newly discovered evidence related to the Hillary Clinton email scandal in which she had been cleared of months earlier? The one who followed up on this inscrutable-yet-ominous-sounding announcement by concluding a few days later that, haha, just kidding, there wasn't anything remotely relevant in these stupid emails, sorry if I torpedoed your election and maybe helped deliver the White House to a semiliterate social media celebrity? That James Comey? Good, because holy hell does this man have some explaining to do.
Bombshells about the Trump White House's ties to the Kremlin have come at a dizzying rate of late, as news that erstwhile national security advisor Michael Flynn talked shop with Russian diplomats before the inauguration now gives way to the revelation that Trump campaign aides were chatting up Russian intelligence officials—who all along were tampering with the election in an effort to promote Trump's candidacy—throughout the presidential race.
[W]hen the FBI's probe of the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal turned up a few stray Clinton emails, Director Comey felt the need to immediately share this vital information about the Democratic nominee with the American public. Meanwhile, when the FBI discovered that the other presidential candidate's closest advisors were in regular contact with Russian intelligence officials, it said...nothing at all.
 If he knew his agency had evidence that the Trump camp just might be colluding with a foreign government to swing the election, pulling the fire alarm on the inane Clinton emails story as he did is the height of irresponsibility, stupidity, partisanship, or some unholy combination thereof.
 Just a week before Trump's inauguration, the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General launched an inquiry into Director Comey's conduct during the election. Assuming it manages to survive under the new administration, the investigation just got a whole lot more complicated.
I have worked with the FBI on several cases and have acted as an expert adviser.  I was always struck by the competence of the special agents I worked with.  Now, with Comey's conduct, the reliability and integrity of the FBI has been put into question.  Only Comey's removal will begin to repair the damage.  But he cannot be safely removed  until Der Trumpenführer has either been impeached or jailed for treason. 

Pat Robertson: People Who Oppose Trump Are Revolting Against God

Local embarrassment Pat Robertson is at it again and I again wonder why his children don't quietly lock him in an upstairs bedroom out of public view,.  In his latest bout of verbal diarrhea, Robertson has ranted that anyone opposing Der Trumpenführer is "revolting against God."  I'm sorry, but anything is revolting, it is Robertson and his flim flam operation that fleeces the ignorant and the gullible so that Robertson can live the good life.  Right Wing Watch captures Robertson's latest batshitery.  Here are excerpts:
Today on “The 700 Club,” Pat Robertson wondered if President Obama and other Democrats may have participated in a grand conspiracy to bring down President Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned on Monday over his communications with Russia’s U.S. ambassador.
While Flynn and other White House officials said that the two did not talk about U.S. sanctions against Russia before Trump’s inauguration, such statements conflicted with “reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats.”
Robertson, however, wrongly suggested that U.S. intelligence agencies were specifically monitoring Flynn, not the ambassador, and then warned of a larger plot involving Democrats, liberal government officials and members of the media that he believes could be working to take Flynn down and damage the Trump administration.
Referring to Psalm 2:2, “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed,” Robertson said that those challenging Trump are really fighting against God:
I think, somehow, the Lord’s plan is being put in place for America and these people are not only revolting against Trump, they’re revolting against what God’s plan is for America. These other people have been trying to destroy America. These left-wingers and so-called progressives are trying to destroy the country that we love and take away the freedoms they love. They want collectivism. They want socialism. What we’re looking at is free markets and freedom from this terrible, overarching bureaucracy. They want to fight as much as they can but I think the good news is the Bible says, “He that sits in the heavens will laugh them to scorn,” and I think that Trump’s someone on his side that is a lot more powerful than the media.
I want Der Trumpenführer to be impeached or, better yet, convicted of treason and at a minimum jailed for the rest of his life, for many reasons.  But one of the most delicious side benefits would be the utter discrediting of Robertson and other modern day Pharisees  and their institutions - think Regent University - who have hooked their credibility (or at least what credibility they still have) to Der Trumpenführer. 

Is Mitch McConnell Stonewalling an Investigation into Trump/Russia to Save Himself?

As regular readers know, I view Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell as one of the most loathsome members of Congress, no small feat given the number of loathsome Republicans to choose from.  Time and time again McConnell has put the interest of the Republican Party - and by extension, himself -  above the best interests of the nation.   And when it comes to lying and hypocrisy, few exceed him except for perhaps Der Trumpenführer.   Now, with increasing information suggesting possible collusion between Herr trump's campaign and Russian intelligence officials at the very moments that Russian hackers were attacking the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign, McConnell is stonewalling against and independent investigation with subpoena powers and a special prosecutor.  Why?  A piece in the Daily Kos suggests it is to protect McConnell's own sorry as.  Here are highlights:
Let's just keep this in mind as Mitch McConnell continues to stonewall an independent inquiry—which would be far more public than current investigations—into Donald Trump's Russia ties: McConnell was briefed about Russia's interference in the election last fall and he lobbied to keep that information from voters.
In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present. [...]
McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the [Obama] administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics. [...]
McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment. After the election, Trump chose McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, as his nominee for transportation secretary.
McConnell has finally been backed into a corner on needing to extend the current probes in the House and Senate into examining ties between the Trump camp and Russian officials. But he and Paul Ryan still exercise an enormous amount of control over which parts of those investigations go public, so long as they aren't conducted by an independent body.
Look, if this thing really goes south, McConnell will have played a role in covering up the information prior to the election. Depending on what was shared in those briefings, it could prove as "explosive" for McConnell now as Harry Reid said it was last October. Remember the letter (i.e. distress signal) Reid sent to FBI director James Comey last October?
"It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,” Reid wrote to Comey this weekend. “The public has a right to know this information.”
The public may have had the right to know about a scandal that is currently snowballing by the hour, but McConnell made sure the public wouldn’t. At least, not if he could help it.
Stated another way, McConnell doesn't want it proven that he may have been complicit in duping the American public and allowing treason to go unpunished.  There needs to be an investigation and hopefully it takes down Der Trumpenführer and his regime and McConnell with them.