Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Russian Hackers' Cyber Attacks On New York Times

It increasingly seems that whoever or whatever institution is a perceived enemy of Donald Trump - i.e., anyone or any publication that doesn't only report glowing stories about the Donald - is becoming a target of Russian cyber hackers.   First it was the DNC, then Hillary Clinton's campaign, and now it is the New York Times which has been producing much needed exposure of Trump's seamy underbelly and unflattering coverage of Trump's perhaps house of cards real estate empire.  Indeed, Trump has invited Russian hackers to go after his political enemies.  The Washington Post looks at this unsettling cyber attack.  One can only wonder what's the next target or targets.  Here are story highlights:
Donald Trump insists he has "nothing to do with Russia" — but Russia's recent moves sure make it look as if it is trying to do something for him.
CNN reported Tuesday afternoon that hackers whom U.S. officials believe to be working for the Russian government have launched cyberattacks against the New York Times and other news outlets.
The Times followed up with a slightly different account Tuesday evening, reporting an attack on its Moscow bureau and adding that "there is no evidence that the hackers, believed to be Russian, were successful." The Times also reported that the FBI is investigating the attempted hack but is not looking into similar incidents involving other news agencies.
Trump has famously invited the Kremlin to go after emails that Hillary Clinton deleted, citing privacy.
"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said at a news conference last month.  But during the same event, he called the idea that he can tell Russian hackers where to aim "so far-fetched."
Still, it could be possible for Trump to influence the selection of targets without knowing it, especially if Russia would prefer to see him in the White House. Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised Trump as "a really brilliant and talented person," and Trump has lauded Putin as a "strong leader." Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul wrote in The Washington Post last week that "Putin not only has strong motives for wanting Trump to win over Clinton but also has some means to try to influence our presidential vote."
Cyberattacks are among the means, McFaul noted, pointing to the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails shortly before the party's national convention. U.S. intelligence officials said they think Russia was behind the breach, which embarrassed Trump's political foes.
If Russian hackers were to take cues from Trump, media companies — and the New York Times, specifically — would surely be on the hit list. The business executive often rails against the "failing" New York Times and the "scum" in the media. He has vowed to "open up" libel laws, if elected, to make it easier to sue news organizations over negative coverage.  In short, Trump treats journalists as political opponents.
There is still plenty we don't know about this attempted media hack, but it is hardly a stretch to say that a candidate who would "love to have" the power to direct Russian hackers also would probably love to see them infiltrate the digital networks of the media companies he views as enemies. Journalists unsettled by his blacklisting of certain outlets, including The Post, and Trump's recent hiring of the lawyer who helped drive Gawker into bankruptcy certainly won't feel any more at ease now.

WikiLeaks Outed Gay Men In Countries with Death Penalty for Gays

My opinion of Wilikleaks has been plummeting and news that the organization has callously "outed" gays in countries where gays face the death penalty as well as identified rape victims and victims of domestic violence in countries where the victims face potential violence.  One of the countries where such disclosures have been made is Saudi Arabia - America's false ally - where gays are routinely executed.  Apparently, the self-stroking of Julian Assnge's ego is more important that the lives of those his organization is endangering. Towleroad looks at these despicable and uncaring actions.  Here are highlights:
A new report out Tuesday has found that hacktivist group WikiLeaks has on more than one occasion outed gay men in Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuality is punishable by death.
WikiLeaks has increasingly shown little discretion when it comes to withholding private details about individuals named in documents it leaks online, even those of individuals who have nothing to do with the organization’s raison d’ĂȘtre: “We open governments.” Rather, it seems that WikiLeaks has no interest in taking the time to redact personal information that, if revealed, could endanger the lives of private citizens who have played no role in the Machiavellian machinations of statecraft it seeks to expose.
In the report, the AP found a staggering amount of “collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill” in WikiLeaks’ leaked documents. Among a trove of cables from Saudi Arabia, for instance, medical records and other personal information was revealed that effectively outs closeted gay men in that country. As the AP notes, “the site published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move given that homosexuality is punishable by death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom.”
The AP was able to get in touch with that man who said, “[WikiLeaks] published everything: my phone, address, name, details. If the family of my wife saw this … Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people.” That individual is also in the midst of a custody dispute with a former partner.
WikiLeaks has also published medical records of teenage rape victims, including a male teen:
Three Saudi cables published by the WikiLeaks identified domestic workers who’d been tortured or sexually abused by their employers, giving the women’s full names and passport numbers. One cable named a male teenager who was raped by a man while abroad; a second identified another male teenager who was so violently raped his legs were broken; a third outlined the details of a Saudi man detained for “sexual deviation” — a derogatory term for homosexuality.
Scott Long, an LGBT rights activist who has worked in the Middle East, said the names of rape victims were off-limits. And he worried that releasing the names of people persecuted for their sexuality only risked magnifying the harm caused by oppressive officials.
“You’re legitimizing their surveillance, not combating it,” Long said.
Apparently, in 2016, medical records are no longer a legitimate secret, even if you’re gay and/or a victim of rape. It is unclear at this point if WikiLeaks has outed gay individuals in other anti-LGBT countries besides Saudi Arabia.
I have come to believe that the best place for Assange may well be in prison where, with luck, he will suffer severely for the harm he has done to innocents.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

The Dangerous American Love of Conspiracy Theories

For a political party that once upon a time largely valued knowledge, science, education and purportedly personal responsibility, the GOP has morphed into something very ugly.  Now, ignorance, victim-hood, open bigotry are all the norm for the majority of the GOP base.  Worse yet, much of the base seems only to ready to embrace whatever conspiracy theory that fringe elements of the far right might float.  In response, some Democrats have shot back with their own conspiracy theories, although most have a least a shred of reality to support them.  A piece in Politico looks at the conspiracy theories plaguing the 2016 elections.  Here are highlights:

This weekend, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told Fox News Sunday viewers that Hillary Clinton was seriously ill. The media, he said, “fails to point out several signs of illness by her. … Go online. Search for ‘Hillary Clinton illness.’ Take a look at those videos for yourself.” The idea that Clinton is secretly wrestling with some unknown illness is just the latest conspiracy theory to go mainstream in an election season chock full of them. Conspiracy theories, which I’ve studied for the past seven years, have always been part of American politics, but they’ve tended to pop up in the dark corners of our political discourse, serving mainly as sideshows to more important political disputes. Not so this year; I’ve never seen a time when they so dominated the mainstream debate—and when they had the potential to do so much harm.
Whether it was witches colluding with Satan during colonial times, Freemasons nefariously controlling the government in the 1800s or communists coopting the State Department during the Red Scare, Americans have always been drawn to the idea that certain people or organizations are working in secret for their own benefit against the public good.
Despite this, the United States has not gone off the conspiracy theory cliff because our elite politicians and mainstream news sources generally eschew this type of heady theorizing. A few politicians or news sources might allege a plot from time to time (think Sarah Palin and her Obamacare death panels), but these are usually a result of overheated partisan rhetoric and they tend to receive intense backlash. That was, until now. Donald Trump, one of two people likely to be president next year, has been propagating, and now creating, conspiracy theories as a major theme of his campaign. There’s an obvious reason for this: Donald Trump has branded himself an “outsider.” In my research, I have found that conspiracy theories tend to work best when they are employed by outsiders, electoral losers and statistical minorities. These “losers” have to use conspiracy theories to justify their outsider status, explain away losses and call accepted practices into question.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with conspiracy theories. They have their positive attributes: Sometimes they turn out to be true (think Watergate, for example), and sometimes they bring new information to light (such as securing the release of many documents pertaining to the Kennedy assassination). But too many can distort ourperception of reality, squander precious government time and resources and endanger lives—especially when they move out of the fringes of political life and become the currency of the truly powerful.
Here are the five most dangerous conspiracy theories of 2016 . . . . . 1. Mexicans and refugees are murderers, rapists and terrorists  Danger: Violence - Donald Trump has accused Mexican immigrants of being pawns in a Mexican conspiracy to send murderers and rapists to America. He also has accused refugees, fleeing their tattered homeland and shattered lives, of working against the government as ISIL agents.
In this case, however, the typical model is reversed: The strong (a man running for U.S. president with the backing of a major political party) is accusing the weak (refugees and minorities). This is a more dangerous type of conspiracy theory because those in power can actually act on their wild hunches, sometimes with deadly consequences.
2. “There’s something going on” Danger: Mass paranoia - A favorite go-to conspiracy theory of Trump’s, used in different circumstances at different points during the campaign, these four words suggest that our governmental institutions and our institutions for disseminating information are not only malevolent, but also engaged in a cover-up of epic proportions.
This conspiracy theory is useful for Trump because it lets him avoid specifics; it’s also dangerous because it’s open-ended, leaving Trump supporters plenty of room to connect their own dots. What is, in fact, “going on”? . . . these four words suggest that everyone is in on it, we need to watch our neighbors, keep an eye on the government and watch the president’s body language like a hawk.
This style of conspiracy theorizing—leaving the details for people to figure out on their own—is advantageous because it gives people less to disagree with.

3. Trump/Clinton is a Manchurian Candidate Danger: Institutional distrust, political polarization - Criticizing Clinton for her mishandling of classified emails, Trump suggested that the Democratic nominee is now beholden to the Obama administration, which decided not to prosecute her. Trump also suggested that other countries now have evidence to blackmail or control Clinton, given that they have been able to hack her private email server. Shooting back, the Clinton campaign put out an ad suggesting that Trump is an agent of powerful Russian interests. Americans of all political persuasions should be able to trust that the two candidates who could lead the national government aren’t pawns to other interests. When they start to doubt their leaders’ loyalty to the country, institutional distrust can skyrocket.
4. Vast right-wing conspiracy Danger: Lack of accountability - There are conspiracy theories; and then there are conspiracy theories about conspiracy theories. This particular one was born during the height of the investigations into then-President Bill Clinton’s business practices and personal life. During a Today Show interview, then-first lady Hillary Clinton dismissed the burgeoning Monica Lewinsky scandal: “The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it,” she said, “is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.” Conspiracy theories aren’t reserved for Republicans. Hillary Clinton has held on to her conspiracy theory that the right wing is in league against her and her family to this day; in fact, she claimed this election cycle that the conspiracy is “even better-funded” now.
5. Everything is “rigged” Danger: Disenfranchisement and alienation - The campaigns of Trump and Sanders repeatedly alleged during the primaries that the nomination process is rigged. Earlier this month, Trump claimed that in states without voter ID laws in place, fraud will be rampant and people will be voting “15 times.” And he asserted that the only way the Clinton campaign can win Pennsylvania is if “they cheat.”
We’ve seen what can happen when people seize on conspiracy theories about fraudulent and rigged elections—despite there being no evidence of mass voter fraud. Over the past few years, similar beliefs have led state legislatures across the country to enact restrictive voter ID laws. But rather than fix a system that wasn’t broken to begin with, these efforts have been shown to disenfranchise minority voters. This year, if Trump deploys supporters to polling stations across America to monitor for fraud and challenge voters’ legitimacy as he is promising to do, the results could be similar.
But such claims about election fraud pale in comparison to the larger allegations that the entire system is rigged.
Far from being helpful, this sort of rhetoric is dangerous. First, it allows for scapegoating (“my lot in life is the fault of the 1 percent”) and indictment (“the rich and powerful have gotten that way only through illicit means”). It also brings about hopelessness and alienation—the feeling that we have been locked into an unfair and degrading system by a few people who wish to abuse us. These sorts of conspiracy theories also serve to depress the vote, as those who believe that elections and governmental processes are rigged will most likely stay home; this weakens our democracy.

The High Cost of the GOP's Populism

With the blame game having started in the wake of Donald Trump's fall in the polls, many Republicans are blaming each other for the problems faced by their party .  Hard core Trump supporters blame the "never Trump" Republicans and/or the "Republican elites" for Trump's decline.There is little effort among the majority of Republicans to admit that  (i) their party selected a horrific candidate and (ii) past GOP policies, including fanning the flames of racism, have helped create the anger that is the main force behind Trump's support. Conservative columnist Michael Gerson puts the blame across the board and particularly goes after the ultra conservatives in Congress.  Here are column highlights: 
With defeat now the likely outcome for the Republican presidential nominee, the blame shifting has begun early and in earnest.
Isn’t it more likely that Republicans are losing because their candidate has committed enough gaffes to torpedo 10 campaigns? Because he has premised his appeal on prejudice? Because he displays no appreciation of constitutional values and offers himself as a strongman? Because he has no knowledge of, or interest in, public policy? Because he is an erratic narcissist with a compulsive need to crush and humiliate his critics? Holding Never Trump forces responsible for all this is akin to blaming the spectators in Lakehurst, N.J., for the Hindenburg disaster. The pointing and gawking did not cause the flames.
A more sophisticated form of blame by other conservatives goes like this: Yes, Trump is a poor vehicle for the blue-collar, populist revolt, but that uprising was invited by the arrogance and indifference of globalized elites, including Republican elites. Chief executives, politicians and Wall Street types live in a bubble of affluence, caring little for American interests and lacking sympathy for their fellow citizens who are sinking into despair, addiction and the floodwaters of Louisiana.
For the record, I am in favor of the Davos set becoming more sensitive to the struggles of their countrymen. But all these fat cats at Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Pfizer and Microsoft deserve at least a bleat in response. They are leading participants in an economic system — with its global supply chains, freely moving capital and rapid innovation — that, during the past 20 years, has taken about a billion people out of extreme poverty around the world. This is arguably the greatest humanitarian achievement in history.
The United States has benefited from being the most engaged and adaptable economy in this global system — selling goods in other countries and buying goods (cars, smartphones, clothing) that have dramatically improved the daily lives of nearly every American. But rapid economic change has also laid waste to whole industries and the communities sustained by them, resulting in toxic stress and terrible suffering. Since the 1940s, American manufacturing output (as a percentage of gross domestic product) has been remarkably stable. But manufacturing employment has fallen by about two-thirds (as a percentage of the U.S. workforce). This is not so much the result of CEOs making a quick buck on outsourcing as a reflection of automation and global competitive pressures.
Our political system has been negligent in helping millions of Americans adapt during a period of rapid economic change. But those on the left and right who promise to reverse the process of globalization are economic charlatans. Their main policy response — tariffs and other forms of protectionism — is a proven path to trade wars and global recession, which hurt the vulnerable most. 
Conservative economics offers three positive alternatives: Provide a growth-oriented economic environment (including opportunities to sell overseas). Give workers the education and skills to succeed in a modern economy. And subsidize the wages of lower-skilled jobs to provide a decent living. 
Who are the obstacles in pursuing such policies? On the latter two, they are not globalized elites; they are more likely to be conservative ideologues. Thirty American CEOs at Davos would come up with several ideas to improve, say, educational standards. Thirty members of the House Freedom Caucus would oppose all of them on principle. In fact, conservative populists are now working along with education unions to undermine rigorous education standards, apparently on the theory that educational failure is acceptable so long as local officials do the failing. 
The response to these economic arguments from populists is usually ad hominem: Of course an elitist would say something like that. Which is particularly annoying coming from conservative elites, who are embracing the cheapest form of populism, involving no intellectual energy, no policy innovation and no actual help for those in need. The poor deserve better tribunes.
Gerson has a point.  Driving home yesterday I heard a portion of a Trump "speech" and it was all generalities aimed at exciting his followers with no on single specific policy proposal.  Just a blame game and selling himself as a strongman/dictator who would make things "change."

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty - Bonus Photo

Tuesday Morn Male Beauty - Pt 1

Monday, August 22, 2016

Louisiana Floods, Trump and GOP Climate Change Denial

Trump on his photo-op mission with hate merchant Tony Perkins
At the moment the far right nose machine is busy maligning President Obama had not visited areas of Louisiana struck by flooding last week and contrasting Obama's supposed indifference with Donald Trumps photo-op inspired mission of mercy to Louisiana.  Never mind that the governor of Louisiana asked BOTH men to stay away so as to avoid interfering with relief efforts or draining off manpower for security details.  Obama honored the governor's request and waited until this week to visit.  Trump, being always all about himself, ignore the request to stay away.  A column in the New York Times looks at both Trump's self-centered conduct, but also the larger issue of GOP climate change denial that will make floods such as the one in Louisiana ever more common.  Here are column highlights:
A disaster area is no place for political theater. The governor of flood-ravaged Louisiana asked President Obama to postpone a personal visit while relief efforts were still underway. (Meanwhile, by all accounts, the substantive federal response has been infinitely superior to the Bush administration’s response to Katrina.) He made the same request to Donald Trump, declaring, reasonably, that while aid would be welcome, a visit for the sake of a photo op would not.
Sure enough, the G.O.P. candidate flew in, shook some hands, signed some autographs, and was filmed taking boxes of Play-Doh out of a truck. If he wrote a check, neither his campaign nor anyone else has mentioned it. Heckuva job, Donnie!
But boorish, self-centered behavior is the least of it. By far the bigger issue is that even as Mr. Trump made a ham-handed (and cheapskate) effort to exploit Louisiana’s latest disaster for political gain, he continued to stake out a policy position that will make such disasters increasingly frequent.
In case you haven’t been keeping track, lately we’ve been setting global temperature records every month. Remember when climate deniers used to point to a temporary cooling after an unusually warm year in 1998 as “proof” that global warming had stopped? It was always a foolish, dishonest argument, but in any case we’ve now blown right through all past records.
And one consequence of a warmer planet is more evaporation, more moisture in the air, and hence more disastrous floods. As always, you can’t say that climate change caused any particular disaster. What you can say is that warming makes extreme weather events more likely, so that, for example, what used to be 500-year floods are now happening on an almost routine basis.
So a proliferation of disasters like the one in Louisiana is exactly what climate scientists have been warning us about.
[W]e face a clear and present danger, but we have the means and the knowledge to deal with that danger. The problem is politics — which brings us back to Mr. Trump and his party.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that when it comes to climate change, as with so many issues, Mr. Trump has gone deep down the rabbit hole, asserting not just that global warming is a hoax, but that it’s a hoax concocted by the Chinese to make America less competitive.
But when it comes to denial of climate change and the deployment of bizarre conspiracy theories to explain away the evidence, Mr. Trump is squarely in the Republican mainstream. He may be talking nonsense, but anyone his party was likely to nominate would have been talking pretty much the same nonsense.
It’s interesting to ask why climate denial has become not just acceptable but essentially required within the G.O.P. Yes, the fossil-fuel sector is a big donor to the party. But the vehemence of the hostility to climate science seems disproportionate even so; bear in mind that, for example, at this point there are fewer than 60,000 coal miners, that is, less than 0.05 percent of the work force. What’s happening, I suspect, is that climate denial has become a sort of badge of right-wing identity, above and beyond the still-operative motive of rewarding donors.
In any case, this election is likely to be decisive for the climate, one way or another.  President Obama has made some serious moves to address global warming, and there’s every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would continue this push — using executive action if she faced a hostile Congress. Given the technological breakthroughs of the last few years, this push might just be enough to avert disaster. Donald Trump, on the other hand, would do everything in his power to trash the planet, with the enthusiastic support of his party. So which will it be?